Prior to the pay-per-view (PPV) mixed martial arts (MMA) event in Houston, Texas, last night (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White described UFC 166 as the biggest event in the promotion's history, which is not surprising, given his reputation as a promoter.
Only this time, he happened to be right. It was the biggest, best event the UFC has ever seen. But, little of that had to do with the headliners in the main event, Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and two-time title challenger, Junior dos Santos.
No, it was the furious, relentless, indescribable, unbridled passion of "The Dream" in the Lightweight was between Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez, a memorable match that took home "Fight of the Night"-winning honors and maybe even "Fight of the Decade."
To see Sanchez plant his feet and go toe-to-toe with one of the most accurate strikers to fight at 155 pounds, and even dropping the guy in the third, was literally breathtaking. It was the single-most badonkulous throwdown I've ever seen.
What, that's not a word? Yes it is, go look it up dictionary. What, you couldn't find it in there? That's because you looked it up in the pre-Sanchez vs Melendez dictionary.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's take a closer look at the performers (and non-performers) with UFC 166: "Velasquez vs. Dos Santos 3" complete "Report Card:"
UFC 166 Overall Report Card: "Fight of the Year," "Fight of the Decade," "Best Fight Ever:" Check, check and check! Seven finishes via jaw-shattering knockout: Check. A slick submission: Check. A sense of overwhelming satisfaction over money well-spent? Check mate. A+
My predictions: 11 for 13. This card was relatively easy to predict since all the favorites won except for Jessica Eye and Gabriel Gonzaga. As luck would have it, those were the two fights I didn't predict correctly. And well, as you'll see later, Eye didn't really win anyway.
Biggest upset: Eye holding her own against Sarah Kaufman
Worst judges' decision: Two judges thought Tim Boetsch won 30-26
Most boring fight: K.J. Noons and George Sotiropolous put everybody to sleep
Beatdown of the night: Velasquez thumping dos Santos (again)
* * *
Damn, son! Horiguchi got game! After Pague spent most of the first round riding the tiny Japanese fighter's back, the Shooto champion showed exactly the reason he was the most highly touted new import on the card. Although many Japanese fighters have had a difficult time adjusting to UFC and the North American weight-cutting game, Horiguchi had little problem handling his much bigger opponent.
That's not to say that Pague didn't put up a fight. In fact, he was on Horguchi's back to start the match faster than the landlord on the first of the month. He tried numerous times to sink in the choke, but the Japanese fighter used two-to-one defense on the arms and completely ignored the one-armed choke Pague had on his neck while playing Dora the Explorer's "Backpack."
It didn't take long in the second round to discover that Horiguchi -- who looks like he could make Strawweight, let alone Flyweight -- has some pretty fancy Kung Fu-fighting moves. Lunging in, he clipped Pague numerous times, and when he did he was violent and ruthless in the finish.
Winner: Although it's nice to get into the win column in your Octagon debut, beating Pague is a little like riding the town bicycle. Everyone's done it. I think he'd match up well against a guy who has proven he belongs in UFC, like Yaotzin Meza. The Glendale, Ariz., prospect got knocked out by heavy hitter Chad Mendes in his promotional debut, but bounced back with a win over The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) punching bag John Albert. That gives Meza and Horiguchi something in common.
* * *
I actually switched this prediction at the last minute when I saw that Fili came in heavy. I knew he was a heavy hitter, but knowing that he'd cut from 178 pounds only 10 days ago I figured there was no way he was going to be able to sustain his usual offense.
Bzzzzt ... Wrong!
Fili came out and landed pinpoint strikes against Larsen, beating the kid like a rented mule. You've got to give it to Larsen, though, because he doesn't have much more than wild swings and an incredible heart. Unfortunately, he doesn't have a granite chin to help him. Fili finally connected early in the second round to put away Larsen for good.
What's amazing is that not only did Fili look spectacular, he wasn't even winded after a 30-pound weight cut in 10 days. What's even more amazing is that seconds before Larsen did a face plant into the mat he landed an absolutely ridiculous shot directly to the chin of Fili that really should have cut the power to any and all brain function.
But, Fili ate it with a smile. Jesus.
Winner: Look, I know all he really did was dispatch a kid who was on his way to the minor leagues anyway, but I don't think I've been this impressed with a Featherweight in his UFC debut since a raunchy Irishman best known for running his mouth and draping strippers over his shoulder. With a full training camp I think Andre Fili can be a very dangerous challenge for many 145-pound fighters. Personally, I'd like to see him go toe to toe with former TUF: "Brazil" Featherweight winner Rony Jason.
* * *
This was a submission in name only. Tony Ferguson badly stunned Mike Rio early in the fight and then swarmed and dropped in his signature submission as Rio was struggling to fight the dying of the light. Wasn't happening.
It's hard to give Rio a failing grade even though he couldn't survive a full two minutes in the cage with TUF 13 winner Tony Ferguson. After all, sometimes you're just not good enough and that's not your fault. Rio tried what he knows, which is shoot in for takedowns and attempts to get it to where he's better. The ground.
But Tony Ferguson has a career takedown defense of 100 percent for a reason. Which means there was little way for Mike Rio to win this one short of asking his Fairy Godmother to grant him the wrestling strength of George St-Pierre overnight. He was outclassed on the feet from the get-go and it was only a matter of time before he got bumped back to coach.
Winner: Tony Ferguson was gone for a long time after his setback against Michael Johnson. But with just one decision loss in his last eight fights, he's still a pretty good addition to the stacked 155-division. That doesn't mean there's any need to rush him to the top. I'm going to throw this name out there and see if it sticks: James Vick. Sound weird? Well, maybe not. He's 5-0 (officially), and his most recent win comes over Ramsey Nijem in August, the finalist who lost to Ferguson in TUF 13.
* * *
There are scary dudes and there are guys like Amagov. It's one thing to get a technical knockout stoppage. It's another to batter a guy's chin so badly that their eyes roll back in their sockets and they don't come back down again until the paramedics come inside the cage and load him onto a stretcher.
Amagov is the latter dude. He absolutely demolished Waldburger, a UFC veteran who owns four wins inside the Octagon. Not only did he beat him on the feet, he utterly shut down any idea that Waldburger was going to have his way with him on the ground, using Russian combat sambo to toss him aside, and then some of the most brutal shots I've ever seen for a man who has one leg trapped in a single.
After getting knocked out by a classic Robbie Lawler flying knee in Strikeforce, Adlan Amagov flew into the UFC under the radar. But after dropping to 170 pounds he's very much on the intel charts of any fighter at that weight class. With the kind of grappling skills and power he possesses, we could be looking at the 170-division's own version of Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Winner: I like Jason High. After dropping his UFC debut to the talented Erick Silva, High bounced back with a quick win over James Head using his signature power guillotine choke. I think it's a good match.
* * *
Lightweight : KJ Noons (C-) vs. George Sotiropolous (F)
Prediction: Noons via unanimous decision
Result: Noons via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
What a terrible fight. It's one thing for Sotiropolous to fail to score takedowns in the fight when he's a world class Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter. It's quite another for the so-called world class kickboxer Noons to get his ass handed to him on the feet.
You heard what I said. Noons may have gotten the nod, but he was lit up all night long. If not for staggering "G-Sots" in the third round, Noons might just have lost a standup battle to one of the worst stand up guys in the 155-pound division. And although FightMetric isn't an arbiter of anything more than perspective, it's important to note that the Aussie outlanded Noons 44-36 in rounds two and three.
Noons looks just about done as a fighter. Once a feared kickboxer in Strikeforce who went toe-to-toe with Nick Diaz, he's a one-dimensional lazy fighter now, who uses his granite chin to offset the fact he gets tagged more than the checkout at WalMart. Beating Noons in 2013 requires little more than the word "mixed" in the mixed martial arts acronym. Had "G-Sots" mixed in takedowns with his kickboxing, even the awkward, gangly Australian likely would have beaten Noons last night.
Winner: He's marginal. Quite frankly, I don't think he deserves the top guys he keeps getting put against and loses to. I also believe his stand up is vastly overrated. A guy like Anthony Njokuani would quickly expose that fact.
* * *
Women's Bamtamweight : Jessica Eye (B) versus Sarah Kaufman (B+)
Prediction: Kaufman via unanimous decision
Result: Eye via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Honestly? It wasn't even close. Wily veteran Kaufman took it to Flyweight challenger Eye all night long, pulling away in the second round before putting an exclamation point on her superiority in the third. The fact the judges got it so very wrong on the scorecards is a little baffling.
Like I said before, FightMetric isn't a science, but it helps to put things in perspective. What I saw last night was an extremely close round in the first, with Jessica Eye landing the crisper shots, using her speed to jump in and out and land at range before Sarah Kaufman could chase her down and land that money right. FightMetric said 25-23 Eye. Bang on.
Second round was much different. After listening to her corner, Kaufman changed her game and stopped watching her strikes as they landed. As a result she landed more combinations and more power shots. Towards the end of the round the advantage was becoming clear. FightMetric said 26-17 Kaufman. The third wasn't even close. Kaufman landed at will, staggering Eye and putting together combinations that looked like it might put her out.
FightMetric said 38-23 Kaufman.
It was a clear, dominant win for the Canadian. And considering there were no takedowns, it should have been an easy night for the judges. Somehow, some way, they scored it for Eye. What can I say? If there's ever a shortage of monkeys for medical testing, the Nevada State Athletic Commission has several it can volunteer.
Winner: What reward do you give a winner who actually lost? I have no idea. I guess there's always the other Sarah, Sara McMann.
* * *
If you thought Lombard was scary at 185 pounds, he looks ridiculous 15 pounds lighter. With something to clearly prove on his mind, Lombard stalked the veteran Marquardt around the cage aggressively, before catching the former 185-pound No. 1 title contender running backward and then landing some brutal punches to finish it off.
Honestly, I'm not sure that Marquardt even stood a chance out there, but his game plan was all wrong. Instead of trying to slip and rip, Marquardt got caught pulling a Junior dos Santos, running backward along the cage with his chin straight up in the air. It was a recipe for disaster from the outset.
As for Lombard, it's hard to imagine what recipe for success any guys at 170 pounds will need to put together to defeat him. A lethal striker with speed, it's going to require a fighter with an incredible double leg to put Lombard on his back and give him problems. An elite striker with good range might do well, but not if Lombard chooses to rush in the way he did against Marquardt.
Winner: Lombard is a former Bellator champion and just knocked out a former Strikeforce champion. Given his age and the lack of depth at the top of the 170 pound division, I don't think we need to pussyfoot around here. I'd like to see Dong Hyun Kim. Not only would his takedown defense be tested, he'd be forced to deal with the most aggressive welterweight currently fighting in the UFC (only Ben Askren in Bellator merely walks forward as recklessly and eats punches before pushing his victim on his back). Alternately, Jake Shields would be a hell of a test.
* * *
Anyone who thinks MMA judges aren't a complete waste of time, money, and space on this planet, look at the scores. Two judges thought Tim Boetsch won all three rounds (when he was clearly dominated in at least two of them), while one thought CB Dollaway won all three rounds. That is so frustratingly stupid it would make any casual fan want to rage quit MMA (fortunately, there are the Diego Sanchez fights to compensate).
First off, hats off to Dollaway. He went from consecutive knockout losses to retiring Jason Miller, killing the hype of arguably the best middleweight fighter on TUF Brazil 1, and then outwrestling former 205-pounder Boetsch. Speaking of which, how far has this guy fallen off the face of the earth? After knocking out Yushin Okami and "defeating" Lombard, he should have dropped his third in a row to Dollaway.
Rounds one and two were so evidently Dollaway's that's there's really no point in even bringing them up, other than to say I thought it was kind of funny that "Doberman" wants to be Nick Diaz all of a sudden. In round three, however, Boetsch landed some big punches, arguably winning the round. With a point taken from Dollaway for two eye pokes in the fight, the worst case scenario was a draw. How any person on the planet, let alone two judges, scored it 30-26 for Boetsch is beyond me. In fact, if Timmy's mother was scoring the fight I doubt she'd give her son more than one round.
Winner: I'm not going to speculate on who Boetsch should fight after winning the biggest robbery I've seen since Leonard Garcia was last seen wearing UFC gloves.
* * *
I'm not sure why Dodson required two gifts from Zuffa last night. The first was giving the No. 2-ranked Flyweight a relative unknown debuting in the UFC. Montague was decent, but he was clearly the Yoatzin Meza to Chad Mendes gift of the 125-division. The second was giving Dodson a "Knockout of the Night" bonus for a fight in which the guy wasn't cleanly knocked out. For footage of that, look no further than the previously mentioned Amagov fight, in which Waldburger took a magic carpet ride to La-La-Land.
At any rate, Dodson connected in this fight early and often. His considerable speed advantage paid off when he dropped Montague, who somehow recovered the first time and got back to his feet after doing a few stutter steps on the stanky leg dance floor. But, it was only a matter of time before Dodson connected again, and he did, followed by Montague's forward faceplant that impressed somebody upstairs enough to hand Dodson an extra $60,000.
Montague didn't look terrible out there, but he did look like somebody who didn't belong on a pay-per-view (PPV) card. With the shallowness of the 125-pound division, I imagine he'll be back for another chance before too long.
Winner: Either he waits to see the outcome of some of the bigger fights at 125 pounds (maybe a rematch against Demetrious Johnson) or he takes a fight against Chris Cariaso. Everybody else is booked.
* * *
Heavyweight : Gabriel Gonzaga (A+) vs. Shawn Jordan (F)
Prediction: Jordan via knockout in round one
Result: Gonzaga via technical knockout (punches) at 1:33 of round one
Underestimate Gabriel Gonzaga's striking at your own peril. Mirko Filipovic did. So did Josh Hendricks, Chris Tuchscherer, Dave Herman, and now Jordan. The amazing thing about the above photo is that immediately after Jordan landed flush on Gonzaga's chin, he got blacked out by a counter right.
Gonzaga is a complete enigma. After initially washing out of the UFC following an embarrassing loss to Brendan Schaub, he's returned to win four of five, with his only loss coming by way of controversial Travis Browne elbow strikes that were dangerously close to the back of the head.
Known as a submission fighter, his hands have made him one of most versatile guys in the heavyweight division, able to choke somebody out as likely as he is to put them to sleep with punches. As for Jordan, his unwillingness to respect Gonzaga's power, as evidenced by the photo and his clear overreaching and overextension, has paid him back in kind.
Winner: You know, I'm kind of partial to a Schaub rematch. I think he could take it easily this time around. If not Schaub, however, Stipe Miocic would be a big test. He already stopped one Croatian. Why not two?
* * *
Welterweight : Diego Sanchez (A+) vs. Gilbert Melendez (A)
Prediction: Melendez via unanimous decision
Result: Melendez via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 29-28)
You know, with most fighters you have an idea of what you're going to get. A good striker, a good grappler, a good wrestler. After a while you learn their style and you can more or less predict what's going to happen. Not with Sanchez. A lack of natural talent has never stopped him from overcoming adversity with a level of warrior courage and intensity that is second to none in UFC.
Whether it's Sanchez's screaming body slam against Paulo Thiago, his ferocious attack against Clay Guida, his dog fight third round against Martin Kampmann when his face was a mask of blood, his thorough beating he put on Jake Ellenberger in the third round of their fight, or the one we all watched last night, you can be assured that a Sanchez fight is going to involve something special.
Sanchez stood up against one of the most elite strikers who has ever fought at 155 pounds and traded blows like nobody has ever traded with Melendez. Not only did he stand his ground, he landed a ridiculous uppercut that dropped Melendez in the third. When Sanchez plants his feet and starts lunging shots he is one of the most dangerous fighters the MMA world possesses.
The only criticism anybody could have about that fight is that it wasn't two more rounds. I would have gladly traded it for the awful main event. There are fighters in UFC whom we are truly blessed to be able to watch and Sanchez is one of them. I hope he returns to the Octagon soon.
Winner: Melendez is stuck in a kind of No Man's Land right now. He may deserve a title shot, but not only is Josh Thomson there first, there's a lineup after him. T.J. Grant and Khabib Nurmagomedov both have a fair claim to the shot before he gets another kick at the can. It's up to Joe Silva to see how he can juggle all those match ups without giving Melendez a fight that isn't worthy of his status as a No. 1 contender.
* * *
I don't know about you, but I'm about as excited to see Nelson back inside the cage as I am to pay my taxes. Nelson is a slow-plodding one-trick pony with a telegraphed right hand and a chin that doesn't have the God-damn common sense to crack when it's being touched 74 times in a 15-minute time span. Nelson was dominated everywhere this fight went, pretty much justifying what everybody already knew:
He doesn't belong anywhere near the top of the 265-pound heap.
Cormier, meanwhile, manhandled Nelson effortlessly on the ground, dragging him around at will. When he wasn't dominating on the ground, he was lighting up slow-mo Nelson on the feet. Much like Fedor Emelianenko, Cormier has a lunging style that packs a hell of a punch when it lands, which is often.
Unlike Emelianenko, however, Cormier doesn't have much of a killer instinct. Over the course of 15 minutes it should have been apparent that Nelson doesn't belong in the same cage as the undefeated (12-0) fighter. He had several opportunities to turn up the volume and finish off Nelson, but he didn't. Whether that's an American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) thing, or just a poor sense of timing, is hard to tell.
Winner: Any other answer than Velasquez is pointless. Sure, he can try to kill himself going to 205 pounds, but why? There's nobody for Velasquez at 265 pounds, and the drop to Light Heavyweight doesn't make any sense. This is the fight game, and yet in two separate divisions we have the same problem. Teammates who are putting another person's career ahead of their own. Both Rory MacDonald and Daniel Cormier should put aside friendship, focus on business, and fight for the title (in their respective weight classes).
* * *
Heavyweight Championship : Cain Velasquez (B-) vs. Junior dos Santos (F)
Prediction: Velasquez via technical knockout in round two
Result: Velasquez via technical knockout (mercy stoppage) at 3:09 of round five
Did anyone honestly enjoy that fight? I sure didn't. It reminded me of Thiago Silva and Matt Hamill. Not in the fact that Silva was gassed, but that with a little effort it could have been ended long before dos Santos took more unnecessary brain damage.
Watch full Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos video highlights right here.
Well, you've got to admire dos Santos for trying at least ... wait, no I don't. "Cigano" did nothing to adjust his game coming into the trilogy. If anything, he adamantly stuck to his gameplan of standing against the cage and allowing Velasquez to lean on him and land bombs. If there's an award for "Worst Gameplan of the Year," dos Santos gets the gold with that performance.
As for Velasquez, I can't give him the props he deserves because he prolonged this far longer than he needed to. Is dos Santos dangerous? Sure. But, that doesn't mean he needed to become the Heavyweight equivalent of Georges St. Pierre, landing huge shots and then allowing the Brazilian to recover by leaning against the cage. Several times it looked like dos Santos was about to go out, but Velasquez would stop punching and lean on the cage.
It was the wall-and-stall version of lay-and-pray.
In the intermission between the fourth and fifth rounds, I was hoping the doctor had the good sense to call off this travesty. Dos Santos was finished early in the third round and only by sheer dimwitted heart and courage was he still going through the muscle memory of clinching with Velasquez as he got the living shit beaten out of him. Herb Dean's stoppage was the nicest thing anybody did all night for the guy.
Winner: Like I said, Velasquez could certainly beat up some trumped up No. 1 contenders like Fabricio Werdum, but why? Daniel Cormier is the only fascinating fight for Velasquez.