Saturday, August 19, 2017
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Combat Sports

by James Oddy
One of the tropes of Wild West films is the idea of the snake oil salesman. He rides into town, and promises to cure all ailments and issues with his tonic. He has no proof, aside from showmanship and bluster. Even the most cynical and worldly of townsfolk eventually succumb to his charms and part with their money, not realising they have been duped until the salesman is long gone.

I couldn’t help but think about that idea as I watched Floyd Mayweather Jr and Connor McGregor go on a worldwide press tour, including a visit to London. They swore at each other and they threatened each other. They threw money at each other and wore suits with foul language sown in the seams. They got bodyguards to threaten each other. It was embarrassing and cringe worthy but it has definitely got people talking. And it has people willing to spend money.

It’ll probably be the highest grossing boxing match of all time.

When you take a step back you really realise how crazy that is. This is a boxer on 49-0 against a boxer who is 0-0. Even if you take McGregor’s MMA record, he is 21-3. He isn’t even perfect as an MMA fighter. The rebuttal may be that that McGregor has fought the best, because people like to believe that Mayweather picked fighters either before or past their prime. Whilst the UFC does indeed force it’s fighters to fight the best more often, Mayweather’s resume is a who’s who of elite level fighters during the late 90s to the late 2000s. Some of them were picked at the right time, but people like Zab Judah, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marcos Maidana, and Miguel Cotto either fought on to a high level or went into the fight with Mayweather in career best form. Of course, Mayweather dealt with all of them with relative ease.

Even at 40, out of the ring since 2015, it is inconceivable he could lose to McGregor. Every person I have spoken to in boxing, from old pros turned trainers, to managers, to fighters, knows this is a supreme mismatch which is borderline dangerous.

All he has to do is avoid an overrated left hand from McGregor. Mayweather made a career of slipping shots and using footwork to stay just out of range of much better boxers than McGregor. This isn’t an MMA contest or a street brawl. This is boxing, and Mayweather know it inside and out.

It’s hard not to see this event with plenty of sadness, because in the heady days of Ali and Frazier and Foreman, it was simply two great boxers going at it. I like MMA as it’s a brilliant sport but I wish McGregor would have fought the guys in his sport, creating a legacy like Ali and Foreman, and Mayweather had pushed himself to take on any of the many great young fighters at welterweight.

The one thing I ask however, is, don’t blame me when the snake oil salesman rides off into the sunset with your money. I warned you!

On July 29, in the main event of UFC 214, light heavyweight great Jon Jones will attempt to reclaim the title he once guarded so ferociously when he takes on the reigning champ and his biggest rival, Daniel Cormier.

In advance of this fight, Jones’ striking coach Mike Winkeljohn says that Jones – who has always been an innovator when it comes to technique – is still adding new weapons to his arsenal.

Winkeljohn, guarantees the former UFC light heavyweight champion will not only show up for his UFC 214 title rematch with Daniel Cormier, but he’s going to win more impressively than the first time.

“Jon’s getting his title back – well, the title he never lost,” Winkeljohn told a US radio station. “Yeah, he’s walking out back being the champ of the world again.”

Throughout UFC history, the light heavyweight division has not only provided the sport with some of the best fights but arguably many of its most iconic fighters.

From Tito Ortiz being the face of the UFC during his title reign to Randy Couture moving down from heavyweight to become a champion and then Chuck Liddell beating them both to become one of the original superstars in mixed martial arts.

In fact, six current UFC Hall of Famers have competed in the light heavyweight division at one point or another during their career.

That said, current light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier says no offense to the legends of the past but none of them would have a chance in the Octagon against him or former 205-pound king Jon Jones.

It’s one of the reasons why Cormier says his upcoming fight against Jones at UFC 214 is so special because it’s the two best fighters in history in the division squaring off with a title on the line.

Of course, Cormier has a lot of respect for the fighters who came before him, but he just doesn’t see how any of them could stack up to the talent currently competing at the top of the division.

Cormier will never be Jones’ biggest fan, but he’ll readily admit that the New York native is the greatest of all time. It’s a moniker he hopes to take away when they meet for a second time later this month.

This next fight won’t be enough to satisfy Cormier because he says even with a win over Jones at UFC 214, he plans on facing him one more time to settle the rivalry.

Jones defeated Cormier back in 2015, and now the current light heavyweight champion wants nothing more than to exact revenge with wins in back-to-back fights.

“Him and I have two more fights,” Cormier explained. “We have me beating him in Anaheim and me beating him next time.”


by James Oddy
by James Oddy
Call me Ishmael. Connor McGregor fighting Floyd Mayweather is sports new white whale. The fight surfaces for air every now and then, and grizzled fight writers and fans, like Ahab aboard the Pequod, sight and, despite our better judgment, set a course for it.

The fight interests and disgusts in almost equal measure. Just like the great white whale could be the death of Ahab and his whole crew, the fight could generate obscene amounts of cash yet land a telling blow to the integrity of both MMA and boxing. For MMA, what happens if its figurehead, McGregor, famed for both his jab in the octagon and his gab outside it, was outclassed? For boxing, what if Mayweather generates his fabled 50-0 against a fighter who had never had a professional boxing match before? What does that say about the lack of stars in boxing? About the talent pool?

I say with certainty Mayweather would get his 50-0 against McGregor because to my mind, and the mind of anyone with even a half knowledge of boxing, any other suggestion is absurd.

MMA and boxing are different disciplines. It’s like suggesting a great goalkeeper such as David De Gea could be a great rugby player because he has to catch and kick a ball in both sports. The whole science and methodology is different.

In MMA, you have the feet, hands, knees and elbows to worry about on approach-you have to worry about a take down or Muay Thai style clinch.

In boxing, it may appear ‘easier’ as you only have to deal with two hands. But they are thrown with an amount of speed, precision and power, the likes of which is beyond most people, which is only achieved after a lifetime dedicated to that craft.

I know why people think McGregor has a chance. He knocks people in UFC out for fun and Mayweather boxes people to ‘boring’ points wins.

People tell themselves that McGregor only needs ‘one’ punch. They underestimate the complete artistry Mayweather has over his craft. If Manny Pacquaio, Marcos Maidana, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alverez, Shane Mosley, Juan Mannuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Zab Judah, Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo, all fine boxers, some all time great boxers, couldn’t land a knock out blow, what makes you think McGregor could do so?

Ultimately, McGregor should concentrate on the legacy of his own career, which is a wonderful one in it’s own right. He is a ridiculously talented MMA fighter. He could be, if not the Ali of the sport, the Mike Tyson, the love him/hate him figure which consistently puts eyes on the sport.

As for Floyd, if he must come back, then I would rather he fight Keith Thurman, or Gennady Golovkin. To be frank, I’d rather he fight anyone who is an active boxer.

But the problem, as Ahab discovered, is that once you have that white whale in your sights, it’s impossible to forget about it, no matter how disastrous the consequences may prove to be. Call me intrigued.


by James Oddy

Ronda Rousey’s 48-second loss to Amanda Nunes was spectacular, sad, and shocking. Seeing one of the UFC’s more iconic figures dismantled so quickly was not what anyone expected, even those who felt Rousey was a ‘hype job’. Ultimately, it is one thing to lose, it’s another thing entirely to look completely out of your depth, as Ronda did as she ate shot after unanswered shot from Nunes. It’s very hard to see where Rousey goes from this point.

b6f95b1e6c1f334a86c370fdd44b786fBut whilst Rousey athletically can perhaps be criticised, her cultural impact should be recognised and celebrated. Five years ago, UFC was nowhere near the popularity of today, and what’s more, female MMA was barely noticed by the mainstream media. Now, when athletes like Rousey, Cris Cyborg, Joanna Jędrzejczyk, and Paige VanZant fight, people sit up and take notice. The women’s divisions in UFC all have good fights to be made, and now that Rousey has blazed the trail, expect to see them kick on.

Contrast the attention and prestige of women’s MMA with that of boxing. The likes of new professionals Katie Taylor and Nicola Adams, brilliant athletes, are relegated to fighting foes way below the standard they would face in the amateurs. In the past, great female boxers such as Anne Wolfe have boxed for small purses on the undercard of more heavily promoted male boxers.

Regardless of how her in-octagon legacy is viewed in the future, I hope Rousey is recognised for being the cross over star female combat sports was crying out for.

Speaking of boxing and MMA, the tiresome ‘feud’ between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr rumbles on. Both men are superb showmen and brilliant media manipulators. But the fight is unlikely to ever happen, and seems to be attracting comments from the most odious of fight fans.

MMA and boxing and two distinct disciplines, for a start. In an Octagon, McGregor would defeat Mayweather with ease, and vice versa should they meet under the Queensberry rules in a squared circle. Not to mention the discrepancy in ages, activity (Floyd hasn’t fought since September 2015), monetary demands, venue, who’d promote the fight. It’s a non-starter.

I hope McGregor concentrates on UFC and takes on Nate Diaz in a rubber match. How about a super fight with a returning George St-Pierre? How about defending his new lightweight crown? The possibilities are endless.

As for Floyd, I hope he remains retired. Not because I don’t think he is a beautiful boxer and one of the very best (but not THE best) to ever lace up the gloves. I just want him to enjoy his money and retirement, and concentrate on his burgeoning promotional and managerial ventures.

by James Oddy
by James Oddy

Conor McGregor’s victory over lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez on the November 12th UFC 205 card was significant for a number of reasons. For a start, it caused McGregor to become the first UFC fighter in history to hold titles in two weight divisions simultaneously, as he was already holding the featherweight belt.

The fact he did so in such a destructive, definitive way, knocking out Alavrez out with his vaunted left hand, also led to McGregor proving once again that he is more than just a charismatic talker. The Irishman can fight, and his skill set is second only to perhaps Demetrious Johnson in the MMA world.

It was also a huge financial success for the UFC as a whole. The event allegedly drew almost $18 million in gate receipts alone, along with around about 1.9 million PPV buys, an astronomical amount. Add to all that, it was also the first ever UFC event to be held in New York, after the controversial MMA ban was overturned earlier in 2016. The latter is as much symbolical as anything else – for much of the 20th century NYC was THE home of boxing. Increasingly however, small time promoters within boxing are being priced out due to the extremely high insurance rates now required to promote combat sports.

cdwvhalwoaavrofThis event built upon UFC 202, when McGregor beat Nate Diaz at welterweight. That fight seemed to have the all-important ‘casual fan’ talking, and the interested in the charismatic McGregor only built for his showdown with Alverez. McGregor, and Ronda Rousey (despite inactivity), are the cross over stars which have helped propel MMA/UFC into the mainstream, and it doesn’t look likely to be going away anytime soon.

Contrast UFC 205 with the recent Sergey Kovalev/Andre Ward boxing match. The latter was two elite, undefeated pound for pound boxers battling it out, yet its crossover appeal was not huge. McGregor is a one off, and Kovalev and Ward are more introverted characters, but neither man has the global reach and presence of the Irishman. That isn’t either man’s fault, but boxing as a whole has been damaged severely with the plethora of governing bodies, warring promoters, blatant score card robberies, and fighters pulling out last minute.

In contrast, the UFC model ensures the best fight the best for the most part and cards are made up of competitive fights, rather than in boxing case, which are mostly made up with one sided ‘keep busy’ fights. I love boxing, and Kovalev/Ward was a wonderful contest. And, it must be added, boxing has been supposedly on its way out for years, and always found a way to survive. On an amateur level at least, boxing remains by far the more popular combat sport.

But it is impossible to see how the juggernaut UFC has become can be stopped. McGregor alone can have blockbuster contests against Diaz In a rubber match, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Rafael Dos Anjos, Tyron Woodley and Robbie Lawler. Add in the return of Rousey, and the records are likely to keep on breaking.


By James Oddy

Boxing’s been supposedly out for the count countless times from its inception. It has always proved a resilient competitor with a cast iron chin however, and always manages to rally. UFC and MMA were supposed to land the knockout blow, but, domestically the sport goes from strength to strength and the Mayweather – Pacman fight was the most lucrative of all time.

1393138607000-Ronda-Rousey1They aren’t what you’d expect. They aren’t a tattooed behemoth. They aren’t male. Instead, it’s a 5’7 woman form California. Yet, Ronda Rousey has become the crossover star not just off UFC/MMA, but all combat sports.

Whereas Texas boxer Anne Wolfe toiled in relative obscurity, and Nicola Adams and Katie Taylor have garnered a slightly but not substantial following, Rousey has exploded onto the popular consciousness.

She has made the rounds on the American chat show scene, appeared at Wrestlemania, and has a burgeoning acting career.

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She’s articulate and, as evidenced by the modelling and actions, has a look that appeals to many. But her popularity is no tokenisms. The girl can fight. An Olympian at Judo who can also more than handle her own in the stand-up game, she is a ferocious competitor who wears her heart on her sleeve. Her submission ‘arm-bar’ has become a deadly and effective weapon and has fans on the edge of their seats, like they were for a Mike Tyson fight, knowing that a split second can change, and likely end, a fight.

The future of Rousey and, indeed, UFC, may reside in who opposes her. The most famous fighters, no matter what sport, are usually defined by their rivalries and the heights it causes them to reach. Ali-Fazier, Gatti-Ward, Zale-Graziano, all of the men involved were elevated due to their legendary rivalries. The UFC has plenty of talented and capable women who can give Rousey hell, but none have seemed to branch over into the mainstream with anywhere near the success. Were one of them to defeat Rousy, it may derail her popularity without elevating her adversary.

Rousey’s main achievement, no matter what level she reaches ultimately, may be causing fans to sit up and take notice of female athletes, and that they have the willpower, competitive spirit and toughness to match their male counterparts.

Every month, the Leeds Cage will be writing a column in Urban Echo highlighting the growing trend of mixed martial arts. Whether you are a fan of MMA, UFC or even WWE, Leeds Cage will be giving training tips and fighting techniques for all aspiring mixed martial artists.

Keep the fighting in the cage!

The advent of mixed martial arts has affected the training methods of nearly all good fighting gyms, due to the nature of MMA, so many aspects of fitness have to be covered to ensure the modern combat athlete is fully prepared for entering the cage. This has also had an effect on general fitness and personal trainers.

When l first started boxing, the training was much more basic. We arrived at the gym, got a skipping rope and skipped probably 10 x 2 minute rounds with a 30 second break in between. We then moved onto the bag work for 10×2 minutes again. This was followed by some pad work with the coach and if you were lucky enough, sparring too. We would finish the session with shadow boxing, sit ups and press ups. If on certain nights you was not at the gym, the boss make us run and do our roadwork. As a kickboxer this format was practically identical except you did a lot of stretching to attain the ability to kick.

All the above training listed was perfectly adequate for the boxer/ kickboxer but not for what is required of a mixed martial artist. When a boxer / kickboxer goes into the clinch, the referee orders ‘break’. This is not the case for the MMA fighter as the fight has just changed range, your struggling and fighting to get the dominant position or the takedown as well as endeavouring to avoid strikes, your physical strength and conditioning now becomes of paramount importance and if you haven’t done your work in the gym, you’ll be found out!

When a boy or girl approach me and say they wish to fight, my first question is ‘can you train five times per week?’ If their answer is no, then l suggest that they had best just keep attending classes and enjoying their training. If the answer is ‘yes’ and that they are willing to train five times a week and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to ensure a good performance and hopefully a win, then we outline what is required and a training plan is put together. We are fortunate at Leeds Cage that we have a large gym and an eclectic mixture of equipment. In saying that, this has been years of reinvestment to ensure we are at the forefront of mixed martial arts.

So here follows a basic program for a fighter. It can vary for the individual but this gives you a rough idea. At least two heavy weights sessions per week consisting of bench press, deadlift and squat. Attendance in the bag blast class is a must (which is bag work and kettlebells), followed by a couple days resting. Then straight into regular attendance in all classes featuring stand up and submission. We also encourage the aspiring fighter to attend circuit classes which involve prowler pushes, sledgehammers, tyres and rope climbing. In the classes they will work on pad work, highlighting attack and defence and sparring and rolling. In the meantime, we will be looking for a suitable show for them to compete in. Our promoters are recognised professionals where the fighter’s wellbeing always comes first. When a fight is agreed, the training really steps up as the coaches look for weaknesses and strong points and try to work on all areas to make the fighter stronger and more capable. If we have footage of the opponent, we study it and come up with a game plan. Diet advice is given and the fighter must adhere to all rules of no drinking, late nights and eating junk food!

Martial arts is about self-discipline. This crosses over into other aspects of your life as you will find a focus that maybe didn’t have before as well as the simple realisation that the more effort you put in, the more rewards you achieve!

Next month we’ll hit upon some of the actual specifics of the various aspects of the mixed martial artists training regime.

John C. Higo

Chief Instructor, Leeds Cage



Every month, the Leeds Cage will be writing a column in the Urban Echo highlighting the growing trend of mixed martial arts. Whether you are a fan of MMA, UFC or even WWE, Leeds Cage will be giving training tips and fighting techniques for all aspiring mixed martial artists. Keep the fighting in the cage!

Leeds Cage is the culmination of many years training and there are many gyms in different locations around West Yorkshire under many different names. At Leeds Cage we have been at our present location for over six years and we have every intention of staying here with two large matted areas, a cage, a ring, weights and conditioning equipment. When someone first enters the gym, they instantly feel the atmosphere, the feeling of being in an old school fighter’s gym. The people that train are friendly and devoid of ego as they wish to work hard and learn and develop their skills. We are relaxed and the joking and casual banter knows no bounds. One can say anything and if it’s with good humour and no malice, it’s all cool at the cage, just like it should be.

My name is John C. Higo and l am the chief instructor, but personally l prefer the term ‘coach’. My coaching responsibilities are shared with my good friends Faisal Nathani, Neil Longthorne and Michael Rodgerson and together we make a good solid team. My own martial arts journey started many years ago when I had my first fight in the ring in 1968 at the tender age of twelve. I started as a boxer and trained until 1972. From there l went into karate and Atemi-Jitsu until 1976 and later kickboxing, or as we then called it, full contact karate. The kickboxing style was similar to boxing but with the inclusion of kicks above the waist. This became my passion and was deemed at the time to be the combat sport of the future. Over the years l competed on many occasions and enjoyed every minute of it. We didn’t get paid and on some days we actually had to pay to take part whilst working full time to feed the family. We were not looking at turning professional as we did it because we liked to fight and train martial arts. l suppose it was guys like me that laid the bedrock of what the sport could be and l do not regret that money wasn’t made available then as my aim was to be a good martial artist / fighter and nothing more.

I constantly hear that the Leeds Cage is a cage fighting gym! Nobody in our sport refers to this art form as ‘Cage fighting’. We train Mixed Martial Arts and our aim is to become proficient at all ranges of unarmed combat. Mixed martial arts is not just for people who wish to compete as I see it as a fitness regime for anyone and everyone. It is interesting, technical and self-challenging and something you can continue training most of your life. I do often say that martial arts is a mirror that helps you see the real you! Through hard physical challenging training, you really do get to see what you are made of. Your flaws and your positive points are identified in the process and once you realise the pros and cons, only then can you address them to become a better you!

Next month we will go more into depth about mixed martial arts with fitness tips and the basics of entering the cage with physical and mental training.

John C. Higo

Chief Instructor, Leeds Cage