Prior to UFC 130, I felt that the card had undergone so many changes that no single fight or fighter would impress. Sure, mainstays like Quinton Jackson and Thiago Alves are exciting fighters, but a lot of their excitement is based on a style match up which I just didn’t see for this event. However, there are some fighters who are very exciting no matter their opposition because they want to please the fans who are watching the card either live or on Pay Per View; fighters such as Chris Lytle and Carlos Condit come to mind.
Two other fighters who come to mind are Stefan Struve and Jorge Santiago, both placed in favorable match ups to showcase their crowd pleasing styles. Unfortunately for both, crowd pleasing styles often pose bigger risks rather than fighting to their own strengths. Last night we saw just that. Both fighters were given the opportunity to make the jump to the upper echelons of the division and neither was able to come through when they needed to.
In the weeks leading up to UFC 130, SB Nation MMA editor Luke Thomas spoke with Stefan Struve about his fight with Travis Browne. Struve was very confident in his chances as well as his ability to keep the fight at distance. I’ll let the man explain in his own words:
Luke: Lets talk about your fight at UFC 130, you’re taking on Travis Browne. What do you know about Travis Browne? Talk about him as an opponent.
Stefan: I know he’s 6’7", just like my last two opponents. I know he’s undefeated, just like my last two opponents and I’ve beat my last two opponents by knockout. I think this is gonna be one helluva fight for the fans, two big guys who aren’t afraid to exchange punches. I think I’m the better fighter, both on the feet and on the ground and I’m planning to show that at UFC 130.
Luke: I’ve watched some training video on you recently and there was a lot of use of the push kick. Going forward, you’re 6’11", is using your length more of a priority now?
Stefan: Yeah, of course. I’ve been trying to use it for a while now. I wasn’t that heavy for my frame, I wasn’t a huge guy. I’ve been putting a lot of muscle on lately, it was kind of hard to use the distance and technique properly. If I use my reach now with the muscle on and the weight I put on, it’s easy to keep distance because everything is harder. My punches are harder. My kicks are harder. It’s easier to keep someone at bay.
I myself had the pleasure of speaking with Jorge Santiago, who essentially echoed the same sentiment as Stefan. Under his laid back demeanor was a man who was angry that he was being counted out in his fight against Brian Stann:
Matt: For UFC fans that haven’t seen you since your fights with Chris Leben and Allan Belcher, how much do you see in yourself as you’ve improved?
Jorge: I think fans are gonna have a big surprised. Everybody asks who are you gonna fight and I say "Brian Stann" and they go "oooooooh". And I’m like you know what? I don’t care man, I don’t care. They don’t know me. They have a right to think things this way. Brian Stann is this guy and he hits hard and this and that. I don’t care about that. I’m gonna go in there and prove I’m better than him. And thats it. All that matters is who’s gonna have his arm raised at the end of the fight. Then they’re going to respect me. I don’t care about what they say now about me as a fighter before. I’m just going to go in there and prove that everything has changed. They’re going to know Jorge Santiago, not Brian Stann.
So if both were extremely confident in their skills, what happened last night that they allowed their opponents to steal the opportunity to break into the tops of their respective divisions? I'll discuss that after the jump...
When you take a look at the overall skill sets of Travis Browne and Brian Stann and then compare them to Stefan Sturve and Jorge Santiago, these fights appeared to be major mismatches. In my eyes neither Stann nor Browne offered much more than knockout power but lacked the dynamic striking to take advantage of this. Now, 12 hours later and a chance to re-watch these fights, it's apparent how wrong I was about these two fighters.
Brian Stann, in my opinion, was a highly marketable fighter whose skills never matched his story. It was both his biggest strength and biggest weakness that he couldn't live up to the expectations placed on him when he first signed with the WEC. Possessing knockout power but lacking the diversity in his strikes, he always seemed to be a fighter who would never amount to anything more than a feel good story. Now, fighting out of Greg Jackson's camp and riding wins over Chris Leben and Jorge Santiago, we need to ask where his ceiling is as a fighter. He shrugged off takedown attempts and kept a heavy top game on a middleweight fighter known for his sweeps. He made Jorge Santiago look like an amateur and perhaps even an overrated fighter who benefited from the Japanese side of MMA.
Travis Browne was considered one of the top prospects at heavyweight outside of the UFC. After melting James McSweeney at the Ultimate Fighter Liddell vs Ortiz Finale, he was given a major step up in competition at UFC 120 against Chieck Kongo. It was a fight he was not supposed to win as Kongo has long been a Zuffa favorite and a fighter they've always wanted to push into the top of the division. Though the fight was scored a draw, for those watching, it was Browne who was the most impressive. Last night against Struve, Browne not only displayed improved stand up, he also showed that he can keep his head when in bad situations. His highlight reel knockout was arguably the best knockout of the year so far. Following the card, Dana White stated that Browne was "in the mix", which is the biggest compliment the UFC boss can give a fighter. Have we seen the best Browne has to offer?
Both Browne and Stann displayed that they can hang with and defeat better fighters. They'll now be thrust into the top of the division and if they sink or swim will be decided solely on their abilities to improve. They've made believers out of me and I can't wait to see what the future holds for the two men who stole the show.