Hello and welcome to another edition of Championship Rounds.  For those of you who don’t know, this is where I share five of the best of the week’s MMA stories, with some of my own half baked opinions thrown in for good measure.

This week we saw the end of an era in US MMA as Strikeforce put on the final show in the promotion’s history, plus big fight announcements, awards, surgery and then there’s the small matter of Michael Bisping vs. Vitor Belfort which takes place tonight on FX in the US and ESPN in the UK.  It’s been another busy week in the world of MMA.  So let’s touch gloves and do this!


Round 1 – Strikeforce:  The End of an Era.

Saturday 12th January 2013 saw the final show in company history for the Strikeforce promotion.  As with most Strikeforce shows of the past, the event was full of entertaining fights and featured a number of finishes.  Although the smallish crowd and terrible TV ratings do reflect just how far the company have fallen since being purchased by UFC’s parent company Zuffa a couple of years ago.

The big winners on the night included the criminally underrated Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza who submitted UFC fighter Ed Herman via first-round kimura in a 194lb catch weight fight.  Souza now has to decide whether to drop down to Middleweight or to fight in the Light Heavyweight Division when he makes his debut in the UFC.

Given he is close friends with UFC Middleweight King Anderson Silva, it looks likely Jacare will fight at 205 lbs, which is one of the UFC’s most talent stacked and star filled divisions.  It will be extremely interesting to see how the classy and highly skilled Jacare fares when he makes his UFC debut later this year.

One of the most impressive performers of the night was Gegard Mousasi who proved too much for Mike Kyle, winning via rear-naked choke at 4.09 of round one in the 205lb division.  Mousasi is a fighter who has long be talked about as one of the top five Light Heavyweights in the world.  He is a great striker but has difficulty defending takedowns (a real problem in the wrestler heavy UFC).  He’s a marketable fighter and one who should, if he lives up to his reputation, become a star of the Light Heavyweight division.

Someone who is unlikely to transfer over to the UFC is former UFC Heavyweight Champion, Josh Barnett.  While Barnett made short work of Nandor Guelmino, finishing him with an arm triangle (which Nandor gave to Barnett so easily I thought it was an early Birthday gift) in 2.11 of the first round, he is not an automatic pick up for the UFC.

The personal issues and very chequered history (failed drugs test, holding the company up for more money as Champion, lots of back and forth bitching in the press) between Barnett, Dana White and the UFC, along with Barnett’s huge price tag ($250,000 per fight) are the major roadblocks stopping Barnett’s return to the UFC heavyweight division.  There have been rumours that TNA may be interested in Barnett (he’s worked pro-wrestling for years in Japan and is an excellent talker) but that is only unconfirmed gossip at the moment.

In the least shocking result of the night Daniel Cormier (an unheard of 20-1 odds on favourite) comfortably beat a very overmatched Dion Staring in the co-main event.  Cormier didn’t look as dominant as some predicted prior to the fight, but he did take his opponent down at will and was able to pound him out with punches and elbows.  Cormier secured the TKO finish at 4.02 of the second round.

Cormier is the biggest name fighter to move from Strikeforce to UFC and he is also one of the hottest prospects in the sport today.  The big question that was on everyone’s mind prior to the show was, would Cormier fight at Heavyweight in the UFC, or drop down for a potential fight of the year showdown with Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones?  I’ll have the answer to that question later!

It wouldn’t be a Strikeforce show without some kind of shock result in the main event and the final show kept that tradition alive.  Former UFC fighter and current Strikeforce Welterweight Champion, Nate Marquardt was hammered in the main event by the tough but until now relatively unknown Tarec Saffiedine.

Saffiedine dominanted the stand up element of the fight and turned Marquart’s left leg into something resembling burger meat with vicious and accurate leg kicks.  In the end Saffiedine took the decision and the Welterweight Title with scores of 48-47 49-46 and 49-46.

Marquardt had looked spectacular in his previous Strikeforce fight but on this night he was dominanted by Saffiedine.  This fight was a wake up call to all those fight fans who don’t think leg kicks win fights.  It reminded me of the Jose Aldo vs. Uriah Faber fight from the WEC when Aldo decimated Faber’s legs to completely nullify his wrestling base and win the fight.

Many had expected Marquardt to walk into Welterweight Title contention in the UFC.  His contract has been picked up by the UFC (something that wasn’t at all certain given a previous drug test failure which caused him to be fired by Dana White) but his place in the stacked welterweight division is now much more uncertain following this defeat.

In the end the real highlight from this show, for me personally, was the ‘best of’ video that played at the beginning of the show.  It had highlights from all of the big fights and big name fighters that have come through Strikeforce over the last few years.  It really did remind me just how awesome some of the Strikeforce shows have been and how much fun and entertainment the promotion brought to MMA fans.

One of the most exciting and important MMA promotions of the last decade has now closed it’s doors.  While the end of the company was something of a whimper, the final show was still entertaining and is worth watching if you didn’t catch the show when it aired last weekend.


Round 2 – UFC announce UFC vs. Strikeforce fights for UFC on FOX 7.

As soon as the news broke that Strikeforce would close its doors speculation within the MMA world began about when we would see the best of Strikeforce fighting the best of the UFC.  The answer came this week when UFC announced two huge fights for the UFC on Fox 7 card, which will be held on 20th April 2013, at the former home of Strikeforce at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California.

A mouth watering clash of current UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson vs. the last Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez will headline the card.  This will be a unification fight to determine the undisputed UFC Lightweight Champion.  Any fight between the number 1 and 2 fighters in a division is newsworthy.  Given that Melendez and Henderson are two of the most skilful and entertaining fighters on the planet, the anticipation for this huge fight is already at fever pitch.  MMA fans have waited a long time to see Melendez in the Octagon and now they will finally get their chance, on free TV, against arguably the best fighter of 2012.

The second UFC vs. Strikeforce fight on UFC on Fox 7 is a heavyweight clash as Daniel Cormier takes on former UFC Heavyweight Champion Frank Mir.  Mir was due to fight Cormier in Strikeforce in November, but was forced to pull out with an injury.  Now the veteran UFC fighter and the much hyped Strikeforce star will clash on network television.

Cormier has announced this will be his only fight at Heavyweight as he is friends and training partners with current UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez.  Cormier has confirmed his intention to fight Mir and then drop to 205 lbs for a hugely intriguing fight with UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones.  Jones has already stated he’s looking forward to fighting Cormier and a fight between the two could take place in the Autumn.

UFC also announced that the UK’s own Dan Hardy will fight the tough and durable Matt Brown on the show on FOX.


Round 3 – Dana White undergoes surgery.

UFC President Dana White underwent minor surgery on his left ear on 15th January under Dr. John House of the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles to combat the Meniere’s Disease White has suffered from since 2011.

White has suffered from crippling attacks over the past few years, one of which caused him to miss a UFC event for the first time in over 10 years.  White has said the attacks have been brutal, that you can’t open your eyes for hours, or even days, or you throw up, with horrible pain and sweating buckets.  In other words: it’s a pretty damn horrible disease.

White described the surgery in an interview with USA Today saying, “They’re going to cut my ear off. My left ear, they’re going to cut it off so they can get inside. They’re going to insert a tube, and this surgery is pretty new–within the last year, I think, this surgery has come out. They have to get inside the ear to insert a tube, so they have to go in there an go through the hole. They insert a tube, and then they reattach the ear.”   Ouch!

So far White appears to be recovering well and has been sending out tweets thanking fans for their good wishes during his stay in hospital.  White is still hoping to fly to Brazil for this weekend’s show but given the extent of the surgery that could be very doubtful.


Round 4 – Fighter’s Only MMA awards 2012.

Last weekend saw ‘The Joint’ in Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino play host to the fifth annual Fighter’s Only World MMA Awards.  The awards have become a fixture of the mixed martial arts world’s annual calendar and the black tie ceremony saw a who’s who of MMA stars and personalities in attendance.

Fighter of the Year went to the apparently unbeatable Jon Jones, who had a storied 2012, while Fight of the Year went to the gritty scrap between Joe Lauzon and Jamie Varner at UFC on FOX 4. The UFC took the Promotion of the Year award for the fifth year straight and UFC president Dana White did likewise with the Leading Man of the Year award.

Knockout of the Year went to Edson Barboza for his spin-kick finish of Terry Etim at UFC 142 and Submission of the Year went to Frank Mir for his kimura arm-break of the previously unsubmitted Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.

Chris Weidman was named Breakthrough Fighter of the Year and the UK’s Michael Bisping picked up the International Fighter of the year award.

And in one of the bigger shocks of the night Brittney Palmer dethroned Arianny Celeste to win Ring Girl of the Year. The award had gone to Celeste for the previous four years.  This award proved that while having big boobs and dark hair is great, having big boobs and blonde hair is even better.

The star studded show was co-hosted by Chael Sonnen and is due to be shown on Fox Sports this Sunday 20th January.


Round 5 – Preview of Bisping vs. Belfort – UFC on FX 7.

Tonight, in the Ibirapuera Arena in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the most well known and successful UK MMA fighter of all time, Michael Bisping, takes on UFC legend and Brazilian hero, Vitor Belfort.  A win for Bisping and he will secure a Middleweight Title fight against Anderson Silva later this year.

To call this the biggest fight of Bisping’s career would be a major understatement.  Bisping has fought for years in the UFC and despite a successful and lucrative career, he has yet to fight for a Title.  Bisping has long claimed to have the skill set to defeat Anderson Silva (a bold claim by any fighter) but has struggled to string together enough impressive wins to move him to the top of the rankings.

Thanks to an impressive 2012 (and injuries to other fighters in the division) Bisping is now one win away from his career goal of a World Title fight.  All that stands in front of him is one of the most popular and spectacular knock out artists in UFC history, The Phenom, Vitor Belfort.

Belfort is coming off a loss to Jon Jones that saw him armbar the Light Heavyweight Champion in the first round and almost claim the mother of all upsets.  Despite losing that fight, Vitor proved that he is still tough enough and still has the skills to compete at the highest level.

This is such a tough fight to call.  Bisping has the momentum, the self belief, the skills and most importantly of all, the cardio level required to win a five round main event fight.

Belfort has the home country advantage, as well as the experience and knock out power edge over Bisping.  However he has wilted in the later rounds of most of his recent fights.  He can still land one punch that can change a fight and that is always a danger, especially to an emotionally driven fighter like Bisping, who may want to prove his stand up skills and toughness by trading with Belfort.

I doubt that will happen this time round.  Bisping has too much riding on this fight to let his ego get the better of him.  I expect to see Bisping stick to his game plan of taking the fight into the later rounds and avoiding the pitfalls of trading leather with a striker like Belfort.  I’m biased and hoping for a Bisping win, either by late stoppage or via decision.

This could be the biggest night for UK MMA in a long time and a win for Bisping secures him that World Title fight he has fought so long and so hard to achieve.  It won’t be easy and it won’t come without at least a few moments of worry for all Bisping’s supporters in the UK.

Elsewhere on the card expect excitement as TUF Brazil star Daniel Sarafian takes on CB Dollaway.  As well as a heavyweight clash between Gabriel Gonzaga and Ben Rothwell.  Let’s hope Rothwell has got his cardio sorted out because the last time I saw him fight he looked like he gassed out after one round.  Knockout of the year award winner Edson Barbosa is also on the card and when that man is inside the Octagon, anything can happen.

This is the UFC’s first event of 2013 and in front of the usual raucous crowd in Brazil, with a big fight in the main event, this show should get the UFC off to a rocking start in 2013.  I’ll have a full review of the show in Championship Rounds next week.

That’s all the MMA news, views and opinions for another week here on Wrestling Rambles.  I’ll be back next week with a look at the first show on Spike TV from the Bellator promotion and any other big stories that catch my eye in the world of MMA.  As always thanks for reading and thanks to everyone who comments, shares and likes Championship Rounds.  It’s really appreciated.

If you’re so inclined, you can follow me on Twitter which is @MFXDuckman.  You can also hear me and my partner in crime Sir Ian Trumps every week on the Marks for Xcellence podcast, where we take an alternative look at the week in WWE and TNA.  You can find all the details for the show on the Wrestling Rambles podcast page or over at http://www.mfxpodcast.com.

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