Month: October, 2014

WOMEN’S MIXED MARTIAL ARTS IS THE WILD WEST

I am often asked why I don’t often cover female mixed martial arts competition. In truth my relationship with WMMA is one of cautious enthusiasm. In part it is because the standard just isn’t as high across the board. Men’s MMA has been around long enough, and is finally providing pay days significant enough, that we are actually starting to see individuals with great striking, great wrestling, and great jiu jitsu. A lot of WMMA, outside of the really top tier fighters, is still “grappler” versus “striker” rather than consummate mixed martial artists.

That being said, there are a great many female fighters whom I have followed and admired for their technical brilliance and many of them have been selected to compete in the UFC’s upcoming women’s straw-weight division. Vicious, technical strikers like Joanne Calderwood, Holly Holm and Tecia Torres.


A beautiful side kick from someone who is considered a boxer.

But before that, I watched my fair share of poorly filmed Megumi Fujii fights from Japan when WMMA wasn’t really a big deal at all. Fujii’s first streak of 22-0 and her nineteen submission wins in twenty-six total wins should reflect just what kind of a grappling demon she was. Training with Josh Barnett, she steam-rolled through her division with toe holds, heel hooks and armbars.
Toe holds, they’re the bees knees.

You see, if two well matched, skilled fighters meet in a fair contest, I want to watch that regardless of gender.


And let’s not forget Hisae Watanabe, my favorite!

But the main reason for my wariness is that so much of the moving and shaking in WMMA takes place outside of the confines of the relatively above board, visible UFC women’s bantamweight division—which boasts just thirty fighters. That is why I keep seeing horrendous news like this.

Ye Jin Jung is a sixteen year old girl (well, today is her sixteenth birthday) who made her          professional mixed martial arts debut on Sunday against 29-2 Satoko Shinashi. Shinashi is not just a thirty-one fight veteran, she was once ranked number one in the world and even stopped the incredible Hisae Watanabe. Shinashi went on hiatus in 2008, but as tune ups go, this one was overkill.


Shinashi submitting the aforementioned Watanabe.

Shinashi stopped Jung by TKO, two minutes into the first round. If you’re still giving the promoter the benefit of the doubt, consider that this was the first (T)KO win of Shinashi’s lengthy career. That’s like Jake Shields kickboxing the brakes off of someone—if he could do it, they probably had no business being in there with him.

Meanwhile, Real Fight Championship announced yesterday that they have signed Kron Gracie and Gabi Garcia for their MMA debuts. This is great news for anyone who follows competitive jiu jitsu, both Gracie and Garcia are awesome grapplers who have been talking about stepping into the cage for a long while. Gracie does not yet have an opponent, but Garcia is slated to face Megumi Yabushita.

Yabushita, unlike poor Ye Jin Jung, has experience to spare. She’s been in with some huge names in WMMA including Rin Nakai, Sarah Kaufmann and Marloes Coenen. It doesn’t matter so much that she’s on a six fight losing streak, this is Garcia’s debut after all. It doesn’t even matter that she’s forty-two years old and hasn’t fought in over a year. The elephant in the room is that Gabi Garcia will be cutting weight to come in at a trim 205lbs. Yabushita fights at 135lbs.

Well, how many quality fighters are out there at women’s heavyweight? It doesn’t matter. It’s Garcia’s debut. No-one is expecting her to fight anyone good, and with her grappling accomplishments she should be crushing anyone she meets in her first fight anyway. But it would be nice if Real Fight Championship would make even an attempt at signing a legitimate fight.

Pretty much the only thing which could save Real Fight Championship’s face in my eyes would be if they announced that the press release had gone out with a typo, and Yabushita’s younger, heavyweight sister is going to be fighting Garcia. Unfortunately, that won’t happen, and this obvious mismatch will likely go ahead.

Now what you’re probably saying to yourself is “only in Japan…” with various tutting noises and eye rolls. But while it’s not as blatant, and borderline criminal, as what is happening in the Garcia-Yabushita match up, much more established MMA promotions have made matchmaking decisions almost as shady to push their WMMA stars.

The most glaring example, which was extremely disappointing for me as a fan of the promotion, was Invicta’s matchmaking for Michelle Waterson’s last fight.  On any day, Waterson is truly something to behold and I have been a fan for some time; lighting fast on the feet and getting wilier on the ground. If you haven’t seen her war with Jessica Penne for the Invicta atomweight title, you need to get on Fight Pass now and catch up.


Spoiler alert!

But Waterson’s last fight was a showcase match, plain and simple. Waterson, 12-3, undefeated since 2010, defended her title against Yasuke Tamada, who had gone 3-4 in her last seven. Tamada has a respectable record overall, but when this fight was signed she hadn’t fought in a year and had turned forty-seven years old. If you are getting a fighter who is forty-seven years old, inactive, and unknown by your fanbase in to fight your champion, you’re probably doing something shady.

 

Waterson beat Tamada from pillar to post, as expected, and put forward the first truly dominating performance of her Invicta career.

Has Waterson got that much better since she had competitive, back and forth fights with Lacey Schuckman and Jessica Penne? Maybe. Perhaps, it’s unfair to judge Tamada on her recent record and advanced age as an athlete but there’s a reason why Invicta switched out the age for just one of their pre-fight graphics that evening.

There’s a few other highly regarded atomweights out there. There’s the twenty seven year old Seo Hee Ham, and the 10-1 Ayaka Hamasaki who is thirty-two. Yes, they’re active in the Asian MMA scene rather than the North American one, but that’s where Invicta had to go to find Tamada.

This isn’t like Bellator trying to find light heavyweights in a world dominated by the UFC; Invicta aren’t limited to UFC cast offs. They’re the biggest promotion in Women’s MMA, if they could fly Tamada over and give her a respectable pay day, I’m sure they could have gotten an opponent who looked less like an obvious and immoral gimme match.

And that, more than anything, is why I’m so cautious in my excitement for women’s MMA, and why I want more women’s divisions in the UFC.

Does favorable matchmaking cease existing in the UFC? Of course not. Look at all the discussion around Conor McGregor’s wrestler-free path to the title. There was even talk about having Gina Carano come back from retirement and straight into a painful mismatch with Ronda Rousey.  But at least with all the top contenders in a division under one roof, fans will know exactly what is going on. They will see how the careers are developing, and if Ronda Rousey were suddenly fighting a forty-seven year old, there would be uproar. It might still happen… but at least the fans would know how outraged they should be.

I hope that most MMA fans would watch Michelle Waterson, Gabi Garcia and Satoko Shinashi fight most of the time regardless. But if my readers are anything like me, obviously exploitative match-making is the one thing guaranteed to make them lose interest.

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ANDERSON SILVA IS APPREHENSIVE ABOUT HIS LEG


Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Over the Aldo vs. Mendes II weekend in Rio de Janeiro, at the same place where The Ultimate Fighter Brasil 4 try-outs were held—the Windsor Barra Hotel—Anderson Silva was a special guest at a round table during a conference dubbed “Rio Sport & Health.” The sports medicine conference held a special discussion about injuries in sport, and alongside The Spider, included Antônio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira and Rafael “Feijão” Cavalcante, as well as a doctor, a physical trainer and a physical therapist. The discussion was mediated by the Brazilian Athletic Commission’s director, Márcio Tannure, who also orchestrated the occasion.

Anderson Silva recently scrapped his previous UFC contract extension—which saw him extend it for another 10 fights—Anderson Silva then signed a new one, which put him up for a 15-fight extension.

Having been the subject of a horrifying injury during his last fight against Chris Weidman, Anderson Silva hasn’t fought since 2013, but he announced a return to the Octagon earlier this year, and is now confirmed to face Stockton’s Nick Diaz on January 31st.

Although every action The Spider has taking during his hiatus—be that showing off in post-recovery training videos, making public appearances that exude confidence, further extending his contract—makes him seem like the old Anderson, during the discussion, he confessed that he’s been dealing with a lack of strength in his injured leg, and is apprehensive about his current condition.

At the conference he said that when he suffered the injury he thought he was never going to fight again. He also mentioned that his recovery has been closely monitored by his physical therapist, Fabiano Bastos, but that it has been a difficult road. He admitted apprehension toward his current condition, and that he isn’t yet able to do some of the things he was once able to—Anderson further explains his experience by saying that he had never before been injured.

Although the injury has been overcome, Anderson elaborated on his current condition by explaining that he’s noticed some stiffness still in training, caused in part because he’s lost strength and stability in his hips.

Anderson is a god among men, no question about that. Chances are he’ll be just fine by the time he has to step into the Octagon again, but to know that he feels this way and is gearing up to face one of the best, most well-prepared athletes in the UFC is somewhat nerve-wracking.

Although Anderson has incredible doctors and therapists assisting him in his return to glory, these statements cannot be ignored and shrugged off. Recovering from a serious injury such as the one he sustained against Chris Weidman takes time, and rarely is the recovery 100%—especially at the age Anderson is in. Minotauro, who has been injured and recovered countless times, says it’s just part of the game. He’s got 16 screws in an arm from a break courtesy of Frank Mir. But that’s beside the point, should we be worried about Anderson’s return to the UFC? If things go as he plans, Anderson Silva will be fighting for another six years, more or less, until he is midway through his 40s.

What will that trajectory look like, if, indeed, his apprehensions come from a very real place—a place where Anderson is no longer the Spider that, simply put, cleaned out the middleweight ranks? Will we see a career in decline, a career in stagnation—or will Anderson prove to truly be the G.O.A.T by not only fully recovering his health, but also fully recovering his dominance in the sport.

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KRON GRACIE ON JIU-JITSU, SKATEBOARDING, OLDER BROTHERS, AND FAMOUS FATHERS

Kron-Gracie1_vice_670“I’m losing the match. I am doing everything I can to survive. I put my life into escaping. I finally escape and I look over at my Dad and I ask him how much time is left. He says, ‘One minute,’ and I can feel in the way he said it he was so disappointed–like, ‘Oh, you fucking idiot, how could you let this happen to you?’

“So I’m like, ‘Okay.’ I had been training a lot of one-minute drills. So in my mind one minute is a long time. I drilled for hours where I have a fresh guy come in every minute for months. I’m going nuts–I pass his guard and I get his back. I look over at the score. I thought it was 3-3, but it was 6-3; I didn’t know he had gotten the back points twice. So I’m going for the choke, he’s defending well. I’m like, ‘I’m not going to stop, I’m not going to stop.’ I squeezed with everything I had left. He tapped out with three seconds left on the clock.

“So that was my first day.”
                                     – Kron Gracie

 

Kron Gracie just got back from Beijing, where he won his division in the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) finals, the most prestigious grappling tournament in the world. He submitted all his opponents, a feat only a few have ever achieved. A few days later he was back in Santa Monica, California, ready to get back to his first passion: skating.

“My first love was skateboarding,” Kron says when he picks me up in his blue vintage Ford Bronco and we head to the famous Venice Beach bowl. “I got decent when I was 10. I had little skate shop sponsors, but I was never really good like the kids my age who were in the magazines. They were twice as good as me. If I was ollie-ing an 11-stair, they were ollie-ing 20 stairs.”

Kron drops in as soon as we arrive. As I fumble around with my camera he lands a few tricks and falls (rather gracefully) a couple of times. “Nobody has ever taken pictures of me skating before,” he says grinning. Kron is good-looking and charismatic enough to seem famous to those outside of the fighting world. In fact, the skatepark is the only place in town where he doesn’t appear to know everyone, and the pro skaters seem a little confused as to why a B-level skater is getting his photo taken.

“I miss skating so much,” Kron says. “Sunday is the only day I skate. I need something to release my stress, something to enjoy. I do so many things for my profession that I need to release the pressure that builds up. I usually skate on a little street cruiser. You saw how I do those little slides–it helps me stay calmer. It makes me come back on Monday stronger. I will be so refreshed because I had fun and it had nothing to do with jiu-jitsu, nothing to do with training my body to get better, just letting loose. It’s always a risk. But that risk is what I like. I like the fact if I go too hard I could get hurt and fuck my life up.

“I hurt my wrist two months before ADCC. I was at the half-pipe just killing it. I’m grinding like, ‘Woo, I gotthis shit,’ and just when I thought I was doing good and tried to stick it, I fell on my wrist. I thought I had broken it. I was thinking, ‘Fuck, my dad is going to be so mad.’”

Kron’s dad is Rickson Gracie, a world-renowned mixed martial artist and trailblazer in the sport. Rickson is considered by some to be the most dominant jiu-jitsu fighter in the whole Gracie family, and he made his name proving the effectiveness of the art in open-weight exhibition matches in Brazil. After moving to California in 1989, Rickson and his brothers’ Los Angeles academy became the center of the rapidly expanding Gracie jiu-jitsu universe.

“I was here when my Dad had his first academy in a shitty building next to an auto body shop,” Kron says. “It was so smelly. The UFC had just started, so it was only people that wanted to learn how to fight to defend themselves on the street. And that was it. There was no fandom. It wasn’t bougie, and nobody was trying to sell jiu-jitsu to you. There were no franchises or market for it. At that time there was no other competition.

“I grew up when it was the most real it could possibly be. And that’s how I try to keep it now. I keep it real, cause that’s what I believe in, and that’s what I believe is right. I’ve been working so hard to prove that my dad’s jiu-jitsu is the best and my image is the same. But what people don’t know is that I’ve only put my gi on with my dad under 100 times. I’ve been on my own since I was 17. My dad only taught me when I was very young.”

Kron’s older brother Rockson was tough, outgoing, and outrageous. As a teenager he tattooed his last name across the back of his head and “21st Century Warrior” on his shoulders. Kron was more of a surf-kid and more passively set himself to training and competing in jiu-jitsu tournaments alongside his brother. WhenRockson passed away in 2000 Rickson went into seclusion and Kron put down his skateboard to focus on stepping into the role of the next great hard-nosed Gracie.

“By the age of 12 I had broken each of my ankles twice [skating],” Kron says. “That’s when my brother told me that whatever I do, I should do it 100 percent, whether it’s being a skater or a doctor–don’t take it lightly. He said I am lucky enough to have access to the best jiu-jitsu family, the best jiu-jitsu father, and the best academy. It would be stupid for me not to take advantage of it. But he ended the conversation by telling me I could do whatever I wanted. I listened, but then when he passed away I felt like it was my mission to do what he wanted.“

Like his father before him, Kron is a polarizing personality in the grappling world. Even as a kid at BJJ tournaments, he had that garage-academy vibe. He is way more hip-hop than his cousins. His attitude echoes the young and wild Rickson of yore.

Still, Kron says for years he felt little but resentment for his father, who left his mother when Kron was still young.

“My mom and my dad have had a tough marriage and he stuck with it for the kids, until he thought I was ready to be on my own. Right when he felt that moment, he left,” Kron says. “It was literally overnight and he was like, ‘Well I’m outta here and I’m going back to Brazil.’ I was decent at jiu-jitsu at the time but I was still just a kid. I was really upset. I was thinking that he should be here supporting me and teaching me lessons and doing all these things for me and making sure my hip movements were right. I had nobody to turn to. All I had were my students and my training partners. So I just trained. Up until last year I had resentment. He could have made me so much better!”

Kron looks out over the beach. “But then it just clicked for me: My dad is not ever going to be my coach again,” he says. “I was still expecting him to come train with me before Worlds every year. He would call me and be like, ‘Oh I’ll come train.’ He would show up a week before, say, ‘Whatsup’ to me, disappear, and then show up right at the time of my fight.

“A year ago, right before the first Metamoris, he told me he was going to show up and train. He showed up again right at my fight, and we sat next to each other. And you know, at that time I had resentment towards him because I was thinking, ‘You told me you would show up three weeks before my fight like always and you didn’t.’ But that’s not what mattered. All that mattered was that he’s sitting there right then. I started thinking about my brother and I started crying, and then we both started crying. Nobody said a word. It was very spiritual. He continued not to say anything to me, and I went into fight. I won and I realized it has nothing to do with jiu-jitsu anymore, you know? He’s just my father. I can’t expect him to be my coach. So now, every time he comes into town, I don’t even ask him to train. I don’t even ask him questions about jiu-jitsu. And since then, he’s come down and helped me train and he shows up! It’s very weird.

“Now I think that leaving me at such an early was his way to make me a man and let me do it all my own way. Now, at 25 I feel like I’m so much more than I would have been. As soon as I was on my own and I had to fight for myself, I started to win. I have a responsibility and obligation to compete and represent my father and grandfather. That’s owed. I can’t just live off my family’s name. I don’t feel like that’s right. I could just run my academy and sell merchandise, and I could just do seminars and stuff. I could have done that six years ago, after I was already kind of good at BJJ. I have to give back and that means attempting to keep my family name alive.

“My dad always told me to be a warrior, to fight for what I believe in. That’s where my foundation comes from.”

While we sit there on the Venice boardwalk, watching skaters run through their repertoires, I ask Kron if he thought he would have chosen to be a professional fighter if his brother were still alive.

“I don’t think so,” he replies. “I just know at the moment, I picked jiu-jitsu over skating. Maybe if he was doing really well I would train, but I don’t know, man–maybe it would have pushed me away.

“Nobody knows what would have happened to me if my brother were still here. But his spirit is still here and that’s what drives me.”

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