Wednesday, 5 October 2011

What Next For Wycombe Wanderers

So Wasps are to be sold and the union between a London rugby club and a regional football club sitting on the edge of the Chiltern's is nearly over. Looking back at the relationship is something that will only really come to light once both sides have separated but what does this mean for the immediate future of the Chairboys?

The answer at this moment is not a lot.

Although the announcement is big news it will have very little effect on the either club until the two sides separate and the chances of this happening seems unlikely. In a difficult economic climate, Wasps are not the most lucrative asset at this point making an annual loss of between 2 and 3 million and obviously no permanent stadium. Being unsuccessful in the league and fielding few outstanding players may also put off potential buyers. These factors are likely to draw out the sale and without a sale the clubs connection will remain constant.

It could be argued that Hayes may not dedicate more money to the Wycombe side of the divide but this seems unlikely as this could mean further devaluing the asking price for Wasps. In fact, some investment in Wasps may occur in an attempt to drive up the price.

When the sides eventually get there divorce then the changes will really come into effect. The first thing that comes to mind is the loss in the stadium rental which is inevitable as it is the reason for Hayes selling in the first place. What perhaps will be more important is how they negotiate the conditions for the existing contract. Wycombe is set up on a budget for the next two years which includes the rent but someone who takes over the club may look for Hayes to take on that debt. This could have a big impact on the club as it would come out of the clubs budget much earlier than predicted depending on how such money transfers are currently done. If the money genuinely comes form the income that Wasps makes then it will lead to less potential investment in the club from Hayes's pocket although it could be coming from there anyway which may mean there is little overall effect.

Another change for the negative could be the change in the conditions around beverages at Wasps games which Wycombe currently gets a substantial stake in. Although contractually obligatory, it could be another aspect vulnerable in a takeover agreement. This is a nice little earner for the club with numbers of 150,000 annually suggested by certain club members. This may have a bigger effect directly as this was going straight into the clubs coffers and helped balance the books.

However it should also be noted that there are significant everyday expenses that should be removed immediately after sale. Wasps match day security and police payments are currently part of Wycombe's remit of expenses being the nominal owners of Adams Park which is likely to cost around £8000 per game. This will do a lot to level out the losses incurred from the catering money. Wycombe also pay half the amount that is required to change the stadiums arrangement for whether it is football or rugby that is being played. The amount this costs is currently unknown however it is another aspect that should balance up the books a little.

The big downside is obviously going to be the financial loss of the rugby club from Adams Park, probably at the end of the current two year contract. Where Wasps go will be interesting and will obviously depend on who buys them however it would not surprise me if they end up renewing a deal to continue while building there own stadium nearer to London. Although this would be a bonus for Wycombe financially, it has to be assumed that the club will be without that money soon so changes will need to take place.

This is going to have an effect on the field if nothing changes as the Wycombe is already losing around 1 million a year as it is so current expenditure will have to be decreased. Some of that money will be accountable from commercial side of the football club which is reported to consist of upwards of 120 people. This could well be slashed in half which is sad for those involved who many supporters likely know but the club as a whole must come first. On the pitch, we're clearly going to be stretched like many other clubs are in the lower divisions however this will be up to the support of Hayes.

In fact, everything from this point will depend on the motives and desires of Steve Hayes. He owns the club and his willing to invest money into the club will have the biggest effect on the club moving forward.

Hayes says he is committed although would consider an appropriate offer. What this means is open to many interpretations although the analysis can be broken into two basic groups of "He is here to stay and maybe he will invest some of the wasps money into the club" or " He wants to see what he can get for Wasps and then will work on the sale of Wanderers so will invest nothing". Both these are feasible options. No one except Hayes himself knows the answer to this. As fans, we will have to wait and see although it has come to the point where actions speak louder than words so any announcement on next years playing budget will be closely scrutinized.

Some things that could well help on the playing side include the link with a bigger club to get some loan players in. We're close enough to London that we could beneficial geographically to a number of Premier League sides looking to give youngsters experience while increasing the quality of Wycombe's squad. Having more confidence in the younger players coming through the club may also make a difference as a number of high profile free agents have failed to perform on top wages in the recent past. There are likely to be even better suggestions out there but many will lead to the club being more sustainable but it will be up to the higher management of the club which Hayes is the vocal point which will lead us to future success or failure.

At this point it is up to Wycombe fans to trust that Hayes has the clubs best interests at heart and be ready to go forward with him as the club progresses forward. That interest is the survival of the club, preferable in the football league and always looking to pull of that one upset victory.We're minnows in blue quarters wandering of towards our next adventure.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Mercurial Talent: What We Haven't Seen From Jon Jones?

Exploding onto the scene in 2009 with a shocking upset win over original Ultimate Fighter finalist Stephan Bonnar, Jon Jones's career trajectory has seen him from promising new comer, through internet darling and number one contender to champion in three short years. Levied against the champion since capturing the belt in March against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua has been a level of hubris that is unwarranted by a fighter that has yet to defend his belt or create a legacy. Jones's media portrayal as having the potential to be the greatest champion of all time has not helped his case, creating a image that may or may not be accurate but has certainly created a backlash against his undoubted talents.


So the question is what has Jon Jones failed to show the MMA world? 

1) Has Jones Got One Punch Knockout Power?

The question whether his striking was enough to overwhelm his opponent was answered emphatically against Rua when capturing his title however there is still questions to be asked whether he can land a single shot, especially with his hands, that can finish a fight instantly. 

The most devastating shot in Jones's championship win was early in the first round with a flying knee hurt Rua badly, creating a situation where the Brazilian was never truly in the fight from that point on. However Jones took a couple of rounds to capitalize, wearing down his opponent before landing the end body shot (and following knees) which finally finished the contest. Arguable this was a sensible tactic against a man with no shortage of knock out promise however it still leaves that chink of light open for opponents.

In the rest of Jones back catalog of fights there are a number of notable knockdowns. The back spinning elbow that leveled Stephan Bonnar will be seen in a number of highlight reels as will his knockdown of the iron chinned Matt Hamill however none of these ended up leading to clean final blow. Against Quentin "Rampage" Jackson, Jones will be standing against another opponent who has taken his fair share of shots and survived so it could well be a good test for this aspect of his game.

2) How Good Is Jones's Chin?

This is another one of those what if questions that has to be tempered with the fact that Jones's reach is so good that many opponents have simply not close enough to him to land a significant strike. Rua landed only 11 of 42 attempts (just over 25%) of his strikes in Jones last fight, far lower than his usual 50%+ accuracy that the Brazilian would usually expect. It is also notable that Jones faces far fewer strikes than most fighters, averaging less than 30 per round in his UFC career, around half that of the average.

All this has allowed Jones's chin to go relatively untested and why should he worry if no one hits him anyway?. Mainly as this was something brought up about Lyoto Machida, another fighter who reached prominence without suffering many strikes with a mixture of style and skill, which left people wondering if he could be beaten only to be rushed by Rua and sent to the canvas in the most unceremonious way. In MMA no fighter can guarantee that someone with the luckiest punches will connect flush and it will be at that moment we will see if he can take a good punch. Rampage certainly has the potential to do this, especially as he is likely to be headhunting however it may be more likely to happen against someone with a more varied game plan.   

3) How Good Is Jones Of His Back?

Having physical dominated his opponents and shown a mixture of takedowns that have surprised many commentators of the sport, Jones has spent not spent any time on his back inside the Octagon. This could be a key aspect in up coming fights in the UFC as light heavyweight is blessed with a number of high quality wrestlers who will be looking to try out that game plan, however unlikely it may seem to many.

In principle, Jones's physical gifts in the striking should translate well into a good submission game as his long limbs should allow him to both lock up opponents in the guard and look for holds people with shorter limbs cannot. However the downside to long limbs is that they to are easier to get a handle on so armbars could be an issue. It would also be interesting to see whether a single limb can isolated and dominated that is sometimes the betrayal of very tall fighters in a weight class as there core strength is eliminated in that situation.

Ultimately this is unlikely to be tested in Jones's next fight with Rampage however it could be something to look out for later down the line. 

4) What If The Fight Starts To Get Away From Jones?

Having been so dominant in previous fights, Jones has yet to face the challenge of fighting against an opponent who has been able to establish a productive game plan against him. With Greg Jackson in his corner there is little doubt he has the people in his corner to make adjustments for him to win such fights however does Jones have the mental strength to put them into place and not get frustrated. 

Jones who is young in MMA terms has shown frustration outside of the cage, especially with the likes of media intrusion and conflicts with certain other fighters.. Whether this would translate into getting easily frustrated inside the cage is an unanswerable question at this time but it would certainly open doors if it could be manifested as it would surely lead to mistakes that could be used against him. Reports out of the camp in this and other fights is that Jones is happiest when he is entering a cage, a mentality shown by most fighters, so it could well be that his frustrations outside the cage are used to his benefit as well however this much pressure on a young man can make or break their careers.

5) Can Jones Build A True Legacy?

Although it may seem premature for someone to ask whether Jones can have a Hall of Fame career, it is certainly one of the more interesting problems that has faced the entire light heavyweight division since the demise of Chuck Liddell. In the eight fights from Liddell's loss to Rampage, the title has changed six times with no man holding the title for more than one title defense creating the most exclusive hot potato in the world of sport. 

Whether Jones will be the man to go on to stabilize the title as the likes of Anderson Silva and Georges St Pierre have done in other divisions is a matter of opinion but it certainly will be the most challenging belt to monopolize as the depth in that division is huge. Rashad Evans will be next in line for a title shot and his wrestling skills along with his small frame could be uncomfortable for Jones, not to mention the personal the two men have. This is assuming that Jones beats Rampage who, on form, has traded with and won against as many legends as any other fighter on the planet. Then the future could hold the likes of a rematch with Shogun, the re-emerging Lyoto Machida and the potential unification of the Strikeforce belt, a series of fights that cannot be matched by any other division.   

Legacy, and so longevity, may well be Jones's biggest challenge on the horizon. 

Of course the final question is whether these things really matter when you look at Jones upside. Does one shot power matter when you can land shots from angles no one else can achieve or if his chin cannot be touched. If he builds a legacy that never sees him in trouble or on his back, will people really think about it in the future as something that could have been exploited. In reality, the ever moving world of MMA will be creating styles, methods and tactics to get at the champion, as he is the man on top so will always have the biggest target on his back. 

So only time will tell if these questions turn into faults that sideline Jones at some point in his career but there can be little doubt that this MMA phenom has a very bright future ahead of him.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Wycombe Wanderers Stats Laid Bare

With the optimism drained from the ranks of Wanderers fans, it seems the appropriate time to look at the statistics to examine both the positive and negative points to the season so far.

Wycombe Total
Ranked (Division)
Divisional Average
Joint 22nd
20 (Charlton Athletic /  Sheffield United)
Goals Scored
Joint 21st
17 (3 Teams)
Goals Against
7 (4 Teams)
Goal Difference
Joint 20th
+10 (Charlton Athletic / Sheffield United
Form (Last 5)
Joint 23rd
WWWWW (Preston North End)

Last 5 Games
Points: 0
Goals Scored: 0
Goals Against: 9
Goal Difference: -9

Remaining Games In September

Sheffield United (H)
              2nd in League 1     
              Joint Top Goal Scorers / Joint Best Defence
Preston North End (H)
              5th in League 1
              Best Form (Last 5 Games WWWWW)

* No Adjustments Made For Games Played
   Statistics Correct From 17/09/11
   Information Given Accurate 

There isn't much positive to say about the last 5 games. No goals and depending on the sources an average of between 2 and 4 shots per game underlying a season where a lack of goals is hugely concerning. It should also be noted that the other side who have lost there last 5 games is Bury who's last victory was against Wycombe at Adams Park. 

Defensively the news is far more positive with Wycombe slightly ahead of the season average. However it should be noted that Wycombe have only played two sides from the top half of the table (Huddersfield Town And Brentford) so there are a lot of sides with goals in them in Wycombe's near future. 

It would also suggest that Wycombe may be going into games too defensively minded, something backed up by the performances in my opinion, with too much emphasis on trying to survive games rather than taking it to the opposition. With the understanding we're a smaller team in this division, we need to go out and try and beat the teams around us and maybe even play with some reckless abandon against sides who financially speaking are greater. Going out to hunt down some points has got to be a more effective tactic than survival football that has left so many depressed at the way a League 1 season is going once again.

The important thing to note for the fans is not to panic. There are a lot of games and plenty of opportunity to turn what is still a young season around. What the management at the club need to understand is that the way Wycombe are playing is not working for the fans or from a view at the league table so this is the time to go back to the drawing board and look again,

Gary Waddock has shown good tactical ability at his time at the club and has it within himself to make the necessary changes, although one must be to extend his scouting networks away from former players as this tactic has held the club back. 

Most importantly, it's time to make the changes now, even if means using the next couple of fixtures to try new things. They are games no one expects us to win so why not try something new out and get better for the more winnable games. We can still survive which was always going to be the aim this year but its up to everyone at the club from the chairman, through the management and players to the fans to keep the faith, keep going and remember that, frankly we're Wycombe and we're massive (sort off)

Building Prestige Into A Title

Reigning, even fleetingly, as the best in a chosen sport is a dream most people have as they grow up. For the vast majority it is a dream that will slips through their fingers however those few truly lucky ones, will not only hold the honour of bring called champion but will bring glory on their entire nation. It can bring a sense of accomplishment that permeates through society, bringing together people from all walks of life to celebrate a triumph. A moment of ecstasy that stands alone in time.

For the WWE, or any professional wrestling outfit, to succeed they must be able to conjure up this illusion of grandeur so people can buy into the world's most physical soap opera. 


The devaluation of the championship gold, whether that be the WWE or World heavyweight championship belt, has been prevalent throughout the 21st century. Sidelined for a mixture of character development or becoming an association piece for top talent. Trending towards overkill has been the establishment of super fighters, notably Triple H in the early part of the decade followed by the tandem of John Cena and Randy Orton who currently dominate both television time and the win column. These wrestlers haven't transcended public consciousness in the desired way but have become indiscriminately linked with being the champion, whether they hold the strap or not. Such events create a power vacuum where other champions are simply expected  to drop the belt in the near future to one of the existing franchise players and any feud, no matter the situation, inevitability ending with one of those men ending up on top. 

Situations of stagnation at the top of wrestling has often lead to lesser belts rising to the fore however the requirement of  a conveyor of  short term monsters has stopped such occurrences. Both mid-level belts (the Intercontinental and US belt respectively) have been relegated to novelty acts, often utilized to support comedy angles or simply forgotten about until the next body in the firing line needs a small boost in ratings. Worse still is the tag team title which coverage has mainly been used as a ploy to get two singles competitors on both shows with little time, effort or consistency being put into the thought process. Rumours of a change in policy related to the tag team division is hopeful but time will tell if this is the true rebirth of the division or if it's yet another false dawn.

What is abundantly clear is the old methods used to create prestige, allowing a fighter to hold the belt for several months and defend it relatively frequently is failing to do its job. The process of rinse and  repeat with a different wrestler being built up over a short period of time only to lose to the champion and be relegated back to mid-card level is just to predictable. Title matches become pointless to watch as it guarantees either a win for the champion or non-finish such as a count out or DQ. Such predictability takes away from the spectacle of the show so resolving to alter the process has to be a top priority for wrestling as the product tries to become relevant once again.

Due to the structural similarities, it would be most prudent to examine how the UFC belts have developed credentials as their worth has been established in the same time 10 year period as the WWE ones have ebbed away. This becomes especially relevant with the realization that the most prestigious belt within the company is not the heavyweight title belt as has been the tradition in boxing but rather the light heavyweight belt closely followed by the welterweight belt. These two titles above all else have developed with the companies growth, successfully increasing in value compared to other titles that have faltered. Even more interesting is that they have been established in two different ways which gives two blueprints into getting a title over.

The light heavyweight championship established early dominance with the charismatic, if controversial, Tito Ortiz defeating all comers. However two others, one a small heavyweight Randy Couture who threatened to drop weight and brawler Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell were also knocking of wins which meant the question of who the true champion was open for sometime. After several battles, Liddell looked like he was coming out on top having defeated both arch rivals twice however the introduction of a new wave of talent (in this case from the now defunct Pride organisation) and some young guys coming through changed the landscape leading to the eventual retirement of the champ.

However the belt since that early Liddell reign has changed hands 7 times in the last 9 fights. This has added to the mystique of the belt as it shows that people will find another level to gain the belt only to find that once their hands are wrapped around it, it get torn away by the challenger and they fight against a group of former champions, all desperate to get their next shot at dethroning the latest champion.The key is that the belt has changed hands so that the title becomes the item everyone wants rather than the victory over the champ who could change at any time.

Welterweight is completely different with only two main champions holding the belt for 14 of the last 16 title fights (not including interim title fights). This seems remarkable similar to the WWE in principle but the key is that the fighters just underneath the top guy are unpredictable, beating one another in a seemingly endless round robin competition where eventually one person draws their head above the line only to be stamped back down.

In this group of fighters are people who have been successful at other weight classes but compete at 170 simply as it has the most stacked weight class for the lower divisions and is the place to prove your worth as a fighter. Having a great champion with a genuine group of athletes who can beat anyone else has not only inspired many to break new ground in development of training and offense but also raised the stature of the entire division.

As an interesting side not, the least successfully thought of title within the UFC is the middleweight title although it is arguable held by their best fighter and pound for pound elite if he is not the greatest of all time. However much like the dominance of Cena and Orton, that division has been dominated by two men in succession. The first Rich Franklin had defeated everyone around him until he met Anderson Silva who defeated him with relative ease. What happened next made the division look weak as Franklin went on to dominate other fighters in the division only to lose badly again to Silva leaving a clear one and two, much like Cena and Orton in the WWE.

This was made worse by Franklin moving up in weight class which, after 6 fights, has left with a even record of 3 wins and 3 losses. Accidentally, this resembles the current WWE tactics of setting a side one super fighter with a distinct second best figure in the background, yet even in a real world setting with a truly great champion it has not got the title over. Instead, the fighter is the division, leaving a distinct impression that the rest of the division are built from less talented individuals than other divisions which can be seen in WWE terms as people seeing the current roster as weaker as historical rosters simply down to the dominance of the champions at this time.


The question is whether experiences in a genuine sport can be replicated in the staged environment of the WWE and whether it will help to reestablish their titles anyway.

The experiences of the light heavyweight division would not do for the main heavyweight championships within the WWE as constant change in that belt means losing the spectacle, and potential payday of a big pay per view. However it could well be the perfect opportunity for either of the two lesser belts, helping to establish a new collection of wrestlers, all desperate to take the belt with them but no one really being able to run away with it. In that situation, people who excel can be promoted up to fighting the for main belt but for the time being it would allow for the importance of the belt to shine through. becoming a focus point for television while feuds roll of it.

This is not without precedent either as a similar tactic was used in the run up to Wrestlemania 15 where Golddust, Ken Shamrock, Road Dogg and Val Venis were in a constant flux of champion and new champion culminating in a final elimination match at the end. Several other stars could have been interjected into the match who had failed to gain the championship but it really emphasized how important being the Intercontinental champion could be.

The way that the welterweight division has established long term champions could work for WWE however it would require the WWE to make the decision to have far less title matches, certainly removing them from every other Raw so that the unpredictability factor was largely increased. However this is not a perfect solution to the situation due to the relative weak status of the majority of potential contenders who have already been run through by the top two guys, sometimes several times over.

It may be best for the long term prospects of the title for Cena and Orton to leave the scene for a few weeks, possible to shoot another straight to DVD movie, and allow some time fro wrestlers to establish themselves as a legitimate threat to the WWE belt.What would ideally happen is that the talents who rise to the top, fall just sort of beating the current super hero characters after they return only to vow to improve and come back stronger. This could see a story line develop over several months, preferable keeping the talent out of the title picture until they could come back improved to finally take the title. Such a build up would give them automatic  authority as someone who fought for the belt tooth and nail and that effort would translate into direct prestige for the championship they would hold.

Such long term story building has been successful with The Rock's much anticipated return at the next Wrestlemania however the key to keeping a feud like this fresh is keeping the two men apart, allowing others to challenge and fail as well. Opening it back up to the all-comer mentality that was so successful in the territory period of the pre-McMahon era could see people rise to prominence from relative obscurity, something scene in the UFC far more often than pro wrestling where an upset is far more of a possibility as the situations are not staged. This variability, or lack of as the case is currently has had a profound effect on people not being able to absorb themselves into the moment so becoming more unpredictable should be another key.


It may well be that this all boils down to one critical element that the WWE is missing. This point is simply a lack of legitimacy that pulls people out of the make believe world they surround themselves with like any good  entertainment experience. An ingredient missing from WWE programming for some time that has been papered over by a refusal to acknowledge the problem which as lead to the questioning of the worth of a title which is ultimately gifted to a performer. Until legitimacy of the titles are restored, it will eat away at the heart of the institution which will leave no one happy. 

Monday, 5 September 2011

More Than Meets The Eye: Shields Vs Ellenberger

With a superficial glance and perhaps an increasingly cynical view of the UFC's booking in recent months, the main event for the 25th Fight Night outing looks like an excuse to re-establish the credentials of former title contender, and expensive free agent Jake Shields against efficient but relatively unremarkable Jake Ellenberger. However this contest may well be more interesting and perhaps shocking than many anticipate as the development of talent may outstrip the match making approach.

Jake Shields was a darling of the internet, dominating outside the UFC and being heralded as the man who could  take out long term welterweight champion Georges St Pierre. It is hard to argue that the ground specialist who came into his previous fight on a 15 fight winning streak which included Elite XC and Strikeforce gold as well as wins over current Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champion Dan Henderson, The Ultimate Fighter 14 coach Jason "Mayhem" Miller and former middleweight contender Yushin Okami was anything but a legitimate danger to UFC's welterweight crown however promise soon turned into despair as Shields was outclassed, losing a one sided decision. Losing in such a one sided way is not an unusual situation for people who challenge St Pierre however coming in with so much hype from the notoriously fickle MMA community and putting in what was frankly a disappointing performance has seen a significant backlash in opinion against Shields as a fighter. This loss of hardcore support is worsened by the fact that Shields came in from outside the UFC and so has significantly less brand recognition. Therefore rebuilding his credibility as a potential star could take more work than previous defeated contenders starting with September 17th free to air appearance.

It would appear that Ellenberger is the perfect person to start that rebuilding process as the former university of Nebraska wrestler is, on paper at least, significantly over matched in the grappling department while holding enough credibility in the eyes of hardcore fans as a ranked welterweight fighter and even has some name recognition appearing on previous Fight Night cards. Also in Shields favour is size as the former ADCC competitor has fought at a higher weight in several of his previous bouts, choosing to cut back down to welterweight when joining the UFC. Competing for championships has meant fighting at better general standard of competition which has a secondary advantage of having to perform on the big stage which should theoretically give him the psychological edge as well. A combination of factors that not only appeases the need to rebuild Shields as a public figure but also can be seen as a relatively safe fight in his progression towards more pay per view friendly match ups.

However this is where perception and reality may differ and lead to an unexpected result.

Firstly, the size difference between the two men is minimal, with Ellenberger being given a slightly longer reach than Shields. A fair indication that fighters inside the UFC are bigger in their respective weight classes than the advertised weight might indicate. Just ask Akiyama who's move down to welterweight is critical for his future success. The experience advantage is not distinct either as Ellenberger only has two less careers fights than  Shields while competing in more than double the number of UFC events.

Although the general quality of opponents is still clearly in Shields favour, the style of fights may not be as Ellenberger has made a career of fighting other wrestlers or ground fighters and coming out on top. Wins over the likes of Carlos Eduardo Rocha, Mike Pyle and John Howard attest to this. Leading Ellenberger to exhibit progressive improvement in his defensive wrestling repertoire, both against the shot and the fence. Fight experience against such tactics is invaluable, especially within the walls of the Octagon, and will increase the pressure on Shields who has shown frustration from his lack of success in takedown attempts since joining the UFC compared to other endeavours. Of course this could be down to Shields adjusting to the Octagon which is a different place to work than anywhere else however it could be the quality of the UFC fighters.

Ellenberger could well be near the pinnacle when it comes to stuffing the takedown. suddenly bringing to the fore Shields biggest disadvantage which is his striking. Shields approach to striking can be described kindly as being rudimentary but this lack of quality limits his approach to fighting and opens up his opponents tactical options. Unlike his opponent, Ellenberger has shown constant improvement each time he steps into the Octagon, developing from someone who possessed nothing more than a big right hand to someone who can throw a series of combinations. Couple this with impressive knockout power that has seen Ellenberger take 15 of his wins by KO including in his last fight against journeyman Sean Pierson, this could well be Ellenberger's best opportunity to get the win.It should be noted that Shields has shown great recovery such as the first round of the Henderson fight but against a younger, hungrier opponent with devastating ground of pound of his own, it could all fall in line for Ellenberger to cause the upset.

It would not be the first time that a former challenger for the belt has been set up to reclaim his place in the group of challengers to find themselves displaced by another as Dan Hardy experienced in his fight with Carlos Condit. Both men had a reputation for landing leather and Hardy, who proclaimed his survival skills to whoever was willing to listen, was confident that this was a fight ideal for his abilities. Condit's left hook thought otherwise, suddenly moving him back into contention while Hardy found out the hard way that being a contender can suddenly dissipate as if it were never there in the first place.

There is one last ace that Ellenberger may hold over Shields and that is putting the BJJ man on his back. Although a BJJ black belt, it is not something that Shields has experienced to often in his career and certainly not against someone who is as seasoned as Ellenberger, especially with the great equaliser of elbows thrown into the mix. Elleneberger's short elbow is probably his best offensive weapon and Shields is a fighter who has, for the most part, performed in organisations where elbows on the floor have been illegal. Elbows don't just cause serious damage but remove several holds that can be used to stop punches which conceivable lowers Shields defensive prowess and could be a difference maker in this fight. Mind you, reducing the ability of someone as skilled as Shields on the floor who has 10 submission victories to his name may well be the type of risk that can come back to haunt a fighter.

Ultimately Shields, as someone who has had the UFC's hype machine behind him and coming off his championship loss will be the favourite entering this match up however it could well be, intentionally or otherwise, that the UFC is setting Shields up for a fall. It should be remembered that one man's loss is another's gain and this could be the fight that propels Ellenberger into the divisions title eliminators. What is for certain is that a fight which started out looking like a match made to help reignite one star could well make the other.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Billy Robinson - The Man Behind The Gracie Killer

Many MMA fans are only vaguely aware of Billy Robinson. One of the old breed of British Catch-As-Catch-Can wrestlers, who were the underpinning of the old school territories system back in the 1970's professional wrestling scene, he was and still is a legitimate wrestling titan. Now in his mid-70s, Robinson is still training fighters how to fight and without him MMA history could be very different indeed.

Born in Wigan, Greater Manchester in 1939, Robinson grew up in the home of Catch wrestling in England. Like many forms of wrestling it differs from its counterparts.The main difference between Catch wrestling and the Scholastic form is the allowance of submissions other than choke holds. While it differs from Greco-Roman as submissions below the belt line are allowed and of course, unlike professional wrestling it is a real fight. Like these other disciplines, Catch wrestling does not normally feature strikes so was often learnt in tandem with boxing to create more rounded fighters which can be seen in the routes of American professional wrestling in the late 70's and early 80's. Historically Catch wrestling is also linked to Judo, after a number of bouts in the early 20th century which saw several high profile Judo practitioners lose fights to Catch wrestlers generating alterations in the make up of that discipline, it can be credited as one of the founding disciplines of Mixed Martial Arts.

Robinson's rise to fame was remarkable quick, winning the British Amateur Championship in 1957 aged just 18 and followed it with European Victory the following year, beating the 1956 Olympic bronze medallist in the process. The best part of the next ten years were spent honing his skills at the legendary Snake Pit with Billy Riley, the originator of modern Catch wrestling and master of the submission 60 years before the Gracie family came to prominence.

In the mid-60s, Robinson made his first trip to Japan where he wrestled on the professional scene with legends like Peter Maivia (The grandfather of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), Mammoth Suzuki and the Great Kusatsu. It was around this time before Robinson held his first notable belt which was the IWE World Championship belt. It was also aroudn this time that Robinson had an infamous meeting with the big Samoan Maivia in a bar. Revisionist history, or should that be The Rock's revisionist history, will tell you that Maivia and Robinson had an altercation, over what has been lost in time, and Maivia knocked Robinson through a window and then bit his eye out. Robinson claims differently, although his story also starts with Maivia knocking him through a window, in Robinson's account, he returned and tied the bigger, stronger Samoan up. Maivia bit through Robinson's cheek in the process of trying to escape and in that moment of anger, Robinson knocked Maivia out. What is most likely is a mixture of both as it does seem that Robinson was knocked through a window and did return and wrap the guy up but what happened next probably had more to do with other wrestlers pulling them apart to cool down away from one another. It should be noted that both men were known to be great friends both before and after the incident.

Robinson held several titles in Japan before trying his luck in 1970 in the American territories where he landed in the American Wrestling Association (AWA) run by multiple NWA champion Verne Gagne. Robinson and Gagne who were both from the old school Catch background so Robinson was elevated into being one of the promotions top talents fighting people like the "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, Ray Stevens and Gagne himself. The men held the two most notable title matches of the mid-1970's with Gagne defending the coveted AWA belt on both occasions in fights that were very close to legitimate shoot wrestling matches of a previous time. These fights were highly lucrative for the promotion, getting onto several cable networks which put the AWA in the limelight for more big events. Some of that money was invested into the acquisition of the then unknown Hulk Hogan which will go down in professional wrestling history.

The highlight of Robinson's own career lead from this feud with Gagne as he was invited over to New Japan Wrestling to fight the iconic Antonio Inkoi. Billed as a fight between the worlds two most technical fighters it was voted the greatest match of the year and in the top 5 wrestling matches of the decade. Fought as was the custom as a real fight to the public although the result was actually worked out before, it was a 2 pin out of three fight in accordance with Catch wrestling tradition. Robinson won the first fall but then started to become uncooperative with the promotions desire to put Inoki over, legitimately taking the "world's best" as he was known, down to the ground and clamping on submissions. Eventually, Robinson did give up the two falls to lose but the match forced the best out of Inoki just to survive.

Unfortunately the act of  putting on one legendary match cost Robinson more than he could have imagined although this can only be seen retrospectively. New Japan never had him back as a performer seen as too risky to employ as he had the potential to make their stars look bad and the idea stuck with several American promotions demoting him to a mid card performer, using Robinson to put future talent over. One last hurrah in 1982 saw Robinson face Bob Buckland for the WWWF championship in Montreal which gave Robinson his last true moment in the spotlight but his career faded out through the comic book style of the 1980's and retired in 1992.

Another shoot wrestler that was suffered earlier from the superhero age of wrestling was another Snake Pit graduate  Karl Gotch. Gotch is the the man who is credited as the father of Japan's more realistic style of wrestling. In the early 90's several wrestler's unhappy with their place in the very political world of professional wrestling put together a show that was advertised as a real shoot contest taking that concept one step further and Robinson was invited to have a farewell showdown with long time rival Nick Brockwinkel.  It was one of those cases where the stars a-lined and something insignificant can turn out to be so important and so was the case of Robinson's farewell fight. So impressed with the technical grounding, Robinson was installed as their trainer to produce new talent.  

Many will know the UWF:I as the first stirrings of what we now know as Mixed Martial Arts. A company that broke the rules and inspired the idea for the first UFC as more than a concept but as genuinely promotable entertainment. It really cannot be considered a sport for ten years later when it became more than a no-holds brawl. Billy Robinson was the architect of this style that made the UWF:I so popular which at the time was a big gamble. In producing such talent Robinson also trained many of these fighters in the skills of ground fighting.

Billy Robinson was the man who made Kazushi Sakuraba

Sakuraba was a stand out wrestler at collegiate level chose to go into professional wrestling to emulate his hero Tiger Mask. In joining the UWF:I, Sakuraba would not find the ring psychology he had expected but rather the joys of the submission game. The limb lock, a speciality from Robinson's own career, became synonymous with Sakuraba and his early training had a lot to do with this. It was Robinson's belief that the best way to fake a move was to know how to do it properly which meant knowing how to defend it properly at the same time. This constant battle in training meant that all the IWF:I fighters could take their shoot style fights a step further which added to the excitement of the fight but also to the skill level of everyone in the company. Without intending to, the Snake Pit International became the first dedicated ground gym that was not Gracie run.

Sakuraba spent 5 years on and off under Robinson, learning a great deal of the moves that would make him a star. Four of Sakuraba's first six wins game via arm bar which he attributed to Robinson in an interview in 1999. How much this training would effect MMA would not be understood until the year 1999 when Sakuraba defeated three time ADCC champion and a member of BJJ's ruling family Royler Gracie via kimura. This was the first loss a Gracie family member had suffered in several decades but it would be tested as a fluke six months later when Sakuraba faced the unbeatable Royce Gracie, winner of three of the first four original UFC events. The fight, predominantly a ground battle where Sakuraba showed remarkable composure against the BJJ phenom, showed that wrestling with submission defence could beat BJJ. This time winning when Royce's corner threw in the towel. Sakuraba had shocked the world. Billy Robinson had a big hand in doing so but his credit in doing so has never truly been acknowledged.

Earlier attempts by the IWF:I to beat the Gracie's had been unsuccessful and was the ultimate undoing of the company which closed in 1996. However this  does not mean that Sakuraba was the only successful fighter who has been through Robinson's camp. Former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett comes directly from Robinson's camp and notable former champions Randy Couture and Jake Shields have gone to work with the Brit. The next man looking to break into MMA with Robinson training is former WWE star Harry Smith. The Canadian is the grandson of famous catch wrestler Stu Hart and son of the last great British catch wrestler, British Bulldog, Davey Boy Smith so he has quite a legacy to hold up to. However at 6"5 tall and 240lbs, and with the backing of Robinson he could well go on to have a successful career as he is only 25 years old.

Billy Robinson had a great career but his true worth may not be seen for many years to come as MMA develops as a sport. It does seem a shame that this pioneer is not known in his own country nor does there seem to be anyone to take up his legacy however this should not detract from the long lasting effect Robinson had by being the man behind the Gracie Killer.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

UFC 133 Results and Review

The card started with a compelling victory for young Canadian Rory McDonald who used his speed advantage to the maximum. First taking Mike Pyle's game plan away and then the win. A quick trip early in the fight was an early indication that Pyle was going to struggle with the closing speed of McDonald which was ratified when McDonald landed a three punch combination shortly after. This sent Pyle into wrestling mode, going with three takedown attempts in a row without throwing a strike. Although this had limited success, as Pyle briefly looked like he was going to get back control, it also showed the desperation that was already coming into the more experienced man's mind.

Once the ensuing clinch had separated, the fight was all McDonald. The young man who had clearly worked on his angles which lead to Pyle's actions appearing predictable and laboured. The fight ended on the floor, with the Canadian postuing up and landing a perfect left which cracked the chin of Pyle. McDonald swarmed, landing a series of shots however it did appear Pyle was recovering, looking for a kimura and turning to protect himself. In the mist of the action McDonald then proceeded to land several shots to the back of Pyle's head which forced the American fighter around. An illegal shot in MMA, the referee did not react and it opened the opportunity for the final shots of the match. This left the referee no choice but to call the fight at 3.54 of the first round.

Even with the slightly controversial finish, conveniently avoided by the commentators, it was still a much deserved victory for McDonald who will be looking for a step up in competition next time around. Perhaps a fight with the winner of Paulo Thiago and David Mitchell at UFC 134. Pyle will find himself against the next young gun who needs to be tested at welterweight.  

One note of interest was McDonald's comments on the potential of a fight with Georges St Pierre which he claims he would refuse. The two train at the same camp but this young fighter could well be in line for a title fight sometime in the future so this could be a situation worth keeping an eye on.

This fight was followed by a brawl more reminiscent of UFC 33 than UFC 133 as Jorge Rivera and Constantinos Philippou slugged it out in a contest that showcased of solid boxing and terrible wrestling. The most notable action of the first round was a sloppy takedown by Philippou who landed several short lefts from the half guard while Rivera attempted to wall walk. The damage was not great but was enough to take a round where one shot was answered with an identical one.

Round two started spectaularly with a flush uppercut flooring Rivera but appalling ground and pound by the New York trained Philippou simply bounced of the shoulder of Rivera. Rivera took some time to reply in the round but it was mainly short stuff from the clinch so to generate some offense went for a trip takedown which was reversed nicely by Philippou into an omaplata shoulder lock. Stuck in the position Rivera did his best to defend but anyone confident in the position could have caused serious damage. Philippou was clearly out of his depth. Philippou didn't know the correct way to finish the move nor did he take the chance to cause damage to the body of Rivera. Stuck in that position, the round finished flatly. It was still more than enough to give the round to Philippou on most peoples books. 

The third round had to be about Rivera looking for the finish and so it turned out as the former Ultimate Fighter competitor pushed the action. Although achieving several dominant positions, there was no single strike or manoeuvre that really troubled Philippou as the fight fizzled out. As the cards were being prepared, most expected the fight to be scored 29-28 to Philippou which was how two of the three judges scored it giving him his first win in the UFC via split decision.

Neither fighter will have done anything to suggest that they have a big future in the middleweight division and it would not be a shock to see Rivera, coming off his second loss, being released. 

The legends fight between Dennis Hallman and Brian Ebersole showed how important experience can be in mixed martial arts. Hallman showcased it first, not only engaging the taller man but getting the takedown striaght into back control. This is when the experience of Ebersole that came to the fore as a combination of being relaxed and great hand control stopped the rear naked choke attempts which eventually opened up the opportunity to reverse the position, gaining top control.

The fight was over almost as soon as Ebersole had achieved the prominent position, landing an elbow that rocked Hallman and used his larger frame to land hammer blows from odd angles. These blows opened the defending Hallman up to a finally devastating elbow that knocked Hallman out. On first look, it could be seen as a premature stoppage but replays showed that it was absolutely correct and a great piece of refereeing.

The future for these fighters could not be more different. Ebersole could well get Rick Story or Johnny Hendircks next, as the UFC will want to see if he belongs with the younger guys trying to drag themselves up the UFC pecking order. Hallman is unlikely to fight in the UFC again but not due to his performance. When Hallman revealed his attire gasps arose around the arena as he was wearing speedo style bottoms with an oversized cup. This has clearly caused embarrassment in the UFC especially as a scramble caused a wardrobe malfunction and Hallman's genitals were briefly exposed.

Ebersole was awarded the vacant "submission of the night" award of $70,000 for finishing quickly and getting Hallman off camera. Dana White was clear that there will be disciplinary measures for the back room staff for allowing such fight wear to be worn and those types of briefs have been officially banned from the UFC. It does not bode well for Hallman's future with the company.

The UFC career of Yoshihiro Aikiyama could be under considerable threat. The Japanese star fell to his third consecutive loss and in devastating fashion as he was flattened by the "Phenom" Vitor Belfort. The fight turned very early on, after a few exploratory exchanges that looked like that fight could be evenly matched, Belfort threw a big head kick that was blocked by Akiyama but the power behind it changed the demeanour of the fighter. Going more defensive, Akiyama threw an upkick reminiscent of the one which knocked out Belfort in his last fight but it missed by some distance. This opened up the counter consisting of two lefts which floored Akiyama. Belfort swarmed, landing several upper cuts as the Japanese fighter tried to get away which dropped him again. On the way down, more shots rained down which separated Akiyama from conciousness.

There is some controversy that these final shots were to the back of the head. Closer analysis would appear that these shots were to the temple, which is a legal shot, but more importantly it had very little difference on the fights outcome. Belfort could well get Okami next, if he loses to Silva at UFC 134 or the winner of Sonnen and Stann. Akiyama must now consider going to welterweight where fights with Chris Lytle and Nate Diaz would be very marketable.

The main event advertised as a clash between two light heavyweight champions turned into a celebration of Rashad Evans's talent. The opening saw good exchanges and even a Tito Ortiz takedown but it all went wrong for the man who took the fight on two weeks notice after that. Rashad closed off the cage and landed 3 clean shots to Ortiz's chin and with a bit more precision and a little less aggression could have put Ortiz, who was clearly rocked, away. Too many shots bounced off the shoulders of Ortiz so the Hunnington Beach Bad Boy was able to use a knee to the gut to create separation and get way from Evan's onslaught. This simply gave Evans the chance to land a huge takedown which emphasised the dominance that Rashad held as round 1 ended.

Round 2 nearly started off with a shock as Ortiz grabbed hold of a guillotine which looked close to finishing the fight even if Evans said otherwise. Had Ortiz achieved full guard it could have been a different story indeed. However this gave Evans the chance of several minutes in side control to slowly wear down Ortiz who was clearly tiring. Evans showing none of the ring rust that many people thought might be an issue after not fighting for 14 months. As the round came to an end, with the referee telling Ortiz that he would end it if he did not intelligently defend himself, the fight ended up with a scramble next to the cage with Evans controlling Ortiz in a knelled position. Evans was clearly looking for the knee to the head so Ortiz stayed on the floor only to get a knee to the solarplexs instead that downed him. The punches after were academical and the fight was over with only seconds to go until the end of the second round.

Evans was very impressive and will have his title shot against the winner of Jon Jones and "Rampage" Jackson while the future for Ortiz is far less clear. Possibly a fight with "Shogun" Rua if he gets past Forrest Griffin  and could be a PPV winner.