Another week, another fight card.
The UFC returned to Brazil for Fight Night 36, headlined by two fights with more than a little importance to the middleweight division. Machida, Mousasi, Souza and Carmont—all four fighters had a chance to elevate themselves into the title picture and to perhaps even earn a shot at the winner of the May bout between Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort.
What happened in Brazil? Let's find out.
Machida Does What Machida Does
Earlier this week, I attended a media function with UFC President Dana White. We talked about a bunch of different news topics for roughly an hour before White finally had enough: He wanted to talk about Lyoto Machida vs. Gegard Mousasi.
White was more amped up for the Fight Night 36 main event than I've seen him in quite some time, and he wanted to talk about it. The matchup was intriguing, and it held a lot of importance in the middleweight title picture. One can understand his excitement. White is a lot of things, but he is a fight fan at heart, and this was one to look forward to. I'd been anticipating the bout since the moment it was announced.
Who should face the winner of Weidman vs. Belfort?
The first round, as expected, was a feeling-out process. What struck me the most was Machida's speed. He has always been a quick fighter, but he's infinitely more so at middleweight. His counters, particularly with his left hand, are blindingly quick. He stays just out of reach, then rushes in with multiple punches and kicks when his opponent is coming forward and off his guard. It is a beautiful thing to watch.
It was a chess match. I typically am not a fan of tactical fights, because that term is often used to describe boring fights between not-great fighters who are not tactical at all. But this was different. It lacked the go-for-broke aspect that pleases so many fight fans, but it was not boring.
As the fight wore on, Machida became more and more confident. His hands were down, he was bouncing more than usual and he offered an excellent mix of strikes. The pair finally went to the ground in the fourth round, where they exchanged sweeps and Mousasi landed an illegal upkick to a kneeling Machida.
In the end, Machida was declared the victor. He fought the way he usually does: smart and a bit safe. But it was also a beautiful thing to watch, as there is nobody like him in mixed martial arts. If he does go on to get a title shot, I'll be incredibly intrigued to see how he fares against either Weidman or Belfort.
Jacare Souza: A Terrifying Man
Jacare Souza is a scary man.
You know this. I know this. He's a blend of powerful striking and world-class submissions that should strike fear in the heart of everyone in the middleweight division.
Going into Fight Night 36, there was a chance for Souza to leapfrog others and become a title contender. I'm not sure his performance against Francis Carmont warrants that. Souza was mostly dominant in the first and third rounds, staying on Carmont's back and going for submissions.
But Souza couldn't finish the fight. This is nothing to be ashamed of, because Carmont is double tough and hadn't lost a fight since 2008. And Carmont, a training partner of Georges St-Pierre, has the unique ability to stifle just about everything his opponents throw at him, not to mention he's a giant middleweight.
And so Souza's performance in the first and third rounds was impressive in its own way, even if it may not have been enough to put Carmont away and work his way into the title picture. He's likely just one fight away, though, and the top contenders (and the champion) in that division need to be very worried, indeed.
Erick Silva Is Still a Great Prospect
Given all the hype surrounding Erick Silva after his first few UFC fights, it is a bit surprising to consider that he was just 3-3 heading into his fight against Takenori Sato.
Granted, one loss was a fluke DQ to Carlo Prater in a fight Silva was winning handily. And the other two came against Jon Fitch and Dong Hyun Kim, two tough outs for anybody in the welterweight division.
But still, it's tough to believe he was only 3-3. Of course, he is 3-3 no longer, notching up a win with a first-round win over Sato. Granted, Sato isn't exactly an impressive specimen of a fighter; Silva needed a finish here, and he was set up to get one. He delivered.
I hope the UFC will handle Silva with care from this point forward. Instead of throwing him to the wolves, match him up with other fighters who are on his level in the division. Treat him right, and you could still be looking at a future title contender.
It was somewhere in the second round of the Jesse Ronson vs. Francisco Trinaldo preliminary bout that I realized an important fact: We were on our way to our fifth consecutive decision at UFC Fight Night 36.
This is not a surprise. Decisions are the new normal in the UFC. Ronson and Trinaldo went to a decision, meaning 12 consecutive UFC preliminary bouts had gone to a decision.
And then the decisions kept on coming. Rodrigo Damn and Ivan Jorge went the distance. Cristiano Marcello and Joe Proctor went the distance, which meant every single preliminary-card fight had gone to a decision.
Luckily, Charles Oliveira put an end to that unfortunate streak by submitting Andy Ogle in the third round. That was briskly followed by Nico Musoke beating Viscardi Andrade by decision. After that fight, 36 fights had gone to a decision in 2014; 69 percent of all UFC fights have gone the distance.
The good news for the UFC: As long as the main cards on these fight nights deliver, the terrible nature of these prelims won't matter a bit. These events on Fight Pass, especially for international fight cards, are designed for the hardcore fight fans. Many who tune in to Fox Sports 1 won't have any idea what happened on the prelims, and they won't know they dodged a decision bullet.
Refereeing in mixed martial arts is in a terrible state. It has been this way for quite some time. The list of referees who can be expected to do a good job on a fairly consistent basis is a short one.
Changes to officiating are slow in coming, but it is not too much to ask for a little consistency. Mario Yamasaki, one of the longest-tenured regular referees in the business, is a perfect example.
Maximo Blanco unintentionally kicked Felipe Arantes in the groin during their preliminary bout. It happens, and rarely is it anything more than an accident. It was clear from the replay that Blanco's errant kick was aimed at Arantes' midsection before it went south and crashed into Arantes' pearls with a nauseating thud.
Yamasaki gave Arantes time to recover and then deducted a point from Blanco—without a warning. It was a curious bit of business; standard protocol is to issue a warning to the offending fighter, then deduct a point when it happens again.
Three fights later, there were multiple eye pokes during a fight between Rodrigo Damm and Ivan Jorge. Yamasaki issued a warning. Then it happened again, and Yamasaki issued another warning. Then a groin kick happened—and no point deduction.
Yamasaki may have been going on Blanco's past penchant for doing illegal things during his fights. It seems a Blanco fight can't go by without some sort of weirdness, and I'm sure Yamasaki remembers this. But using that history when officiating a fight probably isn't the right way to go about things.
MMA officials take a lot of flak. Some of it is deserved, and some of it is not. OK, most of it probably is. But a little bit of consistency isn't too much to ask for. Deducting a point for one groin kick and not taking one away for multiple eye pokes leaves everybody more confused than we usually are.
I make special mention of Andrade's failed walk-off knockout of Musoke in the first round of their fight for no other reason than, well, it was awesome—but for all the wrong reasons.
There are few things mixed martial arts fans enjoy more than a good walk-off knockout. Mark Hunt went from nearly irrelevant to beloved heavyweight contender because he'd mastered the art of assuredly walking away from his opponent after landing a good punch.
But when it goes wrong, as it did for Andrade? It's funny. It's also a waste, because the time spent celebrating could've been put to better use, you know, trying to finish the fight.
But I don't mind. I'm all for wacky things in my mixed martial arts, and this provided a laugh on an evening mostly filled with little to no laughs.