Monday, August 20, 2007

A Look at WEC 30

“Razor” Rob McCullough vs. Rich “Cleat” Crinkilton
(WEC Lightweight Championship match)

“Razor” Rob McCullough and Rich “Cleat” Crunkilton are two top lightweights who have stopped all of their WEC opponents and boast unblemished records in the WEC. Both will ride into this match on multi-year win streaks, one of which will unfortunately come to an end.

Look for this fight to be an exciting one. By his own admission, WEC lightweight champ “Razor” Rob McCullough gets “pissed off” when fans boo a lack of action, and says that when he fights, he gets “in there to have fun and entertain people, as well as kick the shit out of someone.” That’s what I like to hear.

In Rich “Cleat” Crunkilton, McCullough faces a very tough guy. In his only loss (to Hermes Franca back in 2003), Crunkilton was in an arm bar late in the final round that actually dislocated his elbow. Crunkilton let out a scream that reached the rafters, but he refused to tap.
Overall, Crunkilton is a sound wrestler who has demonstrated very sound takedowns, solid submission defense, and a punishing ground-and pound game, especially from the guard. In his most recent match, Crunkilton faced Mike Joy, whose three victories up to that point had all come via submission. Nonetheless, Crunkilton seemed to have no trouble taking his opponent down and punishing him from just about every position on the ground.

Crunkilton did not, however, look very strong or confident exchanging with Joy on their feet, and instead opted for the takedown. Ironically enough, Crunkilton finished off a very game, very aggressive Mike Joy after landing a Round 3 kick to Joy’s solar plexus – his only kick of the fight - gaining side control, and securing a d’arce choke for the submission win.

After watching Joy-Crunkilton, two things about Crunkilton’s game are of concern as he heads into a fight with “Razor” Rob: 1) On several occasions (especially at the start of each round), Joy tagged Crunkilton, whose hands were noticeably low, with some solid punches. Keep your hands low against “Razor” Rob, and you’ll be scraping your jaw off the canvas. 2) Though Crunkilton maintained dominant position throughout against Joy, the action was stood up four times, as Crunkilton seemed content to pound away at a tiring Joy and did not seem too eager to pass Joy’s guard.

If Crunkilton can put his ground-and-pound to work against “Razor” Rob, he’s in a good place. If the action is repeatedly being stood up, then he’s only going back to “Razor” Rob’s world, which could be a problem.

Nonetheless, Crunkilton seems very confident heading into the lightweight championship at WEC 30: “McCullough is a good striker, but that is all he brings to the cage. I’ve waited a long time to get recognized as one of the top lightweights in the world, and September 5 is finally my opportunity to show the world that I’m the best there is in the 155-pound division.”

To “Razor” Rob, though, this fight is business as usual. I asked him in an interview a few weeks back how preparation for the very dangerous, very undefeated Rick Crunkilton was going. His answer? “I’ve been doing a lot of ninja training, blind folded. I hear it really works wonders.”

The WEC lightweight champ and five-time World Muay Thai champ has made a name for himself by dismantling the opposition with vicious punches, kicks, knees, elbows, whatever else is lying around. In fact, not only has “Razor” Rob stopped all of his opponents since joining the WEC, but he’s finished them all with strikes. And for this match, the champ is looking to make no exception: “I come to knock every challenger out, and Rich is going to come right after me. That’s why this fight is something fans don’t want to miss, because I’m going to keep my belt with a big knockout.”

“Razor” Rob captured the WEC lightweight belt after punishing fellow kickboxing champ Kit Cope back at WEC 25 in January. The fight didn’t last long (Round 1 TKO), but “Razor” Rob, like Crunkilton, demonstrated good submission defense, pounding his way past attempts by Cope at a gogoplata and an ankle lock. “Razor” Rob is a supremely conditioned athlete whose relentless attack – both on the ground and on the feet – are a tall order for just about any lightweight.

Of the two athletes, “Razor” Rob is the stronger, more explosive, but if Crunkilton can weather the storm of “Razor” Rob’s strikes – which not many have been able to do – and control the champ on the ground, he’s got a good shot at becoming the next WEC lightweight title holder. If, however, he drops his hands like he did against Mike Joy and gives “Razor” Rob room to launch his arsenal of Muay Thai attacks, it’ll be a rough night for him.

Jens “Lil Evil” Pulver vs. Cub Swanson

Jens Pulver, the UFC’s first ever lightweight champion, is making his highly-anticipated WEC debut against Cub Swanson in what many expect to produce the next challenger for WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber.

Dropping down to 145 lbs for this match – and most likely for good – is the Miletich-trained Pulver, who suffered two stoppages losses at 155 lbs. in the UFC (KO’d by Joe Lauzon; choked out by BJ Penn). Jens has fought seven times at or below 145, scoring 6 KOs and 1 submission, so I expect a much better showing from featherweight Jens.

Those who are picking Jens in this fight are most likely doing so with expectations of a KO or TKO, which I can understand. For a guy his size, he packs a monster of a punch and has recorded wins as a professional boxer. Keep in mind, though, that Jens lives and dies by the KO; 13 of his 21 wins have come by knockout, but so have 5 of his 8 losses.

“I can’t wait to put my skills on display in the WEC. Cub Swanson is a tough opponent, and I plan on showing why my nickname is ‘Lil Evil’ by delivering a performance fans will remember,” an always smiling Jens promised.

Across the cage from Jens will be a very tough, very athletic Cub Swanson, who acknowledges Jens’ place in MMA history but remains focused on reaching the top of the WEC featherweight heap: “Jens was a great MMA star and one of the game’s legends, but my time is now. Everybody knows both of us come to fight, but ‘Lil Evil’ is gonna run into a bigger evil in Cub Swanson. I’m going to show the world why I’m the best featherweight in the WEC with a knockout over Jens.”

A knockout over Jens? That’s right, folks. I’m surprised any time I hear that someone actually wants to trade punches with Jens, so I asked Cub about it in a recent interview. His answer was pretty simple: “I feel that the people want to see me knock him out, so that's the plan.” Cub says that he’ll look to take the fight with Jens to the ground “just to mix it up” but feels that the only way he’ll get respect is to stand and bang with Jens. I can’t wait for this fight!

Jens may be the more powerful puncher of the two, but momentum is certainly on the side of Cub Swanson, a jiu-jitsu brown belt with Muay Thai training who lost his first pro fight in 2004 and has since rattled off 11 consecutive wins. Most recently, Cub faced the very tough Micah Miller, against whom Cub exhibited excellent submission defense, as well as fast, strong hands that fly in dangerous combinations.

Cub Swanson is young and hungry and realizes that a win over Jens will make him “a household name.” Cub’s eyes are firmly set on the WEC featherweight championship, but standing in his way is the sprawl-and-brawl master himself, Jens Pulver. Are Jens’ best days in the rear view mirror, or can the legend’s trademark sprawl-and-brawl stop the younger, faster Cub Swanson?

Chase Beebe vs. Rani Yahya
(WEC Bantamweight Championship match)

In addition to the WEC lightweight belt being up for grabs at WEC 30, so too will the bantamweight belt, as champion Chase Beebe and Rani Yahya are scheduled to get it on for 135-pound supremacy.

Chase Beebe is a four-time Illinois high-school state champion wrestler, who – despite earning 9 submission wins in 11 of his pro wins – lists “knockout” as his favorite technique. I haven’t seen too many of Beebe’s fights (only 2 to be exact), but as you might expect, he’s very aggressive on the ground and has a knack for finishing off his opponent with the rear naked choke.

“Rani is an impressive fighter with great grappling skills. I don’t care if I beat him by knockout or with a submission, no one is taking the title away from me,” Chase guaranteed.

“Great” may very well be the apex of understatement when describing Yahya’s fight game. The 22-year-old Rickson Gracie Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt is a three-time World Brazilian jiu-jitsu champ and the 2007 Abu Dhabi world champion. Making matters worse for Chase is the fact that Yahya is dropping down from bantamweight for this fight and should be very strong at 135 lbs.

Against a tough, well-rounded Mark Hominick at WEC 28, Yahya needed just over a minute to choke out the Team Tompkins product in the very first round. Not surprising at all, considering his jiu-jitsu skills. What worried me a bit was how Yahya shot in on Hominick almost desperately. He practically dove in and his shots came with virtually zero set-up. As a result, Hominick was able to sting Yahya with some crisp punches. Yahya forged ahead and eventually got the takedown and the submission win, but I’ll be looking to see if Yahya how Yahya sets up his takedowns in this fight.

“Beebe is an impressive wrestler, but my submissions will be too much for him to handle. I’m not leaving the cage without the belt wrapped around my waist,” said Yahya, and I tend to agree.

If, however, Yahya dives in on Beebe like he did against Hominick, Beebe needs to capitalize on this and punish Yahya with punches. As I said earlier, Beebe loves going for the KO, so that will probably be his best bet in defeating Yahya. Then again, Yahya has never been TKO’d or KO’d, so this could be a tough night for the champ.

When more fights for the WEC 30 card are confirmed, I'll get back to you. Until then, make a note to tune in for all the WEC 30 action on September 5 at 9 PM ET on the Versus Channel.

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