Solid as a Rock
What is next for Rizzo, Now that He’s Back in the Winner’s Circle?

Jun 18, 2003
By Mike Sloan ([email protected])

When he burst onto the MMA scene several years ago after a lavish Muay Thai career in Brazil, Pedro Rizzo dazzled all with his aggression, speed and raw, brutal power. Rizzo stormed into the WVC, then UFC and knocked everybody out. He was laying dudes out like kitchen tile. Who can forget his savage knockouts of Tank Abbott, Vernon White, Tra Telligman and Josh Barnett? He lost a memorable war with Kevin Randleman, but Rizzo was still the mad butcher from Brazil, one of the most feared strikers in MMA history.

In his epic first encounter with Randy Couture, which he lost by a close and controversial decision, Rizzo bounced back from the face of adversity and let everything go, winning over even more fans in defeat. However, since that fight, Rizzo’s career and ruthless style have taken a U-turn. He was as flat as a Frisbee in his rematch with Couture, being ousted early in the third round. His performance was shoddy and his patented punishing leg kicks where nowhere to be found. In fact, those trademark mule kicks went the way of the dodo as they were totally extinct from his arsenal in that bout.

Sure, Rizzo bounced back in his next fight by knocking out Andre Arlovski with a single right hand, but that came late in the third round after more than twelve minutes of slumber-inducing stalking from both men. Rizzo was so reluctant to let his fists and feet go, it was a mystery as to what happened to the Rizzo of old? He was still a young pup at just 27 years old, but he looked like a shop worn veteran whose speed and skills were diminished.

Then came his fight with Gan McGee. Sure, Rizzo was a bit more active, but McGee blasted him dead in the face, forcing the fight to be stopped due to Rizzo’s shattered nose. Again, Rizzo had extreme difficulty in finding his rhythm and couldn’t uncork his arsenal, resulting in getting knocked out, losing for the first time ever in a non-title bout. Rizzo was once again out of sync in that battle and the end result was the same; a loss.

Vladimir Matyushenko was called to arms to square off against Rizzo at UFC 41 and it promised to be an all-action war. Matyushenko could have afforded to lose the fight, but in many insiders’ eyes, it was do or die for “The Rock.” If Rizzo lost, it was certain doom to his UFC career. All he had to do was show up, be aggressive, sprawl the takedowns and reel off that trademark crippling power. Well, “The Janitor” cleaned up, edging out Rizzo for the decision in a ho-hum fight with little drama or suspense. The action was nil and Rizzo once again was too passive, relying on one punch counters. Would Rizzo actually get yet another chance in the UFC? He had just lost four out his last five fights, looking bleaker and bleaker with each passing performance.

The Gods must be on Rizzo’s side because he was once again proposed to step foot into the Octagon at UFC 43 in Las Vegas. This time, however, it was a rematch with Tra Telligman and Rizzo promised everyone that the Rizzo of old would return and that he would step up the pace and let it all out, vying for the knockout. Most disregarded his pre-fight comments because it’s all been said before. Nobody believed it, nor should they. Why should anyone believe the hype when fight after fight, Rizzo was too cautious, resulting in lame duck fights?

Once the bell rang to kick off UFC 43, however, it was apparent that Pedro was not joking around. He and Tra swarmed each other, dishing out and receiving vicious hooks, thundering kicks and slick takedowns. Telligman pressed the action and actually wobbled Rizzo late in the first round, but Pedro bounced back and countered beautifully, cutting Tra’s eyebrow. Back and forth they traded, bringing the fans who arrived on time to their feet with glee. These two men, with alleged bad blood between them, let everything go in an attempt to sneak back into the heavyweight limelight.

Both warriors were hurt more than once in the fight, but Telligman eventually suffered a cut over his other eye. Now both eyebrows had deep lacerations, the blood streaming down his face like seepage in a flooding basement. After Dr. Margaret Goodman okayed Tra’s cuts and allowed the fight to continue, Telligman attacked Rizzo again, but the end result wouldn’t be in his favor. Rizzo uncorked a sinister left hook, followed by a lethal knee while in a clinch. Telligman backed away, but the bridge of his nose was shattered. A sanguine river poured rapidly down his face, but this time, Goodman advised referee Larry Landless to stop the action. Telligman was irate because of the stoppage, but it was one helluva fight!

Rizzo was a bit disappointed because of how the fight was stopped, but it was a TKO win nonetheless. Afterwards, Rizzo professed that with each coming fight, he will be more ferocious, more aggressive and give to the fans what they have always loved about “The Rock.”

So, is Rizzo really back and fighting from his roots? Nobody knows except for Rizzo himself and even he won’t fully know until his next fight. You can make an argument that his last fight with Telligman was exciting mainly because of the fact that Tra really pressed the action, forcing Rizzo to fight at such a pace that they did. Rizzo has always been a counter puncher, but he was an aggressive counter puncher. Rizzo unfortunately had become a too cautious, insomnia-curing listless counter puncher. He’s only 28 years old and he has at least six years of solid fighting ahead of him, but it’s just a matter of how bad he really wants to be regarded as the best, or at least one of the best.

Rizzo is a long way away from a title shot and if Zuffa is smart, which they are, they’ll pit him against fighters who press the action and force Rizzo into an exciting battle. Guys like Ian Freeman, a third bout with Telligman or even Kimo all would be superb bouts for the Brazilian powerhouse and if he is successful in those or similar bouts, then toss him in with whoever is the champ. But to say or truly believe that the Rizzo of old is back still remains to be seen. We fight fans and journalists have heard those quotes too many times by fighters to believe it. Some fighters hold true to their words and actually resort back to their aggressive ways, but most don’t. Let’s hope that Rizzo does not fall into the latter category.

Questions? Comments? [email protected]
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