Thursday, June 28, 2007

EliteXC Renzo Gracie vs. Frank Shamrock Undercard Matches

Southaven, Miss.—After 14 years of fierce rivalry from the two families that started Mixed Martial Arts, Renzo Gracie and Frank Shamrock are finally going to step into the cage and do battle on Elite XC Showtime Pay Per View. But fortunately the under card matches were broadcast for the first time live and free of charge on MMA was brought streaming live to millions of fans across the country who were not let down by the sheer adrenaline rush this under card turned out to be.

For one, the quality of fighters on the under card was superb. The line-up was stacked with fighters like Javier “Showtime” Vazquez coming back from a 3 year layoff and a horrible injury, and fighters like Chris Gates who took this fight just 5 days before the event, and even fighters like Riki Fukuda who graced us with his presence all the way from Japan for his first fight in the United States.

The announcers for this fight were Bill Golberg and Mario Lopez with Guy Mezger of the Lion’s Den in attendance. Celebrities in attendance included names like Mayhem Miller, Rico Rodriquez, Rampage Jackson and even Jimmy Kimmel! Not to mention the near five thousand fans present at the Civic Center in Southaven, Mississippi, all on the edge of their seats for some knock-down-drag-out combat, and they certainly weren’t disappointed.

The night started off with a heavyweight bout between Bo “Redrum” Cantrell and Tim “Big Perm” Persey, both top prospects from California. There was a lot of hype going around about this particular fight, fans expected it to pack heat, and though short in duration, it did not disappoint in the least. Tim Persey came out strong, unleashing a flurry of punches that pushed Bo Cantrell against the fence, took a step back and let loose with a stunning combination of heavy strikes to the head, dropping Bo Cantrell in 1:33 of the first round.

The second match between Mike Pyle and Ross Ebanez was much the same, short but intense. Pyle controlled the pace of the fight, throwing leg kicks and Ebanez answering with his own. Pyle took advantage of Ebanez’s kicks to shoot on Ebanez and take the fight to the ground. Almost in the blink of an eye, Pyle took Ebanez’s back, secured his hooks, and applied a rear naked choke on Ebanez for a tapout in 1:55 also in the first round.

But by far the most exciting match, unofficially dubbed the event of the evening, was Adriano “Nasal” Pereira of Brazilian Top Team vs. Javier “Showtime” Vazquez of Gracie Fight Team. Fans were actually not expecting too much of this fight, seeing as a match-up between two Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighters often ends up being a snooze fest of slow grappling. But it was a surprise when these two ground experts actually stood up with each other! Right off the bat, Vazquez came out with fierce left hand swings, but Nasal seized one of his kicks for a single-leg takedown into Javier’s open guard. Nasal backed out though and the fighters were back on their feet very quickly. Javier ran into some solid left hands, answered with kicks that echoed off the walls of the Civic Center, and Nasal showed that he was not afraid to stand with Javier by unleashing a maelstrom of punches that pushed him against the fence. The first round ended and fighters touched gloves in respect.

The second round definitely went to Javier, who got his own takedown on Nasal and held him in the mount for nearly the entire round, pounding on his head and body and punishing him non-stop. Round three saw both fighters tired, Javier using uncommon mma moves like countering an elbow strike, and Nasal finding explosive energy at unexpected times. The round belonged to Nasal with a big takedown and the fight ended in Javier’s guard.

The fight was scored 29-28 Vazquez and Javier, sporting hot pink fight shorts, won by split decision, despite the booing from the crowd.

A fight that was perhaps overmatched was Chris Gates, fighting out of Memphis Judo and Jiu Jitsu, vs. Riki “Killer Bee” Fukuda hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun for his first US fight. Chris showed a lot of heart just by taking the fight, though a good 10 years older than Fukuda and an alternate, he walked down the ramp to the cage with a smile on his face from ear to ear. Fukuda on the other hand walked down the ramp like the crowd didn’t exist, like he didn’t even see the thousands of roaring fans around him or even the cage in front of him, not a nervous bone in his body. He bowed before entering the cage out of respect, but once he stepped inside, his demeanor did a 180˚ and he was ready to roll.

Off the bell, Gates clinched up immediately and Fukuda dropped his elevation and shot a flawless double leg takedown, picking Gates up and slamming him to the canvas, making it look effortless. Fukuda stayed very compact in Gates’ guard and Gates was just eating the Killer Bee’s stinging downward punches! Gates rolled over and tapped out pretty quickly and the fight was over almost before it began. Riki Fukuda gave Chris Gates a hug after the ref’s call, and offered his thanks to the American audience for allowing him to fight. And they say Samurai’s are dead.

In between fights we got to go back stage and see Edson “Little Tiger” Berto warming up for his match with John Shackelford also of Memphis Judo and Jiu Jitsu with a record of 7-4. Berto fights for Team Tiger Shootfighting with a record of 10-3-1, and his teammate/brother Andre Berto is very proud of him. Edson, known for his heel hooks, said that he doesn’t specifically go for heel hooks, it’s just what Brazilian Jiu Jitsu guys give him all the time. With Shackelford being a BJJ fighter, and with 66% odds in favor of Berto, it was wondered whether Shackelford would even be able to walk out of the cage after the match.

When it came time to fight, fans were expecting a battle and got a war. Berto walked down the ramp like a soldier, ready to do business, but he did laugh at a joke before he stepped into the cage. Shackelford on the other hand walked out slow, almost nervous-looking, but a downward glance cast at the crowd let us realize that his slow gait was actually relaxed. He was completely confident.

Round one, Shackelford came out swinging and Berto returned with heavy kicks and big left hooks. Edson was very light on his feet, while Shackelford kept the pace. Then just when it seemed like both fighters were settling into a rhythm, WHAM! Berto throws a big right hand making Shackelford stagger a bit, then leaps in the air throwing a flying knee and Shackelford catches it! Berto almost did a cartwheel over Shackelford, and they ended up in Berto’s guard. Berto reversed for side control on Shackelford and stood back up avoiding Shackelford’s ground game. On their feet, both fighters exchanged fast punches and heavy kicks nearly to the end of the round. And then once again, when everything seemed to be relaxed, Edson threw a hard jump knee and Shackelford ducked underneath it, Berto giving the fence a jolting slam (that poor fence was tapping out).

In the second round Shackelford controlled the action a little more, and this time it didn’t look like a Jet Li movie. Berto still made Shackelford move backwards a little bit, but Shackelford did not let up with takedown attempts. Berto answered with a big left hook that dropped Shackelford where he was standing with Berto landing downward punches. Shackelford managed to get back to guard, getting out of the fire and into the frying pan. A relentless Berto then postures up and starts pounding, Shackelford ends up upside down on Berto’s leg and eventually stops defending himself. Berto wins by Referee Stoppage in 2:27 of the second round.

At the mic, Edson called Shackelford a “tough kid” and told him he did a good job. He was gracious in his victory and very sportsmanlike, which is good to see in a sport that is still in many ways barely accepted by the public.

All in all, this under card was one of the best and most professional cage fights that I’ve seen next to the UFC, and kudos to for allowing poor college kids like me who can’t afford Showtime all over the country to enjoy some Extreme Cagefighting action!

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