It was even closer than the last time. In a rematch that few demanded, “Smooth” Ben Henderson was able to hold on and retain his belt against Frankie Edgar. I should probably mention that I was in that minority looking forward to this bout; more importantly, I was looking forward to Edgar taking back his belt.
Featherweight Bout: Nik Lentz d. Eiji Mitsuoka via TKO (1:35, R1)
What you need to know: Lentz was quietly rising up the ranks of the lightweight division, going undefeated in his first 7 UFC contests. His first few fights were uneventful, wrestling intensive contests that failed to build fan support and while he was beginning to shed the dreadful “lay and pray” label (including a “Fight of the Night” against Evan Dunham), he was also starting to lose fights. He’s made the transition to 145 where his smothering top game should serve him well.
Mitsuoka made his debut at UFC 144 in his home country of Japan as a replacement for George Sotiropoulos. He shocked the crowd when he floored Takanori Gomi in the first round, but Gomi recovered and eventually finished Mitsuoka in the second. Mitsuoka is also looking to reinvent himself as a featherweight.
How it went down: The younger, more explosive Lentz put on a wrestling clinic, slamming Mitsuoka at will before taking the back and delivering enough strikes to force the referee stoppage.
What’s next for Mitsuoka: (0-2 UFC, Lost last 2) A trip back to Japan and possibly retirement. Two fights in the UFC would be a fine way to end a career.
What’s next for Lentz: (6-2-1 [1 NC] UFC, Won last 1) You never want to overreact when someone changes classes and defeats a middling opponent, but Lentz looks revitalized at featherweight. He would make a fine test for fellow UFC 150 winners Dennis Bermudez or Max Holloway, but I’d rather they stuck him with people closer to his experience level. A fight with Nam Phan would answer a lot of questions about both fighters’ prospects.
Bantamweight Bout: Chico Camus d. Dustin Pague via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
What you need to know: “King” Camus is well known in the northwest region, having done most of his damage for Gladiators Cage Fighting and the North American Fighting Championship in Wisconsin. He is making his UFC debut.
Pague, a semi-finalist on TUF 14, is fighting for the third time in three months. His first UFC win was aided by some clueless officiating. While Pague worked for a rear naked choke, his opponent Jared Papazian used his feet to push off the cage to prevent Pague from locking it in. The referee warned him to stop, eventually removing Papazian’s feet forcefully. Pague completed the submission shortly after. Here’s the problem: It is completely legal to have your feet on the cage. With that dubious win under his belt, Pague fought on short notice two weeks later and lost a decision to Ken Stone.
How it went down: The dreaded altitude of Colorado seemed to affect Pague as Camus held him down for fifteen minutes. He may have taken the first round with some aggressive submission attempts for the bottom, but those efforts drained him and there wasn’t much he could do as Camus showed good control from the top.
What’s next for Pague: (1-3 UFC, L2) I don’t want it to sound like I dislike Pague as he actually seems a decent fellow and I admire him for fighting as much as possible especially since he doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear on him yet. He just needs to know his limitations. He’s now in that unfortunate category of guys fighting for their jobs, which could see him meeting up with Kid Yamamoto or Byron Bloodworth. I’d like to see him face TUF: Brazil contestant Hugo Wolverine, who is dropping to 135.
What’s next for Camus: (1-0 UFC, W4) The Roufusport representative didn’t blow anybody away in his debut, but he picked up the W which is what matters most. He’s a grinder who has gone to a decision in his last 5 fights, so an opponent who pushes him out of his comfort zone might be best for him. Johnny Eduardo, Johnny Bedford or a debuting Azamat Gashimov could do the trick.
Bantamweight Bout: Erik Perez d. Ken Stone via KO (:17, R1)
What you need to know: Perez, 22, is a top prospect under the tutelage of Greg Jackson. He defeated John Albert with an arm bar in June, but there was no indication of submission and the referee’s bizarre call marred what should have been a strong debut. This is his second chance to make a first impression.
Stone has been part of some incredible highlights in his Zuffa career, usually on the wrong end. Eddie Wineland slammed him senseless and Scott Jorgensen pummeled him from inside his guard, creating legitimate concerns for Stone’s well being. He was victorious in his last two UFC appearances against Donny Walker and Pague.
How it went down: Add another knockout to the Stone highlight reel! Perez landed a Liddell-esque counter left that caused Stone to face plant. “El Goyito” then dove in for the kill, landing several unanswered punches that left Stone limp. After Herb Dean broke it up, Stone actually recovered and frantically grabbed at Perez even as Dean had him in a waist lock. There were actually boos in the arena! I’m not a doctor, but here’s how I know someone is out:
1) After taking a shot to the chin, you fall face down on all fours like you’re looking for a contact lens.
2) Your head is bouncing off the mat while you lose control of your extremities.
What’s next for Stone: (2-2 UFC, L1) A long talk with his neurologist. There’s no doubting Stone’s ability, but when you’ve suffered three vicious knockouts in two years you have to start looking after yourself. I don’t care to consider potential opponents because I honestly would like to see him take a year off from combat sports if that’s an option for him.
What’s next for Perez: (2-0 UFC, W7) A moment to bask in his 17 second knockout, the fastest in the history of the Zuffa bantamweight division. Once things settle down, he can get back to work at Jackson’s preparing for possible matchups with Camus, the gifted Bryan Caraway or the resurgent Francisco Rivera.
Middleweight Bout: Michael Kuiper d. Jared Hamman via TKO (2:16, R2)
What you need to know: Kuiper was outworked by Rafael Natal in his UFC debut. The decision loss was the first in the Dutch judoka’s career.
Hamman was riding high off of a TKO win over C.B. Dollaway before being stopped by Costa Philippou last December. He’s become known for his wide open kickboxing stance, exposed chin and inhuman capability for withstanding punishment. I’ve seen him referred to as “The American Zombie”.
How it went down: For me, this was the worst kind of exciting fight; the kind where you’re glued to the screen because of the possibility that someone might get seriously hurt. This had all the appeal of a car wreck. Hamman started out strong, but at some point he suffered a leg injury and Kuiper was all over him during the first round. You could clearly hear Hamman tell his corner that he had blown his knee but he is inexplicably allowed to continue.
Kuiper continued landing sledge hammer fists on Hamman’s chin to start the second round. The scary thing is that Hamman’s expression never changes during the whole ordeal. One shot buckled Hamman’s knees and he fell flat on his back. I would have called the fight right there. Referee Adam Martinez allows it to go on for another few minutes, in which Hamman takes more head shots. The fight was eventually called off, but I was disgusted by Martinez’ lack of assertiveness and Hamman’s corner for not throwing in the towel. A loss can be harmful to one’s career, but the risk of severe injury should have taken priority here.
What’s next for Hamman: (2-4 UFC, L2) More consideration for his health. We love fighters like Hamman because we know he’s going to put entertainment over technique and that’s great, but everyone involved needs to start thinking about how this could affect him. Like Stone, I think it would be insensitive to consider future bookings until we at least find out the condition of Hamman’s knee.
What’s next for Kuiper: (1-1 UFC, W1) Maybe Natal was just a bad fit stylistically because Kuiper looked like a killer here. It’s unfortunate that he’s not a wrestler because he’d be fantastic implementing more sprawl and brawl tactics. He’d be a good early challenge for TUF: Brazil winner Cezar Mutante, or the matchmakers could push him up the rankings with fights against Nick Ring or Andrew Craig.
Featherweight Bout: Dennis Bermudez d. Tommy Hayden via Submission (4:43, R1)
What you need to know: Bermudez was the TUF 14 runner-up, losing a thrilling contest against Diego Brandao. He shocked everyone by rocking Brandao in the stand-up before some sloppy groundwork lead to him tapping out to an arm bar. His next fight against Pablo Garza looked more like a WWE match as he repeatedly picked up and drove “The Scarecrow” through the mat. After earning the decision, he broke out a Tyrone Biggums impression, telling Joe Rogan that fear was not a factor for him. Rogan was not amused.
Like Camus, Hayden made a name for himself in the northwest going undefeated in 8 contests. He was given a rude awakening when he was matched up with Fabrício Camões, one of the best BJJ practitioners in the world. Camões was able to get the fight to the mat where he submitted Hayden inside of a round. On an unrelated note, Hayden’s nickname is “Wildcard” and I was kind of hoping he would win and say this.
How it went down: Bermudez’ striking is still a work in progress and he mostly used it to set up his shots. Hayden read one attempt perfectly and nearly ended the fight with a huge knee. Bermudez would later say that all he could remember was going for a takedown and then Hayden was suddenly on his back choking him. When Hayden transitioned to an arm bar, Bermudez showed off his unreal strength and powered out of it. They started to grapple again and Bermudez was able to lock in a standing guillotine that ended the fight.
What’s next for Hayden: (0-2 UFC, L2) Despite his best efforts, it’s back to the minors with two first round defeats.
What’s next for Bermudez: (2-1 UFC, W2) You’ve got to love the enthusiasm he shows. Every time he gets interviewed, he’s like a little kid. I can see how that would annoy some people, but I find it immensely endearing and I think the fans are starting to get behind him. If the UFC brings him along slowly, they could have a star on their hands. Holloway, Steven Siler and Matt Grice are all legit, but beatable fighters.
Featherweight Bout: Max Holloway d. Justin Lawrence via TKO (4:49, R2)
What you need to know: Holloway is a dynamic striker who has drawn favourable comparisons to Anthony Pettis. At 20 years old, he is the UFC’s youngest competitor and this is already his 3rd appearance inside the octagon. I am officially depressed now.
Lawrence looked to be the breakout star of TUF 15. He has an outstanding kickboxing pedigree, boasting over 150 amateur victories. His cocky attitude rubbed a lot of the other cast members the wrong way and his heart was questioned when he was finished by eventual winner Michael Chiesa in a sudden victory round. The hype train got back on track at The Ultimate Fighter 15 Finale, where he dusted off John Cofer with head kick to end a back and forth battle. Lawrence himself is only 22, turning this bout into a glimpse at the future of the featherweight division.
How it went down: Lawrence is like a little Cung Le in that he’s compact and powerful. He threw a variety of spinning kicks that Holloway was able to avoid. Holloway showed crisp counterstriking skills, picking his spots and landing short punches whenever Lawrence got close. He opened Lawrence up at one point, but also looked bad landing some awkward kicks below the belt.
In the second round, Lawrence continued to be the aggressor and while he was definitely scoring, Holloway kept finding ways to counter and draw blood. Near the end of the round, Holloway landed a sick body blow and Lawrence crumpled. Holloway didn’t miss a beat and followed up with punches for the TKO.
What’s next for Lawrence: (1-1 UFC, L1) Brazilian veteran Milton Vieira, TUF 11 alum and mustache enthusiast Cody McKenzie, or TUF: Brazil runner-up Pepey.
What’s next for Holloway: (2-1 UFC, W2) As mentioned above, a fight with Bermudez makes sense but he’s not quite as far along in his development. I’d like to see him take on Marcos Vinicius, the winner of the Joey Gambino/Diego Brandao fight, or the winner of the Andy Ogle/Akira Corassani fight.
Middleweight Bout: Yushin Okami d. Buddy Roberts (3:05, R2)
What you need to know: Okami is on a two fight skid for the first time in his career and this was a must win for him to stay near the top of the division. His original opponent was Luiz Cané, but he was replaced by newcomer Roberts, whose opponent also dropped out. In only his second UFC fight, Roberts has the opportunity to fly up the middleweight ladder if he can find a way to beat Okami.
How it went down: Roberts did not find a way to beat Okami. The first thing I have to note is that Roberts is a huge middleweight, which is saying something because Okami himself is a big dude. Regardless, this turned out to be the mismatch everyone expected as Roberts was unable to do anything once Okami got the fight to the ground. It was close to being called in the first round as Okami managed to secure a back mount and repeatedly score against a defenceless Roberts. In the second, Okami established a nearly identical position and the referee had no choice but to wave it off.
What’s next for Roberts: (1-1 UFC, L1) A return to his regularly scheduled programming. He was never meant to face a fighter like Okami this early in his career. I’d like to see him face Clifford Starks (whenever he returns from injury), Riki Fukuda or Karlos Vemola.
What’s next for Okami: (11-4 UFC, W1) Seriously, just look at those UFC records. How was that a fair matchup? Okami will likely fight the winner of the UFC 153 bout between Chris Camozzi (Roberts’ original opponent) and Cané, though it would also make sense to have him face Jake Shields in a rematch of a 2006 contest that Shields won.
Middleweight Bout: Jake Shields d. Ed Herman via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)
What you need to know: I’m being kind when I say that your average Jake Shields fight is not exactly “must-see tv”. Even before he joined the UFC, he wasn’t famous for flashy knockouts or submissions. Under Zuffa employment, he’s become even more reviled. He eked out a split decision win over Martin Kampmann, looked unspectacular in his title bout with Georges St-Pierre and was finished for only the second time in his career by Jake Ellenberger. On Saturday, he returned to the division he once ruled in Strikeforce.
Herman has been on a roll since returning from a knee injury, finishing his last three opponents. Shields represents the biggest test of his career, but they match up well and it looks like it will come down to whose striking is, er, less awful.
How it went down: Add another knockout to the Shields highlight reel! Naw, just kidding. It was a plodding fight. Herman inexplicably decided to clinch with Shields, allowing Shields to trip him to the mat in every round and out grapple him. Shields is an inadequate striker without an effective shot, so why Herman would walk right up his alley is anyone’s guess. The Cesar Gracie representative showed why he’s a master of top control, completely neutralizing all of Herman’s attempts to fight back. It was a win, but hardly an auspicious return to the division for Shields.
What’s next for Herman: (7-6 UFC, L1) I really thought that Herman was due for a breakthrough, but Shields is a tough customer and there’s no shame in this loss. A win over Rousimar Palhares (who was scratched from this card), C.B. Dollaway or Costa Philippou could go a long way towards getting his momentum back.
What’s next for Shields: (3-2 UFC, W2) Okami, but other top 10 options include Mark Muñoz or the winner of the Vitor Belfort/Alan Belcher contest.
*Catchweight Bout (157.5): Donald Cerrone d. Melvin Guillard via KO (1:16, R1)
*Guillard missed weight and had to forfeit 20% of his purse
What you need to know: Cerrone and Guillard actually formed a friendship during Guillard’s time training with Greg Jackson and this match was put together hastily to accommodate Cerrone. A grateful Cerrone promised a war and Guillard was happy to comply.
How it went down: Remind me never to become friends with Cerrone, because that apparently gives him permission to punch the F out of you. Neither fighter had ever been knocked out before, so when Cerrone was rocked early that was already surprising. When he recovered and wobbled Guillard with a glancing kick to the head, everyone at the bar I was in started to freak out. Then Cerrone followed up with the hardest punch in human history or as my friend William and I called it, “What would have happened if Jermaine O’Neal had successfully punched that fat guy during the Malice at the Palace”. Guillard went down like he’d been shot, which all things considered, would probably have hurt less.
What’s next for Guillard: (11-7 UFC, L1) I used to be a fan of this basketball player named Darius Miles. Every year, he’d show marginal improvement and I’d tell all of my friends, “He’s only 21, give him time!” The next year it would be, “He’s only 22, give him time!” Then “He’s only 23…” and so on and so forth. Well, it eventually got to a point where he was he was 27, he’d been in the league for almost a decade and he was still a spot starter. It was at that point that I gave up on Darius Miles ever being an All-Star.
Guillard is always on the cusp of greatness, but he’s always seemed unable to develop in some key areas (submission defence being one of them). I guess what I’m saying is he’s only 29, but we might have to accept that this is the best Guillard we’re going to get. Luckily, the lightweight division is still rife with fresh match-ups for him, including Takanori Gomi, Sam Stout or the winner of the Dennis Hallman/Thiago Tavares bout at UFC 151.
What’s next for Cerrone: (6-1 UFC, W2) Cerrone has been calling out Anthony Pettis and I can’t think of a better opponent than that.
Lightweight Championship Bout: Ben Henderson d. Frankie Edgar via Split Decision (48-47 x2, 46-49)
What you need to know: Edgar is probably my favourite fighter in the UFC. Even though I felt Henderson won the first fight, it was hardly one-sided and if there’s one thing we should take from Edgar’s title defences it’s that he only gets better with rematches. His first win over BJ Penn was disputed (even I’m not sure how he won that one) but in their second meeting he gave Penn a whuppin’. He lost his first meeting with Gray Maynard back in 2008 and then he survived their second encounter with the title on the line. In their third meeting, he withstood the Maynard onslaught again before knocking the larger man out in the 4th round. The way I saw it, Henderson didn’t have a chance.
How it went down: The first round was all Henderson. He killed Edgar with body kicks in the first match and those long legs looked to be the difference again. Edgar caught the kicks every time, but after they’d connected, which is kind of like catching the blade of a sword after your head has been chopped off. In this fight, Henderson went down low and Edgar’s calf was turning bright pink. The last two kicks dropped him and he had to shoot out of desperation, but Henderson shrugged it off. 10-9 Henderson, for sure.
As the second round started, I was getting dreadful flashbacks to the José Aldo/Urijah Faber fight, where Aldo just disintegrated Faber’s legs limiting his mobility. If Henderson kept it up, the fight was all his. Sure enough, Henderson landed another big low kick and normally this is where I would cover my eyes, but I had faith. Edgar slipped a punch and landed a solid overhand right that had Henderson backpedalling. He shot in to slow down the action and Edgar stopped him, controlling the head. “My boy’s got this round!” I shouted. A guillotine choke was easily defended by Henderson, but Edgar definitely won that one. 10-9 Edgar.
The next three rounds were impossible to call. Henderson started throwing head kicks and I keep thinking that if Edgar were a couple of inches taller he might be dead by now. Edgar looked good whenever he was able to get his combinations off, but Henderson used his range well and his jab landed consistently. There was a riveting moment in the 4th round when Edgar tripped Henderson to the mat. You could hear rumblings in the crowd as Edgar contemplated whether to dive in and risk an up kick like in the first fight. Henderson got tired of waiting and launched a capoeira kick from his back that actually landed pretty cleanly. It might have even won him the round. Both fighters were in top form, exchanging the role of the aggressor and trading blows. It was extremely difficult for either fighter to land anything dramatic. I scored the fight 48-47 for Edgar, but I’m biased. Henderson ended up winning a split decision and I have to admit that Edgar never quite got off.
Afterwards, Edgar threw his hat down in frustration and you could see he was almost in tears. It wasn’t a graceful reaction, but he was emotional. Both men felt they’d won the fight. Edgar knows it’s going to be a long climb back to the top of the mountain, so you can’t blame him for showing his frustration. He’s never taken a night off inside that cage. Considering the physical advantages his opponents usually have, he can’t afford to. When you put that much time, effort and dedication into something and it doesn’t go your way, you’d have to be inhuman not to be upset. My heart broke for him.
What’s next for Edgar: (9-3-1 UFC, L2) A drop to featherweight if Edgar’s critics have their way. By any standards, Edgar has had a phenomenal run at lightweight and I would like to see him stay there. I actually consider fighting at his natural weight to be good thing, due to him not having to deal with the taxing physiological issues that other fighters put themselves through when cutting massive amounts of weight. As the detrimental effects of weight cutting become more apparent, you’ll see fighters competing a lot closer to their natural weight; in that sense, Edgar is ahead of his time. Edgar should relax until 2013, at which time he could face Jim Miller (yes, another rematch), Guillard or Jamie Varner (another former WEC champion).
What’s next for Henderson: (5-0 UFC, W5) A hotly anticipated meeting with #1 contender, Nate Diaz.