Sunday, July 23, 2006

Rutten Returns, Rampage and Lindland Go to War at WFA King of the Streets

The World Fighting Alliance made its pay-per-view debut at the Los Angeles Forum June 22, with arguably the best on-paper non-UFC card in American MMA history. If the WFA is going to succeed, it needs to have a long term vision and patience. The first shows need to establish the brand to fans and to name fighters who might consider joining the organization in the future. As a first show, this was a moderate success as far as establishing the brand and delivering an entertaining pair of feature bouts.

The show did not do strong business live, and the crowd at the Forum appeared to be in the 3,500-4,000 range. It was an educated crowd that understood what was going on and knew fighters that for the most part haven’t made a name for themselves in the United States. The show on television would have benefited from more lighting and a different lighting scheme.

The screens at the Forum showed a very light ring surrounded by a heavily darkened out arena, reminiscent of MMA or pro wrestling shows with embarrassing attendance. However, while this show didn’t have a strong crowd, it was a perfectly acceptable crowd and in line with crowds that you will see on HBO boxing. The darkened background atmosphere felt low rent, and future shows would benefit from a different lighting setup. This issue of lighting was easily the most important point of improvement for future WFA shows.

The show featured a Clash of the Champions style stage entrance. Celebrities in attendance included Shaquille O’Neal, Bruce Willis and Jenna Jameson, as well as big name fighters such as Tito Ortiz, Ken Shamrock, Josh Barnett, Dan Henderson and Tank Abbott. It was a typical MMA crowd, composed of mostly young men and featuring very attractive women in the crowd dressed up to be seen.

In the main event of the evening, Matt Lindland and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson had an excellent back and forth fight that produced an extremely close decision. Jackson came out to his Pride entrance theme, while Lindland came out to the tune of “I fought the law, and the law won.” In round 1, Jackson scored a spectacular slam, but Lindland got to his feet and slammed Jackson to the canvas. Lindland got Jackson’s back and sunk in a rear naked choke with about 40 seconds left in the round. Jackson looked defeated, but miraculously managed his way out.

In the second round, Jackson dropped Lindland straight on his head with a slam. The fighters returned to their feet, where Jackson got the better of the exchange but Lindland showed improved striking. Jackson then slammed Lindland to the mat again. In the third round, the fighters exchanged strikes again. Lindland caught Jackson in a guillotine choke, and sunk it in deep.

It was a scene reminiscent of Jackson’s fight with Wanderlei Silva, as he dropped to the mat into Lindland’s guard trying to pull out his head. Lindland once again appeared close to a finish, but Jackson escaped. Jackson worked some strong ground and pound to end the fight, opening a cut on Lindland. The decision easily could have gone either way, and produced a close split 29-28, 28-29, 29-28 decision for the crowd favorite Jackson.

In the other featured bout of the evening, “El Guapo” Bas Rutten made his return to mixed martial arts. The legendary Rutten was one of the sport’s greatest stars, and came back to fight Ruben Villareal. Villareal was a late substitute for Kimo Leopoldo, but this fight was all about showcasing Rutten. Rutten got a tremendous reaction from the crowd, and soaked in the love of the appreciative fans.

Rutten doesn’t have the charisma of a main event fighter. Rather, he has the charisma of a leader of a major nation. Rutten defeated Villareal in the first round. Villareal was the bigger man, but Rutten nailed him with some hard punches. Villareal’s chin proved to be tough, and Rutten changed his strategy to focus on leg kicks. Rutten drilled Villareal with three hard kicks to Villareal’s knee. On the third, Villareal collapsed to the mat and could not continue in a scene reminiscent of Mirko Cro Cop’s recent defeat of Hidehiko Yoshida. Rutten after the fight said he had a number of injuries, and was non-committal about future fights.

There were two preliminary bouts before the pay-per-view event. Martin Kampmann defeated Edwin Aguilar in the first bout of the evening. Aguilar appeared outmatched by Kampmann, who tagged him with strikes and a knee standing. Aguilar went down, and Kampmann followed him with some additional strikes on the ground before the referee stopped the fight. In the second bout, Jorge Oliveira and Marvin Eastman battled to a draw. This was a rather dull standup fight that ended in a decision, not unlike the later Vernon White-Lyoto Machida fight. The standup was pretty even, with Oliveira utilizing his reach and kicks, but Eastman pressing the action with punching flurries.

The pay-per-view began with Rob McCullough scoring a decision win over Harris Sarmiento. McCullough got the best of the standup for most of the fight, and hammered Sarmiento with vicious leg kicks. Both fighters were tentative, and this was not a good showcase for McCullough in spite of the unanimous 30-27 decision in his favor.

Ricco Rodriguez defeated Ron Waterman via doctor stoppage after one round of action. Rodriguez has ballooned in weight from his fighting prime, but he looked in better shape than he has in other recent fights. Rodriguez seemed to be in better shape than Waterman in spite of his physique. Rodriguez blocked a Waterman takedown, and then dominated Waterman standing with punches and knees. Waterman’s eye was in bad shape after the first round and he was completely gassed, leading to a stoppage before the second round.

Ivan Salaverry defeated Art Santore via TKO in the second round of their fight. The first round was another standup stalemate, where both men had their better spots. In the second round, Salaverry stunned Santore with a high kick, and followed up with strikes standing and on the ground until the referee stopped the contest. Santore was busted open.

Jason “Mayhem” Miller made a strong showing for himself in his defeat of Lodune Sincaid. He came to the ring with a fun entrance featuring break dancing, and was announced as being from parts unknown. He threw some knees, and took the fight to the ground. He got Sincaid’s back, and kept working for submissions until he finally applied the rear naked choke for the submission.

The highly regarded Lyoto Machida made his American MMA debut against Vernon White, but did not turn in a particularly strong first impression. White and Machida stood for three rounds, and neither man looked particularly good. White moved forward more, while Lyoto picked his spots and then retreated. In the third round, Lyoto scored a takedown, secured side control, and got White’s back. White escaped, but it was not enough to avoid a unanimous decision for Lyoto.

Notes: Lyoto Machida implemented the butt scoot position at one point, in honor of mentor Antonio Inoki. Matt Lindland also employed vicious foot stomping techniques, in honor of the original King of the Streets, Marco Ruas. Observer columnist Ben Miller at one point asked where Shaquille O’Neal was, and was informed he was the guy in the first row standing a foot and a half taller than everyone else.

3 Comments:

Blogger Swain said...

For those of us in Canada, where WFA won't air until July 30th, is it worth ordering the PPV?

1:46 PM  
Blogger Todd Martin said...

I'm not sure, quite frankly. A lot of the reviews of the shows have criticized the production, lighting and commentary. That can make a big difference. As a live show and fight card I would definitely recommend it, and the top two fights are a lot of fun. But I'm not sure how much the TV presentation detracted from that. If you're a big MMA fan, it's definitely worth checking out. If you're more casual, maybe not.

2:03 PM  
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