The Emperor Reigns Supreme


By Dennis Bernstein, MBA

www.scoremedia.org

Photo: Max Cohen
 

 
Anaheim, CA – So while an upset of epic proportions occurred 50 miles north of the Honda Center last night, the main event of Affliction MMA’s second card was right on script. The world’s best mixed martial arts fighter, Fedor Emelianenko was challenged just bit more than he was in Affliction’s debut show but not by much. Andrei Arlovski, a former UFC heavyweight champion came to the ring in great shape, with a great strategy and yet it took little more than three minutes for him to suffer a knockout that should be the lead on SportsCenter on any night. 

The event, while successful, was not the rousing sellout crowd that we saw last July 19 when Fedor crushed Time Sylvia in 36 seconds. On this night, the crowd was 12,000 about three quarters of the announced attendance at Affliction: Banned (the company’s initial foray into MMA promotion), but it was still raucous. The crowd may have been reduced by the fact that the lead promoter, Golden Boy Promotions was simultaneously staging the Shane Mosley-Antonio Margarito fight at Staples Center. Competing against yourself is unusual strategy and we were surprised that Affliction’s direct competitor, the Ultimate Fighting Championship didn’t offer any counter programming as they did in July. 

A 12 bout card was offered to the fans this evening and the television airing was spilt between a free offering of the undercard on HDNet with the more important fights leading up to and including the main event going to pay per view. Our concentration was on the PPV for those that didn’t want to fork over the $ 29.95.

NUTCRACKER NOT SO SWEET

The pay per view got off to an inauspicious start with the lightweight Dan Lauzon-Bobby Green match. Green was a late replacement for an injured fighter and though he came in with a 7-1 record and a great attitude, he was clearly less skilled than his opponent. Just a minute into to the match, one of Green’s kicks found its home but unfortunately for Lauzon (12-2), that home was way south of the border; somewhere around Cabo san Lucas. That started a trilogy of low blows and not so low blows landed by Green that led to the first round taking over 20 minutes to be completed, an unofficial MMA record. As in boxing, the competitor who gets fouled gets up to five minutes to recover and referee Herb Dean took two points away from Green. Lauzon was able to gather up enough sack (yes, very poor humor) to submit Green at 4:55 of the opening stanza.

 

SAY GOOD NIGHT TO THE BABY

In the weeks leading up to the event, the promotion was pushing heavyweight Kiril Sidellnikov (5-3) pretty hard. He’s known as “Baby Fedor” because he has a similar stature and comes out of the same Red Devil Fighting Club as Fedor. He is 20 years old and had only seven fights under his belt coming in to his matchup against veteran Paul Buentello. That nickname is a big problem for the Russian because a) who in their right mind would want the burden of being compared to the greatest athlete in the sport and b) Baby doesn’t strike fear in my heart so why would it in any opponent? Buentello (27-10) is the kind of fighter that should always be on a PPV; he’s got personality in and out of the ring and always gives you an honest effort. On this night it was a matter of Buentello’s reach (he consistently landed his left jab) and experience (he stopped the Baby from fighting inside effectively) that led to a referee stoppage at 4:18 of the third on a recommendation of the ringside physician. Buentello sliced up Sidellnikov’s visage in a few places, a price the youngster paid for experience that will help him down the line. 

A BABA LULU OF A FIGHT

If there’s one thing that MMA fans love as much as a knockout, it’s controversy, so who better to have on the card than light heavyweight Renato “Babalu” Sobral. This evening’s fight against Thierry Sokoudjou was his 39th sanctioned MMA bout since turning pro in 1999. He’s taken on all comers over his career, including Chuck Liddell and Fedor (guess what, he lost too) and his fan appeal makes him a good addition to the Affliction lineup. Sobral served up a steady ground and pound diet to his opponent before getting a submission on a choke at 2:36 of round two. Sokoudjou looked exhausted afterwards and needed a few minutes on the mat to recover from a less than spectacular submission. Since there’s no sanctioned belt to fight for, we wonder what the future brings for Sobral (32-7), who is not a favorite of UFC’s Dana White. As for his opponent, the native of Cameroon is an example of a fighter that looks impressive at the weigh in, got hyped through word of mouth in the UFC and did nothing in the ring. His record now stands at 5-4 and it’s unlikely he’d be matched in any fight of consequence at this point.

BREAKING THE LAW IN PHENOM-NEAL FASHION

Regardless of the outcome of his match, Matt “The Law” Lindland (21-6) is a winner. A 2000 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Silver Medalist, Lindland along with Randy Couture and Dan Henderson molded the “ground and pound” fighting style that is prevalent in MMA today. Before turning pro, he was an All American at the University of Nebraska and ran an unsuccessful campaign for state legislature in his home state of Oregon. He’s the kind of guy that you’d want your sister to marry (well, your GOOD sister) and is a role model for the thousands of kids that enter the sport in increasing numbers. He won a unanimous decision at Affliction Banned but was so dissatisfied with his triumph that he apologized for his performance during the in-ring post fight interview. His goal this night was to make it better against Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort (18-8), a former UFC light heavyweight champion who has wins over Couture and Wanderlei Silva on his resume. Belfort has tried his hand at boxing in 2006, registering a TKO in his pro debut but his heart still resides with MMA. And on this night, Belfort’s hands still reside in the sport as well. The Rio de Janeiro native landed a looping right to the head of Lindland in the early moments that sent the Oregonian land awkwardly to the canvas. Two quick right hands later, Lindland was gone at 37 seconds of the first round and had doctors looking at him concerned about a neck injury. Lindland left the arena under his own power for a precautionary exam at an area hospital. The victory presents a juicy matchup between two charismatic Brazilian light heavyweights in Belfort and Sobral, while Lindland may be looking at other options given his performance at the advanced fighting age of 38. 

PARTIALLY ASSASSINATED 

Josh Barnett (26-5) is a funny guy. The “Baby Faced Assassin”, a 31 year old out of Seattle isn’t shy about providing humor and bravado during media conference calls, press conferences or post fight interviews. He started his career at the age of 20 and along the way became the youngest UFC heavyweight champion by virtue of beating Couture in 2002. Though a dangerous striker, Barnett’s strategy of choice at this point in his career is to control the fight on the ground. He’s fought in every major fight organization in the world and is one of the central characters in the Affliction MMA. His match with Dutch veteran Gilbert “The Hurricane” Yvel (35-13-1) had been shrouded with questions throughout the promotion; the first concern was about Yvel’s ability of be licensed by the California State Athletic Commission and subsequently about the fighter’s chances of passing a physical. Barnett wasn’t concerned about his opponent’s tenuous administrative status with the knowledge that a victory over Yvel would lead to a lucrative match against Fedor whenever the next Affliction card takes place. As expected, Barnett turned to his pound and ground chops to get the victory on this night. The bout being stopped on blows at 3:09 of the third round with Barnett landing twice as many blows as Yvel. Though Barnett was victorious, many ringside observers were critical of his effort saying that he took far too long to take Yvel out. This performance wouldn’t come close to being competitive for his potential upcoming opponent given what was to come next. 

CLOSING THE SHOW WITH A BANG

If you’ve seen Fedor (29-1) fight before, the minutes leading up to the fight were classic Fedor. After Andrei Arlovski (14-6) strode to the ring with a big entourage including boxing trainer  Freddie Roach, a flag that was half American and half Belarusian, Fedor walked the aisle with a couple of handlers and as unemotional as you’ve ever seen him. While Arlovski is well liked and respected by MMA fans, there was no doubt that the fans paid their money to see Fedor fight. The reception to Fedor is different than it is to Couture, while Couture is beloved and looked at as a father figure to the sport, the fan’s reaction to Emelianenko is more out of deep respect to an athlete that performs and more importantly, delivers at an elite level. As usual, Fedor was the smaller man in the ring as Arlovski looked in great shape at 6’4” 237 pounds, the “Pit Bull” certainly was ready for him physically. With Roach mentoring him on striking skills three hours a day and a promise to expose flaws on Fedor’s stand up, the potential for an exciting match hung heavy in the air at Honda Center. 

So much for potential.

In the first minute of the match, it appears that Arlovski’s strategy might have bore fruit; he had Fedor off balance and missing blows while landing some effect shots on his own. They fought at a stand off another 60 seconds before Arlovski backed him into the far corner from our ringside vantage point and tried to close in to do more damage. And then came the move that provided satisfaction for those who took the pilgrimage to Orange County this evening.

After Arlovski missed with a short left, Fedor fired out of the corner with a right hand as powerful as I’ve seen in any fight regardless of the discipline. The force of the blow lifted the 237 pound Arlovski into the air before depositing the challenger directly on his face. While I may not be Bert Randolph Sugar, I know that it’s never good when a fighter falls on his face. Referee Big John McCarthy immediately waved off the fight at 3:14 of round one and Fedor answered the question of who is the best pound for pound fighter in mixed martial arts. The roar of the crowd provided affirmation as well and despite of Fedor’s legend, people were still shocked at the quickness of the force and power that ended the bout. Even Donald Trump seated at ringside exclaimed, “now THAT’s entertainment!”, obviously happy with his return on investment in the Affliction promotion.

THE AFTERMATH

Interesting to see Oscar de la Hoya at ringside for the entire card and shying away from the Mosley fight. It didn’t prevent fans from booing him the two times they put his face on the big screen and it was rather amusing to see referees Herb Dean and Big John McCarthy get big cheers but the biggest name in fighting getting booed in his home market. It seems MMA fans haven’t forgotten the Pacquiao performance either, a bad couple of months for the Golden Boy. His brief comments at the post fight press conference told us that he knows little about the sport and its combatants and that he was primarily there to provide a photo opportunity. 

There were questions answered and more created at night’s end. We spoke with former Showtime and Pride television analyst Stephan Quadros at the post fight press conference about Fedor’s standing on the MMA landscape. “He’s clearly the best pound of pound in the sport. I’d put him ahead of B.J. Penn and Anderson Silva at this point. Silva’s great but his level of opposition doesn’t compare with Fedor’s. There’s not a lot of talent in the welterweight division, so you can’t call Anderson the best.” The next move for Fedor is a potential match up with Barnett at a subsequent co-promotion between M-1 and Affliction. Based on Barnett’s performance against Yvel, that matchup would be more of a mismatch than the Arlovski or Sylvia bouts for Fedor. Quadros agreed with our assertion that given Barnett’s performance, his chances are slim and none at beating Fedor and slim just left town. 

We wonder why UFC President Dana White hasn’t swooped in a just write a big check to have the Russian fight either Couture or current UFC heavyweight champion Brock “I ain’t in WWE no more” Lesnar. Couture was present at Affliction Banned during his contract issues with UFC and expressed a willingness to battle Fedor immediately after he dispatched Sylvia. And therein lies the risk that Affliction has with its current promotion; although this card was stronger from top to bottom, it didn’t sell out the Honda Center and drew 4,000 less than the July card. Fedor is the crown jewel of the promotion and if he would ever be injured or had contract issues like Couture, frankly there would be no promotion. With just two cards in the books, Affliction has no ability to develop fighters in its infancy as does White. They’ve taken fighters that have fallen out of favor with UFC or are a casualty from another promotion’s implosion to lend legitimacy to the MMA fan base. Perhaps White now thinks that Affliction’s first show was an anomaly as he decided to not offer any counter programming Saturday night; perhaps he has a master plan to grab Fedor down the line although the fighter doesn’t think so. “I don’t know what their thinking over there (UFC),” Fedor conveyed a week before the fight when asked why he’s been unable to secure a fight with White and UFC. If that were to happen, Affliction MMA as we know it would be done because the Barnetts and Belforts of the MMA are great undercard fighters but not ticket sellers. While there’s room for a second independent major promotion and it’s important for the sport’s expansion, no one has solved the fiscal puzzle as White and the Fertitta brothers have. Tom Atencio, Affliction MMA’s driving force has surrounded himself with capable and accomplished business people but with no track record in the sport, the jury will be out for a while.