Context is everything. I can tell you that I saw the greatest fight in the world behind the local Mac’s and it’s not going to mean a damn thing to you because…well, it was a fight that took place behind the local Mac’s. On a similar note, if I told you that two guys had the fight of the year on a free card that was scheduled on a Tuesday, you might be reluctant to listen. Well, the fight of the year just happened on a free card that was scheduled on a Tuesday.
There’s so much MMA programming available these days that it’s difficult to absorb it all properly, especially for casual fans. I’ve always found that the biggest barrier to appreciating any sport is not understanding the stakes. For example, I would consider myself a casual soccer fan (and that’s being generous). I can’t keep up with international football because I don’t understand the dynamics of all the leagues or which one is best or why they play “friendlies”. I tune in to watch the Euro Cup and the World Cup because I understand the stakes. The team that wins the Euro Cup is the best team in Europe. Got it. The team that wins the World Cup is the best team in the world. Even better. This phenomenon holds true through all sports, which explains why the Super Bowl is the most watched event in North America and why my mother knows who Georges St-Pierre and Brock Lesnar are.
So what to make of a random UFC card, especially now that the UFC hosts 30-40 shows a year now? Let’s take a look:
(Note: I will only be discussing the televised fights because I refuse to open a Facebook account, even if it’s just to watch UFC fights. I won’t be a part of your system.)
Middleweight Bout – MacDonald v. Lawlor
What you need to know: Jason MacDonald is a pioneer of Canadian MMA and he’s announced that this will likely be his last year of competition. Tom Lawlor is awesome.
How it went down: MacDonald gets knocked the F out in fifty seconds.
Official result: Lawler by KO (:50 R1)
What’s next for MacDonald: (6-8 UFC, Lost last 2) While the shots that Lawlor landed might have put anyone down, it’s fair to say that 41 career fights have taken their toll on The Athlete. He’s denied retirement rumours, but should he decide to hang them up he’s had a career that any fighter would be proud of.
What’s next for Lawlor: (4-3 UFC, Won last 1) With this win, Filthy goes one over .500. He has alternated wins and losses over his last four fights and he joked in the post-fight interviews that he wanted “the worst guy they can find”. Possible opponents are Brad Tavares (who defeated Dong Yi Yang earlier in the evening), TriStar prospect Francis Carmont, or light heavyweight transplant Karlos Vemola.
Light Heavyweight Bout – Pokrajac v. Maldonado
What you need to know: After wasting a golden opportunity with a lacklustre performance against Stephan Bonnar in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale, Pokrajac strung together a couple of victories including a stunning thirty-five second knockout of fan favourite Krzysztof Soszynski. Maldonado is an exceptional boxer whose limited ground game has been his Achilles heel. He’s coming off of a controversial decision loss to Kyle Kingsbury. I saw that fight and it looked to me like Maldonado broke Kingsbury’s face.
How it went down: Pokrajac did the smart thing by pressing the action against the cage. Maldonado avoided takedowns and continually landed hard body shots throughout the fight. Even when he was on his back, he was able to avoid any major damage from Pokrajac. On the feet, Pokrajac actually matched up well and took the last round with some solid strikes. Still, Maldonado’s outstanding boxing told the story. At one point he was going head-body-head like Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter.
My score: 29-28 Maldonado
Official result: 29-28 (x2), 30-27 Pokrajac by unanimous decision. It was a close fight so that 30-27 score is utter insanity. Perhaps one of the judges gave Pokrajac extra points for his superb impression of a punching bag in the first round.
What’s next for Maldonado: (0-2 UFC, L2) A drop in weight class, hopefully. Maldonado doesn’t look like the kind of guy who is too enthusiastic about weight cutting, but there’s definitely some flab there that could stand to go and his lack of wrestling would be less of an issue at middleweight. Should he decide to stay at light heavyweight, possible opponents are Thiago Silva, newcomer Jörgen Kruth or Vladimir Matyushenko (currently serving a medical suspension).
What’s next for Pokrajac: (4-3 UFC, W3) The Croation has strung together three wins against decent competition, which usually means it’s time to step up. Possible opponents are Stanislav Nedkov, Antônio Rogério Nogueira, or the winner of the upcoming Kyle Kingsbury – Glover Teixeira bout.
Bantamweight Bout – Jabouin v. Hougland
What you need to know: Yves Jabouin is another TriStar standout who is developing a reputation as a dangerous striker. Jeff Hougland had a rough 1-4 start to his career, but he ran off nine straight victories as he transitioned from lightweight to bantamweight including a win in his UFC debut against Donny Walker.
How it went down: Jabouin nearly pulled off a highlight reel finish in the first round with a spinning back kick to the body that crumpled Hougland to the mat. Referee Todd McGovern stepped in momentarily, halting Jabouin’s attack and giving Hougland precious seconds to recover. Despite this lapse in officiating, Jabouin was relentless for the duration of the bout. Hougland is a gutsy S.O.B., but this was total domination by Jabouin.
“What’s Yves’ nickname?” TIGER!
My score: 30-27 Jabouin
Official result: 30-27 (x2), 30-26 Jabouin by unanimous decision
What’s next for Hougland: (1-1 UFC, L1) Hougland showed a ton of guts, but he was simply overmatched. Still, he’s stiff competition who could work his way up the ladder with the right opponents (or elevate someone else). Possible opponents are Alex Caceres (“Bruce Leroy”), Nick Denis or Kid Yamamoto.
What’s next for Jabouin: (3-1 UFC, W3) Jabouin had a lot of hype behind him after turning in a Fight of the Year candidate against Mark Hominick back at WEC 49. Now that he’s at his ideal weight class, he’s finally starting to live up to it. Possible opponents are Reuben Duran, Raphael Assunção or top ten bantamweight Brad Pickett.
Lightweight Bout: Cerrone v. Stephens
What you need to know: Donald Cerrone was this close to going 5-0 in 2011 before running into the rejuvenated Nate Diaz. It was a humbling loss, but he was a considerable favourite going into this fight with Jeremy Stephens. Stephens is coming off a close split decision loss to lightweight contender Anthony Pettis. Both of these dudes are known for their stand-up so a war was expected.
How it went down: I wouldn’t exactly say it was a war, but not for lack of trying on either man’s part. Cerrone’s striking and use of distance were just too much for the free swinging Lil’ Heathen. Cerrone went back to his kickboxing fundamentals here and nearly knocked Stephens off of his feet on more than one occasion with his chopping leg kicks. Stephens’ face wasn’t doing much better as Cerrone continually landed straight punches to his grill. A great bounce back fight for Cerrone.
He also used to go home to this every night, so does he ever really lose?
My score: 30-27 Cerrone
Official result: 30-27 (x3) Cerrone by unanimous decision
What’s next for Stephens: (7-7 UFC, L2) Stephens’ is the perfect guy for the UFC to have around to help with their expanded schedule. He can provide a firm test for anyone on a PPV undercard and he can entertain new fans tuning into the free cards. Possible opponents that would be exciting stylistically are Tony Ferguson (this would be a hellacious boxing match), John Makdessi (a smaller Cerrone) or Efrain Escudero. He could also easily be matched up with newcomer Marcus LeVesseur or Carlo Prater, two fighters who lost preliminary bouts.
What’s next for Cerrone: (5-1 UFC, W1) Cerrone called out Anthony Pettis after the show and I can’t think of a better match-up than that. In the UFC Lightweight Division, I have Cerrone ranked 8th and Pettis ranked 7th. While I would have liked to see Pettis get his title shot as opposed to getting pushed out because of another rematch, a fight between these two would be incredible and solidify one fighter’s contender status.
Welterweight Bout: Sadollah v. Lopez
What you need to know: Amir Sadollah was the winner of The Ultimate Fighter 7 and has developed a sizeable following with his amicable personality. His entire pro career has been with the UFC and frankly, they’ve protected him as much as they can. Jorge Lopez…I don’t know much about Jorge Lopez.
I’ve never been a big fan of his comedy.
How it went down: This was a boring fight. I’ll be the first person to tell you that you should always respect anyone who gets in that cage and you don’t know what it’s like if you’re not in there and blah blah blah…this fight sucked. It needs to be said. Complimenting every fight would be like calling every kid who gets a “participant” ribbon a big winner. By those standards, I was an all star athlete in 6th grade. Anyway, Lopez hugs Sadollah against the cage for fifteen minutes and manages to secure a couple of takedowns. Sadollah does a good job of getting the fight back to the feet and soundly outpoints Lopez from long range. Cardio was the difference here and Sadollah did just enough to win in my opinion.
My score: 29-28 Sadollah
Official result: 29-28 (x2), 28-29 Sadollah by split decision
What’s next for Lopez: (0-2 UFC, L2) A pink slip, maybe? I get what Lopez was trying to do here, but when you’re in the co-main event, you’ve got to give more than this. I won’t bother with possible opponents, because if he doesn’t get released he’s likely going to be fighting for his job next time anyway.
What’s next for Sadollah: (6-3 UFC, W1) As I mentioned before, the UFC has to be careful with how they book Sadollah. By my calculations, this was also the last fight on his initial TUF contract. Sadollah’s new salary could be a huge factor in deciding what Joe Silva decides to do with him. Assuming a modest raise, look for Sadollah to be matched up with tough Brit John Maguire, Josh Neer or “The Immortal” Matt Brown.
Featherweight Bout: Jung v. Poirier
What you need to know: Chan Sung Jung is one of the most exciting fighters to enter the North American MMA scene in a while. A classic fight against Leonard Garcia in his WEC debut started garnered tremendous buzz and it exploded when he arrived in the UFC. He’s made a habit of making history, recording the first “twister” submission in the octagon to win a rematch with Garcia and tying the record for fastest knockout against Mark Hominick. Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier enters this contest as the favourite, having gone 4-0 in the UFC including a major upset (at the time) of would be contender Josh Grispi. He’s a large featherweight with few holes in his game and, like Jung, he’s coming off two impressive finishes. There were no guarantees, but the winner of this fight would greatly increase their odds of fighting for the world title.
How it went down: Poirier’s technical skills were expected to be too much for Jung and “The Korean Zombie” entered as a 2-1 underdog but folks…this is why they play the games. Sure enough, Poirier looked to avoid a slugfest early on by pressing Jung against the cage but Jung responded with a beautiful body clinch takedown. He laid into Poirier with improved ground and pound and other than a poor pass attempt that resulted in him taking some up-kicks, he clearly took the first round.
Throughout the fight, Poirier was overexcited as if he was all too aware that 1) He was expected to win easily and 2) Most of the fans were rooting for the Zombie. A sloppy kick gets caught and Jung sends Poirier to the mat again. After some more ground and pound, Poirier got back up only to be caught with a wicked flying knee and several uppercuts. This leads to an amazing sequence where Poirier shoots out of desperation, bowling Jung over. Using the momentum, Jung rolls through and ends up in the mount position! The crowd went absolutely crazy here! Jung transitions to an arm bar and then a triangle choke that nearly finishes Poirier, but it’s alright because he’s saved by the bell!
Neither Jon Anik or Kenny Florian made this connection and that’s why I will have their jobs one day.
Poirier takes the third round and it looks like Jung was gassing badly entering the fourth. Anik astutely points out that neither guy has ever fought in the championship rounds and it is starting to show. Out of nowhere, Jung rocks Poirier with a huge uppercut and chases him with another flying knee! Poirier with another desperation shot, but Jung scrambles to secure a D’arce choke! It’s tight and Poirier goes to sleep! Zombie wins!!!
Just an awesome back and forth battle. I have to believe that psychology had a major effect on both fighters. Poirier looked eager to impress and his crisp striking wasn’t on full display. His takedowns were predictable and worse, dictated by his opponent. As such, Jung was able to turn those scrambles into advantageous positions every time. The Korean Zombie looked icy calm as usual and it was obvious that he’s worked hard to round out his game. His ground and pound was spectacular, which is something he hadn’t shown in his other fights. Credit goes to both men who cut a ridiculous pace. They earned a $40,000 Fight of the Night bonus (and Jung got another $40k for submission of the night) and they might have also given us the fight of the year.
Official result: Jung by technical submission (1:07, R4)
What’s next for Poirier: (4-1 UFC, L1) Poirier isn’t going to fall too far down the rankings as this had more to do with Jung having the fight of his life than any shortcomings on Poirier’s part. He’s only 23 and will likely contend for the title in the near future. Possible opponents are fellow top ten featherweights Bart Palaszewski and Diego Nunes, both coming off disappointing losses.
What’s next for Jung: (3-0 UFC, W3) In the words of The Korean Zombie himself: “I want José Aldo”.
The next featherweight champion of the world!