Friday, May 25, 2007

How the Cage Fury Fighting Championship Will Save MMA

In 1993, the UFC captured our imagination with a ton of violence and a shitload of spectacle. Jiu-jitsu versus kickboxing versus sumo versus boxing – legions of fightfanboys were created because of what transpired within the cage, fightfanboys so numerous they would sustain this emerging combat endeavor until Generation TUF was handed the baton. Yet nowadays there’s little room for the magic that once was. Mixed martial arts is an accepted (and well-regulated) full-fledged sport, and evolution and the passage of time have coaxed the one-dimensional fighter to go the way of the Dodo bird. As millions tune in to watch the virtually homogenous Chuck Liddell and Quinton Jackson slug it out, another nail will be driven into the coffin of the “spectacle” we fell in love with.

But thank God for the Cage Fury Fighting Championship. On June 23rd, at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City and broadcast live on pay-per-view, when former heavyweight boxing champ Ray Mercer squares off against legendary street fighter Kimbo Slice, every fightfanboy will once more taste what originally got them hooked. Yeah, that’s grade-A spectacle right there. And really, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses that night. What matters is that CFFC has managed to keep that magical spark alive.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Carlos Moreno Returns, Fails to Kill Opponent

Battle Cage Xtreme, a fledgling promotion in New Jersey, had its debut show this past weekend. Six bouts total. Welterweight stud Greg Soto won a belt, featherweight Matt Zaccarias won a belt, blah, blah, blah. The real news was the long-awaited return of Carlos Moreno. Who is Carlos Moreno?

Moreno first stepped into the ring at one of the old 2002 BAMA FightNight shows and began knocking out heavyweights in impressive fashion, and when he wasn’t sending fighters into dreamland, the ref was either stepping in (lest someone die) or the opponents were submitting with broken eye sockets. Think of a friendly and amiable Puerto Rican Tank Abbott. In 2004, jiu-jitsu wizard Tom Muller took the now Ring of Combat Heavyweight Champ down and submitted him and… we never really heard from Moreno again.

That is, until the tryouts for the BET reality show came along a couple months ago. Yes, Moreno tried out, and by some accounts did not impress – his conditioning wasn’t up to par, he didn’t look great during whatever drills they had to do, etc. And then they put him in the ring against Bombsquad up-and-comer Jarrid Palmer, and when Palmer was sent crashing to the canvas with a broken jaw, the powers that be saw Moreno was the real deal (I think Moreno was given a thousand bucks on the spot).

The trimmed-down Moreno we saw this past weekend was a good 20 pounds lighter than the 2004 version. He looked in shape and was definitely focused, and although he didn’t decapitate his opponent, it was a clear and convincing 34-second one-sided beatdown. Does this mean Moreno is back? God, I hope so. Heavy-handed punchers are always thrilling to watch – especially when they have an uncanny knack for landing those punches in the heat of an MMA bout – and this guy has got talent and presence in spades.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Breaking News: Mainstream Media Suddenly Gives a Shit

Take a deep breath and look around. Notice the wealth of reporters, ringside at almost every event? The proliferation of MMA articles in national publications? The marriage of Sherdog and ESPN? Gone are the days when all the sport got from the press was a big plate of “human cockfighting” and a tall glass of “shut the hell up.” Mainstream media suddenly gives a shit.

At UFC 37 in Louisiana, Zuffa asked me to show a London Times correspondent the ropes. Like any good frontline soldier, I did – introducing him to fighters, commentators and fans so he could get quotes to flesh out his story, and helping his grasp the pugilistic nuances of what he was seeing in the cage. But that REMF visit was a rare thing. Human cockfighting. Shut the hell up.

The tide has turned, and while the ever-popular UFC has garnered all sorts of attention as MMA’s crown jewel, some of that love has finally trickled down to even the regional and local shows. Nowadays, producers from major news channels track me down through Myspace, while reporters stick cameras and microphones in my face and ask for my educated opinion. The sport has gotten shockingly huge and everyone wants to cover it.

And it’s about damn time.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Binky Jones - ROC Lightweight Champ

A Few Words on Ring of Combat 14

The Tournament of Champions – which began back in November and spanned the lightweight, middleweight and welterweight divisions – came to a conclusion this past Friday with three champs crowned. Each weight class of the tourney began with a pool of eight competitors (some of them local, some of them not so local), and though the NJSACB doesn’t allow fighters to compete more than once a night, it was akin to the elimination-style events that captured the imagination of MMA fans in days of yore. Tournaments make for a compelling storyline. Add to that equation the background of each fighter (i.e., who he is and what he’s gone through to get there), and you’ve really got something that reels you in.

There was none more compelling on Friday than the story of James “Binky” Jones. A Baltimore jiu-jitsu specialist, Binky’s been around for years, never more than a journeyman but someone you could always count on for a good scrap. In fact, when he was announced as one of the eight 155-pounders taking part in the opening round, a roster that included a Reality Fighting champ, a few grappling studs and a Team Quest representative, I rated his chances at “pretty damn slim.”

I’ll be darned if Binky didn’t rise to the occasion.

Putting on a jiu-jitsu clinic to dispatch two Midwesterners in the first two rounds, the only man standing between him and the belt was the toughest of the lightweight bunch: IFL veteran Ian Loveland. Binky popped Loveland’s elbow with an armbar three minutes and 17 seconds into the bout.

The video promos highlighted how hard he trained, how much he gives back to the community and what not, but the whole picture, the whole story encompasses a great deal more. Of all those who won at Ring of Combat 14, Binky’s story was the most compelling because of the legion of supporters in red T-shirts, the post-fight hugs and the grin of his proud coach. Ultimately, though, it all came down to this: the journeyman was now the champ.