The Mark And Curse Of Cain (Fanboy Slim series)

October 23, 2010. UFC121 was the first PPV I watched at a movie theater. Accompanied by pretty much all of the Latin American population of Greater Atlanta Area, I sat and waited for the main event, in which Brock Lesnar would defend the heavyweight title for the 3rd time.
The contender was on an 8 fights win streak, against steadily better competition with 7 of the 8 ending via early stoppage. The general opinion around the water cooler (i.e. UFC forums) was that if Lesnar can take Cain down and hold him down, he will win. Otherwise, he is in big trouble.
I gave Brock a point for trying. But this is just one example of things that are easier said than done to Cain Velasquez. Cain thwarted the takedown attempt as if he wasn’t facing an incredibly strong and experienced wrestler, then went to work on rearranging the facial configuration of the champion en route to the heavyweight title.
Everyone then warned that Cain will get knocked out by the first challenger, Junior Dos Santos, and on the very first event on Fox he was. We can’t take this win away from Junior, but as it became plenty apparent, he enjoyed a very lucky punch to the right place at the right time.
After quickly dispatching of Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva by taking all of his frustration on the big guy, Cain met JDS again but this time, the fight was completely different. Cain dominated most of the fight and won what LOOKED like an easy decision.
Velasquez then defended once against Bigfoot with ease, before completing the trilogy with Dos Santos with a 5th round finish following another dominant fight.
The next fight took place about a year and half later, in the high altitudes of Mexico City and against the re-surging Fabricio Werdum. The challenger decided to have his camp in Mexico City, a move that evidently won him the fight. Cain arrived with very uncharacteristic poor conditioning, got tired very quickly and suffered his first submission loss.
Fast forward about 18 months and Cain returns to action in a fight against Travis Browne. Easy money. The next thing was obvious. A title shot against Stipe Miocic who dethroned Werdum. But then Cain had back surgery and we haven’t seen him inside the octagon since.
In the 5 years between 2012 and 2017, Cain fought a total of 5 times in the UFC. This is due to injuries that seem to have plagued the great one. There are reasons that seem apparent for these injuries. First and foremost, Cain’s fighting style is pressure based. Cain engages quickly and maintains the level of aggression he puts forth for as long as necessary to put his opponent away. When utilizing this tactic in the heavyweight division, muscles, bones and tendons alike are ground.  Add to that, the training style which we know Cain employs at AKA. What commentators and training partners called “Sharpening iron with iron”, meaning that Cain trains at similar intensity as he fights, and does so with partners the like of Daniel Cormier and Luke Rockhold. We don’t know much beyond this, and perhaps there are additional reasons for this frustrating string of injuries. The only thing we – Cain’s fans – know is that we miss him.
We received an update from LHW Champion Daniel Cormier about his friend and training partner, and although we do not have a solid return date, It seems likely that Cain is planning to resume his fighting career as early as he can.
On the always popular debate of “who is the best heavyweight of all time?” I have no way of proving my claim that Cain is indeed the one. Unfortunately, the curse of injuries made it difficult for him to string more victories over the top-tier HW fighters, to establish this.
Since I can’t convince you that this goes beyond simple bias, I’ll just say this – Cain is the most interesting and complete heavyweight fighter I ever watched.
Yes, there are better specialists such as Werdum, Overeem and perhaps Stipe when it comes to boxing. I assume that although Cain packs a punch, some of the others hit stronger (N’gannou, to say the least). But Cain holds a deck of cards that totals to a fighter who can use his wrestling to dictate the turf, the striking and guts to push the action, and for the most part, the conditioning to do that for as long as he needs to.
This is the mark of Cain. Not a dull moment in his fights. This is a man who constantly looks to do damage, further the action and dominate.
I am a little torn though.
Because I love Cain so much, I selfishly want to watch him fight as many times as possible. Because I love him so much, I also want him to be healthy and not sacrifice the rest of his life for a few more fights.
I hope that his return involves some adjustments in the training regime. Such changes that can support durability and sustained action.
  • Who is your favorite heavyweight?
  • Who do you think is the best and why?
  • Let me know.
 
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UFC 218 AfterMMAth (Steps Forward And Back Steps)

For a while now, UFC did a good job (yes, I give credit when credit is due) closing out the calendar year with strong cards that delivered in more than the entertainment department. 2018 so far, is on par in that department. Although 218 suffered the significant loss of Edgar to injury, the card (and undercard) was strong enough to give us more than our money’s worth.
As always, let’s discuss my picks quickly. Then, we’ll chat about this, that and the other.

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UFC 218 – Predictions

After a fun – if not really significant – TUF Finale, it’s time for one of the last 2 PPVs of 2017. Many people expressed disappointment by the card, but as I wrote in this post, I think it’s a very solid card.
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Are You Not Entertained !?

I don’t like saying “I told you so”. Hell, who am I kidding? I like to sit here and feel superior. But ego aside, I just wanted to remind you of that post I wrote about UFC trying to be punk and failing miserably.
We’re just starting to come down off the UFC217 high and, as predicted, when you have a super card like that – the following cards suffer. Ignoring the market specific UFC in Shanghai, we’re looking at the next 2 PPVs and see a lot of very disappointed fans.
Yes, neither one equals 217, but this is exactly what I was talking about. When everything is “Punk” then what is Punk?
The question we should be asking ourselves is not “is UFC218 or 219 as good as 217?” The question is simply “Do I want to watch UFC218 or 219?
Let me offer an answer.

um…. Hell yeah.

Let’s look at UFC218 for a minute: Besides what looks like pretty solid prelims, capped by Oliveira(cowboy)/Medeiros and Oliveira/Felder, we have:
  • A solid women fight between Torres and Waterson
  • Ex-champ Alvarez and always exciting Gaethje
  • The new and improved Cejudo Vs. Pettis Jr.
  • The hottest HW MMA has to offer Vs. Reem
  • A championship fight between Max Holloway and that guy who used to run FW for about forever.
Let’s move ahead quickly to UFC219 and check out the merch: Again we have very solid prelims, including appearances by fan favorites like Usman and Smolka, followed by:
  • The return of one of the best WWs MMA had to offer (That’s Carlos Condit for those of you living under a rock) in an interesting match up with Neil Magny
  • Cynthia Calvillo’s greatest test Vs. Carla Esparza
  • Jimmie Rivera’s possible shot at a title shot against John Lineker
  • The returning Khabib who, despite all the jokes, is still a leading contender Vs. Highlight reel Edson Barboza
  • A championship fight between Two of the best female MMA fighters of all times
So that gives us, on both cards:
  • Title fights
  • Fights with direct impact on title contendership
  • Hot new (relatively new) talents
  • Strong prelims
But of course, we are mostly preoccupied by the people who are not there. Frankie is injured… what can we do about that? Jose Aldo may never be the same person he used to be, but he did not forget how to fight. Conor McGregor is busy with anything but MMA. Tough. Deal with it, folks.
I recommend a swift reality check. Let us get back from fantasy booking to the real world. With the people available, with the titles and contenders as they are, can we really complain about 2 cards like the aforementioned?
Seriously now, are you not entertained?


The Very Real Story Of Walt Longmire

First of, no. This isn’t becoming a TV review site anytime soon. It’s a matter of coinciding schedule on Netflix. You can read the short post I wrote about The Punisher” here. That was written after a binge. This here post on the other hand was not. Yes, I doubled up on episodes of Longmire (because damn it, I love this show), but I let it last a whole week (trust me, it took a lot for me to hold off). After all, this was the last season, so I thought I’d make it count, in hope that they made it count too.
Well, the short version is – they did.
But we’re not here to take shortcuts. No. We’re here to celebrate one of TV’s most underrated shows.
Like quite a few TV shows I loved, this one was recommended to me by good friends in Georgia (other notable mentions: Justified, Top of the lake, The walking dead among others.). Had I not gotten this recommendation, chances are I’d never watch an episode of Longmire.
I mean, come on. It’s the second decade of this millenium for crying out loud. Who tells a story about Cowboys and Indians? No zombies, no high-tech, no weekly deaths of main characters, no full frontal…. Jeez…. right?
Wrong.
Like many less than flashy productions, Longmire is a proof that a good story could be told and acted, regardless of the year. And yes, there are still cowboys out there, and thankfully a few native Americans.

Every story, absolutely must have these things (a very condensed checklist):

relatable main character:
You can’t get much more relatable than Walt Longmire. A man of the law (automatic good guy), Widowed due to murdered wife (we’re on board) and father to a beautiful, loving and caring daughter, leading a police force of seemingly less than stellar cops. Walt’s as real as they come. He seems to have quite a few of those very human flaws and just enough charm and guts to get us behind him.
Strong antagonist/s:
We had the chief of the reservation police Malachi, and his successor Mathias. Both in constant ends with Walt and his view of police work and interests.
Branch Connally and his father Barlow were a different kind of opposition, as were investigators trying to tie Walt to a murder.
The Irish Mafia came to town, and of course, the one guy who always walked the fine line between legal and charity – Jacob Nighthorse.
Add the different antagonistic forces that came with the sub plots and you have yourself a very strong, forever threatening opponent. Some of whom were truly a mirror of sorts. Keeping Walt on his guard, both as it relates to the threat they posed, as well as to what their similarities told him about himself.
Secondary/Supporting characters:
First and foremost, Walt’s best friend Henry Standing Bear. How do we know he’s his best friend? Well, he answers the two qualities of such person. He tells it like it is. There is no beating around the bush, walking on egg shells type of BS about Henry. When Walt Effs up – Henry is there to tell it to his face. And even though they may disagree or even downright oppose each other, Henry is always there for Walt (and the same is true the other way).
Cady is a character that manages to stay away from cliché. Yes, she stays by her dad after her mom dies and yes, she is that one who always wants to leave “small town USA” and falls in love with the good-looking quarterback (or bull rider). But she is also an intelligent, independent and driven person, who may irritate her old-fashioned dad, but ultimately (and recognized for it by him eventually) she is what Walt evolved into (though we will never actually see it on-screen).
Vic (Philly) is the outsider who wants to understand Walt, admires him and frustrated by him. Her being that stranger is what makes this slow burning, tense love story so effective.
Yes, there are others, but these three are the most important for the story and for the main character.
A believable plot and sub plots (within the rules of the story world):
A small (fictional) county, with “regular folk” and yet a lot seems to happen. Sure, when you say it like that, it may not be believable at all. Especially if you bring in the Irish mob from all the way out in Boston. But all told, every event makes sense. Either via cause and effect or by reasonable explanation.
The intermingling of plots and the relationships between White Americans and Native Americans, as well as the inner working of those societies living side by side (which in itself is a story), make for a very interesting mix of dilemmas and questions. Those drive character change and development in subtle but impactful ways.
The journey:
Oh, how far did we go in six seasons. From the loner drunk, stubborn and – let’s face it – selfish sherif of season 1, to the open-minded, flexible, emotionally engaged and proud father and lover we said goodbye to this season.
Every episode and every season brought Walt closer to that beautiful man we saw in the finale. And no, it wasn’t just a sequence of make a mistake, learn, improve. One of the most beautiful things about this story is that it is very real. It’s a tale of real men. You know, those who make the same mistake more than once (or three times) before they learn. Real men like us. relatable.
And after winning some of his battles and losing more than his fair share, this man learns to overcome his grief, open his heart to another woman, understand his daughter completely and come to terms with his imperfections.
Hey, He even has his own cellphone!
Voice:
Perhaps in TV is easier, because these words are spoken, but think about it. It’s not only the difference between cowboy Walt’s everyday guy English and Henry’s official-talk. It’s also the differences between Henry, Mathias and Malachi. Cause you know… not all injunes are the same. It’s also the way Cady differs from her dad (not to mention Vic from Philly).
And if we want to look at the voice of the story-teller, we can follow the camera and the directing and editing. A really solid work of modern-day Cowboy/Indian world creation.
Longmire is one of my all time favorite shows. I will surely re-watch it.
One point of contention though…
This series did such a phenomenal job in telling a story about a Native Indian society without falling into the trap of making it look like a group of identical individuals on the one hand, or go science fiction on the other. I loved that fact that visions and symbolism played a part in the story.
One thing I wish they kept out. In the last season, Cady helps a native American lady kidnap a kid in order to get him “proper” medication.
I truly believe this was unnecessary. If we credit visions and symbolism (which we should), we really should have not fallen into the trap of western medicine’s superiority over that of native Americans. It felt preachy and uncharacteristic.
But hey, it’s just a little piece of a very big and beautiful puzzle of story telling and TV production.
So long Walt (seems to be a great name for a phenomenal protagonist). See you later.


That Ain’t No Punishment

One doesn’t need a degree in psychology to know that once you get used to something being good, the expectation is that it stays that way. In the world of entertainment, this may be the most accented. A successful TV series normally develops a following, gathers momentum and reaches that crossroad where some fans give up and others stick around.

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Failure, Defeat, Loss, Humiliation (Or In Other Words – The Makings Of Success)

There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.

Malcolm X

Have you ever seen Cristiano Ronaldo get the ball just the way he likes it, in a position to score comfortably, do everything right, then send the ball off target? Did you catch that facial expression? And what do you think goes through his head? Is he saying “the goal was supposed to be a few inches to the right?”
Do you remember that time Georges Saint-Pierre, yes the very same man who is (rightfully) named the greatest MMA fighter of all time, lost to Matt Serra, a relative unknown at the time? In his very first title defense no less? After speaking about personal life interfering with his fight, George took that back and stated very clearly that Matt Serra was simply the better fighter that night.
When Joanna jedrzejczyk broke in tears during the post fight press conference, it was hard not to feel for her. She just lost her title, and with it, her dream of retiring from the sport undefeated. Yes, she spoke a lot of trash in the weeks leading to the fight, and I did not like it one little bit, but she is a human being caught on camera at a time most of us aren’t.
Yet, for the most part, she was ok. She said mostly positive things about her turning the page and working to get back to the top. She grudgingly credited Rose for her performance and game plan, and even if there was a hint of denial in her general message, I attributed it to the instant-gratification needs of today’s media – i.e. forcing her to face the press minutes after defeat and expecting a well thought out statement.
Twenty four hours have passed, and we read reports coming from her camp that she “wasn’t feeling well on the week of the fight.”
Let me say this first – It might very well be true. I am not here to doubt her, or her people.  I am however, of the opinion, that this was not wise.
She cut me off, she caught me

 

Yes she did. and did she do it with no intention? Did she do it “out of the blue”? Of course not, as my fellow combatdocket.com writter Benjamin Abrigo beautifully wrote, it was all part of a well thought out plan to beat the defending champion.
In that post, Benjamin describes how TJ Dillashaw and his coach came up with the plan to defeat another defending champion, Cody Garbrandt.
What was the message in Cody’s post fight press conference? In so many words – regardless of the result, I was the better fighter. And if in Joanna’s case, we could attribute it to shock and humiliation, in Cody’s case – let’s face it – we’re talking about pure ego. Complete disregard to reality.
Then, out comes Michael Bisping and says “I felt great, I trained hard, and Georges was the better fighter. He won.”
With your permission, I will spend another paragraph or two on the role of the media in all this before we move on.
Many of the fighters these days are very young. Some of our champions are very young. Youth is excitement, and showmanship. It is also, immaturity.
The media knows that. The promoter knows that. Yet, they send these young folks to the proverbial line of fire, riding an adrenaline roller-coaster, to be documented for eternity answering questions, which most of these young men and women are not prepared for in the best case, or just provocative and unnecessary questions in the worst.
Perhaps the post fight press conference should be reserved for the promotion head, who can answer question at his discretion, and at a later time, the fighters – having a chance to catch their breath and think things over – could face the press.
Let’s get back to the fighters.
While I put some of the blame on the nature of the beast, we cannot remove it all from the fighters themselves.
GSP says that the loss to Matt Serra made him what he became in the years that followed. Cristiano Ronaldo became a monstrous striker because he hates to lose. athletes like these, did not become what they are because of success.
Defeat, Failure, Loss, Humiliation. All of these words are perceived as negative because of the way they make us feel but they could – perhaps more so in the context of competitive sports – be referred to as a source of motivation and opportunity.

Drivers of change.

GSP never looked past another opponent again in his life. In fact, he frustrated reporters and fans alike every time he deflected questions about other opponents, stating that it would be disrespectful to his current one. Actually, by maintaining this attitude, Georges respected himself and his profession more and channeled his focus on the target in front of him, and worked hard at improving the aspect of the game he needed to, in order to win his next fight.
TJ Dillashaw experienced all of these in the very first round of this very championship fight. He went to his corner and came out of it a changed man.
Ronaldo walks away from that miss with one thought in his head “Next time I will do it better.” and if he misses again? “Next time I will do it better.” He will shoot hundreds of balls at practice and perform whatever task again and again until he gets it right. Because it’s not the opposing defender’s responsibility to allow him access. It’s his own.
So some advice to young fighters:
  • Learn to be more humble in victory – It will buy you a lot of credit in defeat.
  • Do not be ashamed in failure – It is not the end of the world. We all experience it.
  • Embrace defeat and own it – It is a great opportunity to improve (in every aspect of our lives).
  • Give credit – Not only is it a nice thing to do – the appropriate thing to do – it also prevents embarrassment. If you discredit someone who beat you, then in essence your loss is bigger. If you beat someone you discredited, then what did you really achieve by winning?