Totally illegal in NCAA competition. (Photo: UFC.com)
“It’s usually not like this.” With that text I found myself apologizing to a UFC-virgin for the first time in a long time. My friend had just told me that she was at home watching the the show on FOX, without any provocation from me mind you. “This is that fighting you like, right???”. I assured her that the event had yet to capture the energy and excitement indicative of the sport. “I’m going back and forth between this and figure skating,” she replied. I can’t really say I blame her, either.
While we expected plenty of grappling in the bouts themselves, the wrestling theme seemed to carry on throughout the production at large. The usually-charismatic Jon Jones wrestled with his notes, relying on them not just for in-depth fight analysis but for simple things like his thoughts on fighting Rashad. The opening act wrestled with fatigue, leading to a performance as exhausting for fans as it was for the competitors in the cage. And once again, FOX wrestled with an underwhelming broadcast that left the most exciting action behind in the prelims.
Enough belly aching about the show itself, let’s take a look at what made such a promising event so forgettable for the masses.
The first fight of the FOX broadcast was a dreadful match between Demian Maia and Chris Weidman. The All-American wrestler showed little fear of Maia’s proven BJJ, taking him down numerous times throughout the bout. Though he went down without much trouble, Maia impressively scrambled back to his feet more often than not. His striking, however, left much to be desired. The Brazilian showcased limited weapons in the stand-up, though neither man went for the kill, even when they had the stamina to do so. Weidman’s cardio woes are easily forgiven; he took this fight on eleven-days notice following Munoz’s departure from the card. Maia’s lethargy is a bit less understandable. The pair were beyond exhausted in round three, opting to forgo the opportunities they found themselves in simply because it was far less tiring to do nothing at all. Weidman took the split decision in a (hopefully) easily forgotten performance. As the lone lead-in for the co-main events, this bout really set the stage for a disappointing evening.
Perhaps it’s best that Michael Bisping and Chael Sonnen had a scant eleven days to talk up their bout, as it didn’t live up to the hastened hype it received. It’s not their fault, really. They both fought their asses off, it’s just that each man made the other look bad. The opening seconds reflected what many expected from this bout, with Chael landing an instant takedown and going to work. A moment later, however, Bisping threw the script out of the Octagon and popped right back up to his feet. His defensive wrestling wasn’t limited to the ground, either. The Brit surprised
many everyone by repeatedly circling off the fence, pinning Sonnen against the cage and controlling much of the action. Though not much happened in the clinch, he outworked “The American Gangster” in the center of the cage as well, finding a home for his hands. Round three was all Chael; the self-proclaimed Middleweight champion put “The Count” in peril while taking his back and mounting him. If Twitter is any indication, exactly 50% of you are outraged with Sonnen’s unanimous decision victory. If even industry experts can’t agree on who won and by what margin, what must new fans have thought of the outcome? A fist fight should be a relatively easy affair to judge, but a bout like this puts MMA’s nebulous scoring system in the spotlight. The UFC now has the momentous rematch with Anderson Silva that they’d hoped for, but Chael’s performance hardly commanded the second bite at the apple like his submission win over Stann did.
The main event pitted perennial #1 contender Rashad Evans against the undefeated Phil Davis. Evans insisted that he would out-wrestle “Mr. Wonderful” convincingly, collegiate pedigrees be damned, and was confident that the rising star would fade under the bright lights of a high-stakes bout. As the final seconds of round one ticked away, and he stared up at those bright lights with his back against the canvas and his arms pinned in a crucifix, Davis must have heard Rashad’s claims echoing in his mind. Davis’ stand-up, though vastly improved, was still too sluggish for Rashad’s fast hands, and he repeatedly found himself in compromising positions on the ground throughout the bout. At times Davis looked disillusioned, but he never stopped fighting, he never allowed Rashad to put him away. He’ll benefit from this loss and has ample time to develop his skills and grow as a fighter. Evans will find no such respite. Following his unanimous decision win, the UFC has once again dangled the Jon Jones carrot in front of him. Fortunately he has little time to question if the fight will actually take place. The former training partners and friends are slated to dance at UFC 145 in Atlanta, Georgia. Assuming Evans picked up no injuries in his five round battle, this gives him just enough time to recover and get in a full training camp for the April 21st bout.
You need look no further than last night’s bonus checks for proof that the best of last night’s tussles were left on the cutting room floor. Lavar Johnson hurt Joey Beltran early with body shots, but it was a torrent of brutal uppercuts that dropped “The Mexicutioner” late in first round. Johnson picked up $65k for the evening’s “Knock out of the Night” and the first win for a Strikeforce heavyweight since their formal assimilation into the Octagon. Eric Wisely’s UFC debut was short lived. Charles Oliveira welcomed the rookie to the cage with some hard leg kicks before taking him to the ground and raining down shots. The Brazilian quickly transitioned from leg lock to leg lock before catching a rare calf-slicer and drawing the tap in just 1:43 of the first round. A terrific debut at Featherweight for “Do Bronx” was made all the sweeter with a check for the “Submission of the Night”. In the evening’s “Fight of the Night”, Evan Dunham and Nick Lentz swung away early and often. There was little feeling out process as the two traded shots in close quarters throughout the first frame. Both fighters slowed in round two, but their assaults were just as spirited. Dunham battered Lentz on the ground, swelling and cutting the fighter just below his eye. The damage was serious enough to limit his vision and force cage-side physicians to halt the bout between the second and third frames.
Full results: (via MMAWeekly.com )
Main Bouts (on Fox at 8 p.m. ET on Fox):
-Rashad Evans def. Phil Davis by Unanimous Decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45), R5
-Chael Sonnen def. Michael Bisping by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28), R3
-Chris Weidman def. Demian Maia by Split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28), R3
Preliminary Bouts (on Fuel TV at 5 p.m. ET on Fuel TV):
-Evan Dunham def. Nick Lentz by TKO (doctor stoppage) at 5:00, R2.
-Mike Russow def. Jon Olav Einemo by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
-Cub Swanson def. George Roop by TKO (punches) at 2:22, R2
-Charles Oliveira def. Eric Wisely via submission at 1:43, R1
-Michael Johnson def. Shane Roller by unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
-Lavar Johnson def. Joey Beltran by knockout (punches) at 4:24, R1
-Chris Camozzi def. Dustin Jacoby by submission (front choke) at 1:08, R3