On a night where two light heavyweight legends took divergent career paths, it was the bantamweight at the top of the card that stole the show. Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber battled for five rounds in a fight that will challenge the New Year's war between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard for Fight of the Year.
The two bantamweights established a pace that seemed impossible to maintain for your standard three-round affair, let alone a five-round main event. Yet, there we were in round five, Cruz dancing around, Faber standing his ground, and a litany of scrambles in between.
Cruz won the fight -- 50-45, 49-46, and 48-47 on the scorecards, but a case could be made for Faber in any number of rounds. The win avenges Cruz's loss to Faber in 2007, a swift 90 second submission for the then-featherweight champion.
The question now, however, is whether we see a rubber match. Rumors on Twitter indicated that Brian Bowles would become the number one contender with a victory over Takeya Mizugaki (and that came to fruition), but Cruz/Faber 3 seems much more palatable to my tastes.
- This is what five-round fights are for. Had this been three rounds, we would have seen a fun scrap between two high-level bantamweights. Instead, we witness a fight that transcends and inspires and excites and reminds us of why we watch MMA. This is the fight that you hope your non-MMA friends are around to see. And yes, five-round fights will elongate some stinkers, but the tradeoff is the masterpiece that we witnessed tonight (and the first of the year).
- Cruz and Faber's styles mesh well together. Faber rocked Cruz on more than one occasion, but the champion regained his composure quickly and got back in the fight. Cruz pushed takedowns on Faber all night, and Faber defended or scrambled back to his feet. Faber remained patient and looked for openings while Cruz took his usual Roadrunner route.
- Give me a rubber match, and make it seven rounds, Dana White.
- Chris Leben knocked out Wanderlei Silva. In 27 seconds. I figured Chris Leben would give "The Axe Murderer" problems, but I did not expect Silva to faceplant while "Sandstorm" still echoed throughout the arena.
- The Silva retirement talk is going to start now, and that's something Wanderlei's going to have to figure out for himself. Despite being a middling fight, Chris Leben does hit with power. And Wanderlei's knockout losses over the last 5 years have come to guys who share that trait. He's done as a top fighter, but I wouldn't be against one last swan song against with measured matchmaking.
- While Wanderlei's legend died, Tito Ortiz reinvigorated his. Ortiz landed a right hook that landed on an incoming Ryan Bader's chin, putting the latter on queer street. The ensuing scramble led to Ortiz locking on a guillotine, and unleashing a serious roar from the Las Vegas crowd. Dana White demanded a victory for Ortiz to hold on to his job, and Ortiz delivered. I'm interested to see who the UFC matches Ortiz up with. My immediate instinct is the winner of Nogueira/Franklin.
- Ryan Bader's got a long night ahead of him.
- I scored Siver/Wiman 29-28, but a lot of respectable sources agreed with the actual decision, so I'm not sure what to think of the judging. Siver took a close first round, Wiman grabbed a bloody second, and I thought Wiman did enough to take the third. I'll have to rewatch and see if I missed anything.
- Dear Bruce Buffer, the "Mann" in "Mannheim" is not pronounced like "Manhattan."
- Knockout of the Night may go to the absurdity and swiftness of Chris Leben trucking Wanderlei Silva, but I give it to Carlos Condit's flying knee mashup of Dong Hyun Kim's face.
- Melvin Guillard continued his resurgence in the lightweight division, faceplanting Shane Roller in 2:12 of round one. Speed kills, and Guillard had it in his hands and footwork tonight.
- And if you didn't get enough brutal knockout love, Rafael dos Anjos splayed George Sotiropoulos on the at mat just before the one minute mark in the fight. Sotiropoulos goes from a guy one win away from a title shot, who now has two convincing losses under his belt. That's parity in the lightweight division for you.
- Only a couple things to note from the Facebook fights. Brian Bowles took a convincing win over Takeya Mizugaki, but it might not have been the impressive performance he needed to lock up the #1 contender spot at 135 pounds. And Anthony Njokuani put a four-limb lambasting on Andre Winner in the first five minutes, only to slow down in the third en route to a unanimous decision.
- One more thing from the Bowles fight: Mario Yamasaki restarted a fight from standing back mount. That is completely inappropriate. It's bad enough that we reward fights on the bottom for wrapping up the man on stop instead of working his (or her) way up, and it's even worse when we award a fighter with his back taken because the crowd isn't happy with the pace of the fight.
FIGHTER OF THE NIGHT
Photos by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Tito Ortiz overcame a mountain of adversity -- winless since 2006, his job on the line, a very public troubled relationship -- and submitted Ryan Bader in round one. It was his first stoppage (of someone not named Shamrock) in the Octagon since pounding out Elvis Sinosic (remember him?) in June of 2001.
MOMENT OF THE NIGHT
Photos by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Perhaps the most emotional reaction from a UFC crowd since the thirty minute standing ovation for Randy Couture at UFC 68. America loves to build up and tear down our celebrities, but nothing plays at our hearts more than a story of redemption. Everyone was a Tito Ortiz fan tonight, if only for a single moment.
MIKE GOLDBERG LINE OF THE NIGHT
"Expect hands, feet, knees, and elbows to be thrown!" - Before the Njokuani/Winner fight
Yeah, thanks for explaining how MMA striking works, Goldie.
ENTRANCE SONG OF THE NIGHT
It may not be the last time we hear Wanderlei Silva's MMA anthem during a UFC event, but it's probably the last time it strikes fear in the heart of his opponent. Honorable mention to Dong Hyun Kim for the Pride theme and Brian Bowles for Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around."
Despite Dana White's assurance that Zuffa needs more fighters, there's no margin for error in the UFC. It only takes one loss to find a pink slip waiting for you on Monday morning. Who's on the Chopping Block?