Monday, May 12, 2008

Will Omar Choudhury vs. Sam Thao be fight of the year again?

I remember the Sam Thao vs. Omar Choudhury fight like it happened just last week. In December of 2007, Gladiators 48: Seasons Beatings took place at the Milwaukee Harley-Davidson showroom on the north side of Milwaukee during a fierce sleet storm. Omar Choudhury, a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Henry Matamoros was the reigning Gladiators 125lb Flyweight Champion and Sam Thao was an up and coming fighter out of the Rising Sun Gym in Wausau, Wisconsin with an amateur record of (5-1) with no pro fights.

The Milwaukee area audience was already familiar with the champion and his legion of fans wore Team Omar shirts to show their support and the crowd was heavily in his favor. I heard people sneer as the fight was stopped almost immediately after beginning because Thao had not even taped up his gloves before the bout began. The audience thought it was going to be over quickly and that Thao was perhaps too green.

I immediately noticed that Thao was switching between conventional and southpaw stances before he even threw his first kick. As the two fighters felt each other out and Thao switched stances, Choudhury blasted Thao with a kick. Shortly after, Thao returned the favor and Choudhury used the kick to drive Thao against the fence for a takedown attempt. In the commotion against the fence Omar pulled guard and quickly secured an armbar as Thao stood up. Thao blasted him with hooks and Omar refused let go before Thao slammed Choudhury to the canvas. Thao blasted hammer fists onto Choudhury as Omar looked for a knee bar from the bottom. Omar returned to his feet and Sam came at him with a pace that is rarely seen, a pace that cannot be continued for three, five-minute rounds. From there, Omar landed a leg kick and Sam narrowly missed a big uppercut. Sam showed off a well-rounded striking display by delivering jumping knees followed by a spinning back kick to Omar’s head.

It was clear that Choudhury had nowhere near the hand speed as the younger Thao. It was becoming apparent that Thao was putting everything he had into every shot and that fatigue was beginning to set in. Omar now began pursuit of Sam around the cage and the two traded leg kicks before Choudhury unleashed a missed superman punch that reenergized the crowd. Omar got the clinch and began throwing knees but Sam powered through and threw hooks until he was able to break the hold. A left to the jaw from Thao dropped Choudhury to the canvas and Thao jumped on his opponent and began a ground and pound clinic on the champ. Choudhury survived, got back up to the feet but Thao pursued with relentless aggression seeing an opportunity to finish the fight. Omar attempted an arm but completely missed which enabled Thao to almost seize his back, but the Omar rolled out and immediately into a near fight ending arm bar. Thao grimaced in pain as Choudhury hung off his fully extended arm, this went on for another ten seconds before Sam slammed Omar onto the canvas causing Omar to regroup. In text book Jiu-Jitsu fashion, Omar slapped on the triangle choke and hooked Thao’s leg as Thao stood up for another slam. Thao fell back to canvas and Choudhury had the triangle tight as well as an arm bar extended. Thao drove his foot into Choudhury’s throat to relieve the pressure and managed to escape the armbar and choke attempts. Realizing he better get off the ground, Thao staggered back to his feet and stumbled across the cage. With ten seconds to go, he was looking like a man who’d had enough and his hands were at his waist. Instead of attacking with a final flurry, flying knee, or superman punch, Choudhury let him survive the round instead of going for the kill.

What must have felt like the longest five minutes in the world for both fighters lead into the fastest one-minute break between rounds. Round two began with Thao throwing a straight kick that landed to the midsection of Choudhury. In the flurry that ensued, Choudhury pulled guard and landed flat on his back. He scooted across the cage and Thao wanted no part of Choudhury’s ground game so Omar got up and they stand again. Thao landed a nice spinning back kick and it’s apparent that he wanted to keep the exchanges on the feet. Omar engaged with a right leg kick and Thao pounded him with a big right hand. Omar backed up against the fence and Thao started throwing big hooks. In customary Omar fashion he jumped up and attempted to pull guard, at which point Thao backed up and told Omar to get up and fight. As Omar got up, Thao attempted an illegal kick to a still grounded Choudhury but no warning from the referee was given. The next thirty seconds are all Thao as he threw everything he had at Choudhury finally backing Omar against the fence. Omar lunged at Thao, grabbed him and pulled him to the canvas. Omar attempted an arm bar but missed and Sam took the opportunity to stand back up. For the final stanza with Omar against the fence, Sam rushed in with a flying knee to the body of Omar followed by a flurry of hooks that sent Omar to the canvas. Omar was turtled up and rolling every which way but loose trying to avoid the massive ground and pound attack of Sam. The referee let him get a few shots in on Choudhury, who was no longer defending himself, and stopped the bout. Sam Thao would become the next Gladiators 125lb Flyweight Champion.

Since the bout

The fight easily won the Wisconsin Combat Sports 2007 Fight of the Year award and both fighters were in attendance to accept their awards. Sam Thao has not fought since the December bout that I am aware of. He was to fight on the KTK show in Oshkosh recently but I am not sure if there was anyone willing to fight him. Omar Choudhury went on to drop a second bout in a row in January; this time to the very tough Josh Rave of North Dakota via unanimous decision. The fight was a rematch from an XFO bout from the previous summer in which Choudhury secured a first round triangle choke against the wrestler on a very wet canvas. Omar was able to get back to his winning ways with a 33 second rear naked choke victory over Unified Martial Art’s fighter, Mike “Greek Turtle” Ottessen at the Gladiators show in February.

This is possibly the most anticipated bout of the entire Gladiators card and I think it is capable of winning the WCS Fight of the Year award again. While it will not be in the main event spotlight due to the Adrian Serrano retirement bout and the return of UFC veteran Eric Schafer, it certainly deserves to be. What strategy will Choudhury take into the bout? Has he finally decided to get back to his wrestling roots and work his takedowns instead of pulling guard where he will be in harms way due to the power of Thao? Has he decided to work his standup game and have his striking coach, Duke Roufus devise a striking stategy to defeat the young champion in Thao? Will he again work his submissions where he has the best chance of beating Thao again? I do not have the answer to these questions. I assume that Thao is going to come in with the same strategy, which means he is going to do everything in his power to keep this fight on the feet where he has the faster hands and the more powerful shots. His spinning kicks, hooks, and flying knees created a lot of problems for Omar Choudhury and I assume he is going to utilize these again against the ground fighter. Will Thao win again by TKO or Choudhury win by submission? Flip a coin, that’s how close this one will be.

This article was originally published on Wisconsin Combat Sports.

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