Saturday, June 24, 2017

View From The Hawks Nest: One More Walk

View from The Hawks Nest
An event review from a fan's perspective
By Matthew “MMAHAWK” Hawkins


Photos by Matthew Hawkins


There comes a time in every sports fan's life when the athletes that made you fall in love with a sport move on and retire. For me, growing up a huge baseball and basketball fan, it was the day Wally Joyner retired and Magic Johnson was forced out of the NBA due to the HIV virus. However, in those team sports, things move on. There is always next season and new leaders fill the void in your favorite team. For myself, in 1995 a new sport was introduced to me. At the time it was just the UFC when fighters like Royce Gracie and Dan Severn grabbed my attention like no sport had before. These men inspired my love and appreciation of NHB fighting to grow but in 1997 things changed a bit. While the internet was hard to come by still at this time, I managed to find ways to read about and keep up to date with what was happening in the world of fighting.

Up until then, it had primarily been keeping up with the UFC, Extreme Fighting and a random event like MARS or World Combat Championship. During this time I was a 17-year-old kid training with UFC pioneer Mark "The Cobra" Hall. One day, at the gym, he was getting ready to head to Brazil to take part in a middleweight 8 man NHB one day tournament known as International Vale Tudo Championship or the IVC. So while checking out my go to sites and the original Tapout website, I saw a rundown of the fighters that he would be up against. The author kept referring to this wild violent Muay Thai fighter named Wanderlei Silva. As a few days passed and I waited to see the news on how Mark had done in the tournament, reports, and photos from the event began to make their way online. Mark, unfortunately, suffered a knee injury in the semifinals, but Wanderlei did make it to the finals against Artur Mariano, the man that defeated Mark earlier in the night. Now the funny thing is while Mariano won the final after a brutal back and forth war, it was the "holy shit" moment of seeing photos of this scary looking Brazilian nicknamed "The Axe Murderer", covered in blood, with a tattoo on the back of his head that grabbed by attention. From there it became a mission for me to find as much info on Wanderlei as I could. So whether it was ordering bootleg videos of his fights or just reading what little you could find about him, I knew this was the kind of fighter I'd want to watch carry the torch and lead MMA into the 21st century.

By this time another event had started in Japan known as Pride FC. While it was very hard to follow in the beginning, they were able to get huge familiar names like Renzo Gracie, Gary Goodridge, and Dan Severn to compete on their earlier events. Shortly into their journey, Pride brought in Wanderlei. The early wars with Guy Mezger and Dan Henderson added to his mystique. He would continue to steamroll opponents in brutal and violent fashion using a bull rushing, all action style. He would go on to win the Pride Middleweight belt and held it until his final Pride bout in a rematch with Henderson.

During Silva’s unstoppable run, another fighter would be introduced to the world. That man would go on to become, in my opinion, the greatest fighter to ever compete in an MMA competition. I could barely pronounce his last name at the time but that wouldn’t be an issue as you only had to know his first name. Fedor.

Fedor announces his return will be for Bellator

While Silva had a crazy intimidating look, Fedor was the complete opposite. He was a stoic soft-spoken slightly pudgy Russian. But that would all change when the bell would ring. It was as if he transformed into a terminator with the goal of completely destroying his opponents. The bouts with Semmy Schilt and Heath Hearing showed an aggression and technicality that had not been seen in the heavyweight division before. But it wasn’t until his destruction of the top heavyweight and Pride world champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira that you realized Fedor was on another level. He would continue to dominate the sport for an entire decade amassing an incredible 29 fight win streak during his run. His only "loss" is a controversial doctor stoppage in the Rings organization due to an illegal elbow that cut him. He was absolutely “must see” during this run. If you wanted to watch the baddest man on the planet, the only option was watching Fedor.

Strkeforce Fedor vs Rogers

It wasn’t long before attending events became somewhat of a hobby and getting the chance to see Wanderlei and Fedor live became something that had to happen. This dream became reality in 2006 when Pride made its debut in the United States. On October 21st of that year, I attended Pride 32. The event was headlined by a championship bout between Fedor and former UFC champion, Pride tournament champion and MMA legend, Mark "The Hammer" Coleman. After the amazing introduction to the ring and hearing Lenne Hardt announce him like only she could, Fedor went on to crush “The Hammer” ending the bout by armbar. Just about a year after that bout Pride was purchased by the UFC. 

The purchase of Pride meant that Silva would now be returning to fight in the octagon. It was at UFC 84 that I was first able to watch him compete...and boy did he! In prime “Axe Murderer” fashion, he took Keith Jardine's conciseness with a brutal first round beat down. Crossing that one off the bucket list, I finally attended a fight and victory for both Fedor and Wanderlei. I did get the opportunity to see Silva again, at UFC 132. However, it did not end well for him. He would go on to be knocked out by Chris Leben in under a minute. This was extremely disappointing but the memory of his previous victory is one I'll never forget.

UFC 84

As for Fedor, he decided not to sign with the UFC. After a few years off, it was announced Fedor would fight in an event called Affliction Banned. He would face another former UFC champion in the giant Tim Sylvia in Anaheim California just an hour from my house and across the street from where my original sports hero Wally Joyner created Wally World playing for the California Angels. Fedor walked into the ring that night and put in a solid 36 seconds of work, dropping Sylvia with punches and submitting him via choke. A few months later he would return again to Anaheim and KO another former UFC champion, Andrei Arlovski, in incredible fashion by timing a counter punch to a flying knee and sending Arlovski unconscious to the mat. 


Celebration after Fedor's destruction of Sylvia

He continued to amaze me, my friends, and the entire fight world with his performances. Fedor went on to sign with Strikeforce MMA and was set to fight another giant in up and comer Brett Rogers in Chicago. It was now time for me to get on a plane to watch the G.O.A.T one more time. This time I was ringside and surrounded by a large Russian contingent. After a back and forth first round that left Fedor bloody, he would unleash the loudest punch I ever heard. Sending Rogers to the mat, Fedor walked away with another victory. The memory of the arena exploding that night after that punch landed will be something I’ll never forget. Getting a chance to watch greatness for a fourth time halfway across the country is one of the great accomplishments in my journey as an MMA fan. 

After convincing security to allow me to go on Fedor vs Rogers weigh in stage

So now I sit on an airplane 7 years later heading to the unexpected. Bellator MMA is holding its first event in New York City. Not just in NYC but in the historic Madison Square Garden. What gifts did Scott Coker and the MMA Gods bring with them? Only bouts including Fedor and Silva! Along with a loaded card including 3 title fights, Bellator has answered this MMA fan’s dream. Now the results may or may not be what I hope for, getting to see both of these legends make that walk to the cage on June 24th in the same building I'm sitting in is something I will always remember and feel honored to witness.

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