Monthly Archives: February 2017

Things That Can Make a Fighter Perform Better

There are times in even a great fighter’s career where he hits a bumpy patch. It’s not hard to have that happen in a sport like MMA. A fine line separates the successful from the struggling and even those at the top have a tenuous grip. When we watch MMA, we can get carries away with the physical aspect of the game. It’s understandable–the sport is an explosion of physicality. The sport, however, is largely mental. How a fighter performs is often tied to his headspace.

We can see fighters perform with varying degrees of effectiveness from fight to fight. Fighters in a slump that has people suspecting they’re losing their edge can suddenly pop out of it and leave us wondering what in the world were we thinking. Here are some precursors that could signal a fighter is going to break out of a slump:

Rivalries or Personal History: The world of MMA is worldwide, but a lot of guys at the top of the sport (in fights we can wager on) have crossed paths with their opponents. They may have fought before, but beyond that–they might have worked in the same camp. A lot of things happen during training camp and carry over into a fight.

A fighter who fought in the shadow of another fighter might be especially eager to win. Some coaches who worked with fighters are now in the corner of their opponent. It can lead to a fighter gaining renewed focus. They’re human. Football players cut by a team will be gunning extra hard to stick it that team if he gets the chance to play against them. The same dynamic exists with fighters.

Tragedy: Something within the human spirit is galvanized in the face of tragic events. For some fighters, the drain of losing a loved one can sap their strength for a fight. This is not meant as an endorsement to blindly bet on fighters who suffered the loss of a loved one. At the same time, fighters dealing with something like that can develop a healthy disrespect for the damage they are bound to face in the octagon.

When a fighter is overcoming tragedy, what can his opponent do that compares to the pain? The normal pangs of concern for the upcoming fight are drowned out by the sorrow of the loss. You will see fighters looser than normal–more able to execute and less paranoid of returning fire.

Urgency: The general career of an MMA fighter will have its share of ups and downs. Usually, it’s all part of the sport and its participants are given a lot of chances to stay at the top of the sport. Once you reach the top of the mountain in MMA, it can take an awful lot to knock you off the top. Guys can milk a name for a long time in this business.

There are times, however, where a fighter has reached a clear crossroads. Either he wins this or it’s curtains. Not every fighter has such a clear impasse. A lot of guys just slowly fade away from the top heights of the sport. Others, though, actually have everything sort of culminate with one fight–a clear moment where it’s do-or-die.

We need to be careful betting against fighters facing such an urgent situation. With some fighters, they are too far over-the-hill to do anything about it. It doesn’t matter how urgent the situation is because they simply don’t have it anymore. Other fighters, however, have just been on a rough run of performances–tough stylistic match-ups, mental lapses, and just strange twists of fate. With a fire lit under them, they can still do damage.

Before we bet against any fighter, we need to look closely to determine if it falls into the category of “just another fight” or must-win situation. Fighters will tell you they approach every fight with the same level of urgency. In all sports, however, there are certain events that take on a larger meaning and that’s also true in MMA. Fighters can’t reproduce the same urgency for all fights. Gauging how urgent a fight is for a guy to win can maybe win us a couple extra bets a year and spare us from a few losses along the way.

Dealing With Referees and Judges

MMA, being a rather young sport, will probably continue to experience growing pains as it pertains to officials. Organizations like the UFC have done an excellent job building the sport, but this is one area out of their control. MMA depends on the commissions in the states where cards are held to provide officials and it doesn’t always go so smoothly.

Sports that rely so heavily on judges have had a long time to establish clear-cut criteria. But in MMA, judges can be all over the place. Standards are in place, but in a sport that has so much going on in the octagon, it seems that MMA judging still lacks concrete guidelines. It’s not a good sign when you see a lot of judges presiding over MMA bouts who are also known as boxing judges. It shows that the pool of capable and trusted MMA judges is quite shallow.

Even in boxing, where fighters are limited to only punches, the views can be very different for the same fight. In a form of fighting where every part of the body is a weapon and there are so many different combinations of moves–it can get messy with the scorecards. And how many times have we seen a bad decision in MMA? It’s hard to keep count.

You want a sure-handed referee presiding over a match in which you wagered. It’s hard enough picking winners without having some dopey referee screwing up the natural flow and conclusion of a fight. You want to see a guy like Herb Dean–a former fighter who knows what he’s doing. You don’t want that one woman referee you saw on those old Strikeforce shows, who has no clue what she’s doing.

One way to avoid this whole mess is to look for fighters who finish. And luckily for MMA bettors, those fighters exist in spades. At the top levels of boxing, for example, decisions are rampant. In MMA, you can single out many top guys whose fights rarely if ever go to the scorecards. A lot of guys fall in the middle, where their fights are just as likely to not go the distance as they are to go to a decision.

But some fighters historically do not hear the judges scorecards very often and perhaps deserve more betting consideration as a result. Finishing a fight is really at the heart of what MMA is supposed to be. As a bettor, fights that reach a more holistic conclusion are better betting fodder than fights that are decided by non-fighting individuals.

Some examples of fighters whose bouts don’t go to scorecards are guys like Junior dos Santos, who has seen 2 out of 15 bouts go to the scorecards. Cain Velasquez has heard the final bell only once. Josh Barnett has seen 30 of his 36 bouts end early. Shogun Rua has heard the final bell only 4 times. Jon Jones tends to finish fights. Out of Rich Franklin’s 35 fights, 30 of them ended before the scheduled duration.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have fighters like Gray Maynard, who has seen 9 of his 13 fights go to decision. Dan Henderson has 19 decisions in his 37 fights. Out of Rashad Evans’ 19 fights, 10 have gone to decision. Frankie Edgar’s fights have gone to the cards 11 out of 17 times. Dominick Cruz has 12 scorecard readings in 20 bouts.

We can never shield ourselves completely from poor officiating. But by picking fighters who generally finish fights, you can at least partially remove that sometimes unpleasant variable from the equation.

If you are truly concerned about the identity of the officials, this information can be ascertained. It’s just that you won’t know until very close to fight-night. This can create a conundrum when trying to decide what’s more important–jumping early on a favorable line or holding out until you have more information. Nevertheless, it can be pretty random. Sure, some referees are better than others, but there are no real signs to detect when an officiating snafu will occur. The best referees and judges all screw up at some point. The only real defense against this is to place a little more value on wagers involving fighters who win fights outright.


Although there’s plenty of evidence that 2016 has not been the literal worst year ever, it won’t exactly go down as humanity’s most beloved spin around the sun, either. Politics, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and a seemingly endless wave of prominent deaths—and the overwhelming reporting of all of the above,thrown at us much faster than our brains can process—have made the past 366 days feel like an endless slog through misery and heartbreak. And the MMA community has not been left untouched by this tragedy. Not only did we lose a hero in boxing and cultural legend and all-around GOAT Muhammad Ali on June 3, we also witnessed the deaths of a number of mixed martial artists.

Here’s a look back at some of the fighters who passed away in 2016:

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Kevin Randleman
August 10, 1971- February 11, 2016

PRIDE, Strikeforce and UFC legend and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Kevin Randleman died of a heart attack on February 11 after being hospitalized with pneumonia. He was 44-years-old. “Those who saw him at his peak will always remember his feats of athleticism in the ring and those who had a chance to speak with him or hear him at seminars will always remember him for the thoughtful, introspective man who shone through from underneath the muscled, almost superhuman exterior,” our own Jack Slack wrote in his look back at the highs and lows of Randleman’s storied career.

João Carvalho
1988- April 11, 2016

The young Portuguese MMA fighter was hospitalized when he started feeling sick after a rough TKO loss to Charlie Ward of what was only his third professional fight at Total Extreme Fighting 1 on Saturday, April 9 (see here for Fightland’s full report on the incident). According to a statement released by his team Nobrega Team, he died at 9:35pm in Dublin on Monday, April 11. “Even though we had the permanent medical care from the promotion’s staff and the Irish hospital, to whom we thank for the support in this tough moment and even though we know the risks of this sport, Joao Carvalho’s passing is, in my professional point of view, unfortunate, and makes us, his family and the entire Nobrega Team—which followed Joao Carvalho through his entire career, which gained notoriety nationwide and internationally— saddened and heartbroken,” his team posted on Facebook.

Amokrane Sabet
1972- May 2, 2016

Amokrane Sabet earned only one victory in his four fight mixed martial arts career in the late 90s and early 00s. He also starred in a 2009 action film called K. Sources reported that the 49-year-old French national, who was living in Bali and was “controversial” among his neighbors, was shot to death by police after stabbing one of their officers to death while resisting arrest on May 2. An autopsy released on May 4 indicated that Sabet had actually died of stab wounds.

Jordan Parsons
August 26, 1990- May 4, 2016

Up and coming Bellator star and beloved Blackzilian Jordan Parsons died on May 4, three days after he was the victim of a hit-and-run in Delray Beach, Florida (the driver, Dennis Wright, was found and charged later that month). “Jordan was an exceptional athlete and a rising star in the sport. But more importantly, he was an exceptional young man. Jordan was hard-working, dedicated, intelligent, and a pleasure to be around. He represented all the reasons we love this sport. It is a terribly tragic loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends, and teammates,” Bellator President Scott Coker said in a statement.

Blas Avena
June 30, 1983- May 4, 2016

Avena was a BJJ black belt whose mixed martial arts career included stints in WEC and Bellator. His last fight was a 2013 KO loss to War Machine in 2013. On May 4, the 32-year old was found dead in Las Vegas apartment. Police announced that they were investigating the death as a suicide, but did not immediately release the cause of death.

Kevin Ferguson aka Kimbo Slice
February 8, 1974 – June 6, 2016

In the cage, Kimbo Slice, the viral street-fighting sensation turned professional boxer and Elite XC, UFC, and Bellator star was a controversial figure. In real life, Kevin Ferguson the father, fiancé, and autism advocatewas far more universally beloved. On June 3, Ferguson was rushed to the hospital with stomach pains, nausea, and a shortness of breath. Diagnosed with heart failure, he was immediately put in a ventilator in intensive care and was about to be added to an organ donor list for a heart transplant. But it was too late. Hedied at 7:30pm ET on Monday, June 6 in Cleveland. Ferguson is survived by his six children and his long-term girlfriend.

Ivan Cole
November 30, 1990- June 11, 2016

New Orleans native Ivan Cole was a professional mixed martial artist and Muay Thai instructor whose last fight was for Bellator in 2015. On June 11, Cole was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in a Dallas apartment on June 11. CBS reported that he might have been playing Russian Roulette at the time of his death. “Some say it was about money, someone said something about Russian Roulette, but I don’t have any facts now,” Cole’s mother told the New York Daily News of the tragedy. “I’m a bit devastated at this time.” He is survived by his wife Kimberly and their 4-year-old daughter.

Ryan Jimmo
November 27, 1981 – June 26, 2016

Ryan Jimmo was born in Saint John, New Brunswick. He took up karate very early in life and soon added football, bodybuilding, and chess to his arsenal. Making his professional MMA debut in 2007, he racked up a 19-5 record over the course of his career, which included a three-year run in the UFC. On June 26, mere hours after proposing to his girlfriend (whom he charmed with karate lessons and Gordon Ramsay impressions), Jimmo was killed in a hit-and-run incident in Edmonton, Alberta. He was 34 years old. In September, two men were charged – one with murder – in connection with his death.

Amar Suloev
January 7, 1976- June 27, 2016

Suloev faced the likes of Chuck Liddell, Phil Baroni, and Chael Sonnen over the course of his decade-long career that included stints in the UFC and PRIDE, but his post-combat career was far less admirable. Turning to a life of organized crime, Suloev became a contract killer (his fall is detailed in this Bloody Elbow feature). While on trial for murder, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, and was released on bail in May. He passed away in his childhood home in Anapa, Russia on June 27.

Josh Samman
March 14, 1988, October 5, 2016

In addition to his promising MMA career—the Ultimate Fighter 17 star had a 12-4 record—Samman was also a promoter and a writer. He was a contributor to Bloody Elbow and and published a memoir earlier this year. The Housekeeper: Love, Death, and Prizefighting chronicles the many struggles of his young life, including injuries, drug addiction, and the tragic death of his girlfriend in 2013. Six days after he was found unresponsive in his Florida apartment, Samman was pronounced dead on October 5. His death was ruled a probable drug overdose later that month.

A Brief History of Outsiders Insulting MMA

Before our multinational art rock collectives and ennui-ridden pop stars took over the charts and our shiny-haired Prime Minister captured hearts and loins across the world, Canada’s self-esteem issues were painfully obvious and comical. Our red carpet reporters would ask whatever random celebrities they could grab “what do you think of Canada?” instead of “who are you wearing?” We’d get disproportionately excited if someone else said something nice about us in passing—or acknowledged us at all. But if someone sad something even remotely negative, we’d be overcome with flailing rage and compensatory posturing.

I bring this up now because, in some ways, being a person who cares about MMA today feels an awful lot like being a Canadian in the ‘90s. Every random celebrity who shows up at a UFC event is flung in front of the cameras for proof of the how beloved the world’s fastest growing sport really is. Each mention in pop culture is received and analyzed with the same intense passion with which Angela Chase used to treat her every interaction with Jordan Catalano. And any misunderstanding, misrepresentation, or criticism of mixed martial arts from the outside world is met with an exponential and opposite reaction. For example, if a much-lauded actress takes an awkward shot at MMA and claims that they’re not The Arts in a awards show speech, we lose our heads and turn into raging philistines who question the genius of Death Becomes Her (which is, in reality, an underrated classic better than at least 70% of the fights I’ve ever seen).

As we pick up the shattered pieces of our souls in the wake of Meryl Streep’s devastating blow to our glass-jawed egos and, to paraphrase La Streep’s quotation of her departed friend Carrie Fisher, take our broken hearts and make them into mixed martial arts, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the other ways in which prominent politicians, boxers, and scribes have used their platforms to denigrate our sport and hurt our MMA-loving feelings.

MMA is human cockfighting.

In 1996, John McCain uttered the phrase that launched a thousand dismissals from boxing fans, upstanding citizens, and your relatives who just don’t understand you.  After being horrified by a viewing of an early UFC tape, the Arizona Senator, declared the activity “barbaric,” “not a sport” and, most infamously, “human cockfighting” and sent letters to 50 governors in an effort to ban the UFC. Although McCain’s opinion of MMA has evolved along with the sport—in 2007, the lifelong boxing fan told NPR that “They have cleaned up the sport to the point, at least in my view, where it is not human cockfighting any more. I think they’ve made significant progress. They haven’t made me a fan, but they have made progress.”—his way with words lingers on the lips of many an uneducated MMA-detractor. In 2012, Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock randomly shot down MMA as “caged human cockfighting” because he had some unresolved football feelings.

MMA is not a real sport.

McCain isn’t the only person to drag out this particular talking point. Multi-time and multi-weight boxing champion Adrien Broner took a similar shot at mixed martial arts a few years ago. In this case, though, his concern wasn’t the ostensible viciousness of the activity, it was its… lack of divine intervention in the training process? “I’m really not too big on MMA. I really don’t look at it as a real sport because anybody can come into MMA and learn that,” he said in 2013. “You can learn that. You can’t just come into boxing and be a world champion. You got to be born with it. Right now, you can go into MMA, learn all the submission moves and be a world champion.”

MMA is barbaric.

“MMA is barbaric” is the “rap music? more like CRAP music” of the sports world: a tired reflexive strike tossed by old, unaware and overwhelmed people who are scared of a changing society and think they’re making a devastating point.

1NEWS presenter Peter Williams went for “barbaric, animalistic and crude” in his invective against MMAlast March. He followed that up with other sick burns like “I sometimes think it should be grouped with the nature and wildlife channels.”

The Brisbane Courier Mail’s Phil Rothfield went with “barbaric savagery” in his wildly misinformed 2013 column.

Sunday Independent columnist Paul Kimmage admitted to feeling ambivalent about the sport in an interview on RTÉ Radio 1′s Today With Sean O’Rourke in 2015. “I’m intrigued by it. I’ve been asking about it now for a long time as whether we should engage with this because there is a lot of pantomime to it. There’s a lot of show,” he mused. He then went on to drop the b word, though, and say that he was also repulsed with MMA after watching it.

And, in 2005, none other than Hulk Hogan declared that MMA was “pretty barbaric” and will always have a narrow audience on an episode of CNBC’s The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch. And we all know that the Hulkster would never do anything niche, barbaric, or untoward.

MMA is gay.

The favorite anti-MMA argument of anonymous message board assholes and playground and bar bullies everywhere occasionally makes its way into the public discourse. Most infamously, New York State Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell brought it up wile arguing against the legalization of MMA in his state last year, jokingly calling it “gay porn with a different ending.”

Light heavyweight boxer Bernard Hopkins also went that route back in 2009. “Everybody is different. I don’t want to watch two grown men wrestling with panties on. I’m from the hood, we don’t play that. To me, I’m not buying a ticket to watch two grown men with panties on, sweating, [with] nuts in their face. That’s not me. To compare that to boxing is ludicrous. It’s a porno. It’s an entertainment porno. I’m not wrestling a guy with panties on and his nuts in my face, and they call that a sport,” he told BoxingScene. “I’m not criticizing people for what kind of entertainment they like. I think most of those people have chains and masks in their closets. There is something out there for everybody. I can understand if 90% of women were going to those things but I can’t understand a grown man sitting there with a couple of guys watching two grown men with panties on, sweating. That’s just my opinion. It’s not a good look.”