The limited availability of Fuel TV to fight fans, on a Wednesday night, featuring a card that flew low on the radar meant that not enough people were watching when the tectonic plates of the UFC subtly shifted. Several established names in the UFC are now pondering their futures, contender status changed zip codes, new talent shone, fighter teams displayed their pedigrees and the Middleweight division will never be the same.
Jon Anik and Ken Florian sounded a bit better tonight, and as I've stated before, practice can only improve their performance, as calling live action is a skill that has to be developed on the fly, so to speak. I think the overall sound quality of this production helped; you could actually distinguish the two voices, and you could hear them clearly over the noise in the octagon, a problem I noted from Guida vs Maynard, where it appeared that the ring had it's own microphone.
What really made the night memorable for me, though, was the ground game, or lack thereof, in nearly every fight. More after the jump.
Transitions are the newest evolution to the ever changing game of MMA. I've tried to sum up MMA before in terms of generations: the first generation, where single disciplines were matched up and found lacking; the second generation, where submission grappling gave way to the more cardio intensive American wrestling; the third generation, the Revenge of the Strikers, where good takedown defense and a looping overhand right reigned supreme; to the dawning age of the fourth generation, where the seamless integration of multiple disciplines is the new black. Fighters from this day forward are going to need transitions, period.
The ground game really took center stage with darkhorse Francis Carmont vs former LHW Karlos Vemola; Francis Carmont is a big middleweight at 6'-3" with a 78" reach, but if his size doesn't intimidate, seeing teammate Georges St. Pierre in his corner is not going to boost your confidence. Still, Vemola, fighting again in two months after a submission win over Massenzio, was game and the two put on a very exciting grappling clinic throughout the first round. I'll leave the breakdown to Coach Riordan, and never has the loss of gifs been felt more than after this card, because both the offense and the defense were fantastically displayed by both fighters.
What really struck me about this bout, though, were the endless daisy chains of offense-offense-defense-offense; both fighters remained calm throughout their furious ballet, changing mounts, grips and threats faster than even an experience wrestling commentator could call. Francis Carmont brought that inexplicable GSP wrestling prowess to bear on Vemola in the second round, though, slipping from crucifix to switch to guillotine so smoothly that Vemola missed the vital cue and got caught. If I could embed a gif, I'd show you how Carmont threatened to roll out from under Vemola and take his back by locking up Vemola's right arm and head and starting to roll to Carmont's left hip; Vemola responds by turning into Carmont, hoping for half guard, only to have Carmont slip his own right arm out from under Vemola's and cinching it up under Vemola's chin. By the time Vemola acknowledged this new threat, it was too late; Carmont had fully transitioned into the rear naked choke, and sunk the arm in deep.
Our next bout featured another fighter changing weight classes, as Aaron Simpson debuted at Welterweight against Kenny Robertson, filling in for the injured Jon Fitch. I was rooting for Kenny Robertson due to his close geographical proximity to me: hailing from East Peoria and having attended EIU, it's entirely possible Robertson and I have drank beer in several of the same establishments and I could someday bump into him at a local event. Bias acknowledged, I'd still like to cheer Robertson's skillful defense against a dominating and larger Aaron Simpson. Simpson not only brought experience to the cage, he brought his previously Middleweight size against the smaller Robertson and truly looked like he belonged at 170 lbs all along. In spite of his Division I wrestling pedigree, Simpson has had issues with his cardio at 185, which was clearly not the case as this fight goes the full fifteen minutes with the majority of it being contested on the mat.
Robertson may never have had Simpson in much trouble, but he definitely frustrated Aaron, who once fought Mark Munoz to a decision loss. Most impressive of Robertson was his defense of the leg triangle Simpson locked in late in the second round; Robertson remains calm in spite of the awkward position of having a man nearly sitting on his face, lifts his own right leg up and peels Simpsons left leg out of the triangle. Robertson goes on to threaten with a heel hook of some sort, keeping Simpson scrambling. I looked for Aaron to gas the third round, as Kenny had worked the body well in the first and kept Simpson engaged and working throughout all of the second, but Simpson showed the benefits of a smart weight cut and smothered Robertson for the unanimous decision. Still, this bout is worth watching again if we can get Coach Riordan to point out how Robertson kept his arm in on Simpson's leg to thwart many of Simpson's offensive attempts. I'm sticking by Robertson, filling in for Fitch against a much higher ranked opponent and showing that EIU can produce wrestlers, too.
James Te-Huna vs Joey Beltran was the opposite of the all the other fights put on this night, in spite of winning FOTN honors. For two 205 lb fighters, this fight was the slowest, sloppiest slugfest I've seen since Meathead struggled against Junk on TUF. First off, Joe Beltran debuts at LHW after having been cut from the UFC's relatively thin HW division. We've volleyed this notion of heavyweight fighters dropping down to 205 many times before here at BE, and I'm not trying to criticize Beltran for not seeing the wisdom so many posters have shown in their comments to those threads, but seriously, Joey looked like a fat Middleweight trying his luck at 205, not a FOTN winner from 240lbs. I don't know where Beltran's power came from at HW, but looking at his skinny arms and legs, it had to have been from sitting on his punches and letting his body weight do the talking. Te-Huna was obviously not worried, as Joey seemed to not be able to find range or hurt James with anything he did land with.
The real story of that bout though, was the obvious lack of any kind of ground game for either fighter. Exhaustion on Beltran's part could be blamed on the blows he absorbed along with the weight cut; Te-Huna, I suppose, lost a lot of energy by hammering on the anvil that is Beltran...but neither fighter looked like any kind of threat to any of the other top twenty LightHeavyweights in the UFC. If I were Stephan Bonnar, I wouldn't be talking retirement, I'd be asking to fight either one of these two stand-and-bang low cardio plodders. Stephan's ground game is underrated, Joe, and both Te-Huna and Beltran have shown all the other LHWs where the fight needs to go against them. I know Dana loves it when guys stand and trade, and anytime fighters show "heart" like future head trauma victim Joey Beltran Dana gets excited, but this was, in my opinion, the most disappointing and boring fight of the whole card. I kept waiting for Beltran to pull a Russow, but that's the difference between 205 and 240+.
Finally, we get to Chris Weidman against Mark Munoz. I'm not going to engage in the hyperbole war over this bout that Bonnar attempted against Sonnen; it was amazing to see Munoz completely dominated, but that does not make Weidman a contender ready for Anderson Silva, not just yet. Anderson Silva just defended his title, for one, so let's make another fight for Weidman, season him a little more. Judging from his previous layoffs, Silva won't be looking to climb back into the octagon again in 2012 anyway. I agree with most posters on this: let Weidman endure five rounds of Bisping darting in and out and peppering him with strikes before we declare he is ready to fight Anderson Silva. The Middleweight division just got interesting this night; let's not be in such a hurry to wipe out a whole list of fights we all want to see. Putting Weidman in against Silva so soon makes so many other match ups irrelevant, because let's face it, Chris is the best shot the world has against Silva. If Lombard lives up to the hype, let him fight Silva first, as that fight already has some buzz; he won't win, but he'll stay in the mix for Weidman later on.
Parting shots: if you're Jon Fitch, Chael Sonnen or any other familiar Middleweight thinking you might still have time left in the division, guess what: you don't. Francis Carmont and Chris Weidman just closed that window.