Welcome to the Stage of History: UFC 164 Perspective

Maybe I’m reading into things too much, but UFC 164 seemed to have an abnormal amount of compelling outcomes.  Even though the UFC hype machine would have you think differently, not every card has fights that matter in the long term.  Some might be for a number one contender spot, some are completely senseless and some are flat-out fun.  How will history look back on UFC 164?

The Big 2-0

Gleison Tibau, congratulations on your twentieth career UFC appearance!  You join the ranks of Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Frank Mir, BJ Penn and Georges St-Pierre.  At just 30 years old, you’re the youngest to ever reach this milestone.  Your reward?  The main event slot…on the preliminary card.

Look: I’ve never tuned into a UFC show just to see Tibau.  Neither have you.  But twenty octagon appearances is rarified air and the company should always find a way to celebrate these workhorses and get them onto the main card.  Melvin Guillard suffered the same ignominious fate and he’s actually been the last fight of the night before.  Again, I’m not saying you need to put any effort into building it up, just quietly give him the opening slot and make sure your announcers mention it.  Your average professional fighter might get five UFC appearances if he’s lucky.  Twenty is a big deal.  Let’s treat it that way.

Leaders of the New Generation

One reason Dustin Poirier and Erik Koch continue to benefit from positive hype despite their recent setbacks is that they’re so darn young and so darn good.  If this were boxing, you’d never see these two fighters matched up this early in their careers.  That’s the beauty of MMA: nobody is protected.  If you want that number one spot, go get it.

In defeating Koch, Poirier separated himself further from the other young prospects at 145.  He showed great resilience and maturity, escaping submissions and making sure to pace himself so that he could survive Koch’s comeback in the third round.  It would have been easy for Poirier to gas himself out early on searching for a finish that might never come.  He kept his wits about him and picked his shots wisely.  It’s only a matter of time until he starts knocking off bigger names on his way to the top.

The End of an (V)Era

I had to do it.

Anyone who saw Brandon Vera’s early returns in the UFC would have been convinced that this was a superstar in the making.  He was flashy and fun and he said all the right things.  Most memorably, he boasted that he would win both the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles.  This did not come to fruition.  He did headline three non-PPV cards, which shows that the company had faith in his ability to draw an audience.

During his walkout for the Ben Rothwell fight, he looked lost and not at all enthusiastic about his return to heavyweight.  On some level, it was an acknowledgment that his lofty goals were done for.  He moved back up in weight because moving back up got him another fight.

The size difference between Vera and Big Ben was shocking.  Vera still looked like he was fighting at 205.  He showed flashes of his past brilliance, arguably winning the first two rounds with some deft movement and counter kicks.  Then Ben turned it on, shuffling like LMFAO before putting Vera down for the count.

The sight of Vera crumpled down on the mat was disheartening and worse, all too familiar in the latter part of his career.  In sixteen UFC appearances (including one no-contest), Vera did not even fight for the title, much less win one.  That’s still a fine career and only disappointing when held up to the hype generated by the fans, the media and himself.

Making a Statement

Chad Mendes finds himself on the same path once travelled by former welterweight contender Jon Fitch.  He is far and away the second best featherweight in the world, but he can’t seem to shake off the notion that a rematch with José Aldo would be as one-sided as their first encounter.  So what is a guy to do?

How about become the first person to defeat Clay Guida via strikes?  Guida inserted himself into the top ten of the division with a controversial split decision win against Hatsu Hioki.  In forty three career fights, he had never been knocked out.  Tyson Griffin, Diego Sanchez, Takanori Gomi, Anthony Pettis, Gray Maynard…these are just some of the names that tried to separate Guida from his consciousness and failed.  Ten years after Guida’s first professional fight, Mendes blessed him with a new experience.

On top of that, nobody (the champ included) has won four straight fights in the UFC’s featherweight division via KO or TKO.  If you’re looking for historical impact, Mendes delivered in spades.  That rematch could still be a long time coming.  When it comes, there won’t be a single person who can say Mendes isn’t ready for it.

Apparently, You Can Go Home Again

It was awkward seeing Josh Barnett, one of MMA’s most well-spoken and affable personalities, welcomed back with such open arms.  During the post-fight conference, nobody even thought to mention why he had to forfeit the UFC heavyweight title all those years go.

Look, I don’t want to be a buzzkill, but this has to be setting some sort of precedent, doesn’t it?  The UFC hasn’t been interested in doing business with Barnett until recently and it would be ridiculous to suggest it had nothing to do with his previous steroid use.  I’m not sure what message it sends when you give him such a high profile spot on a fight card and then get right back to hyping him as a contender considering Dana White’s recent crusade against PEDs and TRT.

I’m a big Barnett fan and I’m more than happy to welcome him back.  I’m also not the commissioner of the UFC.  They better pray The Warmaster can stay clean, otherwise this will go down as another blemish on the sport’s tempestuous relationship with PEDs.

Showtime

The lightweight title has proven difficult to defend; not surprising considering the depth of talent within the division over the last few years.  Benson Henderson had been hanging on by a thread and many would argue that he failed to definitively protect his championship against both Frankie Edgar and Gilbert Melendez.  You can only tread that thin line for so long before someone catches up to you.  Many predicted it would be Anthony Pettis.  I would never have predicted a first round submission.

For the UFC, this has to be considered a blessing.  This is their best shot at turning the 155 pound title into a drawing belt again.  As gifted as both Edgar and Henderson are, for some reason they failed to connect with the fans on a massive level.  BJ Penn had a unique look and skillset and he knew how to sell a match.  There was a big-time fight feel whenever he was in the spotlight.  Pettis has the potential to live up to the “Showtime” moniker.

Henderson had hoped to not only break Penn’s record of four straight lightweight title defences, but also to surpass Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre as one of the most dominant champions of all time.  It had to be painful to have those plans derailed by Pettis, the second time he’d dropped a title to his rival.  What was supposed to be a shot at redemption turned into a case of history repeating.

UFC on Fox Sports 1 Recap

Sometimes you wake up and you get it in your head to write 4500 words about UFC on Fox Sports 1.  This is one of those times.  Let’s get to it.

The Preliminaries

Lightweight Bout: James Vick d. Ramsey Nijem via Submission (:58, R1)

What you need to know: Due to the live format of TUF 15, Vick was forced off of the season finale after suffering an ill-timed concussion.  He was one of the show’s more promising prospects, a big man with a thirst for knowledge.

Nijem was the runner-up of TUF 13.  He was as well known for his spontaneous shedding of clothes as he was for his wrestling.  He came into this fight with a respectable 3-2 record.

How it went down: A tall kickboxer like Vick is just asking to be taken down by someone with Nijem’s background.  Sure enough, Nijem looked to take the action to the mat right out of the gate…and he fell into a match ending guillotine choke.

What’s next for Nijem: (3-3 UFC, Lost last 2) Since 2011, Nijem has made six appearances in the UFC, only missing one fight due to injury.  The company has to respect a workhorse like that and it could be enough to keep him around even with two one-sided losses.  If so, he’ll have to beat guys like Zhang Tie Quan, Rafaello Oliveira and Mac Danzig to avoid the axe.

What’s next for Vick: (1-0 UFC, W5) First, compete in a Tyler Hansbrough lookalike contest; second, get back in the gym and capitalize on this momentum.  Look for him to face TUF: The Smashes winner Norman Parke, Grudge representative Justin Salas or Anthony Njokuani in what would be a great kickboxing exhibition.  With the quick win, don’t be surprised if Vick is a prime candidate to step-in for an injured fighter on short notice either.

Light Heavyweight Bout: Ovince St. Preux d. Cody Donovan via KO (2:07, R1)

What you need to know: Donovan surprised a lot of people by knocking out highly touted Canadian Nick Penner on short notice.  The win afforded him the opportunity to step up against St. Preux, one of Strikeforce’s emerging stars before that organization was acquired by Zuffa.

How it went down: Unlike in his first fight with Penner, Donovan actually managed to get the fight to the ground where he could work his magic.  St. Preux made sure he was unable to do anything, using his instincts and athleticism to reverse and get on top where he was able to punch out Donovan from inside his guard.

What’s next for Donovan: (1-1 UFC, L1) 205 remains a top heavy division and this loss keeps Donovan near the bottom of the pack.  Lingering around that range are Igor Pokrajac, Gian Villante and Ilir Latifi.  It would be fun to see Donovan (a BJJ black belt) welcome famed grappling instructor Robert Drysdale to the octagon.

What’s next for St. Preux: (2-0 UFC, W2) Every win matters at this level and St. Preux could climb the charts fast if he keeps this up.  Now would be a great time to pair him up with Rafael Cavalcante.  Feijão was the light heavyweight champion in Strikeforce when he and St. Preux competed there.  Coming off a loss, Feijão is still a deadly opponent who will either expose St. Preux or provide an instant shot of career adrenaline.

Featherweight Bout: Manvel Gamburyan d. Cole Miller via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)

What you need to know: TUF 5 veterans collide!  In a way, Gamburyan and Miller were “lightweight pioneers” having been part of the TUF season that ushered in the return of the 155 pound division.  While neither man has ever been a headliner, they’ve both logged double digit appearances for Zuffa (including Gamburyan’s WEC work where he did face José Aldo in a main event).  They are a familiar sight to many fans who became interested in the UFC around 2007, when the organization expanded to five weight classes.  Since then, both have dropped to featherweight with Gamburyan once being world ranked and Miller struggling to find his footing.

How it went down: This is one to consider in the continuing study of judging philosophy.  Gamburyan, a master of takedowns, repeatedly grounded Miller while staying in top control.  Miller responded by striking from the bottom and attacking with submissions (that Gamburyan deftly fended off).  There was also a peculiar sequence in between the first and second rounds where Gamburyan needed extra time to recover due to some illegal elbows to the back of the head that connected just as the opening round concluded.  Miller did his best to be a good sport at the time, though he is apparently now asking for the results to be overturned due to the extended rest time.

What’s next for Miller: (8-6 UFC, L1) Is this the end of the line for Magrinho?  With a 1-3 record, he’s been a flop at featherweight.  The only validation for the move has been a submission victory over the respected Bart Palaszewski.  Should he stay on, we can expect him to face someone like Cody McKenzie, Max Holloway or Daniel Pineda.

What’s next for Gamburyan: (4-5 UFC, W2) Gamburyan’s record is deceptive as it includes his time at lightweight, a division he was not suited for.  As a featherweight, Gamburyan has a combined WEC/UFC record of 5-3, which keeps him firmly in the top 20 of the division.  A match with any of the event’s other featherweight winners makes sense and he would be an ideal test for the budding Diego Brandao.

Featherweight Bout: Diego Brandao d. Daniel Pineda via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)

What you need to know: Brandao remains an intriguing prospect, decimating his TUF competition long before anyone had even heard of Uriah Hall.  His natural ferocity tempered by the calming atmosphere of Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts has all the makings of a difference maker at 145.

Pineda made an immediate impact with first round submissions in his first two UFC fights and he opened a lot of eyes in a close decision loss to former featherweight kingpin Mike Brown.  That momentum was deadened by a KO loss to Antonio Carvalho.  Taking out Brandao would go a long way towards getting people talking again.

How it went down: In what is quickly becoming the blueprint for every Brandao fight, the Brazilian brought the fury early and survived late.  As critical as that sounds, it is also a compliment.  The competition in this division gets tougher and tougher and blowouts are hard to come by.  On this occasion, Brandao had to use takedowns to snuff out a spirited comeback by Pineda.  He landed several in the third round en route to a unanimous win.

What’s next for Pineda: (3-3 UFC, L1) Pineda needs to prove that he’s more than a building block for the careers of others.  The key to that is finding consistency.  He has looked brilliant at times (a spectacular kimura in his last fight earned him a Submission of the Night bonus) and flat at others (the Carvalho KO is still a head scratcher).  Aside from the other featherweights in tonight’s losers’ circle, Robbie Peralta (when he returns from a suspension) would provide an interesting clash of styles for Pineda.

What’s next for Brandao: (4-1 UFC, W3) A top 20 opponent.  I currently have him ranked just outside that range.  His record dictates a step-up, which doesn’t give him much time to shore up those glaring weaknesses.  I like the Gamburyan match-up, but I could also see him fighting Akira Corassani somewhere down the road, an exciting bout that never materialized during their time in the TUF house.

Featherweight Bout: Steve Siler d. Mike Brown via KO (:50, R1)

What you need to know: Brown has been working hard to rehab his career since a brutal stretch saw him lose three of five bouts after dropping the WEC title to José Aldo.  There’s no nice way to put it: he’s getting up there in age and young guns like Siler are lining up to add him to their resume.

Siler has been quietly making a name for himself, losing only once in his first five UFC appearances.  A number of decisions have failed to leave much of an imprint on the casual fan and he needs a flashy finish to propel him to a higher ranking.

How it went down: Siler got his flashy finish.  After rocking Brown with a huge right, Siler bounced his head off of the mat a couple of times before Yves Lavigne stepped in.  Brown protested, but the stoppage was a good one for his sake.

What’s next for Brown: (2-4 UFC, L1) With all due respect to Brown, retirement has to be a consideration.  In his first 26 fights, Brown had never suffered a loss via knockout; in his last 9 he’s been knocked out 3 times and they were all nasty.  There’s no questioning that Brown is still highly skilled and motivated, but the body and chin aren’t cooperating.  If he sticks around, all that awaits him are more youthful, hungry challengers like the winner of the Charles Oliveira/Hacran Dias fight in October.

What’s next for Siler: (5-1 UFC, W2) This is exactly the kind of win that turns someone from card filler into a contender.  Not only is Brown a relatively big name, Siler was able to dust him off in under a minute.  He’s got no choice but to be ready for a potentially career changing match-up.  Gamburyan makes a lot of sense, or he could be lined up for Conor McGregor (who still needs some seasoning himself).  Outside of the card, a match-up with the streaking Dennis Bermudez would further reveal their potential.

Featherweight Bout: Conor McGregor d. Max Holloway via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 30-26)

What you need to know: McGregor is the key to a potential UFC expansion into Ireland.  Luckily for the UFC, he’s also one tough, talented and talkative son of a gun.  His obliteration of Marcus Brimage backed up his credentials as Europe’s best prospect and Dana White has been happy to push him full force.

Holloway is getting the MMA world’s version of on-the-job training, having fought five times in the UFC at the tender age of 21.  Statistically, he is one of the most active and effective strikers in the featherweight division.

How it went down: Depending on your level of expectations, this was either a tremendous letdown or a validation of McGregor’s skills.  I’m not sure what people were expecting since Holloway is no push-over and difficult to finish (it has only happened once in nine previous contests).  Both men had their moments, but McGregor was able to stay aggressive while consistently outscoring Holloway.  For anyone seeing McGregor for the first time, his hybrid karate stance should have been enough to stick in their minds.  He expressed disappointment in his own performance despite winning a clear-cut decision.

What’s next for Holloway: (3-3 UFC, L2) If the timing were different, it could be the Holloway getting the red carpet treatment afforded to McGregor; alas, the young Hawaiian is still searching for a marketable identity.  For now, he’s fortunate to be able to show off his educated striking in the octagon until it’s his turn to board the UFC hype train.  Daniel Pineda would be a logical opponent, but I’d love to see him matched up with someone like Maximo Blanco or TUF: Brazil runner-up Pepey.

What’s next for McGregor: (2-0 UFC, W10) Impressive though he is, it still feels too soon to put McGregor up against a top 10 opponent.  Gamburyan, Siler or Brandao would all be suitable, though they definitely can’t match the buzz that McGregor has going for him right now.  Thinking outside the box, it would be interesting to see how he would fare against a grappling specialist like Rani Yahya or Nik Lentz.

Bantamweight Bout: Michael McDonald d. Brad Pickett via Submission (3:43, R2)

What you need to know: Fresh off his first defeat in almost four years at the hands of interim bantamweight champion Renan Barão, McDonald was forced to deal with an unfamiliar reality.  Renowned not just for his punching power but his poise, it remained to be seen how strongly he would bounce back after being reminded of his fallibility.

Pickett has been one of the best 135ers for some time, though he’s also had the misfortune of being cast as a stepping stone.  Scott Jorgensen, Barão and Eddie Wineland have all gone on to title fights immediately after defeating Pickett.

How it went down: In addition to being well rounded, Pickett has got to be one of the most determined, strong-willed individuals on the roster.  McDonald’s knockouts of Alex Soto and Miguel Torres exposed the dynamite in his hands.  He had a short fuse on Saturday, doing his best to detonate Pickett’s skull.  The man would not stay down.  Afterwards, McDonald said he feared he’d mysteriously lost his knockout power.  Rather than punch himself out, McDonald stayed patient even as Pickett found a second wind.  Defending from the guard, McDonald waited until exactly the right moment before executing a flawless triangle choke to win the match.

What’s next for Pickett: (3-3 UFC, L1) Keep on truckin’, as they say.  Pickett has already fought the majority of the top ten, making his next booking tricky.  I’d like to see him face Brian Bowles when he returns or this evening’s Urijah Faber victim, Iuri Alcantara.

What’s next for McDonald: (5-1 UFC, W1) This sensational win isn’t enough to get him a rematch just yet, but he maintained his status as one of the five best bantamweights.  The most compelling match-up would be a meeting with his friend Faber.  Another possibility would be the TJ Dillashaw/Raphael Assunçao winner.

The Main Card

Lightweight Bout: Michael Johnson d. Joe Lauzon (30-27 x2, 30-25)

What you need to know: Lauzon is the consummate TV fighter; in the days when the UFC didn’t have a glut of free programming, Lauzon was called upon to spice up or even headline a card.  He has the kind of game that can convince people to someday shell out real money for the PPVs.  Aside from winning fights, his current goal appears to be avoiding prolonged battles that have been good for his bank account (matches with Jim Miller and Jamie Varner scored him back to back Fight of the Night bonuses totalling $115,000) and terrible for his long term health.

Johnson is a promising athlete who has grown by leaps and bounds since his stint on TUF 12.  He put together a three fight win streak capped off by an explosive KO of Danny Castillo, but came into this fight on a losing streak including a submission loss to unheralded Reza Madadi in his last appearance.  They couldn’t have picked a worse opponent for him, due to his propensity for tap outs (6 of Johnson’s 8 career losses have come by way of submission) and the fact that Lauzon would have a raucous Boston crowd supporting him.

How it went down: Johnson rose to the occasion and Lauzon fell flat on his face.  As a fan of Lauzon, I’m inclined to believe that he had some lingering injury or illness that affected his performance.  Nothing has been reported, so all the credit has to go to Johnson for putting all of his tools together and manhandling Lauzon.

What’s next for Lauzon: (9-6 UFC, L2) At the prime age of 29, Lauzon finds himself firmly in the veteran’s circle.  Potential opponents residing there are Gray Maynard and Evan Dunham who are both recovering from losses.  I, personally, would love to see him finally face Nate Diaz, a dream match that has been teased since their time in the TUF house.

What’s next for Johnson: (5-4 UFC, W1) “The Menace” is tough to rank and even tougher to book due his schizophrenic win-loss record (seriously, check out who he’s beaten and who has beaten him.  Is he a top 20 lightweight?  Top 30?).  Josh Thomson might be too a stern test.  I wouldn’t mind seeing him get the Gleison Tibau/Jamie Varner winner.

Middleweight Bout: John Howard d. Uriah Hall via Split Decision (30-27, 29-28, 28-29)

What you need to know: Two opponents were pulled due to injuries before they settled on Howard, a former UFC welterweight who had found a new groove at 185 since being released back in 2011.  He was fighting on short notice, undersized and eager to stand and bang, which sounded like the perfect recipe for Hall to bounce back after looking dull in losing the TUF 17 championship

How it went down: Yuck.  This one didn’t go down easy, did it?  Neither Howard nor Hall should be particularly proud of what transpired here, though at least Howard can comfort himself with a nice win bonus and the promise of another UFC booking.  Hall has no such guarantee.  I’m all for fighters having fun and being good sportsmen, but seeing these two high five each other over and over again after uneventful striking exchanges was borderline appalling.  Perhaps they were caught up in the moment.  Either way, Howard outworked Hall who (once again) failed to pull the trigger.

What’s next for Hall: (0-2 UFC, L2) A lot of time to think.  Hall is a gifted striker, nobody can deny that, but the sport of MMA has come so far that physicality and talent isn’t enough.  Just like every major sport, psychology is a huge part of an athlete’s performance.  All of those petty conflicts that were highlighted on TUF 17 that I’d figured was manufactured reality show drama are actually seriously affecting his career.  The UFC shouldn’t give up on him so soon as he still has a star quality that you can’t buy or teach.  You watch him enter the ring and fight for thirty seconds and you want to know more about him.  I say throw him in there with other mystifying talents like Lorenz Larkin, Tom Watson or heck, Chris Leben, and let them sort themselves out.

What’s next for Howard: (5-3 UFC, W3) Talk about taking advantage of an opportunity, eh?  Seeing him standing across from Hall, you have to believe Howard is considering a move back down to 170 even if he enjoys not having to cut weight.  Should he stay where he is, he’d be a fun match-up for Cezar Ferreira, Thales Leites or C.B. Dollaway.

Welterweight Bout: Matt Brown d. Mike Pyle via KO (:29, R1)

What you need to know: Sometimes a match just makes itself.  Brown and Pyle have been walking the same path; two proven finishers on white hot streaks only missing a win over a top name to put themselves into legitimate contention.  Joe Silva could have crunched the numbers and consulted his brain trust to figure out how to properly keep both guys in the mix; instead, he threw two starving dogs in the cage to fight over the proverbial steak.

How it went down: To the surprise of absolutely no one, Brown and Pyle came charging out of the gate.  Brown was first.  A series of strikes left Pyle open for a knee right up the middle that put him on his butt.  Ground and pound.  Fight over.

What’s next for Pyle: (8-4 UFC, L1) At 37, this loss all but eliminates any chance of Pyle ever fighting for the title.  That doesn’t mean he can’t continue to be a valuable member of the roster.  His laid back personality and aggressive style have been a hit with the fans and there are still big ticket fights in his future.  A rematch with Jake Ellenberger could work.  He could also get the Carlos Condit/Martin Kampmann loser or Josh Koscheck.

What’s next for Brown: (11-5 UFC, W6) Brown wants that match with Georges St-Pierre so bad he can taste it.  He’s been calling him out non-stop for the last few days, doing everything he can to drum up interest.  If this were the WWE, he would have already attacked GSP backstage and filled his luxury sports car with cement.  Don’t expect that match to materialize, though Brown is at the front of the line should Johny Hendricks or a future contender be forced to bow out due to an injury.  That’s not a bad place to be.  In the meantime, he’ll have to settle for Rory MacDonald or Robbie Lawler (who are in talks to face each other at UFC 167 in November).

Bantamweight Bout: Urijah Faber d. Iuri Alcantara via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-26 x2)

What you need to know: I’m embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t aware of Faber’s record of never losing non-title fights.  Critics may scoff at his repeated failed challenges for UFC gold, but has there been a time in the last few years where he wasn’t one of the three best fighters in his division?  Alcantara is a low-profile opponent compared to Faber’s usual rogues gallery, representing a high risk situation for the former WEC champ.

How it went down: One aspect of his game that Alcantara takes immense pride in is that he rarely ends up on the wrong end of a scramble.  He and Faber locked up right away and Alcantara’s boast almost proved prophetic.  Alcantara quickly took the back and for two minutes it looked like he might shock the world.  The experience of Faber was evident, he kept his composure until he could reverse position and work from Alcantara’s guard.  That was the story for the rest of the match as Faber used masterful top control to earn a comfortable decision win.

What’s next for Alcantara: (3-2 [1 NC], L1) Don’t let the fact that Alcantara spent the better part of the fifteen minute duration on his back fool you.  He’s a dangerous fighter.  He only has 2 losses in his last 16 contests (to Faber and Hacran Dias who had a record of 20-1-1 at the time).  The top of the rankings is still within reach.  Beating the aforementioned Brad Pickett or Scott Jorgensen would keep Alcantara in the thick of things.

What’s next for Faber: (5-2, W3) Michael McDonald, right?

Heavyweight Bout: Travis Browne d. Alistair Overeem via KO (4:08, R1)

What you need to know: With Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos taking care of unfinished business, the onus is now on the rest of the heavyweight division to position themselves for a marquee match when the dust settles.

Overeem had been touted as the uncrowned king for years, despite doing a whole lot of nothing until he won a rematch against Fabricio Werdum in a snoozer.  His first round finish of Brock Lesnar was legit, though it’s telling that Lesnar was mentally absent and retired from MMA soon after.  Coming in noticeably smaller against Antonio Silva, he won the first two rounds before paying the ultimate price for his lollygagging in the third: Big Foot pounding his face in.  I don’t like Overeem.

Browne is somewhat of an enigma, alternating between terrifying and perplexing.  A first round TKO of James McSweeney followed by a draw against Cheick Kongo.  The most vicious Superman punch of all time to destroy Stefan Struve followed by a stinker of a win over Rob Broughton.  He overwhelmed Chad Griggs and then suffered an unfortunate injury that hampered his performance against Antonio Silva.  His last win against Gabriel Gonzaga came as a result of some fishy looking elbows.  What Travis Browne would show up on Saturday night?

How it went down: Looking slightly less monstrous these days, Overeem reminded everyone that first and foremost he’s an elite kickboxer.  He bullied Browne against the cage and brutalized him with knees to the body.  This must have lead to some unpleasant trips to the washroom for Browne afterwards.  As Browne faded, Overeem started throwing hands that were just off the mark.  Unable to land the telling blow, Overeem gassed out.  How do I know this?  He couldn’t raise his arms up to properly defend against Browne’s front kick assault.  A big foot (see what I did there?) finally made it right through the uprights, dazing the K1 Grand Prix winner and leaving him helpless to stop Browne from finishing.

What’s next for Overeem: (1-2 UFC, L2) Heavyweight draws like Overeem are a rare commodity.  He shouldn’t be too worried about his job security, even though he’s a big ticket item (around $300,000 to $400,000 per fight) that isn’t earning his keep at the moment.  It would be quite a sight to see him face someone like Stefan Struve or, on the opposite end of the ruler, Mark Hunt (a rematch from 2008).

What’s next for Browne: (6-1-1 UFC, W2) Like Matt Brown, Travis Browne has placed himself in a plum spot should the UFC need an emergency title challenger.  Just break the glass and he’ll be ready to go.  The most popular suggestions I’ve seen are that he face the winner of August’s Frank Mir/Josh Barnett contest or October’s Roy Nelson/Daniel Cormier contest.

Light Heavyweight Bout: Chael Sonnen d. Shogun Rua via Submission (4:47, R1)

What you need to know: By hook or by crook, Sonnen manages to stay in the spotlight.  How do you lose two straight fights and still end up in the main event of one of the most important cards of the year?  Chael Sonnen, that’s how.

It wasn’t the opponent Shogun wanted, but after a back injury took out Antônio Rogério Nogueira, it was what he got.  On the surface, it was easy to say that Shogun had not faced an opponent with such a wrestling heavy attack since Mark Coleman (Dan Henderson and Jon Jones are fine grapplers in their own right who are just as likely to strike as they are to shoot).  He shouldn’t have been worried about Sonnen’s propensity for fast starts since Shogun himself was famous for blitzing foes.

How it went down: Sonnen scored a takedown right away.  Shogun recovered and got one of his own.  Sonnen regained control.  Shogun powered up sloppily.  Sonnen submits Shogun with a guillotine choke.  Shogun had not been submitted in almost six years.

I…did not see that one coming.

What’s next for Shogun: (5-6 UFC, L2) The first losing streak of his career apparently.  I’d go as far as to say that this loss was almost as shocking as when he was tapped by Forrest Griffin.  Before Bones came along, Shogun was arguably the greatest light heavyweight of all time.  Can that title go to a fighter with a losing record in the UFC?  I don’t want to see Shogun retire, but there are few match-ups that make sense for him at the moment because most of the 205ers in the losers circle are far below him in prestige.  Two enticing rematches do appeal to me: Shogun/Lyoto Machida III (should Machida stay at light heavyweight) or even better, Shogun/Henderson II.

What’s next for Sonnen: (7-6 UFC, W1) Another title shot!  Whooooo!  Nah.  His post-match callout of Wanderlei Silva was classic.  Dana, Joe, whoever, let’s make this one happen, please.

The UFC Comes To Winnipeg – Part 2: Two Trees Falling In A Forest

The prevailing sentiment after the show was that this was a card on par with last July’s disappointing Calgary show.  That card was chock full of inaction, stalling and questionable decisions.  There was no punch to it (pardon the pun).  Because Calgary and Winnipeg are cities eager for UFC action, there is the sense that they are being exploited.  After all, if people will buy tickets no matter what then why should you give them anything of substance?

One thing that people shouldn’t do is compare these events with the UFC’s excursions into Brazil.  I love an exciting finish as much as the next guy, but the matchmaking for the last UFC on Fuel TV card in Fortaleza was farcical.  It wasn’t that Brazilians won every fight or even the record number of submissions.  The problem was that the fighters who ended up losing were set up as glorified jobbers.  Add in the hostile home crowd and you may as well have basted them in steak sauce and thrown them to actual wolves.  This is not to take anything away from the Brazilian fighters that night, several of whom project as future contenders.  I’d go as far to say that those Brazilians are superior to the Canadians that I saw on Saturday.

Even if they failed to elevate heart rates, the UFC 161 participants should be applauded for their gritty performances.  Not every fight is going to be a jiu-jitsu clinic or an electrifying slugfest.  There were only two true stinkers on the card with the other fights being close, compelling contests.  Decisions happen, especially with intelligent matchmaking that leads to fair competition and not pro wrestling style squash matches.

Judging, on the other hand, continues to be a sore spot and there was some definite home cooking going on.  Let’s take a closer look at each match:

Bantamweight Bout: Yves Jabouin d. Dustin Pague via Split Decision (29-28 x2, 28-29)

Music:

Pague comes out to a remix of Return of the Mack.  That’s pretty dope.

“Tiger” Jabouin counters with Techno Syndrome.


MORTAL KOMBAAAAAAAT

Tiger wins.

Analysis:

The diverse striking of Jabouin served him well.  He worked his way past Pague’s long arms, put points on the board and set up his takedowns.  It was the latter maneuver that led to trouble.  Pague has an extremely active guard and Jabouin spent much of the first round fighting off submissions attempts.  Were it not for some late ground and pound, he might have actually lost the first round.

The disparity on the ground was even more obvious in the second.  Pague worked to full mount, landed a ton of punches and threatened with a rear naked choke.  To Tiger’s credit, he never panicked even when it looked like Pague had the submission locked in.

In the third, Tiger was doing fine until he threw a crazy ass (that’s a technical term) spin kick and fell down in a heap.  Pague pounced, but couldn’t capitalize and after a scramble Jabouin was able to get back on top.  It was another close one, but I gave Tiger that one in addition to the first.

I had the good fortune of running into Pague at the airport later that night and I congratulated him on a great fight.  The funny thing is that Pague came much closer to finishing the fight than Jabouin ever did.  Jabouin was just able to score more consistently.  It’s a shame that Pague might get released after this as both men put forth a good effort.

Lightweight Bout: Mitch Clarke d. John Maguire via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)

Music:

Maguire promised a special entrance if he got 10,000 Twitter followers.  True to his word, he entered wearing a belly shirt whilst dancing to the ‘80s classic, Maniac.

Some things you can’t unsee, bro.

Analysis:

This was built up as a battle between two accomplished grapplers and you know what that means: mediocre kickboxing time!  Neither guy is going to sign up for a K1 tournament anytime soon, but Clarke was slightly better on the feet and that was enough to get him his first UFC win.

Bantamweight Bout: Roland Delorme d. Edwin Figueroa via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)

Music:

Delorme comes out to We Own It, a song from the modern cinema masterpiece “Fast and Furious 6”.  Point: Delorme.

Analysis:

I’m a huge fan of Delorme and his ground work is truly a pleasure to watch, but he took so much damage searching for submissions that I thought Figueroa might have eked this one out.  Happy to be wrong.  With the victory, Delorme is undefeated (not counting a loss to Francisco Rivera that was overturned), but he still needs more seasoning before facing top competition.  This was the third straight fight to go to a decision and the third straight win for a Canadian.  This is the point where the judging was starting to look fishy.

Welterweight Bout: Sean Pierson d. Kenny Robertson via Majority Decision (29-28 x2, 28-28)

Analysis:

Pierson looked a lot bigger than Robertson and he used his size to avoid any bad positions.  His striking has always been a strength and even though he got taken down, he had a massive advantage on the feet through the first two rounds.  In the final period, Robertson cracked Pierson with an unorthodox upward elbow but he couldn’t put him away.  It was so damaging that I would have given Robertson a 10-8 round and scored the fight a draw as one of the judges did.

In interviews leading up to the show, Pierson uttered the dreaded “R word” (retirement) and that, for me, is a red flag.  I was rooting for him, but I thought that Robertson would win.  I swear I’m not a self-hating Canuck.  It was good to see Pierson get his hand raised even if it wasn’t in the most impressive fashion.

Lightweight Bout: James Krause d. Sam Stout via Submission (4:47, R3)

Music:

Krause comes out to B.o.B. and Stout to Lil Wayne.  Why is the entrance music getting progressively less interesting?

Analysis:

Stout was the obvious pick here, with 15 UFC appearances under his belt compared to Krause’s 0.  Then again, this is why they play the games.

I couldn’t believe my eyes in the first round.  Stout was being out-struck!  Conventional wisdom suggested that Krause should be doing everything in his power to get the fight down to the mat, but it was Stout who initiated the grappling.  It was a tactic he had used in the past to “steal” close rounds.  That tactic would come back to haunt him later.

Also, Krause broke out a cartwheel kick:

Krause stayed calm, cool and collected when Stout started to build momentum in the second round.  From what I’d read and seen, Krause was more than prepared for the UFC (he’d previously competed in the WEC).  I’m not sure even his most hardcore followers could have predicted he would make such an impact in his first night out.  He was so comfortable that he threw out a jumping knee, a Superman uppercut (!) and a stepping elbow.  His corner warned him about a late takedown from Stout and when it happened, Krause was able to turn it into a guillotine submission with just seconds to go.  He would end up earning the bonus money for best fight and best submission, totalling $100,000.  Not a bad way to debut.

Welterweight Bout: Jake Shields d. Tyron Woodley via Split Decision (29-28 x2, 30-27)

Music:

Shields comes out to Seven Nation Army, the only time you’ll see the crowd excited for him.  Woodley wins me over by coming out to Started From The Bottom.

Analysis:

Let me just refer to my notes here…

  • Round 1: Zzzzz…10-9 Shields
  • Round 2: Zzzzz…10-9 Shields
  • Round 3: Zzzzz…oh, spinning back fist!  Zzzzz…10-9 Shields

I thought this fight had reasonable star power, but I somehow forgot that both men have a reputation for grueling, grind it out victories.  Woodley fooled us all with a decent showing against Nate Marquardt (though it should say something that what I remember most is Woodley getting brutally knocked out) and an awesome finish of Jay Hieron.

Shields…is Shields.

Even though I think Shields won every round with pitter patter strikes and leg kicks that would best be described as “gentle”, he also failed 18 takedown attempts.  18!  The fact that Woodley was even less effective should tell you everything you need to know about this fight (I “LOL’d” at the announcement of the 30-27 score for Woodley and I hate typing LOL).

To quote the Winnipeg faithful: “Boo.”

Heavyweight Bout: Shawn Jordan d. Pat Barry via TKO (:59, R1)

Music:

Jordan comes out to Johnny Cash’s rendition of Hurt.  That’s kind of a bummer.

Analysis:

I’m comfortable absolving Jordan of his sins for the Cheick Kongo fight in Calgary after witnessing this demolition of Barry.  The “striker vs. grappler” storyline never materialized as Jordan came forward with some straight punches down the middle that stunned Barry.  Pinned against the cage, Barry ate at least a dozen unanswered shots before the referee was forced to stop the fight.  It was the quickest loss of Barry’s career.  The only thing more impressive was Jordan’s picture perfect celebratory back flip.

Women’s Bantamweight Bout: Alexis Davis d. Rosi Sexton via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x2, 29-27)

Music:

Davis comes out to It’s Tricky, which never fails to put a smile on my face.  She seems super excited.  Can you blame her?

Analysis:

The first round was the definition of mixed martial arts.  Davis, a gifted jiu-jitsu practitioner, was super aggressive in looking to finish with a triangle choke.  Sexton fought it off while raining down punches square in Davis’ face.  Looking at the scores now, I suspect Davis was rewarded the first round for essentially being on the offensive the whole time, but I saw Sexton doing most of the damage.

For me, this should have been the second draw of the night.  I had Sexton taking the first and third, with Davis nearly finishing the fight in the second (I gave her a 10-8).  Herb Dean seemed to be doing his best Steve Mazzagatti impression, letting Davis pound away on Sexton from mount.  In his defence, Davis needed more “oomph” behind her punches to force a definitive stoppage.  Sexton came in with a “never say die” reputation and she lived up to it.  Davis who has all the makings of a contender.

Light Heavyweight Bout: Ryan Jimmo d. Igor Pokrajac via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)

Analysis:

See Woodley/Shields above.

Okay, I’ll do my best here.

The most entertaining part of this bout was Yves Lavigne frantically resetting the action, desperate to avoid a repeat of the snoozer he had officiated earlier in the evening.  Donnie Yen couldn’t have produced any action with these two.

I don’t blame Jimmo entirely, since Pokrajac was completely helpless as Jimmo secured double underhooks and picked him up and planted him against the fence.  Still, it would have been nice to see Jimmo do something to try and finish.  He apologized afterwards for putting on a bad fight, but he’s had a bad reputation for stalling and boring audiences since his days as a Maximum Fighting Championship title holder.

To quote the Winnipeg faithful: “LET’S GO JETS!  LET’S GO JETS!  LET’S GO JETS!”

Heavyweight Bout: Stipe Miocic d. Roy Nelson via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)

Music:

Big Country comes out to We Will Rock You.  But of course.

Analysis:

Based on the audience’s boisterous approval, I’d swear that Nelson was born and raised in the Prairies.  It’s a shame that he couldn’t match their enthusiasm.

Nelson’s highlight reel preceding the fight told you everything you needed to know about Miocic’s gameplan: Stay away from that overhand right and box, don’t brawl.  The crowd was waiting for Big Country all night and he was needed more than ever after the Jimmo/Pokrajac tranquilizer.  The bloodthirsty denizens all expected him to go out there and dust Miocic just like he had everyone else in his last three fights, but Miocic never fell into that trap.  He danced around, using immaculate footwork to set up combinations that Nelson walked right into.  In person, it looked like Miocic was landing 4 out of every 5 punches.  If Nelson were human, he wouldn’t have made it past the first three minutes.  Miocic was juking and jiving like Manny Pacquiao.

The UFC put Nelson in a strange position here, booking him as a late addition to bolster an injury ravaged card.  That decision coincided with this being the last fight on Nelson’s current contract.  He’s a proven draw with a contentious relationship with management so a return is by no means guaranteed.  I think he’ll come back, but it’s possible that you won’t see him rubbing his belly atop the octagon for a while.

Light Heavyweight Bout: Rashad Evans d. Dan Henderson via Split Decision (29-28 x2, 28-29)

Music:

That’s right.

Step Into A World is BACK!  My friend Paolo always says Evans hasn’t been the same since he stopped using this music, so now that it’s back I’m feeling even more confident about picking him to win.

Analysis:

If two legends fight in Manitoba and they’re both closer to retirement than a shot at Jon Jones…does anybody hear it?

Don’t get me wrong, the crowd at the MTS Centre was heavily invested.  Based on their reaction, you’d think Suga and Hendo were battling over UFC gold.  Yet one cannot ignore how the loss of two major fights (Eddie Wineland/Renan Barão, Antônio Rogério Nogueira/Shogun Rua) relegated this to “default” main event status.  We weren’t even going to get five rounds out of them.

By the time the lights dimmed, I couldn’t help but get caught up in it.  Between the two of them, they’d done it all.  The Olympics.  PRIDE.  Strikeforce.  The Ultimate FighterWanderlei SilvaChuck LiddellFedor EmelianenkoForrest Griffin.  Shogun.  Rampage Jackson.  And now, Winnipeg.

The fight itself was forgettable.  Like Nelson, Henderson has become too dependent on one weapon: his mythical right hand, the “H-bomb”.  For fighters like Lyoto Machida and Evans, it’s child’s play to stay out of the way of your strengths while attacking your weaknesses.  It wasn’t exactly vintage Suga, but he looked much improved from his last couple of contests.  He didn’t seem afraid to come forward and pull the trigger, though he doesn’t pack the heat that he once did.  Both men scored knockdowns, but it was Evans who consistently avoided the big shots.  There was a look of sheer joy on his face after the split decision win, though the pro-Hendo crowd was disappointed.

Regardless of the outcome, I know I’ll never forget seeing this match.  Having not grown up with boxing, I can only listen and learn about the mystique and the aura associated with the greatest of pugilists like Ali, Frazier, and Robinson.  Even from the nosebleeds, I got some sense of what that was like when Evans and Henderson strode down to the cage.  Fifty years from now, we’ll remember them.

*****

In addition to meeting Pague at the airport, I also saw Michael Johnson on my flight and recently retired Mark Hominick at another gate.  I’m not a fan boy by any means, so it never occurred to me to ask for pictures or autographs or any of that jazz.  That wasn’t what was cool about it.  It was more important to me that I felt like I was walking in their world.  There were no microphones, no cage, no arena.  Just a group of people on their way home.  I’m an outsider looking in, one step closer to kicking that door down.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 12 and Finale Recap

At 21 years old, Kelvin Gastelum was the youngest contestant ever on the American edition of The Ultimate Fighter (Patrick Iodice, a member of Australia’s TUF: The Smashes was 19).  He was the last pick of Team Sonnen.  His boyish admiration for Ronda Rousey made him seem more like an overachieving fan boy than a legitimate mixed martial arts prospect.  His character had a lot of negative hooks and nobody expected him to go on and win the whole thing but that’s exactly what Gastelum did.  In any other year, Gastelum would be the story.

But this was supposed to be the year of Uriah Hall.

Explosive.  Unique.  Handsome.  Complex.  Black.  Hall’s flashy kicks seemed to extend beyond the octagon and out of our television screens.  We’ve seen so many editions of TUF that we know better than to make too much out of any competitor’s success no matter how easily they dominated on the show (Mac Danzig, anyone?), but Hall was something else.  He wasn’t just knocking people out, he was doing it in new and unorthodox ways.  A spinning hook kick right on the button.  A one-shot cross while fading away.  Rapid fire strikes from bottom position.  It was like catching a hotshot rapper’s first mix tape.  Raw and undeniable.

So what happened?  Rewind to last Saturday, where two new stars were born.

*****

You won’t see me at the front of the women’s MMA bandwagon.  I fully support the legitimacy of the concept and I absolutely think that women have a place in the UFC, but I believe people need to be more realistic about their expectations.  Pat Barry recently said that the women’s fights are usually the most exciting fights on any card and while that may often be the case, it has as much to do with those fights being sloppy, undisciplined affairs as it does with top shelf martial arts acumen.

The Miesha Tate-Cat Zingano fight was a good one, worthy of the “Fight of the Night” award it would later win, but it was also an example of a contest being held to a different standard because of the gender of the competitors.  Not better or worse, but different.  One thing I’ve noticed in a lot of female fights is that the females are not as adept at maintaining dominant positions.  This negates the methodical grappling that casual fans have no interest in and leads to a lot of scrambles that translate into more action.  More action is always good, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of technique.  That is why champions like Rousey are such a valuable asset, as she steps into the cage and takes care of business even if it does come at the risk of making her opponents look overmatched (and thus, less marketable).  Women’s MMA is deservedly on the up and up, but let’s not pretend that it’s anywhere near the depth or skill level of the male ranks yet.

If I hear one more person criticize Dana White for not integrating the female’s earlier I might throw a hissy fit.  That’s right, a hissy fit.  He was quoted a couple of years ago as saying that women’s MMA just wasn’t ready for the big stage yet and now that he’s pushing it so hard some are calling him out as a hypocrite.  Isn’t it possible that a couple of years ago, women’s MMA wasn’t where it was today?  Tate, Zingano and Rousey were nowhere near the fighters they are now and they’ve undoubtedly improved every aspect of their game since then so why would White have been in any rush to start a women’s division before?  It’s especially befuddling when you consider that they were bringing in the 145 and 135 divisions around that time.  If anything, White’s timing couldn’t be better with several high profile prospects rounding into shape and, of course, the ascension of Rousey.

*****

It wasn’t the finals most were hoping for, but that’s about the only thing you could say was disappointing about this season of TUF.  With better production values, better fights, more compelling personalities, and less sophomoric hijinks, everything about this season kicked ass.  It might seem like the quality of the fights isn’t always something the show runners can control, but in the past they’ve sacrificed credentials in favour of controversy.  This season they were able to find a balance between guys who could bring it in the octagon and on the testimonial set.  There is nothing more compelling than the human drama surrounding the types of individuals who fight for a living and any other fluff only gets in the way of this basic narrative.  Sure, there comes a point where you’ve heard the same “hard times, hard man” origin one too many times, but this season the guys were able to back it up when the time came to throw down.

From Jon Jones’ initial misstep of sacrif…*ahem*…“matching up” Gilbert Smith with Luke Barnatt to Hall’s frenzy inducing annihilation of Adam Cella, you could tell early on that this was a special bunch.  They had to be to save this program from last year’s cast, the worst and most indistinguishable in TUF history.  The rest of the preliminary round was a mix of big names being exposed in front of a national audience (“Bubba” McDaniel and “King” Casey) and hard fought scraps that rendered the order of the fighter picks irrelevant.

All throughout the season, the theme stayed the same: who truly wants to win?  The focus was on the mental game, with Chael Sonnen seeming to have the magic touch when it came to pushing his team through various psychological obstacles.  Not to say that Jones was a bad coach, but his aloof persona and relative inexperience made it difficult for him to connect with his team on any meaningful level (the closest relationship on Team Jones was between Dylan Andrews and the older, wiser Stonehorse Goeman).  Jones is still in the “doing” phase of his career; the teaching will come to him eventually.

Hall was a fan and betting favourite every time he performed, but there were doubts swirling around Gastelum.  The experience of Bubba, the grinding attack of Collin Hart, the confidence of Josh Samman…all of it was supposed to be too much for the kid from Yuma.  He didn’t just survive these tests, he passed with flying colours.  Bubba and Samman got choked out, Hart suffered a sudden knockout and through it all Gastelum stayed humble and absorbed everything he could in his time in the house.  The show is designed for ratings and to push new faces for the UFC, but can you imagine how lucky these guys are to be worry about nothing but staying in shape and training with high level instructors for six weeks?  It might not be much fun, but Gastelum made the most of it.

Andrews fell to Hall as expected (though Andrews did not embarrass himself by any means), but Gastelum forgot to read the part where he was supposed to lose so that Hall and Samman could have their grudge match.  The two finalists ended up following a similar path to the finale, a decision win to get into the house followed by three straight finishes.  That fact didn’t do much to change the perception that Hall was the most unstoppable force ever to emerge from the TUF house.  Gastelum was pegged as a 3 to 1 underdog.

Not to take anything away from Gastelum, but Hall’s performance on Saturday was obnoxious.  It was as if all of our worst fears and assumptions about him were true.  He came out tentative, not looking to own the moment and then he started dancing around like Anderson Silva.  His gyrations made him look cocky and stupid.  He dropped his hands and backed himself up against the cage as Gastelum pressed onward.  Hall would later say that he was using the cage strategically, but all it did was give him less room to maneuver as Gastelum shot in and brought him down time and time again.  When the fight was standing, Hall had some nice stretches where the hype seemed warranted, but none of his trademark stuff landed and he just couldn’t sustain any offence.  Hall fought hard, but not smartly, making it easy for armchair corner men like myself to pick him apart.  He’ll be back and his name still has considerable buzz, but he needs to grow up and show what he can really do.

As for Gastelum, he did what he had done all season: attack, attack, attack.  It’s to his credit that he probably would have beaten even the best version of Hall.  The prevailing story going into the fight was Gastelum’s heart vs. Hall’s talent, but Gastelum showed that he’s got plenty of talent too.  He’s confident with his wrestling and he’s got power in his hands, a combination of attributes that has worked out well for many UFC stars.  He’s likely to drop down to welterweight, where he should fit right in with what is largely considered a wrestler’s division.  Gastelum might still not be the most talked about name, but I’m sure he’ll settle for a Harley, a fat contract and a tournament trophy from the best TUF season in ages.

*****

Other TUF 17 Finale thoughts:

  • Cole Miller saved his job with a submission win over Bart Palaszewski.  It seems like only yesterday that “Bartimus” was a top 10 featherweight, but the division got deep quickly and he will be looking for work elsewhere.
  • Okay, I think I should probably lower my expectations for Jimmy Quinlan at this point.
  • I’d lower my expectations for King and Gilbert Smith too, but I didn’t have any to begin with.
  • After having watched it a bunch of times, there’s no doubt that the last two elbows Travis Browne threw against Gabriel Gonzaga were illegal shots to the back of the head.  You could argue that they were inadvertent as Gonzaga had the misfortune of crumbling into their path, but they were illegal nonetheless.  As a Browne fan, I’d like to see the result stand but a change to a no-contest is more than reasonable.
  • I can’t be the only one who still looks forward to Urijah Faber fights.  We’re talking about a guy who has been the best or second best in whatever division he’s fought in for the better part of the last decade.  He has a high finishing rate and is nearly impossible to put away himself.  The only fights he’s lost are title fights and while one could argue he gets too many of those, who else should have them?  Faber is an all-time great and people should appreciate that while he’s around.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 11 Recap

I apologize for taking so long to post this.  I attended several Blue Jays games that threw my schedule off, so there’s my excuse for this week as opposed to every other week where these recaps are late for no good reason.

Team Colours:

Team Jones
Team Sonnen (actually black on the show, but blue for the purposes of this article)

The opening of the show reminds us that Dylan Andrews and Kevin Gastelum were the last picks from their respective teams, something that slipped my mind.  That oversight makes their quarterfinal wins even more remarkable.  It goes to show you just how high the level of competition was this year.

Shocker of shockers: Bubba McDaniel is complaining!  The editing on this show has not been kind to him as they always seem to show him doing nothing but sitting around instead of training.  It doesn’t help that he made it obvious how unhappy he was with the prospect of having to fight Uriah Hall.  In his defence, he has fought three times in a short period and he must be legitimately banged up.  Still, seeing him cry conspiracy (why would Dana White give a crap about him?) is just sad.  Bubba goes to get some blood work done to make sure there’s nothing seriously wrong with him and to nobody’s surprise, he’s only suffering from basic aches and pains.  There’s no ducking Hall.

There isn’t much hype for the Josh Samman/Jimmy Quinlan fight as Quinlan is one of the most well-liked housemates.  Samman says that it will be all business in the cage and he couldn’t sound more disinterested; for once, I agree with him.

As soon as the bell rings, Quinlan pushes forward and gets a high crotch.

Or as Kenny Florian calls it: a “high-C”.

The hold allows Quinlan to power Samman up into the air and down to the mat.  It looks like Quinlan was caught in the opening flurry as his nose is dripping blood.  An early arm bar attempt by Samman ends with him eating an elbow and a hammer fist, but he’s active from his back and I wonder if he’s taking the round like Luke Barnatt did last week.  Another showy slam helps Quinlan on the scorecards, but Samman is still doing most of the work.  Samman stays patient and explodes up before connecting with a couple of knees to the head.  He ends up on Quinlan’s back and…God help us Quinlan actually taps out to Samman’s stupid double fists.  Ugh.  I just hate him so much.

The first person to ever tap out to…*sigh*…”double fisting”.

I’m not sure whether it makes it better or worse that Quinlan admits to “quitting” in his post-match interview.  Honesty is the best policy?

In hyping the Bubba/Hall fight, an unfortunate sound bite sees Hall comparing his own mystique to that of Anderson Silva’s.  Luckily for all of us, Chael Sonnen swoops in later to save the day with another classic pep talk:

What they need is for you to beat you and athletes do it all the time.  They do it all the time…but it’s your choice.  You will choose to be confident or you will choose to concede and you know it, ‘cause you’ve done both.  So have I.

Gilbert Smith throws Bubba under the bus predicting that his teammate will get knocked out in 10 seconds!

For the third straight episode, the weigh-ins prove eventful as Sonnen again jokes about dropping the towel after his guy steps off the scale.  There’s an uncomfortable running gag.  The ensuing faceoff provides another significant moment:

Not in the face!

I, for one, thought that this was hilarious and a good sign that Bubba wasn’t too tense.  Plus, how else does one defend oneself from a Hadouken?  If anyone has any better ideas I’d love to hear them.  Jon Jones is bothered by the comical pose.  He thinks that Bubba is showing weakness.  Lighten up, coach.  It’s not like Bubba is actually going to get knocked out in 10 seconds.

Bubba gets knocked out in 9 seconds.  As soon as Bubba goes forward he’s hit with a hard knee to the chest (that may have also caught his chin) and a short right that puts him right down.  It’s amazing how much power Hall generated both backing up and with such little space to execute.  Carlos Condit is sitting with White and he looks genuinely disturbed.

When you can rattle a guy who goes by the nickname “The Natural Born Killer”, you know you’ve done something bad.

In a truly frightening scene, Bubba is lying on the floor asking “What’s wrong?” and “Why does my eye hurt?” while blood falls from his face (which turns out to just be a nosebleed).  He’s in good spirits the whole time, which is a relief.  Hall goes to apologize and Bubba laughs saying, “I would’ve done it to you.”  Of course, we all know there’s no way he would ever be able to do that to Hall.  White puts it best:

The way that this guy knocks people out, you don’t even want to clap.  You feel bad clapping.  It’s just vicious.  It’s quick.  It’s nasty.  This guy is the nastiest guy in “Ultimate Fighter” history.

A quick recap of the semi-final callouts:

  • Samman: Gastelum
    • he wants the biggest finale in TUF history and he knows that means facing Hall.  As much as I hate his assumption that he’ll win his next fight, he’s right about that
  • Andrews: don’t care
    • I’ve had too much s**t happen to me to worry about 15 minutes of fighting with these guys.
  • Hall: Samman
    • everyone is already aware that this is what Hall has wanted all season
  • Gastelum: Andrews
    • I think I can beat him.  Fair enough.

Both coaches decide they want to see Samman v. Hall and Andrews v. Gastelum, but White hilariously ignores them.  He sees where the money is and goes against the coaches’ preferences, betting on Samman and Hall being good enough set up what should be the most watched finale in ages.

Final note: the Hall meeting ended with the best, most inexplicable exchange of the season.

White: Hey…stay black.
Hall: I ain’t got no choice.

Alright fine, Uriah, we love you again.

Next week: The semi-finals are underway and as much as I like the underdogs, I bet most of us are hoping for Samman and Hall to come through, right?  I’m sad to see this season end.  It’s been a good one.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen Week – 10 Recap

It’s time for the quarterfinals meaning four fights in two weeks.  Normally this is where the show starts to lose its charm for me, but since this has been a season where the quality of the fights has matched the strength of the personalities, I’m actually looking forward to the upcoming episodes.

Team Colours:

Team Jones
Team Sonnen (actually black on the show, but blue for the purposes of this article)

I continue to have mixed feelings about “Bubba” McDaniel.  It’s admirable that he has a pragmatic view of fighting and the he understands how far winning the tournament would go towards setting his life in order.  However, his constant politicking and complaining makes it abundantly clear that he doesn’t see himself as a future champion in this sport.  He’s looking for a job and a paycheck, not a belt around his waist.  Mere moments after being told he’s fighting Uriah Hall, he’s back to complaining as usual and that should tell you everything you need to know about why it’s taken him this long to make it big.

A visit from Ronda Rousey has Kevin Gastelum choosing his words carefully as I’m sure he’s wary of the wrath of his girlfriend.  She shows up and proceeds to slap Gastelum around, much to the delight of his teammates.

I’d love to try this, even though I’d probably be unconscious or crippled seconds later.

They don’t show too much of the training session, maybe because of time constraints or not wanting to give too much away since she’ll be a coach on the next TUF season.  I also wonder if things might have been a little awkward, since I’ll bet most of these guys don’t have serious female training partners and they’re especially not used to taking instructions from one.  Tor Troéng definitely has a serious “women are good for serving ale and nothing else!” expression on his face, though I might just be thinking that because he looks like a Viking.

At the weigh-ins: Sweet, sweet blurred out genitalia.

The first fight between Gastelum and Collin Hart is a thriller…all 30 seconds of it anyway.  Hart lives up to his reputation, coming forward non-stop at Gastelum and pushing the action to the cage.  Gastelum is not shaken in the slightest and a furious exchange ends with Hart getting rocked and face planting:

It kind of looks like Hart is demonstrating the worm.

The funny thing is that Hart’s technique actually looks better, but Gastelum has got that power.  Hart partially regains consciousness, but he’s unable to defend himself from a huge hammer fist and Steve Mazzagatti gets in there for the save.  Thankfully, Gastelum had already stopped himself.  It’s another impressive victory for the youngest guy on the show.  The power of Ronda compels him!

Before the next fight, we learn a little more about Dylan Andrews and his close relationship with Team Jones kickboxing instructor Stonehorse Goeman.  The two bond over their tribal heritage and you can tell it’s benefitting their training sessions as well.  Andrews says that Goeman represents a father figure he never had.  Just after Andrews steps into the cage for his match with Luke Barnatt, there’s a nice shot of Goeman showing Andrews a picture of his family to remind him what he’s fighting for.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning that Mike Tyson makes an appearance, which I believe is the second time he’s been on TUF.

The first significant action sees Andrews landing a quick 1-2 and using that execute a takedown.  It’s an interesting reversal as Barnatt had considered himself to be the superior of the two on the ground and he had planned to bring the action down.  Andrews holds on tight and scores a second takedown when Barnatt goes for a judo trip (maybe too much Ronda…).  Throughout all of this, Barnatt is super active off of his back and it’s possible that he is winning from the bottom.  Andrews rolls for a guillotine, but it’s not tight enough and Barnatt gets back up again.  It’s a tough round to score with Barnatt looking good on the feet and off his back, but Andrews had positional dominance.  I gave Andrews a narrow 10-9 round.

Andrews gets in close over and over again and lands some thudding body shots.  Both men approach the second round like they might have lost the first and that leads to some fantastic work.  In the blink of an eye, Barnatt rips Andrews off the cage and falls on top of him and into full mount.  The British giant is showing off his cardio.  Andrews surprises me by having enough in the tank to reverse and get into Barnatt’s guard.  Barnatt needs to get up, but Andrews manages to stay on top despite lacking consistent ground and pound.  I thought Andrews took that round too, but apparently Barnatt did win one and we’re treated to a 3rd round.  Andrews’ corner shows him the picture of his family again.

Barnatt still looks good, but he’s allowing way too many hard shots to get through.  Andrews is relentless and looks like he’s almost in tears as he unloads a final volley of punches that give Herb Dean no choice but to call off the fight.  This was an emotional one and I’m not going to lie, it got dusty in my house by the end.  Best fight of the season so far.

Next week: Josh Samman v. Jimmy Quinlan and Bubba v. Hall.  I’m taking Quinlan and Hall.  Two more for the bad guys.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 9 Recap

With the wildcard matchup this week between “Bubba” McDaniel and “King” Casey, let us take a look at the brief history of the second chance:

  • TUF 11 (Liddell v. Ortiz): The debut of the wildcard means two less fighters in the house, which is a practical choice as a smaller cast should give us more time to learn and care about them: Unfortunately, this cast is horrible.  They were also snake-bitten and a multitude of injuries leads to journeyman Kyacey Uscola and one-dimensional Kris McCray being “chosen” for the wildcard spot.  I’ll give McCray credit for having to fight five times and making it all the way to the finals.
  • TUF 12 (St-Pierre v. Koscheck): Koscheck picks his boy Marc Stevens, who lost by guillotine choke to Cody McKenzie in the 1st round.  He’s confident that it was a fluke and that Stevens will blow through his next opponent.  Stevens proceeds to lose to Aaron Wilkinson by guillotine choke.
  • TUF 13 (Lesnar v. dos Santos): Chuck O’Neil and Javier Torres are the wildcard selections and I remember the circumstances as much as you do.

You can see why they ditched the concept until this season, where the circumstances lined up perfectly for a long awaited grudge match.  Bubba and King came into the show with storied reputations and they deserve a shot at redemption.

Team Colours:

Team Jones
Team Sonnen (actually black on the show, but blue for the purposes of this article)

Like many fighters looking to catch a break, Bubba has had to sacrifice time with his daughter to train with Greg Jackson in Albuquerque.  His 8 year old daughter is back in Texas.  The kind of money that comes with fighting in the UFC would not only provide financial security, but a chance for him to come home.  I sometimes wonder if these pressures that fighters put on themselves can get in the way of performing at their best.  I know there’s no greater motivation than money and love and family, but those can just as soon weigh you down as raise you up.

Jon Jones does a great job restoring Bubba’s confidence, telling him that he’s been one of his toughest sparring partners and that he trains with him to prepare for the best in the world.  Bubba’s face is etched with a mixture of concern and determination.  You can tell he’s still feeling the pressure.

Back at the house, Josh Samman calls out Jimmy Quinlan in a half-joking manner that turns into a serious suggestion.  Luke Barnatt wants to prepare Quinlan for when the coaches ask him why he wants to fight Samman and Quinlan makes a dreadful “expert fisherman” joke.  See, Samman’s name sounds just like…ah, forget it.  Everyone knows that Samman is picking Quinlan because his wrestling-based attack doesn’t seem like it would cause too much wear and tear to his quarterfinal opponent.  In other words, Samman is already looking ahead to the next round, which is just plain dumb.

A glimpse into a Team Sonnen training session sees Uriah Hall begging Quinlan to let him have Samman.  Hall had pegged Samman as his nemesis from their earliest encounters.  Quinlan says he wants to see Hall beat up Samman too.

Meanwhile, King is forced to wear a pretty scary looking mask to protect his cuts during practice.  He refers to his first performance as a “fluke”, which is…questionable.  If you assume you didn’t really do anything wrong when you fail, how are you going to improve?

Can we add kendo to MMA?

This week’s episode was filmed during Thanksgiving, which is a joyous occasion for everyone in the house…except the two dudes who have to stay on weight.  Chael Sonnen steps up with a speech (surprise, surprise) and he explains how he was disappointed to find out how much he ended up liking Jones.  The love-fest between the two is repulsive.  Thankfully, Bubba gives a blistering testimonial about how much Thanksgiving sucks when you can’t eat and you’re with a bunch of strangers.  His spite more than makes up for any gratuitous friendship.

The next day, King needs to strip behind a towel to make weight (someone snuck in an extra slice of turkey methinks) and he warns them not to drop it or everyone will be scarred for life.  Sonnen kindly offers to help him put his pants back on after, but King takes care of it himself.

That could have been awkward.

King never got off in his fight with Collin Hart, but he gets to show off his BJJ expertise in the first round with Bubba.  He takes advantage of Bubba’s aggressiveness and pulls guard right out of the gate.  They move back to the feet, but King maintains the clinch and trips Bubba down.  He soundly out-grapples Bubba, though neither man seems interested in throwing strikes from any position.  Someone says that Bubba has given up and he has a worried look on his face, but he does manage to battle back.  King trips him again and secures a 10-9 round.

The second round starts out well for Bubba, with King looking fatigued (which was a huge issue against Hart).  Bubba’s corner implores him to break away from clinches, but he manages to end up on top and he starts scoring points.  A fierce downward elbow knocks out King’s mouthpiece.  Bubba just brutalizes King from inside his guard and he gets a dominant 10-9 round.  It looks like we’re going to a third round, but King can barely get up on his own.  He fails to answer the bell and Bubba is awarded a $5,000 finishing bonus (though he has to confirm it with Dana White).  As King is put in an ambulance, he mentions that he might be experiencing kidney failure, something that happened to him during a match in 2010.  Sounds like King needs to work on having healthier weight cuts.

The elimination round is over and it’s time to decide the quarterfinal match-ups!  Here’s a brief rundown of who called out whom:

  • Bubba: Jimmy Quinlan or Luke Barnatt
  • Quinlan: Bubba
  • Andrews: Barnatt
  • Barnatt: Bubba or Andrews
  • Gastelum: Hart
  • Hart: Hall
  • Hall: Samman
  • Samman: Quinlan

And the announced matches:

  • Collin Hart v. Kevin Gastelum
  • Dylan Andrews v. Luke Barnatt
    • UK versus New Zealand!  The Smashes redux!  Thank you Dana!
  • Josh Samman v. Jimmy Quinlan
    • Hall is NOT happy with this decision
  • Bubba McDaniel v. Uriah Hall
    • Bubba doesn’t seem too happy either

Hall is NOT happy with the decision.  Bubba doesn’t look too excited either.

Next week: Two fight episode with Hart v. Gastelum and Andrews v. Barnatt.  I’m picking Gastelum and Barnatt.  Also, Ronda Rousey!

Justice Is Served – UFC 158 Recap

Nick Diaz didn’t deserve a title shot.  Johny Hendricks is running a gauntlet.  And what the heck could Jake Ellenberger have to gain by fighting Nate Marquardt?  A bad break here or there could have left the welterweight division in disarray, but lo and behold, the MMA Gods chose to shine on the matchmakers on Saturday and the landscape could not be clearer.  Hendricks affirmed his status as the true number one contender; Ellenberger contributed the highlight of the night; and Diaz was pushed to the back of the line where he belongs.

I don’t like Diaz.  He’s a hell of a fighter, but as a human being I don’t like him and I don’t respect him.  I’m all for individuality and bucking the system, but not when so many people are supporting you and you still act like the world is against you.  Diaz has used martial arts and athletics to improve his life, but rather than speak on that, he chooses to dwell on every little negative aspect that bothers him.  In doing so, he fosters a culture of entitlement and self pity that has never done anybody any good.  You don’t need to act like a role model, but you also shouldn’t talk so much when you don’t have anything of value to say.

GSP might come off as awkward, unfunny and even pompous at times (in other words: French), but he backs up everything he says and doesn’t make excuses for his shortcomings.  After his last loss, he spoke of some personal problems that might have distracted him, but later apologized to Matt Serra and ever since he’s acknowledged that Serra was the better man that day.  His admission made him stronger (safer too, much to the chagrin of the bloodthirsty public).  St-Pierre didn’t come close to damaging Diaz as badly as the prefight hype warranted, but he took care of business like the professional he is.  It was a relief to see these two actually lock horns after years of speculation as to who was the true welterweight champion.  No more talking, no more analysis, no more excuses: The octagon never lies.*

*(unless there’s a bad stoppage, incompetent judging, failed drug test, eye poke, ruptured scrotum…)

Undercard Notes

    • George Roop ruined my near perfect fight picks by using his ridiculous height advantage to win a decision against Reuben Duran.  Roop had unsuccessfully attempted a drop down to 135 back in 2010, but the cut was hard on him and he was easy pickings for Eddie Wineland.  Reports from the weigh-ins said he didn’t look much better this time around so I figured Duran would outlast him.  If Roop can manage his weight properly, he’ll do just fine at bantamweight.  Especially if he never runs into his training partner Ed West:

  • Another bantamweight making headlines last night was TUF 14 finalist T.J. Dillashaw, who defeated Issei Tamura by KO.  Dillashaw is rapidly improving and has looked dominant in winning his last three fights.  He was pegged as a legitimate prospect coming out of the show and he hasn’t disappointed.
  • A quick shout-out to Jordan Mein who at age 23 already has 35 fights under his belt, including his UFC debut last night.  He had some troubles early on, but he managed to use ground and pound to become the first person to finish UFC veteran Dan Miller.  Mein headlined the first MMA show in Ontario (also the first MMA show I ever attended) and I remember him standing out in a win against Josh Burkman.  Nice to see that presence carry over to the big show.
  • Darren Elkins might not be throwing ninja kicks, but he’s making a name for himself the old-fashioned way: winning.  Since dropping down to featherweight, the native of Hobart, Indiana has gone undefeated at 5-0.  The first four wins in this streak came against solid competition (information relative to the time of the fight):
  • Michihiro Omigawa (ranked in the top 10)
  • Zhang Tie Quan (15-1)
  • Diego Brandao (Brandao’s first fight after winning TUF 14)
  • Steven Siler (3-0 in the UFC)

On Saturday, Elkins took out Antonio Carvalho in the first round.  Carvalho is arguably the least impressive name on the list (though he has a 2007 win over Hatsu Hioki to his credit), but with the TKO Elkins finally got the elusive finish he was looking for to make a statement for an improved spot on the card.  While the stoppage may have been a touch early, there was no question that he had the fight all but wrapped up and he’s set himself up for a top 10 opponent.

(And…just as I was finishing up this article, he gets Chad Mendes next month.  Mendes is the undisputed no. 2 featherweight, so while taking on an opponent of his calibre on short notice is borderline insane, it’s also the fastest path to the title.  I applaud Elkins for embracing this challenge.)

  • I’ve learned to like Patrick Côté ever since he busted his ass to make it back to the big show…and also because he came out to “Too Legit To Quit” that one time.  It’s a shame that his last two victories have come in controversial fashion.  A wrongful DQ win of Alessio Sakara gave The Predator his first UFC win since 2008 and many felt he actually lost Saturday’s fight against Bobby Voelker.  Côté is getting a fresh start at welterweight, but these odd blemishes might hurt his job security if he suffers a loss in the near future.

The Main Card

Lightweight Bout: Mike Ricci d. Colin Fletcher via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)

What you need to know: Ricci stormed through TUF 16 before coming up short against Colton Smith, while Fletcher’s experience and sharp kickboxing earned him a spot in the TUF: Smashes finale, where the strength of Norman Parke proved to be too much to overcome.  This was a second chance for two TUF runner-ups to lock up a spot on the roster.

How it went down: I’m not sure who thought it would be a good idea to put two unknown properties in the show opener.  I like both these guys and they’re both good strikers, but neither is anywhere near the level yet where they should be opening a PPV.  Their performances in their respective finales should have made that clear.  Fletcher showed some flashes, but Ricci is more balanced and he mixed up strikes and takedowns to comfortably sweep the scorecards.

What’s next for Fletcher: (0-2 UFC, Lost last 2) The Freakshow has a ton of charisma, but he has to step up his intensity if he wants to compete at the highest level.  He’ll go back home for seasoning and if he gets himself back in the winner’s circle, he can expect a call from the UFC the next time they’re in the UK.

What’s next for Ricci: (1-1 UFC, Won last 1) Over his last 7 fights, Ricci has alternated wins and losses and he’s yet to live up to the buzz he’s generated up north.  With his less than sparkling personality (he was the resident “stick in the mud” on TUF), there are no guarantees that the UFC will wait for him to develop.  Matches with Rafaello Oliveira (currently recovering from a broken hand), TUF 15 competitor James Vick or fellow Canuck John Makdessi could be valuable learning experiences.

Middleweight Bout: Chris Camozzi d. Nick Ring via Split Decision (29-28 x2, 28-29)

What you need to know: Despite Camozzi having to leave TUF 11 with a jaw injury, he and Ring struck up a friendship making this contest strictly business.  This was an important bout for both guys as they jockey for position in an increasingly lucid middleweight division.

How it went down: I don’t know what it is, but I seem to enjoy the prospect of a Nick Ring fight more than the fight itself.  Ring decided to challenge Camozzi with a wild, “loosey-goosey” stance that was akin to something Anderson Silva might pull off, except Ring is no Silva.  He did a good job of constantly coming forward, but he allowed Camozzi to score a lot of points and Ring couldn’t put together anything substantial for himself.  It was close, but I had it for Camozzi and so did 2 of the 3 judges.

What’s next for Ring: (3-2 UFC, L1) After squeaking out a win over Court McGee in his last fight, Ring feels the sting of a disappointing decision.  He’s a game competitor and a good guy so I would expect the UFC to take it easy on him for his next booking.  Then again, there are no easy fights in the UFC.  Some logical opponents are Ed Herman, Stanislav Nedkov or maybe a healthy Sakara.

What’s next for Camozzi: (6-2 UFC, W4) Camozzi’s streak continues and like Elkins, he’s due for a higher ranked opponent; unfortunately, a lot of those names are already booked or are coming off losses.  If the UFC wants to stick to booking winners against winners, Brad Tavares (another TUF 11 contestant) makes a lot of sense, but if they are feeling froggy they could throw him into deep waters with *gulp* Yushin Okami.

Welterweight Bout: Jake Ellenberger d. Nate Marquardt via KO (3:00, R1)

What you need to know: Other than a loss to fellow contender Martin Kampmann, Ellenberger has been a force in the welterweight division with wins over Mike Pyle, Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez.  He has hellacious punching power that has kept him in the mix for a title shot over the last couple of years.

Nate Marquardt made his return to the UFC after a bizarre journey that…well, let’s recap it step by step:

  • June 2011, Marquardt is not cleared to compete after testing positive for elevated testosterone levels.  This occurred the day before an event he was supposed to headline, sending the UFC scrambling for a replacement.  Dana White cans him
  • Marquardt signs with BAMMA (British Association of Mixed Martial Arts), but ends up sitting out over a year without ever competing for them
  • Zuffa brings him back to fight for Strikeforce and he’s given a shot at the vacant welterweight title in his first career fight at 170.  He looks fantastic and knocks out previously unbeaten Tyron Woodley
  • in his next appearance at Strikeforce’s final event, a heavily-favoured Marquardt drops a lopsided decision to talented karateka Tarec Saffiedine
  • Marquardt rejoins the UFC roster after Strikeforce dissolves

How it went down: Ellenberger was just on against Marquardt, connecting with ease and backing Marquardt up the whole time.  A heavy fist smashed against the bridge of Marquardt’s nose and Ellenberger finished with heavy punches to the side of the head for a clear-cut KO.  Marquardt protested afterwards, but at one point his arms went completely limp and he was face-down on the ground with his ass up in the air.

In lieu of a decent photograph, here’s a screenshot from “Art Of Fighting 2”.

What’s next for Marquardt: (10-5 UFC, L2) Despite his recent checkered history, Marquardt is a well respected fighter; more importantly, he did the UFC a solid by stepping in on short notice to replace Hendricks (who himself moved up on the card to replace an injured Rory MacDonald).  He’ll likely get some time off to retool then look for him to be matched up with other fighters coming off of long layoffs like Mike Swick, Yoshihiro Akiyama or Brian Ebersole.  I like the Ebersole match-up the best as the two have over 100 combined fights between them.

What’s next for Ellenberger: (8-2 UFC, W2) The great news for Ellenberger is that he’s on the short list for a title shot now and if Hendricks should get injured, he’s the first choice to step in.  However, it’s more likely that he’ll have to continue to pad his resume.  A resurgent Robbie Lawler is waiting in the wings, but I’d like to see him paired up with Demian Maia in what could act as another potential title eliminator.

Welterweight Bout: Johny Hendricks d. Carlos Condit via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)

What you need to know: Hendricks got screwed.  After demolishing Jon Fitch and Kampmann, two huge names at 170, Hendricks should have been given a title shot immediately.  Regardless of what GSP or anybody else wanted, he’d earned the right to prove that he’s the best welterweight in the world.  Instead, he was told he has to do more to earn his shot, which apparently involved getting past Condit, one of the most successful welterweights of the past half-decade.

How it went down: I picked Hendricks to win, but I hated the match-up for him because Condit is so technical and so skilled at fighting off of his back.  If Hendricks chose to swing wildly and force takedowns, I was certain Condit would be able to counter.  The crazy thing is that Hendricks did choose to swing wildly and force takedowns and it actually worked!  Bigg Rigg’s plan couldn’t have been simpler: push forward with heavy hands and when Condit is backed up against the fence, get low, pick him up and dump him to the mat.  This exact sequence occurred several times and while Condit has an effective guard, he ate way too many big shots and gave up the takedowns too easily.

The fight was a thriller, with Hendricks looking like Bizarro Hendo at times, loading up his big left hand and blasting away without even pretending he was going to do anything else.

Me not want to hurt you!  Goodbye!

Condit was somehow able to absorb the same shots that had put Fitch and Kampmann down for the count.  His counter of choice was a straight knee up the middle, but Hendricks picked up on that quickly and it only made it easier to get the action down to the floor.  Hendricks himself took those knees to the face like a champion or at least his beard did.  I feel like that kind of facial hair growth should be classified as “performance enhancing” at this point.  With the win, Hendricks became the undisputed number one contender (as if he wasn’t already).

What’s next for Condit: (5-3 UFC, L2) You won’t find a hotter fighter on a two fight losing streak.  The Natural Born Killer was originally set to face MacDonald in a rematch, but that fight doesn’t make sense for young Rory anymore.  I appear to be one of the only people who’d actually look forward to a Condit-GSP rematch, so I don’t want to see him stray too far from the top of the rankings.  There’s a chance he could face Josh Koscheck (which almost happened last February) or look for redemption against Kampmann, who welcomed him to the UFC with a razor-thin split decision loss.

What’s next for Hendricks: (10-1 UFC, W6) Now that it’s official, Hendricks presents the most dangerous threat to St-Pierre’s belt since…well, Condit.  Unlike Condit (and Nick Diaz for that matter), Hendricks’ wrestling background should help him control where the action goes and he has the kind of power that should evoke warm and fuzzy Matt Serra flashbacks.

Welterweight Championship Bout: Georges St-Pierre d. Nick Diaz via Unanimous Decision (50-45 x3)

What you need to know: Diaz has been calling out GSP for years, but doing absolutely nothing to actually earn a shot.  It started when he was in Strikeforce, but rather than jump ship to the UFC to face St-Pierre, he chose to stay where he was.  In 2011, when he did decide to return to the UFC, he was granted an immediate title shot but lost it when he couldn’t be bothered to take care of his media responsibilities.  When GSP himself got injured, Diaz had the gall to say that the champ was ducking him.  A thorough beating of BJ Penn put Diaz back near the top, but with GSP out with another injury the Stockton bad boy was awarded with an interim title match against Condit.  He lost.

Unfortunately, the storyline would not die and as White tells it, GSP wanted to teach Diaz a lesson.  Thus, we were served this long delayed title fight that both men did their best to sell despite the stench of inevitability.

How it went down: St-Pierre is known for his powerful takedowns.  Diaz is known for having terrible takedown defence.  How do you think it went down?

When he had time to work, Diaz actually got the better of some exchanges…too bad for him those exchanges accounted for about 2 minutes of a 25 minute fight.  The strange thing is that even when he wasn’t planted on his butt, Diaz spent a lot of time taunting and not executing strikes.  The threat of being taken down obviously slowed his usual attack, but was still far more hesitant than we’re used to seeing.  This also affected over to his guard work.  Diaz was more focused on getting up than attacking with submissions, so he simply tried to power out rather than use his technique.  This made it easy for St-Pierre to drag him down over and over again.

Afterwards, Diaz did his usual song and dance about how he doesn’t like fights like these and how he might retire.  I say “good riddance”.  This baby needs to take his ball and go home.

What’s next for Diaz: (7-6 UFC, L2) Putting aside my personal disdain for the man, it would be asinine to suggest that he isn’t a legitimate talent.  I doubt anything will come of his retirement talk, but I expect it to be a while before we see him again.  Fights with Kampmann, Koscheck or Marquardt could be fun and *sigh* would likely get the controversial Diaz back on track.

What’s next for St-Pierre: (18-2 UFC, W11) Hendricks.  I hate to accuse fighters of ducking anybody, but it’s not much of a stretch to think that St-Pierre’s request to face Diaz had as much to do with the threat of Hendricks as it did with settling a grudge or selling PPVs.  If tonight’s theme of justice carries on throughout the year then we might just see the hard-charging Hendricks take his place among the immortals.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 8 Recap

This week features a match-up between veteran Zak Cummings and Australian Dylan Andrews.  Forgive me if hearing Andrews speak causes me to drift off into fond memories of the criminally underrated TUF: Smashes spin-off.

Team Colours:

Team Jones
Team Sonnen (actually black on the show, but blue for the purposes of this article)

It’s time for the always popular coaches’ challenge and this year they’ve got a good one: Excavators!  While the challenge has traditionally been based around traditional athletic competitions (even Smashes’ destruction derby kind of counts as a sport), the producers have stepped outside of the box to come up with something unique for Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen.  Using heavy construction vehicles, the two coaches have to complete three courses: filling up a dumpster with dirt, building a pyramid made of three large tires and taking a basketball off of a cone and dropping it into a tire.  This whole concept seems extraordinarily dangerous and there’s a near fatality as Jones nearly takes out a bunch of the fighters while rotating the excavator bucket.

This could have been taken from the set of a “Final Destination” film.

I have to think that they’ve taken some liberties with the editing, but regardless it is a thrilling back and forth battle between the two coaches and it’s easily one of the most memorable coaches’ challenges ever.  This means Sonnen beat Jones at bowling, he won the this challenge and his team is up 4 wins to 2.  I wouldn’t take this as any indication of how their fight will go in April.

Andrews has a compelling story involving athletic brothers who squandered their potential through drug use mixed in with his own struggles with the fight game.  He explains how he stumbled across a gym in his hometown and took to the sport naturally, but that he “hates the experience” of fighting.  It sounds like he feels obligated to be doing what he’s doing, whether it’s for spiritual or financial reasons.  His motivations are in stark contrast to Cummings, who says that he’s always been a bright guy who was expected to pursue a career in engineering or physical therapy, but he dedicated himself to something that he truly loved and he’s proven good enough to fight for major promotions like Strikeforce and Bellator.  Now he’s close to a shot at the UFC.  I admire Andrews’ sense of duty, but also Cummings for taking a chance on his passion even when there were more obvious alternatives.  When they reveal later in the episode that this was his seventh time auditioning for the show, you can’t help but be astonished.

The fight is a good one.  The first round is tale of two halves as Cummings has top control for the first couple of minutes.  Andrews does a poor job of defending himself and takes a lot of short elbows to the side of the head, but nothing that can put him out of commission.  I misjudged how hurt he was as right around the 2:30 mark, with Cummings advancing to mount, Andrews manages to scramble and reverse into top position.  He does a ton of damage from guard and the sheer volume of his ground strikes earns him the first round.  The Australian has a cut on the side of his head, but stays as calm as he’s been throughout the fight so far.

Cummings opens the second with his best Uriah Hall impression, throwing a spinning kick that hits…a whole lot of nothing.  Still, the attempt draws a chuckle from Andrews and the two touch gloves again (something I hate seeing in the middle of a fight).  The power that Cummings displayed in the preliminary round is on display as he connects solidly and actually has Andrews on the run for a brief moment.  Unfortunately, he chases awkwardly and completely whiffs on a flying knee making it easy for Andrews to plant him on his back.  Andrews transitions to half-guard and fights from there for the remainder of the round, pinning Cummings against the fence and landing more ground and pound.  It’s a clear-cut decision victory for Andrews.

With the wild card round returning, Dana White leaves it up to Jones and Sonnen as to who they think deserve a second shot.  The eligible fighters are Cummings, “King” Casey, Clint Hester and “Bubba” McDaniel.  For Sonnen it’s an easy pick as he is confident that King underperformed and that he’ll be ready for this opportunity.  Jones, on the other hand, has to decide between the ultra-promising Hester and early tournament favourite Bubba.  Someone on Team Jones also adds that Hester is black, which should settle it right there, but in all seriousness I have no idea how he could pass on Bubba.  He’s not only one of the most well-credentialed fighters, but he trains with Jones and I don’t see how he’d be able to look the man in the eye back home if this wild card was given to anyone else.

One last observation: The octagon girls usually accompany White to the coaches’ challenges but since this one was so different, I thought that might not be the case this season.  Bless her heart, Arianny Celeste soldiers on!

I didn’t know I had a thing for hard hats until now.

Next week: In a fight that’s been hyped all season, King and Bubba finally clash.  I am looking forward to some quality trash talk, even if it comes in the form of another mediocre freestyle.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 7 Recap

Hooters.  It’s what’s for dinner.

Team Colours:

Team Jones
Team Sonnen (actually black on the show, but blue for the purposes of this article)

The group gets treated to an outing at the world’s most well endowed restaurant chain and even for the guys with wives or girlfriends it has to be a breath of fresh air.  Still, to go from a house full of dudes to a place filled with voluptuous women almost seems like it could be dangerous.  It’s like when the people on Survivor finally get to eat a huge meal after nibbling on plain rice for weeks.  They always overdo it and end up nearly exploding.  I’m not sure what the equivalent would be in this scenario and perhaps it is best if we don’t think about it too much.

In a shameless attempt to boost ratings, the show also threw in a gratuitous strip tease:

The most impressive chest in the room.

They do an outstanding job of conveying (manufacturing?) the drama around Uriah Hall.  Last week’s episode was all about him, but they follow up with a subtle scene where he chooses not to take a picture with the other guys after dinner.  Whether it’s because he’s some sort of prude or he has truly given up on being part of the group, it’s a strong image.  They are not doing anything to protect Hall’s character, which is fine because he’s become a polarizing figure.  He’s someone who you want to watch for all the right reasons.  This is a stark contrast to the usual “controversial TUF house member”, who is usually a loud, obnoxious drunk devoid of any real personality or talent that only exists to provide meaningless conflict.  Love him or hate him, Hall seems like a genuine person experiencing serious conflict.

After winning last week, Josh Samman begins to suffer from severe leg pains and a trip to the hospital is in order.  Every season features at least one or two episodes with an injury scare and it’s a stark reminder how well conditioned and lucky these contestants have to be to be able to compete in this tournament with little rest between fights.  When you look at the layoff fighters regularly get when they reach the major leagues (3-4 months), competing multiple times in the same month is almost miraculous.  I can only remember one season being seriously derailed by injuries (TUF 11: Liddell v. Ortiz).  Other than that, the majority of fighters have been able to stay healthy and thankfully that turns out to be the case with Samman.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the part where Clint Hester is pretending to ride the model Harley they have in the house.  Gilbert Smith walks up and starts beat boxing, explaining “This is where your song starts.”  Hester says Smith is going “too fast” and Smith immediately switches up to a slower, more methodical beat that transitions perfectly into a musical pick up by the show.  It’s a neat bit of programming.

This week’s inspirational Chael Sonnen speech revolves around positivity and enthusiasm.  With a few simple words, he derails the cliché “striker v. grappler” narrative, saying that it doesn’t matter if Jimmy Quinlan gets caught by a hard punch from Hester.  Too often do we see grapplers being told to play it safe and stick to the game plan, but Sonnen (who has decried the importance of game planning in the past) alleviates any worries that his team might have about Quinlan getting hit with a lucky strike:

Do you have a problem being hit in the middle of a fist fight?  Do you have a problem being hurt in the middle of a fist fight?  Then why do we keep bringing it up?  He’s gonna get hit and it’s gonna get hurt but he’s gonna stay on his feet and he’s gonna take care of business anyway!

Can we get a calendar full of Chael Sonnen quotes made, please?  You hear me, Zuffa?  Take my money!

I’ll never have a problem with athletes showing good sportsmanship and getting along, but one criticism I do have of TUF 17 is that the fighters might have gotten too friendly.  It’s not a bad thing and it’s always fun to see that two guys who get into a cage to fight are not necessarily out to murder each other, but at the same time it can lead to some flat encounters.  Hester and Quinlan are so buddy-buddy that they cannot get the smiles off of their faces during the post-weigh-in faceoff.  This does lead to a nice moment on fight day where Quinlan accuses Hester of using a bowl with his name on it and then challenging him to brawl down by the monkey bars.  It’s the kind of self-aware moment you rarely see on TUF.

Feel…the…HATE

Unfortunately for Team Jones, the fight goes exactly as Sonnen expected and Quinlan is able to take the fight to the mat within seconds.  Hester is a superb athlete and he’s able to get up more than once, but Quinlan is stuck to him like a backpack.  To Hester’s credit, both coaches note that he’s able to generate an unusual amount of power from some normally disadvantageous positions and that he might even have won the first round despite spending time on his back.  It becomes a moot point as Quinlan opens up the second with another takedown, eventually advancing to mount and then taking the back and finishing with a rear naked choke.

Team Sonnen regains control, but there’s only one possible match left.  It’s probably better that way since almost every fight the coaches picked ended up with the guy from their team losing (only Hall was victorious after being picked by Sonnen).

Next week: Zak Cummings against the last overall pick, Dylan Andrews.  Cummings calls Andrews the nicest person he’s ever met.  Somehow I don’t think that’s going to stop him from punching his face off.