Near the end of the UFC 108 postfight press conference, there was a prolonged lull in the barrage of questions. After hours of sensory mayhem, the silence seemed out of place.
The last inquiry would be directed at Jake Ellenberger because he'd waited patiently for almost 30 minutes while Rashad Evans, Sam Stout, Paul Daley, Jim Miller, and Junior dos Santos each fielded at least one question. It looked like he might be the only silent act until someone graciously rectified the error.
But, prior to Ellenberger's finale, there was that lingering silence and Dana White just let it hang there. Then he broke into a smile that featured the conspicuous absence of canary feathers.
"Any other questions? No? Where are all the negative people? Where are you guys, the ones b*tching all week?"
Yep, seven stoppages in 10 fights will put a bounce in the step of any Ultimate Fighting Championship fan. Especially since neither the Fight of the Night nor the Main Event was included in the septet.
Congratulations. If you bought or attended the card, you enjoyed nine highly entertaining bouts and that passes as getting your money's worth in today's world.
Not too bad for an event that had become the whipping boy of the New Year.
No title fights, only a couple big names, and too many injuries were the rallying cries of the skeptics. That's all fine and good, but fans need to remember this is not baseball or basketball or football.
This is a combat sport.
A good tussle doesn't need anything more than two participants—Willing and Able. Furthermore, the duo are highly unpredictable.
There's a reason a crowd always forms around two drunken nightmares going at it outside a bar, and that reason ain't attached to a waist or a reputation. It's the same reason that same crowd forms around two youngsters jostling in the hallways of a high school.
A fight is a fight (within reason) and you never know which ones are going to be epic battles. We were all reminded of this simple truth on Saturday night.
We were also given several other pearls of wisdom.
Junior dos Santos, Paul Daley, and Sam Stout need to be taken seriously. Right now.
With all due respect to the evening's other winners, they simply didn't compare to the aforementioned trio.
Evans dominated Thiago Silva until getting caught and having to scramble to even survive the third round. Jim Miller, Cole Miller, Ellenberger, Rafaello Oliveira, Martin Kampmann, and Mark Munoz were all impressive. Their accomplishments suffered because they didn't face the same caliber of opponent as Cigano, Semtex, and Hands of Stone.
Each put on a scintillating performance against a certified bad-ass:
I'm inherently skeptical of the pretty fighters because, as my buddy once said, "a prettier man has more to lose." Consequently, I have a hard time buying their hearts are into risking that good lookin' mug.
Well, it's time to become a believer in Stout.
Although the Canadian had a sketchy start to his war with Joe Lauzon, he established control about halfway through the first and never looked back. To his credit, Lauzon did himself justice and honored the spirit of the sport by refusing to back down from an obviously superior adversary (at least on that night).
Of course, you'd expect nothing less from a guy who counts Jens Pulver and Jeremy Stephens on his vanquished list. J-Lau won't be wearing any hardware, but he's a formidable opponent and a tough task.
Which makes what Sam Stout did to him all the more noteworthy.
Not even a gnarly gash on his forehead that was opened up in that early rough patch—one that required a nice array of stitches to close—would slow Hands of Stone. He remained a blur of activity to the bitter end (for Lauzon).
Stout's got a ways to go before he's a sincere thorn in B.J. Penn's side, but the rest of the division is gonna have its hands full.
While I wasn't a fan of his Octagon antics after obliterating Dustin Hazelett, you must give the man some leash for the adrenaline dump as well as credit for apologizing immediately afterward. Granted, he eroded a bit of that mea culpa during the presser, but that's part of another story.
You must also acknowledge Semtex' awesome power.
McLovin ate three extra punches after the initial blow that sent him to the floor, but he never felt 'em. That first left hook blasted the fight and the consciousness from Hazelett's body.
I think I saw them land somewhere in the upper deck.
What's even more intriguing is that Daley used several minutes of the press conference to insist he's vastly improved on the ground and in takedown defense. He even went so far as to hint he'd love to use Jon Fitch or Josh Koscheck to prove it.
The dynamite in his fists cannot be denied—this was a catchweight bout at 172 pounds because the doctors deemed Paul too fragile to cut the single pound he needed to make weight.
If there's any truth to Daley's claim, the Welterweight Division—long the domain of one Georges St. Pierre—might be seeing the genesis of an uprising.
From Britain of all places.
Junior dos Santos
I wrote it while I was blogging from the MGM Grand Garden Arena, I'm biased toward the bigger gladiators. It's partially because I skew toward the larger side of the physical spectrum (they get "gladiators" and I get "physical spectrum," damn), but it's also because of the suspense.
Whenever I watch the monsters in the cage, I can't shake the feeling each is only one bomb away from irreversible disaster. No matter what—wounded beasts can often be the most dangerous ones.
Furthermore, Cigano's rising star added a little extra spice to the fracas with Gilbert Yvel—he's one of the Men Who Would Beat Fedor, according to some. Then there's the matter of Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar's indefinite shelving.
Needless to say, I was ready for this burner.
The Brazilian lived up to his billing and then some.
From where I sat about 10-15 feet from the Octagon, dos Santos' punches were unsettling; it seemed like you could feel the sound of the impact. Not to mention the Dutchman is himself a brute and, yet, his strikes paled in comparison so the effect was even more pronounced.
And the hammer fists that finally ended the contest? Sickening, in a perversely good way. Anytime a "thud" rises above an apoplectic crowd of twelve thousand, there is something special behind its source.
Junior dos Santos is a heavyweight to watch and watch closely.
As is the case whenever a fight delivers, both combatants should be acknowledge. The watershed triumph is impossible without a game antagonist to use as a template for the moment.
Consequently, all 20 fighters should be applauded for putting that smile on Dana White's face (what the hell, let's toss Oliveira and John Gunderson in there even though that was a muted affair).
Nevertheless, there was more to the grin than a great night contrary to expectations. Something more enduring.
It was the twinkle of three new studs for the stable.
And rightly so.