Over the weekend I noticed that Jorge Gurgel (11-3 MMA, 2-2 UFC) was announced to be taking on John Halverson (16-5 MMA, 0-1 UFC) at UFC 82 in Columbus, Ohio. Next on the plate for mixed martial arts fans was more rambling about how much Jorge Gurgel’s performance against Alvin Robinson proved that he does not belong in the UFC. Come on, has the fanbase really begun to not see the business side of the sport? Let’s take a look.
Jorge Gurgel’s performances
First off, I’m not on the Gurgel bandwagon. I think Gurgel has some huge training problems that he needs to look at. I can, however, look through his history and come to some conclusions from his latter fights. Looking through his past performances, he came up through the MMA scene from March of 2002 to August of 2003 with 5 straight wins by submission. If anyone has followed Gurgel, he’s a Brazilian ju-jitsu black belt who is most well-known for being the head trainer for his own camp in Ohio and the main ju-jitsu trainer for Rich Franklin. His ju-jitsu skills definitely looked great in his early bouts against lower level competition. Once Gurgel ran into Masakazu Imanari (13-5-1), one of the better lightweights in the world, he was submitted easily inside :35 seconds due to a classic tactic of countering the aggressive nature that Gurgel imposed on his opponents early in his career. As Gurgel bullcharged Imanari, Imanari dropped down and as Gurgel ran through, he grabbed his legs and began working the heel hook. A great tactic that completely caught Gurgel off guard.
Rattling off four more wins after his defeat at the hands of Imanari, he hit the UFC with an impressive 9-1 record and sported a Midwest following with his camp, key selling points for the UFC’s success in Ohio. In the UFC, Gurgel went 2-2 with wins over Diego Saraiva and Danny Abbadi, not exactly world class competition, but nonetheless, decent tests for a fighter who relies mainly on his submission skills.
The most notable fights that show Gurgel’s main weaknesses have been his last two bouts. Notably, Diego Saraiva showed some glimmers of hope that he could pull out the win in their war at UFC 73. Saraiva’s standup was good enough to crush Gurgel’s face into near mutilation. Gurgel sustained a broken jaw and some internal bleeding from the fight. No doubt, Gurgel has showed his tough chin in the past, but his defense in the standup has always been criticized as being fairly poor. I would tend to agree. Gurgel’s defensive tactics clearly are earning him debilitating injuries that will not help him in the long run of his mixed martial arts career.
In his latest turn for the worst, Gurgel was absolutely demolished by lightweight prospect Alvin Robinson at UFC 77. Gurgel did exactly what he has done in the past, came out in a flurry of activity and lost his gas. He was fairly impressive in the first round with his ground tactics and submission attempts, but Robinson outlasted the storm and proceeded to beat Gurgel down in the second and third rounds. Robinson’s strength, which wasn’t shown during his loss to Kenny Florian, had the biggest impact late. Gurgel’s cardio and endurance was horribly lacking. He continued for submissions, but with no endurance in his muscles, he simply could not maintain his grip. What can the UFC do with a guy who has some poor cardio, horrible endurance, and is questionable as to whether his head could be wrecked in the cage? They can still use him to sell tickets.
Why is it that the UFC sells some of their biggest events in Columbus, Ohio? Gurgel and company run their very successful MMA camp out of Ohio. Rich Franklin, one of the UFC’s greatest fighters, also trains at that camp and Gurgel is his regular ju-jitsu trainer. Are you getting the connection? Gurgel and company basically sell tickets for the Ohio events. It’s safe to say that they may have a lot of pull as to gaining fans in the area and probably do a lot of promoting for the UFC in the area as well. It also allows for those fans to come out and cheer on the local boys.
Gurgel may not have the best mixed martial arts skills, but he can sell tickets along with his camp and is high profile with some of the best fighters in the business. I think that Gurgel’s mixed martial arts career is at a crossroads. His training needs to improve considerably, especially in his cardio and endurance. As a MMA fighter, he has hit the point where the cliche “Separate the men from the boys” comes into play. Although Gurgel has lasted through his matches, it was evident against Robinson that his cardio was lacking. Endurance is just as important. With some endurance, Gurgel may have been able to submit Robinson late in the match. Instead, Robinson simply moved Gurgel’s arms away and continued to beat him.
As fans complain about his performances, you must still think about the business side of mixed martial arts. Gurgel and his camp sell tickets, promote the UFC, and have the high profile names that draw people to that arena in Columbus. With that said, we’ll see Gurgel for the remainder of his contract and with another win, we may see him re-signed for the pure fact that the UFC is successful in Ohio. Get over it.