Call me Russ L

Yoo Eff Cee 95: X vs Y makes for a boring title

Posted in Combat Sports, Modern Living by Russ L on 3 March, 2009

Change, change and change again. Upon learning that UFC 95 was due to be at the 02 Arena and that Anderson Silva was strongly rumoured to headline, I steamed in: I ordered my ticket and booked the Premier Inn at Beckton, pausing only to shudder at the memory of Travelodge faff and nonsense last time I went to the 02. The initial plan was to go with The Boy Trig, but when it became apparent that he wouldn’t be able our Louise stepped in. Not to go to the MMA, obviously, but to come with me to London in general – she’s never been before. We were getting quite excited about what would be a lovely weekend together when, a few days before, her achey-breaky knee decided to re-injure itself in a worse-than-usual way.

So, I ended up going on my own.

Rumours of Anderson Silva, meanwhile, turned out to be greatly exaggerated. When the card was eventually announced it didn’t seem dreadful but it did lack a certain something. I don’t want to sound like I’m only interested in big names but Diego Sanchez vs Joe Stevenson certainly did not have the feel of a main event. Worse still, Paul “Black Countraaaay” Taylor was out with injury. The UFC press man who posts on the Boxrec forums often seems to make a big deal of the fact that they can sell a big pile o’ tickets without announcing the card, but I doubt I’ll ‘go in blind’ again (mind you… this one had the most empty seats I’ve seen at a UFC card yet. Previously I’ve felt the need to scramble and get in early in case of a sell-out. That might not be a worry any longer – I do get the impression that the novelty of “ooh, the actual UFC over here!” is wearing off a bit).

I’m in danger of overstating. The card was by no means awful, as I’ve said: on paper it did look well-matched (the large number of early finishes on the night belie that a little bit, but hindsight is always like some kind of bad-bwoy pin-spotting eagle with hi-tech binoculars). Boxing has been taking up more of my attention than MMA just lately, but I was still really looking forward to this.

L-Day, then, the 21st of February. A 404 bus took me to Sandwell & Dudley station, and a Virgin Train thence to Euston. A little bit of a look at The British Museum (never been there before. I particularly liked Cradle To Grave by Pharmacopoeia, and the Mayan ocelot-shaped serving bowl. Ocelots~! Truly the master race) was followed by a general wander around before I hopped onto public transport to cross the big bad city for Beckton. After checking in I had time for a quick hour’s nap before heading on my merry way.

The 02, as I learned last time, is big. Very big (but that’s just peanuts compared to etc etc etc). This time I found myself in a seat that was very high indeed – the last-but-one row in the top tier, if you can imagine that. I’m not sure why, considering that elsewhere around the arena there were visibly tonnes of empty seats lower down in the same tier (including one row with only one seat occupied on the opposite side), but there we go. I couldn’t drink myself back to earth because I’m just not willing to pay £4.30 for a pint, no sirree. Still, never mind. The good thing about these super-size arenas is that the height ensures that your view is always clear, even if you are 381 miles away.

Notes from cageside (well, no, not from cageside. Notes from a few hundred yards in the air above the octagon and then across a bit):

~ Paul Kelly’s ground ‘n’ pound is just frightening. Troy Mandaloniz’ face ended up looking like some kind of blancmange made from uncooked beef. It’s also interesting to note that historically I’ve found Kelly to be the UFC’s comprehensible scouser whereas I could rarely make out a word that Terry Etim said, but they swapped roles this time around. Etim also (happily) won, by second round stoppage.

~ The only British representative to lose all night was Neil Grove, who’s actually South African so that’s alright. Well, sort of. It’s hard to claim that he’s a UFC-level fighter skill-wise, but then again they’ve had some right sorts in the past so who can say? Good luck to him. Size and hitting power can get you far. If not in this particular instance. Also: those old interviews where he’d take the piss out of Cage Rage and Elite XC whilst fighting for them were magnificent and the sort of thing I’d like to see more of.

~ I’ve decided that Demian Maia is one of my favourite MMA fighters going at the moment. On the ground he just pure chews people up and spits ‘em out. He also gets a bagful of extra style points for finessing the finish here (“What do you think of my triangle choke, Chael Sonnen?” enquired Maia. “Hmmph. I don’t care for it,” came the muffled reply).

~ It may have been in a battle of Skilled Fighters I Don’t Care About (or SFIDCA, for short. American MMA is full of them), but another bagful of style points go to Nate Marquadt for his “everything up to and including the kitchen sink” finish of Wilson Gouvaia (Wheeee! Kapow! Splat! Kerblamo!).

~ If you’ll excuse my French, Josh Koscheck really is the most petulant little shit going. I know he was upset about what he saw as an unfair stoppage and so on and so forth, but the way he pulled his hand away from Mark Goddard like that during the official announcement of the winner had more than a slight air of a child who’d just been told he couldn’t have something he wanted.

~ It was interesting to see Dan Hardy getting the superstar build-up, ala Bisping (the lighting during his entrance was a nice touch). I’ve been a fan of Dan Hardy since I first saw him fighting on the old Cagewarriors cards in Coventry, so I’m glad to see him doing so well. I can see this schtick of mentioning ‘England’ or ‘Britain’ at least once every fifteen seconds getting boring quickly, but it’ll probably work out well for him. Great knock-out, anyway, with a perfectly scouted and timed counter left hook. Bring on the plastic paddy for him next.

~ Lots of people in the arena gave their loudest boo when the Sanchez/Stevenson (another SFIDCA affair) decision was announced, but I fail to see why. What did Stevenson do to win that fight?

Overall, it was a reasonably fun card but by no means a great one. There were some really fun finishes but not anything that you’d describe as an especially memorable fight (although no absolute stinkers either, in the name of fairness).

Sunday saw me having an amble around the pubs and markets of Camden (always huge fun. Cards and small prezzies were purchased) before hopping on the train back.

And that was that.

UFC 89

Posted in Combat Sports by Russ L on 9 November, 2008

(This post is blessedly the last part of the filling-in-the-blanks exercise from my account of the last three months).

UFC 89 at the NIA seems to have attracted some fairly mixed opinions online, but – in spite of the fact that one might have mistaken it for a kickboxing event rather than an MMA event for long stretches of time – I thought it was fantastic and am happy to call it the best fightcard I’ve ever attended live (with apologies to the previous titleholder, CagewarriorsStrike Force 4: Night Of Champions). Even the worst bits weren’t especially bad – David Bielkheiden vs Jess Liaudin slowed down at times but certainly had its moments (slams~!), and whilst Keith Jardine vs Brandon Vera seemed a bit awkward it was far from poor (I’ll have to confess to the fact that I thought something screwy was going on whilst I was watching it. There was the absolutely stupid stand-up whilst Jardine was punching Vera in the face early on, Jardine’s sudden inability to hit a non-moving target right in front of him at the end of the first round, and what looked from where I was sitting to be an un-penalised knee to the face from Vera [although I have since been informed that it was to the body. Must’ve been the angle I was viewing from]. I so rarely say things like this, but I would’ve been very suspicious were it not for Jardine actually taking the decision. Must just be my paranoia).

The good, meanwhile, was plentiful. I’ve heard people describe the main event as dull, but I really disagree – Bisping masterfully evaded Leben’s clumsy brawling and produced an entertaining display of technically proficient striking from the back foot. Three fights from this card have made their way onto Russ L’s Mighty List of His Favourite MMA Fights (yes, there’s an actual list), meanwhile: my fight of the night between Terry Etim and Sam Stout (Scouse Tez showed his stand-up skills and his ability to use his reach advantage against Stout, by no means a poor kickboxer himself. I still worry about Etim’s chances against any American who wants to take him down, though. I also still completely failed to make out a single word he said in the post-fight interview), Dan Hardy vs Akihiro Gono (I’ve been a fan of Hardy since I first saw him fight in May 2005. Also: Gono’s entrance dance. Oh mercy, Gono’s entrance dance…) and Paul Taylor vs Chris Lytle (I’m sure everyone knows how much of a Paul Taylor fan I am, but unlike many I thought the decision was reasonable).

My picks were pretty damn good, as well.

Lots Of Things To See And Do In The West Midlands: October 2008

Posted in Books, Combat Sports, Food, LOTTSADITWM, Modern Living, Music, Stage, Well, it passes the time by Russ L on 30 September, 2008

Festival~!

Standard disclaimers: I can’t ensure that these events will go ahead, that they’ll be good, or that I will be going to them. This is just a list of things I found that looked like they might be interesting, so please do not contact me to ask for your event to be included. That’s not the way it works.

Until Sunday the 5th – “Of All The People In All The World” (Stan’s Café) @ A.E. Harris Factory, The Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham – Also known as The Rice Show and acclaimed by many (including me) to be The Actual Best Thing Ever.

Wednesday the 1st till Friday the 24th – Birmingham Book Festival @ various venues in Birmingham – Brum’s annual literary festival (festival~!). There’s lots of interesting stuff a-scheduled – read on down.

Friday the 3rd till Sunday the 12th – Birmingham Comedy Festival @ various venues, Birmingham – The annual comedy festival (festival~!). Some annoying nonsense, but good stuff too – highlights include a Curates Egg do with John Cooper Clarke at The Hare & Hounds on the 3rd, and Mark Steel at The Glee Club on the 8th.

Saturday the 4th – “Space Day” @ Birmingham University, Edgbaston, Birmingham – LOOOST IN SPAAACE! All sorts of extra-planetary physics-based fun.

Saturday the 4th – Van Morrison @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – Like the good ol’ strict ‘n’ stern Ulster protestant he is, Van The Man has decreed that no alcohol is to be sold at this gig. I wouldn’t go so far as to proclaim that this heralds the death of personal freedom, though.

Saturday the 4th – Stevie Wonder @ The NIA, Birmingham – Ooh, I’m really looking forward to this one.

Saturday the 4th – “Steve Coogan Is Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters” @ The Civic Hall, Wolverhampton – You’ve got to love that for tour-naming.

Saturday the 4th – The Ting Tings @ The Academy, Birmingham – Already sold out, although we’ve heard that one before from The Ting Tings.

Saturday the 4th – Muay Thai @ The Light Bar, Wolverhampton – Knees knees knees! Wolves’ Firewalker gym vs Leeds’ Bad Company gym.

Wednesday the 5th of October until Thursday the 6th of November – Birmingham Early Music Festival @ Various festivals in Birmingham – A festival (festival~!) of Rites And Revels.

Sunday the 5th – Balti In The Park @ Balsall Heath park, Balsall Heath, Birmingham – Mostly, food. But also live music. And stalls. And face painting. But mostly food.

Tuesday the 7th – Stevie Winwood @ The Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton – Still keeping on running, after all this time.

Wednesday the 8th until Saturday the 11th – “The Boy With The Bomb In His Crisps” (Mad Half Hour) @ The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry – A play based on the tales of people who have journeyed to Coventry and Colchester. The story behind the (absolutely magnificent) title is here.

Wednesday the 8th till Sunday the 12th – Horse Of The Year Show @ The NEC, Marston Green, Birmingham – A horse is a horse, of course, of course…

Thursday the 9th – The Streets @ The Academy, Birmingham – Apparently he talks about fields and countryside and such on this new album. Pastoral Streets, what a notion.

Saturday the 11th – Billy Ocean @ The Academy, Birmingham – Aaaaw, he’s just so cuddly.

Monday the 13th till Friday the 17th – “Romeo And Juliet” (Shakespeare’s Globe) @ The Custard Factory – I have no concrete info, but apparently this may or may not be happening. Matinee performances only though, according to the information Nyki Getgood has acquired over at that link. On weekdays. Fantastic planning, there.

Monday the 13th – Cyndi Lauper @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – Just wants to do something-or-other.

Tuesday the 14th – Polarbear: “If I Cover My Nose You Can’t See Me” @ The Rep Door, Birmingham – Hip-hop based storytelling. I’ve heard many good things about this.

Tuesday the 14th – Mark Thomas @ The Conservatoire, Birmingham – Part of the Birmingham Book Festival. This show is based around Mighty Mark’s looking into the ways and doings of Coca-Cola.

Wednesday the 15th – Stephen Stills @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – Ah well now you see the thing here was that I was going to go to this and then I wasn’t and now I am again but all the time I thought I’d never heard any of his music outside of Crosby Stills And Nash And/Or Young but it turns out that “Love The One You’re With” which I liked but didn’t know who it was by was actually by him. So that was quite good. Yes.

Wednesday the 15th – Elbow @ The Civic Hall, Wolverhampton – The band that beat Burial in the big national music quiz or whatever it was. Haven’t listened to this new album that they got the honours for, but they were lovely when I last saw/heard them a few years ago.

Wednesday the 15th – Spiritualized @ The Academy, Birmingham – Without the gospel singers this time, if I’m correct, but still bound to be amazing.

Thursday the 16th – Will Self @ The Conservatoire, Birmingham – Why if it ain’t young Billy Self in the best of health. Author, journalist, raconteur, cultural pundit, and Birmingham Book Festival performer.

Friday the 17th – Roots Manuva @ The Academy 2, Birmingham – Summonin’ up the power of Banana Clan.

Friday the 17th – Black Diamond Heavies / The Solomons @ The Dragon Bar, The Barfly, Digbeth, Birmingham – Another night of blues ‘n’ roll brought to you by them Coldrice reprobates.

Saturday the 18th – UFC 89 @ The NIA, Birmingham – Headlined by Mike Bisping vs Chris Leben (Bisping, sub, R2. Yes that’s right I said ‘sub’), and also featuring the UFC debut of longtime fave of mine Dan Hardy (against Akihiro Gono. Hardy by decision). Speaking of longtime faves of mine, Paul ‘The Relentlessly Saddling Yampy Terminator’ Taylor (you know, the one from God’s Chosen Black Country) will also be fighting Chris Lytle (Taylor, decision).

Saturday the 18th – The Creeping Nobodies / The Courtesy Group @ The Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham – A Curates Egg night, so quality is assured.

Sunday the 19th – Scorpions @ The Civic Hall, Wolverhampton – Whistle whistle, whistle whuh-whuh-whistle-whistle…

Tuesday the 21st – Carol Ann Duffy @ The Conservatoire, Birmingham – Again as part of the Birmingham Book Festival. One of the best contemporary poets, with recent controversy to boot. If you’re really a fan then you can also attend a discussion of her work led by Roz Goddard on the 9th.

Wednesday the 22nd – Eddie Reader @ The Town Hall, Birmingham – Your lady there who used to be in the wonderful wonderful wonderful (‘Perfect’, even) Fairground Attraction.

Wednesday the 22nd – Seth Lakeman @ The Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton – More fiddling folking fun with Seff.

Thursday the 23rd until Sunday the 26th – “Hello Digital” @ Various places in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Hereford – The Midlands’ first digital festival (festival~!), apparently, although I don’t myself have any idea at all about precisely what is meant to connect this seemingly disparate string of events. Some of it looks interesting, though, such as the Field Of Light at Millennium Point and Capsule’s Big Up The Metalz thingy at Wolves Art Gallery.

Thursday the 23rd – An Audience With Tony Benn @ The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton – Tony ‘Uncle’ Benn, speaking of the days when Labour was real Labour.

Thursday the 23rd – A. C. Grayling @ The Conservatoire, Birmingham – Another book festival affair. Grayling considers and speaks on the subject of reading, particularly as a “critical, challenging and subversive process”.

Friday the 24th – Capsule Night @ The Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham – Watch Oxes on boxes, shake your hips to Bee Stung Lips, and do The Bump to Bilge Pump.

Friday the 24th – Boxing (First Team) @ The Civic Hall, Wolverhampton – Not sure who will be fighting on this one, but it’ll no doubt include some of our local faves. (EDIT: Seems to be cancelled).

Sunday the 26th – Lau-Gar King Fu National Championships @ Cocks Moor Woods Leisure Centre, Kings Heath, Birmingham – Hai- and indeed –Ya.

Tuesday the 28th – Al Green @ The NIA, Birmingham – The Reverend Al Green, ladies and gentlemen.

Tuesday the 28th – Slayer @ The NEC, Marston Green, Birmingham – And if you fancy an arena gig that couldn’t be more different to Al Green, there’s always Slayaaaarrrrgh. (EDIT: Alright, so no an arena gig: it’s been moved to The Civic).

Wednesday the 29th – Feed The Birds @ Woodgate Valley Country Park, Bartley Green, Birmingham – The rangers show you how to make a feeder and feed the birdies properly, for free.

Friday the 31st – Boxing (Sports Network) @ The Aston Events Centre, Aston, Birmingham – Pity poor old Uncle Frankie; Calzaghe’s left him and Khan got splattered across the canvas. Every ticket sale for this event is vital. He might not be able to afford this week’s ivory backscratcher otherwise. Also: Macklin/Broadhurst/Costello etc.