By Elias Cepeda
UFC on Fox 7 was a violent and almost uniformly fought at a furious pace over the course of twelve preliminary and main card bouts. Eight bouts finished inside of the distance, and the main event was five close-fought, damaging rounds long.
Welterweights Matt Brown and Jordan Mein each got extra $50,000 bonus checks for putting on the fight of the night and Josh Thomson and Yoel Romero each got knockout of the night awards and 50k bonuses.
Thomson returned to the UFC in style by handing Nate Diaz his first ever stoppage loss – a second round TKO stoppage. Romero caught Clifford Starks with a flying knee and won a quick via quick TKO.
Neither Daniel Cormier nor Frank Mir won extra bonuses for their three-round heavyweight bout. Cormier did continue to show that he is a legitimate contender in the division, on the strength of his world-class wrestling skills and speed, despite being vastly undersized.
As they took the center of the Octagon, the smaller Cormier looked like he was facing his uncle in the large former two-time heavyweight champ Mir. Once Cormier got a hold of Mir, over and over again throughout the fight, it was the two-time Olympic wrestler that looked like a man fighting a child.
Cormier clinched with Mir, pressed him against the cage, let go and, on separation, unloaded nasty hooks and uppercuts to the head and body of Mir, along with elbows and knees before clinching back up and rinsing and repeating. As the fight wore on and Mir proved helpless against Cormier’s strategy, referee Herb Dean didn’t like Cormier’s dominance so he tried, as all refs disturbingly seem to be instructed to do, to give Mir more of a chance by breaking up the clinch work quickly but that couldn’t stop the wrestler from continuing to close the distance.
Mir would not be mentally broken despite eating big shots and being ground down, and he fought hard in the third round – throwing hard punches and knees. The ones that did connect, however, were absorbed by Cormier, and he just went back to pressing Mir against the cage and doing short striking work at will.
Cormier fought the smartest fight he could against a much larger, more experienced opponent. The cerebral fighter knew that the middle was his friend. Had he stayed out on the outside, Mir might have used his far superior reach to land big shots.
Had Cormier taken Mir down (he did so once, with a single leg, but did not follow Mir to the ground. Choosing instead, to let the Jiu Jitsu master stand up and eat an over hand right), he would have let the black belt do work where he was most comfortable and dangerous. So, Cormier did what he should have – control the clinch and then use his superior speed to land at will on separation.
I don’t know how long this lightweight/welterweight-heighted phenom will continue to be successful at heavyweight, but so far he can count two former UFC heavyweight champs as wins, as well as the #1 contender to the belt right now, Antonio Silva. It has been fun to watch Cormier figure out how to win fights at heavyweight.
But if his teammate Cain Velasquez stays champion of the division, maybe we’ll see him drop down at least one weight class and challenge there. He’ll either look even stronger there or will see his speed advantage over most opponents slip away.
Benson Wins Another Close Decision
At this point, UFC lightweight champion Ben Henderson probably feels confident that he appeals to a wide cross-section of judges. He’s won seven consecutive decision in the UFC, his biggest bouts being the most closely-contested.
His number one contender’s fight with Clay Guida in 2011 was close but his two title wins over Frankie Edgar were even closer. Henderson pretty much controlled his late 2012 title defense against Diaz so there was no controversy in his winning that decision.
“Smooth” Henderson’s split decision Saturday night over Gilbert Melendez is probably the closest and most controversial win of the champ’s career, however. I scored both his fights with Edgar for Henderson, as well as his win over Guida. But Saturday’s main event looked like Melendez’ fight.
This writer can see the fantastic, competitive fight conceivably and reasonably being judged in either man’s favor, but the way I saw it was Gilbert clearly winning rounds one and two, and making a good case for himself in rounds three and, especially, five.
Melendez said after the fight that he was, understandably, heart-broken by the decision loss. It is probably little consolation but at least he showed that what he and his teammates have been saying for years as he labored outside of the UFC – that Melendez is at the very top of the sport’s best division – is true.
I didn’t imagine that Melendez would be able to match Henderson’s strength or deal with his speed or kicks, but he did just that – countering sharply, catching most of the champ’s knees and kicks, taking him down and landing his own inside leg kick time and time again. Melendez fought the fight of his life but came away empty-handed.
He finally made it to the UFC and showed that if he’s not the best lightweight in the world, it is, in political election terms, at least a statistical tie between he and one or two other guys. Melendez may not have a strap to show for his winning effort Saturday night, but at least more than a handful of fans got to watch him do what he does this time.