There were many developments that came out of the UFC’s second Versus event held in the San Diego Sports Arena—namely, the revitalized state of Japanese MMA in America, thanks to two of the most successful fighters from the Land of the Rising Sun: Takanori Gomi and Yushin Okami.
These notable wins were over tough competitors in their respective divisions, making the victories even more impressive and equally important for Gomi, who, in a way, had something to prove after his lackluster debut in the octagon against top contender Kenny Florian back at the end of March.
Yushin Okami put a halt to the momentous raise of Mark Munoz, a national wrestling champion fighting out of Black House. During the bout, both men landed some good shots, Munoz’s on the heavier side while Okami’s were more precise.
But what pushed Okami over the top for the split decision win, correctly judged or not, was his ability to avoid Munoz’s devastating ground and pound by exercising a very powerful sprawl whenever the take down was attempted.
Denying Munoz of a takedown is no easy task considering his wrestling pedigree. It was a testament to, not only Okami’s impressive takedown defense, but also to Chael Sonnen’s high level wresting abilities. The No. 1 middleweight contender has tossed around the likes of Nate Marquardt and Yushin Okami due to his relentless pace and fierce shot—keys to a potential victory in his upcoming title fight against Anderson Silva.
With UFC 117, an incredibly stacked card on paper, still a few days away, UFC on Versus 2 was a great way to open up what will possibly be the busiest month of MMA in 2010, providing a plethora of exciting moments.
The show concluded with the continuation of Jon “Bones” Jones’ emphatic tear through the light-heavy division, after he made quick work of seasoned veteran Vladimir Matyushenko in the first round. The hype machine behind this 23-year-old prospect-turned-contender is in healthier form than the resurgence of interest in the state of stateside Japanese MMA—and rightfully so.
Jones is arguably the most touted, respected, humble and talented impending superstar the UFC has ever produced since maybe Georges St. Pierre. What’s more mind boggling about Jones’ raise up the ranks is his ability to not allow the surrounding hype to affect his mental toughness in the cage.
Simply put: he is the Junior Dos Santos of the 205lbs division—or maybe it’s the other way around. Regardless, these guys are the truth at their respective weight classes—the product of a highly evolved third generation of fighter.
The Fireball Kid still has some hadoukens left in him after all—an obvious fact after one of them smashed into Tyson Griffin’s face. Beating a top level guy like Tyson Griffin, who has an honorable list of wins, after dropping his debut to Kenny Florian, is exactly what Gomi needed to keep his UFC dream alive and well.
My theory: his dyed hair. When he looks like he just walked out of an anime cartoon, his superpowers seem to follow.
Griffin possessed good head movement in the opening minutes, but it wasn’t enough to avoid Gomi’s thunderous right hook counter that sent him face first into the mat. All in all, the stoppage was neither short nor unjustifiable—Tyson was clearly out.
Verdict: It was a must win for Gomi in order to stay in the forefront of fans’ minds and in the 155 lb mix. This win shows that he still possesses those dangerous qualities he had in his Pride heyday, knockout power in both hands and forward movement to compliment the fact. Let’s give him the winner of Ross Pearson vs. Cole Miller.
In what had “Fight of the Night” potential—along with the other main card fights, with the exception of the headliner—Ellenberger and John Howard fought hard, overcoming some adverse obstacles.
Once Ellenberger recovered from a high kick, it was slowly all downhill for Howard and his left eye. Despite that eye completely closing up in the second round, possibly indicating a broken orbital, Howard still flew out of the gates with a flying knee in the beginning of the third round—plenty of heart from both sides was on display.
In the end, Ellenberger caused too much damage to Howard’s eye from top position for the doctor to let it continue.
Verdict: Ellenberger transitioned well from the clinch to his takedowns and obviously followed up well with effective ground and pound. He’s not a top ten welterweight, but he continues to build momentum by showcasing his all around skills, both on the feet and on the mat. Let’s give him Mike Swick.
The term “sprawl 'n brawl” might have to be changed to “Okami 'n brawl.” His sprawl was so perfectly timed against Munoz’s takedown attempts, it gave him the edge on the feet and on the judges’ scorecards.
Munoz landed some heavy shots, but overall, Okami out-struck him with a more technical prowess. He looked more confident in his striking ability too; opposed to Munoz, who appeared a bit shaky at times, not putting together fluid combos or letting his hands fly more in general.
It was a close fight, but not to the point of a split decision. For a fighter like Munoz, who only has ten professional fights, maybe it was too premature to call for his “coming out” party leading up to Okami.
Verdict: Unfortunately for Okami, title shots have eluded him in his career, due to a restricted schedule caused by injury and a loss to Rich Franklin, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the UFC’s brightest Japanese stars. At 29, there’s still plenty of time to reach a title shot—beating Munoz is a step in the right direction. Let’s give him Demian Maia, who will be looking for a replacement opponent after Alan Belcher was forced to withdrawal from their bout in September.
Nothing like being a rising star in a marquee division within the sport’s biggest promotion at a tender age of 23, right? It almost seems like a fluke, an opportunity easily ruined by youth and inexperience, if it were anybody else except for Jones. Instead, he’s already doing everything right.
He manages the hype and his fight preparation like a seasoned pro. With Greg Jackson, Jones diligently studies fight tape of his opponent, takes training seriously, and finds time to be a natural role model and ambassador for the sport.
When was the last time Jones broke a sweat or looked unnerved in a fight? The opponents get tougher, and Jones finishes them quicker. He has been dismantling guys with double his experience with such speed and composure; one can only wonder who Joe Silva will throw at him next.
Verdict: Jon Jones is something special that comes around every so often in sports, a rarity on the same level as a young Michael Jordan or Alex Rodriguez. Such bold statements could be seen as immature considering the many prospects that haven’t lived up to the expectations and eventually faded away.
In Jones’ case, especially in a sport like MMA, nothing is guaranteed and all could be lost in a couple of defeats. But, smart money says that his future is brighter than most for a reason. Let’s give him the winner of Ryan Bader vs. Lil Nog.