Tuesday Morning Reverie: Gonzaga

By Mike Sloan Apr 24, 2007
There seems to be a trend here, a trend that Nick Diaz (Pictures) has resurrected. Lately, it seems that the underdogs in the grand world of mixed martial arts have a much better chance of winning their fights than ever before.

Now, I know that those underdogs have always had the same exact chance of winning as they do today, but there has just been a wave of humongous upsets in the sport and they have occurred at a much more frequent rate than ever before.

Back on Feb. 24, former UFC pitbull Nick Diaz (Pictures) recovered from a clean knockdown to steamroll PRIDE lightweight ace Takanori Gomi (Pictures). Diaz smothered Gomi's usually reliable strikes and bombarded him with punches from every angle before catching the Japanese hero in a picture-perfect gogoplata. Granted the fight was later changed to a no-decision because Diaz tested positive for marijuana, but he nevertheless dragged Gomi through a brutal cannonade of punishment.

Later that night Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (Pictures) shocked Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (Pictures), and Dan Henderson (Pictures) victimized Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) with a blitzkrieg of attrition to score a third-round knockout of the "Axe Murderer." A few weeks later, multiple-time UFC champion Randy Couture (Pictures) mesmerized us all by befuddling Tim Sylvia (Pictures) for five rounds. Then came Matt Serra (Pictures)'s shocking technical knockout of UFC welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre (Pictures).

On Saturday night in Manchester, England, promising yet unheralded Gabriel Gonzaga (Pictures) delivered a prodigious salvo inside the UFC's famed Octagon when he knocked the virtual universally recognized No. 2 heavyweight into next week.

Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic was administered a taste of his own potent medicine as Gonzaga, from out of nowhere, unfurled a high kick that detonated on the Croat's head, knocking him spark out.

Once Gonzaga's foot and shin exploded on the left side of Filipovic's head, "Cro Cop" collapsed as if he was shot in the temple, his right leg twisted slightly at the knee and his foot wrenched 180 degrees backward. It was one of the greatest knockouts in the history of our sport, yet it was one of the most disturbing considering how the Croatian fell.

My question, though, is where did that come from? Since when can Gonzaga kick?

Though a surprising number of "experts" were picking Gonzaga to pull off the upset (many of them figured he'd ground-and-pound or wear Filipovic down), literally nobody expected the end to come in such spectacular fashion, save for Gonzaga himself.

It's obvious the Brazilian has worked diligently on his stand-up skills. His jaw-dropping head kick was one of the most unexpected turn of events in any major fight, solely for the fact that Gonzaga isn't known as a striker. He apparently is, and the only downside for Gonzaga is that now his secret is out of the bag.

I had figured that Gonzaga was a solid contender entering the fight, but was rushed in against one of the most dangerous heavyweights in the world. I thought he was going to give "Cro Cop" fits for a while but his inexperience would cost him as he eventually succumbed to one of the Croat's trademark punches or kicks. Never did I expect Mirko, the master of head kicks, to get knocked cold by a man known mostly for his grappling prowess.

My question, or at least one of them, is what happens with Gonzaga next?

History has shown us that when an unheralded fighter scores an upset the magnitude of his win in England over Filipovic, one of two things happen: either an elite fighter is born and in time that win demonstrates just how great he always was, or, unfortunately, that win is both the beginning and end of his career in the spotlight.

It's happened one way or the other since the dawn of time, and it's happened in every sport.

Will this massive win over "Cro Cop" be the start of a brilliant career that leads Gonzaga down a path where he'll retire as one of the greatest heavyweights in history? Or will this triumph be a one and done sort of win akin to James "Buster" Douglas' battery of the then-invincible Mike Tyson?

The answer to those questions will only come in due time. But for now, my opinion is that Gonzaga is a very gifted fighter, a man who is much better than we all previously thought. Randy Couture (Pictures) will have his hands full when they meet, probably in August.

As for "Cro Cop," who knows what he'll do next. This latest heartbreaking setback might just lead to him taking a permanent vacation. Perhaps we will never see him again. Filipovic declared after he won the PRIDE Open-Weight Grand Prix last year that had he not become the champion of the tournament, he was going to retire. He just lost to a man who was brought in to be mere cannon fodder and now a title shot against Couture has been dashed -- for now.

Arlovski bores us to death … again

Former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski (Pictures) is a very talented fighter and he's a good guy, but he delivered another snoozer Saturday night against Fabricio Werdum (Pictures), a fight so dreadful to watch I honestly debated whether to perform a root canal on myself instead of watching the last round and a half.

But Arlovski isn't entirely to blame here.

Werdum is just as much at fault for putting the Spike TV audience to sleep early on a Saturday night. Arlovski's problem, especially lately, is actually his greatest asset: his brilliant counter punching. He is so patient and waits for the perfect opportunity to strike that sometimes if a chance to end the fight with one punch never surfaces, he's too passive to take the initiative. That is always a one-way ticket to the boo zoo.

Great counter punchers like Arlovski are only fun to watch when they are pitted against an aggressive fighter, an opponent who will press the issue and allow them to open up. However, when an Arlovski-type of fighter is pitted against another counter puncher or someone who is just too timid to attack, it breeds the type of fight we had to endure on Saturday.

Arlovski has all the tools to regain his lost title but he needs to learn to be a little more assertive in the Octagon or else he'll continue to "treat" fans to three-round slow dances without The Righteous Brothers playing in the background.

Wins are all fine and dandy, but if every victory is littered with choruses of boos and jeers, it'll cost you in the end. Zuffa wants exciting fighters who take risks, not brilliant fighters who are too patient for their own good.

Bisping survived a scare

Popular Brit Michael Bisping (Pictures) was almost undone by perennial gatekeeper Elvis Sinosic (Pictures). Bisping ripped apart the Australian from start to finish and was almost upended by a knee that I didn't even see connect until replay confirmed the sneaky blow. It was warming to see Bisping joke about it afterwards and also telling to see Bisping recover so quickly and eventually score the stoppage.

Bisping is still a bit green, but he certainly has the talent to make some real noise as he gains experience. He clearly isn't quite ready for the Liddells, Rampages, Hendersons or Wanderleis of the world but he's at the level just below the aforementioned A-list. Give the bloke some time -- he's the goods.

Misc. debris

During the entertaining Bisping-Sinosic duel, commentator Mike Goldberg stated with 100 percent certainty that Tito Ortiz (Pictures) once fought Sinosic and it just happened to be the last time the UFC visited England, which was the UFC 38 card back on July 13, 2002. Uh, sorry Goldie. Ortiz fought Sinosic on the UFC 32 card, which was on June 29, 2001 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Smooth. Maybe Goldberg got that fight confused with Ortiz's fight with Lee Murray (Pictures). That one took place on the night of UFC 38, although it wasn't sanctioned. …

It's amazing that "Cro Cop" can fight all the way to near death and withstand tons of punishment against the two greatest heavyweights in history (Fedor and "Minotauro") but can get completely iced by a journeyman (Kevin Randleman (Pictures)) and young prospect (Gonzaga). Man, this sport is fun! ...

American MMA kingpin Dana White sat with Joe Rogan and new welterweight champ Matt Serra (Pictures) to announce the coaches of The Ultimate Fighter 6. Serra and former champ Matt Hughes (Pictures) will coach the new guys next season but we already know the exact formula: Two coaches who don't particularly care for each talk trash and lead up to big showdown, 16 pro fighters are locked in a house and some of the fights will be good. I don't know about my fellow MMA media guys and I certainly can't speak for Generation TUF, but I'm starting to wonder if I'm the only guy on earth who couldn't care less about another season of reality fight TV on Spike. Please change the formula! …

The Terry Etim (Pictures)-Matt Grice was the televised fight of the night; I don't care what anybody says. …

Huge kudos to Zuffa for taking the liberty of making UFC 70 a free event instead of making fans fork over $40-plus for a pay-per-view. …

I wonder who is more depressed about "Cro Cop" being knocked out, thus putting a damper on what could be the richest bout in UFC history (Filipovic-Couture)? Dana White. "Cro Cop." Couture. Or the fans. I bet I can pinpoint who is the happiest, though.

Hit me up at www.myspace.com/sherdogsloan
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