Katsidis fireworks could ruin Burns' night

On paper there’s little doubt that this Saturday night will be the toughest of Ricky Burns’ career. Scotland’s former world featherweight champion moves up in weight – and in class – to face Australia’s fearsome Michael Katsidis for the WBO strap.

Katsidis is well-known to UK fight fans, having destroyed home favourite Kevin Mitchell inside three rounds at a partisan Upton Park back in May, 2010. That night Mitchell, who later claimed that significant personal problems undermined his preparation, had no answer to the trademark ferocity of Katsidis and was brutally dispatched. 

Burns will enter the ring in Wembley Arena an underdog, and it’s perfectly understandable. Katsidis has been in with names such as Robert Guerrero, Juan Manuel Marquez and Joel Casamayor. Whilst unsuccessful, he tested them all with his power and all-action style.

The Scot is new to lightweight, and though he insists he’ll be stronger for not having the discomfort of having to boil down to an unnatural weight class, he’s not faced anyone as heavy-handed as the Australian.

But to rule Burns out altogether would be a foolish move. Critics insist he lacks the power to fend off Katsidis as he marauds forward. But he’s never relied on power. He’s a clever fighter, schooled by the canny Billy Nelson. Nelson always has his man in tip-top condition and if the fight goes into the later rounds, it will be familiar territory for Burns.

He’s no stranger to the underdog status either. Arguably his greatest night came in September last year when he took on the reigning, and unbeaten, WBO strapholder Roman Martinez. Recovering from a disastrous first round knockdown, Burns outlasted the Puerto Rican with a display full of energy and heart to claim a unanimous decision.

He’ll need every ounce of energy and every bit of guts if he’s to get the win on Saturday.

But don’t bet against him shocking the world again.

Ralph Welch

A week in MMA: Mitrione and Kongo go menstrual; The incredible shrinking Country; Cerrone saddles up his... pony?

28 October, 2011

Mitrione and Kongo go menstrual

After his unbelievable comeback against Pat Barry in what many MMA fans consider the fight of the year, Cheick Kongo need do little to hype his next appearance in the Octagon – against Matt Mitrione.

And it’s probably a good thing, judging by the bizarre pre-fight jibes both have made this week. 

Mitrione, who so impressed everyone with his dominant KO of Christian Morecraft last time out, suggested in an interview that he was going to “get Kongo pregnant”.

It was a puzzling comment, and perhaps one that Kongo ought to have ignored, but the Frenchman doesn’t duck a fight – whether it’s physical or verbal. He responded by saying that he was going to “give Mitrione his period”.

To his credit the always-unflappable interviewer, Ariel Helwani, managed to safely negotiate the choppy waters of MMA menstrual cycles and reach the safer ground of Saturday night’s co-main event at UFC 137.

This will be Mitrione’s first appearance at the top of the card and his performance against Kongo will determine quite how far the Ultimate Fighter alumnus has progressed. 

His big-punching style, coupled with Kongo’s willingness to swing for the fence should ensure a spectacular encounter.

The incredible Shrinking Country

He’s been the subject of stinging criticism by no less than UFC supremo Dana White about his appearance, but Roy “Big Country” Nelson has always maintained that his rotund physique is here to stay.

Indeed, he recently launched a passionate defence against his many detractors, stating:

“It’s just because people are mean. I look in the mirror every day, my wife thinks I’m beautiful. Looks are in the eye of the beholder.”

However, there was a ripple of excitement this week when a seemingly trimmer Nelson was pictured next to Forrest Griffin. Has Nelson secretly been dieting? Are we going to see a leaner and meaner version of the Las Vegas slugger?

The 35 year-old is facing probably the most important night of his career when he takes on Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic this weekend. After two defeats in succession, the MMA vultures are circling and many speculate that a loss for Nelson could lead to his removal from the UFC roster.

His opponent is in an eerily similar situation. After recent losses to Brendan Schaub and Frank Mir, “Cro Cop” has admitted that it’s win or bust for him:

“To lose three times in a row will be a disaster for me, but even if that happens, I’ll survive. I have two kids. I have to live for them. But it’ll be a disaster.”

Two bruising fighters, both with a point to prove. Diet or no diet: this is a recipe for a great fight in Vegas.

Don “Cowboy” Cerrone saddles up his… pony?

There’s an old saying that goes “be careful what you wish for” and one that UFC featherweight Nam Phan may do well to heed.

After his spectacular decision victory over Leonard Garcia at UFC 136, which earned both a “Fight of the Night” bonus, Phan allegedly criticised Garcia’s coaches for making him a “one-trick pony”.

This angered Garcia’s friend and stablemate lightweight contender Don Cerrone. The “Cowboy” is on a five-fight winning streak and faces Denis Siver this weekend. However, he’s already set his sights on Phan, even if it means dropping to a lower weight class.

“Kong” aims to bounce back

Injuries are an unfortunate reality of any pro fighter’s career. For many, the punishment of being away from the sport - and their means of paying the bills - is far more hurtful than anything they receive in combat.

For British star Tom “Kong” Watson, the experience has been particularly painful. In his honest and thoughtful blog, Watson spoke of his frustration at being laid up with a back injury at a crucial time in his career.

Watson was on the brink of one of the biggest fights of his life against ex-UFC veteran Frank Trigg when the injury struck. He’d earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous fighters outside of Zuffa-owned organisations and was spearheading BAMMA’s rise on the UK scene.

We all wish him a speedy recovery.

Ralph Welch

The weekend wrap: Nonito’s non-event; Solid win for Williams; Booth passes the torch

24 October, 2011

Nonito’s non-event

Ever since Nonito Donaire’s spectacular KO of Fernando Montiel in February, the heavy-handed Filipino has been thrust into the limelight drawing inevitable comparisons with fellow countryman Manny Pacquiao. Indeed, many commentators see Donaire as a potential heir to the pound-for-pound throne when “Pacman” eventually hangs up his gloves.

However, with increased profile comes increased expectation. And with a big crowd at Madison Square Garden, Donaire’s promoters Top Rank – who fought a very bloody public battle with arch-rivals Golden Boy for his services – were hoping their charge would add to his growing reputation.

His opponent for the bantamweight title, Omar Narvaez, was predicted to test him early on but ultimately the fans in attendance were expecting another entry on Donaire’s highlight reel of knockouts.

However, it takes two to produce a spectacle. And whereas Montiel had gone in with genuine ambition, the wily Narvaez seemed content to just survive the 12 rounds and escape with his senses intact.

In truth, it was scrappy fare and the fans voted with their feet, streaming away in their droves before the announcement that Donaire had won the most unanimous of decisions.

Even the best suffer nights like this. Sometimes in boxing a win is a win.

Solid win keeps Williams on track

If Nonito Donaire’s travails were somewhat unexpected, few were surprised by the difficulties that Leon “Solid” Williams encountered in Bethnal Green on Friday night.

Fan favourite Williams challenged the evergreen Rob Norton, 39, for the British Cruiserweight crown. Norton has been inactive for 20 months, partly due to injury and partly due to promoter reluctance to stage his fights.

The Stourbridge man has an unorthodox, awkward style that is highly effective but low on entertainment. TV bosses may not like it, but it has earned Norton considerable success with the judges and he went into Friday’s battle a former Commonwealth strapholder.

However, on this occasion the officials plumped for the more muscular work rate of the challenger in a predictably cagey affair. Williams’ vociferous supporters, whose sheer noise may have swayed the judges, will hope that this heralds a new era for the domestic cruiserweight scene.

Norton’s prospects are unclear. He may with some justification, ask for a rematch. But his appeal is likely to fall on deaf ears. Whatever happens, he can justly be proud of a career that has brought him five titles.

Booth passes the torch

As a rule, promoters generally receive little good press. Too often they become scapegoats for many of boxing’s ills: rotten mismatches and exploiting fighters for their own gain.

However, it was hard to aim that criticism at Frank Maloney on Saturday night in Bolton. The veteran promoter, who stood by Lennox Lewis in the heavyweight’s heyday, showed great compassion when he halted Jason Booth’s defence of his British super bantamweight strap versus unbeaten Scott Quigg.

Booth is a 15-year veteran of the sport, whose greatest battles have often been fought outside of the ring. His return from alcoholism and the brink of suicide to title glory has been truly inspirational. But there’s a famous saying in boxing that there comes a fight when a boxer gets old overnight.

Booth, 34, was overpowered by the relentless attacks of rising star Quigg, who seemed so much heavier and stronger than the champion. By the end of the seventh, it was clear that the champion had no chance of winning. Maloney’s concern was clear for all to see, and the decision spared Booth further punishment that he didn’t deserve.

Booth, who admitted that he lacks power at super bantamweight, will face a difficult choice over the coming weeks: retirement or a move to prolong his career at a lower weight class.

Whatever he chooses, he’ll do so with the appreciation of fight fans across the UK.

Ralph Welch
Twitter: @ralphwelch

Griffin accepts reality as career enters final chapter

He’s a former policeman, a reality TV star, a published author and a mixed martial artist of some repute. But popular UFC light-heavyweight Forrest Griffin is also, as he puts it, “a painful realist.”

This week, in the latest instalment of his fascinating UFC 134 blog, Griffin did what many fighters find impossible: he accepted his own mortality.

With the sort of brutal honesty for which he is renowned, the Ohio native admitted for the first time that his career is in decline:

“It quit being fun when I realized I wasn’t getting better. I’m plateauing or almost getting worse sometimes. One of the essential elements to have in this is your perceived expectation of the future, and I’m a painful realist, so I realized that I’m not going to get better; this is it. It’s only gonna get worse from here on and you fight as much as you can, you fight until you don’t have it anymore, and then you fight a couple more times after that.”

The last line is particularly striking.

In the past year, fan favourites such as Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva have effectively been retired by UFC boss Dana White after painful losing streaks. Despite their protestations to the contrary, White felt that their best days in the Octagon were long gone, fearing that their bravery would result in permanent damage.

Boxing too is littered with fighters who refuse to accept the inevitable. Some of the sport’s biggest names such as Roy Jones, Jr. and Evander Holyfield plough on despite their advancing years.

Both are mere shadows of their former selves but remain convinced that they can still reach the heights they scaled previously in their illustrious careers.

Jones and Holyfield have claimed many big-name scalps, but in the battle with Old Father Time, there is only one winner. Pundits and fans accuse them of tarnishing their legacies by continuing to pursue a goal which is becoming increasingly unreachable.

Forrest Griffin seems unlikely to follow their lead.

Too often a fighter will trot out well-worn clich├ęs about a “great training camp” and being in “the best shape of their career” before a contest.

There will doubtless be some sports psychologists out there who will claim that Griffin’s brand of honesty borders on defeatism; merely playing into the  hands of his opponent on Saturday, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

Rather, Griffin should be respected for having the honesty and the perspective to evaluate his abilities in the cold light of day.

It’s the same honesty in the Octagon that has endeared him to millions of UFC fans. They appreciate the feats of a man who’s given them such notable wars with Stephan Bonnar, Tito Ortiz and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson amongst others.

Through hard work and determination, Forrest Griffin has earned his reputation as a true warrior of the sport, a fighter unafraid to go toe-to-toe with anyone the UFC puts in front of him.

So if Mauricio Rua thinks that he’s given up already, then he should definitely think again.

Ralph Welch
Twitter: @ralphwelch