UFC 91: "Couture vs. Lesnar" took place earlier this evening live on pay-per-view (PPV) from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
And, believe it or not, Brock Lesnar is now the new UFC heavyweight champion of the world. Die hard MMA fans across the nation more than likely all collectively vomited in their mouths with the result ... even though heading into the "biggest fight in UFC history" it was a very real possibility.
The highly anticipated bout started off with Couture weathering the typical Lesnar early blitz and keeping it under control. "Captain America" appeared to have a handle on things, despite being smothered by the behemoth for much of the opening frame.
In fact, he tested the suspect chin of Lesnar with some nice clean shots, but the former NCAA collegiate wrestling champion stood his ground like a rooted Oak tree. The first round ended with the two clinched against the cage after Couture escaped from the bottom -- he was even working for the takedown before the horn sounded.
Round two began much like the first.
Lesnar, however, soon landed a nice standing elbow that wobbled the 45-year-old Hall of Famer. Couture recovered quick and eventually cracked Lesnar, opening up a cut above his right eye. But the tide shifted quickly when one of Lesnar's lunch box-sized meat hooks caught "The Natural" behind the left ear.
Couture dropped and Lesnar pounced, unleashing a barrage of hammer fists and thundering forearms on the head of the champion. He was clearly hurt bad and it was only a matter of time before the referee waived off the action.
Yikes ... talk about a stepping stone.
Lesnar -- a former WWE wrestling super star -- has now advanced to the final round of the mini four-man heavyweight tournament put together to determine an undisputed division champion. He will face the winner of the bout between interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Noguiera and Frank Mir, who are set to collide at UFC 92: "The Ultimate 2008" on December 27.
Couture's future is not so certain. He came in at a svelte 220 pounds, which is light for the heavyweight division. Whether or not that was by design to counter the bigger and presumably slower Lesnar doesn't mean much right now.
He has two fights remaining on his contract. And there does not seem to be much for him at the heavyweight class in terms of maximizing his drawing power while it lasts. He's not getting any younger, so it makes sense for him to get back in the Octagon sooner rather than later.
Couture is a former light heavyweight champion. He can make the weight. And there are better history-making fights for him there than at heavyweight at this time. And what better way to make some history, and some big money, than matching him up against middleweight champion Anderson Silva in another 205-pound special.
That's a fight that makes sense ... or is it cents?
Lightweights Kenny Florian and Joe Stevenson hooked 'em up in the co featured bout of the evening for the right to challenge division champion BJ Penn next. UFC President Dana White upped the ante in the days leading up to the showdown with a title shot berth on the line.
Florian has reinvented himself in the past year or so as a Muay Thai specialist, adding to his bread and butter, which is is the jiu-jitsu game. Stevenson perhaps didn't take note. "Daddy" -- who has some great stand up of his own -- seemed intent on taking the fight to the ground.
Be careful for what you wish for. Or in this case, the gameplan that you implement.
"Daddy" took the fight to the ground, but it was Florian who did damage from the position. He was able to quickly reverse and secure full mount, putting Stevenson on the defensive. Stevenson scrambled to escape and made a fatal error, trying to get to his feet and outstretching his arms to climb up the cage.
The momentary lapse enabled Florian to easily sink in a fight-ending rear naked choke. Stevenson was tapping with about a minute left in the first round and Florian racing around the cage in victory.
It's hard to tell if Florian has really become this good -- because Stevenson is such a force in the division -- or if it was simply a major mistake that Florian capitalized on in a major way. It doesn't make much difference either way because Florian proved once again that he is the man to beat among the top contenders in the division.
In the process, he proved that he is indeed a finisher and that he will make his opponents pay for their mistakes. It's now time for him to change that nickname.
Unfortunately, the win actually still leaves Florian in the title lurch, even though it appeared he had punched his ticket before the win over Stevenson with a victory over Roger Huerta earlier this year. That's because Penn is slated to fight Georges St. Pierre for his welterweight title on January 31.
Long story short, Penn -- if he wins -- will put either the 155 or 170-pound belt on pause for a very long time, meaning either Thiago Alves, the number one welterweight contender, or Florian, will have a very long wait.
Don't expect either guy to sit idle too long ... especially Florian.
In the pre-fight interviews, Nate Quarry talked about the need to keep the fight upright, saying world class Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist Demian Maia had to get past his fists and hips before he could implement his all word ground skills.
It took about 30 seconds ... literally.
The Abu Dhabi champion secured a takedown within the first minute and took his back shortly thereafter. It was only a matter of time after that. In fact, two minutes and 13 seconds before "The Rock" was broken courtesy of a rear naked choke.
Quarry tapped almost as soon as the choke was sunk, earning Maia his fourth submission win in four attempts inside the Octagon. And with the impressive finish, Maia has made perhaps his most impressive statement to date that he is a force in the middleweight division.
Anderson Silva is now on notice, whether or not he is down with taking on a fellow Brazilian. Maia is on fire.
Former heavyweight title contender Gabriel Gonzaga doesn't do too well beyond the first round (all three of his losses have come after the opening frame). So it's no surprise he came out guns blazing to start the bout.
And his shots hit their mark early and often on Josh Hendricks. The powerful Brazilian connected with a stiff overhand right that dropped the former All American wrestler like a sack of potatoes, channeling his form back when he Cro Copped Mirko Cro Cop not too long ago.
In short, Hendricks was toast before he even hit the mat.
Gonzaga looked good tonight. Let's see how he performs when the water gets a little deeper. Cheick Kong, can you swim?
It would be hard to tell that Dustin Hazellet is among the top jiu-jitsu players in the game in the opening minutes of his fight against Tamdan McCrory -- the two traded leather from the get-go.
But it didn't last long.
As soon as the welterweight fight hit the canvas, it was crystal clear just how talented the 22-year-old is on the ground. He worked the rubber guard to perfection, throwing crazy submissions left and right.
He eventually settled on a painful-looking armbar that soon had the "Barn cat" yowling and Joe Rogan creaming.
It was a great display of mixed martial arts all around. Hazelett is putting it all together real fast. He's a scary dude at 170 ... good luck, welterweights.
UFC 91 was a great card in many ways. There were some sweet submissions and some solid finishes -- not one fight on the main card went the distance.
In fact, those watching at home were treated to four additional fights that took place on the preliminary card. Four plus five (on the main card) = EVERY FIGHT.
That's getting your money's worth.
So what do you think ... is Lesnar being the new champion good or bad for the sport? What's next for Couture? How does Florian stack up against Penn? Is Maia ready for a title shot?
Sound off in the comments section below. To check out complete UFC 91 results and blow-by-blow coverage click here.
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