Once again, Jim Miller has proven his case that he deserves to be considered among the best in the world at 155 pounds. At UFC 124 he made quick work of hot prospect and devastating finisher Charles Oliveira.
Miller, the older and more experienced fighter, locked on a vicious kneebar to get the submission victory at 1:59 in the very first round.
Oliveira, the youngest fighter in the UFC, was previously undefeated through 14 fights. His last two fights in the UFC both earned him Submission of the Night honors. He is a young kid with tremendous tools who just needs more experience under his belt to become a great fighter.
Jim Miller already has that distinction. He has won his last six fights. He is 8-1 since joining the UFC. His only two career losses came at the hands of current UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar and to the No. 1 contender, the only man to defeat Edgar, Gray Maynard. Both losses came by way of decision.
So what happens next for each fighter?
Joe “Daddy” Stevenson
Charles Oliveira’s first lesson of the night was that experience gives a fighter an advantage. Jim Miller was the more patient fighter. He found his opening and turned it into a victory. Oliveira now needs to focus on getting more experience under his belt.
Joe “Daddy” Stevenson, could be an interesting next opponent for Oliveira. Both fighters are coming off decisive first-round losses at UFC 124. Both have strong Jiu-Jitsu, but Stevenson is definitely the more well-rounded and experienced fighter.
Oliveira will need to prove himself against veteran fighters like Stevenson if he wants to stick around the UFC for much longer.
Charles Oliveira could also find himself facing fan favorite Tyson Griffin.
Tyson Griffin was well on his way to becoming a Lightweight title contender until he suffered three consecutive losses in 2010. The last was a very controversial split decision loss to Nik Lentz, which many, including UFC President Dana White, believed should have gone to Griffin.
While Griffin has a lot of work to do to get back to the top of the division, he is still dangerous. He has six Fight of the Night honors to his credit and would certainly bring the fight to Oliveira.
Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, Benson Henderson or Anthony Pettis?
After the fight, Jim Miller made it clear that he wants shot at the Lightweight title. The only problem is, there is no title shot to be had. Frankie Edgar will defend the UFC Lightweight title against Gray Maynard at UFC 125 on Jan. 1.
Benson Henderson will defend the WEC Lightweight title against Anthony Pettis at WEC 53 on Dec. 16. Then the two remaining title holders will square off to unify the belts.
Somewhere along the line, Miller will need another victory to earn himself a title shot. The quickest way to get there is to beat a contender. Jim Miller may find himself facing one of the losers of one of these bouts, whoever that might be.
Or he just may find himself facing Kenny Florian. For years Ken Flo has played second fiddle in the UFC Lightweight division. He is a great fighter who is always learning, always evolving, and always improving.
Even though Florian is coming off a tough loss to Gray Maynard, he is still considered one of the top Lightweights in the world.
Florian’s loss to Maynard exposed a major hole in his game, so he has been training his wrestling to fix this flaw. A fight with Jim Miller would give Florian another shot at a Division 1 wrestler and a chance to prove his wrestling ability.
Meanwhile, a victory over two-time contender Florian could finally put Miller in the title picture, which is exactly where he wants to be.
The Winner of Evan Dunham vs. Melvin Guillard
These two are set to square off next month at UFC: Fight For The Troops 2 and when they do, expect to see a lot of happy troopers. This should be an explosive fight and the winner could meet Jim Miller next.
Guillard would make a tough opponent for anybody. He’s an exciting fighter who has real knockout power. Since joining Greg Jackson’s camp, he has had three fights in 2010 and won each of them, showing marked improvements in his patience and technique.
Dunham has been nearly unstoppable since his UFC debut. The only blemish on his 11-1 record comes from a recent controversial split decision loss to former UFC Lightweight Champ Sean Sherk. The loss still managed to earn him Fight of the Night and acknowledgement from Dana White that he was “f-ing robbed.”
Dunham is one of the most promising young fighters in the division and is incredibly dangerous standing up and on the ground. He can strike, has an outstanding Jiu-Jitsu game, and excellent submission defense that could give Jim Miller trouble.
It is very possible that Jim Miller meets the winner of Dunham vs. Guillard in a title eliminator.
But then again…
The WEC Lightweights
The deepest division in the UFC is about to get a whole lot deeper. Longtime Zuffa sister promotions UFC and WEC have finally merged. WEC 53 next week on Dec. 16 will be that promotion’s final card. Afterwards, its roster is getting folded into the UFC’s.
This doesn’t change a thing for the Bantamweight and Featherweight divisions, but the WEC Lightweights will now be part of the largest division in the UFC, a division that already had its fair share of standouts.
Fans will be able to see the best from both organizations finally face off, which will include a Champion vs. Champion match to unify the Lightweight Title.
The year 2011 will see copious amounts of Lightweight action as fighters in this new mega-division try to figure out where they stand.
Below are three matchups from WEC 53, whose participants might be in store for Oliveira or Miller.
Donald Cerrone vs. Chris Horodecki
Kamal Shalorus vs. Bart Palascewski
Jamie Varner vs. Shane Roller
Regardless of what comes next for Jim Miller and Charles Oliveira…It’s a bad time to be a Lightweight fighter, and a good time to be a fight fan.
Oh, what difference a year makes. Since last October, three UFC titles, four Strikeforce titles, and ALL THREE WEC titles have changed hands, some of them multiple times. On its own, this fact is hardly shocking. The best mixed martial artists compete multiple times a year. What is noteworthy, however, is that the past 12 months have seen some of the most dominant forces in the history of MMA become, well… less dominant.
As in any other sport, in MMA you can only be the best for so long. At some point even the greatest fighters have to lose. But for some guys, you just can’t believe it until you see it. Wanderlei Silva, Miguel Torres, and even the great Royce Gracie, have all seen an end to their invincibility.
I didn’t see it coming then, and I didn’t see it coming now. Here are the most shocking title shakeups of the year.
#5. Maurício “Shogun” Rua KO’s Lyoto Machida - UFC 113 - May 8, 2010
When Lyoto Machida knocked out Rashad Evans for the UFC Light Heavyweight belt, UFC color commentator Joe Rogan famously summed up the victory, “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the Machida Era.” Machida had increased his record to 15-0. His unique shotokan karate-infused fighting style made him seem elusive, unsolvable, and unstoppable. Rogan, and the rest of the world, thought Lyoto was about to begin a long reign at the top of the 205 lb division. Machida’s first defense of his title, a close decision victory over Shogun Rua, was the most controversial decision of 2009. When the two met again at UFC 113 for an immediate rematch, nobody knew what to expect. Most people thought Machida, a meticulous game planner, would bounce back from the first real test of his career and have a better answer for Shogun. They were wrong. Shogun leveled him in the first round with devastating punches, refusing to leave it in the hands of the judges again.
Total length of the “Machida Era”: 1 or 0 fights, depending on who you ask.
#4. Anderson Silva (barely) Submits Chael Sonnen - UFC 117 - August 7, 2010
Sure, sure… Anderson Silva did not actually lose this fight. He was able to submit Chael Sonnen in the final minutes of the final round. But for first time since 2004, he actually seemed human. Going into this fight, no man in UFC history had been as successful or as feared as Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva. He had set a UFC record with 6 title defenses, obliterating everybody who had the misfortune of facing him in the cage. Silva had been yawning through his competition, seemingly thrashing opponents with one hand tied behind his back.
At UFC 117 all that changed. Chael Sonnen, the very brash and very American contender, did everything he said he was going to do: namely rip “The Spider” off his pedestal, throw him on his back, and punch a hole through his face. For every second of every minute of every round, Sonnen did things to Anderson Silva that nobody had dared dream possible. He just plain beat the hell out of him, earning some 10-8 rounds in the process, while fans around the world watched in complete disbelief. Silva ultimately defended his title, and in the wake of the fight Sonnen tested positive for banned substances. But it was already too late. The evidence was already out there. Anderson Silva, the pound for pound king, is in fact a mortal man and can theoretically be stopped.
#3. Cain Velasquez TKO’s Brock Lesnar - UFC 121 - October 23, 2010
Love him or hate him, Brock Lesnar has undeniably been one of the most relevant names MMA since his UFC debut in 2008. His volatile personality, professional wrestling background, and public career-threatening illness have kept his profile extremely high. Four of the five highest selling UFC Pay Per Views have been cards he’s headlined. But forget all of that. In just 6 fights he was able to win the UFC Heavyweight belt and defended it twice (tying the record for most defenses of that title). And not only that, he really beat the crap out of people. His ability to talk trash and look like a terrifying psycho, coupled with his destruction of opponent after opponent had many MMA fans touting Lesnar as an instant legend and an invincible champ.
Again, they were all so very wrong. On Saturday at UFC 121, Cain Velasquez, the undefeated, ever-improving workhorse, dethroned the champ… during Brocktober no less! In the course of one round Cain was able to neutralize Lesnar’s powerful wrestling and outstrike him into a bloody mess. It was a triumph of technique over physique. There’s something amazing about seeing a man of Brock Lesnar’s size get beat up. It feels like a dream, like you are seeing something you know isn’t possible in real life.
#2. Frankie Edgar def. BJ Penn - UFC 118 - August 28, 2010
When BJ Penn lost his belt to Frankie Edgar at UFC 112 it was one of the most hotly contested and controversial decisions of 2010. It was a close fight, but a fight many feel should have gone to Penn on the scorecards. Even still, there had to be a reason Penn was unable to dismantle Edgar the way he had dismantled every other lightweight in the division since 2007. It must’ve been a knee injury. Or a sinus infection that cost him 3 weeks of training camp. Maybe he just underestimated Frankie Edgar and the kid got the best of him. BJ was notorious for coasting on natural talent alone and not putting in the hard work.
Whatever the reason may have been, one thing was clear: it wasn’t going to happen again. A healthy BJ Penn was going bounce back from his first challenge in years and return, newly motivated, to the Octagon to destroy Edgar… guaranteed! Before UFC 112, BJ hadn’t lost a fight at 155 since 2002. Nobody in that weight class had even managed to take him down once in that same time period. BJ had a reputation for being one of the most vicious, tenacious, destructive fighters in MMA, just ask Sean Sherk or Diego Sanchez’s faces. Nevertheless, at UFC 118 he was picked apart once again by Frankie Edgar. Penn had no answer for Edgar’s quickness and infinite gas tank. He looked tired, sluggish, helpless, and bested.
It may not have been pretty. It may not have been exciting. But Frankie Edgar did the impossible… again.
#1. Fabricio Werdum Submits Fedor Emelianenko - Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum - June 26, 2010
Hands down the greatest title shakeup of 2010: Fedor Emelianenko, “The Last Emperor”, the Baddest Man on the Planet, finally lost. The fight was not for any promotion’s gold, but the title in question was far greater than any mere belt. Fedor Emelianenko was unquestionably the greatest Heavyweight fighter on the planet. He was both feared and loved, and if anyone ever had a reputation for being literally unstoppable, it was him. He had faced the best of the best for his entire career. We had seen him escape submissions and withstand damage that should have killed normal human beings (e.g. being suplexed on his head by Kevin Randleman.) Since his first professional fight on May 21, 2000, Fedor had amassed 32 victories with no legitimate losses, on his way to winning the Rings Heavyweight and Openweight Tournament Titles, Pride Heavyweight Championship and Heavyweight Grand Prix, and WAMMA Heavyweight Title.
While nobody could question Fabricio Werdum’s competency as a fighter, the bout was seen as a major step down in competition for Emelianenko, just another lackluster matchup put together by Strikeforce to keep Fedor away from their champion, Alistair Overeem. Somebody must have forgotten to tell that to Fabricio Werdum. The BJJ ace was able to wrap Fedor up in a vicious triangle choke/armbar in the first minute of the fight, submitting him at the 1:09 mark, shocking the world in the process, dropping jaws around the globe.
Fedor’s future remains to be seen. Have age and years of fighting finally taken their toll on the Russian? Or will he back in top form? If he does return, it will be without the title of World’s Greatest… at least for now.
Frankie Edgar’s unanimous decision victory over BJ Penn for the UFC Lightweight Championship at UFC 112 remains the worst decision I’ve had the misfortune of witnessing this year, possibly this lifetime. How a single judge, let alone all three, could watch that fight and agree Frankie was the better man is beyond me. Luckily I’ve cooled down since my last post on the subject: http://mmade.tumblr.com/post/544255916/bj-penns-loss-is-a-loss-for-mma. And luckily, the rematch will be held this Saturday at UFC 118 in Boston. It’s a great opportunity for both men. For Edgar, it’s a chance to prove his victory wasn’t a fluke. For Penn, it’s an opportunity to reclaim his rightful throne at the top of the Lightweight division.
During the first fight, there is no question that BJ Penn was not performing at the top of his ability. Reports surfaced of BJ missing training camp, recovering from a sinus infection, and battling knee injury. Whatever the reasons may be, Frankie fought a great fight, and BJ didn’t. This Saturday, BJ should be healthy and has a lot more motivation. It is my humble opinion that he will decimate Frankie Edgar, refusing to leave this one up to the judges. But there’s always a chance the kid from New Jersey surprises me again. There’s always a chance that Edgar just happens to be that lucky fighter who has BJ Penn’s number.
Every so often a fighter comes along who brings an arsenal of tools to the cage that nobody can figure out how to deal with. They are riddles. And until someone solves them, there’s not a whole lot of tape out there to help you prepare for them. When Tim Sylvia first hit the scene nobody had an answer for his long frame, hard to read stance, and powerful boxing. There was a time when he was one of the most feared men in the Heavyweight division. Now he’s barely relevant and fighting circus freaks like strongman Mariusz Pudzianowski. Lyoto Machida arrived in the UFC with an undefeated record and an elusive Shotokan Karate style that seemed impossible to figure out. When he knocked out Rashad Evans, scooping up the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship and increasing his record to 15-0 in the process, it was the dawn of “The Machida Era”… an era which lasted either one or zero fights depending on who you ask. His riddle was cracked by the pressure and aggression of Shogun Rua. You can even look as far back to the origins of the UFC and the Gracie Family to find the sport’s first riddle. When Royce Gracie started competing in the UFC nobody had an answer for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Nobody. His family’s fighting style helped him defeat a slew of fighters, some nearly twice his size, for seven years before he was handed his first loss. The only way to solve the BJJ riddle was to train extensively in it. Now BJJ isn’t just a discipline it’s a vital stat.
Edgar is not one of those riddles. He certainly brings top-flight speed, cardio, and movement to the cage. He can outpace most fighters in his division and has shown he can last a full 25 minutes. But his performance against BJ Penn seemed less like true greatness and more like fortuitous timing. Gray Maynard, who is a top 10 Lightweight for sure, but who has never really impressed me, already solved any riddle Edgar may have posed. Their fight in 2008 showed Edgar doesn’t have the size or strength to stop solid takedowns. Edgar has also never possessed the grappling prowess to really be dangerous off his back. Maynard even did a pretty good job standing with Edgar in that fight. There is no riddle. Frankie Edgar is good but he’s not that good. He is, however, very, very lucky.
He has been in the right place at the right time, time and time again. The winner of Gray Maynard vs. Nate Diaz at Ultimate Fight Night 20 in January was originally supposed to get a shot at the Lightweight title. However, their bought was marred by poor performances by both fighters. Maynard got the victory in an unimpressive split decision, but the real winner of that fight was Frankie Edgar. He was coming off a victory over Matt Veach (who?… exactly), a last minute replacement for Kurt Pellegrino. Maynard-Diaz was such a bad fight that it earned Frankie Edgar a title shot by default. He was in the right place at the right time again when he just so happened to step into the cage with BJ Penn at his absolute worst. Penn was listless, sluggish, and clearly not 100% for that fight. And even still, Penn appeared be outperforming Edgar and winning the fight on the scorecards. Frankie’s hot streak continued, however, as three of the only people in the world who would score that fight for Edgar happened to be sitting at the judges table. Lightning struck, all the planets aligned, and a new Lightweight Champion was crowned. The gods smiled down on young Frankie that day. And there’s just no way it can happen again. He has no ways to win this fight.
While I’m tossing out predictions. Kenny Florian will stop Gray Maynard at UFC 118 to earn another shot at the title. Florian has been finishing off legends and Maynard, while still undefeated, has been eking out lackluster decisions against far worse competition. They are simply in different classes.
Before his bout with BJ Penn four months ago at UFC 112, Frankie Edgar wasn’t even widely-regarded as a top 10 Lightweight. One fluke victory later and he’s ranked #1 by Sherdog.com. I understand the logic behind the ranking, but for the past four months he has seemed a little out of place sitting atop BJ Penn, Kenny Florian, Eddie Alvarez, Gil Melendez, Shinya Aoki, and even Gray Maynard. Frankie Edgar does not have the size, strength, or ability to stay at the top of the Lightweight division for much longer. In fact, by my count, he’s got about one day left to enjoy his time there before his rematch with Penn at UFC 118. Frankie Edgar is not a riddle that remains to be solved. He’s a solid fighter, a hard worker, and has tons of heart, but what got him that title was dumb luck.
His luck runs out tomorrow at UFC 118.
Anderson Silva is still the UFC Middleweight Champion, and he is still the greatest pound for pound fighter in the world. But last night at UFC 117 in Oakland, CA, Chael Sonnen proved that he is right up there with the best. He had all but beaten Silva, and taken both of those crowns away from him, when he got caught in the Spider’s web as Silva locked on a deep triangle choke to submit him in the closing minutes of the final round.
This was one of the most one-sided fights in Anderson Silva’s career (a career defined by one-sided fights), but for the first time, it was Silva’s opponent who was doing the dominating. Sonnen’s performance was nothing short of spectacular, even if he did not notch a victory. He fought his fight from the opening bell and overwhelmed Silva with constant pressure and his infinite cardio. Not only did Sonnen neutralize Silva’s legendary striking, which has terrorized the UFC since 2006, he actually got the better of the Spider in some of their standup exchanges. The story of this fight was the relentless wrestling and ground and pound of Chael Sonnen. He came in fearlessly, ripped Silva down from the pedestal that fans and experts alike have placed him on, slammed him onto the ground of cold hard reality, and pounded him out for almost every minute of the 5 round Championship fight. Up until this fight, Silva had lost only one or two rounds in his 11 consecutive UFC victories. Last night he lost every round decisively, some by a 10-8 margin. While Silva eventually got the win, Sonnen was the star of the fight and proved he was every bit the fighter he talked himself up to be.
Anderson Silva proved a lot last night as well, although he didn’t look as good doing it. The rarely seen ground game of Anderson Silva was on display. He spent most of the fight on his back but did not take much damage, and eventually locked up a beautiful triangle choke submission in the 11th hour. Sonnen brought the fight to Silva like no other fighter before him. He forced Silva to fight with all of his heart or lose everything, and Silva was able to rise to the occasion. It was absolutely amazing to see the best in the world really be tested. This was the first time that Anderson Silva found himself in deep waters, and he survived, pulling out the submission victory when it counted the most.
Fighters who finish fights will always have an edge over their opponents. Anderson Silva is so good because he is a prolific finisher; 20 of his 27 victories have come by way of KO or submission. Chael Sonnen is not; his last 5 wins have been by decision. Last night, while Sonnen dominated Silva for five rounds and gave him the greatest test of his career, he still couldn’t put him away. Silva, on the other hand, was able to find his opportunity and capitalize on it, protecting his win streak, his Championship, and his legacy.
Silva vs. Sonnen was an incredible fight, and nobody walked away empty handed:
Dana White got an excellent fight out of Anderson Silva. As an added bonus he got to see Silva take a beating (which must have brought a smile to his face after Spidergate 112, and all the controversy surrounding his last fight).
Anderson Silva proved he can survive an all out war. Sonnen gave him the fight of his life and Silva came out on top, silencing every critic who questioned his heart and his desire to fight.
Chael Sonnen proved that his trash talk is outstanding, but his wrestling is even better. He got to do exactly what he said he would do, which was beat the living hell out of Anderson Silva.
And spectators got to see two extraordinary, unique, relentless fighters leave it all in the cage in an epic battle that was easily Fight of the Night, easily the best fight of 2010, and easily one of the greatest Mixed Martial Arts bouts of all time.
There is only one thing this fight left to be desired: THE REMATCH.
Love him or hate him, Brock Lesnar is the now officially the Baddest Man on the Planet. In the wake of the fall of the great Fedor, Lesnar’s victory over Interim Heavyweight Champion Shane Carwin at UFC 116 has solidified his place at the top of the mountain. The fight itself was every bit as epic as we had hoped it would be. And most importantly it answered all the questions looming over the heads of the two UFC Heavyweight Champs: Is Brock Lesnar fully recovered from his medical problems? Can his as-of-yet untested chin withstand the concussion-inducing punching power of Shane Carwin? Does Carwin have the cardio to go the distance? The answers there were yes, yes, and, unfortunately for Carwin, absolutely not.
Shane Carwin looked convincing right out of the gates, dominating Brock in Round 1. He was able to neutralize Lesnar’s world-class wrestling and freakish size with, you guessed it, his own world-class wrestling and freakish size. Carwin dazed Lesnar with an uppercut early in the round, overpowered him, and swarmed him on the ground. Brock was simply manhandled for almost 5 solid minutes. Lesnar, however, defended himself well and weathered the storm proving he doesn’t just look like he can get hit in the face by a truck and survive, he actually can get hit in the face by a truck and survive. I don’t think Brock would have been able to take another round like that. Fortunately for him, neither could Carwin. He ran out of gas somewhere between the 4th and 5th minute and was a totally different fighter in Round 2. Lesnar scored an easy takedown and showcased his top game (which no longer consists entirely of hammerfists) submitting Carwin with, of all things, an arm triangle.
Brock Lesnar has always been a polarizing figure in MMA, and critics have always considered him more hype than fight and undeserving of his opportunities. On top of that, his past as a pro-wrestler, post-fight outbursts, and nearly career ending struggle with diverticulitis have provided an unending distraction for people to focus on for the duration of his 3 year career. But somewhere along the way, somebody taught this monster how to fight. This genetic anomaly now has the tools to become unstoppable. Brock Lesnar really does look better and better every time he enters the cage, and for his size, his agility and athleticism are unmatched. Now he has shown he’s got an iron chin as well. This must be getting a little frightening for the rest of the heavyweight division.
Lesnar’s next title defense will be against undefeated Cain Velasquez, another guy who improves exponentially with every fight. While cardio certainly won’t be a problem for Cain (the guy is a maniac with an infinite gas tank) he does give up a good 30 pounds of muscle to Brock. We will have to wait until at least the Fall to see this one, but it should be well worth the wait. As for Carwin, this fight was his first time out of the first round and it showed. His loss will only make him a better fighter in the long run, and I’m sure a rematch is in his future, as I can’t imagine either man straying too far from the top of the division any time soon. In the meantime, the Era of Brock Lesnar has begun. Here comes the pain.
We always knew this day would come. Or at least we knew that it was theoretically possible. Fedor Emelianenko finally lost one. “The Last Emperor” met Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace Fabricio Werdum at Strikeforce in San Jose on Saturday in what was supposed to be a perfunctory win before challenging Alistair Overeem for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Championship. Fedor stunned Werdum with a combination early in the first round before following him to the ground, jumping into his guard, and recklessly attempting to rain down shots to get the finish. The Brazilian caught Emelianenko in a deep triangle choke/armbar and submitted the legend in 1:09 of round 1, becoming the first man to legitimately defeat Fedor. Did Fedor simply make a mistake and get caught in a submission by a veritable BJJ expert, or has his age and the absolute wars he’s been in finally caught up to the Russian. Has the reign of “The Last Emperor” finally come to an end?
Dana White no doubt believes it has. The UFC President more than likely creamed his jeans on Saturday night when Werdum, a fighter he cut from his roster, was able to defeat the man that fans and insiders have, for years now, been claiming would defeat any of the reigning UFC heavyweight champions. White has sworn that Fedor is irrelevant, past his prime, and grossly overrated. That remains to be seen, but for the first time White at least has some ground to stand on.
More importantly for Dana White, next weekend’s main event title fight at UFC 116 between current Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar and current Interim Heavyweight Champion Shane Carwin now has even more serious implications. This was already the greatest heavyweight fight in UFC history, but now Fedor has been proven to be a mere mortal and has actually been defeated. The position of “Baddest Man on the Planet” is now officially vacant. At UFC 116, it will be filled by one of two unstoppable monsters in Lesnar or Carwin. The winner of their epic battle, almost one year in the making, will not only become the undisputed UFC Heavyweight Champion, but will also be able to claim the title of best in the world.
It might be too soon to say Fedor is done, but he certainly has lost a step. While Werdum’s BJJ is world class, he’s not on the same level as Minotauro Nogueira in his prime, who lost twice to Fedor, never able to submit the Russian. In Fedor’s previous fight against Brett Rogers, he looked shaky and took his fair share of punishment before leveling his opponent with a knockout punch. Rogers appeared to be a powerhouse who would have destroyed anybody other than the great Fedor. In Rogers’s next fight he looked like a clueless newcomer with little actual fighting ability and was thoroughly manhandled by Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem. Years of fight damage takes its toll on the human body and nobody is getting any younger. It has been a tough year for many of the other legends of Pride FC; Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson, Mirko CroCop Filipovic, and the aforementioned Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, to name a few. It only seems logical that the king of Pride’s Heavyweight division would follow suit.
Fedor’s loss is actually great news for Strikeforce. The promotion has him under contract for one more fight, which would have undoubtedly been for Overeem’s Heavyweight Title. If Fedor won, which he was expected to do, Strikeforce would have been faced with what seems to be a recurring problem for the organization: one of its titleholders leaving the promotion. Now Strikeforce has an easy answer for what to do with Fedor’s remaining fight: a rematch with Fabricio Werdum. Werdum wants the fight to prove his victory wasn’t a fluke, Fedor wants the fight to avenge his only loss, and Overeem probably won’t mind sitting this one out since he only fights in Strikeforce once every two years. Actually, Overeem looked to be the most upset about Fedor’s loss on Saturday. There was something in his expression after the fight- restlessness, maybe even desolation. Fedor was supposed to beat Werdum. Overeem was supposed to face “The Last Emperor” and his legendary undefeated record. It was clear what Alistair Overeem was thinking: “It should have been me.”
Who is the greatest lightweight fighter in the world? For the first time in years, there isn’t an easy answer to that question. Thanks to BJ Penn’s very close and controversial decision loss to Frankie Edgar, the lightweight division is up for grabs. For the time being, Edgar is known as #1 in the world, but is he really the best? Gilbert Melendez, fresh off a convincing performance against Shinya Aoki (previously widely-regarded as the #2 lightweight behind Penn), and Eddie Alvarez, who continues his dominance in Bellator, are also climbing up the rankings, but where do they stand? Who can really call themselves the best?
In a May 14th appearance on HDNet’s “Inside MMA,” Melendez, the reigning Strikeforce Lightweight Champion, called out Eddie Alvarez, the reigning Bellator Lightweight Champion. After Penn’s loss, the doors are open for a new #1 lightweight. “Anyone in the top 10 I’d like to fight. Anyone that can help me prove that I’m top 10. Eddie Alvarez, I think he’s an amazing fighter and that’s why I do call out Eddie Alvarez. Let’s unify those titles. I’d love to fight that guy, and test myself. I think if I can beat him I could be #1, and vice versa.”
So will this fight happen? I think it needs to. Every week since the Melendez interview, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney has appeared on Bellator’s broadcasts to talk emphasize that he is going to push to make it happen. Melendez wants it. Alvarez wants it. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has not yet seemed to share their enthusiasm, but he has not shied away from co-promotional deals in the past. While a co-promotion with Bellator would mark Strikeforce’s first such deal with a direct American competitor, there is enough demand for this fight to ensure that it materializes. Besides, there aren’t really any fights left for Melendez in Strikeforce, except maybe KJ Noons or a third fight with Josh Thompson. Eddie Alvarez may not be available until the Fall since his next fight will be against the Bellator Season 2 Lightweight Tournament winner. In the meantime Melendez can take a trip to DREAM to give Aoki a rematch or to fight JZ Calvacante. After that, assuming both men win, there is no reason they shouldn’t meet in the cage.
Melendez’s claim that the winner of a potential fight with Alvarez could be considered the #1 lightweight in the world might be wishful thinking, but, then again, it might not. Both Melendez and Alvarez have been looking unstoppable in their recent fights. Meanwhile, Frank Edgar, who is ranked #1 right now, remains unproven. He was in the right place at the right time, and was able to eke out a decision against a listless BJ Penn, who missed three weeks of training camp due to a sinus infection and may have been fighting with a knee injury. I don’t see Edgar stepping into the cage and beating a healthy BJ Penn, or Gilbert Melendez, or Eddie Alvarez, or Kenny Florian, for that matter. UFC 118’s rematch between BJ Penn and Frank Edgar will prove who really is the best lightweight in the UFC. Once Bjorn Rebney and Scott Coker get on the same page and co-promote a fight between Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez, we will know who is the best lightweight outside of it. Then its just up to Dana White to give the fans what they really want, a co-promotional superfight with the UFC to determine the best lightweight fighter in the world. A fan can dream, can’t he?
Tonight at Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery in St. Louis, Brett Rogers will challenge Alistair Overeem for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Championship. Rogers has been fighting professionally for four years, amassing 10 victories, all by knockout. What is most interesting, though, is how Rogers proved he was finally ready to compete for the title: by losing his last fight. Over the past six month there have been a slew of high profile fights that have done more to advance the standing of their losers than their victors. Dan Hardy, Demian Maia, and Brett Rogers have all suffered recent defeats. In each of their fights, there were no questions or controversies surrounding the outcomes: they each lost decisively. But each of them came out on top.
Dan “The Outlaw” Hardy faced Georges St. Pierre at UFC 111. Many were unconvinced that Hardy deserved a shot at the title, but the UFC hype machine spun its wheels, selling Hardy as a contender. Hardy was absolutely dominated in that match, but GSP could not end the fight. His two best opportunities to do so, a deep armbar at the end of the first round and an absolutely vicious looking kimura in the fourth, were both survived by Hardy on sheer mental toughness alone. The agonizing pain on Hardy’s face was plain to see, but he refused to submit. Hardy’s challenge was clear: if St. Pierre wanted to end the fight, he was going to have to break that arm. Maybe an official would end the fight, but Hardy wasn’t going to. “The Outlaw” gained a lot of respect at UFC 111, and a reputation as a proud fighter with the indelible spirit of a warrior. St. Pierre on the other hand, was criticized for going to yet another decision.
Similarly, Demian Maia faced Anderson “The Spider” Silva at UFC 112 with an infinitesimal chance of succeeding. Maia was the UFC’s third choice for Silva’s opponent in Abu Dhabi, and received his title shot only after Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen became sidelined with injuries. The match that ensued was so bizarre and controversial it can only be referred to as “Spidergate 112”. Silva, lit up Maia in the opening rounds with creative kicks and punches, but then seemed to lose interest in continuing. The Spider demonstrated his expert striking ability but also his top-notch showboating, taunting, complaining, and evasion skills, earning the ire of the fans. In the fifth round, Maia, a one-dimensional BJJ ace, was the one chasing a passive Silva down, throwing everything he had at the champ. Silva made it clear he was the superior fighter, but was entirely disinterested in competing. By the end of the fight the crowd was cheering for a frustrated but still trying Maia, and Silva’s sanity was being called in to question.
Brett Rogers has clearly gained the most from his last loss, suffered at the hands of Heavyweight legend Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko. Rogers was knocked clean out by the Russian in the second round, but not before fighting a convincing first round that saw him land some seriously terrifying power punches, breaking Fedor’s nose within minutes. Surviving the first round against Fedor is a feat that had only been accomplished by 8 opponents in the Russian’s 33 previous fights. Rogers did more than just survive; he looked dangerous. Fedor Emelianenko has already become an MMA demigod. For Brett Rogers to look that good against him proved that not only is Rogers ready for a title shot against Alistair Overeem, but that he’s probably going to win it. Sometimes a loss can be a victory. If Brett Rogers becomes the new Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion tonight in St. Louis, he owes it all to his one loss to “The Last Emperor”.
It’s official: By defeating Paul Daley last weekend at UFC 113 Josh Koscheck will finally get his shot at the UFC Welterweight Title. The American Kickboxing Academy product will star opposite Georges St. Pierre as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter season 12, before the two meet in the Octagon in a rematch of their non-title 2007 bout, a fight that was dominated by GSP.
So what does this mean for Jake Shields? His contract with Strikeforce has not been renewed, and he was seen practically snuggling with UFC President Dana White at WEC 48 last month. It’s safe to operate under the assumption that Shields will be signing with the UFC any minute now, and when he does he’s going to want to get a shot at the title straightaway. And why shouldn’t he? He is the current Middleweight Champion of Strikeforce, where he has been fighting above his natural weight class, and he is coming off the biggest victory of his career against a bona fide legend of the sport in Dan Henderson. But with GSP locked into a television show and a subsequent fight with Koscheck, it might be awhile.
Now Shields can either fight a top flight opponent and risk losing his implied #1 contendership, fight one of the less-than-promising Welterweight prospects the UFC has to offer as a tune-up, or rest on his laurels until GSP can fit him in to his busy schedule. This last option isn’t too bad since Shields can always keep busy by creating himself in UFC Undisputed 2010 and facing GSP that way. But he’s probably going to have to wait until 2011 to get a crack at the real thing. Jake Shields likely wants to come out and make a statement against a Welterweight contender like Jon Fitch or Thiago Alves, but those two are already fighting each other in August at UFC 117. Paulo Thiago, another standout, would make a legitimately tough first UFC opponent for Shields, but again, Shields would have to play the waiting game since Thiago is facing Martin Kampmann at UFC 115 next month. Shields may end up fighting one of the many half-baked Welterweight offerings in the UFC, but that would be anti-climactic, to say the least. Enter Dan Hardy. His calendar is wide open since the cancellation of his scheduled bout against Dustin Hazelett. “McLovin” found love and called off the fight to get married in September. Hardy might be the perfect opponent for Jake Shields. He’s a Welterweight contender having just come off a title shot, and at the same time he would only pose a marginal threat. Despite showing tons of heart against GSP, Hardy was more hype than substance, and has never really been a legitimate force in the division. He, like every other British fighter ever, has no answer for solid wrestling ability, especially not the world-class type that Jake Shields possesses. On top of that, Jake Shields finishing “The Outlaw” would be huge, since GSP was unable to do so, despite dominating every minute of every round of their fight.
So what’s next for the UFC Welterweight division? While the winner of Fitch vs. Alves 2 at UFC 117 will likely be regarded as the #1 contender for the Welterweight strap, both fighters have already had their shot at St. Pierre’s belt and came up short. Koscheck was also already bested by GSP, but is next in line. Interestingly enough, he holds the distinction of winning the most UFC fights without ever receiving a title shot, and only Matt Hughes, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, and Georges St. Pierre himself have amassed more UFC wins than he has. There’s no question that Koscheck deserves the chance to contend for the belt, there just doesn’t seem to be a whole lot he can do with that chance. While he has definitely grown since his last meeting with GSP, he hasn’t grown enough and he hasn’t grown more than the champ has. His victory against Paul Daley was underwhelming to say the least. It was defined by the type of boring “lay and pray” wrestling that audiences have come to expect from the AKA Welterweights, a style that certainly won’t work against GSP, whose wrestling borders on flawless. To be honest, the most exciting thing about Koscheck’s match at UFC 113 was Paul Daley’s post-fight suckerpunch that cost the Brit his UFC career.
At least a title fight between St. Pierre and Shields would be something new. The sheer novelty of someone challenging GSP who hasn’t already been beaten by GSP, is enough to make that matchup exciting, even though the outcome of that fight is almost predetermined. There is nothing that Shields can do that GSP can’t do better. He has no tools in his arsenal to combat the champ’s superior wrestling, striking, and submission game. The most impressive thing about Shields is his win streak, even though his performances and the level of competition in some of those individual fights leave much to be desired. The streak includes six decision victories, and a couple of fights that Shields barely got through. But the fact still remains; Over the past four years Jake Shields has stood undefeated, racking up 14 wins across two weight classes. His most recent victory, against Dan Henderson, was his most impressive by far. In the first round he met Henderson’s storied right hand, and it nearly sent him home packing. But Shields was able to bounce back, dominating Henderson with his wrestling for the next four rounds. The fight proved Shields is a survivor with a lot of heart, toughness, and will. But he’s going to have to do a lot more than survive if he wants the UFC Welterweight Title.
Georges St. Pierre has already cleared out the entire UFC Welterweight division except for Jake Shields, which isn’t even fair to say since Shields is not technically part of the division, yet. There is nothing next for the Welterweight division. Georges St. Pierre is only 28 years old and has evolved to take almost no damage in his fights. He is the most complete Mixed Martial Artist fighting today, and he’s not going anywhere for a very long time.
The UFC is undoubtedly the preeminent MMA promotion in the United States, if not the world, but as the sport continues to grow on American soil there’s always room for a little competition. This past year has been huge for both Strikeforce and Bellator, the UFC’s main US competitors. Strikeforce inked a deal with CBS that got them on primetime network television and another one with M-1 Global that got them Fedor Emelianenko. Bellator, then still a relatively unknown promotion in its infancy, began its first tournament last April. A great business model and the 2009 Submission of the Year, courtesy of Bellator fighter Toby Imada, thrust the promotion into the limelight, and it has been growing in popularity ever since. Strikeforce still has the bigger names and distribution, and is clearly holding down that second place spot. This month however, as Bellator kicked off its season two tournament, the promotion is looking good, and Strikeforce is looking- well, less good.
Strikeforce: Miami, held on April 17, was America’s second serving of Strikeforce on CBS primetime. The televised card was made up of three big title fights with some big implications. Unfortunately, the hype may have overshadowed the card itself. King Mo Lawal and Jake Shields both put on great performances, and pulled out major upsets (over Gegard Mousasi and Dan Henderson, respectively), but the fights themselves at times seemed of the lay and pray variety. Strikeforce Lightweight Champ Gilbert Melendez put on a more exciting show in his co-promotional super fight victory against DREAM Lightweight Champ Shinya Aoki, but still couldn’t get the finish. That’s three title fights going to decisions. That’s 15 long rounds of grinding it out on network primetime. The biggest excitement of the night unfortunately came after the conclusion of the main event, when Jason “Mayhem” Miller popped into the cage to issue a quick rematch challenge to Shields and was promptly jumped by the Cesar Gracie “scrap pack” of Melendez, Nick and Nate Diaz, and Shields.
Bellator, on the other hand, has been spinning gold all month long like Rumpelstiltskin. Their dramatic rise in popularity last season helped them secure a very impressive talent pool for this season’s tournament. The roster is filled with great fighters ranging from up and coming prospects like 2008 Olympic wrestler Ben Askren, to name veterans like former UFC fighter, Sports Illustrated cover boy, and all around great guy, Roger Huerta. It’s three weeks into Bellator Season Two and the bouts have been nothing short of spectacular. There have been 12 opening round fights so far and 10 of them ended in stoppages. There was a devastating first round one-punch knockout by Pat Curran (cousin of UFC vet Jeff Curran). There was a poetic rolling knee-bar by the aforementioned Huerta. And if you are wondering about last year’s submission king, Toby Imada, he was resigned for this tournament in a heartbeat, and armbarred his way through the first round of the lightweight bracket.
The true beauty of Bellator lies in its structure. Eight fighters in each weight class will battle in a single elimination tournament, weeding each other out over the course of three months until there is only fighter left to face the champion. With three fights in three months on your plate, you can’t afford to get into any three round wars. These guys are there to finish fights. Philosophically, the promotion does not get bogged down in politics, booking matches, or determining contenders. You win three fights, you get a title shot. CEO Bjorn Rebney makes a point of saying this pretty much every Bellator broadcast, and even though it’s starting to get old, it’s great point. Bjorn’s smart man. Bellator was also actually the first MMA promotion to provide Spanish ring announcing and commentary, tapping directly into the enormous Hispanic market. See, what did I tell you? Smart guy.
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker’s intelligence looks debatable at best right now. The lackluster CBS show was the least of Strikeforce’s problems this month. Contract renegotiations with Fedor Emelianenko, the name that put them on the map, have come to a halt. Consequently, Fedor’s upcoming bout with Fabricio Werdum, a fight with no stakes whatsoever that no one was really clamoring to see anyway, has been postponed into oblivion. Meanwhile Strikeforce’s Middleweight Champion, Jake Shields, has all but defected to the UFC. Shields was practically sitting on Dana White’s lap during this weekend’s WEC: Aldo vs. Faber event. Losing the reigning Middleweight Champion would be a serious shot to Strikeforce and the credibility of its titles. Their Heavyweight title is already suspect. Current champion Alistair Overeem, has only had one Strikeforce fight, which saw him win the title, and hasn’t defended it since. That fight was in 2007. Come on, Coker. Overeem’s long-awaited first title defense is slated for next month’s Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery in St. Louis where he faces Brett Rogers who, although very talented and dangerous, is coming off a loss to Fedor. Sure, why not.
My advice for Scott Coker of Strikeforce: keep your head down and power through. This month was and will continue to be rough for you, but it’s always darkest before the dawn. You’re going to get through this, buddy, and when you do, priority number one has got to be more co-promotion and fighter exchanges at all costs. That’s the one leg up you will always have on the UFC. Dana White was lying when he said he would be willing to do anything to sign Fedor. Co-promotion is not in his vocabulary. But you can spell the word flawlessly and even use it in a sentence. Audiences are always going to want to see two reigning champions fight it out for ultimate supremacy, and Strikeforce is the only American MMA promotion with the resources, ability, and desire to make that happen.
My advice for Bjorn Rebney of Bellator: I don’t have any real advice for you. You’re a smart guy. Just keep doing what you’re doing. I guess it wouldn’t kill you to work on your mic skills a little.