For many fans, the UFC's debut on Versus went as expected. The ferocious and powerful Jon Jones, a fighter who once shared a wrestling room turned proving ground at Iowa Central Community College with another familiar name in Cain Velasquez, took down the fading Brandon Vera in the early moments of their epic tilt on Sunday night and put the pressure solely on Vera to prove his words had meaning.
During the lead-in to the event, Vera had stated that we would no longer see a hesitant fighter, but a fighter who would go for the kill at all costs. While it was apparent Vera's leg kicks were kept under control due to the dangers of Jones' wrestling ability, Vera's guard proved to be highly active and threatening to Jones. Unfortunately for Vera, Jones' strength allowed him to keep his arms stretched out and Vera's back down without ever being in enormous danger. As a result, Jones landed one of the most destructive elbows from the guard that we've seen in the history of the sport. Three broken facial bones later, Jon Jones proved that his potential isn't being overstated.
Jones' future will become increasingly more challenging as he'll likely be given some higher profile bouts within the top ten of the division. He'll be given the chance to sink or swim at the top, and by all indications -- he'll swim happily into title contention if he can continue improving.
Vera, on the other hand, is sitting in some very murky water when it comes to his future. The 32-year-old Filipino American has some limited time to make the comeback that he's been hoping to bring to his fans inside the Octagon, and his performances as of late have sunk him into a gatekeeper role for the upper-echelon of the division. Can he bring himself out of that role and provide challenges to the top guys in the division once again? Don't count me in on that bandwagon.
Jones wasn't the only fighter trying to prove he belonged in the upper tier of fighters in his division. Junior Dos Santos was also in a battle to prove that he should join fighters like Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, Frank Mir, and Cain Velasquez in discussions regarding the best heavyweights in the UFC. A weak leg kick by Gabriel Gonzaga and a perfectly timed counter left was all that was needed for Dos Santos to impressively defeat a challenger that many fans felt was on the outside looking in. Unfortunately for Gonzaga, those fans picked the wrong pony.
Dos Santos' speed in his delivery was a point his camp and himself made before the fight, but Gonzaga's striking should probably be scrutinized here. The UFC likes to make us believe Gonzaga is a world class striker because he knocked out Mirko "CroCop" Filipovic with his own patented head kick, but the reality is that Gonzaga has shown poor defense and susceptibility to counters in the past.
Gonzaga could benefit from some trips to Holland in my opinion as he has the powerful kicks and skill to build up a base in kickboxing that would benefit him greatly. The training would also give him some speed and get him acclimated to seeing quick hands from opponents. Some would also make the claim that the small Team Link in Ludlow, Massachusetts may also be something he should leave behind for a more challenging and diverse camp like Xtreme Couture or American Top Team.
The second major heavyweight tilt wasn't that intriguing to me from the beginning, and personally -- I didn't even think Paul Buentello would last one round with Cheick Kongo's length and power. Instead of a toe-to-toe slugfest that would have likely saw Kongo bashing Buentello's face in from various angles, Kongo took a safer route to victory by taking down Buentello consistently throughout the fight and damaging him with knees and strikes from the top. It was easily a gameplan that allowed Kongo to take less damage while doling out plenty of offense.
With the win, Kongo will probably be given another test against a rising star or losing upper-echelon fighter. It's a position he's been in before, but he's been defeated in every major step up the ladder. Heath Herring, Cain Velasquez, and Frank Mir all took advantage of his subpar wrestling abilities, but he did manage to show us some improvement last night. My only concern is that he showed that improvement against a very one-dimensional fighter in Paul Buentello, a fighter who doesn't exactly endanger anyone he fights with a takedown.
- Alessio Sakara's perfectly placed punch to James Irvin's eye was probably a blessing in disguise. From the early moments of the bout, Sakara looked fresh, quick, and confident in his overhand punches and combinations. Irvin looked rather weak and tired from the weight cut, and it was obvious that he wasn't going to be able to stay conscious for three rounds unless he unloaded on Sakara. Unfortunately, Sakara unloaded a nasty left that put a knuckle into Irvin's eye and ended this fight before Irvin could even think about unleashing a flurry of his own.
I'm beginning to feel a bit more confident that Alessio Sakara can be a solid middle-of-the-road challenger in the UFC's middleweight division. His hands seem to be firing on all cylinders, and his quickness combined with his ability to string together overhands and jabs is going to give a lot of lesser punchers problems. It's always good to see these types of fighters get much deserved wins.
- Clay Guida proved he can finish fights as he pulled off an arm triangle from mount in the second round of his battle with journeyman Shannon Gugerty. There isn't much to say here as Guida was expected to out pace and out wrestle Gugerty, which is exactly what happened.
- Vladimir Matyushenko's victory over Elliot Marshall was the big snoozer of the night. Both men were unwilling to engage for long lengths of time, and Matyushenko's takedowns seemed to be the sole reason he won the fight. Marshall threw some blows and caught Matyushenko with an uppercut in the first round, but Matyushenko's wrestling provided the judges with a means to score it in his favor.
It'd be nice to see more offense from Matyushenko, but his style won't be changing any time soon. They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but Matyushenko seems content in winning with his plodding style of wrestling and boxing.
- John Howard's vicious over-the-guard left hand (i.e. Hand of God) that landed dead center on Daniel Roberts' chin was truly spectacular to watch. Roberts provided some very real dangers in the submission game on the ground, and while I thought Howard would benefit from bringing the fight back up to the feet -- everything worked out perfectly for him.
- Brendan Schaub landed one straight right to Chase Gormley's chin in the first exchange of the night, and it was over very quickly. Gormley was a prospect people were curious about due to his affiliation with Black House, but his striking is very green and his defense is poor. Schaub is a remarkable specimen when it comes to learning the various martial arts within his arsenal, but he outmatched Gormley in the boxing arena before this fight even hit the cage.
- A wrestling performance laced with plenty of powerful takedowns took Mike Pierce all the way to victory lane over AFC-veteran Julio Paulino. Pierce was absolutely ferocious in his attack, but he still lacks the skill to land consistently on the chin. While some might say he lacks power, I think he has enough power in his hands to put many of his opponents out. His style, however, doesn't inspire confidence that he'll actually be able to do that. To the average fan, all of the impressive slams look great at least.
- Jason Brilz vs. Eric Schafer was ultimately a war of attrition going into the third round. The first round went to Schafer as he dropped Brilz with a knee toward the end of the round, but the second went to Brilz due to a late round guillotine attempt combined with some solid punches. Schafer lost the war as Brilz landed enough short punches and tired elbows to score for the judges. None of the blows were going to knock Schafer out, but Schafer was basically lifeless at the end of the fight. The high altitude really did both guys in.
- Last but not least, Duane Ludwig gruesomely broke his ankle against Darren Elkins. Nothing to analyze here, just an very unlucky moment for "Bang".
The main card could be considered a success from the casual fan point of view. The two top fights were solid finishes as Jon Jones landed the elbow from Hell on Vera's orbital while Dos Santos blasted Gabriel Gonzaga with a counter left that ended his night quickly. The added preliminary bout between John Howard and Daniel Roberts produced explosive results, and Alessio Sakara's left hand created a quick win... although it was somewhat marred by the uncertainty of whether it was an eye poke or actual punch.
The Kongo-Buentello fight was probably the least appealing battle, but even it ended in a finish. Ultimately, it depends on how many fans actually tuned in for the event and if the brand actually brought a lot of fans over to Versus. Even if it didn't, the results will produce a little buzz for the second event happening in August.
Solid night of fights with many expected results. Look for the UFC to promote Jones as the next great light heavyweight, and watch out for Dos Santos popping up in contention talk. The UFC should want to show the world how deep the UFC's heavyweight division really is now with five solid fighters at the top.