Monday 25 September 2017

Bad night for Brazilians, fall of Bigfoot why it's sometimes beauty over brawn in WMMA

In his weekly column Fergus Ryan looks back on UFC Fight Night 61 and reflects on reflects on the career of Irish fighter Chris Fields

WMMA fighter Paige VanZant
WMMA fighter Paige VanZant
Fergus Ryan

Fergus Ryan

This week’s MMA column reviews UFC Fight Night 61, how to get ahead in the female ranks of MMA’s top flight and a quick look at some Irish MMA stories.

Bad Night for the Brazilians in Brazil

UFC Fight Night: Bigfoot vs. Mir (or UFC Fight Night 61) went down in Porto Alegre, Brazil on Sunday night. Though UFC events are normally on Saturday, it would have clashed with the Oscars and a WWE event so we got our MMA instalment a day later.

Outside of the last two fights there weren’t many household names unless you’re a Brazilian fan. As usual in faraway places, the fight card was stacked with local interest stories. There was a Brazilian involved in all eleven fights and for the record they only managed to win four of them.

In the co-main event Michael Johnson took the fight to Edson Barboza for all fifteen minutes of action. While Johnson is a really good, well rounded fighter, he’s not brilliant at anything. He has reasonable power in his hands and a solid ground game but the fact that three of his last four wins have been by decision suggests he has realised where he can have most success.

In all his recent wins Johnson had set a fast pace early, kept the foot on the gas and maintained a high striking output throughout. Barbosa, who is a vicious KO artist, was never able to plant his fight and pick his shots.

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UFC fighter Michael Johnson

One judge gave a round to Barbosa but the other two judges gave a more accurate 30-27 decision to Johnson. While it might not excite the fans, Johnson’ fighting style is effective and has probably moved him into the Top 10 in the UFC’s Lightweight division. One or two more wins and he’s in title contention.

Bigfoot’s capture is not all it's cracked up to be

In the main event former heavyweight champion Frank Mir looked to stop a four-fight losing slide. Many commentators reckoned Mir was finished as a fighter. And though he’d lost only to elite level fighters like Junior Dos Santos and Daniel Cormier, it was the manner of defeat that suggested Mir should pack it in.

After some big wins over Travis Browne and Alastair Overeem Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva has also had a difficult time over the past few years. When you add this to his complicated back story it may explain the bizarre appearance and performance on Sunday.

Silva has suffered from acromegaly, which is commonly associated with gigantism. In the past he has failed a post-fight drug test for steroids (which his manager claimed he needed to boost his low testosterone production due to the acromegaly). More recently his high profile fight with Mark Hunt was reduced to a No Contest (after he failed another post-fight test for elevated testosterone) as he had been using/abusing UFC-approved testosterone replacement therapy. He was suspended for nine months.

Following a KO loss last September, Silva returned to the hospital for surgery to remove a pituitary gland tumour that was had caused his acromegaly to re-emerge. The surgery was successful and his fight with Frank Mir was his first competitive action since the surgery.

Whether it was the surgery, the lack of testosterone or maybe even missing steroids, Silva’s appearance at the last weekend’s event was a shadow of his former self. His body seems to have shed muscle mass, which resulted in an extremely flat performance and a quick KO loss for the Brazilian heavyweight.

Though Mir will take a lot of comfort from the victory, Silva, for whatever reason, is not the fighter he was.

Why titles and achievements can be trumped by beauty in WMMA

Last week it was announced Joanne Calderwood would finally get another fight. Having won her debut in December the undefeated Scottish fighter was originally told she would have to wait till the UFC touched down in Glasgow in July for her next match.

The reason given by match-maker Sean Shelby, it was proving difficult to find an opponent with a similar experience and unblemished record. Calderwood expressed her disappointment in interviews and suggested the reasons being given may not have been the whole story.

When you consider the route Paige VanZant has taken through the UFC you start to think the Joanne is on to something.

Having debuted in MMA’s premier promotion after only four fights last November, VanZant didn’t have to wait too long to hear about her next opponent. It was announced in January she would fight the much more experienced Felice Herrig. Herrig has become known for her social media exploits more than her fighting accomplishments. Her combat sports experienced boasts 28 professional kickboxing fights (23-5) and 15 MMA contests (10-5), which would back up Calderwood’s belief above.

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Joanne Calderwood

Speaking on ‘The MMA Hour’ VanZant revealed despite the massive experience difference she expected to get matched with Herrig.

"I always had in the back of my mind that Felice and I would fight, because we're the hot girls in the sport. So I kind of got myself ready for that," she said.

Reebok became the official gear supplier for the UFC and has since sponsored six fighters – champions Jon Jones, Ronda Rousey, Anthony Pettis, former champion Jonny Hendricks, title contender Conor McGregor and… unranked, untested, MMA veteran of just over two years… Paige VanZant.

There are seven other champions including womens’ straw-weight champion Carla Esparza who have not been sponsored by Reebok. You would think that climbing to the top of your respective MMA mountain would earn you respect and a few extra bucks. Apparently not; titles can be trumped by aesthetics in the eyes of Reebok.

When UFC president Dana White was asked why VanZant might have been sponsored ahead of more worthy fighters he figured it was because she had the ‘IT factor’ and pointed towards this video.

While some fighters like Calderwood and our own Aisling Daly would prefer to let the fighting do the talking, others are happy to mix it up in the pursuit of getting paid.

Irish MMA in brief

For a period Chris Fields was the dominant name in Irish MMA. The problem was that it was during a time when the sport wasn’t getting much attention here. Fields was the number-one ranked middleweight in Ireland for the longest time and his winning the Cage Warriors world title appeared to indicate it was only a matter of time before he’d make the big show.

But, as sport has a habit of doing, some injuries and losses derailed his momentum at the absolute wrong time. A lacklustre showing on a lacklustre series of The Ultimate Fighter meant Chris needed to get a few wins together before putting himself in the shop window for a UFC call-up.

That was supposed to start last Saturday at BAMMA 18 in Wolverhampton. Unfortunately, the Dubliner was on the wrong side an early knockout.

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Chris Fields

Fields took to Facebook to express his disappointment at the outcome.

“Tonight just wasn't my night," he posted. "I'm so happy with my training over the last while so it's bitter sweet. I've improved so much recently it's just unfortunate I didn't get to show you all. Thanks for all the love over the last week I really appreciate all the support you all give me.”

With all the good news surrounding Irish MMA in the last number of years it's important we acknowledge guys like Chris who, as he would say himself, "were doing this cage fighting before it was cool".

He helped pave the way for some of his SBG team-mates who now ply their trade in the UFC. Hopefully, all the improvement he’s made has not been for naught and we’ll see him get back to winning ways sooner rather than later.

BattleZone provides outlet for Irish Pros

With some doubt over the future of Cage Warriors and it looking like the UFC won’t be back in Ireland in 2015 there is now a serious lack of outlets for Irish professional MMA fighters not signed to any major promotion.

It will be interesting to see if any of the local promotions can step up and fill the void, albeit on a much smaller scale.

BattleZone Fighting Championship is one such promotion who are announcing shows in June and (possibly) September to give Irish pros something to train for.

Active since 2010 BZFC has played a role in spring-boarding Irish talent into Cage Warriors. Paul Redmond who recently made his UFC debut fought a number of times in BattleZone before progressing to Cage Warriors and beyond.

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