Five Reasons to Watch UFC Phoenix This Weekend

The next installment of UFC on ESPN+ is coming to us this weekend from Phoenix, AZ, and with it comes the promise of a lot of violence. Like, a whole lot.

The main event will see the former heavyweight great Cain Velasquez emerge from the shadows to face Francis Ngannou. If you’ll recall, Ngannou punched his way up to the top of the mountain, only to get out-worked by Stipe Miocic (who then got smoked by Daniel Cormier). I guess that makes Ngannou the division’s number three guy?

Regardless, that makes Velasquez the mysterious old star who keeps chilling on the bench because of injuries. But he was at one time the best! That counts for something!

Paul Felder is taking on James Vick in the co-main, and if you’ll recall, besides being one hell of a dude on the mic (his commentating side gig), he’s a beast of a Muay Thai ace. Since Vick likes to strike, this one could be bloody.

Elsewhere on the card, we have two on-again-off-again rising stars in Aljamain Sterling and Jimmie Rivera fighting each other. These guys were two stars from the Northeast regional scene, but were called up to the UFC before they could fight each other. So really, this match-up is a sweet one for us Northeasterners.

And of course, Kron Gracie is making his Octagon debut against Alex Caceres. His last name is Gracie, folks. That’s all you need to know.

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Ngannou: ‘I’ve Been Through Hell To Be Here Today’

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight title contender, Francis Ngannou, was heavily marketed by the promotion while “The Predator” was knocking out every fighter the matchmakers put in front of him.

Then it all came crashing down against a more well-rounded combatant in the form of Stipe Miocic, followed by a lame-duck performance opposite Derrick Lewis.

Because this is combat sports, which is no different than any other sport, the Cameroonian started hemorrhaging fans while UFC President, Dana White, buried him in the mixed martial arts (MMA) media, claiming Ngannou “completely lost his mind.”

Maybe the power-punching heavyweight doesn’t have a fighter’s mentality?

“Mentality is what brought me here,” Ngannou told the MMA media. “If I did not have that mentality, I could not have gone through what I went through. I was born and raised in Africa in a very poor family but I just have this mentality that I can’t give up. I’ve been through hell to be here today, so it’s all about fighting mentality. I have the ability to overcome that because I’ve been through worse than that, believe me when I say that.”

He’s fighting not only for himself, but also for the dreams of an entire country.

Ngannou was able to right the ship with a dominant performance against Curtis Blaydes at UFC Beijing back in November. No question a win over Cain Velasquez, long considered one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, would launch “The Predator” right back into title contention.

We’ll find out this Sunday night in Phoenix.

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Five Reasons to Watch UFC Phoenix This Weekend

The next installment of UFC on ESPN+ is coming to us this weekend from Phoenix, AZ, and with it comes the promise of a lot of violence. Like, a whole lot.

The main event will see the former heavyweight great Cain Velasquez emerge from the shadows to face Francis Ngannou. If you’ll recall, Ngannou punched his way up to the top of the mountain, only to get out-worked by Stipe Miocic (who then got smoked by Daniel Cormier). I guess that makes Ngannou the division’s number three guy?

Regardless, that makes Velasquez the mysterious old star who keeps chilling on the bench because of injuries. But he was at one time the best! That counts for something!

Paul Felder is taking on James Vick in the co-main, and if you’ll recall, besides being one hell of a dude on the mic (his commentating side gig), he’s a beast of a Muay Thai ace. Since Vick likes to strike, this one could be bloody.

Elsewhere on the card, we have two on-again-off-again rising stars in Aljamain Sterling and Jimmie Rivera fighting each other. These guys were two stars from the Northeast regional scene, but were called up to the UFC before they could fight each other. So really, this match-up is a sweet one for us Northeasterners.

And of course, Kron Gracie is making his Octagon debut against Alex Caceres. His last name is Gracie, folks. That’s all you need to know.

The post Five Reasons to Watch UFC Phoenix This Weekend appeared first on Caged Insider.

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Midnight Mania! Throwback Thursday: Weidman Wishes Anderson Happy Valentines Day

Bringing you the weird and wild from the world of MMA each and every weeknight

Welcome to Midnight Mania!

Okay, I can’t say for sure whether Weidman’s enthusiastic holiday greeting is for Anderson specifically, or whether he, in his effusive show of love, meant it for all.

Okkkkk… Been tagged in this picture enough today and it’s time I just post it myself. HAPPY VALENTINES DAY!!

In less romantic news, Weidman has lately been criticizing Israel Adesanya’s win over Anderson, claiming Israel is ‘just a tad bit overrated’, then doubling down and claiming there is no way Adesanya beats him.

Weidman is 1-4 in his last five, coming off a KO loss to “Jacare” Souza. His most recent win came against Kelvin Gastelum. Adesanya is undefeated, having won his first five bouts in the UFC in a year’s time, and says he is willing to wait for his title shot after beating Anderson Silva in a Mortal Kombat-esque affair.


Insomnia

Has Francis Ngannou improved his cardio since the Stipe fight?

Paul Felder being a cool dad

TJ Dillashaw wants to prove Cejudo’s win over him wasn’t a fluke… I mean… wait…

Whoever runs the UFC’s Twitter account deserves a medal and a raise

Dominick Cruz will apparently teach you his weird-ass footwork for money

Robert Whittaker calling Kelvin Gastelum ‘adorable’ is a great quote from the champion

Bellator is doing the superfight thing too, with Michael Chandler vs. Bellator featherweight champion Patricio Pitbull. That should be a good one, as Patricio has his brother to avenge.

Conor McGregor wishes a happy Valentines day to his ride-or-die, Dee Devlin.

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Happy Valentine’s Day my Queen ❤️

A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on

Kamaru Usman really did this to Demian Maia.

Dennis Bermudez just went for it and the ringside commentator paid the price

Zabit Magomedsharipov’s kung fu background explored!

Always a step ahead

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Stack …wha…Triangle

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Japanese kickboxer Takeru hitting pads

Weird nature Joe Rogan might be my favorite Joe Rogan

Happy Valentine’s Day, folks

Octopus are also nature’s stealth fighters

Sleep well, Maniacs! A better tomorrow is always possible. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook @Vorpality

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Bellator 215 predictions, preview for ‘Mitrione vs Kharitonov’

Sergei Kharitonov

Bellator 215: “Mitrione vs. Kharitonov” airs tomorrow night (Fri., Feb. 15, 2019) from Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The fans on the East coast are about to be treated to a massive mountain of muscle in the main event that comes packed with high knockout potential!

Let’s break it down:

265 lbs.: Matt Mitrione (13-6) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (29-7, 1 NC)

Former Heavyweight Grand Prix competitor Matt Mitrione was knocked out of his bracket in the second round … though not by knockout. Ryan Bader used his wrestling background to the fullest of his abilities to take the bigger and heavier Mitrione down to the canvas repeatedly, taking virtually no damage for the entire duration of the fight. The fans in Uncasville may not have been thrilled by this one-sided domination, but if Mitrione feels in any way responsible for the outcome, this main event is his chance to make amends.

Sergei Kharitonov is very unlikely to follow the same gameplan as Bader. With 57 percent of his wins (16 of 28) coming by knockout, including the notoriously hard to finish Roy Nelson in his last Bellator fight, expect him to engage with Mitrione for some fireworks. Mitrione’s style is even more singular than his opponent’s with 84 percent of his wins (11 of 13) coming by knockout, so the question isn’t if they will stand in a phone booth and haul off with strikes but when.

Not only are they perfectly matched for each other stylistically, but they are also perfectly matched for each other in age and size. Mitrione is 40 and Kharitonov is 38, Mitrione is 6’3” and Kharitonov is 6’4,” Mitrione has a 79” reach and Kharitonov has a 76” reach. While that gives a slight advantage to Mitrione on reach, it also gives Kharitonov an equally slight advantage in age, and it would appear those two things basically negate each other when all things are considered. The edge ultimately favors Mitrione, though, because we’ve seen cracks in Kharitonov’s chin that are deeper than “Meathead” has ever shown.

Final prediction: Matt Mitrione wins via first round knockout

170 lbs.: Logan Storley (9-0) vs. Ion Pascu (18-9)

Following an impressive win at Bellator 204 in Sioux Falls, Logan “Storm” Storley gets another fight on the main card against a hungry Ion “Bombardierul” Pascu. Why is he so hungry? Well despite getting half of his wins by knockout (nine of 18) he has yet to win in the Bellator cage. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the stylistic match-up for him to turn things around. Storley is a wrestler both figuratively and literally, cut from Brock Lesnar’s mold — same hometown, same collegiate experience, same method of dominance. Storley has an uncanny ability to sweep opponents off their feet and lay in hands and elbows until they turtle up and capitulate. Unless Pascu is quicker to the punch or is able to time a takedown with a well placed knee, I see no reason Storley won’t remain undefeated.

Final prediction: Logan Storley wins via first round technical knockout

135 lbs.: Eduardo Dantas (20-6) vs. Toby Misech (12-6)

Things have not gone so well for Mr. Dantas of late. The former Bellator champion lost his title to “The Wolf” Darrion Caldwell in a grueling five-round decision, then got KTFO by the now retired Michael McDonald. Bellator is giving him every opportunity to turn things around with late notice fighter Toby Misech on this card. At 10-5 he’s certainly not a pushover, and he’s coming off a win on the “Prelims” undercard of Bellator 212, so good for him. The jury is still out on his overall game, though. He had a test on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender’s Series and flunked it, and he’s a “streaky” fighter who goes in surges and slumps. The difference maker is definitely the ground game. Misech has never submitted anybody, Dantas has six wins by submission, and after being rocked in his last bout, Dantas will surely want to avoid the stand up and take this one to the ground. We shall see.

Final prediction: Eduardo Dantas via third round submission

135 lbs.: Michael Kimbel (2-0) vs. Jonathan Douma (3-1)

Kimbel is a highlight-reel fighter with a somewhat mysterious background. That’s fine. Nobody is paying him to tell his life story — not yet anyway. Right now people just want to see him get quick finishes, and he’s two for two in that category. Douma is handpicked for him to get another stoppage. He’s not even undefeated on the minor circuit and is coming in off a technical knockout loss to Adam Acquaviva six months ago. The only thing Kimbel should worry about is that Douma may have improved somewhat in those six months.

Final prediction: Michael Kimbel wins via first round knockout

170 lbs.: Austin Vanderford (6-0) vs. Cody Jones (6-2)

Rounding out the main card is “Mr. VanZant” Austin Vanderford against yet another handpicked opponent in Cody Jones. Some say Vanderford is the most hated man in MMA, but I don’t think he’s exceeded Conor McGregor’s level of fame/infamy just yet. Not by a long shot. He’s a star on the rise, though, and curiously given his association with Paige VanZant UFC let him slip through its fingers despite having gotten an impressive come-from-behind win on Dana White’s “Tuesday Night Contender Series.” He has split his finishes 50/50 between knockouts and submissions, while Jones is more of a Brazilian jiu-jitsu man (two out of three finishes). Given that Vanderford rolls with some studs out in Portland, Ore., I doubt that’ll be a problem for him.

Final prediction: Austin Vanderford wins via submission

That’s a wrap!

MMAmania.com will deliver coverage of Bellator 215 tomorrow with a main card on Paramount Network at 9 p.m. ET and DAZN fights starting at 6:30 p.m. ET. To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.

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Cain Velasquez to Fight This Weekend, Then Disappear Again Into the Netherworld

Like some sort of primeval beast of legend, long lost heavyweight star Cain Velasquez will emerge from the shadows to face Francis Ngannou at UFC on ESPN+2 this weekend. Then, no matter the outcome, he once more disappear into the netherworld, invisible but for the highlight reel clips.

I mean, that’s at least what it feels like.

Thanks to a never-ending slew of injuries, the dude has been on the sidelines far more often than in the Octagon since, well, since forever. Velasquez was even the champ – more than once – and he rarely fought.

So yeah, we’re getting him in the main event of the UFC’s next big ESPN bash. But you can bet it will be years before Velasquez is in the cage again. If ever.

Anyway, here’s a video of Velasquez in action. Because you probably forgot what that looks like.

The post Cain Velasquez to Fight This Weekend, Then Disappear Again Into the Netherworld appeared first on Caged Insider.

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Cormier, Punk Examine ‘The Science Of Mortal Kombat’

If I stuck MMAmania.com Editor-In-Chief, Thomas Myers, into the supermarket freezer for two days, then took him out and hit him with a violent uppercut, would his head explode into a million tiny pieces of icy bone and brain?

I was willing to find out, but then “The Science of Mortal Kombat” came along and beat me to it. The upcoming show, which is sort of like Mythbusters for video game nerds (like me), will test some of the best moves from the Mortal Kombat video game franchise and see how well they hold up in real life.

I guess babalities go right out the window from the jump.

Helping the “Science” guys (and gals) will be UFC fighters Daniel Cormier and CM Punk. No telling how involved they are with the actual breakdowns, but “DC” is fun in just about any on-camera role.

The six episode series premieres Feb. 18.

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Cain Velasquez to Fight This Weekend, Then Disappear Again Into the Netherworld

Like some sort of primeval beast of legend, long lost heavyweight star Cain Velasquez will emerge from the shadows to face Francis Ngannou at UFC on ESPN+2 this weekend. Then, no matter the outcome, he once more disappear into the netherworld, invisible but for the highlight reel clips.

I mean, that’s at least what it feels like.

Thanks to a never-ending slew of injuries, the dude has been on the sidelines far more often than in the Octagon since, well, since forever. Velasquez was even the champ – more than once – and he rarely fought.

So yeah, we’re getting him in the main event of the UFC’s next big ESPN bash. But you can bet it will be years before Velasquez is in the cage again. If ever.

Anyway, here’s a video of Velasquez in action. Because you probably forgot what that looks like.

The post Cain Velasquez to Fight This Weekend, Then Disappear Again Into the Netherworld appeared first on Caged Insider.

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A Fighter’s Tour: Vacation In Vietnam!

Celebrating my 23rd birthday in the bar on level 52 of the Bitexco Financial Tower in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

New Scars

A big part of my gig here at MMAmania.com for the previous five years has been recapping my own martial arts experiences and mixed martial arts (MMA) career. From my first fight as an amateur in 2014 at the age of 18 to my second professional win back in July, I’ve written about each step of the journey and tried to take readers along for the ride as best as possible.

In the seven months since my July victory (LINK), however, it’s been radio silence. A few days after that bout, I received test results from a recent MRI confirming I had an acoustic neuroma: a benign tumor inside the inner ear. For the concerned, it was no result of head trauma, more pulling one in 100,000 bad odds. Google the term if you’d like more info, but the short version is that I had to have it removed surgically in a procedure that qualifies as neurosurgery.

After a few months of waiting on referrals, my two teams of surgeons at UC Davis Medical in Sacramento, Calif., successfully removed the tumor in an 11-hour procedure near the end of Nov. 2018.

Post-Surgery Swollen Head

That’s a great result for me, but one with consequences, too. As a result of the acoustic neuroma, I have no hearing in one my ears. To be frank, I don’t find it to be a big deal. There was also the issue of balance, as I had to retrain my brain against vertigo and learn to walk normally again. I figured most of that out in the first week, though, so the bigger issue for me came in the form of recovery. Shockingly, medical experts are against the combination of brain surgery and combat sports … at least right away. After surgery, I was scheduled a significant amount of recovery time before being allowed back in the gym. Nearly three months post-surgery, I’m still forced to be wary of Intracranial Pressure, only allowed to do certain exercises and drills despite looking and feeling perfectly healthy.

At six weeks, though, I was allowed to fly.

I’m not one for melancholy, so before surgery I realized the opportunity here. In my more than nine years of martial arts experience, I had never taken more than one week away from the gym — usually the week after a fight, as I only do my strength and conditioning workouts in an attempt to recover from camp and the fight itself. Unasked for or not, I suddenly had a pretty big window of non-gym or severely limited gym time available. I wasn’t going to waste it.

Six weeks and one day post-surgery, my girlfriend Jordan and I boarded the 14-hour China Airlines flight from San Francisco, Calif., to Taipei, Taiwan, the main connecting airport en route to Hanoi, Vietnam. To answer the inevitable, “Why Vietnam?” queries, there are a few reasons.

  1. Since the beginning of our relationship, Jordan and I both shared a dream of traveling to Asia. We made a whole list of travel goals at one point, and the top of that varied list was actually a mutual vote for Japan. Which brings us to reason #2 …
  2. Expense. Our vacation had to be cheap; I am an MMA fighter, remember? With that, our scope narrowed a bit to South East Asia. Sadly, I had to save Thailand for the future, too, because going to homeland of Muay Thai without kicking things would be a true sin.
  3. Food. Jordan and I love the Vietnamese food we’d have in the States, and Vietnam is well-known for its delicious and cheap street food.
  4. Anthony Bourdain: The travel host, author, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt loved Vietnam and described visiting as a life-changing experience. I’ve read three of his books — including this piece’s partial namesake A Cook’s Tour on the plane ride over — and they did a great job of convincing me.

Within five minutes of finding my seat on the 747, I was trying to keep my laughter quiet. China Airlines is not an American company and thus does not force its staff to tolerate the usual buffoonery we all endure on flights. The stewardesses sped around the plane, appearing and disappearing behind curtains, emerging from any angle to reprimand idiot passengers for trying to open bags in the aisle or sitting in the wrong seat. Any level of incorrect behavior — from the accidental to the obnoxious — was shut down with a quick “Stop!” or “You will sit!” There was no forced customer-service politeness, only blunt efficiency. It was hilarious to watch.

I think I’d do well in Singapore (ONE FC hit me up!).

MMA in Vietnam

After about 24 hours door-to-door, we arrived at our Airbnb in Hanoi. We had about 20 minutes to help the host rewire a light bulb and get dressed before our scheduled tour with some local college students would arrive. It’s a great program: the college students make a couple bucks and get a chance to practice their English, while tourists get an educational tour from actual locals (LINK).

In an unexpected twist, the tour also granted me the MMA tie-in necessary for this article. My career posts tend to run at a ratio of about 80 percent fighting and 20 percent me — be it tattoos or post-fight celebrations or some interesting event that occurred in the lead up, I try to interject some personality to avoid creating too generic of a “Got in a fight last night … and dominated!” post that any fighter could write.

But, I wasn’t allowed to do MMA on the trip. Going to Thailand and kicking pads? That’s a post that writes itself. Vietnam is not internationally known for a combat sports culture, though, nor would I be able to participate if it was.

Luckily, I found out early on the tour that one of our guides, Duy, is a giant fight fan. I didn’t intend to bring up my career as a fighter — be wary, for folks who immediately blab about their fighting career without provocation are generally to be avoided at all costs. However, Duy asked how we came to be in Vietnam, which lead to the whole surgery conversation and how I had to take time off from my career, a career I simply described as physical work. When Duy asked further, I had to spill the beans.

Duy asked for a face-off pic at the end of our tour. Kindly ignore the fact that I’m wearing the same shirt in half of these pictures, we didn’t check any bags.

“Have you ever heard of UFC?” is generally my go-to opening phrase for figuring out how to explain my fight career, and immediately Duy was pumped.

“Bro, I love UFC! On Youtube, I watch all the Embedded episodes!” Realizing I had a real fight fan on my hands, I backtracked and began explaining that I’m not in UFC, but Duy was already way ahead of me. We talked being an unsigned fighter (poverty), the work that goes into preparing for a fight (a lot), and whether or not everyone is on steroids (not in my experience). When he found out I was a member of Team Alpha Male, I got hit with the immediate, “What’s the real story with Cody and T.J.?!?” We talked about the upcoming super fight between between Dillashaw and Henry Cejudo, which I actually watched on the plane ride back to the states.

I had questions for him as well. Is there an active MMA scene in Vietnam? The couple Google searches I did prior to the trip revealed little, other than at least one MMA gym existing in Ho Chi Minh City. Duy explained to me that an MMA gym had recently opened in Hanoi, and that there was a popular jiu-jitsu academy nearby as well.

Here in North America, it’s easy to get cynical in regards to UFC’s supposed expansion. “Fastest growing sport on the planet!” is repeated ad nauseam and seems to directly contradict the crappy television ratings that frequently bounce back from random events with no major headliner. It’s easy to forget countries like Vietnam, who may not have a representative in the Octagon yet but is beginning to host events more often and develop new fight teams.

Among his generation, fighting really is a sport of growing popularity.

Food in Hanoi

For the food and travel bits of our stay in Hanoi, pictures are superior to lengthy descriptions.

Bun Cha is Hanoi’s signature dish. A sweet, vinegary broth is served with all the fixings on the side: patties of fatty pork, green papaya, hot red chiles, fresh herbs, and a giant helping of cold rice noodles are to be thrown into the bowl in whatever portions you prefer.

“Oc,” or river snails, sauteed in tamarind sauce at the tiny blue table of a street side Bia Hoi (fresh beer) stop.

A staple of cafes, egg coffee features an egg white blended with sweetened condensed milk and poured into hot coffee, creating a rich, sweet mixture.

Banh Mi Op La: In Vietnamese, Banh Mi means both the sandwich and the baguette itself. In this case, it’s a crunchy baguette served with a fried egg as well as a side of chili-soy sauce.

Immediately after the Banh Mi, we squeezed in another breakfast of Pho, the classic Vietnamese beef noodle soup, at a quick chain restaurant.

For more than six decades, the French colonized Vietnam as part of French Indochina, and the result — besides years of brutal oppression and a hard-fought, bloody revolution in the ‘40s and ‘50s — is a lasting influence on the country. Many of the country’s most famous landmarks and government feature beautiful French architecture. Common Vietnamese street foods like the Banh Mi and Banh Xeo (a sizzling egg crepe) show obvious French influence. Perhaps most telling is the national coffee culture: coffee is sold on every block, whether in thousands of small cafes or from a cart on the side of the street. Both are busy late into the night, well past when American coffee shops have shut their doors.

Another lighter consequence of the French occupation is a high number of amazing French restaurants. Late Saturday night, we made an impromptu stop at La Badiane, an acclaimed restaurant in the French Quarter of Hanoi. The original plan was to do lunch on Sunday (cheap!), but a Google search while walking the alleys revealed them to be closed Sunday. The prices may have been higher, and we may have been dramatically under-dressed, but this was our one chance.

A pan-seared breaded sea bass with mushroom and red wine sauce — the single best piece of fish in our collective lives.

A similarly delicious crab risotto with Parmesan emulsion

Sights

Sadly, our trip only allotted about two total days to explore the city of Hanoi, which was far from enough. We sacrificed two days of our time in northern Vietnam to visit Halong Bay, a fantasy landscape of tall limestone islands jutting out of a grass-colored bay. It’s a massive attraction and commonly appears on lists of natural world wonders. It’s a place you simply can’t miss.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

A three hour bus ride from Hanoi covers about 110 miles of travel to the bay. The most popular way to experience Halong Bay is via small cruise ship, and we opted for the overnight tour. While on board, we did a cooking lesson, kayaked, saw an oyster pearl farm, and explored a deep cave.

Top deck

A cloudy sunrise at Hoan Kiem Lake. In the heart of Old Quarter, Hanoi, locals gather early in the morning to do Tai Chai, dance classes, and exercise by the water.

On the weekends, the streets around Hoan Kiem Lake are shut down. Instead, the streets are filled with new food stands, a giant screen showing the national soccer team’s game, and children riding around in dozens of remote controlled cars.

The narrow, busy streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter

Our guides’ motorbikes in front of West Lake

An intimidating French guillotine in Hoa Lo Prison. Before the prison gained notoriety as a POW camp in the American-Vietnam War as the “Hanoi Hilton,” the French held political prisoners and dissidents there. It is now a museum.

The Hanoi Citadel and flag tower, built in the 11th century

St. Joseph’s Cathedral in the French Quarter. Vietnam’s population is largely Buddhist, but there are sizable groups following Catholicism, Hinduism, and Islam as well. The result is a blend of beautiful pagodas, churches, and mosques throughout the country.

Jordan has never been happier than during our visit to a Cat Cafe. We spent a couple dollars on cat food and Pâté, ensuring we were the center of attention among Jordan’s new friends.

After four days in northern Vietnam split between Hanoi and Halong Bay, we boarded a plane early Monday morning and left for Ho Chi Minh City. Formerly known as Saigon, the long-time capital is a vastly different city and environment. Rather than the misty northern winter (it wasn’t actually very cold), we were heading to sweltering heat and soul-crushing humidity.

Two (Hopefully) Quiet Americans

Saigon is a massive city. The headlining picture of this article features Jordan and I on the 52nd floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower in its sky bar. If you walk 360 degrees around the entire bar, you will not see the end of the cityscape — it’s massive buildings divided by a different rivers as far as the eye can see.

There is money in Ho Chi Minh City. At one point, we walked through a gigantic mall, maybe 10 levels total, that largely featured luxury brands. The buildings are bigger, cars are more common, and rush hour is actually even more intense. The feeling of “Old Vietnam” is more prevalent in Hanoi, where it seeps from every building and narrow alleyway, but it permeates through Saigon as well if you stray from the standard tourist path. The hectic nature of Vietnam in general can be overwhelming, but both cities actually do a very nice job of providing centers of calm, often in the form of green parks and pagodas.

As the former capital of southern Vietnam and base of U.S. military operations, our shared and recent history is harder to avoid in Ho Chi Minh City. Learning more about the war than what high school and Apocalypse Now taught me was not a central goal in this trip, but it was still the most eye-opening experience in a journey filled with completely new adventures.

On our second day in Saigon, we visited the War Remnants Museum, the most popular museum in the city. Once titled the Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression before the relationship between the two countries normalized, the museum is a must-see among tourists for a reason.

Now, it’s run by the Vietnamese government, and the placards around the museum certainly make their agenda and bias clear. At the same time, no spin was really required to unsettle or horrify anyone with eyes or a conscious. Brutal, often award-winning photographs of napalm and death filled the walls. An entire room dedicated to those born with defects from Agent Orange decades later. Excerpts from the Russell Tribunal, a European committee that condemned the war back in 1967, years before it would end. Millions dead. The names of a whole village wiped out, exclusively made up of women who tended to be under the age of 16 or over 60. And their children.

It’s a difficult topic to talk about as a U.S. citizen. From what I remember of my scholastic education, we were simply taught that the war was a mistake, but never learned to what extent. Furthermore, any sympathy shown toward the Vietnamese or criticism of the U.S.’ involvement is easily misconstrued as anti-American or anti-soldier because of protesters’ shameful treatment of soldiers returning from the war.

Graham Greene’s 1955 novel The Quiet American is widely known as the quintessential Vietnam book. The novel takes place during the Vietnamese revolution against the French, focusing primarily on a love triangle while the war rages on. Throughout the personal drama, Greene explains how the West did not understand the country they were inhabiting nor how to possibly win this endless war. Nearly a decade before American combat troops were on the ground, the Englishman predicted further American involvement, the war, and the outcome. He was not alone in his foresight, either; President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara acknowledged the war as unwinnable as early as 1965. Americans and Vietnamese died en mass for another eight years before Operation Homecoming.

After the museum, I didn’t know exactly what to do with all the information I learned. I still don’t. But, I think more people should have it.

Saigon Eats

Leaving an experience like the War Remnants Museum and trying to return to fun tourist mode is difficult. It’s made easier, though, by the incredible friendliness of the folks in Vietnam, who largely seem to hold no ill will over battles that are still less than 50 years old.

A mix of fruit from the Mekong Delta. Each morning in Saigon, we grabbed fresh smoothies from a shop in the bottom of our apartment complex for about $ 1. They tasted better than the Jamba Juice smoothies that sneak sherbet into the final product.

Jordan doesn’t eat meat, but cheerfully accompanied me to a steakhouse and watched me eat snails. To show my appreciation, we went on a vegetarian food walk through Saigon. Pictured above are vegetarian version of Mi Quang, a central noodle dish, and Com Tam (broken rice). The soybean patty in the Com Tam was the ugliest and best meat substitute I’ve ever tasted.

Speaking of that steakhouse… A Chateaubriand from B3 Steakhouse for my 23rd Birthday

I wasn’t not going to drink cobra rice wine.

A papaya salad seated on our rental bike from a well-known street vendor in Saigon. The story I’m told is that The Papaya Lady put her daughter through college by selling thousands of these papaya salads at about $ 1 a piece. Inside the bag are slices of papaya, peanuts, beef jerky, and dressing. Add chili sauce until your face burns.

Bon Bo Hue: a central dish featuring pork blood in the broth

I had to message Duy on Instagram to get the name of my favorite street food I tried during our trip. Banh Trang Nuong sees a sheet of rice paper placed over a charcoal grill and folded over like a quesadilla. Warm and melty inside is a mix of pork, chicken, scallions, quail eggs, chilis, and some hot sauce. Delicious!

We didn’t leave Saigon until mid-day Saturday, meaning we had a few hours to occupy ourselves after checking out. I hauled my heavy back pack maybe a mile to Chef Thien, another French restaurant, and nearly died in the heat and humidity. Totally worth it

Sights

In addition to the vegetarian foods tour, we went on a longer day trip that took us to both the Cu Chi Tunnels to the north and the Mekong Delta to the south. The delta was beautiful, the tunnels terrifying. At one point, we crawled forty yards through a tunnel expanded twice the size for us large tourists. Well, I’m a Flyweight and professional athlete, and after forty yards I was pretty ready to get out. It’s hot and cramped, and the compact nature of the tunnel means there isn’t enough Oxygen. Several minutes was more than enough, but some of the soldiers who fought in that area were forced to hide underground for a mind-boggling 21 years. We also saw some displays of the different types of traps used in the war … yikes!

An example of an entrance/exit to the tunnels

Jordan’s shiny silver head hidden in the Cu Chi Tunnels

Nothing better than getting permission from your guide to follow your impulse.

Canoeing down a channel of the Mekong Delta

Sun setting over the dock

A flower shop in a Cambodian neighborhood

A neighborhood that was largely destroyed during the Tet Offensive

A friendly Iguana we met

A taste of Saigon rush hour

My favorite example of random Vietnamese friendliness. After dinner, we walked around District 1 for some beautiful sights and famous landmarks, and we wanted to get a picture in front of city hall. We asked a pair of Vietnamese ladies to help us out with the photo, and they more than answered the call. Despite being in a seriously busy area, they successfully shooed other people away and yelled at a van to move. They took a dozen pictures on our phone before deciding they were unhappy with the quality. Then, they used their own camera and emailed us the pictures.

The Central Post Office in District 1

Lifetime Souvenir

During our tour in Hanoi, we walked through a house built in the 18th century where a well-known rich family had lived. On the walls hung a variety of scrolls and paintings, one of which featured some phoenixes extremely similar to the one tattooed on my chest from four years ago. I asked our guides about it, and they explained that the phoenix is one of the four holy animals in Vietnamese culture.


Now, I’ll readily admit that I got my phoenix in America because I simply liked the art and was tired of waiting for the perfect idea. I won my second amateur fight and got it done the next day. As it happens, I stumbled upon a bit of meaning.

I couldn’t just leave it there. I had considered getting a tattoo while in Vietnam before the trip, but checking out Bob Tattoo near Bui Ven Street confirmed it for me. The past work was beautiful, the ink and equipment shipped from the West, and the shop seemed very sterile. I’ve been tattooed enough to make educated decisions. We did admittedly pay up a bit for the western cleanliness and equipment standards, but going cheap on tattoos is generally not a wise plan, and the prices were still very fair.

I had a vague idea of possibly getting an ouroboros — a snake eating itself and symbol for infinity/rebirth, which would tie well with the Phoenix — but instead I landed on a second of the four holy beasts.

It’s a difficult location for pictures. Done by Dung Black of Bob Tattoo in Saigon, Vietnam

Jordan, meanwhile, decided to go with a peony. Unlike her usual preference, she went colorful.

Tattoo done by Bob of Bob Tattoo in Saigon, Vietnam

Tam Biet!

I didn’t expect to be able to go on a trip like this for at least a couple years. The gym does not allow for time off, and I have work besides that, writing here and occasionally driving for Lyft. Jordan is just as busy, splitting her time between college, a dental office, and sushi restaurant.

I also didn’t expect to have a tumor. I am not an “Everything Happens for a Reason”-type person, but I do believe in making the most of bad situations. I knew we wanted to do this, and suddenly we had an opportunity.

So we did it.

This trip also inspired me as a mixed martial artist. As a professional fighter from Team Alpha Male, jiu-jitsu brown belt, and fight analyst, I’m qualified to teach just about anywhere. I’ve always thought the idea of teaching somewhere overseas sounded neat, but actually being in another country made the concept real. Could I live in a place like Vietnam and teach jiu-jitsu? After my experiences there, that sounds fantastic. Fighting is a game of uncertainty, so every back up plan that falls into my lap is a welcome one.

Similarly, one of my goals in fighting has always been to travel. To fly free somewhere distant, stay in a paid hotel, fight, and then explore the area is a dream. As a West Coast transplant, I’m never going to make serious money by selling 300 tickets in California, so I might as well fly somewhere else to fight. In a year or two, getting flown out to fight will be a realistic option assuming all goes well (seriously ONE FC, call me).

And hey, maybe in another couple years, I’ll talk to the big bosses here at MMAmania.com and do some type of multimedia story on kicking down a banana tree in Thailand.

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Cain Velasquez to Fight This Weekend, Then Disappear Again Into the Netherworld

Like some sort of primeval beast of legend, long lost heavyweight star Cain Velasquez will emerge from the shadows to face Francis Ngannou at UFC on ESPN+2 this weekend. Then, no matter the outcome, he once more disappear into the netherworld, invisible but for the highlight reel clips.

I mean, that’s at least what it feels like.

Thanks to a never-ending slew of injuries, the dude has been on the sidelines far more often than in the Octagon since, well, since forever. Velasquez was even the champ – more than once – and he rarely fought.

So yeah, we’re getting him in the main event of the UFC’s next big ESPN bash. But you can bet it will be years before Velasquez is in the cage again. If ever.

Anyway, here’s a video of Velasquez in action. Because you probably forgot what that looks like.

The post Cain Velasquez to Fight This Weekend, Then Disappear Again Into the Netherworld appeared first on Caged Insider.

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