Retro-Review: WFA 1: Big Bang At The Rock

WFA 1: Big Bang At The Rock

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Ah, the WFA. Most MMA fans will remember the WFA as the ill-fated promotion that tried to market itself as a competitor to the UFC in 2006, putting on one show with names such as Quinton Jackson, Matt Lindland, Ryoto Machida and Bas Rutten, before crashing and burning thanks in the most part to spending way too much money too soon, and eventually ended up being bought out by the Zuffa machine later in the year. The version of the WFA I’m reviewing is a little different though – first appearing in late 2001, it was certainly marketed differently to your regular MMA show. Promoted by UFC veteran John Lewis, the WFA’s tagline was ‘Where the Fight Club meets the Night Club’, and thus, between rounds and fights you get things like throbbing dance music, strobe lighting, breakdancing, and scantily clad poledancers. This certainly makes for a different type of atmosphere, but we’ll get into that later in the reviews.

-Your hosts are Dave Bontempo and Maurice Smith. More on them in a second.

Welterweight Fight: Tiki Ghosn vs Paul Rodriguez

Both of these guys are UFC veterans who weren’t able to pick up a win inside the Octagon. Might add that WFA’s cage is circular, so that fact won’t be changing on this show. Anyhow, Rodriguez is fighting out of Orlando’s branch of American Top Team, while Tiki is from Team Punishment and has Tito Ortiz in his corner.

Round 1 begins and Rodriguez comes forward into a clinch, where he takes a couple of knees before pulling guard. Little happens from here, and I’ll get it out of the way now, the commentary here SUCKS. Bontempo sounds like possibly the most uneducated guy to ever commentate on MMA and while Smith does have some good insights, but you can barely hear the guy! Anyway. Ref stands them up, and Tiki lands a couple of good knees, before blocking a takedown and they end up clinched again. They break off and Tiki lands a combo, before Rodriguez shoots for another takedown. Tiki blocks it again and they clinch once more, before Tiki trips him down to guard, and little happens from there until the round ends.

2nd round, and they exchange a few strikes with little effect before Rodriguez clinches and pulls guard. Tiki opens up with a little ground-and-pound, but really it’s ineffective and the ref brings them up again. They go right back into the clinch, where Tiki throws him down and goes into the guard, and again things slow to the pace of molasses. Ref brings them up once more, and they press forward, with Rodriguez looking for a single leg, but Tiki blocks and lands a knee into the clinch to end the round.

Third and final round, and Tiki opens by throwing kicks, but Rodriguez shoots in and finally gets a takedown to Tiki’s guard. Does this help the fight? Nope. It’s STILL boring as hell. Rodriguez works him over with short punches, and then picks him up to deliver a mini-slam. Tiki pushes off and stands back up, but quickly gets taken back down to guard. Rodriguez passes into half-guard, but Tiki quickly gets full guard back, and little happens again. Ref brings them up, and Rodriguez clinches and takes a knee to end the fight.

Let it be known that the first fight in WFA history SUCKED. We go to the judges and Tiki picks up the decision. Rodriguez did nothing, Tiki did a bit more, so there you go. Moving on swiftly…

Lightweight Fight: Vitor ‘Shaolin’ Ribeiro vs Charlie Kohler

I believe this was actually Shaolin’s MMA debut, but already he was being pushed as a really dangerous BJJ fighter. I don’t know all that much about Kohler and the announcers only mention he’s an experienced veteran. Check of his record says that he’s been fighting since 1998, so I guess that would be the correct way to describe him.

Round 1 begins, and Shaolin comes out and gets a quick takedown to half-guard. Kohler holds on tightly, and then reverses, and spins to his feet, but Shaolin grabs a front facelock to keep him under control, before dropping for another takedown to guard. This fight’s been like a minute long and already it’s had more action than the last one. Shaolin pins him up against the fence and then moves into half-guard with punches, where he opens up with some VICIOUS left elbow strikes, cutting Kohler open badly over his right eye. The blood just starts pouring out, and the referee quickly calls time to check the cut. Doctors take one look and stop the fight.

I’ve said it before, but Shaolin when he’s able to use elbows is an even more frightening prospect than he would be normally. He was just vicious here, and it’s even more impressive when you consider that this was his debut fight, too. Oh how I wish UFC had picked him up when they had the chance.

Welterweight Fight: Tony DeSouza vs Chatt Lavender

DeSouza was coming off a mildly impressive run in UFC prior to this, where he’d won two fights before being knocked out by Jutaro Nakao about two months before this event. Lavender is another guy I don’t know all that much about outside of his really feminine surname. Although he pronounces it Lav-END-er, which makes it more passable.

They press forward to begin and DeSouza gets a nice takedown directly into side mount. He looks for a choke right away, working to get his hooks in for control. Tony manages to get the hooks in and flattens Chatt out, landing some punches. Lavender rolls to mount in order to avoid the rear naked choke, but he takes more punches from there and decides to roll back to his stomach. DeSouza keeps landing and one of the shots cuts Lavender bad on the top of the head. The ref steps in to stop it and check the cut, but they agree that Lavender can continue, and as this is pre-Ludwig/Sudo, they go for a standing restart. They come forward into the clinch, but Chatt botches a shoulder throw and ends up underneath DeSouza in full mount again, where he takes some more elbows, and the blood begins to flow out of the cut again. Referee calls time and this time the doctor’s seen enough, it’s a cut stoppage for DeSouza.

Lavender just couldn’t stop DeSouza’s takedown, and once they hit the mat it was clear that like most of Tony’s opponents, he was way out of his league with such a skilled grappler. Good win for DeSouza.

Featherweight Fight: Joao Roque vs Stephen Palling

Man, three fights in a row to feature Nova Uniao guys. Though it makes sense as they’re trained by Andre Pederneiras, who of course runs another Vale Tudo team with John Lewis, the promoter of the show. And I love Nova Uniao so I’m definitely not complaining. Only ever seen Roque fight once before this, the terrible fight with Jens Pulver at UFC 26, but he’s supposedly a really skilled grappler. Like Roque, his opponent here, Palling, is a longtime Shooto veteran. He’s also nicknamed ‘Bozo’, and fights out of the Hawaiian ‘Jesus Is Lord’ camp, which always cracks me up for some reason.

Round 1 gets underway, and after a moment Roque gets a swift single leg takedown, and immediately passes to side control. Wasting no time, he slips over to full mount, trapping Palling’s arm in the process, and from there he slaps on a textbook straight armbar, and gets the tapout in just over a minute.

Very impressive – and quick – showing from Roque, as he took Palling down, passed guard, and finished with a slick submission in swift fashion. Armbar was literally textbook, like something you’d see on an instructional tape even.

Welterweight Fight: Jason Black vs Antonio McKee

McKee is one of those guys with a really bad reputation, in this case a reputation for constantly using lay-and-pray tactics in his fights. A check of his record today would appear to affirm the lay-and-pray claims, as 15 of his 20 wins have come by decision. He’s also wearing one of the most God-awful pairs of trunks I’ve ever seen in MMA, this garish leopardskin style. Black is out of the Miletich camp, one of those fighters who I heard a LOT about when I first got into MMA as one of the best not to be in the UFC or Pride. His caveman-ish look, with bushy hair and a huge pair of sideburns is a huge contrast to McKee’s flamboyance, with the bleached hair and afore-mentioned trunks.

Round 1 begins and they circle, before McKee shoots in for a takedown. Black manages to block and they go into a clinch, muscling for position before McKee gets the takedown to guard. And sure enough, it’s lay-and-pray time as McKee holds him down tightly while Black tries to work to his feet. McKee continues to control him, moving him towards the fence while throwing very few strikes, and eventually the ref steps in to stand them up. Black lands a right hand, but McKee shoots in again, clinches, and gets a slam to end the round.

They press forward to open the 2nd, and Black sprawls to avoid a takedown. McKee instantly shoots again, and this time he gets the takedown to Black’s guard. Black looks for a kimura from underneath, he can’t lock it up, but he does use it to reverse to his feet. They go into the clinch and Black looks for a takedown of his own, but McKee avoids and gets the takedown himself, into side mount this time. Even though he’s in the superior position McKee still doesn’t do much damage, throwing very little strikes, and he just holds Black down for the rest of the round.

Third and final round, and Black presses forward with punches, and avoids McKee’s first attempted takedown. McKee shoots again, and again, but Black avoids the attempts and lands a nice uppercut into the clinch. Black avoids another takedown and breaks off, and then avoids another two shots and lands a good right hand. McKee tries another takedown, but Black blocks and gets into top position in side mount, but McKee reverses up into the clinch. He shoots again, but Black sprawls to block and then pounds the body. Black continues to avoid the takedown, and ends with a guillotine attempt.

Hard fight to score, as although Black clearly took the final round, on a ten-point must system the first two were likely McKee’s for the takedowns, despite him doing little with them. Judges actually score it a draw though, which is fine with me. McKee was just as dull as I had been told, and I have no desire to ever see another of his fights again, frankly. Black gets a pass for at least trying to do some damage.

Welterweight Fight: Frank Trigg vs LaVerne Clark

Trigg looks HUGE here, though less defined than I’ve seen him in later fights. Clark, out of the Miletich camp, is a throwback to the dark ages of the UFC although whenever I saw him he nearly always had an exciting fight, so this will hopefully be pretty good.

Trigg opens with some sort of flashy kick that misses, before securing double underhooks and pulling Clark down to guard. Not much happens though, so the ref stands them, and they circle off before Trigg shoots again. Clark sprawls back and lands some punches up into the clinch, and then gets a takedown of his own. Trigg keeps a very tight guard, not allowing Clark to do much damage, so LaVerne breaks and stands up, kicking Trigg’s legs. Trigg comes back to his feet, and they circle, with Clark shooting in to end the round.

They circle and throw some jabs to open the 2nd, before Trigg misses a high kick attempt. Clark comes forward swinging, but Trigg avoids deftly and gets a takedown to side mount, where he drops some shoulder strikes onto the Miletich fighter. Clark spins out though and gets a reversal, taking Trigg down into guard again. Things slow down a little as Clark lands some body shots, but then the referee calls a foul as Clark appears to have gouged Trigg’s eyes. Clark continues to work from the top though, landing a few good shots to end the round. Pretty even fight thus far actually.

Third and final round, and Trigg comes out the aggressor, pressing forward, avoiding Clark’s punches, and securing a takedown. He pins Clark to the fence before passing the guard and taking a full mount, where he works Clark over with punches. Clark rolls and gives his back, so Trigg flattens him out, and then opens up with some BRUTAL ELBOWS that land cleanly, and unsurprisingly Clark taps out before the ref can stop things.

Even fight until the third round, but once Trigg got dominant position, as always he seriously opened up and brought the pain, and I can’t blame Clark for tapping to those sort of elbow strikes. After seeing him tooled in the way he was by St-Pierre, I sometimes forget how good a fighter Trigg actually is, and this was a good reminder of that.

Middleweight Fight: Jermaine Andre vs Ronald Jhun

Kickboxer and Sambo practitioner Andre is still one of the most imposing figures in MMA I think, with his wild long dreadlocks tied up and an impressive physique. His opponent here, Hawaii’s Jhun, was riding a seven-fight win streak, with some of his victims including future UFC fighters Joe Stevenson, Dave Strasser, and Pete Spratt. Pretty impressive.

They circle to begin, and Jhun throws a good right hand, before landing some knees at close quarters. Andre goes for the takedown, but Jhun blocks and gets on top in half-guard, where he lands some short strikes. Andre manoeuvres to full guard, and holds on, and the referee brings them up to standing. Andre lands a good low kick, but Jhun gets a clinch and lands some more knees to the body. They muscle for position, and some more knees land from Jhun, but then Andre lands a heavy right hand that rocks him, and follows with a left. Andre comes forward into the clinch, and then gets a BIG shoulder throw directly into full mount, where he opens up with a flurry for the referee stoppage.

Post-fight Jhun complains that it was an early stoppage, and replays do show that he appeared to be lucid while Andre was landing, but then again flailing your arms up isn’t exactly intelligent defense, and I don’t think you can blame the official for stepping in when he did. Pretty good fight while it lasted.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Rich Franklin vs Marvin Eastman

Man, pretty weird to see Franklin here, two years before his UFC debut, coming out to absolutely zero fanfare or anything. Announcers seem to be giving much more hype to Eastman, which is natural I guess as he’s out of the Lewis/Pederneiras camp. Eastman’s a curious fighter actually in that he always looks like he should be an absolute killer, and yet every time I’ve seen him fight he’s completely underwhelmed me.

They circle into a clinch, where they exchange some knees before quickly breaking. Eastman then comes forward swinging, and closes the distance before taking Franklin down to guard. Franklin immediately rolls for an armbar and locks it up quickly, turning to his stomach to apply the pressure, and Eastman taps out there. Well, that was pretty quick.

Post-fight Eastman protests that he didn’t tap, why I don’t know as the replays clearly show him tapping. Unless he somehow tapped subconsciously, but even then he doesn’t really have a case for protest. Fight ended before it had a chance to get going really, but Franklin showed some skill to land the move that quickly from the bottom.

-And we end not long after that.

The Inside Pulse
: While the WFA didn’t exactly put on a blowaway show in their first attempt, I definitely wouldn’t call this one bad. Granted, there’s no really great fights, and two of them are utter stinkers, but Shaolin/Kohler, DeSouza/Lavender, and Franklin/Eastman were all decent if one-sided, while Trigg/Clark was a pretty solid contest in its own right. The feel of the show is pretty interesting too, as the ‘Fight Club meets Night Club’ thing gives it almost a seedy feel, with the pumping music and dancers in between fights, and the sparse production, with a plain white mat and black cage adds to this feel too. Despite this though, you can see that the potential for something different was there, although whether it’s good or bad is unclear from this debut show. I’d recommend WFA 1 for the slight curiosity factor as well as some decent showings, but don’t expect a classic or anything.

Coming Soon….

UFC: 69, 70, 71 and 72.
WEC: 10 and 11.
WFA: 2 and 3.
King of the Cage: 23, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 42, 48, 52, and 58.
Best of Shooto 2003 vols. 1 & 2.

Until next time,

Scott Newman: