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.   

Friday, 5 August 2011

Affliction Remembered

With the slow dissolution of Strikeforce into nothingness, Dream's financials woes and the loss of the WEC which merged into the UFC at the start of the year, many MMA fans are dismayed at the direction the sport is headed. News that major sponsors including MusclePharm are in a bad financial state and several gyms have gone bust in the second quarter of this year, there has been further strain put on the idea that MMA is an up and coming sport that will feature alongside boxing in the near future. In fact, for the first time since the first Chuck Liddell vs Tito Ortiz fight, it would appear by examining year on year growth that the sport is plateauing in popularity.

However this is not the first time that the sport has been shown to be less than bulletproof as a money making venture, as Affliction Entertainment discovered when they decided to take on the mantel of promoter in the Summer of 2008.

To understand the rise and fall of the Affliction brand, a historical context needs to be put in place. Affliction Clothing had been part of the backdrop of the explosion of the UFC's popularity through 2007 although it can be argued that was down to some incredible luck of Afflictions side. As a new company they had integrated themselves into the fight scene, notably sponsoring "Rampage" Jackson in Pride, but hearing off the return of "The Natural" Randy Couture they secured a big money deal to have the Hall Of Famer to wear their clothing to cage side. Not only was the clothing commented on by the commentators drawing attention to the brand initially  but Couture pulled off the shock victory over Tim Sylvia to regain the heavyweight championship at the age of 43 which had his image thrust into the media spotlight. Affliction, by inference, gained more free advertising than they could have ever imagined.

To Affliction's credit they quickly jumped on the opportunity and throughout 2007 they were by far the most prominent clothing company displayed at Octagon side, ousting long term UFC clothing partners Tapout for that position. The end of that year saw buy rates for the UFC exceed 750,000 and MMA was the hottest thing on the planet, then the disagreement happened and confusion sets in that saw the launch of the new company.

What we do know for certain is the the UFC banned Affliction clothing appearing on their pay per views in January 2008 and looked to phase out sponsorship for their under contract fighters by the end of the year. Why this happened depends on who is telling the tale. Both sides stories changed or were edited by the media so it is difficult to distil a true account. The basis of the Affliction claim was that the UFC were moving towards official sponsors doing a deal with other clothing companies so eliminated them as competition. The UFC's counter claim was that Affliction decided to form their own organisation before any action was taken against them and the banning was a counter measure to stop a rival company advertising on their programming.

Both sides stories hold some validation. Affliction were not the only company who were mysteriously banned at that point and UFC commentators Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan stopped referencing MMA outside the UFC on air. However the speed that celebrity business magnate Donald Trump was involved with the offshoot organisation Affliction Entertainment has always elicited ideas that Affliction were going to try their hand at booking in such a boom market. It should be remembered that this is not the first time that something with Donald Trumps backing has tried to take on a sporting franchise (and fail). Trump was very much involved in the failure of the USFL in the 1980s.

Afflictions debut event was scheduled for July 19th 2008 and in that press conference confirmed a deal to co-promote with M1 Global, which would see former Pride star and number one ranked heavyweight, Fedor Emelianenko fight in America for only the second time in his career. A big scalp internationally for the company, it would guarantee PPV sales in both the Russian and the Japanese markets to supplement the American sales. Opposing him would be the former UFC heavyweight title holder, and the man who's defeat launched the Affliction brand, Tim Sylvia. The rest of the card was filled with ex UFC and Pride stars including two more ex-heavyweight champions in Josh Barnett and Andre Arlovski as well as on the undercard, the former UFC light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort. This was definitely the most packed card of the year and had the potential to rival any event the UFC had put on during its rise to prominence.

To counter this the UFC put on a free card on Spike TV, debuting their dominant middleweight champion Anderson Silva at light heavyweight against brawler James Irvin. This strategic move was a deliberate ploy to take away PPV numbers from the competition as the draw of Silva in the general US market was individually higher than any of the stars on the Affliction card. Affliction stepped up its campaign in response, first plastering New York cabs with Affliction advertising and then announcing a deal to have their undercard put on Fox and Fight Network television as an appetizer to their event. The two companies went head to head.

Ultimately, the UFC's ploy worked as ten times as many people tuned in to watch Anderson Silva as those who brought the Affliction: Banned PPV. Both events were successful fight wise with the UFC getting two world class knock outs including the iconic Silva counter punch that floored Irvin in the blink of an eye. Afflictions main event was equally as spectacular as Fedor swarmed over Sylvia, gaining the submission win, after a knock down in less than 40 seconds.Both the other two big heavyweight match ups also ended in spectacular knock outs that left many fans claiming it to be the better event even though it only sold to 100,000 homes.

This lack of sales meant the event was a financial failure, only truly understood sometime after the situation had dissipated. Sharing sales with the PPV provider and M1 Global , Affliction made a loss of nearly 2 million dollars on the event taking the company onto the verge of bankruptcy almost before it had started. Only certain deference payment to some top talent on the promise of another big show allowed them to continue to function as an organisation. What looked like a guaranteed  money making industry had just had its bubble burst.

Afflictions's second event was scheduled for the October 11th but was postponed. The reason for this is another mystery that has gone into MMA legend. Originally the second card was going to happen in Las Vegas with a main event of Andrei Arlovski verses Josh Barnett however this never happened with Affliction evidentially failing to gain their promoters license in the state of Nevada.  Why they failed to gain a license is something that may never truly be revealed however the rumour mill went into over drive over the subject. Affliction pointed the finger directly at the UFC, claiming the company were pressurising the local officials not to allow them to host events in their home territory. This was denied by Dana White in many interviews but the fact that almost no MMA events outside the UFC are held in the Mecca of fighting suggests there may be something to it.  

Another factor seems to have been drug testing policy held by the Nevada State Athletic Commission which drug tests all talent that fights. Brining in talent from overseas where regulations are not adhered to so strictly was going to be an issue and Affliction did seem to want some sort of random testing to limit the damage potentially caused by a failed drugs test. Something that would come back to bite them later. Another query has been whether they could prove liquidity, something that we now know to be highly unlikely. So the event was rescheduled for January 24th and co-promoted with M1 Global once again which had two large benefits. One was being able to schedule Fedor back into the main event picture and the other was the backing provided them with the liquidity to move forward, this time in California.

It was clear that Affliction were not seen as such a dangerous rival to the UFC at this point so no card was scheduled to compete with the card. Affliction brought in Fedor to main event the contest against Arlovski who was known at the time as having some of the best hands in the business, although his chin could be a little vulnerable. The undercard was populated with the same high profile non UFC fighters as before, although in different match ups, but the buzz after the cancelled show had dissipated. The event drew only 90,000 buys even though the main event had yet another highlight reel knock-out as a flying knee attempt from Arlovski was met with the right hand of Fedor. In the clash Arlovski was knocked out in mid air and his body fell, prone to the floor. A knock out that became more famous in subsequent highlight shows than when the event happened.

It can be argued that the UFC was a factor in the poor buy rates but in a far more indircct way.The next week was the much anticipated second show down between lightweight king pin BJ Penn and welterweight supremo Georges St Pierre. An event that drew 920,000 buys, ten times the amount of the Affliction event. One of the biggest selling events ever, there is a good chance this took many buys away from Affliction and worse still for the company, they reputable spent three times as much on talent as the UFC did for their event. This looked like the ultimate failure, massive losses incurred across the board, including an ill-judged sponsorship of a NASCAR team meant that they made a loss on the gross of the event. Net loss was in the multi-millions and it was assumed this would be the end of Affliction. Especially after the high profile denouncement by Donald Trump in the media over the poor running of the organisation. Trump was said to have given his shares away in the business for a dollar.

The third great mystery is why Aflliction: Trilogy existed at all. The company were clearly and openly in financial turmoil and more than one rumour had come out, that we now know to be true, that they had discussions with the UFC to close and rejoin them as a sponsor. Affliction clothing was seen again from February 2009 in the UFC although nothing was officially mentioned. Most believe that the main reason is an agreement between Affliction and M1 Global to cut some of their losses in turn for showcasing more of M1's fighters in the US was a key factor. Another may well be pride as criticism against the company was growing and t-shirt sales were being effected by this. The actual reason may well be another mystery that is never truly understood.

The card was due to be headlined by Fedor Emelianenko once again. This time against Josh Barnett who also had two wins at Affliction events. The co-main event was another M1 Global fighter Gegard Mousasi who was at the time a relative unknown in the US although went on to be a Strikeforce and Dream light heavyweight champion against Renato "Babalu" Sobral. This unknown in such a high ranking fight further strengthened the suggestions that M1 was now pulling the strings. Of course we will never know how the fights would have turned out, the final destruction of the company was nigh.

The situation started to go wrong when scheduled interviews were cancelled between Barnett and the media. Rumours started that there may be a problem and just 10 days before the event the announcement was made that Josh Barnett was unable to compete due to failing a drugs test. A policy change in California to fall in line with Nevada in March 2009 was obviously missed by the promoters and talent involved. Under the new testing procedure, it was inevitable such obvious doping was going to be caught. The event was thrown into disarray. After three days of denials, Affliction held a final press confirming that not only had the event been cancelled due to not bring able to promote a new fight sufficiently but also that the company was to be dissolved. Affliction shortly announced a deal with the UFC to become an official clothing sponsor and their clothing officially reinstated into the company.

So an experiment in taking advantage of the MMA craze was a failure, basically from start to finish. It showed for the first time that MMA was not a golden goose and that competing was going to take more than throwing money at talent that were no longer attached to the UFC. For a business to compete would need to build from a solid foundation, producing its own talent and own market making fiscally sensible decisions on when to bring in high profile fighters. Afflictions mistakes would be repeated in many people's opinion by Strikeforce, just a year later further strengthening the case of careful promotion. Whether such an experience has put people of entering the world of MMA promoting, nobody can truly know however t does show us that with a lack of competition in the MMA world right now, a quick fix is not a viable option. 

Championship Preview

The off-season in the Championship has been one of move and counter move, with many clubs changing upwards of eight first team players from last season. Whether this can be considered upgrading the side or downgrading is very much in the eye of the beholder, however it is certainly leading to yet another season of mystery in England's second division.

Immediate favourites after relegation were Birmingham City who were a surprising side to have ended up in the drop zone. The side had won the League Cup, beating Arsenal, and were built on solid fundamental defence that had seen them finish in the top half the season before. Ultimately it was a lack of goals which was the sides undoing scoring just 37 (less than one a game) and least of all Premier League clubs that season. Although this has been addressed to some degree with the addition of Marlon King (from Coventry City) and Adam Rooney (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), the loss of key midfielders Craig Gardner, Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland) and Barry Ferguson (Blackpool) has taken the core from the side which could prove to be their Achilles heel this season.

Replacing Birmingham as favourites in many quarters is the heavy spending Leicester City who have splashed the cash on several proven championship players that can only improve their promotion chances. Managed by former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, it is being seen very much as an all or nothing season for Leicester as the wages the club are reputed to be paying do not appear to be sustainable at Championship level. There is little doubt that Leicester will be strong defensively with the addition of goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel (Leeds United) and centerback Matt Mills (Reading) however there are questions about where the goals could come from. Both new signing David Nugent (Portsmouth) and Darius Vassell are confidence strikers who have had both good and bad goal scoring runs in their careers while last seasons top goalscorer Steve Howard goes into the season at the age of 35 which could lead to a down turn in form.

Another former England manager Steve McClaren will look to lead his new Nottingham Forest side to the promised land after two consecutive play-off disappointments. Unusually for the Championship this season, Forest have made few moves outside three notable midfielders including Jonathan Greening (Fulham) who could well be brought in to mentor several talented youngsters. Where Forest are definitely weaker is up front with the loss of both Nathan Tyson (Derby) and Robert Earnshaw (Cardiff City) which will put more pressure on the talented Joe Garner who is likely to spearhead the attack.

One side that could benefit from clever transfer moves are Derby County. There capture of Frank Fielding instantly gives them one of the best goalkeepers in the league, even if many fans are unaware of his talents. While bringing in Theo Robinson (Millwall) and Nathan Tyson (Nottingham Forest) will add a lot of pace to the side which was missing last time out. The retirement of Robbie Savage may also help take the pressure off the club as they will be out of the media spotlight. Certainly a play off contender.  

Another relegated team that will look for just a one year stop in the Championship will be West Ham United who have released a large amount of overpaid players. This culling will be great for the future of the club however it would look like, up to this point at least, that they have been able to keep key players like Rob Green, Mark Noble and Carlton Cole. The Hammers also pulled of the biggest coup of the transfer window with the capture of Kevin Nolan from Newcastle in a move that blind sided many people and could propel them up the league.

Leeds United are a side that have had a good summer by retaining the core of their squad who finished just outside the play-offs last season and losses have been replaced by intelligent selections. This can be seen by replacing want away goalkeeper Kasper Schmiechel (Leicester City) with Andy Lonergan (Preston North End) who could use this opportunity to finally realize his potential. The limitation which may come back to haunt Leeds is the lack of strength in depth in some areas which if injuries start to pile up could scupper play-off hopes.

One side that could surprise this season is Ipswich Town who have quietly brought together a number of quality players that should upgrade them across the park. Strikers Michael Chopra (Cardiff City) and Nathan Ellington (Watford) could potentially come together make up for the loss of reputed wonderkid Connor Wickham who has moved on to Sunderland. Lee Bowyer (Birmingham City) will add steel to the midfield while Ivar Ingimarsson (Reading) will marshal the defence. Possible a dark horse for automatic promotion.

Perennial play-off chasers Cardiff City have had a difficult pre-season with several long term players leaving the club and worries about the financial situation.limiting the transfer funds. Losing Jay Bothroyd (QPR) and Michael Chopra (Ipswich) has left a whole up front which has been filled by Scotish international Kenny Miller (Bursapor) and Welsh international Robert Earnshaw (Nottingham Forest) who haven't been in the goals for a few seasons now. A drop down the league looks inevitable.  

Another team that may be on the slide is Coventry City who have lost key players Keiren Westwood (Sunderland) and Marlon King (Birmingham) and have been very quiet in the transfer window. There has been a real lack of ambition around the club with survival appearing to be their main aim however relegation dog fight could be on the cards.

The season starts with Hull City verses relegated Blackpool, with both sides almost unrecognisable compared to the sides that finished the previous season. Blackpool have suffered from a tight wage budget that has not allowed them to retain a number of players who have gone to other clubs including talismanic midfielder Charlie Adam who went to Liverpool and David Vaughan (Sunderland). Hull have concentrated on getting younger, taking opportunity to sign several released players from premier League clubs while releasing some elder statesman. One player that could make a big difference for them is defender Jack Hobbs (Leicester) who is a commanding center back with good awareness. Managers Nigel Pearson and Ian Holloway are always good for a quote but this may be a season where rebuilding comes before any realistic promotion push.

One side that is making waves pre-season due to their style of play are Barnsley who have come out playing a passing game more reminiscent with the European game than the traditional English style. Bringing in Craig Davies from Chesterfield could be a brilliant move as he has always had the potential to play at a higher level if his mind is in the right place. A team to keep a careful eye on.

Two sides who seem to have stayed still in the Championship pecking order are Middlesborough and Millwall although both have lost key strikers. Leroy Lita (Swansea) offered pace up front that has not been replaced by manager Tony Mowbray, which will take space away from the midfield. While Steve Morison move to Norwich leaves new boy Darius Henderson to take over the big striker role at Millwall. Both clubs will sniff a play off place but both will ultimately miss out.

After being knocked out of the first round of the playoffs last season, Reading have been relatively quiet in the off season with the notable departure of Matt Mills (Leicester) replaced with Mikele Leigertwood being a like for like swap at the back. It may be argued that keeping Shane Long who scored 23 league goals last time around as a major achievement considering how many other championship sides lost key figures butif Long's form doesn't hold, they may find themselves lost in the mix.

Two sides who may be more worried about the drop zone than promotion are Watford and Portsmouth, both who have money issues in the last few years after runs in the Premiership. Watford have lost Danny Graham who's goals were the difference between staying up and relegation last season but the 3.5 million offered for his services was just too good to turn down. A lot of faith his going to be put onto veteran Chris Iwelumo to replace him as there does not seem to be another player within the squad who can step up and score the goals to avoid relegation. Portsmouth who are still financially unstable after their high profile issues two seasons ago have also cashed in on assets or looked to move on high earners leaving them with a very small but high quality squad. If injuries catch up with them it may be very hard for them to fight of relegation.

All three promoted sides stand a very good chance of staying up. Brighton and Hove Albion move into their new home at Falmer will look to carry forward their momentum as League 1 champions. Gus Poyet's men were a class above the rest of the field for the majority of last season and should have little problem stepping up to the new challenge. The addition of Craig Mackail-Smith (Peterborough United) will add another good striker which could lead them to and outside chance of a playoff run.

Mackail-Smith's departure is an equally big blow for Peterborough United who made it through the playoffs last season by defeating Huddersfield Town 3-0 in the final. Losing their leading striker does ask questions over the strength of their squad but so far keeping George Boyd means they should have enough quality to steer clear of relegation. Losing Boyd would make them relegation favourites though. Finally Southampton who finished just behind Brighton come into the higher division with a fully formed Championship calibre squad already assembled. Little activity in the transfer window is testament to this and most fans will expect mid table obscurity which is most likely what they will get.  

Burnley are a side, like Portsmouth, that could really struggle due to a lack of squad strength. Eddie Howe did wonders as manager of Bournemouth however a squad that has continued to thin out since relegation from the Premier League is looking threadbare. With questions marks over both the defence and offence, this could mean it will be a long season for The Clarets. One side that had a bad start to the season last time around was Bristol City, only drawing away from relegation zone in the last few months. There has not been the big name signings this season so they will hope that Nicky Maynard and Brett Pittman can stay fit and David James has another season in him to keep them clear of the drop.

The two teams that stand out as most likely to face relegation are Crystal Palace and Doncaster Rovers.

Palace have tried to improve the squad but few players stand out although midfielder Darren Ambrose has the potential to lift the players around him. Several youth team players have graduated into the first team so their biggest hope is some of these young men grab the opportunity. Doncaster, who finished one place above the relegation zone last season are in a similar position. The good news for them is that they have not lost anyone significant and brought in one time prospect Giles Barnes and Tommy Spur from Sheffield Wednesday to bolster their midfield. Unfortunately for them, more improvements still look to be needed if they are going to survive another season.

Predictions For The Upcoming Season

Champions: West Ham United
Promotion: Leicester City

Playoffs: Birmingham City; Ipswich Town; Derby County; Nottingham Forest

Relegation: Peterborough United; Crystal Palace; Doncaster Rovers

Thursday, 4 August 2011

UFC 133: Evans vs Ortiz II PPV Preview

In what may be the least hyped card in the last 5 years, UFC 133 coming out of Philadelphia, could be one of the better shows this yea. There are significant gains for the winners and disastrous results for the losers. This is remarkable well represented by the main event, a rematch from 2007 between former light heavyweight champions Rashad Evans and Tito Ortiz. 

The first fight can be seen retrospectively as a changing of the guard. At the time, Evans was known simply as the guy who had used his wrestling to win the second season of the Ultimate Fighter and this was his first big name test to see how he would compare with the divisions best. Ortiz who had been the long term champion at the start of the decade and beaten everyone outside Hall of Famer's Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell over a six year run in the company was coming off another failed championship fight. The fight was close, with Ortiz having the better of two rounds, it looked to be the fight that would lead to the first loss of Evans's career, had it not been for Ortiz grabbing the fence in the second round. The point deduction resulted in the fight being scored 28-28 and the final verdict a draw.

This had big implications as the still undefeated Evans was able to ride the undefeated streak through to a championship fight, beating Chuck Liddell on the way, and capturing it with a 3rd round victory over Forrest Griffin. Evans finally met his match against Lyoto Machida in his first title defense but has gone on to win twice more including over long term rival Quentin "Rampage" Jackson. Evans's career has stalled from that point, with contract disputes and injuries to himself and opponents losing him title shots on numerous occasions which has lead to this fight. Tito's career since that time has also been mainly about contract disputes, severe back injuries and with a run of 3 consecutive losses, he looked to be heading out the door. This was until is remarkable KO victory over another Ultimate Fighter starlet Ryan Bader at UFC 132 which has suddenly spring boarded the Huntington Beach Bad Boy back into relevance.

These two have similarities that can been seen in their past as controversial and prominently self promoting figures which has courted them both positive and negative attention. Similarities in their styles which is based on a solid wrestling base which can be used to either strike against a grappler or GnP a striker has further seen there relative careers compared in the media. Therefore this clash signifies a battle between the best two ever in their chosen fighting styles which has added extra interest to a match that was put together at the last minute. Initially Evans was due to face champion Jon Jones and after that the talented Phil Davis but both pulled out with injuries.

The fight itself is extremely difficult to pick as both men still have serious questions over their health, with numerous problems over the last 2 years with injuries although Ortiz problems have been far longer term. Evans will also have to contend with ring rust having not stepped into a cage since May 2010 and only fighting three times since the end of 2008. This could well swing things in Ortiz's favour who only fought last month  although it may open up the question of whether the 38 year old's body has had sufficient time to recover.

The fight itself is likely to be very reminiscent of the first fight although both men will have more confidence with their hands than last time. The key may be who achieves the first successful takedown as both men, renown for their good defensive guards, could struggle to get back to their feet and the round may simply run away from them. There is also risk that both fighters, who have shown some knockout power, may look for the big knockout with the hands which could turn the fight into a very sloppy kick boxing affair. Most likely it will be a contest which the winner is the fighter who can land the more shots on the feet which will send the other fighter into wrestling mode and leave open a series of counters both striking and wrestling to the more effective fighter.

Prediction: Ortiz 29-28.

Early ring rust will get the better of Evans who will come back strongly in the third but not quite do enough. Be given in evidence to why UFC main events all need to be five rounds.


It has to be said that the co-main event between Vitor Belfort and Yoshihiro Akiyama is unusual, as both men are coming off losses, so this becomes a fight to keep themselves relevant at 185. Belfort, who was parachuted into a title shot against Anderson Silva, suffered a vicious up kick knockout that will go down on highlight reels forever will want to get back the form that saw him go five unbeaten before that fight. Akiyama who came to the UFC with the hopes of Japan weighing on his shoulder has been somewhat of a disappointment results wise, only going 1-2 in his first three fights with the company. However no fighter has been more exciting in the cage, winning fight of the night in all of his three fights.

The fight may well be a disappointment for the Japanese superstar as his main problem since entering the UFC has been his lack of size which has allowed bigger and stronger opponents to wear him down. In Belfort, he may be fighting the biggest fighter of his career as Belfort broke through at heavyweight and has the majority of his fights at light heavyweight. This size difference, likely to be upwards of 20lbs when it comes to fight time will limit Akiyama's judo and may not have the speed advantage he normally enjoys. Belfort should be able to rely on his well rounded nature to counter Akiyama's judo as he is also a black belt in the discipline, although no where near the standard of Akiyama, and has the advantage of a BJJ black belt. However it  is Belfort's best known attribute,for his explosive hands, that has proven to be the difference maker in so many fights that is likely to cause the end of this fight..

The winner of this fight will find themselves in the group of challengers that have tried and failed against Anderson Silva and is likely to have another co-main event slot in the future. What will be more interesting is the future of the loser. If that is Belfort, the immediate thought will be that he has cut to much weight and will be on his way back up to the 205 division where he is likely to fitted in to fight the likes of Ryan Bader or Matt Hamill. If it is Akiyama, facing three defeats on the bounce, his future in the UFC could be very questionable indeed. A move to 170 and a card in Japan may well save him from the chop but there is no doubt that the loser will have to face big changes in the near future.

Prediction: Belfort 2nd Round TKO

Akiyama should fight valiantly through the first round and may well put Belfort in some uncomfortable positions but his stand up skill will fail him eventually and the size and power difference will come into play.


The validity of the next fight between Jorge Rivera and Constantinos Philippou as a main event match up has been widely questioned across the MMA world this week. This is not going to counter those arguments as understanding why the battling Rivera who is not in the middleweight title picture against the unknown Philippou, has been given precedence over the likes of the Mike Brown vs Nan Phan fight is simply baffling.

The fight itself will likely be a slug fest as Rivera will look to land a hay-maker that has downed such opponents as Nate Quarry and Kendall Groves while Philippou, who has stepped in for the injured Alessio Sakara,  has shown himself to be an opportunist, taking advantage of opponents inefficiencies when gaining his victories. There should be plenty of opportunities for this approach against Rivera who has never developed the superior technique that his potential suggested.

Prediction: Rivera 3rd Round TKO 

Although Rivera may not have the best technique, he should have the experience to overcome Philippou.


My pick for fight of the night is the bout between the veteran Mike Pyle and Canadian golden boy Rory McDonald. Mike Pyle is a veteran of the international MMA scene, fighting over several organisations in his time. This has often lead him into being the marker for a young fighter wanting to know if they have the potential to get into the UFC which has been a trend that has continued, as one of the best gatekeeper fighters  around. Recent wins over up and comers John Hathaway and Jesse Lennox has shown the 35 year old is not an easy fighter to get past. This trend continues as Pyle fights 22 year old McDonald who has already picked up a notable win over Nate Diaz.

McDonald is one of the new generation of MMA practitioners who has not come from one specialization but has trained in all areas from the very beginning which makes him equally as comfortable in every area of the fight. This rounded style has proven to be greatly effective in taking opponents out of their game plan with his only professorial loss coming against the vastly experienced Carlos Condit who's superior striking over whelmed the youngster who has clearly won the first two rounds. Such explosiveness is unlikely from Pyle who will be more methodical in his approach which could mean the opening minutes of the fight turn into a cagey affair.    

The difference maker in the fight between two such well rounded fighters could well be the historical problems that Pyle has suffered against top class wrestler which  is the area McDonald can be considered strongest in. However Pyle does train at Xtreme Couture against some of the best wrestlers in the world so this weakness has been addressed to some degree as witnessed by the Hathaway fight. Whichever area of the fight is engaged in, there will be little between the two which could potentially lead to one of the best back and forth contests of the year.

Prediction: Pyle Unanimous Decision

Although McDonald has a big future at welterweight, this time around the experience of Pyle should just be enough to outscore the youngster in what will hopefully be a three round war.


The final fight on the PPV card is between two of the most infamous MMA fighters in history. Dennis Hallman  is the conqueror of Matt Hughes having defeated him twice in a combined 38 seconds. This was remarkable as for a considerable period in the early 2000's Matt Hughes was the most dominant welterweight on the planet. While Brian Ebersole is a man has built a reputation for being he type of fighter who will fight anybody, fighting at four different weight divisions from heavyweight to welterweight. Ebersole has added to his legend by emigrating to Australia which has helped drive up the quality in that country considerable.

With 124 combined fights both men are hugely experienced however neither have had that many battles within the UFC itself. Hallman first fought in the UFC 29 but never settled in one company which many have theorized had something to do with the presence of Matt Hughes in the UFC. However Hallman finally found his home in the UFC in middle of 2009 and has several fights left with the company. While Ebersole chose to fight in his new Australian homeland for many years which limited his opportunities in the more famous organisations until the UFC went down under in February 2011. This will be Ebersole's first fight in the United States since 2007.

The fight should come down to who is the better grappler with Ebersole coming with the wrestling pedigree, being a former division I wrestler and Hallman the submission artist who holds a remarkable 38 victories by that method. Putting money on this fight is a very dangerous idea indeed as either man could finish this at any time.

Prediction: Hallman 2nd Round Submission

When a fight is this close, the x factor is often what decides the outcome. In this case, that x factor is Hallman's submission skill and so will be the most likely outcome.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Wrestling Frustration

For many years, with a few glimpses of hope that has sustained the hopeful, professional wrestling, read WWE, has been completely irrelevant to real world situations preferring to return to the more fantasy based routes of the 1980's. This was initially a bold move as it did wonders bringing in new, younger fans, who were the children of those 80's kids and 90's young adults who would naturally introduce their own children to the product.

This is rarely appreciated by fans who fondly remember the attitude era's more extreme and contemporary feel but it was important to develop these new fans and new talent that keeps future of the wrestling industry bright. It was also necessary to separate from the time of the Monday Night Wars as that intensity was never going to be maintained without legitimate competition. Splitting the rosters and adding Eric Bischoff as Raw general manager only showed how much of that heat was lost.

Spearheaded by John Cena, the modern day Hulk Hogan, wrestling returned to its pantomime route and it achieved its objectives however the failure to move with the times has undone a lot of there hard work. This is partly down to the WWE failing to notice that those new fans had become teenagers themselves, looking for an edgier and more dynamic product but mainly due to the reliance on the merchandise sales that certain stars produce, week in and week out.

The merchandise in question is mainly influenced by their golden goose Cena who has done an excellent job in selling himself as the crusader for the light side against the dark, even if booking has made the dark look more like the bad girl from the power rangers and less like a legitimate threat. The sales, which the last financial statement was around 30% of there merchandise revenue means that removing or even altering Cena would leave the company with a significant whole in their budget.

Part of the blame falls on the financial crisis that has bitten across the board with everyone suffering for money  and the fear that a bad year could potentially put the business under even more pressure however it can also be attributed to not trust the audiences reaction. People have been hot at different stages, Randy Orton in his run at the end of 2009, a classic example. This was a character that older fans were starting to identify with, someone who had flaws as well as abilities but he did not sell enough T-shirts. A now sanitized version walks around on Smackdown with his worst problem being the fear that the vein his head may rupture when he pulls his angry face but he sells more T-shirts.

Which brings us to the present day and the rise of CM Punk, the reintroduction of the Game Triple H and the changing character of the aforementioned Cena. There is no doubt that Punk's charisma has changed the situation for the WWE as he has brought in viewers and advertising so his stay of execution unlike others will be longer but whether the WWE finally breaks out of the cartoon world will depend largely on how many "best in the world" and when it comes out HHH "I'm the Boss" T-shirts sale.

Time for that evolution to a trend setting product is well overdue however money talks and for the wrestling industry which takes its lead very much from the WWE, it may well be resultant of fans sticking there hands in their pocket to support such an revolution. So where is that order form...?

Provision For The Less Traditional Carer

Caring as a subject for blogs can be found widely across the internet. The resolve needed to be a carer is something that anyone who has had to engage in it should forever be proud off whoever and in whatever situation that should occur in. However being a less traditional carer, in my case male, under 25, for a partner (opposed to parent, sibling or child) and for someone who developed a condition rather than it being a illness or being something that the person was born with or developed in early life means that the provisions available are somewhat limited even in comparison with other carers. 

Now it should be understood that being a carer in my case is my choice. I could have, in theory anyway, walked away from the situation and let others take control. Others in a similar situations have. I don't think there should be any blame as it happens as taking on something like constant care as is required for my partner means giving up considerable opportunities and resources.  For instance, in my case, it has taken away any chance of employment, removed me from university and not allowed me to enjoy a lot of the experiences that others who I grew up with have. This has the effect unfortunately of  distancing a younger person from their piers who have either have no experience of looking after another or in other cases may be distancing themselves away from such instances. 

However, this does not mean that I don't require some respite, as the constant pressure can become overwhelming. Traditional organised groups locally that mainly consist off middle age woman who I share very few experiences with and culturally far away from are not appropriate. As nice as these people are, and for the most part they are amazingly welcome to all, and if your feeling lonely and in that place in your life as a carer I would highly recommend getting hold off them, they can be found in the most surprising places, these are situations that don't generate the right conditions for someone outside the core group, like in any social network.

In an ideal world, the best thing would be to gather a group of like minded and age appropriate people together however this is a lot easier said than done as the nature of caring and the isolation that is the result does not conjure up mass meetings well. Time restraints and the limitations of respite care further increase the problem as there is simply not enough care professionals to look after severely disabled people for such a like minded group to gather, not without major investment which is unlikely.

With that idea not really stacking up, it would be more appropriate to then look into ways for people to lose themselves for a few hours with people who are like minded in another aspect. For myself and a large group of people in general this aspect is sport where almost any person can talk to another as they all share that single passion. Live sport is especially good as people who were once strangers, from different backgrounds can combine into a group of equals. This feeling is something that can rarely be felt as a carer as you are often morphed into the other persons identity, as something that is required for that other person to function.

Sport has other benefits as well, as the emotions built up over weeks of turmoil can be unleashed in a safe environment around others who feel the same. Stadiums especially have the wonderful opportunity to shout and sing, to lose yourself control when the rest of your existence is reliant on self discipline. For many, it is potentially a place you can call your own, where consideration for another person does not have to be paramount at every turn, even if that is only represented by a plastic seat in the middle of thousands of identical ones. 

The few brief hours that can be taken on the stands can be the life saving respite that keeps a person sane. This improves the quality of life for the carer who in turn can give that little bit more of themselves to have the same effect on the person being cared for.

Sadly, this does not happen enough. There is no provision available for such things from social services nor have any clubs that I have approached, numbering over 30, ever offered any discount rates for carers on respite breaks. Tickets for these events are expensive, especially for the desired effect regular attendance is vital. Caring is not and will never be a well paid, if paid, profession and without some understanding the chance for a community outside the loneliness is lost.

Many clubs are quick to show the possibility of disabled ticketing where carers can go in with there disabled person for a reduced price however this completely misses the point of the exercise in this case, although this should be encouraged as something all clubs no matter what sport. Getting away from the person being cared for is very much part of the respite as much as you might love them, spending every minute of everyday with that person is not good for either party or there relationship. Offering a discounted rate, no different to student rates would often be enough for the situation to be rectified. A small concession on there part, would give them a few more fans in many cases a little more money but in every case, a massive lift to the sound level of each and every stadium!

With the season starting on Saturday, I know exactly where I will be. Sitting in Adams Park, watching my little team, exercising some of my demons and hoping for the ever elusive three points.