Elite XC: Uprising review
by Scott Newman(MMA)
Posted on July 14, 2009, 6:55 AM
Elite XC: Uprising
-The short and brutish history of Elite XC and their parent company, ProElite, basically stands as a guide as what not to do if you’re attempting to promote MMA. Conceived in late 2006, Elite XC was put together by ProElite and Showtime executives to broadcast MMA shows on the Showtime subscription television network, and was headed by boxing promoter Gary Shaw. On paper that sounds like a good plan, right? Well, yeah, but in this instance mistakes were made instantly. ProElite spent thousands on setting up a website that was supposed to be a sort of common destination for MMA fans to watch smaller shows online, which never took off, and then spent God-knows how many millions of dollars on buying up smaller promotions like Cage Rage in the UK, Spirit MC in Korea, King Of The Cage and Gladiator Challenge in the US, and Icon Sport (formerly Superbrawl) in Hawaii. All of this, of course, before they’d drawn any money with their shows. Even their first show was not without controversy, as they used Frank Shamrock in the main event against Renzo Gracie, which caused Strike Force (who apparently had Shamrock under contract) to file a suit that ended when the two companies agreed to co-promote a couple of shows together.
Somehow though – most people maintain it was because Zuffa wouldn’t back down on the issue of control – this poorly run company stumbled into MMA’s first network television deal; a deal that would put live Elite XC shows on primetime television on CBS. And not everything they did was bad. EXC were able to push Women’s MMA to a point of popularity that hadn’t ever been envisioned before, mainly thanks to the looks and charisma of Gina Carano. And former street fighter and porn star bodyguard turned MMA fighter Kimbo Slice quickly took off as a possible crossover star, his popularity stemming from YouTube fights despite showing no real talent in MMA itself. And the shows themselves weren’t bad at all and featured some of the top fighters not signed with UFC, such as Robbie Lawler, Jake Shields, and Antonio Silva. But despite sitting on the golden egg in the form of the CBS deal, ProElite was still haemorrhaging money, and things came to an abrupt end when TUF veteran-turned-journeyman Seth Petruzelli, a late replacement for Ken Shamrock, knocked out Kimbo Slice on the third CBS show in October 2008. Post-fight Seth hinted to the media that he’d been paid a large bonus not to take Slice to the ground, and immediately, whether it was true or not, the stench of “fix” surrounded the fight. Just weeks later, with an investigation from the Florida Athletic Commission looming, ProElite ceased operations, effectively becoming the WCW of the MMA world.
So why, you ask, am I reviewing EXC shows now, about nine months after the company’s death? Well, as I mentioned above, the shows themselves weren’t that bad, and hey, I managed to pick up a handful of their DVDs on the cheap, the first one I’m looking at being this show, the first EXC show to take place in Hawaii, featuring a Middleweight Title unification match between Icon Sport champ Robbie Lawler, and EXC champ Murilo ‘Ninja’ Rua. So without further ado...
-Your hosts are Mauro Renallo, Stephen Quadros and Bill Goldberg. Two play-by-play guys and the color guy is Goldberg? Alright then. Mauro is terrible here too, throwing out cliché after cliché after cliché.
Shields at this stage, despite having finished his previous three fights, still sort-of carried the “boring fighter” tag around from the days when he’d just lay on guys like Mach Sakurai for dull decision wins. Verissimo meanwhile had bounced back from a couple of disappointing losses to reel off two wins in Icon events, and on paper at least this looked like an interesting, even bout between two Jiu-Jitsu aces.
1st round gets underway and Shields throws out some kicks and then goes for a sloppy shot, which Verissimo blocks into the clinch. Takedown from Charuto puts Shields down momentarily, but he quickly posts up the fence to get back to his feet. They exchange knees inside and then Shields trips him down to guard. Few short punches land for Jake as Verissimo tries to control him with his guard. Shields stands and lands some punches to the side of the legs before dropping back into the guard. This time he stands again and tries to pass the legs, and as Charuto tries for a kimura Jake passes into side mount. Shields goes into the knee-on-belly position and slips through to full mount, and it’s a very tight mount as Charuto tries to cling on. Eventually Shields breaks the grip and postures up, opening up with a wild furry of punches and elbows, and after it’s clear that Charuto’s not getting out the ref stops it.
Very, very impressive showing for Shields and I think this was the first time, for me at least, upon hearing this result that I bought Shields as a top-of-the-line contender who could finish fights. Charuto had been stopped by ground-and-pound by Frank Trigg, but he was gassed at that stage of the fight and here Jake dispatched of him in under a round. Amazing ground control from Shields too, as once he took full mount on Charuto – who is quite the grappler, don’t forget – he just smashed him to pieces. Big win for Shields in an exciting fight.
Villasenor seems to pop up in basically all of the non-UFC promotions these days and so for him to be on EXC’s roster is no surprise. He’d split his two previous fights with the company, beating David Loiseau on the inaugural show before being KOd by Murilo Ninja for the EXC Middleweight Title at the co-promoted EXC-Strike Force show, which was horribly confusing because that show had *two* MW title fights on it. Fukuda meanwhile I haven’t really heard of before, but his record here (8-2) is pretty solid and he’s fighting out of the Grabaka (Kazuo Misaki, Akihiro Gono) camp. Announcers push him as a very good wrestler.
First round begins and they circle before Fukuda drops for a takedown and puts Villasenor on his back in guard. Fukuda stands to attempt to pass, and does so, moving into side control with a punch. It looks like he’s setting up an arm triangle choke, but Villasenor rolls his way free and they exchange some dirty boxing inside a clinch. Fukuda gets the better of it, working Joey over with some good shots before breaking off and landing with a body kick. Fukuda clinches again and works the body with some heavy hooks, and then they break and he lands a body kick again. Body shot from Fukuda and he drops for a nice double leg, forcing Joey onto his back in a seated position by the cage. Fukuda stands and drops some punches, passing into half-guard in the process, and he tries to mount but Villasenor does a good job of avoiding it. Villasenor manages to escape to his feet via rolling, and they exchange punches standing where Joey rocks him badly with a short left hook. Fukuda’s legs look gone and he’s wobbling all over the shop, but he fires right back with punches and now Villasenor looks stunned! Big left hook and right high kick from Villasenor, but Fukuda wades back into the clinch and lands a pair of knees to the body. They break again and another high kick glances off Fukuda’s arm. The Grabaka fighter answers back with a one-two, and these guys are just going back and forth. Seconds to go and Fukuda lands with a beautiful body kick. Great opening round.
Round Two and Fukuda closes in and looks for a double leg, but this time Villasenor stuffs it and breaks off with an elbow. Head kick from Villasenor, but it doesn’t land quite cleanly. Big exchange ends with Villasenor landing a heavy left hook. Fukuda has quite the chin I would say. Wild left hook misses for Joey but he follows with a LOUD head kick that Fukuda manages to narrowly deflect. Fukuda closes into the clinch and lands a pair of knees, but Joey separates again. Flurry from the Grabaka fighter into a clinch, and they exchange some knees inside with Fukuda also attacking the body with short hooks. Referee ends up calling the break and Fukuda presses the action into a striking trade, where he gets the better of it, landing some clean shots on Villasenor whose hands look low to me. They wildly exchange uppercuts in the clinch, before breaking again where Villasenor lands a right. Fukuda wades into the clinch with a flurry, getting a bodylock, and they work for position before the ref breaks them. Both men look tired now, unsurprisingly. Good combo from Villasenor ending with the right high kick again. Fukuda really starts to push forward, but his punches aren’t landing flush. Good body kick from him but Villasenor comes back with a right hook and then throws the high kick again, but this time Fukuda catches it and counters with a right. Villasenor looks hurt and turtles up, and Fukuda pounds away, but Villasenor manages to roll and the round ends just after. This is turning into one hell of a fight.
Third and final round, and for sure this could still go either way. They circle for a moment and then Fukuda flurries into a clinch, where they muscle for position before Villasenor breaks with a high knee. Wild overhand left into a right high kick lands for Joey and puts Fukuda on the retreat. Nice low kick from Villasenor, but Fukuda rocks him badly with a straight left hand and as he looks to follow up Villasenor fires right back and they wildly trade for a moment before the high kick puts Fukuda on the back foot again. Body kick lands for Fukuda once more and they continue to exchange strikes. Nice double leg gets Villasenor down and Fukuda quickly passes to half-guard. He works for the mount and gets it, but as soon as he takes it Villasenor hits a reversal and rolls into top position in Fukuda’s guard. Action slows down before Villasenor lets him escape to his feet as he stands to attempt a pass. Low kick from Villasenor is countered by a left hand, but Joey looks okay. Uppercut into a right hook lands for Villasenor. Right to the body from Joey but Fukuda fires back with a big flurry that stuns him. Joey’s recovery power is mad quick as he comes back swiftly and lands a leg kick. We’re seconds away from the ending now and they continue to trade strikes until the buzzer sounds.
I honestly have no idea how I would score that. Probably to Villasenor 29-28 with Fukuda taking the first, Villasenor taking the second and third, but all three rounds were up for debate really. Judges have it a split decision, giving the nod to Villasenor. Really though there was no loser in a fight like that as both men fought like warriors and gave the crowd a fantastic back-and-forth brawl. That was the first time I’d seen Fukuda and he impressed me greatly. Really fun fight and a good win for Villasenor when all was said and done.
Alright, so I’ll freely admit that outside of what I’ve read about some of the fighters I know next to nothing about Women’s MMA. Evinger is apparently a wrestling-based fighter while Carano, thanks to her good looks (and yeah, I know she has some skill too, but still) was already being pushed as a star at this stage and admittedly she does have a star aura around her. Mauro mentions Gina struggling to make the 140lbs limit during the pre-fight introduction, and indeed, that’s been a problem for her since she emerged as a star in MMA. Fight is three three-minute rounds, apparently.
First round gets underway and Gina lands with a heavy leg kick. Right hand followed by a takedown from Evinger, and she ends up in side mount. Controversial moment from the announcer’s desk follows, as Mauro mentions that Evinger had the quote of the pre-fight press conference, saying she’d rather make out with Gina, but instead she’s going to have to knock her out. Goldberg follows with “And I’m not touching that one with a twenty-five foot pole Mauro”, and it’s actually cut out on the DVD (!), but Mauro replied with “I wouldn’t mind touching it with a ten-inch pole” or something to the like. Got him into a lot of hot water if I recall correctly, that one did. Anyway, Evinger continues to control Gina, but Carano manages to work back into half-guard. Evinger tries for a guillotine from the top, but then makes the mistake of dropping to her back to finish it and Gina pops her head free, winding up in Evinger’s half-guard. Good punches from Carano and Evinger tries to sweep, but ends up giving her back, and Carano gets both hooks in and with just seconds remaining she locks up a rear naked choke and Evinger taps out. Massive pop for the ending.
Honestly I’m still not into seeing the women fight, but this wasn’t bad at all and Carano did a good job of getting out of a tough position on the bottom where she was supposedly out of her game, and put Evinger away nicely. It’s pretty easy to see why Carano took off as a star seeing this.
This was Diaz’s first fight following the huge – albeit controversial – win over Takanori Gomi at PRIDE 33, and why UFC hadn’t snapped him back up after that one I don’t know. Maybe the whole weed issue? Aina I’ve never heard of and a quick check of his record reveals him to be nothing special on paper, with his biggest fights (Roger Huerta, Ryan Schultz) being losses – on the same night in fact, which is a bit odd to say the least! According to the announcers he’s a BJ Penn student.
We begin and Aina comes out throwing bombs, but doesn’t connect and Diaz gets a brief clinch before they break off. Time called to fix Aina’s glove and they restart quickly, with Aina looking to strike at the body and head. They exchange into a clinch and neither man appears to have the advantage, before Aina breaks off. Diaz pushes forward with a left hand into the clinch, but they break again and now Diaz begins to taunt him. Right hand lands for Aina but Diaz seems unaffected and closes the distance, landing a combination. Aina comes back swinging bombs, but again Diaz seems fine and they trade into a clinch, with Aina throwing the more powerful shots. Diaz breaks and begins to land his pitter-patter style shots, peppering Aina with hooks and crosses, and then they clinch up again. Aina breaks, and lands a pair of hard right hooks before slipping to the mat on a knee. Diaz closes the distance again and clinches against the fence, landing some knees, and then he delivers some short uppercuts inside. They break again and now Aina comes back with some haymakers, but he can’t seem to hurt Diaz at all. Combo from Diaz into the clinch, and he breaks with another combo, then ends the round with a knee after Aina throws out a flurry.
Into the 2nd and Diaz comes forward more, landing a body kick as they exchange strikes. Aina comes back and throws some BOMBS, but can’t seem to hurt Diaz, until a right over the top to counter a kick puts Nick down! Diaz rolls to guard, but Aina wants nothing to do with the ground game and backs up. Diaz stands and wades forward with a combo, then lands some knees from the clinch. Diaz keeps pushing forward and he’s landing a lot of punches, but he doesn’t seem to be fazing Aina and the Hawaiian is coming back with bombs, although he doesn’t seem to be hurting Diaz either. Diaz looks for the bodylock takedown now, landing punches inside for good measure, and Aina comes back with some dirty boxing of his own. Aina ducks his head and almost gets caught with a guillotine, but Diaz releases and lands a combo, and they trade punches with Aina landing a nice bodyshot. Diaz is outlanding Aina though and he closes the distance and lands punches from inside the clinch. They break off, and Diaz is sporting a cut over his right eye. More peppering shots land for Diaz and he closes the distance into the clinch again, this time taking Aina’s back and dragging him to the mat. Side control for Diaz and he takes the back as Aina rolls, locking up a body triangle, but he can’t finish the rear naked choke before the buzzer sounds to end the round.
We’re going into the third round and according to Mauro two of the three judges gave Round One to Aina, meaning (assuming Diaz took the second) this is anyone’s fight. They begin and Diaz peppers him with punches and then gets to the clinch, where he drops for a single leg. Aina defends it well but takes some nasty knees to the thighs, and then Diaz breaks and lands a combo. Back to the clinch now and Nick works him over with knees inside and uppercuts. Aina appears to be fading at this stage. They break and Aina fires back with some bombs, but Diaz takes them LIKE A MAN and comes back with a combination of his own. Diaz works him over in the clinch again and then drops for a takedown, but Aina does a great job of defending it. More knees and punches land for Diaz and he goes for the takedown once again, but Aina blocks it and they break off. Diaz shoots on a double leg now, and this time he gets it, putting Aina on his back and immediately passing to side mount. Aina gives his back again and Diaz gets the hooks in and works for the choke. Aina manages to defend, but Diaz has firm control and eventually ends up mounting Aina, before going for an armbar seconds before the buzzer. Great fight.
Close one to call – Aina won the first round as Diaz did basically nothing, but I’d give Diaz the second and third, as despite being knocked down in the second Diaz was outlanding him and finished the round in control on the mat. So for me it’s Diaz 29-28 but it could go either way. Judges have it a split decision, 30-27 Diaz, 29-28 Aina, and 29-28 Diaz, giving him the victory. Very exciting fight as Aina really raised his game to take the fight to Diaz, but in the end Diaz’s chin, more active striking style and better ground game won the fight for him. Not Nick’s best performance in general but it was a very good fight with tons of exciting moments.
Pretty great main event here, it must be said. At this time Lawler was the reigning Icon Sport Middleweight Champion, a title he’d won from Frank Trigg (after losing it to Mayhem Miller, who Trigg subsequently beat) via a brutal knockout earlier in the year. Ninja hadn’t really, to me, ever looked as great at Middleweight as some had made him out to be, but he was on a three-fight win streak coming into this, winning the EXC Middleweight crown with a knockout over Joey Villasenor. General consensus was that this would be a stand-up war. This is of course, a five rounder, being a title unification bout.
Round One gets started and they circle to begin before Lawler gets a nice takedown to side mount. Ninja takes a couple of shots but scrambles to guard, and Lawler stands back up. Ninja throws some punches and looks for a clinch, but Lawler avoids and backs up. Good leg kick lands for Ninja as he continues to push the action. Lawler looks to me like he’s conserving himself and letting Ninja do all the work, as he’s barely throwing a thing at the minute. Ninja continues to circle around him but now a right hand lands for Lawler and he follows with a combo that is blocked. Pair of leg kicks for Ninja and they clinch momentarily before Ninja breaks with a combo. Good left uppercut from Lawler but Ninja answers back with a short right hand. Couple of beautiful leg kicks from Ninja to the inside leg. Combo from Lawler but he takes a few more leg kicks. Ninja’s leg kicks are looking awesome here. High kick from Lawler, but it glances off and the round ends there. 10-9 Ninja for the leg kicks on my scorecard.
Second round and Ninja circles out and lands a leg kick right away. Ninja is circling around a lot and he’s throwing the leg kicks and jabs with a lot of success. Short left hook lands for Lawler but Ninja doesn’t seem affected. Low kick into a takedown attempt from Ninja, but Lawler stuffs it and lands a combo. Heavy right hook puts Ninja on the retreat and then he shoots, but Lawler sprawls and stuns him with an uppercut. They trade off and it’s to Lawler’s advantage as he lands the harder shots, but to his credit Ninja is answering right back with punches of his own. Takedown attempt from Ninja again but Lawler stuffs it, and then covers up and takes punches from Ninja. Big combo to answer back from Lawler and he forces Ninja back towards the fence, and Lawler is outright grinning at Ninja now who’s still swinging back but is beginning to look tired. Perhaps Lawler’s going for the rope-a-dope gameplan? Lawler stuffs another takedown and sure enough, he’s letting Ninja swing at him and now he’s avoiding a lot of the shots as the Brazilian is becoming exhausted. Kick is caught and Ninja ends up on his back, but Lawler lets him up and then rocks and rolls through another combo, with Ninja now really winding up his punches and looking sloppy. Counter left lands a few times for Lawler too now and in my opinion Ninja’s walking right into a trap. Seconds to go and it’s more of the same to end the round. Ninja’s round again but the advantage is clearly with Lawler who looks fresh while Ninja is gassed.
Into the third round and Ninja opens with a low kick again, but a big body kick and an overhand right land for Lawler. Superman punch follows and stuns Ninja for a second before the Brazilian gets aggressive again. He lands a couple of leg kicks again but Lawler just takes them and shows no pain, beginning to check them finally. Body kick again from the Ruthless one and then a counter-right snaps Ninja’s head back. Ninja tries for a combo and lands with a bodyshot, but a pair of left uppercuts have him hurt. Ninja is in DEEP TROUBLE now as Lawler opens up with combinations, and a HUGE overhand right into an uppercut drops the Brazilian hard! Ninja looks done and Lawler pounces and pounds away with hammer fists for the TKO, massive pop for the finish too.
Well, it probably wasn’t smart for Lawler to take as many leg kicks as he did without checking them, but outside of that his gameplan was excellent, as he let Ninja exhaust himself by swinging wild punches that Lawler was able to avoid, and once Ninja was tired Robbie took over with some brutal combinations for the stoppage. Excellent win for Lawler and this was probably the best I’ve ever seen him look, as you can tell now that he’s a matured fighter who isn’t the same guy who just used to come in with reckless abandon like in his early UFC days. Strong main event to cap off what was a really good show in the end.
-Mauro, Goldberg and Quadros wrap things up, with Quadros mentioning that the ten-point must system needs updating to include effort to finish the fight as one of the categories, and then we run down the results and roll the credits.
For as much as Elite XC basically stunk as a promotion (reasons we’ll see more as I look at later shows...) this was a fantastic card from top to bottom. We got three real wars in Villasenor-Fukuda, Diaz-Aina and Lawler-Ninja, and it’s hard to pick a fight of the night out of those three really. Shields-Verissimo and Carano-Evinger were shorter fights, but they were also exciting and both had some good grappling on display as well as nice finishes. It doesn’t match up to a top-of-the-line UFC, WEC or PRIDE card mainly because the talent levels are slightly lower here, but for a promotion that wasn’t really huge at the time this show was awesome. Thumbs way up.
Best Fight: Lawler-Ninja
Worst Fight: Carano-Evinger
Overall Rating: ****1/4
UFC: 94-100, Fight Nights 17-18, and TUF VIII Finale.
Elite XC: Renegade, Street Certified and Unfinished Business.
King of the Cage: 23, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 42, 48, 52, and 58.