A couple of times throughout the year, fans get to witness fight cards that live up to the hype and more in a fulfilling blend of anticipation and execution.
There’s nothing better than having an incredibly stacked card on your radar for two months, getting all the pre-fight jitters hours beforehand, and walking away from the big screen with your MMA appetite properly satisfied.
For UFC 117, a card that was a precursor to the future championship landscape in three divisions, all five main card fights were hard-fought and created plenty of the promised excitement from the last couple of months.
Prospect turned contender Junior Dos Santo, got an opportunity to go the distance, courtesy of Roy Nelson’s toughness, while gathering some much-needed late-round experience that will come in handy during his impending title bout. Jon Fitch cemented his spot in the welterweight queue by handedly driving Thiago Alves to the mat for a unanimous decision, again.
Lastly, Chael Sonnen’s audacious performance against middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva proved that not only did he just write the blueprint to beating the champ, but his commanding efforts have the MMA community torn on whether he deserves an immediate rematch or not.
For the sport as a whole, there were great displays of the many integrated disciplines that round out the modern mixed martial artist—wrestling proving to be most pivotal in “Team America’s” dominant performances.
If we were to take out the conclusion of the headliner, the show was stolen across the board by Matt Hughes’ old college headlock trick, Fitch’s grinding control, and Sonnen’s meticulous and resilient takedowns.
It was a good night for wrestling.
Now that the dust has settled and the coasts are clear, settle into my mind, grab a frosty bottle of mineral water (yeah, it’s only Monday night), and help me sort this out.
Junior Dos Santos, 25 (12-1): seven-fight win streak
What has been guaranteed after his fight with Roy “Big Country” Nelson is that we will see if Dos Santos is ready to fulfill his potential in the ultimate test against either Cain Velasquez or current heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar.
He has been on an absolute tear in the UFC, knocking off top-flight competition—Fedor slayer Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro Cop, Gilbert Yvel, Gabriel Gonzaga, and most recently Roy Nelson—while maintaining a undiminished Zuffa record.
Dos Santos has grown into himself as a fighter against half of the relevant heavyweight roster, dispatching all of them with relative ease—Nelson being the exception—during his progression into contention.
Finally, with a title shot on the horizon, Cigano was able to calibrate his heart and test his skills in a full 15-minute battle—out of his 13 fights, 11 have ended in the first round—with an opponent that was able to return-to-sender some of the damage inflicted during the fight.
Verdict: Maybe Dos Santos should have concentrated more of his strikes on Nelson’s “whopper vault” instead of his face. Regardless of the bodily destination, the Brazilian’s striking prowess has continued to give the division problems.
He showcased great footwork, hand speed, and power. Let’s give him the winner of Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez. So, in hopes of stirring the pot, let’s really give him Cain Velasquez, the next heavyweight titleholder.
Matt Hughes, 36 (45-7): three-fight win streak
“A country boy will survive,” and so will his moniker “The Gracie Killer” regardless of whether Matt Hughes likes it or not. Get this Hall of Famer in a feud with a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist, preferably a Gracie, and not only does he survive, but he seems to thrive.
Ricardo Almeida is now the latest addition to Hughes’ unprecedented win streak that includes Almeida, a student of Renzo Gracie; Matt Serra, also a long-term student of fellow victim Renzo Gracie; and Gracie himself.
Verdict: It’s hard to predict where the former welterweight champion will take this momentum. Is it possible for Hughes to relive his glorious days on top of the 170 lb. heap or will he slowly fade away from the limelight, one impressive victory at a time? His headlock submission of Almeida in the first round is certainly a feather in his cap at this stage of his career. Let’s give him Jake Ellenberger.
Clay Guida, 28 (27-11): two-fight win streak
Guida is a very endearing fighter for fans to support; his work ethic is second to none, as well as his pace, and the guy is an overall animated character. Unfortunately, based on his progression and skill set, “The Carpenter” will forever be banished to the mid tier—lightweight limbo.
As the viewers were also reminded by Joe Rogan, Guida can maintain his animalistic pace from start to finish, which means nothing if he doesn’t have the tools to defeat top-five lightweights. Dos Anjos was putting it on Guida prior to breaking his jaw, looking very fluid with his striking combinations and powerful grappling.
Luckily for Guida, he stumbled upon an accidental submission after Dos Anjos tapped to a mysterious shoulder technique.
Verdict: He’s certainly a fan favorite, bouncing around the octagon and burping in between rounds, but he needs to show more improvement if he plans on competing against the Maynards, Florians, Edgars, and Penns of the division. Let’s give him the winner of Melvin Guillard and Jeremy Stephens.
Jon Fitch, 32 (23-3): five-fight win streak
Boring or not, Jon Fitch might be the most efficiently consistent fighter in the UFC. He breaks down opponents, controls dominant positions, nullifies excellent strikers with his great wrestling, and has won 21 of his last 22 matches.
Call him strategically predictable, but current welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre is the only opponent in the UFC that had an answer for Fitch’s adamant wrestling.
In what was supposed to be a closely contested contention rematch, Alves failed to reverse the first fight’s outcome, getting taken down at will until the final bell. The weight cutting issues didn’t help matters, possibly causing the Brazilian to be a slower and more lethargic version of a fighter who hasn’t fought in over a year.
Verdict: Like Alves, has Fitch improved enough to avoid another one-sided affair with St-Pierre? He is more deserving of a shot at the title than the other contenders and it will be interesting to see a potential battle between teammates, assuming Josh Koscheck can defeat the champ. Let’s give him the winner of Koscheck and GSP.
Anderson Silva, 35 (27-4): 13-fight win streak
Silva lost some fanfare after his stunt against Demian Maia at UFC 112, and now he appears to have lost some of his octagon flare. No longer will fans being asking: Do you remember the last time Anderson lost a single round? Now it will sound more like this: Do you remember when Anderson lost every round to Chael Sonnen?
Before I overdose on praise for Sonnen’s astonishing effort, he did get caught, yet again, in a submission (more specifically a triangle choke) while being in his opponent's guard—champions find a way to win, even when they’re losing. After getting battered for 23 minutes, Anderson threw up a Hail Mary in the form of a triangle choke that fused into an arm-bar, after Chael tried to counter, for the buzzer beater.
But nearly nobody, except for a handful of visionaries, gave Chael a chance of doing exactly what he did during that fight—suppress and outperform the champion for every round—which nobody has done to Anderson in the UFC.
It might not be a perfect blueprint for defeating the champ, but he is the only type of wrestler in the middleweight division that has the chance of pulling it off—hopefully something Sonnen fans will get to see sooner rather than later.
Verdict: The bruised or injured ribs are simply not an excuse for a poor performance because all fighters work through their pains come fight night; none show up a hundred percent. Combined with Sonnen’s great performance, Anderson made a few tactical errors: reckless striking to start off the rounds, passive guard work overall, and attempting his own takedowns on an opponent that wants to go to the ground.
Let’s hope Joe Silva is reading because I’m going to attempt to clear up the middleweight obstacles that surround the title. Let’s give Anderson an immediate rematch with Chael Sonnen, while Vitor Belfort, who needs more than one fight at 185 lbs. to be considered a No. 1 contender, fights Yushin Okami. The winner of the latter bout gets a crack at the champ.