Ultimate Fighting Championship rang in the New Year with an action packed card that right now is without a doubt the best card of 2011. Not only that but it features the current 2011 fight of the year. It was a night filled with a brutal knockout, a slick submission, an excellent grappling battle, a dominating performance, and one of the most dramatic back and fourth title fights in recent memory. On top of all the action inside the cage, we got to see Brittney Palmer make the most successful UFC debut in the history of the company as she wore red so well that Chris De Burgh is thinking of re-releasing “Lady in Red” but now calling it “Ms. Palmer.”
Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard fought to a Split Draw (48-46, 46-48, 47-47). Edgar retains the UFC Lightweight Title
When Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard was announced, based on the track record of both men, many thought it would be a lackluster fight that would end up going to the judges. Luckily it wasn’t a lackluster fight but unfortunately it did go to the judges.
Edgar started the fight with his usual movement and feints but Maynard would have none of it. He clipped Edgar early with a left hook and spent the rest of the round swarming on Edgar with a flurry of punches. Edgar was never the same in the round and Maynard kept tagging him with left hooks and a couple of right hands for good measure. Somehow Edgar managed to survive the round but not without a busted nose and a foggy memory. In the second round Edgar came out and looked much refreshed. He was moving around like his typical self, landing a good right hand, and scored a big takedown that reminded a lot of fans of the slam that Maynard usually hits on his opponents. It was a big bounce back round for the champion that continued to hammer home the point that he wasn’t going away that easy. In between the second and third rounds, Randy Couture yelled at Maynard to stop head hunting and start getting back to his game. Maynard did just that in the third round. He still had trouble with Edgar’s movement but he ended up catching him late in round with some good punches and secured a takedown in the dying seconds. The fourth round saw Edgar land an early takedown and almost finish Maynard with a Guillotine Choke but Maynard managed to escape. Edgar kept the pressure up in the round though and peppered Maynard with some good strikes on the feet while also stuffing the takedowns of Maynard. It all came down to the fifth round, both men breathing hard but neither man out of the fight. Maynard desperately tried multiple times to land the big takedown but Edgar always managed to stuff the attempts. Edgar continued to get the better of things on the feet but Maynard hung in there the whole time. The final moments saw both men go for broke in a wild exchange and both men staying upright. As the final horn went off, both fighters raised their arms in victory. After the judges scorecards were announced, both fighters arms were raised in victory. The fight ended in an unsatisfying split draw that left the fans and the fighters disappointed.
Maynard did everything he could to win this fight and in the eyes of some people, he did win the fight. He hurt Edgar like he’d never been hurt in his MMA career and had it been another ref, maybe Maynard would be the UFC Lightweight Champion right now. He wasn’t able to bully Edgar around like he did in the first fight but I credit Edgar’s improving wrestling for that and Maynard feeling a little too comfortable in his hands, especially after the first big punch he threw landed. I’m one of the people who believe that Maynard should get a rematch. He won the fight according to one judge, he came closer than anyone has ever come to finishing Edgar, the fight wasn’t boring, and he still holds a victory over Edgar. Right now it appears as if he’s getting that rematch but you never know with Dana White, he could change his mind at anytime (and has).
If you ever questioned Edgar’s heart, you can official stop. The “Fe” on his shirt is not only his initials but it’s also the periodic symbol for iron as in the iron will of Edgar. He looked out on his feet a number of times in the first round and yet he not only survived, he came back to make it an extremely competitive fight. It’s not like Maynard completely blew himself up in that first round either like Shane Carwin did against Brock Lesnar or Dan Henderson did against Jake Shields. Maynard was still in Edgar’s face and Edgar just wouldn’t go away. I wouldn’t be shocked if Edgar begged for a rematch against Maynard. Based on his post-fight comments and the shots they showed of him in his locker room after the fight, Edgar was very disappointed with how the fight went. I think he was very disappointed that he couldn’t convincingly beat Maynard and avenge the only loss of his career. It looks like he’ll get another chance in the coming months.
Predicted Next Fights: Edgar vs. Maynard 3
Brian Stann defeated Chris Leben by TKO (Strikes) at 3:37 in Round One
Brian Stann asked to fight Chris Leben because he wanted to fight a tough guy. Sometimes getting what you asked for isn’t such a bad thing.
Leben did what he does in every fight and that style played into Stann’s hands, literally. Leben came forward, looked for that one big punch, got hit with some good punches, kept coming forward, and finally got dropped. Leben managed to get up though and it looked like he might zombie-fy his way to another victory but Stann just kept hitting him and finally after a knee to the head, the ref had seen enough. The former Marine had sunk his opponent.
I don’t want to make excuses for Leben but he looked off in his pre-fight warm ups and his walk out. Maybe the DUI affected his training, maybe he just didn’t take Stann seriously, or maybe the rumors of him being sick before the fight are true but he certainly seemed elsewhere this past Saturday night. When it comes down to it though, Leben is what he is. He’s a guy who moves forward, believes in his chin, and believes in his power. Sooner or later that chin wasn’t going to be there for him. I’m not going to say that his chin is cracked forever but he’s taken a lot of punishment over the years and he’s going to be easier and easier to knock out as he fights on. Leben’s chin might be able to take a hell of a punch but I think we’ve all learned that the way to beat Leben is to finish him with a knee.
This was a big win for Stann but I don’t want to go overboard with praise. Leben came right after him and like any smart fighter would do, Stann moved and countered. I give Stann credit for not stupidly going toe to toe with Leben and this performance certainly increases his profile but I still need to see more of him before I’m willing to crown him as a major middleweight threat. He called out Wanderlei Silva in the post-fight press conference, which seems to be the thing to do nowadays. Stann got what he wanted when he called out Leben so maybe he’ll get what he wants in calling out Silva.
Predicted Next Fights: Leben vs. Dan Miller – Stann vs. Damian Maia
Thiago Silva defeated Brandon Vera by Unanimous Decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27)
Thiago Silva and Brandon Vera needed impressive victories to stay in light heavyweight contention. One man seemed to know this, the other looked like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world.
Every round in this fight was largely the same. They started the round trading strikes where both men landed some good clean punches, then they clinch, Silva landed a trip takedown, and then Silva dominated Vera on the ground. For all the talk of Vera’s ground game being equal to or better than his stand up, he once again failed to prove it. Vera’s entire game off his back consisted of covering up as Silva pounded on him. In the third round Silva had Vera’s back and realizing that Vera was going to do nothing, Silva began slapping Vera in the face and playing drums on his back. At one point, Silva even spanked Vera and Vera’s response was to once again lie there and cover up. By the end of the fight, Vera’s nose was so broken that he could smell his own back, which probably smelled like the Octagon mat or a Brazilian light heavyweight. The decision was academic and Silva walked away with the victory.
I had high hopes for Vera when he chose “Runaway” by Kanye West as his walk out song. It was a very fitting song for him given his history and in the end, it was still a very fitting song but for the wrong reasons. Vera’s problem is all mental. Maybe he needs to spend some time with a sports psychiatrist or maybe he’ll just never get it. Some players want the ball in the final seconds and some players only want the ball when the team is up twenty. Vera is the latter. If you ever doubted just how much of a front runner Vera was, watch the beginning of the third round when he swept Silva with a kick and then raised his hands in the air like he just KO’d him. I usually hate it when UFC cuts fighters who lose on the main card but in their defense, this fight was scheduled to be a preliminary fight and Vera has had more than enough opportunities to prove himself.
Silva looked good in this fight and he completely embarrassed Vera. While Vera didn’t put up much of a fight, especially on the ground, Silva still looked very strong. He’s still a good striker, he showed in the Rashad Evans fight that he’s tough to keep down, and he’s shown throughout his career that he has excellent top control. Now that he’s had his back surgery, he could be a real threat in a crowded light heavyweight division. He still needs a really good win over someone who isn’t on the downswing and hopefully he’ll get that chance in his next fight.
Predicted Next Fights: Vera vs. Unemployment – Silva vs. Phil Davis
Dong Hyun Kim defeated Nate Diaz by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Dong Hyun Kim looked to remain unbeaten against the always tough Nate Diaz and even though his stun gun wasn’t fully charged, it had just enough juice to outlast the Stockton bad boy.
This fight might have had the greatest start to any fight in history as it opened with Kim throwing a leg kick and Diaz responding by saying, “come on bitch.” The first two rounds of this fight were all Kim. He was able to takedown Diaz at will and on the ground his control was excellent. Diaz tried his back to lock on a submission but Kim stuffed every opportunity, passed to better positions, and did damage with his ground and pound. It was an excellent grappling battle that I hope fans appreciated because both guys were working very hard to implement their game. Even though it never seemed like Diaz was in danger of being finished, Kim’s top control was so good that it had to be frustrating for Diaz, who tried his best to work off his back but just couldn’t lock anything up. Kim started to fade after two rounds though and Diaz turned up the pressure in the third round. Diaz managed to stuff the takedowns, slip the throws, gain better positions in the grappling department, and land some good strikes but couldn’t quite put Kim away. Diaz won the last round but he lost the first two, which gave Kim the decision victory.
Diaz has four losses in the UFC, all of them by decision, and in none of them did he ever truly get his ass kicked. It’s obvious that the way to beat him is to be a good wrestler with very good submission defense but Diaz is still very young with time to improve and all this experience against good competition is going to benefit him in the coming years. I hope he stays at welterweight because he’s looked good in the weight class and his cardio is one of his big advantages, which is an advantage he doesn’t really have at lightweight.
Kim is still undefeated and this was a good win for him but he’s yet to really turn in a star making performance. His grappling is outstanding, his submission defense and recognition is some of the best I’ve ever seen in MMA, and is striking is underrated but his cardio is very questionable. Kim can be a threat in the welterweight division, he just needs to improve his cardio, which will allow him to be more aggressive in the earlier rounds. He’s a tough match up for anyone though because of his style. Don’t be shocked if more fighters start using the PRIDE theme as their walk out song. So far it’s 2-0 in the UFC.
Predicted Next Fights: Diaz vs. Brian Foster – Kim vs. Ellenberger/Rocha winner
Clay Guida defeated Takanori Gomi by Submission (Guillotine Choke) at 4:27 in Round Two
Looking for that signature win in the UFC, Clay Guida energized his way past the heavy handed Takanori Gomi.
I’ve never seen someone move so much and do so little as Guida did in the first round of this fight. I’m almost positive that his game plan was to tire Gomi out by bouncing around so much that Gomi would just get fed up watching him and concede defeat. To Guida’s credit, he did manage to land a head kick and a couple of good clean punches but for all the talk of Guida’s iron chin, we all know that Gomi is the one with the true iron chin. Gomi did well to stuff the takedowns but he couldn’t get anything going on the feet outside of a peppering jab. The second round seemed to be going the same way until Gomi went for a jumping knee, which allowed Guida to get a takedown. From the top position, Guida locked on a guillotine choke, rolled to his back, and forced Gomi to tap out. It was a big win for Guida and another disappointing submission loss for Gomi.
Gomi is still a fighter who can be a threat in lightweight division but the longer the fight goes, the more he fades. It’s been a problem his entire career and he’s not likely to fix it anytime soon although we all hope he does. His power is still second to none in the division and he’s never been finished by strikes in his career but his submission defense is very questionable. I really hope UFC gives him a striker in his next fight so we can see one of those classic Gomi wars because thus far he’s only faced grapplers in his short UFC stint. He may never be UFC champion but he can still put on great fights and deliver exciting moments.
I’m not sure that there is any fighter who has never won a title that is as popular as Guida. The guy oozes charisma and usually puts on exciting fights. His striking is coming along but it’s really just a lot of bouncing around as he tries to find his range. His wrestling is still relentless although you can argue that it’s slipped a bit over the years, which I think is due to his focus on submissions. His submission offense has come a long way over the years as evident by his last three fights, which are all submission victories. Based on his popularity and winning streak, Guida is right there in the lightweight title hunt. In fact, now that Maynard vs. Edgar 3 has been confirmed, if Anthony Pettis doesn’t feel like waiting around, he should face Guida in his next fight. It’s a pretty favorable fight for Pettis and it’s a fight that will turn him into a star if he wins because people see beating Guida as a big deal. And if Guida wins, he could conceivably get a title shot based on beating Pettis and his popularity.
Predicted Next Fights: Gomi vs. Pearson/Fisher winner – Guida vs. Pettis
PHOTO CREDIT – UFC