Saturday night's UFC on FX 8 card marked the return of the Ultimate Fighting Championship to Brazil.
Two years ago, that would've felt like a big deal. Today, the UFC seemingly takes its circus on the road to Brazil every two or three months, so a bit of the novelty is lost. This one wasn't even the usual pay-per-view offering; it aired on cable television.
But it was a televised card with plenty of intrigue, at least in the top two fights of the night. The main event between Luke Rockhold and Vitor Belfort featured two of the world's best middleweights, and the co-main event saw the UFC debut of Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza. That was a moment plenty of us have been waiting a long time for.
Who were the biggest winners and losers on the night? That's what I'm here to discuss. In the following slides, I'll name the fighters who gained the most and the athletes who were knocked down a few pegs by their performances.
Keep in mind that these aren't the winners and losers of each fight, though it often ends up working out that way. If someone wins a fight but looks terrible in doing so, the chances of them appearing on our list of winners is slim to none.
Let's get started, shall we?
When Jussier Formiga entered the UFC, he was considered a contender-in-waiting for the winner of the UFC 152 flyweight title fight between Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez. Formiga's title-shot hopes were dashed by John Dodson, but he remains one of the best flyweights in a UFC division that still numbers just 13 fighters under contract, which means he's still just a win or two away from a title shot.
That title shot might be even closer now, after Formiga beat Chris Cariaso in a Facebook preliminary at UFC on FX 8. The first two rounds were very nearly a thing of beauty from Formiga, who used deft grappling skills and ultra-smooth transitions on the way to a unanimous decision.
It wasn't a perfect performance by Formiga; Cariaso very nearly choked out Formiga in the third and then spent much of the final two minutes raining down elbows and bloodying the Brazilian. It wasn't enough to score the win, but it was enough to put a dent in Formiga's performance for the night.
When you're a referee and more folks are talking and tweeting about the poor job you did than the excellent fight they just watched, you have a problem.
How many times does Mulhall have to stand these two up before Keith Peterson gets the northeastern-reffing-rep-on-the-UFC-world-tour pass?— Jordan Breen (@jordanbreen) May 18, 2013
Kevin Mulhall's had a rough few months. Typically an excellent referee, Mulhall found himself embroiled in controversy during the Gian Villante vs. Ovince St. Preux fight-ending eye poke at UFC 159. And then Saturday night, during the Jussier Formiga vs. Chris Cariaso fight, Mulhall had two extremely questionable stand-ups during some great ground action.
These aren't the kind of moments you want to be known for. As a referee, you want to be invisible, because that is when you're truly doing your job to the best of your ability. Once people start talking about you, you're doing it wrong.
Watch out, flyweights. There's a new devastator in your division, and he likes punching to the body.
John Lineker scored his second consecutive victory by absolutely blasting Azamat Gashimov, finishing him in the second round with a nasty body punch followed by the requisite ground and pound. It was more of a mercy killing than anything else for Gashimov; he was dropped multiple times in the first round by blasting Lineker right hands and was even deducted the rare first-round point for holding the cage.
Lineker may be the seldom-seen flyweight who possesses terrifying punching power. I'd like to see what happens if he goes on a decent little winning streak.
This wasn't the worst fight in the world. But there's nothing I hate more than seeing two non-heavyweight fighters gasping desperately for breath midway through the second round.
In Maldonado's defense, the spinning back kick to the junk from Hollett in the first round probably did the kind of damage that will have him breathing hard for several days, much less in the 12 or so minutes following the strike.
I grow weary when fighters grow weary, especially when they don't have any kind of speed to make up for their lack of cardio. It's perfectly acceptable to expect a certain standard from fighters who walk around well under 250 pounds, and Hollett and Maldonado do not make that cut.
Jon Anik noted at the beginning of this fight that Yuri Alcantara was a potential dark horse at 135 pounds. That may be true.
Alcantara looked great against late replacement Iliarde Santos. To be fair to Santos, he was fighting outside of his typical 125-pound weight class, but that still takes absolutely nothing away from Alcantara, who blasted Santos with a beautiful straight left down the pipe to drop him to the canvas and then finish the fight.
This was Alcantara's third UFC win in front of his home Brazilian crowd. He's building up quite a head of steam, and it'll be interesting to see whom the UFC pairs him with the next time out.
I still don't know how Gleison Tibau makes weight in the lightweight division. He says he's slimming down, but he's still easily the biggest lightweight in the UFC. The dude looks like a middleweight in the cage, and he's still a beast.
Tibau rocked John Cholish partway through the second round, and then executed one of the nastier guillotine chokes I've seen in quite some time. Seriously, this thing looked almost like a Jake "The Snake" Roberts DDT circa 1990, except Tibau ended up with Cholish in his guard. Game, set, match.
After a promising UFC start, John Cholish has suffered two consecutive losses to Danny Castillo and Gleison Tibau.
If you add in Cholish's difficulties making weight in Brazil on Friday, you have the recipe for a potential cut notice from Joe Silva.
But none of that matters, since it seems like Cholish has other things on his mind; hours before stepping in the cage to face Tibau, Cholish announced his retirement.
It's a smart move. Cholish is just 29 years old, he's highly intelligent and was juggling a successful career as a stockbroker on Wall Street. Now, Cholish will focus solely on his finance career and save his brain from repeated beatings.
Despite losing on the night, Cholish goes out a winner for making an astute decision: sacrificing one dream in favor of preserving his future. Kudos to the Cornell grad.
Don't look now, but Nik Lentz is still undefeated at featherweight.
Lentz did an outstanding Chael Sonnen impersonation for the first two rounds against Hacran Dias, playing the ultimate Lentz game. He was constantly in Dias' face, stifling him and shooting for takedowns. And once he got the takedowns, Lentz worked frantically, using small punches and elbows but never looking for the finish.
Lentz was nearly finished multiple times by Dias in the third round, but the damage had already been done. Dias didn't get the finish his corner told him he urgently needed, and Lentz took home a decision that was much closer than it appeared it would be after two rounds: 29-27, 29-28 and 29-28.
I was going to title this slide "Losers: The Fans," because we were cheated out of seeing two really good flyweight fights on Facebook. Instead, we had to suffer through Rafael Natal vs. Joao Zeferino, which was entirely unmemorable in every single way, shape and form.
If the UFC wants to build out the flyweight division—and why wouldn't it want another successful division stocked with name-value fighters?—it's going to have to start featuring guys not named Joseph Benavidez, Ian McCall or Demetrious Johnson on something other than the social-networking streams.
Until it does such a thing, the UFC cannot be surprised when guys like John Moraga enter main-event title shots on FOX without any kind of name recognition or interest whatsoever.
I'm not going to allege that Rafael dos Anjos beat Evan Dunham via a hometown decision, because that wouldn't be true. The UFC handpicks the judges utilized in Brazil, and few of them are actually Brazilian.
And this wasn't the worst decision I've ever seen in mixed martial arts, but it certainly felt like the wrong decision to me. From what I'm reading on Twitter, most of you concur with me, and Dana White tweeted out his usual no-holds-barred thoughts on the decision shortly after it was announced.
Dunham does have a way of finding himself in these kinds of situations, but credit to dos Anjos: He overcame a lot of areas where I felt Dunham could capitalize for an underdog win, and he did enough to score a decision in the eyes of the judges.
At the end of the day, that's the only thing that matters. And until we have a sea change when it comes to judging decisions, these types of controversial moments are going to continue to happen. Count on it.
The only thing surprising about Jacare Souza's UFC debut was that he's no longer called Ronaldo; the UFC tends to simplify things like names for marketing purposes, and Souza's first name has vanished in the wind.
The rest of Souza's fight against Chris Camozzi went pretty much as expected. Souza tagged Camozzi with a few punches, but the real magic began when Souza got the fight to the ground. It actually took him longer than I expected, but Souza eventually scored the submission win with a deft triangle choke that put Camozzi out in three seconds flat.
That's what I call a grip. And that, my friends, is why he's called The Alligator.
Souza cemented his memorable debut by demanding to face the winner of the Vitor Belfort vs. Luke Rockhold main event. I can get behind either of those fights, and I'm sure you can, too.
There is no better advertisement for testosterone replacement therapy than Vitor Belfort. He's a human highlight reel.
I've been quite vocal in my opposition to TRT and the edge that it gives those who are prescribed it. And I don't know what Belfort without TRT would be like, or if he would win, or if he would simply become a terrible fighter.
What I do know is that Belfort absolutely crushed Luke Rockhold's face with a beautiful spinning back kick to the head. This was technique above brawn, and though Belfort's TRT regimen may help him improve his speed and power during camp, there's still no mistaking that Belfort is a master fighter.
In short bursts, at least.
"I'm stronger than ever," Belfort said.
"You continue to turn back the clock," Jon Anik said during a post-fight interview.
There are so many jokes I want to make about those two comments, but I won't. Instead, I'll just say this: I like the idea of Belfort vs. Souza. Book it.