No UFC event this weekend but there was top fighting action all the same as Singapore promotion ONE FC staged its third event and Bellator FC staged the quarter-finals of its latest welterweight grand prix. Then yesterday everyone lost their mind about Fedor joining the UFC, which hadn’t actually happened. April Fools!
Re-inventing the MMA wheel
One of the things I least like about modern-day MMA is that there are a lot of top-level fighters who have C-level striking games. Yes, I understand that often their base is in wrestling and that they come in with NCAA plaudits that make them the equivalent of second-dan black belts in that art, but it is still distressing to see someone widely accepted as a contender throwing big right overhands, losing balance, jutting their chin up in the air, running backwards in straight lines… the list goes on.
Don’t get me wrong, there have always been people with crap stand-up, but back in the day this was less noticeable (or at least, excusable) because they would have a deep background in another art such as BJJ. And generally the high-end strikers wouldn’t, so the matches were more style vs. style and the different skill sets meant there could be both high drama and a high chance of a finish for whichever fighter kept the clash in their domain.
These days, everyone knows a bit of everything and added to that, the widespread interpretation of the unified rules seems to be that takedowns are king. So we get a lot of fights where takedowns and top control determine the winner. This both gives an advantage to the wrestlers, who are now pouring into the sport as a career path following the end of their college days, and also somewhat negates - or at least relegates - the need for A-level striking skills.
Out in the Far East, things are a bit different. There, the striking arts are king. In Thailand you have Muay Thai, in China you have San Shou and San Da and in the Philippines you have Panantukan (also known as Escrima). All three of those countries also have a healthy boxing circuit, producing Olympic competitors and/or top professionals. There are native wrestling arts but these are generally not as widely practised, or are included as an element of the striking art (such as the Thai clinch or the San Da throws).
And so watching the ONE FC card at the weekend, one thing that struck was that the overall standard of striking ability was far, far higher than what you tend to see in American mixed martial arts. Everyone seemed to have a really solid grounding in Muay Thai or an equivalent discipline, plus a wide range of offensive and defensive techniques.
Even Zorobabel Moreira, the BJJ champion, throws one-hand clinch knees and uppercut elbows like he grew up in Bangkok not Rio; that is thanks to his year-long residency at Evolve MMA in Singapore, where he can turn up in the morning and train with legends like Yodsanan Sityodtong twice a day if he wants.
Overall, the fighters on the ONE FC 3 card generally seemed like Thai boxers who had learned the ground game rather than wrestlers who had learned the stand-up game. The difference was striking, no pun intended. Consider this - MMA fans have been going into raptures over Jon Jones using such techniques as a side-kick to his opponent’s lead leg; its a rarely-seen move in the US but judging by this latest ONE FC card, absolutely bog-standard in the East. So if you’re a striking fan, its an event you should watch.
Killer B grows some killer tentacles
Sometimes you might see be flicking through a list of fights you haven’t got round to watching, see ‘unanimous decision’ and decide not to watch that particular bout. If you missed Friday’s edition of Bellator FC and are now skipping Ben Saunders vs. the previously-undefeated Raul Maya, you would be making a mistake.
The two had an absolute war for the three rounds that the fight went. In Bellator, title challenges and big purses are dependent upon progressing through the grand-prix tournaments and so there seems to be an added edge to the tournament battles because there is a clear, tangible goal in sight beyond being moved ‘up the rankings’ or put ‘in the mix’.
It makes for fights in which neither side wants to take a backwards step but unlike the UFC, where a loss means you are very likely to be cut from the roster or see your earnings significantly reduced in a subsequent outing, it doesn’t seem to make the Bellator tournament fighters cautious. On the contrary, there are an inordinate number of finishes and the varied talent pool means that exotic techniques abound - there have been a disproportionately high number of ‘Submission of the Year’ contenders from Bellator compared to other shows.
Saunders vs. Maya didn’t end with a finish but there were submission efforts aplenty. Saunders is known for a Muay Thai game but he looked like a BJJ fighter in this one, going for submissions constantly and stringing chains of submission attempts together as he tried to put Maya away. An interesting evolution and something that makes Saunders a more dangerous package now than he was in his UFC days.
April Fools Shotgun: Blowing away two fake stories from the weekend
April Fools Day, its hilarious. Loads of crap fake news reports get put out and everyone runs round getting excited. We had our own effort - Animal Fighting Championships: Mortal Wombat - but it was clearly a joke, unlike some of the things to be found on other sites. Two which caused the most stir were that the UFC has signed Fedor - they haven’t - and that the UFC will be suing Brock Lesnar if he rejoins the UFC - they won’t.
Fedor continues to languish in the no man’s land of free agency. He is being courted by Super Fight League in India and ONE FC have also expressed an interest. The UFC has expressly stated that they have no more interest in him but that doesn’t really mean anything; money talks.
He will surely land up fighting for one of the first two promotions this year, but that means that relevance will continue to elude him. Neither promotion has a heavyweight division or has evinced particular interest in forming one, which would make Fedor’s appearances spectacle matches rather than meaningful contests.
As for Lesnar, according to UFC president Dana White he is out of contract and free to join the WWE if he wishes. Lesnar has been punted a very big money offer by the WWE, which badly needs a star like him back in circulation, and so his return to the world of utterly embarrassing pretend fighting is all but assured.
If you are a pro-wrestling fan (and if you are, and you’re over twelve, why is this?) you will be thrilled. Reaction among the MMA community is mixed. Lesnar had a lot of talent and potential but at the end of the day the world’s most prestigious heavyweight MMA title was won by someone with an NCAA background and some fake fighting under his belt. Slightly embarrassing?
A new beast from the East?
The short but colourful history of MMA and Vale Tudo has been characterised by the rise and fall of champions and the rise and fall of the teams that produced them. Once upon a time, the Lion’s Den and Hammer House were spoken of in awe, Militech Fighting Systems was considered almost a special forces outfit.
These days their honours are a memory, faded like old photographs, while new team names dominate the headlines - Black House, Greg Jackson, Team Alliance. Sometimes these teams have built slowly and steadily, other times they have come out of nowhere. Out in the humid heat of Singapore, the Evolve MMA facility is doing a bit of both.
Singapore is not a name that one associates with mixed martial arts and so to find an academy there with such an impressive roster of coaches and fighters is unusual to say the least. Somebody has put a lot of money into Evolve - they have former Olympian wrestler Heath Sims, former WBA champion Yodsanan Sityodtong, Muay Thai legend Namsaknoi, the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu champions Roberto ‘Gordo’ Correa de Lima and his brother Rafael "Gordinho" Correa de Lima… the list goes on.
Obviously, spending big money is no guarantee of success. Any amount of sports teams have bought big with coaches and playing staff only to still see championship gold elude them. But the signs are there that Evolve is capable of producing absolutely top-level talent, and that bodes well for the future of the squad. One of their fighters, Zorobabel Moreira, arrived there as a multi-time BJJ champion but with all the striking finesse of a turtle.
After a year at Evolve working with the likes of Namsaknoi and some imports from the legendary Sityodtong team, Zorobabel looks like his background in Thai is almost as deep as his background in BJJ. You can see he has been taught every aspect of the Muay Thai game from the ground up and so he looks like more of striker than some of the self-professed strikers we are used to seeing. Spinning elbows, jump knees, tight defence, excellent clinch work - Moreira is becoming a really difficult package to handle.
He’s just one of several fighters from Evolve that are competing for ONE FC and they all show a similar standard. Provided the money is there to keep the coaching staff together, Evolve MMA looks capable of producing some really special fighters in the coming years. I get the impression they have an exclusive arrangement with ONE FC but if they don’t, and could get a fighter or two into the UFC, they could suddenly find themselves being mentioned in the same sentence as Black House and AKA.
Time will tell.