Sylvia's victory headlines card filled with aging fighters past their prime
Aging MMA fighters took center stage this weekend on a card in Irvine, Calif.
Former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia headlined the card and won
State athletic commissions need to reconsider licensing Jens Pulver to fight
Tim Sylvia added another title to his collection Saturday in Irvine, Calif. But far more important for the former UFC heavyweight champion: He maintained some semblance of relevance with a knockout late in the second round against fellow veteran Paul Buentello.
Located at the Bren Events Center on the campus of UC Irvine, the card, promoted by fledgling Powerhouse Worldwide Promotions, drew no more than 400 people -- most of whom appeared connected to the Southern California mixed-martial-arts community -- and offered a glimpse of what life is like for aging fighters competing beyond the sport's brightest lights.
By the time Sylvia (27-6) and Buentello (28-13) met in the evening's final bout, dangerously-past-his-prime Jens Pulver (22-14-1) proved himself incapable of competing against even marginal talent; middleweight Thales Leites (17-4) failed terribly against Matt Horwich, losing by rear-naked choke in Round 4; and Tony Lopez crushed any hope of a Jason Lambert (25-12) revival.
It could be spun, of course, that Diego Garijo (5-1) used Pulver as a steppingstone to bigger things; that Horwich (25-15-1) managed yet again to shock an opponent by beating him where he's best; or that the knee Lopez (19-4) used to bludgeon Lambert was a result MMA fans want to see regardless of who's competing.
But, really, there wasn't much to feel good about.
Neither fighter in the main event appeared to be in top physical form -- not that this is a revelation -- but Buentello seemed especially lethargic from the opening bell as Sylvia connected on virtually every strike he threw.
Much of the fight was fought in the clinch, especially in the ring's right corners, where Sylvia mauled Buentello with short elbows and knees to the gut. Several heavy exchanges occurred after referee "Big" John McCarthy exercised his right to separate the pair, a combined 525 pounds.
"The plan was to wear him down with knees and leg kicks for the first two rounds," Sylvia said after the fight. "Paul has fast hands. I blasted him with elbows and knees, wore him down. When I took his legs, I hit him high."
Sylvia set up the finish just as he planned. Heavy leg kicks pressed Buentello back to the ropes, prompting Sylvia to wade in with punches. A short, quick, uppercut crushed Buentello, who fell in a heap as the fight was called with three seconds remaining in the round.
State athletic commissions being asked to license Pulver need to take a serious look at the former UFC lightweight champion before allowing him to fight again. He's lost six in a row (the last five coming in Round 1) and hasn't won since December 2007. In all, the 35-year-old "Little Evil" has dropped eight of nine bouts. Saturday's defeat to Garijo came after Pulver ate a straight left that put him down right away. Garijo snatched Pulver's neck, pulled guard and found a tap at 1:08 of the first.
Event organizers said they expected to sell between 15,000-20,000 pay-per-views. Early-era Zuffa employees Keith Evans and Lisa Faircloth, who left the UFC with some acrimony, were involved with Saturday's card. As was retired 11-year NBA veteran Troy Hudson, whose music venture, Hudson Records, produced the music for the event. Hudson told SI.com that he intends to be heavily involved in MMA cards in the future.
Welterweight prospect A.J. Matthews, 23, fighting out of Carlsbad, Calif., moved to 4-0 with a second-round stoppage of Sean Choice (1-2).
Circumstances were less than ideal in Phoenix on Friday. But that didn't stop Meisha Tate from capturing Strikeforce's four-woman, 135-pound Grand Prix.
Based on the trepidation of the Arizona State Athletic Commission, rounds and time limits were altered for the single-night tournament (two three-minute rounds to start, followed by three three-minute rounds in the finals), which was designed to find a No. 1 contender in the division beyond Marloes Coenen, who is set to challenge champion Sarah Kaufman.
Tate (11-2) out-pointed Japan's Hitomi Akano in the finals after doing the same to Finnish fighter Maiju Kujala (4-0) in the opening round. Akano (16-8) advanced on the strength of a triangle/armbar submission against Brazil's Carina Damm (15-4).
Tate-Akano featured heavy doses of grappling, position changes and submission attempts, especially during the last two rounds. In the end, Tate was too much because of her wrestling ability. She consistently put the smaller Japanese fighter on her back, and kept active.
Seated cage-side to work Akano's corner, Megumi Fujii, MMA's top female pound-for-pound fighter, made the trek from Hollywood, Fla., to Phoenix after her fight in Bellator on Thursday, which saw Fujii outclass tough wrestler Carla Esparaza with an armbar at 0:57 of Round 2.
As Bellator's 115-pound women's tournament continues this weekend (Jessica Pane meets Zoila Frausto), the Friday evening Strikeforce venture is said to have served as a blueprint for the California company's pending men's middleweight event later this year.
SI Now Live Friday December 13, 2013
SI Now: Dule Hill talks TV, theater & his namesake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar