The UFC has typically put together solid cards for their showings on Fox, but their lineup for the UFC on Fox 11 event in Orlando was their biggest effort yet.
The card was filled from top to bottom with important divisional matchups and bouts that held crucial sway in title pictures across several different weight classes. The biggest of which, both figuratively and literally, came in the heavyweight division in a clash between hard-charging prospect turned contender Travis Browne as he squared off with fellow potential title challenger Fabricio Werdum.
A matchup between Browne and Werdum would be a high profile affair by any standard, but with a future bout against Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight title hanging in the balance, created a situation where the stakes where high heading into the main event on Saturday night.
Many figured Browne's striking would prove to be too much for the Brazilian submission artist to handle, but Werdum silenced the naysayers by putting on a striking clinic in Orlando.
"Vai Cavalo" peppered the rangy Hawaiian early and often throughout the bout en route to a lopsided unanimous-decision victory. In the process of picking up his fourth consecutive win inside the Octagon, Werdum also earned the opportunity to challenge heavyweight king Cain Velasquez in his next outing.
While the big boys at the top of the card drew the lion's share of attention, there was a plethora of tilts on the docket that lived up to the hype and expectation that hovered around them in the promotional lead-up. A "Cowboy" derailed a rising prospect, while a Dagestani "Eagle" continued his impressive run toward title contention.
The action was fast and furious at the Amway Center on Saturday night. Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC on Fox 11.
Heading into Werdum's main-event bout with Browne on Saturday night, there were plenty of questions looming. Could he handle Browne's striking onslaught? Would his series of lengthy layoffs have an affect on his performance in the bout? Yet, in spite of all the hovering circumstance, Werdum showed up and put on what is arguably the best performance of his career.
In what could be a star-making turn, "Vai Cavalo" weathered an early storm and beat the brakes off Browne for the next four rounds.
Where the Brazilian was supposedly at a disadvantage when the fight was standing, he flipped that particular script and pinged "Hapa" with big shots on a consistent basis over the course of the 25-minute affair. Werdum even went as far as to taunt Browne several times throughout the fight before unloading with a flurry of shots to back up his trash-talk.
With the victory, Werdum has officially earned the title shot he's been chasing since joining the UFC back in 2012. The 36-year-old Brazilian has handily defeated all four opponents he's faced inside the Octagon, but the next task on his list is an entirely different animal. He will mix it up with champion Velasquez later this year and will finally have the opportunity to fight for he's been hunting for over the past two years.
There is no question Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone is one of the surliest fighters on the UFC roster, and he needed every ounce of grit and moxie in his bout with Edson Barboza. Historically a slow starter, Cerrone was on the receiving end of a plethora of heavy shots from the Brazilian striker as Barboza had his way with the Albuquerque transplant in the early goings.
That said, if Cerrone has proven anything during his time inside the cage, it's that he has to be put away to be stopped, and Barboza learned that lesson on Saturday night. While the Renzo Gracie-trained fighter certainly had the edge throughout the first round, Cerrone stuck and dropped him with a left jab, then jumped on Barboza's back and secured the rear-naked choke for the win.
The Jackson/Winkeljohn-trained fighter is certainly no stranger to putting together winning streaks, and his victory over Barboza makes it three in a row for Cerrone. He's been a perennial contender in the ranks of the UFC's lightweight division since coming over from the WEC in 2012, and his performance at UFC on Fox 11 will certainly put him right back in the hunt for championship gold.
Since his emergence on the sport's biggest stage, Yoel Romero has looked like a monster. The former Olympic silver medalist had finished all three of his previous opponents coming into his bout with Brad Tavares and was looking to claim his fourth consecutive victim.
While the "Soldier of God" didn't put the scrappy young Hawaiian away, he showed marked improvements in several areas of his game.
The 36-year-old used his outstanding wrestling pedigree to the fullest as he repeatedly put Tavares on his back throughout the fight....sometimes in highlight-reel fashion. Romero also showed more patience in his striking attack where he remained loose and effective throughout the 15-minute affair as he cruised to a unanimous-decision victory.
With the win on Saturday night, Romero will certainly be knocking on the door of the middleweight top 10. With his age and rapidly improving skill set, the Cuban will most likely be on the fast track toward the top going forward. Tavares was a big test for the American Top Team fighter, and he handled the challenge in dominant fashion.
No fighter in the women's bantamweight division needed a win bigger than Miesha Tate. Since her time as the Strikeforce champion, "Cupcake" had failed to pick up a victory in her two showings inside the Octagon.
Granted, one of those losses came in her rematch with Ronda Rousey, but Tate holds one of the highest profiles in women's MMA, and a third loss under the UFC banner would have been devastating.
She certainly appeared to be on her way to doing just that as Liz Carmouche jumped out to an early lead by imposing her will in the grappling department. Yet, Tate has never been short on heart, and she battled back to steal the second round and dominate Carmouche in the final frame.
By doing so, Tate picked up the unanimous-decision victory and will remain a major player in the upper tier of the women's bantamweight division.
*** It may not have been the prettiest fight of his career, but Khabib Nurmagomedov did what he needed to defeat Rafael dos Anjos to wrap up the preliminary portion of the card. The "Eagle" put forth a workman-like effort to smother the Brazilian en route to his sixth victory inside the Octagon and the 22nd of his career.
On the strength of this run, the Dagestani has transitioned from prospect to legitimate title contender and is within striking distance of a title opportunity. That said, with Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez slated to fight at the end of the year, the Russian grappler could very well face the winner of Benson Henderson vs. Rustam Khabilov later in the year.
*** After two years away from the cage, there were more than a few questions surrounding Thiago Alves' return at UFC on Fox 11. Where "The Pitbull" was once a major player in the welterweight division, a consistent string of injuries put not only his status at 170 pounds in jeopardy but also his fighting career in general at risk.
Nevertheless, the American Top Team product showed no ring rust as he battled a very game Seth Baczynski to a unanimous-decision victory. Alves looked sharp in the fight, and if he can remain healthy, he could return to elite-level status in the welterweight hierarchy.
*** First impressions are always important, and Alex White made his in impressive fashion by dusting Estevan Payan. White dropped Payan with a big left hand, then swarmed in for the finish, which he logged well south of the two-minute mark. With the featherweight division picking up steam as of late, White and his unbeaten record could serve as a solid prospect in the weight class.
*** Caio Magalhaes' nickname is "Hellboy," and he certainly looked the part in his first drubbing of Luke Zachrich. The Brazilian stormed across the cage, throwing heat from the opening bell and overwhelmed the Ohio native with a flurry of power shots in the clinch.
While the knee that started the flurry for Magalhaes could have landed below Zachrich's belt, his finishing prowess was impressive nevertheless. With the win, the Brazilian has now been successful in three of his four outings inside the Octagon.
*** Jordan Mein has shown a willingness to scrap when he's inside the cage, and he stayed true to form against Hernani Perpetuo on the preliminary portion of the card.
"Young Gun" did his best work when he kept the action either at distance or on the ground, but there were some touchy moments when Perpetuo stuck the young Canadian with some big shots in the latter portion of the bout. Nevertheless, Mein walked away victorious and picked up his fourth win in his last five outings.
*** The flyweight division is in desperate need of prospects to round out the weight class, and Dustin Ortiz has the potential to be a bright star in that mix. Despite a loss to John Moraga in his last outing, the judges' decision was a questionable one, and his stock didn't suffer too much damage.
That said, he needed to get things back on track against Ray Borg. The Roufusport fighter edged out "The TazMexican Devil" via split decision to pick up his fifth win in his last six showings.
It's hard to believe I'm about to write this, but there were truly no "bad" moments at UFC on Fox 11. Granted, Carmouche losing her third fight in her last four could have warranted mention, but the judges' decision was a questionable one, and the Team Hurricane Awesome fighter certainly gave a good fight.
Another possible entry could have come from Browne being out-struck by Werdum in the main event. Yet, it was Werdum's stellar performance more than it was Browne's lack of effort that caused "Hapa" to take the loss in the fight. Another angle that could have been mentioned in this column is how Browne once again failed to get over the big hurdle between him and a title shot.
Nevertheless, I personally have zero doubt of Browne's status as one of the elite heavyweights on the UFC roster, and he'll be back inside the cage slinging bombs in no time.
All in all, it was a great night of fights, and nothing that warranted a concrete mention in this particular category. That said, there were several strange moments, and let's go ahead and get into those.
Throughout the brief history of this great series, I've stated time and time again that complaining about MMA judging is a pointless exercise. There is rarely any type of consistency shown, and judges' scorecards are typically all over the map in a close fight.
That said, the battle between Tate and Carmouche in the co-main event was a closely fought affair. The "Girl-Rilla" had the momentum early, and Tate weathered the storm to take the advantage late. While I personally had the fight scored for Carmouche 2-1, I could see where the judges saw it going the other way.
Carmouche, on the other hand, wanted a few other opinions after the fight.
Some rules in MMA fall into a somewhat of a "gray area," and there is perhaps none more questionable than the "three points on the mat" rule. Where throwing a knee to a downed opponent is clearly illegal when fighting inside the cage, some fighters have tip-toed the line on that rule by putting their hand on the mat, pulling it up, then putting it back in order to avoid catching a knee to the dome.
On Saturday, this game of cat and mouse came under the microscope as Mirsad Bektic jockeyed his hand position while in the grasp of Chas Skelly. Bektic went to the well one too many times and caught a knee flush in the face from Skelly, one that cost the Fort Worth-based fighter a point. The deduction ultimately proved to be a critical hit, as Skelly lost the fight on the judges' scorecards.
While that action was the most dubious point of the Fight Pass prelims, UFC President Dana White's tweet during the fight added a bit of flavor to the situation. It is clear White is no fan of the "three-point" rule and had no problem voicing his feelings over social media.
Jorge Masvidal has built a reputation over the course of his career as being as game as they come inside the cage. He's always been willing to stand toe-to-toe with the opposition and has always shown a particular brand of killer instinct.
That said, "Gamebred" was in a different gear in his fight against Pat Healy. While he worked an efficient game plan to earn the unanimous-decision victory, the nonchalance he showed throughout the fight certainly registered on the curious side of things. Make no mistake about it, winning is what matters inside the Octagon, but Masvidal just appeared to be a different fighter on Saturday night.
Another addition to this category from UFC on Fox 11 was the appearance of Joe Rogan's suit jacket. The comedian/commentator extraordinaire has historically kept things loose in the fashion department for UFC broadcasts, but Saturday's visit to Orlando witnessed the first time Rogan has donned finer threads for a fight card.
If that doesn't warrant mention in this section of the column, I'm not sure what does.
Finally, where did K-1 level Fabricio Werdum come from? In addition to his striking being sharper than ever, he threw some flare in the mix by taunting an always dangerous Travis Browne before lighting him up with combinations.
There were several ways I imagined this fight playing out, and Werdum battering Browne on the feet certainly wasn't one of them.
Duane Finley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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