Though beleaguered with injuries and last-minute replacements, UFC 113 turned out to be one of the most satisfying events the organization has put on in some time. Replete with submissions, TKOs, long-distance struggles, and a bit of controversy, last Saturday's show was also capped off by the best championship fight of the year so far, which saw a brief yet enigmatic title reign come to a close. And like all things interesting, UFC 113 has left us with questions...
Was firing and banning Paul Daley from the UFC the right thing to do?
It all comes off as a bit excessive, frankly, and given how fast the decision came down, smacks of an outraged, knee-jerk reaction. Likewise, I'm not convinced that firing Daley does anything for the mainstream reputation of MMA that a lengthy suspension couldn't have done in kind. Having said that, firing Daley was, if not the right thing to do, certainly the smart thing to do.
Put simply, the UFC has nothing to lose by cutting Paul Daley. During his time with the organization, he merely displayed to a wider audience that which many of us already knew: he's a powerful striker with poor all-around skills. He was dominated by competent wrestlers before and, with little improvement evident in his UFC fights, it seems that he always will be. Daley has little to offer any welterweight with a talent for grappling and a head for game-planning, which basically characterizes the entire upper echelon of the UFC's welterweight division. Combine that with even the slight chance that anyone would accuse the UFC of harboring a criminal guilty of assault and battery, and there seems to be few if any advantages to keeping Daley around.
What about cutting Kimbo?
With an official 1-1- record inside the Octagon, Kimbo Slice could have reasonably stuck around for one more fight. Yet, with Kimbo delivering disappointing performances dating back to his last fight on CBS, it's entirely possible that the casual audience for whom Kimbo is a draw might by now be sufficiently disillusioned. Between the network television fight, the reality show appearance, and two fights in the UFC, it must be clear enough to curious audiences that they aren't going to see the brawling thrill of Kimbo's YouTube career writ large. With this in mind, the UFC has recognized an impending scenario of diminishing returns and rightly put out to pasture a fighter whose high-profile, relative inexperience, and hefty price tag make him a matchmaking migraine.
All's well that ends well, though. Kimbo Slice could very well find some lucrative opportunities in Japan, where sensationalist matchmaking is not so harshly stigmatized, while the UFC makes space on its roster (and budget) for one or two more legitimate prospects.
What's next for Lyoto Machida?
The former champion kept his fight with Mauricio competitive, but seemed undone by his own predictability. So while the takedowns were a welcome addition, Machida's striking seemed largely unchanged since his first meeting with Rua. If the pre-fight footage is any indication, the problem might lie with his training almost exclusively under his father. Extended training camps outside of his dojo in Belem, Brazil, might prove a big help in rebuilding Machida's puzzle-box arsenal.
What's next for Shogun Rua?
Just about anything, it seems.
To any fan, Machida's loss last Saturday was disappointing. The idea that a fighter with a base in karate could become the next great light heavyweight champion was intriguing, and his ascent suggested a lot of interesting things about the changing template of the modern mixed martial artist. At the same time, Rua-a seemingly pleasant guy with a hunger for serious violence between the bells-is as good a champion as any. And he makes for infinitely better light-heavyweight matchmaking.
Consider that while both Anderson Silva and Rogerio Nogueira are emerging forces at 205 pounds, both have preemptively refused a fight with their friend Machida. And with Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans already suffering at his hands, there weren't many compelling contenders for Machida's belt, save for a flaky Quinton Jackson. By contrast, Rua has yet to fight any of these men inside the UFC. Rematches with Nogueira or Jackson would be welcome addenda to their respective fights in Pride, while a meeting with restless middleweight champ Anderson Silva would be as excellent a proposition as I could imagine for this year. I'm just going to pretend I didn't hear Rua suggest a fight with Randy Couture.
Is Alan Belcher out of his mind?
A little, but it's kind of working for him.
Belcher's recent post-fight campaigns have been compelling for the wild ambition and conviction that they reveal. That Belcher wants a fight with Anderson Silva so bad, by any means, even at light-heavyweight, might color him a little unhinged, but in a way Belcher has his head screwed on better than most.
In pushing for a fight with Anderson Silva, middleweight title or no, Alan Belcher seems to understand that a championship belt has no intrinsic value, that it's only a symbol for the fighter upon whose hips it rests. Likewise, while one man might prize the weight of that gold strap, another fighter may enjoy a distinction of greater importance. To this point, Frankie Edgar is the new lightweight champion, but B.J. Penn is likely considered by most as the best lightweight of all time. Similarly, though Anderson Silva might lose or vacate his title, most middleweights for the foreseeable future will labor under Silva's long shadow. That Belcher is more interested in testing himself against the middleweight juggernaut of our time rather than wearing a gold-plated accessory lays bare a focus, drive, and sharpness of mind obscured only a bit by his southern drawl. Unfortunately, Belcher's mission seems yet to land decidedly on the futile side of things, though not for lack of effort.
To his credit, Belcher has shown fair improvement in the last two years, with displays of tenacity in his wins over Ed Herman and Denis Kang, and a gritty, crowd-pleasing style in fights with Yoshihiro Akiyama and Wilson Gouveia. This weekend afforded Belcher the opportunity to flaunt a bit of raw power in his nigh-illegal slam of opponent Patrick Cote, as well as a carefully employed array of punches and kicks that show promise. It's all still a bit raw, though, isn't it? Despite his pleas to the contrary, bringing Belcher up slowly would be best. A few more fights with the likes of Aaron Simpson, Dan Miller and, later, Michael Bisping, Nate Marquardt, or Demian Maia, are essential for this earnest but unproven middleweight.