SAN JOSE, Calif., June 9 — If Vitor Belfort (Pictures)’s rematch against Alistair Overeem (Pictures) is remembered, it won’t be for the action — or lack thereof — in front of 10,374 fight fans Friday night at the HP Pavilion.
Neither fighter did much during the 15-minute contest, and so it’s no fun to argue the outcome, which had Overeem a unanimous decision winner.
What was interesting — and what people will likely take with them as this result fades in the distance — is Belfort’s reaction to competing under the eyes of California State Athletic Commission judges, whom he said have no clue how to score mixed martial arts contests.
Susan Thomas Gitlin, an unfamiliar face to mixed martial arts judging, had it three rounds to none for Overeem. (There is no argument in favor of giving Overeem the first.)
While Gitlin had it 30-27 for the Dutchman, Steve Morrow (also a relative newcomer to MMA) and Dan Stell (another fresh face) gave Overeem two rounds to Belfort’s one.
Sherdog.com had it 29-28 for the 26-year-old Overeem, who raised his record to 24-7-0.
“Somebody’s gotta help us,” said Belfort, recalling his controversial decision loss to Tito Ortiz (Pictures) as another example of ill-informed mixed martial arts judging; Sherdog.com scored that bout for Belfort.
“Hey, let’s finish with those judges,” he continued. “Let’s put real judges. People that understand the world of mixed martial arts.”
His complaints, at least on this night, may fall on deaf ears because even though the Brazilian clearly owned the first stanza by slamming Overeem to the floor and briefly taking back-control, his game faded in the second and disappeared until the final 30 seconds of the third.
Afterwards, Belfort said an injured left quad, which occurred during the second period, forced him to step off the pedal. The pain left the 29 year old with little recourse other than pulling guard or flopping to his back — despite this he refused to come to any other conclusion than easy victory.
“This is the second time I got robbed in the States,” he said. “The first time was with Tito and now the second time with Alistair.”
As you might imagine, Overeem saw it quite differently.
“I was getting a little bit frustrated but I knew I was getting some clear shots on the ground,” he said. “I knew I was hurting him on the ground, so if he wants to drop back into guard and if I can punish you there, of course I will.”
By the middle of the second, fans had a pretty consistent reaction to Belfort’s tactics. Of course the boo birds weren’t aware that he’d been injured.
A do over of an April 2005 PRIDE Grand Prix contest in which Overeem submitted Belfort via guillotine choke, Friday’s fight was for relatively low stakes.
Both fighters’ performances reflected that.
Having fewer tools at their disposal, said Overeem, took “the pace of the fight away.” Belfort, meanwhile, enjoyed the rules — just not the judging.
Tonight’s card offered a far different set of circumstances than Strikeforce’s March effort when it made history as California’s first regulated mixed martial arts card and set a North American attendance record of 18,256.
But if Belfort (13-7-0) gets his way, tonight might be the genesis of something far more important than attendance records.
“The problem with the mixed martial arts right now, we gotta pressure the boxing commission because this is not a boxing fight,” he said. “This is not a Muay Thai fight. They need to learn more the grappling. I wasn’t pulling him to my guard and staying there. I was sweeping him. I was mounting. I was getting the back. I was hurting him with good shots from the top.”
So says Belfort.
But it is clear that since California began regulating MMA, state-appointed judges have rendered their share of questionable decisions.
When asked if stateside judging would keep him from competing here again, Belfort said he was unsure.
Melendez Takes Title
Tonight’s promoter, Scott Coker, knows now that when he signs Clayton Guida (Pictures) to fight, he’s going to get his money’s worth.
For the second consecutive Strikeforce bout, the 24-year-old lightweight from Johnsburg, Ill. went 25 minutes before a winner could be decided.
But unlike his lopsided decision win over Josh Thomson (Pictures) in March, which gave him the promotion’s 155-pound title, Guida took it on the chin against a world-tested Gilbert Melendez (Pictures).
Northern California’s Melendez officially took a split decision, as judges Gitlin (50-45) and Morrow (50-45) had it a shutout for Melendez. Meanwhile, Jon Schorle turned in a scorecard of 48-46 for Guida, though he told Sherdog.com after the fight that Melendez won all five rounds and that his scorecard was incorrect. Sherdog.com scored it 49-46 for the new champion.
“Gil deserved it,” said Guida, who fell to 19-5-0. “In my eyes he beat me five rounds to nothing.”
Melendez opened the championship fight by shutting the door on Guida’s first two takedowns and putting the scrappy wrestler on his back. Neither man could effectively hold the other down and Melendez’s early advantage signaled the beginning of an exciting back-and-forth clash.
With just over a minute remaining in the first period Melendez, still undefeated at 10-0-0, landed the heaviest punch of the fight: a diving right hand that plowed into Guida’s face just as he sat up.
Yet Guida kept coming.
In the second, he attempted to sink in a rear-naked choke while clinging from the 23-year-old’s back.
“I thought it was over,” Guida said. “I thought I had him.”
As Melendez defended the choke, he moved Guida slightly to the right, then reached back and grasped the former champion’s head, flinging him like a soccer ball during a throw-in.
“I call it the ‘hoolahoop’: Swing ‘em to the front and drop ‘em on their head,” Melendez said.
The floppy-haired Guida crashed headfirst onto the canvas and appeared woozy moments later when the fight returned to the feet. Melendez, now starting to counter, connected twice with left hooks in response to lazy spinning attacks.
The third began much the same as rounds one and two. Shutting the door on everything Guida could offer, Melendez appeared to take full control of the fight. But halfway through the period Guida offered signs of life, scoring with short punches while he moved forward.
Melendez’s momentum had, at the very least, ebbed by the time action moved into the championship rounds. But the former SHOOTO 145-pound No. 1 contender came out intent on reasserting control. Stopping shots with regularity, Melendez stood in front of his unrelenting foe and bounced punch after punch off Guida’s fight-worn face.
In the fifth Guida continued with the gutsy effort that helped him endure 20 minutes with Melendez, taking the top half of the round. But a big double-leg takedown from the new champion stymied any sort of late rally.
“I was prepared for a war,” Melendez said. “I expected a war. And that’s what I got.”
Even in defeat Guida showed himself to be a legit threat at 155. Yet against a fighter the caliber of Melendez, Guida could not get away with relying solely on takedowns. The absence of elbows to the head on the floor did not play a significant factor, as neither man worked long enough from the top.