The race to become a future title contender in the UFC light heavyweight division is still taking shape, and the main event of Fight Night 47 put the spotlight on two fighters who were looking to take a big step toward the top of the division.
Both Ryan Bader and Ovince Saint Preux had put together solid winning streaks going into their showdown on Saturday night, and there was plenty on the line when they collided in Bangor, Maine.
The Ultimate Fighter Season 8 winner had found success in three of his last four outings coming into Fight Night 47, including dominant one-sided victories in his two most recent showings.
The former Arizona State University wrestling standout's wins over Anthony Perosh and Rafael Cavalcante brought him one step closer to earning a place in the elite tier of the 205-pound fold, and he was going to need to add another notch in the win column against Saint Preux to carve out his place on the light heavyweight divisional hierarchy.
The same rang true for OSP, as the former University of Tennessee football player had been making waves of his own under the UFC banner. The former Strikeforce veteran won his first four showings inside the Octagon, and a win over Bader would catapult him into a whole new level of competition at 205.
While Saint Preux had quietly climbed the ladder going into Saturday night, a main event showcase against a perennial Top 10 staple was going to be the biggest test of his career.
Once the cage door closed, a grindfest began. While both fighters were slinging heavy shots in the early going, the main story of the fight was Bader's wrestling. The Power MMA leader used his grappling pedigree to slam and roll Saint Preux all around the Octagon en route to the unanimous-decision victory. It wasn't pretty, but OSP had zero answers for the wrestling prowess of the heavy-handed, Arizona-based fighter.
While the main event featured two fighters looking to solidify themselves as potential title contenders, the co-main event was fought under different circumstances.
Gray Maynard was once considered one of the top lightweight fighters in the world, but the Bully had fallen on rough times as of late and desperately needed a victory to remain relevant in the ultra-competitive mix at 155 pounds. A win over Ross Pearson would prove he still had more to give inside the Octagon. However, a loss would prove disastrous for a fighter who nearly claimed the lightweight strap back in 2011.
It was a similar picture for the Real Deal. Whereas the former TUF winner was once a promising prospect at 155 pounds, a rocky patch sent the British slugger looking for success in featherweight waters.
Unfortunately for Pearson, he would meet even more adversity and decided to return to his natural weight class in hopes of re-establishing his footing. While his fights against Melvin Guillard and Diego Sanchez would end in controversial fashion, the Englishman still felt he had some momentum going into his tilt with Maynard at Fight Night 47.
There was plenty on the line between the two lightweights, and it was Pearson who took the big step forward. The Real Deal weathered Maynard's aggression in the first round only to catch the former title challenger with a stiff shot in the second and pound out the victory. It was undoubtedly the biggest win of Pearson's career, and he did it in impressive fashion.
In addition to the two bouts at the top of the card, plenty of action went down in Bangor on Saturday night. Several good scraps and a few phenomenal comebacks showed just how unpredictable MMA can be.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from Fight Night 47.
Ryan Bader has always been close to breaking through into the elite level of the light heavyweight division. The 31-year-old has put together several streaks throughout his time in the UFC, but each time Darth appeared to be gaining momentum, he would suffer a setback at the hands of one of the divisional elite.
That said, the Power MMA leader has been on a hot streak as of late and had won two consecutive fights heading into his tilt with Ovince Saint Preux. The bout with OSP represented his last step before elevating to the next level of competition in the 205-pound fold, and the Arizona-based fighter handled the challenge with ease.
Though Bader has been known to get caught up in slugfests in the past, he stuck to his game plan against Saint Preux and consistently put the former University of Tennessee football player on his back.
When the final bell sounded, Bader won the unanimous decision to pick up his third consecutive win inside the Octagon. While Bader said he was going to address a few injuries in the aftermath of this fight during his post-match interview, a potential bout with either Alexander Gustafsson, Rashad Evans or Anthony Johnson would make perfect sense.
Coming into Fight Night 47, Ross Pearson had been riding an emotional roller coaster. His two most recent fights had ended in controversial fashion, and while he was unable to notch a win in either bout, the Real Deal still felt he had some solid momentum heading into Saturday night.
While the British slugger was originally slated to face Abel Trujillo on the card, an injury suffered by the Team Blackzilians fighter forced him to withdraw, and the UFC tapped former title challenger Gray Maynard to step into the co-main event slot opposite Pearson. Although a last-minute change of opponent can be difficult to deal with, the Bully had far more name value than Trujillo, so Pearson was eager to accept.
The biggest question coming into the matchup was whether or not Pearson could stop Maynard's wrestling, and it was an aspect he struggled with in the opening frame. Yet, as things got underway in the second round, Pearson picked up on Maynard's timing and started to do damage with his boxing.
After Pearson dinged up Maynard with a few solid shots in the second round, he landed a stiff right that wobbled the perennial title contender. Once Pearson recognized he had his opponent in trouble, he amplified the pressure and pounded out the victory.
With the win over Maynard, the Sunderland, England native not only picks up the biggest win of his career, but will take a nice jump up the rankings in the 155-pound fold. It was a sharp performance for Pearson at Fight Night 47, and his next opponent will certainly come from the elite tier of the stacked lightweight division.
In 2012 Tim Boetsch was quietly making a case for title contention in the middleweight division. That said, losses in three of his next four fights pushed him to the edge of obscurity in the 185-pound fold. As a result, The Barbarian came into his bout against surging prospect Brad Tavares in desperate need of a victory, and in the early going, that didn't look like it was going to happen. The young Hawaiian battered Boetsch early, but as he's proved in the past, the gritty veteran isn't out until the referee steps in. And that's precisely what happened.
As Tavares waded in with a right hand, Boetsch countered with a left that dropped the Ray Sefo protege to the canvas. Tavares attempted to scramble out, but Boetsch connected with a right hand and ended the fight. With the win, Boetsch will remain relevant in the middleweight division and picked up a huge win in front of his hometown crowd.
It was a wild, frenzied bout between Seth Baczynski and Alan Jouban from the get-go. Both fighters came out looking to impose their will, and Baczynski had the edge early on when a left hook put the undefeated prospect down on the canvas. Yet Jouban would recover and turn the tides with a flurry of his own, putting the TUF alumnus away with a swarm of shots against the cage. In addition to making an impressive UFC debut, Jouban also showed he has heart to go along with his model looks.
The action in the heavyweight division can be unforgiving at times, and Shawn Jordan had been on the business end of things recently. The former LSU alumnus had suffered back-to-back knockout losses coming into his tilt with Jack May on Saturday night and desperately needed a victory to keep his place on the UFC roster. While there was nothing pretty about it, Savage hung tough and ultimately pounded out the stoppage victory midway through the final round. The win over May is Jordan's first victory since June 2013 and will ensure the American Top Team fighter lives to see another day inside the Octagon.
Thiago Tavares had been on the sideline for a good stretch but finally made his return to the Octagon at Fight Night 47. In addition to getting back to work, the stocky Brazilian was also making his featherweight debut against seasoned veteran Robbie Peralta. While there were questions as to how the layoff and weight cut would affect his performance, Tavares wasted no time silencing those doubts as he smashed the Californian via rear-naked choke en route to one of his most impressive showings in years.
Due to the current lack of depth in the upper tier of the flyweight division, the winner of the bout between Jussier Formiga and Zach Makovsky was going to take a huge step up the ladder. Both men had solid momentum going into the tilt, but when the action got underway, it was all Formiga. The Brazilian outworked and out-wrestled the former NCAA Division I standout en route to the unanimous-decision victory. With the win over Fun Size, Formiga has now won three of his last four showings and is guaranteed to draw one of the division's bigger names in his next outing.
Tom Watson came into Fight Night 47 needing a win, which is exactly what transpired in his tilt with Sam Alvey. Kong jumped out to an early lead in the bout as he battered Smiling Sam's lead leg and scored frequently while fighting at a distance. The scrappy Brit was up two rounds on the judges' cards going into the final frame and managed to survive a late charge from the MFC veteran to pick up his first win since February 2013.
When a fighter makes his UFC debut, there is a lot of pressure to make a lasting impression, and Frankie Saenz let it all hang out. He came out after Nolan Ticman from the opening bell and kept the pressure on full steam until the final bell. While he wasn't able to put his opponent away, Saenz's performance was all heart and fury from the get-go. When the final bell sounded, it was a clean sweep on the judges' scorecards as Saenz picked up his first victory under the UFC banner.
It is cliche to say a fighter's back is against the wall, but that was the case for Gray Maynard coming into Fight Night 47.
Whereas the Bully once had the lightweight strap within his grasp back in 2011, things have gone downhill for him in the three years since. After suffering a knockout at the hands of his rival Frankie Edgar in their trilogy bout at UFC 136, Maynard has found victory in only one of his four showings since, with each of his three defeats coming by way of stoppage.
While the former three-time All-American looked sharp in the first round of his tilt against Ross Pearson on Saturday night, the Real Deal picked up on his timing and landed a starching right hand that wobbled Maynard in the second round. Once the Power MMA transplant was rocked, the British slugger poured it on and pounded out the stoppage with flurry on the canvas.
With the loss being Maynard's third consecutive setback via knockout, it will be difficult for the former contender to hold onto his spot in the elite level of the division. Furthermore, Maynard suggested he had thoughts of retiring following his previous loss against Nate Diaz, so it will be interesting to see what decision he makes about his fighting career.
This may seem to be a strange place to put someone who actually won her fight, but Sara McMann really needed to show more. When she stepped in to face Lauren Murphy, it was the former Olympic silver medalist's first outing since her disappointing loss to Ronda Rousey back in February. There is a lot of expectation surrounding McMann, and that just wasn't the performance she needed. While she jumped out to an early lead, the rest of the fight was spent stalling and riding out the clock. She ultimately took the split-decision nod on the judges' cards, but moved the needle she did not.
After a lengthy layoff from UFC events, there was a high probability for some strangeness to occur when the action resumed inside the Octagon. Yet things were relatively quiet in Bangor, Maine, on Saturday night.
While most of the bouts on the card were straight-up, action-packed scraps, two tilts proved just how unpredictable mixed martial arts can be. Alan Jouban weathered an early storm to rebound and knock out Seth Baczynski, just as hometown hero Tim Boetsch bounced back from an early drubbing to level Hawaiian striker Brad Tavares.
In both cases, the fighters who ultimately emerged victorious were taking a beating only to snatch victory in brutal fashion. That's what makes MMA a crazy game, folks. And that's what makes every fight worth watching.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.