UFC Fight Night 26: Winners and Losers from Shogun Rua vs. Chael Sonnen Card
"I'm a Republican."
That was always Chael Sonnen's rationale for not wanting to fight off his back, for failing to concentrate his training on Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
It was a good line, but there was a ring of truth to it as well. Sonnen's game was shallow. He was a wrestler who wanted top control. From there he would pound away with punches, often en route to a decision win. Anything else left him vaguely uncomfortable.
Sonnen didn't just take Mauricio "Shogun" Rua down. He leapt to guard to finish with a guillotine, voluntarily putting himself on his back. It was a bold move from an increasingly bold fighter.
Conventional wisdom said Sonnen didn't have anything to offer as a light heavyweight. Too small. Too one-dimensional. Too old and set in his ways.
But against Rua, Sonnen showed that you can teach an old dog new tricks if you try hard enough. Sonnen has always had a good bark. Now, it looks like his bite is catching up, and he obviously comes out as one of Saturday's winners. We'll break down all of the winners along with the losers from UFC Fight Night 26 in this slideshow.
Winner: Chael Sonnen
Sonnen's wrestling-based attack could, it was thought, succeed against like-sized or smaller men at 185 pounds. Twenty pounds heavier, it was a ticket to retirement or worse, the hospital.
Jon Jones showed Sonnen wasn't championship material at 205. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua was supposed to prove he didn't belong in the class at all. One guillotine later and the MMA world, once again, is topsy-turvy.
Jones was the worst conceivable light heavyweight matchup for Chael Sonnen when the two butted heads last year. Jones, of course, is a bad matchup for everyone. His physical tools and diverse skill set make him a tough test for any fighter in the world.
He was, however, a particularly poor opponent for Sonnen. His size overwhelmed Sonnen, a middleweight for the bulk of his career. His wrestling, too, negated Sonnen's greatest strength. Short a fluke injury, there was no way for Sonnen to win.
If Jones was the worst matchup, Shogun was perhaps the best. Undersized. Incapable of defending the takedown. Broken down physically from years of abuse. Shogun was ripe for the picking. So is his mentor Wanderlei Silva, whom Sonnen called out after the fight.
Call Sonnen what you'd like—but don't call him stupid. He remains the savviest player in the game.
Winner: Travis Browne's Beard
That's how Travis Browne described Alistair Overeem's relentless attack. Browne started the bout covering up and spent most of it in that posture. Overeem attacked with elbows, knees and brutal punches. Browne looked like he was seconds away from defeat several times.
But, it turns out, his beard was figurative as well as literal. He took what Overeem had, stood up and knocked the former Strikeforce champion out with a front kick to the face.
I get paid for the big words, but I can only think of one to describe it—awesome.
Sure, it's a hairstyle best suited for African-American women that gained popularity decades ago. In Urijah Faber's case, it's easy to criticize. After all, it's a ridiculous style for him. But you know what? He is making it work. This is a ridiculous sport, one big enough for a ridiculous hairstyle.
Oh? The fight?
Yeah, Faber was pretty good, wasn't he? He always is. Even with a potentially dislocated jaw and a game opponent on his back, he managed to win.
Faber controlled Iuri Alcantara for the final two-and-a-half rounds on his way to an easy victory. And, at the risk of perpetuating a meme, I'd like to see him challenge for a title one more time. He's too good, and his time is too short to waste fighting anyone but the best.
Winner: Chuck Norris
Remember all those cheesy Chuck Norris jokes? The ones most people gave up in 2009 but that one friend from high school still drops on his Facebook timeline? Finally, a fighter has emerged who allows us to repurpose them! Check it out:
Matt Brown has been to the moon. That's why there are no signs of life.
When President Obama picks up the red emergency phone, No. 1 on the speed dial is Matt Brown.
Matt Brown doesn't believe in evolution. There are simply some animals he allows to live.
Matt Brown is the living personification of violence.
Matt Brown has won six fights in a row.
Matt Brown—UFC title contender? I've written crazier things.
Losers: John Howard and Uriah Hall
Put in a prime spot on the card, these two were expected to engage in a fierce striking contest. Instead, it was 15 minutes of nothing. The crowd rained boos every time the action faltered. And the action faltered—a lot.
But, oblivious to it all, Howard and Hall acted like they were the second coming of Stephan Bonnar vs. Forrest Griffin. There were multiple high fives and even a kiss exchanged. If only there had been a few more punches.
Hall, a much-hyped The Ultimate Fighter prospect, lost his second match in a row and might not survive the year with the company. Howard is a journeyman who likely doesn't belong in the UFC. What was this doing on the main card again?
Loser: Joe Lauzon
Sometimes it's nearly impossible to explain why a UFC fighter won or lost.
Take Michael Johnson vs. Joe Lauzon, the main card opener on Fox Sports 1. We know Johnson won three rounds, making it look easy against a fighter who has always competed fiercely against top UFC competition.
But is that because Johnson raised his game to new levels?
Or because Lauzon, who has been through wars in the cage, is suddenly old at 29?
I'm inclined to give Johnson credit where it is due. He beat Lauzon to the punch throughout the bout, once dropping him with a fast and furious left hand down the middle. But fighters age like dogs. Lauzon is 29, sure, but parts of his body are 178 years old. And that, more than anything Johnson did, was the story of this fight.
It's important to remember that Michael McDonald is 22.
I repeat—one of the best fighters in the world is barely able to drink legally. It's a good thing, too. He deserves to tip back a pint or three to celebrate an incredible performance against Brad Pickett.
In the first round, McDonald exploded with a multitude of strikes, knocking Pickett's block off. The Englishman would go down, then up again like a bop bag. Somehow, against all odds, he was able to survive.
In the second round, it momentarily looked like McDonald might have tired himself out trying to end Pickett's night prematurely. But it turned out "Mayday" was just biding his time. When he got the chance, he exploded again—this time off the mat, locking in a triangle for the finish.
It was a display of everything that makes McDonald great, and it came against a fighter who is no slouch. Pickett was ranked fifth in the world, and McDonald treated him like an overmatched sparring partner.
It may be too soon for a rematch with bantamweight champion Renan Barao, but what else is there for the young star? If Pickett can't give him a fight, who but the champ can?
Winner and Loser: Conor McGregor
On a normal night, you might have been awfully impressed by Conor McGregor. The 25-year-old Irishman won a unanimous decision against a scrappy Max Holloway and looked like a pretty good young fighter.
But on a evening when the UFC turned out the lights for his entrance and the crowd popped like it was the main event? When the announcers hyped his every move? When he was featured prominently on almost every single major MMA site including our own?
McGregor wasn't nearly as good as advertised. Then again, that was an almost impossible standard to live up to.
Loser: Tiny Gas Tanks
For a round-and-a-half, I was having a lot of fun watching former The Ultimate Fighter winner Diego Brandao go toe-to-toe with Daniel Pineda. Brandao was landing some especially violent strikes, and Pineda demonstrated some slick reversals on the ground. It was MMA at its best—aggressive and thoughtful all at once.
Then, like a switch had been thrown, those competent fighters disappeared, replaced by two of the Three Stooges. Both guys gassed out like a Strikeforce heavyweight, gasping for precious air and doing next to nothing in the cage. The fight was typical of undercard MMA—amazing for like 6:30 and then abysmal for the last 8:30.
It's not unusual to see the big guys get tired. It takes a lot to fuel a 265-pound machine. Pineda and Brandao, however, weigh just 145 pounds. Featherweights aren't supposed to wear down. They should move like lightning for all 15 minutes of a bout.
At the highest level of the game, they do.
A fighter with the skills to compete won't—not if he can't fight full-out for the entire fight. Frankie Edgar doesn't take a second of a fight off. If Brandao and Pineda want to beat him and the rest of the best, they're going to have to push themselves in the training room first. Skill, at least at the top of the sport, is only part of the equation.
Chael Sonnen defeats Mauricio Rua via submission at 4:47 of Round 1.
Travis Browne defeats Alistair Overeem via knockout at 4:08 of Round 1.
Urijah Faber defeats Iuri Alcantara via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-27).
Matt Brown defeats Mike Pyle via knockout at 0:29 of Round 1.
John Howard defeats Uriah Hall via split decision (30-27, 28-29, 29-28).
Michael Johnson defeats Joe Lauzon via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-25).
Michael McDonald defeats Brad Pickett via submission at 3:43 of Round 2.
Conor McGregor defeats Max Holloway via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26).
Steven Siler defeats Mike Brown via knockout at 0:50 of Round 1.
Diego Brandao defeats Daniel Pineda via unanimous decision (29-28 x 3).
Manny Gamburyan defeats Cole Miller via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28).
Ovince St. Preux defeats Cody Donovan via knockout at 2:07 of Round 1.
James Vick defeats Ramsey Nijem via submission at 0:58 of Round 1.