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Fight of the Year 2013: Chandler-Alvarez II exceeded great expectations

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2013 gave us some of the best fights in MMA’s history. There was a little something for everyone this year. If you wanted a technical violent chess match, an old-fashioned Jim Ross slobber knocker, or one that combined elements of both – 2013 had you covered. In a year where it seemed like each month brought us a new FOTY candidate it is best to look back at them in chronological order. Then my choice, which re-watching these fights has altered a couple of times now.

I am not going to get into scoring controversies and judging except to say sometimes that is what makes a great fight. Sometimes a fight is truly difficult to tell who really won even after multiple viewings. Instead it is about appreciating the beauty of these masterpieces, and the artists who created them. The tools they used are different from traditional artists but in the end they did what all great artists strive to achieve. They created indelible images, and sounds that will resonate with us into 2014. There will be new fights coming and these are the ones they will be measured against for skill, heart, toughness and sheer will to win.

Demetrious Johnson vs John Dodson (UFC of Fox 6, January 26th)

This fight back in January of last year got things started with a technical display of speed and movement from these two fast flyweights. They just might be the two fastest fighters in the UFC. Dodson was able to rock Johnson several times in this fight but could not finish him off nor stop the takedown consistently. They battled all over the cage and showcased all elements of MMA with their striking and grappling. This fight had some of the best footwork and head movement of the year as these two put on clinic. They were very close in skills and toughness but Johnson was just a tick quicker and better on this night. It did not have the visceral connection of other fights but it was technical beauty it its own way.

Matt Grice vs Dennis Bermudez (UFC 157, February 23rd)

This was the next entry and kind of got lost this year. It happened early in the year and at UFC 157, which was all about Ronda Rousey, but it was still one of the best fights of the year. This was more about heart and guts than technique. There was a lot of skill displayed especially in the grappling area but it was overshadowed but the sheer will we saw in this fight. It was the definition of back and forth fight. They hit each other with big shots throughout the fight right up until the end. They both were in trouble but somehow found a way to keep fighting. It was one of those three round fights that you badly wanted to go two more rounds.

Carlos Condit vs Johny Hendricks (UFC 158, March 16th)

This one was for the next shot at Georges St-Pierre and his welterweight title. Condit was looking to erase the bitter taste of his first fight with GSP in which he felt he fought too cautiously. For Hendricks, he was Johnny Gasparini, GSP and the belt were “his two dollars,” and he would takedown Condit to get it. Literally twelve times in the fight with an equal four every round. It was the difference in a close fight that gave you a little taste of all that MMA sweetness. Hendricks bombing away with big shots and Condit throwing spinning strikes and flying knees. The first two rounds were close in striking with Hendricks’ takedowns making the difference. Condit came on strong in the third but could not get the finish and Hendricks got closer to that elusive “two dollars.”

Jessica Penne vs Michelle Waterson (Invicta FC 5, April 5th)

This was a match up between the consensus number one and two in the world at atomweight. Coming into the fight Penne’s only loss was to a flyweight and Waterson had gone 8-1 in her last nine fights. The lone loss during that stretch was to a strawweight and she was riding a four-fight win streak. It was a fight that lived up to the expectations as these two well-rounded highly skilled fighters gave us one of the best technical battles of the year. Their striking and movement in the standup was crisp and sharp. They also put on a clinic on the ground and Waterson displayed insane flexibility that was the difference. Penne had her in a deep armbar in the third that was bent sickeningly the wrong way. Instead of tapping, Waterson escaped and survived the round. In the fourth she slapped on a quick slick armbar of her own and got the tap, the upset and the title. They are still ranked one and two with their positions being flipped and a rematch is coming soon.

Cat Zingano vs Miesha Tate (TUF 17 Finale, April 13th)

This was about the introduction of Zingano to the wider MMA audience. You may not see a more emotional entrance to a UFC fight than Zingano’s. You will definitely not see one as emotional followed by a win like this one. The first round saw Zingano looking like she was fighting underwater. Tate doubled her in strikes and scored two takedowns to dominate the round. Tate started strong in the second but Zingano quickly shook off the octagon jitters and found her rhythm. Zingano took control of the fight in the second. She then dominated the third round landing 60 of 63 total strikes to Tate’s 2 0f 3, and 10 of 12 significant ones to Tate’s 1 of 2. When Kim Winslow mercifully stopped the fight the greater MMA world now knew that there was a real threat and test awaiting Rousey. Cruelly we did not get it in 2013 but it is coming.

Anthony Birchak vs Ryan Benoit (MFC 37-True Grit, May 10th)
Image credit – Sherdog/Wilson Fox

This one was like Regis Philbin and Martin Scorsese on coffee in a fast talking contest. It was filled with insane, intense and highly skilled MMA action. They threw and landed kicks, punches, elbows and knees throughout the fight. If you wanted submissions attempted and defended to go with sweeps and reversals this fight also had it. This fight went to the judges only because both Birchak and Benoit were too tough and slick to be finished. They filled all fifteen minutes with pure excitement and action. In the end they left the crowd wanting more.

Leslie Smith vs Jennifer Maia (Invicta FC 6, July 13th)

Honestly. all of Leslie Smith’s fights from this year were amazing but this was the best of the three. Coming into the fight one of the questions was how would Maia react to the volume of punches that Smith brings. Her response was to bring almost the same volume of strikes right to her. Maia came close but she could not quite match the pace that Smith set. This was a great aggressive, technical brawl. After two hard-fought rounds these two literally charged across the cage to start the third one. It was another three round fight that left fans wanting two more. This is another fight where there is a good chance we will get a rematch in 2014.

Bec Hyatt vs Mizuki Inoue (Invicta FC 6, July 13th)

Invicta FC fans were very familiar with Hyatt by this fight. She had already showed her fighting spirit by agreeing to take on Carla Esparza on less than a weeks notice. Despite training for a three round fight she easily defied the critics and gave Esparza a battle for five rounds. She then destroyed Jasminka Cive in her next fight. However. Inoue was more of an unknown to North American fans and her opponents, with the exception of a couple, had less than stellar records. What we learned after this fight was that Inoue has maybe the best boxing in MMA and an amazing ground game as well. It was a close back and forth three round fight that echoed the sentiment of wanting two more rounds. Inoue won a very close battle but Hyatt was coming on in the end and left the fans wondering what kind of greatness these two would have found in the later rounds.

Tecia Torres vs Rose Namajunas (Invicta FC 6, July 13th)

My personal favorite from this card as these two fighters have the complete MMA package and we saw it all during this fight. They combine great cardio, high level striking skills, and insane ground games. They mix that all up with their creative, aggressive, fearless fighting hearts, extreme athleticism and great mental toughness. The result was one of the best fights of 2013. Again, another back and forth fight with each fighter gaining the momentum only to have the other fighter comeback to regain it. The action took place in the standup and on the ground and it was fast paced and high leveled. Like rereading a great novel and finding something new, re-watching this fight reveals a new reason to appreciate it. Since they both will be in the TUF 20 house we may get a chance to see this rematch in 2014. If we do I predict that it will again be one of the FOTY contenders.

Jon Jones vs Alexander Gustafsson (UFC 165, September 21st)

This fight had a little bit of everything including the surprise element. No one expected this fight, not the way it went down. Jones was supposed to run through Gustafsson like he had his other opponents to date. The thinking was that even if Gustafsson was able to use his reach to do well in the standup that Jones would take this fight to the ground. It did go to the ground in the first round only it was Jones who was taken down for the first time in his UFC career. He was also sharp on his feet with great footwork, head movement and quick hands. Just when it seemed like Gustafsson had seized the fight in the fourth round Jones dug deep and somehow found that nasty spinning elbow that rocked Gustafsson. From there Jones maintained control of the fight but Gustafsson battled right until the end. It was close and could have gone to either fighter. It had everybody but Jones calling for an immediate rematch. We will get one soon. Hopefully in 2014.

Diego Sanchez vs Gilbert Melendez (UFC 166, October 19th)
Image credit – Sherdog/Dave Mandel

This was the choice for many people and it might have been the most visceral of these fights. It was definitely more on the brawl side but it still had a lot of skill and technique. There were critics of this fight because they felt that it was too one-sided for Melendez. I cannot agree with them. Yes, Melendez out struck Sanchez but he did not dominate this fight. Sanchez had two rear-naked-choke attempts, the second coming late in the third round. It was right after Sanchez had just stunned and dropped Melendez with an uppercut. The fight ended with the two fighters standing in the pocket landing huge haymakers. If that image did not stay with you it might have been one of the times after getting drilled that Sanchez gestured for Melendez to bring it. To his credit, Melendez did bring it every single time, as did Sanchez. This is also the easiest fight to show someone who has never watched one before. It was a primal masterpiece that resonated down deep with everybody who has watched it.

Eddie Alvarez vs Michael Chandler 2 (Bellator MMA 106, November 2nd)

This fight, unlike the Jones and Gustafsson one, had all the expectations in the world. It was originally supposed to co-main event of the first ever Bellator PPV. It was also the reason why fight fans had any interest in the PPV. Their first fight has been called one of the greatest fights in MMA by Ariel Helwani and others. It also had the intrigue of Alvarez versus Viacom. People were wondering if they wanted Alvarez to win or lose. So, just the weight of the future of the company that one half of the fight had been feuding with and one of the greatest fights in MMA to live up to for this one. It somehow managed to live up to it all and maybe even exceed it. This became Bellator MMA’s most viewed fight in their history, and might have been better than their first one. They each were in trouble and escaped. They also rocked each other repeatedly and at the end of this close, evenly matched fight  they had matching swollen left eyes. Chandler’s was almost swollen shut and Alvarez’s was just a little less. At the end of this fight everybody was thinking trilogy. It is all even and the third one will be another epic.

Mark Hunt vs Antonio Silva (UFC Fight Night 33, December 6th)

This two huge heavyweights did not want to fight each other and they came together to give us one of the best heavyweight fights in the UFC. It started out like a typical heavyweight fight with a measured pace and big shots knocking each other around the octagon. That was the case for the first two rounds. Then came the third round and they thought they were lightweights all of a sudden. Hunt landed 68 of 77 strikes in the third round. Silva came back in the fourth to land 49 of 82. Hunt almost finished the fight in the third and Silva almost had it in the fourth. The fifth was another high paced round in which Hunt was more accurate, He landed 60 of 79 strikes to Silva’s 39 of 69 in the final round. By the end of the fight Hunt’s dyed blonde hair was now red and his hand was busted up. It was one of the best displays of heavyweight toughness you will ever see in the octagon.

Now comes the time to make the call. For me I keep coming back to the Alvarez and Chandler fight. It is rare that the second fight equals or exceeds the first one. It had all of the weight and pressure coming into it with the outside intrigue of Alvarez versus Viacom. The last-minute changes to the card, moving into the main event slot, the pressure of the future of Bellator MMA, all this and more and it still delivered. It is one of several that I just keep going back to but this is the one that sticks with me the most. Tell us which one is your FOTY, either in the comment section below or on Twitter.

Honorable mentions: Leslie Smith vs Sarah Kaufman, Leslie Smith vs Barb Honchak, Joanne Calderwood vs Katja Kankaanpaa, Gilbert Melendez vs Benson Henderson, Wanderlei Silva vs Brian Stann, Jim Miller vs Pat Healy, Sam Alvey vs Elvis Mutapcic, Frankie Edgar vs Jose Aldo, Mark Hunt vs Junior Dos Santos, Jessamyn Duke vs Raquel Pennington, Johny Hendricks vs GSP, Alexander Shlemenko vs Brett Cooper, and Ray Sefo vs Dave Huckaba

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Cyborg’s Bellator Invasion Begins

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Bellator MMA will kick of their year and their decade this Saturday night for the third year in a row at the Forum in Inglewood, California, and as has often been the case with Bellator, they do not waste time.

The main event will feature Bellator’s latest big name acquisition-former Strikeforce, Invicta, and UFC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg, trying to make some massive history against the best opponent the promotion can offer, current Bellator featherweight champion Julia Budd, the only titleholder in the promotion’s history who will be defending her title for the fourth time.

The matchup was formally announced back at Bellator 228, in the cage itself and signaled to everyone that Bellator would not be playing when around when it comes to showcasing the star power of Cris Cyborg. She represents a rare commodity to Bellator, an acquisition who has proven she can actually move the needle when it comes to ratings and pay per view buys, someone who has headlined and sold tickets for three different promotions.

Yet Bellator has something to offer Cyborg that she has long craved-a legitimate featherweight division. Whereas the UFC has done next to nothing to bolster their 145 pound weight class, Bellator has worked to go out, look for, and sign fighters for their 145 pound weight class, one of the two women’s weight classes that are fully active in the promotion. Until Cyborg signed with the promotion-that has been to find opponents for Julia Budd.

For many MMA fans, the enduring image of Julia Budd comes from over eight years ago, when she was in short order, taken down, mounted, and arm-barred by some chick named Ronda Rousey. Budd was submitted in November 2011 by Rousey, her elbow trashed in just thirty-nine seconds. The image of Budd’s dislocated elbow just hanging from its socket is not something you forget easily.

Since then, however, Budd has completely transformed herself into a 5’8 145 pound female tank, a ripped kickboxing machine who hasn’t lost a fight since being submitted by Rousey all those years ago. She has won eleven fights in a row since then, beating some big names, including retiring women’s MMA pioneer Marloes Coenen to become Bellator’s first featherweight champion in March 2017.

Budd has defended her title three times and is coming her most impressive win yet, stopping Olga Rubin with a body kick in the first round last July. With her size, confidence, and kickboxing skills, she represents a legitimate challenge to Cyborg-hopefully one of many the women’s MMA legend faces in the promotion.

Of course, the Cyborg that Budd is facing is not the invincible Cyborg who tore through the women’s divisions for ten years. This is a Cyborg who has had the hell knocked out of her in one round by Amanda Nunes in December 2018, one of the biggest upsets in MMA history. Then Cyborg had a much more difficult fight than expected with the much less experienced Felicia Spencer last July in Winnipeg at UFC 240. Spencer, a very good grappler, managed to win a lot of exchanges with Cyborg and give her a lot of trouble for the first two rounds, before Cyborg’s class began to show in the third.

It feels that if there was ever a time for Julia Budd to fight Cris Cyborg, this would be the time. Cyborg is still formidable, but not the invincible killer who had most women beaten before the caged door was even locked. Amanda Nunes proved that she was human, that you can go right at her, and it would be smart for Julia Budd to come forward, back Cyborg up and try to put real hurt on her. Cyborg has looked to develop real boxing skills in recent years, and it would be smart for her to use those skills, box, and look to set up her grappling, one place she should have a huge advantage.

That’s how it should go. But the biggest question may be how does Julia Budd handle the spotlight, which will be on her more than it ever has before, in front a big crowd at the Forum, on the biggest stage of her career. Cyborg has been there many times before. Even if Budd can have a good round or two, when it gets into the championship rounds, with the bright lights on, can Julia Budd deliver? Its question that will determine how long Cyborg’s invasion of Bellator goes from here…

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The Monday Wrap-Up: Shakur Rises, MacDonald Falls, Jiu-Jitsu Rules

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With our combat sports weekends getting busier and busier, every Monday, FightBooth’s Frank Anguiano will come to you with his weekly report, telling you what have you have missed, and what might deserves a second look…

Shakur Is Special

Special is a word that may be used to liberally in combat sports, an arena where special things are happening all the time. But this Saturday Night on ESPN+, New Jersey featherweight star and former Olympic Silver Medalist Shakur Stevenson proved he was truly special.

At only twenty-two-years-old and in just his thirteenth professional fight, Stevenson dominated undefeated twenty-six-year-old Joet Gonzales of Los Angeles over twelve rounds in front of a nice crowd in Reno, Nevada, bringing championship boxing back to a once great fight town.

Stevenson was excellent, slowly breaking down Gonzales and for the first six rounds, he barely got touched. Gonzales picked it up a little in the middle rounds, but Stevenson just picked up the pace and with a steady right jab, a stabling straight left to the body, and a little bit everything else, controlled nearly every round. Gonzales, thought by most to be a very good prospect himself, only landed eleven percent of punches throughout the fight.

This fight was given extra fuel due to the fact that Stevenson is remarkably the boyfriend of Joet’s sister Zamora, a former amateur boxer herself. That being said, Stevenson never lost his cool and was calm and classy after the bout, and why not? He’s the new WBO featherweight champion and now has his sights on IBF title holder Josh Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs) of England, who has already made three successful title defense. That should be a very interesting fight.

The co-main event saw female 130-pound prospect Mikaela Mayer of Los Angeles advanced to 12-0 with a sixth round TKO of Argentina’s Alejandra Zamora (7-4, 1 KO).

Mayer was sharp, landing good punches to the head and body, and landing hard left hooks over and over. It was Mayer’s fifth win by knockout. Mayer has everything needed to be a star. She can fight, she has a great social media presence, she’s hot, and as Muhammad Ali once said, she has the right complexion and the right connections. Most of all, she’s in the weight range of a lot of prominent female fighters at 130. She will do some business in the near future.

Lima Bests McDonald to win the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix

The final of the year-long Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix Tournament ended a bit of an anticlimax, as Douglas Lima won the Bellator welterweight title for the third time, besting Rory MacDonald over five rounds at the Mohegan Sun Casino.

Needing little more than the occasional well timed jabs and leg kicks Lima managed to keep MacDonald in a mostly defensive stance for much of the fight. MacDonald, try as he might, was unable to take Lima down for most of the fight, even when he did get into with good shots. Lima simply refused to go down! MacDonald finally managed to get on top in the fifth round, but by that time the fight had been decided.

Welterweight remains Bellator’s busiest division and Lima will have plenty of options going forward in defending his title. But part of me can’t help but wonder what Douglas Lima could do in the UFC! He’s a big welterweight with great striking and wonderful takedown defense, and against the breed of power wrestlers that currently dominates the 170-pound division, he would be a great matchup for many of them. It probably won’t happen, but it’s a damn good dream.

Other Bellator Thoughts

Nick Newell dropped his second Bellator fight on Saturday, getting smothered by Oklahoma’s Manny Muro for much of the last two rounds. It’s the way most guys are going to fight him from now on, and that’s a bad thing for Newell, and fans who like exciting fights.

Jake Hager’s third pro fight ended a no contest, as an accidental knee to the groin was enough for Kansas City’s Anthony Garrett to pack it in. When two guys are as inexperienced as these two, with only a combined eight pro fights, this stuff happens.

Welterweights Ed Ruth and Jonathan Jackson tore it up on a Friday in a three round war that could have gone either way. I would love to see those two guys in the cage again.

I don’t really need to see Roy Nelson in the cage anymore, or Frank Mir for that matter…

Maia Submits Askren

The battle for grappling supremacy lived up to its hype as Demian Maia submitted Ben Askren late in the third round, once again using his patented rear naked choke. While most of this fight took place on this feet (and actually wasn’t bad, except Askren’s atrocious footwork), the grappling exchanges were hella fun, mostly because Maia was dedicated constantly attacking with submissions. The heel hook sweep he used to finally gain the advantage was a thing of beauty, as he was the squeeze he used to get the finish. Maia didn’t even have to grab his bicep or wrist to complete the hold. He’s that strong.

Other UFC Thoughts

Heavyweights finishing with heel hooks, as undefeated Frenchman Ciryl Gane against American Don‘tale Mayes in third round, is the kind of energy I need in my life. Even though Beneil Dariush got his third win in a row and second Performance of the Night in a row, I can’t see him became a huge threat again a lightweight. Didn’t catch much of the undercard this week, since it was on in the AM on Saturday.

Final Punches

Have heard great things about the Josh Taylor-Regis Prograis fight this Saturday in England, where Taylor won by decision to unify two 140 pound titles. We now have two guys with four belts, lets have Taylor versus Jose Ramirez as soon as Ramirez gets healthy. It was good to see Showtime Championship Boxing running again, as they have been quiet for most of the second half of the year.

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Fedor vs. Rampage to headline Bellator Japan on Dec 29

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LOS ANGELES – For the first time in the organization’s history, Bellator travels to Japan and the iconic Saitama Super Arena for an historic event, as Fedor Emelianenko (38-6, 1 NC) and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (38-13) square off in a long-awaited heavyweight showdown. Bellator Japan: Fedor vs. Rampage, powered by RIZIN, takes place Sunday, December 29 and will air LIVE on Paramount Network.

Tickets for Bellator Japan: Fedor vs. Rampage go on sale November 3. Additional bouts are expected to be announced in the coming days.

“For Bellator’s debut in Japan, we wanted to bring a massive event and fighters that the Japanese fans really connect with,” said Bellator President Scott Coker. “Given the vast history of martial arts and MMA in Japan, and especially at Saitama Super Arena, this will be a very special show that no one will want to miss. This will, unquestionably, be a monumental event for Bellator and I am looking forward to the moment that Fedor and ‘Rampage’ walk out to a crowd that has known them since their careers began. I would also like to thank RIZIN for their help in making this event a possibility and we look forward to working together in the near future to showcase the best talent each organization has to offer.”

Fighting out of Stary Oskol, Belgorod Oblast, Russia, Fedor Emelianenko returns to Japan following a successful run in the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix earlier this year, where he earned consecutive first-round knockouts over Chael Sonnen and Frank Mir. A former PRIDE FC Heavyweight Champion and PRIDE 2004 Heavyweight World Grand Prix Champion, “The Last Emperor” returns to where his career started. Often referred to as “The GOAT” by fans around the world, his career resume stands as one of the most impressive in the history of the sport with victories over Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Hunt, Mark Coleman and Andrei Arlovski, to name a few. With 29 career victories ending via finish, the punching power and world-class Sambo of the stoic Russian could result in yet another defining moment in his illustrious career.

An eight-fight veteran of Bellator, “Rampage” Jackson’s legendary career has seen him compete against some of the top names in the sport, generating a loyal army of fans along the way. The former PRIDE and UFC champion is the proud owner of many epic highlight reel slams and knockouts that he has racked up throughout his epic battles with the likes of Chuck Liddell, Dan Henderson, “King Mo” Lawal, Kevin Randleman and, perhaps most-notably, his four-fight series with Wanderlei Silva. The Memphis, Tennessee-native has long been seen as an icon to MMA fans around the globe and has openly voiced a desire to face Fedor in front of a Japanese crowd before his career comes to an end. Now, the two legends will finally meet inside the Bellator cage on December 29 at the famed Saitama Super Arena.

Updated Bellator Japan: Fedor vs. Rampage Fight Card:
Heavyweight Main Event: Fedor Emelianenko (38-6, 1 NC) vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (38-13)

*Card subject to change.

Please visit Bellator.com for more information.

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