Coming into UFC 156, fans and pundits were in quite the lather over the densely packed card that awaited them in Vegas. Case in point: the pay-per-view segment featured four current or former major league MMA champions and six guys who, at some point, fought for a UFC belt.
But it wasn't the big names who stole the show Saturday night, at least not in the sweeping fashion in which they were billed. Turns out you actually have to fight the fights to steal the show.
That theme, and the excitement attending it, extended well beyond the star-studded main card. The highlights and surprises extended all up and down the line, Facebook to finale.
But do the results alone tell the whole story? If you just said yes, then I would like to correct you and tell you that no, they do not. Outcomes are but the tip of the iceberg.
What are those outcomes not telling you? What lurks behind the curtain? Who were the real winners and losers on Saturday night at the casino? Read on, why don't you?
Francisco Rivera was off to a perfect start in his second stint with the UFC. But then he had to go and flame down a bathroom and get himself a no-contest ruling and a nice, fat suspension.
This was his first fight back from that suspension. But the UFC didn't exactly welcome him home with Fudgie the Whale; instead, he got Edwin Figueroa, and at the bottom of the Facebook card, no less. In his TKO victory Rivera showed Figueroa and everyone else that he still hits harder than any other UFC bantamweight.
Stimulant, shmimulant. Welcome back, Cisco.
Jacob Volkmann, a wise farmer once gave me a sage bit of advice: Don't give your victory speech before it hatches.
Throughout fight week, Volkmann told anyone who would listen that he already had his post-fight soliloquy all mapped out (via MMAjunkie.com). All he had to do was handle Bobby Green, and then he could get on the mic with Joe Rogan and get down to the real business at hand. (If you're not aware, Volkmann is known for his rather unique brand of half-crazy, in-ring political rants.)
Unfortunately, he didn't clear the plan with Green ahead of time. Volkmann was probably winning on the judges' scorecards when he gassed during the final round. Green pounced and scored the submission victory.
Volkmann was a two-time loser Saturday night. He lost a fight, then squandered his big chance to make himself more famous. And that's a big, huge pity, is what that is.
"I'm declaring war on the welterweight division," Tyron Woodley told broadcaster Joe Rogan in the cage after the fight.
Based on his performance Saturday night, it appears the shock-and-awe phase may have commenced.
In his UFC debut, Woodley blitzed his way to a win over veteran Jay Hieron, dropping him with a massive punch and ending the fight with ground strikes just 36 seconds into the opening round.
Before Woodley put the welterweight division on notice, his fellow Strikeforce refugees* put in their own work. Bobby Green tapped Volkmann, and the hyper-aggressive Isaac Vallie-Flagg took a surprise split decision over Yves Edwards.
*Edwards, Hieron, Antonio Silva and Alistair Overeem don't count, since they left for and debuted in the UFC well before Strikeforce folded.
You have to love the flyweights. Ian McCall and Joseph Benavidez battled all over the Octagon for 15 frenetic minutes.
There were heavy strikes, especially from Benavidez in the beginning. There were sharp exchanges from the clinch. There were some masterful—and I don't use that term loosely—sequences on the ground from the two best wrestlers in the division. McCall, in particular, used those to score.
After the adrenaline drained out, McCall seemed to take the upper hand for a while. But Benavidez stayed on his horse down the stretch and rode it to the unanimous-decision win over "Uncle Creepy."
The blob got blobbed on Saturday night.
Jon Fitch lost to Demian Maia by unanimous decision. But the fight was more a testament to the greatness of the winner than some mistake or shortcoming from the loser.
So why is Fitch on this list as a loser? Let me express that same sentiment from another angle: Jon Fitch is Jon Fitch. Fitch wins by exerting his will, by gaining and holding control and by fending off submissions and whatever else.
If he can't do that, he won't win. It's either enough or it isn't. Fitch is still a very, very good fighter. But I think Maia may have exposed him more definitively than anyone has before.
How can you not be happy for Antonio Silva? Alistair Overeem had been scoffing in his face since the UFC announced the fight.
He didn't stop just because there was a fight happening, either. No, The Reem had quite the permasmirk going. He held his hands low, didn't bother to play any defense and practically blew kisses to "Bigfoot" in the center of the cage.
Then came those heavy blows at the end of the second round and into the third. Finally the smirk was gone. Silva went crazy and shouted, it seemed, as much in catharsis as in triumph. This was the best performance of the night.
Thanks to Overeem, it looks like it's back to the drawing board for a late-spring main event.
To be honest, The Reem's got no one to blame but The Reem. He didn't seem to take Silva seriously until it was too late, at which point Silva appeared to Overeem as an angry Viking riding a unicorn, and Overeem was giving a speech, right, but he was in his underwear.
Don't worry, Alistair. I have that one all the time, too.
I had Evans penciled in as a loser even before Bruce Buffer read the verdict.
What a poor fight for Rashad Evans. Little action, little urgency, little damage done from either side. Lots of apathy, though. Lots of sluggishness. Lots of looking like he could use a nice dosing of insoluble fiber. Those are not qualities that win you fights.
Even worse, Alistair Overeem, perhaps the highest-profile teammate in the Blackzilians camp—the camp Rashad Evans helped create—had been knocked cold 15 minutes earlier.
It takes more than just a bad upset loss to enter this category. You have to make an assumption.
That's what Jacob Volkmann did with his speeches, Alistair Overeem with his disrespect and Rashad Evans with his Anderson Silva/middleweight talk. (Maybe Yves Edwards was doing it, too.)
And you know what? It was a positive lesson and a solid reminder. Thanks, guys.
I'll be honest: I had Frankie Edgar winning the fight.
Aldo did more damage, especially with some of those patented banshee leg kicks during the first two rounds. But Edgar, as he always does, came on as the fight wore on. I believe he did enough to win the final three rounds and the fight.
Still, though, it was a very, very close fight. Edgar, as he always is when this happens to him (which is always), was gracious in defeat. I think he summed it up succinctly in his comments to broadcaster Joe Rogan immediately after the fight: "Jose Aldo's the winner."
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