Finally, the UFC welterweight title picture looks just a wee bit more interesting these days.
As if the move of former Strikeforce 170-pound champion Nick Diaz and the rise of Carlos Condit weren’t enough to breathe a bit of life into champ Georges St-Pierre’s steady dismantling of the welterweight hierarchy, a new contender was born on Saturday.
Also, a pair of “The Ultimate Fighter” champions graced the cage in bouts that admittedly left a bit to be desired, but told us a little bit more on where each fighter stacks up in their respective divisions.
That, coupled with Alan Belcher’s stellar return to action, made for an up-and-down night of fighting that was already going to be overshadowed by Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s fight with Victor Ortiz—and trust me, form most certainly held on that one.
Nevertheless, what can we take away from UFC Fight Night 25: Battle of the Bayou?
Jake Ellenberger Has Arrived
First off, I commend Jake Shields for even taking this fight despite the loss of his father a few weeks back and what effects that unfortunate circumstance had on his preparations or mindset entering last night are something only he can divulge.
I don’t think it’s fair to use that as a means of downplaying what was the breakout performance of surging welterweight contender Jake Ellenberger’s career.
That was some violence he threw down on Shields, plain and simple.
Shields fought as he should, working for the takedown and trying to lure the action into his comfort zone. The Nebraskan subsequently shrugged him off.
And Shields stuck with that mindset, trying to get inside and just two minutes in, took the brunt of a brutal clinch exchange with Ellenberger, eating a knee and crumpling to the mat.
We all know Ellenberger has power—just watch his knockouts of “Pele” Landi-Jons and Sean Pierson for proof. Meshing that with his upper-body strength and ability to keep the action upright can be a lot to handle for anybody at 170 pounds. It was just nice to see it finally put into practice against an elite-level opponent in Shields.
Inevitably, the parallels to welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre’s performance against Shields are going to come up. If someone wants to argue that St-Pierre is fighting a more protective, harm-free style these days, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest so.
I expected St-Pierre to wallop Shields and seeing Ellenberger do so is just another feather in his cap moving forward, as he now positions himself to be likely one win away from a title shot.
The ramifications for next month’s Nick Diaz-B.J. Penn bout just got much bigger and the outcome could very well dictate just what happens next with Ellenberger. If Penn wins, are fans really clamoring for GSP-Penn III or would they prefer St-Pierre defending against the guy who just wrecked a fighter the champ couldn’t finish?
Either way, it’s a good time to be Jake Ellenberger.
Court McGee is the Homeless Man’s Forrest Griffin
That was my stance entering this fight and after that prosaic display of fighting, that remains the case.
I don’t think Court McGee is a great fighter by any means or even a pretty good one. He’s decent in areas but not enough to be considered a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none kind that someone like Rich Franklin might be branded as.
McGee’s the homeless man’s version of former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin; a fighter who aside from his TUF lineage, would never be mistaken amongst his division’s most talented of fighters but made the most out of what limited skills he had and got by on heart, toughness and just out-working his opponents.
Yup, lunch-pail terms out the wazoo.
That’s essentially what McGee did against Dongi Yang in the evening’s co-main event.
Was it pretty? Nope, in fact, it was boring until Yang stuck McGee with a left hook in the third round and as Joe Rogan succinctly put it, a fight broke out.
McGee used superior technique and conditioning to outlast Yang, a fighter whose cardio has never been much to write home about.
McGee stayed on the attack, overcame being dropped for the second time in as many fights and now rolls to 3-0 in the UFC.
He’s a sympathetic figure for his life story and it’s damn hard not to root for the guy given his rise from obscurity during TUF.
In the end, all this performance did was instill one bland shade of apathy.
Praise Jeebus, the Refs Got It Right!
I can’t be the only one who was having flashbacks to Randy Couture-Brandon Vera at UFC 105 with Jonathan Brookins’s strategy on Saturday.
The first of the two TUF champions to grace the cage, Brookins was fixated to the fence in his bout with Erik Koch as if somebody planted a magnet in his body.
It certainly adhered to the scoring tenet of cage control with the converted lightweight doing his best to impose his size advantage, but what exactly did Brookins do during his time clinching alongside the cage with Koch that improved his chances of winning the bout? What effective offense amounted from his strategy?
None, or at least, very little.
Mix in a nice clinch elbow and a knee or two along the way, but it was just one failed takedown after another for Brookins. At distance, Koch made good on his advantage in the standup with heavy one-two combos and leg kicks, while Brookins still hasn’t learned how to sway and defended strikes with the oh-so subtle whipping back of his head.
It was the kind of fight that someone at home might score in Koch’s favor 30-27 or 29-28, only to hear Bruce Baffer rattle off a trio of 29-28 cards for Brookins.
Fortunately, we were spared that routine, as all three judges were correct in awarding Koch the bout for being the more efficient offensive fighter. Side note, it’s still not a good thing when you’re relieved that the judges properly scored a fight.
I have nothing against the concept of Brookins’s strategy, so long as a fighter does something with it. Brookins’s Plan A failed him, without a Plan B, he seemed content to just ride out the action against the fence and it cost him in the end.
As far as what his path looks like down the road?
This is essentially the same fighter we saw against Michael Johnson. Brookins’s standup doesn’t appear to have really evolved offensively or defensively and although he can still rip off a mean lateral drop, if he can’t get the takedown, he’s going to be in trouble.
Well At Least Jon Jones and Quinton Jackson Won’t Be Debating Each Other
The UFC gave fans something other than the customary mid-show, paint-by-numbers, generic sit-down interview to hype the upcoming Jon Jones-Quinton Jackson light heavyweight title fight.
What’s generally a fast-forward-worthy occasion with me missing many a cliché about each fighter being in the best shape of their careers and the like, Joe Rogan played mediator between champion and challenger.
It’s a smart move on the UFC’s part because it’s much easier to build hype when there’s a perceived animosity between the two fighters and this accomplished that.
But let’s be honest, this was anything an eloquent exchange between Jones and Jackson, with plenty of stammering and nervous speak from both sides, which I guess adds to the authenticity of the matter in the end.
Rogan addressed the allegations of Jones having a spy in “Rampage’s” camp, asked them each how the fight was going to go down and in the end, this was probably a more effective promotional tool than just doing the usual 1-on-1 interview with each fighter.
Just be fortunate it’s a fight that will settle the grudge between Jones and Jackson and nothing more.
Keep an Eye on Lance Benoist
Four fighters made their UFC debuts on Saturday night’s card.
Although watching 22-year-old Lance Benoist wake up the New Orleans crowd alongside Matt Riddle, you wouldn’t have been able to tell that Benoist was the late replacement in the fight.
Benoist staved off a third-round rally by Riddle to procure a unanimous decision on the night’s preliminary card, taking the first two rounds on all three judges’ scorecards.
Now 6-0 overall, Benoist overwhelmed the more seasoned Riddle early on in a first round highlighted by a slick kimura hip sweep after being taken down early on. On the feet, Riddle’s never been the most evasive of fighters and that much was apparent with Benoist opening the fight with a hard cross as the precursor to an aggressive offensive attack that bested Riddle more times than not.
Riddle has his chances though, chiefly after landing a flush knee that began emptying blood from Benoist’s nose like a faucet.
The newcomer kept his wits about him though, working a positionally dominant second round prior and staying out of enough trouble off his back in the third round to seal the decision.
Riddle’s no world-beater, and his nine-fight career is one of inconsistency, but color me impressed by that kind of resolve for a fighter with just five pro fights under his belt making his UFC debut.
I’m curious to see what Benoist’s encore is.