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Baum und Borke Open Air 2019

A few impressions from the Baum und Borke Open Air 2019 in Borkheide, Germany.

Baum und Borke Open Air 2019

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Sakuraba 50

Kazushi Sakuraba leaps above Royce Gracie's guard.

Japanese mixed martial arts legend Kazushi Sakuraba is turning 50 years old today!

Most newer fans, who have only been introduced to the sport through the “Ultimate Fighter” reality show or the rise of Conor McGregor may not know who Sakuraba is or how he is relevant today.

Let me start by stating the fact that Sakuraba has been the sport’s biggest star for a five-year period (1997-2002) during what can be called the “formative years”. While the UFC was fighting to barely stay alive at the time, Sakuraba and his peers were routinely filling 50,000-seat arenas.

Just how was this unimpressive-looking grappler in his orange shorts and with the (sometimes) goofily orange-colored hair able to become such a mega star?

To understand his popularity, we have to take a quick excursion into Japanese pop culture: In “shinbun”, the Japanese newspapers, results of pro wrestling matches were printed on the same page as those from boxing, kickboxing or mixed martial arts fights. The reason for that is that the style of Japanese pro wrestling cannot be compared to the cartoonish presentation fans stateside were being fed by WWF and WCW during large parts of the 80s and 90s. Instead it much more resembled a real fight.

Sakuraba was part of pro wrestling promotion UWF International (UWFi) alongside founder and leader Nobuhiko Takada and stablemates Kiyoshi Tamura, Yoshihiro Takayama and Yoji Anjo.

Even today, you will sometimes hear the declaration “pro wrestling is the strongest” or see it printed on a t-shirt. Common belief in Japan in the early nineties was that professional wrestlers were indeed the toughest and most dangerous fighters in the world.

Enter Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner Rickson Gracie, who made a name for himself by winning an international eight-man, single night tournament in Tokyo in the summer of 1994 and then making quick work of Anjo in one of his infamous dojo challenges.

Rickson went on to win another Vale Tudo Japan tournament the next year and then faced Takada at PRIDE.1. Takada was a charismatic worker who had many memorable matches inside the pro wrestling ring, his only problem was: He couldn’t fight. As a result, Rickson beat him by armbar in less than five minutes.

With pro wrestling’s reputation taking a serious hit and attendance figures waning, “Kakutō” or real fighting became more and more popular. With a legitimate background in amateur wrestling, Sakuraba was poised to do significantly better in real competition than Takada who had no extensive combat sport experience when he stepped into the ring.

Following wins over eventual UFC champions Carlos Newton and Vitor Belfort in 1998-99 to kick-start his own PRIDE career, Sakuraba began what would arguably become the greatest rivalry in the history of the sport by facing his first Gracie. Royler, both the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as well as the ADCC world champion at the time, had to submit to Sakuraba’s patented kimura. The win was not without controversy as Royler didn’t tap, yet the referee stopped the fight and awarded Sakuraba the win.

This prompted Royce Gracie, winner of three of the first four UFC tournaments, looking to avenge his brother. In a fight for the ages, Sakuraba defeated Royce in an epic 90-minute marathon match in the quarterfinals of the Pride Grand Prix 2000. And if this wasn’t enough, he battled Ukrainian knockout machine Igor Vovchanchyn, the most feared striker at the time, for fifteen minutes on the same night before having to throw in the towel due to exhaustion.

That night, Sakuraba’s star was born.

He went on to fight his third Gracie in the summer of 2000 as he took on Renzo who was the reigning ADCC champion and just came off a close decision with Sakuraba’s UWFi stablemate Tamura. In order to make sure that there was no controversy in their fight like in the one against Royler, Sakuraba broke Renzo’s arm using his kimura hold prompting the referee to stop the fight. To Renzo’s credit, the thought of tapping out to the submission never once crossed his mind.

To complete his quadruple over the Gracie family, he also won a unanimous decision over the “black sheep” Ryan Gracie (RIP) in December of 2000. To this day, no other fighter has come close to dominating MMA’s “first family” the way the “Gracie Hunter” did. And with fewer and fewer Gracie’s entering the sport nowadays, it’s likely that his four wins will be a record that is unlikely to be broken.

Parallel to Sakuraba’s success in the PRIDE middleweight (93kg) division, a weight class that he always came in underweight for, a young foreign challenger emerged by the name of Wanderlei Silva. The “Axe Murderer” had made a name for himself by employing a ruthless fighting style, buzz-sawing through his opponents. Twelve of his sixteen fights leading up to the first encounter with Sakuraba had ended by knockout.

Although Saku was unable to win neither the first, nor the second two meetings with Silva, losing all three of them by knockout, it was this legendary feud that put Wanderlei over as arguably the biggest foreign star in PRIDE history – only later rivaled by Mirko Cro Cop and Fedor Emelianenko.

What made Sakuraba special was the fact that during a time when fights were much more methodic and static, he had an all-out action style and did unorthodox, wild things in the ring like cartwheel guard passes, flying stomp kick attacks or his famous Mongolian chops. He tried to implement pro wrestling techniques in his fighting style and more often than not got away with it.

More than everything else, he was one of the first sports entertainers before there was sports entertainment. He understood the fact that he competed for people’s time and fans showing up to watch him perform, did not necessarily just do it because they wanted to see him win, but because they were intrigued which new moves or crazy tricks he would come up with this time.

Sakuraba was one of my heroes when I was still in university. I could not wait for the new VHS tapes with PRIDE events on them to arrive. With the birth of the internet, I would get up in the mornings to watch pixelated live streams of the shows. Great memories this man was an integral ingredient of and that I am forever grateful for.

I’m wishing you nothing but the absolute best for your second half in life. 桜庭さん、誕生日おめでとうございます!

📸: Susumu Nagao

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Time to say Goodbye

Mirko Cro Cop

The sport of mixed martial arts is like a drug. This applies to all of us, no matter if we’re competitors, promoters, agents or journalists covering the events and the athletes. This makes it incredibly hard to walk away at the right time and on your own terms, especially if you are a legendary heavyweight warrior. Unless you are part of a very small circle, you are always chasing one last big paycheck, your promoter will tell you that they just need you this one final time, because of [insert random reason here] and of course you are also addicted to the cheers of the fans, the goosebumps you get when your music starts playing and the overwhelming feeling of joy and accomplishment when the ref steps between you and your opponent, waves the fight off and declares you the winner.

Mirko Cro Cop retired from professional fighting yesterday for a third time and it looks like this time it will be final. Following his fight with Roy Nelson at Bellator 216, the 44-year-old suffered a stroke and according to the reports online, he cheated death just very barely. Even for a hardened, grizzled old veteran who had built his once lean and athletic body into a muscular tank, the signals were too strong and the doctor’s opinion too definite to ignore: Fight again and you’ll die.

Cro Cop did not have an easy road in his career. When he started kickboxing in the mid-90s, he had the major misfortune of being born into a generation that spawned some of the greatest combat sports athletes of all time, legendary warriors like Ernesto Hoost, Peter Aerts, Semmy Schilt and Remy Bonjasky. As a result, he had some great runs in K-1, especially his 1999 campaign where he laid waste to Mike Bernardo, Musashi and Sam Greco before coming up short against an irresistible, prime Mr. Perfect in the Final. He started dabbling in MMA and eventually left K-1 for good in spring of 2003, having gained the reputation of an ultra-popular all-action fighter, but ultimately someone incomplete who had not managed to win the major price just yet.

All of this should change during his stint in PRIDE: With 18 wins from 27 fights and 13 of them coming by way of knockout, he became the second most winningest fighter in the promotion’s history. His mantra “right leg, hospital; left leg, cemetery” – as corny and tacky as it might have sounded – was one of the ultimate truths of the first six years of the new millennium and genuinely struck fear into the hearts of men. Ask Igor Vovchanchyn, Alexander Emelianenko and Wanderlei Silva!

In PRIDE, Mirko had legendary wars with some of the greatest names the sport had ever produced like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark Coleman and Fedor Emelianenko. He challenged for the PRIDE Heavyweight Championship twice in 2003 and 2005, coming up short against Nogueira and the “Last Emperor” in what both were Fights of the Year, however. It seemed the flaw of being incomplete would remain when he entered the 2006 PRIDE Open-Weight Grand Prix, to this day the most highly decorated tournament in combat sports history. Cro Cop finally reversed his fortunes by knocking out Ikuhisa Minowa, Olympic gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida, longtime middleweight kingpin Wanderlei Silva and forcing former UFC title-holder Josh Barnett to submit to punches on his 32nd birthday to finally engrave his name into the history books.

With the legendary PRIDE Fighting Championships coming to an end in 2007, Mirko continued his career in the UFC. Although never the same fighter inside the Octagon that he was inside the PRIDE ring, he had eleven fights over three stints with the UFC, winning four of them by knockout and one by submission (hat tip: Dean Lister).

After turning 40 years old, in the late fall and early winter of his career and just when everybody thought he was done fighting at a top-level, Cro Cop rose for a final time and finished his remarkable tenure on a ten-fight win streak that span five years and four different promotions. He humiliated and crushed Olympic gold medalist Satoshi Ishii twice in IGF, avenged his loss against Gabriel Gonzaga in the UFC and managed one more major coup that few people thought he was capable of: On NYE of 2016, he knocked out sumo wrestler Baruto with a knee to the body before knocking out highly-touted pre-tournament favorite and Greco-Roman wrestling world champion Amir Aliakbari to win the RIZIN Open-Weight Grand Prix as well.

Mirko Cro Cop is European and Worldwide combat sports royalty. He has given us countless unforgettable moments and memories over the last 20+ years. Although he will be sorely missed as a competitor, here’s a man who has more than earned the right to retire. I am sure we will see him again soon in some other role but for now: Goodbye, Mirko! All the best!

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Балчик

Seaside resort by the Bulgarian Black Sea.

Балчик

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Bundesliga 2018-19, 1. Spieltag

Die Bundesliga geht endlich wieder los! Ich habe mir den ersten Spieltag einmal genauer angesehen und einige interessante Wettquoten gefunden. Die Risikofreudigen setzen auf Nürnberg (sah traditionell in Berlin immer sehr gut aus) oder ein Leipziger Unentschieden in Dortmund. Mit 3,80 respektive 4,00 sind die Quoten äußerst attraktiv.

Wer mehr auf kalkuliertes Risiko steht, tippt darauf, dass Gladbach gegen Leverkusen nicht Unentschieden endet (das Rheinderby hatte in der Vergangenheit meistens einen Sieger), bzw. dass Freiburg gegen Frankfurt oder Mainz gegen Stuttgart jeweils zu Hause nicht verlieren. Sowohl die Eintracht, als auch der VfB zeigten vergangenes Wochenende im Pokal eine schwache Frühform und schieden gegen unterklassige Gegner aus.

Hände weg von allem was die Bayern betrifft (schlechte Quote), sowie von der Partie Wolfsburg gegen Schalke. Diese Paarung war in der Vergangenheit viel zu wechselhaft, um hier eine realistische Prognose abgeben zu können.

Wer einmal sein Glück versuchen möchte, kann sich bei Betway jetzt 150 Euro Neukundenbonus sichern. Klickt einfach auf den Banner unten und meldet euch an.

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The Count Resigns

Bisping

Former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping has retired from the sport of mixed martial arts after a colorful and varied fifteen-year career. Granted, there’s the supernova of Conor McGregor, but I’d go as far as to claim there is no European fighter that has done as much for the sport as Bisping did, especially after he got drafted into the UFC in 2006. There are too many great stories to tell in one single post, but three occurrences really stood out to me personally.

During the early years of his UFC run, especially leading up to the first time they ran his hometown of Manchester and his first main event in Birmingham the year after, the amount of press he had to do was insane. Legend has it that he got booked into so many media appointments, he didn’t even have proper time to eat, but was seen getting down a few burgers at McD’s in between interviews.

Bisping played the cocky Brit character perfectly and the malice that was poured out on him after he got posterized by Dan Henderson in 2009 knew no limits. Suffering a knockout as devastating as this would have certainly broken many fighters. Bisping not only continued fighting for another ten years and had two successful runs in 2010-11 and the even more remarkable one in 2015-16 that carried him all the way to the title, he also got one back on Hendo by beating the American in his retirement match.

Having competed on the UK circuit at the same time in 2004-05, Bisping got to witness the greatness of Anderson Silva first hand as he effortlessly beat the infamous Lee Murray in their 2004 encounter. Silva went on to become the most dominant middleweight champion in UFC history. Even though he seemed way out of reach when Bisping hit his mid-career slump that saw him go 3-4 between 2012 and 2014, he never lost the dream of eventually facing “The Spider” out of sight. Although that when it happened, the Brazilian was already past his prime, but Bisping beat the greatest middleweight ever in one of the most memorable fights of 2016.

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Dealing with Defeat and Regret

© Per Häljestam, USA TODAY Sports
📸: © Per Häljestam, USA TODAY Sports

At the end of every professional contest, there are only two possible states of being: WINNING and MISERY.

After being the hammer in his last two fights in Hamburg and Stockholm, this time Peter Sobotta came up short in his fight in London this weekend.

When you are as involved in the fight business as I am and you have watched thousands of fights over the years, either in person at the arena or live on television, you can easily see the reasons for defeat most of the time. A lack of time to prepare, an injury to the fighter, a large difference in experience or a bad style matchup can explain a defeat.

However, when you prepare as meticulously and disciplined as Peter did, you come in perfect shape, you have perfected the process of cutting and regaining the weight and you have a great team around you and you still end up on the losing end, defeat is difficult to swallow and it’s hard to really point a finger at a single reason for the loss.

Skill-wise, I have zero doubt Peter can beat Leon Edwards. He is better on the ground, stronger, throws harder and is more experienced. On Saturday however, he struggled with an opponent who was inactive for most of the fight and only waited for his opportunities to capitalize on his opponent’s mistakes. Unfortunately, Peter made too many of them that night.

“I should have gone forward more”, “I should have pressed for the takedown earlier” and “I should not have been so hesitant in many situations” were some of the regrets Peter had after the fight. It might sound corny, but we all make mistakes. We are a product of our mistakes. What matters though is the lesson to be learned from them. Learn and move on. Make progress. Get better. Don’t be filled with regret but with knowledge.

This defeat will not brand Peter as pathetic or as a permanent loser. He’s a man that has battled through more adversity both inside and outside the cage for all his life and who has overcome that adversity way more often than not. Somebody who has looked fear into the eye and said: “Let’s go!”.

Somebody who has fought grown men as a teenager. Somebody who has had performances that won “Fight of the Year” accolades. One of the elite few Europeans who fought their way back into the Champions League of MMA after being initially deemed not good enough and cast away. Somebody who has proven more than once that he can fight, win and finish at the highest level.

Peter rolled the dice on Saturday. At 31 years of age, it is his aspiration to challenge himself against the best. He fought and he lost. It means that he has something to overcome, a psychological barrier or a lack of mental preparation before he can show the world his best work. In fact, choking at the gates of the Top 15 means that he is at least midway in climbing the steps that lead to ultimate success.

Just being ready isn’t enough to crack the upper echelon of this division. You have to be prepared for significant change. Preparation demands mental and physical conditioning and conscious planning. An athlete who is just ready and not totally prepared always risks a loss. Peter will take a week off to regroup and then we will get back together and plan his future.

Even though he couldn’t win this fight that would have guaranteed him an even more exciting future at this time, it is absolutely remarkable how he put a whole nation on his back. The kind of support and encouragement Peter has received before and also after the fight is absolutely amazing. Win or lose, he is an idol and role model to people of all ages and origins. A true champion of life!

The great Pat Riley once said: “You have no choice about how you lose, but you do have a choice about how you come back and prepare to win again.” I am sure that soon the disappointment over this missed opportunity will turn into fuel to further bolster his many strengths, improve his weaker points and hunger to come back sharper, quicker and more lethal than ever!

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Volkan Oezdemir

Volkan Oezdemir fights for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship of the World tonight in Boston, Massachusetts. The “Eidgenosse” will write history as he will become the first-ever fighter from Central Europe to challenge for a UFC title.

As with most top European fighters who started competing in MMA during the last fifteen years, I have seen Volkan’s career unfold before my very eyes and being from the same “scene” here in German-speaking Europe (although Volkan is from the French-speaking part of Switzerland), naturally there have been some intersections.

Funnily enough, it was me who matched him for his very first MMA fight. My good friend Martin Vath, who was ranked Top 5 at light heavyweight in Germany at the time having already competed a couple of times and coming from a Combat Sambo background, proved to be no match for Volkan’s raw power and succumbed to strikes a little less than a minute into the fight.

I saw Volkan compete two more times on the Swiss circuit. In 2012 and 2014, he put on his gloves for the formidable SHC: Strength & Honor Championship event series of my good friend Raid Salah. Neither of his opponents lasted more than two minutes. You could see that even back then, Volkan clearly had “No Time”.

When I became in charge of matchmaking for the European Fighting Challenge in spring of 2016, I tried my damn hardest to bring Volkan in and make him one of the cornerstones of our heavyweight division. He eventually decided for Titan FC, because they were on UFC Fight Pass and despite never competing for them, he got picked up by the UFC in early 2017.

His rise through the ranks of the UFC light heavyweight division has been absolutely meteoric and a good reminder that despite all the talks of “money fights” and meaningless rankings, you can still earn your way to a title shot the old-fashioned way: By obliterating everybody in front of you as quick and devastating as possible.

After the win over OSP, everybody claimed it was a fluke and having lost 3 out of his last 4, St. Preux was deemed no top-level fighter anyway. I had the pleasure of watching his fight with Misha Cirkunov live and I was very impressed with the way he dealt with him, especially after seeing Misha whoop my fighter Nikita Krylov just half a year earlier.

Another devastating knockout over Jimi Manuwa followed and here he is, challenging Daniel Cormier for the title. The champion wants to shrug off Volkan’s title challenge, claiming he’s out of his depth, but how can you deny somebody his opportunity who has beaten three of the most feared fighters in the UFC light heavyweight division in a little more than half a year?

He might be the 5/2 underdog with the bookmakers tonight, but I’m sure all martial arts fans in Europe will sit glued to their screens tonight, rooting for this Cinderella Story to find a happy ending. I certainly will. Bonne chance, Volkan!

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December 16 Weekend Fight Recap

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Disclaimer: This is going to be (another) rather extensive (W)-MMA-related rant, so if you are on the internet for cat videos and Christmas cookie recipes, this is not for you.

Last weekend, I attended my first-ever female-only martial arts event, Poland’s Ladies Fight Night. I am in no way an early adopter or a pioneer when it comes to women’s competition, but I have organized fights for my various girls for the last eight years and have had girls compete on some of the biggest stages like the UFC, RIZIN, Cage Warriors and Invicta.

After having been in talks with LFN’s matchmaker for close to two years and missing out on the first six of their events, I was happy to make up for that and get four of my girls on the two cards for their Friday and Saturday two-year anniversary double event, aptly titled “Double Trouble”.

Cristina Stanciu was headlining Friday’s event against Czech Republic’s Magdalena Sormova, while Maguy Berchel was in Saturday’s main event versus Venezuela’s Carolina Jimenez. The 2015 IMMAF Amateur World Champion Minna Grusander opened LFN 8 against RIZIN veteran Hanna Gujwan and Strikeforce veteran Maiju Suotama was the last person to be added to the event as she filled in on four days’ notice against Taekwondo world champion and local heroine Katarzyna Sadura.

Cristina had joined Peter Sobotta’s Planet Eater team from Romania this summer and was looking to rebound from a pair of losses she suffered in the UFC last year. Unfortunately, due to a miscalculated weight cut that took a lot of energy out of her as well as the struggle to switch from her old reckless style to a more methodical and strategic approach, she eventually got armbarred at the end of the first round after previously dominating the standup.

The young Romanian has a lot of work on her hands next year, but still only being 23 years young and having tons of raw athletic potential at her disposal and Germany’s best team by her side, I am not worried that she will very soon break out from this slump and have many stellar performances.

Minna was up first on Saturday and what can you say about this little Finnish tornado other than she put on another very dominating performance. Her opponent, Hanna Gujwan, is a Polish kickboxing champion and gave Japanese superstar Rena a real run for her money in her fight on New Year’s Eve last year.

Gujwan first seemed surprised and later disheartened as Minna went after her in the standup and actually outboxed her, before taking her down and working her over on the ground. Only the bell was able to save “Tyson” from being stopped with strikes at the end of the first five minutes. It was more of the same in the second stanza and Minna took Gujwan’s back standing before choking her out midway through the second round.

This was the third win for Minna this calendar year and her fifth win at professional level. Overall, she was won nine of her ten fights, finishing seven of her opponents. I firmly believe that she is the #1 female fighter under 50kg in Europe right now and at age 28, she is only entering her prime. Don’t be surprised to see “Brutsku” in a ring or cage outside of Europe in 2018.

The biggest feel-good story of the weekend was Maiju Suotama’s victory over one of Karolina Kowalkiewicz’s main sparring partners in Katarzyna Sadura from the formidable Shark Top Team in Lodz. To understand the magnitude of this win, I have to go a little further afield to explain.

Mai and I have known each other for eight years. She first appeared on my radar when she won the Upcoming Glory flyweight tournament in Holland back in 2010 with the winner going on to compete in a single-night four-women tournament at Strikeforce later that year.

Even though she dropped a unanimous decision to eventual Strikforce and UFC champion Miesha Tate in the semifinals, Maiju established herself as one of Europe’s foremost female prospects with her performance. After three more fights, she stopped competing in MMA at the end of 2011 indefinitely.

Maiju, who had since gotten married to the inimitable Joni Suotama and assumed his name, was one of my very first targets when I started working on the European Fighting Challenge card in Espoo last year. Mai and I talked for well over half a year, but eventually, she wasn’t just ready to come back to the sport of MMA yet.

Somehow our talks seemed to have re-lit that competitive fire under her and after dominating a few ADCC national championships, she eventually returned to MMA this summer, choking out Muay Thai world champion Hatice Ozyurt in the first round. Ever since she has stayed active looking for another opportunity to scrap.

When I told her, there was an opportunity to fight Sadura on Tuesday, she didn’t hesitate and accepted the fight immediately. Not only did Sadura have the advantage of a full camp, the BAMMA veteran also had the home crowd behind her and she was coming off a unanimous decision win over another Finnish fighter in Suvi Salmimies in April, so taking the fight was not without risk. Still, we felt that Maiju would match up very well with her style-wise.

Life threw her another curveball when she learned that a longtime friend and teammate of hers had lost the battle against a terminal illness just minutes before walking out to her fight. Her performance is just even more impressive in view of that.

She turned the fight into a grappling match and dominated Sadura on the mat. After almost choking her out near the end of the first round, Maiju continued that route in the second stanza and forced referee Piotr Michalak to stop the fight with strikes from the mount near the end of the round. It was a true veteran performance that I cannot praise enough. Calm, collected and steady, even with limited energy at her disposal due to the spontaneousness of this combat mission.

I told Mai after the fight that if she can beat one of Europe’s brightest prospects on four days’ notice, I don’t have to think twice about putting her in there with any girl on the planet at 135lbs if she has a three-week or even a full camp. Still only 31 years young and at 8-3 with four straight wins (two knockouts and two submissions), I believe that she has more than earned her chance to prove herself on the big stage in what promises to be an even stronger second half of her career (cc: Mick Maynard, Rich Chou, Shingo Kashiwagi).

Last but not least we had Maguy Berchel competing for the first time in a non-francophone country. Maguy is a fantastic talent, a great all-round fighter and one of the sweetest persons you will ever meet. In the main event of LFN 8, she had the tough job of battling undefeated Venezuelan grappler Carolina Jimenez on a little less than three weeks’ notice.

Maguy started well and often landed nice combinations and kicks in the standup. A mistimed takedown attempt changed the outlook of the match as Jimenez had the upper hand on the ground. In the second round, Maguy continued to have trouble staying out of the Caracas native’s clinch and was repeatedly taken down. Jimenez threatened with submissions, but Berchel defended intelligently.

In the final round, Maguy tried to go for broke as she knew she needed the knockout to win the fight, but after battling with a larger opponent and having to defend a lot of attacks on the ground, she just didn’t have the energy to land the fight-ending shot and dropped the first decision of her career.

With some minor adjustments and perhaps in a different weight class, I believe the future looks very bright for this very exciting Parisian!

Overall I have to say I have been very impressed by what the LFN staff has achieved in only two years’ time. Granted, there was some crunching and scrunching in the leadup to the events and there are some set screws that still require some fine-tuning, but overall we felt very welcome, the venues were spectacular and the shows very tight and well-produced. Last but not least all fighters brought it, but that doesn’t surprise me as I haven’t seen a bad women’s MMA fight in my life.

Elsewhere, Germany’s number one female fighter Katharina Lehner improved her perfect undefeated record to 7-0 with a clear unanimous decision over Australian export Gemma Pike. Kati battered the seasoned Muay Thai stylist in the standup, landing nice combinations in each of the three rounds. Pike’s only answer was to try and wall and stall, but even that refuge wasn’t safe as the Cologne native landed a barrage of knees every time they clinched up.

With two wins from two fights including her US debut this summer and two more excellent training camps from fights that were eventually canceled, Katharina managed to live up to her outstanding 2015 campaign after a forgettable injury-ridden 2016. I am very excited to see what 2018 has in store for her!

The only male fighter competing for us this weekend won in style as well: Planet Eater’s Mert Özyildirim did everything but finish his opponent Can Aslaner in what was one of the most lopsided decisions in recent memory. From the opening bell, Mert took down the jiu-jitsu expert and absolutely manhandled – or should I say Merthandled – him on the ground.

Aslaner at no time during the fifteen-minute fight had any answer to Mert’s relentless attack, wrestling, power, top control and pressure. Bloodied and beaten, he had to accept defeat for the first time in his career, while Mert improves to a perfect 7-0. I will gladly put five Euros into the buzzword piggy bank by saying that “sky is the limit” for this 24-year-old.

This was the penultimate fight weekend for me last year. Next week we will head back to Japan for the RIZIN Fighting Championship Bantamweight Grand Prix 2nd Round. So long!

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Brave International Combat Week

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Back in Germany after 3½ days in the Kingdom of Bahrain. During my time there, I managed to squeeze in back-to-back fight events and have a grand old time with Team Omer before, during and after his fight at Brave 9: The Kingdom of Champions.

Alan came into the fight very well-prepared, both physically and mentally, and fought a very intelligent fight against a multiple-time world champion and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt in Gesias Cavalcante. After two hotly contested rounds in which both fighters had their moments, Alan came through with a big right hand that saw “JZ” crashing to the canvas and from there he swarmed the Brazilian with a barrage of left hands from a standing gut-wrench position, forcing referee Marc Goddard to step in and stop the action.

It was arguably the biggest win in Alan’s twelve-year career against a well-known, extremely dangerous and experienced champion. With his third consecutive win against top-level competition, Alan reclaims his throne as the number one lightweight in both German-speaking Europe and the Middle East. Even more importantly, he continues to grow as a martial artist and has been displaying a great maturity in his fights, staying calm even in difficult situations and never letting up in his pursuit to finish his opponents.

This was made possible by the unselfish support of Alan’s coaches Alex and Franjo as well as his support team of Firat, Alex, Havraz and Daban. All of you have played an important part in Alan’s success and you can all be very proud of yourselves. Remember: Feel good, fight good!

The BRAVE Combat Federation event was fantastically organized overall and I would like to congratulate His Highness Khalid Bin Hamad and his team (Shahid, Yousef, Lucas, Soto, Valeria, Gabriela, Pam, Hassan Sohaib and Lloid) on their outstanding work and excellent execution. There were so many little details you paid attention to that people who have been in the fight game for a long time greatly appreciate.

On the next day, I had the pleasure to attend the Finals of the IMMAF – International Mixed Martial Arts Federation World Championships at Tom Madsen’s invitation. Besides getting to watch the champions of tomorrow compete, I got to catch up with my longtime friends André, Christer, Gerd, Jaakko, Janne, Joni, Kenan, Stanislav and Torsten. I also finally got to meet Bertrand, Gerhard, Michael, Mohammed, Wissam and Zahi and had some great conversations!

Joel and Julia – you might not have reached the top of the podium this time, but I have zero doubts both of you will have great careers and a lot of success in our sport. You can be very proud of your achievements!

Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to see much of the country, but I did notice that its people are incredibly nice and kind. I hope to come back next year, hopefully with a little more time to explore. شكرا جزيلا لك ونراكم قريبا!

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