Wednesday, February 24, 2010

UFC 110: Review -- Five Fighters In Five Divisions Take Big Steps Up

I had a successful night with my official predictions at UFC 110, going 6-3 (%66.7) with a hit on the main event, but, more importantly, I thoroughly enjoyed nearly every fight on the card. More than just being entertaining, the bouts at UFC 110 were laden with meaning for the future of each of the UFC's five weight divisions because, following the night's events, we ended up with one new, legitimate, contender at every weight-class.

So rather than focus on why Mirko "Cro-Cop" couldn't seem to finish "The Hippo," whether Stephan Bonnar got ripped off, how it is that C.B. Dollaway keeps winning fights, or when there will be another Te Huna sighting, let's focus instead on the fab five fighters who each made humongous splashes down under.

[Picture props:]

Heavyweight: Cain Velasquez def. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira by TKO, Rd. 1

The Fight: Cain Velasquez (8-0) was a slight betting favourite at UFC 110, but, in the hearts of many longtime MMA fans, this was a major upset. Cain did not simply defeat "Minotauro" Nogueira, he out-classed him on the feet and TKO'ed him in the first round, which had never happened to "Big Nog" before. Cain's boxing looked better than ever, especially the tight right-left-right combination he used to finish the fight, and he also proved that he doesn't need to use his wrestling to beat world-class opposition.

What's Next?: They say that to become a legend you must first defeat a legend. That means two things in this case, one is that Velasquez is now officially a legendary MMA fighter, and the other is that Cain now has a huge bull's eye figuratively pasted on him. If the winner of Frank Mir vs. Shane Carwin (UFC 111, March 27th) is medically fit to fight Brock Lesnar in July, which seems pretty likely, Velasquez will likely next fight the winner of Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Junior Dos Santos (UFC on VS. 1, March 21st). In fact, there is really no other option considering what those five big men (Lesnar, Mir, Carwin, Dos Santos & Gonzaga) have done, along with Velasquez, to separate themselves from the pack at 265lbs. At most, two wins in a row for any one of them means a guaranteed title shot.

Light Heavyweight: Ryan Bader def. Keith Jardine by TKO, Rd. 2

The Fight: Forget that it was tied going into the third round, and that Ryan Bader (11-0)'s takedowns, which looked effortless in round one, weren't landing throughout the second. The pivotal moment in this fight came when "Darth" Bader clipped Jardine with a right two-minutes into the third round. Jardine's knees were wobbled, but he would have recovered quickly if Bader hadn't lunged in with a flying-knee-to-left-hook combination that put "The Dean" to sleep. That kind of killer instinct should serve Bader well as he moves up yet again in the most ruthlessly violent division in the UFC.

What's Next?: Ryan Bader, who is now 4-0 in the UFC, will certainly need to take another significant step up after KO'ing Jardine at UFC 110, but I don't think he'll be given anybody in the top-five. That leaves the possibility of a fight against one of the losers of either Brandon Vera vs. Jon Jones (UFC on Vs. 1, March 21st) or Forrest Griffin vs. Antonio "Lil' Nog" Nogueira (UFC 114, May 29th). Another option would be Matt Hamill who is currently unscheduled, but is technically coming off of a DQ win.

Middleweight: Wanderlei Silva def. Michael Bisping by Unanimous Decision

The Fight: I may have ultimately been incorrect in predicting this fight as a split-decision win for "The Count," but it was definitely more closely contested than many observers assumed it would be. Bisping feels he was robbed, but I believe the decision was accurate and, in any case, this is a great outcome for fans because another loss for Wanderlei would have spelled disaster for his career. At middleweight, Wanderlei looks quite a bit faster and can probably absorb more clean shots, but we are all going to have to accept that he will never again be as fearsome and ferocious as he was in PRIDE.

What's Next?: This one is a no-brainer. Nearly-undefeated middleweight and fellow PRIDE super-star Yoshihiro Akiyama has been calling out "The Axe Murderer" for weeks and to deny him that fight would make zero sense for anyone. In a perfect world for Zuffa, they could put this fight on in Japan, but pulling off such a coup in a short period of time looks extremely unlikely. For that reason, many have already speculated that this fight could occur at UFC 115 in Vancouver B.C.'s GM Place arena on June 12th of this year.

Welterweight: Chris Lytle def. Brian Foster by Submission (Knee Bar), Rd. 1

The Fight: Let's be clear, Chris Lytle (28-17-5) is still the furthest away from a title shot out of anyone on this list, but he did show superb skills in this fight against a hungry young fighter and definitely deserves a step-up in competition. What's more, Lytle showed a lot of heart in weathering an early storm against Foster, while also remaining calm enough to sink in that knee bar.

What's Next?: This victory brings Lytle up to three wins in his last four UFC fights, with his only loss being a somewhat controversial split-decision in a truly epic fight with Marcus Davis. I expect Lytle to get one more shot at the big time in his next fight against the likes of either Mike Swick or Martin Kampmann. "Lights Out" could possibly even face the loser of Josh Koscheck vs. Paul Daley (UFC 113, May 8th) since a fight against another talented striker is what most fans want to see from Lytle.

Lightweight: George Sotiropoulos def. Joe Stevenson by Unanimous Decision

The Fight: Rarely has such a one-sided beatdown been awarded "Fight of The Night" honours, but, then again, rarely does a local fighter, who happens to be a massive odds underdog, put on the performance of his life against such a well-known fighter as Stevenson. It truly was the highest emotional plateau of the evening, and a moment many Australian MMA fans will never forget. As for the fight itself, what can be said, really? Sotiropoulos was better standing up and much, much, much, better on the ground. Stevenson scored a few takedowns, but did nothing appreciable with them at all.

What's Next: George deserves a step up in competition, but there aren't many clear steps up from Stevenson available. A fight against Gray Maynard might be a bridge too far at this point, but most other lightweights already have bouts scheduled with only the winner of Kenny Florian vs. Takanori Gomi (UFC Fight Night 21, March 31st) or the loser of BJ Penn vs. Frank Edgar (UFC 112, April 10th) representing that crucial step up. As a result, Sotiropoulos may have to accept a high-profile fight against a fairly beatable opponent if only to stay busy. What about giving Mac Danzig a call? Just a thought.

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