NEW YORK — Peter Quillin sat on a dais late Saturday night with a toothy smile and hardly a scratch on his face. Hours earlier, Quillin, the undefeated WBO middleweight champion, the charismatic transplanted Brooklynite who has made the Barclays Center his new home, defended his title, stopping Fernando Guerrero in the seventh round. At 29, Quillin is a fighter with a bright future. Or at least he should be.
Archive for April, 2013
NEW YORK — Three thoughts on Danny Garcia’s unanimous decision win over Zab Judah:
For Garcia, a learning experience
No question, Garcia won the fight. He dominated most of the early rounds and picked up a knockdown in the eighth, countering a straight left hand from Judah with a stinging right that sent Judah tumbling to the canvas. But Judah showed tremendous heart, refusing to quit and rallying to win most of the final rounds. He hurt Garcia repeatedly in the tenth, seeming to catch his second wind while Garcia started to slow down. But Judah gave away too many rounds early, and the judges’ scoring (115-112, 114-112, 116-111) was spot on.
NEWARK — He’s back. After an absence of nearly a year and a half.
True, Michael Bisping competed in the UFC as recently as January, but that wasn’t the real Bisping. And I say that not because he was knocked out by a Vitor Belfort head kick. He fared much better in the fight before that, a decision victory over Brian Stann last September, and performed admirably even in a loss to Chael Sonnen eight months earlier.
But the Bisping in those bouts — or, more precisely, in the leadup to those bouts — was a gentleman, an agreeable sort. He talked about his dedication and preparation and blah blah blah. It was not the Bisping we’d come to know and love. Or hate. Not the Bisping who spewed insults in the face of Jason Miller right up until the night in December 2011 when he made “Mayhem” his fourth straight conquest. Would we ever again see that angry guy from so many past fights?
NEW YORK — Dana White was sitting on a brightly lit makeshift stage in the lobby of The Theater at Madison Square Garden, well aware of the irony of him being on this stage on a Thursday afternoon while, two nights later, his fighters would not be allowed to put on a show under the bright lights in the arena behind him. UFC 159 will play out on Saturday night not in New York’s eminent sports cathedral but across the river in New Jersey. It’s as if White’s mixed martial arts organization were the Giants or Jets, except for one tiny detail: The NFL is welcome in the Empire State.
“It is what it is,” the UFC president told a gathering of reporters, pulling out a well-worn phrase of his, but this time with what seemed more resignation than usual behind it. White has seen MMA sanctioning legislation have its moments up in Albany, like a fighter getting in a few crisp jabs and leg kicks early in the first round, self-assuredly sticking and moving, looking like it’s his night. Until he runs into an overhand right. The leadership of the New York State Assembly, which again and again has KO’d an MMA bill before it even could come up for a vote, packs a mean punch.
“I’m so over it,” said White, sounding like he’s anything but. Unless by “over it” he means keeping his nose out of a lobbying effort that can only suffer from his crudely tactless manner. That’s why the company’s visits to Albany are being made by CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, whom White characterized as “the kinder, gentler side of the UFC.”
But as the UFC pushes for the sanctioning it needs to celebrate its 20th anniversary come November with a gala fight card in the Garden, which the organization has expressed keen interest in doing, White continues to play a significant role. How could he not? More than any fighter, the boss is the public face of the company. What he says and does matters.
That is why the irony White missed on Thursday was more telling than the irony he acknowledged. Sure, he noticed the row of sports photographs that line one of the walls of the Garden lobby, prominent among them a shot of a kickboxing match. That sport is sanctioned in New York, along with boxing and other combative disciplines that are elements of MMA, while MMA itself is not? Right there from a frame on the wall, irony was getting up in White’s face.
At the same time, the UFC poobah chose not to look squarely in the eye of the situation’s other source of irony. That would be the shameful saga of Matt Mitrione. You know, the heavyweight who back on April 8 had his UFC contract suspended after he’d spewed a venomous tirade against transgender fighter Fallon Fox. Back then, the UFC had rose petals thrown at its feet for swiftly bringing the hammer down.
As it turns out, though, the hammer was only a Nerf hammer, the suspension no more than a kid’s timeout. Fox Sports reported on Wednesday that Mitrione will fight on the network’s UFC card in Seattle on July 27. So that’s it? A suspension lasting 16 days, which since “Meathead” wouldn’t have been fighting anyway amounts to nothing at all? White wouldn’t address the upcoming fight, reportedly to be against fellow Season 10 alum of The Ultimate Fighter (and fellow ex-NFL player) Brendan Schaub, but said Mitrione was fined “enough to make him call me 40 times and ask me not to fine him that much.”
The takeaway: Open your wallet, Matt, but no need to publicly acknowledge that calling Fox a “lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak” was vile and unbecoming of a professional athlete employed by the UFC.
Of course, White doesn’t see it that way. “If a guy comes out and says something stupid, I don’t go to him and say, ‘Here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to apologize,’ and you’re gonna do this and that,” he said. “You can’t make somebody apologize. If I make him do it, it’s not real. Then he’s not really apologizing.”
There’s truth in that. All too often, athletes and others in the public eye issue faux mea culpas crafted by their PR teams. Those apologies aren’t worth the breath wasted on them. But the UFC is not the NFL or Major League Baseball, sports organizations that are already well established in the public perception, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. White’s fight league is on the fringes, vying for attention.
Positive attention, that is, as opposed to having its notorious history of misogyny, homophobia and other antisocial behavior continually spotlit by groups like the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226. The Las Vegas-based outfit has long waged a battle with UFC majority owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta in an effort to unionize the brothers’ other business, Station Casinos. Recently the local has dragged the UFC into the fight, using the union’s political muscle in New York to lobby against MMA legislation. White calls this “dirty.”
No, what’s dirty is masking Mitrione’s depraved hatred under the guise of having an opinion but just expressing it wrongly. Here’s what White said on the Mitrione matter on Thursday: “I don’t think that somebody who used to be a man but became a woman should be able to fight women. I don’t. But the way he said it? If he was standing in front of a courtroom because he was so passionate about this, in front of a judge or a committee or something like that, he wouldn’t have said it the way he said it. Maybe he thought he was trying to be funny? It wasn’t funny. My guys aren’t comedians, and they really need to figure that out and learn it. You wanna be funny, do it in with your friends, around your crew and everything else. Don’t do it on any public forum.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with White expressing an opinion of whether a trans woman should be allowed to compete with other women in combat sports, particularly in light of what he said next: “And you know, I’ll leave it up to the athletic commissions and the doctors and scientists, or whatever it is, to see if you have that surgery and you go through that stuff, if you actually become a … but bone structure is different. Hands are bigger. Jaw is bigger. Everything is bigger. I don’t believe in it. I don’t believe that someone who used to be a man and became a woman should be able to fight a woman. I don’t.”
So White believes what he believes, but he’ll leave it to the experts to decide on how to proceed. Fine. The UFC president is not alone in that evenhanded stance. However, neither he nor anyone else who has commented on the matter — other than Mitrione — has darkened his or her opinion with a nasty personal attack. If the UFC wants to get past dirty politics, it needs to clean up its act by cleaning out the haters. Not by simply telling them to just whisper their malevolence to their buddies.
Dana White might not get that, but his light heavyweight champion sure does. Jon Jones, who’ll defend his belt against Chael Sonnen in Saturday night’s main event at the Prudential Center in Newark (10 p.m. ET, PPV), offered up his own opinion of Mitrione during Thursday’s media gathering. “I think he’s terrible for that,” Jones said. “It’s ridiculous. I think Fallon Fox, that’s a strong person. Despite what the person has been through in their life, that’s a strong person. I’m a fan of that person because of what they’ve gone through and what they’re willing to go through. People like Matt Mitrione are scumbags. He’s a scumbag. I don’t care if he’s off suspension or doesn’t fight again. He’s a ridiculous person.”
You might have noticed that Jones, even in defending Fox, did not once use a female personal pronoun. Taken within the context of what he said, he clearly meant no disrespect. Jones was just speaking outside his comfort zone. The emergence and gradual acceptance of transgenders and others who’ve long been shunned or ignored is a work-in-progress in sports as well as all of society. Comfort zones can only expand along with education and compassion. One wonders whether that’s a lesson the UFC is even remotely interested in teaching Matt Mitrione.
– Jeff Wagenheim
UPDATE: Mitrione issued an apology on Friday via a UFC press release: “I want to apologize for my hurtful comments about Fallon Fox and a group within our society which, in truth, I know nothing about. I know now there’s an important line between expressing an opinion on a subject and being hurtful and insensitive. I crossed that line by expressing my views in an ugly, rude and inappropriate manner.”
So, is this one of those meaningless apologies White was talking about? The jury is out on that, as Mitrione himself went on to acknowledge: “Anyone can say ‘I’m sorry’ to get themselves out of trouble. That’s not the kind of person I want to be. I am embarrassed I chose to express myself in such a fashion and am looking forward to living up to this apology through my future actions, words and conduct.”
A couple of word choices suggest that perhaps the fighter is learning something from this ordeal. Describing transgenders as a group “I know nothing about” is a simple yet difficult acknowledgement that he was speaking out of ignorance. It also was good to hear Mitrione talk about “living up to this apology” with not just words but actions, a commitment the UFC plans to hold him to. Lawrence Epstein, the promotion’s vice president and COO, said Mitrione will work with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender groups “to make amends to the community he hurt.”
How many grains of salt with which you take all of this depends on your own degree of naivete, cynicism or pragmatism. But if Mitrione is sincere in his desire to move forward, he has an opportunity here. There’s no better way to develop respect for a group of people different from you than to spend time around those people learning ways in which you’re the same.
SI.com analysts Loretta Hunt, Jeff Wagenheim and Jon Wertheim provide their predictions for UFC 159, which takes place Saturday (10 p.m. ET) and will be blogged on SI.com.
Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen
WAGENHEIM: When the time comes, Chael P.’s music will start to play, he’ll put on his short pants and go to work. And as soon as the guy in the snake suit moves out of the way, he’ll put his head down, walk across the cage and put Jon Jones on his prissy little … oh, wait, I’m describing the fight as it plays out in Sonnen’s melodramatic fantasy narrative, not the way it really will.
A more realistic, if less infomercial-ish scenario: Sonnen comes out boxing and moving forward, and at the first glimpse of one of Jones’s skinny legs, moves in for a takedown try. If he gets it, the crowd will go crazy and we’ll get a rare look at the “Bones” bottom game. Does Jon have the jiu-jitsu chops to become the latest to submit a guy whose walkout music should be “Taps”? Chael is not known for inflicting much damage while smothering an opponent, so it’d be interesting to see if Jones would put those treacherous elbows of his to use and be the ground aggressor. Or would he just work his way back to his feet?
If, on the other hand, Sonnen fails on his takedown attempt, it will be an ingloriously short night for the unworthy challenger. Jones by KO.
HUNT: Jones by TKO.
WERTHEIM: Put simply, it’s hard come up with a conceivable scenario in which Jones loses this fight. He’s superior on virtually every dimension — If he’s not Sonnen’s equal as a wrestler, he comes awfully close — he’s younger, more athletic and will be the crowd favorite. The best Sonnen can hope for: a respectable showing will suggest that he, in fact, earned this opportunity and didn’t simply talk/market himself into a title shot. Jones by TKO.
Michael Bisping vs. Alan Belcher
WAGENHEIM: If you spend a few minutes around these men, as I did on Thursday, it’s hard to picture Belcher winning this fight. Bisping is so supremely confident that he speaks of his opponent as if he were a yokel from Double-A ball who will be unable to get a piece of the Brit’s major-league playoff heater. And Belcher is, well, low-key and thoughtful and a little bemused by the leadup to what he acknowledges as the biggest fight of his career. Is the man with the tattoo of “The Man in Black” on his arm really in over his head? Tough to say, but I’m going to go with no. I think he’s going to give “The Count” a fight he’ll remember. Belcher might even beat him. But I’ve got to go with Bisping. This is the type of fight he’s won for all of his career (only to lose when he’s another step or so closer to the pot of gold). Bisping by decision.
HUNT: Belcher has the heavier hands (and kicks, for that matter), but Bisping can win this if he plays it smart, mixing up his punches with takedowns like he did against Brian Stann last September. Bisping by decision.
WERTHEIM: One hopes the fight lives up to the considerable advance trash talk. While it’s not all-out desperation time, Bisping is 34 now and has lost two of his last three fights. In Belcher, he gets a UFC veteran with a battery of skills and deceptive power. If both fighters are willing to stay on their feet, this has TKO potential. If it goes to the ground, we could have five rounds or stall-and-sprawl. Either way, I pick Bisping by decision.
Roy Nelson vs. Chieck Kongo
WAGENHEIM: Kongo has the power to test Nelson’s hard-as-a-mulleted-rocker chin. But Cheick is known to make mistakes, and Roy is known to capitalize on them. Nelson by KO.
HUNT: Though Nelson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, could devour Kongo on the mat, he’ll likely stand with the chiseled Frenchman, who is yet to amount to the powerhouse fighter his appearance suggests he’d be. Nelson by TKO (R2 or R3).
WERTHEIM: You love Roy Nelson or you hate him, but have to admire both the durability and the unlikely skill set of Big Country. He won’t win any sculpted physique contests, but he can win fights — in a variety of ways. In Congo, he faces a veteran who seems to lose when he’s on the verge of a breakthrough; and win when he’s on the verge of being written off. Look for a TKO — and potential KO/fight of the Night — but I’ll say it’s Nelson who, like his belly, comes up big. Nelson by TKO.
Phil Davis vs. Vinny Magalhaes
WAGENHEIM: If Davis wants to make another go at the top of the light heavyweight division, he simply cannot slip up. Or tap out. Davis by decision.
HUNT: This one will depend on the superior wrestler Davis, who can rack up points with takedown after takedown, as long as he doesn’t dawdle inside the Brazilian’s dangerous guard for too long. Davis by decision.
WERTHEIM: His nickname notwithstanding, Mr. Wonderful doesn’t often impress. A rangy wrestler and methodical fighter, Davis likes to do what’s necessary to win, seldom taking advantage of an inevitable reach advantage. Magalhaes looked good in his UFC return last year, but can he make inroads against a superior wrestler? The guess here: no. Davis by a (boring) decision.
Jim Miller vs. Pat Healy
WAGENHEIM: If you’re looking for aesthetics, change the channel. This ain’t going to be pretty. It isn’t, either. Miller and Healy both are grinders who close distance. When they meld into one, I expect the Jersey guy to grind just a little bit better. Miller by decision.
HUNT: Miller will have a significant edge in speed everywhere and Healy’s strong suit, his boxing, isn’t dynamic enough to catch the hometown favorite. Miller By submission.
WERTHEIM: Not dissimilar fighters, UFC veteran tough guys with submission-based ground skills and some power. Fighting in front of a home crowd, Miller, a New Jersey native, should prevail. Miller by decision.
• In a shocker, Russian promoter Vladimir Hryunov won a purse bid for the right to promote Wladimir Klitschko’s future heavyweight title defense against Alexander Povetkin with a whopping $23.3 million bid, far more than K2 Promotions ($7.1 million) or Sauerland Event ($6.01 million) put up. Assuming both Klitschko and Povetkin make it through their upcoming bouts, the fight will take place August 31 in either Moscow, Berlin or Las Vegas. Under the terms of the bid, Klitschko would receive $17.5 million with Povetkin entitled to $5.8 million. As big as Hryunov’s bid was, it falls well short of the $32.1 million Las Vegas businessman Steve Wynn put up to secure the rights to Buster Douglas’s title defense against Evander Holyfield in 1990.
The obvious question: Can Hryunov come up with the cash? Occasionally, a promoter will come in and submit an outlandish bid for a fight, and then default. Don King has done it twice in the last year, first with a $1.1 million bid for the right to promote a heavyweight fight between Cris Arreola and Bermane Stiverne and later with a $1.5 million bid for Marco Huck and Ola Afolabi. King would default on both, losing the ten percent deposit he was required to put down. Sources involved with the bid told SI.com that Hryunov, who is being backed by a Russian-based businessman and real estate developer, will spend the next few weeks exploring ways to monetize the fight.
• Some numbers from a busy boxing weekend: Last Saturday’s Showtime-televised fight between Saul Alvarez and Austin Trout peaked at 734,000 households and 1.061 million viewers, a modest increase from the 1.031 viewers Alvarez attracted for his September fight with Josesito Lopez. Meanwhile Saturday afternoon’s fight on NBC, headlined by heavyweights Tyson Fury and Steve Cunningham, did a strong overnight rating that translated to 1.2 million viewers. Expectations are that when the full numbers come in later in the week, peak viewership will exceed 1.8 million.
• I love Juan Manuel Marquez-Tim Bradley. Like most, I was surprised that Marquez didn’t take a fifth fight with Pacquiao. Despite all the rhetoric, I figured Marquez would go for the biggest check. But in fighting Bradley, Marquez can still cash a big check and give himself a chance at history by becoming the first Mexican to win titles in five weight classes. And if he beats Bradley — and Pacquiao gets past either Mike Alvarado or Brandon Rios — a Pacquiao fight will still be there.
• I don’t think I’ve ever been less interested in a notable fight than this Saturday’s heavyweight bout between Deontay Wilder and Audley Harrison. It’s another absolute joke of a fight for Wilder, a 2008 bronze medalist whose résumé as a pro is pathetic.
• If Danny Garcia beats Zab Judah on Saturday, I think he becomes the favorite to face Floyd Mayweather in the fall. Mayweather clearly isn’t overly interested in facing Saul Alvarez; if he were, he would have agreed to face him already and fought together on the May 4th pay per view. I’ve been told that during negotiations with HBO and Showtime Mayweather’s representatives mentioned Garcia often as a possible opponent.
• Ishe Smith-Carlos Molina: The very definition of not-made-for-TV.
• Golden Boy’s ability to get Bernard Hopkins’ upcoming title defense against Karo Murat on premium television could get interesting. The fight stinks. Murat (25-0-1) is not a particularly big puncher and a complete unknown in the U.S. And everyone knows that at this stage of his career Hopkins (53-6-2) needs a certain type of opponent (Tavoris Cloud, Jean Pascal) to look impressive. I’m told Showtime is interested in showing the fight, but will require a strong co-main event to make it worth their while.
• There is still nothing to make me think that a fight between Nathan Cleverly and Bernard Hopkins will be anything but dull.
– Chris Mannix
Heavyweight contender Bryant Jennings will return to the ring on June 14th against Andrey Fedosov as part of a tripleheader that will be televised by NBC Sports Network from the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, P.A.
Jennings (16-0) has been out of the ring since knocking out Bowie Tupou last December. Earlier this year, Jennings was strongly considered as an opponent for unified titleholder Wladimir Klitschko. HBO wanted Klitschko-Jennings to serve as the undercard for Floyd Mayweather’s return on May 4th. When Mayweather defected to Showtime, Klitschko switched to Francesco Pianeta, who is better known in Europe.
“I’m not that disappointed, well, in a way I am,” Jennings told me in an interview on NBC. “After this fight he’ll probably be tied up with mandatories and stuff like that, so that probably puts [a title shot] on hold. I’m in this game. I’m not going nowhere. I’ll just keep doing what I have to do. I’ll just have to keep taking these fights, keep winning, keep training and keep doing what I’m supposed to do and those opportunities will come.”
NEW YORK — Last Saturday, hours before Tyson Fury and Steve Cunningham entered the ring at Madison Square Garden, I had a conversation with Fury’s promoter, Mick Hennessy, about the state of the heavyweight division. My issue was that too many untested heavyweights — Mariusz Wach, Manuel Charr, Dereck Chisora, among others — were jumping into the ring with Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko and being exposed. The formula for today’s heavyweight is to build a gaudy record against midlevel opponents and wait for one of the Klitschko’s to decide if you were worthy to fight them.
Hennessy said he agreed with me. “I’m a big believer in not putting a guy into a fight before he is ready,” Hennessy said. After watching Fury get knocked down by Cunningham, a former cruiserweight, before rallying to win with a seventh round knockout, you have to wonder if Hennessy really believes Fury is ready for one of the division’s toughest tests.
There is no question there is talent in the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Fury. He throws a lot of punches, has good power and a knack for knowing how to close the show. He’s a big man who fights like one; Fury is masterful at leaning on an opponent, draining him by forcing him to wear his full weight. Fury walked into some very good shots from Cunningham but his relentless pressure allowed him to close the show.
But he did walk into some shots. And if Fury crashed to the canvas from an overhand right from Cunningham, how will he hold up to a straight shot from Wladimir Klitschko, the most powerful one-punch heavyweight in boxing?
The truth is, Fury isn’t ready for either Klitschko. Not yet, anyway. Peter Fury, Tyson’s uncle, who couldn’t work Fury’s corner last weekend because of visa issues, has done an excellent job molding Fury into a well rounded fighter. But Cunningham was only the Fury’s fourth fight working together and before that, Tyson confessed to lacking any discipline, occasionally drinking heavily the nights before a fight.
What Fury, 24, needs is time and experience. By beating Cunningham, Fury (21-0) earned the opportunity to face Kubrat Pulev, the unbeaten contender, for the No. 1 spot in the IBF’s rankings. Pulev will be a good test. In his last two fights, Pulev has knocked out a pair of super sized contenders in 6-foot-7 Alexander Ustinov and 6-foot-7 Alexander Dimitrenko. Beating Pulev would be a nice feather in Fury’s cap.
But he may need more. He may need to face the winner of this summer’s rematch between Tony Thompson and David Price. He may need the tough rounds of someone like Tomasz Adamek. He may need to look eye to eye and feel the power of a Robert Helenius. Plenty of fighters talk tough before facing a Klitschko, only to realize when they are in the ring that the Klitschko’s blend of size, power and technique is too much to overcome. Fury has potential, and God knows boxing needs a big man with some personality. It would be a shame though if he took a Klitschko fight before he is ready.
– Chris Mannix
NEW YORK — Three thoughts on Tyson Fury’s seventh-round knockout win over Steve Cunningham:
Fury packs a real heavyweight punch
No question, Fury is still a work in progress. At 24, his style is sloppy, he leaves his chin exposed—evidenced by the punch Cunningham landed that in the second round that sent Fury toppling to the canvas—and he doesn’t use his jab enough to keep smaller fighters off of him. But he packs a wallop and uses every inch of his 6-foot-9, 257-pound frame, leaning on Cunningham and wearing down the two-time cruiserweight champion. Cunningham fought a sharp fight: He moved well, landed accurately and, thanks to a knockdown and a point deduction, appeared to be in a good position on the scorecards. But the strength and size of Fury took its toll, and a series of shots in the seventh capped by a clubbing right hand put Cunningham down and out.
NEW YORK — Three thoughts on Guillermo Rigondeaux’s unanimous decision win over Nonito Donaire:
This one was for the purists
Let’s make one thing clear: Rigondeaux is a fantastic boxer. The decorated amateur, a two-time World and Olympic champion, is technically brilliant with blurring speed and pinpoint counterpunching. He built an early lead against Donaire, wobbling him in the first round and surviving a ninth-round knockdown to win a decision on all three cards, 114-113, 115-112, 116-111. But after promising to engage before the fight, Rigondeaux hit and ran, dancing around the ring, drawing the ire of a sold-out crowd of 6,145 at Radio City Music Hall and giving Donaire—who wasn’t connecting on much of anything, either—time to one-punch his way back into the fight.