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Every year around the last weekend in May or first week in June, the annual St. Paul’s School alumni baseball game descends upon the hallowed grounds of Millville in rustic Concord, NH. And so tomorrow that’s where the Sports Brief, both halves of it, will be at 2pm. Rich and I look forward to this event for 364 days a year, essentially right after the last one wraps up. We get there early for a stretch and catch, throw down a nip or two and show these spoiled little trust fund babies that we can still play ball. For the record, no one affiliated with the Sports Brief is a TFB.
Normally, we try and turn this into a weekend extravaganza, incorporating other festivities that we enjoy onto the itinerary in hopes of making it worth our time. Last year was the 5th year reunion, which I missed because I was working an internship with the Boston Red Sox and the game was delayed for over an hour by rain and they were playing the Yankees, which meant the game was four hours by default. This year we decided that a round of golf on Saturday would be necessary as would the standard pilgrimage on Sunday morning to the Red Apple. Amidst our rough hangovers, we rise around noon, strap on our buffet shoes and dive into the best Chinese buffet line in the upper New England area.
But this year we’ve added two more events that will truly make this weekend worth remembering. First and foremost is the EliteXC card promoted by Gary Shaw, headlined by Kimbo Slice and being shown on CBS. A truly landmark event in that it’s the first time mixed martial arts is being shown on network television. I’m excited to see Kimbo continue his development from street brawler to MMA fighter against James Thompson, whose heavy hands shouldn’t be discounted despite his glass jaw. Yet it continues to bother me that people are clamoring over the fact that Slice is fighting “another tomato can.”
Let’s set the record straight: Kimbo has three fights under his belt and has only been training for a year and a half. The people that argue he’d be defeated by any top tier heavyweight or that he has no right to be headlining this card are the same people who have joined the millions of others in watching his videos on YouTube. You are all the reason this man has risen in popularity and folklore. With another four or five fights and continued training with Bas Rutten and Randy Katami, I think matchups against these top tier heavyweights will be in line. But again, it’s his popularity, the demand to see him compete, that is the reason for him headlining his card. It’s not because his talent, ability and overall record warrant it.
The undercard itself is pretty impressive, as well. Robby Lawler and Scott Smith will put on the type of standup battle that makes MMA so exciting. While Lawler’s tactical skill likens him to a boxer in the MMA game, he’s aggressive, has great power and never turns down an opportunity to engage. Smith, meanwhile, just comes to fight and he’s got great KO power as evidenced by his last win a few months ago over Kyle Noke. He’s a former union iron worker who goes by the moniker “Hands of Steel.” This should be riveting TV.
The female fight between Gina Carano and Kaitlyn Young should be interesting. Carano is much like Kimbo in that she’s fairly inexperienced but she’s shown great ability so far and her popularity comes from activities outside of being a sanctioned MMA competitor. Obviously I’m referring to her stellar work on NBC’s “American Gladiators.” Has anyone watched her on the joust? It’s incredible how dominant she is. But the best part of watching her on AG is on the pyramid. She’ll literally pull a woman off the pyramid, then either pull her into her guard or secure a mount and hold her there until time elapses. As an MMA fan, I can’t help but smile. But her opponent, Young, is no slouch either, and her experience will prove to be a good test for Carano.
Then there’s the enigmatic Phil Baroni, the self-proclaimed “New York Bad Ass” who once petitioned himself to be “The F*cking Best Eva” after his brutal KO of Dave Menne for the UFC middleweight title. He’s fighting Joey Villasenor, and while neither of these guys can claim to be in the upper echelon of mixed martial artists, they’re exciting and TV friendly, much in the same way that Chris Leben continues to be tapped for televised PPV fights despite a so-so UFC record.
And finally we’ll be treated to another heavyweight matchup that pits Brett Rogers, fresh off a KO of Thompson in their last fight, against Jon Murphy. You can question why a guy who got KTFO’d against Rogers would be Kimbo’s opponent as a headliner. The answer is simple: Kimbo’s the main draw here and Thompson is a better matchup for him in terms of continuing his development. Rogers is a more dangerous opponent, and if he’d lost to Thompson, he’d probably be fighting Kimbo in the headliner right now. Perhaps Kimbo, with a victory of course, can take on the winner of this fight in the Fall.
I’m slightly disappointed that Shaw didn’t put a couple judo or jiu-jitsu artists on the main card, because submissions, rolls, sweeps and throws are a very exciting part of MMA. I understand why a wrestler wouldn’t be televised, because lay-n-pray is never exciting to watch. But I would have appreciated Shaw giving the network audience a broader spectrum of the game, as well. Nonetheless, these standup battles should do well in terms of excitement, and ultimately, ratings.
But the best part of Saturday night’s fights, however, is that it probably won’t have the best fight of the weekend. That’s right, everyone seems to be forgetting that CBS isn’t the only fight card available for free on cable TV this weekend. So after the fights end and you’re left wanting more, remind yourself that Versus has another WEC event scheduled for Sunday. And headlining that card is a featherweight matchup between the current Champion and rising star Urijah Faber and the first ever UFC lightweight champ Jens Pulver. “Lil’ Evil” should prove to be a tremendous test for Faber and certainly a great measuring stick as to where he stands in this sport. Faber has been plowing through his competitors, rattling off 12 straight victories since his first and only loss to current UFC lightweight contender Tyson Griffin. The “California Kid” has his eyes set on a rematch with Griffin, but Pulver should be his only focus right now. The experience, heavy hands and tremendous heart possessed by the veteran could present problems, especially if Faber can’t get Pulver to the ground and control him there. With a win, Faber will truly have arrived as one of the sports’ elite. With a loss, it will only make the division more interesting with Pulver establishing himself as a force, and a champion, at that weight.
The rest of the card isn’t as deep or talented as the CBS card on Saturday, but it’s worth watching nonetheless. Miguel Torres defends his bantamweight title for the first time since defeating Chase Beebe. He takes on Yoshiro Maeda. To the casual fan, this may not mean anything to you. But in layman’s terms, we’re talking about two guys with a combined 55-5-2 record. That’s just plain filthy. And if you’ve ever watched a boxing match at this weight, you know these guys are in 5 th gear for an entire fight. Torres displayed sick jiu-jitsu and ground skills in his win on Beebe, good enough in fact that I’m hoping he does it again. Whether you’re a hardcore fan or giving MMA a shot, watching a guy like Torres on the ground can give anyone an appreciation for the skill.
Meanwhile, “Razor” Rob McCullough returns from his devastating KO loss to Jamie Varner in which he also lost his lightweight belt. McCullough takes on the guy to hand him his first professional defeat, Kenneth Alexander. While this has Rampage-Eastman 2 written all over it, it still provides an interesting storyline, especially with McCullough coming off that loss to Varner.
It should be an exciting weekend for fights, and truly a banner moment for the sport of MMA. While the UFC has certainly helped the sport grow exponentially, it’s repeated PPV telecasts and recent string of poor ratings on Spike haven’t been the most productive and beneficial instances. This weekend should give serious exposure to the game and its fighters and provide a shot in the arm to MMA in general. And it will be a great way to cap off the weekend as Rich and I continue to hang onto the dream for one day out of the calendar year. This comes from a guy who tried to bunt for a base hit in the alumni game a few years back. You gotta do what you can to get on base and help the team. I’ll post my picks below:
CBS on Saturday night
Kimbo Slice by KO in the 1st round
Robbie Lawler by (T)KO due to strikes in the 2nd round
Joey Villasenor by submission in the 3rd round
Gina Carano by decision
Brett Rogers by KO in the 2nd round
WEC on Sunday night
Urijah Faber by submission (rear naked choke) in the 3 rd round
Miguel Torres by submission in the 2 nd round
Rob McCullough by KO in the 1 st round
Chuck Grigsby by decision
Enjoy the weekend and the fights.
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