As the seconds ticked off the clock in the third round of the UFC Fight Night 20 lightweight main event showdown between Nate Diaz and Gray Maynard, one thought continued to rattle around in my mind. Would Gray Maynard actually be thrust into contention with such a lackluster victory? Would the UFC actually give him a shot at B.J. Penn when they've historically kept similar fighters in the dark?
It wasn't the most impressive win by any means, and some fans could argue that Nate Diaz did enough to win the first round and easily took the third round of action. While I could see some merit in that argument, the bigger story is how Diaz was still able to make Maynard look bad at times. For a supposed wrecking machine of a potential contender, a lot of fans felt he would manhandle Diaz with wrestling and a positionally dominant top control game.
Now, the opinion is turning toward a choice between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. Which lightweight should challenge for the title? Our own Michael Rome argues that Maynard's decisive win over Edgar and the marketability of a fight between a TUF coach in Penn and a student in Maynard has some merit as a storyline that could create some hype. While MMA math normally doesn't matter due to the business end of matchmaking, I'd agree with the argument. It's tough to sell Edgar as the next contender when he was dominated by Maynard at UFN 13.
But why would the UFC want to pit either fighter against Penn? The only logical reason is that Penn destroys either fighter and continues to increase his stock as one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC. Call me a "purist", but one-sided beatdowns aren't that appealing to me. My suggestion: Pit Takanori Gomi against Frankie Edgar or Gray Maynard for a true title contention match-up. Gomi should eat wrestleboxers like Edgar and Maynard alive, but his recent motivation problems could prove to be his undoing.
Efrain Escudero fell out of rhythm during the second frame of his match-up with Evan Dunham. Normally, I wouldn't use "rhythm" to describe a fighter's pace, but Escudero was comfortably landing combinations in the first round with ease. The second and third rounds were much more mechanical, and Dunham took advantage.
Tom Lawlor vs. Aaron Simpson was one of those fights that puts asses in seats, and it's one of the reasons why I like seeing these strong wrestlers who throw for huge power battle each other. The amazing thing about the fight is that Lawlor blasted Simpson so many times during the first round that he was visibly tired in the second and third from all the energy he exerted in the first frame. I felt Simpson did edge out Lawlor in the final two rounds, but I also thought Lawlor won the first round via a 10-8. In my mind, the fight was a draw.
Amir Sadollah shut up a lot of skeptics with his performance against IFL veteran Brad Blackburn. Solid striking ability, good defense, and great kicks gave him a dynamic stand-up game that easily beat up on Blackburn for three rounds. It really wasn't even close at any point in the fight. My only concern stemmed from his rushes in which he left his chin slightly exposed. Something tells me leading with your chin as you rush in is a knockout waiting to happen.
Nick Catone def. Jesse Forbes via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
Gerald Harris def. John Salter via TKO at 3:24 of Round 3
Rafael Dos Anjos def. Kyle Bradley via unanimous decision
Rory MacDonald def. Mike Guymon via submission (Armbar) at 4:27 of Round 1
Thiago Tavares vs. Nick Lentz results in majority draw (29-27 Lentz, 28-28, 28-28)
Rick Story def. Jesse Lennox via split decision (30-27, 30-27, 28-29)
Chris Leben def. Jay Silva via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Only a couple of thoughts pop into my mind regarding the undercard. Rory MacDonald is a fighter that we should all be keeping an eye on. While he was the favorite against Mike Guymon, submitting the BJJ expert is a bit of a surprise. He has the BJJ skills to be a threat on the ground, but his striking is very good too. Keep an eye on this kid as he may be the next real talent in the Welterweight division.
Gerald Harris is also an interesting prospect in the middleweight division. He's become a real knockout threat, and the power he's been able to display in his more recent fights could be categorized as "scary".
It wasn't an absolutely terrible event, but it wasn't great. With the style match-ups that we saw leading up to this event, we probably shouldn't have expected much for the card, but we do get some conclusions to some of the questions leading up to the event.
Did Leben actually train for this fight? He must have. Can Amir Sadollah bang with a veteran like Blackburn? He sure can. Is there too much confidence in Escudero? Yes.
The only question that become more convoluted is how the lightweight's title picture looks. Unfortunately, I think either Maynard or Edgar will get a shot at Penn, and I'm not too keen on seeing either fighter face Penn's skill. I'd rather see Gomi fight one of them first, see where his motivation is, and see if he actually shows up to impress. If he does, it could spell huge for the UFC on the business side of things if they can promote Gomi correctly. Of course, he has to win as well.