Ivan's Blog

Featuring Ivan Trembow's Self-Important, Random Rants on Mixed Martial Arts, Video Games, Pro Wrestling, Television, Politics, Sports, and High-Quality Wool Socks

Monday, November 25, 2002
Pro Wrestling--- As much as I have enjoyed the long string of great wrestling matches between the "Smackdown Six" of talented young stars, it's going to eventually get stale if they don't start facing off with people outside of that core group. Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero, and Chavo Guerrero are six of the best in-ring workers in World Wrestling Entertainment. At the same time, though, it would be nice if WWE would take advantage of the fact that there are endless combinations of top-notch matches that they can have with the rest of the Smackdown crew. Take the aforementioned six guys, and add other people to the mix who can work great matches if given the opportunity (like John Cena, Tajiri, and Matt Hardy), and you've got a much greater amount of variety than there currently is.

It would also help if Angle, Benoit, Edge, and Eddie Guerrero were treated as serious threats for the WWE Title. It would not only elevate those four guys, but it would also elevate all of the other wrestlers mentioned above just for getting in the ring and having competitive matches with Angle, Benoit, Edge, and Guerrero. Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit in particular can have good-to-great matches with just about anyone, so they can be used to elevate other wrestlers in fans' eyes simply by having hot matches with them on TV.

On an unrelated note, a belated kudos goes out to The Undertaker for doing the right thing and losing cleanly to Brock Lesnar in a surprisingly brilliant Hell in a Cell match. Sure, he had to be dragged kicking and screaming for several months behind the scenes before he finally agreed to do it, and it's going to be a very long time before we see The Undertaker do another clean, meaningful job like that. But the fact remains that he did the right thing, and at least now he has one clean job under his belt this year. The fact that it came in a gruesome, classic match only adds to the fact that I have a lot more respect for The Undertaker than I did two months ago.


Sunday, November 24, 2002
Mixed Martial Arts--- Friday night's UFC 40 card from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas had some lofty expectations to meet, and I believe the event did just that. Sure, it would have been nice if some of the fights had lasted longer, but there wasn't a single fight on the card that wasn't exciting to watch. Also, what would you rather have? An event like UFC 40 where the majority of the fights end in under five minutes, or a card like UFC 33 where most of the fights are boring stalemates that last 15-25 minutes and go to judges' decisions? UFC 40 is the kind of entertaining MMA event that is going to turn a lot of non-fans into casual fans, and a lot of casual fans into hardcore fans. If the show turns a larger percentage of the mainstream media into MMA believers in the process, that's just an added bonus. And if the announcement that Tank Abbott is making a comeback brings back a lot of fans from the early days of the sport, that's yet another added bonus.

In the most anticipated fight of the year, any remaining doubt that Tito Ortiz is one of the most well-rounded fighters in any weight class was erased when he completely dominated Ken Shamrock from the opening bell to the end of the fight. Mere seconds into the fight, Ortiz landed a combination of punches that seemed to stun Shamrock, and it was all downhill from there for the MMA pioneer. Other than one solid-looking punch that Ortiz recovered from quickly, Shamrock had no major offense in the entire fight. I expected Ortiz to win with a ground-and-pound strategy, but I never imagined that it would be this one-sided.

The two things that shocked me the most were Tito's stand-up abilities and his raw strength. Tito has made incredible strides in his stand-up kickboxing skills, and now looks like the kind of fighter that is always a threat to knock out his opponent at any given moment. This seemed to catch Shamrock completely by surprise, and he didn't seem to know how to react. Equally shocking was the fact that not only was Ortiz stronger than Shamrock, but he manhandled him like a rag doll and made it look easy to score takedowns. The look of disbelief on Ken's face after some of those powerful takedowns said all that needed to be said. In contrast to Shamrock's apparent sense of shock and panic, Ortiz looked remarkably calm and poised throughout the entire fight, measuring every blow and taking his time so as to avoid burning out.

Once Tito got Ken to the ground, he unleashed his always dangerous barrage of punches, forearms, and elbows, which quickly took their toll on Shamrock's face and mental state. A few unsuccessful submission attempts by Shamrock only served to put Ortiz in a better position to dish out more punishment from the side mount. By the time the second round started, Shamrock's submission attempts from the bottom position didn't appear to pose any threat to Ortiz, and it was very clear that Shamrock wasn't even in Tito's league as a stand-up fighter. The only way Shamrock could win would be to get a takedown on Ortiz and hope to eventually submit him from the top position.

Unfortunately, by that time in the fight Shamrock was far too battered and dazed to attempt any takedowns. At the end of the third round, with almost his entire face swollen and bloodied, Shamrock's corner threw in the towel. A mutual show of respect was eventually shown in the ring after the fight, as both fighters earned the other's respect during the fight. Shamrock was dominated by a younger and better fighter, but he was able to gut it out and survive for three full rounds, despite the fact that he was almost out on his feet (and his back) for more than ten of those 15 minutes. The fact that Shamrock was still defending himself and fighting back after 15 long minutes of non-stop Tito Ortiz offense is nothing short of amazing. There's no getting around the fact that he lost, but Ken Shamrock's heart and his sheer will to survive have earned him the eternal respect of the entire mixed martial arts community.

As dominant as Tito Ortiz was, UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes can lay claim to having the most dominant victory of the night. While Ortiz did take a single jarring punch to the face, welterweight contender Gil Castillo did nothing to Hughes. It was predictable that Hughes would take Castillo down, but it's what happened next that decided the outcome of the fight. It became apparent very quickly that Hughes' ground-and-pound attack was far more smothering than it has ever been before. On the one occasion where it looked like Castillo was about to successfully get back up to his feet, it took about a half-second for Hughes to effortlessly slam him back down to the mat. Castillo seemed absolutely helpless and unable to do anything to stop the onslaught of punches and forearms.

This was Matt Hughes ground and pound at its best, with his opponent unable to stand back up, unable to get into position to go for a submission, unable to fight back with strikes of his own, and at times even unable to move. It was similar to watching Royce Gracie in the first few UFC events, in the sense that both fighters' offensive styles quickly immobilized their opponents and prevented them from doing much of anything except losing. In the minutes after the end of Round One, the bell rang to end the fight, and the Vegas crowd booed what initially appeared to be a doctor's stoppage. In fact, Castillo verbally submitted in his corner due to vision problems (which thankfully went away overnight) and a general battered state. The visibly upset Castillo was completely shut down by Hughes, but then again, everyone is getting shut down by Hughes these days. There's no shame in losing to the best 170-pound fighter in the world, and Castillo should keep that in mind in the weeks and months to come.

In the "I Want My Title Shot Now, Dammit" fight of the night, Chuck Liddell went up against Renato "Babalu" Sobral. A couple of early takedown attempts by Babalu failed, and like most fighters, he was not qualified to stand up and trade strikes with Liddell. After about two minutes of punches and leg kicks by Liddell, Babalu went from a standing position to flat on his back in an instant thanks to a devastating kick to the face. As Liddell tried to finish the fight with punches on the ground, the referee jumped in and stopped the fight, giving Liddell a TKO victory. Babalu would later complain that the ref stopped the fight prematurely, but let's take a look at the situation he was in. He had just been knocked down by a brutal kick, he was momentarily unconscious, he was lying on the mat prone and defenseless with his arms nowhere near his face, and Liddell was about to rain down more hard shots. Is that not the very definition of when a UFC referee is supposed to stop the fight? Liddell looked extremely impressive and will now hopefully get the title shot against Tito Ortiz that he deserves.

Going into UFC 40, a lot of people (including me) wondered whether Carlos Newton would still have his head in the fighting game and whether he would show up in good shape. Not only did he answer both questions with a definitive "yes," but he put on a submission grappling showcase in the process. Newton's opponent, former Golden Gloves boxer Pete Spratt, was just coming off a quick submission victory against a lesser opponent in his previous UFC fight, and seemed to know what he was doing on the ground. Newton quickly took Spratt down and made him look amateurish in the art of grappling, and it became clear within 15 seconds of the fight going to the ground that Newton completely outclassed Spratt on the ground. Everything Spratt did was just countered by Newton and used in some way to put Newton in progressively better offensive positions. The end came less than two minutes after the opening bell in the form of a Kimura armlock. Spratt had no choice but to tap out, and Newton scored the impressive submission victory in less than two minutes.

Prior to his fight against Robbie Lawler, Tiki Ghosen called Lawler over-rated and that he was going to beat Lawler at his own game with stand-up striking. This fight only lasted 90 seconds, but it was non-stop action and it started the live PPV off with a bang. Early on, Tiki played it smart and landed several hard leg kicks, causing Lawler's leg to turn into a shade of swollen red. In the sequence of events that made up the last ten seconds of the fight, Tiki landed a particularly hard leg kick that caused Lawler's leg to buckle. In the split second that it appeared Lawler was about to go down, Lawler landed a devastating right punch that knocked Tiki down, but not out. Tiki had barely hit the mat when, in one swift motion, Lawler landed another haymaker to the face that knocked Tiki completely out, giving Lawler the victory. A few minutes after the fight, when asked if he still thought Lawler was over-rated, Tiki's reply was, "Yeah, I do, they just stopped the fight because of a cut." Tiki appeared to legitimately believe that the ref stopped the fight due to a cut, and he appeared to have no memory whatsoever of being knocked out just minutes earlier.

In what was by far the most well-rounded, back-and-forth fight of the night, undefeated middleweights Mark Weir and Phillip Miller faced off. The fight appeared to be going in Weir's favor in the first round, as he dominated the stand-up game and looked a lot like Anderson Silva with his constant submission attempts on the ground. Both fighters managed to survive the other's numerous submission attempts and make it to round two. In Round Two, Weir landed a vicious shin kick that sent Miller tumbling to the ground. The referee made the best judgment call of the night by not stopping the fight, and Miller managed to survive Weir's immediate offensive flurry on the ground. At that point, Weir chose to stand the fight back up, which made sense given his superior stand-up skills. Miller's legs were wobbly, he looked like he was out on his feet, and it appeared that Weir might be seconds away from knocking Miller out. Instead, Miller wrapped up Weir and took him down, then landed some shots on the ground that caused Weir to roll to his stomach. A perfectly executed rear naked choke followed, and Weir was forced to tap out. In the span of 20 seconds, Miller went from looking like he was going to get knocked out at any second, to winning the fight by submission. A huge amount of heart and talent was shown by both men, and I'd love to see both of them get more fights under their belts in the UFC middleweight ranks.

In his pre-fight interview, Ian Freeman said, "There's not a man alive that can stand up when I punch him." He seemed to be quite cocky in his belief that his stand-up game was so much better than that of his opponent, Andrei Arlovski. Freeman appeared to have lost a large amount of weight in the past few months and looked to be in great shape, but his cockiness got in the way of what would have probably been his best chance to win (going for takedowns and trying to ground and pound Arlovski). Instead, Freeman tried to stand up and go blow-for-blow with Arlovski, who had a big reach advantage. Freeman came out swinging and was quickly stunned by a pair of Arlovski's punches. Even then, Freeman still didn't attempt any takedowns and seemed intent on winning or losing in a stand-up battle. Arlovski's punches continued to make Freeman increasingly wobbly until he finally went down in a heap, giving Arlovski the knockout win 90 seconds into the fight. Not only did Arlovski appear to be in much better shape than he was in his last few fights, but he also eemed amuch more aggressive and quick with his hands.

The only fight of the evening that wasn't shown on the PPV broadcast was the heavyweight fight between Vladimir Matyushenko and Travis Wiuff. Wiuff had a 30-pound weight advantage over Vladdy, but that didn't stop Vladdy from controlling his much less experienced opponent in every aspect of the fight. Vladdy's ground-and-pound attack became too overwhelming for Wiuff to handle, prompting a tap-out shortly after the four-minute mark in Round One. Wiuff took this fight on fairly short notice and could very well have a successful MMA career ahead of him, but it wasn't going to happen on this night.

Overall, UFC 40 has to be considered a smashing success. It would have been even better if more than two of the fights went longer than five minutes, but as I said before, the opposite is much worse if every fight is a 15-minute stalemate. By watching UFC 40, a new viewer could see examples of how a dominant submission specialist wins a fight, how a dominant ground-and-pound specialist wins a fight, how a dominant stand-up fighter wins a fight, and what happens when someone like Tito Ortiz is excellent at all three skills. Joe Rogan was there and was surprisingly good on color commentary, Tank Abbott was there, the mainstream media was there, and the biggest crowd in the history of the MGM Grand was there. All eyes were on UFC 40 in Las Vegas, and it didn't disappoint.

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Friday, November 22, 2002
Mixed Martial Arts--- There's some kind of event on pay-per-view tonight, but I can't remember what it is. Oh yeah, it's only the biggest and most important card in the history of mixed martial arts. With a huge amount of mainstream media and the entire MMA community descending on Las Vegas, all eyes will be on tonight's fight between MMA legend Ken Shamrock and current Light Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz. Shamrock vs. Ortiz alone would be worth the $30 pay-per-view price tag in my opinion, but the rest of the card looks pretty damn good too.

First off, the question on everyone's mind: Who's going to win the main event? A good case can be made for Shamrock. He's been in more high-pressure situations than Ortiz, he has far more experience than Ortiz, and he is probably the most physically strong fighter that Ortiz has ever faced. If Tito is going to overpower and manhandle Shamrock like he does to everyone else, he's going to have a hard time doing it. Also, Tito hasn't fought since September 2001 due to a torn ACL, and his knee may or may not be 100 percent. Meanwhile, Shamrock just happens to be a master of leg submissions and should be able to go after Tito's knee effectively.

While that's a pretty good case for the 38-year-old Shamrock, there's a reason that Ortiz is the Vegas favorite to win the fight. He is a young fighter in his prime who has gone through everyone put in his path over the past couple years. He's probably not going to score a submission victory over Shamrock, but he should be able to counter his fair share of submissions and hold his own in the submission game as a whole. At the same time, Ortiz is far more dangerous than Shamrock in stand-up fighting and in ground-and-pound. In my opinion, that is going to be the difference in the fight.

I don't believe that Tito is going to knock out Ken while standing, but I do believe that he will ground and pound his way to a victory. Ken has never been particularly good from the bottom position, and he has never been taken down and pummeled with the kind of vicious elbow shots that Ortiz has made his signature. Those elbow shots are unlikely to knock Shamrock out on the ground, but as seen in the Ricco Rodriguez vs. Randy Couture fight, they do a hell of a lot of cumulative damage and are much more effective than punches or forearms. If Shamrock wins, it's going to be via submission, but the most likely scenario in my mind is that Ortiz wears down Shamrock with elbow shot after elbow shot en route to a TKO or decision victory.

In a championship fight that has been overshadowed by the Ortiz-Shamrock megafight, Matt Hughes defends his Welterweight Title against Gil Castillo. Castillo is a tough fighter with a lot of wins under his belt, but he was knocked around the ring for 25 minutes in his last UFC fight, which was against Dave Menne. I guess that displays Castillo's ability to take a lot of punishment without getting knocked out or TKO'ed, but he doesn't pose much of an offensive threat to Matt Hughes. In his two previous fights this year, Hughes completely dominated two top-notch fighters, Hayato Sakurai and Carlos Newton, and it would be hard for anyone to argue that Castillo is even in the same league as Sakurai and Newton. There's always a chance of a freakish, out of nowhere submission, but there's no doubt in my mind that Hughes will ground and pound his way to a TKO victory just like he did against Sakurai and Newton. If that happens, Hughes is definitely in the running for 2002's Fighter of the Year award.

With a shot at the winner of the Shamrock-Ortiz fight on the line, Chuck Liddell is set to face Renato "Babalu" Sobral. Liddell is not the most aggressive fighter in the world in terms of moving forward constantly, and most of Babalu's fights end up being anti-climactic stalemates. That combination could add up to a boring fight, but it doesn't change the fact that these are two world-class light heavyweight fighters. Realistically, I don't see how Babalu could win this match. Liddell can out-strike just about anybody in MMA, so he's not going to have a problem with Babalu in that regard. And honestly, if Liddell can overpower Vitor Belfort and just stand back up at will, anytime he feels like it, what would stop him from doing the same to Babalu? If Babalu couldn't pull off a submission in a loss to Kevin Randleman, why would he be able to do it against Liddell, especially considering the fact that Liddell knocked Randleman out? It might be a drawn-out decision victory, but I firmly believe that Chuck Liddell will win this fight and finally get his long-overdue Light Heavyweight Title shot against the winner of Shamrock-Ortiz.

There are a lot of potential big upsets on this card, and the one that I think is most likely to happen is up-and-coming welterweight Pete Spratt beating Carlos Newton. At the pre-event weigh-ins yesterday, Newton was not his normal self and was, in fact, very quiet and dejected. That probably means one of two things: Either he was demoralized by his one-sided loss to Matt Hughes over the summer and is not mentally prepared going into this fight, or he's just extremely focused on the fight at hand and doesn't want to be bothered with anything else. If Newton comes into the fight without his head in the game or if he's not in good shape physically, Pete Spratt could very well pull off the upset of the night. While that could happen, I personally don't believe that it will. Carlos Newton is the consummate professional and is still one of the best welterweight fighters in mixed martial arts, and there should be no shame in losing to the best 170-pound fighter in the world. I think a lot of people have forgotten just how good Newton is. Just look at his amazing fight in Japan against Pele earlier this year if you want proof of how much punishment Newton can absorb standing up, and his record as a submission artist speaks for itself. I'm picking Newton by submission.

In a fight that the UFC has chosen to open the live pay-per-view broadcast in the hopes of starting the event off with a bang, welterweight sensation Robbie Lawler faces Tiki Ghosen. Lawler's previous UFC victories over Aaron Riley and Steve Berger proved that he has a huge amount of heart and is a phenomenal kickboxer, but he has shown little-to-no skill when he's forced to the ground. I believe that someday soon, someone is going to take Lawler to the ground and expose his lack of ground-fighting experience, but I don't believe that person is going to be Tiki Ghosen. Tiki's a decent stand-up fighter, but I'm picking him to get knocked out by Lawler. The real question is: If Lawler does win, where does he go from here? With his training partner and friend Matt Hughes as the Welterweight Champion, Lawler is not going to be fighting for the title anytime soon. He's going to have to change weight class or just keep fighting other welterweights until the day comes that Hughes eventually loses the title to someone else.

The three undercard fights also have the potential to be exciting and will hopefully be shown on the PPV broadcast. Vladimir Matyushenko was set to face Frank Mir, but Mir injured a rib in training and was replaced by Travis Wiuff. Vladdy can take an insane amount of punishment, as he proved when he lasted 25 minutes in a decision loss to Tito Ortiz. I'm picking Vladdy to win despite the fact that Wiuff is 250 pounds of solid muscle. With Matyushenko just coming off a unanimous decision victory in Japan against Minotauro Nogueira's brother Rogerio, all of the momentum is on his side. I don't think he's going to lose to a young kid making his UFC debut who has never been in there with a big-name fighter. Wiuff could be a star down the road, I just don't think it's going to happen tonight.

In a fight that could last 15 seconds or 15 minutes, two undefeated middleweights face off as Mark Weir goes up against Phillip Miller. Weir's skinny frame makes him very susceptible to ground-and-pound, in much the same way that Anderson Silva would be susceptible to ground-and-pound if he ever fought Matt Hughes. Fortunately for Weir, Phillip Miller is no Matt Hughes. I can only base my prediction on the one UFC match that both of these guys have had. Weir knocked out UFC veteran Eugene Jackson in ten seconds, while Phillip Miller looked more than a little bit unimpressive in a decision victory over Frank Zikic. I'm picking Mark Weir to win this fight and continue to move up in the extremely deep UFC middleweight ranks.

Finally, Ian Freeman faces Andrei Arlovski in a fight that I think Freeman will win handily. A lot of MMA fans and writers are making the mistake of discounting Freeman and forgetting the fact that he just got done beating the previously undefeated Frank Mir into a stupor and winning by TKO in impressive fashion. Arlovski has never looked particularly impressive and may still be reeling from his recent knockout loss to Pedro Rizzo. Also, what happens nine times out of ten when a good grappler or ground-and-pound specialist like Freeman meets a good stand-up fighter like Arlovski? The stand-up fighter gets taken down and pummeled. That's exactly what I think will happen in this fight: Ian Freeman wins by TKO.

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Mixed Martial Arts--- It's quite the historic weekend for mixed martial arts, with UFC 40 on Friday and Pride on Sunday. The Pride card from the Tokyo Dome in Japan looks impressive, but also has its fair share of the mismatches that have become Pride's signature. I understand that a lot of the scheduled fighters went down with injuries during training, including Mario Sperry, Mirko Cro-Cop, and Kazuyuki Fujita. But what about the other talent that was apparently lined up and ready to go? Where are Dan Henderson, Rogerio Nogueira, and Anderson Silva? Why are they not on the card, while several MMA punching bags with little-to-no MMA experience are on the card?

Regardless, I would still say that I am looking forward to several of the matches scheduled for this event. First and foremost on my mind is the highly-anticipated showdown between Ricardo Arona and Murilo "Ninja" Rua. Outside of Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock, Arona vs. Ninja is the fight that I am looking forward to the most this weekend. These are two young, talented fighters in the prime of their careers, in great shape and just coming off impressive wins over big-name stars. Arona scored a victory over perennial top five light-heavyweight Dan Henderson, while Ninja beat jiu-jitsu legend Mario Sperry in one of the most exciting MMA fights that any of us will ever see. A win in this fight could push either fighter into an immediate title shot.

Arona vs. Ninja is an evenly-matched fight that could go in a lot of different directions. I don't think the fight will end in a submission because both fighters are so good at countering them, as evidenced by Ninja getting out of an endless barrage of submission attempts from submission master Mario Sperry. I believe that it's ultimately going to come down to two things: Stand-up ability, and stamina. In both of those categories, I would have to give the edge to Ninja. Arona is no slouch as a kickboxer, but Ninja can stand up and trade punches with the best of them, and is far more dangerous on his feet than Arona.

If Arona is going to win before the time limit expires, it would probably be with the ground-and-pound strategy, but that strategy generally works best when you have more conditioning and lasting power than your opponent. Endurance in later rounds is actually something that pushed Arona over the top in victories against Guy Mezger and Dan Henderson, but no one in Pride and maybe even all of MMA can match Ninja in that area. You wouldn't know it from looking at him, but Ninja has proven time and time again that he has more stamina and heart than just about anyone. The only thing that's certain in this one is that it's going to be one hell of a fight. I'm picking Murilo "Ninja" Rua to win, and I think it is most likely to be a decision victory since these two are so evenly matched.

Elsewhere on the card, Pride's Heavyweight Champion, Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira, faces the 6-foot-11 Dutch kickboxer Semmy Shilt in a non-title fight. Shilt is a damn good kickboxer thanks largely to his long reach, but he hasn't had much success in mixed martial arts due to his lack of ground-fighting skills. Most fighters who are even moderately proficient at ground-and-pound or submissions have had no problem taking Shilt down and defeating him. So, it stands to reason that the #1 submission artist in the world and the #1 fighter in the world, period, shouldn't have much of a problem in this fight. I'm picking Minotauro by submission. By the way, it's going to be a tough couple of weeks for Semmy Shilt, because not only does he face Minotauro on Sunday in a mixed martial arts bout, but in early December he is scheduled for a K-1 kickboxing bout against the 6-foot-8, 380-pounds-of-muscle Bob Sapp.

In the only title fight on the card, Light-Heavyweight Champion Vanderlei Silva goes up against Hiromitsu Kanehara. While Kanehara does have a TKO victory over Dave Menne on his resume, that's just about the only victory against an accomplished fighter that he's ever had. He's more qualified than some of the scrubs that Pride puts in the ring, but with a 10-7 mixed martial arts record, he has no business being in the ring with Vanderlei Silva fighting for the Light-Heavyweight Title at one of Pride's biggest shows of the year. Kanehara is a veteran of the Rings fighting organization in Japan, where the rules severely restrict strikes to the head. He's not used to getting punched in the head by a mid-level fighter, much less one of the quickest and most dangerous strikers in all of MMA. This is a typical Pride mismatch that Vanderlei is going to easily win by knockout.

With a title shot against Minotauro Nogueira going to the winner, the stakes are high for the heavyweight fight between Heath Herring and Emelianenko Fedor. Fedor is a tough guy that can take a lot of punishment, but Heath Herring is one of the most underrated heavyweight fighters in the world. If he went to the UFC right now, he could immediately fight for the Heavyweight Title and have a decent chance of winning it. In much the same way that Tito Ortiz has his own signature style of ground-and-pound that employs the use of devastating elbows to the head, Herring has his own style of ground-and-pound that focuses on equally devastating knees to the head. Herring is a big guy with excellent conditioning, and I fully expect to see him ground and pound his way to a victory over Fedor. If Heath Herring does win and goes on to face Minotauro, I still think that Herring has less than a 50 percent chance of winning, but he would probably have a higher chance of winning than just about any other fighter in MMA. Minotauro and Herring faced off in late 2001 in a classic, back-and-forth struggle that Minotauro ended up winning by unanimous decision, and I'm frothing at the mouth right now at the thought of a Minotauro-Herring rematch.

It's going to be fun to watch in a sadistic sort of way when MMA legend Don Frye goes up against Hidehiko Yoshida. Yoshida is the kind of guy that a lot of people (including me) love to hate. This is due to the fact that Yoshida still claims he choked out Royce Gracie at the Pride Shockwave event this past summer, even though the instant replay clearly shows that he didn't even have pressure applied to Gracie's neck, much less choke him out. Yoshida is an Olympic gold medalist in judo, which doesn't mean much in mixed martial arts, other than maybe taking your opponent to the ground and then not knowing what to do offensively when you get there. Yoshida's fight with Gracie was a submission grappling match with no striking allowed, and this is his MMA debut. Making your MMA debut against Don Frye would be the equivalent of someome making his boxing debut against Oscar de la Hoya. Yoshida is going to lose by knockout in embarrassing fashion, and it couldn't happen to a more appropriate guy.

In the fight that will be the most nerve-wracking to watch, Kazushi Sakuraba returns to face off against some guy named Gilles Arsene who almost no one in the MMA community has ever even heard of. You would think Sakuraba would have no problem disposing of his unknown opponent, except for one little fact: He's fighting with a broken eye socket. Sakuraba's eye socket bone was broken in a TKO loss to Mirko Cro-Cop less than two months ago. In addition to his chronic shoulder and knee problems, Sakuraba's eye socket has barely begun to heal, and he is still having vision problems. And yet here he is, fighting nonetheless because his friend and mentor Nobuhiko Takada is having his retirement match on the same show. It's commendable to want to honor your mentor by fighting on his retirement show, but to risk long-term vision loss and facial damage with this kind of injury is just plain stupid. I'm picking Sakuraba to beat his no-name opponent by submission like he has done to so many other fighters over the years. I just hope that no permanent damage is done to Sakuraba's eyesight or face in the process.

Kevin Randleman burst onto the MMA scene a few years back with an impressive victory over former UFC Champion Maurice Smith, but his career has been on a downward spiral for a while now. Randleman made his Pride debut in September against a Japanese man named Michiyoshi Ohara who has almost MMA experience or discernable skill. Despite his opponent's apparent lack of knowledge about anything related to fighting, Randleman was unable to finish off his opponent within the 20-minute time limit. Instead, Randleman quickly got winded and started sucking air like he was on the 25th mile of a 26-mile marathon, despite the fact that he hadn't really done much of anything. For the majority of the painful-to-watch fight, Randleman just stood there, horribly out of shape, occasionally landing a strike on his ridiculously unqualified opponent. Randleman is going to win again on Sunday, but only because Pride has put him up against another unknown with little-to-no MMA experience, Kenichi Yamamoto. Randleman better be thankful for the easy opponents he's been given so far in Pride, because at this point absolutely anyone who is a mid-level or higher mixed martial artist would probably tear Randleman apart.

I have saved this fight for last since it's more of a joke than a fight, and one that perhaps one or two dozen people outside of Japan care about. Nobuhiko Takada, the perennial embarrassment to both his country and mixed martial arts in general, is having his so-called "retirement match" against Kiyoshi Tamura. Takada gained his reputation in Japan in the UWFI, a "strong-style" pro wrestling organization where the fights might have appeared to be real at first glance, but in fact the outcomes were just as pre-determined as those in any other pro wrestling company. In general, pro wrestling matches with pre-determined outcomes are often incredibly entertaining to watch, but it's dishonest for a company like the UWFI to have based its entire promotion on the concept of the fake fights supposedly being real.

In Pride, Takada lost quickly on two separate occasions to Rickson Gracie, only because Gracie turned down several huge-money offers to throw the fight and let Takada win. The only wins that Takada has ever had in any MMA organization were against Mark Coleman, Kyle Sturgeon, and Alexander Otsuka. It is now common knowledge in the MMA community that his win over Coleman was fixed, and came at a low point in Coleman's career when he desperately needed a big payday. Most suspect that Takada's wins over Sturgeon and Otsuka were pre-determined as well. In any fight that Takada has ever fought that was legitimate and without a pre-determined outcome, he has lost decisively and embarrassingly. Some of those losses were just plain disgraceful, like his loss to Royce Gracie where Takada just hung on to Gracie and literally attempted one offensive move (a punch) in the entire 20+ minute bout.

If Takada vs. Tamura is a legitimate fight, then of course Tamura is going to win. Tamura was able to last for a while and actually land a few shots on Vanderlei Silva, and there's no way in hell that Takada would be able to do that. The more likely scenario is that it's not going to be a legitimate a fight, and Takada will win. He'll end his fraudulent career with a fraudulent win in a fraudulent fight. Congratulations, man, way to go out on top...

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Thursday, November 21, 2002
Mixed Martial Arts--- Yesterday's segment about the UFC on ESPN's Around the Horn was disgracefully uninformed and painful to watch for any fan of mixed martial arts. Host Max Kellerman said that he believes MMA is one of the most compelling sports on earth and then asked his panel of newspaper columnists from around the country what they thought of it. Unfortunately, none of the four columnists has ever actually seen a UFC fight and made no bones about that fact. The normally well-read and credible Bob Ryan, Jay Mariotti, Tim Cowlishaw, and T.J. Simers were uncharacteristically ignorant of the topic at hand and were quick to resort to the standard knee-jerk reaction that we've all heard before.

None of them seemed to know any basic facts about the UFC or even what the UFC is. Bob Ryan seemed to think that it was just like boxing, only in a cage and with no rules. Jay Mariotti spoke of the UFC as if it were no different from cockfighting as two savages get into the cage and fight to the death. Tim Cowlishaw did call it a sport, but didn't approve of it, and T.J. Simers didn't know much about it but at least refrained from making any outlandish remarks. I don't think I will ever be able to watch Around the Horn the same way again after seeing first-hand just how hard these guys can come down on a product that they have never actually seen or bothered to research. If you watch a few UFC events and hate it, that's fine, but don't bash something that you know nothing about and have never seen.

Host Max Kellerman was the only defender of the UFC and mixed martial arts in general, pointing out that it is safer than both football and boxing and that no one has ever died in a UFC fight. Not only is that true, but he could have also pointed out that no one has ever been seriously injured in the UFC since it was founded in 1993. People get seriously injured in boxing and football every single day in this country, and numerous people have died in football and boxing. So why is it that MMA is likened to cockfighting, while football and boxing are never questioned by mainstream media members like Ryan, Mariotti, Cowlishaw, and Simers?

It's one thing if a person is opposed to combat sports in general. If someone believes that boxing is wrong in principle, the same principle would apply to the UFC. I wouldn't agree with that, but I would understand that person's opinion and respect it. But to approve of boxing and treat MMA as "garbage" (as Jay Mariotti called it) is about as hypocritical as it gets. I used to consider myself a big fan of Bob Ryan, but I am now much less of one after this show, where among other things, he said this: "If these guys are such good fighters, why aren't they doing real fighting in boxing?" In a segment full of uninformed and insulting statements, that one has to take the cake.

Little does Bob Ryan know that accomplished boxers have entered MMA competitions dozens of times over the past ten years, and in over 95% of those fights, the result is the same. The mixed martial artist scores a takedown on the boxer, and the boxer has no idea how to fight on the ground or how to avoid advanced submission techniques, and the boxer loses quickly and embarrassingly. Which one of those two would be the "real fighter," Bob? Also, a boxer has to know one thing, and that is (obviously) how to box. A mixed martial artist has to be skilled in every aspect of the game to be successful in MMA.

If you don't have good enough amateur wrestling techniques in MMA, you're probably going to lose. If you don't have good enough groundwork and submission skills in MMA, you're probably going to lose. If you're not a good enough kickboxer in MMA, you're probably going to lose. You have to be good at everything and you have to know so much more about fighting than a boxer ever could. I think the real question, Mr. Ryan, would be, "If boxers are such good fighters, why aren't they doing real fighting and trying their hand at the multi-faceted sport of MMA?"

If the panelists won't actually watch the sport that they love to bash so much, all it would take would be a 30-to-60 second explanantion at the top of the segment before the floor is turned over to the panelists. Max Kellerman could have said something like, "The UFC is like kickboxing, only you can attempt to take your opponent down to the mat with amateur wrestling techniques, and once you get him there, you can try striking from the ground, or you can attempt a submission move from jiu-jitsu or one of countless other martial arts disciplines. There are dozens of rules and regulations, the sport is sanctioned by numerous state athletic commissions including Nevada and New Jersey, there has never been a serious injury in the nine years that the UFC has existed, and fights can be stopped at any time by the referee or ringside doctors. The participants are not bloodthirsty savages taken off the street, but world-class athletes who spend their entire lives training and improving their craft. Many of the best MMA fighters have been world jiu-jitsu champions and Olympic medalists in wrestling."

That's a simple, one-paragraph explanation, yet it is vastly more knowledge than Ryan, Mariotti, Cowlishaw, or Simers have ever had about the UFC. Until the mainstream sports media wakes up and smells the MMA coffee, organizations like the UFC are never going to get the respect that they deserve, and that's the real shame in all of this.

STORY UPDATE: I received the following response to this from the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan via e-mail: "You're very correct. Until I was presented with this topic yesterday, I had never heard of this nonsense. I have zero interest in it. Sorry."

This is precisely what I am talking about. If you have a modicum amount of knowledge about mixed martial arts and decide that you have "zero interest" in it, that's fine with me and I would respect that opinion. But to know nothing about it and still call it "nonsense," I do have a problem with that. A lot of people who haven't heard of the UFC are certainly going to be hearing about it in the months to come, as negotiations are currently in the advanced stages for a weekly timeslot on either ESPN or Fox Sports Net. In addition, tomorrow night's event at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas is on pace to sell more tickets than any event in the history of the MGM Grand, including big-name concerts and heavyweight championship boxing fights.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2002
Video Games--- One of the most frequently asked questions that I receive is, "What's the deal with the PS2 hard drive? Where the hell is it? I thought it was supposed to be out months ago!" From everything I have heard, it was just earlier this year that Sony finally started to realize how much of a nightmare it would be to release a hard drive add-on for a video game console, an add-on that would cost $100 at the very least. Only a tiny percentage of PS2 owners would buy it (since every peripheral over $50 has failed miserably since the beginning of video game history), and an equally small percentage of games would support the hard drive. The PS2 hard drive would basically to be doomed to failure from the start unless it was bundled with every PS2 ever sold from the beginning, which it wasn't.

Why it took Sony this long to realize such an obvious fact is beyond me, but at least they did realize that fact before releasing the damn thing. There's a small chance that Sony will still release the hard drive in the US at some point next year, but it's becoming less and less likely with each passing week and month. If they do release the hard drive in the US, it will only serve to dilute and fragment the PS2 marketplace.

As for the question of manually putting a hard drive into the back of a PS2 system and getting it to work, I'm sure it could be done and I'm sure that someone has probably done it somewhere. But once it's set up, then what? If zero games support it, there would be no use for such a hard drive. PlayStation 2 games will not take advantage of any hard drive add-on unless the game is specifically programmed to do so, and game developers have no motivation to add such a feature to their games if the PS2 hard drive is never even released in the US.

As with many other aspects of the Xbox vs. PS2 vs. GameCube war (like Xbox Live vs. the PS2's Clusterf--k Network vs. the GameCube's Non-Existent Network), Microsoft is the only company that had the foresight to get it right. Microsoft made sure that every Xbox system ever sold had a hard drive built-in, no matter how much money it would cost the company. As a result, there's no add-on for consumers to buy, and game publishers know that 100% of Xbox owners have Xbox hard drives. With this knowledge in mind, game companies are actually taking advantage of its capabilities and making better games.

Games like Project Ego, BC, Halo 2, Brute Force, UFC Tapout 2, Ninja Gaiden, Project Gotham Racing 2, Perfect Dark Zero, and Doom 3 quickly come to mind, and not one of the games on that list will be released for any other console. Developers have only hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of all the unique possibilites that the Xbox hard drive offers for innovative game design. As a result, the difference in general game quality between the Xbox and PS2 is likely to swing more and more in the Xbox's favor in 2003 and 2004. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that there will ever be more Xbox systems in people's homes worldwide than PS2 systems, but it does mean that the Xbox may quickly become the system of choice for hardcore gamers.


Tuesday, November 19, 2002
Pro Wrestling--- Rey Mysterio needs to have the knee surgery that he has put off for the past couple months. Not over the Christmas break as previously scheduled, not on December 5 as currently scheduled, but right now. With his history of knee problems, including multiple ACL tears in his career, the last thing Mysterio should be doing is working through and worsening a knee injury. As it stands right now, it could be "just" arthroscopic surgery and barring unforseen damage or complications, he could be out of action for as little as 2-4 weeks in the best-case scenario. Instead, he is tempting fate to strike him down with a more serious knee injury than he already has. Every day and every week that he wrestles on those injured knees not only increases the cumulative wear and tear that is causing him so much pain, but also increases the chances of tearing something that would keep him out for many months.

It's become almost painful to watch Mysterio's matches lately. One can't help but feel bad for him as the knee problems become more and more apparent with each TV match and interfere more and more with the moves he does. I understand the rationale of wanting to make money while you can and while you're hot with live crowds, but Rey Mysterio is the last person who should be thinking like that because he is no flash in the pan. He is such a spectacular wrestler that he could take off 2-4 weeks right now and come back just as hot with the audience as when he left, simply by re-establishing himself upon his return with one or two of his signature high-flying matches.


Monday, November 18, 2002
Pro Wrestling--- The Big Show beating Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title has to be the single worst booking decision of all time. It's the kind of thing that makes people turn off their televisions and never watch wrestling again. It makes Vince Russo's decision to give David Arquette the WCW title seem like a brilliant stroke of genius by comparison. It was bad enough to put the no-talent lug in the Smackdown main event for the WWE Title under any circumstances, but to have him actually beat Lesnar and win the title is downright disgraceful.

It's especially non-sensical given the fact that they have spent almost a year waiting for just the right time and circumstance for Brock Lesnar to lose his first match, and this is who they decide to give that instant boost of star power? And even from a story line standpoint, Lesnar beat The Rock, Hulk Hogan, and The Undertaker cleanly, but he can't beat a big fat loser like The Big Show? It's insulting to viewers that the WWE just expects all of us to forget that Big Show has spent the last two years losing to almost everyone in the company. Now he jumps to Smackdown with a new haircut and he's suddenly an unstoppable monster?

It would be the equivalent of the WWE having Rikishi lose to everyone in the company for two years, and then suddenly turn him into an unbeatable wrecking machine and justify it with the 1980's logic of "he's really big, you know." Being seven feet tall and 500 pounds shouldn't entitle you to anything in the wrestling business, unless of course you have a modicum of talent to back it up. The Big Show had that talent at the very beginning of his career, but when his early success when to his head, he became lazy and unmotivated and horribly out of shape. He's been that way for years now, and yet here he is, winning the WWE Title from one of the two biggest rookie sensations of the past ten years (the other, needless to say, is Kurt Angle).

I am fully aware of the fact that Lesnar has to take time off due to his broken rib, but it's not going to be months off, and the WWE Title is normally only defended once per month these days anyway. Some idiot on the WWE writing staff might say, "Well, we want to be able to advertise that the WWE Champion will be wrestling at house shows," but that argument goes out the window thanks to the common sense logic that no one is going to buy a live event ticket just to see The Big Show (he doesn't "put asses in the seats," as Tony Schiavone might say).

In any case, the fact that Brock Lesnar was able to repeatedly lift and suplex a 500-pound man is impressive, especially considering his broken rib. Having a broken rib and still being able to (seemingly easily) lift a 500-pound man over your head and spin him around like a damn airplane is downright amazing. Lesnar is a machine, and unlike the much less reliable, much less level-headed, and much more injury-prone Bill Goldberg, Lesnar is actually able to deliver good wrestling matches in the ring on a regular basis. He's like Goldberg, only with talent.


Friday, November 01, 2002
Mixed Artial Arts--- This month's UFC 40 event is shaping up to be a barn-burner. Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock for the Light Heavyweight Championship looks to be the highest-profile fight that Zuffa has promoted since buying the UFC from Semaphore Entertainment Group. Tito's knee is supposedly near 100% as he continues to recover from surgery to repair a torn ACL, while Shamrock appears to be healed from any injuries that he sustained during his loss to Don Frye in Pride. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that nobody breaks a femur in training, because something freakish like that always seems to happen whenever Zuffa schedules a mega-fight on the level of Ortiz vs. Shamrock.

The semi main event features Matt Hughes defending his Welterweight Championship against Gil Castillo. After completely and utterly dominating two of the top welterweight fighters in the world (Mach Sakurai in March and Carlos Newton in June), Matt Hughes will probably get my vote for Fighter of the Year in 2002 if he is able to pull off a similarly impressive performance against Castillo. Honestly, if he can manhandle Sakurai and Newton, I don't think Hughes is going to have much a problem with Castillo, but at the same time, history has proven that you can never be 100% certain about any MMA fight outcome. Who's left for Matt Hughes to face if he beats Castillo? The first two names that spring to mind are Anderson Silva and Frank Trigg, neither of whom are currently in the UFC.

A previously planned light heavyweight showdown between Vitor Belfort and Vladimir Matyushenko had to be called off because Belfort suffered a knee injury during training, but Vladdy is still available to fight on this card if Zuffa wants to use him. Matyushenko is coming off a decision victory over Rogerio Nogueira (Minotauro's twin brother) in Japan, and he has gone on record saying that he is tired of cutting weight and he would like to move up to the heavyweight division. Meanwhile, heavyweight Frank Mir is scheduled to fight at UFC 40 but doesn't have an opponent. Hmm... connect the dots and you have a potentially exciting heavyweight match-up that I would personally look forward to seeing: Frank Mir vs. Vladimir Matyushenko. Only time will tell if it actually happens, but it would be a hell of a fight.

Even with Vladdy vs. Vitor being called off, UFC 40 still has two top-notch light heavyweight fights: Ortiz vs. Shamrock, and Chuck Liddell vs. Renato "Babalu" Sobral. Liddell has beaten everyone that has been put in front of him en route to an eventual title shot against the Light Heavyweight Champion, including an impressive victory over Vitor Belfort this past summer. With a title shot against the winner of Ortiz vs. Shamrock gauranteed, Chuck Liddell decided that rather than sit on the sidelines for a few months and wait for his title shot, he would rather face one of the top light heavyweight contenders in the world, Babalu Sobral. While everyone is going to be calling Liddell stupid if he loses the fight and blows his title shot opportunity, he has to be commended for the large amount of guts that it takes to want to fight Babalu (as opposed to doing nothing for a few months and getting his title shot just the same).

Rounding out the card: Carlos Newton, coming off a tough loss to Matt Hughes, faces up-and-coming welterweight Pete Spratt. The undefeated Mark Weir, who recently exploded onto the UFC scene by knocking out Eugene Jackson in ten seconds, faces the undefeated Phillip Miller in a middleweight showdown. Ian Freeman, who just notched an impressive victory over the previously undefeated Frank Mir, faces Andrei Arlovski in a heavyweight fight. Finally, welterweight sensation Robbie Lawler faces Tiki Ghosen.

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