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The Week In review: Hector’s Achilles Heel; Bret “Hitman” Hart; Rockhold in a hard place; Fedor gets drunk
Hector’s Achilles Heel
In Greek mythology the legendary Trojan Prince Hector slays an army of Greeks in defense of his realm before falling victim to the sword of legendary warrior Achilles.
It was with such romanticism that the much-feted Hector Lombard approached the cage this Saturday in Calgary. Lombard had been heralded by some as the next in line to the throne of the all-conquering Anderson Silva. His flock pointed to the 25-fight unbeaten streak that Lombard had amassed since 2006 as evidence that the former Bellator middleweight king was ready to mix with true MMA royalty.
Lombard had a reputation for fan-friendly physicality, overwhelming 13 of those 25 opponents before the first round had elapsed. The excitement around his debut looked to have saved a UFC 149 card decimated by injury. With names such as Jose Aldo, Michael Bisping and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira all sidelined, Lombard brought a much-needed dose of celebrity to an event robbed of stardust.
Even among the cynics who argued that his paper record was the result of skilful matchmaking rather than world-class ability, there was a genuine curiosity to see whether the man could indeed match the myth.
Sadly for Lombard his first appearance in the Octagon resembled more a Greek tragedy as his arsenal was repelled not by Achilles, but the rather more durable form of Tim Boetsch.
Critics felt that Boetsch had been offered up by the UFC matchmakers as a sacrificial lamb. However, “The Barbarian” gave a typically stoic performance that belied these low expectations and ground out a split decision victory.
Some labelled it contentious, but there was no disguising that it was a desperately disappointing bow by Lombard. Gone was his famed ferocious intensity, replaced by caution and control. There’s been some debate as to whether it was a classic case of octagon jitters or simply that the Cuban-Australian had been cruelly exposed at the highest level.
Whatever the case, as the boos rained down on him on Saturday night, Hector came face-to-face with his own mortality. In this most fickle of sports you’re only as good as your last fight. Luckily for Lombard, his name recognition alone means that he will get the chance to salvage something from the wreckage of his shattered reputation.
Silencing the doubters will be his biggest battle yet.
Hart sees Excellence in MMA
Speaking of contentious decisions, Calgary’s favourite son and former WWE superstar Bret “Hitman” Hart, the victim of the infamous “Montreal Screwjob”, was on hand to witness the UFC’s inaugural visit to his hometown.
The “Excellence of Execution” was a one-time critic of caged combat but in an interview with Ariel Helwani Hart revealed not only his newfound admiration for the sport, but also that a junior member of the Hart Foundation may soon be joining the ranks of MMA fighters.
Harry Smith, 26, son of the “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, has turned his back on the squared circle after a brief spell with the WWE, preferring to focus his athletic aspirations on MMA.
Smith joins an ever-growing list of professional wrestlers who are ditching the spandex for sparring as they look to carve out a career in prizefighting. Last week Dave Bautista, better known as “Batista” in Vince McMahon’s promotion, announced he would be making his cage debut on Oct 6th for CES MMA league. It’s purely a labor of love for Bautista, 43, whose profitable wrestling career left his exchequer in a healthy position.
Smith, on the other hand, has made a bold decision to pursue success in a new field. Youth is on his side and it will be intriguing to see how he fares. Though scripted, the wrestling ring takes a veritable toll on the human body so he will be pre-conditioned to the management of pain.
If he can reach the levels of professional excellence his father did, then the MMA future could be bright for the latest product of the Hart dynasty.
Rockhold in a hard place
As reigning Strikeforce middleweight champion and a fighter at the peak of his powers, life should be good for Luke Rockhold.
This week he was rumoured to be targeted by Anderson Silva’s management team as a future opponent for the middleweight champion. In their eyes, the cross-promotional angle of this bout would make it a marketable proposition while the UFC middleweight contenders struggle to establish their credentials.
For Rockhold (10-1), it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make the kind of money that has so far eluded him in his title tenure.
Sadly, it’s a fight that’s never likely to happen.
Dana White revealed this week that Rockhold and his fellow Strikeforce cohorts are effectively trapped in limbo with regards to their fighting futures.
According to the UFC boss, the small print on the deal with TV channel Showtime, who were reportedly unimpressed by the exodus of Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum and other big names in the UFC-Strikeforce merger, decrees that their remaining talent are unable to sign with Zuffa even if they become free agents.
It’s the sport’s worst-kept secret that men like Rockhold and Gil Melendez would gladly cash in their Strikeforce gold for an opportunity to touch the riches on offer in the Zuffa ranks.
The frustration felt by these fighting men is palpable. Strikeforce continues to plod aimlessly forward with precious little planning and a declining audience.
Rockhold, Melendez and co. will have to be patient and hope that their time will come.
Until then, they remain on the outside looking in.
Fedor: a drinking Colossus
Barely a week goes by in MMA without mention of Fedor Emelianenko. “The Last Emperor” is still officially retired but you don’t have to venture far on the information superhighway to find whispers of a return.
Fedor loyalists believe he left the sport too early while his detractors insist that until he successfully competes with the UFC heavyweight roster his legacy will never be complete.
However, it seems that one area where Fedor was unquestionably peerless was in his consumption of alcohol.
In his entertaining weekly blog, UK heavyweight James “Colossus” Thompson, an MMA veteran who has laced up the gloves for promotions across the globe, detailed his own bizarre experience of drinking with Fedor:
“Fedor held this bottle up as if it was the world cup before cuddling it in his arms as if it was a new born child and this brought laughter. He poured a large amount in to one of the glasses -I’m not sure if smoke came off the liquid as it was poured or if I’m just embellishing that part for the story, but what I do remember was that the liquid was clear and handed over the table to me by Fedor with great care. All eyes were now focused on the Englishman and I felt like I was part of some experiment and seeing that I know how seriously Russians take their drinking; I didn’t want to spoil my street cred by asking if they had any Orange juice to mix with it. I was somewhat nervous of the drink that lay before me, so I pictured that what was in the glass was the ‘secret elixir to what made Fedor great’ and by consuming what was in the glass, it would have the same effect on me.”
You’ll have to read for yourself to see what happened next. Safe to say that Thompson’s hopes of discovering the secret of Fedor’s superpowers weren’t quite realized…