"You're playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can't move... you can't breathe... because you're in over your head. Like quicksand." - Shane Falco, The Replacements
The thrilling performances we saw at UFC on Fox 3 on Saturday night were some of the best we have had yet in MMA this year and they were followed up by a very good match between Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto too. Nate Diaz turned in a star-making performance. Lavar Johnson, Louis Gaudinot and Roland Delorme had amazing comebacks for their wins. Alan Belcher metaphorically went into the lair of the beast and slew it there and then to shock us all.
However, most of these MMA fireworks were launched by the other fighter doing something incredibly dumb. This should not dim the acclaim or temper the enthusiasm, as that is the nature of the sport, but looking at a list of the things that went wrong should tell you that the Izod Center on Saturday night featured an unusual amount of brain-farts.
None of these fighters we saw that night are anything less than intelligent, highly trained combat sports athletes who have dedicated a considerable portion of their lives to this sport. However, that does not immunize them from making mistakes and mistakes in the highest levels of any sport will see your spirit broken and a big fat L on your record.
A number of fighters from that card would likely and actually did tell us that they went away from the gameplan or somehow did several things they shouldn't have all at once for inexplicable reasons. Much like the immortal quote delivered to us above by Keanu Reeves, one thing after another went wrong in an uncontrollable slide and the victors seized upon their chances to shove their struggling opponents beneath the allegorical quicksand and get the finish.
The man in the above photo, John Lineker, never got the chance to slowly fumble away victory. He leaned his head out a bit too far in the second round that he was winning and Louis Gaudinot put him to sleep. Lineker charged forwards into the trap - unawares until it was too late. For others on the card, their demises were slower and more cruel in their arrivals.
After the jump, more detailed talk about the mistakes that allowed the brilliant performances and comebacks of the UFC on Fox 3 card.
The card started off oddly with Mike Massenzio, a champion folkstyle wrestler and Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt, tapping to a no-hooks-in rear naked choke to Karlos Vemola - not someone renowned for his submission grappling skills. Massenzio won the first round readily, but in the second failed to sprawl hard enough to deny Vemola a takedown. Massenzio compounded his error by allowing Vemola swift passage to a hookless back control. Two mistakes landed him in a position so bad he had to tap out. Hooks aren't necessary for rear naked chokes to work, but it remains unusual for a black belt of Massenzio's experience and abilities to be caught in such a choke. Massenzio's experience with the swiftness and instability of quicksand was a harbinger for the night.
Nick Denis nearly had Roland Delorme finished. The referee Keith Peterson was thisclose to stopping the fight at one point. A decision to stand back up started the slide into quicksand. A pair of lefts sandwiched around an inside leg kick stunned Denis and a trip takedown for Delorme panicked Denis to the point where he gave up his back. Denis ended up tapping to a rear naked choke with one second left in the round. One second separated him from surviving the round he once was winning so handily. One second was too much time for him to muster enough energy flounder back to the surface of the quicksand.
Roland Delorme gets the RNC on Nick Denis. Photo by Esther Lin.
The night's biggest reversal belongs to Pat Barry. He started off well, but quickly made mistakes in the clinch around the first minute of the fight. Those mistakes allowed Lavar Johnson to deliver several solid knees to the exposed head of Barry and crack a mighty elbow or two as follow-up. Barry was knee deep in the quicksand here and he knew it.
As befitting an experienced fighter, Barry took those strikes with a fair amount of poise and drove forwards for a takedown. This was a surprisingly smart move, as Barry may still be a white belt or a neophyte wrestler, but he is still better than Lavar Johnson in terms of their respective ground games. While on the canvas, Barry stayed persistent and achieved a dominant side control position. Barry had actually switched out of mount for the opportunities to use the short elbows/punches, submissions and the ability to drain his opponent's gas tank that side control offers. Barry even had some success with a keylock attempt that was well conceived of, but not executed with the best skill possible. That keylock was still deep and Lavar got out of that with a wish, a prayer and a great big heaping of brute strength.
Barry works for crucifix control after letting go of the americana attempt. Photo by Esther Lin.
The decisive boneheaded moment came when Barry decided to allow the muscling-up Johnson to return to his feet. Barry made the same mistakes in the dirty boxing/clinch range he'd made a couple minutes prior and Johnson used that opportunity to bring Barry's head into contact with his upwardly flying knee. A solid connect with a knee to the chin off a head kick attempt by Johnson further stunned Barry and the quicksand was waist high.
Johnson backs Barry against the cage with his fearsome punches. Photo by Esther Lin.
Barry tried to weather the strikes once more and somehow found the space to fire off a last ditch counter. Unfortunately, poor decision making is only made worse by match fatigue and the accumulation of heavy strikes. All three combined to make Barry fire off a very badly telegraphed and easily blocked left head kick that had no business being thrown at that time and spacing. Johnson barely stopped to defend it and got right back into shoving Barry deep down into the quicksand of unintelligent defense.
Rousimar Palhares is perhaps the most notorious submission grappler on this planet who has not won a world title or ADCC gold. He built his fame on his incredible ability to wrench limbs in ways they were not designed for and most knowledgeable MMA fans expected to see him do the same to Alan Belcher. What we got was perhaps the finest display of leglock defense ever put on inside the octagon and Belcher's hand raised in victory.
Palhares gets a rather good leglock set-up ready to go, as Belcher defends. Photo by Esther Lin.
Far be it from me to take away from Belcher's victory, but he doesn't win like that if Palhares doesn't roar like a leg-biting lion for three minutes of a fight and then sit meekly in the guard like a sacrificial lamb. A very nice single leg attempt instantly went wrong for Palhares and Belcher worked the visually pleasing wrestling guillotine/Twister. Palhares did stay calm and worked his way out to launch his own grappling-based attacks. Heel hook attempt after heel hook attempt resulted at a frantic pace and Belcher was both fortunate and incredibly well prepared in stopping each attack just before the moment of no return. Palhares was out of the quicksand and dancing on the edges as Belcher started teetering into the pit instead.
And then "it" happened. Rousimar Palhares just... stopped.
Palhares has had several high profile boneheaded moments and this one ended up being his most costly since the Nate Marquardt loss. After getting to an open guard position, Palhares stopped attacking. He made some attempts at wrist control, but seemed to either lose focus or experience a severe adrenaline crash. A very sloppy armbar attempt went nowhere and Rousimar did little with his feet on Belcher's hips. Belcher kept his excellent base intact and sank punches and elbows into Palhares's face until referee Dan Miragliotta stopped the fight with slightly over forty seconds to go in the first round. Palhares was out, only to inexplicably slide back under the quicksand.
Jim Miller is a terrific human being and has shown his skills and mettle time and again in the cage. Unfortunately, he made several mistakes early on and never really got going, while his opponent, Nate Diaz, got better and better until his star was almost blindingly incandescent.
Nate lands a knee in the clinch. Photo by Esther Lin.
Nate dominated in the clinch. He won the hand fighting battle and achieved the Thai plum or head control several times to deliver some very nice knees to the head and midsection. Jim seemed like he was trying to remember his coaching and steadily work his way out of the burgeoning disaster - which is perhaps not the best thing to do when facing the onslaught of Stockton Slaps that either Diaz brother puts out. Despite a near-back take on the ground, Miller was unable to really put Nate in trouble or put him on the ground in the right positions. Nate won the striking battle too, often landing from range as Miller was caught flat-footed several times.
Nate gets the rear left hand straight from the outside as Jim is a beat late defending.
Photo by Esther Lin
By the time Nate seized upon the guillotine, Jim was already beaten and lost to the quicksand. The submission was a thing of beauty, with Nate constantly re-adjusting to cinch it tighter and tighter, and Joe Rogan's pointing out of Miller's bloody tongue sticking out made it even more clear that this was an absolute demolition of a very highly regarded lightweight that we were watching. Nate put on a brilliant performance - but Jim also put forth a terrible one.
I have zero doubts that these fighters demolish the lion's share of their training partners in the clinch, on the ground or standing. Barry might get squashed by Cole Konrad and Cro Cop in grappling matches, but he was obviously better than Johnson that night on the ground. Miller has used his angles of attack and defense far better in the past. Palhares has kept his motor going far longer before.
To put it short, Jim Miller and Pat Barry absolutely can fight much better than they did that night - but they didn't. Rousimar Palhares didn't either. John Lineker, Mike Massenzio and Nick Denis, too. The quicksand of bad decisions and poorly timed actions got them all.
Fortunately, none of them are actually dead or trapped at the bottom of a liquid dirt pit. They can train out the mistakes and rejuvenate their desires to climb to the top of the MMA scrapheap. Hopefully, all of them get the chance to prove their mettle once more on MMA's brightest stage. From top to bottom, UFC on Fox 3 was one of the best fight cards of the year and each fighter there on that Cinco de Mayo deserves to be in the UFC and showing us what they can do.