On paper, UFC Fight Night 26 – or UFC on Fox Sports 1 1, or UFC Fight Night: Sonnen vs. Shogun, or whatever else people were calling this card – looked to be one of the strongest of the year. Usually those cards tend to be solid, but still fall a little short of the hype. This wasn’t one of those cards. All but one or two fights delivered in some form, often with jarring, violent finishes. It was all the UFC could have hoped for to cap off its run on Fox Sports’ new network.
Let’s start at the top; Chael Sonnen managed to control Mauricio “Shogun” Rua for the majority of the first round before shocking everyone by finishing Shogun with a guillotine choke. For Sonnen, this was a big win; it legitimizes his jump to 205, and he managed to submit an opponent with very high level submission grappling ability. It also netted him an extra $50,000 for one of the UFC’s Submission of the Night bonuses. Now everyone from Lyoto Machida to Vitor Belfort is chomping at the bit to get a shot at him. He’ll probably move on to fight either one of them, or Wanderlei Silva in a gimme matchup. As for Shogun, he was eulogized elsewhere before the fight. The hard truth is he hasn’t been the fighter he was since his third knee surgery after the second Machida fight, and getting hammered by Jon Jones and Dan Henderson probably didn’t help matters. Getting finished by Sonnen in the first round is evidence of that. It’s not quite time to hang up the gloves, but that day is drawing ever nearer for the 31 year-old.
On a slightly more enjoyable note was the shocking ending to the Travis Browne-Alistair Overeem co-main event. Overeem held the edge in power and technique, and it showed from the beginning. Overeem hammered Browne with shots from all angles, but particularly knees to the midsection. Browne was dropped a number of times but was never out of it, always maintaining an intelligent, if not necessarily effective, defense. But Overeem, as he is wont to do, began to tire. As he plodded forward, Browne unleashed a front kick that, while lacking the snap found in Anderson Silva’s or Lyoto Machida’s, was still sufficient to drop Ubereem. Browne followed with hammerfists and Mario Yamasaki stepped in. It was slightly premature, though Overeem had no complaints.
There have been people who said Overeem paid for disrespecting his opponent again. That’s not true; Overeem has a history of gassing himself out and being unable to handle getting hit [Ed. Note, Part 1: I'm not saying...]. This is merely the latest manifestation of those flaws, which are exacerbated by fighting well above his natural weight [Ed. Note, Part 2: ...I'm just saying - SF]. At this point, he’s one of the UFC’s most spectacular busts (but not the only one on this card!) with a drug bust and two consecutive KO losses. He’ll get one more chance to redeem himself, but I wouldn’t hold out hope for a title run in his tenure. As for Browne, the man can take a beating. That said, Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos won’t be so likely to let him off the hook should he face them. He’s got work to do as well. But I bet those ribs of his feel better after winning one of the UFC’s two KO of the Night bonuses.
Urijah Faber proved yet again why he’s one of the best fighters in history – perhaps the best – to never hold UFC gold. Despite getting mounted by Iuri Alcantara within ten seconds of the first round, Faber maintained his poise and battle through submission attempts and back mount before gaining top position and raining elbows from the guard. From there on, it was all Faber. Alcanatara was a very legitimate opponent, but he simply couldn’t match Faber’s pace, wrestling and scrambling abilities. There are few who can. Another Faber title shot is probably as inevitable as the sun rising.
In what promised to be the Battle of the Gritty White Dudes, Matt Brown ended Mike Pyle’s night in under a minute. After dropping Pyle with a right to the temple, Brown unloaded on his adversary with brutal rights as he stood over him, separating Pyle from his senses and winning the other KO of the Night bonus. Brown, on a six-fight win streak with virtually every fight being eminently watchable, called out GSP after the fight. He’s not quite there yet, but give him the winner of Condit-Kampmann and we’ll see how he handles himself there. Pyle, on the other hand, has never quite managed to translate his fearsome gym reputation into the octagon. It’s unfortunate, and at 37, it’s unlikely to change at this point. Still, he’s talented enough to hang around for a while longer.
I mentioned Overeem wasn’t the only bust on this card. Well, the other honor belongs to TUF 17 sensation – and, as many people seem to forget, runner up – Uriah Hall. After a decent first round against late replacement John Howard, who is a natural welterweight, Hall seemed to fade. Not as a byproduct of conditioning so much as dismay stemming from the fact that his opponent simply wasn’t going to be intimidated. As a result, Hall simply seemed to withdraw into himself. There were rare moments of brilliance, such as when he almost took Howard’s back in the second round, but by and large he allowed Howard to push the pace and land shots. As a result, he deservedly lost a split decision in a relatively dull fight – perhaps the only one on the card – and will undoubtedly face the ire of the UFC should he lose again. His back’s against the wall, and if his fights are any indication, he might not respond too well to that
Finally, Michael Johnson showed improved striking in dispatching a sluggish Joe Lauzon. Lauzon was dropped twice in the first round and never seemed to figure out Johnson. Faced with a superior striker, he made no real effort to drag the fight to the ground, even as Johnson began to tire later in the fight. It wasn’t his best performance to say the least, but it was just the opposite for the mercurial Johnson. Johnson’s always been inconsistent as a fighter, but the overall trend of his fights show that he’s been improving. If he can maintain the level he showed last night – and avoid the ground at all costs – he’s got the ability to go places.
Just to touch on the preliminary card, Michael McDonald and Brad Pickett won fight of the night for their brutal two round scrap. McDonald scored a 10-8 first round, dropping Pickett multiple times. It’s a testament to Pickett’s toughness that he made it to the second, and a testament to McDonald’s mental toughness that he didn’t let that dissuade him. A bit fatigued, though, he found himself losing the second round to Pickett, on his back. In the blink of an eye, the tables turned as McDonald snatched a triangle choke from nowhere and, after some maneuvering, secured the tap and one Submission of the Night bonus as well. He’s a thought; have him go toe-to-toe with Uriah Faber.
Other than that, Conor McGregor had an excellent showing against Max Holloway, but possibly blew out his knee in the process. Hopefully not; the hype behind the man is, by all appearances, justified. Steven Siler scored a brutal knockout of former WEC Champion Mike Brown. And Diego Brandao managed to win an entertaining but progressively slow fight, living up to his reputation as someone who tends to gas after round one.
From top to bottom, almost every fight on this card delivered in some fashion. The decisions were exciting, the finishes were violent and shocking. The production was, by and large, professional and streamlined. Granted, we didn’t have Goldberg bellowing “IT IS ALLLLLL OVER!”, but maybe that’s something you need to ease a network audience into over time. All in all, this was the card the UFC wanted to have for its debut on Fox Sports 1, and it could not have gone better.