The shadow of Georges St. Pierre's return to the Octagon may have loomed large over Saturday night's undercard but the resultant lack of attention didn't make these fights any less important for the combatants involved. Join me as I attempt to shine the spotlight on the UFC's unsung heroes in this edition of Notes From the Undercard...
Snatching defeat, or at the very least disqualification, from the jaws of victory
Put yourself in Alessio Sakara's shoes for a second. Here the guy was heading into his bout with Patrick Cote trying to snap a two fight losing streak - and perhaps more importantly to keep from reaching the dreaded "three strikes and you're out" benchmark that has meant the end of many a UFC run - and he comes back from early adversity to rock Cote with a pair of beautifully vicious elbows against the cage. At that point victory must have felt so close he could almost hear Bruce Buffer announcing his name. Then after five or six overzealous hammerfists to the back of a downed Cote's head his world turned upside down and his efforts resulted in a loss via disqualification. That can't feel good.
In a way it's easy to feel for Sakara until you consider how much worse it must have felt to to be the guy on the receiving end of his hail of illegal blows. Cote was trying to recover and working on a single leg takedown when Sakara began playing a violent game of paper rock scissors with the back of his head and subsequently took the option of a comeback off the table. Some may say Cote was already out of the fight after the elbows, but how many times have we seen a fighter get rocked by a brutal shot only to later recover? The fact is, we'll never know if Sakara truly had "The Predator" beat fair and square or if the latter had a comeback in him because those illegal strikes irrevocably muddied the issue.
You can certainly make an argument the bout should have been ruled a no contest rather than a disqualification victory for Cote, and you can make an even better argument that referee Dan Miragliotta should have stepped in sooner to put a halt to the brutal game of Whac-A-Mole Sakara was playing on the back of Cote's skull. Sakara's manager Lex McMahon told MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani that he intends to appeal the decision but at the end of the day how much difference will it make? This is one of those unsatisfactory cases where nobody comes out a winner in the end. Cote certainly didn't want to have his first Octagon victory in over four years come like this and even if Sakara's camp is successful in getting the decision ruled a no-contest, Legionarius still won't get the winner's purse that looked to be within his grasp before the disqualification. The UFC is unlikely to cut him considering the controversial manner in which the loss occurred, so what's the point in protesting? Better to just focus your energy on moving forward if you're Sakara.
Luckily it sounds like the gears are in motion to have these two face off again. Both fighters deserve a chance to prove who the better man truly is when you take illegal shots out of the equation.
Ivan Menjivar shows how to take your fate in your own hands (and take your opponent's arm home with you in the process)
The first round of Ivan Menjivar vs. Azamat Gashimov looked to be yet another variation on a theme we've seen multiple times over: Fighter A lands a takedown, Fighter B works for submissions from the bottom to no avail, and Fighter A wins the round on the judges' scorecards because he spent the majority of the round in top position and landed some tepid ground and pound. Not this time. Menjivar flipped this all too familiar script along with his opponent's hapless body in a spectacular armbar from the bottom that looked like it broke Gashimov's arm before he had the chance to tap. It was yet another reminder of how quickly the complexion of a fight can change in this sport and how jiu jitsu at its best can be just as visceral and exciting as any knockout. If ever there was a sure fire submission of the night, this was the one.
Personally I hope this wasn't one and done for Gashimov. Anyone with the stones to adopt the unrepentantly bland nickname "Tough Guy" deserves at least one more chance to show what he's got in my book.
As for where the long-time veteran Menjivar goes from here, well, he'll probably continue on the same trajectory he's been on for awhile now: winning more than he loses against mid-level bantamweights but coming just a little shy of putting together a sustained title run. Even if he does spend the remainder of his career relegated to the undercard with an occasional main card slot on an FX or FUEL show, this win proved he's certainly got it in him to make a lot of glorious, violent memories along the way.
Digging your own grave the Chad Griggs way
Remember that Deadliest Warrior series on Spike? Did they ever have an episode pitting the Tasmanian Devil from the Looney Tunes cartoons versus a matador? If not, that's OK because Saturday's Chad Griggs vs. Cyrille Diabate contest went a long way towards showing the world how that match up would likely go down. Griggs came out of the gate like a pugilistic tornado but his attempt to turn the fight into an ugly brawl backfired in a big way. Dibate easily retreated from his amped up opponent's onslaught and, just like a matador stabbing a charging bull, caught Griggs with a left hand that dropped him and set up a rear naked choke victory (Diabate's fourth RNC in his past seven fights by the way).
In retrospect the wild bum rush might not have been the smartest strategy against a technical striker with thirteen years experience in the game, but what else was Griggs supposed to do? It's not like he was going to get the best of Diabate in a pure kickboxing match and the Grave Digger isn't exactly known for his well rounded ground game. Might as well just tuck your chin, charge in, swing for the fences, and hope for the best. Unfortunately if that's all you bring to the table you're probably not going to hang around at the UFC level for very long unless you're the recipient of some stylistically favorable matchmaking. Griggs has gone 0-2 inside the Octagon so far and it's beginning to look like he might not have the skills necessary to pay the bills in the big leagues. I'm not sure if his current UFC run is dead and buried yet, but he's certainly digging his own grave in the promotion by putting on performances like this.
How you can tell someone remains completely unrepentant after a marijuana suspension, pt. 1
I have to admit I laughed out loud when Matt Riddle - fresh of a ninety day suspension for marijuana - came out to Iron Butterfly's stoner classic "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." What, "Smoke on the Water" or Cheech and Chong's "Earache My Eye" weren't available? The action in this fight may not have been the most memorable thanks to the superior wrestler Riddle employing a tentative standup attack to avoid getting sucked into John Maguire's dangerous "gypsy jiu jitsu" game, but it was nevertheless a solid win for the perpetually smiling welterweight. Here's hoping "Deep Water" laid off the sticky icky long enough to pass his post fight screening this time around. State athletic commissions' - and by proxy the UFC's - rules concerning marijuana may be unfortunately draconian, but they are nevertheless rules every fighter implicitly agrees to when he or she decides to pursue a career in MMA. As for how Riddle might choose to unwind in his personal time? Hey it's not my thing, but more power to him. I'd much rather see fighters turn to weed to get through the grind of training than highly addictive and potentially lethal prescription pain killers.
Steven Siler and the question every prospective fighter needs to ask himself
Steven Siler came into this fight riding a 3-0 record inside the Octagon in professional competition - discounting his exhibition Ultimate Fighter loss to eventual tournament winner Diego Brandao - but his momentum came to a screeching halt thanks to Darren Elkins' superior wrestling. Elkins had his way with the outmatched Siler for the majority of the fight like an older brother toying with his hapless younger sibling and in the process highlighted a question anyone contemplating getting into mixed martial arts full time needs to spend some serious time thinking about: just how good is your wrestling? If the answer is "not great" or "just okay" then you had better make a second home for yourself on the mats until you shore up that hole in your game. Elkins' handling of Siler was a perfect example of how nine times out of ten you're going to lose the positional battle, and thus the fight, if you can't defend a takedown and don't know how to effectively get back to your feet. Luckily for Siler he's only 25 and has ample time to get his wrestling up to par. He's shown potential in the past so it would be a shame for his upward mobility to be forever hampered by his inability to keep the fight where he wants it when facing an accomplished wrestler.
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