MMA Review: #591: WFA 4: King Of The Streets

-Ah, the WFA. Sometimes when you look back on old stuff it doesn’t quite feel as old, if that makes sense, but the brief resurgence of the WFA in 2006 literally feels like eons ago now. I think it’s probably because they were the first promotion to really try to challenge the UFC – obviously PRIDE was around at that point too but they were always Japan-focused – and since then we’ve seen countless pretenders from the IFL and Affliction to Elite XC and StrikeForce.

Anyhow for those of you that weren’t around back then, the WFA was initially started up by former UFC fighter John Lewis in 2001 – they did three shows and then quietly folded, until new owners took over in 2006 and immediately did what every wannabe UFC competitor seemed to do – sign fat contracts with dudes on the outs with Zuffa, in this case Matt Lindland, Ivan Salaverry, Ricco Rodriguez and Mayhem Miller. Next, they signed up Rampage Jackson (fresh from his PRIDE run) and Bas Rutten (returning from retirement) as well as some other top free agents (Lyoto Machida, Rob McCullough, Urijah Faber, Carlos Condit and Heath Herring, although the latter three never fought under the WFA banner) and immediately talk started of them giving ‘real competition’ to the UFC because they “treated fighters properly” and all the usual jazz. Unfortunately for them that wasn’t the case – they did this one show to a bunch of fanfare from hardcore fans, but it didn’t garner casual interest and bombed on PPV, doing under 50k buys, and soon after their follow-up show was cancelled and they were bought out by Zuffa, mainly so that the UFC could get Rampage and a handful of the others. Maybe if they’d have managed to sign Tito Ortiz (who at the time was a huge star and a free agent, but he wound up back with UFC) things would’ve worked out differently, who knows. I never did manage to watch that lone show though so here we are. The wonders of Fight Pass, as per usual!

WFA 4: King Of The Streets

Los Angeles, California

-Your hosts are Barry Tompkins, Stephen Quadros and Bill Goldberg (!) who totally dwarfs Tompkins in a comical visual. And then a potentially hammered Phil Baroni joins us to talk about the odds for the fights and REALLY struggles and this is fucking FANTASTIC.

Lightweight Fight: Razor Rob McCullough vs Harris Sarmiento

This was a rematch of an earlier fight between the two at WEC 9, where Sarmiento had picked up a decision – the last time McCullough had been beaten. As Razor Rob was one of the guys the WFA were looking to push (and had apparently improved since the first fight) the idea was clearly for him to avenge his loss to the Hawaiian journeyman.

Round One and it must be said that the whole show has a really Spartan feel with a white mat and all the lights dimmed. More reminiscent of the pair of Affliction shows than like, StrikeForce or Bellator. Few low kicks land for Razor Rob and he avoids a quick flurry from Sarmiento pretty easily. Superman punch glances for McCullough. Couple of inside low kicks follow. This is a pretty slow pace thus far. Really nice leg kick gets through for McCullough. Tompkins for the record is just an appalling play-by-play guy as Quadros is almost having to do both PBP and colour commentary too. More leg kicks get through for Razor Rob and Sarmiento is barely doing anything in response. Crowd are booing loudly now and rightfully so. Doesn’t seem to faze McCullough though as he continues to pick at the Hawaiian with his leg kicks. Nice body kick lands for McCullough. Right hand into a leg kick has Sarmiento slightly buckled, but Razor Rob is showing very little urgency. Few more strikes land for Razor Rob to end the round. 10-9 McCullough but it was a terrible round.

Round Two and both men throw out leg kicks to begin as the commentary just seems to be getting worse. Goldberg apparently knows his stuff but just isn’t a commentator and Tompkins absolutely sucks. Quadros is okay but he has nothing to play off. Why am I not talking about the fight? Because it sucks too. Sarmiento is doing nothing and McCullough is doing barely enough to get by. To be fair his leg kicks are pretty awesome. Finally with half of the round gone Sarmiento catches a low kick and takes Rob down, only for him to pop right back up. Sarmiento tries a combo but eats a quicker counter-combo from McCullough who is winning this fight easily. Another exchange sees Razor Rob get the better of the strikes, but he’s not really following up even now. Takedown is stuffed by Razor Rob and the round ends with both men clinched. 10-9 McCullough.

Round Three and McCullough opens with some more leg kicks and combos. Sarmiento tries one of his own, but Rob catches it and throws him down to the ground, following him into the full guard. Sarmiento immediately works back to his feet though and we’re back at square one again. More of the same follows, with the crowd booing as Razor Rob picks at Sarmiento from the outside. Not much more to say really as neither man is showing any urgency. I have no idea what Sarmiento’s even trying to do here. They clinch with a minute to go but nothing happens from there either as Goldberg jokes about eating too many burgers and fries. They trade knees from the clinch and that’s the fight. Got to be Razor Rob’s decision. Goldberg calls it an entertaining fight but maybe he had it on fast-forward? He then slams the crowd for booing which isn’t fair I don’t think, I get respecting the fighters but it’s also entertainment, you know?

Judges all have it 30-27 for Rob McCullough, unsurprisingly. This was however one of the worst fights I’ve ever seen, as McCullough did just about enough to win while Sarmiento basically did nothing in the whole fight. It’s no wonder Razor Rob was put in the WEC rather than UFC when Zuffa bought the promotion out, judging by this.

Super-Heavyweight Fight: Ricco Rodriguez vs Ron Waterman

Like the previous fight this was another rematch from an earlier WEC fight – that one had seen Waterman grind out a largely dull decision that arguably cost Ricco a possible UFC return, as prior to that fight he’d been on a four-fight win streak. As with the previous fight too it was quite clear that Ricco was the guy the WFA were pushing and so they wanted him to avenge his loss as well. The fight was also taking place at Super-Heavyweight, with a fat Ricco weighing in at 298lbs while Waterman looks roided to the MAX. Like Scott Steiner or something.

Round One and Ricco lands an opening right hand and dodges a combo from Waterman. He continues to bounce on the outside and throws some jabs before clinching, and Waterman muscles him up into the fence. Takedown attempt from Waterman but Rodriguez blocks it. Nice right hand lands inside for Ricco and he continues to defend the takedown. He spins around and almost manages to escape, but gives his back standing and Waterman transitions from that into another single leg attempt. Rodriguez keeps on defending though and he separates with a pair of knees. Nice right hand connects for Ricco and he follows with another that has Waterman hurt. Ricco looks to flurry, but Waterman clinches and forces him into the fence to slow him down. More shots land for Ricco and he sprawls to defend the takedown, then breaks with a knee again. Few more punches land for Rodriguez and Waterman looks gassed to me. Big right hand hurts him again and he ducks for a takedown that Ricco stuffs. Ricco is just landing at will now. Waterman’s punches look terrible too. Ricco shrugs off another takedown and stuns him with some more punches, and this looks like it’s about over. Waterman manages to hang on though and the round ends before Rodriguez can finish. 10-8 round for Ricco.

Between rounds they decide smartly to stop the fight as Waterman’s in no fit state to continue; basically looked like a combination of Waterman completely gassing out and Rodriguez landing some really good punches standing and being able to defend the takedown. Ricco looked excellent here even totally out of shape and he’s still one of the all-time MMA what if’s to me, like if he’d have stayed in shape and kept himself on the straight and narrow he could well have ended up as a legitimate UFC great I think, which is insane. Fight was fun and washed away the stench of the previous one at least.

Middleweight Fight: Ivan Salaverry vs Art Santore

Salaverry had actually been in title contention in the UFC about a year before this, as he’d upset rising star Joe Riggs at UFC 52 and was becoming a bit of a recognizable name as part of Tito Ortiz’s crew. Sadly for him though he ended up being involved in a stinker of a fight with Nate Marquardt in the main event of the first Fight Night show (!) and as he came off on the wrong end of the decision Zuffa ended up cutting him loose. Once he signed with the WFA though the story suddenly became that it was an unfair release that Zuffa were using to “send a message” to Tito. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Anyway, as one of the WFA’s bigger stars he was given a relatively comfortable-sounding opponent here in the form of KOTC journeyman Santore – one of those easily recognizable fighters who won a bunch of fights but never really got to the highest level.

Round One begins and Santore fires off with a head kick right away and they trade pretty wildly with Santore completely swinging with his chin up. Salaverry smartly circles out away from that, and then pops Santore with a right hand. Couple of leg kicks land for Salaverry as Santore continues to chase forward swinging. Salaverry’s leg kicks are looking excellent here. Nice step-in knee lands for him too. More leg kicks land for Ivan and he does a great job of avoiding Santore’s punches. Beautiful combo lands for Salaverry ending in a kick to the body. Salaverry continues to pick Santore apart, landing with more leg kicks and then a knee from the clinch. Combo lands for Salaverry, who is worryingly leaning back away from the punches of Santore, leaving his chin a little open. Salaverry’s combos look great though. Takedown attempt from Salaverry is stuffed, but he lands a head kick to end the round. Clearly Salaverry’s round.

Round Two and Santore physically looks beaten up. He comes out swinging, but again Salaverry plays the matador and circles away from Santore, landing more kicks to the body and legs. Left hand does catch Salaverry but he gets on the run to avoid the barrage. Brief trade sees Salaverry go down, not sure if he was dropped or shoved down, but Santore follows him down into the guard anyway. Announcers mention it was a clash of heads that sent him down. Referee calls a crazy quick stand-up as Santore doesn’t do a lot from the top, and Salaverry gets back to picking at him from the outside. One-two lands for Santore but Salaverry makes him pay with a head kick that lands pretty cleanly. Vicious body kick connects for Ivan. Another head kick also lands and he dodges a rush from Santore. This is such a great showing from Salaverry. More kicks connect for him as Santore continues to walk right into them. Big right head kick wobbles Santore with a minute to go, and Salaverry follows with a flurry and drops him with a left hand! Santore looks about done and Salaverry pounces into full mount and finishes him off with punches on the ground.

That was a tremendous showing from Ivan Salaverry – he played the perfect matador, working the on-rushing Santore over with kicks from the outside, and by using so many leg and body kicks, it opened Santore up later on to take the head kick that lead to the finish. Probably Salaverry’s last great performance actually as he waited a year almost to get back to the UFC following this, but lost his next two fights there (vs. Terry Martin and Rousimar Palhares) and then faded from view after that.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Jason Mayhem Miller vs Lodune Sincaid

Mayhem was another of the guys supposedly on the outs with Zuffa at this stage, apparently stemming from the idea that they wanted to push him as a prospect following his entertaining fight with GSP at UFC 52, but rather than sign to fight Josh Neer at UFC 54 as he was offered, he dropped out on late notice to sign a deal with Hawaii’s Icon Sport (the former Superbrawl) for reasons I’ll never understand to this day. I mean sure, maybe they were offering more money but had he signed with the UFC he’d probably have become a legit star as he’d have had his prime years there. This was a rare excursion up to 205lbs for him, although his previous fight had been an Openweight one with unskilled “giant” Stefan Gamlin. Opponent Sincaid had made his name on the original TUF series – he was in the first ever TUF fight in fact, being KO’d by Bobby Southworth – and after leaving the UFC he’d pulled a big upset on James Irvin to win the WEC LHW title. Despite the size difference though Mayhem was the clear favourite here.

Mayhem is outright saying his fighting style is “pro-wrestling” and he’s fully into the wacky persona – apparently hailing from Parts Unknown even! – although we don’t get to see his entrance.

First round gets underway and Mayhem comes out throwing some wild kicks that he uses to set up a takedown attempt. Sincaid blocks it and so Mayhem locks up a plum clinch to deliver some knees, before dropping for a single leg again. Lodune again defends it well and manages to force Mayhem into the fence, but Mayhem spins him around quickly and goes back to using knees to the body. They continue to exchange from the clinch before Mayhem snaps Sincaid down with a front facelock and looks to spin to take the back. One hook in for Mayhem and the second follows and Lodune is in trouble. He stands with Mayhem on his back, but Mayhem locks up a body triangle to control him and then opens up with some hard punches to the head. Mayhem keeps looking for the choke but can’t quite sink it, and then he loses the right hook, so he traps an arm instead and lands some punches from a reverse mounted crucifix. Hooks are back in with a minute to go but Sincaid slips free and winds up on top in half-guard. He goes to work with punches to the body, but a leglock attempt from Miller allows him to spin free and take the back again. This time he gets both hooks in and flattens Sincaid out, then locks up the rear naked choke for the tapout.

Post-fight Mayhem celebrates with some breakdancing which is always cool, no dangerous GSP-style backflip though. This was basically a squash as Sincaid just got owned in all areas; Mayhem didn’t show much stand-up but his clinch work looked fantastic as did his ground game. To me he remains a massive missed opportunity, as if he’d signed with the UFC while he wouldn’t have won a title he could’ve been a contender, probably would’ve headlined a bunch of free-TV shows and probably would’ve made more money too. Hindsight and all but he really made a bad decision I feel in not just staying with them in 2005.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Lyoto Machida vs Vernon White

Machida – then hilariously known at points as ‘Ryoto’ due to (I think) mistranslation from the Japanese accent (!) – had garnered hype with the hardcore fans at this point as he’d gone 7-0 in his career in Japan and had beaten both TUF star Stephan Bonnar and the then-UFC Middleweight champ Rich Franklin. He’d also beaten a bloated BJ Penn, but don’t worry about that one! Tiger White meanwhile had settled into a role as a veteran gatekeeper, so most people saw this fight as a set-up type thing for Machida.

Round One and it seems like the announcers are expecting fireworks from Machida. He of course comes out in his now-trademark karate stance, but White actually catches him cleanly with a rushing left hand and gets him down into guard! Machida seems okay and works a high guard, but Vernon shrugs off a triangle attempt and stands over him. White kicks at the legs with Machida still on his back, and the crowd boo until Lyoto pops back up. Leg kick lands for Lyoto. Hard straight left follows and stuns White, but he recovers quickly. Another straight left wobbles White as he throws a low kick. Machida was so fast here. Another low kick into a left land for Lyoto and he dodges a counter left from White, just about avoiding it. Couple more punches miss for White due to Lyoto’s reflexes, and he lands with a lunging left hand again. Wild rush misses for White. Body kick connects for Lyoto. Crowd begin to boo again for some reason – probably just not understanding Machida’s style – but White lands with a low kick. Round ends with a quick Machida combo. Crowd aren’t into this at all.

Round Two and White clearly looks a bit baffled by Machida’s game. A rushing combo misses for miles for him and then he walks right into a hard straight left from Machida. White is missing nearly everything he’s throwing here although he does land with a leg kick. Beautiful leg kick from Lyoto. Crowd are just furious with this as Lyoto’s just picking his shots and showing no real aggression, everything is perfectly timed and calculated. Leg kick almost takes White off his feet but still doesn’t impress the crowd as he follows that by dodging a flurry. One-two snaps White’s head back but Lyoto is quickly out of range when Tiger tries to respond. Head kick also glances for Lyoto. One minute to go now and another counter left lands for Lyoto. It’s almost hilarious to hear the boos for this knowing how popular Lyoto would become two or three years later. Another trademark Lyoto move – the foot sweep – grounds White with seconds to go and Lyoto drops into the guard and lands an elbow. Round ends with some Lyoto hammer fists. This is absolutely classic Lyoto Machida.

Round Three and White opens with an inside leg kick, but Lyoto responds with one of his own. Announcers are acting like this is a close fight which is insane as outside of that early knockdown, White’s had pretty much nothing outside of hitting air. Head kick glances for Machida. Body kick answers for White but a low kick buckles his leg. Lunging right jab connects for Machida. Another low kick causes White to stumble. He seems more tentative now too. Flurry misses for him and Lyoto counters with a really easy takedown into side mount. Action slows down a lot from there as Vernon prevents Machida from stepping into full mount. Just under two minutes to go and Machida does mount him, but White shrimps out and then gives his back in the turtle position. Machida manages to get both hooks in though and pulls him down, taking full back control, but he pretty much slides off to the side so he can’t get the choke. Sure enough White stays calm and spins over into Lyoto’s guard. Lyoto ties him up from the bottom, then opens up with some hammer fists to the side of the head. Illegal upkick seems to land but the ref ignores it and allows them to stand. Seconds to go now and White grabs a clinch, but Lyoto throws him off and then takes the back standing as the fight ends. That was practically all Lyoto Machida.

Official scores are 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 all for Lyoto Machida. Crowd boo that verdict and the announcers talk about Lyoto playing it safe, but of course we’d find out down the road that it was just Machida’s style and once he started becoming more comfortable and opening up – in the UFC around 2008 basically – he became a much more exciting fighter to watch and became wildly popular too. Crazy how things work out really because of all of the fighters on this card (outside of Rampage) it was Lyoto who ended up going on to the most stardom and after seeing the reaction to this you never would’ve believed that. As far as fight quality, if you like Lyoto you’d love this fight regardless of the boos. I enjoyed it just for the comedy value of how pissed off the crowd were more than anything else.

Heavyweight Fight: Bas Rutten vs Warpath

Despite Bas having been retired since 1999 (!) his signing was seen as a bit of a coup for the WFA – sure, he was 41, but he was still a massively popular and recognizable fighter and he’d also retired at the top rather than after a string of losses. His original opponent was supposed to be fellow pioneer Kimo Leopoldo, but naturally he got popped for steroids prior to the event and so the WFA brought in Warpath – a scary looking dude but not exactly the best fighter – on short notice, meaning a win for Bas was almost inevitable despite his layoff.

Fight begins and Warpath pushes forward, but walks right into a hard left hand. Big right hand follows and Warpath look stunned. He tries to push forward but Bas looks much quicker than him and he lands a front kick to the body to keep distance. Beautiful combo from Bas and shit, Warpath’s chin is good at least. Right hand and a jab to the body land for Rutten. Warpath looks suddenly much more tentative. He manages to bull into a clinch, but Bas quickly separates and gets out of range. Winging left hook sets up a nasty right hand for Bas. Couple of punches miss for Warpath but he lands a knee from close range. Brutal leg kick lands for Rutten. He’s taking some deep breaths now though. Wild punches from the clinch land for Warpath but Bas replies with some of his own and then separates. Another really bad leg kick hurts Warpath and a follow-up buckles his knee badly. Straight right follows and another leg kick connects too. Warpath can’t seem to get hold of Rutten now and he’s limping. Another leg kick drops him HARD and the ref calls it there as the guy is in AGONY.

Bas looked pretty great with his striking there and the crowd loved it as did the announcers, but to be fair Warpath was practically a moving target rather than a live opponent and even then, Bas did appear to get a little tired. Probably for the best that he went back into retirement after this – it’s always better for a legend to go out on top rather than on their shield, and Bas is evidently smart enough to know that too. I’m never going to complain about seeing Bas in action though and this was of course awesome – those leg kicks in particular were phenomenal.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Rampage Jackson vs Matt Lindland

So yeah, 2005/6 was the first flashes of the Rampage we know and love today, as he suddenly went from loving Japan and being happy in PRIDE to being furious with the way they treated him, and once his contract was up following a win over Yoon Dong Sik, the rumor was he was heading to the UFC for a rematch with Chuck Liddell. Instead though he ended up being the WFA’s marquee signing – labelling the UFC the ‘U Fight Cheap’ as apparently the WFA were willing to shell out more money for his services. Original plan supposedly involved him fighting Tito Ortiz but when the WFA couldn’t come to terms with Tito, in stepped Lindland for the first of many big-money fights that ended up drawing jack shit. Never been a fan of Lindland’s, sorry, and this was him at his most insufferable too, with a bunch of hardcore fans on his bandwagon calling him the #1 Middleweight in the world – basically because he’d been chopped by Zuffa for being a dull fighter to watch and/or wearing a banned t-shirt that advertised a gambling website. Of course said fans figured he’d been cut so Rich Franklin could avoid him (which was bullshit as Rich never ducked anyone and I still maintain he’d have mauled Lindland in 2005/6 anyway) and that awful ‘Fighting Politics’ documentary followed soon after. This was a rare move up in weight for him and despite me not being his biggest fan, I did wonder how Rampage would deal with his stifling wrestling game.

Round One and Lindland wings a left hand right into the clinch, but Rampage spins him around and forces him into the fence. They exchange some short punches to the body before Rampage picks Lindland up and hits a BIG BODYSLAM down into side mount! Lindland manages to clamp his legs around Rampage’s right arm for a second to keep control of him, and then he looks for a possible guillotine and uses it to get back to his feet with his back to the fence. Both men continue to exchange shots inside the clinch, staying busy, with a decent elbow to the head allowing Lindland to switch and force Rampage back into the fence. Right hand breaks for Rampage for a second but Lindland clinches instantly and then hits a slam of his own, before taking the back standing as Quinton pops up! One hook in for Lindland but Rampage blocks the second and works to free himself. Lindland decides to drag him down from behind, but Rampage manages to free himself and he gets on top before Lindland hits a SLICK reversal to take the back again! He gets one hook in again and starts to work for a possible choke, but Rampage defends and manages to avoid the second hook from going in too. Lindland keeps working for the choke though and for a second it looks locked up, but somehow Rampage manages to survive and then throws Lindland off! He lands on top in butterfly guard now and drops a few punches to end the round. That was great. Lindland’s round for that choke attempt.

Round Two and Lindland throws something that we miss due to a replay, ugh. He follows by clinching again and then separates with a sharp backfist. Why didn’t he fight like this all the time? Low kick sets up another left hook into the clinch for Lindland. Rampage manages to force him back into the fence and they continue to exchange dirty boxing, and this time Rampage lands with a hard, short uppercut and a couple of heavy knees to the body. Guillotine attempt from Lindland, but Jackson picks him up and SLAMS HIM DOWN to get his head free. Side mount for Rampage now and the crowd are massively into this one. Knees to the body land for Rampage but Lindland looks for a reversal, reaching under and rolling into his own single leg attempt. Rampage manages to defend that, but Lindland pushes him into the fence again. Rampage breaks and stuns Lindland with a VICIOUS COMBO, then hits a slick trip throw as Lindland clinches again. That was an awesome sequence. Kimura attempt from Lindland and he uses it to roll onto his knees and then reverse up, driving Jackson into the fence. This might be the best Lindland fight ever. He drops for a single leg, but Rampage manages to defend it well. More dirty boxing follows from both men and the round ends in the clinch. Rampage’s round to even things up, tremendous action again.

Round Three and Lindland throws a body kick and then misses on a left hook, but it allows him to clinch again and force Rampage into the fence. This time he busts out the old school Marco Ruas foot stomps, but Rampage switches position on him and forces him back into the fence. Both men continue to jockey for position, and it’s impressive to see them working this hard in the clinch in the third round really. Just under three minutes to go and Rampage gets free, and immediately he tags Lindland with a combo and stuffs a takedown. Head kick (!) glances for Lindland but Rampage seems okay. Another takedown attempt is stuffed by Jackson and he swings for the fences, but Lindland grabs a guillotine attempt and pulls him in tight again. Rampage drops to his knees, then looks for a slam, but Lindland tightens up on the guillotine and drops to his back. Rampage tries to free his neck but he’s in trouble here. He manages to pop his head free though, and now he’s on top in Lindland’s guard. Lindland looks exhausted. Short punches land for Rampage and he seems content to stay on top, and with thirty seconds to go this might be it. Lindland is all busted open now and Rampage opens up with a flurry before allowing Lindland to stand to end the fight. Super-close fight and it comes down to the third round; I think I’d go with Rampage by a hair.

Judges have it 29-28 Lindland, 29-28 Rampage, and 29-28 to give Rampage the split decision. This was an AWESOME FIGHT though – probably a FOTYC for 2006 in fact. I remember hearing a lot of people cry robbery at the time but I think it was close enough to go either way and I suspect the people screaming robbery were the same ones who thought Lindland got dicked over by the UFC. I digress though, this was probably the best Lindland fight I’ve ever seen and had he always fought like this, he probably would’ve been pushed a lot more by the UFC anyway. But yeah, there was a lot of clinching but they both worked hard, some of the wrestling sequences were fantastic, and the slams added a lot to the fight as well.

-Show ends with a brief highlight reel and a promise that the WFA will be back in October, ha.

Final Thoughts….

I remembered this show getting pretty bad write-ups at the time and so I was expecting just a historical curiosity, but in reality WFA 4 is a pretty decent show. Granted McCullough/Sarmiento was diabolical and the rest of the card sans Rampage/Lindland is full of squashes, but for the most part those squashes were fun, the Machida fight was fascinating and Rampage/Lindland was a FOTYC for 2006. So yeah, check this one out on Fight Pass and just skip over the opener. Thumbs up for WFA 4.

Best Fight: Rampage vs. Lindland
Worst Fight: McCullough vs. Sarmiento

Overall Rating: ***3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: