For our money, Bisping can never get punched in the face enough.
It seems like we’re once again apologizing for our lack of posts (although we just published one on the Big Nog/Nelson fight, even if we had to watch it on terrible hotel wi-fi). It’s not you. No, if anything, it’s us. But that’s going to change; we’re going to change, although it’ll take time, especially since we’re currently on the way to Quebec City (via train) to catch the TUF Nations Finale: Bisping vs. Kennedy, and consume a great deal of poutine. Besides cheering on Kennedy as he punches Bisping in his face (which never gets old), we’ll be supporting hometown hero/friend/Team Spartan honcho Elias “the Spartan” Theodorou as he faces fellow Team Canada finalist Sheldon Westcott for the right to be the first Canadian TUF Middleweight winner. Our pick? Well, we might be a little biased, but we’re staunchly behind the Spartan, who we fully expect to outwork his opponent, as well as control the striking range, in what will either be a (T)KO or decision win. We’re also going with Kennedy by decision via being a tenacious, crazy bastard, Côté by KO or (T)KO, Chad Laprise by (T)KO (as Olivier is has a habit of coming slow out of the gate) and Dustin Poirier via whatever he wants.
That certainly wasn’t easy to watch, especially for nostalgic PrideFC fans around the world hoping that the former heavyweight kingpin had one last trick in his once deep bag of them. Unfortunately, he didn’t. When this match-up was announced, everyone knew it wasn’t a good one for the aging legend, whose once granite-like chin has eroded with the inevitable passage of time, and who was three-and-four in his last seven contests, with brutal stoppages against Mir (twice) and champ Cain Velasquez amongst them. The venerable Big Nog began this brief contest well, utilizing his favourite technique — the dipping jab — to keep Roy off of him and negate the mulleted one’s power. Unfortunately, Big Country adjusted swiftly and countered perfectly with a right uppercut, and from there it was just a matter of time before the tragic end. Big Country was patient, dropping Nog again and again, before setting a classic Nelson trap (backing his opponent into the fence and edging increasingly closer to his left, so that opponents instinctively retreat into the more open, opposite direction — squarely into the path of his mammoth overhand right), laying out Big Nog in a stiff, ugly, Nate Quarry-like manner. What’s next for the legendary Pride HW? Well, Nog has already called for a third match with original bane Frank Mir before retiring, but at this point in both their careers, this looks like almost a gimmie for Mir (and a much-needed one), after KOing and then breaking the former champ’s arm in their first two meetings. For Nelson? Surgery, as he broke his hand — guess which one? — KOing Minotauro. Afterwards? The talk of him facing Mark Hunt has picked up again, and who wouldn’t want to see that stand-up war? Although, as always, our money is on the Super-Samoan.
Well, that certainly didn’t go as planned. For the first two rounds of their epic rematch, Shogun Rua looked phenomenal: he was in shape (you could see a bit of a six-pack, not witnessed since the halcyon, roiding days of Pride); he had a nice jab going (although he began to bring it back lower and lower as the fight wore on); he threw hard kicks and controlled the range — even mixing in a knee or two. Oh, yeah, and he dropped Hendo — twice. Considering Rua’s (well-deserved) reputation as one of the most feared and vicious finishers in the sport, it was his inability to stop Henderson — twice — in their second bout that ultimately allowed the aging wonder to catch Shogun breaking from a clinch with both hands way, way too low and out of position with a right hook (note: it wasn’t an overhand right/H-bomb). From there, with his nose relocated to a different part of his face, Dan pounced, eventually finishing Rua with another shot and some questionable strikes to the back of the head while the former UFC light heavyweight champion turtled-up. There’s been some talk of the shots referee Herb Dean missed that Hendo ended the fight with, but considering the state of his nose — utter carnage — it would have been stopped if Rua had survived.
The thing is, up until that right hook, Hendo was getting beat-up by Rua — badly. Going forward, there’s great cause for concern for fans of the aging MMA legend, as he will no longer be allowed to use TRT (at least in North America), his greco wrestling hasn’t looked good in some time, he’s getting caught and dropped with increasing regularly, and besides that right hand, Hendo’s arsenal has shrunk each outing. Plus, he turns 44 in August — his first MMA fight was nearly 17 years ago. Who will he face next? Daniel Cormier needs a name on his ledger before he’ll likely be allowed to challenge current champ Jon Jones, especially if Double J has any say in the matter. That’s a bad match-up for Hendo, but unless he wants to take a step back and fight lower ranked LHWs (Bader, Manua, Te Huna), he’s going to be the underdog against any top-five LHW opponent.
For Shogun? While there’s no denying he looked scary in his obliteration of Te Huna (although James did gift him the KO, coming in with his hands at waist-level), and for the first two rounds, dominated Henderson, and should have finished him, the fact is he came up short against the American for the second time. However, there’s still that rematch with Lil’ Nog fans have been clamouring for since their unforgettable back-and-forth war of attrition at Pride Critical Countdown 2005. Providing, of course, Nog can stay healthy long enough to make it to an actual fight.
With a new welterweight UFC champ crowned after years of domination by GSP — congrats, Johny Hendricks — the division is wide-open for the first time in memory, which is an incredibly exciting proposition. Who will emerge to challenge newly minted kingpin Bigg Rigg (and possibly take back the extraneous Gs in the process)? Will there be an immediate rematch of the instant classic he had this past Saturday with the Ruthless One (doubtful, if Jones/Gustafson is a precedent)? Was Tyron Woodley impressive enough in his win, marred by injury though it was, over Carlos Condit to earn the nod? Or, after being soundly beaten by Lawler in their fight back in November, is a dominating second- and third-round comeback victory over Demain Maia enough to bring Rory MacDonald’s stock up to the level of title-challenger? Well, as unabashed supporters (for life) of the Stockton Bad Boy, we have two words for you: Nick Diaz. Sure, he hasn’t fought in a year and is riding a two-fight losing streak (to GSP and the aforementioned Condit); however, in terms of money fights (and remember, the UFC is first and foremost about making profits and putting on “entertaining” bouts), there isn’t currently a bigger draw for the WW division and new champ, unless GSP is ready to end his hiatus after only a few short months. While Diaz had a readymade narrative with Lawler should Robbie have emerged victorious (being the only man to KO the Ruthless One — way back at UFC 47), with incredible foresight, Nick managed to insert himself into Bigg Rigg’s bearded business, heckling the now-champ during his weigh-in issues this past Friday, and smack-talking his win the moment the PPV ended, going as far as to call his stand-up “amateur” and claiming Lawler “whupped his ass.” While realistically most would like to see Diaz earn such a shot with a high-profile W or two, possibly avenging friend/teammate/fellow 209er Jake Shields’s defeat at the hands of Hector Lombard or even facing Woodley or MacDonald in a number one contender match, considering Diaz is one of the most intriguing/frustrating/enigmatic fighters in the sport, his fanatical, cult-like following, that despite his recent two losses, he is 11 and two in last 13 efforts, and, save GSP, is the highest profile challenger currently available for Hendricks, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that the UFC would pull the trigger and give Diaz what he wants (a title match return). What would be in it for Hendricks? Simply this: the opportunity to have his first title defence be against one of MMA’s most compelling personalities, and one of its top draws, in terms of celebrity. Sure, others may “deserve it” a bit more, but when it comes to dollars (and that is the UFC’s bottom line), Hendricks/Diaz simply makes sense.
Sure, it’s only mid-March, but we already have a strong “fight of the year contender”: Saturday’s incredible five-round battle of attrition between Bigg Rigg and the Ruthless One. While I’m sure few predicted that the contest between the two powerful (T)KO strikers (who combined for an incredible 308 significant strikes — a new record) would go to a decision, that’s exactly what happened. With the combatants virtually fighting in a phone booth and trading hellacious shots throughout, after four rounds of blood, guts and violence, it was dead even going into the fifth. Unfortunately for fans of the Robbie Lawler comeback narrative, it was Hendricks who had the slightly larger gas tank, being able to outwork Robbie in the fifth to rightfully take a decision victory. However, if Robbie gets an impressive win in his next outing, after their first war, there’s little doubt he’ll be facing Johny again sooner rather than later (depending on who the new champ fights next). Speaking of which, names being bandied about for Hendricks’s first title defence include Tyron Woodley and Rory MacDonald, with Lombard likely taking himself out of the conversation, for now, with his decision win over Shields. However, for our money, there’s a certain heckler from Stockton that would make for an intriguing first defence, even if he’s on a two-fight losing streak and realistically should have to earn a victory or two first for such a shot.
Although it may not be as prestigious as fighting on a PPV or Fox card (especially where the cheddar, as Rampage would say, is concerned), with little fanfare, the UFC has delivered two Fight Pass cards full of entertainment, (T)KOs and subs in the last week that have been just as exciting, if not more so, than some of their more recent higher-profile offerings. The latest FP event was yesterday’s card from London, England, and while it may have felt eerily similar to watching Bamma or Cage Rage, due to the accents (although with better fighters, and no Paul Daley), in terms of action, it unquestionably delivered. Sometimes the hardest thing to do in any sport is beat the opposition you’re supposed to, and while Manuwa didn’t appear to be an incredibly difficult hurdle to a title shot for the number one contender, anything can happen in the Octagon. Still, credit is due to the Mauler, who accomplished what everyone expected and dismantled the previously undefeated Brit inside of two rounds to earn his rematch with double J. (No offence to the Poster Boy, but there’s a huge leap between the likes of Ryan Jimmo and the top LHW contenders.) While initially even on the feet, with Jimi’s power vs. Alex’s range, footwork and technique, the end began for Manuwa early in the second when Gustafsson locked on a quick Thai clinch and landed a huge knee on his shorter opponent. From there, the Mauler lived up to his nickname, pouncing on his foe and the fight was quickly waved off. With the win, the UFC stated that Gustafsson would challenge the winner of the upcoming Jones/Teixeira LHW title match-up, despite the champ’s suggestion that the Swede should face Daniel Cormier for the right to challenge him next, looking by Glover in the process. Considering how close and exciting their first contest was, not to mention the significant threat Cormier presents to Jones as well, it appears the champ is politicking, trying to soften up his next opponent without ever setting foot in the cage, as well as not taking Teixeira as seriously as he should, which could be a grave mistake, considering Glover’s KO power.