Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Why Vitor Belfort Is Anderson Silva's Toughest Fight To Date

Vitor Belfort is set to face Anderson Silva this Saturday (February 5) in Sin City.This will be the "Spider's" toughest challenge in the UFC. Why? Because Vitor Belfort has the experience, speed, power, and overall game to beat anyone on any given night. The two Brazilians will give the fans a great show and the difference in this encounter, from past viewing debacles and spiritless challenges, will be the legitimate threat to Silva's dominant reign.

In examining why this bout differs from the rest, consider to whom we are comparing Vitor. Yes, I agree that Anderson Silva is the best fighter in the world. I also believe that he and I lament that he has not been fully tested. Who has he been given as opposition? Realistically, consider these match-ups and imagine how any of these opponents could have beaten the greatest UFC champion of all time?

Chris Leben: His "dump truck" mentality begs to be knocked out. An exciting fighter, but not a top-tier guy. He is a perfect match-up for an elite, technical, striker.

Travis Lutter: Travis came in overweight, gassed out, and was cut after his following fight, a loss to Franklin. He is subsequently 1-1 outside of the UFC. While he performed well in the first round by hitting some nice takedowns and offered a brief mounted attack, he suffered a terrible beating from the Spider's triangle attack and elbows and tapped in the second round. End result, he never hurt the champ.

James Irvin: James lost badly in the first round, dropped two more and then was dropped himself by the UFC. It is confusing why he was chosen as a challenger to the pound-for-pound king in the first place. Because he beat Houston Alexander?

Patrick Cote: Patrick was billed as a powerful striker with KO potential. As good as he is, his striking is a few leagues lower than Anderson's. He did nothing in the fight and boasted coming out of the second round that he had made it to the third round. Cote, a la Irvin, also lost his two subsequent fights and was released by the UFC.

Thales Leites: The hype behind Leites was his submission skills. He did nothing more than flop to the mat and has yet to prove he is indeed a serious threat on the MMA mat to a fellow black belt like Silva. Thales lost his next fight, after losing to Anderson, and also was asked to leave the UFC. This was one of the least challenging title fights in sports history.

Forrest Griffin: Yes, we all love the charming Forrest. Is he an exciting fighter? Absolutely. A great fighter? No. He has won all of our hearts, but really his claim to fame is his fighting heart. His fighting style of standing and trading makes him easy target practice when against someone possessing the champ's striking prowess. This was proven when Silva stood right in front of him, hands dropped, and knocked him down with a fading jab. (Forrest fan:"No, it wasn't that bad." Well, Forrest did leave the Octagon crying.)

Tougher Tests

While not easy prey, the following challengers never provided a serious threat to the record title run of the Brazilian. While Maia is a better grappler and Sonnen is a better wrestler, none of them have the complete game necessary to dethrone a stellar champion. As good as these contenders are, they never had the champ in trouble and little drama existed in the build up nor did tension ensue in the actual contest. Their fates were always inevitable.

Rich Franklin (twice): Yes, Rich is a tough fighter. He was a long-time champion and dominated until the former Chute-Boxe star arrived. Rich did well as a result of his stand-up game. He is an excellent striker-just not near Silva's level. He was completely dominated in every moment of both fights. In fact, so much so that he went up in weight to compete in the 205 division.

Nate Marquardt: Nate is a tough guy too. A well rounded, talented, fighter, but could never get himself past the pack to another title shot. He has lost two of his last three matches and was criticized by Dana White for being a choker. His title challenge expired in the first round. A good challenger nonetheless. Nate " The Great" is good at everything, but inferior to the champ in everything. Silva even hit a wrestler's switch on him to reverse the momentum of the fight. Knocking out a jiu jitsu player is different than landing flush on the best fighter on the planet.

Demian Maia: Demian with his world class jiu jitsu posed a real threat and was a good win for Silva. However, it was one of the most unusual fights ever as Silva ran and goofed-off more than fought. Maia's chance was to get it to the ground, but Silva used his footwork and speed to make it a dance- not a fight. Thus never giving the grappling ace a chance. By the time Maia understood that Silva was not there to fight, he began to land some solid strikes of his own against the champ. Yet, he was never going to walk out with the title by winning a stand-up battle nor a dance contest with the fleeter-footed belt wearer.

Hardest Hills Climbed To Date

The toughest challenges to date, in my opinion, have come from the following two opponents.

Dan Henderson: "Hendo" is a legend. This is, until now, the toughest challenger for Silva in the UFC. Henderson took round one and finally succumbed to a rear naked choke. Dan has a clear advantage in wrestling over Anderson and sadly was never given a rematch. Henderson had made a deep weight cut and was close to 38 when they fought. Dan brought to his title shot advantages that Vitor does not, but the quicker, crisper, and more accurate hands of Belfort offer a better one shot drop potential than Dan's loaded and telegraphed right. The fact that Henderson holds a win over Vitor, and his Pride belts, make the argument that he remains Anderson's toughest challenge. For those who feel that Henderson was a tougher challenge than Vitor, I would see the merit in that perspective.

Chael Sonnen: Chael proved to be the hardest fight to date. It could be said he won all four and a half rounds. To his credit, he did not run nor lay and pray en route to an easy decision win in the final two minutes. But, his true colours came through in the end as a fighter with too many holes (8 submission losses- 4 via triangle- Nate almost had him tapping too) in his game to be champion. An injured rib may also have played a big role in Chael's mighty performance. In my opinion, Chael's dominance was an anomaly. However, give Chael all the credit in the world, he backed up his talk and gave the world a wonderful show!

It could also be argued that a Sonnen rematch is more dangerous to Silva than the Belfort confrontation, but I believe a healthy Silva cleans him up with the striking or subs him again from bottom. Although he has fared the best, I see Belfort's power as more menacing than someone taking shots to procure a takedown, to then be in a position where they are susceptible to submissions. 

What can Vitor do?

Dana White brought him here for one reason. To make Anderson fight. Why did he choose Vitor Belfort? Vitor comes in on a five fight win streak and with three consecutive KO wins. The last two, in the first round, against top contenders: Rich Franklin and Matt Lindland. Nobody on Anderson's vanquished list has Vitor's hand speed. Although, Dan Henderson's overhand right and the dynamite in Nate Marquardt's hands are comparable to Belfort's power- none can reach their target as laser-quick.

The 19-8 fighter has been in excellent form and holds an advantage on the ground with his Carlson Gracie awarded black belt and bronze medal success at the A.D.C.C. in 2001. While Anderson holds a black belt as well, A Carlson Gracie black belt and high level competition success trumps a Nogueira black belt. The Phenom also possesses one shot knockout power that rivals or surpasses that of the long time 185 pound division champion.

This will be the first Silva fight where the champ could lose it all in an instant. None of the other challengers offered that threat. While Maia could have subbed him, Chael could have wrestled to a decision win, and Henderson could have ground and pounded out a "W"- Vitor, the former UFC heavyweight champion- can do it in an instant. That is what makes this fight exciting to watch.

Playing MMA math never makes sense, but here it is anyways. Both have KO wins over Rich Franklin. Vitor did it with his hand speed and power in the first round. Anderson did it twice, but through constant pressure and superior skills. Dan Henderson holds a decision win over Belfort while Anderson has a submission win over the former Pride king.


 Overall, I think Anderson is the better striker. Vitor will have ring rust and is coming off surgery on his left shoulder. His last fight was in September, 2009. and he has a slight feud with his striking coach Shawn Tompkins who is questioning Vitor's loyalty for jumping from gym to gym. Making weight for 185 might also be an issue since he has not fought at 185 in two years. Regardless of the outcome, it will be the first Silva fight that I will watch knowing at any minute his MMA win streak, which is now at 13, and his record for most consecutive UFC wins-at 12- and his record for consecutive UFC title defenses-at 7- could potentially end in a flash.
This is the first time the champ will see someone with this combination of speed, accuracy, and power. Although, he is a Southpaw, Belfort's straight right cross is his most lethal shot. Maia and Sonnen were able to land their crosses. Should Vitor be able to do the same, he has the potential to rain on the Spider's parade. However, I expect initially to see a lot of fencing and hesitation with Silva winning by using his footwork and outside striking. Anderson is also a very intelligent fighter who could utilize his kicks and clinch game to continue his record-breaking streak. However, the challenger's one shot power, along with his jiu jitsu, will make every moment worth watching. This cannot be said about the champ's past fights. The end of the reign has never been challenged to this degree.

Whether Vitor connects or not, knowing what could happen if he did, makes this a compelling challenge. More importantly, here is a challenger against whom Silva cannot cheat the paying public by dancing around. This time he is up against someone who can tune him like a Samba instrument if he plays those weird, running games. Watch this Saturday to finally see Anderson Silva battle someone with the potential to usurp the Spider or at least- make him fight!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Supporting Local Fighters

                                     Root, Root For The Home Team:

           Local Fighter Mark Bocek Gives Toronto A Reason To Cheer:

The MMA world is set to descend on Toronto. Hogtown, be set to be besieged by thousands of tattooed MMA fans. On April 30, at the Rogers Center, UFC 129 will present a blockbuster card with elite MMA stars. One of the combatants will be a local lad that you probably have never heard of. Get ready to cheer for Woodbridge's Mark Bocek. It will be a refreshing feeling for this great city to have one of our own in the spotlight. It is long overdue.

Are there still trace elements of the magic left from the Leafs' 1993-94 season in your memory? What about the joy that surged through your body when Joe Carter cracked that homer in 1993? Is that feeling of elation still readily recalled? It seemed Leaf- talk was ubiquitous during that dramatic run and we have long since had another Carter moment. Having something to cheer about brought the city closer and gave Toronto character and an identity of which we could be proud. While neither team had any players from Toronto with leading roles (apologies to Peter Zezel and Mark Osborne), we happily adopted them. Cities are quick to become surrogate mothers to anyone who might come and offer even a brief glimpse of glory. An even more endearing proposition is having a star born and raised amongst the citizens themselves. The alliteration, hometown hero, evokes powerful feelings of pride. There is no love comparable to the love a mother gives to one of her own. A local athlete making good and doing a town well is an inspirational narrative. A tale that Toronto's three major sports teams have not been able to spin for quite some time.

The Toronto Raptors have never had a home-grown star, with all due respect to Rob Butler and Rob Ducey, nor have the Blue Jays. The Toronto Maple Leafs might extend the city limits to Kingston so as to include Doug Gilmour, but really have not had a Hogtown native feature in the famed blue and white in decades. Does Mike Palmateer count? If not, do we need to go as far back as Carl Brewer? The current Leafs' roster has no stars whatsoever. And no GTA boys. The closest would be: John Mitchell (Oakville) and Tim Brent (Cambridge) neither of whom could be considered elite. (Although Scarborough's Dwayne De Rosario is a legitimate star for Toronto MLS and the Toronto Rock has also seen several local boys excel.) Fortunately, there is a new sport creating waves all across the GTA. The legalization of MMA in Ontario is splashing waves of momentum through the Waterfront Trail, past the D.V.P., to the 401, and beyond. As MMA reaches Ontario, and with the UFC set to arrive on April 30, 2011, Toronto already has some local flavour to appreciate.

Rapidly increasing in popularity is the Canadian fighter known simply and famously worldwide by the three-lettered acronym: G.S.P. Over the past several years he has given himself, and the fledgling sport, a massive rise in notoriety. I'm sure many of you can guess of whom I am writing. French-Canadian Georges St-Pierre has won the prestigious title of Rogers Sportsnet Canadian Athlete of the Year three years in a row and gained some hard-earned mainstream acceptance. G.S.P. will be headlining UFC 129 on April 30th at the Rogers Center. Meanwhile, a polite, soft-spoken, charismatic, and uber-talented mixed martial arts star from here right in the G.T.A. continues to shine in relative obscurity. Perhaps that is the nature of hailing from Woodbridge which is known for little more than being associated with antiquated notions of ethnic stereotyping. Despite the absence of fame and recognition, Mark Bocek is categorically one of Canada's most accomplished athletes.

The 9-3 lightweight fighter has a record of 5-3 in the world's most competitive mixed martial arts organization: the U.F.C. Mark also competes in the most challenging division which is 146-155 lbs. (The light heavyweight category 186- 205 is also considered the deepest.) Mark's three losses are to: the current champion Frankie Edgar, Spike television's 
The Ultimate Fighter: Season Six champion Mac Danzig, and a controversial decision loss to Jim Miller. Miller has a record of 8-1 in the U.F.C. The loss to Miller was fought in his home state of New Jersey and, according to many, Bocek appeared to have won easily. While it may go unnoticed, due to the media frenzy that will focus on GSP, Mark's next fight will also be here in Toronto on April 30th.

 His opponent will be former WEC champion Ben Henderson. Henderson is 12-2 and is the former WEC lightweight champion. The W.E.C. has recently amalgamated with the U.F.C. and in the last lightweight fight for the WEC, Henderson lost his title to Anthony Pettis via decision- a fight made famous for the Matrix-esque kick that Pettis landed on Henderson. The very well rounded Henderson is a very difficult challenge as he brings excellent wrestling skills, durability, and a history of winning. Fighting a former champion like Henderson on a fight card of this magnitude at the the inaugural UFC event in Ontario is an achievement of great import.  The now iconic G.S.P himself will be headlining the card and there will also be many other Canadians on the card. However, none have the jiu jitsu credentials that Bocek carries. How did the young man from Woodbridge achieve such success?

Bocek is one of Canada's most decorated jiu jitsu players. Mark became hooked after watching UFC 2. To get the best training possible he went to abroad to study with legend Rickson Gracie at age 14. He also went direct to Brazil at age fifteen and continued learning through seminars and camps held in Canada, the States, and Brazil. Mark even spent a year in Brazil honing his skills. The dedication was fruitful: five-time Canadian Grappling Champion, two-time ADCC Canadian Trials Champion, three-time Pan American medalist, two-time Grapplers Quest Champion and former BJJ World Cup Champion. He has a black belt from Joao Roque, and has trained with numerous stars in the grappling world. Mark also qualified to compete at the 2007 ADCC world championships- grappling's most prestigious competition. Bocek defeated Drew Fickett to reach the quarter finals where he lost to jiu jitsu wizard Andre Galvao. He has won two UFC Submission of the Night awards. He has also trained with one of the sport's best camps: American Top Team and is currently an instructor at Toronto's Xtreme Couture.

Mark will join several other Canadian fighters on this historic card. The UFC does an excellent job of playing the hometown connection by always having lots of local talent competing in their shows.  At UFC 113, eight Canadian fighters were on the card and had a disappointing showing of one win and seven losses. Most recently at UFC 124 there were six Canadians on the card. They showed a remarkable improvement winning three, losing two, and had one bout called a draw. Mark and G.S.P. will be joined by a multitude of brethren. While GSP defends his title, fellow Ontario native Mark Hominick will battle Jose Aldo for the Brazilians featherweight title. Further Canadians also competing at the Toronto event include: Rory MacDonald, Claude Patrick, Sean Pierson, John Makdessi, Yves Jabouin, Ivan Menjivar, and Jason MacDonald.

This will be the most important fight for a local lad since George Chuvalo fought Muhammad Ali on March 29, 1966 at the hallowed Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens. Big George did not disappoint. He did the city well bravely lasting all fifteen rounds and winning hearts and minds of the local gentry, but not a "W". Mark's stage will be even larger. Breaking into this market, what UFC president Dana White calls " the Mecca of MMA", is a monumental moment.  According to the UFC's Tom Wright there should be between 25,000 to 40,000 people rocking under the closed room- that in past days of glory was fondly called SkyDome. The raucous crowd will also celebrate a lifetime of dedication and effort of one of their own. This historic night will be a watershed moment for the Woodbridge native. Although, M.B. is not the catchiest acronym, he will long remember that electric night in Toronto when the locals had plenty of reasons to puff their chests from under their TAPOUT shirts. Where, for the first time since 1993, those attending the domed-stadium had something meaningful to cheer about. And even better, a local reason! 

An Ode To The Tomato Can

Congratulations to Strikeforce for orchestrating an amazing night of fight entertainment. From Diaz-Cyborg to Walker –  Carson it was all non-stop thrills and smashing of wills. The sport benefited. However, the key component to this magic was the unsung hero: the tomato can. Andy Warhol’s tribute to them was deserving and they continue to serve the public well.
Having affable icon Herschel Walker win was tertiary. The main goal was to not see the lovable legend hurt. Secondly, seeing him look competitive again would also have satisfied many people’s wants. Thirdly, seeing ole 34 get a win was polish on the Heisman for the multi-talented star. So, how do all three goals get accomplished? Scott Carson.  The 4-2 Carson last won a fight in 2001.

Herschel never came close to getting hurt, looked great pounding out the flesh-wrapped heavy bag, and became 2-0 in MMA. Great job Scott! Everyone wins!
Next stop in the aisle: Trevor Prangley. Prangley, 23-7-1, succumbed to Roger Gracie via.....wait....rear naked choke. Of course he did. He was always going to. Prior to the bout he claimed he has a “glass neck” meaning he is very susceptible to chokes. He lost to a choke in four of his last eight fights. He has some good wins on his c.v. including wins over Keith Jardine, Chael Sonnen, Travis Lutter, and Yuki Kondo, But Trevor got it right. Shoot the star higher in the sky- and he did. Gracie looked amazing taking him out. Attaboy Trev. With his impressive record, he is almost beyond a tomato can and is near “stepping stone” status.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Nick Diaz walked through their stepping stones-although they are both champions- in impressive fashion. The two belt wearers moved up in marketability and legitimacy with their victories over proven exciting contenders. The role of the stepping stone is a more precarious one. One must “test” the opponent- make them somehow show growth and an admirable quality-without beating them. Both Robbie Lawler and Cyborg did this effectively.
Well done to all. Great fights! To the other cans out there- keep up the good work. Just don’t train too much! In all sincerity, it is a great accomplishment making it to a Strikeforce card, fighting for a title, and having the opportunity to put oneself in the mix as a potential contender. 50% of people who fight-lose. So, be proud of the role you play.