It's always great for the main event to deliver, and UFC 123's top fight delivered in spades. There was talk all week long that Quinton "Rampage" Jackson hadn't trained hard. Talk that he wasn't ready for Lyoto Machida, that he didn't want to be a fighter anymore. Rampage silenced all those critics by pursuing Machida with a singular purpose for three rounds in one of the year's most evenly matched fights.
My only critique of this fight? It should have been longer. This is the perfect example of why it makes sense for all UFC main events to be five rounds. Jackson and Machida was just getting really interesting when the fight was abruptly stopped after 15 minutes. That fight needed 10 more minutes. Hopefully we'll get our two additional rounds in a rematch that the announcers and both fighters pushed heavily post fight.
This was a tremendous card from beginning to end. Some quick thoughts:
- Quinton cut off the ring well and immediately. He took the center of the cage and pushed Machida into the fence. Rampage initiated most of the clinches, dominated the pummel, and landed stronger punches throughout the first two rounds. It was a close fight, but I had it 29-28 Rampage.
- The third round was a perfect example of all MMA is capable of delivering. We had a furious display of striking, takedowns, submission attempts and defense, just great action from bell to bell. It was a shame it had to come to an end.
- I've been critical of B.J. Penn and I am not alone. Even one of his good friends told me this week that Penn is the most frustrating fighter in the sport. But when he is interested and motivated, Penn can still be one of the best the sport has ever seen. When he's not, it's a long night of lethargic boxing. This was Penn at his best, an emotional win that meant a lot for all the Penn fans in Hawaii.
What's next for Penn is anyone's guess. Will he want to continue at welterweight? Or is a return to 155 pounds in the cards? It would be interesting to see Penn test himself against a welterweight like Carlos Condit as he pursues a third fight with Georges St. Pierre. If Penn does go back to 155 I'd really like to see him in a showcase fight to get fans excited about another run at the title. Donald Cerrone is the perfect victim.
- Phil Davis continues to impress. He manhandled a game Tim Boetsch, eventually securing a modified hammerlock now being called the "Mr. Wonderful." It's time for Davis to move out of the middle of the card and test himself against a serious fighter, but I suspect the UFC will let him simmer on the undercard for a bit. It might be the best thing for his career. A string of highlight reel wins will make him kind of a big deal when he does get the call to go to the top of the card.
- The only stinker of the night was Gerald Harris and newcomer Maiquel Falcão. And it's a great night of fights when that one stands out as particularly bad. Falcão looked great for two rounds before losing focus in the third. It was funny to hear announcer Joe Rogan turn on him as the third round went on. Lots of potential and I can't wait to see him back.
George Sotiropoulos didn't need three knee braces and a pair of ankle sleeves to submit Joe Lauzon. He just needed superlative technique and the heart to survive a fast paced early attack from the Boston native. I hadn't been convinced by Sot before this fight. Now I'm a believer.