Wait a second.  What’s this?  Can it really be true?  You’re damn right it’s true – Championship Rounds is BACK on Wrestling Rambles!  Call your friends, call your family, call everyone you know and tell them that all is right with the world because CR is back with your weekly fix of MMA news, reviews and opinion.  If that’s not a cause for celebration, I don’t know what is!

In all seriousness it’s great to bring Championship Rounds back after a few months off.  I wish I could explain my absence with an interesting story or a funny anecdote.  Unfortunately it’s just the usual boring tale of a build up of real life commitments which seriously cut down on my spare time to bring you CR every week.

So much has happened in the world of MMA since the last CR that it’d be impossible to go back over all the big stories – we’d be playing catch up for a month.  So instead let’s just jump straight back into the saddle and take a look at five big stories from the past week in MMA.  Let’s touch gloves and do this.  Damn it’s good to be back!

 

Round 1 – UFC160 – Velasquez and Dos Santos set up highly anticipated trilogy.

After their performances at UFC160 on Saturday 25th May there is no question that Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos are far and away the two best heavyweight fighters on the planet.  Both men proved they are level above the rest of the heavyweight division with highly impressive wins in the top two fights at UFC160.

In the semi-main event Dos Santos bounced back from his humbling and face-flattening twenty five minute beating at the hands of Velasquez last year by knocking out the always dangerous and extremely popular Mark Hunt in spectacular fashion.

Dos Santos was the first UFC fighter to stop Hunt, who was riding a four fight win streak.  A win for Hunt could have secured him a Heavyweight Title fight, something that seemed an impossibility a year ago.  However on this night in Vegas he was no match for a highly motivated and focused Dos Santos.  A toe injury early in the fight did affect Hunt as his movement was restricted against the much quicker and more agile Dos Santos.

Dos Santos’ accurate and powerful striking had the crowd on the edge of their seats.  Despite always threatening to land a huge fight changing shot, Hunt was unable to repeat his recent success.  Victory came for Dos Santos late in the third round of a fight he had dominated thanks to one of the most impressive spinning wheel kicks of all time.  When a 135 pounder throws a spinning kick it’s cool, when a 245 pounder like Dos Santos does it, it’s mind blowing.

After hurting Hunt with a brutal overhand right in the opening round (it sounded like someone hitting a concrete block with a baseball bat) and then peppering the former K-1 Kickboxing Grand Champion with strikes in the second round, few fans would have begrudged Dos Santos the right to coast through the third round and a secure a certain unanimous points decision.  That wasn’t in the Dos Santos playbook.

Instead he nearly blew the roof off the MGM Grand Garden Arena when he nailed Hunt in the head with a spinning wheel, which knocked Hunt down and out, something most observers felt was not possible (at least not without the use of a shot gun).  One punch on the ground finished the fight and left everyone who witnessed the finish stunned at the unbelievable athleticism of Junior Dos Santos.  This really was one of the most impressive and spectacular knock outs of the year.

Velasquez, while not as spectacular, was equally dominant as he made quick work of Bigfoot Silva for the second time in a year.  The win, Velasquez’s first defence of his Heavyweight Title, was not as bloody and brutal as his first win over Silva.  However the way Velasquez quickly dispatched of Silva was equally, if not more impressive than his first win.

The fight was over as a contest after Silva walked onto a solid right hand that dropped the big man only fifty seconds into the opening round.  The Champion then followed up with eleven unanswered punches on the ground for the quick finish.  While Silva felt the stoppage was early, there’s no doubt that it would only have been a matter of time before Velasquez knocked him out.  An early stoppage is always better than a late one and there’s no doubt Silva would have sustained unnecessary damage from the relentless strikes of Velasquez if the fight had continued.

The gulf in class between Velasquez and Dos Santos and the rest of the division is now marked.  After such dominant and impressive wins by both men, there was only one match that the UFC could book and with each man holding a win over the other, the third fight between them for the Heavyweight Title could be one of the biggest fights of the year.  If they both come into the fight healthy and perform at the level they did at UFC 160, we could be in for the best heavyweight Title fight in UFC history.

Elsewhere on the highly entertaining card Donald Cerrone returned to form following his quick KO loss to Anthony Pettis a few months ago by handily beating former Strikeforce champion KJ Noons.  It was a dominant performance by The Cowboy, who landed great combination strikes on Noons early in the fight, before taking him down and bloodying him up with vicious elbows from Noons’ guard.  Cerrone picked up the unanimous decision from the judges after “a fifteen minute ass whooping” (to quote The Cowboy himself) and reaffirmed his position as one of the top fighters in the stacked 155lbs division.  A fight against Josh Thompson (who recently knocked out Nate Diaz) could be next for Cerrone.

The next challenger for Benson Henderson’s Lightweight Title is dark horse TJ Grant, who was highly impressive with a first round knockout of perennial title challenger Grey Maynard.  This was the biggest win of Grant’s career, who walked through Maynard’s heavy punches to deliver his own knockout via strikes.  Considering Maynard has twice been only a few clean punches away from winning the Title (in his trilogy with Frankie Edgar) the win by Grant is all the more remarkable.

Hardly anyone picked Grant to win this fight but he did so in devastating fashion, finishing Maynard in a way that no other fighter has been able to do so.  Grant is now the number one contender and the Title fight with Benson Henderson on the UFC’s debut show on the new Fox Sports 1 channel in August is believed to be in the works.

The 205lbs division was given a shake up as the highly skilled Glover Teixeira submitted James Te Huna in the first round, to further cement his position as a future Title challenger to Jon Jones.  While Te Huna is tough, he is not a top ten level fighter and this was shown as Glover (now on a 19 fight win streak) was able to secure a slick front guillotine choke for the first round win.

The finish was impressive but the real highlight came in the post-fight interview as Glover marked out at the fact his hero Mike Tyson was at cage side and even entered the cage to congratulate Teixeira on his win.  Glover, sounding more like a teenage girl who just met Justin Bieber than a cage fighting bad ass, proclaimed that meeting Mike Tyson was a better feeling than winning his fight.  This was such a great feel good moment.

A future fight between Glover and top contender Alexander Gustaffson in a Title eliminator has been rumoured and would be a fantastic fight.  He could also face the winner of the upcoming Dan Henderson vs. Rashad Evans fight.  Whatever is next for the highly talented Brazilian, there’s no doubt Glover is now knocking on the door of a Title shot and can be considered one of the top five Light Heavyweights in the world today.

UFC160 was a night of entertaining fights, great finishes and was confirmation that in Velasquez and Dos Santos the UFC has two of the most talented and athletic heavyweight fighters of all time.  While the rest of the division may be fighting each other for scraps, Dos Santos and Velasquez have secured another meeting for the gold and when they do meet for the third time, the whole world will be watching.

 

Round 2 – Forrest Griffin announces retirement from MMA.

When the official history of the UFC is written two fighters and one fight will forever be linked with the company’s rise to global dominance in the middle part of the last decade.  Those two fighters are Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin.

The importance of Bonnar and Griffin’s legendary fight in the finale of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter has been repeatedly reinforced by UFC President Dana White in the eight years since.  He credits it, and the first season of TUF, with saving the UFC from financial meltdown and giving the promotion much needed exposure with the mainstream public.  It’s safe to say the UFC would be a very different company from the one we know today without the Bonnar/Griffin war that capped off the first season of TUF.  In fact it’s likely the company may not even exist today had the first season of TUF been a failure.

The fight will go down in history as one of the most exciting of all time.  While not a technical masterpiece and featured little to no defensive work from either man, it was still an instant classic.  You won’t see a more exciting fifteen minutes of two guys swinging for the fences and beating the holy hell out of each other.  Griffin has remained hugely popular with the UFC fan base since that first fight and even though Bonnar was unable to match Griffin in winning a UFC Title, both men are held in extremely high regard by UFC management.  They are fighters who will have jobs with the UFC, in some form, for as long as Dana White remains in charge.

Following UFC160 Griffin’s retirement from the UFC was announced with immediate effect.  In an interview given after the announcement Griffin confirmed that there had been talks over his retirement for around a month, although he was only notified of White’s decision to announce his retirement a few hours before the press conference.  Griffin also revealed the serious knee and shoulder injuries he’s suffered from in recent years played a major factor in his decision to hang up the gloves permanently.

In an interesting moment he spoke about the fact that he had begun to refuse certain fights to prolong his career, something Griffin would never have entertained a few years ago.  It was the realisation that he was now looking to handpick his opponents that made up his mind that now was the time to retire.  Griffin stated that in a sport like MMA, when you start making lists of guys you don’t want to fight, it’s probably time to stop fighting all together.

UFC President Dana White announced that both Griffin and Bonnar will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in July in recognition of the historic importance of their fight to the company.  This announcement has caused some controversy.  Many in the media and fans alike are not convinced that either Bonnar or Griffin had Hall of Fame worthy careers (Griffin probably did but Bonnar most certainly didn’t, finishing his career with an 8-7 record).  There is a debate about what makes a Hall of Fame career in the UFC.  The debate centres around two questions:  should entry to the Hall of Fame be judged purely on success in the Octagon or should the impact your career made to the company and/or the sport be taken into account?

Bonnar in particular is a controversial choice as he has failed two drugs tests in his career.  The first came after his rematch with Griffin (which he lost).  His most recent failure followed his humiliating defeat to Anderson Silva.  There was a lot of resentment towards Bonnar from Dana White for failing a drugs test following the Silva fight (his first and last UFC PPV main event).  He did add another black mark to a sport which is struggling to maintain credibility under the shadow of TRT use and other performance enhancing drugs by fighters.

Whether or not Bonnar and Griffin deserve their place in the Hall of Fame is up for debate.  Bonnar in particular has had the definition of a journey man fighter’s career (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Griffin has remained a draw for the company despite some lacklustre performances in recent years.  What isn’t debatable is the important role they played in launching the UFC into the main stream public consciousness.  It’s hard to argue that they shouldn’t be recognised for the role they played in making the UFC what it is today.

 

Round 3 – Josh Barnett signs multi fight deal with UFC.

Just like in professional wrestling, in UFC the phrase ‘never say never’ is one that is synonymous with unlikely returns to the promotion.  While some fighters will never be welcomed into the UFC with open arms (Frank Shamrock springs to mind) it does appear that Dana White is similar to Vince McMahon in that if the deal is right and it’s good for the company, even his most hated former employees can one day return to the fold.  Hell, Tito Ortiz is in the Hall of Fame and his feud with White is legendary.

It’s certainly a case of ‘never say never’ when it comes to former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett who has recently signed a multi-fight deal with the UFC, over ten years since he first claimed UFC gold.  Barnett should have been a major star in the UFC over the past decade.  As one of the youngest men to ever win UFC gold (he beat Randy Couture for the HW Title in 2004 at age 24) it was almost a given that Barnett would carry the UFC and their heavyweight division for years to come.

A failed drugs test following his win over Couture saw him stripped of the Title.  In the years that followed Barnett made some outlandish claims against the UFC and Dana White.  The biggest and most damaging of all was his claim that the UFC had spiked his urine test in order to fire him and not have to renegotiate his contract now he was champion.  As you can imagine this allegation sent Dana White into meltdown and a number of vicious, high profile, back and forth verbal volleys were traded between White and Barnett for the better part of the last decade.  As far as White was concerned, Josh Barnett would never return to the UFC.

Barnett went to Japan after he was fired by the UFC where he became a successful MMA fighter and pro wrestler for New Japan.  In the years that followed Barnett amassed an impressive record (nine wins in his last ten fights) and made it to the final of the ill-fated Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix last year, where he lost to the highly talented Daniel Cormier.

When UFC’s parent company Zuffa purchased Strikeforce and absorbed the majority of their fighter contracts, the one question everyone wanted an answer to was; will the UFC sign Josh Barnett?  Given his recent good record and his ability to sell a fight verbally, coupled with the lack of real depth in the Heavyweight Division and the passing of time, it was expected that Dana White would eventually bring Barnett back to the UFC.

The first contract negotiation between them this year failed but after further discussions and no doubt some concessions by Barnett, who must know at 35 years old this is probably his last chance to make a significant payday, the deal was signed.  Barnett returns to a UFC Heavyweight division that is very different from the one he dominated in 2004.  In Dos Santos and Velasquez there are two super athletes at the top of the division.  How Josh Barnett will compete at this level in 2013 is one of the most intriguing questions surrounding his return.

That question will be answered at UFC164 on 31st August as the UFC confirmed this week that Barnett will face Frank Mir when the promotion debuts at the Bradley Centre in Milwaukee.  This will be a clash of former UFC Heavyweight Champions and of two men who both recently tasted defeat at the hands of Daniel Cormier.  Mir will be keen to get his career back on track with a win over a big name like Barnett.  While Barnett will want to make a winning return after eleven years away from the Octagon and prove he can still compete at the elite level in MMA.

 

Round 4 – UFC beats WWE to the punch – announces own network (in South America only).

While WWE seem to be stuck in a constant state of ‘honestly it’s coming, we just can’t say when,” with regard to the launch of their much talked about network, the UFC have quietly been working away on their own network and this week the promotion  confirmed it will launch at the end of this year.

The 24 hour, subscription-based channel, similar to HBO or Showtime in the U.S., is designed for Central and South America, with the exception of Brazil, where UFC already has existing major television deals.   The network will not broadcast in the US due to existing PPV deals and the seven year contract the UFC has with FOX to broadcast its programming.

The new network will broadcast all UFC programming in Central and South America, including all PPVs and TV specials.  It will also air classic footage from the extensive UFC video library, which will include classic events from PRIDE, WEC and Strikeforce.

Dana White has long spoken about his plan to break into two major markets in Mexico and the UK.  While the UFC have secured a strong foothold in the UK over the past few years, they have yet to secure regular TV or run a live event in Mexico.  This new network, along with the star power of UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velazquez (whose parents were born in Mexico), will no doubt act as the precursor to the UFC running their first live event in Mexico.

“The launch of the UFC channel is a game changer for our sport and its fans throughout Latin America,” said UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta. “We are giving millions of fans across the region complete access to all our live events and programming for the first time. UFC is the fastest growing sports organization in history and with the strength of Latin America’s premier media group, Televisa, the UFC Channel will become the fastest growing sports network in television history.”

The launch of the network is a major move forward for the UFC in bringing their product to South America and in particular to Mexico where there is a large audience of UFC fans (UFC 100 was viewed by 13 million people in 2009 on television in Mexico).  It will be interesting to see if this move will result in a surge in popularity for the UFC in South America.

When the UFC secured their first US TV deal with Spike it resulted in a massive rise in popularity and a number of new stars were made during that initial boom period.  The UFC will be hoping they can repeat the feat in Mexico and the rest of South America.  If they can repeat this success elsewhere in Latin America the promotion could be looking at a second boom period as a whole new audience and generation of fighters is introduced to the UFC.  While WWE appears to struggle with all aspects of their network launch, UFC have all the pieces in place to launch a major move into the South American market, while maintaining their strong PPV and TV base in the US.  Take note Vince.

 

Round 5 – Cat Zingano undergoes knee surgery, replaced as TUF 18 coach by Miesha Tate.

As if the next season of The Ultimate Fighter didn’t have enough interest surrounding it – the first season with all female coaches, male and female fighters will compete and live together in the TUF house – news broke this week that Cat Zingano is out of the season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery.  Zingano had been due to coach opposite Ronda Rousey and would have fought Rousey for her Bantamweight Title on Pay-Per-View in either November or December.

Zingano has been replaced by the woman she beat to earn the coaching role on TUF, former Strikeforce Champion Miesha Tate.  The unfortunate injury to Zingano now sets up the most anticipated re-match in woman’s MMA history.  Rousey and Tate fought for the Strikeforce Title last year, a fight which Tate felt Rousey talked her way into (ala Chael Sonnen) and which became very personal with both women trading very public trash talking in the build-up to the fight.

Rousey won the fight in the first round with her trademark armbar, but not before Tate had given Rousey her toughest fight at that time.  The fight is famous for Tate refusing to tap to Ronda’s armbar and eventually having her arm twisted to such a horrific degree it looked a few seconds way from being ripped clean off.  Ronda is one mean woman.  Tate did suffer damage to her elbow which she could have avoided had she not been too proud (or stupid, depending on how you look at these things) to tap out earlier.  The build-up and the fight itself is credited by Dana White as convincing him that he could bring a female division to the UFC.

Rousey was told of the switch during the show’s first day of filming on Tuesday when Tate appeared on set.  This was done to capture Rousey’s natural reaction to the news.  I can only imagine Ronda’s response.  I would imagine a number of expletives were involved.

“This is what we really wanted all along,” Rousey told Yahoo! Sports. “Everyone said an Ultimate Fighter between me and Miesha would be the best. We have a personal history with each other and this is a personal show. For some reason, I me and Miesha are intertwined in fate like Ali and Frazier or something like that.

“I think people will look back at this as one of monumental rivalries and look back at this as one of those things that really cemented women’s MMA.”

What’s been utterly hilarious, since the announcement was made, is the complete lack of understanding some UFC fans still have in 2013 when it comes to the business of the UFC.  Yes Tate is coming off a loss, yes perhaps Sara McCann is a more deserving challenger but come on, Rousey vs. Tate 2, with a whole season of TUF behind it is a big money fight.  McCann simply does not have name value to come in and replace Zingano – who herself only recently became known to the public following her tremendous fight with Tate earlier this year.

UFC is a star driven business, just like pro-wrestling and in Rousey and Tate UFC have two stars, with a history of personal animosity and an entertaining fight behind them.  To go in any other direction for this season of TUF would have been a major promotional mistake by the UFC.  The whole point of the TUF show is to create new stars from those who compete on the show and to promote a big money fight between the coaches.  Even with 12 weeks of TV behind her, Sarah McCann is not in the same league as Rousey or Tate when it comes to public recognition.

I’ve even read some comments by fans online claiming that Zingano’s injury is a fake and this was the UFC’s plan all along!  People have a go at wrestling fans for being marks but seriously, some MMA fans are just beyond retarded.  If you don’t believe stupid conspiracy theories then Zingano is due to be on the shelf for up to a year while she recovers.

TUF 18 premieres on 4th September on the new FOX Sports 1 cable channel and on BT Sports 1 in the UK.  This season would have been a must-see simply for the change in dynamic of female coaches and mixed teams of men and woman.  Now that the very real and intense dislike between Rousey and Tate has been added to the mix, this season should be one of the most compelling in the history of TUF.  Expect fireworks from the off and more than a little trash talking between Ronda and Miesha as the season progresses.

Alright, it’s about time I wrapped this up.  Looks like I picked a good newsworthy week to come back.  You can expect a much more regular schedule for CR from now on.  I’ll be back next week with five more big stories in the world of MMA.  If you’ve got suggestions, comments, fan mail, hate mail or whatever, then by all means get in touch.  You can comment here, or get in touch directly with me on Twitter which is @MFXDuckman.

If you’re a wrestling fan and you enjoy in-depth reviews of RAW and IMPACT with the emphasis firmly on making you laugh, then you should check out the MFX Podcast which I and my partner in crime Sir Ian Trumps bring you each week over at www.mfxpodcast.com Trust me, MFX is like the crystal meth of wrestling podcasts – give it one shot and you’ll be hooked for life.  It is not for the fainthearted though, so if you’re offended by salty language or adult situations, then maybe stick to something a little less intense.  Like meth.

As always, thanks for reading and keep supporting Wrestling Rambles.

Until next time…

Peace

Duckman.

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