Jose Aldo put his featherweight belt on the line Saturday at UFC 163.
Is this symmetry? A UFC 163 card wracked by injury and misfortune before Saturday night was wracked by the same things as the action unfolded. Fighters appeared to sustain freak injuries in two main card bouts from HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, and in each case, those injuries affected the complexion of the fight.
There was also a little misfortune, in the form of every MMA fan's favorite friend: the judges. And this time, it wasn't a matter of home cooking. Quite the opposite, actually.
So how did the pay-per-view shake out? Who caught the bug, who made an impression and who faded into the inky purple of the Brazilian evening? Here are the grades for every main card fighter.
Division: Flyweight (fought at catchweight of 129 pounds after Lineker missed weight)
Result: John Lineker def. Jose Maria by TKO, 1:03 of Rd. 2
After something of a slow start, the popular Lineker and UFC debutante Jose Maria entered into a back-and-forth brawl that included Maria dropping Lineker with a spinning backfist to the neck.
Early in the second, Maria fell strangely, possibly because of a leg or foot injury. Lineker swarmed and pounded out his opponent.
It was a good victory for Lineker, but I couldn't help thinking it could have been better. Especially when considering he missed weight by a small cat.
The mohawked Maria was certainly ready. Thanks to that spinning backfist, a few other heavy strikes and a solid takedown, he probably took the first round.
When he unexpectedly collapsed to the mat in the second, it was an anticlimactic ending to what was really rounding into a very fun fight. I would imagine Maria earned himself another shot in the UFC, as he took the fight on short notice, came out fearless and put on just the kind of high-octane, crowd-pleasing performance that UFC brass and fans tend to like.
UFC middleweight Thales Leites (left).
Result: Thales Leites def. Tom Watson by unanimous decision
Yes, he got tired toward the end. No, I don't see Anderson Silva quaking in his boots over a rematch. But Leites still looked darn good at UFC 163—better than I've ever seen him in his career.
Leites used improved striking to punish Watson on the feet, exploiting Watson's fear of the takedown for everything it was worth. And hey, great for Leites. After 18 months between fights and four years out of the UFC, Leites enjoyed quite a triumphant return to the cage, and in his hometown, no less.
That's right, Tom. Thumbs down, man.
Watson grew tired and battered while fighting a fighter known for growing tired and battered. Understandably concerned about Leites' ground game, Watson seemed almost dismissive of the idea of any striking exchange. Not good when striking exchanges are what you use to win your fights.
Plus, "Kong" walked out in a gorilla mask and with the Backstreet Boys blaring in the background. All things considered, the phrase "not a good look" springs to mind.
Result: Cezar Ferreira def. Thiago Santos by submission (guillotine choke), 0:47, Rd. 1
Lots of fast finishes on this card, in addition to some strange ones. Ferreira's was the second-quickest of the evening. He felled Santos with a punch and a high kick, and then he rolled Santos in a guillotine choke to force the tap.
A protege of one Mr. Vitor Belfort, "Mutante" Ferreira is now 2-0 in the UFC and on a bona fide roll. Time to get him a serious opponent in his next fight, coughEdHermancough.
UFC middleweight Thiago Santos.
Thiago Santos avoids the failing grade because he never really had a chance to get going. Plus, I believe he mainly fights at welterweight. The guy was simply out of his league Saturday night, and I'd be surprised if he got another shot in the UFC, at least without a few wins on the hinterland circuit.
Phil Davis won by decision at UFC 163.
Division: Light heavyweight
Result: Phil Davis def. Lyoto Machida by unanimous decision
Phil Davis had a game plan: stand with Machida, withstand his bursts of offense, then call on your all-world wrestling late in the action to score the takedown and, ideally, the round.
Davis looked as good on his feet as I've ever seen him look. That said, I didn't see him land very much. And though he may have taken the first frame with his strategy, Machida seemed to be the clear winner in the second two.
Machida avoided most of Davis' attempts to do damage—and that includes stuffing some takedowns—and pounded Davis with perfect counters throughout, including a really well-timed knee to the solar plexus every time Davis shot in to take things to the ground.
Davis fought well. I don't begrudge him whatever opportunity he receives as a result of this fight. But the judges were wrong Saturday night. Here's hoping the likable Davis is open to a rematch if the UFC and Machida want it.
Lyoto Machida (right) lost to Phil Davis at UFC 163.
I'll say it again, for posterity: I really think Machida won that fight. I would have had it 29-28 on my scorecard, with Machida getting the second and third rounds pretty darn clearly. I think the judges got it wrong, a shocking development especially given that this happened in Machida's home country of Brazil.
And while Machida is very talented, and this was certainly vintage Machida, he has some evolving to do. His conservative, defensive style cost him a close decision to Quinton Jackson in 2010. It almost cost him a fight with an overmatched Dan Henderson earlier this year. And it (along with, you know, bad judges) cost him a fight with Davis Saturday night.
It may not be fair, but it is, as they say, what it is. The writing's on the wall: Machida needs to do more to score with offense, or he's going to run the risk of losing this way again. And again. And again.
UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo at UFC 163.
Result: Jose Aldo def. Chan Sung Jung by TKO, 2:00 of Rd. 4
We can play the woulda-coulda game all day and all night. The fact is, when the fight ended in the fourth round, Aldo was ahead three rounds to none. The Korean Zombie would have needed a finish, and he hadn't shown to that point he had the ability to do that, regardless of how tired Aldo was or was not.
When Aldo noticed that Chan Sung Jung (who is coming off of a shoulder surgery) was kind of sort of trying to get his arm back into the socket, he did the fighterly thing and freaking attacked. There was practically foam at his mouth as he took the cake takedown and finished a helpless Zombie on the ground.
Just another victim for the champ, even if the TKO win came with an unfortunate assist.
You hate to see a fighter as gifted, as dedicated, as tough and as valiant as Chan Sung Jung lose the way he did—that is, crumpled in a heap and screaming in pain with a separated shoulder. You hate to see both the win and the loss colored by these lenses, but it happened—and it can't be helped.
Up until that point, though, Zombie wasn't exactly showing he had the stuff to beat Aldo. He was tentative throughout, standing almost motionless in front of Aldo, seemingly waiting for some kind of sign that never came. And when he did charge forward, his blows were wild and usually went begging. He also was unable to stifle the majority of Aldo's takedown attempts.
The Zombie fought bravely, but he wasn't the better fighter Saturday night. Injury or no injury, it seemed he was on his way to defeat at UFC 163.