To overcome horrific abuse, one young fighter found solace in the sting of battle

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Kohl Laren goes to sleep most nights on a twin mattress in the bed of a 1992 Ford F-250. It’s not bad. He’s got a camper shell, a hot plate to cook his breakfast in the morning, and enough sweatshirts to keep him warm through the night.

In a lot of ways it’s better than how he grew up. At least here there’s no one yelling at him, telling him that he’s worthless and denying him food. At least now he owns more than one pair of underwear and his shoes aren’t held together by duct tape. At least these days, the only beatings he takes are in the gym – and he puts himself through them on purpose.

That’s the important part for Laren, a 22-year-old kickboxer and amateur MMA fighter. After an intensely abusive childhood that led to hospitalizations and suicide attempts, he found in martial arts a form of therapy that’s helped him in ways that more conventional methods have not.

It’s what led him to his current focus, a project he’s dubbed “Chase the Pain,” in which he aims to tour the fighting arenas of Thailand and Cambodia in a journey of self-discovery through combat.

Part of the appeal is the extreme nature of the fights and the training there, Laren said. Pushing yourself through pain and fatigue, pushing past your concept of your own limits, that evokes an intense emotional state that brings him back to his history of abuse.

“It just comes out of nowhere, and when that happens, you face all these weird kind of feelings,” Laren told MMAjunkie. “That takes me to a place I haven’t been before. And for me, when I get to that place, I return to those feelings from my childhood, and that’s hopelessness and despair.”

Laren grew up in the northwestern corner of Southern California’s Orange County. His parents were separated, which left him with his mother, an L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy who abused him physically, verbally and emotionally, all while taking good care of his younger sister, he said.

His mother regularly abused drugs and alcohol, Laren said, and was eventually arrested for and pleaded guilty to DUI and child endangerment charges. But her anger toward her son seemed to stem from a seething resentment of his father.

“My sister was treated better almost in spite of me,” Laren said. “She was treated almost like an example, like this is what you would be treated like if you didn’t remind me of your dad. I was made fun of and starved and made to think that I was somehow overweight or didn’t even deserve to eat food, and this was when I was 8, 9 years old. I was severely anorexic, like 25 pounds underweight as a kid. I remember being at the hospital, and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, and then they realized I just wasn’t eating.”

His family wasn’t poor. His mother could have afforded to buy him clean clothes or working shoes. The neglect was intentional, Laren said, and he internalized the abuse he endured every day.

Maybe he really was worthless. Maybe he really didn’t deserve to eat. Maybe he was a lesser human.

“Then at a certain point, me and my mom got into a fight, and I stood up for myself,” Laren said. “It was the first time I’d ever defended myself against my mom. She threw me out of the house, I was on the curb in my underwear, and my dad picked me up. I lived with my dad after that.”

It was his father who took him to his first jiu-jitsu class. What Laren soon found was that, when he was on the mats, just trying to avoid being choked and armbarred, he wasn’t thinking about all the horrible things he’d been through. The emotional scars that followed him everywhere didn’t seem to be able to follow him into the gym. There just wasn’t room for them, not with the immediate physical urgency of the task of the hand.

“That was really comforting, because I was really a prisoner of my own thoughts,” Laren said. “Any other time when I wasn’t training, I was trapped by these terrible thoughts. But when I was in the gym, it was sort of a meditative state. I could only think of myself as a martial artist and not think of all the trauma.”

He took an MMA fight as soon as he turned 18. He lost, but it wasn’t really the point. He gravitated more toward muay Thai after that. It was just so intense, so filled with painful rituals and intense training. It was there he was introduced to the concept of “intentional suffering,” a path to self-realization articulated by early 20th century philosopher George Gurdjieff.

“It’s putting yourself through something that is uncomfortable in the hopes of growing through it,” Laren said. “If you’re always in a state that’s super comfortable, you don’t really have to think about what you’re doing. But when you’re uncomfortable, it promotes an increased self-observation.”

That, in a way, is how he ended up living in his truck.

He doesn’t have to be homeless, Laren said. He’s had an apartment and the comforts of financial self-sufficiency, even if it meant working three jobs to get there at times. But that wasn’t helping him work on his issues or process his past. His martial arts journey did, but it required a focus he didn’t feel he could give while chasing a series of simultaneous paychecks.

So he gave it up and came up with his new plan. That included getting even more serious about training with his coach, Austin Ahlgren of OC Muay Thai, as well as traveling to Southeast Asia to immerse himself in a new and uncomfortable fighting environment.

It’s an effort he’s currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter, with the ultimate goal of bringing the lessons he learns back home to help others who have lived through similar trauma.

“If you notice a lot of kids who’ve been abused, they turn to drugs, alcohol, partying, anything to pretend like those feelings aren’t there, to ignore them,” Laren said. “I feel like I’m in no position to help those people until I figure out how to deal with those feelings myself, and I think going into this unfamiliar environment and putting myself through this is going to help me grow through those feelings.”

The journey and the battles along the way won’t be easy, Laren said, but then that’s kind of the point. At least this time his suffering will be on purpose, in the service of some end. At least this time it’s not for nothing. And, if it all goes the way he hopes, maybe it will lead him somewhere new.

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Source: MMA Junkie

Trading Shots: With the hype heating up, will fans come around to Bisping vs. GSP?

The UFC hype machine is kicking into high gear to sell a UFC 217 main event that was booked amid a wave of apparent fan apathy, but can the case for “The Count” vs. GSP convince fans to put aside their concerns and get out their credit cards? Retired WEC and UFC fighter Danny Downes joins MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes to discuss.

Downes: No UFC event this weekend Ben, but that gives us time to get excited about the next big fight. And that is (*checks schedule*) Georges St-Pierre vs. Michael Bisping?

The promotion for their UFC 217 match is in full force as the two participated in the ceremonial puck drop for this weekend’s game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. They’ve also been speaking to the media with the expected results: St-Pierre is “super focused,” while Bisping works his shtick as the unlikable Englishman.

Seeing that this is the middleweight title fight that nobody (save for GSP or Bisping) actually wanted, can any promotion get you excited for it? I know the fever pitch surrounding a fight doesn’t usually kick in until fight week itself, but do you think that will happen this time around?

Fowlkes: You don’t think people are starting to get excited about this fight? I mean, OK, they don’t want to admit it. It’s not cool to say that you’re hyped about Bisping vs. GSP. It feels like admitting that you’re looking forward to a big, dumb action movie. The fight feels like a sinister plan to get in our wallets, which it is.

But what are you going to do? Are you seriously going to not watch this event, which comes with two additional title fights, both of which are solidly #wouldwatch affairs, just because you’re resentful of a nonsense headliner that seems like something a piece of marketing software came up with?

Plus, have you actually watched these two together? GSP doesn’t even have to do anything. He just smiles and plays the nice guy and lets Bisping carry the promotional load, which he does with a perfect, sneering efficiency.

Seriously, watch him here. You’re telling me you don’t want to see that guy get punched in the face? And if you don’t, it can only be because you actually want to see him do what he claims he’ll do. Point is, there’s no way to be indifferent about a person like that, and that’s promotional gold.

Are you really not into this fight, despite or possibly even for all its stupidity? Or would you just feel like too easy mark for admitting it?

Downes: What happened to you, Ben? Have the years been so unkind that now your standards are degrading faster than the cartilage in your joints?

First off, your #wouldwatch standard doesn’t mean anything. You’ve admitted that you’d watch any number of freak show fights. Just because you say you’ll watch something, that does not mean it’s quality.

I’ve watched more episodes of “House Hunters” than I’d care to admit. That doesn’t mean the show isn’t formulaic, scripted and predictable. I’ve seen the movie “Gymkata” multiple times. Maybe that means it should win an Academy Award?

Secondly, disliking Bisping and wanting to see him get punched in the face does not mean you should like every one of his fights. There are plenty of unlikable fighters in MMA. If we use Ben Fowlkes logic, that means every one of them is a must-see fight! What if there’s a fighter that we really like and don’t want to see get punched in the face? I guess that means he or she is always in a bad fight?

Does Bisping know how to push people’s buttons? Absolutely. Throughout his career he’s been able to create a buzz and make himself relevant even when many were willing to write him off. That being said, the act has worn thin on me.

Bisping is slightly more sincere than Chael Sonnen when it comes to the gimmick, but that’s not saying much. He’s already walked back his “GSP is on steroids” talk when he was on Conan O’Brien. How do you take him seriously now?

I’m all for “fun” fights in general, but nothing exists inside a vacuum. By GSP vs. Bisping going down, the middleweight division is put on hold. MMA may be more carnival than actual sport, but we have to recognize when the pendulum swings too far to the other side.

Do you not see how this title fight represents that? Or did the UFC already send you some talking points you’d like to regurgitate?

Fowlkes: Watch out, everybody. Looks like Danny’s off his meds again. And by meds I mean grapefruit IPAs.

Look, I’m not disagreeing that this is a straight-up cash grab with little to no relevance to the middleweight division. To the contrary, I’m the first one to point out that, the way it stands now, Bisping looks like he’s trying to be the first UFC middleweight champ to avoid defending his belt against any top contenders.

All I’m saying is, this is the fight we have. It’s Bisping vs. St-Pierre, an all-time great MMA heel against an all-time great MMA fighter. And what makes this bout even more weirdly compelling in a way I hate to admit that I like? It’s that the welterweight GOAT is probably going to lose. Bisping probably is going to beat him up, just like he says, at which point he’ll be able to walk around calling everybody “buddeh” as he points out that he beat both Anderson Silva and GSP, the two greats of his era.

Or maybe he doesn’t. Maybe St-Pierre comes charging back after all this time and takes the title that most of us thought Bisping would never win in the first place, and which he’s only managed to defend once, just barely, against a senior citizen who nearly knocked him stiff.

Those stakes are good enough for me, I’m sorry to say. Would I rather see a middleweight champ against a middleweight contender? Sure. Will I still regard Robert Whittaker as the top 185-pounder after this, regardless of the outcome? Probably.

But am I going to boycott a bizarrely interesting fight and miss Cody Garbrandt-T.J. Dillashaw and Joanna “Champion” vs. “Thug Rose” just for spite? No way. And, once you get enough craft beers in you to be honest with yourself, I think you’ll be able to admit that you’re not about to miss it either.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.

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Source: MMA Junkie

Twitter Mailbag: UFC's decision to sideline Mark Hunt against his will is a tricky one

If you make your struggle with the effects of brain trauma public, how surprised can you be when a promoter won’t let you fight? But if the promoter won’t let you fight, what do you get to do?

Plus, what’s the fight of the year so far in 2017? And does the UFC flyweight champ need to jump up a division now?

All that and more in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.

I’m torn on this. On one hand, you want the UFC to be proactive about fighter health and safety. If a fighter tells us that he’s slurring his words and struggling with short-term memory – both major red flags – you don’t want to put that person in a cage to fight for money.

On the other hand, Mark Hunt is currently suing the UFC for what he alleges is a failure to look out for fighter health and safety, so we can’t ignore the context of this move by the UFC.

It’s also worth asking if the UFC just set a precedent that it’s not willing to stick to. Georges St-Pierre has also described issues with his memory (which he attributed to possible alien activity, which is not necessarily any less concerning), but he was never pulled from any fights, and is slated to return for more in November.

Then there’s the question of what you do with a fighter who you’ve deemed medically unfit to fight based on a column he wrote for a website. How can you keep him under contract if you’re not going to let him work?

And if you do release him, does that mean any fighter can get out of his contract by publicly proclaiming his brain to be damaged, only to pop up in Bellator a couple months later declaring that, actually, he’s feeling much better now, thank you?

These are uncharted waters. This wasn’t an athletic commission that pulled Hunt from the fight. And, as far as we know, the decision to pull him wasn’t based on any actual medical testing. UFC officials just read a column with Hunt’s name on it and yanked him, which forces us to wonder about the true motives here.

(Also, if talking openly about brain trauma leads to a de facto suspension, what you’ve really done is ensure that fighters will stay quiet about their symptoms if and when they do appear.)

But again, if Hunt really is experiencing the symptoms he wrote about, he shouldn’t be fighting. I wish the UFC had done more to confirm and investigate that before acting. I also wish it hadn’t decided to make this unprecedented principled stance with a fighter who’s currently battling the promotion in court. Then it would have been a lot easier to know what to make of it.

Are those the only two choices? Because if you told me right now that Rory MacDonald has a goat who he cares for and talks to and secretly feels is the only one in this world who understands him, I would believe that in a heartbeat.

First of all, that’s awesome. Second of all, if ever there was a situation where you don’t want to walk around with an imported IPA in your hand, loudly discussing the superiority of Japanese motorcycles, this is it. Third of all, Roy Nelson? Now that’s natural sponsor synergy, right there. Fourth, remember to have a good time. Fifth, but not so good that you forget to apply sunscreen and end up with the inevitable tank top tan. That’s experience talking, my friend.

Is this love? That you’re feeling? Is this – and here I’m just thinking out loud – the love that you’ve been waiting for?

But I know what you mean. Watching Demetrious Johnson pull off a brand new submission reminded me of one of the things that I’ve always loved about MMA, which is that it’s a sport that’s always growing and changing.

Remember 15 years ago when Tito Ortiz would take somebody down, wedge their head against the fence, and elbow a hole in their face? At the time that felt like a new answer for the relatively old problem of the jiu-jitsu guard. Now it’s the first step to having someone wall-walk their way to an escape.

The nature of MMA – just two humans trying to hurt each other in a cage, with relatively few rules restricting them – makes it an environment that allows for a lot of creativity. The opportunities for evolution are everywhere. New attacks lead to new counters, which then breed new variations on the old moves. Every once in a while, an artist appears to blaze a fresh trail.

You don’t really get as much of that with most other sports. Instead you get people who do the old stuff slightly better than their predecessors. This is one of the things that makes MMA special. I hope we never lose that.

Since we’re talking about a health and safety issue, I’m not sure we want to use “try something – anything!” as our mantra here. Some proposed fixes, like same-day weigh-ins or lengthy suspensions for missing weight, are likely to make things worse, because fighters are still going to take the risks even when it’s a bad idea, and you’re not going to punish your way out of this problem.

I think the best hope for a solution is something along the lines of what California is trying to do, using hydration testing and other methods to determine a safe fighting weight for every athlete, then making the fighters stick to those guidelines even when they don’t want to.

Even that system won’t be perfect. There will be times when it feels like regulatory overreach for a commission to tell someone like Renan Barao that he doesn’t get to be a bantamweight anymore.

Plus, fighters’ bodies change. They get old. Or they just let themselves get out of shape. Just because you determine a safe fighting weight, it doesn’t completely rule out the possibility of fighters trying for last-minute, extreme weight cuts. And if you think it’s a bummer when a fight is scratched due to someone missing weight, wait until a big one is called off because someone is too far from the target weight for the commission to even let them try.

Still, this is obviously an issue. Fighters can literally die this way. Not to mention, it’s just insane to put athletes through that kind of intense depletion a day before the competition. There’s no doubt that performances suffer as a result. Careers are probably shortened, and for what? Just so fighters can face someone roughly their own size in the end?

I support athletic commissions that are serious about changing that culture, but it can’t just be one or two of them. As with anti-doping efforts, this needs to be something the whole sport does if we’re every going to get anywhere.

Ultimately? Antonio Silva is. But I see your point. It’s madness to me that GLORY would even book this fight. What’s the point? To let Rico Verhoeven show out against a big, slow punching bag of an opponent for the sake of some memorable violence? What, to prove some point about kickboxing vs. MMA? Is this some kind of sad, off-brand attempt at a Mayweather-McGregor-esque cross-sport challenge? I don’t get it.

Ideally, the people who love and care about Silva would stop him from doing this, but for various reasons I wrote about back when this fight was announced, that’s not happening. Instead we’re just charging ahead with this like these mismatches aren’t very dangerous, which they are.

I like face-punching and knockouts as much as anyone, but I won’t watch this. I can’t. As viewers and fans, that feels like the least we can do to make this sort of matchmaking stop.

 

Really, that’s your list? There’s something to spoil every one of those, and I’m pretty sure the last one is a cartoon.

If you ask me to pick a fight of the year that I can still feel good about as of this writing, I have to go with Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson. No one got popped for drugs. The judges didn’t screw it up (because Gaethje didn’t give them a chance). The fight was competitive and rational from a matchmaking perspective.

And if that’s not enough, the action was just bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

That’s not a call for the UFC to make; that’s up to the athletic commission. And no, based on precedence alone, that’s not something that merits an official punishment. We’ve seen fighters get away with much more egregious shots after the bell (looking at you, Germaine de Randamie) and there was no punitive action beyond whatever the referee was willing to do in the fight itself, which is usually nothing at all.

He doesn’t have to, because weight classes exist for a reason. But man, it sure would be great if he did, wouldn’t it?

I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by the thought of watching Johnson keep beating up the same flyweights over and over, all while the UFC has to reach further down the rankings ladder just to find fresh opponents. It feels too easy for a fighter as good as Johnson. He needs a challenge. I’d argue he needs it more than he needs another victory. It’s just a question of whether or not he sees that – and whether or not he cares.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.

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Source: MMA Junkie

Today in MMA History: The birth of PRIDE FC

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By the time he showed up at the Tokyo Dome on Oct. 11, 1997, for a fight against a pro wrestler who he was practically guaranteed to beat at an event dubbed PRIDE 1, Rickson Gracie was already an MMA legend. What else do you expect when you’ve got over 400 fights and no defeats?

Yeah, well. About that.

Officially, Gracie had won a pair of one-night vale tudo tournaments in Japan back in 1994 and ‘95. Before that, he won a couple fights at home in Brazil. In order to get a number that reached into the hundreds you had to count streets fights, gym fights, beach fights, maybe even a training session or 12. Even other members of the Gracie clan dismissed the record as a bit of mathematically dubious hype. You got the sense that if Gracie had nudged you out of the way while boarding a crowded subway some time in the early ‘90s, there was a good chance you were added to his tally.

Still, one thing you had to give him was that in all the officially recorded and documented fights throughout the decade, Gracie seemed to understand something that his competitors had not even begun to grasp. At a time when other grapplers were rubbing two sticks together, hoping for a little smoke, Gracie might as well have been walking around with a flamethrower.

He combined this knowledge with genuinely impressive athleticism. Unlike his brother Royce, who was chosen to represent the family in the UFC events that had begun a few years before in part because of his unimpressive physique, Rickson was a physical specimen – not overly muscular, but fit and strong, with a torso carved from wood.

He was also a fierce competitor, known not just for his submissions, but also for achieving dominant positions on the mat and punishing opponents with punches. Other Gracie jiu-jitsu fighters might choke you until you tapped. Rickson was the one who could punch you until he felt like choking you – or not.

This is part of how he ended up in the Tokyo Dome on that night when PRIDE was born, 20 years ago today. Just getting him into the ring with pro wrestling star Nobuhiku Takada was a victory of sorts. At least it was a big enough deal to merit a brand new show with a new name, one that would offer Japanese fight fans a mix of the combat sports they’d already proven to love.

And with Gracie involved, a long-standing wish of the Japanese pro wrestling scene was about to be granted. Whether they’d still want it once they got it, that was another question.

See, Gracie was already a fairly big deal in the Japanese fight scene at the time, but he became a much bigger deal once the even more popular pro wrestlers started gunning for him. In Japan, mixed rules fighting events had existed for years with events like Shooto, K-1, and Pancrase, where PRIDE commentator Bas Rutten first built his name.

But even the scripted pro wrestling matches in Japan often aimed for a higher degree of fighting realism than many of those elsewhere. The pro wrestlers were expected to be true tough guys. They challenged – and actually fought – pro boxers like Muhammad Ali and Trevor Berbick. Takada in particular prided himself as a guy who could really fight, sometimes even genuinely knocking out opponents in bouts that were supposed to be works, as he did to former sumo wrestler Koji Kitao.

But every form of combat sports thrives on novelty to some extent. Fight promoters wanted something new and fresh, something that would combine the Japanese love for everything from pro wrestling to kickboxing to mixed martial arts. They also wanted a pair of names big enough to draw a real crowd, which is how Gracie soon became a favorite target for pro wrestling callouts.

As Gracie would later tell UFC commentator Joe Rogan on his podcast, he didn’t think much of those challenges at first.

“One of the friends I had in Japan came and said, ‘Mr. Gracie, they’re talking a lot about you, and you should have an official answer for that … because people will start thinking you’re afraid,’” Gracie said. “So I said OK, and I (made) a letter stating I would never fight in their ring, because they’re not legit, they fix fights … but if he wants to come and fight in my (style of) event … he’s welcome to come and we’re going to face each other, for sure.”

One man did come. Yoji Anjo, a Japanese pro wrestler who would later fight in the UFC, showed up at Gracie’s academy in Southern California with photographers and a film crew in tow. According to legend, he soon made it clear that he intended to force Gracie to honor his pledge to fight for honor rather than money.

Gracie let Anjo in, but kept the film crew outside. The only extant recording of the gym fight that followed still belongs to Gracie, and the tape would later assume an almost mythical status. Those who were fortunate enough to see it offered detailed accounts of Gracie taking Anjo down and beating him bloody from full mount. Only when he was satisfied that Anjo had learned his lesson did he choke him out, leaving him unconscious in a pool of his own blood to be photographed by the media that Gracie now allowed into the gym.

(As Gracie would reportedly remark about the incident later: “If we fight for money, I’ll stop hitting you when you ask me to. If we fight for honor, I’ll stop hitting you when I feel like it.”)

When word of this beating spread back in Japan, thanks in part to a judicious use of the video evidence, the target on Gracie’s back only grew. The powers that be saw the marketing potential of a fight between the genuine martial artist Gracie and the superstar pro wrestler Takada, who’d been a popular figure in Japan since the ’80s. The promoters with Kakutougi Revolution Spirits (KRS) liked the idea enough to offer Gracie the promise of a true fight – no fixes or funny business – and at a price he couldn’t refuse.

And so, Gracie vs. Takada was on. With it, a new event called PRIDE was spawned. Nearly 48,000 people showed up to the Tokyo Dome to see it on that October day in 1997, and the lineup offered a little bit of everything, for better and worse.

John Dixson

For instance, there was the curtain-jerker between pro wrestler Kazunari Murakami and “Big” John Dixson, who was known in those early days for his insistence on keeping his T-shirt on when he fought.

If you were expecting a true, unscripted fight, then the bout was suspicious, to say the least. Dixson took Murakami down early and then stood up to relinquish top position after making little effort to do damage on the mat.

“This is strange,” remarked English-language commentator Bas Rutten, who would years later make a similar pronouncement about a fight featuring Takada and UFC champion Mark Coleman, which is almost universally thought to have been fixed.

After an almost too perfect hip throw to put Dixson down, Murakami quickly locked up an armbar that Dixson made no attempt to defend against before tapping out.

In the next fight, however, things got a little too real when Gary Goodridge knocked Oleg Taktarov out cold with a looping right hand, then added two more heavy punches as Taktarov lay face down and motionless on the mat.

Oleg Taktarov is carried out of the ring after a knockout loss.

Several minutes later, Taktarov would be stretchered out of the ring, still unconscious, looking for all the world like a dead man while Goodridge reclined in his corner with an ice pack on his leg.

Then there was the 30-minute draw between Renzo Gracie and Akira Shoji, which was notable in part for a preview of what would become a persistent problem in PRIDE events – the ropes.

While the boxing ring made for more fan- and camera-friendly viewing, it also made things tricky for fighters. Early in the fight, with Gracie attached to Shoji’s back, Shoji made the surface work in his favor when he slipped through the ropes to escape, calmly planting his feet on the floor and walking around the ring to re-enter at a safer point.

After that came another suspect bout between the sumo wrestler turned pro wrestler Kitao, who required a belt to keep his gi pants up as he took on Australian pro wrestler, powerlifter, and former semi-famous criminal Nathan Jones.

(Side note: Jones, who you might remember from his role as a big, scary bad guy in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” was once known for ripping cell doors off their hinges after being arrested for a string of armed robberies in the mid ‘80s and sentenced to 12 years in Australia’s notorious Boggo Road prison at the age of 17. Upon his release, he began participating in powerlifting competitions such as “The World’s Strongest Man,” where he broke his arm in an arm-wrestling challenge, but was eventually “discovered” by martial arts movie star Jackie Chan.)

For a fight that Jones would later admit was fixed, there wasn’t much action. Kitao took him down early, then moved to side control and, after a lot of grunting, finished with an Americana arm lock that was far from technically proficient.

Jones would later claim that PRIDE had gotten him to throw the bout by promising him legit fights later on, though those never materialized. In a 2015 interview he referred to the fight as “a real sore point in my life.”

(Check out the full Kitao vs. Jones fight above, courtesy of UFC Fight Pass.)

Ralph White

The lone kickboxing match featured Ralph White and Branko Cikatic fighting in cumbersome gloves that mimicked the size of those used in boxing, but featured the fingered design of MMA gloves. It would end early, and in a controversial no-contest, after Cikatic kicked a downed White in the head, immediately raising an enormous lump on White’s forehead.

But even after that, the lowlight of the event was a 30-minute draw between former UFC fighters Dan Severn and Kimo Leopoldo, which had Rutten and his English-language broadcast partner Stephen Quadros pleading for action by the end.

“The corner is happy!” Rutten said incredulously after the fight finally ended. “They’re happy and smiling, yay, yay, yay.”

“Well, they’re happy because he went the distance with Dan Severn,” said Quadros. “But to go into a fight with your mission just to make it the distance, why even take the fight?”

But then at last it was time for the main event, the fight Japan had been waiting for. Not that those in the know were expecting much from it.

On the English-language broadcast, both Rutten and Quadros openly expressed doubts that Takada had any chance in the bout. At one point, Rutten began to tell an anecdote about Takada coming to train at his gym in Beverly Hills, before breaking off and remarking, “I don’t think he’s going to win this fight.”

“Why wouldn’t Rickson take this fight?” asked Quadros. “You’re talking money here. … But the question remains, can Nobuhiko Takada make his mixed martial arts debut against, of all people, Rickson Gracie – who Royce Gracie, who has won three UFC titles, says is 10 times better than him? Chances are good he’s not going to win.”

“I really don’t see it,” said Rutten.

Rickson Gracie vs. Nobuhiko Takada

Their skepticism would turn out to be well-founded. Gracie came patiently plodding after Takada in the early going, with his stiff standup style on full display – hands low, chin up, almost daring his opponent to attack. Takada jogged around the perimeter of the ring, seemingly content not to lose for at least a couple minutes.

When Gracie finally managed to trap Takada in the corner, digging for a single-leg takedown, Takada looped one arm around the ropes and waited for some friendly intervention from the referee, which was quick in coming.

“Rickson can’t be happy with that,” said Quadros. “He had the leg. The takedown was imminent.”

As Gracie argued with the referee and glared at Takada, he might have been forgiven for wondering whether the fight was going to be on the level after all. But moments after the restart, he would scoop Takada up for a double-leg slam, moving immediately to mount. Takada would try his best to hold on from bottom, but he had little in the way of actual skills from his back. Soon Gracie got enough separation to lock up the armbar, and Takada resisted only briefly before submitting.

“That was a quick one, folks,” said Quadros. “Rickson Gracie continues his undefeated streak with an armbar victory over the most famous pro wrestler in Japan, Nobuhiko Takada.”

“Beautiful armbar,” said Rutten. “But, man, I saw it coming 40 seconds before. Takada should work a little bit more on submissions, I guess.”

Takada’s poor performance was a disappointment to many Japanese fans. Even if they didn’t necessarily expect him to win, they still expected more than they got. He would request and eventually receive a rematch against Gracie, which he also lost after a slightly better showing.

As would become clear in the years that followed, Takada was no MMA fighter. It didn’t stop him from fighting a total of nine times under the PRIDE banner, however, because why would it?

As the promoters of that first event learned, a couple big names and a few strange spectacles was often enough to fill a colossal arena in Japan. PRIDE would do it many times in the nearly 10 years that followed before its demise.

Today it lives on only in old DVDs, in the UFC Fight Pass video library, and in the increasingly hazy memories of those who lived through a unique era in MMA, both in and out of the ring.

“Today in MMA History” is an MMAjunkie series created in association with MMA History Today, the social media outlet dedicated to reliving “a daily journey through our sport’s history.”

Filed under: News
Source: MMA Junkie

Why are we so tolerant of the absurd insanity of weight-cutting in MMA?

At this point it’s basically a part of the routine. Fight week rolls around, the photo ops come and go, then suddenly it’s Friday morning, and we all wait to see who will show up looking like a walking corpse ready to have his remains weighed on the official scale.

At UFC 216, it was Kevin Lee’s turn. After bragging about feasting on tiramisu for dessert, he needed two tries to hit the lightweight mark, looking progressively cadaverous with each attempt. If that wasn’t enough of a fighter safety risk, we learned after the fight that he also had a staph infection on his chest. The Nevada State Athletic Commission deemed him fit to fight anyway, for reasons it wouldn’t fully explain.

Lee wasn’t the only one who struggled in Las Vegas. Nik Lentz was pulled from the event entirely after being hospitalized due to what he called “diabetic-like issues.” It seems his hands and feet went numb during his weight cut, which probably isn’t a good sign just a couple days before you’re supposed to get into a cage and fight.

This all happened just two weeks after Mizuta Hirota was scratched from UFC Fight Night 117 when he nearly fell off the scales at weigh-ins.

As if to drive home the point that it can always get worse, Pancrase weighed in a nearly unconscious Daniel Lima in Japan over the weekend, and then let him go through with the fight anyway, despite the fact that he had to be literally carried on and off the scales.

As longtime MMA referee Marc Goddard asked in a Facebook video, what if “the unthinkable” had happened in that fight, which is really not so unthinkable after seeing how depleted Lima was at the weigh-in?

“Who would take that blame?” Goddard asked. “That’s (expletive) manslaughter.”

What makes this practice more insane is how unnecessary it is. Think about weight-cutting for what it really is. A day before the competition, two athletes of roughly equal size shed their bodies of enough water and nutrients to hit the same arbitrary mark on a scale, all so they can frantically put the weight back on in time for the fight the next day, at which point they will be roughly the same size again.

As dangerous and difficult as it is, nobody’s getting a significant advantage through weight-cutting anymore. What they’re doing with all that suffering is preventing their opponents from having a significant advantage. It’s an absurd price to pay just to end up on a mostly level playing field in the end.

But how do you fix it? More weight classes aren’t going to do it, because fighters looking for an edge (or just for a fresh start in a new division) will still push their bodies to the absolute limit if they’re allowed to.

So maybe you stop allowing it. You institute hydration tests and out-of-competition weigh-ins to get a sense of what each fighter really weighs in the hopes of establishing a safe fighting weight for everyone.

That’s the direction that the California State Athletic Commission is heading in, but it’s going to take more than one commission in one state. This is a change the whole sport needs to make, if we’re going to really address the issue. The entire culture needs to change, and that’s never easy to do.

But if we’re not yet convinced that this is a problem, what’s going to change our minds? People have died cutting weight. They’ve died in the fights that followed rough weigh cuts. They’ve been hospitalized so often that it’s barely even newsworthy anymore. They’ve squandered the weeks and months spent training for a fight, all because they couldn’t survive their own weight cuts in a healthy enough state to go through with them.

The worst things that can possibly happen have already happened. The not-quite-as-bad-but-still-pretty-troubling things have also happened, and with alarming frequency.

Still, most of the powers that be in MMA don’t seem ready to make a change this big. Apparently they’re fine with the almost weekly ridiculousness of pro fighters making themselves sick on the eve of their most dangerous assignments. They’re too used to it, maybe. Too comfortable with it.

Or maybe they just need to see how bad it can really get. But if that hasn’t happened by now, I hate to think of what it’s going to take.

Filed under: AXS TV Fights, Bellator, News, PFL, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie

And for his next trick, the great Demetrious Johnson will attempt … what, exactly?

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Filed under: Featured, News, UFC

After submitting Ray Borg with something out of a Spiderman comic at UFC 216, the one thing Demetrious Johnson didn’t want to talk about was his immediate fighting future.

“Everyone is so quick to jump to the next one,” the UFC flyweight champ said. “It’s been 25 minutes since the fight.”

Fair enough, but now it’s been over 36 hours since the fight, so can we talk about it yet?

I only ask because it feels like Johnson (27-2-1 MMA, 15-1-1 UFC) is at a crossroads. His win over Borg (11-3 MMA, 5-3 UFC) on Saturday night in Las Vegas shattered the record for consecutive UFC title defenses. It also established him as a bonafide ninja, thanks to a transition from slam to armbar that most of us didn’t even know was possible.

So now Johnson has records and highlights that may never be topped. Who knows, he might even be on the verge of breaking through to another level of popularity with fans, since even the most curmudgeonly flyweight hater has to admit that he’s something special now.

Opportunity is in the air for the champ. But if he squanders it now, it may never come again.

Realistically, there are two options for Johnson’s next fight: 1) He can fight another flyweight, continuing his reign of terror over all 125-pound men, or 2) He can fight a bantamweight, essentially accepting a weight handicap as a means to test his skill.

If he goes with door No. 1, we’re probably looking at a fight against the winner of Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis, who are set to square off in December. The problem is, Johnson has already beaten Cejudo – easily – and he’d be a huge favorite to do the same to Pettis, who’s still a work in progress at 24.

This is a side effect of Johnson’s greatness. He’s dominated his own weight class so thoroughly that any fight in that division now comes with at least the perception of a low degree of difficulty. It feels like he’s walking a tightrope that’s six inches off the ground. He looks good doing it, and he manages to pull off some amazing tricks on his way across, but it never feels like he’s in any real danger.

That brings us to the second option. Johnson’s been reluctant to go back up to bantamweight without the promise of a big payday, and he balked at welcoming a bigger fighter to his division because he worried that a problem on the scales might prevent him from breaking the title-defense record.

Both those concerns seem less like dealbreakers now. Johnson already has the record, so a failed weight cut wouldn’t be such a big deal. And the UFC could sure use a champion-vs.-champion superfight right about now, since there aren’t too many marquee attractions on the calendar past early November.

The point is, now feels like the time for something special. And since Johnson’s record is a testament to his consistency and longevity when it comes to the task of beating up flyweights, watching him beat up one more probably isn’t going to feel all that novel.

Now’s the time for a new challenge, one he might actually fail at.

If not, he risks letting his success become so common that we take it – and him – for granted.

For more on UFC 216, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

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Filed under: Featured, News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie

Trading Shots: Is it time to abolish the draw in MMA?

UFC 216 had two different bouts end in draws, a rare occurrence that hasn’t happened since 1999. But is that a satisfying way for a fight to end, or should the UFC think about instituting some changes to make sure that someone ends up a winner? MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes joins retired WEC and UFC fighter Danny Downes to discuss.

Fowlkes: Who’d have guessed it, Danny? UFC 216 gave us not one but two draws on Saturday night in Las Vegas. That’s like seeing a shooting star on your drive home and then being so distracted by it that you hit a unicorn.

I can’t be mad at either result. Lando Vannata lost a point for an illegal knee, which was a penalty he deserved, so that threw the scorecards in his fight with Bobby Green out of whack. Then Beneil Dariush and Evan Dunham fought to a draw that also just felt right, considering how close the fight was.

I understand that a tie is an unsatisfying result in a lot of ways, but should MMA get a little more comfortable with the draw, or do we need to get rid of it altogether? Should we institute a “sudden victory” round in these matters? And how are promotions and rankings supposed to treat two guys who fought to a bloody stalemate? Do we just tell them both to move on and act like they kind of won, but kind of didn’t?

Downes: Get comfortable with draws? I bet you’re the Missoula hipster who calls NFL games “American Football.” Do all those soccer stars who write into your podcast send you those fancy scarves in the mail, too?

In all seriousness, I’m not opposed to draws per se, but I’m not exactly wild about them. I feel about them the way that the Griffin family felt about their vacation to purgatory. Especially in the Green/Vannata match, I understand why that was the result. but there’s no progression. What do you do with Green and Vannata? It was a great fight, but doing an immediate rematch does nothing for either fighter.

I don’t hate the draw result, but they aren’t necessary. Why not institute the “sudden victory” round? It seems to work fine on “The Ultimate Fighter.” Thanks to the beauty of editing, we don’t know how long the turnaround is between the judges’ decision and the extra round. If there’s a way to ensure there isn’t an extended lapse, what’s the issue?

At the end of the day, I’m sure it will come down to money. Fighters would obviously want some extra pay if they have to go an extra round, and promoters won’t want to pay it. There may be some other technical issues having to do with pacing or TV time, but those should be easily remedied.

What do you say Ben? Let’s abolish the draw!

Fowlkes: First of all, I’d love one of those scarves and now I’m mad no one’s sent me one. Second, instituting the sudden victory round shouldn’t be so hard.

The UFC makes you fight two extra rounds for the privilege of being the main event, which is another decision it made unilaterally without input from the fighters, so this shouldn’t be so different. The IFL did it, even if it almost never got to use it. The UFC had the provision for that flyweight title tournament, even if it was robbed of the chance to use it thanks to a screwup by officials. So clearly, it’s possible.

What I object to are the people who would rather have the judges close their eyes and pick a winner than admit that sometimes it really is too close to call. I don’t have a problem with judges who give out 10-10 rounds. I have much more of a problem with judges who see everything as a 10-9, as if there’s no difference between winning by a little and winning by a lot.

I recognize that draws create a problem for promoters who want to know who should move up and who should move down after every fight. I’d be all for an extra round to help figure it out. But after watching three awesome, bloody rounds between Vannata and Green, did anybody seriously feel disappointed by scorecards that refused to label one of them a loser?

Downes: Well what do you know? This is one of the few times you’ve seen reason and agree with the correct side (me).

I agree that the sudden victory would require some work, but it seems very plausible. It would be nice if the UFC and other organizations would negotiate with fighters, but they’ve mandated far more intrusive things in the past.

I also think the sudden victory format would improve judging. Instead of over-weighting takedowns or “octagon control,” an increase in 10-10 scoring could convince fighters to win a round more definitively. The strategy of waiting away a round and then trying to score some quick points in the final 30 seconds becomes much less beneficial under this format.

As far as your question about if anyone felt disappointed, you’re leading the witness by phrasing it that way. I don’t think anybody felt disappointed, but what if I asked, “did anybody seriously feel satisfied by scorecards that refused to label one of them a winner?” It would be the same answer.

Draws are the “meh” of decisions. Are they better than a decision which forces a winner? Sure, but being better than bad doesn’t necessarily make it something good.

It’s also worth noting that how a fight ends does have an effect on us, regardless of how much we enjoyed the match. It’s the same way that you can enjoy 90 percent of a movie, but if there’s a crappy ending, you end up hating the whole thing. I’m not saying that an increase in draws will make MMA fights into M. Night Shymalan films, but let’s not pretend they’re pleasant to see either.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.

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Filed under: Featured, News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie

Conor McGregor, it's time to defend that belt – and Tony Ferguson is the perfect man for the job

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Filed under: News, UFC

One thing I feel confident saying about Tony Ferguson’s callout of Conor McGregor at UFC 216: He didn’t spend too much time beforehand thinking about precisely which words to use.

Which is not to say that he put no thought into it. Calling him “McNuggets” was proof of that, and while it might not be the burn that sets the world on fire, it was at least better than what followed, when the interim UFC lightweight champ leaned into the microphone to call the actual UFC lightweight champ a “(expletive) piece of (expletive).”

You know, keeping it simple.

But here’s one matchup that doesn’t need blistering trash talk or eloquent insults to feel important. This one is necessary just on its merits.

And if McGregor (21-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC) is smart, which he usually is, he’ll see that for himself. The time for cash-grabbing spectacle fights is over. Now’s the time to get down to the business of being the champ.

The question of who that champ should fight is now firmly settled, thanks to Ferguson (23-3 MMA, 13-1 UFC). His win over Kevin Lee (16-3 MMA, 9-3 UFC) in Saturday’s UFC 216 pay-per-view headliner in Las Vegas was classic “El Cucuy.” He got mouthy, and he got hurt, and he got loose. He came close enough to losing to make it all the more impressive when he won with a triangle choke off his back.

That’s 10 in a row for Ferguson, and in arguably the most talent-rich division in the sport. Now he has a shiny gold belt to commemorate his achievement, but it’s still unclear what, exactly, that will get him.

UFC President Dana White claims it’ll be good enough for a title-unification bout with McGregor.

“It’s the fight that has to happen,” White said after the event. “It doesn’t ‘make sense’; it’s the fight that has to happen.”

But then, the days of the UFC telling McGregor what he has to do are long gone. These days, the UFC can only request. It can ask nicely. It can hope.

Nobody can make McGregor do anything now. Not unless he wants to. But this is one he should want, at least as long as he still wants to be an MMA fighter at all.

McGregor is by far the biggest star in the sport, not to mention the biggest PPV draw in the history of the UFC. But if there’s a knock on him at this point, it’s that he’s won two UFC titles without defending either. He’s willfully ignored the usual system of champions meeting contenders in favor of lining his pockets as he jumps from one payday to the next.

It’s smart, you have to admit. In this sport, you have to look out for your own future, since everyone else is just trying to use you as fodder for theirs. But McGregor has made enough money now that he might consider turning his attention to his legacy.

It’s one thing to win a UFC title, but it’s not really yours until you defend it. And if McGregor wants to remind everyone how he ended up as the champ in the first place, he could do a lot worse than to test himself against a guy like Ferguson.

There’s a lot to like about the fight. Ferguson may not be a superstar, but the man has a swagger and a style all his own. He’ll talk to you while he’s beating you up and then breakdance once he’s done. When he’s fighting is just about the only time you’ll catch him without sunglasses on, and even then his face looks somehow naked without them.

You put this guy in a fight opposite McGregor, you can expect a couple different kinds of fireworks. You can also expect, however temporarily, a return to some sense of normalcy, which feels pretty necessary right about now.

Because in between all the expletives and food-based insults, Ferguson offered McGregor a surprisingly reasonable choice: defend or vacate.

It does feel like it’s time for a decision, one way or another. For a smart fighter and savvy businessman like McGregor, this one ought to be a no-brainer.

For complete coverage of UFC 216, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

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Filed under: News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie

That Lando Vannata-Bobby Green draw at UFC 216 was a bloody good time

How do you know you just saw a crackerjack of a fight? When both men are bloodied and battered and yet somehow very happy after 15 minutes of non-stop action, that’s a pretty good sign.

Lando Vannata and Bobby Green battled to a draw on the prelims of UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, but it was such a wild, fun fight that neither fighter seemed to care. That’s really saying something, especially when you consider what they both put themselves through in search of a victory.

Take Vannata, for instance. He dropped Green with strikes in the first and nearly put him away. But an illegal knee as Green was down resulted in a point deduction that ultimately cost him a win.

And then there’s Green, who had to battle back from the brink of unconsciousness, then smashed Vannata’s nose and split open his face, and nearly won the fight with a furious flurry in the final seconds.

After all that, you’d think both guys would have cause to feel disappointed if it turned out to be all in service of an inconclusive end. You pour out that much blood, absorb and deliver that much damage, and then they tell you that it wasn’t enough to determine a winner?

But when the draw was announced, both Vannata and Green seemed somehow happy. It was such a great and weirdly even fight, that maybe a draw makes it easier to appreciate it just for what it was without arguing about who got the better of it by the slimmest of margins.

Plus, after that bloodbath there’s a pretty good chance that a “Fight of the Night” bonus is on the way. So sure, that helps lift the spirits as well.

For complete coverage of UFC 216, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

The Blue Corner is MMAjunkie‘s official blog and is edited by Mike Bohn.

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Source: MMA Junkie

UFC honors Las Vegas shooting victims, first responders to open UFC 216 PPV

USA TODAY Sports

America maybe has grown grimly accustomed to mass shootings, but when it happens in Las Vegas, it can’t help but have an effect on the UFC.

The fight promotion not only holds the bulk of its events there; it’s also called the city home for nearly two decades, which created the sort of connection that led to an unusual scene at the start of the UFC 216 pay-per-view card at T-Mobile Arena.

After a video intro from UFC President Dana White encouraging strength and unity in the wake of last Sunday’s horrific shooting, the UFC welcomed first responders and victims into the cage as special guests.

Following that came a surprise performance of “America, the Beautiful” by singer and former House of Pain frontman Everlast.

USA TODAY Sports

It made for a somber and unexpected open to a UFC pay-per-view, which is usually all about blaring music and bloody highlights to kick off the show. But this was a potent reminder of just how much this tragedy has affected those in Las Vegas, as well as how the community has quickly rallied together in response.

For complete coverage of UFC 216, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

The Blue Corner is MMAjunkie‘s official blog and is edited by Mike Bohn.

Filed under: Blue Corner, Featured, Featured Videos, News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie