Archive for the ‘Fighter Features’ Category

Bellator 36 Recap: Freire, Imada, Woodard, & Chandler Advance

Patricky 'Pitbull' Freire highlight knockout of 'Razor' Rob McCullough in the closing round.

Bellator 36 marked the opening round of the promotion’s season four lightweight tournament.  The participants included Bellator veterans Toby Imada and Carey Vanier, as well as former WEC lightweight title holder “Razor” Rob McCullough.  The action took place from Shreveport, LA and aired live on MTV2.

“Razor” Rob McCullough vs. Patricky “Pitbull” Freire

The final fight of the evening (and main event) featured Brazilian Patricky “Pitbull” Freire (the older brother of season 3 featherweight runner-up Patricio Freire) and former WEC champion “Razor” Rob McCullough.

“Pitbull” opened with a lightning fast combination that backed up McCullough.  The pair exchanged on the feet, and Freire rocked McCullough and mounted the veteran.  McCullough rolled and Freire took his back.  Blood poured from McCullough’s nose and Freire locked in a rear-naked choke.  McCullough escaped and pressed himself against the cage.  With a minute left in the round, McCullough rolled into the guard of Freire, but was met with an armbar attempt.  McCullough returned to his feet as Freire remained on his back on the mat as the round closed.

The middle stanza opened with more big shots from Freire.  McCullough answered with variety of kicks, but continued to eat punches.  The fighters continued to exchange on the feet, trading both kicks and punches.  Freire landed a takedown with a minute remaining in the round.  Freire moved to the mount and then transitioned to the back against the cage.  McCullough rolled through and landed in the closed guard of Freire.  McCullough rained hammerfists as the bell sounded to end the round.

McCullough opened the final round showing his Muay Thai arsenal, but Freire countered the strikes.  “Pitbull” landed a spinning back kick, but little damage to McCullough.  Big left hook from Freire landed.  Massive right hand from “Pitbull” buckles McCullough and the referee waives off the fight after a few hammerfists on the mat.

The fight ended at 3:11 of the third round.  The Brazilian Freire becomes a semifinalist in the tournament.

Josh Shockley vs. Toby Imada

In an unexpected matchup in the lightweight tournament, veteran Toby Imada battled last minute replacement Josh Shockley.  Shockley replaced Ferrid Kheder who failed to make the 155 lb. weight limit.

Shockley opened the fight by showing his significant reach advantage.  He clinched and locked up a body lock on the judo black belt Imada.  Shockley took the fight to ground and Imada threw his legs up and locked in an armbar.  Shockley rose to his feet and slammed Imada against the mat, clearly damaging his own arm in the process.  Shockley yelled in pain.

The referee stepped in and waved off the bout due to a verbal submission at 1:19 of the bout’s first round.  Imada again moves on to the semifinals of the lightweight tournament (for the third time).  On yet another submission victory, “I’m looking for whatever opportunity there is; find an opening and take advantage.”

Carey Vanier vs. Lloyd Woodard

The night’s second televised bout featured another tournament battle as Bellator veteran Carey Vanier faced undefeated Lloyd Woodard.

The fighters immediately clinched, and Woodard unleashed knees to the body of Vanier.  Against the cage, Vanier went for a takedown, but was stuffed by Woodard.  Woodard landed a big kick to the body.  Vanier worked hard for a takedown yet again, finally landing a big slam two minutes into the round, but Woodard scrambled back to his feet.  Both fighters exchange from the clinch, and Vanier again failed to bring the fight to the ground.  More clinch work as the round ended.

In the second round, Woodard dropped Vanier with a big left hook and followed him to the mat.  Vanier attempted to stand, but ate a big knee to the body and Woodard rained down punches to force a TKO stoppage.

Woodard moves on to the second round of the tournament.  The official time of the stoppage was 0:46 of the second round.  The former semi-pro boxer now improves to 11-0.  Making a humorous reference to Rocky, Woodard proclaimed, “This is the greatest moment of my life.  Yo, Adrian!”

Michael Chandler vs. Marcin Held

The opening fight of the tournament featured 19-year old Marcin Held and undefeated wrestler Michael Chandler.

Chandler charged in immediately, eating shots on the way in, but secured a takedown.  Held quickly locked in a kneebar, but Chandler refused to tap.  Held transitioned for toe hold, but Chandler escaped and began to deliver big shots from inside the guard of Held.  Held demonstrated an active guard, throwing his legs up for triangles and armbar attempts, but Chandler utilized his strength to power out of each submission.  From the half guard, Chandler quickly moved to an arm-triangle and moved to side control.  Held desperately tried to survive by grabbing his own leg, but the choke proved too tight for the young fighter as he went unconscious.

The official result was a technical submission at 3:56 of the first round.  Chandler moves on to the semifinals of the lightweight tournament.  In his post-fight interview, the former Missouri Tiger wrestler was quick to credit his young opponent, but declared, “I promise you that I will win this tournament.”  A bold claim for the now 6-0 fighter.

UNDERCARD RESULTS:

Chad Leonhardt defeats Kelly Leo by TKO (corner stoppage), Round 2, 5:00

Kevin Aguilar defeats Matt Hunt by TKO (strikes), Round 1, 3:02

Booker Arthur defeats Javone Duhon by Submission (strikes), Round 2, 2:31

Business As Usual: Dana White and Zuffa’s stunning purchase of Strikeforce

Dana White (Rob Tatum/MMADieHards.com)

A lot of us are probably still wondering if this isn’t really April Fool’s Day.

With MMA behemoths UFC and Strikeforce enjoying a rare off-week and Bellator and Shark Fights taking the weekend’s fight spotlight, it seemed like all was calm. Well, outside of Ferrid Kheder’s daring escape from the Bellator 36 weigh-ins.

Then MMAFighting.com’s Ariel Helwani had to go and interview UFC president Dana White and turn the MMA world upside down.

White announced in the exclusive interview that UFC parent company Zuffa has purchased the rival Strikeforce promotion.   He wouldn’t disclose details about the purchase, but continually insisted to Helwani that it would be “business as usual” regarding the operation of the new property.

White insists the two organizations will be owned by Zuffa, but run as competing entities. That applies to everything under the Strikeforce banner, from television to fighter contracts to where Strikeforce’s headquarters are located.  Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker will even retain his post as the head of the company.

Strikeforce’s television production relationship with Showtime will remain intact as well, allowing little chance for UFC influence to shine through during event broadcasts.   It also means that fans will not yet be able to credit Zuffa with saving them from the oft-criticized commentating skills of Frank Shamrock, Stephen Quadros, Mauro Ranallo or Gus Johnson.

Fighters won’t just travel back and forth between the organizations, either.   Instead, the two brands will compete for the fighters’ services when their contracts are up, just as they have in the past.

Even White’s grudges with fighters such as Dan Henderson, Josh Barnett and Paul Daley will remain exclusive grudges of the UFC, having no bearing on the relationship between those athletes and the Strikeforce organization.  At least not yet.

We can only guess how long this lasts. White and the UFC made certain claims about how Pride and the WEC would run, but those plans were either abandoned or eventually evolved with the UFC’s growth.

When will the temptation to unify belts or make those dream match-ups between legends like Fedor Emelianenko and Randy Couture overwhelm White, the Fertittas and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva?

Will we see some awfully convenient moves when a fighter’s contract is up and an appealing pairing awaits on the other side of the fence that will run down the middle of Zuffa’s property?

Strikeforce offers a uniquely different scenario than Pride or the WEC.

With Pride, the promotion was a sinking ship and the UFC quickly realized its best route was to bring over the top stars it had acquired.

With the WEC, Zuffa could dip its feet into the featherweight and bantamweight waters and slowly phase out the heavier divisions, which only offered a couple of top names to add to the UFC’s equivalent division.

Yet with Strikeforce, there are a number of names that stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their UFC brethren in weight-class rankings. Alistair Overeem, Nick Diaz and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza are three prime examples.  For marketability, Emelianenko is a huge draw, on par with top UFC stars.

The debate has always been about how one promotion’s top fighter would fare against another’s. It’s hard to imagine that a carrot such as that one can be dangled for long before Dana lunges forward to take a bite.

But for now, it’s just “business as usual.”

In Their Own Words: Hendo vs. Fedor, Jones vs. Evans, GSP vs. Silva

Dan Henderson (r) after defeating Rafael Cavalcante (Esther Lin/Strikeforce)

“I would love to have that chance to fight Fedor. I think that would be the ultimate challenge, and that’s what excites me.” – Newly crowned Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson express who he would like to fight.

“Compared to Cris (Cyborg Santos), (Liz Carmouche’s) punches were like kisses.” – Marloes Coenen explains the difference in the punches she suffered from “Cyborg” to those of Carmouche.

“I respect Dana White a lot and if that’s what he absolutely wanted to happen then, you know, I guess that’s what would have to happen.  Me or Rashad (Evans) would not want to get fired over the situation. It would just be majorly awkward for us.” – Contrary to what Evans believes, Jon Jones would fight his teammate and training partner.

“(Jon) Jones expressed last night in an interview that he would fight me for the title.  So I guess (I have to fight him). I’m no punk.” – After weeks of Rashad Evans claiming he and Jones would not fight, his outlook has changed.

“He’s one of the toughest fighters in MMA currently, he’s tall and has a great conditioning, he’s rising, so it must be a hell of a good fight.  But he’ll get hurt when my brother’s punches find his face.” – “Ninja” Rua talks the upcoming UFC 128 bout between his brother Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Jon Jones.

“Anderson Silva is a huge guy; he’s weighing around 230 pounds.  He’s very big.  Even when he fights as a light heavyweight, he looks bigger than the other guys.  I don’t know if I’m going to go up (to) 185.  I have no idea; it’s a complete reorientation of my career.  I have a lot to lose and I haven’t thought about it, I haven’t sat down to talk about it.” – Georges St. Pierre is unsure about changing weight divisions, despite earlier reports that he will vacate his welterweight title to fight middleweight kingpin, Anderson Silva.

“I’m going to smash (Nick Diaz) within three rounds (and) take his belt.  There’s no way he’ll stand up with me. He might think he wants to but his coaches won’t allow it; Cesar Gracie’s a great coach and he won’t want him trading punches.” – Paul Daley believes that his striking will intimidate Nick Diaz when the two meet on April 9.

“To me, the WEC always was the UFC for the little guys.” – Former WEC champ Eddie Wineland makes a statement that most people would agree with.

“In a way Mike Pyle is a mirror image of me.  He’s a veteran of the sport who splits his time between trainer and corner man and fighter.  He’s the grappling and jiu-jitsu expert out there and he helps and corners all the guys around him, like I do out here.  As far as technique goes we are both original grapplers with improved standup.” – Ricardo Almeida explains the similarities between himself and Mike Pyle.

“This return of UFC to Brazil touched me, made me feel the wish of coming back to the Octagon.  Everything has been negotiated with Dana White. Let’s wait and see.” – Former UFC fighter and MMA legend Royce Gracie expresses his desire to return to the Octagon in Brazil.

“I’ll whoop Anderson’s ass.  I just can’t go to the ground, and I have to stay out of his reach.  Maybe I can just run around the damn ring.” – Superstar NFL player Chad Ochocinco calls out Anderson Silva.

Akiyama out, Dan Miller in vs. Marquardt for UFC 128

Dan Miller (photo courtesy UFC.com)

Yoshihiro Akiyama will not be arriving in Newark for UFC 128 as initially planned.  But that’s OK, because Dan Miller is already in New Jersey.

Due to the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami that struck Japan on Friday, the Japanese middleweight, more commonly known by his nickname “Sexiyama,” has been forced out of his fight with Nate Marquardt at UFC 128: Shogun vs. Jones.

Miller stepped up from his undercard fight with fellow N.J. native Nick Catone to take the pay-per-view battle with Marquardt.  MMADieHards.com was the first to report the change, which was confirmed to the site by AMA Fight Club’s Mike  Constantino, who manages and trains Miller.  The UFC later made a statement to make the fight official.

“New Jersey native Dan Miller proves once again that he will fight anyone, anywhere, any time by agreeing to step up from the prelims to face Nate Marquardt,” UFC president Dana White said via statement. “Marquardt has long been a top-10 ranked middleweight and Miller jumped at the opportunity to face him.”

White Tweeted on Friday that Akiyama would be making the fight, but that changed after a matter of hours.  White gave a general reason for Akiyama, saying that the fighter’s absence is due to the tragedy in Japan, but did not get more specific.

After tragedy struck Japan, millions lost power in homes. Businesses, including airports, have been shut down, and Saturday an unstable nuclear power plant in the northern region of the country significantly increased tension. Air travel into and out of the Tokyo area has seemingly been restored.

Miller, once considered a top-10 middleweight, is looking to claim his third straight victory inside the Octagon. Marquardt, however, hopes to derail those plans and bounce back from his unanimous decision loss to Yushin Okami back in November.

UFC 128: Shogun vs. Jones takes place at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on March 19. Stay tuned to MMADiehards.com for more updates on the upcoming event.

The Closing Bell: Bellator Lightweight Tournament Preview

Marcin Held (Bellator photo)

Bellator’s fourth season kicked off last Saturday with the welterweights in the promotion’s season opener, Bellator 35. This week at Bellator 36, it’s the lightweights’ turn. Eight men will compete for a chance to challenge current champion Eddie Alvarez for the 155-pound belt.

Bellator heads to Shreveport, La., for the lightweight tournament’s quarterfinal round. The action airs live on MTV2 beginning at 9 p.m. ET.

Rather than just previewing one night’s worth of action in the tournament, we’re going to preview the entire bracket.   So, let’s get started.

The Competitors

“Razor” Rob McCullough (19-6) is a former WEC lightweight champion who also has a decorated past as a Muay Thai fighter. The veteran fighter has competed against the likes of Jamie Varner, Donald Cerrone and Josh Thomson, though he was on the losing end in all of those encounters.   Since dropping the WEC belt to Varner, “Razor” has gone 4-2, including wins in his last two outings under the Tachi Palace Fights banner.

Patricky “Pitbull” Freire (7-1) is the older brother of Season 2 featherweight tournament finalist Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. The Team Nogueira fighter’s lone defeat came at the hands of UFC veteran Willamy “Chiquerim” Freire via unanimous decision.   The five-year veteran is currently riding a three-fight winning streak.

Carey Vanier (10-3) competed in Bellator’s Season 2 lightweight tournament, advancing to the semifinals before losing to Toby Imada. He has since defeated UFC veteran Rich Clementi in non-tourney action. The NCAA Division III All-American wrestler recently moved to Albuquerque to train under the tutelage of Greg Jackson.

Lloyd “Cupcake” Woodard (10-0) has only been fighting professionally for a couple of years, but he already has a solid resume. The former high school wrestler has defeated veterans Ryan Healy and Alonzo Martinez, and has stopped eight of his 10 foes. The Montana native trains out of the Dog Pound Fight Team, but has also spent time as a sparring partner for UFC veteran Jeremy Stephens.

Marcin Held (10-1) is only 19-years-old, but already has more than two years of professional MMA experience under his belt. The Polish fighter won his first eight fights before tasting defeat. He has bounced back from his lone loss to add two more wins to his record, including an injury TKO of Pride veteran Jean Silva. The Gracie Barra Bastion Tychy fighter is a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has won numerous grappling and jiu-jitsu competitions in Poland.

Michael Chandler (5-0) might only have five professional fights, but he’s no stranger to the sport’s larger stages. He has twice emerged victorious under the Strikeforce banner and has already notched two wins inside the Bellator cage. The Xtreme Couture fighter is a one-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler who served as a team captain of the wrestling team at the University of Missouri.

Toby Imada (28-15) is no stranger to the Bellator lightweight tournament. In addition to his highlight reel inverted triangle choke against Jorge Masvidal, Imada has made his name under the Bellator banner by twice advancing to the lightweight tournament finals. He was unsuccessful in both bouts, losing to Eddie Alvarez in the inaugural lightweight tourney and to Pat Curran in his second time through the bracket. Imada has posted one win outside of Bellator since the loss to Curran. The black belt judoka trains out of the Throwdown Elite Training Center.

Josh Shockley (6-0) punched his ticket into the tournament as late as possible – even after weighing in.  Shockley was slated to fight on the undercard, but when Ferrid Kheder apparently was going to miss weight, he opted to leave the building and not weigh in at all, leaving Shockley to face Imada.  Shockley trains out of Duneland Vale Tudo and stands 6-foot-2.  The former Hoosier has a background in wrestling and has finished all but one of his opponents.  He has not competed since Sept. 2009.

Kheder has competed professionally for more than four years, but this was to be his first appearance in a major organization.


Quarterfinal Match-ups

Rob McCullough vs. Patricky Freire
Carey Vanier vs. Lloyd Woodard
Marcin Held vs. Michael Chandler
Josh Shockley vs. Toby Imada

The Favorite

He might sport the least impressive record of the bunch, but there’s no denying that Imada has a knack for advancing to the Bellator lightweight tournament finals. While he faces another tough roster this season, especially with the one-day notice of taking on Shockley, it’s hard to bet against someone who has already run the gauntlet twice. He has experience and has found a format that suits him.

Perhaps the third time will be the charm. And if not, count whomever defeats Imada as a strong favorite to take the Season 4 tournament championship.

The Sleeper

Lloyd Woodard trains out of an obscure camp, but the undefeated prospect has already notched some big wins. The tournament bracket is another step up in competition for “Cupcake,” but it’s not a reach to envision him winning against any of the seven potential opponents he could face over the course of this tourney.

The Underdog

Shockley’s extremely late entry into the tournament and his first round match-up with the bracket’s most experienced member makes the Duneland Vale Tudo fighter the tourney’s long shot.  Shockley has been inactive for more than a year and was preparing for an undercard bout at the event.  Late replacements can sometimes play huge spoilers, but this isn’t likely one of those instances.


The Quarterfinal Fight to Watch

The quarterfinal battle between Marcin Held and Michael Chandler offers an intriguing look into two of the bracket’s young and promising competitors.

Chandler has fought for Strikeforce and Bellator in the past, but is still relatively new to the sport with only five fights under his belt. The experience on a big stage should help ease any jitters, but he isn’t battle-tested and will have to prove himself as he enters the tournament as the field’s least experienced combatant.

Despite being the tourney’s only teenager, Held actually holds the experience advantage over the 24-year-old Chandler. He has just as much to prove as Chandler, only with a lot more weight on his shoulders.

Held has a grappling background and a great record, but any fighter who has competed exclusively in one country in Europe has to answer a number of questions upon stepping into the cage with non-European competition.

Can Held handle the wrestling of fighters like Chandler and Vanier? Does he have the skills to compete against guys who train out of elite programs such as Xtreme Couture and Team Tompkins? How will the pressures of being the “the prodigy of Polish MMA” affect the youngster as he journeys outside of Poland for the first time in his career, competing an ocean away from his homeland while also facing high expectations from America’s MMA fanbase and journalists?

The answers to these questions could prove that Held is ready to prove the hype, or it could result in a quick exit from the tournament.


The Other Tournaments

Bellator still has two more tournaments kicking off this season. We’ll look at the featherweight bracket next Saturday and the light heavyweights the week after.

Michael Chandler: “This was my first training camp”

Bellator lightweight tournament competitor, Michael Chandler, enjoys weekly meetings with a potential UFC champion.

“Me and Gray Maynard get together at least once a week,” Chandler told MMA DieHards in an interview.  “(We) try to do some wrestling and some drills.  I’m really trying to learn a lot from him, because in my opinion he’s going to be the champ of the UFC real soon.  I’ve got a lot to learn, and he’s really helped me out a lot.”

Chandler has an elite squad of training partners and coaches at Xtreme Couture, and the University of Missouri wrestler acknowledges that Maynard is not the only person he can rely on to help him prepare for his fight at Bellator 36.

“I’ve been working with Gilbert Martinez (Xtreme Couture’s boxing coach) for a solid six months,” Chandler explained.  “I’ve been working with my grappling coach Neil Melanson, and obviously my training partners.  Jay Hieron is in the tournament, plus Martin Kampmann, Mike Pyle, Tyson Griffin, Evan Dunham, and of course, Gray Maynard.”

Chandler owns an undefeated record of 5-0, he has finished every fight by way of knockout or submission, and he has only seen the second round once in his career.  That is expected from the caliber of fighters that Xtreme Couture houses, but Chandler has not always had the luxury of a training camp such as the one that XC provides.

“This has been the first training camp I have ever had in my life,” Chandler admitted.  “The last six to eight weeks we have been getting my conditioning going and sparring two days a week, and just really going hard with all the guys.  I help them out and they help me out, it’s been a really awesome ride.”

Given that Chandler has knockout power in his hands, and his two submission wins were both chokes, it is evident that the Xtreme Couture fighter is harnessing some serious power in those arms.  Chandler credits it to the wrestling experience he gained at Mizzou.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m known for my cardio,” Chandler explained.  “But, even in my wrestling career it was in your face for seven minutes, I was always able to push the pace on people.  Even people who are technically better than me, or more experienced, or on paper they were better than me, I would get wins because I was able to push harder.  I have taken that over to MMA, and it’s not that I want it to happen, but if I do have to take someone into the third round, I know I’m more fresh than them and in better condition, it’s a mental thing.”

Chandler’s endurance has always been there, but it is something he continually works to improve.

“Gil Martinez took control of my training camp and he would put me through treadmill sprints and some heart rate stuff.  For cardio I did a lot of light weight reps, and muscular endurance, more than strength because I feel I’m pretty strong for my weight class.  We did some cool, new-age stuff and some stuff I have never done before.  Also, sparring hard for five and six rounds on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I know if I have to go three rounds with this guy, or any guy in the tournament, I know I’m ready to push the pace.”

The man Chandler will face at Bellator 36 is a jiu-jitsu fighter by the name of Marcin Held. The 19-year-old Polish fighter owns a record of 10-1 thus far in his professional career.  Though Chandler does not know a ton of information about his opponent, he still knows enough about Held to prepare properly for the bout.

“There’s quite a bit of film on him,” Chandler said.  “If you YouTube his name, he’s got three or four fights on there, he’s got some grappling matches.  I know he’s a young kid out of Poland who is pretty much a jiu-jitsu guy, and he’s looking to finish guys with submissions.  I don’t think his standup is a strength of his, he’s looking to go out there and roll with guys and look for submissions.”

Chandler feels a ground grappler like Held plays right into his style of fighting.

“I think my strength of being a good wrestler and being able to control guys on the ground kind of plays well into that,” Chandler said.  “I’ve been working with Gilbert Martinez on my hands as well, so I think my stand up is going to be superior to his.  I’m really confident going into this fight, I’m ready to put on a show and make a statement.  I’m ready to show the world that I’m here.”

This interview was conducted a few short hours before Chandler was scheduled to weigh-in for Bellator 36, and with the positive attitude he employs approaching his turn to the scale, I believe he is prepared for this scrap.

“I woke up this morning four pounds over,” Chandler explained.  “I’m about to go over to the work-out facility that’s here, and cut the weight.  The cut has been great so far; I had a great camp and great coaches to help.  As long as I diet and watch my sodium intake, the weight comes off pretty easy.  This time it worked out better than I thought it would because it’s my first time making 155, but I’m in good spirits right now, and I’ll cut these last couple of pounds, then weigh in and get this show on the road.”

Chandler is mentally and physically prepared for his bout at Bellator 36, and no one can predict the outcome of the fight, but now we all know what he will be doing next week.  Training with Gray Maynard.

MMA Fitness: TRX Band and Kettlebell exercises

In part three of the MMA Fitness “Become a Fighter Without Fighting” series, Chris Rosati demonstrates some exercises and training examples using TRX bands and Kettlebells. Check out part two of the series, last week’s The Three Pillars of Training,  for additional information on TRX bands, Kettlebells and sandbags. Also, be sure to read part one of the series, Become a Fighter Without Fighting, to learn more about starting a MMA fitness program.

TRX Atomic Push-up:

TRX Lunge to Kettlebell Press:

Kettlebell Juggling:

TRX Back Sprawl:

Kettlebell Snatch:

Chris is the founder of Training With Balance Fitness Systems and graduated with his Bachelor of Science degree from Queens College University in 2009 with a major in physical education.  He is certified from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and is certified as a mixed martial arts conditioning coach from the National Exercise and Sport Trainers Association (NESTA).  Currently, he is a personal trainer on Long Island, N.Y.

Ryan Ford: A Story of Redemption

Ryan Ford (r) (photo courtesy of Sherdog)

The past can be a dark place, a fact Canadian mixed martial artist Ryan “The Real Deal” Ford knows all too well.

On Jan. 6, 2003, at the age of 20, Ford joined two other men in carrying out a violent home invasion in Abbotsford, Alberta, Canada. The trio showed up on the doorstep of an Abbotsford family, reportedly in an effort to collect a debt.  They threatened the man of the house at gunpoint, while also assaulting his wife as she tried to call 911. Ford’s role in the attack included nearly cutting two of the man’s fingers completely off.

“Growing up, being a kid, I was always hanging around with the wrong people,” Ford regretfully admitted in an interview with MMA DieHards. “(I) got caught up in the wrong situation.”

It was a choice that cost Ford four years in prison.

It has also cost Ford in the eyes of many MMA fans, as evidenced by a glance at any message board conversation discussing Ford’s potential future in the UFC.  Any talk of Ford’s merits is overshadowed by his detractors pointing to the crime as sufficient reason to deliver final judgment on him.

Ford claims he’s a changed man now.   Instead of taking part in such activities, he works hard to share his experiences with today’s youth in the hopes of preventing others from choosing a similar path.  He has worked with Prestige Athletics and Learning and spreads the message during his visits to schools about the effects of these bad decisions.

“My life’s on a different path now,” Ford stated.  “I go and I talk to kids at schools.  I go talk to kids at troubled youth shelters and kids who are going down the wrong road in life, and I’m pretty much trying to help them steer back on the right way and let them know that ain’t the way to go.”

Family has also changed Ford for the better.   He looks at life and his career in a different light now, as he upholds his responsibilities as a father to his two-year-old daughter Bella and his nine-week-old son Ryan Jr.   Any parent can attest to the changes that can be brought about by just one look at their children, and Ford is no different.

“It makes me look at life not for myself,” Ford said.  “I have a family to feed now.  These are the people that I live for and I’m going to make sure I’m there for them 100 percent.”

If his current actions speak for him, they’re saying he deserves a second chance.

The past can be a thing better left alone, something Ford believes when it comes to his infamous feud with Maximum Fighting Championship president, and Ford’s former manager, Mark Pavelich.

Ford fought his first professional fight under the MFC banner in 2007, and has spent the majority of his career with the organization.  However, Ford and the MFC head have had a couple of well-publicized fallings-out, the most recent of which resulted in Ford leaving the promotion to sign with Aggression MMA.

The disputes have come over Ford’s contract and compensation, though the arguments have often turned ugly.   However, Ford would rather look forward than reflect on his not-so-positive experiences with Pavelich.

“I’d rather just talk about being with Aggression and don’t give MFC any face time,” Ford admitted.  “They had their time with me and blew that chance.”

The future is still to be written, and Ford hopes it will be a place filled with light, rather than darkness.

A former high school football player, Ford tried boxing before eventually turning to mixed martial arts.

“I figured out boxing wasn’t related to my style – I like to get in there and use everything that I can do,” he explained.  “I’ve been watching UFC from the beginning and always thought, ‘Yo, I wanted to do that,’ but I was always putting it to the backseat to football.  Now I’m in there and I’m loving it.  That’s what I do to pay my bills, feed my family.”

His time in the MFC, and in other promotions including The Fight Club, yielded impressive results.  Ford tallied 13 victories against just three defeats over the course of three-and-a-half years and has put himself on the map as a top 170-pound prospect.  He has finished his opponents in all but one of his wins, but has suffered three tough defeats.

The welterweight has twice succumbed to submissions, once at the hands of Pat Healy and once against Douglas Lima.   He was defeated a second time by Healy, with the fight ending in a split decision.   While those three fights might have resulted in losses, Ford sees them as the three most beneficial outings of his career.

“You win some, you lose some and you only gain knowledge from the ones that you lose,” Ford theorizes.  “Everytime you win, I don’t really think you pick up too much of the things that you did good.”

In that sense, his three losses have allowed “The Real Deal” to realize what he needs to work on to improve his chances in the ring.

“The second loss (to Healy) that we went to a decision, I felt like I did good that whole fight.   I should have kept it standing more,” submits Ford in analysis of his defeats. “The first fight I lost to Pat Healy was pretty much my inexperience in the fight game; I was a raw fighter.

“And with Douglas Lima, I think the one thing that I just needed to learn is to stick to a game plan.  I feel that if I would have kept the fight standing, I would have won that fight.”

An entrepreneur with his own apparel line, G’d Up Clothing, Ford’s business sense has led him away from the MFC following his latest clash with Pavelich and to a new home with Aggression MMA.   He has a four-fight contract that gives the organization exclusive rights to him within the confines of Edmonton.  Beyond those boundaries, Ford can fight wherever he chooses.

“I’m open to – if it doesn’t conflict with the Aggression card – if anybody else wants me, I can come and fight,” Ford said.

He’s still waiting for his paperwork to clear the way for him to compete in the United States, but is hopeful that the UFC’s ventures abroad will open the door for him to make his Octagon debut in spite of that roadblock.

“UFC does fights in Canada and they do them overseas, the only spot is in the U.S.,” he said. “Now that they’ve been coming to Canada a lot and fighting overseas, I can travel all those places.”

Until that day comes, his focus is set on Aggression MMA and his March 11 fight with Johnny Davis, set to take place in Edmonton.   While Davis’ name might not be as familiar to fight fans as Ford’s, the welterweight is 13-4 according to Sherdog’s fighter database and poses a unique challenge for Ford.

“(I’m) coming in pretty much blinded, without being able to do any research on him,” Ford explained.  “He’s got a good record. … He’s been to a few decisions.

“(I) don’t know much about him, so I guess I’ll get to find out what he’s got to bring to the table on Friday night.”

Despite the lack of information on Davis, Ford is confident in his own game plan.

“I think that he’s going to have to follow my pace and fight the fight that I’m going to put on him,” Ford said.

A product of the Zugec Ultimate Martial Arts gym, which is also home to former Strikeforce women’s champion Sarah Kaufman, the welterweight has been training for his upcoming bout in Edmonton under the tutelage of Hayabusa Training Center instructor Paulo Azambuja, who earned his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under renowned practitioner Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu.

“Training for this fight has been going good,” said Ford. “I’ve been training with a lot of guys out in Edmonton.  I’m going two times a day, training hard.   I’ll be ready for Friday night.  I’m looking to finish it early in the first round, but if it has to go three, my gas is there, always.”

For Ryan Ford, the past cannot be changed.   All he can do is move forward and redeem himself as best as he can.

Outside the ring, that means turning his past transgressions into a model for what kids should not do.

Inside the ring, that means learning from past mistakes to transform himself into the best fighter possible as he seeks a chance to step into the Octagon and someday compete for the UFC welterweight title.

Ryan Ford would like to thank his sponsors Full Tilt Poker, Headrush and TapouT, and his new manager Jason House at Iridium Sports Agency.

Sarah Kaufman says Megumi Yabushita likely opponent for April 2 AFC fight

Sarah Kaufman (Esther Lin/Strikeforce)

Sarah Kaufman is not taking things lightly in her step outside Strikeforce.

Kaufman on Wednesday told Rear Naked Choke Radio on the MMA DieHards Radio Network that she is likely to face 39-year-old Japanese veteran Megumi Yabushita (19-17) for the Armageddon Fighting Championship 135-pound belt on April 2 in her hometown of Victoria, British Columbia.

“It looks like it’s going to be Megumi Yabushita,” said Kaufman, who lost the Strikeforce belt and suffered the first defeat of her career in October when Marloes Coenen caught her in an armbar in the third round after sustaining a beating for the better part of the first two rounds.  “We went through a couple of different opponents, in terms of would they take the fight, and things came up.”

Kaufman said Molly Helsel’s name arose in talks. Kaufman knocked out Helsel, a natural 125-pounder who has frequently competed up in weight, in 2008.

After losing to Coenen, there was speculation that Kaufman (12-1) might think of dropping down to 125 pounds, but she wiped away that notion.

“Absolutely (I am staying at 135),” Kaufman said.  “For me, 135 is the division that I’m supposed to be in, that should be in.   And it’s not a weight that I plan on leaving anytime soon.  It’s one fight, and at some point I’m going to get that fight back.”

Yabushita is 0-4 in North America, including a loss to Shayna Baszler in January 2010, her most recent trip.  She has been out of action since dropping a unanimous decision to Rin Nakai in June 2010 at Valkyrie 06.  Yabushita has won three of her last five fights after dropping four straight and six of seven.

Kaufman has yet to watch Coenen’s narrow title defense against late replacement Liz Carmouche, which took place Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.  Thus far, the Canadian has read about the fight and looks forward to another shot at the belt.

“Coenen is definitely beatable,” Kaufman said.  “When I fought her, it just wasn’t my fight.

“I wasn’t called (when Miesha Tate pulled out of Coenen’s title defense).  And I’m not super shocked that I wasn’t called.  For me, the second Kaufman-Coenen fight is a big fight, and then there’s going to be a big buildup to that fight.  And a week’s notice isn’t a buildup that that fight would deserve.  I wouldn’t say that I was upset that I wasn’t called, because I think Strikeforce was looking in their best interest in terms of who do we think would come in on a week’s notice.  And Liz had a couple of wins in the organization and took the fight.  Liz happened to be under contract and got the call. ”

Kaufman will attempt to get back into the win column for the first time since she defended the Strikeforce title in July with a slam-knockout of Roxanne Modafferi.  She dominated Takayo Hashi five months earlier in a five-round match for the vacant 135-pound title.  The bout with Hashi was her third Strikeforce match, after beating Tate and Baszler in her first two.

Rather than wait for Strikeforce to sort through the top of the 135-pound division, Kaufman asked for and received permission to compete outside the promotion, and elected to stay at home to do it.

Five months ago, however, the comforts of home did not do much to ease her pain after losing the belt.

“For me, I don’t like losing, obviously,” she said of the days after the Coenen fight.  “I do everything I can to win a fight and just be on top in anything I do.  So it was definitely hard in terms of, I knew at some point  I was going to lose.  But I wasn’t ready to lose.

“My coach, Adam Zugec, he took it really hard, as well.  I think coaches always take on some of that responsibility of, ‘Well, is it my fault?’  I actually had to console him a little bit and say, ‘You know what?  I didn’t fight a great fight’.  It was really just one of those things, in the heat of the moment you’re not fighting the way you’re supposed to be fighting.”

Against Yabushita and in front of her fellow Victorians, Kaufman can begin to truly put her first and only defeat behind her.

Brian Ebersole happy to call out Hallman, Mitrione

Brian Ebersole looking forward to what's next in the UFC. (photo courtesy of Heavy.com)

Brian Ebersole was satisfied even before his upset win over Chris Lytle at UFC 127 in Sydney, and it had nothing to do with the fight or even his training.

It was all about the numerology.

Ebersole joined Jeremy Fullerton and me on Rear Naked Choke Radio on the MMA DieHards Radio Network a few days after his unanimous-decision victory over Lytle, a win that earned him a Fight of the Night bonus check and, presumably, a spot down the line in the welterweight division of the UFC.

An American living in Australia who is not shy about his feelings, Ebersole explained how the numbers added up to his satisfaction heading into the event.

“Since I’ve met this recent girlfriend, we’ve noticed we’ve had some things swirling around us with regard to numerology,” a fun-loving Ebersole explained on the show.  “Her favorite number is 8, my favorite number 9.  Coincidentally, the room number was 918.  So it had both of our favorite numbers.  You add 1 and 8, it makes another 9, so there’s two nines there.

“Turn one of those nines upside down, it’s a 69.  And we had the room to ourselves the first couple of nights, so that was fun.  The numerology worked out really well.  I went into that fight happy, and feeling the energy and feeling the love.”

Then Fullerton brilliantly deadpanned, “You don’t go out with a loaded gun,” and Ebersole’s point was made, with the benefit of a light-hearted moment.

Ebersole is a guy who took about a decade to become an overnight sensation.  Part of it was the antics in and around the Octagon, from the opening-bell cartwheel kick to his now-trademarked shaved-chest-hair arrow pointing to his chin.

Ebersole beat Lytle fair and square.  He got into the match because Carlos Condit got injured and Ebersole is established in Australia, where he has lived for the last four years.  And now with the win, he should be having some more conversations with UFC matchmaker Joe Silva.

Without ringing Silva, Ebersole has a logical next opponent in mind.

“One guy I know I would put on a good show with is Dennis Hallman,” Ebersole said days before a knee injury forced out Hallman from his March 26 UFC Fight Night 24 appearance against T.J. Waldenburger, perhaps leaving him available for a match with Ebersole.  “He’s another veteran, he’s been around a while.

“He has something over my old coach, Matt Hughes, that I’d like to go and use against him.  I think it would be a good storyline; having him beat my coach back in the day and having his number, and me going and taking out a bit of revenge on him for Eastern Illinois University wrestling, against the Crazy Cowboy.”

Hughes was an assistant coach when Ebersole wrestled at Eastern Illinois at the beginning of the millennium.  Before Hughes became a legendary UFC welterweight champion, he was quickly submitted by Hallman in two matches.

In case the storyline fight with Hallman does not materialize, Ebersole has another plan.  For a man who has fought as high as light heavyweight, he puts aside no possibilities.

Tongue only half in cheek, he had a more emotional callout for a possible next UFC foe.

“I’ve been talking and trying to build up a fight recently,” Ebersole said.  “Matt Mitrione doesn’t like the way I fight.”

Mitrione, a colorful character from the tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show who has gone on to success as a UFC heavyweight, was in Australia to back Lytle, and came out publicly about how he did not appreciate the way Ebersole conducted himself in and around the contest, be it for show or sportsmanship.

Mitrione confronted Ebersole behind the scenes after the fight, and then he attacked him on Twitter.

“I think Matt Mitrione has the same personality I do, so I was pretty surprised with his comments,” Ebersole said.  “But I respected his comments when he came to me in person and spoke to me.

“What I didn’t enjoy was him going on Twitter and calling me a classless a-hole and questioning my professionalism.  Knowing that he’s a pro football player and probably a bully his whole life, someone that would probably celebrate every single tackle, catch or yard gained that he ever made, I’m pretty surprised that he ‘celebrates’ me landing an elbow against Chris Lytle, who I’m not supposed to beat, in a fight I’m not supposed to be in, on the biggest stage.”

Ebersole did not stop short there.  He even fancied the scenario in order to save Silva some work in case the UFC wants to make the fight.

“I’ll catch him at any weight I can,” Ebersole said before exacting his potential weight.  “I’ll eat T-bone steaks instead of lentil patties, and I’ll weight in at 205.7 pounds.  And I’ll make a heavyweight bout.  I’m not really bothered.  A fight’s a fight.   He’s just as dangerous as any welterweight I can fight.  As far as my soreness and damage the days after the fight, anybody can break your nose, bruise your leg, twist your arm and your neck.  Doesn’t really matter if it’s a heavyweight or not.”

It was not enough that Ebersole had the arrow shaved into his chest in his UFC debut.  He was vocal during the fight and after.  He was yelling to the judges.  He was gesturing and flamboyant.

When you have beat the bushes for as long as Ebersole has, it’s easy enough to ask the public for understanding with regards to the antics.  After all, for every fan or fighter that loves it, there’s another that cannot stand it.

Like Mitrione.

Ebersole took time to explain his actions.

“I like to take part in all aspects of the fight, playing up to the crowd a little bit, even talking to the judges, saying, ‘Hey, that elbow landed,’ ” he explained.  “That wasn’t so much for the fans, I wanted the judges to know that that one hit, hit hard, and it was one of the defining blows of the round. I want to make sure the judges score the round properly, so every now and then I tell them which ones landed.

“Not every time that you land a punch does the opponent shake his head and shake it off or acknowledge it.  So I make my own scoring, my own points, when I’m having free time and I’m not getting punched out.”

His legion of Australian fans understand, and so do the new wave of Americans backers who cannot wait for his next contest, be it against Hallman, Mitrione, or someone else.

He might have to wait another year to fight again for the UFC in Australia, but Ebersole would be glad to travel anywhere in order to earn his next shot.  In the mean time, he can enjoy his home Down Under and look forward to visiting America sometime soon.

“I am the happiest Amer-Australian there is,” he said, thinking about how all the numbers will add up.

But you already knew Brian Ebersole was into happy endings.

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