Knuckle Down: Gonzaga Ready for Couture

By Mike Fridley Aug 15, 2007
In this inaugural edition of Knuckle Down, updates come in the form of words from the UFC heavyweight challenger; Pro Elite prepares for its ShoXC follow-up; and we'll do our best to avoid any corny Michael Vick references as a "Big Dog" returns to the cage.

UFC heavyweight title a "Natural" fit for Gonzaga?

Fresh off the biggest win of his career, Gabriel Gonzaga (Pictures) lacks no confidence as he inches closer towards a shot at Randy Couture (Pictures)'s UFC heavyweight title.

Though an admitted fan of Couture's work, don't expect to see a star-struck Brazilian on Aug. 25 at UFC 74.

"I grew up [watching Couture], but to be a champion, you have to beat the champion," Gonzaga told's Greg Savage in a recent interview. "I trained hard to get this chance, now's the time to get there."

Despite knocking out heavy favorite Mirko Filipovic (Pictures) with a devastating head kick in April, the Brazilian doesn't plan to stray far from his BJJ roots when he locks horns with the "Natural."

"If Randy Couture (Pictures) takes ‘Napao' down, he's going to make a favor for us," declared Gonzaga's trainer Marco Alvan. "Gabriel wants to fight on the ground with him."

Yahya to challenge for WEC bantamweight crown

Zuffa-owned World Extreme Cagefighting on Tuesday announced the replacement for Manny Tapia (Pictures), who was forced from Sept. 5's bantamweight title clash with champ Chase Beebe (Pictures) due to injury.

Dropping down from 145 pounds to fill the void will be 22-year-old grappling ace Rani Yahya (Pictures), just 10 weeks removed from his first-round submission of Mark Hominick (Pictures) at WEC 28.

"Beebe is an impressive wrestler, but my submissions will be too much for him to handle," said Yahya on the WEC Web site. "I'm not leaving the cage without the belt wrapped around my waist."

ShoXC primed for sophomore effort

Showtime's EliteXC Challenger Series returns to the airwaves on Aug. 25 live (11 p.m. ET/PT) from the Vicksburg Convention Center near Jackson, Miss.

Headlining the card, "Krazy Horse" Charles Bennett (Pictures) steps out of the calaboose to confront Victor Valenzuela (Pictures).

The lightweights were originally slated to duel on Strikeforce's June 22 "Shamrock vs. Baroni" event, but Bennett, who has a long history of legal problems, was jailed just days prior to the bout in Marion County, Fla. on charges of probation violation.

The two squared off in August of 2005, and although Bennett laid unconcious as time expired, the contest was ruled a draw.

Also on the bill, Jaime Jara (Pictures) takes on Seth Kleinbeck (Pictures); Ray Lazama (Pictures) goes against Hector Urbina (Pictures); Omar Luv (Pictures) battles Brendan Tierney; and heavyweights Tony Bonello (Pictures) and Jon Murphy collide to round out the televised card.

"Big Dog" to show teeth against Hallman

With all of Oct. 12's Cage Fury Fighting Championships' hype surrounding David "Tank" Abbott's bout with backyard-brawling Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson (Pictures), several compelling stories have been lost in the shuffle, most notably the return of PRIDE and UFC veteran Ricardo Almeida (Pictures).

Almeida, whose moniker "Cachorrao" translates to "big dog" in English, left the fight game more than three years ago after piecing together six straight victories -- Ryo Chonan (Pictures), Kazuo Misaki (Pictures), Nathan Marquardt (Pictures), Ikuhisa Minowa (Pictures), Yuki Sasaki (Pictures) and Osami Shibuya (Pictures) -- to focus on his passion of teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Standing in his way will be Dennis Hallman (Pictures), who last saw action in a hard-fought unanimous decision victory over Jeff Quinlan (Pictures) last September in the International Fight League.

Also of note, popular kickboxer Duke Roufus will make his MMA debut against Derek Panza.

Fans of Howard Stern may remember Panza, who made an appearance on the King of all Media's radio show in May of 2002 with "Stuttering" John Melendez to promote a boxing match pitting the speech-challenged comedian against Lee "Crazy Cabbie" Mroszak.

For those keeping score, the Panza-trained Melendez took the contest by unanimous decision.

CFFC Fight Card:
Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson (Pictures) vs. David "Tank" Abbott
Ricardo Almeida (Pictures) vs. Dennis Hallman (Pictures)
Derek Panza vs. Duke Roufus
Deividas Taurosevicius (Pictures) vs. Chris Liguori (Pictures)
Mike Littlefield vs. Jose Rodriguez
Jared Palmer vs. John Doyle
Malachy Friedman vs. Anthony Morrison
Marcio Cruz (Pictures) vs. TBA

Rizzo, Horn ready for Art of War

Art of War returns to the Lone Star State for its third fight card, headlined by UFC and PRIDE vets Jeff Monson (Pictures) and Pedro Rizzo (Pictures) at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Sept. 1.

Rizzo, who's known infamously as a counter fighter, hopes to avoid a lackluster match against the equally methodical ADCC grappling champion.

"I am doing good, training hard and working on all of my weaknesses," said Rizzo during an Aug. 9 teleconference.

"We just had the Pan Am games in Brazil, so we had the best wrestlers here and I trained with them," he said. "I went to the camp and trained with the Cuban guys and the American guys."

Jeremy Horn (Pictures), who faces Jorge Santiago (Pictures) on the card, looks to come back strong from a seven-month layoff, by far the longest such downtime in a career that spans more than a decade.

"Experience does count but he trains with a great team and has had many high profile fights so that shouldn't make a difference," stated Horn, just weeks away from his hundredth professional MMA bout.

NFL alumnus headed to Canton … sort of

Former New York Giants long snapper Bobby Jones surely grew up like many kids in the U.S., dreaming of one day making it to the National Football League with the ultimate goal of capturing a Super Bowl ring before enshrinement in Canton, Ohio's Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Though he did fulfill his ambitions of making it to the NFL, Jones never claimed a championship, nor did he earn significant playing time -- but the six-foot-five athlete who was released by the Giants in 2002 will make that fateful journey to Canton after all.

Sort of.

Jones, a former wrestler at Wadsworth High School in Northeast Ohio, will make his mixed martial arts debut against Jamie Sams at the Canton Civic Center on FightFest's August 24 card.

Former Ohio State University wrestler Tony Sylvester joins Jones on the card, as well as local fighters Frank Costanzo and Neal Nutter, who is the brother of Hammer House and WVC veteran Nick Nutter (Pictures).

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