Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Michael Haskamp interview

This week, I interviewed Michael Haskamp, who is the co-founder and matchmaker for Legend Fighting Championship. I spoke with him after he reacted to my tweet about low standards in MMA journalism. After that encounter, I became interested in Legend FC and found out a lot about the promotion.

Legend FC has signed many well-known Japanese fighters and also ones known only to hardcore fans. When I found out that they had signed Taiyo Nakahara and Hideto Tatsumi, I was surprised by the choices. Nakahara showed a lot of improvement in the SRC bantamweight tournament, but he was not a tournament favorite. He won a dubious decision over Shintaro Ishiwatari, who is the current Pancrase champ. He also had DQ win over Akitoshi Tamura. Mr. Haskamp watched Nakahara’s actual fights as an evaluation rather than simply looking at his record only.

Moreover, I was even more surprised by Hideto Tatsumi's signing because he is still very early in his career. However, even despite that, I see a lot of potential in his performances. He lost at Legend FC 7, but considering his short career, I still like this signing. These only happen when matchmakers devote the time needed to perform in-depth research. I am impressed by that.

Here is his interview. I feel that it is one of his best and hopefully sets a higher standard for MMA journalism and promotions. Take note of his clear and logical thoughts about Chinese MMA's future. 

Legend FC events have thus far been held in Hong Kong and Macau, but to look at the area's future, we can't ignore the potential of mainland China as a market for MMA. What do you think about the long-term potential of the mainland for MMA?

Mainland China is a huge potential market for MMA, and there are many tournaments already being held up there which don’t catch much international attention because they don’t publish any of their marketing, PR, or results in English. Last year, martial arts were the fifth most broadcast category of sports on TV, measured by total hours of programming. There is already a lot of interest in MMA, and I think we’re going to continue to see that grow, especially as more Chinese fighters go overseas to compete against high-level international opponents. 

In terms of our overall audience, China is already Legend’s biggest market. We have the largest broadcast footprint in China of any MMA organization. And of course, holding an event up there is part of our plans. We’ve been speaking with various potential partners for almost a year now, and once we’ve established the right partnerships up there, we’ll be moving forward with our first Mainland Chinese event. 

Recently, mainland China included MMA bouts at events like Hero Legend at Changsha, which drew an audience of over 10,000 people. These events fare well economically, but it appears that foreign fighters are only brought in for the Chinese fighters to beat. What is your plan for competing or cooperating with them?

Unfortunately, you are right that historically many Mainland Chinese promotions have looked at foreign fighters as only a way for Chinese fighters to demonstrate their own skills and superiority. However, as the sport has grown, the audience has also become more sophisticated, and they are becoming more aware of mismatches and one-sided fights. Chinese MMA fans want to see their local heroes fighting against the best international opposition, and we think that’s one of the main reasons why Legend’s Chinese audience is growing so quickly – because we make exciting, competitive matches that put Chinese fighters against some of the best opponents in the region. That approach won’t change, and I think will be one of the keys to our continued success in China. 

In areas like Hong Kong, Macau, and Singapore, I feel that people tend to care more about business than sports, and even when people have a choice of sports, activities like running, tennis or golf attract more attention than fight sports. How do you plan to go about changing those people's minds?

I can’t comment on Singapore, but in Hong Kong and Macau, fight sports have traditionally been thought of as “dirty” because of certain past associations between gyms, promotions, and organized crime. And as a consequence, combat sports have been considered a low-class and unskilled activity. That view is quickly changing though, and I think that’s being driven by two things in particular: 1) more people are training in a variety of combat sports – from Muay Thai to Boxing to BJJ – as a way to stay fit and shake off the stresses of daily corporate life, and this is giving people a greater appreciation for just how complex MMA is, and how skilled the fighters are; and 2) Legend has developed a track record and reputation for holding high-quality events featuring some of the best fighters in the Asia-Pacific, which reinforces the idea that MMA is an elite-level sport. 

Chinese have history and tradition in martial arts like Kung Fu. However, I do not think that Kung Fu matches up well against other current martial arts. Do you feel that Chinese traditional martial artists will struggle initially in MMA like karate fighters did, and do you think that a Kung Fu fighter could one day become a champion like Lyoto Machida did with his karate?

I think it’s important to make a distinction between traditional forms of Kung Fu, and competitive forms like Sanda. I agree with you that traditional forms of Kung Fu are not particularly well-suited to MMA. However, as a freestyle form intended for competition, Sanda actually lends itself very well to MMA, particularly considering that it even incorporates some throws and takedowns. When Pat Healy and Brad Hannah from Team Quest traveled to Xian to run a six-week training camp, they commented on how effective Sanda striking was for MMA, and they even incorporated some of the Sanda techniques into their own MMA training. 

That said, like all single styles, Sanda is not a complete system for MMA, and fighters coming from a Sanda base (which is most Chinese fighters) need to work on their wrestling and submissions to round out their skills. But having watched the evolution of Chinese fighters over the two years since the first Legend show, I would say that they have shown the greatest overall improvement in skills. 

In matchmaking for Legend FC, you have featured Japanese talent ranging from famous fighters like Taiyo Nakahara and K-taro Nakamura to prospects like Hideto Tatsumi and Yuki Niimura. I watch a lot of the Kanto region's local MMA, but you really seem to have a passion for finding the top talent for your organization. How do you find this talent?

For all of us at Legend, this is not just a job for us – it is a passion. We love everything about MMA. We love the sport. We love the athletes. We love the fans. And so keeping an eye out for talent is one of the things I enjoy the most about my job. In Japan, I keep track of about 40 different fighters. Some of them are, as you said, famous fighters. Others are relatively unknown but have a lot of potential. Take Yusuke Kawanago for example – I was turned on to him by an American MMA fan living in Japan who sent me an e-mail simply saying, “You really need to have a look at this guy.” And this is basically the same approach I take for every country in Asia – it just happens that Japan has one of the richest pools of talent in the region. 

But we are selective about how we sign fighters. Even though we only require exclusive contracts for our titleholders, my belief is that every fighter signed to Legend should be able to fight at least three to four times per year for us because I consider it our responsibility to keep them busy. And as we increase the number of shows we do (we will have four the first half of 2012), we will sign additional fighters. But right now, our approach has been to keep our roster small but busy. 

At Legend FC 7, Taiyo Nakahara was DQed for punching the back of the head. While I definitely think that Nakahara should know basic MMA terminology in English, I also feel that the referee should have separated the fighters and warned him before calling off the fight. What do you think about the finish of that fight and the overall officiating in Legend FC?

I agree with you about the Nakahara fight: in my opinion, the referee should have separated the fighters and given Nakahara a yellow card, but it shouldn’t have been an immediate disqualification. And after the show was over, I shared my opinion with the referee. However, as I tell the fighters repeatedly at the rules meeting two days before the fights, I do not interfere with the officiating process. While we do select the referees and judges, it is critical to the integrity of Legend that my colleagues and I have absolutely no influence on the officiating process. I might disagree with a referee’s call or a judge’s scoring (and I certainly have in some of our past fights), but as long as what they do is within the rules, I will not interfere. Referees and judges need to have 100% of my support in order to exercise their authority. And fighters need to have confidence that the promoters will never interfere with the officiating of a fight. 

That’s not to say that I’ve always been happy with the way things have happened. For example, in Yusuke Kawanago’s fight against Mark Striegl at Legend 5, my opinion was that Kawanago won that fight. And as I mentioned, I thought Nakahara should have received a yellow card, not a disqualification. But referees and judges are human beings, and they see things subjectively. And as we also tell the fighters in the rules meeting, if they really want to guarantee themselves the win, they need to finish the fight instead of leaving it to the judges. 

Lastly, please tell me about your upcoming Legend FC 8 card and your plans for the future of Legend FC. 

I think this is one of our best cards yet. Jadamba vs. Nam will be an awesome fight. Both of them are outstanding strikers, but Jadamba is the more technical and disciplined fighter, whereas Nam is more of a brawler. Regardless of the outcome, both of these guys are great to watch. And the co-main event featuring Ji vs. Kawanago will be an interesting battle: Ji has submitted all of his previous opponents, but Kawanago has great takedown and submission defense, and lethal counter-striking. I’m guessing that fight won’t go to the judges. We’ve also got some great new Japanese talent debuting on the card: former Sengoku welterweight champion K-Taro, Shooto rookie champion Kasuya, and DEEP light heavyweight title contender Niimura. Overall, I think this is a great card – certainly one of our best yet. Almost every single one of the undercard fights could just as easily have been on the main card. And fans can watch the entire undercard live and free on our YouTube channel

As far as future plans go, we’re focused on doing more shows in more cities, and expanding our broadcast coverage even further. We’ll be back in Macau on June 16, and then it looks like our rescheduled Jakarta show will be three weeks later, on July 6 or 7. My wife Lin (who is also a colleague at Legend) will be giving birth to our baby daughter around June 25, so I’ve definitely got a very busy summer ahead of me! We’ll probably take a break during the Olympics in August, and then we’ll be back with a strong calendar for the second half of the year. All in all, it’s an exciting time for MMA in Asia, and all of us at Legend are just happy to be a part of it. 

Michael Haskamp Official Twitter

Legend FC Official Web

Big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ian Dean interview

This week, I interviewed Ian Dean, who is the matchmaker for Cage Warriors Fighting Championship in the United Kingdom. At first, Cage Warriors did not catch the eyes of some MMA fans. Cage Rage received more attention. However, after many elite British fighters came through Cage Warriors over the years, people began to understand that it was a top organization in the area.

For me, I watched GCM's Cage Force in Japan and saw Dan Hardy's improvement in his fights there, but I never imagined then that he would someday receive a UFC title shot. That was quite a surprise to me and changed my perception about MMA in the U.K.

I asked Ian about the upcoming Cage Warriors female 125-pound tournament. Olympic athlete Ronda Rousey recently received a lot of attention at 135 pounds in Strikeforce, and Bellator had its 115-pound tournament with Megumi Fujii in 2010. While there is currently less attention paid to 125 pounds, the journey to find new stars will begin with this tournament.

As more 125-pound matchups take place, we will see improvements among the fighters and the division will become more significant. We must not overlook this Cage Warriors women's tournament and should watch as they build up new stars.

- For women, Strikeforce has a 135-pound division and Bellator has 115 pounds. There is no 125-pound division in those organizations yet, but Cage Warriors has its upcoming tournament at 125. I feel that CWFC has succeeded at finding and showcasing top European fighters before major organizations realize their talents. Do you think the 125-pound division is overlooked by major U.S. promotions?

Without a doubt, I honestly feel 125 lbs has the potential to be a big weight class for women's MMA. Not only does it have a lot of crossover appeal with some 115 lbs fighters moving up, but I also feel that a lot of 135lbs fighters could move down, too, but currently don't want to because no major North American promotion has pushed that weight class. You only have to look at the unified women's rankings to see the talent that is there and I feel there are many intriguing match-ups to be made.

- I am interested in the beginning of your tournament this week in Dubai. It seems like fewer women take part in sports in the Middle East than in other areas of the world. Have you been asked about women’s MMA often since you arrived?

To be honest, I don't know the exact figures and the Middle East is a very contrasting region. However, they do have a healthy interest in western sports in general, with our hotel and other areas showing soccer games, basketball and even the UFC.

This also will not be the first female bout in the region, and although it may not be accepting in other Middle Eastern areas for cultural reasons, our first female bout in Jordan back in September was warmly received and I know a lot of people here in Dubai are looking forward to the Gaff/Maia bout here, too.

- Is there any particular fight or fighter that you would suggest that people pay special attention to in this tournament? I felt that Sheila Gaff's clinch knee strikes against Aisling Daly were impressive last year.

I feel all four fighters bring something special to the tourney. Jennifer Maia has her association with the world famous Chute Boxe team, has a good record on her domestic circuit and is yet still largely unknown outside of Brazil, which brings with it a certain amount of mystique to the tournament. Whereas her opponent, Sheila Gaff, looked fantastic last time out on Cage Warriors stopping Aisling Daly with strikes and, at only 22 years of age, she has amazing potential as well as devastating KO power.

Whilst in the other bracket, both Rosi Sexton and Aisling Daly are very popular amongst U.K. and Irish fans and are both known stateside, too. I think everyone in the women's MMA scene has wanted this match-up to happen and I personally can't wait for it to happen.

- After this tournament is over, would you like to match the winner up against a top American opponent? Any particular fighter you might invite?

I'm also looking to bring over quality fighters to Cage Warriors. For whoever wins this tourney, I will look to get them another top-ranked fighter for them to defend their title against. I don't want to name names, but we'll do our best to bring over someone worthy of a title shot. Although it has been difficult at times to get U.S.-based female fighters onto our show, I hope that after this tourney we will get more interest.

- I looked at MMARising's female unified rankings and there are four European fighters in the rankings. Did that help to motivate you to start this tournament?

We are lucky to have several European fighters at 125 lbs and I guess that has made things a lot easier. And, with both Aisling Daly and Rosi Sexton being available, it's just common sense to use them when we can.

- Would you be interested in holding another women's tournament at a different weight? Strikeforce seems to be dropping the 145-pound division and 105 pounds is starting to develop in Japan. Perhaps CWFC could showcase some fighters that other organizations have overlooked?

If the talent is there, I would like to use it. However, you need fighters available to really push a division and, domestically, 105 and 115 don't have too many high level U.K./European fighters yet, but I'm always open to suggestions.

- Unfortunately, Cage Warriors is not yet recognized by most Asian fans except for super hardcores, but many elite fighters from Europe have fought for CWFC. Could you please describe the appeal of CWFC to those who read this interview?

We just try to do things the 'right' way. We like to push MMA as a legitimate sport. We are fair and try to treat people well. We are not only trying to push MMA in the U.K. and Ireland but across Europe and the MENA (Middle East and North Africa region) as well. We have great TV and distribution deals and are live on MMAJunkie.com, and I honestly feel that we are not only a show that MMA purists can enjoy but also a show for non-hardcore fans who enjoy seeing quality MMA action.

Big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

André "Benkei" Vinícius Aurnheimer interview

I recently interviewed André "Benkei" Vinícius Aurnheimer, who is an MMA coach best known for physical training at American Top Team. He has worked with fighters like Antonio Silva, Thiago Alves, Gesias Cavalcante and many more.

Benkei does not only work on conditioning and physical training. He and Mohamed Ouali develop striking styles fit for MMA at ATT. In interviews with Manabu Takashima at Gong Kakutougi magazine and Fight & Life magazine,Benkei discussed Kyokushin Karate and provided his knowledge on striking,physical training and nutrition. He also talked about ground and pound knowledge that came from Tameshi-Wari.

I was interested in this. I have talked about Japanese fighters who aren't good at physical training and conditioning, but part of advanced American physical training and nutrition comes from Japanese traditional martial arts.

Benkei has left ATT now, but he continues to coach MMA fighters. Normally MMA coaches are asked about training students but are not asked about where their own training and knowledge came from. This interview is about an MMA coach who has a traditional martial arts background.

- Matsuro Megumi was a Kyokushin fighter who was sent to Brazil by Masutatsu Oyama. How did you start in karate and what was your first encounter with your master?

- I was Judo fighter (old style, no Olympic rules); with 18 years old I want some striking style to complete myself as a fighter (almost 30 years ago)... I trained a little be Kung Fu (Hung Gar style), but that not make me happy... I never use it in fight and always use my ground game to submit easy my opponents... I became friend with the kung fu teacher, and he told me he was training different style of karate... I never like Karate, to stiff style, but when I saw Megumi Sensei style I just Love it... He did not accept me as his students easy... he did not even talk to me for one year when I did start training... he started to talk to me after I trained hard against his old studdents, and did not give up after they destroy my legs. I was there, invited to his original uchi deshi, to that special training!!! I did not give up, but the other guy did not resist to the powerful leg kicks, and asked to stop before the end. After that Megumi Sensei started to talked to me, and made me his new uchi deshi. The time passed and he also became part of my family !!!

 - Kyokushin was focused on physical training and you learned how to build strength from Megumi. Also, part of your MMA coaching skill is developed from Megumi's influence. Please tell me about how Kyokushin and Megumi's philosophy affects your coaching for MMA.

- The first thing come to my mind everyday is dojo kun; in special: - "Hitotsu, wareware wa, shinshin o renmashi, kakko fubatsu no shingi o kiwameru koto". - "We will train our hearts and bodies for a firm unshaken spirit". I guide my life under that principles, my Master was not a big guy, and I am strong but also not taller guy also, that made me work strategically my moves all the time. Megumi Sensei, made me open my eyes an see suntimes the best fighter loose by strategy and hard training. Megumi Sensei always said :  Truth stood on one side and Ease on the other; it has often been so!!! 

 - Kyokushin is known for its emphasis on power. Masutatsu Oyama says, "Techniques exist inside of power." That philosophy distinguishes Kyokushin from other styles of karate. Do you feel that is what you learned from Megumi?

- Yeah, I can give you one good exemple. Take a look at the fighters i trained before and now they bt their own. Thiago Alves just fought against martin kampmann, the technique is almost the same, but the power was not there anymore. When you kick the legs and take it, destroy it by power is one thing! when you continous hit without damage is nothing. you can see it in JZ Calvan also with no power, the Striking and ground and pound, Technique can not be apply!!!

- In karate, students are often subjected to unreasonable amounts of training by their mentor or master. It helps to build a mindset for fighting, but it can also hurt the body. What is your opinion of karate's over-the-top type training?

 - That is the question... To feel the limit between push harder, no give up and sport science  is the Ultimate challenge of my work. The Scientist in me always fight against the kyokushin warrior inside me also. lol... But That is the magic... get the right time between rest, protecting the physical integrity of my fighter and "osu no seishin"- to persevere whilst being pushed . 

- Currently, elite fighters like Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo demonstrate the importance of speed in sports. What is your philosophy on speed and reflexes in karate and fighting in general?

- Speed is the key of power... if you can move fast, you can control the distance... if you control the distance you control the fight. I push so hard the training to get more, and more speed. I must to have the faster fighter in battle. All strategy start in the antecipation, and the speed is the key to get it. The backbone of surprise is fusing speed with accurance. 

 - We have seen more karate-based fighters competing in MMA recently. I find it interesting that some karate fighters lose when using tsuki (hand strikes) against boxers or kickboxers at shorter distances. Karate's tsuki have merit at greater distance and for accuracy of  strikes. Is there any suggestions that you can provide for karate fighters who face boxers or kickboxers at a short distance?

- I saw the light when i saw kazakhstan boxing skills! Use the foot work Constantly in angles, can help karate fighters to get the control over shorter distance. Some old Technique can help also as: Hiji Ate and Shita Isuki!!! "I have not permitted myself to be ignorant of any martial art that exists. Why? Such ignorance is a disgrace to someone who follows the path of the martial arts." ~Masutatsu Oyama~ 

- I read a magazine and found that you had been unable to contact your master Megumi since 2006. Did you find him? If not, please provide a message to the world and the people around Megumi. 

- Not yet... and now I must to!!! My wife is pregnant and my son soon will be here to he can training him. I need the information about where he is, I know he is in Japan now! I know he was with his family in Amami Ōshima ! I wanna go where he is right now, take out my hair and eyebrow also, and ask him to forgive my proud... I did everything because him and to him.... please if anyone know something about him, please send me one email to musahibo@hotmail.com ...."If every man would help his neighbour, no man would be without help." ~Bruce Lee~  osu...
Big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.