|06-12-2006, 12:38 PM||#1|
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Article: Strikeforce a hot brand of mayhem
Article Last Updated: 6/11/2006 07:19 AM
Strikeforce a hot brand of mayhem
Violent mixed martial arts fights draw big crowds to San Jose's HP Pavilion
Column by Dave Newhouse
Inside Bay Area
SAN JOSE ? America wants more violence from its athletes. The proof is in the attendance figures at Strikeforce, or mixed martial arts, or I will break your arm or pull it out of the socket if you don't submit.
This violent, sometimes barbaric, competition is the newest, hottest form of sport in this country, a brand of mayhem that falls somewhere between the Christians and the lions and "Fight Club."
And Americans are lapping it up, if San Jose can be used as a barometer. At the first sanctioned mixed martial arts competition in California history in March, 18,265 showed up at HP Pavilion.
The San Jose Sharks don't always draw this much, while "Fight Night at The Tank" attracts 3,500 to 4,000 boxing fans. A second mixed martial arts event was held Friday at The Tank, and 10,374 showed up.
The reason promoters gave for the drop-off was lesser-known competitors.
Lesser known? The general sporting public wouldn't recognize the name of one Strikeforce brawler, but clearly there is a magnetic force at work when it comes to this athletic amalgamation of kick boxing, wrestling and jujitsu/submission. People are flocking to see the brutality.
"If it's pushed right," said Daniel Puder, who has the photogenic looks of Strikeforce's first rock star, "this sport could be what boxing was a few years ago, with (Evander) Holyfield and (Mike) Tyson."
Strikeforce doesn't have a Holyfield or Tyson, but it does have Cupertino's Puder, a 24-year-old, 6-foot-3, 235-pound hard-body with a peroxided blond crew cut and a World Wrestling Entertainment pedigree.
"My goal this year," he said, "is to become the most known athlete in Northern California. I have to beat Barry Bonds out of his fame. I don't drink alcohol. I don't do drugs or smoke."
And Puder regularly visits sick kids in hospitals, promising them Strikeforce victories as Babe Ruth once promised home runs. And both delivered. Puder needed only a half-minute Friday to get Tommy "The Law" Tuggle to submit to an arm-bar maneuver, or a potential broken arm.
For those who believe the NFL is the epitome of violence, check out Strikeforce, otherwise known as "Ground and Pound." A Lawrence Taylor blind-side pass rush or a Dick Butkus wrap-up tackle doesn't have quite the same effect of a mixed martial arts mixed bag of body destruction.
Friday night, there were elbow shots to the kidney and head, knees to the groin, choke holds, haymakers to the jaw, kicks to the face and legs, and the familiar arm-breaking or shoulder-separating possibility.
The competitors wear three-ounce gloves, with the thumb protruding for eye-gouging purposes, if necessary. Boxers normally wear six- to 10-ounce gloves. Thus three ounces can do more damage, if your hands don't break first. No hands fractured Friday as 12 contestants wailed away, hitting opponents upright and also in the prone and supine positions.
"Pro wrestling is more dangerous," Puder said of his WWE experience. "I went to the hospital twice in a year and a half; one time, I thought I broke my sternum. In football, someone can take your leg out. Here you can break arms, get choked out, but the referee can stop it."
So there is some monitoring. But what is the main attraction that's drawing a whole new breed of sports fans to mixed martial arts?
"A big part of it is the cage," Puder said. "You see people in a ring, but people don't know what you're going to do in a cage. It's little more excitement."
Ah, the cage, which symbolizes animals penned up. And there is an unmistakable animalism inside the hexagon-shaped cage at Strikeforce, an anything-goes behavior just short of the lions eating the Christians.
But although the competitors will stop at almost nothing to gain an edge, their athleticism certainly must be admired.
A boxing round lasts three minutes. A mixed martial arts round is five minutes, with a bout ranging from three to five rounds. The athletes are in fantastic shape, most of them with rippling muscles and no noticeable body fat. Only the superbly conditioned survive in Strikeforce.
"There are so many aspects of this that you have to be good at," Puder said. "That's why it's so hard. I train harder than anyone, six days a week. I feel fast. And I've portrayed myself as a blond, blue-eyed California guy."
The tanned Puder offered his best surfer-dude smile, which looks out of place in this back-alley environment where the handlers look meaner than the fighters and where even the cage's structure can prove harmful.
Friday's match between Bobby Southworth and James "The Sandman" Irvin barely started when Southworth shoved Irvin through the cage door, which wasn't secured. Irvin suffered a leg injury and the bout was ruled a no-contest.
The night's best action was a five-rounder between Gilbert Melendez and Clay Guida, the Strikeforce version of Hagler-Hearns. The talented Melendez played Hagler to Guida's Hearns, and how this one-sided fight was ruled a split decision in Melendez's favor showed that mixed martial arts has judging just as questionable as boxing.
The most popular athlete Friday was Cung Le, a San Jose hometown favorite and the Bruce Lee of Strikeforce. With his nose cut up and bleeding, Le unleashed some effective kicks and a flurry of punches to floor Brian "Unbreakable" Warren and end the fight on a first-round TKO.
And the violence was restricted inside the cage. Two fights broke out in the crowd. "Rollerball" may not be all that far off.
Dave Newhouse can be reached at 510-208-6466 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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