After knocking out one of the legends of mixed martial arts, it was easy to expect Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou to continue the onslaught against all comers.
But fighting at the highest levels of the sport is not quite that easy.
Last December, the fighter known as the African Assassin finally tasted defeat.
Now the aggressive fighter originally from Cameroon returns to the octagon on May 24 to face Japan’s Kazuhiro Nakamura in UFC’s “Ill Will” fight card at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino.
Sokoudjou seeks redemption.
“I pretty much choked in the cage,” says Sokoudjou. “Every time you lose you want to fix what doesn’t work.”
But there is a lot of talent to work with especially when more than a few MMA experts compare the 24-year-old Sokoudjou to a fighter named Quinton “Rampage” Jackson due to his strength and raw power.
“I think he’s a big, strong kid,” said Juanito Ibarra, who trains Jackson. “He had some success in Pride. They just threw him to the wolves but he had some success.”
It’s that raw power that turned out the lights against Brazil’s legendary Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in their encounter two years ago. As if to prove it again, he added another Brazilian, Ricardo Arona, to the list of victims who had their power cut off.
Sokoudjou was very confident when he entered the cage last Dec. 29 to face his third Brazilian opponent, Lyoto Machida. Especially because of that fighter’s reputation as a standup fighter schooled in karate.
“I was a little bit surprised on the ground,” said Sokoudjou, who expected the fight to be decided by punches or kicks. “He was mainly a karate guy.”
Machida opted for plan B and fought mostly on the ground with a variety of jiu-jitsu moves instead of the kicks and punches, and forced a submission via arm triangle choke.
“I didn’t do what I was supposed to do,” Sokoudjou said. “Pretty much things didn’t go my way.”
Though he trained intensively at Team Quest in Temecula and planned for various options, the easy-going African fighter entered the arena sub-par and just plain didn’t feel at his best.
“The key part is to go in and fight your fight,” Sokoudjou said. “Mentally as a fighter I have to be ready.”
Ironically, Sokoudjou faces a fighter Machida beat last September by decision after three rounds.
“I know he’s an experienced fighter, well-rounded and a judo player,” he says.
Nakamura, who fights out of Tokyo, prides himself as a judo fighter and wants to display its merits in the cage.
Ibarra, who is preparing his fighter Jackson to fight Forrest Griffin on July 5, thinks Sokoudjou’s strength will be the difference.
“He has strength. Unbelievable strength,” Ibarra says of Sokoudjou.
Can that strength translate to wins for the Cameroonian?
“Of course, every time you lose you want to fix what doesn’t work,” Sokoudjou says.
On the same fight card Machida will be fighting Tito Ortiz.
“I’ll be watching it,” he says.
And fans and opponents will be watching Sokoudjou, anxious to see if the talent can return to his winning ways.
Fedor in L.A.
Russia’s Fedor Emelianenko arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday to announce his fight with former UFC heavyweight world champion Tim “The Maine-iac” Sylvia.
Emelianenko, who is considered by many fans and experts to be the top MMA fighter in the world pound for pound, will fight Sylvia on July 19 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. The heavy-duty fight card is co-promoted by Roy Englebrecht Events and M-1 and is called “Affliction: Banned.”
It will also be shown on pay-per-view.
“Tim Sylvia is a very good opponent who is known for his hitting power,” said the Russian fighter Emelianenko (27-1) who specializes in Sambo, a fighting style developed for commandos during the Soviet regime. “It will be a very interesting match.”
Sylvia, who left UFC on mutual terms, said it’s a great test.
“I pretty much knew it could happen,” said Sylvia (24-4) who attended the press conference held at the Westfield Mall in Century City. “It was just a matter of when.”
Emelianenko arrived in a T-shirt looking like any normal person on an 80-degree sunny day. Sylvia also arrived wearing a t-shirt and looked very comfortable knowing he’s going to try his skills against the heavyweight master.
“It’s an honor,” said Sylvia as more than 300 people looked on at the posh shopping mall located between ritzy Beverly Hills and swanky Westwood. “I have nothing but respect for Fedor.”
More than 100 people lined up along a stretched-out velvet rope to get an autograph from the Russian fighter, who has fought only once in the U.S., at PRIDE 32.
Also present at the press conference were Josh Barnett, Ben Rothwell, Pedro Rizzo, Mike Whitehead and Fabio Nascimento. Those expected to participate on the fight card but not present were Matt Lindland, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and perhaps Emelianenko’s brother Aleksander Emelianenko.
Tickets for the event are still on sale. The promoter expects a sellout. For tickets and information call Honda Center (714) 704-2400 or Ticketmaster.
Brazilian female fighter suspended
Brazil’s impressive Carina Damm who scored a victory over Rancho Cucamonga’s Sophie Bagherdai, was found with traces of steroids after undergoing testing following that bout that took place on April 3, 2008 at the Shrine Auditorium.
According to tests, Damm tested positive for Nandrolone.
Damm was reportedly signed by EliteXC to participate in an upcoming fight against Debi Purcell, but was suspended for one year by the California State Athletic Commission and fined $2,500.
Fights coming up
Friday May 23 – Tuff-N-Uff at Tropicana Casino and Resort at Atlantic City, New Jersey. (800) 345-8767.
Friday May 23 – RFC XII: “The Comeback” at A La Carte Pavilion in Tampa Bay, Florida. (813) 831-5390.
Saturday May 24 – UFC 84: “Ill Will” at MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. (800) 646-9143.
Video: MMA from NBC Sports
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