UFC on Fuel 2 ended a major UFC dry spell and MMA fans everywhere have quenched their thirst for Octagon action.
This most recent trip to Europe seemed to have finally yielded the second foothold in Europe Zuffa has been seeking. Sweden seems to be an ideal landing pad for the UFC, with a growing middle class and healthy economy creating an entertainment demand that the current sports culture there cannot fill. In addition, they have a combat sports scene that is strong but isn't so strong that it will resist the infusion of MMA, as the boxing community did in Germany. Northern Europe has been a fertile ground for MMA and Sweden could become a hub for UFC presence in the area. And with a healthy number of Nordic fighters already in the upper levels of MMA, it seems like Sweden is set to be a new nexus of European UFC action.
Also I need to mention how awesome the Swedish Athletic Commission was on Saturday. The referees, beyond one awful standup, were quite good. The judges also were excellent and seemed to get every decision correct, a few eyebrow raising scorecards aside. I just mention this because of the notable absence of the normal one or two horrendous moments normally caused by American Athletic Commissions on most major MMA cards. It was a nice change of pace and good sign for MMA's possible growth in Sweden.
Lets get to the action that took place this weekend:
more after the jump...
- Alexander Gustafsson looked awesome. Thaigo Silva is a tough fight, no matter how you approach him and Gustafsson handled him over three rounds. Gustafsson's movement looked excellent, as he danced circles around Silva for much of the fight. His hands also looked very improved, he was firing snapping, quick punches that made maximum use of his reach advantage over Silva. It was an impressive performance that certainly launches Gustafsson into the upper ranks of the Light Heavyweight division.
- There should be no complaints about this fight not having a finish, this was just the kind of fight Gustafsson needed to have. Now seven fights into his UFC career, he is really coming into his own as a fighter and it is getting very exciting to watch him. Now Gustafsson's developmental path has been up a fairly gentle slope when compared to the steep jumps in competition taken by Jon Jones in his path to the title. As the sport continues to expand, the path of prospects will likely begin to resemble more of what Gustafsson has done and the Jon Jones experience will become increasingly rare. In boxing prospects often are given fights to build up "ring time" and MMA journalists, like Sherdog's Jordan Breen, are already pushing the idea of getting prospects "cage time". Gustafsson's fight against Silva is the perfect example of this concept of getting a prospect quality cage time. He worked a wide range of techniques from a variety of kicks and an awesome foot-sweep trip against Silva. But Gustafsson also made mistakes, getting hit hard at times and having to fight his way out of minor trouble. All together performance like that against a fighter of the caliber of Thiago Silva is a a fight that will benefit Gustafsson's career and foster future growth much more than a first round knock out.
- That said, it is not time to rush Gustafsson into a title shot. Allow him another fight or two before putting him into the #1 contender shot. I'm not the guy to play match maker but a fight where Gustafsson needs to use his ground game would be best. Either a striker like Lyoto Machida or Mauricio "Shogun" Rua who could use their striking to make Gustafsson get aggressive for takedowns or a big, powerful wrestler like Ryan Bader who could possibly put Gustafsson on his back.
- Brian Stann notched another middleweight win with his highlight reel knockout of Alessio Sakara. While a fun fight and good bounce back win for Stann after the man-handling Chael Sonnen put on him, this fight doesn't seem to accomplish much for Stann. We all know he hits hard, we all know he is strong in the clinch and we all know what a classy guy he is, so what did we learn from this fight? Stann is certainly a deserving UFC Middleweight and win is never a bad thing in the UFC, but this does not move Stann's stock up much, if at all.
- I thought Siyar Bahadurzada had killed Paulo Thiago. Seriously, that was one hell of a knock out. We all knew Siyar could bang, but Thiago had never been finished before and Siyar dropped him like a bad habit.
- Ok, enough gushing about that punch, lets take a real look at that fight for Siyar. While impressive, a fight that quick often leaves more questions than answers. We still have no idea how his ground game has improved since his 2008 submission losses to Jorge Santiago and Kazuo Misaki. We don't know how his cardio looks as Siyar has only gone three rounds once in his career. So while impressive, this win does not give us any sort real measurement of Siyar as a fighter. He is going to need another test from the UFC to gauge where he stands in the division and I'm betting the next time around he gets a wrestler.
- Dennis Siver's featherweight debut was causing some hand wringing after the weigh-ins, in which Siver looked very drawn out. As it turned out Siver looked pretty good and actually seemed to get stronger as the fight went on. Don't think Siver is going to take Aldo's title away from him but he is certainly looking like an interesting featherweight.
- John Maguaire and DeMarques Johnson's match fantastically fun to watch. It was back and forth, but Johnson made the first major mistake. I'm not a big fan of the kimura from the bottom of half guard, it requires a lot of strength and if it doesn't work you can get yourself in trouble. As Johnson found out the hard way when he lost control of the half-guard and got the Matt Hughes on Georges St. Pierre spinning armbar.
- Brad Pickett was dominant, truly dominant. He won every phase of that fight with Damacio Page, and did basically what ever he wanted. There is no shame getting beat up a little by Renan Pegado, and Pickett has bounced back like a true warrior. Pickett's striking is really coming along, keep in mind his "One Punch" nickname was originally a misinformation move as he was straight submission guy in his early career, but Pickett has developed some nice punching power of late.
- I know Papy Abedi was ranked as BE's #1 Middleweight Prospect a year ago, but after that rather sad showing against James Head I'm revoking his prospect status. Abedi will likely hang around in the UFC, but until he develops a real ground game and shores up his striking he will just be filler on European cards.
- Eduardo Dantas really looked like another elite Novia Uniao product. He was just plain awesome, on the feet and on the mat. His jiu jitsu game was a treat to watch, both his guard and his passing game. And a great arm-triangle to finish the fight to boot. I don't claim to know every arm-triangle escape, or even most of them, but the timing of Zach Makovsky's escape seemed to be very off and he just assisted in choking himself out. That all said, I'd like to see more of Dantas moving forward, grappling against guys his size as he was much larger and stronger than Makovsky, who looked like a prime candidate for a Bellator Flyweight division.
- Marcos Galvao and Ed West was my fight of the night for Bellator 65, as it had a very high pace and tons of action. Galvao another Nova Uniao fighter awesome fight, had some truly sublime guard passes and very active side control, throwing knees and strikes instead of just controlling. Very fun match, looking forward to seeing Galvao moving forward.
- Daniel Straus had a good showing in his fight, fought with a much more urgent, aggressive pace and had some real success striking. Mike Corey really didn't seem to have an answer for that straight left but Straus kept clinching instead of staying at range. Old habits I suppose.
- One Ultimate Fighter thought, now that the FX and TUF Live shine has worn off, it is just TUF again. The show is falling back into the old rhythm of drama, prank, training, coach trash talk and then mildly entertaining fight. Not saying it is terrible, it just isn't that different from past seasons.