In the early days of mixed martial arts (MMA), the main appeal for fight fans was seeing how opponents with completely different skill sets sized up against one another. The sport has evolved to the extent that elite athletes are almost always well rounded, but every now and again it throws up one of those classic match-ups pitting two fighters with completely contrasting styles together.
On Friday night (April 5, 2013) at ONE FC: "Kings & Champions" in the Singapore Indoor Stadium, two men with strengths and weaknesses from the polar opposite ends of the spectrum will collide. Brock Larson is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt with 26 career submission wins while Melvin Manhoef is a K-1 level striker with 25 victories by way of KO or TKO.
This combination of factors leaves Larson, a UFC veteran who is riding a three-fight winning streak, in no doubt as to what is likely to happen when the two step inside the ONE FC cage.
"I think it’s going to be a fast fight and someone’s getting a finish. Melvin can knock me out just as easily as I can submit him, but this fight is not going the distance. One of us will get the stoppage win and I’m pretty confident it’s going to be me."
The differences between these two fighters are vast but they do both have one thing in common: neither of them tends to go the distance with Manhoef having only been to a decision twice in his entire career and Larson having left it in the hands of the judges just six times. The American says he is a firm believer in the importance of finishing fights.
"I like closure. I’m a finisher and I finish the majority of my fights either with a knockout or submission. I don’t think good fighters let the judges make the decision, I think good judges take it into their own hands and try and get that win and I’m always looking for that finish," he said.
In a sport which, at times, can become overly cliched and complicated, Larson is refreshingly honest and straightforward. He isn't about to insult the intelligence of the fans by suggesting that he's going to try to stand and bang with one of the most accomplished kickboxers in the game.
"My gameplan is simple. It’s no secret that Manhoef's a world-class striker so my plan is to take him down to the ground and use my skills as a black belt in jiu-jitsu and a wrestler and punch him in the face and soften him up and then use some submissions I've been working on especially for him."
A phrase which springs to mind at this juncture is "the fight starts standing," but Larson does not think that necessarily means that makes Manhoef the favorite.
"Every fight starts standing up, but the good thing about wrestling, is you know how to take people down. It might be an advantage to him that we are starting standing but he's got a lot of work to do to keep it there because I have pretty good takedowns. That’s going to be the battle. It’s a challenge but I think I’m ready for it."
Manhoef is not renowned for his ground game but he has only been submitted six times in 38 fights which indicates that he is more comfortable on the floor than perhaps people give him credit for. Larson has been studying the Dutchman closely and offers the following assessment of his strengths and weaknesses.
"Melvin Manhoef is a very, very talented fighter, great striker, probably the best striker I've faced. I've faced some world champion strikers before but he takes the cake. Physically big, he’s fast, he’s explosive he’s everything you want in a striker but he does have a glitch in his armor and that’s his grappling so I’m gonna try like hell to turn it into a grappling match."
There are no prizes for guessing what Larson's gameplan will be, but high on his list of priorities will be to avoid getting on the receiving end of the sort of strike with which Manhoef laid out Denis Kang and Ryo Kawamura in the opening round of his two most recent fights.
"I've watched quite a few of his fights and he's a tough guy on the feet and he can take anybody's head off at any time with his feet or with his knees or with his fists, so I plan on avoiding that. You get a takedown on him he's good at getting back up but if you can keep him down and hold him down then he's susceptible to positions first and submissions after that. He’s very explosive and athletic and he uses that as a trait, but if you can counter that you are doing good."
Larson's professional career has spanned an entire decade and seen him enjoy success in the UFC, WEC and KOTC, but this will be his first time fighting in Asia and he says that is the sort of challenge which, at the age of 35, he needs to excite him and motivate him.
"One of the biggest reasons I’m excited about fighting for ONE FC because it’s a good opportunity to fight over in Asia which I’ve never done before and because the rules are intriguing and they make for exciting fights. I think I will be able to use to my advantage the fact that I can take people down and if their fingers are on the mat I’ll still be able to knee them in the head. That loophole over in the U.S., people take advantage of, but here they're not going to be able to do that," he said.
Melvin Manhoef has always been very near the top of my personal list of people who I would least like to see staring at me from across the cage as the bell sounded to begin a fight. Larson will also be at a size disadvantage because he is moving up in weight, having spent most of his career competing at 170 pounds, but says that the prospect of facing one of the most feared strikers in the sport inside the ONE FC cage was too good to turn down,
"It's a scary fight! I'll have to deal with his power that but the match-up was intriguing to me so I said 'let's do it'."
ONE FC: "Kings & Champions" is taking place at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday night and will be headlined by a Lightweight title fight between Shinya Aoki vs. Kotetsu Boku. For more information on watching it live visit www.onefc.com.