"Captain America: The First Avenger" Review

Captain America has long since been a landmark in pop culture, and surely Captain America: The First Avenger offers a wonderful cinematic exploration of the character’s history to fans who’ve been waiting to see the story told among the past decade’s roll-out of comic book movies. But for someone who isn’t well-versed in the comic’s plot, or even worse: someone unfamiliar with the Avengers, which Captain America unfolds into, the movie fails to make a compelling stand as a true original. The development of the Captain America character is a rocky one, especially so considering the movie’s inability to compel the audience to suspend disbelief (even for a superhero movie) in order to let the plot blossom, and the process of the character almost immediately graduating from a scrawny runt with a golden heart to a courageous, fully operational killing machine trapped in a pro-wrestler’s body is a big leap to make with or without extensive plot development. The storyline buildup showcasing Cap’s use as a propaganda tool does lend his role character, but the jump from wannabe to a (somehow) skilled fighter pilot with nerves, instinct and capabilities of a seasoned combat veteran is neither smooth nor interesting. Sure, further developing Captain America (as a character we’re actually supposed to care about) would have extended the movie far beyond its already-lengthy run time, but without doing so Captain America is just another explosion-happy action flick.

T.Q.D. “Desert Sky (Remix)” (Influenza)


Following the release of Status Reign’s Brutally Honest LP (which includes such standouts as “Dedicated” and “The Chorus“) comes a new release from another member of Minneapolis’ Background Noise Crew, T.Q.D.Serving as an aptly titled lead-up to more new material which should drop later this year, The Appetizer 3 is an “odds-and-ends collection” which does well to show off a variety of different aspects of the MC’s style. In this edition of Influenza T.Q.D. explains the development of the new EP, in particular focusing on a remix of “Desert Sky” which has matured into its present shape over the course of the past four years. The Appetizer 3 is available as a free download via Bandcamp.

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When I was thinking about what I thought the third volume of my Appetizer EP series would sound like, I decided I wanted the EP to be five to seven self-produced remixes of previous songs that I felt showed potential, but didn’t quite turn out the way I wanted. I didn’t follow through on that plan completely, but I ended up making a couple remixes. I’ve always enjoyed a good remix to an okay songs. Most songs are fine just way they are or are so bad they can’t be saved, but some just need a little extra seasoning.

The original “Desert Sky” was a collaboration between myself and a good friend of mine named Bob Benson in 2007. His graduation assignment from IPR was to produce and engineer a song for another artist and I was chosen. The beat he made had a synth feel with some guitar. He also sang a hook and bridge as well. He said he wanted lyrics that fit in to the inspire/overcome category. Even though I wasn’t going to say no, as someone who prefers downer music, it was a challenge, but one that I welcomed. It never ended up on an album, but was released digitally on a certain not-so-hip anymore social networking site. The song turned out okay in my view, but I always thought it could be better with a few changes.

Fast forward to earlier this year when I brainstormed this EP and it was time. Even if I didn’t do any other remakes for the EP, I felt like this one had to be made. I had trouble cooking up my own beat, so I tried out a few others I had and a beat I had just bought from Arsenic seemed to fit like a glove. I rearranged the words a bit, changed the hook and I was ready to go. The beat I used for the remix was definitely more uptempo and lighter than my usual choices, but when shopping for beats, I had to have it and knew I’d end up using it for something.

It was one of the easiest recording times I’ve had. Everything was done in one take. It just felt right and I’m happy with the way it turned out.


The Ettes “Excuse” (Influenza)


As time draws near for the release of the Ettes‘ fourth studio album, Wicked Will, the trio has dropped a pair of new tracks: the fuzzy and wonderfully distorted “The Pendulum” and the straight-forward kick in the teeth “Excuse.” Produced by Liam Watson (the Kills, the White Stripes) Wicked Will was written on the road before eventually taking shape in the group’s native Nashville. Since the release of 2009′s Do You Want Power the band has seen a slow emergence into the mainstream, performing on the likes of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, but perhaps one of the most critical plots on the group’s timeline might have come with Lindsay “Coco” Hames‘ collaborative album with Greg Cartwright as the Parting Gifts. The duo’s Strychnine Dandelion was well received upon its release in 2010 (Pitchfork, for instance, called it a “surprisingly versatile” effort), but without the step away from her mainstay, the drive to create such an inspired new record under the Ettes banner might not have been there. In this edition of Influenza, “Coco” explains how she turned from the Parting Gifts and focused herself on new music, eventually expanding on the creation of the aforementioned “Excuse.” To see the Ettes live, the band will be taking to the road in August for a whopping 27-date U.S. tour, kicking things off in New York with fellow Nashvillains Hans Condor and Heavy Cream lending support.

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I am a man of action. Platitudes and excuses annoy and exhaust me. The way I communicate with people, those things get in the way of understanding, instead of leading to it. I also hate repeating myself. “Excuse” was the first song I wrote for Wicked Will, I’d just finished the Parting Gifts record with Greg Cartwright and was like, right, let’s get to the next Ettes record. I was sat down at my dining table with my guitar and I was in a mood to construct and lay out what we call a “rager.” There are “ragers,” and “bangers,” and trippy ones and sad ones, and I just wrote “Excuse” with the low E string and a tambourine. It’s like a camp song. A mean, mean camp song.

"Excuse” (which I just learned is the name of another single coming out right now, but in a whole different way; “Excuse” by Big Freedia is kind of my favorite thing right now, that sounds like me and Poni [Silver], “esscuuuuuuse…”) is just a direct call out to people who talk a big talk but don’t actually do anything, especially about their own problems or their own situations. One thing I can’t really tolerate is complaining, because while I value the power of venting, and commiserating, it gets to a point where complaining is just an excuse to not do anything, not make the changes that would fix what you’re complaining about. I’m kind of a bad listener in that way, like a bad ear to bend, because it’s my nature to go straight to the source of what’s wrong, identify it, and figure out how to fix it. Whatever “it” is. And when people don’t really want to do that (because it is oftentimes something that is going to be difficult) I get fed up, and “Excuse” pretty much lets you know how I feel about that.

I’ve said that Wicked Will is an album that I find to reflect a lot about my relationships with women: my interactions, observations, perceptions on gender roles and assumptions, behavior, etc. “Excuse” makes itself pretty clear, and it’s actually a conversation I’ve had. The music and the performance of the song reiterate my frustrations, which is a big part of our sound together as a band. If you don’t understand the words that are coming out of my mouth, the music will let you know for sure.


Alistair Overeem & the Curious Case of the Strikeforce Grand Prix

Where to begin…? After much speculation Strikeforce dropped a bomb on the MMA world when it announced this past January that the World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament, branded as a competition to determine the world’s best heavyweight MMA fighter, would take place throughout 2011. Such a bold statement was backed with a rather bountiful crop of athletes however, as the lineup boasted Fedor Emelianenko, Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Josh Barnett, Antonio Silva, Andrei Arlovski, Sergei Kharitonov and Brett Rogers. With a lineup like that, what could go wrong?

Seeding left the tournament’s four favorites, Emelianenko, Silva, Overeem and Werdum, on one side of the bracket, curiously suggesting that instead of an eight man tournament, the champion would be decided with or without the inclusion of half of the competitors. From there, the first fights of the quarterfinals yielded a massive upset, with Silva crushing Emelianenko, and the elimination of one of the more recognizable names, Arlovski, as he was squashed by Kharitonov. From there, disorganization immediately left its mark on the event as the second quarterfinal matches were pushed from April 9 to June 18, eventually culminating in a one-sided win by Barnett and a bizarre snooze-fest between two of the tourny’s favorites, with Overeem taking a decision victory.

With the semifinals set for October, the extended layoff left both Silva and Kharitonov with an unusually lengthy layoff between fights, and one which left the latter enough time to squeeze in a kickboxing fight in Russia (where he knocked out Mighty Mo in just under two minutes). Perhaps adding a cloud of negativity to the festivities going forward was Rogers who, after tapping out to Barnett, was arrested on domestic violence charges and subsequently released by the company.

Most recently Showtime came forward and announced that the next round of the event would be bumped from October to September 10. Yet as the remaining fighters reportedly accepted the change in date, a bombshell was dropped early this week when Alistair Overeem announced that he had not agreed to the change in date and would not be competing. “For me that’s too short notice to take a fight like this” he told MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani during an interview Monday. Further, he added that Strikeforce’s parent company ZUFFA had threatened to pull him from the tournament if he didn’t comply, leading him to lash back, “If you really want to do that, be my guest, I’m totally not going to sing to your tune.” It was promptly announced that Overeem was out and the former Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier (8-0) was in to face Silva as an alternate in the semifinals. Fans took to the Internet to spout their disgust in the removal of the champion from the mix, with opposing views either lashing out at ZUFFA for the quick substitution or Overeem for not stepping up to the plate and accepting the match. That said, it doesn’t seem like we’re being given the entire story here.

Citing a lingering pinky toe injury, Overeem claims that he wouldn’t have enough time to put together a proper training camp and prepare for such a fight in the nearly eight weeks between now and the new fight date. Yet this is coming from a fighter who — as he confirmed to MMA Fighting loves to be active — had a total of seven combined kickboxing and MMA fights in each of the past two years. Despite Silva commanding as much preparation time as possible, it does seem a bit unusual that a fighter who has been proven to be able to compete with such frequency apparently needs a whopping 12 week training camp to get ready for a tournament fight.

On the flip side is UFC President Dana White, who in speaking for ZUFFA, clarified the company’s decision to pull Overeem from the match at this week’s UFC 135 press conference. “He hurt his toe, pulled out of the fight. He’s still under contract. The date that was set in September was set by Showtime, and it is what it is. We’ve got to get an alternate in there, but he’s still under contract.” White continued dismissively, “If you say you’re hurt, you’re hurt. What are you gonna do? There’s been a lot of that lately. If I got mad at guys who got hurt, I’d be really pissed off right now. It is what it is.” So, what’s the big fuss over if this is simply a case of an injured fighter being replaced in a tournament?

Aside from leaving Silva, Cormier, Kharitonov and Barnett competing to determine the best heavyweight MMA fighter in the world (right…), things simply don’t add up. Speaking to TATAME, Silva called shenanigans on the substitution, and sharp-witted fans have been quick to do the same. While ZUFFA’s eagerness to quickly move ahead suggests that there’s little favoritism toward Overeem, with one remaining fight on his Strikeforce contract, had he participated and won his match the champion would have had ample leverage in his corner to bargain with come time for contract negotiations. (It would be more difficult to send an alternate into the finals over a contract dispute than sending one in at this stage.) Yet with his open contract structured the way it is, come October — the date which he still suggests he’ll be competing next — he will be looking to fight for the highest bidder, be is K-1 (where he is the reigning World Grand Prix champion) or DREAM (where Overeem is the current Heavyweight Champion). Yet if ZUFFA is to hold him back from competing elsewhere, they have to have a match ready for him, and considering Strikeforce’s current roster of available talent such a scenario begs the question of who, exactly, remains to fill such a void? No one, really.

Unless ZUFFA intends on reworking Overeem’s contract and introducing him to the UFC’s roster with a Nick Diaz-type move, their decision to boldly eliminate him from the Grand Prix remains questionable. At this point in time, allowing Overeem to walk from the company and compete for any number of international promotions would seem an unwise decision, especially with so much interest bounding around the potential for superfights which could be made with the current Strikeforce champion. Yet, all we’re left with right now is one single conclusion: that being that the Grand Prix, as it stands, is a shadow of what it was intended to be. Though the remaining matches featuring Silva vs. Cormier and Barnett vs. Kharitonov are intriguing (to say the least) and certainly exciting for fight fans, the lackluster manner in which the tournament has unfolded leaves with it a bitter taste of unfulfilled expectation. This final blow goes a long way to suggest that when the contract is up between Strikeforce and Showtime, that ZUFFA will not be working with the premium cable network in the future. And with or without Overeem in its stable, that could very well serve as the moment that ZUFFA puts an end to Strikeforce as well.

311 "Universal Pulse" Review


In the ’90s, with the odd exception, there was no other band for me: 311 was it. As I ascended through junior high, then high school, the 311 insignia was not only a staple of my wardrobe, both emblazoned on t-shirts and patches that I had hand-stitched onto my backpack, but it was also found on various posters throughout my bedroom. More importantly, however, it represented not only my favorite band, but a strange fringe community of fans, a group that I felt I had grown with and one that championed a band that was tirelessly refreshing to listen to.

Like many, I believe I first became a fan following the release of 311′s greatest commercial success – the band’s 1995 multi-platinum self titled release – but when I took time to become engaged in the community surrounding the group and dug further into their catalog (I remember at exactly which shops I paid pre-Amazon retail prices for the band’s first two CDs: Music and Grassroots) I found myself hooked. By the time Transistor was released in 1997 it appeared that there was no turning back: the Hive had sucked me in.

The band’s 1998 Live album was fantastic, especially for someone who lived in a city where 311 had never played, and the musical experimentation of 1999′s Soundsystem only further cemented the group’s status in my mind. Seeing 311 for the first time in 2001, at a dusty race track in Western Canada as part of the Warped Tour, remains a concert-going highlight for me to this day, while the album that the band was supporting at the time, From Chaos, likewise remains a sentimental favorite. But after that something seemed to change.

Two years later 311 dropped Evolver, the band’s seventh studio album in nine years, which seemed to mark a turning point, musically, for the group. Critically panned, it retained an alluring core sound, but in retrospect it might have been evidence of 311 trying to do too much: a touring workhorse, the group was now locked into Sony’s Volcano subsidiary which, after recent comments made by vocalist/guitarist Nick Hexum to Billboard, seems like it was slowly chipping away at the band.

A reggae-reaching cover of the Cure’s “Love Song” became a commercial hit in 2004, and was trailed by Don’t Tread on Me the following year. Again, the album wasn’t bad, but within 311′s growing catalog it hardly stood out. It was somewhere during this time, however, that the band lost me. To some degree 311′s sound was changing — a change for the worse in my opinion — and the part which remained true to the group’s past began feeling stale. Twenty years into their career as a band by that point in time, the decline in fresh-sounding new material was hardly shocking though – how many bands survive long enough to make a half dozen killer albums these days? – which only softened the blow of letting go, and somewhere between 2004 and 2009 I lost interest. It took the better part of a decade, but I had all the same gone from a die-hard fan to a glory days-seeking detractor. And up to just recently I had watched the group from the role of an outsider: curious about what they were up to, I no longer believed that they championed the style of music and values that once captured my fascination.

Now the band has released its tenth album, Universal Pulse. And with it comes a realization that somewhere between “Love Song” and now, I had simply lost the plot. Simply put: I was wrong.

Despite re-emerging with a seemingly half-cocked eight song release, Universal Pulse packages everything that I so thoroughly enjoyed about the band’s music into a palatable 30 minutes. “Time Bomb” quickly opens the release with the group’s familiar upbeat positivity before “Wild Nights” crashes down, delivering with it what might be Pulse‘s most endearing track. “Where would we be without the wild nights/Without the lows and highs, failing to get it right/Where would we be without the wild nights/Barely getting by, the days of getting high.” The theme of recognizing and growing from past failures carries with it plenty of personal sentiment, which lends the track even that much more emotional presence. “Trouble” later picks back up on the theme, complementing “Wild Nights” as Hexum details patches from a troubled youth, before clarifying that realization, maturity and self-awareness can alleviate such a burden. To a casual listener this is probably just more of the same old 311, but to thirsty ears, the significance of such uplifting themes is as refreshing as ever.

The album’s lead single, “Sunset in July,” is textbook 311, the song’s crunching guitars creating a base for Hexum and SA Martinez to trade verses as only they can. The song itself carries a special significance as it serves as a heartwarming thank you to fans, the light-hearted chorus revealing that the band has no greater joy than to watch their crowds dancing and singing along at shows. “Count Me In” is another stellar 311 track, led by a thick P-Nut bassline which carries through into “Rock On.” This track is unusual in that it offers the hardest throbbing sound on the album without detracting from the story of personal undoing and realization of self-abuse. “Your pattern became a prison the beast within you risen/Shop for your own device you pay the price/And so you give in to your pity party, party of one/No one shows up, another sip of poison, slow death fills your cup.” “Weightless” follows with what might perhaps be the softest record on the release, but it’s quickly overshadowed by album-closer “And a Ways to Go.” The airy song breezes by, a seemingly perfect arrangement to fall right into place aside Transistor, with Martinez vocally recalling the events of a wild dream. The track’s brilliant bassline breakdown notwithstanding, as the song drifts away the impression left behind is one focusing on the moment and calling for a loss of inhibitions. This is the 311 I remember.

Maybe I had changed too much as a listener, or maybe something had changed within the group, but by the time Uplifter was released in 2009 (peaking at the highest chart position the group had seen on the Billboard 200, a true testament to their dedicated and ever-growing fanbase) I was out. Yet while the ambivalence toward new material from the band had overwhelmed what was once a strong craving for all things 311 (56 kbps B-sides, you say? Yes please!), I never lost touch of the music that gave me so much joy during my youth. It’s easy to walk away, but it’s hard to forget how much impact an album like Transistor has had on not only my taste in music, but my life in general. Maybe they did change, or maybe my ears simply weren’t listening, but whatever the case, Universal Pulse has again shown why 311 have thrived all these years, and more importantly, why I once again am confident in considering myself a fan.

Is Mirko “Cro Cop” vs. Roy Nelson Bad for Both Fighters?

When Dana White granted Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic’s wishto complete his contract with the UFC and take on one final fight there became a strong divide between fans who called for the once great Pride star to retire and those who celebrated the legendary fighter’s (presumed) final shot at glory. But when Filipovic announced on the Croatian sports website Gol.hr that his next match would be with Roy “Big Country” Nelson, it seemed to again fuel the fires of contempt with fans. Once again, for good reason.

It’s no secret that “Cro Cop” was knocked out in stunning form in his last two fights, leaving him 2-3 in his last five bouts (which would have likely been 1-4 had Pat Berry not choked in the closing moments of their UFC 115 match), which left White ample ground to dismiss the fighter from the company. But to bring him back, only to set him up against the best striker (at least considered thusly until his last fight against Frank Mir) that “Cro Cop” would have seen since facing Junior dos Santos seems an unusual decision. After being honorable in allowing one last fight, it appears like somewhat of a calculated slap in the face to the former great to serve him up someone who is perfectly capable of exploiting his increasingly apparent inability to take a stiff blow to the head. Not that he should have been paired against a pushover, but that doesn’t make the matchup any less questionable.

The flip side of the equation is equally as odd, as Nelson is seemingly being fed the deflated Filipovic in order to gauge whether he still has an appetite for the sport, and not simply Whoppers. Walking pneumonia or no, following the hefty fighter’s lifeless showing against Frank Mir at UFC 130, Roy Nelson was firmly warned by White: either cut the weight to light heavyweight or show us all that you still belong with the big boys. Yet having, himself, lost back-to-back fights, Nelson needs to prove himself worthy of the division’s elite by defeating someone markedly more dominant than Filipovic if the former IFL champion and Ultimate Fighter season 10 winner is to see a return to his once believed greatness.

If a shot against “Cro Cop” is to be translated as evidence that matchmakers don’t see Nelson as competition for more advanced fighters and that he simply needs to prove himself, they’d be right. But what happens if Nelson loses, or walks away from the fight with a sluggish decision? Even if he wins, it is hard to see the UFC going ahead and offering Filipovic another fight, and by the sound of his approach to the bout as explained in Wednesday’s interview, it doesn’t appear as though he’s thinking beyond the fight, win or lose. But for Nelson, the possibility that he’s actually cut by the UFC exists, and his survival doesn’t appear entirely safe even if he does win; it might merely buy him time before he’s once again pinned against competition on par with that which has left him in this peculiar situation in the first place. Even with a win Nelson’s head will still be on the chopping block.

It was honorable to give “Cro Cop” one last fight, and it will be interesting to see if “Big Country” still has the heart going forward to fight in the UFC. But the immediate conclusion which follows the announcement that these two fighters have been paired against one another is simply that regardless of who is victorious in the bout, there will be no winners come UFC 137 when Mirko Filipovic and Roy Nelson collide.

Is “Wilfred” Becoming “Fight Club”?

If the immediate introduction to the show by way of suicide attempt wasn’t enough to distance the new version of Wilfred from the Australian original, perhaps this past week’s episode (the series’ third, titled “Fear”) has done the trick. Where the first two episodes — or at least the first episode and a half — still toyed with plot devices which the original series previously utilized in its first season, “Fear” continues to shift the FX version toward the direction of a twisted buddy comedy, primarily focusing on interaction between Ryan (Elijah Wood) and his neighbor’s dog Wilfred (Jason Gann). While this not only goes against the direction of the original show and its story of a girlfriend and boyfriend being pulled apart by her overly protective dog, it’s also beginning to feel quite similar to another well known story which once did well to engross the collective pop culture consciousness. In fact, following the last episode, a very familiar fictional name is starting to work its way into the peripheral: that name being none other than Tyler Durden.

“You don’t know what life is till you’ve tasted the salty brine of death.”

Not to circumvent Wood’s importance in all of this but not unlike the original, the standout of the show thus far has been Gann’s role as Wilfred. It’s hardly commonplace to have a character deliver such lines as that mentioned above, let alone having a dog deliver them, but above all else what is most striking about the character is his ability to get inside Ryan’s head. Within three episodes the paranoid, belligerent and vastly influential Wilfred has already overcome temporary betrayal and sabotage in becoming the voice of reason to Ryan’s otherwise empty life. It could be that a talking dog who can only be heard by Ryan simply wreaks of generic multiple personality disorder, but the longer the show goes on the more Wilfred starts to actually sound like Fight Club‘s much-admired anti-hero.

“How can you be a good friend to me when you can’t even keep from betraying yourself?”

Okay, a lot like Fight Club‘s much-admired anti-hero.

As “Fear” progressed, Ryan and Wilfred found themselves in the heat of a predicament, with Wilfred encouraging Ryan to come clean to a neighbor for a crime they committed and stand up for himself. But through the duo’s discussion, the allusion toward something far more significant slid by without much consideration being given toward it. “Waltz over there, look him straight in the eye and say ‘I’m the man that shat in your boot.’ Then bend him over and root him right up the ass,” demanded Wilfred. “You want me to have sex with him?” “It’s called domination. It’s how dogs handle it. Believe me, it’s very effective.” “And have you done this with another dog?” “Every goddamn day.” “I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would do something like that.” “Well, then, you have no imagination.” “If only that were true.” The questioning of Ryan’s own imagination through such a sequence seems unnecessary given the context of the scene, but one that adds depth to the Durden-theory: While Wilfred is certainly a living, breathing dog, would his dialog not sound achingly natural if it were to come out of the mouth of Tyler Durden; if only to help combat the numb feeling of spiritual bankruptcy that Ryan was feeling mere hours before meeting the dog?

“Everything has to do with everything.”

Could the American version of Wilfred be heading in an entirely unique direction? One toying with the depths of personal delusion and psychosis? Wherever the series does go from here, its divergence from the original’s inconsistent dark humor and linear storyline appears a brilliant one to this point.

An Awkward Pair: Questioning Chael Sonnen vs. Brian Stann

Last night the UFC announced that a matchup between middleweight contenders Chael Sonnen and Brian Stann had been verbally agreed to and would take place at UFC 136 in October. For Sonnen, the bout serves as his first since losing to UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva last August, while it marks another leap forward in competition for the former Marine Stann. Yet while on paper the match makes sense, and even sounds exciting, when breaking the bout down one can’t help but wonder: What is the UFC thinking?

Confirming that “all the red tape is in his past” to MMA Fighting (in a rather amusing interview), it was revealed this past weekend that Chael Sonnen was no longer under suspension from the California State Athletic Commission and would again be able to apply for a license to fight. In the days that followed the ever-outspoken Sonnen went on to call out everyone from Wanderlei Silva to Lyoto Machida, making it known that he was again ready to return to the Octagon. The UFC’s decision to keep him at middleweight rather than allow the jump to light heavyweight for a fight against someone the likes of the former champion Machida isn’t surprising, but the decision to pair him against Brian Stann is.

Though 2-2 in the UFC as a light heavyweight, Stann has been on a tear since making the cut to middleweight, knocking out Jorge Santiago and Chris Leben on his way to going 3-0 in the division. Though tremendously impressive in his victories, Stann has modestly tied himself to the notion that he has at least two or three fights against elite competition before he hopes to see a title match. But pairing him against Sonnen — who many still believe to be the number two middleweight in the world — would seem to suggest that he’s closer that he believes he is in terms of reaching his goal. Dominant in his last three fights however, how does Stann match up though?

Simply put: One of the greatest weaknesses in Brian Stann’s game to this point has been his wrestling defense and Chael Sonnen is a dominant wrestler.

It’s not the first time such a matchup between powerful fighters has been made and it surely won’t be the last. But what makes the pairing even more awkward is the roles that each fighter plays for the UFC in terms of their outside-the-cage personalities: a longtime Marine and all-around class act, Stann is widely respected by fans and peers while the well-rounded veteran Sonnen’s abilities in the Octagon might only be outdone by his capabilities as a loudmouth shit-talker.

The UFC needs Brian Stann to win at this point in his career, something which seems less likely to happen when paired against someone with such a skill set as Chael Sonnen than it might against another high-ranking competitor the likes of Mark Muñoz. Likewise, the UFC needs Chael Sonnen to make a strong return to the Octagon following his year of “red tape” every bit as much as the company needs his voice as the uninhibited hype man: something which he has to be especially careful with when it comes to someone as universally admired as Stann. The match-up is an interesting one on paper, and one that is still intriguing, but pairing the two against one another at this stage in their climb up the divisional latter fails to make much sense in reality.

On Louie: Episode 2, “Bummer/Blueberries”

Spoilers are kind of silly when it comes to discussing Louis CK‘s Louie: Even if someone was to tell you the exact breakdown of an episode, chances are that it would still hold an entirely different value to you once you watched it. Such is the case with season two’s second episode, titled “Bummer/Blueberries.”

Despite its absurd plot twists this show, or rather this episode, is less about what happens to Louie and more about what’s happening. It’s easy to grab onto the main plot points — like Louie’s witness of a decapitation, his awkward date, or his even awkward-er hook-up — but there’s an unusual connection that winds its way through the entire episode which reveals it as an oddity (an oddity, even by Louis CK’s standards).

In his opening Seinfeldian standup monologue sequence, Louie riffs on his distaste for his own body and his increasingly discomfort with his gut — made worse every time he sleeps with a woman. In the end though, his bit is more about learning to live with his inadequacies than changing them; something which we’re all known to do.

Once in the heart of the show, after witnessing the horrific death of a homeless person, Louie still heads off to a movie-date he’d awkwardly made the night before, over the phone, nervously stuttering like a child and all. But once he arrives, he’s so overcome with emotion by what he’s just seen that he can’t begin to take part in the tedious nonsense of a movie, so he tells his date he needs to take a walk. She follows.

“We think this is the important place — like we live in the center of the goddamn universe. And it’s bullshit; it’s meaningless.” So shook up by what he’d seen, Louie invites his date into the moment where they briefly share a connection and a kiss before she ultimately learns about why he’s rambling on in the first place. She freaks.

Later, Louie has an awkward “no-strings-attached” (yet ultimately soul-numbing) hook-up with a woman who is a parent of a kid in his daughter’s class: Awkward granny nightgown, vagina cream, daddy issues, crying, the works. But he still goes with it, and not just because it’s sex, but because even as bizarre as it is, that’s an increasingly neutral zone in our increasingly warped lives.

The reason we’re ultimately okay with our sagging sweaty sex guts is the same reason we’re okay with rambling about how society’s values are all mixed up with someone we don’t really know is the same reason that we’re okay with slapping a stranger’s ass as they call us daddy and breakdown crying. For many people, this episode of Louie is what the human experience has become. And for the rest, that decapitated homeless man will sure make a hell of a water cooler story at work tomorrow.

Now, where’s that pint of Häagen-Dazs when you need it?

Did Strikeforce Just Kill Women’s MMA?

As far as guilty pleasures on television go, there are few that I feel guiltier about than HBO’s True Blood. Every show is more and more nonsensical than the last and this past weekend’s kickoff of the series’ fourth season was no exception. There were pixies fighting demons, witches covens, and vampire, all somehow coexisting in the heart of Louisiana. Hardly reality TV. But what was perhaps the most bizarre moment was a segment featuring a women’s mixed martial arts fight. It wasn’t just a cage fight — there were gloves, a ref, a padded cage and the fight ended by what would seem a legitimate armbar — it was an MMA fight, deep in the heart of a pop culture darling and somehow… it wasn’t the butt of a joke. Yet the unfortunate reality concerning that particular branch of the world’s fastest growing sport is that even as it’s seemingly becoming as excepted as its mainstream male counterpart, with the news of Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos’ departure from Strikeforce this past week, the idea of women’s MMA gaining any real momentum as a sport has been all but crushed.

As of last Sunday it’s been one year since “Cyborg” last fought for the San Jose-based promotion, a dominant win over Jan Finney. But as per her contract, she was obligated to remain solely under the Strikeforce banner to negotiate her next fight for that 365 day period of time. That deadline has come and gone, and as Cage Potato reports, it appears that the best women’s MMA fighter in the world will be taking her services elsewhere. “We’re told that Cris is in serious discussions with a promotion that we’ve been asked not to name until the deal is finalized and that she could have a new contract in place as early as this weekend.” However there’s a little more to it than that.

There are two main issues with women’s MMA fighting expanding right now — at least in the U.S. The first is a genuine lack of top-tier talent. EliteXC and Strikeforce both went against the trend set by the UFC in introducing women’s fights to main cards in the U.S., before later pushing them all the way to headline status; a bold move if there ever was one. But the obvious reality became clear early on: by lack of numbers alone, they served as oddities among cards full of male fighters, and to some degree are still viewed as sideshow events. A point that UFC President Dana White has been oh-so willing to stand behind, firmly repeating his stance that the world’s most popular MMA promotion would never showcase women fighters.

The idea, from White’s perspective, doesn’t so much boil down to the perception that women can’t fight — if you’ve never seen “Cyborg” in action before, you need to do so immediately — but that the talent pool is too shallow to claim a genuine hierarchy. Yet with ZUFFA, the UFC’s parent company, purchasing Strikeforce, a shadow began to grow over the newly acquired company concerning the future of the promotion’s highly balked at women’s divisions. Therein lies the second problem.

Though the argument is a touchy one, it’s misguided to suggest that there is, in fact, a talent pool waiting in the wings to compete against a world class athlete such as “Cyborg.” In her two Strikeforce bouts since defeating the face of women’s MMA, Gina Carano, in 2009 for the Women’s Middleweight Championship, “Cyborg” has hardly looked human, taking out current Welterweight Champion Marloes Coenen in addition to the aforementioned beating she put on Jan Finney. With talk continually swirling about how Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva have cleaned out their respective UFC weight classes, it seems that with Strikeforce’s inability to find her a reputable opponent over the course of an entire year that it’s fairly evident that Santos has done the same. Her dominance as a fighter is hardly questioned. But the second issue of note comes in ZUFFA’s disinterest in genuinely attempting to support women’s MMA.

At Strikeforce’s recent Overeem vs. Werdum event, Carano was set to face Sarah D’Alelio in what would have been the first ever women’s MMA fight under the ZUFFA banner. Yet, due to undisclosed reasons, Carano pulled out of the fight a week and a half before the bout despite being medically cleared. While the news certainly made an impact, the UFC’s ongoing transparency regarding its fighters certainly wasn’t displayed by Strikeforce. Despite Carano arguably remaining the largest name to ever receive worldwide publicity as a female MMA fighter, it was as if it wasn’t a big deal because it was merely a women’s MMA bout; no replacement was announced to take on D’Alelio and the match was immediately scratched. Sure, it’s been called off, but the surrounding details really aren’t that important, are they?

With the news of of Santos’ departure, not only does Strikeforce have two vacant titles and a champion who’s defended his belt only once in the past three and a half years, but they might have signaled the end of women’s MMA as it currently stands. Presently there remains a pending title match between Welterweight Champion Marloes Coenen and Miesha Tate which is set to take place later this month, but with the departure of the world’s fiercest female fighter, one can only assume that it’s only a matter of time before the male dominated sport becomes a male-only sport under the ZUFFA banner.