SPRINGER ON MMA: Inside the Kawajiri-Melendez fight

NEIL SPRINGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:47 PM ET

TORONTO - It’s hard not to shake your head a little when listening to a fighter admit they didn’t feel it necessary to train in a cage prior to their first time competing in one.

So my neck muscles got a little bit of exercise on the recent Strikeforce conference call when Tatsuya (Crusher) Kawajiri said he did nothing different preparing for his April 9 rematch with lightweight champion Gilbert (El Nino) Melendez.

“I’m training as usual,” Kawajiri said through his translator. “No specific training geared towards a fight in a cage.”

Over the course of his 11-year career, Kawajiri has only fought in a ring, where athletes can back opponents into a corner during the stand-up exchanges and fights are restarted in the centre of the mat if competitors get tied up in the ropes on the ground.

A seasoned fighter can use the cage to his advantage. Standing up, he can press his opponent against the fence to dirty box, punish the legs and body with knees, or stomp the feet. Sweeps, throws and takedowns are also available.

On the mat, the competitor in top position can place his opponent against the fence to dish out more punishment and limit movement from the bottom, making submissions off the back difficult to execute.

Fighters on the bottom can also utilize the fence for leverage and ‘wall walk’ back to their feet.

However, if anyone can adapt to the style it’s Kawajiri. His hard-headed, take-you-down-and-pound-you-out approach is perfect for the cage. It’s just best to learn the intricacies of fighting in a new environment before you have a guy like Melendez standing across from you.

After all, Melendez exploited his experience in cage to shutdown Shinya (Tobikan Judan) Aoki a year ago.

Melendez admits the odds are in his favour, but isn’t taking anything for granted.

“I’m not banking on anything, but I’m happy that I am familiar with the cage, I’m familiar with the California (State Athletic) Commission and I’m familiar with my hometown and that people are going to be cheering for me,” Melendez said on the call. “That’s an advantage to me, but I’m not banking on that messing with him. If it gives him problems, I’ll totally take advantage of it and try to expose them like I did to Aoki.”

Kawajiri and Melendez originally fought more than four years ago at PRIDE Shockwave 2006 in a wild brawl. Both men landed big shots and threw for the fences. Though it was a close fight that could have gone either way, Melendez was awarded a unanimous decision.

Kawajiri said he intends to be more patient this time around.

“I have advanced as an MMA fighter,” Kawajiri said. “I will be able to fight a smarter fight this time. I am obviously training to become a better MMA fighter every day. I look forward to (showing it) in the second fight with Gilbert.”

Though Melendez agrees Kawajiri is not the same fighter he went to war with on New Year’s Eve 2006, he feels he has developed more as a fighter since then.

“I take a look at that tape and I do see him as a better fighter now, but I see myself as a way better fighter,” Melendez said. “I look at myself and I see ten times more of a difference.

“Of course, I see differences in him. I see some things in his grappling, his takedowns, his striking, his patience and his game plans, as well.”

GOING TO OVERTIME?

UFC president Dana White says he likes the idea of an overtime round in MMA. “I hate draws,” White said on The Ultimate Fighter Aftermath show. “I think it’s just such a waste of everybody’s time and energy. It’s something that I would definitely explore.”

UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT

Strikeforce held its first event after being acquired by UFC parent company Zuffa, LLC on Friday. Strikeforce Challengers 15 was a night of knockouts on the main card. Justin (The Silverback) Wilcox brutalized Rodrigo Damm with punches to earn an impressive TKO victory in the headlining fight, while Caros (The Future) Fodor unleashed a vicious series of knees to stop David (Tarzan) Douglas in the co-main event. Other televised fights saw unbeaten Lorenz (The Monsoon) Larkin put away K-1 veteran Scott Lighty with a series of uppercuts and James Terry deliver a beautiful one-punch knockout on Josh Thornburg.

FITCH-PENN BOUT NIXED

Jon Fitch has been forced to pull out of his rematch with B.J. (The Prodigy) Penn at UFC 132 due to an undisclosed injury. The two went to a draw in the main event of UFC 127 in February. Though a replacement opponent has yet to be named, one of the more realistic rumours floating around is Carlos (Natural Born Killer) Condit.

LESNAR LOSING EARLY

Brock Lesnar’s first day of coaching on The Ultimate Fighter got off to a rocky start.

After mostly focusing on the fighters’ cardio instead of their technical abilities, he began administering odd personality tests.

Lesnar then opted to take first choice of fighter, giving rival coach Junior (Cigano) Dos Santos the right to make the fight bout.

Dos Santos put his top guy, Shamar Bailey, against Lesnar’s last pick, Nordin Asrih.

Bailey dominated Asrih en route to a dull decision, which means Dos Santos gets to play matchmaker again next week and can continue to pick Lesnar’s team apart with style match-ups.

BIG DOG’S BARK SILENCED

Ricardo (Big Dog) Almeida has decided to hang them up following his unanimous decision loss to Mike (Quicksand) Pyle at UFC 128.

The 34-year-old jiu jitsu black belt made the announcement via his official website.

“It has been a personal struggle to find balance between my fighting career, caring for my son who was diagnosed with autism soon after I signed a six-fight deal with the UFC, teaching at my growing Jiu Jitsu Academy [sic] and the family duties we all have,” wrote Almeida, who lives in New Jersey.

“I will continue to fully support the UFC as a coach and, of course, as a big fan.”


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