Welterweight Matt Brown at UFC Fight Night 26 Saturday night.
If Fox Sports 1 is the newest underdog on the cable sports landscape, it got a pretty good omen Saturday night at UFC Fight Night 26.
Broadcasting from the historically hard-luck sports town of Boston, Mass., the event's main card featured several major upsets, while building on the high-wattage excitement of the prelim slate.
The whole thing was a big exclamation point at the end of the first day of programming for Fox Sports 1. As for the card, the story, as it always does, unfolded in the body text. That's why you can't let the stat lines and the carnival barkers tell the whole story for you. Allow me to assist: Here are grades for every fighter on the main card Saturday night.
Result: Michael Johnson def. Joe Lauzon by unanimous decision
I don't know who that guy was who lost last year to Reza Madadi, but it must have been a different guy named Michael Johnson with a cross chain tattooed on his chest.
Because this Michael Johnson is a beast. He was faster, stronger and, in the spirit of the best defense being a good offense, the aggressor throughout, hounding Lauzon with fast uppercuts and a razor-sharp lead hook.
He also got lucky, as Lauzon forgot he knew jiu-jitsu. But still, a win is a win, and this upset was the best of Johnson's professional life.
I don't recall anyone picking Joe Lauzon to lose to—or even have difficulty against—Michael Johnson. Eighteen career submission wins and a home-crowd advantage for Lauzon; six of eight career losses coming by submission for Johnson.
I guess no one counted on Lauzon failing to take the fight to the ground. Or offer much offense or defense in the stand-up phase, for that matter. He ate the southpaw's lead right hooks and generally stood in front of "The Menace," to whom he ceded clear speed and strength advantages.
Give him credit for toughness, but there need to be more ingredients in the Lauzon success recipe. He has now been punished badly in two consecutive bouts and three of his past four (remember the Pettis head kick?). Time for him to be a fighter again, instead of just some bonus-hunting tough guy. It's not a good look for his body, his mind or his fight career.
Result: John Howard def. Uriah Hall by split decision
Howard was the biggest underdog on this card heading into Saturday night. As with Johnson in the fight before him, no one was picking Howard to notch the upset.
Oh, wait, what's that? What's that, you say? Someone did pick Howard to win. Wait...was it, was it me? Well, knock me over with a feather. You're right!
But notch it he did, becoming the second consecutive main card fighter to pull a massive upset Saturday night. The difference for Howard was clinch work and timely takedowns—oh, and the fact that his opponent was completely tentative the whole time.
Still, cheers to Howard for making me look smart and getting it done in his hometown and his first UFC fight in two years. Jeers, though, for high-fiving Hall every minute on the minute and celebrating after like it was Ali-Frazier 3. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.
Credit where it's due: According to UFC stats provider FightMetric, Hall landed more significant strikes than Howard, going 41 of 62 in the fight to Howard's 33-61.
But that's a poor representation of what actually happened. Hall appeared to overanalyze every move he made (or, more accurately, didn't make). You could almost see the smoke coming out of his ears from all the grinding gears inside his skull. Hall strikes me as a thoughtful guy. But when you're a professional fighter, you can definitely be too thoughtful.
Whatever the reason, the reality TV phenom is now struggling, and he'll need a win badly in his next engagement.
Result: Matt Brown def. Mike Pyle by KO (punches), 0:29, Rd. 1
Let there be no more denial of Matt Brown. Let the "but" fall harmlessly from the end of that age-old Brown descriptor: "He's a brawler." He's coming for all of you. And if you're in the 170-pound weight range, you should be afraid.
No matter who you are, there's no easy out. Pyle is no slouch in any phase. If you thought (as I did) that Pyle could outgrapple the meat-and-potatoes attack of Brown, you thought wrong. If, like Brown, you can just simply forward and knock the other guy out before he can implement his game plan, well, I guess that's what you call takedown defense.
Pyle's performance was neither offensive nor impressive. He never had a chance to get going. Though I suppose he could have defended a bit better, or been aware that fighting Brown is like fighting the mouth of a bat cave at twilight. C'est la vie, I suppose.
Result: Urijah Faber def. Yuri Alcantara by unanimous decision
Faber overcame an early onslaught from Alcantara and did what he does best. He outgrapples, he grounds-and-pounds, he never gasses. He may come off a little shallow, with his cornrows, butt chin and California cool. But no one in MMA personifies deep water like Urijah Faber.
Yuri Alcantara is an excellent MMA fighter. As if to prove that to the national television audience, in the opening seconds Alcantara immediately threw Faber down and landed right in full mount position. It was a pretty eye-popping thing to witness. The round went back and forth from there, but I personally scored it for Alcantara based on that opening statement.
Faber won the second and third rounds, but Alcantara put up a terrific fight and never stopped working. Hopefully he'll remain at the top end of the division, but he lost to a better fighter Saturday night, plain and simple.
Result: Travis Browne def. Alistair Overeem by KO (front kick/hammerfists), 4:08, Rd. 1
Travis "Hapa" Browne carved his signature alongside those of Cheick Kongo, Tim Boetsch and just a few others for the best comeback in recent MMA history.
Overeem had Browne dead to rights. Punches and knees had Browne turtled. The ref could have easily called the stoppage but was giving Browne every chance to recover. Just barely, he did.
Overeem continued landing heavy, wince-worthy knees to the body. Browne continued to hang on. Finally, there was a reset in the center of the cage. Browne tried a new weapon: the front kick. From the first one he threw, it got through The Reem's defense. But it didn't seem to be landing too heavily, at least if The Reem's reaction was to be believed.
I guess it wasn't. One of the front kick's found the point of Overeem's chin. The massive Dutchman fell backward, and a few hammerfists sealed the deal. In the wake of that performance, Browne's name is staunchly involved on the short list not only of comebacks, but of toughest fighters and heavyweight contenders, too.
It's hard to know where The Reem goes from here. There's no question he hasn't looked like the same fighter since returning from that drug suspension. Against Antonio Silva and again Saturday night, Overeem looked weaker from the chin down, while appearing altogether disrespectful of each opponent's power.
Both times, he paid the price, walking into punishment rather than through it. Yes, he had Browne in trouble, but for him to once again take his foot off the gas pedal, and once again get knocked out, well, that's a failure. Kind of a UFC career writ large tonight.
Division: Light heavyweight
Result: Chael Sonnen def. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua by submission (guillotine choke), 4:47, Rd. 1
There were concerns about Rua coming into this fight. He was much older in fighter years than regular Earth years. He had poor takedown defense. He had lost his old explosiveness. His high-level grappling game had eroded.
After Saturday night, those exact concerns remain. No more, no less.
There's a difference between having a game plan on paper and executing that game plan. Chael Sonnen sometimes comes up short, but you can't say he doesn't execute his plan.
It took about two-and-a-half seconds for Chael P. to leverage his strength: that big double-leg takedown. It worked. Rua got to his feet, but Sonnen got Rua in a front headlock, then suddenly dropped for the guillotine. It was deep, it was deadly and Shogun was forced to tap.
But the execution wasn't over. Afterward with broadcaster Joe Rogan, Sonnen continued to press his advantage, calling out aging but still potent superstar Wanderlei Silva while plugging Fox Sports 1.
A few of the choice, show-closing words from Sonnen:
"I'm the man of the hour, Joe, too sweet to be sour. What you see is what you get, and what you don't is better yet. I'm the women's pick, I'm the men's regret, and if you went against Chael Sonnen you made a bad bet. Now, right here, on the UFC's new home, Fox Sports 1: Wanderlei Silva. Six feet tall and 205 pounds, boy, until I met you I didn't know they could stack crap that high...Wanderlei Silva, three months, you and the bad guy."
Good night, everybody! Get home safe!