Posts Tagged ‘Judo’

Marina Shafir: ‘I’m going to be proving a lot of people wrong’

MMA rising featherweight Marina Shafir (Photo courtesy of

A lifetime of competing has aligned Marina Shafir with exceptional training opportunities, and has readied her for a career in shutting down the naysayers.

Born in the small eastern European country Moldova, Shafir (Twitter: @MarinaShafir) moved with her family to Latham, N.Y., when she was 5 years old.  Her father, a professional power lifter and Army Special Forces member at the time, let Shafir have her first experience in judo at the age of 6, which set her off on a successful quest in the discipline.
Shafir was competing in judo at 13 years old.  After conquering the junior circuit by age 17, she started showcasing her skills on an international stage.  As Shafir advanced in judo, her seamstress mother and mechanic father watched as travel expenses mounted.  Along with an itinerary that included travel throughout the U.S. twice a month and outside the country about four times a year, Shafir was dealing with rehabbing a lower-back injury.

The odds stacked against her, Shafir made a decision that seems unthinkable in retrospect when considering where she is today.

“On top of me being almost crippled and my family struggling to keep my dream alive, I just quit,” Shafir told Jason Kelly and Joe Rizzo on MMA DieHards Radio on the MMA DieHards Radio Network.  “I bartended for about three-and-half years, and I worked at Starbucks and I taught the little kids at the local jiu-jitsu club I started going to just to stay active.

“I did all these boot camps.  I went to the gym, I did five (kilometer runs), but it just got so boring for me.  I just wasn’t one of those gym rats.  I tried to be, but I wasn’t.  I started rolling more, and one thing led to another, then I got my first amateur fight and I realized I belong in that cage.

“Now we’re here.”

Where “we” are is close to Shafir making the switch from amateur mixed martial artist to professional.

Shafir’s amateur MMA record stands at 3-0, with all victories coming via armbar submissions.  She views the transfer from amateur to pro as an elevation in professionalism – fighting as well as entertainment.

Her close association with UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey gives onlookers the inclination that Shafir is ready to graduate to the next phase of MMA competition, but she has a different agenda.

“I think everyone that I train with is really shocked I’m still an amateur fighter,” Shafir said.  “I understand why.  I mean, after all, my best friend is a world champ.  They’re like, ‘Why don’t you just go pro?’  I could if I wanted to, but I want to go through the ropes, and when I feel like I’ve gone through the ropes of the amateur circuit, then let’s sway into professional.  It really boils down to me to make that call.”

Being chums with Rousey is beneficial in and out of the cage.  A golden nugget of advice Shafir said Rousey provided her with is to always remain true to who she is.  And as far as training perks, Shafir has had the privilege of working with some of the sport’s best athletes, and even got to experience “The Ultimate Fighter 18” alongside Rousey.

While Shafir looks up to Rousey more than anyone in MMA, there is one former UFC champion that she places second to none inside the cage.  If things go as planned, Shafir may be training with this combatant soon and need a roll of toilet paper.

“I going to be training at Anderson Silva’s Muay Thai College,” Shafir said.  “I think I might (expletive) my pants.  I might do, like, a shart, like a (expletive)-fart.

“Anderson Silva is my absolute favorite fighter, I don’t care what anybody says about him, I don’t care what anybody thinks about his style, because he is the (expletive) man.  All you mother(expletive) are drinking ‘Haterade,’ and wait until the rematch (against UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman at UFC 168).  You see who your true fans are when you lose, and I’m a true (expletive) fan.  He could lose five times in a row and I’d still be there and he’d still be the best fighter in the world.”

Silva’s school would prove essential if Shafir was to meet the fighter many MMA analysts have concluded would be her best friend Rousey’s toughest test.

Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, The Invicta and former Strikeforce female featherweight champion, is considered to have the striking ability to stifle Rousey’s outstanding grappling talents.  Due to each combatant competing in different weight classes, the bout has a small chance of ever materializing.

Shafir, however, intends on having a career in the 145-pound division, and says she is ready to face “Cyborg” now, despite the difference in experience.  Whether she could or couldn’t defeat “Cyborg” is debatable, but her eagerness to succeed in MMA cannot be denied.

“I’m very excited for the future of my career, and I’m just really excited to get into it,” Shafir said.  “I’m going to be proving a lot of people wrong.”

‘MFC 34: Total Recall’: Luke Harris is successful at both business and brawls

Middleweight MMA fighter Luke Harris uses a judo throw on Edwin Dewees (Photo courtesy of

When Luke Harris steps into battle it’s all about business and his hard work paying off.

The 35-year-old is entering the ring on Friday to face Joseph “Leonidas” Henle at “MFC 34: Total Recall” inside the Mayfield Trade Center in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

When he does, he’ll give it his all like he has ever since entering competitive fighting. As Harris (Twitter: @HayabusaHarris) sees it, battle has always been in his veins. He began judo at age eight.

“I didn’t ever take it seriously,” Harris said of his formative fighting years during a recent interview with MMADiehards. “Not like a career or anything, more just for fun. I did compete at nationals for quite a few years and international tournaments.”

If that doesn’t sound like the average life, it’s because Harris hasn’t lived one. He’s kept himself busy earning a technologist degree in landscape architecture in Edmonton, all before moving on to the University of Guelph in Ontario.

Not long after that, the submission specialist made the move to Penn State where he earned his masters and then went back to his judo roots.

“I went to Japan basically right after Penn State,” Harris said. “One of the reasons I went is because it’s a place that I’ve always wanted to go and train.”

“I really got the opportunity to experience the culture,” he continued. “Judo started in Japan, and it originated at a place called the Kodokan. I actually stayed in a dorm room there at the Kodokan for three months and pretty much ate, slept and trained.”

“That was all I could dream of – it was pretty wild,” Harris concluded about his judo pilgrimage. “It was just an incredible experience, and you learn a lot about yourself.”

The humbled Harris grew from his time in Japan and continued bettering his techniques. This approach soon landed him in the world of MMA a short time after.

“Well basically, the way it worked for me was that when doing judo I wanted to get better at ground work,” Harris said. “What I did was start Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes when I was out in Montreal. One of my first training partners was actually GSP, and Patrick Cote trained at Brazilian Top Team Canada at the time.”

While participating in a judo tournament in Brazil, the Edmonton native felt the itch and began training at Brazilian Top Team in its home country.

“I was just initially there to do ground work and ended up going to international tournaments in Brazil,” Harris said. “I stuck around there and trained with Brazilian Top Team, initially just for training in the Gi.”

“At the time it was a really renowned place to work, and Pride was going on so there was the pretty much all the top guys in the world training there,” he recalled. “It was unbelievable. I mean, now a lot of it has shifted to the United States in Las Vegas for MMA training, but before that everything was in Brazil.”

With MMA now ingrained in his mind as a path he wanted to follow, the now well-traveled and experienced martial artist made his way home.

“Moving back to Edmonton, it was never a great place to train,” Harris remembered. “I did judo growing up here as a kid and there were some different martial arts schools, but no MMA, nothing directed at that. I saw a need for it and sorted it out. I opened the Hayabusa Training Centre, and now we are at a point where we train a lot of good fighters here.”

At Hayabusa Training Centre, the gym owner trains with fighters like Ryan Jimmo, who recently achieved a seven-second knockout at UFC 149 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Harris is proud of the instructors at his center and how they approach their training.

“In order to teach other people, you have to really have a real understanding of the techniques,” Harris said. “It definitely helps instructing at the Hayabusa Training Centre. Most of the instructors like Chuck Pelc, Ryan Jimmo and Mitch Clarke are all different guys who have pro MMA fights and they are also teaching. I think that’s part of their success as well.”

The half businessman, half MMA combatant finds time management the key to his busy lifestyle on and off the mat.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Harris said. “I run a business, I run Hayabusa fight wear and I run Hayabusa Training Centre as well. I teach a lot of the classes. There is a lot of different stuff going on, but it sort of falls in the same direction.”

Who knows where his match against Henle will take the well-tuned fighter next? Harris is already on a nine fight win streak with all his victories coming from first round submissions in quick fashion.

“My goal right now is to get my hand raised for this bout,” Harris said. “I expect another dominant performance. It’s definitely going to open some doors.”

“There is definitely some options, either title contention in MFC or maybe the UFC,” Harris said of his options should he win on Friday. “Henle’s in pretty good shape, he is undefeated and fairly well-rounded in MMA but I have more of a grappling base. I have awesome training partners. I’m improving my game and getting stronger. It’s an exciting time.”

Ronda Rousey’s ready for superstar status

Ronda Rousey appears at the weigh-ins for "Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey" in March 2012. (Photo courtesy of

Ronda Rousey (Twitter: @RondaRousey) is making the biggest waves women’s MMA has seen in years.

There’s no denying that 2012 is the year of “Rowdy.” In mere months, Rousey’s won female fighting’s top title and become its pound-for-pound best combatant. Along the way, she’s won over legions of fans by mixing character with masterful combat. With each and every punch, she’s made the paradigm shift – women’s MMA isn’t foxy boxing, but some of the best competition the sport offers.

The slow death of Strikeforce is directly responsible for Rousey’s meteoric rise. Following the UFC’s purchase of the league, its roster has dwindled as Strikeforce fighters increasingly take off for the big time. Given the UFC lacks female fighting, the stage was set for a breakthrough. In a wasteland as barren as 2012 Strikeforce, it’s only natural Rousey’s such a revelation.

She’s already catching the greater sports community’s eye. Last week “ESPN Magazine” revealed Rousey as the cover model for this year’s “Body Issue,” an annual edition that features athletes in the nude. Her pictorial will likely pose as the initial introduction many have to women’s MMA. For anyone picking up the issue, they’ll find a woman who’s fit, confident, beautiful and most importantly, tough.

“ESPN Magazine” readers inspired to dig deeper will find Rousey’s the real deal. A judo prodigy, “Rowdy” won multiple world championships en route to a bronze medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Her win there cemented her as the first American to win a women’s Olympic judo event since 1992.

Rousey’s ripped through the competition in similar fashion since entering MMA in 2010. Undefeated at 5-0, she’s used her judo to trip up opponents and tap them out in dominating fashion. Against her division’s top talent, Rousey’s submitted every single foe with an armbar in one round.

The best example of this trend is Rousey’s women’s bantamweight title win over then-champion Miesha “Takedown” Tate. Prior to the fight, the two talked trash at levels unheard of in women’s MMA. Tate mocked Rousey as a lucky rookie, and Rousey insulted Tate as a big fish in a small pond. When “Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey” finally unfolded in Columbus last March, it did so as both the card’s main event and one of the most exciting women’s MMA matches in recent memory.

Out of both women, only Rousey put her money where her mouth is. Hurling Tate to the mat in less than five minutes, Rousey took her title with a brutal armbar. The limb wrenching left Tate with a dislocated elbow and a permanent place in MMA highlight reels.

All of these factors have fight fans clamoring for Rousey’s first title defense next month. Rousey will clash with Sarah Kaufmann on Aug. 18 in San Diego. When the two meet in the main event of “Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman,” it’ll mark a battle between MMA’s top two female fighters.

Rousey’s earned lasting fame regardless of where she ranks after that bout. The spotlight shone on “Rowdy” has shown that the Rouseys, Tates and Kaufmans of the sport are every bit as spectacular as their male counterparts. When she isn’t tossing her opponent’s bodies, the Olympic judoka’s throwing out MMA’s gender barrier instead. Like it or not, Rousey’s revealed that MMA isn’t just a man’s sport anymore.

Mark Hensch is an avid MMA fan who became interested in the sport through wrestling and karate. When not covering the hurt business, he serves as a digital editor for the Washington Times’ in Washington D.C.

Strikeforce Challengers: Ronda Rousey brings unmatched judo roots to MMA

Ronda Rousey is ready to shine at StrikeForce Challengers 18.

Two minutes and 58 seconds.

That is all the time Ronda Rousey (Twitter: @RondaRousey) needed to dispatch of her first five MMA opponents.  In three amateur and two professional bouts, Rousey hasn’t collectively fought in an entire round. To make it even more impressive, the 24-year-old beat all five by armbar.

If you were to know anything about the California native, who makes her Strikeforce debut Friday at Strikeforce Challengers 18 against Sarah D’Alelio, then you shouldn’t be surprised.

Ronda Rousey looks to take advantage of her judo roots in MMA.

Under the tutelage of Jimmy Pedro, Rousey became one of the most accomplished American female judo players in the sport.  She qualified and was the youngest judo player in Athens, Greece for the 2004 Olympic Games.  At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Rousey took home the bronze to become the first American to win an Olympic medal in women’s judo.

Her transition to MMA came with relative ease and she expects the same will happen with more judokas in the future.

“I think that certain styles of judo are more advantageous than other ones.” Rousey told Rear Naked Choke Radio on the MMA DieHards Radio Network.  “One thing about judo takedowns compared to wrestling takedowns is we don’t have to change levels. You can just throw someone down in the middle of the ring and you don’t need the cage. You can throw somebody without changing levels and telegraphing that you’re going to start a takedown. Though it’s not common for judo players to have a really good ground game, those that do have better transitions than Brazilian jiu-jitsu players do because we only have so many seconds on the ground.

“It’s just a faster pace in general. You don’t have 10 minutes to hang out in guard and figure something out. I think certain styles of judo players could take over the sport because we cover so many different areas than other disciplines.”

Rousey also utilized the ground game while in judo.  It’s something she learned from her mom, AnnMaria De Mars, who was the first American to win a World Judo Championship in 1984.

“My mom was the first women to (make) conditioning and strength conditioning a big priority back then,” Rousey said. “People wanted her to do very technical style of judo and she was the first one to walk in and maul people.  She was one of the first judo players to have a really ground-game style.”

With a record of just 2-0 Rousey is the No. 9 ranked 145-pound female MMA fighter in the world, according to the Unified Women’s MMA Rankings.  She trains at Team Hayastan in Santa Monica, Calif. alongside Manny Gamburyan, Karen Darabedyan, Sako Chivitchian and Sevak Magakian.

Whether she will fight longer than a minute or finish an opponent with something other than an arm bar, Rousey won’t make any promises.

“I really don’t go in planning to win a certain way,” Rousey said. “I try to leave it open to interpretation, I just happen to see arm bars first.  I just let what happens, happen.”

Bellator 39: Rick Hawn eyeing that title shot with fellow U.S. Olympian Ben Askren

photo courtesy of Eric Coleman/’s Maggie Krol caught up with Rick Hawn after his decision victory over Lyman Good at Bellator 39.

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