On paper last night's UFC 102 seemed like a bit of letdown after the stacked cards the UFC put on with 100 and 101. However, what the card lacked in star power it more than made up for in exciting fights. Let's recap the action:
Randy Couture v. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
This fight took home fight of the night and for good reason. These two grizzled veterans put on a show befitting men 10-20 years their junior (20 in the case of Couture). For a fight between an Olympic calibre wrestler and possibly the best submission heavyweight of all time these two really traded leather.
Randy was unable to implement his clinch game against the fence and he payed for it. Nogueira stayed outside and implemented his effective boxing from distance using his technique and reach advantage to land some solid shots. Randy was dropped a couple times and wobbled a few more.
Couture landed some solid shots with his dirty boxing but nothing Nogueira hasn't survived before. It was amazing how good Nogueira looked after his last fight against Mir but that's the difference between a healthy Nogueira and one with an injury and a staph infection.
This Nogueira, who not only dominated Randy on the feet but also on the ground, almost sinking in an arm triangle and an anaconda choke, looks like a true contender again. Carwin might have the next shot at Lesnar but Nogueira is definitely back on the radar for a title shot.
Couture showed the grit and heart of a champion as he was in bad shape on multiple occasions but always found a way to keep his cool and survive. Unfortunately he was so thoroughly dominated that Nogueira took home an impressive unanimous decision.
It will be interesting to see who Couture fights from here having lost two fights in a row and being out of the title picture for the moment.
Being 46, Couture only wants the biggest fights. Maybe a showdown with Frank Mir is looming?
Keith Jardine v. Thiago Silva
Silva brutalized Jardine winning by TKO in the first round. Jardine's usually confounding, unorthodox style proved to play no part in this fight as Silva moved straight forward until he landed the winning blow.
Silva looked very impressive against a guy who lost a very close split decision against former UFC champion Quinton Jackson. Could Silva be the next Rich Franklin? Could he be better than almost everyone else in his division but still so far behind the champion that Silva is left in limbo only to see lesser fighter's pass him by?
As for Jardine this is a crushing blow. He thought he proved something in the loss against Jackson. However, now that he's lost in brutal fashion to two Silvas (Wanderlei and now Thiago) is his KO switch getting shorter and shorter a la Chuck Liddell? Unfortunately Jardine is looking more and more like a gatekeeper than a contender.
Someone who can keep the trash from rising to the top and can surprise a contender but not a real threat to the title.
Nate Marquardt v. Demian Maia
It seemed like everyone was riding the Maia bandwagon. Well, back to the drawing board bandwagon riders. Marquardt dispatched Maia in 21 seconds knocking him out cold. If the fight had lasted long enough for it to get to the ground who knows what could have happened but that question will have to be answered some other time.
Marquardt is now pushed to the front of the line for a shot at Anderson Silva's title with the likes of Dan Henderson. Both guys are looking to put on a better showing than their last title shot. Maybe this title eliminator could be the first marquee non title fight the UFC could showcase in a five round fight now that the NSAC has sanctioned such fights?
For Maia, this is a significant setback. Hopefully this will only push him harder to work on his striking and become a better and more well rounded fighter. I can't wait to see him back in the cage turning lesser fighters into human pretzels.
Chris Leben v. Jake Rosholt
Everyone also seemed to be riding the Leben bandwagon. The hometown kid, made good, comes home for his moment in the sun. Unfortunately for him, Rosholt was having none of that.
This turned into a much more exciting fight than I had anticipated. Rosholt's stand up actually looked solid. He stayed outside of Leben as much as possible trying to stick and move knowing getting into a fire fight with Leben could mean a quick night.
Rosholt had a little trouble in the beginning getting Leben to the ground which was somewhat surprising given Rosholt's All-American wrestling background but once he did it was game over. Rosholt passed Leben's guard at will raining down blows until finally Leben gave up an arm triangle choke as Rosholt put him to sleep before Leben even had a chance to tap.
This was a very disappointing loss for Leben who has now lost two fights in a row, this time in front of his hometown, and he was looking for redemption coming off a steroid ban. All around this was a huge step back for Leben.
On the other hand, this fight went exactly as planned for Rosholt as far as the UFC is concerned. They've been trying to push this kid ever since he came in from the WEC but unfortunately he lost his first UFC fight.
Now though Rosholt has a submission win over a big name UFC fighter and they can start pushing this kid up the ladder. I hope Rosholt is prepared because it isn't going to get any easier from here.
Brandon Vera v. Krzysztof Soszynski
This was a very lackluster and unimpressive unanimous decision victory for Vera. He was obviously the faster and more technical striker. However, what frustrated Soszynski most was his inability to get the fight to the ground. Vera was able to stand up almost the entire fight and pick Soszynski apart.
This setback is minor for Soszynski given his recent success in the UFC but hopefully he will have a lot to work on and improve after this fight that will make him a better fighter down the road.
As for Vera he's now on a two fight winning streak but this fight wasn't nearly as impressive as his last one. It will be interesting to see who the UFC puts him up against next. I think it's time to throw him in to the fire against the next level of competition. Do they put him up against his original opponent Matt Hamill or do they up the ante?
Ed Herman v. Aaron Simpson
Herman might've lost by TKO due to injury in the second round but this fight was all Simpson from the beginning. Simpson's striking looked more crisp and powerful right from the start. He dropped Herman a couple times but Herman somehow survived.
Then on a routine double leg takedown Herman injured his knee. He made it to the end of the first round and tried to keep fighting in the second but as he went for a head kick his knee gave out on him and the fight was stopped. However the injury was irrelevant as Simpson was looking to make mince meat out of Herman anyway.
Unfortunately almost none of the hometown products had a successful night as Herman, another Oregon product, has now lost three of his last four fights. Simpson retains his undefeated record with his second win in the UFC.
Tim Hague v. Todd Duffee
Duffee, the American Top Team product, tied the fastest KO ever, laying Hague down in seven seconds beating the mark of eight set by Don Frye and James Irvin. Duffee laid Hague down with a stiff jab and finished him on the ground with a crushing left hook.
Duffee makes his UFC debut an impressive one. No offense to Hague but I'm excited to see Duffee against stiffer competition. Hague will be back. This is only his first loss in the UFC and he's a scrapper. He'll be back filling in undercards in no time.
Marcus Aurelio v. Evan Dunham
Finally an Oregon product comes through as Dunham wins by split decision. The first round was all Dunham as Aurelio looked really complacent and almost drained. Dunham lit him up with his striking to take the first round easily.
The second round got very interesting as both guys were trading shots. This was the swing round that really could've gone either way but two judges gave it to Dunahm.
The third round appeared to me to be all Aurelio even though one of the judges scored it for Dunham. He was landing the better shots and got a couple takedowns and looked good on the ground.
Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be. Aurelio took this fight on short notice so it's tough to say how prepared he was for this fight given his slow start. Hopefully next time out he's ready to go from the opening bell because if this had been a five round fight I honestly don't think Dunham would've won.
For Dunham he is now 2-0 in the UFC but for Aurelio he is 2-4. It will be interesting to see if the UFC brings him back after a strange fight like this. Do they think they will get the Aurelio from round one or round three?
Gabriel Gonzaga v. Chris Tuchscherer
Gonzaga wins by first round TKO. Gonzaga unfortunately is turning into the gatekeeper of the heavyweight division. Granted he had his title shot already but he can't seem to get over the hump against the really tough competition but he just destroys all the lesser fighters.
Justin McCully v. Mike Russow
Russow wins by unanimous decision on a crazy scorecard. One judge had the fight 29-28 while another had it 30-26. Russow makes his UFC debut a solid one while McCully goes back to the drawing board with a 2-2 UFC record.
Mark Munoz v. Nick Catone
Munoz wins by split decision. Munoz rebounds nicely from his brutal KO loss to Matt Hamill. Catone is hoping to hang on to his job having lost his last two fights in the UFC.
Fight of the night was an obvious choice going to Couture v. Nogueira. There was stiff competition for KO of the night between Marquardt and Duffee but Marquardt took home the prize. And Rosholt took home submission of the night by default.
John Shubert is a staff writer for Inside Fights