Saturday, March 3, 2007

IFL Weekend Wrap-Up

By Ben Fowlkes

It’s hard to say what was going through my mind as I watched Team Quest fighter Dan Henderson demolish Wanderlei Silva in last weekend’s Pride show.

Naturally, I thought about how much I’d like to see Hendo fight in the IFL, as well as how much I was looking forward to seeing who he chooses for his San Diego team in 2008, but it was more than that. It was a sense that something has shifted in the world of mixed martial arts – something big.

I’m not talking about the fact that another American took another big fight against a foreign juggernaut. That’s just part of the ebb and flow of the whole scene. What I’m talking about is Henderson’s actual performance, the skill and strategy of it.

Take the exchange of strikes just before he dispatched Silva, for example. The spinning backfist looked so carefully planned, the way he ducked his shoulder as if hurt, the way he broke his own rhythm and threw Silva’s timing off. You can make all the excuses you want on behalf of the Brazilian, but Henderson was the superior fighter in all respects that night.

But the reason this is important has more to do with who it came from rather than what it accomplished. Dan Henderson, prior to this performance, has never exactly been known for his strategy.

What he’s been known for is being a tough-as-nails wrestler and hard-hitting brawler. He’s been known for flinging wild punches and tiring himself out early on. He’s been known, in short, for being the old kind of MMA fighter.

But those days are gone, people. The sport has evolved. Toughness isn’t enough anymore. Now game plan and strategy are just as important in MMA as they are in boxing. The fact that Dan Henderson used a superior strategy and execution to best a bigger, stronger opponent, that’s a warning to the rest of the MMA world.

Get smarter, not just tougher. Learn some new tricks. Evolve. Or get left behind.

But Hendo’s big win isn’t the only available topic of the week. In other news…

The Fall and Rise of the Tokyo Sabres

I’ll admit, when I first saw the Tokyo Sabres fight in 2006, I thought they were destined to be the league’s whipping boy. They lacked not only experience, but cohesion and confidence as well.

All that has changed in 2007. The new Sabres are not just a different crop of fighters, they’re a whole different attitude. These guys aren’t going through the motions of team training. They believe. They’ve drank the Kool-Aid, and they’re in for the long haul.

Don’t believe it? Try this: rumor is that heavyweight John Marsh was quickly dropped from the squad not for his loss against Chad Griggs during the Sabres win over the Scorpions, but rather because he was not “a team player”.

As a replacement, the Sabres have opted to go with the highly-touted Wayne Cole, a former All-American wrestler at Oklahoma who is on an eight-fight winning streak in his fairly new MMA career.

Cole seems to suit the Sabres much more, even flying out to train with them immediately upon signing the contract, and sleeping on teammate Jesse Juarez’s couch while he prepares for the team match with the Condors on March 17th in Los Angeles.

Now that’s a team player.

So Many Fights, So Little Time

In the fight game, there is no off-season. Plenty of IFL fighters have learned this lately as they travel all over the globe to compete or corner their friends.

One such example is Anacondas welterweight Jay Hieron, who will be in Columbus, Ohio this weekend to corner training partner Randy Couture as he takes on Tim Sylvia for the UFC heavyweight championship. Hieron, who makes his home in Las Vegas, has worked with Couture in his Sin City gym for some time now.

Perhaps Couture will return the favor when Hieron and the Anacondas take on the Razorclaws at the L.A. Forum.

Renzo Gracie will also be hopping a plane as he travels to the prestigious Abu Dhabi Grappling Championships with Eduardo Pamplona, who recently impressed the Atlanta crowd with his gritty performance against Robbie Lawler.

Gracie is something of an Abu Dhabi legend himself, and maintains celebrity status at any and all grappling events.

Let’s just hope Pamplona doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

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