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Cutting Through The Bullsh*t: UFC 180 Edition


(Photo via Getty)

By Alex Giardini

For a highly anticipated fight card marred by injuries to its premiere fighters and an ongoing crisis in Mexico, UFC 180: “Werdum vs. Hunt” turned out to be quite the showcase.

UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, who had a card built entirely around him for the promotion’s first trip to the country with support from Kelvin Gastelum, Diego Sanchez, and Erik Perez, had to bow out of a title fight against Fabricio Werdum a few weeks removed from the championship encounter. This was after both Perez and Sanchez were already out with of their respective scraps with wounds.

When it comes to the champion, there’s always a lingering concern about his injuries. Multiple setbacks which required surgery (including his latest) has seen Velasquez fight six times in four years, against three different opponents.

But the show had to go on, which means the attention turned to Werdum and a combat sports legend serving as an unexpected title challenger in an interim heavyweight championship bout.

Mark Hunt, the main event replacement fighter who lost his UFC debut to Sean McCorkle and presumably left Zuffa brass doing the triple facepalm after agreeing to serve him his owed fights, had the possibility of sending every UG alumnus into an ejaculation frenzy by winning a UFC belt in 2014.

Werdum, on the other hand, would solidify his status as a well-deserved second best heavyweight in the world by winning, really flourishing in his second UFC stint.

Right off the bat, the battle was on. Hunt dropped Werdum, and consistently blasted “Vai Cavalo” every time the latter would try to close the distance. It was looking like the former Pride and K-1 slugger was going to achieve the impossible.

Then, he died by the gun.

Werdum clocked Hunt with a flying knee, following up with punches and left Herb Dean no choice but to call it a night for the “Super Samoan.” It was the perfect conclusion to a surprisingly great night of fights. The result was a disappointing one for Hunt, however, at least he got his chance. It’s nice to see a veteran like him acquire a shot at glory when opportunities like that are so limited in today’s MMA game. It’s not like he’s one to talk his way into things.

Now, Werdum’s chin isn’t great, but he could take a bomb of a shot. This also solidifies Werdum as something pretty significant in terms of the greatest heavyweights of all-time in MMA, but it’s hard to say what. He’s not Muhammed Ali by any stretch of the imagination, yet in the world of MMA, you’ve got to give this guy a boatload of praise. He’s a decorated, multi-time world jiu-jitsu champion, he more or less sent Fedor Emelianenko into a downward spiral back in 2010 by doing something unheard of at the time, and since losing a lackluster bout in Strikeforce to Alistair Overeem in 2011, he’s on an impressive five-fight winning streak in the UFC, with finishes over Hunt, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and lopsided decision wins against Travis Browne and Roy Nelson. Obviously, we have to wait for Velasquez to come back in order to see where the Brazilian fits in the grand scheme of things. Truthfully, he’s best active heavyweight in MMA right now, after a lengthy career competing for the top organizations in the world.

Gastelum finished off Jake Ellenberger by rear naked choke in the co-main event, sending the latter into a downward spiral of his own. The Ultimate Fighter 17 winner is looking like one of the better prospects to emerge from the exhaustive and overdone reality show in recent memory, and it’s time for the old “step up in competition” treatment, which means a top five foe. As for the “Juggernaut,” he’s still good enough to beat anyone you could think of that lives on a Fight Pass prelim, but he’s in some hot water, suffering his third consecutive defeat. Then again, you try beating Rory MacDonald, Robbie Lawler, and a 23-year-old stud.

It’s nice to see the UFC mention Conor McGregor every time there’s a featherweight contest, and last night was no different. Before Ricardo Lamas and Dennis Bermudez engaged in warfare, the broadcast team talked about how these two heavy-hitters had to talk trash to generate interest, since the savior of Ireland does that. It certainly can’t be because they choose to fight for a living and maybe a psychological edge would be to get inside each other’s heads?

In the end, Lamas prevailed, choking out Bermudez with a guillotine, and proved he’s still a force in the 145-pound division — even if the champion Jose Aldo outclassed him at the beginning of the year at UFC 169.

With four first-round finishes and an exciting main event rounding up the main card, you could make the complaint that UFC 180 wasn’t worth the price tag after so many injuries. However, it really served its purpose. With the risk of lot of eyeballs being drawn to that free Spike TV broadcast, it was the best case scenario for the Las Vegas-based organization we have grown to love and (sometimes) hate.

Even those fights that opened up the card, featuring four fighters the average fan is probably unfamiliar with, were both over in the first round and proved to be appropriate fights setting the pace for the night’s flow. The live crowd should be acknowledged, too, as they soaked up every moment, and gave the impression that they were unaware of any sort of unfortunate occurrences, whether it be dealing with UFC 180 or otherwise.

Also, maybe competition helps in the long run, since everyone is talking about the ironically placed counter-promoted shows all at once. Bellator offered the fans a season 11 finale full of violence, nurses as valets to the fighters, and a freaking WCW circa 1992 ramp, while WSOF had an appealing yet darkened fight card, that saw an exiled UFC “gatekeeper” stopped in the main event at WSOF 15. But like you’d expect, UFC was the big winner last night, and they didn’t even win by default; its fighters deserve the praise for salvaging what looked like another average PPV offering. Hell, even the prelims were great. Quick and slick finishes, two TUF: Latin America finale bouts you probably overlooked, an ear explosion complete with a burst of bloodshed, and someone shitting his pants. Come on…we can’t possibly complain here.

And in retrospect, it was hard not to feel bad for Zuffa with the UFC 180 setbacks, even though it’s been more of a benefit of the doubt relationship at this point. But certain events went down the way they did, proving it was the best-case scenario for the brass. The UFC was dealt an ace with this one.

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