The weather outside of the United Center may have been blistering cold, but the action inside was anything but as the Octagon returned to Chicago for UFC on Fox 10.
The fighting faithful battled subzero temperatures throughout the week as the anticipation for the event steadily built. On Saturday night, the time for waiting was over, and the "Windy City" hosted the UFC's first major event of its 2014 campaign.
A high-profile tilt in the lightweight division headlined the card as former champion Benson Henderson locked up with former Strikeforce title holder Josh Thomson. Henderson, who was coming off his first loss in three years when he dropped the 155-pound strap to Anthony Pettis at UFC 164 back in August, had the opportunity to take a huge step back toward title contention against Thomson on Saturday.
It was a similar situation—if not more so—in regard to a future championship opportunity for Thomson. The AKA staple was originally slated to face the current reigning title holder at UFC on Fox 9 in December until an injury forced Pettis to withdraw. Rather than sit around and wait for Pettis to heal, "The Punk" decided to roll the dice and agreed to step in against Henderson at UFC on Fox 10.
There was a lot on the line in Chicago, and Henderson emerged victorious via split decision. Where the fight was figured to be an action-packed all-out affair, the two men engaged in a measured technical battle.
Thomson scored with takedowns, while Henderson applied the pressure. While the judge's decision was booed by the crowd in attendance, Henderson put himself back into the win column on Saturday night.
Where the bout at the top of the card held heavy implications regarding a future title shot was concerned, the co-main event between Gabriel Gonzaga and Stipe Miocic featured two fighters looking to officially solidify a spot in the upper tier of the heavyweight division.
The Cleveland native has become one of the division's highly touted prospects as he's won four of his five fights since joining the UFC in 2011, and a victory over Gonzaga would allow him to leave the "prospect" label behind and become a contender.
While the Ohio-born fighter had been attempting to break through for the first time, "Napao" was fighting to make his way back into title contention.
The Brazilian grappling ace was the No. 1 contender to the heavyweight throne back in 2007, but his journey in the aftermath of his loss to Randy Couture at UFC 74 came with mixed results.
He was briefly released from the organization following back-to-back losses in 2010 but has absolutely made the most of his second chance as he's picked up victories in four of his five showings since returning to the UFC banner.
Their heavyweight clash at UFC on Fox 10 was going to send one to the contender's table and the other to the back of the line, and when the final bell sounded at the end of the 15-minute tilt, it was Miocic's hand that was raised in victory. The Ohio native outworked his Brazilian counterpart for the better part of the three-round affair, and his output earned him the win.
In addition to the action at the top of the card, there were a handful of exciting scraps to be had inside the United Center. The leather was flying with reckless abandon as the fighters on the card sought to get their hands raised by any means necessary. That said, any time there is a major MMA event, there are always a few curious happenings sprinkled throughout the affair.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC on Fox 10.
Losing the lightweight title to Pettis left a bad taste in Henderson's mouth—one he couldn't get rid of quick enough. "Smooth" had the opportunity to take his first step back toward the top of the division on Saturday night when he squared off with former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson in the main event of UFC on Fox 10.
While "The Punk" clearly took the opening frame, Henderson bounced back strong in the second and third rounds. The MMA Lab product pushed a strong pace and stayed on the attack as Thomson was more than content to fight with his back to the cage. There is no doubt that Thomson suffering a broken hand affected his ability to push his offense in the fight, and the Washington native never relented.
When the final bell sounded, it was Henderson who took the split decision on the judges' scorecards. From the reaction on Twitter and inside the United Center, there were plenty who disagreed with the final outcome. That won't change Henderson finding his way back into the win column, which ultimately creates an interesting situation.
With Henderson only being one fight removed from losing to Pettis via armbar in the first round of their tilt, it would be an extremely hard sell to convince the public why Henderson deserves another shot at Pettis. That said, there are a few other lightweights who are lingering in the title picture, and Henderson's next bout will likely come against one of them.
Should he earn another victory against a fellow contender, a shot at redemption could certainly be within his grasp.
Miocic is one of the most promising talents in the heavyweight division, and on Saturday night, he took a big step toward title contention by defeating Conzaga in the co-main event. Where Miocic's ability to handle Gonzaga's size and ground game were question marks coming into the fight, neither ultimately played a difference in the outcome.
The Ohio native was able to stuff the Brazilian's takedowns at every turn and used his footwork to keep Gonzaga on his heels. While the fight was short on clean power shots, Miocic's output and pace were enough to give him the clear victory.
While defeating Gonzaga won't put him on the doorstep of a title shot, it will certainly put him in a position where he is going to face one of the fighters currently in the top tier of the division.
With the picture at the top of the heavyweight fold a bit fuzzy at the moment, the next challenge he will face is a question mark. That said, he's worked himself into a place where bigger things are just up the road a bit, and it will be interesting to see how he handles it.
When there is nothing but a fight purse on the line, Donald Cerrone is a monster. The former WEC lightweight title challenger and current UFC contender has built an impressive highlight reel as he's steamrolled the competition at a high percentage. That said, anytime there is anything more at stake (a title shot or talk of a title shot), a different version of "Cowboy" has been known to show up.
There weren't any hovering circumstances when he stepped in on Saturday to face Adriano Martins—and true to form—Cerrone delivered in brutal fashion. After spending the majority of the first round trading shots, the Jackson's MMA fighter unleashed a right head kick that floored the scrappy Brazilian.
Cerrone put his right shin on Martins' neck, and the "cold sleep" came in abrupt fashion.
With the victory Cerrone has now been successful in back-to-back outings and in three of his last four. That said, what comes next will the thing to keep an eye on.
His victory over Martins will put him back on the title-contention radar in the lightweight division, and that will guarantee his next fight will come against one of the division's best. This of course will create the scenario where possible title contention is on the line, and Cerrone will once again be faced with the challenge of finally getting over the proverbial hump.
There is no doubt the 30-year-old Colorado native is one of the most skilled and talented fighters competing in his division. But there is also no denying that a pattern is forming. He will put together a great winning streak, earn his way into a big fight with title implications, then come out with an unusually flat performance.
While losses to Rafael dos Anjos, Anthony Pettis and Nate Diaz are nothing to hang his head about, he's starting to run out of real estate. Cerrone has publicly expressed his intention to become the lightweight champion, and if that is going to happen, he needs to turn the corner on this run.
Fighters often switch weight classes in order to spark some type of resurgence, and making the decision to move from lightweight to featherweight has paid off for Jeremy Stephens. "Lil Heathen" had been victorious in both of his showings at 145 pounds heading into his bout with Darren Elkins on Saturday night, and after a gritty three-round affair, he picked up his third consecutive win.
While Elkins' wrestling had the potential to give the Team Alliance fighter fits, Stephens never allowed it to become a factor.
The Iowa native's takedown defense proved to be solid and allowed him to keep the fight standing where he battered Elkins at a high frequency. Throughout the 15-minute tilt, the Indiana-born Elkins was consistently thrown off balance as Stephens cruised to his 10th win under the UFC banner.
*** Alex Caceres just put his stock on hot as he picked up a big win over Sergio Pettis. While the younger of the Pettis brothers is yet to fully establish his name in the sport, he has certainly built a buzz for himself.
"Bruce Leeroy" had a solid opportunity to pick up some steam in the bantamweight division, and he took full advantage of the situation. After a back-and-forth scrap, the MMA Lab product pulled off a clutch rear-naked choke to pick up his fifth win in his last six showings.
*** As a Chicagoland native, Eddie Wineland wanted to put on a show against Yves Jabouin. The former WEC bantamweight champion was coming off a loss to Renan Barao in his last outing and wanted to spark another run at the 135-pound crown at UFC on Fox 10.
The Chesterton wasn't happy how things went down against the Brazilian phenom and took out that frustration on Jabouin. Wineland got the best of the Canadian at every turn until he pounded out the stoppage in the second round.
*** Daron Cruickshank got fans excited to watch him work inside the cage during his time on the 15th installment of The Ultimate Fighter. That said, he's experienced mixed results inside the Octagon since his time on the show as he's won three of his five showings.
After being submitted by Adriano Martins in his most recent outing, the Michigan native was eager to get things back on track against Mike Rio on Saturday night. And he did exactly that as he floored the Floridian with a spinning wheel kick in the second round. Cruickshank unleashed the beast and picked up his fourth win under the UFC banner.
*** Despite having some strong moments, Nikita Krylov's official UFC debut against Soa Palelei was a heavily criticized affair. Both men gassed out quickly, and the bout was panned as being one of the most boring fights in the history of the heavyweight division.
The Russian was eager to erase the memory of that fight, and his performance against Walt Harris should do just that. The 21-year-old starched the former basketball player with a head kick before finishing him off with punches in the opening round.
The featherweight division has been on fire for the better part of the past two years, and Darren Elkins has been desperately fighting to earn a place at the contender's table.
The Indiana native dropped down to 145 pounds in 2011 and went on to put together an impressive five-fight winning streak. On the strength of that run, the 27-year-old earned the opportunity to face the next level of competition in the division. But that is where things took a turn for the worse.
"Damage" took a drubbing at the hands of former title challenger Chad Mendes at UFC on Fox 7 last April but then bounced back to defeat Hatsu Hioki at Fight Night 27 in August. He needed a victory over Jeremy Stephens on Saturday night to keep the door to the upper-tier open.
Unfortunately for Elkins, he didn't have an answer to what the veteran brought to the table and found himself on the business end of a unanimous-decision defeat.
With the loss, Elkins has now dropped two of his last three showings. While losses to Mendes and Stephens won't do a tremendous amount of damage to his career, they certainly will affect his status in the divisional hierarchy.
The 145-pound weight class is packed with budding stars at the current time, and a low-profile fighter like Elkins simply cannot afford to take back steps of any fashion. Unfortunately for the Hobart resident, he took another bump in Chicago, and that will make it incredibly difficult for him to get back into the top level of the division any time soon.
There were plenty who disagreed with the decision in the main event between Henderson and Thomson, but there wasn't enough that happened from either side to call it a robbery. That's my take at least and let's move on to some legitimate weirdness.
There is a strange stigma surrounding Gonzaga. The lumbering Brazilian has floated in and out of the elite level of the heavyweight division since joining the UFC in 2005 and has made several solid runs over that time, including a title bout against Randy Couture at UFC 74 in 2007.
While his fight with "The Natural" has been his only championship opportunity, Gonzaga has consistently hovered around the back end of the top 10 in the heavyweight division. That said, over the course of his time in the UFC, Gonzaga has carved out a unique place in the divisional hierarchy as the guardian to the upper tier of the weight class.
And his record absolutely reflects this.
The fighters who have defeated the grappling ace have either gone on to title contention or to achieve contender status. On the other hand, the fighters Gonzaga has left looking up at the ceiling lights have all faded away in some form or fashion. This scenario has made Gonzaga an important piece of the heavyweight puzzle, and on Saturday night, Miocic passed the test.
The former Cleveland State University standout out-struck and out-worked Gonzaga for the better part of 15 minutes in their co-main event tilt at UFC on Fox 10. While Gonzaga had some early success in the striking department, his gas tank faded quickly, and Miocic took advantage of the situation to pick up the unanimous-decision victory.
With the win, Miocic will now put himself at the contender's table in the heavyweight division. While a win would've put Gonzaga in the same place his opponent will now sit, it's only his second loss in his past seven fights.
The tide of a fight can be a difficult thing to change, but Junior Hernandez did what he could to turn things around late against Hugo Viana. Hernandez was on the business end of things throughout the first 10 minutes of the fight and was down two rounds going into the final frame. Everything Viana did was working, and it appeared he would take the victory in lopsided fashion.
Nevertheless, the Octagon is an unpredictable environment, and Hernandez began to pepper Viana with high frequency in the third round. "The Wolverine" did his best to get out of harm's way, but with Hernandez bringing the heat, simply stepping out wasn't getting the job done. The Brazilian decided to go into full on retreat mode, and this is where the strangeness set in.
Hernandez began to mock Viana as he shuffled his feet and pumped the high knees as he pursued his opponent. Normally this wouldn't be anything of note, but after being worked for the first two rounds, it was strange to see Hernandez taunt Viana. To his credit, the 27-year-old found much more success in the final five minutes, but it wasn't enough to tip the scales of the fight.
Hernandez came out on the losing end on the judges' scorecards to pick up and has now come up short in both of his appearances under the UFC banner.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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