Hello and welcome once again to another edition of Championship Rounds.  As regular readers will know, CR is my weekly look at five big stories of the week in MMA.

This week Wanderlei Silva turned back time by winning a thrilling fight at the site of his biggest career victories.  UFC and FOX announced the next stage in their plans for world domination.  There were a number of big fight announcements and injury news updates which will have a knock on effect on some of the biggest UFC shows of the year.  A pioneer of MMA and UFC Hall of Famer announced his retirement from the sport.

Then, in the most fun moment of the week, GSP and Nick Diaz took part in the greatest pre fight conference call in UFC history.  Seriously.  Anyone who is reading this needs to find the recording of that call, it was even more entertaining than the calls between Sonnen/Silva and Evans/Rampage.  CR will have all the details coming up this week but right now it’s time to touch gloves and get things started.

 

Round 1 – Wanderlei Silva defeats Brian Stann in early FOTY contender – UFC on Fuel TV 8.

UFC on Fuel TV 8 from the former home of PRIDE, the Saitama Super Arena in Japan, was on course to be one of the more lacklustre shows in recent memory.  One decision victory after another, combined with a number of fights spent on the ground with very little action, had the fans in attendance reminiscing about the nights of incredible action and high drama that were a regular occurrence in the arena during the height of PRIDE between 2001 and 2006.  That was until the final two fights of the night, when two stars of the glory days of combat sports in Japan reminded everyone just what made them famous in the first place.

In the main event former PRIDE Middleweight Champion Wanderlei Silva turned back the clock as he knocked out Brian Stann in spectacular fashion.  The fight ended in the second round after both men spent the first five minutes beating each other around the head with whirlwind punches.  Silva was dropped three times and Stann twice as both men looked like they could pull off the win.  It was one of the most intense, exciting and brutal first rounds in UFC history.  The end came when Silva landed a big right hand early in the second round and then knocked Stann out with his trademark left hook.  It was a thrilling finish to a wild brawl.

Silva made his name in PRIDE and in particular in the Saitama Super Arena where he fought thirteen times during his career and scored wins over the likes of Dan Henderson, Kazushi Sakuraba (twice), ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Ricardo Arona and Kazuyuki Fujita.  While age and the wars of the past have caught up with Silva in recent years, on this night in Japan the ‘Axe Murderer’ of old returns and he reminded everyone in the arena and those watching at home why he is considered one of the most dangerous fighters of all time and a future Hall of Famer.

This wasn’t all just about Wanderlei, even if he took all the headlines.  It takes two to fight and Brian Stann (the decorated American war hero) came to stand in front of Wanderlei and trade punches until one of them was knocked out.  No one can question Stann’s heart, courage and willingness to give the fans their monies worth each time he fights.  While it may not be the best thing for his win-loss record it certainly makes him a fan favourite and an exciting fighter to watch.  If there’s a more wild and violent first round than Wanderlei vs. Stann in MMA this year I can’t wait to see it.

As a fan of Silva’s fighting style and his career in PRIDE, this was one of those storybook endings that should really be the final fight of Wanderlei’s career.  It won’t be because he’s already announced he will fight on.  Whether he will ever get close to his glory days again is doubtful, but on this night in Japan, with the fans he first fought in front of over a decade ago cheering him on, the Wanderlei Silva of PRIDE was back and my God was everyone glad he was (apart from Brian Stann, obviously).

Silva wasn’t the only former big star in Japan who made headlines on the show.  The former 2001 K-1 kickboxing Grand Prix champion Mark Hunt showed his fearsome knock out power as he smashed Dutch giant Stefan Struve with a brutal right, left combination in the third round of their semi-main event fight.  The power in Hunt’s left hook that finished the fight was so powerful it shattered Struve’s jaw and resulted in a tooth being lodged in his cheek.

Many expected the seven foot Dutchman, who is thirteen years younger than Hunt, to win this fight handily.  His huge reach advantage, his crisp striking, his better conditioning and his superior ground game were all supporting factors that made him the clear favourite against the super popular Hunt.  In the end he was unable to use any of his physical or technical advantages.  Struve struggles to use his reach advantage effectively and it showed here as the much shorter Hunt was able to get inside and land a number of strikes throughout the fight.

On the ground Hunt showed his year of training with American Top Team has paid off as he was able to defend Struve’s submission attempts and in fact seemed happy to stay on the ground with Struve while everyone watching was screaming at him to stand up.  Hunt was able to get out of a submission attempt in the first and second round, as well as defend himself and escape from being fully mounted.  There is no way in hell that would have happened a year ago.

In the end Struve seemed somewhat lost as everything he tried against Hunt failed to work.  Even though Hunt was gassing out, Struve was just as tired heading into the final round.  He made the cardinal mistake of standing in front of Hunt with his hands down and two huge punches from Hunt later, it was lights out.  This was a hugely popular victory for The Super Samoan, who now has four wins in a row and must be in line for a top five ranked opponent next.

Outside of the final two fights the rest of the card was something of a non-event.  In the opening fight Dong Hyun Kim dry humped his way to a boring decision over Siyar Bahadurzada.  Conversely Rani Yahya looked really good with his superior grappling as he beat Mizuto Hirota by 2 rounds to 1 – Hirota really came back in the final round to add some excitement to proceedings.

Elsewhere on the card, another defeat and Hector Lombard looks to be officially one of the big money gambles by the UFC which won’t pay off.  He lost a decision to Yushin Okami and despite winning the final round, Lombard looked decidedly average throughout.  His impressive winning record now looks more like that of a fighter who beat a lot of low level opponents to pad his record out, but then suffers for it when faced with true high calibre fighters.  With all the recent cuts to the UFC roster, Lombard must be on the chopping block (given his huge contract) and if he loses his next fight, he’s likely to be on his way out of the promotion.

The biggest crime on the card was an out of shape and out of sorts Diego Sanchez somehow being awarded a split decision over former PRIDE Lightweight Champion Takanori Gomi.  I’m yet to see one report on the event from any of the major MMA websites which had Sanchez as the winner of that fight.  Pure daylight robbery here as Gomi did much more damage in the second and final round and despite probably losing the first, he should have clearly been awarded the win here.  Sanchez really didn’t look good, came in two pounds overweight and was fined $24,000 as a result.  It was a tough loss for Gomi who for moments looked like the Fireball Kid of old, which is not something anyone has been able to say thus far in his UFC career.

While the card was lacklustre until the final two fights, in the ratings the show was an amazing success.  It broke all records for a show on Fuel TV.  The show aired live from Japan from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Eastern on a Saturday night.  It pulled a 0.78 rating and 485,000 viewers.  For a comparison, the second most-watched program in the history of the station did 255,000 viewers.  The previous record for a Fuel-exclusive fight card was 217,000.

Credit for the rating would normally go to Silva vs. Stann as the main event but the show actually peaked with 542,000 viewers for the Fuel TV opener between Dong Hyun Kim vs. Siyar Bahadurzada.  It does make you wonder how high the rating could have gone if the fights on the undercard and especially the opener, weren’t so slow and boring.

UFC on Fuel TV 8 was a great throwback to the days of Wanderlei Silva dominating and putting on some of the most exciting and devastating examples of striking in MMA.  All credit to Silva and Stann who threw the book entitled ‘game plan’ out the window and instead just punched the crap out of each other until someone couldn’t take anymore.  Mark Hunt proved that despite his tubby body shape and lack of cardio, he is one of the most devastating strikers in the heavyweight division and his next fight is going to be very interesting.  Here’s hoping the next time UFC returns to Japan the spirit of PRIDE once again comes with them.

 

Round 2 – Fox Sports 1 launch announced – UFC to play central role.

This week saw a major announcement as FOX announced the launch of Fox Sports 1.  The former Speed Channel will be rebranded to Fox Sports 1 with a launch date of 17th August and Fox expect the new channel to be available in 90 million homes in the US.  UFC will have a live card in prime time on the day the channel debuts and will feature six live events between August and the end of the year.

One of the main announcements is a move to monthly Wednesday night live shows on the new channel.  This is interesting as Bellator runs during the week on a Thursday night and they have seen success in the ratings, with their most recent main event breaking the one million viewer mark for the first time in Bellator history.

The final aim appears to be to move all UFC programming off FX and Fuel TV, which will hurt Fuel’s ratings as it has become the unofficial UFC channel.  There’s no word on whether or not The Ultimate Fighter will stay on FX or move over but that will be confirmed sometime in the future.

The interesting test will be if the move to a bigger channel with more viewers will increase the star power of fighters and PPV buys.  The Countdown and other special shows, which are used to promote their PPVs, have been seen on Fuel by a fraction of the audience who used to see them on Spike TV.  This move will change that and could help the UFC build up the next generation of star fighters.  As their business model relies on star fighters selling big PPVs, this is a must for the promotion as they move forward.

Wednesday night in prime time will be UFC night on Fox Sports 1.  As well as the live shows airing once a month, there will be tapes of old PPV shows airing on Wednesday nights and the UFC Tonight show will also move to Fox Sports 1.

It appears that UFC will be one of six sports the new channel will be built around with College Basketball, College Football, Major League Baseball, NASCAR and Football (UEFA Champions League) joining the UFC as Fox attempts to compete with ESPN, NBC and CBS for the all-important ratings that live sports draw in the US.  It’s great to see UFC being positioned as a mainstream sport and one which will prove important to the new Fox Sports 1.

 

Round 3 – Fight announcements and injury news.

The biggest injury news of the week is Alistair Overeem has suffered an injury in training and is out of his fight with Junior Dos Santos at UFC160.  Are these two ever going to hook ‘em up?  We’ve been waiting to see this fight for the last two years but something always stops it from happening.  Thankfully Dana White has confirmed that the fight will be pushed back, rather than a replacement brought in, so that Overeem can heal up.  Speculation and excitement skyrocketed when it was suggested Mark Hunt could step in to face Dos Santos, but that is not happening.  Which is a shame as it would have been a fun fight.

The main event of UFC161 will see UFC interim Bantamweight Champion Renan Barao make the second defence of his title against Eddie Wineland as the main event of UFC 161. Barao had hoped to fight injured champion Dominick Cruz, however Cruz still has no timetable for his return from serious knee surgery.  The other two top matches at UFC161 are Dan Henderson vs. Rashad Evans and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Shogun Rua.  The fight between Henderson and Evans is a must win for both guys if they want to get back into the Title picture at 205lbs.

The UFC also announced this week that the main event of their big 4th of July show UFC162 will see Anderson Silva defend his Middleweight Title against number one contender Chris Weidman.  This fight has been in the works for a few months and while Silva has agreed to the fight, it’s yet to be signed.  Also announced for the show are Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante, the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion vs. Thiago Silva, Tim Boetsch vs. Mark Munoz and Roger Gracie vs. Tim Kennedy.  That is shaping up to be a fantastic card.  Rumours abound that Ronda Rousey’s next Title defence could also take place at UFC162.

That’s all the headline grabbing fight announcements but UFC also confirmed a ton of other fights for the next few months, with Erik Perez vs. Johnny Bedford at UFC 159, Pat Barry vs. Shawn Jordan at UFC 162 and Joseph Benavidez vs. Darren Uyenoyama at UFC on FOX 7 all catching the eye.

 

Round 4 – Mark Coleman announces retirement from MMA.

This week UFC Hall of Famer and one of the pioneers of ‘ground and pound’ Mark Coleman announced his retirement from MMA.  Coleman is due to undergo complete hip replacement surgery later this month.

Coleman hasn’t fought since a submission loss to fellow Hall of Famer and MMA legend Randy Couture back in 2010 and ends his career with a 16-10 record.  Coleman is a former NCAA wrestling champion as well as a three-time Pan American champion in freestyle wrestling, a  gold medallist in the 1991 Pan America Games, he placed second that year in the world championships and placed seventh in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

After failing to make the 1996 Olympic wrestling team, Coleman was signed by UFC and made his debut at UFC10 on 12th July 1996.  This was during the era of the UFC’s one night tournaments and Coleman became an instant star by beating Moti Horenstein, Gary Goodridge and Don Fryre in one night to win the tournament.  Coleman won a second UFC tournament on 20th September 1996 before beating Dan Severn in just over two minutes for the UFC Heavyweight Title on 7th February 1997.

His most famous win came in the 2000 PRIDE Open weight Grand Prix where he reached the final night by defeating kick boxer Masaaki Satake with a neck crank. On the final night Coleman won a 15:00 minute decision over Akira Shoji, a forfeit win over an injured Kazuyuki Fujita and then stopped one of the favourites for the tournament, Igor Vovchanchyn, at 3:09 of the second round with knees on the ground.

This would be Coleman’s career highlight and despite more big fights in his career, his style never really evolved beyond his wrestling base.  This was a big disadvantage as other fighters began to incorporate a variety of fighting styles into their repertoire.  He also struggled with cardio later in fights throughout his career, which his opponents began to recognise and take advantage of.  This led to high profile losses in PRIDE against the likes of Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko Cro Cop.

Coleman had a mini career rival in 2009 in the UFC, when he survived until the third round against Shogun Rua in Dublin.  Despite losing his popularity soared once again thanks to his never give up attitude.  His shock victory over Stephan Bonnar at UFC 100 then lead to the fight with Couture, which is now his final fight in a storied MMA career.  The grind of an amateur wrestling and then MMA career left Coleman with a number of injuries which no doubt contributed to the losses he racked up towards the end of his career.

The ‘Godfather of Ground and Pound’ retires with a spot in the UFC Hall of Fame and the title of ‘MMA pioneer’ which only a handful of fighters can lay claim to.

 

Round 5 – GSP and Nick Diaz media conference call awesomeness.

Next weekend at UFC158 in Montreal, Canada, one of the biggest fights of the year takes place as GSP puts his Welterweight Title on the line against everyone’s favourite Stockton bad boy Nick Diaz.  While the fight is still a week away, the tension between the two polar opposite personalities is reaching fever pitch.

CR will have a full preview of the fight next week but to finish off this week, here’s some of the highlights of the recent media conference call involving GSP and Diaz.  There’s a lot of NSFW language, all of it from Diaz – as you’d expect.  Enjoy!

“I don’t have people handing me water bottles left and right. I have to do that shit on my own and every day I know that I’m doing it on my own and that’s why I know I’ve got to do it that much harder,” Diaz started, as translated by MMA Mania.

“I don’t have people taking care of my money and my financial obligations what have you. All that stuff that people say is important, fuck that. I’m too busy fighting your fights.

“This new martial arts works for them when it comes to everybody wanting to be like GSP and want to be strong and have that fitness and be more explosive and quicker. It’s really not what martial arts is about. This is mixed martial arts and that’s what fans want to see.

“I’ve lost a shit load of fights but I’m still here. People want to see real boxing, real traditional jiu-jitsu mixed up. They don’t want to see five minutes of holding. I think people should be point-deducted for it or running away. You should have to punch me out to beat me. People should be able to see that a little better. Maybe one day.”

St-Pierre was then asked to respond to Diaz’s suggestion that he is “pampered”, but before he could Diaz added: “If I had that much money I’d be pampered the fuck up. There’d be people showing up every hour to pamper me the fuck out. Mother-fucker I’m not stupid. I can tell what’s what.”

At that point the champion started to become agitated, addressing Diaz directly by saying: “Uneducated fool. Listen to me. You sound pretty smart right now. I’ve not always been like this. I’ve not always been rich. I started from the bottom. I worked really hard to be where I am right now.

“I know you don’t believe this because you didn’t succeed yet and maybe you didn’t succeed in your life because I don’t think you’re smart enough to understand to reach this point. When you talk about people doing things for me, you need people to work for you.

“If you are where you are right now and I am where I am, it’s not my fault that you didn’t succeed.”

Back fired Diaz, mixing several points into one, prompting St-Pierre to respond: “I don’t even know what you said. I speak English better than you man.”

The temperature of the back-and-forth leapt again, with Diaz responding: “You’re out of line straight up. You understand that right? You’re rapping that bullshit and you’re out of line. I didn’t say shit.

“I deserve to get beat down, that’s what you said right? Honestly, I don’t think you deserve to get beat down. I don’t want anybody to get beat down. I’d like to win the fight.”

St-Pierre, for once losing his trademark cool, fired back: “Do you seriously believe I’m afraid of you, man?”

“I believe you believed what you said to the cameras that I deserved to get beat down,” Diaz said. “You’re making those statements to the whole world that I’m a piece of shit that deserves to get beat down and you let Dana [White] say I’m the most disrespectful person you’ve ever met.

“I pulled up to a stoplight yesterday and some soccer mom sticks her head out the window and says, ‘I hope GSP beats your ass’. I live in a small town full of people that hate me over here. I’m trying to work my way up into a fight.

“When you say something, everyone believes it. Everyone wants to know what Georges thinks, forget jiu-jitsu, forget boxing, throw a superman punch like Georges. Whatever. That’s disrespectful right there. If you want disrespect, that’s disrespect right there. That’s all I get. That’s all I do.

“I’m this crazy mother-fucker. You know where I’m coming from. You’re not stupid. You understand every word I’m saying right now. Drop it. I don’t deserve to be beat down. You think you’re gonna fucking win for whatever fucking reason and that’s that.

“You’re No. 1, you’re the best right? I’m the most mother-fucking piece of shit out there.”

Ah Nick Diaz, how can you not love that man?  Seriously, he probably just sold another 50,000 PPVs with those comments.  He’s under GSP’s skin more than any other fighter in history.  It’s making for a really interesting build up and hopefully a fantastic fight next weekend.  That transcript doesn’t really do things justice.  You should go out of your way to find the full recording of the call, it’s brilliant!

As always thanks for stopping by for another week of my ramblings on MMA here on Wrestling Rambles.  I’ll be back next week with a full preview of UFC158, as well as a look at four other big stories in the world of MMA.  If you’d like to talk MMA, wrestling or anything else with me you can always follow me on Twitter which is @MFXDuckman.

If you’d like to hear me and my partner in crime Sir Ian Trumps discuss the week in WWE and TNA in a NSFW and highly entertaining fashion then be sure to check out the Marks for Xcellence Podcast.  MFX now has a new home on the Universal Takeover Sports Network and our first show on the network is already up.  You can still find all the details on MFX here on the ‘audio’ page or over at www.mfxpodcast.com

Until next time…

Peace

Duckman

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