Hey, did you hear there was a football game last Sunday?
It really is futile to resist the cacophony of the National Football League and its crown jewel, the Super Bowl. Consequently, I decided to hold off on my survey of the post-Ultimate Fighting Championship 109: Relentless landscape until the worst of the nuclear fall-out from the big game had passed.
The coast is clear-ish on that front, and the swelling from the mixed martial arts action on Saturday has subsided as well. So, let's see what's to see.
Quick Thoughts and Opening Shots
—Chris "The Crowbar" Tuchscherer trains with Brock Lesnar, tuck that away.
—If Dana White cared at all about such things, I'd say he might want to reconsider his comparison of Phillipe "The Filipino Assassin" Nover to George "Rush" St. Pierre right about now. Dana doesn't, so I won't.
—Melvin "The Young Assassin" Guillard has that flair the arena loves. With Greg Jackson in his corner, he might be in for a big 2010.
—Justin Buchholz' departure on Sunday coincided with mine. Even the relatively unknown participants are easy to identify the day after the event because very few escape unscathed i.e. they're the guys rolling around the casino in shades at 10 in the morning (a necessary qualification because sunglasses seem to be the new fashion accessory for Vegas evenings, which makes perfect sense).
—Frank "Twinkle Toes" Trigg entered to LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out" only to exit the victim of the Knockout of the Night. If you saw that scene play out in a movie, you'd groan.
—Matt "The Terror" Serra might not be relevant to the welterweight title picture these days, but he's still key to that division. The crowd adores him, he's verbal and entertaining, and he's still a very stiff challenge in that class. Most importantly, when he enters a room, you can hear UFC money being printed.
—I got to chat with Demian Maia after the press conference; keep an eye out for that article in the next couple days. Those who know of my George Costanza-esque crush on the Brazilian jiu jitsu phenom needn't worry; I was (almost) completely professional.
—Randy "The Natural" Couture is a total wild card. Forget what we've been told about the human body at the age of 46; there is a very real chance this man could be one of the strongest cards in an already stacked deck at light heavyweight. His hand speed still looked good to me, and the Couture Clinch (which worked against Lesnar without a ton of extra weight on Captain America) could be his atomic bomb.
Granted, Mark "The Hammer" Coleman may no longer be an accurate measuring stick.
Ah, everyone got a good sweat going? Feel the blood pumping?
Good, because the warm-up's over, and it's time to tackle the bigger developments. All of the winners made career progress at UFC 109, but three in particular hit the fast-forward button with resounding performances.
These three stood out enough to create their own storylines going forward.
Phil "Mr. Wonderful" Davis Bears Watching
Davis' UFC debut didn't click perfectly, as he looked a little skittish, but he did succeed in taking out a tough opponent in convincing fashion.
Brian "All American" Stann obviously isn't Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida or even a top contender at light heavyweight, but he's just as obviously one tough dude. Those knees he took on his back from the former Penn State Nittany Lion were horrifying, but he lived to tell about them without so much as a grimace.
Speaking of those knees, Mr. Wonderful show great facility with multiple facets of the mixed martial arts game. I don't know if it's evidence of a unique ability on Davis' part to absorb information quickly or advances at the instructional level, but he came in with a full assortment of goodies.
We're talking effective leg kicks, genuine submission attempts, satin transitions, the aforementioned knees, and some very light movement on his feet. I don't know enough about the technical aspects to say whether these were all executed flawlessly, but Phil certainly looked comfortable deploying his full bag o' tricks.
Add a dash of that ex-wrestler suffocation we've come to recognize from gifted grapplers, and this kid should be making some at light heavyweight exceedingly antsy (as if that division needed another gnarly insert).
Plus, the ladies love him judging from the crowd of lovelies he attracted in the Mandalay Bay lobby on Friday night (early in the evening).
Anyone who can pull that off in a PSU sweat suit gets a nod from me.
Paulo Thiago Takes Two of Three From American Kickboxing Academy's Stable
One of the most intriguing arcs heading into the festivities was the final entry in a triumvirate of tilts between AKA and the Brazilian member of Batalhão de Operações Especiais. Thiago had turned back Josh "Kos" Koscheck and dropped a unanimous decision to Jon Fitch before taking on a third welterweight from the academy in Mike "Quick" Swick.
It'd be a touch unwise to draw too much from this furious finish that gave Thiago the rubber match since Swick slotted in on short notice.
Muddying the waters is the fact that both guys are tough as nails, so the results are a tricky gauge.
You could argue Thiago wasn't that impressive considering he had full prep time and Swick didn't. Despite that, the American held his own until gobbling that counter left and drifting off courtesy of the d'arce choke.
On the other hand, you could argue that Quick is a brutal assignment at welterweight no matter the circumstances, he was supremely motivated by the camaraderie of AKA, and the victor must've spent a considerable amount of time training for the rematch with Koscheck (a substantially different style) that was supposed to happen before an injury felled the blond one.
Regardless, the win gives Thiago a Knockout of the Night over Koscheck and a Submission of the Night over Swick.
Folks, there should be sirens wailing and lights flashing.
Chael Sonnen Is a Dana White Dream Come True
Man, I was critical of Sonnen running his mouth, his place on the card, and even his musical tastes.
If forced to choose the single most important contest from the UFC's second big draw of the New Year, Sonnen's upset/thumping of Nate "The Great" Marquardt would be the unanimous selection.
There couldn't have been a more obvious Fight of the Night.
The action was compelling, as the Oregonian jumped out to an early lead in the first round, bloodying the Great almost immediately with a barrage of elbows and fists from a dominant ground position. The recipe continued to work like a charm, as another ex-wrestler used his superior grappling set to control the carnage.
As Chael said, Marquardt gave almost as good as he got in the athletic war. Nevertheless, Sonnen persisted, survived mortal danger in the waning moments of the third, and dished out more than enough punishment to take the UD.
Even more significant than the individual combat, however, is what the Sonnen victory did to the rest of the moving parts in the UFC universe.
First, it provided an immediate boost to World Extreme Cagefighting (a UFC asset).
Remember, this hombre was widely considered to be the WEC Middleweight Champion before the division was dissolved, so each win only enables White and the promotional wing of the UFC to further legitimize the overall entity. That should equate to increased attention and revenue.
Second, it prevented a rematch between Marquardt and the Spider—a tougher clash to sell given how the first iteration unfurled in one-sided fashion.
There's no guarantee that Silva will take out Belfort in Abu Dhabi, but there is now a guarantee we'll see fresh blood fight for the Middleweight Championship twice in 2010. Tell me you wouldn't be smiling at that nugget if you sat behind the UFC President's mic.
Third, it ensured the second Middleweight Title throwdown of 2010 will have some extra juice to it.
Sonnen is a born politician with the gift of gab. He's already fired a couple shots across Anderson Silva's bow, and the Champ hasn't even fought Belfort yet.
Think Sonnen might stir the pot a little faster should a date with the incomparable Brazilian champion become official?
So there's a good chance MMA fans will get to see an angry and disrespected Anderson Silva before the year's out. And against two new opponents.
Which means UFC 109 couldn't have worked out better.