While neither men were household names heading into their UFC on FX main card showdown last night (January 20, 2012), bantamweights Mike Easton and Jared Papazian put on a terrific show for the fans in a thrilling back and forth battle in Nashville.
From the opening seconds, fans knew they were in for a treat as both men closed the distance and began unloading quick strikes to each other's faces.
Papazian, taking the fight on very short notice, certainly won over some new fans with his tenacious fighting style and willingness to trade blow for blow with anyone, but it was Easton who came away with a close majority decision.
So what helped "Hulk" pull out the victory? And where do both men go from here?
The crowd was quickly roaring as both men exchanged powerful short strikes in the clinch early, colliding in the center of the cage with neither man backing down. The bout quickly transitioned into a grueling clinch battle along the fence with both men switching positions and grinding against the fence.
In the regular striking exchanges, Papazian looked to stay on the outside and circle while Easton hunkered down and stalked his foe, trying to cut him off with his footwork, constantly moving towards his opponent. When the clapper signaled 10 seconds remaining in the round, both men exploded in violence, finishing it just like they started and having to be separated by the referee when the horn sounded.
Easton continued to utilize constant forward pressure in the second round, but this also became slightly predictable as Papazian began looking to land a big right uppercut on his slightly forward-leaning foe. After trying and missing several times in the first round, Easton finally found a home for his powerful leg kicks, knocking "The Jackhammer" off balance and following up with a right hand.
With the round extremely close, "Hulk" likely earned some brownie points with a pair of takedowns in the final minute, although he wasn't able to do much with either.
Papazian's corner implored him to go for broke in between rounds and he took their advice, pushing a tremendous pace in the third and throwing a very large volume of strikes. Easton was happy to oblige him as both men threw down in a third round that may have been the most entertaining of them all. "The Jackhammer" found a home for his right uppercut with 15 seconds remaining in the fight, but he couldn't do enough to offset Easton's pressure from the first two rounds, as the judges sided with "Hulk" via majority decision.
The only complaint I had about this fight was the absolute travesty that it wasn't awarded "Fight of the Night." In my opinion, both men put on by far the most entertaining bout of the evening and both deserved an extra $45,000 for their performance. Hopefully they were awarded backstage with some large discretionary bonuses.
For Jared Papazian, he has nothing to feel sorry about. He stepped up on short notice against a highly touted fighter and put on a tremendous show. He was in this fight from start to finish and refused to back down, trading blow for blow for fifteen straight minutes. He finished just as strong as he started and he definitely left the Octagon with a significant amount of new fans. If there was one complaint about his fight, he might have focused a little too heavily on countering and circling away instead of initiating some of the action at times. If he's serious about dropping down to flyweight next, he's going to be a huge 125 pounder and at just 23 years old, he could be a big player in the division down the road.
If he stays at bantamweight, an interesting fight would be someone like Walel Watson, but if he does indeed cut to flyweight like he says, there aren't many potential 125 pounders on the UFC roster at the moment. For now, potential flyweight opponents could be The Ultimate Fighter 14 cast members Josh Ferguson or Louis Gaudinot.
For Mike Easton, he put on a good performance, but this also wasn't the type of dominant victory that will launch him into contender status. He did a good job with his constant forward pressure, but he could not get off nearly as many leg kicks as he should have. His kicks are one of his most dangerous weapons and either that's a testament to Papazian's preparation, or he simply didn't utilize one of his greatest strengths enough, focusing instead on punching.
Easton is still a strong bantamweight and has potential to be an upper-mid level fighter in the division for years to come, or maybe even better if he can continue to improve. I'd like to see him step in against the winner of Chris Cariaso vs. Takeya Mizugaki next. Other possible opponents include Yves Jabouin or maybe even TUF 14 winner John Dodson (if he stays at 135 pounds).
So what did you think, Maniacs?
Should this bout have been awarded "Fight of the Night?" Did Easton do enough to win? What did you think of Jared Papazian in his UFC debut?