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UFC Needs Nick Diaz

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Nick Diaz had eyes rolling as the NSAC announced that he failed the UFC 143 drug screening for marijuana. Losing a close decision to welterweight Carlos Condit, the brash Stockton fighter was enjoying a groundswell of support suggesting that the decision should have gone Nick’s way. Now, he faces disciplinary action, up to a year’s suspension, that could keep him out of the octagon in the foreseeable future.

The unprofessionalism of Nick Diaz is easy to document—In 2006, he (allegedly) attacked Joe Riggs in the hospital bathroom following a loss to Riggs at UFC 57; in 2007, Diaz tested positive for marijuana after a submission win at PRIDE 33 over then highly-touted lightweight Takanori Gomi; the fall of 2011 saw Diaz scrubbed from a title shot against Georges St-Pierre when he missed two key press conferences to promote the fight.

The aftermath of Diaz’ failed test has brought scrutiny on MMA journalists, who some say were well-aware of the result and failed to report it until NSCAC commissioner Keith Kizer confirmed the news openly. Questions of journalistic integrity constantly hound MMA reporters, who must balance breaking news with concerns for accuracy and the politics of fight organizations.

Neither Zuffa nor the fans can shower Diaz with too much ire. He’s just too valuable as a marketable challenge for Georges St-Pierre’s welterweight crown. Great fighters don’t simply appear because of exposure on reality shows alone; they have to have a pedigree honed through high-level competition like Josh Koscheck the NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion; Jake Shields holding titles in EliteXC, Shooto and Strikeforce; Carlos Condit making three defences of the WEC strap or BJ Penn being World Jiu-Jitsu champion—all achievements that each man had earned before ever stepping foot in the UFC.

Far from the tremendous growth shown in previous years, the retirement of Brock Lesnar, and subsequent decline in PPV revenue, has showcased just how fragile the MMA market can be. In 2009, Dana White famously savaged Sherdog journalist Jake Rossen when Rossen had the gall to question White’s belief that MMA “will be the biggest sport in the world by 2020.” In an ironic footnote to Rossen’s story, the UFC has made inroads in foreign markets touted by Rossen as worthy of expansion.

“In nearly 10 years of promotion, Zuffa has failed to reach either Japan or Brazil with a live broadcast — two seemingly obvious choices to pitch stakes,” wrote Rossen in December of 2009 (www.sherdog.com/blog/Foreign-Intrigue-Whites-10Year-Plan-21740).

August 2011 saw the Zuffa-owned version of the UFC promote UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro; January 2012 had a quick return to Brazil with UFC 142; and now UFC 144 unfolded on February 25th  at Saitama Super arena in Japan.

The other question now is whether the UFC can regain lost momentum and find new PPV kingpins to fight on a regular schedule and replace the contributions that now-retired Randy Couture and BJ Penn made for the organization. Other fighters like Matt Hughes and Tito Ortiz—both of whom competed from the time of the SEG-owned UFC—should have retired by now, but will be probably be forced to quit in the near future.

Jon Jones, Junior dos Santos, Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo are among the great hopes for the future of MMA. For the health of the sport, these champions need a slew of viable challengers in order to build them into high-level PPV draws.

Just as Sugar Ray Leonard had Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler, Georges St-Pierre built his fan base while facing great fighters like Matt Hughes and BJ Penn. Without Nick Diaz, there are still excellent opponents like Carlos Condit or Jake Ellenberger—but only Diaz is capable of elevating the broadcast from a regular title defence into a must-see event.

No one really expects Nick Diaz to be a role model. He’s a fighter, one who has always been held accountable for his actions and made to pay a price—one way or another. Right now, the industry needs Diaz to return to action as soon as possible, and make the mega-fight the UFC sorely needs now that Brock Lesnar’s departure and GSP’s layoff due to a knee injury have left Zuffa’s pockets that much emptier.

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

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.

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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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