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  • UFC's Noad Lahat to head back to Israel Sunday for the fight beyond the fight

    Not that Noad Lahat is looking past Steven Siler, whom he meets at UFC on FOX 12 in San Jose Saturday night…but Lahat is looking past Steven Siler. Not from a place of competitive superiority, but because he feels he has to.

    Lahat is the UFC’s second Israeli-born fighter. With the recent outbreak of violence in Gaza, with missiles flying over his homeland and his family ducking for cover, Lahat is relegated to his most immediate commitment. That’s his Saturday commitment. That’s the fun and games part, the payoff to a long fight camp spent at AKA getting punched by punching’s elite.

    Lahat’s Sunday commitment, win or lose, will be rejoining his friends in the Israeli army and taking a stand against the Palestinians who are again butting heads with the Israelis in overlapping conflict zone of Gaza. In the brutal, complicated, generation’s old conflict, Lahat, who spent three-and-a-half years in the army, will put prizefighting on hold. He flies out Sunday for the other fight.

    "I have to do it morally, I don’t have to do it legally," he says. "The thing is, the whole last month and a half it’s been crazy. My family has about 15 seconds every time an alarm goes off to take a shelter from missiles. And for us, it’s not some faraway war on the other side of the world. It’s by my home. I need to go protect my family, protect my country, protect my future."

    Gaza, the de facto capital of Palestine, does seem like a million miles from sunny, peaceful Silicon Valley, where the fights for Lahat will feel more like a metaphor. The latest conflict on the Gaza Strip erupted in part because three Israeli teens -- Naftali Fraenkel (16), Gilad Shaer (16) and Eyal Yifrah (19) -- were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank. Hamas, a political party in Palestine (particularly in the Gaza portion of it) declared they weren’t responsible, but publicly applauded the killings. 

    Subsequently, the Israelis launched air strikes against targets in Gaza that are used to launch rocket attacks into Israel. A Palestinian teen was killed in apparent retaliation. And then a few days ago, the Israeli's launched a ground invasion into Gaza. The thing has gotten ugly on both sides.

    "As soon as they call my unit, I’m in," Lahat says. "I’m going to join my brothers, the same people I served with for years. And there’s no other way for me. And for me to be here, not at home right now, it’s something that…it’s beyond miserable. For me to be here and not at home right now, not being at home with my people. To be fighting in sunny California, it’s a horrible feeling."

    Lahat served for three-and-a-half years in the Israeli army as part of a paratrooper unit. His mother (intelligence) and father (special forces) are former generals. His friends, whom he served with before pursuing a career in MMA and now work in high fields, are steadying themselves back in Israel. They have all been put on warning to be ready. When the call officially comes, they will step out of their everyday lives and re-enter the war block.

    "About 90 percent of the people in Israel [make a career out of the military]," he says. "When I go back my friends are doctors and lawyers, and when they need us they just call us and we all pack our bags, leave our family and go to fight."

    Since the conflict got started, Lahat has been distracting himself in training for his fight with Siler. He says his teammates at AKA have been empathetic to what’s going on, and have helped him by "punching me as hard as they can."

    "The only time I could take my mind off of that was in the gym sparring," he says. "Other than that, I am watching news or on the phone with friends and family all the time. It’s been a hard camp."

    Hard, but not lost. Lahat is coming off a let down in his UFC debut against Godofredo Pepey in March, a fight he lost via TKO in the first round. It was the judo player’s first pro loss, and he’s had a hard time reconciling it. That same night, Siler lost a controversial fight with Rony Jason. That was his second loss in a row.

    Therefore, Lahat knows two aggravated fighters are coming together at the SAP Center.

    "I watched him in The Ultimate Fighter, I think he’s not very much of an athletic guy, but he’s really tough," he says. "Really skilled, with good jiu-jitsu, good stand-up, not very good with wrestling. He’s coming off a loss with me on the same card in Brazil. I think it was an early stoppage on his last loss. But I’m excited. He’s a really tough fighter. He’s not going down easy, and neither will I. It’s going to be a good fight."

    That’s the fight before the fight. Given the slippery situation that he and Siler find themselves in, both needing to win, it could be his last UFC fight. Given where he’s headed, though, the bigger sense of the future is uncertain.

    "Usually, if you’re in other countries, [the Israeli army] won’t even call you," he says. "But we, our friends, we communicate with each other, and when we got the call right away I got messages to be ready.

    "It’s more than moral. We can’t lose the war. If we lose there is no hope for me. California is not my home. I love California, and it’s nice, but it’s not my home. It’s a great place, but it’s not my place. For me, if I want to go back home, I need to protect it."



  • Edson Barboza eyes Donald Cerrone rematch: ‘I can beat anyone’ in the UFC

    Edson Barboza would be riding a five-fight win streak if it wasn’t for a "mistake" against Donald Cerrone.

    Barboza wants another shot at fellow top 10 lightweight Cerrone inside the Octagon, and he feels he deserves one after stopping Evan Dunham in the first round at UFC Fight Night 45.

    "My goal is to fight the best," Barboza told MMAFighting.com. "Every time I fight I feel more prepared. After my fight with Cerrone, I realized I’m at their same level. I can easily fight anyone (at the top 10). I want a well-ranked opponent, and I will be ready. If I do my game, I can beat anyone.

    "I want to test myself against anyone ahead of me in the rankings, especially Cerrone. If they give me another fight with him, the result will be completely different."

    Cerrone was set to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov, but the Russian prospect injured his knee right after signing the bout agreement, so Barboza offers himself to step in.

    "He was scheduled to fight the Russian, but the fight is off. Who knows, maybe the UFC will give me another opportunity to fight him," he said. "I’m sure it would be a great fight."

    Barboza fought "Cowboy" at UFC on FOX 11 in April, but tapped to a rear-naked choke in the first round.

    "It happens. I made a mistake," the Brazilian said. "We’re fighting at the highest level. He had one chance and ended the fight. I know I would end the fight if I also had one opportunity. I was doing great, landed some good kicks and punches, but he caught me."

    Barboza bounced back to the win column with an impressive finish over Dunham, and he wasn’t expecting to win like that.

    "It’s really hard to put him away," he said. "He only suffered one knockout before and he fought tough opponents, but thank God everything went perfect. It was great. I landed a kick and won the fight.

    "I honestly expected a three-round fight. We trained together before for three weeks. I knew he was tough, that he never quits and walks forward even if he’s getting beat up. I expected a tough fight, but I knew I could knock him out if I had one chance."

    The reason why Barboza expected a three-round war with Dunham is because he knew exactly what to expect from him.

    "When I first traveled to New Jersey to train with Frankie, I met him at the airport and found out he was also going to train with Frankie," he said. "We lived at the same house for three weeks to help Frankie (train for UFC 150). I stayed there after, but he went back to his gym.

    "The reason why I took this fight is because I knew how tough he was, so I knew it would be a great fight."



  • Morning Report: Josh Thomson labels welterweights and heavier as one-dimensional, saying 'They're not mixed martial artists'

    UFC lightweight Josh Thomson better keep his head on a swivel the next time he strolls into the American Kickboxing Academy. A training partner to UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and light heavyweight contender Daniel Cormier, Josh Thomson aparently doesn't think much of athletes competing in MMA's weightier weight classes.

    "You hit 185, 205, and heavyweight, those guys are always just good at like one thing, two things, but they're not great all the way around," Thomson tells FOX Sports. "There's ways to finish them. So if you're a well-rounded athlete, you can finish those guys. You can find ways to finish those guys.

    "With 55-pounders and below, good luck, man. Everybody's good all around -- they're good wrestlers, they're good jiu-jitsu guys, they're good standup guys, they're game to throw down and they're always in shape. 170 is kind of like the limbo -- like there's some well-rounded guys in there. [Georges St-Pierre] was the champion so long because he was the most well-rounded and usually in the best shape. But that's kind of like the whole new guy -- that's why Rory MacDonald does well. He's in shape, he's got pretty good jiu-jitsu, he's hard to take down but he's got good standup. He's well-rounded with good shape. Those are the guys that are hard to beat."

    While guys like Chris Weidman, Lyoto Machida, Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson would likely feel pretty secure in their skill sets, Thomson insists they don't stack up with lighter-weight fighters.

    "You start getting in the 185's, 205, heavyweight, they start being one-dimensional, two-dimensional fighters," says Thomson. "They're not mixed martial artists. They're not as good as the 55-pounders and below," Thomson said. "They're just not. To me that's just a fact."

    The owner of a cardio studio in San Jose, Thomson might be just the man to rescue these souls from the top of the UFC's pound-for-pound rankings.

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    5 MUST-READ STORIES

    Peahead's revenge. Dustin Poirier will get his chance to derail Conor McGregor's hype at UFC 178.

    Nurmy. Khabib Nurmagomedov is headed for surgery after tearing the meniscus in his right knee.

    Signal to noise. Luke Thomas breaks down the best and worst of UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs. Brandao.

    Baroni blog. Phil Baroni details his return to fighting ahead of his bout with Karo Parisyan at Bellator 122.

    King. Bobby Green talks working through his brother's death, a broken ankle and raising a newborn while preparing for this weekend's UFC on FOX 12.

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    MEDIA STEW

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    Free Fight: Robbie Lawler vs Bobby Voelker.

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    Speak of the devil. "Josh Thomson breaks down the techniques behind the moves that have made him one of the most exciting fighters in the history of the lightweight division."

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    Eddie Bravo explains the Rubber Guard to Rickson Gracie.

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    Team Alpha Male takes over a golf course.

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    Fighters remember their favorite B.J. Penn moments.

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    Joan Jett approves.

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    Long watches.

    Did Police "Choke" NY Man to Death? (Gracie Breakdown - Viewer Discretion Advised)

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    TWEETS

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    $$$

    Tell Jon I'm taking a cut of his PPV.

    Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) July 22, 2014

    If you build them I will come.

    — The Diamond (@DustinPoirier) July 22, 2014

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    Never forget.

    Found a pic of @SpiderAnderson & I training,taken by @eduardo_alonso 12+years ago, when we were both chasing a dream! pic.twitter.com/ZMHET9WEtb

    — Shogun Rua (@ShogunRua) July 19, 2014

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    Get well soon.

    Pass the examination of the knee in Moscow

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    #criscyborg #invictafc #champion #keeptrust #teamcyborg #ideanutrition #shutF^#up #dontSpeakShit #atitude #Mahatma Gandhi #GodInControl #trashtalkBullshit

    Aqueles que têm um grande autocontrole, ou que estão totalmente absortos no trabalho, ... http://t.co/2OtvlzLPYS pic.twitter.com/WoFsUmw3pN

    Cris Cyborg (@criscyborg) July 22, 2014

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    Scary.

    How about that. Super sketch driving with this popping and cracking lastnight Super rock broke it pic.twitter.com/olEI7kYO6F

    — Cowboy Cerrone (@Cowboycerrone) July 22, 2014

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    Big week.

    I liked it so I put a ring on it @orlaghhunter pic.twitter.com/yvkgAG7mcQ

    — Coach Kavanagh (@John_Kavanagh) July 22, 2014

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    The struggle.

    Damnit my inner fat kid got the best of me again. #junkfoodaddiction #thestruggle pic.twitter.com/nZdrMCdo3G

    Will Brooks (@illwillbrooks86) July 23, 2014

    Golf courses installing 15" holes and foot (soccer) golf to increase revenue. WTF just lower the price and add some cute cart girls.

    Luke Rockhold (@LukeRockhold) July 23, 2014

    When I said I was watching my daughter @ufc someone just asked me if she was a ring girl :-D

    — DrAnnMaria (@DrAnnMaria) July 22, 2014

    Girls date me then get boob jobs ...I wish it was the other way around

    Zach Underwood (@Thunderwood01) July 23, 2014

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    But the abs.

    Sorry guys but I had to eat a in-n-out 4 by 4. Couldn't help!! Haha Remember: Work hard, train hard but play harder. pic.twitter.com/TqfFnFAUPB

    Claudia Gadelha (@ClaudiaGadelha_) July 22, 2014

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    Please no.

    Awesome first day on my new Breakout @harleydavidson my son is loving it too! http://t.co/qP7S0FNVWO

    — Chris Weidman (@ChrisWeidmanUFC) July 22, 2014

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    Sounds good.

    I'm going to check out this Scott Coker guy @bellatormma this Friday.. I'll let y'all know what's up. pic.twitter.com/4420EYReOC

    Quinton Jackson (@Rampage4real) July 22, 2014

    Back at it. #restarts #2ndchances http://t.co/uQO3NVwCGl

    Todd Duffee (@ToddDuffee) July 23, 2014

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    A little boxing.

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    FIGHT ANNOUNCEMENTS

    Announced yesterday (Jul. 22 2014)

    Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier at UFC 178

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    FANPOST OF THE DAY

    Today's Fanpost of the Day comes via HerrDannyboy.

    Why 2013 Kicked this MMA Fan's @ss Part 7A: July: He took it for granted... Prologue

    Note: To those who care: Part 6 can be found here:

    Why 2013 Kicked this MMA Fan's @ss Part 6: June: The Thrill of Brazil, the Agony of Winnipeg

    Mea culpa: This one will be updated with [more] vitriol.

    I was so taken aback and disgusted by the absurdity of Schaub and the ennui of UFC 161 (Why 2013? Why!!), I ended up overlooking some very noteworthy Folklore and Tidbits, namely:

    Mark Hunt giving the usual number of fucks (How many?) and brushing off his painful and life-threatening UFC 160 battle wounds like they were mere mosquito bites (I dare you to click on these 2 links. Go on! I double dare you).

    Brandon Schaub and Matt Mitrione engaging in a meeting of the minds on Twitter (Surprise! The minds are a no-show).

    Roy Nelson channeling his inner Harriet Beecher Stowe.

    A Noob challenging Anderson Silva.
    ****

    Disclaimer

    Anderson Silva and George St-Pierre are the reason I started watching MMA religiously.

    As I've said before, they are my 2 favorite fighters (JDS being the 3rd) in that order... and as you found out in March Madness, I'm a Montrealer that only watches fight sports.

    Therefore, the magnitude of the psychological beating I've received in July 2013 cannot be expressed in the number of words acceptable for a thesis, let alone a Fanpost.

    It was impossible for me to be succinct, so this one's been dismembered.

    You'll be getting the limbs one at a time.

    ...

    Check out the rest of the post here.

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    Found something you'd like to see in the Morning Report? Just hit me up on Twitter @SaintMMA and we'll include it in tomorrow's column.



  • MGM Grand Garden Arena lands UFC 178: Jones vs. Gustafsson 2

    The most anticipated fight card of the fall finally has a venue. UFC 178 is slated to take place on September 27, 2014 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV, promotion officials announced on Tuesday.

    In order to complete the booking, Kings of Leon, the popular American rock band who is scheduled to headline the upcoming Boulevard Brew Fest, agreed to shift their September 27 performance from the MGM Grand Garden Arena to The Lot, which is located along the Las Vegas Strip.

    UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will look to defend his title for a record eighth consecutive time when he rematches against top-ranked Swedish contender Alexander Gustafsson in UFC 178's main event.

    "The first fight between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson was the greatest light heavyweight fight in the history of the UFC," UFC President Dana White said in a statement. "This next one is gonna be epic! I really appreciate MGM Resorts, Live Nation and Kings of Leon working together to help us bring this huge fight to Las Vegas."

    Jones, the UFC's No. 1 ranked pound-for-pound fighter, claimed a hard-fought unanimous decision against Gustafsson in September 2013 at UFC 165, and now he'll attempt to do it again at what may already be the most stacked card of the year. Tickets for the event go on sale August 1, 2014.

    An updated UFC 178 fight card can be seen below.

    • Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson
    • Dominick Cruz vs. Takeya Mizugaki
    • Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier
    • Tim Kennedy vs. Yoel Romero
    • Cat Zingano vs. Amanda Nunes
    • John Howard vs. Brian Ebersole
    • Patrick Cote vs. Stephen Thompson


  • Dominick Cruz says there's 'no question' he's as good now as he ever was

    We all know the story by now. The once-UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz has had arguably the worst luck of any fighter on the roster, at least in terms of physical health.

    Not one, but two knee complications. Then a groin injury. All told, he'll have been away from competition for three years by the time he returns against Takeya Mizugaki at on September 27th at UFC 178.

    Naturally, everyone wants to know: is Cruz finally ready to return? Is this it? Will he make it to the finish line ready to go? According to 'The Dominator', it's full steam ahead.

    "It was about two, three months ago maybe, tops? I was completely cleared," Cruz said of his doctor's approval to begin full training on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani. "They were just saying that everything's strong with the quad [muscle] and that I could start picking up the training. Once they cleared me to start picking up the training, then I started easing my body into it. That way I wouldn't go too hard or re-injure something else. It's been a process, but now my body's at full strength. I'm doing everything I need to and I'm very confident in myself and the durability of my body."

    Cruz said he was happy to get the medical clearance, but that, in and of itself, wasn't necessary a cause for celebration. It was another fighting formality that really forced him to stop and think about this long, arduous journey he's been on to get healthy.

    "I trained," Cruz said, describing what he did when his doctor gave him the green light to train like a fighter. "Honestly, there wasn't any celebration. There wasn't any of kind of, 'Oh my gosh' moment. I train because I love to train. I'm very passionate about what I do and I enjoy working out. So, to be able to work out progressively at a higher and higher pace, harder and harder, it just relieves me. It makes me feel better as a human being. It makes me feel more alive. It was just to be back to me again. I didn't really care about anything other than being allowed to go in there and fight people in the gym. Once I together a month of solid training, two months of solid training, I was like, 'Man. I'm back. I'm feeling great. I'm feeling sharp. I'm feeling fast.'

    "Once I signed that bout agreement, that was probably the only weird moment for me," he noted. "That was the realization of, 'Wow, here I am again, getting ready to do this.' Writing on that piece of paper, that's when it clicked in my brain that finally I'm here. I got through all that crap. I got through all the rehab. I got through the quad injury after going through two knee injuries. It was really surreal kind of, in a weird way."

    The two knee surgeries were bad enough and sidelined the Alliance MMA bantamweight for nearly two years, but when they healed, something else went wrong: a torn groin. Cruz was slated to defend his title against then-interim champion Renan Barao, but instead not only went back to rehab to heal his injury, he relinquished his UFC title.

    "That was killer, man. That was really testing me at that point," Cruz said of the moment in his life. "My will was really being tested at that point. I'm a firm believer in God and that's my higher power in my belief system. I'm just sitting there going like, 'What do you want from me, man? What do you want me to do here? What am I supposed to do with this?'

    "This is my job, this is how I make a living, this is what I believe God has put me on this earth to do and I can't do my job. I can't do what I feel he's given me the stage to do. It took a lot of mind control and it's been a lot of learning to just really understand what this is all about. I've gotten a lot stronger through the process, to say the least. It's been a huge learning experience and I matured a lot through it."

    And despite all the challenges, did retiring or quitting the sport ever cross his mind?

    "Absolutely not. I'm too young and I just have too much passion and my body's too capable of doing it. So, it's never even been a remote thought. It's just been, 'How much longer until I can punch somebody in the gym?' That's how it's been. Now I'm there," he said.

    Given the physical proximity of the injuries, some have wondered whether the injuries were related. As it turns, out, they were, at least a little bit. More importantly, the healing process Cruz had to endure made him address all of the problems at once, a journey he says has been as much a learning lesson as a rehabilitation.

    "It was kind of related to the knee injuries and the reason is my knee caused my lower half...I had to really make my lower half a lot stronger. And then I didn't want to work out the upper half of my body too much because then I'd look like Joe from Family Guy," Cruz joked.

    "It's been really difficult with the double surgery to keep my body in line," he continued. "It's been a real challenge because literally, therapists don't know what's going on. You have to figure out your own body and you have to find these people that know what to do. MMA is relatively new and therapists and doctors don't know how to prepare a high-level athlete in mixed martial arts to go back into a fight. I had to really learn this myself after being out for so long. I've had to rebuild every single muscle to get it to all work together.

    "What was happening is, when I hurt my knee the second time I had to be out even longer on my butt. So now my muscles were out of whack. They weren't working together. Each muscle was working separately on its own instead of unison like it needs to. So, my body was literally fighting against each other to protect the muscles that were weaker than the strong ones."

    If he's healthy and ready to return, that's all good and well, but it doesn't mean he can simply forget about the past three years. Most notably, he's no longer the champion even though he never technically lost his title in a fight. That's something he acknowledges still doesn't sit right with him.

    "It's a weird thing because, like you said, I never really lost the belt, but there's people out there that are holding it and it's just weird. I don't really know what to think. I'm just going to fight," he said defiantly. He argues in his mind he's still the champion. If he lost a fight, it's to himself in the gym by beating "the crap out of" himself. "I'm here now," he notes quickly, :and I'm ready to get it back."

    As aforementioned, that road back to the title starts with Mizugaki, a bantamweight war horse who is on a five-fight win streak. Cruz argues the Mizugaki fight is the right one to take even if he's got his sights set on the ultimate prize. Besides, there's a benefit to take a fight like this before jumping into championship rigors.

    "Mizugaki is up for the title next. He's on a five-fight win streak and other than fighting me, he's looking at a title shot. He's top 5 and he's up there in a contender's position. So, for me, that is a very tough fight, first of all. Second of all, I didn't take that fight because when I jumped into that Barao camp, that's when I realized it wasn't about fighting the fight that was the problem. It was about doing the workload of a five-round camp. I don't think anybody in the world understands except for a fighter that when you go from a three-round camp to a five-round camp, the amount of workload just shoots up. It skyrockets. It can't even be compared."

    In terms of the competition itself, Cruz sees Mizugaki as no walkover. The three-round fight camp will get his body, but beating Mizugaki will prove Cruz is as legit as he needs to be to warrant a title shot.

    "Tune-up and warm-up fights do not exist in mixed martial arts," he argued. "That's a boxing thing and it doesn't happy in this fighting scene that we're in in mixed martial arts. Going against a top 5 guy right off the beat is a big feat for me and I'm excited to do it. Mizugaki is extremely durable, extremely tough, he's got a lot of cardio and he's got a lot of momentum. He believes in himself right now.

    "It's a big challenge for me. I'm up for it and I'm excited for it, but after feeling my body in that five-round camp, realized I need to take my time in this camp because that's the hard part. The fight itself is literally the easy part. That's the fun part for me. That's why I come out smiling. I'm loving life on that night of fighting."

    And maybe he will prove he's better than Mizugaki and deserves a shot at the winner of the rematch between T.J. Dillashaw and Barao. But how will he look? Will his style have changed? Does he breeze past Mizugaki or squeak? In Cruz's mind, he's picking back up right where he left off.

    "I believe I'm me right now," he contended. "I have no question in my mind. I believe I am who I always was. You're going to see it, September 27th. I'm going to be me. Just who you've always seen."







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