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Fight Day Arrives in Toronto: Ghost of Past Opponents, Current Opportunities and Future Hopes Lingers Over the City

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Jon_Fitch_and_Josh_Koscheck_sign_autographs_at_National_Sports_in_PickeringJon Fitch and Josh Koscheck sign autographs at National Sports in Pickering.


A fortuitous series of events has led to the most anticipated live MMA show in recent memory becoming a reality as UFC 129 comes to Toronto’s Rogers Center tonight. Those in attendance will be watching the spectacle from monitors rather than squinting at a miniature cage—but all week, upcoming and veteran fighters were hanging around the city, available up-close and personal to talk about what MMA means to them.

“Jake Shields can definitely submit St-Pierre from a couple of positions on the ground,” explained former Shields training partner and welterweight title challenger Josh Koscheck to a fan at a signing event. “If he gets top position, it’s over.”

Shields used to make the effort to train at San Jose’s American Kickboxing Academy where guys like Koscheck and Jon Fitch were there for him to measure himself against.

Fitch himself fought Georges St-Pierre back in 2008 to a tough decision loss. He made the critical error of throwing a leg kick without properly setting it up, and paid for it with a straight right hand that sent him to the deck early in the first round. After the fight, he traveled as far as Thailand to improve his stand-up, and now with 5 wins and one disputed draw (to former two-division champion B.J. Penn in his last fight) he eagerly awaits the rehabilitation of a shoulder injury so he can win a UFC title.

“Jake is a good guy,” Fitch says, supportive of the Cesar Gracie protégé, while speaking highly of his character outside the ring.

At Wednesday’s re-launch party for Canadian television channel ‘Fight Network,’ the lavish event boasted appearances by former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk, TUF finalist Brandon Schaub, and lightweight contender Spencer Fisher.

(Read more about the re-launch party http://www.dailyxy.com/lead-stories/punch-drunk-greed-ufc-and-the-new-fight-network/

“About a year after I fought Matt Hughes, I had to walk away from the sport,” says Sherk of the pre-TUF dark ages of MMA when opportunities weren’t as abundant. “I had so many fights cancelled on me. I was getting all these fights cancelled on me, one after the other, and I couldn’t make a living doing this anymore, so I had to walk away and start doing hardwood floors.”

Sherk boasts an impressive resume where he’s only dropped fights to four UFC champions—Matt Hughes, Georges St-Pierre, Frankie Edgar and B.J. Penn. Yet with the acquisition of Strikeforce, a surplus of lightweights means that every UFC lightweight will be even more conscious of how much each win counts.

Schaub talked about his recent win over K-1 and PRIDE legend Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic, whom he knocked out in the third round of UFC 128.

“He broke my nose. He had a lot for me,” says Schaub, who was still comfortable in the knowledge that he was ahead on the cards, even if the fight went to the judges.

Also worthy of discussion—what happens to the women’s division of Strikeforce with the Zuffa buy-out? The folks who run the UFC have always been openly dismissive of bringing women into the UFC.

“I want to fight Strikeforce 145 lb champion Cris Cyborg,” says Andrea Watson, a Cambridge-based Muay Thai fighter (17-4 pro-am) who is modifying her training to become an MMA fighter.  “We need to see more women out there who are as good as the men—putting on great fights.”

With Cyborg now seeking fights outsight of Strikeforce, perhaps the nineteen-year old Watson will get her wish, but it might not occur on the large stage of a big show. MMA pinup Gina Carano can still woo top MMA promotions with her drawing power; perhaps Carano can single-handily save the women’s division from obscurity when decision makers see the ratings she garners for her next fight.

Fighter woes aside, the show must go on.

Tonight, of course, it’ll be a well-publicized scrap between GSP and Jake Shields that headlines a good card at UFC 129. The energy inside the Rogers Center will be electric for the Jose Aldo-Mark Hominick bout—one that is expected to be an all-out war. And Randy Couture will get the longest ovation if he decides to leave his shoes on the center of the mat, and accepts retirement at the age of 47.

It’ll be the same dream of recognition and acceptance that powers the new generation of MMA fighters forward. Let’s hope the sport evolves to serve them better than the school of hard knocks that all the current stars were forced to endure to fight at the highest level.

Brian J. D’Souza is a Canadian writer who has covered Mixed Martial Arts for ESPN.com, FoxSports.com and FIGHT! magazine.

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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