The Ultimate Fighter 19 – Team Edgar v. Team Penn – Week 3 Recap

Is the world ready for a kinder, gentler BJ Penn?  Based on what we’ve seen in these first three episodes, Penn is relaxed.  Humble.  Mature.  Zen-like even.  None of this is to say that he was some raving egomaniac before, but there was always some element of haughtiness and arrogance surrounding the old Penn (that he was able to back up more often than not).  I’m not sure what I expected.  He’s been on the shelf for so long and been through so many ups and downs career-wise, it’s good to see that he’s settled down.

Still, it’d be nice to see him just rear back and slap Frankie Edgar in the face for no reason, right?  I’d laugh.

Team Colours

Team Edgar
Team Penn

Tension is rising.  First blood has been spilt (figuratively speaking, last week’s fight devoid of any bloodshed) and Team Penn is up one to zip.  Cathal Pendred plays the good sportsman even as Hector Urbina stares a hole through him.  After Pendred leaves, Urbina jokes that he might just “shank his ass later”.  It’s funnier when you actually hear him say it.

Staring DaggersSleep with one eye open, Irish.

Renzo Gracie, er, graces Team Edgar with his presence.  It’s unfortunate that my last memory of him is that brutal fight with Matt Hughes.  For anyone who hasn’t seen it, I mean “brutal” as in unwatchable, not in terms of actual violence.  At one point, Hughes actually helped Renzo to stand up off the mat he was so gassed.  That one made Pendred/Urbina look like Don Frye/Yoshihiro Takayama.

I do always enjoy watching Renzo talk and teach.  He has such an upbeat attitude.  He pumps up Team Edgar by telling him that when he was younger he would have to beat up his larger, younger brothers all the time.  It’s a fun story that reeks of Gracie revisionism.  I bet his brothers tell it differently.

Penn demonstrates how he spins like a break dancer to get an armbar from bottom position.  It looks awesome.  Does he think the others are going to be able to do it like him?  He forgets that he’s BJ Penn sometimes.

This week’s storyline revolves around Todd Monaghan’s life as an evangelist and a preacher.  He decides to preach to the team every Sunday.  Many religious fighters have passed through the TUF house.  I can’t recall any of them being so eager to integrate their spirituality into the house.  Were this to happen on a previous season, I can imagine the segment being played for laughs with lots of shots of bored or disapproving faces and wonky music cues.

ChurchHector and the others feeling the Holy Ghost.

Instead, like everything else on the show these days, they play it straight.  Monaghan’s opponent, Daniel Spohn, attends out of respect and also to see where Monaghan’s head is at.  Questions about Monaghan’s mindset dominate the episode.  None of Team Penn is convinced by his schtick, particularly Pendred who seems downright annoyed that Monaghan would feel the need to muddy up his message by emphasizing the material things that God had blessed him with.

Pendred: Actions speak louder than words.  He’s full of words, no actions though.

Later, Corey Anderson expresses his concern that Monaghan might be overconfident.  The team fears that he only focuses on positive results, a consequence of his faith perhaps?  Team Edgar is smart to advise caution, but on some level they might have messed with his head too much.

Spohn has a certain intensity about him as well, though it’s channeled more noticeably through his training and exercise.  He rings Josh Clark’s bell when they’re sparring, a callback to the vicious knockout he dished out to get into the house.  Penn has him pegged as a dark horse.  The team suggests that Spohn go for ground and pound rather than a one punch KO.  They believe Monaghan will be looking to stand.  Penn pegs Spohn as a dark horse to win the competition.

Pendred gets the smart idea to have gym mats brought to his room.  Has nobody done this before?  Now Team Penn guys can train whenever they want.  I anticipate conflict over whether or not Team Edgar guys can roll on them followed by the mats being destroyed or disposed of in some inappropriate way.

Mat RoomI think this qualifies as a fight club.

Spohn is a sensei at his gym and he teaches his team the “iron body” technique, which is supposed to help them relax.  It just ends up making them really sweaty.  Those mats are going to be friggin’ disgusting after a couple of days.

These #HowDoYouKFC segments are rough.  That’s the last time I’ll mention them unless something interesting happens.

The fight

Everyone describes Monaghan as a go-getter with a big heart.  He’s all offence and no defence, something which Spohn takes full advantage of.  As soon as he starts coming forward, Monaghan freezes up.  Two hard punches land and then Spohn gets a takedown just like Team Penn instructed.

From there, the action becomes nearly non-existent.  I wouldn’t describe it as “lay and pray” since Spohn executes some nice guard passes.  However, his ability to improve position so skillfully only makes his lack of output even more noticeable.  He is so reluctant to throw punches or elbows or go for submissions that there is legitimate risk of the action being reset even though Spohn is in full mount.  I haven’t seen that happen since Bobby Lashley had the same thing happen to him against Chad Griggs.

At one point, Spohn gets too high on the back and Monaghan decides to duck down and spike him into the mat.  I’m not sure how legal that was and it looked like it could have gone poorly for both guys.

Monaghan EscapeUgh.

An arm bar escape by Monaghan puts him in good position to throw hands from up top.  Somehow he trips and falls right back to the floor.  He’s certainly…unorthodox.

Ground And WhoopsAnd this with the “Godfather of Ground and Pound” cageside.

This is the second straight fight where Edgar’s fighter has looked flat in the wrestling department.  Monaghan would later say that he anticipated a stand up battle and neglected his takedown defence.  Well that was f**king dumb.

Dana White is furious at both guys: Spohn for not letting his hands go and Monaghan for not listening to his coaches.

White: So then you’ve got Todd Monaghan who has Renzo Gracie and Frankie Edgar in his corner yelling instructions…and [Monaghan] literally did not do one thing that they said.  These guys who are unbelievable cornermen are telling you how to get out of the mount, telling you to do these things…he literally did nothing that they said!  You may as well have me in your corner or somebody else that knows nothing.

Spohn takes the decision (though Monaghan almost tapped out to a rear naked choke at the very last second), which is somehow both one-sided and lacklustre.  He failed to impress the most important judge: Dana White.  If Spohn doesn’t make it to the finals, don’t be surprised if neither guy gets scheduled for a fight after the show.  This one made Hughes/Renzo look like Don Frye/Yoshihiro Takayama.

Spohn VictoriousNext week: Tim Williams v. Dhiego Lima.  Also, is a good fight too much to ask for?  That’s two snoozers in a row with no heat or storyline between the competitors.  Has TUF season ever been cancelled before?  Hang in there everybody.  We made it through Shane Carwin, Roy Nelson, Julian Lane, and Colton Smith, we can make it through this.

The Ultimate Fighter 19 – Team Edgar v. Team Penn – Week 2 Recap

We’ve got our teams.  We’ve got our first match-up.   We don’t have Pranksters with Dynamite.  Soldier on, dear friends.

Penn IntroGet hyped!

Team Colours

Team Edgar
Team Penn

The arrival at the house is mostly uneventful.  I couldn’t help but notice that this is as culturally diverse a cast as I’ve seen on the show, always a welcome sight.  This season we have several black men, a Mexican, two Irishmen, and Anton Berzin who comes from a family of Russian immigrants.  I’m not saying the show should have diversity just for diversity’s sake, but on the most basic level it helps the fighters to stand out.  I still have nightmares of the blandly vanilla characters from TUF 11.

Todd Monaghan even goes as far as to joke that Patrick Walsh will be allowed to stay in the “coloured room”.

Race RelationsPatrick is the one in the…ah, never mind.

The build up for this week’s match revolves around the hype for Cathal Pendred (who was BJ Penn’s top middleweight pick) versus the relative anonymity of Hector Urbina, who was Frankie Edgar’s last middleweight pick).  Pendred certainly isn’t lacking in confidence and why should he?  He was the reigning welterweight champion for Cage Warriors, one of the top promotions in the UK.  The whole situation gives me flashbacks to Shayna Baszler/Julianna Peña from TUF 18.  While Baszler and Peña were both top picks, Peña was dismissed just as quickly as Urbina is in this episode.

The first training days are standard fare.  Highlights include:

  • Penn watching his guys roll and saying “this is the future of mixed martial arts”.  That made me wonder if he’s seen the show at all since the last time he coached.
  • Edgar noting that it was a good thing that some of the guys he picked had to gut it out to win a decision.
  • Ian Stephens saying he wants to fight like Edgar.  They don’t show anyone saying they want to fight like Penn, though I’m not sure if that’s even possible.

Pendred and Urbina are a contrast in motivations.  While Pendred does declare himself to be a representative of the MMA scene in Ireland, he also wants to make it clear that his biggest reason for fighting is that he wants to be the best.  No money woes, no sob story, just the spirit of competition.  He’s one of those guys who the UFC could have signed outright instead of making him go through a reality show.  Dana White says as much himself.

Urbina is all about setting an example for his younger brothers who are aspiring athletes.  He comes from wrestling crazy Ohio.  That explains why his stand-up is so sloppy.  He and Edgar take their time drilling some basic boxing, particularly variations on the standard 1-2 combination.  It’s too bad Urbina has to fight first.  His stand-up has a long way to go.  There’s only so much that can be done when you have less than 48 hours to get prepared.

We get a heck of a staredown after the weigh-ins.  Penn is loving it!  He can’t stop laughing.  I believe he’s genuinely happy to be part of this show again.  The teams start yelling their support for Ireland and Mexico.  Pendred and Urbina don’t need much to spur them on.  They butt heads until their coaches intervene.

Ireland v. MexicoThis would make for a decent poster.

We now interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for a message from our sponsor (delivered by Mike King).  I’ve harped on the American editions of TUF for not showcasing their sponsors front and centre.  At last, we’re getting some decent product integration.  The gauntlet has been thrown down.

KFCEat your heart out, TUF: Brazil.

The fight

Let’s get the positives out of the way: the first round was fun.  Urbina played the scrappy underdog to a tee.  His hands are down, his posture is too stiff and he’s unable to control Pendred against the cage.  So of course it’s Pendred who ends up getting caught.  He gets way too careless separating from Urbina and he takes two or three good punches that wobble him.  Urbina is all over him looking to finish, but Pendred recovers.

Urbina doesn’t let up, getting a big slam.  The bad news is that Pendred is getting more stable with every second.  Urbina then makes the common mistake of going for a guillotine choke that isn’t there.  They both fire away and Urbina’s gas tank becomes a serious concern.  He lets his hands drop again.  Neither guy seemed too interested in stand-up defence.

Penn wanted a street fight and he got a damn street fight!  Urbina takes the first round 10-9 with a knockdown and two takedowns.  It doesn’t take an expert to see that he’s worn out though.

The next two rounds look a little something like this:

Front FacelockIf you’re a fan of this position, this was the most exciting fight of all time.

Penn advised Pendred to get in and out and stop exchanging.  Ironically, he wants him to fight like Edgar.  The tactics prove unnecessary after a labouring Urbina falls prey to a slow double leg.  Then comes the front facelock.  The interminable front facelock.  The most Urbina can do is to put himself at a weird angle where neither man can do much.  Pendred can only score with piddly knees and punches, Urbina can’t get up.

The ridiculousness of the “three point” rule is on full display.  Urbina keeps trying to touch the mat, but Pendred is big and strong enough to lift him up and throw knees in the brief window where Urbina isn’t making contact.  It’s impossible to officiate properly.

Urbina’s limited stand-up proves costly.  All Pendred has to do is press forward and Urbina turtles up leaving him open to body shots or, in this case, takedowns.  Edgar begs him to get to his feet.  I’m a little disappointed that he resorts to the Rampage Jackson “Get up!  Get up!  Get up!” method of coaching.  After a great first round, Urbina didn’t have anything left and Pendred wins the fight.  In an odd bit of embellishment, Steve Mazzagatti announces that Pendred won by “hard fought decision” (HFD?).

One more positive: Vanessa Hanson and Chrissy Blair are making their first TUF appearances.  Good on ya, ladies.

Penn gives Edgar a hearty pat on the back as they emerge from their locker rooms.  They can’t even pretend to be enemies?  This is the anti-Sonnen/Wanderlei.

The first light heavyweight fight is next, with Penn picking Daniel Spohn to fight Todd Monaghan.  Urbina was Edgar’s last middleweight pick and now Penn is going after his last heavyweight pick.

I prefer to keep these as recaps rather than reviews, but I have to vent: this episode was mind-numbingly boring.  To say nothing happened this episode would be an insult to the abstract concept of “nothing”.  If these first two episodes were someone’s first exposure to TUF, I doubt they’d tune in for week three.  They didn’t show anything interesting happening in either the house or at the gym.  We didn’t learn much about Pendred and Urbina beyond the most basic observations.  Not only was the fight awful, but because it went three rounds it ate up almost the entirety of the show.

They need to be more open to changing the format.  When you have a fight this plodding, just give us the highlights.  That would not only save the viewing audience from being bored, it would allow them to include a greater variety of segments on the program.  Then again, that would also take more work and who has time for that?  Certainly not the folks who run this show.

Just look at the ring girls…pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…

Next week: Spohn v. Monaghan.  Also, Edgar and Penn exchange BFF bracelets.

The Ultimate Fighter 19 – Team Edgar v. Team Penn – Week 1 Recap

It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven years since B.J. Penn first coached The Ultimate Fighter opposite fellow legend Jens Pulver.  At the time, lightweights were an iffy property after Pulver had vacated the belt in March, 2002 and Penn and Caol Uno fought to a title fight draw in February 2003.  Pulver sought better pay elsewhere and Penn would claim the welterweight championship from Matt Hughes before also leaving the promotion.  With the two biggest stars out of the picture, the lightweight division was suspended until 2006.

None of this is to say that everyone was sitting on their butts waiting for Penn and Pulver to come back.  When lightweight action resumed, several fighters would step up to remind fans how exciting and explosive the “little guys” could be.  Spencer Fisher, Kenny Florian, Hermes França, Tyson Griffin, Clay Guida, Melvin Guillard, Roger Huerta, Joe Stevenson, and Sam Stout are just a few of the names who were making a splash at 155 in the & division even as it was unclear when they would get a strap to call their own.

In October of 2006, Sean Sherk would defeat Florian to become the first champion since Penn (a year later, Sherk would test positive for steroids and be stripped of the title.  The lightweight belt was something of a “cursed idol” back then).  Just like that, all the momentum that had been built up over the year came to a grinding halt.  The UFC went to the TUF well to rejuvenate the division.

With Penn and Pulver back in the fold, it made perfect sense to feature them and a whole cast of fighters in their weight class.  The crew included several contestants who had already made appearances in the UFC so for some this was an opportunity to boost their profiles.  Joe Lauzon was a particularly strange inclusion as he had actually knocked out Pulver in his lone UFC appearance (Matt Wiman and Gabe Ruediger were the other two, though they were unsuccessful in their debuts).

What resulted was one of the show’s finest seasons, with great fights, great drama between the coaches and great careers for many of the cast members.  Lauzon, Wiman, Ruediger, Nate Diaz, Rob Emerson, Manny Gamburyan, Corey Hill, Gray Maynard and Cole Miller would all go on to have at least three UFC appearances, with Diaz, Maynard and Gamburyan (in the WEC at featherweight) getting world title shots.  It gave the lightweight division the surge of talent that it needed and a marquee main event rematch in Penn/Pulver.  Penn would make short work of Pulver this time, before moving on to destroy Stevenson and Sherk to establish himself as the undisputed lightweight king.

Enter Frankie Edgar.

Standing just 5’6”, Edgar didn’t possess an eye popping physique or one punch knockout power.  He was neither a limb snatching submission machine nor a haymaker throwing brawler.  But he was fast.  Real fast.

Edgar’s top shelf wrestling and indefatigable approach proved to be the perfect foil for Penn and he won a controversial decision to dethrone Penn after “The Prodigy” had reigned for over eight hundred days.  An immediate rematch was called and Edgar shut the door on any controversy, sweeping the scorecards.  He would go on to have a pair of classic title defences against Maynard before dropping the title to Ben Henderson.

And that’s how we got here.  Team Edgar versus Team Penn.  Edgar now at featherweight, Penn dropping down for one last shot at his rival.  The stakes are much smaller, the fighters are much larger, but the song is the same.  Welcome to the 19th season of The Ultimate Fighter.

*****

I’m really looking forward to Penn coaching again.  He’s older and wiser now, maybe even more mature.  Damn, it seems like he and Edgar actually like each other.  That’s a shame.  Edgar mentions that he actually tried out for season 5, which is mind blowing in retrospect.  You think he would have done better than Andy Wang?

On to the fights!

(* indicates that a fight is “highlights only”)

Light Heavyweight Fight 1

Tyler King (7-1) v. Daniel Spohn (8-3)

The first fight brings on a rollercoaster of emotions.  King is an ex-NFL player who had his career derailed by an injury.  His mom is there to support him.  She says she feels sorry for the other guy.  It’s an ill omen for what is to come.

The action doesn’t last long.  A counter-punch by Spohn drops King with one shot.  It’s as ugly as knockouts get, with King crashing down face first into the cage.  Mom comes over right away to check on him.  Dana White, Edgar and Penn talk about how this is the “hurt business”.  Normally, such a thrilling start would be celebrated but this is uncomfortable.

Down He GoesSorry Mom

Daniel SpohnAdvancing: Spohn

Middleweight Fight 1

Adrian Miles (14-5) v. Hector Urbina (16-8)

Miles was picked on because of his freckles.  There’s a motivation I haven’t heard before.  Urbina is high school wrestling stud who turned pro after graduation.  I imagine he’s the sort who would have bullied Miles if he knew him.

Urbina doesn’t hide his desire for the takedown.  He goes after it with everything he’s got and it’s almost not enough because Miles has some incredible balance.  Penn loves Urbina’s grappling, especially when he breaks out a move that is best described as a modified judo throw.  Urbina pulls guard and ends the fight with a guillotine choke.  He yells out “Will you be my uncle?”  Not sure who he was talking to (Dana?), but that’s pretty funny.

Hector UrbinaAdvancing: Urbina

Light Heavyweight Fight 2

Jake Heun (6-3) v. Todd Monaghan (8-2)

Ah, Jake Heun.  Here’s a guy with a story.  He’s a Chris Leben disciple who tried out for TUF 17.  I’ve seen him fight at heavyweight, middleweight and now light heavyweight.  You can tell that he wants to do this for a living so badly.  He says that it’s a “conscious decision to be a broke ass fighter”.

Monaghan is a reformed criminal and a born again Christian.  He shares a pre-fight prayer with his wife.

Heun looks great out of the gate, staggering Monaghan with a combination.  There’s a premature celebration by Heun after some borderline illegal ground strikes.  Heun is sloppy, but there’s something there.   Monaghan gives up his back and it looks like this one is over but he’s okay!  Then he pulls an arm bar out of nowhere!  Monaghan wins!

Heun says that he’s done with fighting.  Bummer.

Todd MonaghanAdvancing: Monaghan

Middleweight Fight 2

Cathal Pendred (13-2) v. ???

Everything I’ve heard about Pendred has him pegged as the top welterweight prospect out of the UK, so it should be a treat to see him fight.  Unfortunately, White tells us that his opponents kept suffering various maladies and they weren’t able to get him a match-up in time.  For the first time in TUF history, a fighter is getting into the house on a bye.  Feel the excitement!

Cathal PendredAdvancing: Pendred

For some reason, all of the fighters under Team Edgar’s watch have short shorts.  White mockingly calls it “Jersey Style”.  Edgar asks one of his guys what’s up and he’s told that they’re being cut for good luck.  Remember this for later.

Middleweight Fight 3*

Roger Zapata (5-1) v. Tyler Minton (5-1)

Zapata falls for that old reality television trap: answer a question about your family and watch the tears flow.  He’s a new dad, spurred on by an online chat with his wife.  He calmly takes Minton apart en route to a TKO victory.

Roger ZapataAdvancing: Zapata

Middleweight Fight 4*

Lyman Good (15-3) v. Ian Stephens (4-0)

Being a former Bellator champ, Good is a marked man.  Everyone mentions it and I’m sure it only served to motivate his opponent.  Stephens is twenty-five years old with only two pro fights.  Surprisingly, he dominates the action.

White: This is not gonna look good if the f**kin’ Bellator champion doesn’t even make it into the ‘Ultimate Fighter’ house.

Stephens wins a unanimous decision and says that “Bellator champs don’t belong here.”  I’m thinking Good was bought in just so they could take shots at the competition.

Ian StephensAdvancing: Stephens

Light Heavyweight Fight 3

Chris Fields (8-4) v. Josh Stansbury (4-2)

Fields is a newlywed Irishman.  Conor McGregor is in the building to support him and Pendred.  In the other corner is Stansbury, who’s got a chin like Hendo.

You won’t see this match being broken down on Striking Simplified anytime soon, I’ll tell you that match.  Stansbury continuously looks for a big right, eventually catching Fields and putting him down against the cage.  Fields survives until a low blow creates a pause in the action.  The accident doesn’t stop Stansbury from picking up where he left off.  He regains control with a takedown attempt, only to suffer a freak knee injury.  Stansbury was definitely winning the fight so that is a terrible way for him to go out.  Don’t expect Fields to be a high pick.

McGregor: Luck of the Irish!

Speaking of luck, Stansbury was one of Edgar’s guys…and he didn’t cut the shorts!  It’s a real thing!

Chris FieldsAdvancing: Fields

Light Heavyweight Fight 4

Anton Berzin (3-1) v. Cody Mumma (5-1)

The Russian MMA invasion has made its way onto TUF.  Berzin is a BJJ black belt who immigrated with his family.  He actually has some solid hands too, which he puts to good use to set up his grappling.  A stunning judo flip puts Mumma down and then Berzin moves into back control.  His corner yells at him to not get too high, but he ignores them and snags an arm bar.  Shows what they know.

Anton BerzinAdvancing: Berzin

Middleweight Fight 5*

Tim Williams (8-1) v. Bojan Velickovic (8-2)

If Williams looks familiar, he’s the scary looking dude who tried out for TUF 17.  He is quite accurately called “The South Jersey Strangler”.  I’m not sure if that’s so much a nickname as it is a confession.

Much more pleasing to the eye is Velickovic’s girlfriend, Zenja Draca (saved you the googling).  She’s a college tennis player apparently.  When she gets to Velickovic’s room, they immediately start making out like it’s a conjugal visit.  They give a mandatory interview and you can tell they’re just thinking about boning the whole time.  The door is eventually shut on the camera guy so the two lovebirds can get some private time.

For some reason, Penn is endlessly amused by Williams’s resemblance to Joe Lauzon.  Back and forth fight for two rounds.  Velickovic can barely get off the stool for the third.  Maybe he shouldn’t have because the fight is waved off seconds into the extra period when it’s clear he can’t defend himself.  I wonder if there was something he did before the fight that might have sapped his reserves…

Tim WilliamsAdvancing: Williams

Middleweight Fight 6*

Matt Gabel (8-3) v. Eddy Gordo Eddie Gordon (6-1)

This one is all about Gordon, a massive middleweight.  Penn says he looks to be at least 220.  He has huge power.  Even his blocked punches have enough juice to push Gabel around the octagon.  There’s no finish, but Gordon takes a one-sided decision.

Eddie GordonAdvancing: Gordon

Light Heavyweight Fight 5*

John Poppie (3-1) v. Josh Clark (7-2)

Poppie suffers from bipolar disorder.  That’s something I imagine a lot of professional athletes deal with even if they don’t want to admit it.  Fighters in particular can go from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows with one wrong move and they have months and months to dwell on their triumphs or failures.  I always encourage people to be honest with themselves when it comes to addressing that sort of mental condition.

Clark is a federal agent who used to disable land mines for the army.  There are some serious psychological issues on both sides of the octagon.

The highlights depict another tough fight that goes to a third round, where Poppie ends up tapping to a triangle arm bar.

Josh ClarkAdvancing: Clark

Light Heavyweight Fight 6

Patrick Walsh (4-1) v. Doug Sparks (7-2)

I really want to tell you that Sparks won this fight.  In his brief time on the show, he becomes notorious for always wearing a headband with furry ears, claims that he’s half-human, half-polar bear, and expresses his passion for “psychology, socio-biology and evolutionary psychology”.  I think he’s channeling Matthew McConaughey in True Detective.  He’s undeniably fascinating and it would have been great to see him in the house.

Fascinating doesn’t win fights.  After nearly getting caught in a guillotine, Walsh escapes to side control and wins with a kimura.

Patrick WalshAdvancing: Walsh

Light Heavyweight Fight 7

Daniel Vizcaya (7-2) v. Matt Van Buren (6-2)

There’s a funny moment where Van Buren tells his dad that he hopes they don’t talk again anytime soon because that will mean he made it into the house.  The fight ends with a surprising stoppage by Herb Dean.  He’s vindicated by a replay that shows Vizcaya going limp under a flurry of elbows (the kind Travis Browne has been using).  I hate those elbows.  They look illegal to me.

Matt Van BurenAdvancing: Van Buren

Light Heavyweight Fight 8*

Kelly Anundson (6-1) v. Corey Anderson (3-0)

These two fighters are familiar with each other having both wrestled at Newbury College.  Small world, eh?  Anundson has some serious wrestling credentials, though nobody is quite sure what to make of them:

White: Three time All American college wrestler.  Two time FILA world champ.
Penn: What does that mean?
Edgar: I don’t know, man.
White: Listen.  Just ‘cause you two never won the FILA world championships…quit hatin’.

True to his reputation, Anundson gets a lot of takedowns.  Even after getting full mount, he can’t put Anderson away.  Anderson’s cardio is on point and it’s enough to carry him to a win.

Corey AndersonAdvancing: Anderson

Middleweight Fight 7*

Adam Stroup (5-1) v. Dhiego Lima (8-1)

Lima is the brother of two-time Bellator tournament winner and newly crowned Bellator Welterweight Champion Douglas Lima.  If you’ve ever seen Douglas fight, you know he’s got some serious striking chops.  His brother is no different, rocking Stroup and cruising to a decision victory.

Dhiego LimaAdvancing: Lima

Middleweight Fight 8

Nordine Taleb (8-2) v. Mike King (5-0)

Let’s be real here.  Taleb should really be 9-2 since he just won a fight in the UFC hours before this episode aired!  This is a surreal segment.  Knowing what we know, it’s safe to assume that Taleb doesn’t make it past this stage but…what if?  He would be the first contestant to do two full seasons of TUF.  What if he won?  Would he compete in a TUF final even though he already has a contract?  Would they just pretend that he wasn’t on TUF Nations?  Why was this allowed to even happen?  Why is my nose bleeding right now?

A couple of minutes in, you can see why they saved this fight for last.  Incredible output and chins by both men.  If Taleb fought like this on TUF Nations he would have won the whole thing.  The coaches are impressed and lament the fact that either man has to go home.

Things only get wilder in the third round.  King almost locks in an unorthodox knee bar.  The attempt is enough to force Taleb to give up top control.  They scramble and King hunts for an Americana arm lock.  Crazy action!  It could have gone either way, but King did enough to take this one.

Mike KingAdvancing: King

 Team Selection

When Penn was picking teams for season 5, he memorably asked all of the fighters to raise their hands if they wanted nothing to do with Jens Pulver.  It was a moment of pure mind f**kery.  In a callback to those shenanigans, Penn asks Edgar if they should save time and split the middleweights since four red guys won and four blue guys won.  White tells him to knock it off.

Edgar wins the coin toss and he decides to go with picking the first fighter starting with the light heavyweights:

Team Edgar

Middleweights

Stephens (1st) – Edgar inexplicably calls him “Joseph Stephenson” (???)
Lima (3rd)
Gordon (5th)
Urbina (7th)

Light Heavyweights

Anderson (1st)
Walsh (3rd)
Van Buren (5th)
Monaghan (7th)

Team Penn

Middleweights

King (2nd)
Williams (4th)
Pendred (6th)
Zapata (8th)

Light Heavyweights

Berzin (2nd)
Clark (4th)
Spohn (6th)
Fields (8th)

Penn picks Pendred to fight.  Despite having done this before, he completely forgets that he also gets to pick the opponent.  His coaches suggest Urbina and it is on!

Overall, not a bad episode though it’s missing a hook.  For example, TUF 17 was the first show with the fancy new production, TUF Brazil 2 was the last show with the old production, TUF 18 was the first season to feature women, TUF Nations was in Canada, and TUF Brazil 3 is TUF Brazil 3.  So what can we look forward to here?

The first season to feature light heavyweights since TUF 8 back in 2008.  A whole season with one of my favourite fighters, Frankie Edgar.  A whole season with everyone else’s favourite fighter, B.J. Penn.  I mean, come on, it’s B.J. freakin’ Penn!

Blast from the past.

Next week: Cathal Pendred v. Hector Urbina.  Also, there’s a better than good chance I link to that Andy Wang clip again.

Light As A Feather – UFC 156 Post Mortem

In life, merely wanting something, no matter how badly, is rarely enough to make that thing attainable.

*****

The José Aldo/Frankie Edgar featherweight title fight on Saturday engaged me in all the right ways.  Aldo, a true juggernaut at 145, took the first two rounds handily, chopping away at Edgar with merciless leg kicks.  As Edgar visibly buckled, I yelled up at the television monitor in the bar, “Get in there Mazzagatti!  Save this man’s career!”  My friends laughed as I peeked out from between my fingers.  Edgar’s biggest fan can’t stand to see him getting slaughtered, even though that happens in every fight he’s in (even the ones he wins!).

Somehow, someway, the leg kicks stopped coming and the challenger was able to start landing consistently.  Aldo’s jab, which had been on point for ten minutes, was missing by inches and Edgar was clearly pressing the action.  He started to dictate the pace and the location of the exchanges.

“I’m dyin’!”  I texted to my Uncle Pang.  “Frankie got round 3 though!”  My rooting interests influenced my score, but at least it seemed like the tide was turning.

Aldo dropped the 4th for sure, with Edgar out-striking him and landing a trademark slam that brought me out of my seat (as if the impact travelled all the way from the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino up to a Boston Pizza in Markham).  In truth, the slam didn’t do much and Aldo was back on his feet in seconds, but one day when I’m telling my grandkids about it I’ll talk about how the champion nearly broke every bone in his body as he was dropped from what must have been 12 feet in the air.  A slight embellishment.

Edgar grew stronger with every round, but Aldo reminded everyone why he’s the best featherweight in the world.  It’s all well and good when you’re stringing together highlight reel knockout after highlight reel knockout, but what do you have left when you’re dragged into the proverbial deep waters?  Edgar hurried to the finish line, but Aldo met him stride for stride utilizing his flawless technique.  That counter jab tightened up, slowing Edgar down every time he began to pour on the pressure.  His breathtaking footwork nullified any takedown attempts.  He soundly won the 5th, giving him no less than three (likely four) of the five rounds needed to take the fight.

How about that Aldo?  Before the fight, my friends kept telling me that he was faster than Edgar and I refused to admit it.  “Maybe as fast,” I would say, but I wouldn’t concede the point.  Then it unfolded before my very eyes.  Every time Edgar fired a leg kick or ducked in for an overhand right, he’d be met by two or three strikes in return.  Some he dodged, most he didn’t.  Amazingly, the numbers will show that Edgar landed more strikes over the course of the last three rounds, but I wasn’t convinced that he did enough to make up for the deficit in rounds 1 and 2.  The match was arguably the best performance of Aldo’s career and an early fight of the year candidate for me personally.

*****

Unlike the last time Edgar lost a close fight, I wasn’t nearly as heartbroken.  That had a lot to do with Antonio Silva’s thrilling upset of Alistair Overrated…*ahem*, Overeem.

There exists a contingent of fans who have touted Overeem as the uncrowned heavyweight king for years, constantly berating others with their theories that he would *snicker* “destroy” the likes of Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez.  Obviously, this is message board fodder that I shouldn’t give too much credence but there’s no arguing that “The Reem” (ugh) carried a mystique that was easy to latch onto.  He hadn’t lost a fight in over five years and he finished the majority of his opponents in the first round, but I won’t waste my time dispelling the myth of his invincibility even though I could do it in one paragraph.  Besides, nothing I write would be more convincing than the argument presented by the majestic “Big Foot” Silva.

Up until Silva won, it had been one of the most utterly unsatisfying fights I’d ever witnessed.  I cannot stand Overeem.  Even discounting the steroid allegations (a topic for another day), he’s done an outstanding job of buying into his own hype over the last few years despite never beating a single top ten opponent until he took a lacklustre decision against Fabricio Werdum.  I’ll admit that he had me fooled when he conquered Brock Lesnar, but in retrospect Lesnar had one foot out the door and all Overeem had to do was show up.  That said, it was expected that Overeem would walk through Silva and for ten miserable minutes I saw just that.  Then…it happened.

To Alistair’s credit, he handily won the first two rounds.  I wouldn’t even say that he made a mistake by not putting Silva away earlier because Silva is a tough out and I don’t think that Overeem was playing around…at least until the final frame.  With a two point lead on the cards, “The Reem” (UGH!) must have figured that he could afford to have some fun with the lumbering Pezão.  His hands dropped and there was the opening that Silva needed.  He rocked him with a punch behind the ear, then a head kick and finally a series of punches that deadened Overeem against the cage.  You could tell Herb Dean wanted to step in, but it was one of those awful situations where the fighter’s body hasn’t given up the ghost yet.  By the time he did, it was too late; not only was Overeem completely out of it but Big Foot had a taste for blood.  Much like a mogwai, you never feed Big Foot after midnight (or around 11 PM EST in this case).

I’d pick him to kick Overeem’s ass too.

In a moment that must have been ten times as terrifying in person, Dean had to do everything in his power to hold back Silva who looked like he was going in for seconds.  We were this close to seeing the octagon’s first fatality.

I was so elated to see Overeem lose that I didn’t even notice the rest of the bar cheering with me.  Seeing the arrogant Dutchman humbled struck a chord with the people and it restored my faith; not only in my fellow man, but in the mixed martial arts universe’s ability to mete out its own unique form of justice.

*****

Other thoughts:

  • There was some chatter afterwards about Edgar dropping another 10 pounds to compete in the bantamweight division.  I’m all for this idea, but please, no more rushed title opportunities.
  • Antônio Rogério Nogueira’s uninspiring win over Rashad Evans leaves the light heavyweight division muddled even further.  Maybe there’s something to this Chael Sonnen thing after all…
  • Three Strikeforce imports made their debuts (Isaac Vallie-Flagg, Bobby Green and Tyron Woodley) and all found success.  Woodley had a magnificent KO of Bellator tournament champion Jay Hieron, Green submitted highly ranked Jacob Volkmann (6-1 at lightweight) and Vallie-Flagg earned a close decision win over veteran Yves Edwards.  Vallie-Flagg is one to watch as he is now unbeaten in 12 fights (including 1 draw) and he hasn’t lost in over five years.  All three are fine additions to the UFC roster.
  • Demian Maia put in work on Saturday.  The last time I saw Jon Fitch manhandled like that was in the first two rounds of the BJ Penn fight.  Maia made his bones on flashy submissions, but he’s also shown an ability to grind out wins while at the same time making his opponents look foolish (see: Dan Miller, Mario Miranda, Kendall Grove and Jorge Santiago).  That’s a tactic that Fitch himself usually employs, so to see the shoe on the other foot was fascinating.  Arguably the greatest Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter that MMA has ever seen, Maia has cemented himself as a top 5 welterweight.  With Maia and Johny Hendricks waiting in the wings, you have to think that Georges St-Pierre is starting to feel the heat.

Light As A Feather: Why Frankie Edgar NEEDS To Beat José Aldo

Frankie Edgar needs to win on Saturday.  I want him to win because he’s one of my favourite fighters of all time, but it’s also imperative that he find a way to take the Featherweight Championship from José Aldo for the sake of his career.  If Edgar loses, that will be his third straight loss in a title fight and in this “what have you done for us lately?” world, that will trump the four encounters where he walked away with a title in hand.  Is that fair?  Maybe not, but the reality is that no matter how long you’ve been on top of the mountain, it is a long, long fall when you get knocked off.

There’s a reason that some fighters fade away after losing or falling short of a championship.  It takes a unique mixture of focus, dedication and luck to become the best of the best and when those elements are working in your favour, you are nothing less than invincible.  When you finally lose (and everybody loses), the effect on the psyche must be devastating.  You can change up your training and intensify your workouts and continue to have great success, but at the forefront of your mind is that there is one guy out there who you know and (everyone else knows) is better than you.  If Edgar is denied for a third time, will it be even possible for him to ascend up the rankings again?  More importantly, will anyone care to find out?  It’s no secret that Edgar isn’t a big draw and it doesn’t help that each of his championship feuds had their share of controversy:

BJ Penn (UFC 112, UFC 118)

When Edgar was awarded a title shot, I was vindicated but also pessimistic.  I figured that he should be happy to be there and I was already preparing rhetoric about how there’s no shame in being beat by a legend.  After all, Penn was coming off of two flawless performances where he made top contenders Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez look silly.  Edgar had no chance.

My friends and I joked that Penn might have spent too much time in Abu Dhabi chilling at the beach with his family because he definitely was not in immaculate shape.  Still, he seemed to be countering well and avoiding takedowns and while it wasn’t exactly vintage Penn, none of us saw enough from Edgar to think that he had pulled off the upset.  However, it was Edgar who won via unanimous decision.  It was a heavily debated result compounded by judge Douglas Crosby’s ludicrous 50-45 score in favour of Edgar.  You could certainly make a case for the challenger, but that was a polarizing score and it turned a lot of people against Edgar.  Dana White booked an immediate rematch and Edgar was dominant the second time, but the damage may already have been done.

Gray Maynard (UFC 125, UFC 136)

Hoo boy.  In their first meeting back at UFC Fight Night 13, the bigger Maynard’s wrestling was too much for Edgar who hadn’t mastered his stick-and-move style just yet.  Edgar was the underdog in the rematch and he was obliterated in the first round.  We use the phrase “survival mode” a lot in combat sports and that was a prime example as Edgar looked more like a gymnast than a martial artist, tumbling around the ring to get away from the relentless challenger.  However, over the next four rounds he took the fight to Maynard, including an explosive slam in the second that instantly became one of my favourite sports memories.  That one move epitomized what it means to defy expectations and battle back from adversity.

Many fans thought that the fight could have been stopped in that first round (and championship bias may have played a part in Edgar being allowed to continue).  At the very least, you could have made a strong argument for a 10-7 round that would have lead to Maynard winning a majority decision (the result was a split draw).  This warranted another rematch and like the second Penn fight, Edgar left no doubt who the better man was finishing Maynard in the 4th round; but again, there were skeptics who still believed he didn’t deserve the title.

Benson Henderson (UFC 144, UFC 150)

Henderson presented a unique threat to Edgar, who was favoured for the first time since becoming the Lightweight Champion.  The white hot WEC import matched the size of Maynard with the never ending cardio (one of Maynard’s perceived shortcomings) necessary to keep up with Edgar.  The two engaged in a thrilling back-and-forth battle that hinged on a careless mistake by Edgar that resulted in him taking a full force up-kick from one of Hendersons’ titanium thick legs.  He wasn’t the same after that strike and Henderson capitalized, beating Edgar to the punch on multiple occasions and getting up quickly after takedowns.  It was a close fight, but Henderson’s win was widely accepted.

The uproar came over Edgar “whining” his way into another rematch; fans grumbled, completely ignoring the fact that Edgar made a humble request:

I’m not trying to shoot anybody out of anything they deserve, but I had to do two immediate rematches, so what’s fair? – Edgar in regards to Anthony Pettis originally being favoured for a title match

Not only was Edgar gracious in accepting those prior rematches, but the Edgar/Henderson fight was awesome and it’s unclear why people didn’t want to see it again.  White ended up changing his mind, rewarding Edgar for his hard work and paving the way for another entertaining bout.  Edgar/Henderson II was even closer than the first fight and ironically, Edgar seemed to win the crowd in a rematch that he narrowly lost.  A long suggested drop down to 145 was the next logical step.  He’d now be dealing with faster opposition, but he’d also no longer be dancing with giants.

The move makes perfect sense, but placing him opposite the champion Aldo when he hasn’t had a single fight at featherweight in his career…not so much.  In fairness, there were a series of injuries that prevented long time contender Erik Koch from getting his originally scheduled shot on two separate occasions and the division has been in turmoil as several top ranked fighters have taken each other out (Koch himself just suffered a brutal setback at the hands of Ricardo Lamas).  I can’t tell you who should have got the shot instead, but there had to be a better solution than pulling the trigger on Aldo/Edgar.

An Edgar loss would likely mean that this will be the last time he gets a shot at UFC gold.  One way of looking at it is that if he’s not ready now then he’ll never be ready, but we’ve all seen how fighters can adjust and evolve especially when changing weight classes.  The match doesn’t even make sense from a business standpoint as an Edgar coming off of even one big win (perhaps over someone like Dennis Siver or Chan Sung Jung) would make an Aldo/Edgar collision far more compelling than an Edgar coming off of two straight losses.  The decision seems short sighted and it reeks of instant gratification.

I’ve got a horse in this race and I’ve written before about how personal bias can get in the way of making reasonable fight picks.  This situation is no different.  I’m invested in the image of Edgar using his technique and guile to avoid any big Aldo shots and outpoint him or string together a combination that staggers the champion leading to an exciting TKO finish; I’m wilfully expelling thoughts of Aldo matching Edgar step for step and inevitably connecting with one of his trademark kill shots.

It’s now or never.  Penn, Randy Couture and Kenny Florian are a few of the names that spring to mind when discussing fighters who had years between title shots and while Edgar’s credentials are on par with these names, he’s never enjoyed the same recognition.  If Edgar loses, there won’t be too many fans in his corner lobbying for him to get another shot; realistically, he’ll be moved all the way to the back of the line with another loss.  An Aldo/Edgar meeting is one that I’d anticipated in the past and hoped for in the future, but am dreading in the present.  Victory is the only option for Edgar this Saturday, because the alternative is a dreary, slow climb back up to the top that few fighters manage to complete.

Rocky Mountain Heartbreak: A Lamentation of UFC 150

It was even closer than the last time.  In a rematch that few demanded, “Smooth” Ben Henderson was able to hold on and retain his belt against Frankie Edgar.  I should probably mention that I was in that minority looking forward to this bout; more importantly, I was looking forward to Edgar taking back his belt.

*****

Featherweight Bout: Nik Lentz d. Eiji Mitsuoka via TKO (1:35, R1)

What you need to know: Lentz was quietly rising up the ranks of the lightweight division, going undefeated in his first 7 UFC contests.  His first few fights were uneventful, wrestling intensive contests that failed to build fan support and while he was beginning to shed the dreadful “lay and pray” label (including a “Fight of the Night” against Evan Dunham), he was also starting to lose fights.  He’s made the transition to 145 where his smothering top game should serve him well.

Mitsuoka made his debut at UFC 144 in his home country of Japan as a replacement for George Sotiropoulos.  He shocked the crowd when he floored Takanori Gomi in the first round, but Gomi recovered and eventually finished Mitsuoka in the second.  Mitsuoka is also looking to reinvent himself as a featherweight.

How it went down: The younger, more explosive Lentz put on a wrestling clinic, slamming Mitsuoka at will before taking the back and delivering enough strikes to force the referee stoppage.

What’s next for Mitsuoka: (0-2 UFC, Lost last 2) A trip back to Japan and possibly retirement.  Two fights in the UFC would be a fine way to end a career.

What’s next for Lentz: (6-2-1 [1 NC] UFC, Won last 1) You never want to overreact when someone changes classes and defeats a middling opponent, but Lentz looks revitalized at featherweight.  He would make a fine test for fellow UFC 150 winners Dennis Bermudez or Max Holloway, but I’d rather they stuck him with people closer to his experience level.  A fight with Nam Phan would answer a lot of questions about both fighters’ prospects.

Bantamweight Bout: Chico Camus d. Dustin Pague via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)

What you need to know: “King” Camus is well known in the northwest region, having done most of his damage for Gladiators Cage Fighting and the North American Fighting Championship in Wisconsin.  He is making his UFC debut.

Pague, a semi-finalist on TUF 14, is fighting for the third time in three months.  His first UFC win was aided by some clueless officiating.  While Pague worked for a rear naked choke, his opponent Jared Papazian used his feet to push off the cage to prevent Pague from locking it in.  The referee warned him to stop, eventually removing Papazian’s feet forcefully.  Pague completed the submission shortly after.  Here’s the problem: It is completely legal to have your feet on the cage.  With that dubious win under his belt, Pague fought on short notice two weeks later and lost a decision to Ken Stone.

How it went down: The dreaded altitude of Colorado seemed to affect Pague as Camus held him down for fifteen minutes.  He may have taken the first round with some aggressive submission attempts for the bottom, but those efforts drained him and there wasn’t much he could do as Camus showed good control from the top.

What’s next for Pague: (1-3 UFC, L2) I don’t want it to sound like I dislike Pague as he actually seems a decent fellow and I admire him for fighting as much as possible especially since he doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear on him yet.  He just needs to know his limitations.  He’s now in that unfortunate category of guys fighting for their jobs, which could see him meeting up with Kid Yamamoto or Byron Bloodworth.  I’d like to see him face TUF: Brazil contestant Hugo Wolverine, who is dropping to 135.

What’s next for Camus: (1-0 UFC, W4) The Roufusport representative didn’t blow anybody away in his debut, but he picked up the W which is what matters most.  He’s a grinder who has gone to a decision in his last 5 fights, so an opponent who pushes him out of his comfort zone might be best for him.  Johnny Eduardo, Johnny Bedford or a debuting Azamat Gashimov could do the trick.

Bantamweight Bout: Erik Perez d. Ken Stone via KO (:17, R1)

What you need to know: Perez, 22, is a top prospect under the tutelage of Greg Jackson.  He defeated John Albert with an arm bar in June, but there was no indication of submission and the referee’s bizarre call marred what should have been a strong debut.  This is his second chance to make a first impression.

Stone has been part of some incredible highlights in his Zuffa career, usually on the wrong end.  Eddie Wineland slammed him senseless and Scott Jorgensen pummeled him from inside his guard, creating legitimate concerns for Stone’s well being.  He was victorious in his last two UFC appearances against Donny Walker and Pague.

How it went down: Add another knockout to the Stone highlight reel!  Perez landed a Liddell-esque counter left that caused Stone to face plant.  “El Goyito” then dove in for the kill, landing several unanswered punches that left Stone limp.  After Herb Dean broke it up, Stone actually recovered and frantically grabbed at Perez even as Dean had him in a waist lock.  There were actually boos in the arena!  I’m not a doctor, but here’s how I know someone is out:

1)      After taking a shot to the chin, you fall face down on all fours like you’re looking for a contact lens.

2)      Your head is bouncing off the mat while you lose control of your extremities.

What’s next for Stone: (2-2 UFC, L1) A long talk with his neurologist.  There’s no doubting Stone’s ability, but when you’ve suffered three vicious knockouts in two years you have to start looking after yourself.  I don’t care to consider potential opponents because I honestly would like to see him take a year off from combat sports if that’s an option for him.

What’s next for Perez: (2-0 UFC, W7) A moment to bask in his 17 second knockout, the fastest in the history of the Zuffa bantamweight division.  Once things settle down, he can get back to work at Jackson’s preparing for possible matchups with Camus, the gifted Bryan Caraway or the resurgent Francisco Rivera.

Middleweight Bout: Michael Kuiper d. Jared Hamman via TKO (2:16, R2)

What you need to know: Kuiper was outworked by Rafael Natal in his UFC debut.  The decision loss was the first in the Dutch judoka’s career.

Hamman was riding high off of a TKO win over C.B. Dollaway before being stopped by Costa Philippou last December.  He’s become known for his wide open kickboxing stance, exposed chin and inhuman capability for withstanding punishment.  I’ve seen him referred to as “The American Zombie”.

How it went down: For me, this was the worst kind of exciting fight; the kind where you’re glued to the screen because of the possibility that someone might get seriously hurt.  This had all the appeal of a car wreck.  Hamman started out strong, but at some point he suffered a leg injury and Kuiper was all over him during the first round.  You could clearly hear Hamman tell his corner that he had blown his knee but he is inexplicably allowed to continue.

Kuiper continued landing sledge hammer fists on Hamman’s chin to start the second round.  The scary thing is that Hamman’s expression never changes during the whole ordeal.  One shot buckled Hamman’s knees and he fell flat on his back.  I would have called the fight right there.  Referee Adam Martinez allows it to go on for another few minutes, in which Hamman takes more head shots.  The fight was eventually called off, but I was disgusted by Martinez’ lack of assertiveness and Hamman’s corner for not throwing in the towel.  A loss can be harmful to one’s career, but the risk of severe injury should have taken priority here.

What’s next for Hamman: (2-4 UFC, L2) More consideration for his health.  We love fighters like Hamman because we know he’s going to put entertainment over technique and that’s great, but everyone involved needs to start thinking about how this could affect him.  Like Stone, I think it would be insensitive to consider future bookings until we at least find out the condition of Hamman’s knee.

What’s next for Kuiper: (1-1 UFC, W1) Maybe Natal was just a bad fit stylistically because Kuiper looked like a killer here.  It’s unfortunate that he’s not a wrestler because he’d be fantastic implementing more sprawl and brawl tactics.  He’d be a good early challenge for TUF: Brazil winner Cezar Mutante, or the matchmakers could push him up the rankings with fights against Nick Ring or Andrew Craig.

Featherweight Bout: Dennis Bermudez d. Tommy Hayden via Submission (4:43, R1)

What you need to know: Bermudez was the TUF 14 runner-up, losing a thrilling contest against Diego Brandao.  He shocked everyone by rocking Brandao in the stand-up before some sloppy groundwork lead to him tapping out to an arm bar.  His next fight against Pablo Garza looked more like a WWE match as he repeatedly picked up and drove “The Scarecrow” through the mat.  After earning the decision, he broke out a Tyrone Biggums impression, telling Joe Rogan that fear was not a factor for him.  Rogan was not amused.

Like Camus, Hayden made a name for himself in the northwest going undefeated in 8 contests.  He was given a rude awakening when he was matched up with Fabrício Camões, one of the best BJJ practitioners in the world.  Camões was able to get the fight to the mat where he submitted Hayden inside of a round.  On an unrelated note, Hayden’s nickname is “Wildcard” and I was kind of hoping he would win and say this.

How it went down: Bermudez’ striking is still a work in progress and he mostly used it to set up his shots.  Hayden read one attempt perfectly and nearly ended the fight with a huge knee.  Bermudez would later say that all he could remember was going for a takedown and then Hayden was suddenly on his back choking him.  When Hayden transitioned to an arm bar, Bermudez showed off his unreal strength and powered out of it.  They started to grapple again and Bermudez was able to lock in a standing guillotine that ended the fight.

What’s next for Hayden: (0-2 UFC, L2) Despite his best efforts, it’s back to the minors with two first round defeats.

What’s next for Bermudez: (2-1 UFC, W2) You’ve got to love the enthusiasm he shows.  Every time he gets interviewed, he’s like a little kid.  I can see how that would annoy some people, but I find it immensely endearing and I think the fans are starting to get behind him.  If the UFC brings him along slowly, they could have a star on their hands.  Holloway, Steven Siler and Matt Grice are all legit, but beatable fighters.

Featherweight Bout: Max Holloway d. Justin Lawrence via TKO (4:49, R2)

What you need to know: Holloway is a dynamic striker who has drawn favourable comparisons to Anthony Pettis.  At 20 years old, he is the UFC’s youngest competitor and this is already his 3rd appearance inside the octagon.  I am officially depressed now.

Lawrence looked to be the breakout star of TUF 15.  He has an outstanding kickboxing pedigree, boasting over 150 amateur victories.  His cocky attitude rubbed a lot of the other cast members the wrong way and his heart was questioned when he was finished by eventual winner Michael Chiesa in a sudden victory round.  The hype train got back on track at The Ultimate Fighter 15 Finale, where he dusted off John Cofer with head kick to end a back and forth battle.  Lawrence himself is only 22, turning this bout into a glimpse at the future of the featherweight division.

How it went down: Lawrence is like a little Cung Le in that he’s compact and powerful.  He threw a variety of spinning kicks that Holloway was able to avoid.  Holloway showed crisp counterstriking skills, picking his spots and landing short punches whenever Lawrence got close.  He opened Lawrence up at one point, but also looked bad landing some awkward kicks below the belt.

In the second round, Lawrence continued to be the aggressor and while he was definitely scoring, Holloway kept finding ways to counter and draw blood.  Near the end of the round, Holloway landed a sick body blow and Lawrence crumpled.  Holloway didn’t miss a beat and followed up with punches for the TKO.

What’s next for Lawrence: (1-1 UFC, L1) Brazilian veteran Milton Vieira, TUF 11 alum and mustache enthusiast Cody McKenzie, or TUF: Brazil runner-up Pepey.

What’s next for Holloway: (2-1 UFC, W2) As mentioned above, a fight with Bermudez makes sense but he’s not quite as far along in his development.  I’d like to see him take on Marcos Vinicius, the winner of the Joey Gambino/Diego Brandao fight, or the winner of the Andy Ogle/Akira Corassani fight.

Middleweight Bout: Yushin Okami d. Buddy Roberts (3:05, R2)

What you need to know: Okami is on a two fight skid for the first time in his career and this was a must win for him to stay near the top of the division.  His original opponent was Luiz Cané, but he was replaced by newcomer Roberts, whose opponent also dropped out.  In only his second UFC fight, Roberts has the opportunity to fly up the middleweight ladder if he can find a way to beat Okami.

How it went down: Roberts did not find a way to beat Okami.  The first thing I have to note is that Roberts is a huge middleweight, which is saying something because Okami himself is a big dude.  Regardless, this turned out to be the mismatch everyone expected as Roberts was unable to do anything once Okami got the fight to the ground.  It was close to being called in the first round as Okami managed to secure a back mount and repeatedly score against a defenceless Roberts.  In the second, Okami established a nearly identical position and the referee had no choice but to wave it off.

What’s next for Roberts: (1-1 UFC, L1) A return to his regularly scheduled programming.  He was never meant to face a fighter like Okami this early in his career.  I’d like to see him face Clifford Starks (whenever he returns from injury), Riki Fukuda or Karlos Vemola.

What’s next for Okami: (11-4 UFC, W1) Seriously, just look at those UFC records.  How was that a fair matchup?  Okami will likely fight the winner of the UFC 153 bout between Chris Camozzi (Roberts’ original opponent) and Cané, though it would also make sense to have him face Jake Shields in a rematch of a 2006 contest that Shields won.

Middleweight Bout: Jake Shields d. Ed Herman via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)

What you need to know: I’m being kind when I say that your average Jake Shields fight is not exactly “must-see tv”.  Even before he joined the UFC, he wasn’t famous for flashy knockouts or submissions.  Under Zuffa employment, he’s become even more reviled.  He eked out a split decision win over Martin Kampmann, looked unspectacular in his title bout with Georges St-Pierre and was finished for only the second time in his career by Jake Ellenberger.  On Saturday, he returned to the division he once ruled in Strikeforce.

Herman has been on a roll since returning from a knee injury, finishing his last three opponents.  Shields represents the biggest test of his career, but they match up well and it looks like it will come down to whose striking is, er, less awful.

How it went down: Add another knockout to the Shields highlight reel!  Naw, just kidding.  It was a plodding fight.  Herman inexplicably decided to clinch with Shields, allowing Shields to trip him to the mat in every round and out grapple him.  Shields is an inadequate striker without an effective shot, so why Herman would walk right up his alley is anyone’s guess.  The Cesar Gracie representative showed why he’s a master of top control, completely neutralizing all of Herman’s attempts to fight back.  It was a win, but hardly an auspicious return to the division for Shields.

What’s next for Herman: (7-6 UFC, L1) I really thought that Herman was due for a breakthrough, but Shields is a tough customer and there’s no shame in this loss.  A win over Rousimar Palhares (who was scratched from this card), C.B. Dollaway or Costa Philippou could go a long way towards getting his momentum back.

What’s next for Shields: (3-2 UFC, W2) Okami, but other top 10 options include Mark Muñoz or the winner of the Vitor Belfort/Alan Belcher contest.

*Catchweight Bout (157.5): Donald Cerrone d. Melvin Guillard via KO (1:16, R1)

*Guillard missed weight and had to forfeit 20% of his purse

What you need to know: Cerrone and Guillard actually formed a friendship during Guillard’s time training with Greg Jackson and this match was put together hastily to accommodate Cerrone.  A grateful Cerrone promised a war and Guillard was happy to comply.

How it went down: Remind me never to become friends with Cerrone, because that apparently gives him permission to punch the F out of you.  Neither fighter had ever been knocked out before, so when Cerrone was rocked early that was already surprising.  When he recovered and wobbled Guillard with a glancing kick to the head, everyone at the bar I was in started to freak out.  Then Cerrone followed up with the hardest punch in human history or as my friend William and I called it, “What would have happened if Jermaine O’Neal had successfully punched that fat guy during the Malice at the Palace”.  Guillard went down like he’d been shot, which all things considered, would probably have hurt less.

What’s next for Guillard: (11-7 UFC, L1) I used to be a fan of this basketball player named Darius Miles.  Every year, he’d show marginal improvement and I’d tell all of my friends, “He’s only 21, give him time!”  The next year it would be, “He’s only 22, give him time!”  Then “He’s only 23…” and so on and so forth.  Well, it eventually got to a point where he was he was 27, he’d been in the league for almost a decade and he was still a spot starter.  It was at that point that I gave up on Darius Miles ever being an All-Star.

Guillard is always on the cusp of greatness, but he’s always seemed unable to develop in some key areas (submission defence being one of them).  I guess what I’m saying is he’s only 29, but we might have to accept that this is the best Guillard we’re going to get.  Luckily, the lightweight division is still rife with fresh match-ups for him, including Takanori Gomi, Sam Stout or the winner of the Dennis Hallman/Thiago Tavares bout at UFC 151.

What’s next for Cerrone: (6-1 UFC, W2) Cerrone has been calling out Anthony Pettis and I can’t think of a better opponent than that.

Lightweight Championship Bout: Ben Henderson d. Frankie Edgar via Split Decision (48-47 x2, 46-49)

What you need to know: Edgar is probably my favourite fighter in the UFC.  Even though I felt Henderson won the first fight, it was hardly one-sided and if there’s one thing we should take from Edgar’s title defences it’s that he only gets better with rematches.  His first win over BJ Penn was disputed (even I’m not sure how he won that one) but in their second meeting he gave Penn a whuppin’.  He lost his first meeting with Gray Maynard back in 2008 and then he survived their second encounter with the title on the line.  In their third meeting, he withstood the Maynard onslaught again before knocking the larger man out in the 4th round.  The way I saw it, Henderson didn’t have a chance.

How it went down: The first round was all Henderson.  He killed Edgar with body kicks in the first match and those long legs looked to be the difference again.  Edgar caught the kicks every time, but after they’d connected, which is kind of like catching the blade of a sword after your head has been chopped off.  In this fight, Henderson went down low and Edgar’s calf was turning bright pink.  The last two kicks dropped him and he had to shoot out of desperation, but Henderson shrugged it off.  10-9 Henderson, for sure.

As the second round started, I was getting dreadful flashbacks to the José Aldo/Urijah Faber fight, where Aldo just disintegrated Faber’s legs limiting his mobility.  If Henderson kept it up, the fight was all his.  Sure enough, Henderson landed another big low kick and normally this is where I would cover my eyes, but I had faith.  Edgar slipped a punch and landed a solid overhand right that had Henderson backpedalling.  He shot in to slow down the action and Edgar stopped him, controlling the head.  “My boy’s got this round!” I shouted.  A guillotine choke was easily defended by Henderson, but Edgar definitely won that one.  10-9 Edgar.

The next three rounds were impossible to call.  Henderson started throwing head kicks and I keep thinking that if Edgar were a couple of inches taller he might be dead by now.  Edgar looked good whenever he was able to get his combinations off, but Henderson used his range well and his jab landed consistently.  There was a riveting moment in the 4th round when Edgar tripped Henderson to the mat.  You could hear rumblings in the crowd as Edgar contemplated whether to dive in and risk an up kick like in the first fight.  Henderson got tired of waiting and launched a capoeira kick from his back that actually landed pretty cleanly.  It might have even won him the round.  Both fighters were in top form, exchanging the role of the aggressor and trading blows.  It was extremely difficult for either fighter to land anything dramatic.  I scored the fight 48-47 for Edgar, but I’m biased.  Henderson ended up winning a split decision and I have to admit that Edgar never quite got off.

Afterwards, Edgar threw his hat down in frustration and you could see he was almost in tears.  It wasn’t a graceful reaction, but he was emotional.  Both men felt they’d won the fight.  Edgar knows it’s going to be a long climb back to the top of the mountain, so you can’t blame him for showing his frustration.  He’s never taken a night off inside that cage.  Considering the physical advantages his opponents usually have, he can’t afford to.  When you put that much time, effort and dedication into something and it doesn’t go your way, you’d have to be inhuman not to be upset.  My heart broke for him.

What’s next for Edgar: (9-3-1 UFC, L2) A drop to featherweight if Edgar’s critics have their way.  By any standards, Edgar has had a phenomenal run at lightweight and I would like to see him stay there.  I actually consider fighting at his natural weight to be good thing, due to him not having to deal with the taxing physiological issues that other fighters put themselves through when cutting massive amounts of weight.  As the detrimental effects of weight cutting become more apparent, you’ll see fighters competing a lot closer to their natural weight; in that sense, Edgar is ahead of his time.  Edgar should relax until 2013, at which time he could face Jim Miller (yes, another rematch), Guillard or Jamie Varner (another former WEC champion).

What’s next for Henderson: (5-0 UFC, W5) A hotly anticipated meeting with #1 contender, Nate Diaz.