Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) made its long-awaited debut on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) with UFC Fight Night 26: "Shogun vs. Sonnen," and the card was stacked from top to bottom. More often than we would like, cards that look good on paper do not necessarily materialize into high-octane affairs.
Not this time.
Nearly every single fight delivered on Facebook, as well as on the "Prelims" and main card last Saturday night (August 17, 2013) at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Perhaps the end of 2013 could shape up to be the most anticipated series of events to close out the year in the company's existence.
It's off to a great start.
Not only did UFC score in the ratings department -- with an average of 1.71 million viewers tuning into the new broadcast channel -- it also made the older fan base more than happy as well, after a series of lacking shows. Not all events were terrible this year, but the reality is that UFC has not been overly consistent.
Headliner Chael Sonnen ended any talk about lack of relevancy with his "Submission of the Night" performance against former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Mauricio Rua, courtesy of a tight guillotine choke that forced the PRIDE FC Middleweight Grand Prix winner to tap out with just 13 seconds remaining in the opening frame.
Sonnen stormed out of the gate with an early takedown and started to smother Rua, giving him slight chances to even breathe. The Brazilian went for a takedown of his own, but Sonnen proved that his wrestling game is second to none in UFC (with the exception of maybe Georges St. Pierre and Chris Weidman) and made it a tough night for Rua on the bottom.
"The American Gangster" then caught "Shogun" in a guillotine, forcing him to tap out and proving once again that the critics were wrong to write off Sonnen's immediate future.
The win prompted him to call out Wanderlei Silva in his post-fight interview, which seems like the next logical step for Sonnen, even though he was also called out by three other men in the process. Not short of options, Sonnen faces a handful of choices for his next bout, uncertain of which weight he will stay at simply because he chases the big fights, according to "Mr. Personality" himself.
Though Silva does seem enticing for the brass to consider, simply because of the fact that his blood is probably boiling right now.
Alistair Overeem had a lot riding into this co-main event fight: his potential UFC future to be exact. Even though he was 1-1 inside the promotion, "Demolition Man" did not yet convince everyone that he was as good as he was marketed to be, as the prolific K-1 striker enjoyed success in a shady Japanese circuit which questioned his natural abilities.
After testing positive for elevated testosterone, Overeem looked slimmer and dare we say it, more normal, but the fascination could be finally gone. Storming out and delivering some brutal liver shots to Travis Browne, Overeem was on the brink of defeating "Hapa" as Mario Yamasaki took a close watch to a downed Browne, but the Greg Jackson product kept moving.
As Overeem tried to stalk his opponent, Browne kept him at bay with front kicks -- and it was working -- until the last one ultimately proved the difference. Browne knocked Overeem down with a kick that landed right on the jaw and followed up with some unnecessary shots on the ground.
Browne now puts the division on notice as the next potential opponent for the winner of Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos at UFC 166, adding himself to a short list that also includes Fabricio Werdum, as well as the winner of Frank Mir vs. Josh Barnett at UFC 164.
"Hapa" did enough to convince fans he is the heavyweight to watch, but Werdum probably deserves the next shot for now. If Browne does find himself in a future title fight, many would not complain either. As for Overeem, it would be unfair if he lost his job as a result of this, simply because he is worthy of being in the Octagon and under the ZUFFA banner, but what do you do with him now?
It was same old Urijah Faber against Iuri Alcantara, but the "California Kid" definitely found himself in a fight, in spite of what the scorecards said. Alcantara threw Faber down early and attacked with submissions but Faber -- one of the most well-rounded fighters on the planet -- bounced back with some combinations of his own on the feet.
He ultimately proved the difference on the mat with his elbows and slick transitioning over the course of three rounds, but Alcantara should be credited for being tougher than expected. In victory, Faber looks to have inserted himself in the Bantamweight title picture once again.
The former WEC champ called for "super fights" and that is always a possibility, but there is one man on this card who could be an intriguing opponent for him. More on that in just a bit.
Matt Brown is a man possessed these days.
It took him 0:29 seconds to brutally knock out Mike Pyle with a big punch to earn his sixth consecutive victory. The only man who has as many victories as him is the challenger who will face Georges St. Pierre at UFC 167, and that's Johny Hendricks.
Although he has not yet convinced everyone he could hang with a guy like St. Pierre, he did make the case for a potential shot and quite frankly, it would be stupid for him to take a dangerous fight to risk his recent form, unless it is a title eliminator bout.
He made it look too easy on Saturday night and unless the brass have immediate plans for the Welterweight division after UFC 167, Brown is not far in the distance. With a potential bout featuring Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald, Brown finds himself with greater odds of getting a crack at the title, unless he waits for the winner of Carlos Condit and Martin Kampmann at UFC Fight Night 27.
Despite Dana White's unhappiness with Uriah Hall vs. John Howard, it was not the worst bout in recent memory, but it was definitely the worst one on the card. Howard jumped for the fight when he heard it was in Boston and after Hall's previous opponents dropped out (Josh Samman and Nick Ring), Howard found himself in a stiff test.
It was a razor-thin split decision, with Howard edging last year's Ultimate Fighter (TUF) finalist as they both shared some good moments on the feet and on the ground. Hall started off with a takedown right off the bat and continued by picking Howard apart but "Doomsday" had a good second round, sending Hall to the mat and catching his chin on separate occasions.
Hall threw some flashy kicks but nothing landed, as Howard closed the fight strong with some more takedowns and clinches. Howard now guarantees himself another UFC fight with that performance while Hall, who is now 0-2 in the UFC, looks like he may be on the chopping block.
Joe Lauzon was the hometown favorite as well as the bookies' favorite heading into his bout against Michael Johnson, but he couldn't quite put it together. Johnson dropped Lauzon and pummeled him in the first round, as "J-Lau" looked somewhat frozen inside the Octagon.
Whether or not the pressure or the jitters got to him, Lauzon couldn't capitalize on his offense as Johnson's southpaw stance created immense problems for the fight-bonus leader. "The Menace" kept on clocking him with left hooks and uppercuts, winning the decision and scoring the upset when many pundits had him losing this fight in the weeks leading up to it.
Johnson now makes a case to break into the official Lightweight rankings and more forward by feeding off that performance that he desperately needed after dropping two straight.
The "Prelims" headliner featured two bantamweight standouts, as Michael McDonald and Brad Pickett earned "Fight of the Night" honors (see all the bonuses here) thanks to their highly entertaining spectacle. Both trading blows early on, McDonald -- the last man to challenge Renan Barao for the title -- dropped Pickett twice and put "One Punch" on the brink of defeat, but Pickett fought back, showing immeasurable heart.
McDonald looked like the best version we've seen from him yet and that's eerie since he is only 22 years old. In the second round, McDonald caught Pickett is a beautiful sequence of submissions, as he went for the armbar and transitioned into a triangle choke, forcing "One Punch" to tap out.
"Mayday" takes home another $50,000 for his efforts, earning "Submission of the Night," as he becomes one of the biggest blue-chip prospects in all of MMA. McDonald now stands at the heap of the division with another man destined to get another title shot sooner rather than later.
Yes, Urijah Faber, as it is inevitable these men will meet sometime in the near future.
Although the comparisons to the hype Brock Lesnar had coming into the promotion may be slightly ridiculous, Conor McGregor had Boston on their feet as he walked into the arena. McGregor, who was the heavy favorite coming into this fight, had everyone in the mixed martial arts (MMA) bubble talking about him that week, even getting his own workout.
The proud Irishman delivered against Max Holloway, getting the nod in a three-round decision.
McGregor was lightning-fast with his unorthodox striking, kicks and even showcased his well-rounded skills by taking Holloway to the ground and getting the better of him there, as well. McGregor bemoaned his knee injury in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan but he still looked impressive, whether he was going for the finish or not.
The dilemma with McGregor is that the UFC brass definitely think highly of him and he is an undeniable talent, but would they rather pad his record or match him up with someone that can actually trouble him? He showed that he could hang with tougher opposition -- and not to discredit Holloway, who is as tough as they come -- but McGregor could easily face someone in the official Featherweight rankings and prove that he is the real deal against them.
Speaking of which...
Mike Brown, who recently flirted with the possibility of retirement, had not fought in 15 months but he said he felt good. In fact, he claimed he never felt better. Unfortunately for him, Steven Siler may have ruined his future plans, scoring a brutal knockout over the former WEC featherweight champion in 0:50 seconds.
Siler connected with some heavy shots before Brown went out and although the only man to defeat Urijah Faber twice protested for quite a while after the bell, replays showed it was a justified stoppage as Brown was clearly out and the ref saved him from potential long-term punishment. Siler is now 5-1 in his UFC career with the lone loss coming from Darren Elkins last year.
"Super" may have missed out on a fight bonus, but Dana White reiterated that Siler will "get paid" as well.
The first "Prelims" bout in FS1 history started off as an intense slugfest as Diego Brandao and Daniel Pineda started to trade viciously with the TUF 14 winner getting the best of the exchanges, rocking Pineda on numerous occasions and almost finishing him.
Pineda showed his durability by hitting back when he was hurt, smiling in the process.
"The Pit" also had a decent second round as he bounced back to trouble Brandao, but the downfall for both men is that their cardio was lacking and they both looked extremely exhausted after the first round. In the time that Brandao took Pineda down, he simply sprawled on top of him, showing that he might have been resting instead of actually working.
Nevertheless, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) black belt took home another victory against a durable opponent, now making it three straight for "Ceara."
The headlining bout on Facebook featured Manny Gamburyan, with UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey in his corner, edging Cole Miller over the course of three rounds with his relentless takedown approach, proving to be the difference in this featherweight scrap.
Both men had success tagging each other in the first round and Gamburyan suffered a scare in the second, as he grabbed the back of his head and stayed down on the mat grimacing in pain. Replays showed that Miller landed a razor-sharp elbow to the back of his head -- unintentionally -- and the fight was nearly going to be waved off.
Gamburyan did indeed make it out for the second round and tried to catch Miller with his dynamite overhead hooks and took down the American Top Team (ATT) fighter for the next 10 minutes with dominant positioning, but no real damaging effects to Miller.
"The Manvil" is now 2-2 in his second UFC tenure after his time in the WEC, while Miller is 2-4 in his last six bouts.
Ovince St. Preux continued his impressive streak by giving Cody Donovan more than he can chew on the ground as the man they call "OSP" delivered some brutal ground strikes, forcing Herb Dean to call a stop to the fight in just over two minutes.
Donovan looked good in the early seconds, rocking St. Preux with a nice hook and his combinations looked solid. When he went for the takedown, however, the more powerful OSP reversed the attack and found himself on top, delivering some nasty shots to Donovan's dome including some rock-hard lefts.
The Strikeforce veteran now has three straight victories and is 11-1 in his past 12 bouts, with the lone loss suffered at the hands of Gegard Mousasi at the end of 2011, a fight he would surely love to avenge.
The Facebook portion kicked off with a bang as James Vick, who made his Octagon debut after appearing on TUF, finished fellow reality show veteran Ramsey Nijem with a guillotine choke in less than a minute. Nijem was looking to set a furious pace of takedowns and started to trouble Vick, but the young Team Lloyd Irvin product caught Nijem in a tight guillotine, forcing him to tap out.
Vick, who is now 5-0 with four of those wins coming by way of finishes, is poised for great success in the sport of MMA. Unfortunately for Nijem, this is his second loss in a row, as he was knocked out by Myles Jury in his previous fight and has a combined amount of fight time in his last two bouts of exactly two minutes.
He needs a win ... and fast.
It proves that sometimes stacking a card with household names, former champions and up-and-coming prospects that have been seen on TUF is the way to go when building an event of this proportion. Maybe there is an over-saturation problem right now, which sounds so selfish and unappreciative from watchers of the sport, but a lot of pay-per-view (PPV) shows these past two years have been unfortunate.
Maybe injuries take a toll, but the show must go on, as it always should and the company certainly exceeded expectations with this memorable fight card. The head honchos at FOX can't be happier with this product right now but looking into the future, will the company invest in stacking free cards like this again, or build on making unmissable PPV events instead?
The shows to close out the year have great main and co-main events, but the undercards are not yet set in stone. This was the event that the company needed to revitalize their mystique to the casual fan and make the older ones happy as well.
It will be interesting to see how things pan out for the rest of the year.
For complete UFC Fight Night 26: "Shogun vs. Sonnen" results, recaps, videos, reactions and more, check out our complete results wrap and link dump by clicking here.