With all the buzz, hype and anticipation, UFC 168 had all the elements to create that "big fight" feel. And certainly for good reason.
Anderson Silva, the fighter heralded as the "greatest of all time" was returning to the Octagon in an attempt to reclaim the title he once held for seven years against Chris Weidman—the man who achieved what many thought couldn't be done by defeating "The Spider" back in July at UFC 162. Their first meeting was a polarizing affair as the undefeated challenger's stunning second-round knockout created more questions than answers, splintering the MMA fanbase into various categories of shock and dismay.
Was Weidman's win the byproduct of a changing of the guard at 185 pounds, or was it simply the result of the fight game's most unpredictable magician being caught mid-trick? Those issues were heavily debated in the aftermath of what happened at the MGM on July 6, and on Saturday night at UFC 168, the second installment was set to bring light to the proverbial shadows.
The UFC's promotional build-up featured the slogan "Leave no doubt," but those elements were only amplified following the shocking and grotesque conclusion of the rematch. After Weidman dominated the pound-for-pound great in the opening round, Silva looked to go on the attack in the second frame. The Brazilian striker started to open up his offense in the early goings of the round, but when he threw a left leg kick and Weidman checked it, the former middleweight king's leg snapped upon impact.
Silva dropped to the ground in agony and referee Herb Dean jumped in to bring an end to the bout. While Weidman picked up the win due to Silva's injury and his first official title defense, there was no resolution to be found on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
With so much at stake in the main event, it would be difficult to imagine any other tilt getting a substantial amount of buzz in the pre-fight, but Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate certainly held their share of the spotlight. The most intense rivalry in women's MMA had been steadily building toward an epic rematch at UFC 168, as both fighters spent six weeks trading mutual discourse throughout their stint as opposing coaches on the 18th installment of The Ultimate Fighter.
Adding that animosity to what previously existed from their first meeting—a fight where Rousey took Tate's title and right arm under the Strikeforce banner—only stoked the fires for what turned into the most highly anticipated fight to come through WMMA in several years.
The women's bantamweight champion, her undefeated streak and trail of armbar victims was adamant her run of dominance was not going to end on Saturday night in Las Vegas, just as "Cupcake" was dead set on shocking the world at the MGM Grand.
While Tate lasted longer than any other fighter had previously manged to do against Rousey, it wasn't enough as the "Rowdy" one secured her signature armbar to end the fight in the third round. The first two frames were action packed as both fighters engaged in a technical battle that covered every inch of the Octagon's canvas with Rousey having a clear edge on the judges' scorecards.
Tate needed to turn the tide in the third round, but unfortunately for the former Strikeforce champion, it was all Rousey. The women's 135-pound champion put Tate on the mat then rolled through to hit the fight-ending armbar. In beating Tate, the 27-year-old Californian keeps her undefeated record intact and puts her rival in a place where she won't have to see her for quite some time.
With two high-profile title tilts atop the card, the rest of the action at UFC 168 could have been just that, but fighters up and down the lineup brought the ruckus on Saturday night. A solid mixture of face-punching, armbars and all around fisticuffs helped the card deliver on the UFC's claim of the event being the "biggest" of the year. That said, what would a big ticket event be without a few curious happenings sprinkled on top?
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC 168.
After Chris Weidman defeated Anderson Silva at UFC 162 back in July, he should have been given the massive amount of respect that comes with defeating the fighter regarded as the "greatest of all time." Unfortunately for the undefeated Ray Longo product, the manner in which he defeated "The Spider" left a ton of questions on the table.
Those questions were set to be answered on Saturday night, but unfortunately for Weidman, all the doubt will only ratchet up due to the fashion in which their rematch ended at UFC 168. There is no doubt Weidman clearly won the opening round, but Silva appeared to be turning up his offense in the second round. But when the former middleweight champion went to throw a leg kick, Weidman raised his leg to check the kick, and the clash of bones produced a grotesque result.
Half of Silva's lower leg landed just below the champion's knee, and the other half went limp and flopped back loosely. Upon suffering the brutal break, Silva dropped to the canvas in intense pain and Weidman picked up his second victory over the fallen former title holder.
While Weidman certainly can't be faulted in either case, beating a fighter of Silva's stature should have elevated him to great heights. Instead, it has him in a position where he's clearly the middleweight champion, but where to place his skill set remains to be a question.
That said, there is no doubt he's at the very top of the heap at 185 pounds in that department, but being recognized as the best of the best is something that won't quite materialize due to how things ended in the rematch with Silva. Nevertheless, Weidman will have a huge opportunity to put a huge stamp on his title reign when he locks up with No. 1 contender in waiting Vitor Belfort some time next year.
—Ronda Rousey is by far the biggest star to ever compete in women's MMA but it is a position that comes with a polarizing effect. You either love her or you hate her as a public figure, but one thing that isn't up for debate, is her phenomenal talent as a mixed martial artist.
Of her six professional fights coming in to UFC 168, all had ended by way of armbar, and she added No. 7 to that list when she used the move to submit Miesha Tate once again in the co-main event. While "Cupcake" put up a valiant effort, the former Olympic bronze medalist proved to be too much for her to handle, as Rousey ended the fight in the early goings of the third round to keep her undefeated record and title reign intact.
While Rousey's status as the best female competing at 135 pounds is clear cut, her place as the "golden child" of WMMA has certainly taken a much different turn. Where she was cheered and adored following her victorious promotional debut against Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 back in February, on Saturday night it was the exact opposite.
The fans in attendance at the MGM showered the champion with boos following her win over Tate, which was most likely due in large part to her refusal to shake her rivals hand after the fight. Nevertheless, Rousey is still the queen of the bantamweight division and it is going to take a special fighter to knock her off that perch.
—The heavyweight title picture is a in a state of disarray with Cain Velasquez on the mend from a shoulder injury, but that isn't stopping Travis Browne from making his run at the strap.
"Hapa" had won back-to-back showings heading into his bout with Josh Barnett at UFC 168, one of which was a huge knockout of former Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem at Fight Night 26 in August. His fight against "The Warmaster" on Saturday night not only pitted two of the best heavyweight fighters in the UFC against one another, but was also set to eliminate one of them from the title hunt.
When the action got underway it didn't take the 31-year-old Hawaiian much time to make a thunderous statement and case for a title opportunity as he pounded out the former champion with a flurry of vicious elbows. The win was Browne's third straight and makes him successful in five of his last six outings and will put him in an interesting position going forward.
The UFC has deemed Brazilian submission ace Fabricio Werdum as the next in line for a title opportunity, but with Velasquez hurt and with no set date to return, a matchup between the Kings MMA fighter and Browne could very well be the next step for both men.
—While he may not be knocking on the door of a title shot, Jim Miller is certainly working back up the lightweight ranks. After losing to Nate Diaz at UFC on Fox 3 in May of 2012, the New Jersey native needed to get back to form and put a few victories together to reestablish himself as one of the best at 155 pounds.
—After winning a bloody battle against Joe Lauzon at UFC 155 then having his loss to Pat Healy five months later at UFC 159 overturned to a "no contest" due to "Bam Bam" failing his post-fight drug test, the younger of the Miller brothers needed a victory over Fabricio Camoes at UFC 168 to keep his hopes of getting back into the title hunt alive.
Where Camoes was getting the better of the exchanges early, the AMA-trained fighter used his slick ground skills to catch the Brazilian in an armbar. While Camoes gave a valiant effort to fend off the attack, Miller eventually found the angle he needed and secured the victory. Defeating Camoes makes Miller 2-0, 1 NC in his last three and will keep him relevant in an extremely deep and talent-stacked lightweight division.
—Dustin Poirier has been touted as one of the best prospects in the featherweight division since joining the UFC in 2011. After picking up some solid traction over the past two years, "The Diamond" appeared to be on the verge of breaking through to the next level of the weight class, and he made a big step in that direction with his knockout victory over Diego Brandao on Saturday night.
The 24-year-old Louisiana native was already unnerved by his opponent grossly missing weight, and he took out that frustration on the former TUF winner in brutal fashion. Poirier took a few big shots early, but once he had Brandao hurt, the killer instinct kicked in and the American Top Team fighter pounded out the finish.
The victory over Brandao makes Poirier successful in back-to-back showings and gives him wins in three of his last four. His only setback in this run came against power-striker Cub Swanson at UFC on Fuel TV 7 back in February, and Poirier bounced back to finish 2013 in impressive fashion.
—The year may not have started out great for Michael Johnson, but he certainly ended 2013 on a high note. "The Menace" scored an impressive second-round knockout over gritty veteran Gleison Tibau when he caught the American Top Team fighter with a left hand to the temple. His win and performance at UFC 168 will build further momentum to what he started by dominating Joe Lauzon in his previous outing at Fight Night 26 back in August. While the victory over Tibau won't earn him top-10 status, it will have him sitting outside the gates to start 2014.
—Dennis Siver got things back on track at UFC 168 by defeating TUF 5 alum Manny Gamburyan on the preliminary portion of the card. The Russian-German striker outworked "The Anvil" to pick up his first win since suffering a knockout against surging contender Cub Swanson at UFC 162 back in July. The victory makes Siver successful in three out of his four showings a featherweight since dropping down from the lightweight division in 2012.
—John Howard is certainly making the most of his return to the UFC. After being released from the organization following a three-fight skid in 2011, "Doomsday" was invited back to the Octagon, and picked up his second consecutive win via unanimous decision over Siyar Bahadurzada on the preliminary portion of the card. The bout was the Boston native's welterweight debut and he looked strong as he outworked the Blackizilians-trained fighter to pick up the victory.
Seeing a fighter—any fighter—suffer the type of injury Anderson Silva suffered in his rematch with Chris Weidman is hard to watch. While there is a plethora of other storylines that we could get into in the aftermath of how things went down at UFC 168, it's a terrible thing to see a fighter widely recognized as the "greatest of all time" potentially end his career on that note.
While it wasn't her effort that landed Miesha Tate in this particular category, the place she will find herself as the result of her second loss to Ronda Rousey is certainly worth mentioning. The former Strikeforce women's bantamweight champion has now lost three of her last four showings with two of those setbacks coming courtesy of her bitter rival.
In addition to that tough stretch, there are a few other factors that will make the road back to title contention a difficult task for Tate to accomplish. Not only has she lost both of her showings under the UFC banner, but with two losses to Rousey in two years, it is highly likely she won't come anywhere near a third title shot...especially if it's the former Olympic judoka who is holding the belt.
That puts Tate in a limbo of sorts. She is easily one of the elite women fighting in the bantamweight division, but having two setbacks so close to each other definitely does not bode well for her.
—In the lead up to a fight, UFC President Dana White rarely voices publicly it is a win or go home situation for the fighters involved. The organization typically waits a week or two before cutting a fighter from the roster, but that won't be the case for Chris Leben. "The Crippler" had lost three consecutive showings coming into his bout with Uriah Hall and the pressure was certainly on for the TUF 1 alum to turn things around.
But that didn't happen. Not even close.
Where the Team Alliance fighter has made a career and become a fan favorite with his forward trudging, zombie-like style and ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, that version of the 33-year-old did not show up in Las Vegas. After being dropped with Hall's first strike of the fight, Leben was always a step or two behind as he chased the New York native around the cage and was peppered with punches for his troubles.
While Leben's face was marked up with damage, it looked as if he would survive the opening round, but a clean shot from Hall put him on the canvas. The hard-nosed veteran was saved by the bell, but when the fighters returned to their corners, the bout was waived off by referee Steve Mazzagatti moments later.
After absorbing the huge shot, Leben was completely out of sorts, and told his corner that he was done. With the loss, and the fashion in which it happened, it appears Leben will not only be done fighting under the UFC banner, but his career could very well be over as well.
—Another fighter who is going to have to take a hard look at what he's doing with his career is Diego Brandao. While the season 14 TUF winner had won three straight fights coming into his showdown with Dustin Poirier at UFC 168, the Jackson's MMA fighter came in grossly over the mark at the pre-fight weigh-in on Friday.
The featherweight limit is 145 pounds with a one-pound tolerance for non-title fights, but the Brazilian slugger tipped the scales at 153 pounds. The move not only cost Brandao 25 percent of his fight purse, but put what should have been a showcase fight into a negative light.
Things didn't get any better once the actual bout got underway as Poirier turned the tide midway through the opening round and began to tag Brandao with heavy shots. After stunning the Brazilian with a flurry, Poirier followed him to the ground and finished up the fight by pounding out Brandao on the canvas.
While the loss is only the second Brandao has suffered under the UFC banner, everything associated with his showing at UFC 168 points to a bigger problem for the featherweight prospect. Nothing good came out this trip to Las Vegas for Brandao. Absolutely nothing.
—Siyar Bahadurzada came into UFC 168 needing to turn things around in a big way. After scoring an impressive knockout over Paulo Thiago in his promotional debut at UFC on Fuel TV 2 in April of 2012, things have gone downhill for the Blackzilians-trained fighter. A loss to Dong Hyun Kim at UFC on Fuel TV 8 in March, followed by a nasty string of injuries put him in a situation where he needed to defeat John Howard at UFC 168. Unfortunately for the Afghanistan-born knockout artist, "Doomsday" was simply too much, and he picked up his second consecutive defeat.
Chris Leben quit on the stool after the first round with Uriah Hall. Chris—the hardcore, full-tilt, zombie-trudging slugger—told his corner he was done and ended the fight on his own regard. While the loss is certainly not the first setback we've seen "The Crippler" face, the fashion in which it happened absolutely warrants inclusion in this particular category.
Let's move on to more strangeness.
There is a good chance the viewers tuning in to Fox Sports 1 for the UFC 168 prelims were scratching their heads and wondering why there was already blood on the canvas. With few fans outside of the die-hard contingency rallying to watch the Facebook portion of the card, it is highly likely many missed the beating William Patolino put on Bobby Voelker.
The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil alum peppered and pounded the Strikeforce veteran throughout the three-round affair and Voelker's face suffered because of it. Patolino landed a blistering uppercut midway through the second frame that dropped Voelker and busted open his nose in the process. When the final bell sounded, Voelker's face was a mask of crimson and pulp as Patolino took the unanimous decision victory.
—When two fighters get to work inside the cage, there are few things that can be categorized as humorous. That said, somewhere in the second round of the scrap between John Howard and Siyar Bahadurzada, the cageside microphones picked up a little something extra. Throughout my years covering the sport, I can't remember ever hearing gas being passed mid-fight, but that was certainly the case during that particular fight—even if the exact culprit remains a mystery.
Somehow, Mazzagatti is going to get blamed for that televised fart.— Dann Stupp (@MMAjunkieDann) December 29, 2013
The UFC touted that history would be made at UFC 168, and I suppose this instance is open for interpretation.
One final and serious addition, what was an action-packed card that was living up to the hype of being the biggest card of the year, ended on one of the strangest notes of all time.
After the injury-riddled and unpredictable year that was 2012, this year delivered in all the areas hits predecessor didn't. 2013 was great for fight fans and next year will have a tough time reaching the bar this year set.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.