Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Quarterly MMA Rankings (April 29, 2015 Edition)

An all-new, less than reverential, semi-regular feature quantifying the best the world of mixed-martial-arts has to offer!

Although I haven't posted a "real" Rocktagon update here in more than a year, I remain a pretty faithful MMA fan. Of course, with so many lackluster shows being shat out as of late, I really haven't found the impetus to make my way out into the world and actually watch a UFC PPV in quite some time. With some fairly stacked, star-studded shows on the docket, though, hopefully this upcoming summer will prove more 2010-ish than 2014-ish.

Seeing as how every half-hearted sports website in the world has their own recurring divisional MMA rankings, I decided what the hey! I have more than enough experience with the wacky, whimsical world of mixed martial arts to publish my own damn rankings, which from here on out, will be a quarterly "special report" at The Internet Is In America. There's no real specified timeframe for when I plan on running these things, but I will try to put out at least four a year (but for the more anal combat sports fans out there, let's just throw out February, May, August and November as our tentative quarterly report windows.)

And with all of the pretext and pretense out of the way, let's get this countdown rolling, why don't we?

Heavyweight Division

1.) Cain Velasquez  (13-1-0-0)
     Last Bout: Win, vs. Junior dos Santos (October 19, 2013)
     Next Bout: vs. Fabricio Werdum (June 13, 2015)
     Last Five Bouts: 4-1

This one seems like a foregone conclusion if there ever was one. "The Terminator" has looked all but unstoppable thus far into his MMA career, proving his sole UFC loss against Junior dos Santos was a fluke when he stomped "Cigano" into the canvas in two revenge matches. Having flayed Antonio Silva alive twice in the Octagon now, the reigning (and oft-injured) Heavyweight Champion will next defend his strap on June 13, when he faces Brazilian submission wunderkind Fabricio Werdum in Mexico City.

2.) Fabricio Werdum (19-5-1-0)
     Last Bout: Win, vs. Mark Hunt (November 15, 2014)
     Next Bout: vs. Cain Velasquez (June 13, 2015)
     Last Five Bouts: 5-0

The current UFC Interim Heavyweight Champion was set to to tussle with Velasquez late last year, but an injury instead put Werdum up against Mark Hunt for a placeholder belt. Having not lost a bout since summer 2011, Werdum looks to pull off yet another monumental upset in a few weeks, when he takes on the defending UFC Heavyweight Champion in a Mexico City title unifier. The match-up will be the first for Velasquez in 20 months ... and it's scheduled almost five years to the day that his opponent shocked the MMA world by submitting Fedor Emelinenko.

3.) Junior dos Santos (17-3-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Stipe Micoic (December 13, 2014)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 3-2

In every sense of the word, dos Santos is a bad motherfucker. Having only dropped two bouts thus far into his UFC career (both being one-handed losses to current strap-bearer Velasquez), dos Santos remains a perennial title contender, thanks in no small part to Zuffa's relatively thin heavyweight division. Following an impressive beatdown of Stipe Miocic late last year, dos Santos is still awaiting word on his next foe. Needless to say, all he needs is probably one more "W" before he is once again catapulted into a championship bout. 

4.) Andrei Arlovski (23-10-0-1)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Antonio Silva (September 13, 2014)
Next Bout: vs. Travis Browne (May 23, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

The Pit Bull's shocking comeback is further proof that you can never really count anybody out in the world of MMA. Undefeated since making his return to the UFC last year, Arlovski hasn't lost a bout since 2013 (to, of all people, Anthony "Rumble" Johnson) and hasn't been finished in a fight since 2011. After stopping Antonio Silva last fall, Arlovski sets his sights on Travis Browne at UFC 186 -- expect a W in that bout to put him in a Heavyweight Championship eliminator before year's end.

5.) Travis Browne (17-2-1-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Brendan Schaub (December 6, 2014)
Next Bout: vs. Andrei Arlovski (May 23, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

For a time, at least, it seemed like Travis Browne was destined to be the Great White...err, Hawaiian...Hope for the UFC Heavyweight Division. After rattling off three consecutive first round knockouts of Gabriel Gonzaga, Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett, it seemed like a title shot was all but guaranteed for Oahu native. Then, he put in an abysmal performance against Fabricio Werdum, which guaranteed it would be quite a while before he ever got a sniff of UFC gold. Alas, Browne did rebound with a nice KO victory against Brendan Schuab; he gets an opportunity to continue along the road to redemption when he faces a resurgent Andrei Arlovski at UFC 186. 

6.) Vitaly Minakov (14-0-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Cheick Kongo (April 4, 2014)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 5-0

The former four-time Sambo world champion and current Bellator Heavyweight champ is arguably the best heavyweight fighter on the planet not currently signed to a Zuffa contract. Undefeated since going pro in 2010, the 30-year-old Russian still has plenty of time left to carve out an even greater legacy for himself in the sport. While he didn't exactly put on a stellar showing in his last title defense, there is no denying that he's a force to be reckoned with ... after all, it was his first fight in the company thus far where he didn't end up punching someone unconscious.

7.) Ben Rothwell (34-9-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Alistair Overeem (September 5, 2014)
Next Bout: vs. Matt Mitrione (June 6, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 3-2

The IFL graduate has had something of a career resurgence as of-late. After getting choked out by Gabriel Gonzaga in Brazil two years ago, "Big Ben" has won two consecutive matches via TKO, chalking up impressive finishes of both Brandon Vera and Alistair Overeem. He will have an opportunity to potentially put himself in the running as one of the UFC's top five heavyweights in early June, when he goes toe-to-toe with Matt Mitrione. 

8.) Stipe Miocic (12-2-0-0)
Last Bout: Loss, vs. Junior dos Santos (December 13, 2014)
Next Bout: vs. Mark Hunt (May 10, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 3-2

Even in losing to Junior dos Santos late last year, the UFC's other Croatian heavyweight looked pretty damn good, taking "Cigano" a full 25 minutes in what was easily one of the best main events of 2014. Outside of that loss and a 2012 bruising at the hands of Stefan Struve, Mioci has had a sterling record in the UFC, going 6-2 since joining the promotion in 2011. He gets a chance to climb up the rankings when he does battle with grizzled vet Mark Hunt on May 10.

9.) Alexey Oleinik (50-9-1-0
Last Bout: Win, vs. Jared Rosholt (November 22, 2014)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 5-0

While there are some heavyweight prospects outside of the UFC with arguably more potential -- Marcin Tybura, Tony Johnson and Denis Goltsov immediately come to mind -- there probably isn't a ZUFFA-contracted fighter within the division with as much upswing right now as Oleinik. The 37-year-old Sambo specialist is currently riding a 12 fight win-streak, having finished Anthony Hamilton and Jared Rosholt in the first round of his last two bouts.

10.) Matt Mitrione (9-3-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Gabriel Gonzaga (December 13, 2014)
Next Bout: vs. Ben Rothwell (June 6, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

Riding a three-fight win streak (all first-round finishes, by the way), Mitrione definitely had one hell of a 2014. Despite some ugly losses to the likes of Brendan Schaub and Roy Nelson over the years, Mitrione definitely has a lot of unburned potential. His next opportunity to prove his meddle comes early this summer, when he tangles with Ben Rothwell. 

Light Heavyweight Division

1.) Jon Jones (21-1-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Daniel Cormier (January 3, 2015)
Next Bout: vs. Anthony Johnson (May 23, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 5-0

OK, it's WAY too easy to make a joke about cocaine here, but the fact of the matter is, on crack or off, Jon Jones is probably the most dominant fighter on the planet right now. After overcoming Lyoto Machida's counter-punching, solving Alexander Gustafsson's troublesome range and actually outwrestling Daniel Cormier, I'm not quite sure how anyone is going to defeat him. Will Rumble's relentless, in-your-face close-range attack be the approach that finally upends "Bones?" Looks like we're just going to have to wait until  Memorial Day to find out (that, is, unless he winds up in the pokey for his latest escapades in Albuquerque before then, anyway.) 

2.) Anthony Johnson (19-4-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Alexander Gustafsson (January 24, 2015)
Next Bout: vs. Jon Jones (May 23, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 5-0

In a sport known for out-of-nowhere comebacks, Johnson's unexpected career resurgence has to be among the most surprising in MMA history. After languishing as a welterweight for several years (hard to believe it, but he actually dropped bouts to the likes of Rich Clementi), he wound up hitting the indie circuit, alternating bouts as a heavyweight and light heavyweight. Since being called back up to the UFC in 2014, Johnson has looked absolutely incredible, wrecking Phil Davis, Lil' Nog and Alexander Gustafsson. On May 23, he gets the chance of a lifetime, as he does battle with longtime Light Heavyweight strap holder Jon Jones. The question is, can Rumble's inside, aggressive striking strategy work against someone with the daunting range -- and impeccable defensive jabbing -- of Jones?

3.) Daniel Cormier (15-1-0-0)
Last Bout: Loss, vs. Jon Jones (January 3, 2015)
Next Bout: vs. Ryan Bader (June 6, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

For the first time in his career, world champion wrestler Cormier tasted defeat when his ground-and-pound strategy proved ineffective against Jon Jones in January. Even with that one-loss blemish on hsi record, there is no denying that Cormier is a top-tier 205-pounder. With a victory over Ryan Bader in a few weeks, he very well could be seeing himself in another championship bout by year's end.

4.) Alexander Gustafsson (16-3)
Last Bout: Loss, vs. Anthony Johnson (January 24, 2015)
Next Bout: vs. Glover Teixeira (June 20, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 3-2

The home-country advantage didn't do much for the lanky Swede, who got steamrolled earlier this year by Anthony Johnson. With a rematch against Jon Jones seemingly off the table for quite awhile, the Ryan Gosling-lookalike will have to climb his way back up the divisional rungs. His first step on the path to redemption? A bout against ferocious Brazilian striker Glover Teixeira in late June.

5.) Ryan Bader (19-4-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Phil Davis (January 24, 2015)
Next Bout: vs. Daniel Cormier (June 6, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

Although his wins haven't exactly been the most dominant in the world, Bader's ongoing four-fight victory streak is nonetheless noteworthy. After dismantinling Phil Davis in Stockholm, Bader gets to go one-on-one with Olympic-caliber grappler Daniel Cormier -- needless to say, a victory there would most definitely raise the stock of "Darth Bader," and considerably.

6.) Phil Davis (13-3-0-1)
Last Bout: Loss, vs. Ryan Bader (Jauary 24, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 3-2

When "Mr. Wonderful" has looked good in the Octagon, he has looked terrific. However, despite some impressive performances over the years, when Davis gets beat, he tends to get beaten horrifically, as was the case in his bouts against Ryan Bader and Anthony Johnson. Recently abandoning Planet UFC for the greener pastures of Bellator, Davis has a pedigree worthy of an instant title-shot; as to which Davis we will see when he makes his company debut, however, is anybody's guess.

7.) Liam McGeary (10-0-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Emanuel Newton (February 27, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 5-0

The undefeated Brit scored an impressive upset over Emanual Newton to claim the Bellator Light Heavyweight championship in February. A skilled striker and submission artist, the 32-year-old possesses all of the tools needed to have a long, prosperous career in the sport. With Bellator's paper-thin division, however, you really have to wonder how long it will be before McGeary starts thinking about testing the waters at ZUFFA -- and if he truly has what it takes to go mano-e-mano against some of the UFC's heaviest lightweight hitters.

8.) Quinton Jackson (36-11-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Fabio Maldonado (April 25, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

With his crushing defeat of Fabio Maldonado at UFC 186, the returning Rampage is currently riding a four-fight winning streak. Alas, it's pretty easy to be suspicious about the 36-year-old's long-term viability within the division. Then again, as the startling second-wind success of fighters like Anthony Johnson and Andrei Arlovski have demonstrated, it may not be the wisest idea to count Jackson out this early into his second UFC tour of duty.

9.) Ovince St. Preux (18-6-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Patrick Cummins (April 18, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

With the exception of a decision loss to Ryan Bader last August, OSP has looked pretty damn good inside the Octagon, chalking up some impressive victories over the likes of Shogun Rua, Ryan Jimmo and Nikita Krylov. While the Strikeforce import definitely has some holes in the game, he is clearly becoming a more complete fighter. Give this guy a couple of more wins, and in a year or two, he actually could be a title contender.

10.) Glover Teixeira (22-4-0-0)
Last Bout: Loss, vs. Phil Davis (October 25, 2014)
Next Bout: vs. Alexander Gustafsson (June 20, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 3-2

For quite some time, the Brazilian striker looked all but unstoppable. Then, he ran headlong into Jon Jones, and frankly, he hasn't been the same fighter since. Following that lackluster performance with an even less respectable showing against Ryan Bader, "Tex" definitely needs a win in the worst way to regain his one shiny reputation. That's going to be a tall order ... literally ... since his next scheduled foe is a super-pissed Alexander Gustafsson, who will no doubt look to make short work of Glover to get himself back in title contention.

Middleweight Division

1.) Chris Weidman (12-0-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Lyoto Machida (July 05, 2014)
Next Bout: vs. Vitor Belfort (May 23, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 5-0

Although Weidman had some trouble against Machida in his last title defense, the Middleweight Champion is undeniably a well-versed and well-rounded grappler and striker ... I mean, the dude DID knock off Anderson Silva twice, after all. At UFC 187, he defends his belt for the first time in close to a year against Vitor Belfort. a dreaded veteran known for his flashy striking finishes (and also, failing more steroid tests than Chael Sonnen and Josh Barnett combined.) As one of the most versatile fighters in all of MMA, Weidman will certainly look to mix things up offensively and defensively against his Brazilian adversary ... or at least pray really hard that the NSAC does a thorough job of examining the post-fight urine samples.

2.) Vitor Belfort (24-10-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Dan Henderson (November 9, 2013)
Next Bout: vs. Chris Weidman (May 23, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

Every time "The Phenom" fights, oddsmakers chalk up two different sets of wagers in their books; one whether or not he will win his latest fight, and another whether or not the outcome of said bout will be overturned because of elevated testosterone levels. With a May showdown against current Middleweight title holder Chris Weidman slowly creeping up, Vitor has an opportunity to once again wrap UFC gold across his waist -- an absolutely astonishing prospect, considering he made his company debut during the Clinton Administration.

3.) Luke Rockhold (14-2)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Lyoto Machida (April 18, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

Don't look now, but the Strikeforce import has finished off four opponents in a row since getting his head kicked off by current number one contender Vitor Belfort in 2013. As evident by his submission victories over Lyoto Machida and Michael Bisping, Rockhold is no doubt a threat on the ground, and as apparent by his body kick finish of middleweight pretender Costas Philippou, the dude knows how to murder-death-kill people standing, too. As impressive as his last victory was, it wouldn't be all that surprising if he wound up challenging the victor of Weidman/Belfort later this year for UFC gold.

4.) Ronaldo Souza (22-3-0-1)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Chris Camozzi
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 5-0

As one of the best BJJ artists in the world of MMA (hooray for acronyms!) "Jacare's" climb towards UFC middleweight contender-hood hasn't been the easiest row to hoe. Currently riding an EIGHT-FIGHT win streak, Souza has somehow been overlooked for an eliminator bout for close to two years now. How awesome would it be if he finally got that "next-in-line-to-be-the-next-in-line" match-up against Luke Rockhold -- the very last fighter to best him in battle?

5.) Anderson Silva (34-6-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Nick Diaz (January 31, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 3-2

Following a year-long layoff due to that horrendous leg injury in late 2013, "The Spider" certainly looked like his old self when he outpointed Nate "My Anti-Drug" Diaz earlier this year. Unfortunately for Silva, he did so while apparently on the 'roids, which for some reason, is the kind of thing athletic commissions across North America tend to frown upon. While it may be a while before he is legally cleared to fight in the Octagon again, there's no denying that a fighter with his pedigree nonetheless deserves a spot in the top five middleweight rankings.

6.) Yoel Romero (9-1-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Tim Kennedy (September 27, 2014)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 5-0

The Afro-Cuban Strikeforce alum has quietly made his way up the UFC's middleweight rungs, winning five consecutive fights since joining the organization in 2013. His knockout performance against Tim Kennedy last September was a big wake-up call to the rest of the division -- the self-professed "Soldier of God" is more than capable of beating the holy hell out of many an unfortunate soul who steps inside the Octagon.

7.) Thales Leites (25-4-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Tim Boetsch (January 31, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 5-0

While Leites will probably forever be known as the dude who tried to Fred Ettish his way out of a title fight against Anderson Silva, the 33-year-old Brazilian has had a rather remarkable -- if not completely unheralded -- comeback, winning eight pro fights in a row dating back to 2010. Undefeated since returning to the UFC in 2013, he has chalked up some rather impressive victories over the likes of Francis Carmont and Tim Boetsch. It's pretty hard to not see him in the title contention fray if he puts up two or three more victories -- something I NEVER thought I would say following that match from 2009.

8.) Mamed Khalidov (30-4-2-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Brett Cooper (December 6, 2014)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 5-0

The 34-year-old Chechen brawler is unquestionably the best 185-pound fighter on the planet not currently under a ZUFFA contract. Riding high on a 10-fight win streak (which includes finishes of Melvin Manheof, Matt Lindland and James Irvin), the "Cannibal" is definitely a threat whether he's vertical or horizontal. The big question, of course, is whether or not he feels the need to test himself outside of the Polish circuit -- needless to say, he would make for a great addition to the UFC's already packed middleweight division.

9.) Tim Kennedy (18-5-0-0)
Last Bout: Loss, vs. Yoel Romero (September 27, 2014)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

The former U.S. military man was on a four-fight winning streak up until he clashed with Yoel Romero. While his next fight hasn't been solidified, Kennedy will no doubt by eyeing a top-ranked opponent to gain back a little of the luster he lost last September. A solid striker and submission artist, he's every bit the fighter Brian Stann wished he could have been.

10.) Kelvin Gastelum (11-1-0-0)
Last Bout: Loss, vs. Tyron Woodley (January 31, 2015)
Next Bout: vs. Nate Marquardt (June 13, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

Despite being named after a unit of measurement, the 23-year-old fighter is no joke. Although he may have dropped his last bout against Tyron Woodley, he was a sterling 10-0 in his previous fights, which included some impressive performances against the likes of Jake Ellenberger and Uriah Hall. The Ultimate Fighter 17 winner now looks to test the waters of the UFC's middleweight division, with 185-pound veteran Nate Marquardt serving as his first post-welterweight adversary.

Welterweight Division

1.) Robbie Lawler (25-10-0-1)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Johny Hendricks (December 6, 2014)
Next Bout: vs. Rory MacDonald (July 11, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

Having made his UFC debut in 2002, Lawler was the definition of a journeyman fighter. After spending a decade bouncing from promotion to promotion, he resigned with ZUFFA in 2012, earning impressive victories over Rory MacDonald, Matt Brown and Jake Ellenberger en route to his split decision, belt-clinching performance against Johny Hendricks last December. A tenacious fighter, Lawler is known for keeping a relentless pace ... something the man next in line to do battle with him is well aware of.

2.) Rory MacDonald (18-2-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Tarec Saffiedine (October 4, 2014)
Next Bout: vs. Robbie Lawler (July 11, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

As soon as he joined the UFC, many analysts had MacDonald pegged as the heir apparent to Georges St. Pierre. Having gone 7-2 since joining the promotion, the Canadian standout has had few disappointments inside the Octagon. Later this summer, he gets a chance to avenge one of those losses, when he battles current Welterweight champ Robbie Lawler for a second tilt at UFC 189.

3.) Johny Hendricks (16-3-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Matt Brown (March 14, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 3-2

After being screwed out outpointed of the Welterweight championship in a 2013 battle against GSP, "Big Rigg" achieved some level of vindication when he bested Robbie Lawler for the vacated 170-pound championship last year. Unfortunately for the rough and tough Texan, the good times only lasted a few months, as he would drop the belt to Lawler in a rematch later that year. After an impressive showing against Matt Brown, one has to assume that Hendricks isn't that far removed from a title eliminator belt ... or perhaps even another crack at UFC gold.

4.) Tyron Woodley (15-3-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Kelvin Gastelum (January 31, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

The second most famous person to hail from Ferguson, Mo., Woodley has had a fairly inconsistent run in the UFC. That said, despite some pretty ugly losses to Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald, he has shined quite a bit in his last two outings, knocking out Dong Hyun Kim and outpointing an overweight Kelvin Gastelum. If he can chalk up two or three more quality W's, it's hard to not see him challenging for the 170-pound title this time next year.

5.) Hector Lombard (34-4-2-0)
Last Bout: No Contest, vs. Josh Burkman (January 3, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 3-2-0-1

Having never been finished, the Cuban striker has applied his craft all over the world, knocking dudes out in PRIDE, EliteXC,Bellator and the UFC. While he has had some questionable losses under the ZUFFA banner, he has also looked pretty damn stellar in fights against Rosimar Palhares and Jake Shields. Alas, after pissing positive for steroids after his last bout, it looks like it will be quite some time before we see Lombard do his thing inside the Octagon.

6.) Ben Askren (15-0-0-1)
Last Bout: No Contest, vs. Luis Santos (April 24, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 4-0-0-1

The undefeated wrestler is one of the most accomplished to ever compete in MMA, having won a multitude of NCAA, USA Wrestling and International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles championships, in addition to a number of submission grappling trophies, too. The longtime Bellator Welterweight champ jumped ship to ONE FC last year; as quite possibly the best non-ZUFFA-employed fighter in all of MMA, you really have to wonder why Dana and company haven't already inked him to a multi-fight UFC deal by now.

7.) Ben Henderson (22-5-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Brandon Thatch (February 14, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 3-2

The WEC Lightweight Champion turned  UFC Lightweight Champion recently jumped up a weight class, looking pretty damned good against Brandon Thatch in his 170-pound debut. Whether or not Bendo can hang with the top-tier fighters in the division remains to be seen, but considering his past successes outside of the division, it would be ill-advised to disregard him as a future contender.

8.) Matt Brown (19-13-0-0)
Last Bout: Loss, vs. Johny Hendricks (March 14, 2015)
Next Bout: vs. Nate Diaz (July 11, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 3-2

An ex-junkie who earned his nickname "The Immortal" after surviving a heroin overdose, the former smack addict is now routinely laying the smack down on his opponents in the UFC. Despite dropping his last two bouts (against the last two UFC Welterweight champions, it is worth noting), Brown looks to get back to his winning ways when he wages ware against Nate Diaz later this summer.

9.) Douglas Lima (26-5-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Rick Hawn (April 18, 2014)
Next Bout: vs. Andrey Koreshkov (July 17, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 5-0

Having lost just one fight since 2010 (to Ben Askren), the current Bellator Welterweight Champion is definitely a solid all-around fighter, with some of the heaviest hands in any 170-pound division. He next does battle with Andrey Koreshkov in July; with a dearth of talented competitors in his current company, will he eventually seek out greater challenges in the Octagon?

10.) Rousimar Palhares (17-6-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Jon Fitch (December 13, 2014)
Next Bout: vs. Jake Shields (August 1, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 3-2

Although Palhares' batshit crazy antics inside the cage have, at times, reached almost Paulo Filho-like levels, the ferocious BJJ fighter is definitely a dude you don't want to mess with. Then again, would you really expect anything less out of a fighter whose nickname translates to "Little Tree Stump?" The World Series of Fighting Welterweight Champ will defend the strap against Jake Shields in August, a bout which pits one of the most entertaining fighters on the planet up against...well, Jake Shields.

Lightweight Division

1.) Rafael dos Anjos (24-7-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Anthony Pettis (March 14, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

Dos Anjos' victory over Anthony Pettis earlier this year was one of the biggest upsets we've seen in MMA in quite awhile. Then again, dos Anjos has put up a rather impressive resume, scoring impressive wins over Ben Henderson, Nate Diaz and Donald Cerrone en route to his Lightweight belt-earning performance. An extraordinarily talented BJJ grappler with heavy hands, he's definitely equipped with all the tools needed for a long championship reign.

2.) Anthony Pettis (18-3-0-0)
Last Bout: Loss, vs. Rafael dos Anjos (March 14, 2015)
Next Bout: vs. Myles Jury (July 25, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

He may have stumbled in his last bout, but that was a rare sour note for what has otherwise been a brilliant ZUFFA career. Having subbed Benson and Gilbert Melendez and knocked out Cerrone and Lauzon, he's throttled among the best the 155-pound division has to offer. Unless dos Anjos literally knocked the effort out of him, expect Pettis to climb back into title contention much sooner rather than later.

3.) Donald Cerrone (27-6-0-1)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Ben Henderson (January 18, 2015)
Next Bout: vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov (May 23, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 5-0

An absolute workhorse, Cerrone is known for fighting his heart out every time he steps inside the cage. So far this year, he's already defeated Ben Henderson and Myles Jury -- over the span of 15 days, no less. "Cowboy" receives a much-deserved title-eliminator bout at UFC 187, where he will face suplex virtuoso Khabib Nurmagomedov to determine Rafael dos Anjos' next championship challenger.

4.) Khabib Nurmagomedov (22-0-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Rafael dos Anjos (April 19, 2014)
Next Bout: vs. Donald Cerrone (May 23, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 5-0

The undefeated Russian wunderkind wants a piece of Rafael dos Anjos; after all, Khabib has already bested him once in the Octagon. The gifted submission specialist -- who can also knock a dude out as well as toss him around the cage like a ragdoll -- faces a stiff, stiff challenge in the form of Donald Cerrone next, in a May contest that has "fight of the year" written all over it.

5.) Will Brooks (16-1-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Dave Jensen (April 10, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: 5-0

Having lost just one bout his entire career (interestingly enough, to some no-name called Saad Awad), Brooks has bested top-ranked Bellator lightweight Michael Chandler twice now, in addition to taking out challengers such as Dave Jensen and Alexander Sarnavskly. Seeing as how the competition in Bellator is a bit sparse, is it only a matter of time until the 29-year-old gives the UFC the old collegiate try?

6.) Gilbert Melendez (22-4-0-0)
Last Bout: Loss, vs. Anthony Pettis (December 6, 2014)
Next Bout: vs. Eddie Alvarez (June 13, 2015)
Last Five Bouts:3-2

For years, Melendez was considered one of the top lightweight fighters on the planet, even heralded by some as the absolute best on the planet. Alas, things haven't exactly gone swimmingly for "El Nino" since he signed with the UFC, having gone 2-1 since 2013. He gets a chance to add another "W" to his record at UFC 188, when he does battle with Eddie Alvarez in Mexico City.

7.) Michael Johnson (16-8-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Edson Barboza (February 22, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD
Last Five Bouts: (4-1)

Riding a four-fight win streak, Johnson has knocked off several 155-pound veterans, among them Edson Barboza and Gleison Tibau. The 28-year-old still has plenty of years ahead of him; expect his stock to rise considerably by the time 2016 rolls around.

8.) Al Iaquinta (12-3-1-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Jorge Masvidal (April 4, 2015)
Next Bout: TBD.
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

With wins over Jorge Mavidal, Joe Lauzon and Ross Pearson, the New York native and Matt Serra prodigy is on a four fight winning streak. Expect him to become a much, much bigger name in the division over the next few months.

9.) Tony Ferguson (18-3-0-0)
Last Bout: Win, vs. Gleison Tibau (February 28, 2015)
Next Bout: vs. Josh Thomson (July 15, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 5-0

"El Cucuy" is on a five fight tear, with quality wins over Gleison Tibau, Abel Trujillo and Danny Castillo. He meets Josh Thomson in San Diego this July, in what should be, if nothing else, a fun little striking showcase.

10.) Myles Jury (15-1-0-0)
Last Bout: Loss, vs. Donald Cerrone (January 3, 2015)
Next Bout: vs. Anthony Pettis (July 25, 2015)
Last Five Bouts: 4-1

"The Fury" experienced his first loss as a pro MMA fighter in January, when he gave up a decision victory to Donald Cerrone. With previous wins over Michale Johnson, Diego Sanchez and Takanori Gomi, however, Jury still has plenty to boast about; he faces his greatest challenge to date in July, when he is set to tussle with former WEC and UFC Lightweight Champ Anthony Pettis.

...and the rest of the rankings...

Featherweight Division

1.) Jose Aldo (25-10-1-0)
2.) Conor McGregor (17-2-0-0)
3.) Chad Mendes (17-2-0-0)
4.) Patricio Freire (23-2-0-0)
5.) Max Holloway (13-3-0-0)

Bantamweight Division (Male)

1.) T.J. Dillashaw (12-2-0-0)
2.) Renan Baroa (35-2-0-0)
3.) Urijah Faber (32-7-0-0)
4.) Frankie Edgar (17-4-1-0)
5.) Dominick Cruz (20-1-0-0)

Bantamweight Division (Female)

1.) Ronda Rousey (11-0-0-0)
2.) Alexis Davis (16-6-0-0)
3.) Bethe Correia (9-0-0-0)
4.) Miesha Tate (16-5-0-0)
5.) Cat Zingano (9-1-0-0-0)

Flyweight Division

1.) Demetrious Johnson (21-2-1-0)
2.) Joseph Benavidez (21-4-0-0)
3.) Jussier da Silva (17-3-0-0)
4.) John Dodson (17-6-0-0)
5.) Zach Makovsky (19-5-0-0)

Strawweight Division (Female)

1.) Joanna Jedrzejczyk (9-0-0-0)
2.) Jessica Aguilar (19-4-0-0)
3.) Livia Renata Souza (8-0-0-0)
4.) Carla Esparza (11-3-0-0)
5.) Claudia Gadelha (12-1-0-0)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Five Greatest Fictitious Boxing Matches of All-Time!

A tribute to the most amazing slugfests ever waged by wholly made-up people.

After half a decade of delays, the two best boxers of our generation will finally square off next week. No doubt a match-up that will shatter Pay-Per-View buyrates (thanks in no small part to the mind-numbing $99 ordering fee), Mayweather vs. Pacquiao has all the makings of a Sweet Science classic. If things go right, it very well could be the most important fight since Ali vs. Frazier, potentially kicking off a renewed national interest in the sport -- which, believe it or not, was once more popular than football, basketball and every form of auto racing you can think of combined.

Then again, it could be an absolute debacle and yet another shameful black eye to the sport's reputation, like the infamous second Tyson and Holyfield tilt and, to a much, much lesser extent, the hilarious Money vs. Ortiz kneeslapper from 2011 (a bout, it is worth noting, that remains more famous today for Larry Merchant's post-fight awesomeness than the match itself.)

Alas, whether the fight is every bit as awesome as Hagler/Hearns or Corrales/Castillo I or just a big, fat, stankin' shit fest, it will at least answer a question pugilism fans have been debating since George W.'s second term of office. Yeah, some are already bitching and bellyaching about how the fight would've turned out had the two fought in their alleged "primes," but frankly, we ought to be thanking our lucky stars we're even getting the bout at all. Unlike with MMA "dream match-ups" like Fedor vs. Brock Lesnar or Anderson Silva vs. GSP, we'll never have to wonder "what could've been" after May 2.

With the media limelight firmly focused on boxing for the first time in what seems like ages, that got me thinking about some of the other in-ring classics we've had over the years -- those being, the super-memorable boxing bouts featuring people who don't really exist. Who among us could ever forget Charlie Chaplin's iconic Tramp getting the shit mercilessly beat out of him in "City Lights," or Chuck Bronson's bare-knuckle slobberknobber against Nick Dimitri at the end of "Hard Times," or the exploits of Martel "Too Sweet" Gordone as a prize fighter wrongly imprisoned for murder three separate times across three separate movies, including one where he's mentored by Mr. T and another where he's trained by a subterranean crack-smoking midget rapist?

As such, I've decided to peruse through the wide, world of fictitious film and television pugilism to pluck out what I consider the five greatest make-believe boxing bouts of all time. Some are legitimately riveting facsimiles of actual boxing contests, while others are rather hilarious (if not scornful) parodies of what the industry of boxing has become. The only real requirement here is that the fights themselves have to at least somewhat abide by the normal rules of boxing, so while unsanctioned street fist fights are eligible, I disqualified anything that included any sort of shenanigans that wouldn't be allowed in a "real" bout -- so that means nothing with kicking, choke holds, body slams or use of weaponry makes the countdown. And with those caveats cleared out of our way, who among us are ready to motherfucking rumble?

Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed I
Rocky (1976) - Philadelphia, Penn.

Well, it would be pretty hard to talk about great fictitious boxing matches without talking about the greatest fictitious boxer of all-time, who incidentally, also made up one-half of the greatest fictitious fights in the history of cinema. 

Quite possibly my favorite movie ever, "Rocky" is actually kinda-sorta-but-not-really based on the real-life story of Chuck Wepner, a no-name boxer who got the chance of a lifetime against then-world champ Muhammad Ali and came *this* close to dropping him, before ultimately getting finished in the last round. The concluding fight scene in "Rocky" doesn't necessarily follow that match all that faithfully, but it nonetheless does a pretty good job of dramatizing the bout.

At just barely 10 minutes in length, the first cinematic Apollo Creed/Robert "Rocky" Balboa showdown is, to this day, the most beautifully scripted boxing scene in movie history. Yeah, it's not exactly the most realistic boxing ever portrayed on the screen (it's more inspired by Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots than Roberto Duran, apparently) but compared to the absolute bullshit excuse for pugilism we got in "Raging Bull," the all-offense onslaught on display in the 1976 original is still fairly technical looking, without sacrificing an ounce of excitement. It's really hard for sports movies to capture the magic of real-time sporting events, but "Rocky" comes about as close as I've seen any film to replicating the unreplicable. An expertly shot sequence combining skillfully edited montages and incorporating minimal but meaningful slivers of dialogue (the camaraderie between Balboa and Mick, especially), it also contains what is arguably the single greatest mark-out moment in American film history -- I can only imagine audiences back in '76 literally leaping out of their seats and cheering like it was a real fight when Rocky scored that first, unexpected knockdown. The fights (and the films themselves) may have gotten goofier and goofier as the series progressed, but it's hard to dispute the pure, undiluted greatness of the original Rocky tussle, which is every bit as gripping and pulse-pounding now as it was 40 years ago. 

Bootney Farnsworth vs. 40th Street Black II
Let's Do It Again (1975) - Atlanta, Ga.

To this day, the double-knockdown finale at the end of "Rocky II" is a source of endless debate for hardcore boxing and movie nerds. While some consider it a stroke of dramatic genius, others think it's a pretty corny and forced plot mechanic. Interestingly enough, the first "Rocky" sequel wasn't the first film to utilize that particular ending, ... in fact, it was used in a movie that actually predates the original "Rocky!"

Sidney Poitier is rightfully considered one of the greatest actors in Hollywood history. After breaking the color barrier in the 1950s, he wound up -- irony of ironies -- becoming a pretty prolific director of blaxploitation flicks, starring and producing a series of excellent screwball comedies alongside Bill "No Means Yes and Yes Means Anal" Cosby in the mid-1970s. Released a year before "Rocky," the second film in the unofficial "Uptown Saturday Night trilogy" is a pretty damned fantastic little movie, featuring one of the more creative -- and hilarious -- takes on a boxing thematic you'll ever see in a motion picture.

In the film, Poitier and Cosby play these two Moorehouse graduates who wind up in New Orleans, where they use hypnotism on a no-name prizefighter (played, if you can believe it, by Jimmie "J.J." Walker!) so they can clean up big on a bet. Of course, the mafia (led by a dude named "Biggie Smalls," naturally) track them all the way back  to Atlanta, where they are goaded into setting up a second match between Farnsworth and 40th Street Black. Ingeniously, the two manage to sneak into the opposing locker room and hypnotize the other fighter before placing their money on the fight being a draw -- leading, of course, to the infamous double KO finale. Sure, it's a gimmick that's been copied by a litany of films and television shows since, but as far as I am concerned, no piece of media has ever pulled the hook off as successfully -- and cleverly -- as "Let's Do It Again."

Little Mac vs. Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (1987) - Every living room in America

If you grew up in the late 1980s, odds are, you played a whole hell of a lot of Nintendo. As one of the most-beloved NES games ever (and really, one of the unsung pioneers of the rhythm-action sub-genre), "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!" remains an iconic -- and MUCH-discussed -- title to this very day.

Kids today will never really understand the appeal of the game, and most certainly, just what it meant to make it all the way to Mike Tyson to begin with. All you whipper-snappers today can just go on your YouTubes and you DailyMotions and watch a few videos and figure out the enemy movement patterns, but back in the day, we had to figure that shit out on our own. That meant, trial, that meant error, and that meant a lot of getting knocked the fuck out by borderline offensive stereotypes. Alas, ever the dedicated joystick handlers we were, we took our time and practiced, practiced and practiced until we finally did figure out, master and exploit the idiosyncratic weaknesses of Soda Popinski, Bald Bull and especially that no good, pants-dropping piece of shit King Hippo.

Unfortunately, our mutual joy was short-lived. The first time I made it to the grand finale bout against Iron Mike, I was ecstatic -- that is, until he took a step back and took my head off with an all but unavoidable uppercut. Yeah, I knew all about the supposed "winking" glitch, but try as I may, I could never make it out of the second round against America's favorite convicted rapist, nor could any of my grade school chums. Even now, this is considered the boss battle to end all boss battles, and for good reason. Then again, maybe it shouldn't be all that much of a surprise -- in the real world, just how well do you think a Carl Winslow-trained Ralph Macchio would do against the Baddest Man on the Planet in his prime, anyway?

Jason Voorhees vs. Julius Gaw
Friday the 13th Part VII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) - New York City, NY

You' ve got to give poor Julius some credit -- it takes a lot of cojones to goad an unkillable psycho-murderer retard-hillbilly zombie slasher into a round of fisticuffs, even if you are rocking the sweetest Harlem Globetrotters windbreaker this side of an LL Cool J video. 

While "Friday the 13th Part VIII" is generally considered one of the weaker installments in the equally beloved and loathed series, it did have some pretty gnarly death scenes in it -- none of which were as memorable as that of Mr. Gaw's. With his skillful amateur boxing put on display early in the film, we knew that when it came time for him to bite the bullet, he wasn't going down without a fight, and the inevitable rooftop barn-barner atop the streets of NYC more than lived up to the hype. 

Sure, sure, there wasn't a whole lot of offense from Mr. Voorhees -- he more or less let Julius wail on him until his hands were just chunks of bloody hamburger meat -- but when the time came for Jason to finally start counter-punching, well ... let's just say that he would probably do just as well as an Ultimate Fighter as he would a machete-wielding mass killer. Oh, and in case you were wondering: the same actor that played Julius was the same dude that played Loco in "South Central" -- although I highly doubt V.C. Dupree is identified as anything other than "that one dude that got his head punched off by Jason" when spotted in public. 

Homer Simpson vs. Drederick Tatum 
The Simpsons (1996) - Springfield, Ky.(*

"The Simpsons," now in what I believe is its 50th year on the air, was once a pretty good TV show. "The Homer they Fall," an episode which originally aired back in 1996, is pretty indicative of what the show did right, presenting a one-joke premise that never really exhausts itself.

After Homer gets attacked by some local ruffians, misanthropic barkeep Moe -- a former boxer himself -- notes the Simpsons' patriarch's incredible ability to withstand cranial punishment. Never one to turn away from a profitable enterprise, he becomes Homer's manager as he slowly works his way up the indie boxing circuit in Springfield. Of course, Homers himself really doesn't have any offensive strategy -- he just lets his foes pound on him until they're exhausted, and then he tips them over. It does him quite well in the ring ... that is, until he's lined up in a fight with Drederick Tatum, a Mike Tyson expy that just got out of prison. The attention to detail here is pretty goddamn impressive -- when Tatum comes to the ring, he does so to "Time 4 Sum Aksion," which was the actual song Tyson used as his entrance music in his big 1995 return bout against Peter McNeely.

You can probably guess what happens next. After being mercilessly pounded by Tatum for several rounds, Homer decides to start fighting back, although his striking efficiency is only slightly better than that of UFC-washup Jake Shields. When it looks like Homer is about to get flatlined, Moe steals the Fan Man's iconic paraglider and carries him away to safety, with a Don King analogue stating that he is deeply disappointed in the fight outcome, before paying Moe an insane amount of money. It's a three ring circus of the absurd that, in many ways, serves as the greatest description -- and deconstruction -- of contemporary professional boxing in any kind of media. It may not be the most reverential depiction of the sport, but it's hard to deny that it isn't one of the most painfully authentic, either.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Chick-Fil-A Breakfast Buffet!?!

Just outside of Atlanta, there's a one-of-a-kind Chick-fil-A restaurant that serves a full breakfast buffet. I went there, and it was every bit as amazing as it sounds.

If you really want to experience the best Georgia has to offer, you really have to get outside of Atlanta. Yeah, yeah, there are some pretty cool sites in A-Town -- drive-ins and superhero-themed pizza places and an entire museum dedicated to soda propaganda among them -- but outside the perimeter is where you will find all of the really, really noteworthy destinations.

For example, in Summerville, there is an outdoor museum dedicated solely to the artwork of Howard Finster, a probably psychopathic pastor whose portfolio consists almost entirely of apocalyptic paintings and sculptures of people with Down Syndrome heads. Similarly, Ashburn is home to the Crime and Punishment Museum, whose exhibits include a replica of electric chairs and authentic KKK apparel. It is adjoined by a local favorite restaurant, named, fittingly enough, the Last Meal Cafe. And under the penumbra of Stone Mountain, you will find Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation headquarters, which is home to a life-size bronzed statute of the beloved rapper/convicted racist.

Nestled in Woodstock is yet another must-stop "what-the?" roadside attraction ... or should I say "event," rather.

This one requires just a bit of a history lesson. You see, Chick-fil-A was not the first restaurant venture undertaken by Truett Cathy. Long before Chick-fil-A was a zygote of an idea, he opened a series of restaurants called the Dwarf House.

I'm not exactly 100 percent, certain but I am fairly sure the concept never made its way out of Georgia. Even now, however, the old buildings dot the outside-the-perimeter landscape, although almost all of them have since been rebranded as "official" Chick-fil-A businesses. Although I recall visiting one of the old-school Dwarf House restaurants as a kid, for the life of me, I can't really remember anything about the menu or even its general ambiance. This being the early 1990s, though, I assure you it was nothing like the modern, sanitary Chick-fil-A experience we all know and love -- I don't recall much about the brand, but I most certainly do recall the restaurants being dirty, dingy and very musty-smelling.

The restaurant in Woodstock is sort of a fusion concept -- basically, it appears to be a fairly new Chick-fil-A restaurant attached to the weathered remnants of an old Dwarf House establishment. I suppose the photographs do a good enough job of describing the general concept, but for the visually-impaired, it's basically just a red-brick facade with a bright red miniature door and something of a medieval cottage motif welded onto a modern-day restaurant space ... or is it the other way around?

The anteroom (that's one 1 percenters call a "lobby," in case you were wondering) is really a site to behold. It's hard to describe, but somehow,they managed to cram a to-scale midget-sized Hobbit house just inside the foyer, complete with min-stained glass windows and an operable door that the wee ones can actually run in and out of. Thankfully, they also put a deadbolt on that sucker, because you just know at some point, some nefarious crook or robber tried to squeeze himself through it during the off hours.

Of course, the entrance also has some of the expected Chick-fil-A signage, but for the most part, it doesn't feel anything at all like the average branded restaurant. I got REALLY excited seeing this castle door mock-up at the double doors, but as it turns out, that's not actually a normal decoration. According to one of the suspiciously well-groomed teenage employees, they put up the display to herald some sort of mother/son function, which, yeah, is just a wee bit on the creepy side.

As for the rest of the restaurant, it is more or less was your standard Chick-fil-A diner, albeit just a teensy bit larger than the average store. I visited the place on an early Saturday morning, and it was quite busy -- apparently, this particular branch also does breakfast buffets on Friday mornings and Thursday evenings, too.

So, after plopping down my $9.49 plus state and local taxes, I hit up the metal queue. If you are not familiar with how buffets work (and judging from just how surprisingly popular my write up on Golden Corral has been in developing countries, I am assuming that's quite a number of you), you pay a flat fee and eat a virtually unlimited amount of foodstuffs, which are constantly being replenished by sweaty chefs at breakneck speeds. So in short ... it's the most American thing that has ever existed, or ever will exist.

Comparatively, there wasn't a whole lot of variety offered this morning. All in all, I counted up nine different foodstuffs in the line-up, which is a pretty thin number, especially compared to competing chains like Shoney's, which generally offer enough all-you-can-eat goods to qualify as a miniature grocery store.

That said, you really can't argue with the quality of the food, though. Pretty much everything on tap was delicious, from the golden-flaky biscuits to the super crispy bacon to little sausage roll thingies. In addition to the home fries and scrambled eggs (the staple of any decent breakfast,) you also get a healthy amount of sides, including grits, chunky gravy and what appears to be apple cobbler. Of course, the big draw, of course, is the endless tray of chicken patties, which is pretty much reason enough to visit this place. No lie, folks: I ate ten of them, and almost throw up on the cashier woman while paying my meal ticket.

To be fair, Chick-fil-A is a pretty contentious business, and I would be telling you a flat out whopper if I said I wasn't just a smidge uncomfortable dining there. For one thing, there were a LOT of people doing scripture readings -- I mean, practice what you feel like practicing and all, but shit, what kind of glances do you think people would give me and my buddies if we decided to have a Koran study at Subway, or a dramatic reading of the Satanic Bible at Taco Bell? Secondly, there were a TON of cops in there. Like, at least three or four squad cars worth, and they were sharing a table with a gaggle of girls who could not have been older than juniors in high school. And also, one of them appeared to be Jewish, as evident by the Hebrew tattoos he had on his arm, which I am pretty sure is against Jewish teachings, now that I think about it. And then, there were the servers, who kept telling me it was "their pleasure" to serve me. Now, I know it's corporate policy and all, but I know you really don't give a hoot if I need a coffee refill -- and by the way, their proprietary brew is kinda' on the crappy side, too.

By their very nature, I think buffets are supposed to be kind of scummy. The waiters are supposed to be distant and despondent, providing you with just the bare minimum amount of interface to facilitate you giving them your credit card. Also, the lighting is supposed to be drab and dreary, to cover up the fact that you're eating food that likely has a bunch of fly eggs and eyelashes embedded in it, and that the utensils are just sorta washed. That kind of runs counterproductive to the entire Chick-fil-A corporate mantra, which is customer service and cleanliness ... the precise two things that buffets attempt to stamp out entirely.

Still, the experience is probably worth a detour if you are ever in the Atlanta area. It's a bit on the pricey side, but as stated before, it's basically your only opportunity to ever drop a dozen Chick-fil-a patties on one ceramic plate and tear into them in public without people thinking you are a feral child or something. And it's also astoundingly, ironically close to a sex toy outlet, which means God really does have a sense or humor (or at least, the planning commission in Woodstock really doesn't care about getting re-elected.)

So, to recap? If you like gluttony, processed poultry and people into Jesus, you'll probably really like this place. And if you're a vegetarian, an atheist, a homosexual, someone who is no longer married to his first wife or an individual ready to storm the offices of the Family Research Council? Well, there is a Del Taco pretty close by, I guess...

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron Cereal Review!

It's Earth's Mightiest Heroes ... in breakfast form!

I hope you folks are ready, because over the next two weeks, we are going to be getting utterly hammered by "Age of Ultron" hype. The much ballyhooed "Avengers" sequel will no doubt gross at least $15 bajillion dollars at the box office, but that's really only a portion of the revenue Disney stands to make off the movie. Its REAL financial impact, most certainly, will come from merchandising.

The first "Avengers" movie  made $1.5 billion in ticket sales. The year before, Disney made four times that off Marvel-branded merchandise alone. It's clear that the strategy is no longer make goods to supplement the film, but to make films to supplement the merchandising armada.

With "Age of Ultron," Disney is on an absolute promotional warpath. Take a stroll down virtually ANY aisle at your nearest big box store and you will be assailed by "Avengers" junk at every turn. If you walk down the toy section, you are going to be greeted by a horde of plastic Iron Men and Incredible Hulks. If you amble down the clothing aisle, you're going to see Captain America baby tees and XXL Thor regalia. Waltz down the seasonal supply section, and you will no doubt bear witness to Avengers branded beach towels, plastic cups and and beer koozies. But if you want to see just how entrenched this movie is in our communal consumption experience, you're going to have to march down the grocery store aisle.

Without hyperbole, "Age of Ultron" has tie-ins with dozens of products. There's Avengers Dr. Pepper and Avengers Doritos and Avengers frozen pizza and Avengers Corn Flakes and Avengers potato chips and Avengers ice cream. I didn't see any Avengers pregnancy tests or acne wash, but they just could have been out of stock at the local Target.

Among the more interesting items out this year is a new breakfast cereal from Kellogg's. Featuring Captain America, Iron Man and the Hulk on the front of the box, the limited-time only "Age of Ultron" cereal describes itself as a special "hero edition" product. Granted, marketing departments are known to use some abstruse and confounding terminology for the offerings, but that one just doesn't make any damn sense to me. Like, are kids supposed to feel like heroes if they eat it, or are you eating what (fictitious) heroes allegedly eat, or is the very product itself supposed to be emblematic of heroism itself?

From a brand psychology perspective, maybe what they're trying to do is the same thing Wheaties does to people who want to feel athletic or what Special K does for women who want to feel like they're doing something healthy. "Hey kids, if you chow down on this shit, it'll make you like Hawkeye" -- a shameless, yet nonetheless effective, appeal to young boys' insecurity and their constant need for reaffirmation of their masculine identity, perhaps?

As for the packaging, it's fairly unremarkable. On the back of the box, half of the space is used to pimp some kind of convoluted online code redemption thingy. While Thor didn't make the cut for the front, he at least gets prominent placement here. As for the rest of the squad, they're not featured anywhere on the product, front, back, sides, top or bottom. And for a product that literally has the word "Ultron" on it, it's just a little peculiar that the villain isn't featured anywhere at all on the box. 

You do, however, get a fairly facile "Junior Jumble" type puzzle to solve, though. And the best part? You don't even need your Ovaltine decoder ring to figure out the secret message!

OK, OK, so it is a fairly anticlimactic message. And why exactly would the Avengers need to encrypt that message, anyway? I'm pretty sure the sentient android trying to take over the world is well aware that the dethawed World War II mega-soldier and the roided up Golly Green Giant are probably going to try to do something to thwart him. I can only imagine Hitler intercepting a similar message from the Brits and Yanks --  boy, was he ever gobsmacked when he learned they wanted to, and I quote, "stop Hitler."

As something you can actually eat, the cereal is both disappointing and satisfying. Let's start with the disappointing side first. The little bits of cereal and marshmallow are really, really uninspired. In fact, the primary, sugary grain chunks are among the most perplexing foodstuffs I have seen in quite some time. They're not really circular, but they are not really square, either -- it's like the first draft a caveman made of the wheel. If these things are supposed to remind consumers of the iconic Avengers "A," logo, I am afraid the folks at Kellogg's faltered, and hard.

But it's the marshmallows that are really going to make you shake your head. If you're like me, you probably expected the marshmallow pieces to at least sorta resemble the insignia of the superheroes. Like, one would be shaped like Cap's shield, one would be shaped like Mjolnir, so on and so forth. Unfortunately, the pieces themselves are incredibly lazy -- they are just misshapen circles with dye jobs that are kinda-sorta similar to those of the characters. I mean, they could have at least drawn some eyebrows on the green one, and it at least would have somewhat resembled the Hulk's mug.

While the cereal may look about as aesthetically pleasing as a pair of used bowling shoes, it delivers where it counts, though. Basically, it tastes like Corn Pops, only with Lucky Charms adornments sprinkled in the mix. It wasn't until I started chowing down on a bowl that I realized that little combination had never been attempted -- or at least, that I had been oblivious to such science experiments in the past. So yeah, even if it isn't very fun to look at, it least it tastes pretty good, which I think we can all agree is much-preferred to the antithetical scenario

I'm not sure how long this stuff is going to stay on store shelves, but I reckon it can't be for too much longer. It's the kind of instant nostalgia that you just know people ten years from now are going to be fawning all over -- the same way people in their thirties today will spend actual human people money on quarter-century old boxes of "Ghostbusters" and "Batman" cereal, it's pretty much a sure bet that Gen Z kids a good decade or two down the line will joyously reflect on this offering. Then again, by the time today's kindergartners are twenty-somethings, we'll probably be able to download memories of what discontinued foods tasted like directly to our brains through Google Glass or something.

Anyhoo, you know what you're getting here. It's satisfying, although wholly indistinct mass marketing goodness, that'll fill your belly with completely non-nourishing junk, but since it looks cool and tingles the most unrefined portions of your taste buds, you probably won't complain about it probably poisoning your mind and internal organs.

You know, pretty much the exact same thing you can say about "Age of Ultron" as a motion picture, too.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ten Things That Are Probably Worse Than Being Racist

Being a bigoted jerkwad is certainly bad, but is it really the worst thing a person can be?

Let me start off by saying the most obvious thing ever in the history of obvious things: yes children, racism is indeed a very, very bad thing. It’s immoral, irrational, illogical, impractical and ignorant, and those who port about deep racial prejudices, almost without exception, also tend to be among the most ingratiating, infuriating and ironically intolerable people walking God’s green earth.

That said, I have just a few issues with the contemporary, multinational, multicultural debate regarding “racism.” Primarily, the little problem of nobody really knowing what the hell “racism” is, exactly.

Yes, there is indeed a long-winded, legalese-sounding definition of racial discrimination issued by the United Nations, but to the best of my knowledge, there is no solidified governmental explanation of what “racism” is anywhere in the western world. Is it a centralized, far-reaching hatred of all those different from you? What if you only dislike one racial group but are totally cool with all others? Does it instinctively require some sense of racial superiority, or can you still be a racist while admitting the comparative shortcomings of one’s own ethnic group?

Historically, racism is an antiquated pseudo-science practiced by the heaviest hitters of continental philosophy; sure, the aberrant David Dukes and Carol Barneses are still out there claiming their race is the genetic bee’s knees, but it hardly seems like any modern day bigot dislikes other ethnic groups based solely on some perceived DNA supremacy. If we’re being technical and all, you can flat out hate every person outside your specific ethnic group for any number of reasons, but as long as you don’t think yours is innately better than them, you’re not a classical racist.

Personally, I think the issue of racism is a bit more complicated than your rank and file social justice warrior paints it. Clearly, the international problem of race extends far, FAR beyond the mere black vs. white dichotomy -- lest we forget, despite looking virtually identical, the Chinese and Japanese, the Hutus and the Tutsis, the Pakistanis and the Indians and the Jews and the Palestinians have been killing each other for eons. Obviously, there’s something much deeper going on with these conflicts than skin color superficiality.

Alas, here in the States, racism almost seems to be the catchall for all of our cultural ills. No matter what social malady is going on, that darned old “racism” can be blamed for it. You see, that “black/white divide” is SO ENTRENCHED in our collective experience that it serves as antecedent, catalyst, explanation and the occasional exoneration of literally EVERYTHING that happens within our borders. To even think about viewing the issue as nothing more than a subset of a greater problem (which every society in human history has had), surely, is the chatter of racists.

Without hyperbole, the eerily totalitarian leftist quest to exterminate “racism” is the closest thing to McCarthyism our nation has experienced in more than half a century. Those deemed “racist” by the faceless, nameless throngs are subject to complete social and economic death, as the fates of Mel Gibson, Donald Sterling, Bruce Levenson and Anthony Cuomo have demonstrated. We may not be able to put you in jail for believing things different from the status quo, but we can make sure you can’t feed your family -- nothing fascistic about that, no?

The same way I OBJECTIVELY examined rape within the greater pantheon of human miseries, I decided to task myself with placing “racism” along a similar, all-encompassing continuum of negative traits, characteristics and general descriptors. Being an unabashed, hate-filled, prejudicial and bigoted racist is certainly bad … but you know folks, I reckon there might just be ten things worse than that in this delightful little world of ours.


Pretty much every society in human history has considered murder -- the intentional act of taking the life of another human being -- to be the absolute worst thing one person can do to another. Clearly, a non-violent racist who ports about despicable and disgusting ideologies is nowhere close to being as contemptible as a violent, non-racist individual who consciously makes the decision to murder another person, regardless of his or her ideological underpinnings. Alas, it’s not exactly a premise we here in America take to heart; while Jimmy the Greek and John Rocker were forced into exile after making  their racial blunders, Snoop Dogg and Ray Lewis actually became bigger celebrities after their respective murder trials. While the hyper-P.C. zeitgeist will never forgive Paula Deen and Riley Cooper for their comments, that same cultural milieu, for some reason, has totally forgotten about the homicidal exploits of folks like Robert Rozier, Terry Underwood and Gucci Mane -- the latter of whom recorded the heartfelt memorial ,“Truth (Not a Jeezy Diss,)” to commemorate the slaying he was personally responsible for.


I feel quite comfortable calling a sexual criminal a much worse human being than a racist who never physically harms anyone. Sorry, but even a high-powered official or businessman who carries a veiled distrust or dislike of certain categories of people cannot be considered as wrong as anybody who decides to use violence to get his or sexual jollies. Malicious thoughts, as insensitive and mean and wrongheaded as they may be, are still nothing more than disembodied reflections and opinions. Meanwhile, raping and sodomizing is raping and sodomizing -- physical actions that are incontestably more heinous than simply holding ill-founded mass generalizations. Of course, it’s easy to view fellas like Tom Metzger as cultural pariahs for their insensitive, prejudicial beliefs, but by that same moralistic standard, you kind of have to wonder why folks like Tupac, Mystikal, South Park Mexican, Darren Sharper, Tom Payne and Ruben Patterson aren‘t similarly vilified, seeing as how every last one of them were CONVICTED of sexual assault crimes.


Moralistically, this one makes a great deal of sense. What’s worse, someone with an intangible, widespread contempt of the cultural other, or someone who beats the living dog shit out of his wife? We kind of saw this paralleled in the sports world last year, when the owners of the Los Angeles Clippers and Atlanta Hawks were literally forced out of the NBA, at the same time video emerged of Ray Rice cold cocking his girlfriend. To be fair, Rice was indeed suspended for his actions, but he wasn’t banished from the sports world the same way the disgraced NBA owners were. Considering the indelible crossover in the “white privilege” and “patriarchy rape culture” ideologies, you really have to wonder why the domestic abuse arrests of Quinn Johnson, Junior Galette, Devyln Cousin, Tyreek Hill, Isaiah Goldman and Jeff Taylor weren’t bigger stories. But, uh, don’t think too hard, though, because that probably means you’re a racist and whatnot.


In Dante’s Inferno, the absolute deepest ring of hell was reserved for those who betrayed their own flesh and blood. Using a moral Likert scale, it’s quite reasonable to assume that as individuals, we are going to have a greater amount of compassion and concern for our own families than we are those who live on continents far, far away, who speak a different language than us and whom we will almost certainly never meet, nor really know to have existed in the first place. So, what’s worse -- an individual with great love and respect for those closest to him who may just so happen to have a general mistrust or dislike of those different, or a more multiculturally-minded individual who fails to pay child support or completely abandons his kids altogether? Yeah, the hate and filth and venom spewed on the Stormfront forums isn’t doing much for the black advancement movement, but it is indeed deadbeat exemplars such as Allen Iverson, Chief Keef, DMX, Nas, Chad “Ochicinco” Johnson, Terrell Owens, Deion Sanders and Evander Holyfield who demonstrate the greatest cultural setback for African Americans in the modern era. Bicker about microaggressions and dopey fraternity songs all you want -- if you want to talk about REAL barriers to success, let’s start with father absenteeism, why don’t we?


Well, this one seems pretty straightforward. Seeing as how there is no greater cultural boogeyman than the paedo, even the most hardcore social justice warrior would have to consider kid-diddlers a far more insidious cultural menace than even the most grotesque white supremacists, no? Strange, seeing how the rants of Kramer and Dog the Bounty Hunter cost them their respective livelihoods, while Lawrence Taylor getting busted for soliciting a 16-year-old streetwalker hardly gets any news coverage whatsoever. The same can be said of the shameful, shameful misdeeds committed by the likes of Nate Webster, Eddie Johnson and Aswad Ayinde...but hey, at least we got an apology out of Sherrod Brown when he used the term "niggardly," though.


Earlier, we were discussing barriers to black success -- which, fundamentally, means their ability to obtain financial independence and stability. Of course, we COULD talk about growing up in a two-parent home as being the single most important factor in whether one becomes an economically sustainable adult (after all, that’s what the eggheads at Harvard think, anyway), but why not blame that conveniently omnipresent yet wholly indefinable "structural racism" instead? While we can rightly blame any number of social factors for why so many African American youths falter -- crummy schools, terrible local job markets, etc. -- I think it’s wise to also examine the primary reason why so many black people fall into crippling debt. You can drone on and on about particular industries and companies being inherently racist, but from an economic standpoint, the big money woe for blacks isn’t unemployment, but predatory lending and payday loans. The rubes out in the countryside cracking racist jokes, comparatively, aren’t doing a fraction of a percentage of an iota of the harm nefarious title loan businesses are doing to the African American community, and have been doing for more than half a century now.


My, how the times have changed. Not only is substance abuse NOT seen as being at least on par with being prejudicial on the moral turpitude scale anymore, our culture seems to be turning away from viewing drug addiction as a contemptible trait altogether. Sure, I could give you the basic rundown of reasons why even legalized drugs like alcohol create so much cultural havoc, but why bother? We’ve already reached the group consensus that closeted hatemongers are much worse human beings than crack heads, meth junkies and pill poppers, even though on-the-down-low bigots are much more socially responsible than your dime-a-dozen dope fiend. And hey, as despicable as they may be, at least racist folks tend to pay their taxes, which in turn, go to support social service programs … something I am not really sure you can say about the astonishingly large volume of legally-disabled-at-23-methadone-huffers out there.


For a moment, let’s give up the holier than thou shtick. Instead of viewing things as being moral or immoral, let’s just try to view things from the simple lens of true or false. Regardless of one‘s ideologies, not liking races different from one’s own is NOT illegal. In these United States, you can hate anybody and anything you want for any reason you want, and can’t nobody say shit about it because we have this thing called the First Amendment (whose big faulty point, of course, is that it only applies to GOVERNMENTAL restrictions on free expression and not those imposed by the general public.) Conversely, things like drug-running, racketeering, burglaries and mugging are all indeed quite illegal, and result in a lot of economic, psychological and bodily harm. If given the option of living among civil racists and bigots who refrain from criminal activity or living in a pancultural utopia chockfull of hoodlums, dealers and stick-up men, which ZIP code would you prefer?


Of course, hardcore racial ideologies can cause a lot of death and destruction. Just ask the Indians of the Americas, or the African natives during colonization. Or anybody who lived in Asia or Europe in the years between 1931 to 1945. That said, flat out ethnocentric fury alone can’t create genocide … more than anything, it takes a large populace that’s easily fooled, cajoled and manipulated into believing whatever their superiors tell them to. Thinking prejudicial things, surely is not a positive in any regard; not thinking about ANYTHING critically, however, is a much, much more dangerous state of mind.


Simply put, those who lie about racism or overlook the hard evidence that refutes their ideological leanings about race relations are every bit as bad as those who actually are racist. Lest we forget the hordes of folks ready to oh-so-ironically lynch the Duke lacrosse team and Steve Pagones when word got out about the “rapings” of Crystal Mangum and Tawana Brawley. So hungry and single-minded some P.C. warriors are in their quest to personify a narrative of victimization and disempowerment that they are willing to disregard reality itself to fit THEIR “ideals.” The hardcore “anti-racist” platoons out there, ironically, are becoming more and more like the unabashedly racist organizations of yore -- shameless identity-politicking opportunists who feign moral indignation to further their own self-interests. Even in the balls-out racial apocalypse that was Ferguson, Mo. last summer, you could see the in-group dynamics at play; so much outrage over the death of this one sweet little angel, at the hands of those no-good, child-killin’ police officers. The fact that a dozen black kids were killed by other black kids that same weekend in Chicago, or the fact that a middle-aged white man was similarly blown away by cops in a no-knock warrant in Georgia, means Jack Shit to them -- they don’t want real justice or policy changes, they just want to keep the racial embers a burning. As long as you have that narrative, you have a universal excuse for literally every ill in society -- and without that “original sin” to endlessly trot out, fine, outstanding individuals like Al Sharpton would be out of a job.

You know, there’s a term out there for people who ONLY care about people of the same color … although for the life of me, I just can’t seem to recollect what that word is, precisely.