The Fire

Call me an arsonist.
My fire lies within
My spark is my madness
I will never search for a candle,
Be in need of a light
With this I’ll walk
And I’ll sustain and thrive.
And with it I’ll leave my mark
My art, my destruction.
And as my ashes
Lay scattered in the soil
And the seas
Know, this flame
Has not been extinguished.

Gonzaga vs. Cro Cop II; The Fight You did not Realize You Wanted to See.


If you came across this article and were looking for an in-depth breakdown of this weekend’s UFC Fight Pass card, you’re at the wrong place. However, if you were not aware of the heavyweight bout taking place on Saturday, or were looking for a reason to watch a semi-meaningful rematch in which one of the most disturbing head kick knockouts in combat sports history occurred, you’re in the right place.

UFC Fight Night 64 taking place in Krakow, Poland on Saturday is not a fight card for most non-European MMA fans. The card is dominated by European newcomers and prospects, not too many names that will stick out even to some of the most hardcore MMA fans. Although, British bomber Jimi Manuwa, and Scottish striking virtuoso Joanne Calderwood are both on the lineup, their opponents are virtually unknown. Which leaves us with the main event, a 5 round heavyweight affair between Gabriel Gonzaga and Mirko Cro Cop, a rematch of their 2007 bout at UFC 70 in where the unthinkable happened. Mirko Cro Cop, a former K1 kickboxer notorious for his left head kick knockouts had the tables turned in the most devastating fashion imaginable. In the waning seconds of the first round, Gabriel Gonzaga threw a right head kick that landed with every violent intention known to man, Cro Cop fell like a hundred foot oak tree and bent his ankle in a gruesome manner that may very well have been more unsettling than the knockout itself. After the fight, Gonzaga lost his title fight with Randy Couture and would imminently be cut from the UFC roster and Cro Cop had a tumultuous run where he would retire from the sport. Now, 8 years after their first encounter, they meet again in a rather strange and head scratching form of circumstances.

It is safe to say, that both men are passed their prime and are rather unlikely candidates to make a title run, so why? Why care? Why care about a fight with no clear endgame,  that means almost nothing in the rankings perspective? Because, there is a sick, nefarious notion in our minds that something epic could happen. Cro Cop seems determined to avenge the loss and Gonzaga seems set to not be on the wrong end of a losing streak. However, it’s not enough to compel many people to tune in and watch, but the very idea of seeing a colossal level of violence does intrigue.

Gonzaga vs. Cro Cop II is a fight that slaps the MMA fan in the face, and not necessarily in a bad way. Too often can the MMA fan have the inner battle of whether this is a spectacle or a sport, and Saturday’s matchup makes no bones about it, it’s both. Both Gonzaga and Cro Cop have a penchant to dish out exorbitant amounts of violence, and absorb scary amounts of concussive blows, so the chances of a finish are sky high, the opportunity for a “Fight of the Night” bonus are there too. Moreover, there’s a chance Cro Cop can avenge his loss and return the knockout he suffered, but, there’s also a chance of the one thing that people are thinking but, for one reason or another, don’t want to say out loud; Gabriel Gonzaga can shock the world and head kick Cro Cop again.

In MMA, anything is possible and no outcome can be truly obvious, that is why it’s so exciting. Can lightning strike twice? Can such a ridiculous all-time great knockout be replicated? Who knows, that is why we’ll watch. Don’t be afraid to indulge the insidious desire to watch professional fighters concuss each other on the grandest of scales. True martial arts builds character and represents the most organic form of competition, but it’s also about inflicting damage and pain, they can and do, coexist. So don’t feel guilty, don’t question your love of the sport, enjoy the bouts however you see fit, because this is one of the rare times where the outcome means little, but it doesn’t matter because the anticipation for brutality is the true merit. True competition or cheap entertainment? No difference, the spectacle is competition, and the beauty is in the irony.

Brock Lesnar; The Prime Example of When Common Sense Trumps Desire.

The last time Brock Lesnar stepped foot inside a mixed martial arts cage, he was seen slumped over against the fence after Dutch kickboxing star Alistair Overeem liver kicked him into oblivion. Lesnar was coming off a 14 month layoff due to complications from diverticulitis, and was obviously rusty stepping in the cage. After a few battering knees to the body from Overeem, it became abundantly clear that it was only a matter of time before the contest would be stopped. The agony that Lesnar displayed after being kicked in the liver was evident, but the innumerable questions that plagued his mind quickly thereafter, were not.

The star that was Brock Lesnar can be difficult to explain for people who were not there to witness it. Much like Ronda Rousey, Brock commanded attention but unlike Rousey, it was almost for ambiguous reasons. Lesnar had the look; a freak specimen with Adonis DNA, he had strange medieval-like tattoos that looked like they came out of a Slayer album cover, and he was a freight train of power and violence. For all his attributes though, Lesnar was not much of a talker, the silver tongued skills of a Ronda Rousey or Chael Sonnen were lost on him, but it did not matter. The numbers the man generated were unprecedented, he almost instantly became the biggest draw of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and he did it, for the most part, just being himself. The pro wrestler brought in big dollars to professional prize fighting by not holding back his persona and competing to the best of his ability.

Yesterday Brock Lesnar announced on ESPN, that he will never step into an MMA cage again and will remain with his current employer, the WWE. Reactions throughout the mixed martial arts community were mixed, some disappointed, some thrilled, some downright apathetic, but it was the things he stated that made this announcement strike a chord.

Desire; it is a word that is embedded in all people, a word essential for fighters. When a prize fighter finds his/her self at the twilight of their career, the question is always asked, “How badly do they want it? What more do they have to fight for?” Brock Lesnar had the desire, he wanted to prove himself, he wanted to be the best in the world. The common wisdom was, Lesnar was not happy with the WWE and he wanted to return to MMA to fulfill his true desire to compete and right the ship after two consecutive TKO losses to current heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, and Alistair Overeem, and although that seemed to be the mindset and even began training to prepare himself for a bout, it did not come to pass. All in all, the announcement that Brock Lesnar would not be returning to the Octagon wasn’t too shocking, what was shocking was his reasons as to why he wouldn’t.

Vengeance, redemption, validation all the reasons in the world for a former champion and wrecking machine like Brock Lesnar to return were not enough. Lesnar stated that he signed his WWE deal because just imagining walking into a mixed martial arts cage was “like a bad dream” and “it didn’t feel right,” those are some strangely disturbing, yet refreshing comments to come out of a fighter’s mouth. How many current fighters can one think of that are out of their prime and should have already considered retirement a couple of fights ago? How many are nervous and scared to death to step in a cage to get into a fist fight? How many lie to themselves and say that they’re better than their last fight and “this new young guy can’t beat a veteran like me?” Strong feeling the answer to those previous questions are, quite a few. That is where Brock Lesnar shines through, sure he has a tons of money, sure he has more options other than fighting, and of course he did some remarkable things in his short stint inside of mixed martial arts that very few fighters, including himself, might ever replicate. However, Lesnar’s uncompromising honesty left him making a decision that was intelligent and gave him peace of mind, those two phrases don’t live in simultaneous continuity in the mind of most fighters. Mixed martial arts fighters and spectators alike can learn a great deal from Lesnar’s statement, this is a sport of all or nothing, there’s no room for doubt, and very little for concern.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being dedicated and confident in MMA, in fact, it is vital, however where is the point of no return? When is enough truly enough? The saying goes, “fighting is a sport, but it is not a game,” how very true, yet, it seems that people perpetually try to play the odds, only to end up getting played themselves. Lesnar is the best example of when to say enough, so instead of criticizing and speculating, let’s respect the man, his decision, and value the mixed martial artists there are now. The Jose Aldos, Jon Jones, Ronda Rouseys, Demetrious Johnsons, Chris Weidmans only come by once in a lifetime and any fight can be their last, let’s treasure them and appreciate every strike thrown, every takedown attempted, every submission applied, because no others have done it with the skill and majesty that they have.

Why Joanna Jedrzejyczyk will be a star.

The buzz around the mixed martial arts world last week was almost unanimously bolstered on Anthony Pettis. It was Showtime’s moment to shine, this would be his breakout, signature performance but Ares, or Mars, or whatever gods of war one might choose to believe in, had different plans. Pettis met a formidable opponent, to say the least. Rafael Dos Anjos, the 30 year old Brazilian who was once perhaps known best for being the guy on the wrong side of the highlight reel, receiving a monstrous uppercut by Jeremy Stephens, broke through and shined. He dominated the champion for 25 minutes and took the title from the talented Wisconsin native. But the one who received the most attention last night was a brash young woman from Poland.

Joanna Jedrzejyczyk, the former Muay Thai champion, put on a frightening beating to the Southern California native and first ever UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion Carla Esparza. From the very beginning, Jedrzejyczyk landed heavy accurate punches on the champ. Esparza was game, and went to her wrestling base to try to take control of the fight, the game plan didn’t last too long. Joanna quickly began to implement her world class striking to put it on Esparza, and put it on she did. After a number of clubbing right hands, a myriad of punches pinned Esparza against the fence and the referee came in to stop the beating and crown Jedrzejyczyk the new 115lbs. Champion.

The minute Dana White came into the Octagon to put the belt around Jedrzejyczyk’s waist, there was a sense that a star was being born before our eyes. Now I know the criticisms that our being loaded in the barrels of the naysayers. “Europe isn’t a big market.” “Women’s MMA doesn’t move the needle like the men do.” “Jedrzejyczyk can never be as big as Rousey.” Fair enough, let’s dissect these counterpoints. Europe is not Brazil or Canada, this is true. However, 2015’s usual big January card, UFC on FOX 14 was headlined by Alexander Gustafsson at the Tele2 Arena, a 30,000 seat soccer stadium in Stockholm, Sweden, which took place somewhere around 4 AM local time. No need to look much further if you question the Europeans’ loyalty. Women’s MMA is flaring rite now, has it caught up to some of the men’s divisions? No, but I challenge you to show me an MMA fan who wants to see a middleweight bout between two unknown newcomers over a top notch Women’s MMA fight. Additionally, Invicta FC 11 & UFC 184 were held back to back in a huge market like Los Angeles, an all female MMA promotion and a UFC Pay Per View headlined & co-headlined by females. And speaking of Women’s MMA, Ronda Rousey, yes she’s a superstar, yes she’s the biggest thing in MMA rite now, yes she looks unbeatable, and yes, she is undoubtedly the greatest female athlete to ever strap on a pair of 4oz. gloves. Rousey has no equal on virtually any front, but one thing the 184 event showed was Women’s MMA is here to stay, and it sells.

The Women’s Strawweight division is supposed to be what the Bantamweight division couldn’t be. It is the mirror image of what the 155lbs. weight is to the guys; exciting, deep in talent, excellent in skill sets, and a feeling that any top contender can win the belt on any given night. The performance that Jedrzejyczyk showcased at UFC 185 was a terrifying one. A performance which leaves an insatiable desire to endlessly question “Who can beat this girl?” and that’s a good mystery to have linger in such a fun and dynamic weight class. The odds that any female can keep the strap at a weight class this steep are relatively slim, but if Jedrzejyczyk can defend the title consistently and impressively she will climb to great heights of accolades and stardom. The common wisdom, that a long reigning champion draws the highest numbers is, for the most part, true. Yet, Jedrzejyczyk does not need to meet this standard to be a draw or a star.

Joanna has many qualities that lend her to being a potential attention getter, she is exciting, well-rounded, has a high potential for violent finishes. But, if the blood and concussive potential of mixed martial arts isn’t enough to quench your thirst, Joanna Jedrzejyczyk is a character, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. Jedrzejyczyk is full of odd charisma, she can be as endearing as she is frightening, she’s as humble and respectful as she is crazy and brash. She has a strange fashion sense that is uniquely hers. Moreover, Jedrzejyczyk’s martial arts acumen is in no dire need of further knowledge, her striking is virtually unparalleled, her takedown defense is the best in all of Women’s MMA, she’s undefeated, she trains hard, she hits hard and has an almost incomprehensible desire for victory and a dark endless desire to put fists to girls’ faces. The newly crowned Women’s Strawweight Champion is part Conor McGregor, part Chuck Liddell, but she’s more importantly a great fighter with strange quirks that are undeniably charming, equally confusing and a set of skills that will leave you feeling extremely satisfied after you see her bout and leave you saying, “I’m so glad I saw that crazy Polish girl’s fight. I just wish I knew how to spell her name, so I can give her her props on Twitter”