One year ago, the UFC's middleweight division appeared to be a conquered land. Long-reigning king Anderson Silva had made highlight-reel material out of every major contender and was seemingly without competition at 185 pounds.
In light of that situation, the pound-for-pound great appeared to be shifting his focus to a superfight with welterweight machine Georges St-Pierre, in a fight that fans had been eager to see for years.
Fast forward one year, and the landscape is completely different. The former champion fell not once but twice to prospect-turned-champion Chris Weidman in 2013, and a host of potential title challengers emerged in a hectic year for the middleweight division.
On Saturday night in Brazil, a collection of top middleweights stepped into the Octagon to make their bid for the next title shot. In the main event, former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida squared off with former Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi. It was touted as a matchup between two of the elite strikers in mixed martial arts, and a technical chess match is exactly what went down.
"The Dragon" used his speed advantage to score points on the former DREAM champion throughout the 25-minute affair. While Mousasi had his moments throughout the fight, the majority of his time inside the cage was spent chasing the always elusive Machida. When the final bell sounded, Machida picked up the unanimous-decision victory and made a great case for a shot at the middleweight title.
Another fighter on the card who has been making a serious case for contention was Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza. The Brazilian grappling beast had been a nightmare since coming over from Strikeforce as he made short work of his two previous opponents under the UFC banner.
On Saturday night, "The Alligator" locked up with surging contender Francis Carmont in the co-main event. The Team Tristar fighter had won 11 consecutive bouts coming into his fight with Jacare, including six straight inside the Octagon.
There weren't many fighters who were lining up to face Souza, and Carmont proved to be a game opponent. While Souza didn't add the Frenchman to his growing highlight reel, the former Strikeforce champion was able to control the action and take the unanimous-decision victory.
Outside of the two high-profile middleweight tilts on the card, plenty of solid action went down in Brazil on Saturday night. A pair of Brazilian brothers found victory at the end of their individual three-round battles, and two prospects made good in make-or-break fights.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC Fight Night 36.
Machida became a major player in the middleweight division's title picture when he knocked out Mark Munoz in his debut at 185 pounds last October. In the time since, The Dragon has attempted to hit the fast track to a championship opportunity, and his bout with Mousasi fit that criteria.
Despite the fight being "The Armenian Assassin's" first showing in the weight class since 2008, Mousasi was recognized as one of the elite strikers in all of mixed martial arts. Their respective styles figured to make for an interesting and technical clash, and that's what transpired in the main event at UFC Fight Night 36.
Throughout the five-round affair, Machida's speed was the biggest factor. The Brazilian karate master has built a reputation for being elusive, but he was on a different level on Saturday night. He stuck Mousasi on the counter and uncharacteristically went on the attack on several occasions.
While Mousasi had his moments, the fight was a showcase of Machida's skills.
The interesting thing will be to see what comes next. With Anderson Silva out of the way atop the 185-pound collective, Machida has made no secret of his wish to fight for the title. With Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort set to do battle this summer, the Team Black House fighter might have earned his place in the "next" spot on Saturday night.
Since dropping the Strikeforce middleweight title back in 2011, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza has been on a tear. The Brazilian powerhouse picked up three consecutive victories to finish his run with the now defunct San Jose-based promotion and then notched two more wins in his new home under the UFC banner.
With all five victories coming by way of finish—and often times in brutal fashion—talk began to circulate for Souza to get a shot at the middleweight title. With the state of things at 185 pounds, the opportunity to fight for gold could be in his near future, but The Alligator first had to defeat Francis Carmont at UFC Fight Night 36.
While Souza picked up the win over the Tristar trained fighter, Carmont made it a closer fight than many imagined he could. Nevertheless, Souza earned the unanimous-decision victory and raised his winning streak to six consecutive fights.
Although Belfort is slated for the next shot at Weidman's middleweight strap, the Brazilian grappling phenom's win at UFC Fight Night 36 kept him at the contender's table in the 185-pound division.
There was a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Charles Oliveira coming into UFC Fight Night 36. The 24-year-old had already run the course of being a high-potential prospect as a lightweight, only to be turned back. The hype flared up when he found success in his first two showings as a featherweight, but losses in his next two outings once again put things in jeopardy.
On Saturday night, he was in a must-win situation against Andy Ogle, and "Do Bronx" was game for the challenge. He spent the majority of the first round on the The Ultimate Fighter alum's back but was unable to secure the submission.
The window of opportunity opened once again in the third, and Oliveira took full advantage as he locked in a fight-ending triangle choke. While a victory over Ogle won't do much to build momentum, it keeps Oliveira from falling into irrelevancy in the stacked featherweight division.
Another fighter on the card who felt a similar pressure was Brazilian striker Erick Silva. The Team Nogueira standout has been touted in the past as the "next big thing" in the welterweight division, but a pair of setbacks threatened to erase the hype.
The 29-year-old came out on the losing end of a back-and-forth scramble fest against Jon Fitch at UFC 153 in October 2012, but his stock did not suffer a tremendous amount of damage, and he was able to rebuild momentum by earning a victory in his next showing. Yet, whatever he gained by defeating Jason High at UFC on Fuel TV 10 was lost when Dong Hyun Kim knocked him out at UFC Fight Night 29.
Coming into his bout on Saturday night against Takenori Sato, Silva needed an impressive win if he hoped to remain a player in the top half of the welterweight division. That said, he delivered by smashing the promotional newcomer in quick fashion to earn the first-round knockout.
While the victory won't launch him up into title contention, it keeps his pulse alive in a division that is opening up in the absence of former champion St-Pierre.
The Brazilian crowd loves a good scrap, and that’s what Ildemar Alcantara and Albert Tumenov provided in the second bout on the card. It was a solid back-and-forth battle throughout the 15-minute affair, with each man having his fair share of moments.
When the final bell sounded, the older Alcantara brother emerged victorious via split decision. He has now been successful in three of his four showings in the UFC.
Another bout on the preliminary portion of the card turned out to be an action-packed affair. Iuri Alcantara and Wilson Reis came out of the gates at a fast and furious pace and sustained it until the final bell. Exciting transitions were aplenty on the canvas as both gave their all, but Alcantara picked up the split-decision victory. He has now won two of his three showings at 135 pounds and will remain a major player in the bantamweight fold.
Joe Proctor was looking to make a triumphant return after a lengthy layoff, and he accomplished that task by defeating Cristiano Marcello in the final preliminary bout. The Massachusetts-based fighter put on a solid performance as he outworked the Brazilian grappling ace to pick up the unanimous-decision victory. Joe Lauzon’s friend and training partner has now had his hand raised in two of his three showings since competing on the 15th season of The Ultimate Fighter.
It is a well-known fact in MMA that you fight until the referee stops the action. As cliche as it sounds, it is a truth inside the cage that things aren't over until they are over. Viscardi Andrade learned this painful lesson when he squared off with Nicholas Musoke on Saturday night.
The Brazilian laced Musoke with an overhand right in the opening round that crumbled the Swede to the canvas. Rather than pounce on his wounded opponent and pound out the finish, Andrade threw his hands in the air and began to celebrate the victory. After a brief moment, Andrade realized the fight was still going and jumped on top of Musoke, but the 27-year-old had already regained his senses.
Unfortunately for Andrade, the mental mistake would prove costly. Musoke bounced back to win the next two rounds by controlling the action and walked away with the unanimous decision.
While there is no guarantee The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil alum would have secured the stoppage after landing the huge right hand, it was a possibility. That said, Andrade stumbled in the moment and made a mistake that was the catalyst to his seven-fight winning streak coming to an end.
The affinity for MMA in Brazil is no secret. The country that is considered to be the birthplace of the sport always turns out when the UFC rolls through. And Saturday night was no different.
While American crowds are prone to showing up in mass by the time the main card kicks off, the Brazilians were already rocking when the prelims got under way. During the first two fights on the card, the Brazilian fighting faithful made their presence known as they rolled through chants and foot stomps that came across loudly on the live stream.
Names are the draw in the U.S., whereas the fans in Brazil come out for any two men who are face-punching inside a cage. While their passionate support doesn't quite constitute as "strange," it deserves to be noted somewhere in this column.
The slurs, on the other hand, are not very flattering.
Crowd chants "French, gay." Classy!— Guilherme Cruz (@guicruzzz) February 16, 2014
Another issue at UFC Fight Night 36 that was difficult to categorize came in all seven prelim bouts ending in decisions. While I'm not of the "fights have to be finished to be exciting" variety, it is strange to see so many hectic battles play out on the judges' scorecards.
The decision-heavy trend that the UFC president lambasted immediately following UFC 169 earlier in the month carried over to the first half of UFC Fight Night 36. It took the always submission-savvy Charles Oliveira to provide the first finish of the night on the main card.
Nevertheless, three of the next four bouts on the card went to the judges, which made UFC Fight Night 36 the second consecutive card where at least 10 of the bouts ended in decisions.
On a final note, there needs to be an acknowledgment made on my behalf for Mousasi. I have ribbed the former DREAM champion in the past for his refusal to show emotion, but on Saturday night, he emerged from the walkout tunnel with a smile. Not only that, but he actually interacted with the hostile Brazilian crowd on his way to the cage.
That's newsworthy action any way you cut it. It was the most curious happening to take place at UFC Fight Night 36.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.