Sunday, October 28, 2012

Scenes from the Abu Dhabi Jiu-Jitsu Pro Trials in NYC

Yes, I went to a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament in Queens yesterday.  Yes, I followed around HoneyBadger88.  Yes, it's for an article that will appear on VICE and you're going to have to wait to read about it.  But in the meantime, here are some pics.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What You Should Know About Jeff Blatnick

From the desk of NJSACB honcho Nick Lembo:

What You Should Know About Jeff Blatnick

On Wednesday, October 24, 2012, the MMA community lost one of the sport's founding fathers. He was 55. He is survived by his wife Lori, his daughter Niki, and his son Ian.

Jeff was a well regarded professional MMA judge and judge trainer with the New Jersey ACB as well as a licensed referee here.

He had judged UFC and other major events in Calgary, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mohegan Sun, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Toronto and Virginia.

But there was so much more, whenever you say the words "mixed martial arts", think of Jeff Blatnick. He is the person who coined that term. He explained on a broadcast that the "athletes were mixing the martial arts.". He would urge people to stop calling the sport No Holds Barred, in order to help it grow and gain acceptance.

He served as a commentator for 29 UFC events (UFC 4- UFC 32). He was named Commissioner of the UFC at UFC 17.

Blatnick drafted the UFC's Mixed Martial Arts Council (MMAC) manual while serving as that body’s chair. He was a critical party involved with the drafting of the sport's unified rules.

He was a tireless advocate attempting to get MMA legalized in his home state of New York, quietly meeting with legislators and those with influence.

Born in Niskayuna, New York, Blatnick became a high school wrestling champion in 1975. He never wrestled prior to being convinced to start by his high school coach who needed a heavyweight in 1973.

He then earned a pair of NCAA Division II wrestling titles in 1978 and 1979 while attending Springfield College in Massachusetts. He was a three time All-American. At that time, Division II athletes could advance to Division I nationals, Blatnick placed third and sixth in two visits there.

Blatnick was the 1980 and 1981 AAU super heavyweight wrestling champion.

He was a three time national champion in Greco-Roman, won eight Greco-Roman All-American awards, two World Cup medals, and two Freestlye All-American honors.

Blatnick made the 1980 Olympic Wrestling team but didn't compete due to the United States’ boycott of those Games held in Moscow.

In 1982, Jeff was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He said, "if you can win in adversity, you can win anywhere."

After fighting radiation treatments and having both his spleen and appendix removed, he battled through to make the 1984 Olympic wrestling team and win the gold medal. The first Gold medal for an American heavyweight in Greco-Roman history.

Video link:

Blatnick was chosen by his teammates as the representative to carry the American flag at the closing of the 1984 Olympic ceremonies.

Of that, Jeff stated, "If I didn't have cancer, nobody would know who I was, not a lot of wrestlers make the news."

Blatnick never set out to be an Olympian, it was simply about giving his best every time he stepped on the mat.

He stated "I learn to win by learning to lose, that means not afraid of losing."

Blatnick retired from wrestling in 1988 after a second bout with cancer.

He served on USA Wrestling's Board of Directors.

He continued on as a coach of the Burnt Hills High School wrestling team and the Journeyman wrestling club.

He worked as a wrestling analyst for NBC for the 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics. He also was a commentator for ESPN's coverage of the NCAA Division 1 wrestling tournament.

He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1999.

He was appointed by President Clinton to the President's Council on Fitness and Sport at a Rose Garden Ceremony.

He was also an honorary coach with the New York Special Olympics and very active with the American Cancer Society.

-Nick Lembo

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rest in Peace Jeff Blatnick

The sport of MMA lost one of its pioneers today, and I lost a friend.  Jeff Blatnick passed away due to complications from heart surgery - a sudden turn of events that has left those who knew him shocked and saddened.  Here's the piece I wrote on him for CagePotato.  Rest in peace, Jeff.  You will be missed.

November Bouts That Will Bring the Awesome

Howdy folks.  Yes, it's been a while.  But if absence makes the heart grow fonder, you must fucking love me now.  Anyway, October hasn't had much to offer by way of local fights, but November... November is going to be a doozy.  ("Doozy"?  Who talks like that?)  So what bouts should you care about?  Glad you asked.  The following list contains the ones I predict will bring the awesome.
  • Chris Liguori vs. Luiz Azeredo, CFFC 19, November 3 in Atlantic City - "The Story" gets a crack at a Cage Fury Fighting Championship belt, and the UFC vet with a million fights will be clashing with a PRIDE vet with a million fights to earn that strap.  Liguori pretty much brings it all, and in Azeredo he'll be facing a guy who literally puts the "Brazilian" in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
  • Artur Rofi vs. Lester Caslow, CFFC 19, November 3 in Atlantic City - You know you're getting old when Caslow has evolved from young buck to grizzled veteran and newer, younger bucks are in line to beat him for a championship title.  But I am old, and a title is on the line here and the newer, younger buck in question is Rofi, who's been employing incredibly sharp and incredibly frenetic jiu-jitsu to put opponents away quick.  This bout has got "awesome" written all over it in big, bold letters.
  • DJ vs. Mike from Harlem, MUSU, November 10 in New York City - Manup Standup's brand of kung fu-flavored underground fighting has really grown on me, and this installment will be headlined by a clash between reigning champ DJ and challenger Mike from Harlem.  DJ is tall, lanky and reps Baguezhang (which makes him kind of a "stick and mover"), while Mike is a bull and a Jeet Kune Do stylist whose last few wins have all come by submission.  DJ took the decision the first time they met when Mike gassed (to be fair, Mike had fought two or three times in the two hours leading up to the bout), so this match-up's got storyline.
  • Jay Matias vs. Cody Moberly, Muay Thai at the Mecca, November 10 in New York City - Despite the fact that Matias beat my boy Doug Ahammer (a.k.a. "Lionheart" of the UCL), he's still a likable and ultra-talented Muay Thai fighter.  At Take-On's second show at Madison Square Garden, he'll be facing some kid from Kansas, so expect some Wizard of Oz and Toto jokes from me on Twitter that night.
  • Ryan LaFlare vs. James Brasco, ROC 43, November 16 in Atlantic City - I don't know nor do I care who Brasco is, but LaFlare is an elite badass mofo and former ROC champ who's been sidelined with an injury for the past couple years and is finally making his return, and fuck yeah!  LaFlare's got killer jiu-jitsu, knockout boxing, and an unblemished record that goes all the way back to a UCL fight in Queens.  Did I already say "fuck yeah"?  'Cause I'd like to stress that.
  • Greg Soto vs. Elijah Harshbarger, ROC 43, November 16 in Atlantic City - Soto is a UFC vet and former CFFC champ, and he's been a dominant force in the Northeast scene since back when Ed Hsu was promoting shows (which is practically ancient history).  Harshbarger is a tough cat who very nearly put away Pete Sell, so this one should be pretty rough and tumble - up to the point where Soto tears out Harshbarger's spine and yells "Fatality!"
  • Deividas Taurosevicius vs. Frank Caraballo, ROC 43, November 16 in Atlantic City - If I remind you that DT has fought in everything from the IFL to the WEC and is a ROC champ, I'd just be rehashing the same old same old, so let me just reiterated that the dude is awesome.  Caraballo is supposedly some killer from Ohio, but DT... DT is a stud.
  • Peter Storm vs. Jonathan Rodriguez, UCL, Sorry I can't tell you where or when - The man behind the UCL will be pitting his judo top game against the top-notch jiu-jitsu stylings of Rodriguez, and if their back and forth on Facebook is of any indication, there's some serious beef going into this bout (like, a full Texas Longhorn, all mooing and shit).  Hey, as long as the heat is confined to the ring and no one in the audience is hit by stray gunfire, it should be great.  But isn't that true of any MMA show?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Israel Martinez: Have Fists Will Travel

This Saturday, Locked in the Cage will turn Philadelphia into madhouse with its usual blend of top-notch pro MMA mixed with bouts featuring up-and-coming amateurs.  And yes, while it's a big deal that former UCL champ Kenny Rivera will be debuting as a pro that night, tucked away further down the card is another UCL vet, and that bout has got me excited, too.  Resident heavyweight slugger and longtime badass Israel Martinez will be making the trek down to the City of Brotherly Love for a taste of sanctioned combat.  Want the 411 on this 28-year-old karate black belt?  A man who won his last fight via TKO in about seven seconds?  Hey, that's what I'm here for.

How did Israel get into MMA?  "At first I wanted to be a kickboxer," he says.  "At the time, I didn't like the brutality in MMA.  It was ridiculous.  Freakin' 300-pound guys against guys that are 150 pounds.  So I never thought about it.  Then, after a while, I started watching it, and I saw that it wasn't as brutal anymore.  You know, it was people trying to display their skills rather than trying to rip their heads off.  And I knew I could do it - I figured I could do it because I've been kicking ass my whole life.  And I was wrong.  Basically, I had to start from scratch.  The one thing I kept from everything that I learned before was my footwork from karate.  Other than that, I had to start from scratch."

Where does Israel train?  "Now I'm kind of in between gyms.  I started off at Jungle Gym in the Bronx.  Actually, I got kicked out of there for taking my first fight [in the UCL] without permission.  After that I opened up my own gym - a kickboxing gym - for about a year.  Then I closed that down, trained at Lions Roar Muay Thai... and now I train on my own at a boxing gym nearby."

Why travel to Philly to fight when sanctioned amateur bouts can be had in New Jersey?  Says Israel: "I haven't actually tried [to get a fight in New Jersey].  [LITC] just asked, they needed a fighter at my weight class, and I just jumped in."  He adds, "The major places in New Jersey, they kind of look for people from major gyms so they'll bring a crowd.  And I don't bring a crowd, so I've reached out and I don't get any answers."

Usually, Israel steps into the ring around 230 pounds.  Does he believe that's his best weight?  "My best weight I have yet to see.  All my fights have been at heavyweight and last-minute.  Given ample time... I could make 205."

In his last bout, he TKO'd his opponent in seconds with a front kick.  How did that bout come about?  "I was out drinking the night before my last fight in the UCL," he says.  "It was like one in the morning - well, technically, that's the day of - and I was on my second cup of liquor, and they hit me up out of nowhere, out of the complete blue, saying, 'Yeah, yeah, you're on for tomorrow.'  I was like, 'Man!'"  Thankfully, his fight was over quickly.  "That's why I went for the knockout blow.  Thank God it worked, because the guys was in good shape.  If I didn't knock his ass out, we would've been there all night."

For those who haven't seen Israel fight, how would he describe himself as a fighter?  "I'm actually trying to find myself as a fighter," he says.  "I think of myself as a kickboxer, because that's what I've been doing my whole life, but my jiu-jitsu is pretty good.  It's better than good."

And there you have it.  Israel Martinez.  Watch out, Philly.