Fightweets: Cageside reflections

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

It seemed like there would be nothing to write about this week. No fights of note coming up this weekend. Little in the way of news other than the latest insanity out of the Nick Diaz camp, and by this point, that round of bluster has been exposed as the desperate ploy for a rematch it is. Not much else on the agenda in the final week before what promises to be a busy April.

Then along came one of my more prolific Fightweeters, a fellow from Toronto who goes by the handle @RuckerYeah, who asked me the following:

@RuckerYeah: What's your most memorable moment covering MMA cageside all these years?

Bingo!

There's a question I can dig into on a slow news week. I've been at this since 2006. The first event I covered cageside was UFC 58 in Las Vegas. You might recall that while the main event that evening was Rich Franklin's brutal beating of David Loiseau in a UFC middleweight title defense, the most significant fight in terms of the UFC's future was Georges St-Pierre's split-decision win over B.J. Penn.

This was in Penn's return to the UFC. The long-awaited rematch with Matt Hughes hung in the balance. But St-Pierre beat Penn by rallying over the final two rounds after dropping the first. Then St-Pierre got injured, so Penn got the title shot at Hughes anyway. Then GSP fought Hughes two months after Hughes beat Penn and took the belt.

But I digress. To answer your question, there's no way I could pick one single moment to pick above all else. What I have, instead, are series of images seared into my brain. You know how in a good boxing movie, the fight scenes are shot in such a way that all you see is the two fighters and the referee under the lights, with everything else blending into the background? How every punch seems to register in slow motion, and you can see the sweat fly off a fighter's head? That's sort of what it's like in real life, out on the arena floor during an MMA event.

I can think of several moments which play out in my mind like those climactic movie scenes. One is Randy Couture clocking Tim Sylvia with that big right hand and the roar of 19,000 people in Columbus losing their minds. Same with Fedor Emelianenko's knockout of Andrei Arlovski at Affliction 2 in Anaheim. I was lined up directly with the knockout. Arlovski's back was turned to me as he charged Fedor, went up into the air, and, keeping in mind I had Fedor blocked from my view, I simply saw Arlovski do a 180-degree turn in mid-air and come crashing to the mat.

Then there are the times you're not sure what happened, even when it unfolds right in front of you. Anderson Silva's leg moved so fast when he face-kicked Vitor Belfort that all I saw was a blur, then Belfort hit the mat. I needed to see the replay on the big screen to figure out what happen.

The most recent vivid moment, without question, was Antonio Silva's knockout of Alistair Overeem. Seeing someone the size of "Bigfoot" unleash all of his power and watching a fighter as tough as Overeem crumble while you're sitting 10 feet away is probably the closest thing you'll ever experience to a lion going in for the kill without actually being the victim.

There are other moments you can't quite pinpoint while they're happening, but you have a vague sense it will be meaningful down the road. Like Jon Jones' UFC debut against Andre Gusmao at UFC 87 in Minnesota, where no one had really heard of him, but his presence and poise commanded instant attention. Or the night of WEC 38 in San Diego, when one future UFC champion after another, from Jose Aldo Jr. to Dominick Cruz to Benson Henderson, rolled to victory. Or when some unknown kid named Frankie Edgar stunned everyone by dominating the guy everyone figured was a future lightweight champion, Tyson Griffin.

I could go on and on, here. Bottom line, when you've seen as many fights as MMA reporters have seen over the years, it's impossible to pick just one moment.

NCAA to MMA?

@ComebackKid88: With the NCAA [wrestling championships] last weekend, who do you think will make the switch to MMA? Who has the most potential?

I don't claim to be a hardcore mat aficionado, but I know someone who is. I turned this question over to my colleague Luke Thomas. He tells me that James Fleming of Clarion (Edgar's alma mater), a 2012 and 2013 All-American at 157 pounds who finished eighth in his weight class this year, is making the jump to MMA. He finished with a collegiate record of 125-21. Likewise, Iowa State heavyweight Matt Gibson, who earned All-America honors this year despite entering the tournament unseeded, is expected to go into the sport.

Since we're on the subject, in case you missed it a few weeks back, Luke's Technique Talk chat with Chael Sonnen on wrestling in MMA is one of the best such conversations I've ever come across. The two do an excellent job of breaking down insider wrestling stuff in a way that's easy for a non-hardcore fan to understand. Check it out if you haven't already.

Hitting the gym

@Christopher_Kit: What are your experiences of being in one of the fighters own gym?

It's usually nowhere near as glamorous as you might imagine it. San Diego Combat Academy, for example, is crammed into a converted auto transmission shop. They share a small parking lot with a taco joint which is quick to call the towing company if anyone dares park in their spots. You'd think the people who run the restaurant would take one look at the fighters coming in and out of the gym and decide not to make enemies of them, but, hey.

Anyway, the one place I can tell you pretty much lives up to the aura of what you might expect from an MMA gym is Black House's U.S. headquarters in the Los Angeles area. For one thing, it's in the type of old industrial part of town that, well, you probably want to have Silva's self-defense skills walking down the street at night. Then you step inside of a huge converted warehouse and are greeted with a huge mural featuring the White House painted black, and President Barack Obama with a black eye. The rest of the walls are painted black and bare with the exception of a portrait of Helio Gracie. Everyone at Black House that day, from Ed Soares to Lyoto Machida, were perfectly gracious hosts, but you couldn't quite shake the feeling that if someone said the wrong thing to the wrong person, it wouldn't be a pleasant experience.

GSP goes Hollywood

@auggie85: are you surprised that GSP is making the jump to Hollywood, for Captain America?Are more fights going to follow?

I don't know about you, but to me it seems St-Pierre has sure come off recently like he's getting sick of it all. Not necessarily competition, per se, but everything that goes with it, from the media obligations to the intense scrutiny of everything he does. After his fight with Carlos Condit, he admitted that before his knee injury, he had lost the love of what he was doing, but he rediscovered it in training for the Condit fight. Then throughout the buildup to his fight with Diaz, GSP, usually the good company man, openly rebuffed the UFC's storylines for the fight and often came off as cranky in his interviews.

Fighters only have a limited window to make the big bucks, so it makes sense he'd jump at a movie role while he can (though admit it ... when you heard GSP was playing a villain in the movie, didn't you immediately picture him taking Captain America down and smothering him for 25 minutes?). But I can't picture him walking away. He's a fighter and a martial artist at heart, and there are too many challenges left -- not to mention too much money on the table for GSP, Inc. -- for him to walk away entirely.

Fight day weigh-ins?

@leafan73: With the whole controversy surrounding GSP's weigh in, should the UFC consider fight day weigh in?

I'm not sure fight-day weigh-ins would have changed the crux of the issue, which was the Quebec commission's apparent ineptitude. If nothing else in the super-sized serving of crazy bestowed upon us by the Diaz camp this week, they managed to do a service by putting the commission's antics on public display. Anyway, one positive that could come out of DecimalGate, as was suggested by Yahoo! Sports' Kevin Iole, would be to train a camera on the scale in order to record the exact weights of every fighter. As is, too many people don't understand that the commission, not the promotion, is responsible for the weigh-in, but getting precise measurement on film is one way for the UFC to rebut these situations when they come around.

Melvin the ronin

@GCoogan1: What team should Melvin Guillard join now?

At this point, anyone who will take him. For those who missed it, Guillard split from Jackson's to join the Blackzilians, badmouthed his former crew along the way, then quit the Blackzilians and announced on Twitter that he's going back to Jackson's. Except, he didn't tell them first, and the Jackson's team voted not to let him back in. There's burning your bridges, and then there's torching them.

WSOF dreams

@Christopher_kit: If WSOF could take one pair, would it be GSP/Jose Aldo or Anderson Silva/Jon Jones

Easy there, tiger. Let's have the World Series of Fighting demonstrate they can show up for an event with proper padding for their cages before we speculate on whether they can poach the UFC's superstars, eh?

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