This Saturday (Nov. 16, 2013) marks the return of George St-Pierre to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) against power punching NCAA wrestling champion, Johny Hendricks, at UFC 167, which will emanate from MGM Grand Garden Arena, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It also marks the company's 20th Anniversary.
The mixed martial arts (MMA) action inside the Octagon has changed over the course of two decades. Bare-knuckle brawlers strapped on four ounce gloves and new rules were added as needed, while weight divisions were abolished, reinstated and added. However, the most remarkable addition throughout that volatile stretch may be women's MMA, essentially carried into UFC by Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
UFC 157, which took place earlier this year (Feb. 23, 2013) contained Rousey's debut, making it one of the most important events in the promotion's history; however, that's not the only reason it's so memorable. From top to bottom, this card delivered exciting fights and some dynamic submissions.
The earliest "Prelims" under bouts -- often referred to as "Facebook Fights" -- can be hit or miss, normally filled with green prospects, struggling veterans and middle of the pack fighters. At UFC 157, a combination of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veterans and Strikeforce imports made many of the "Prelims" worth watching.
In the opening match of the night, former Strikeforce veterans Nah-Shon Burrell and Yuri Villefort went to war. This flawed, but electric, clash demonstrated the best and worst of young fighters, as both took crazy risks for finishes, absorbed plenty of damage and fatigued hard in the end. Burrell won the decision and was an early candidate for "Fight of the Night."
A little later on, Kenny Robertson defeated Brock Jardine in shocking fashion. After quickly dragging the John Hackleman-trained fighter to the mat, Robertson secured Jardine's back. Jardine stood up and tried to shake Robertson off.
This is where things get strange.
Robertson reached down and grabbed one of Jardine's legs, while maintaining back control. He wrapped his arm around Jardine's ankle and yanked up, causing "The Machine" to lose his balance. That wasn't Robertson sole goal, as he held onto the leg and began pulling it behind Jardine's shoulder. This put immense pressure on Jardine's hamstring, forcing him to submit.
This "Suloev stretch" was the first of its kind in UFC competition.
In the next section "Prelims," a nice submission from TUF champion Michael Chiesa and competitive scrap between Sam Stout and Caros Fodor were overshadowed by a "Fight of the Year" contender (and eventual "Fight of the Night" award-winner) between Matt Grice and Dennis Bermudez.
For the first two rounds, Grice laid a beating on Bermudez. Dropping the wrestler more than once, Grice was able to control the striking, resist "The Menace's" takedowns and even land a takedown of his own. Going into the third round, it was clear Bermudez needed to do something big to win the fight.
Bermudez came out firing. After following up three jabs with a hard straight right, Grice slumped a bit against the fence. Two more powerful right hands sent Grice falling to the canvas. Bermudez followed with ground-and-pound, but Grice returned to his feet. This would be the story of the third round, as Bermudez landed countless power punches, only for Grice to somehow survive. This late onslaught would win Bermudez the judges decision and cement his UFC spot.
Ignoring the awfulness that was Lavar Johnson vs. Brendan Schaub, the pay-per-view (PPV) main card began with Robbie Lawler returning the Octagon against perennial contender Josh Koscheck. Lawler was a major underdog, as Koscheck has made it a habit of grinding exciting strikers into the mat.
Lawler flipped the script, stuffing one of Koscheck's takedowns late in the round. As Koscheck drove for the takedown, "Ruthless" unleashed a flurry of hard punches onto the side of Koscheck's skull. The former American Kickboxing Academy-trained product collapsed against the cage and a final flurry brought the end of the bout.
An old, new Welterweight contender had emerged.
Another fighter dropping to Welterweight for the first time, TUF winner Court McGee, next made a successful 170-pound debut. Overwhelming veteran Josh Neer with a huge volume of punches and kicks, McGee was able to win a clear unanimous decision. That's not to say Neer didn't land powerful shots of his own, but he just wasn't able to overcome "Crusher."
In the next fight of the evening, Urijah Faber looked to regain momentum after a title loss to interim Bantamweight champion Renan Barao. He faced fellow Lightweight pioneer Ivan Menjivar in what many expected to be a competitive fight. And at first, it looked like one.
Faber bounced into the center of the cage, quickly moving around. Menjivar capitalized on Faber's movement, quickly clinching and tossing Faber through the air. Menjivar landed in side control, but "California Kid" was able to reverse position, winding up in Menjivar's guard.
For a couple of minutes, Faber worked elbows while Menjivar looked for submission opportunities. Eventually, Faber backed off Menjivar's guard, who looked to stand up; however, "Pride of El Salvador" was too slow, and Faber was able to hop around toward his back.
At first, Faber was holding a standing crucifix. When Menjivar tried to shake him off, Faber used the momentum to swing further around and take his back. Not long after, Faber had secured a rear-naked choke, submitting Menjivar for the first time in a decade. There was talk about Faber being past his prime before this fight and the Californian silenced it.
The co-main event was a true clash of styles, as Dan Henderson tried slinging his overhand, while Lyoto Machida circled and scored points with small kicks and punches. Both men managed to land a single takedown, but did little with them. The Light Heavyweight bout was largely a stalemate, with Machida doing slightly more, namely with some nice stepping knees.
Fans of both fighters still ardently argue that either man deserves the victory, but in the end, Machida was awarded the split decision victory.
The main event, and first-ever women's UFC bout between Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche, had finally arrived. The pressure on these two athletes must have been immense, as they absolutely had to deliver an exciting bout. Indeed, a boring match could have been disastrous for women's MMA, with UFC not afraid to abolish divisions like it has in the past.
Luckily, the ladies delivered.
Rousey immediately bull rushed through Carmouche's punches to get into the clinch against the fence. She began working for a toss and got it, landing directly into side control. She began attacking Carmouche's arm from the sit out position, but failed to control "Girlrilla," who escaped out the back door, onto the champion's back.
Rousey stood up, lifting Carmouche up with her. Carmouche desperately worked for a neck crank, squeezing over Rousey's jaw. Rousey, whose expression had yet to change, ignored it, prying off Carmouche's feet, which sent her tumbling to the mat.
Not long after she was on her back, Carmouche went for a heel hook, which allowed Rousey to pass her guard. She once again grabbed a head lock and began delivering ground-and-pound. For about two minutes, Rousey battered the former Marine with punches from this position. This time around, Rousey was much more patient.
With about one minute left in the first round, Rousey stepped into technical mount, wrapped up Carmouche's arm and fell back. Carmouche rolled up twice, but Rousey re-rolled her both times, constantly working to break her grip. Eventually, Carmouche's grip strength faded, allowing Rousey to get the tap with just 10 seconds left in the round.
Considering all the success women's MMA has had since this bout, it appears that the ladies are here to stay ... and it all started with UFC 157.