Three title fights!? It had to be a great card, right? It's just what should have been expected, right? Not at all.
Lately MMA fans have had to deal with many fight cards that end up lackluster when compared to the hype generated. UFC Fight Night 14 was largely disappointing; only saved by the show Anderson Silva put on. Affliction: Banned featured an exciting fight with Arlovski and Rothwell, and then we all got to see Fedor destroy Sylvia; other than that the card needed a lot of work.
Well, August 3rd came around and for those who anticipate WEC cards like I do, there was not an ounce of disappointment, and there was plenty of excitement. So what is it that makes the WEC one of the best and most entertaining MMA organizations in the world? What separates it from the rest of the best? It has a unique combination of attributes.
For one, the WEC puts on exciting fights with exciting fighters who don't just talk about finishing fights, but do it. Secondly, the WEC has some of the best fighters in the world: Torres, Faber, Curran, Varner, Condit, Miura, Larson, Filho, Sonnen, and others. Third, the WEC has all their shows on free television, even the ppv caliber cards. Fourth, the WEC's best fighters fight consistently; with a much smaller roster than the UFC to handle, fans very rarely have to put up with 6 month or longer waits to see some of their favorite fighters. Lastly, the WEC focuses on lighter weight classes (mainly 145 through 185) -- they don't have heavyweights, while they instead of a 135 pound and 145 pound divisions: divisions that are renowned for having a faster pace and putting on great fights.
WEC 35 put on a show that let fans know what MMA is all about. Even the UFC can aspire to some of the qualities this show had. I have to mention, the commentators do a great job. Frank Mir and the play-by-play guy (name?) outdo Goldie (who is still learning on the job and still needs to be explained things during fights) and Rogan. And they completely put Affliction and Elite XC's crews to shame. The play-by-play guy sticks to what he knows, tells it like it is, and lets Mir do all the heavy analysis; and Mir does it well. Sure Rogan knows jiu-jitsu, but Mir is on another level, and is very articulate to boot.
From the top, I'll give an analysis each fight. I encourage anyone who hasn't seen these fights to find them online or wait for the next time the WEC shows them on TV.
First, we have Demacio Page vs Brian Bowles in a Bantumweight (135 lbs) matchup.
You may recognize Page from the Tapout show. He's coming off a win in his last fight against Scott Jorgensen (who won a decision earlier on the card) via decision. Bowles won his first two fights in the WEC with a TKO and a submission victory, both coming in the second round.
This one was explosive; but maybe not by the standard the rest of the fights would set later in the night. Page was very aggressive with his strikes, but neither man had a particular advantage. Each man spent some time on top of the other, but they were both standing up after a couple minutes. Page shot in for a double leg takedown and it looked like he might be able to slam Bowles, but then it was quickly realized that Page had stuck his head into a bad spot. Bowles suck in a guillotine choke as Page held him up, and with both arms trapped, he couldn't manage to shake Bowles off. With one weak tap the ref stopped the fight 3:30 into the first round – another impressive win for Bowles.
Next, we have Jamie Varner vs Marcus Hicks in the Lightweight (155 lb) title fight.
The 5' 6'' Hicks came into this fight 3-0 in the WEC and undefeated overall in his eight professional fights. Varner looked to successfully defend his title for the first time in this fight. That he did.
From the start, Hicks repeatedly chased Varner down and got inside the nine inch reach advantage. He grabbed body locks and got multiple takedowns on the All-American wrestler Varner, but Varner was able to quickly get up each time. Eventually Hicks stood back to exchange from further outside with Varner, and it did not last long. Shortly they got back into a brief clinch exchange, and it was punctuated by two flush knees to Hick's chin from Varner. Most fighters would have been done right there, or maybe in the seconds following. Rogan would have been shouting "He's ROCKED!" and Goldie would have been saying "CAN -- HE -- FINISH -- IT!?!" but it would have been premature. Hicks showed a granite chin and a massive heart as he continued to persist for about another minute with Varner pounding on him on the feet and with ground and pound, with punches, kicks, and knees. Finally Hicks went down for good 2:08 seconds into the first round. It was one hell of a two minutes.
It's likely these two will meet in the future. Hicks showed some great potential, and Varner showed that he's still the creme of the crop in WEC's 155 division.
A Preliminary bout was the next televised fight. Brock Larson took on Carlo Prater in a Welterweight (170 lb) matchup that could potentially be for a title shot.
Larson looked unstoppable again. They circled around a bit, and then Larson exploded forward with a straight left punch that sent Prater to his back. He jumped on him with explosive strikes and finished the fight :37 seconds into the first round. Looks ready for a rematch with Condit to me. After watching a fight like this it's hard to believe that anyone can submit Larson as fast as Condit submitted Larson in their first matchup (by armbar off his back within a minute).
Next, there is the Light Heavyweight (205 lb) title fight between Brian Stann and Steve Cantwell.
This fight is a rematch. In the first bout, Stann disposed of Cantwell in under a minute. Cantwell was not prepared, nor watching out for, the vicious power in the hands of Stann. Coming into this fight, most people probably didn't put much thought into it and assumed another win for Stann as he continues to grow as a fighter, and dominate the 205-pound division at the same time. I was one of those people. I learned from this fight that that can't happen unless you're an immortal like Fedor Emelianenko. Stann needed this loss if he truly wanted to grow as a fighter. It will be his next step as a fighter to learn and develop.
Cantwell was a much more technical and versatile striker in this bout and that was the difference. As I listened to Mir talk about Cantwell before the fight and in its early stages, I began to realize Cantwell probably had a lot better chance to win this than I had originally thought. And as I watched the fight, I stopped expecting Stann to win about half way through the first round. Even when Cantwell exchanged in the pocket with Stann -- as opposed to sticking, moving, and using angles -- he overwhelmed Stann with combinations and didn't get caught. The first round had some explosive flurries and a fast pace that made it very exciting, and it was also fairly clear that Cantwell had taken the first round.
In the second round, there was both good news and bad news for Brian Stann. The good news: he learned he can take a punch. The bad news: he learned he can take a punch. Stann showed phenomenal cardio and an iron jaw, and I was really in awe that he survived Cantwell's storm as long as he did. Just the same, I was extremely impressed with Cantwell and his great kickboxing. Herb Dean jumped into stop this fight with Stann lying face first on the mat 4:01 into the second round. It was a very exciting fight.
Cantwell is only 21 years old! He's already purple belt in jiu-jitsu (we saw almost no ground work in this fight) and should have a very bright future.
I got to wonder after this fight if Stann would ever move down to 185 at the point he was developed enough to fight with UFC caliber fighters. He weighed in at only 201.5 and that's such a low weight that I doubt he cut to get there; although I am only speculating.
Next we have a Featherweight (145 lb) bout between Micah Miller and Josh Grispi.
Both fighters came into the bout with a 11-1 record, and both fighters are very tall for their weight class. Miller is 6' and Grispi is 5' 11''. Well, I'd imagine being that thin in order to make your weight class doesn't help your chin any. They kept it standing and then Grispi caught Miller with a right hand that sent Miller spinning. He pounced and threw a couple more punches that knocked Miller out. Herb Dean jumped in and stopped the fight at the just the right time -- :50 seconds into the first round. There was some conversation after the bout concerning an early stoppage by Mir, but I can assure you, the fact that Miller didn't understand the fight was over is not a sign that the fight should have continued. Grispi's only 19 years old and he's already very dangerous.
In our last fight of the night, we have the Welterweight (170 lb) title fight between Carlos Condit and Hiromitsu Miura.
WHOOAAA!!! This fight was one of the best I have ever seen. Compared to other WEC classics, I prefer it over Faber vs Pulver, and maybe Torres vs Maeda as well (both epic title fights from WEC's last show on Versus back in June). This fight will not be done justice by me giving you a simple round by round telling of the exchanges, so I'll approach it from a different manner.
What are the criterion for a great fight?
For me a major one is skill. I want to know that both of these fighters are world class and that there aren't a bunch of other guys out there that could make these guys look silly and sloppy. And I'd like to see some skills that make me say wow: like Penn's take down defense in Penn vs Hughes II, or Shinya Aoki's ground game vs JZ Calvancante. There was indeed great skill in this fight. Condit has some of the best stand up in the entire welterweight division. He also has some of the best jiu-jitsu in the entire division, holding submission victories over multiple respected submission fighters. As for Muira, his Judo is extremely impressive. Karo Parisyan eat your heart out. The sweeps and throws he pulled off on the highly talented Condit were incredibly impressive and its very rare that you see a Judo guy actually pull off so many Judo moves in a fight. Muira showed the fans some things they've never seen before against Condit.
Another major factor is the pace and excitement the fight. The guys need to exchange consistently. The only breathers taken should be the ones where each guy leans on the other against the cage or on the ground, while there is still buzz being carried over from the exchange they just had. This fight had that pace. They pushed each other to the point of complete exhaustion by the end of this thing.
The last major factor is the competitiveness of the fight. If you can point to multiple points in the fight where it looks like either guy is in complete control, or where either guy is close to finishing the fight with a TKO, then you have yourself the makings of a good fight. This fight was back and forth throughout. Everytime it looked like Miura might pound out an exhausted Condit from his guard, Condit would get up. Everytime that Condit had Muira mounted (it happened a lot) and it seemed there was no way that Muira would be able to get out of his awful position, he bucked Condit off of him or at the least found a way to get the end of the round. Both fighters got rocked on the feet, and both prevailed with a great chin. One of the most impressive things was each fighter's heart and conditioning to keep pushing through the hard spots: specifically Muira's. His conditioning was extremely impressive as the fight went deep into the fourth round. Condit was pushed to his limits in this fight, and I can't wait for a rematch.
After a seemingly weak, but on the button knee, Condit knocked Muira to the ground late in the fourth. He followed it up with some weak but consistent hammer fists from an odd position until the ref eventually had to stop it because Muira was no longer defending himself. Condit won by TKO 4:43 into the fourth round.
Condit probably won each of the first three rounds in this fight, but there's a lot more to what makes a close fight than a ten point must system can show. This fight had heart.
Muira laid on his back and didn't get up for a while after it was all said and done. Condit looked exhausted as his hand was raised and struggled to conduct a brief interview after the fight. It was a great fight to finish a great card. The term “war” is too often used when referring to MMA fights, but it is appropriate here. Condit vs Muira was a true MMA war.
WEC 35 was filled with exciting knockouts and finishes. I can't wait for WEC 36 with Faber vs Brown and Filho vs Sonnen II. World Extreme Cagefighting is without a doubt one of the very best MMA organizations in the world.