Sunday, April 13, 2008
Meyrowitz sees promise inside Yamma cage
By Franklin McNeil Special to ESPN.com
His plan is simple: Take mixed martial arts back to its roots. That's how owner Bob Meyrowitz described Yamma Pit Fighting, which made its debut Friday night at Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J.
It is too early to predict whether Meyrowitz's vision will be realized. Meyrowitz is relying on an eight-man, single-elimination-tournament format used when he co-created the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993.
But he has added a wrinkle. Friday's fights took place in a cage that had a steep incline at its base. The incline creates the pit, known as a yamma in Russian.
Meyrowitz believes the incline leads to more action. It had the opposite effect during the first four heavyweight matches of the tournament Friday night.
The incline made it easier for bigger, stronger fighters to take their opponents down -- often leaving fighters maneuvering for position on the incline while throwing very few strikes. This helped 6-foot-3, 230-pound Travis Wiuff, who was also the tournament's best-conditioned fighter, become Yamma heavyweight champ.
Travis Wiuff, top, used the innovative cage to his advantage in lifting the Yamma heavyweight title.
"It's a big angle, especially if you are pushing a guy into it," Wiuff told ESPN.com. "It was easier to get takedowns; it's very similar to pushing a guy up against a cage."
Wiuff defeated Chris Tuscherer by unanimous decision in the three-round finale. The judges scored the bout 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28. ESPN.com scored it 30-27 for Wiuff.
The Wiuff-Tuscherer fight proved to be the most action-packed of the tournament. Wiuff, the fresher of the two, was able to initiate takedowns.
Once Wiuff was on the ground, he landed several elbows and hammer punches. But he did much of his damage during stand-up action in the first round.
A right caught Tuscherer flush on the chin with less than a minute remaining in the round. Stunned by the punch, a defenseless Tuscherer turned his back and tasted another right that floored him.
The punch sent blood streaming from Tuscherer's nose. But Wiuff could not finish his dazed foe. He reinjured his right hand while delivering a punch.
"It was after I had knocked him down and was trying to finish him that I broke my hand," Wiuff said. "I broke my hand [in June 2007] while training for a fight.
"That's why I couldn't use it much in the second and third rounds. Every time I threw it I felt it, so I relied on my jab, takedowns and elbows on the ground. Fortunately, that was enough to get the win."
It also proved to be a good thing for Meyrowitz and Yamma Pit Fighting. The exciting title bout finished off an evening that included two "heavyweight super fights" -- an Oleg Taktarov knee bar forced Mark Kerr to tap out at 1:50 of the first, and Pat Smith pounded Eric "Butterbean" Esch into submission at 3:17 of the opening round.
Though the night was filled with action, issues remain. Logistical adjustments are necessary. Whenever action went to the ground, fans seated on the floor had their view blocked by the incline and were forced to stand up. Too often, standing up didn't resolve the problem, and fans had to look at monitors.
That's just no way to treat the highest-paying customers. Watching action on monitors should be an option, not a necessity. To his credit, Meyrowitz is aware that improvements are in order -- inside and outside the Yamma.
"We have a long way to go to build up that Yamma name, to really get people to understand what the Yamma is all about, how it works and why it is better," Meyrowitz said. "The Yamma is going to change the face of [MMA].
Time will tell if the Yamma cage makes for more action.
"It makes it better, it makes for more action. I think we need three more shows before we really see the impact."
Making the Yamma visually fan-friendly will take some work, but shouldn't prove impossible. Convincing fans that Yamma fighters are among the best in the world is of greater concern to Meyrowitz.
He is confident the first step toward achieving that goal was taken Friday night. Meyrowitz is inspired by the performances of Wiuff and Tuscherer.
"Two stars were created tonight," Meyrowitz said. "Travis Wiuff is unbelievable; [Tuscherer] is unbelievable. That last fight is what warriors are all about. That's what the tournament is all about.
"But I will tell you this: Pat Smith looked great, Oleg Taktarov, too. And there is more to come. I want to build new stars. That's the future of this sport.
"The interesting thing is that when we owned the UFC we had a whole bunch of stars. We had people, we had the greats.
"We had [Frank] Shamrock, Randy Couture; we had Tito Ortiz. These were all the stars we had. Since then there have been almost no stars created."
Now that he has a heavyweight champion, Meyrowitz is turning his attention to middleweights. Yamma Pit Fighting plans to hold its next event June 21. Its location remains unknown, but Meyrowitz expects to make an announcement within a week or two.
Franklin McNeil covers boxing and mixed martial arts for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.