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The best MMA of 2010

2010 was a fantastic year for fans of really great fights. Let us reflect upon them and bestow upon them arbitrary awards!

The Fight of the Year: Ben Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis (WEC 53)
World Extreme Cagefighting had a fantastic reputation for putting on great fights. When it was announced that they would be folded into the Ultimate Fighting Championship at the end of 2010, fans rejoiced. After all, the top-to-bottom quality of fight cards was about to go way up . Nevertheless, it was a bit of a bittersweet announcement. That was until the final two cards were fought. Instead of a sad limp to the finish, WEC went out the way it lived – with some really great fights. The topper? The final WEC bout, a Lightweight Championship encounter between Ben “Smooth” Henderson and Anthony “Showtime” Pettis. After five rounds of back and forth war, Pettis leapt off the cage with an insane kick that commentator Stephan Bonnar described as “Hey just leapt off the cage like a ninja!” The kick clinched the fight – and the title, and eventual UFC title bout – for Pettis. It was also a fitting final chapter to a great 2010.

The Cecil Peoples Award for Questionable Judging: Nam Phan vs. Leonard Garcia (Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale)
Phan and Garcia went toe-to-toe over a three round war, with Phan controlling more of the action and doing more damage. Garcia won via split decision, prompting the crowd at the Palms to completely turn on him, booing his post-fight interview and chanting “Bullshit.” Ironically, Phan became a bigger star with a loss than he could’ve become with a win.

The “Barncat” Award for Submission of the Year: Phil Davis’ armbar finish of Tim Boetsch (UFC 123)
Slightly more impressive than Anderson Silva’s triangle victory over Chael Sonnen, in that Davis invented a new submission to beat Boetsch.

The Knockout of the Year: Paul Daley obliterates Scott Smith (Strikeforce: St. Louis)
After testing his chin a few times, Daley absolutely clobbered Smith with a shot that sent him falling flat on his face. A devastating shot in a fight full of big knockouts.

The Jon Fitch Award for Dullest Fight of the Year: Matt Hughes vs. Renzo Gracie (UFC 112)
I went with this in July and I’m staying with it. Other fights were “worse,” but this was a hugely hyped battled between two legends that just sort of fell completely flat.

The Fabricio Werdum Award for Shock of the Year: Werdum submits Fedor Emelianenko with a triangle (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum)
Duh.

Rookie of the Year: Phil Davis
Four wins over the year to kick off his UFC tenure, including two submission wins. “Mr. Wonderful” needs to face stiffer competition in 2011.

Fighter of the Year: Frank Edgar
Beat up B.J. Penn at UFC 112, effectively stealing the title. Then had the sack to defend against Penn – who wouldn’t be caught off-guard in a rematch – and then pummeled him again at UFC 117 to retain.

Posted in Commentary, Mixed Martial Arts.

The year in North American MMA

The past year has been really, really busy for mixed martial arts. Between Strikeforce, Bellator, UFC and WEC, approximately 69 events were held. Most events were held in North America, but major promotions also ran shows in England, Germany, Australia and the United Arab Emirates. Okay, UFC held shows in all the aforementioned countries.

Here are some numbers.

Disclaimer: My math was done on the fly. Some numbers may be off by one here or there. Apologies in advance.

Continued…

Posted in Commentary, Mixed Martial Arts.

Oscar-eligible films I’ve seen from 2010

Culled from the Academy’s official listing of eligible films, here are the ones I’ve seen so far:

  • The A-Team
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Babies
  • Black Swan
  • Chloe
  • Cop Out
  • Cyrus
  • Dear John
  • Despicable Me
  • Due Date
  • Easy A
  • The Fighter
  • Get Him to the Greek
  • Grown Ups
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
  • Hereafter
  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • Inception
  • Iron Man 2
  • Jackass 3D
  • Kick-Ass
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • Knight and Day
  • Let Me In
  • Letters to Juliet
  • Life as We Know It
  • The Losers
  • Love and Other Drugs
  • MacGruber
  • Oceans
  • The Other Guys
  • Paranormal Activity 2
  • Piranha 3D
  • Robin Hood
  • Salt
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
  • She’s Out of My League
  • Shrek Forever After
  • Shutter Island
  • The Social Network
  • The Town
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Valentine’s Day
  • When In Rome

Films on the list that I haven’t seen yet, but plan on seeing:

  • Country Strong
  • The Extra Man
  • It’s Kind of a Funny Story
  • The King’s Speech
  • 127 Hours

Posted in Stuff I Watch.

The best fights of 2010 (so far…that I’ve seen)

In absolutely no order (other than chronologically):

  • Nate Marquardt vs. Chael Sonnen [February 6; Las Vegas, NV; UFC 109]
  • Joe Stevenson vs. George Sotiropoulos [February 28; Sydney, Australia; UFC 110]
  • Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung [April 24; Sacramento, CA; WEC 48]
  • Carlos Condit vs. Rory MacDonald [June 12; Vancouver, BC; UFC 115]
  • Mark Hominick vs. Yves Jabouin [June 20; Edmonton, AB: WEC 49]
  • Chris Leben vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama [July 6; Las Vegas, NV; UFC 116]
  • Chael Sonnen vs. Anderson Silva [August 7; Oakland, CA; UFC 117]
  • Jorge Santiago vs. Kazuo Misaki [August 22; Tokyo, Japan; Sengoku Raiden Championship 14]
  • Diego Sanchez vs. Paulo Thiago [October 23; Anaheim, CA; UFC 121]
  • Leonad Garcia vs. Nam Phan [December 4; Las Vegas, NV; Ultimate Fighter Finale]
  • Ben Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis [December 16; Phoenix, AZ; WEC 53]

Posted in Mixed Martial Arts, Stuff I Watch.

Hockey Fights Cancer

Originally published in the 1st 2010-11 issue of BLAZE.

Sports fans recognize October as the beginning of another National Hockey League season. While that’s definitely true, the month also marks the continuation of another campaign – the fight against cancer. Originally conceived in December 1998, Hockey Fights Cancer is an program driven by the NHL as part of its Biggest Assist Happens Off the Ice charity efforts.

“About 11 years ago we partnered with the NHL Players’ Association to come up with a charitable initiative because cancer had touched the NHL family for many years, dating back to Saku Koivu, Mario Lemieux and Paul Stewart,” shares Ken Martin, NHL Vice-President of Community Affairs. “We wanted to find an issue that we felt was an important cause and had great philanthropic opportunity, and we really took on that fight with Hockey Fights Cancer.”

While hockey fans are encouraged to donate throughout the entire year, the main thrust of the fundraising drive occurs during October, which has been designated Hockey Fights Cancer Month for the last several seasons. Each NHL club dedicates a home game to the cause and puts their energies into raising awareness as well as donations.

The Calgary Flames host their awareness night on October 16, 2010 when they play the Edmonton Oilers. In addition to an installment of the Battle of Alberta, the Saddledome will also be home to the city’s philanthropic spirit. Flames Foundation for Life director Natasha Guillot says the organization has a lot planned for the evening.

“We’ll have a puck drop with a special guest,” says Guillot. “We’ll have a special video presentation promoting awareness of the illness, and we’ll be donating the 50/50 proceeds to Hockey Fights Cancer.” Last year, the Flames Foundation for Life contributed over $16,000 to the program.

This season, Hockey Fights Cancer will dole out $475,000 to cancer-related charities on a national level (including a $100,000 donation to help battle childhood leukemia) as well as provide each NHL club with $10,000 to donate to organizations in their local area. Since its inception, Hockey Fights Cancer has raised over $11 million for cancer-related charities.

“The league has a long-standing tradition of being involved in its communities, not just from a league-wide perspective but also in the local markets,” says Martin. “I think any time a sports organization can do more in the community and help provide opportunities for those who are less fortunate, it’s a great opportunity.”

Martin notes that the NHL is continuing its attempts to broaden fundraising efforts and open up potential revenue streams for Hockey Fights Cancer. In recent years, program-affiliated pink merchandise, including such items as purple hats and ties, topped the sales charts on NHL.com’s hockey shop. Through innovations like online sales and mobile giving programs, the goal is to make it easier than ever for fans to give.

“This is probably the most important philanthropic cause on behalf of the NHL and the NHL Players Association,” says Martin.

Posted in Hockey.

Finding Nemo: Greg Nemisz makes the jump to professional hockey

Originally published in the 1st 2010-11 issue of BLAZE

After four campaigns in the Ontario Hockey League, 20-year old Greg Nemisz is primed to jump to the pro ranks this season, likely as a member of the Abbotsford Heat. Nicknamed “Nemo,” Nemisz was chosen in the first round, 25th overall, by the Calgary Flames in 2008.

However, his journey through junior hockey proved a bit of a bumpy road. Drafted by the Windsor Spitfires after a distinguished minor career in Ontario, Nemisz and the team were staggered by the death of captain Mickey Renaud in February 2008 due to an undetected heart ailment.

Despite the tragic loss, the team regrouped, winning both the Ontario Hockey League and Memorial Cup championships in 2009 and repeating the same feat last season. The latest title run was a triumph over a string of adversity for Nemisz, beginning with a bittersweet silver medal at the World Juniors and followed by a string of injuries that kept him sidelined until the second round of the playoffs.

“It was really frustrating,” says Nemisz. “It’s such a tough time to get hurt in the regular season and try to come back mid-playoffs. It’s a whole different game, a whole different intensity. You come back a little early because you’re anxious to play, and you’re just not ready to be yourself out there. But you learn from it, and it’s good experience.”

Heat head coach Jim Playfair says that the adversity Nemisz has faced over the past several seasons have given him the confidence to take future on-ice mishaps in stride.

“In Nemo’s case, losing a game on the road or turning the puck over at the blueline that causes a goal isn’t that big of a deal in the big scheme of things,” says Playfair. “I think he understands that, but he also has a respect of the fact that being a good teammate and a good pro is limiting those mistakes… I think in a professional way, and a personal way, i think he’s really grown from his experiences.”

For Nemisz, the goal for his first professional season is to continue the progression he made during his OHL tenure. He notes that consistency is key.

“You can’t really afford to have an off day or an off night,” says Nemisz. “You’re going to have them, but you have to bounce back. It’s trying to be consistent everyday that’s going to be the biggest challenge.”

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound right winger is already rising to meet that challenge, cutting short his already Memorial Cup-shortened summer to train in Calgary for six weeks with Flames Strength and Conditioning Coach Rich Hesketh. He’s aiming to make it hard for the Flames to keep him in the AHL for long.

“Wherever you’re playing, you’ve got to make it hard on them,” says Nemisz. “You have to make them think they need you to be successful. If I get sent down to Abbotsford, it’s going to be there. I’ll try to be the best player every night and be the first guy on the call-up list if anything happens.”

Posted in Hockey.

UFC and WEC merge: good news or bad news?

On Thursday, Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White announced that effective January 1, 2011, World Extreme Cagefighting is no more and all of its employees – most notably its fighters – will be folded into the UFC.

As a result, two of the WEC’s champions – in the bantamweight and featherweight divisions – will become recognized as UFC champions. In addition, the winner of the December 16 fight between WEC Lightweight Champion Ben Henderson and Anthony Pettis will face the UFC Lightweight Champion in early 2011. As a result, the final two WEC events become very interesting and fans that long hoped to see smaller weights gain legitimacy in the UFC suddenly get their wish.

But is the merger all good?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m stoked. Combining the best aspects of the WEC (great fights among smaller guys) and the UFC (great promotion and overall cards) will be great for fans. But suddenly, the seven or eight annual WEC shows on free TV disappear – being replaced by two additional UFC events on Versus.

  • 2007: 15 free UFC/WEC events (2 Spike PPVs, 4 Fight Nights, 2 TUF Finales, 7 WEC shows)
  • 2008: 14 free UFC/WEC events (1 Spike PPV, 5 Fight Nights, 2 TUF Finales, 6 WEC shows)
  • 2009: 15 free UFC/WEC events (2 Spike PPVs, 3 Fight Nights, 2 TUF Finales, 8 WEC shows)
  • 2010: 17 free UFC/WEC events (2 Spike PPVs, 3 Fight Nights, 2 TUF Finales, 2 Live on Versus, 8 WEC shows)

In 2011, the UFC has committed to 4 Live on Versus events. And let’s assume they will also broadcast 2 PPVs on Spike, 3 Fight Nights and 2 TUF Finales. That’s 11 free shows where last year, fans got 17.

In addition, there will be fewer spots for fighters as the UFC will present maybe two more shows than they did in 2010 – effectively disappearing six events from the combined UFC/WEC calendar along with the spots for fighters that came along with them. That’ll make things a bit of a tough go for mid-level fighters, and it’ll likely be a boon for Strikeforce and Bellator – who will now inherit much of that mid-level talent.

Overall, fans are going to see better shows in 2011 because of the UFC/WEC merger. But they’re gonna have to pay for more of them than they did before.

Posted in Commentary, Mixed Martial Arts.

If GSP faces Anderson Silva, should it be for a title?

As UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre and UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva continue mowing through opponents, a groundswell is emerging – filled with fans asking why the two aren’t matched up. Both men are close to clearing out their divisions and even influential figures such as UFC president Dana White and co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta want to see the fight. There is growing talk of St-Pierre, who’s gradually adding muscle mass, jumping to middleweight to face Silva.

If the fight happens, should it be for the Middleweight Championship?

Continued…

Posted in Commentary, Mixed Martial Arts.

Holy crap, did you see UFC 121?

To quote wrestling legend Ric Flair: “To be the man, you have to beat the man.”

While for years, mixed martial arts championships have been convoluted, on occasion it’s been very easy to figure out who “The Man” is at any particular weight class.

At lightweight, it was B.J. Penn…until Frank Edgar beat him soundly, twice, to claim his title. At welterweight, the undisputed kingpin once was Matt Hughes. A young Canadian upstart named Georges St-Pierre has since wrestled that crown away. At middleweight, Rich Franklin was unseated by the dominant Anderson Silva. At light heavyweight, the picture is a bit murkier since the ousting of Chuck Liddell from the championship throne.

For a long time, the heavyweight champion was Randy Couture. Brock Lesnar came into the sport and dismantled the champion, beginning the era of the super-heavyweight. On Saturday night, the era continued, as Cain Velasquez dethroned Lesnar with a first round TKO victory and took the heavyweight title.

Here’s a quick and dirty rundown:

  • Missed the Spike prelims, but I was sad to hear about Patrick Cote losing again. He really needed a win. Not at all surprised to see the talented Court McGee pick up a victory, though.
  • Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights finalist Brendan Schaub looked great as he took apart a lifeless Gabriel Gonzaga in the pay-per-view opener. Schaub’s got good speed and hands, so it was surprising to see Gonzaga – a BJJ expert – not take him down.
  • Matt Hamill took a nice leap forward in the light heavyweight division by beating Tito Ortiz. Hamill looked great both on the ground and on his feet, and it’s always an interesting and unique experience seeing the deaf Hamill compete at such a high level. He’s a very cool talent to have on the roster and it’ll be interesting to see if he can continue to progress in the shark tank that is 205.
  • In one of the best fights of 2010 anywhere, original Ultimate Fighter winner Diego Sanchez beat Paulo Thiago. This fight had everything. Crazy good jiu-jitsu. Crazy good wrestling. Wild haymakers. Monkey flips. Awesome giant Matt Hughes-styled slams. Sanchez won and looked great, but Thiago just seemed to pace himself strangely. Both guys come out looking like big stars, though, and Sanchez’s stock went way, way up.
  • Jake Shields beat Martin Kampmann. It was okay. Shields was tired from the weight cut, Kampmann couldn’t do anything with him, and Shields still managed to implement his game-plan. I’m looking forward to Shields losing to the welterweight champion in the spring.
  • And, in the main event, Cain Velasquez beat Brock Lesnar for the heavyweight title. Great atmosphere. Velasquez out-boxed Lesnar and got the win. Lesnar will be back, though, and remains a threat.

Next up? UFC 122 in Germany. Except it won’t be on German TV. Weird.

Posted in Commentary, Mixed Martial Arts.

Rankings is serious business

On Twitter recently, Metric Julie (www.metricjulie.com) and I were having a debate about rankings. She was co-hosting a radio programme in Montreal on mixed-martial-arts (Calgary needs one of those badly) and they were doing rankings of the UFC’s 155 lbs division. The point of contention?

Sean Sherk.

Sean Sherk used to be the UFC World Lightweight Champion. Then he got busted for steroids, was stripped of the title, and since then he has beaten Tyson Griffin and Evan Dunham while losing to Frank Edgar and B.J. Penn.

Alright. So, there cannot be rankings that have Sherk above Edgar/Penn or below Griffin/Dunham.

What else? Let’s use Sherk’s first fight back after his suspension against B.J. Penn (May 2008) as the cut-off for holding wins or losses as important. And remember the golden rule: YOU ARE ONLY BETTER OR WORSE THAN GUYS YOU HAVE BEATEN (OR LOST TO). Also: wins over guys who are at a different weight class now don’t count.

  • Frank Edgar beat B.J. Penn (twice) and Sean Sherk
  • B.J. Penn beat Kenny Florian and Sean Sherk
  • Gray Maynard beat Kenny Florian and Roger Huerta
  • Kenny Florian beat Takanori Gomi, Joe Stevenson, Roger Huerta and Clay Guida
  • Sean Sherk beat Evan Dunham and Tyson Griffin
  • Evan Dunham beat Tyson Griffin
  • Takanori Gomi beat Tyson Griffin
  • Tyson Griffin beat Hermes Franca
  • Clay Guida beat Mac Danzig
  • Note: Gray Maynard DID beat Frank Edgar, but that occured [a] by decision and [b] a month before the May 2008 cut-off.

Edgar hasn’t been beaten by anyone in the time frame, and he beat Penn. He’s #1 until somebody beats him. Who’s #2? Penn, who hasn’t lost to anyone at 155 lately except Edgar. All losing to Frank Edgar does is prove that Edgar’s better right now. #3? Probably Gray Maynard, who beat Florian (who had previously beaten everyone but Penn). Florian’s a solid #4.

Then we have Sherk, Gomi and Evan Dunham in a lump, all with wins over Tyson Griffin. Sherk is definitely ranked above Dunham (because he beat him). Who’s higher? Gomi or Sherk? Gomi finished him in 1:04, while Sherk took him to a decision. So Gomi probably should be above Sherk. So that’s Gomi > Sherk > Dunham > Griffin.

What about Ben Henderson? He’s dominated 155 in WEC. What about Eddie Alvarez? What about the Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez? What about George Sotiropoulos, who’s run roughshod over 155 but hasn’t faced anyone connected except for Joe Stevenson. What about Shinya Aoki? He’s definitely below Melendez, but how low?

More importantly, what do these rankings all mean?

Not a whole heck of a lot. But they sure are fun to make and argue about.

Posted in Commentary, Mixed Martial Arts.