Hammer fists, Muay Thai clinches, rear naked chokes and superman punches are just a few of the words that have entered our vernacular over the years. They are also techniques enjoyed from afar rather than up-close and physical. For me anyway.
Local extreme fight cards are high-level. Tulsa boasts of several main card fighters on the national and world stage.
"I can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking my head up a bull's ass, but I'd rather take a butcher's word for it." I agree with Tommy Boy. Let's hear from UFC Light Heavyweight David Heath.
Tulsa Combat Fitness, formerly Mikey's Gym, is a true melting pot. It was also the scheduled meeting spot for my one-on-one with Heath. His training partner, Tom Jones, was running the gauntlet (taking on several fighters back-to-back with no rest) when I entered their house.
"So, you have a lot of Babalu questions?" Heath asked me from his spot on the mat. Well, of course. I, like many other fight fanatics, was curious. It was one of the most intriguing storylines of the year. We'll get to the UFC 74 fight in a minute. A better starting point would be Heath's current place in the UFC.
First of all, Heath couldn't be more engaging. A few minutes with him and you're thinking computer technician, his former job, not ultimate fighter.
He has two fights left on his UFC contract, which, in his words, means- "Exactly nothing. One of (the UFC's) loopholes in the contract says that one of the reasons they can 'accelerate' the contract is if you lose."
Heath is coming off back-to-back losses. They are the first two blemishes on his otherwise stellar record.
"Technically I've got two fights left but they could release me from it simply because I lost.
But they told me that they are going to use me on an upcoming card." January and February cards are filling fast.
Recently, the UFC has headlined MMA web sites for reasons other than in-ring action. A contract dispute between the organization and Randy Couture, the current heavyweight champion, has engulfed the imagination of every keyboard warrior on countless message boards.
The difference between "retired" and "resigned" is worlds apart when lawyers are involved. Respect or money? Either way, it may end up being an epic battle when these two powerhouses settle the score outside the Octagon.
"I know that Randy knows he's only got so many fights left in him." Randy wants to fight MMA's version of Ivan Drago. The problem is he doesn't work for the UFC.
"To get beat by less than the best would take away from his legacy. If they brought Fedor (Emelianenko, the Russia Cyborg) in and he got beat by Fedor, then hey, he got beat by arguably the best in the world. But if he takes a fight with somebody of lower caliber and gets beat, then maybe some of the mystique is taken away," said Heath.
Mixed Martial Arts has come a long way. The pay scale does not match that of boxing's elite. However, an average payday of one million dollars per fight is the estimated take home purse for Couture. On the other hand, how much does the UFC pocket from the ultra-marketable fighter's presence on a card?
"If they do want him to fight the lesser caliber fights then they are going to have to throw some more money at him. I think it's a good move on his part all the way around," said Heath.
BOK All the Way
I may be crazy, and trust me, I've been called worse, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why the Tulsa Sports Commission hasn't secured a date with a UFC pay-per-view event in 2008. Some believe the best way to open the BOK Center is with Garth Brooks. Yes, that is a fantastic, conventional way to think inside the box.
You want to pack the place to the rafters and have an influx of out-of-town money pour into the economy? Hold a UFC event. Tulsa has two well-known fighters on their roster, Heath and his former training partner Matt Wiman. I stress former. I wouldn't even rule out the possibility of Mikey Burnett re-entering the Octagon one last time. For the right price of course.
Oklahoma City can contribute the light heavyweight up-and-comer Matt Grice to the home-talent infused card. Am I crazy to try and stick a round peg through a round hole? Couldn't Tulsa pull it off with flying colors?
"You know, absolutely. That's been talked about. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see them come back here. They've been here before (UFC 4 Revenge of the Warriors)," agreed Heath.
Respect-- Or Lack Thereof
"The weigh-in was different in the sense that it was tense. Babalu got in my face and was genuinely trying to intimidate me. I've had a stare down with every person I've fought and it was, to one degree or another, tense but still professional or sportsmanlike. I didn't get that from Babalu," said Heath of the well publicized UFC 74 undercard bout between him and Renato "Babalu" Sobral.
The fight and especially the aftermath reverberated throughout the MMA world.
"I don't think he was trying to be disrespectful but it just kind of caught me off guard- somebody really trying to intimidate me. It kinda got my blood boiling a little bit. I got back in his face. It got a little heated. Some words were said.
"What I said, I really didn't mean it disrespectfully. It was just kind of a heat-of-the-moment thing. I think if it wasn't a cultural difference there- I don't think it would have been taken as disrespectful as he took it. Shit happens. Whatever," Heath recalled.
Fireworks-a-plenty and they're still at the weigh-ins. Rumors floated around the Internet about an alleged T-shirt worn by Heath displaying a mug shot of Babalu.
"Absolutely not. Any person who says I did that-- tell them to produce a picture of it. Show me a picture," Heath said adamantly. A fan did give Heath a similar T-shirt but, "it never saw the light of day," he confirmed.
The fight itself didn't go the way Heath planned. Babalu ended the clash by choking Heath out at the 3:30 mark of the second round. Sobral applied an anaconda choke. He held the choke approximately five seconds after Heath had tapped. The referee forcibly removed Babalu from around Heath's neck.
The adrenaline-filled Brazilian was interviewed by Joe Rogan minutes after the fight. Babalu admitted holding the choke longer than normal-- "to teach (Heath) a lesson." The real teacher, the UFC, taught the student, Babalu, a real lesson. His $25,000 win bonus was withheld by the Nevada Athletic State Commission and the UFC released him from contractual duties.
"Not to take away from his performance because he showed up motivated and did a great job but anybody who knows me and trained with me knows that there were factors going into that fight. I just would like to fight him down the road under different circumstances. Simply because I know I can beat him," Heath said.
The Brazilian has released scripted statements. The type of apology that reads more like, "Sorry I lost out on money and the UFC deal" than "Sorry I held the choke." His camp has made no attempt to reach Heath's. Heath doesn't seem to care.
"I think everyone expects me to have a grudge against Babalu. Be angry at him personally. And I'm not. As far as his actions, I think that's his business. When I tapped after that choke, it was a subconscious tap that I don't remember doing. The last thing I remember thinking was I knew I was caught and I remember just laying my arm down to go to sleep," he said of the seconds before he went night-night.
"As soon as I laid my arm down, you can see on the video it comes back up and taps. I don't remember that," he said. "He got up and admitted to (holding the choke) which, again- his business. That caused him a lot of problems and really put a negative light on the sport that I wish he hadn't done."
Heath trains fulltime. Thanks to his sponsors- Warrior Wear, American Fighter, Century 21 and All Pro --he hasn't had a 'real' job in about a year. I find it interesting that no local business has jumped into the realm of sponsoring a local fighter.
Aside from his pay, what would Heath change about the UFC? "You get a guy like Clay Guida or guys like, who's the 170 pounder who just trashed Diego? Jon Fitch.
"Guys like that who are just killin' themselves on undercard fights to prove themselves and they are not getting paid nearly an amount that these other guys are. I understand, it's all business---it's all name recognition."
He's not advocating large contracts for newbies into the sport. But the level of increases after having proven themselves should escalate at a more rapid pace.
There must be a happy medium between underpaid MMA fighters and overpaid boxers. The sport is still in its infantile stages and these kinks should iron themselves out in due time.
For now, Heath awaits the next call from the UFC. Me, like hundreds of thousands of others, I'm just scanning the dial for more MMA.
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