UFC 229: Battles, Drama, and a splash of Hypocrisy!

We have witnessed history…

On Saturday October 6th, 2018, we all witnessed what was a historic night for the UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts in general. Once the numbers are tallied, this will undoubtedly be the highest drawing pay-per-view to have ever been put together in the sport’s history, and it will take something clearly special to outshine it. That being said, I saw thing or two that put a damper on my experience, and the reactions to the drama which occurred immediately after the end of the main event certainly polarized fans and pundits. In order to put things in perspective, I’d like to talk about the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of UFC 229.

The Good

As a fight fan, I certainly was not disappointed by the combat that occurred, particularly during the main card. I saw some blood and guts performances from almost everyone, but let’s start with Derrick Lewis. One word for his miraculous, come from behind victory – WOW! Lewis just told everyone watching that if you sleep on him, even for a second, he will SLEEP YOU. That man has enough power in his fists to crumble the entire octagon, but instead decided to lay a nasty right hand on the chin of Alexander Volkov. To Volkov’s credit, he was doing exactly what he needed to in order to win the fight, but all it took was just one second for Derrick Lewis to dig deep and land an earth shattering bomb to end the fight. Props to the Black Beast, who will incidentally be fighting for the title at UFC 230 in a rather quick and unnecessary turnaround (more on that in another post).

Better even than that was the unbelievable performance turned in by El Cucuy and Showtime. Can you say FIREWORKS?? Those two men were not about to hold anything back; they knew how important a victory at UFC 229 was, and that it would have major title implications. I actually believed that Tony would wipe the floor with Pettis, but Pettis impressed me with his resilience and veteran savvy, as he managed to knock down the former interim champion and even held dominant position for a bit. However, save for one lone blemish in his UFC career, Tony has always found a way to make his relentless pressure and creative striking shatter through his opponents’ game plans, and this fight was no different. He left Pettis a bloody mess and made sure that no one could forget where he stood in this division. The only real question is, will they reward him with the title shot that he SO deserves?

And of course, perhaps the best part of the night was the fight that fans had been salivating over since the second it was announced – Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov vs “The Notorious” Conor McGregor. Among my friend circle, I was the only one who was sure that Khabib would win this fight, and while I have had incorrect predictions before with McGregor fights (I tend to bet against him), something about this just felt right. Of course, the biggest debate was whether Conor would be able to land his patented dynamite left hand on Khabib, or if Khabib would simply overwhelm the former 2-division champion with his world-class grappling skills. The question was clearly and loudly answered by Khabib, as he systematically shut down any effort of McGregor to mount an offense, and completed his beautiful destruction of the brash Irishman in the 4th round with a method of defeat that Conor is all too familiar with – SUBMISSION. For me, it was satisfying, but my satisfaction would be somewhat short lived by the events that shortly followed Khabib’s historic win…

The Bad

Why Khabib…why?? Why did you have to ruin what was supposed to be a celebration by deciding to do an eagle impression off the top of the Octagon?

In case you’ve been under a rock, here’s what happened – Khabib retained his title with a near flawless victory, but instead of soaking it all in, he decided to let himself be goaded by the absolute scumbag teammate of Conor McGregor named Dillon Danis, a watered down version, discount version of McGregor who simply can’t help himself. As Khabib launched himself out of the Octagon and into the crowd to confront Danis, an all-out brawl ensued, and now Khabib faces punishment that includes potential for a massive fine and suspension. Despite the fact that McGregor had his own part in the brawl, and had been provoking Khabib through countless instances of personal digs against Khabib’s father, family members, teammates, and personal relationships, there was simply no reason that Khabib needed to bring himself down to that level. He came, he saw, and he unquestionably conquered, and he just couldn’t stop himself from succumbing to his own emotions. That is not the mark of a true champion, and while Khabib generally does have the temperament and demeanor of one, he’ll need to remind everyone by gradually erasing this ugly incident from our memories. Speaking of ugly…

The Ugly

As bad as Khabib’s actions were, for some reason they don’t quite disgust me as much as the reaction, particularly from Dana White, UFC announcers, and the media. All I heard from all of these parties was how “disgusting” it all was, and how it stained the sport that they’ve all worked so hard to legitimize. For Dana White, the man who deprives his fighters of proper pay, lashes out against his OWN champions (i.e. Tyron Woodley), forgoes proper matchmaking for interim title fights and WWE wrestler debuts, he is absolutely in no position to judge anything as “disgusting”. Remember, Conor McGregor threw a dolly into a bus window carrying fighters, and this resulted in some having to be pulled from the card. Glass went into the faces and eyes of people who had trained and worked hard for a very special event, and it could’ve been significantly worse. He broke the law by bringing his goons from Ireland to trespass on the Barclays Center in an effort to ambush Khabib before a title fight, and with all of the physical damage as well as property damage caused, the result was a bit of faux outrage from Dana White, minimal negative reaction from UFC announcers and media, a legal slap on the wrist, and McGregor being rewarded the biggest fight of his UFC career.

For these people talk about how “disgusted” they are…the hypocrisy is blinding. It’s absolutely baffling how they think that Khabib is going to leave a stain on the sport that Conor (and Dana White) somehow already hasn’t. Conor McGregor is exactly what the sport shouldn’t be, but we’re all guilty of accepting him. We’re all guilty of putting our eyes to the screen when he’s on it, and we’re all guilty of condoning his ridiculous behavior. Dana White has absolved himself of all responsibility, even though he calmly laughed alongside McGregor and drank a glass of Proper 12 at the Radio City press conference as McGregor stoked the flame of a man who shows no mercy to his opponents. He gleefully watched as his PPV projections soared, turning a blind eye to the inevitable disaster brewing before he placed two fighters that genuinely hated each other in the Octagon. Of course, no blame on his cash cow McGregor; none at all. In fact, he seemed to speak in admiration as he said that McGregor wouldn’t be pressing charges, as though McGregor was just an innocent victim of his undisputed champion’s uncontrolled rage and violent outburst and took the noble high road.

Khabib is having his purse withheld while, of course, McGregor’s is safely on its way. There is talk of Khabib and his teammates having potential visa issues in the future as a result of this mayhem, and yet, there was no talk of any of this when Conor decided to endanger the lives of fighters that had nothing to do with his beef. All eyes from the UFC view Khabib as the bad guy in this drama…as if we couldn’t somehow rationalize what the hell could’ve provoked him. But perhaps worst of all is that we may actually have to accept the fact that there may be an immediate rematch between Khabib and Conor, simply because McGregor called up his employee Dana and asked for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were granted, because Dana knows that it will be yet another cash grab. And hey, we’ll all watch. What happened after the main event at UFC 229 was ugly, but let’s never lose sight of the bigger picture here. The hypocrisy is evident, and should be called out any time it occurs.

El Cucuy vs Showtime!

Hello Everyone!

Sorry for the long hiatus; I have admittedly been quite lazy regarding my posts, but I figured, why not post about the return of EL CUCUY! At the upcoming UFC 229, we will be treated to yet another lightweight matchup, adding to the already stellar matchups of Diaz vs Poirier and Khabib vs McGregor. Enter Tony Ferguson in his return from devastating injury, which derailed yet another opportunity to face Khabib Nurmagomedov, in an unanticipated, but nevertheless, high-profile matchup against former champion Anthony “Showtime” Pettis, who just came off an impressive victory against fellow contender Michael Chiesa, in what appeared to be a return to form for the man who once cut through the division like a hot knife through butter.

Image result for tony ferguson anthony pettis

(Photo courtesy of http://www.middleeasy.com)

I’m sure that I can say with confidence that no one really anticipated such a quick turnaround for Tony Ferguson given the nature of his injury but, of course, Tony had to just prove us wrong with his insane mentality, work ethic, and hunger to get back in the octagon to do what he does best. I suppose it is characteristic of a champion to fight so hard in every respect to prove to both himself and the world that seemingly insurmountable obstacles are merely tests waiting to be passed by the truest warriors. The owner of a 10 fight winning streak, Ferguson will no doubt take this fight as an opportunity to show the world that no injury, regardless of the severity, can keep him from his place at the top of the mountain. He is arguably the most dominant, well rounded fighter in the division, and in every fight appears to show even more of his untapped arsenal, and fireworks may just be on the verge of bursting at UFC 229.

However, in order to maintain his spot, he will need to stave off an equally hungry and motivated Anthony Pettis, a former champion whom most had written off as a has-been and shell of his former self in the USADA era. Indeed, since his lone title defense against Gilbert Melendez, he has had a rather rough go of things in the UFC, keeping fans waiting for the resurgence of the fighter once known to electrify the crowd with slick submissions and devastating striking abilities. That all seems to have changed with his victory of submission specialist Michael Chiesa, who Pettis incidentally defeated via submission. In a win that no one seemed to have seen coming, Pettis showed people that he is simply not a fighter to be slept on. Very few ever make it to the top by sheer luck, after all, and Pettis may only now be digging deep to reveal his true self – a dexterous and dangerous fighter with tricks in the bag that may just pop out when you least expect.

Personally, I just think Ferguson will be too much for Pettis to handle, but that takes nothing away from my excitement regarding this bout. We have two hungry, former champions who are eager to reclaim what was once rightfully theirs, and this makes for an intriguing bout. Is Anthony Pettis ready for Tony Ferguson’s unorthodox style and relentless pressure? Is Tony Ferguson sleeping on Anthony Pettis, and unaware of what he brings to the table? These questions will be answered on October 6th, and I for one can’t wait to see what happens. We as fans cannot lose, but unfortunately, one of these guys will, so get ready for the action and don’t blink!

I’m So Torn! Stipe…or Francis??

What a matchup…

This may be the greatest heavyweight match-up put together by the UFC in years, and the first one I’ve been genuinely excited to see since maybe Cain vs Werdum. In that fight, we saw who was once a potential candidate for the greatest heavyweight of all time in Cain, and a Cinderella story in Werdum. As a UFC fan, I do love a good storyline, and much like those of Cain Velazquez and Fabricio Werdum, the storylines associated with Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou are so compelling that I find it so hard to root against either man. The thing is…who the hell do I root for?

Part of me wants to root for Stipe because he’s such a working class hero, and remarkably down to earth when compared to his fellow UFC champions (save for Demetrious Johnson). He’s a true champion who built his way up to the top of the division, taking a couple losses on the chin and subsequently steamrolling contenders en route to his title fight with Fabricio Werdum, in which he made a statement to the world that he was the rightful owner of the title, “Baddest Man on the Planet”. His defense of the title from Alistair Overeem, coupled with the fact that he doubles as a firefighter outside of his fight career, makes me such a huge fan of his that I can’t imagine how I’d feel if he were to lose his belt. I want him to make history and set the record for most title defenses in HW history, and I truly believes he deserves recognition and a lasting, legendary legacy. On the other hand…

How can I not root for Francis Ngannou? In fact, how can ANYONE not be a fan of Ngannou after seeing what he has gone through up to this point? This man came from abject poverty, worked menial jobs with absolutely no one telling him that he could do more than what his environment expected of him. He decides to become a fighter at an age where most combat experts would deem him a senior citizen, and instead of crumbling as expected, decides to make his way into the UFC. All of a sudden, we have some new blood in the HW division, but who the hell is this guy anyway? Just another random addition to the somewhat shallow division, right? Is he going to make a splash? Well, I think we all know the answer to that question, considering he’s fighting for a title just 4 years into his professional MMA career. It would truly be the feelgood story of the MMA world if Francis made the impossible possible and defeated Miocic for the coveted belt. Whether you’re a fan of his or not, you’d have to agree that Ngannou would be an undoubtedly deserving and inspiring champion, and one who would put the entire division on its toes.

So here I am…still debating on who I want to root for tomorrow. Maybe they’ll fight to a draw, and it’ll give me some more time and analytical ammo to see who I’d root for afterward. Then again…that sounds pretty stupid. I have a feeling that someone is going to be finished, and I predict here and now that if it’s a Miocic victory, it’ll be by 3rd or 4th round submission. However, the only way I see Ngannou winning is by KO; I don’t see him being able to do anything in this fight if Stipe drags him to the ground, and Ngannou will need to end the fight in the 1st round. Either way, we’re in for a real treat here. Best of luck to both men. Whoever wins, the fans don’t lose.

Luke Rockhold is Sorta Right, But Needs to Chill

Look, I get it…

The middleweight division of the UFC is in a very rough place right now. The champion, Michael Bisping, has elected not to fight any top ranked MW contenders for his title defenses so far (with his lone defense coming against then #14 Dan Henderson, and his upcoming bout against unranked Georges St. Pierre), and has actually debated retiring after his fight against GSP. Naturally, this is upsetting to both fans and the strongest contenders, but this whole situation has perturbed one man more than anyone else:

Luke Rockhold, the former UFC Middleweight Champion, and current hot-headed contender on a warpath, hellbent on settling the score with his biggest adversary.

After he dispatched #9 contender David Branch in the second round of their grudge match recently, he decided to let GSP know that the former welterweight champion did not belong in his division. He has been vocal about his disapproval regarding this fight taking place in the first place, and he actually told GSP that he would be crushed by Bisping. This perhaps is the most interesting thing to have been said in a post-fight interview recently. Here’s why…

The fact that anyone would ever think that GSP would be crushed by a fighter that is either in the middleweight or welterweight division is preposterous to me. Even if you think he’ll LOSE a fight, there’s no need for this kind of hyperbole. In Rockhold’s situation, I can see it as being more of an emotional reaction catalyzed by his longstanding bitterness following his loss to Bisping in 2016. Was it painful? Absolutely. Could it have been avoided? Of course! Does it eat Rockhold every second of the day? It appears to be that way. But is Rockhold being a bit ridiculous in his prediction, and could it perhaps be a statement motivated more by his visceral hatred of Michael Bisping? Yes, and YES. GSP has every tool to defeat Michael Bisping, and I do believe that he will take the crown from the aging champion. But there’s more to this than just Rockhold’s prediction; we need to dig deeper as to what actually justifies this event’s occurrence.

Let’s call this fight what it really is: a spectacle. It is as much of an attempt to draw money as any superfight we’ve seen recently, and is part of an ongoing trend which has rubbed some the wrong way, while being encouraged by others as the new wave of the sport’s matchmaking. Bisping vs. GSP makes ABSOLUTELY no sense from a purist’s standpoint; we’re looking at a division in which the champion has yet to unify his title with a bout against the interim titleholder (Robert Whitaker, who just came off a scintillating victory over top contender Yoel Romero), and with plenty of able bodied, deserving challengers. Instead, we are given a former champion coming out of his retirement to cement his place in history. And that really is the key word…history.

If the UFC has a chance to allow history to be made, along with a LOT of money, would they really pass up the opportunity in place of the ethical and sportsmanlike route of giving a deserving contender a shot? OBVIOUSLY NOT!! What Luke Rockhold and the others in this division need to understand is that this is a business as much as a sport, and upper management is not interested in anything other than PPV draws and draining their cash cows. Top contenders like Rockhold may get their chance, but only after the UFC has had its chance. For Rockhold in particular, I feel that the opportunity is not terribly far out of reach. He is still an outstanding fighter, a physical specimen, and more motivated than ever to get back his crown. If it takes a little bit of waiting, so be it – he can use the time to fix the holes in his game (i.e. his boxing) and then take what he believes to be his when the time is right. Until then, there’s just no point of him coming out and saying outlandish things that will get him nowhere.

So let’s sit back, and wait for the middleweight division to bring itself back into a normal state. The chaos will soon be over my friends, and I predict that we’ll be seeing Whitaker vs Rockhold for a title shot next year. Only time will tell…

My First BJJ Class in a Gi

You know those moments in your life when you start something new, and you feel like you know literally nothing about the subject matter? It is a feeling which leaves you overwhelmed by an interesting combination of fear, anxiety, excitement and curiosity. You ask yourself how well you might do, and while also potentially considering the worst possible scenario, there is also a thought that says “I’m going to kick ass…how hard can this really be? If I just believe in myself and hunker down, I’ll be fine!”

Let me say this: If you believe that you can go into a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class for the first time and whoop some ass, I HIGHLY urge you to try and prove it. Chances are, you’ll find yourself on the ass end of a choke…but you can’t learn unless you know how it feels 🙂

 

Hirsha Gi

Me in my fresh, unused gi

Now as a small disclaimer, I would like to let you know that I have taken a no-gi BJJ class once before, so this is technically my second class overall, but my first with a gi. I’ve actually had my gi for about 7 months, but just never mustered up the courage to throw it on and get on the mat. I’ve always been a bit hesitant to try new things, but I suppose it is human nature to fear things that you do not fully understand. Of course, I think it takes an entirely different kind of personality to volunteer yourself into a combative environment, especially with experienced grapplers. All that being said, I learned a few things that I felt were worth sharing.

Firstly, I learned what I believe is a loop choke from your closed guard (which is a position in which you are on your back and your legs are interlocked around your opponent’s back so that you can limit his or her mobility). Essentially, the loop choke demonstrated is one of most complicated things I’ve ever seen done in a grappling exchange, and I can’t conceivably see myself using it in a real-time scenario until I’m quite experienced. It requires maneuvering of your opponent’s gi, and flawless execution. Nevertheless, it was quite the move to learn for my first time, and highly effective I might add.

Secondly, I learned that it does not truly matter what level you are when you walk into a BJJ class; you will always be welcome. My experience is at the moment limited to the UFC Gym in Soho, but from everything I’ve heard from experienced practitioners and competitors, most BJJ gyms have quite a welcoming environment in which even beginners who have absolutely no exposure will be shown the ropes from more experienced classmates. There were no intimidation tactics, nothing that made it seem like I was a fish out of water. I was even lucky enough to have someone with experience go out of his way to walk me through the drills, and he did not once make me feel like I was slowing him down. As I gain more experience, I’ll be sure to pay it forward with a budding BJJ enthusiast that I may meet during one of these classes.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I was reminded that when you accept a challenge that you’ve presented to yourself, there is nothing quite as fulfilling. Granted, I’m at the very beginning of my BJJ journey, but one of the most challenging things about the initiation of this journey was actually getting myself to the gym and stepping onto that mat in the first place. It is so much easier said than done, and so glamorous in thought. BJJ is arguably the most important and necessary martial art to know and understand for any professional fighter. If you are defenseless on the ground, you are a guppy waiting to be fed to the sharks. To my point, just the thought of being choked into submission was incredibly nerve racking, but I knew I had to do this in order to make the proper strides in both my understanding of martial arts, and my need to overcome hurdles that are in front of me just waiting to my jumped. That is precisely why it felt so rewarding to cross the first threshold, and now I am confident that I will be able to further my learnings despite the fears that will remain.

Can’t wait for the next new experience!