Like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson so eloquently predicted a year ago, all the build-up and trash talking escalated into some “black on black crime” in the form of UFC 114’s main event showdown including himself and Rashad Evans Saturday in Las Vegas.
Consequently, in what turned out to be one of the most hyped non-title main events in recent history, the journey proved more exciting than the anticlimatic destination.
Everything leading up to the fight, most notably the Ultimate Fighter drama and UFC’s Primetime, painted an epic clash that could only conclude by someone getting knocked out.
Needless to say, neither Rampage nor Rashad got knocked out—far from it. Rashad fought the smart fight to earn a unanimous decision over his nemesis, a curtain call for this drawn-out rivalry.
Overall, it was a lucrative night for the gambling junkies in Vegas who love underdogs—smart money is not always right money.
There are a few universally accepted mantras in mixed martial arts—in the infamous words of Dana White, “don’t let it go to the judges”—that remain true through the test of time.
Some sports purists love to proclaim that “anything can happen” to drum up excitement and interest in their particular game; rarely does that idea actually come to fruition, except in MMA.
UFC 114 produced a handful of examples that underlined this point, reminding all sports fans that MMA’s unpredictability is becoming second to none.
In this case, both Todd Duffee and Diego Sanchez were on the wrong side of upsets. Sanchez’ British opponent, John Hathaway, neutralized Diego’s superior wrestling by using his reach and timing.
Heavyweight prospect Todd Duffee’s opponent Mike Russow decided to quit being a punching bag throughout the fight and landed his own right hand—one of the few he threw all night—in what is being hailed as the greatest comeback and/or knockout of the last decade.
By and large, the UFC put on another solid event in their home base and the sport’s Mecca location, Las Vegas. As the results are being inked into the record books, let’s see where this puts our lovable gladiators.
John Hathaway, 22, (13-0) – 13-fight win streak
And they said Brits can’t wrestle…they clearly didn’t run this past Mr. Hathaway. If you would have told me before Saturday that Diego Sanchez wouldn’t be able to take Hathaway down in a fight, I’d tell you to remember what Mr. Mackie said about drugs.
On a serious note, defeating a fighter of Sanchez’s caliber is a huge victory for Hathaway. Along with not getting overwhelmed by wrestling, Hathaway stole the show by finding a home for his right hand.
Sanchez was stopped in his tracks every time he came in with a flurry, getting clocked by precise strikes, usually with the right and occasionally with that knee that almost finished the fight.
Verdict: Hathaway made certain to welcome back Diego Sanchez to welterweight the best way he knew how: by making the most of his American debut and defeating the elite fighter.
Admittedly, it is disheartening to see the creator of the “yes cartwheel” suffer a loss, but in return we have a rising undefeated British star climbing the ranks. Let’s give him Dong Hyun Kim or Mike Pierce.
Antonio “Lil Nog” Nogueira, 33, (19-3) – seven-fight win streak
It’s hard to imagine that Lil Nog just eked out a controversial split decision win over late replacement opponent, Jason Brilz, after having such a dominating debut late last year against Luiz Cane. On paper, nearly all the advantages went to the Brazilian.
He should have outclassed Brilz on his feet, he should have been able to submit him with relative ease, but yet, he barely got by with the win.
To Brilz’s credit, he performed outstanding against the seasoned veteran, transition and defending well from the ground and landing his fair share of hard shots on Nogueira.
The chess match on the mat was immensely back and forth, which was surprising considering that Nogueira is a legendary Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and Brilz a wrestler.
It is possible that the smaller Nogueira looked past Brilz, a largely unknown who took the fight on four weeks notice—had he fought deflated like he did against his original opponent, Forrest Griffin, the outcome would not have been as fortunate.
Verdict: It’s hard to justify giving Nogueira two rounds, but he advances forward in the winning column regardless if his performance was average at best. Let’s give him the winner of Liddell vs. Franklin or the man who was supposed to fight him, Forrest Griffin.
Mike Russow, 33, (13-1) – nine-fight win streak
Todd Duffee dropped his left hand, along with the ball, in a fight he was winning convincingly, another chance to further his undefeated career.
Instead, Russow pulled out a heavy right hand out of a hat and forced Duffee, the second coming of Christ in the heavyweight division, back to the drawing boards.
The 24-year-old Duffee showcased some real talent in the first round, swarming Russow with combos and uppercuts, clearly dominating from the open bell.
It only seemed like a matter of time before Duffee would pick up his seventh career win until his cardio started to wane in the second round, slowing him down considerably.
During the whole bout, Russow stayed in the fight with a puncher’s chance due to his rock-solid chin, proving to everybody that he could have absorbed the kitchen sink had Duffee thrown that at him, too.
Verdict: The one thing to say about Russow’s victory was said best by the man himself after the fight—it was a sloppy fight.
If Russow has any desire to make a serious run into the upper echelons of the division, he has many improvements to undertake. Let’s give him the winner of Matt Mitrione vs. Joey Beltran.
Michael Bisping, 31, (19-3) – one-fight win streak
The story of this fight was Dan Miller’s refusal to take Bisping down into his world for a chance at a submission. This point was sorely apparent after the first round when Bisping started finding his rhythm, planting his right hand onto Miller’s face throughout the rest of the fight.
Bisping remains a threat in a division that seems to be expanding its talent pool, reversing middleweight champion Anderson Silva’s chances at cleaning the roster out.
Despite preserving his striking skills, Bisping continues to struggle with getting off first in the beginning portions of his bouts. He appeared tentative in the first round against Miller.
The British poster boy also has a problem remembering to circle away from his opponents’ power hand, a costly mistake against Dan Henderson.
Against Miller, Bisping’s striking appeared crisp after the first round when he began to loosen up, giving him a clear advantage on the feet. Had Miller choose to use his grappling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu strengths, he could have made the match much more competitive.
Verdict: Bisping is a fighter who experiences ups and downs, but always remains relevant. There seems to be only one other fighter that also needs to be tested once more in order to break into the top of the division. Let’s give him Alan Belcher.
Rashad Evans, 30, (15-1) – two-fight win streak
Animosity ran thick between Rampage Jackson and Rashad leading up to this bout—each fighter gunning for the other’s head—telling every member of the media that there was no way this fight could go the distance. Well, it did just that.
Even if the star-studded film The Expendables had an opening, Rampage need not apply, in hopes of avoiding the dreaded ring rust debacle that handicapped his latest performance. If there is one fighter who makes being slow even worse than it normally is, it’s an already blazing fast Rashad Evans.
As Rampage slowed down after the first round, Rashad maintained his quick explosive pace, darting in and out landing strikes. Once Rashad started achieving the take downs, it really started to look desperate for Rampage…until he landed a hard shot in the third round.
Rampage had Rashad dazed and confused wobbling on a brand new pair of jimmy legs; all he had to do was go in for the kill. For whatever reason, fatigue most likely, Rampage held off and allowed Rashad time to recover.
After recovering, Rashad put the icing on the cake with crucial take downs late in the third round securing his victory before the last bell even rang.
Verdict: You can’t blame a fighter for executing a game plan and fighting smart when so much is on the line.
For Rashad to stand and bang with Rampage, he would have forfeited a pending title shot with current light-heavyweight champion, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, finding himself wrapped tightly in Rampage’s snuggie.
It’s another obvious pairing, but let’s give him Shogun Rua for the title.