It was one of those special main events as the UFC Heavyweight title changed hands and former champion Cain Velasquez put a behind-the-wood-shed beating on the man who took away his title, Junior dos Santos. The two fights have gone much as I thought they would, just in a different order than I expected. I very much thought what occurred last night would be how the first match would have proceeded, and dos Santos would have come back in the second match motivated for revenge. But in either event the result is the same, two fights between the best two Heavyweights in the world right now, and both of them going down in very decisive fashion.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a rubber match in the making, and it should be a fantastic one. Do not count out dos Santos because of this performance. That would be as foolish as counting out Velasquez in their rematch. It should take at least a year for these two to circle back to each other. Velasquez will likely fight Fabricio Werdum and JDS will heal up and likely get that match with Alistair Overeem. Then I'd expect another title defense by Velasquez, and then for the UFC to start building up their third match.
Now for some other thoughts on the night:
- What really won the fight and set up that right hand in the first round that changed everything was the pace Velasquez set right away. He was relentless in his pursuit of takedowns early in the first round. And while it brought chuckles from the bar I was in when Velasquez failed again and again, dos Santos preparing to defend the takedown caused his hands to drop and his feet to flatten just enough for Velasquez to start punching.
- Dos Santos did not go quietly, and even though the beating he took in the first round clearly effected him for a full round afterwards, he never gave up. He showed the real heart of a champion and started to mount a more effective defense later in the fight. As his senses returned, we saw more effective counter-wrestling from dos Santos and even moments where he was able to land a few hard shots. But as it turns out Cain is not made of glass, as many seemed to think after the loss to dos Santos, that Velasquez would go down at the slightest touch. The later rounds showed me that dos Santos is very capable of plugging the holes and coming back to challenge Velasquez.
- This was certainly one of those nights were the main event saved the main card, because it was flat out ugly. The co-main event between Jim Miller and Joe Lauzon was a good scrap, but the sheer amount of blood pouring out of Lauzon's face reduced my enjoyment of the fight. And the fights before that were just terrible.
- Speaking of terrible, the judging was shockingly bad. And no, for the all the flack thrown his way, it was not Cecil Peoples turning in offending score cards. Judge Adalaide Byrd somehow watched Jamie Varner and Melvin Guillard and concluded that not only did Varner not win the fight, he didn't win a single round. And Mark Smith turned in scorecards in favor of Leonard Garcia and Brad Pickett, making a night of very odd score cards. The refereeing also had its moments as well, as ref Chris Tognoni was very quick to stand up Yushin Okami, even from side control. We've come a long way in recent years as what used to be robberies are now just becoming split decisions, but we've still got a ways to go.
- Jim Miller and Joe Lauzon had a war, and it was quite literally a bloodbath. Miller took the first two rounds with a very aggressive pace, not letting Lauzon rest on the feet and deftly countering Lauzon on the mat, using Lauzon's aggression as openings to take position. What really surprised me was that even with all the blood loss Lauzon was the fresher fighter in the third round. It ended up being one of the best fights of the night.
- Tim Boetsch had a very bad night. He got cut from a head butt, broke his hand, and got poked in the eye by Constantios Philippou. And even with all that it was Boetsch pushing the action for much of the fight. I don't want to say anything against Matt Hume, who is one of the best coaches in the game, but when your fighter comes back to the corner after the first round with his hand his broken and after the second he is complaining he can't see, maybe that's when you decide it isn't his night. I understand that there is a good deal of money at stake, as well as Boetsch's career arch, and that anything can happen in MMA, but the third round seemed like a foregone conclusion at that point and it might have been better for Boetsch to call it a night.
- Not much to say about the other two middleweight fights. Yushin Okami and Derek Brunson got solid, wrestling-based decisions. Chris Leben looked like a shot fighter and Alan Belcher yet again fell short when knocking on the door of title contention. And with those three fights on this card, the Middleweight division retains the title of least-thrilling division in the UFC.
- Eddie Wineland looked very good on his feet, clearly out boxing Brad Pickett. Wineland found a home for his right hand and it didn't seem Pickett had an answer, continuing to try to lead with body shots leaving himself open to hard counters.
- I did not get to see the Erik Perez and Byron Bloodworth fight because of difficulties faced due to my viewing situation, so I didn't get to see my gut pick on this card blow up in my face. BE reader Ak.Death called me out for not fully thinking the pick through and it appears he was correct, and I'll make it my BE New Year's resolution to not just go with gut picks on staff picks. A similar situation conspired to make me miss Moraga's choke of Cariaso.
- Jamie Varner and Melvin Guillard had the best fight of the night. The fight had everything: some great striking, great wrestling, and exciting grappling. Guillard had some great offense between hard leg kicks, an armbar attempt, and finished the fight in position to finish a leg scissors choke and armbar. Varner showed off some good boxing, wrestling, attempted a few chokes as well. That fight was certainly worth a two week wait.
- Myles Jury put a beating on Michael Johnson. Jury was able to take Johnson down and from there it was over. Johnson has zero game off his back, no hip mobility and had a perfect example of a "stand me up" guard. Jury showed off some great jiu jitsu and nice little details to help him set up ground-and-pound. Nice to see a fighter really working on improving position and setting up strikes on the ground.
- Max Holloway beat Leonard Garcia. It was close, but that third round was classic Garcia as he was very aggressive and threw lots of punches, but very little landed for him. Holloway was gassed, but still was more effective in that final round. Garcia did look good in the second, making use of both takedowns and a range-finding jab, which actually caused his windmilling to find its target more often than not. A good win for Holloway where we even got to to see him grapple, and it didn't look terrible, which is an improvement.