FIGHT CLUB: A victory in defeat

Alex Rea 2/01/2017
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Two of the best bantamweight fighters of all time lost at UFC 207. Yet their responses to the setback could not have been more to the contrary. On the one hand you had Ronda Rousey.

The former women’s 135lbs champion skated out of Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena after defeat to Amanda Nunes in a quicker fashion than the fight itself.

She refused to do any post-fight media, continuing her vow of silence which started in the weeks prior to the bout, and instead hid behind a statement released via ESPN some hours later.

Deposed men’s bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz, however, faced the music and many are singing his praises for how he handled the most difficult defeat of his career. And rightly so. Cruz was clearly wearing the pain of failure but he was all class in his praise of newly crowned champ Cody Garbrandt and his philosophical outlook on defeat was a real breath of fresh air.

“I was there. That was 100 percent me. I was healthy, I was everything I’ve always been in my eyes. I got caught in a couple transitions and that’s how it goes in this game. You’re swinging four-ounce  gloves. You get caught sometimes,” Cruz said in his post-fight press conference.

“What else can you really say about that? I’ve got to go back and watch the fight obviously. After feeling it, after getting through it, after seeing the look in his eyes a couple of times when I punched him, when I kicked him, when I fought him, I’m not disappointed in myself at all. All I can say is I lost and I’ll take my loss like a man.”

It’s easy to carry yourself with poise and to dish out respect in victory but to do so with the sting of defeat still ringing in your ear is commendable. Garbrandt was simply the better fighter. The conventional wisdom going into the clash was that Cruz would be the elusive wizard with his perpetual and unorthodox movement negating the power of Garbrandt.

What we didn’t account for, was the composure of the 25-year-old challenger. Garbrandt goaded the champ into wild and easily telegraphed strikes from outside the pocket. He utilised excellent head movement and footwork to get out of trouble and then peppered Cruz with strikes of machine-gun speed and sniper-like precision.

It was no surprise then as Garbrandt’s hand was raised high but his victory means a fascinating narrative could play out in 2017 for the bantamweight division. We’re now left with a trio of supremely talented rivals heading up the division, with TJ Dillashaw, Garbrandt and Cruz all possessing their own thrilling brand of MMA which, between the three of them, can create enticing match-ups.

Indeed, the first of which will likely see Dillashaw take on his former Team Alpha Male counterpart Garbrandt after his virtuoso performance against John Lineker in the fight proceeding the newly crowned champ’s.

“You know what? I had so much fun in there. Dom has been arguably the best bantamweight in the world,” Garbrandt said post-fight.

“I’d like to give Dom a rematch, but it’s ultimately up to the UFC. I’m the baddest dude in the world, so bring (Dillashaw) on. Anybody in my division, come and try taking (the championship) from me.”

GOOD WEEK

Mirko Cro Cop

It warms the heart to see the big Croatian still finding success despite turning 42 a couple of months back. The MMA legend stopped Amir Aliakbari in the first round of the finals of Japan’s Rizin 2016 Openweight World Grand Prix at the Saitama Super Arena.

His triumph came 10 years after he won the Pride grand prix and also saw him showered with many prizes which included a custom made Casio G-shock, a medal and belt, $300,000 and a cruise to Barcelona.

BAD WEEK

Tim Means

‘Dirty Bird’ needs to scrub up on the MMA rules book. His clash with Alex Oliveira at UFC 207 was ruled a no contest, although, that will likely be changed to a DQ, after he launched a pair of knees into the downed Oliveira.

The Brazilian’s knee was quite clearly on the mat despite protestations from Means that the knees were legal. According to the current Unified Rules of MMA, an opponent with anything other than the soles of his feet on the mat is, in fact, a downed opponent, making strikes like the ones Means delivered illegal.

FLASHBACK

McGregor’s a two-weight world champion

Saturday would not just have been about celebrating the year’s end for Conor McGregor. On December 31 2012 he became a two-weight world champion with the Cage Warriors promotion after he sensationally knocked out Ivan Buchinger.

It was a feat which the Irishman always proclaimed, even before entering the promotion, he would repeat in the UFC. Of course, he did so at UFC 205 by knocking out Eddie Alvarez.

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‘You’re not a boxer’ - Nunes criticises Rousey

Alex Rea 1/01/2016
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Crushing: Amanda Nunes (r) lands another hard right to the dome of Ronda Rousey.

Amanda Nunes dished out a decisive beating on Ronda Rousey to successfully defend her bantamweight title then offered some sound advice for the queen of old.

The Brazilian emphatically swatted aside Rousey in 48 seconds in the main event of UFC 207 in Las Vegas, as the former champion was again exposed for the gaping holes in her striking ability.

Fighting for the first time in more than a year since the shuddering headkick KO from Holy Holm at UFC 193, Rousey was stunned by a right-hand in virtually the first exchange.

Nunes sensed it, poured on the pressure and relentlessly fired piston-like two-punch combinations until referee Herb Dean mercifully came to Rousey’s aid to stop the fight.

“I saw (she was hurt) after the first punch,” Nunes said. “And then it built my confidence to keep it going.”

And she didn’t stop. But for all the praise you can lay at Nunes’ feet, equal criticism must be directed at Rousey. The 29-year-old is an Olympic medallist in Judo. She built her fearsome reputation in MMA around her Judo base and yet has completely abandoned it in favour of trying to strike with first, one of the best female boxers of all time in Holm, and now with one of the most powerful punchers in women’s MMA.

It’s simply illogical. No one packaged up that feeling better than the woman who had just exposed the deficiencies further as Nunes had some wise words for Rousey and her coach Edmond Tarverdyan.

“I knew if I had that strategy in the beginning – that if she gave me the opportunity – I could finish her,” said Nunes after retaining the belt she won by beating Miesha Tate at UFC 200 in July.

“I knew [Rousey] was going to strike with me, because she thinks it because her boxing coach told her she has good striking.

“I knew she was going to strike a little bit with me, but when I started to connect with some punches I knew she would want to start to clinch with me.”

Nunes added: “She thinks that she’s a boxer, you know? He [Tarverdyan] like put this thing in her head and make the girl believe in that. I don’t know why he did that. She have great judo, and she can go far in this division, but he put some crazy thing about boxing, and her career started to go down.”

Much of the pre-fight promotional push was dominated by the return of Rousey with Nunes, despite being champion, nothing more than a footnote. “Fear the return” was the tagline, but now it may be a case of brace for the exit. And Nunes agrees it could be the last we see of Rousey in MMA.

“Yeah, that’s it for her. For sure she’s going to retire,” the 28-year-old said.

“She can’t take anymore. She’s a millionaire already. Why does she want to keep doing that? You know, keep hurting herself. I’m going to be the champion forever and she has to retire. Because she’s never going to get that anymore.”

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Rousey devolved after defeat to Holm

Alex Rea 1/01/2016
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Ronda Rousey

Defeat is supposed to make a fighter stronger. The gaping holes in their game become illuminated and an inflated ego is dimmed, paving the way for growth and development.

Quite simply, if you don’t lose, you don’t grow. It’s a necessary evil.

Conor McGregor probably best understood that wisdom and laid down the blueprint for dealing with defeat after he lost to Nate Diaz in March.

No excuses, no hiding and no bitterness. The Irishman channelled his disappointment into the ravenous pursuit of self-improvement and returned a better mixed martial artist for it. But for Ronda Rousey, defeat made her worse.

In all aspects. When the former UFC bantamweight queenpin was viciously and decisively dismantled by Holly Holm at UFC 193 in November 2015, it broke her.

A seemingly impenetrable mental fortitude was reduced to rubble and she has been left trying to pick up the pieces ever since.

She disappeared from the public view in that bid, but when she did resurface, it was clear her first MMA loss was a spectre which continued to haunt the corridors of her mind.

In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres she revealed suicide had entered her thoughts and told UFC president Dana White she felt betrayed by the media. But eventually Rousey felt she had rebuilt herself sufficiently sturdy enough to step back into the Octagon.

Physically that was true because she looked better than ever. Yet when Nunes delivered that first stinging right-hand in virtually the first exchange in anger, she stood stunned. Like she’d seen a ghost.

Her body language changed and immediately she was paralysed by the shuddering reminder of the defeat to Holm and from that point on, Nunes dispatched her in cold-blooded fashion.

In the year away from the cage, Rousey evolved nothing. She somehow looked worse. The same defects from the Holm fight returned as she stood flat-footed and didn’t take her head off the centre line.

Not once. She moved her head, but only after being hit. It’s basic boxing fundamentals and she is devoid of them. What brought her so much success was her Olympic medal background in Judo.

Rousey was like a shark, thrashing her foes around the cage with incredible strength and athleticism. But for whatever absurd reason she’s been convinced that she is a boxer by her team led by head coach Edmond Tarverdyan and has drowned in unfamiliar water ever since.

Nunes did not do anything particularly special. It was simple one-two punch combinations packed with power and the knowledge that what would come back could be slipped with relative ease.

Rousey just didn’t even look like she belonged in there, a sentiment made all the more difficult to comprehend considering she is the reason women like Nunes are even able to flourish in the UFC.

Yet, talk of retirement may be premature. Media commentators will say she has options. But is that necessarily true?

No doubt she has money in the bank having pocketed a flat $3 million plus a slice of pay-per-view pie for her 48 seconds of action. The idea of Hollywood providing the type of monetary support equal to what prizefighting can bring her, though, seems far-fetched.

Rousey’s movie persona was built on the dominance with which she went about her day job, and that has been unquestionably eroded. It’s much harder to cast Rousey without that perception, as cruel and cut-throat as that may read.

There may not be much choice for her other than MMA and that shouldn’t be viewed negatively either.

At just 29 Rousey is entering her athletic prime and if she can be convinced to leave her current training camp behind, significant improvements will be made elsewhere. Perhaps then it will be the defeat to Nunes which will lead to crucial lessons being learned and an improved Ronda Rousey can emerge.

Given she vanished from the T-Mobile Arena without uttering a single word, though, it seems she may just disappear for good this time.

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