The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 44 | Combat Sports Recap

Leaving Proof 44 | Combat Sports Recap
Published on Friday, August 12, 2011 by

The past several weeks have been busy ones in the combat sports of boxing and MMA—always a good thing—although I suppose there wasn’t really any one big event that crossed over into the mainstream sports world and captured the casual combat sports fan’s attention the way Wladimir Klitschko vs. David Haye did. My thoughts and comments on two of the bigger recent stories to come out of the squared circle and the cage:

Khan jabs Zab into submission

KHAAAAAAN!

What most people who watched this fight will probably remember is former world-beater Zab “Super” Judah succumbing to a hellacious body blow delivered by England’s Amir “King” Khan. Judah protested that it was a low blow (somewhat ironic, considering this), but I’ve watched replays of the shot several times and it looks like a legal punch no matter how you slice it: Judah’s trunks were riding high, and it’s clear that Khan’s glove landed squarely within the umbilical area. The only way Judah can legitimately claim that the shot hit him square in “[his] balls” is if he has a doctor’s note saying that his testicles haven’t descended yet.

Legit Body Shot or Illegal Low Blow? Click the picture to watch the video and decide for yourself

But before the fight’s somewhat (but not really) controversial finish, the thing that really stood out to me was how effective Khan was with his jab and the spacing the jab affords. It’s probably the stiffest jab in the junior welterweight division right now (it’s definitely one of the fastest), and Khan was able to get full extension off of it almost every time and use it to set up shots from angles that Judah couldn’t defend. Judah had the fight jabbed out of him by the fourth round, and I can see why a lot of boxing writers and fans thought that Judah was looking to get out of the fight and save face by selling the body shot that knocked him down as a low blow. That being said, as good as Khan was, there are still some flaws apparent in his game. He loves to lunge forward with his chin dangerously exposed (although not as much as he used to), a trait he shares with fellow Freddie Roach disciple and current pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao, but while the Pac-Man has mastered the art of jumping in for a rapid combination and quickly moving back or to the side to avoid being damaged himself, Khan spends a little bit too much time on the inside before darting back out, giving his opponent a window to catch him with a quick counter. Judah was able to take advantage of these defensive lapses, catching Khan flush with a short uppercut at least a couple of times, although to Khan’s credit (and showing just how far he’s come since that first round KO loss to Breidis Prescott) he looked barely fazed by them. I’d love to see the young Englishman go up against Lamont Peterson or Brandon Rios in the near future before he makes the inevitable move up in weight as his body matures and he fills out his 5’10” frame.

As for Judah, he again comes up short on the big stage, even with reformed BALCO executive Victor Conte’s hypoxic training methods and the legendary Pernell Whitaker working his corner. I was a huge fan of the Brooklyn native when he first started breaking into the rankings as a brash and exciting boxer-puncher with a dangerous uppercut back in the late 1990s, and I still am, but he just seems to go out of his way to end up with losses in his biggest fights. He has achieved more than most fighters, but it does appear that his career will be defined by incontrovertible defeats at the hands of Kosta Tszyu (this video never gets old), Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Miguel Cotto, and now Khan. There’s no shame in losing to those guys (Tszyu is a Hall of Famer, Mayweather is a lock as a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, Cotto is a borderline HoFer, and Khan has the potential to become a HoF-level fighter), but it’s unfortunate that Judah couldn’t parlay his obvious fistic talents into more meaningful wins at the elite championship level.

Hendo manhandles the Last Emperor

Between Bernard Hopkins (recently won a light heavyweight boxing title at the age of 46), Antonio Tarver (captured a cruiserweight boxing strap last month at the age of 42), Vitali Klitschko (retained his heavyweight title earlier this year a few weeks shy of his 40th birthday) and now Strikeforce light heavyweight titlist Dan Henderson who, at the age of 40 years, 11 months, and 6 days, moved up to heavyweight and knocked out a faded but still dangerous Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko in a Showtime PPV main event, it appears that the very elite veteran fighters are taking much better care of themselves these days and are finding just as much success now as they did in their primes.

Long-time observers will say that this late-career resurgence we’re seeing from some of the top boxers and mixed martial artists is partially due to the fact that combat athletes at the top of their respective sports don’t fight as often as they used to (it’s rare for a sitting champion to defend his belt or for an elite contender to fight in pursuit of a belt more than once or twice a year these days), and that this reduced wear and tear has allowed older fighters to extend their productive careers beyond the usual “common sense” age limits. Other, more cynical followers of the combat sports will also frequently forward the more suspect claim that younger fighters (particularly boxers in the heavier weight divisions) these days are long on hype and short on experience and fundamental techniques, which cagey veterans can and do exploit.

A lack of experience can’t be claimed by knowledgeable commenters as one of the reasons the 34 year-old Fedor (31-4-1 in professional MMA competitions, with 24 of those wins coming by KO or submission) withered under Hendo’s assault, though. This was a match-up between two mixed martial artists who would have been in anybody’s MMA top ten pound-for-pound list as recently as three or four years ago.

To many fans, this fight probably said as much about Fedor’s decline as it did about Henderson’s continued ability to fight at the elite level. The enigmatic Russian fighter, once the most feared and respected heavyweight mixed martial artist across three continents, looked very tentative in the early going, allowing the older and smaller American to pin him against the cage and batter his left thigh with several precisely aimed knees. He hesitated to take the initiative even when he had Henderson hurt with a variety of short left hooks, wild overhand rights, and opportunistic uppercuts about four minutes into the fight’s first stanza. That hesitation cost Emelianenko dearly, as Henderson was able to recover and used masterful wrestling to gain partial rear mount control and pounded his way to a stoppage. Did referee Herb Dean stop the fight too early? It appeared so after the fact, as Fedor seemed to have his wits about him once he was able to get on his back. But given that Dean had to make a split-second decision regarding fighter safety with incomplete information (Fedor was facing away from him during the sequence, and the set of his left arm—see the picture above—could easily be interpreted as his having gone limp and therefore unconscious), I have no real problems with the stoppage.

I don’t know where Fedor goes from here. Strikeforce parent company Zuffa passed on negotiating a contract with him after this fight (the last on his contract). Personally, I think I’d like for him to retire rather than continue fighting in a fringe promotion like Bellator. Not that I think continuing to fight will diminish Fedor’s stature among dedicated combat sports fans—his early and mid-career highlights and contributions to the spread of MMA worldwide far overshadow the sometimes baffling way his career was (mis)managed by the M-1 Global group these last four or five years—I just don’t think there’s any real reason for him left to fight except to angle for a late-career stint in the UFC, and we all know that’s not forthcoming given the history of animosity between M-1 Global and the UFC’s Dana White. He’s made a lot of money in the ring and in the cage, he seems to have all of his mental and physical faculties intact despite the risks that come with professional fighting, and he remains widely respected in the sport. This is as good a time as any for him to call it quits and spend more time with his family or pursue other professional or personal goals.

Dan Henderson is now a free agent (like Fedor, this was the last fight on his Strikeforce contract) and there’s talk of him and Dana White putting aside their differences and Hendo going back to The Octagon (he left the UFC in late 2009 over a contract negotiation dispute). I’d love to see what he can do against the UFC’s current crop of top light heavyweights like Jon Jones, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, and Phil Davis. The only meaningful fight I can see for him at 205 lbs. outside of the UFC is a match against Gegard Mousasi, but with Zuffa expelling Golden Glory-managed fighters recently, I don’t think that can happen even if Henderson were to re-sign with Strikeforce (Mousasi is affiliated with the Golden Glory management team).

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