Third time was indeed the charm for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
The world's leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion last night (May 5, 2012) staged its latest event on the FOX network from the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey. And after two previous uninspiring efforts, the UFC finally pulled off a very very impressive main card in the "Garden State."
In the main event of the evening, the unpredictable Nate Diaz -- who had a Lightweight title shot on the line -- did what the Diaz boys do so well, boxing up perennial top division contender Jim Miller for 1.5 rounds and then putting him away via tongue-crushing submission (power guillotine) in the second stanza.
It's easy to write, but it's much harder to explain how effortlessly Diaz sliced through the super tough and talented New Jersey native. Diaz came into this bout with several question marks about his wrestling (or lack thereof), which appeared to be the glaring weakness in an overall above average arsenal. MIller was supposed to close the distance, score takedowns and brutalize Diaz en route to a lopsided decision.
Diaz kept his distance, played his game and notched the biggest win of his professional fight career. He's had an up-and-down journey inside the Octagon since winning The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) years back, flip-flopping between divisions and occasional setbacks.
However, he made a very big statement -- massive nationwide television audience notwithstanding -- that he is a legitimate threat to the UFC 155-pound champion. And, perhaps more telling about his MMA maturity, he's willing to sit and wait for the opportunity that he's earned outright.
No complaints here.
Johny Hendricks entered his co main event fight against Josh Koscheck riding a wave of momentum that crested with a 12-second stoppage of perennial top Welterweight contender Jon Fitch in his previous performance. If lightening could strike twice, and he could topple Fitch's long-time training partner in impressive fashion, "Big Rigg" would be riding rather dirty.
Let's call him untidy (and that's not a reference to his unkept bushy beard).
Hendricks won last night via split decision. And he did it against one of the toughest 170-pound fighters in the world. But, he got a little help from the judges sitting ringside because the outcome could have gone either way. Koscheck put up a very good fight in the first and third rounds, and there is a very good case that he could have walked away the winner.
But, he didn't.
Hendricks landed several huge shots throughout the 15-minute fight and won a very convincing second round, which appeared to be his keys to victory. He's clearly at the forefront of the division, but a clear-cut number one contender he is not.
Defeating the winner of Jake Ellenberger vs. Martin Kampmann will earn him that distinction. Emphasis on "earn."
I don't have much to say about Alan Belcher after his exciting first round technical knockout of fearless leg-locker Rousimar Palhares. Why? Because "The Talent" has been telling everyone who will listen for the past two years that he is a very dangerous man, who more than lives up to his nickname.
Unfortunately, despite his shameless -- and often comedic -- self promotion, most folks just pass it off as nonsense. That's a massive mistake, especially when you're talking about a cat crazy enough to initiate and insane game of footsie with the sport's most devastating and unstable 185-pound submission specialist.
Belcher did the stupidest thing imaginable last night, diving right into Palhares' bread basket and daring him to take a leg back to Brazil. Palhares, national television be damned, was more than likely to oblige, but Belcher didn't let him. He set the trap and then used the seemingly senseless opportunity to set up a vicious ground-and-pound finish that would have certainly stopped most humans much sooner.
If folks weren't listening to Belcher's words all these years, I'm pretty certain they heard those fists last night loud and clear. Get that man on a poster, immediately, and set him up against the winner of Brian Stann vs. Hector Lombard or Michael Bisping vs. Tim Boetsch.
It's long overdue.
Take a bow, UFC matchmakers, kicking off an important and influential fight card like this with a heavyweight scrap with the fireworks potential of Lavar Johnson vs. Pat Barry was a homerun. Neither man has a ground game worth a lick and both of them hit like mules.
Did I say homerun? I meant grand slam.
Johnson and Barry lived up the expectations and went balls to the wall until it became clear that punches hurt. Barry tried to flip the script, taking the fight to the ground once he felt the "Big" power, but Johnson eventually got the fight back up to the feet where it belonged.
And it was where Barry, a K-1 veteran, didn't want to be because Johnson was just too big and too powerful ti withstand. Once Johnson got going, and Barry realized his only offense was a curled up defense, it was only a matter of time before the referee in charge of the action saved "HD" from the beating of a lifetime.
Johnson looked absolutely ferocious inside the Octagon. And I don't want to see the promotion match him up with some well-rounded, heavy-handed MMA fighter his next time out who can ruin all the fun. No, I want the UFC to book Lavar Johnson vs. Mark Hunt as soon as the New Zealander is done with Stefan Struve at UFC 146 later this month ... win or lose.
That's a walk-off grand slam.
That's enough from us. Now it's your turn to discuss UFC on Fox 3: "Diaz vs. Miller" in the comments section below.
Is Diaz championship material? Do you agree with the Hendricks-Koscheck decision? Who should be next for Belcher? Is Johnson a serious heavyweight contender?
Let's hear it, Maniacs.
Be sure to also check out our complete UFC on Fox 3 blow-by-blow coverage of the entire "Diaz vs. Miller" event right here. Our complete UFC on Fox 3 results recap of the Facebook/FUEL TV "Prelims" action can be found right here.