Written by Maz Seyf
In what is sure to be an action-packed summer of MMA action, UFC 98 laid down the benchmark with a number of forgettable scraps, but who were the winners and losers emerging from the MGM Grand Garden Arena this weekend?
1. Matt Serra
A luckier Matt Serra would boast decision victories over octagon legends BJ Penn and Matt Hughes. But he is instead just another name on both men’s decorated records.
Of course, cynical fight observers might argue that in upsetting Georges St. Pierre for the title (at UFC 69), Serra exhausted his reservoir of good fortune in a single sitting.
Nonetheless, ardent fans of the straight-talking New Yorker will bemoan the result of a three-round grudge match in which Serra looked to get the better of the action and remained comfortable throughout.
He had Hughes down and almost out early in the first, surrendered a damage-free second, and ended the third with a hip toss and the sort of ruthless ground and pound that was supposed to be his opponent’s stock-in-trade.
The farm boy himself acknowledged the New Yorker’s efforts, raising sworn rival Serra’s hand aloft at the final bell. It was Hughes who walked away with the W, but the bragging rights (it could be argued) belonged to the pride of Long Island.
2. Light Heavyweights
Lyoto Machida’s decisive demolition of the fighter many expected would be his sternest test (in Rashad Evans) has left the UFC’s marquee division suddenly looking short of serious challengers to the newly crowned Karate master.
Machida is unique in that he comes alive when attacked, countering economically and ruthlessly. Add to this his unprecedented patience to wait all day for the slightest of openings, and you have a champion that contemporaries in the division will struggle to hit, never mind beat.
Be it wild puncher Mauricio Rua, the tactically shortsighted Quinton Jackson, or the limited tools of hard worker Forrest Griffin, Machida consistently matches up favourably. A protracted title reign at 205 pounds looks inevitable.
3. Sean Sherk
At 35 years old, Sherk’s relevance at 155 is fading fast. Found wanting against an up-and-coming Frankie Edgar (who will only improve), Brock Lesnar's Minnesotan mini-me looked stumped for ideas, absorbing punishment in combinations and responding with snapping but all too often wayward single-strike responses.
In defeat, Sherk slips further down the Lightweight pecking order, with momentum in the division now shifting to the likes of Diego Sanchez, Sam Stout, Clay Guida, and Sherk’s conqueror on the night, Edgar.
1. Brock Larson
The 31-year-old Minnesotan nearly-man has spent a long time on the cusp of greatness, eluding the fights and the acclaim his talents plainly warrant.
It took him just three minutes to secure a tight arm triangle and walk away with Submission of the Night honors against Mike Pyle at UFC 98.
For the standout WEC welterweight (derailed when the division was absolved), it's a chance to kick on and make some big waves in the UFC’s stacked 170-pound class.
2. Straight Punching
Fans, coaches, and commentators alike often point to the importance of fancy footwork and good movement as vital tools in controlling the octagon space and dictating the ferocity and regularity of striking exchanges.
For both Evans and Xavier Foupa-Pokam, balletic dexterity did little to confuse or dull the effectiveness of two very differently direct opponents.
Both twinkle-toed fighters were found wanting against opponents attacking them in straight lines at UFC 98.
Power-punching Drew McFredries and linear (but deceptively fluid) point-striking Karate Ka Machida won out decisively in bouts over their more nimble-footed foes.
Not that McFedries' relentless 36-second car park assault on Xavier allowed the Frenchman any time to dance...massacre indeed.
3. The Martial Arts Myth
For many MMA fans there is a romance associated with the martial arts that dates back at least as far '70s icon Bruce Lee.
Royce Gracie, Bruce Lee, Kazushi Sakuraba, and now Lyoto Machida, mystical foreigners one and all, exhibit (in their respective primes) an almost hypnotic command of the martial arts that leaves bigger, stronger, meaner men in twisted bloody heaps on the floor.
Despite (ill-informed) detractors proclaiming otherwise, Machida’s title triumph is not just positive for the sport as a whole, but also pregnant with marketing potential.
Machida’s emblematic embodiment of the martial arts (as the non-MMA coveted mainstream understands it) could prove to be a lucrative asset in the UFC’s continuing effort to court fresh audiences.