Cain Velasquez successfully defending his Heavyweight title for the first time at UFC 160. And he did so with relative ease, dispatching Antonio Silva in under two minutes with a tight and technical right cross. In the end the fight was just as noncompetitive as many had predicted it would be, and that is not a slight against "Bigfoot" Silva. He is a very good Heavyweight, in a division that across MMA has been improving the last 5 years or so in terms of athleticism and skill. Velasquez is just on a different level. There is a clear delineation between Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, and the growing number of good Heavyweights.
Both Velasquez and dos Santos have torn through the division, between their combined 20 fights in the Octagon that have not come against each other they have never lost a round, much less a fight. Both are athletically a cut above their competition and also ahead in terms of skill, Velasquez being the best wrestler in the division and dos Santos the best offensive striker.
The UFC is now on the verge of something it hasn't had since 2006, when Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture fought at UFC 57, a trilogy of title fights. It is a true, competitive rivalry at the top of a division between two men battling to become known as the best Heavyweight in UFC history. And considering that both are still rather young the winner of their rubber match could go on to surpass Fedor Emelianenko for the best MMA Heavyweight of all-time. It is a pleasure to watch unfold because this rivalry hasn't needed any trash talk or bad blood, just two skilled athletes who want the same thing.
On to the other thoughts:
- It wouldn't shock me if, despite Dana White's comments that Velasquez vs dos Santos III makes sense right now, if they UFC puts off their third match for one more fight. That next meeting between them is going to be one of those legitimate special sports moments and it could be made bigger by making fans wait for it a bit longer. Giving the Champion the winner of Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and giving dos Santos the winner of Alistair Overeem and Travis Browne seems to be a fairly low risk way to get one more fight in for each fighter.
- Mark Hunt was game in his fight but Junior dos Santos was just bigger, faster, stronger, younger, and better. The spinning hook kick, while not as picture perfect as Vitor Belfort's, was that much more surprising coming from dos Santos, who isn't really known as a kicker. While the technique that ended the fight was unexpected, the outcome was not. Even the Hunt who won the K-1 Grand Prix in 2001 would have been at an athletic disadvantage to dos Santos, and now that Hunt is pushing 40 he never really had a chance.
- Glover Teixeira got a good win with his submission of James Te Huna, but the relative lack of name value will limit the amount of benefit Teixeira will get out of it. The clock is ticking on Teixeira as he already 33 and has over 20 fights in his career. His win over Rampage Jackson didn't vault him into contendership quite the way it was hoped and this win isn't getting him any title shots either. Teixeira needs to get a big name fighter in his next match who is still relevant in the division if he wants a crack at UFC gold.
- T.J. Grant continues his march through Lightweight and he made quick work of Gray Maynard. It was a very impressive fight as many thought, including myself, that Maynard would prove to represent more than a speed bump on Grant's path through the division and we were wrong. Grant looks to be a monster at Lightweight and the title shot, which Dana White confirmed at the press conference, is well deserved. He very well could be the man to unseat Benson Henderson.
- There is some fair debate over if Mike Tyson got things right when he vetoed Knockout the Night going to dos Santos and got it awarded to T.J. Grant. In the grand scheme he may have gotten it right as Grant's technique was a little cleaner, dos Santos and Hunt got the Fight of the Night bonus, and Grant probably needs the money more anyway. And really, do you want to debate knockouts with Mike Tyson?
- Referee Chris Tognoni gave Gray Maynard plenty of chances to get back in the fight, too many actually. Maynard likely won't suffer life altering damage from this fight, but still he took some unnecessary damage at the end of that fight.
- Donald Cerrone and K.J. Noons had a scrap. Noons was very game and Cerrone continues to vulnerable to fighters with good hands. The takedowns of Cerrone and the relative lack of grappling from Noons settled the fight. It was a fun fight, but not a lot to take away because neither fighter really showed anything new.
- The Mike Pyle split decision was a victory for MMA judging. He took a beating from Rick Story in the first round and clearly lost that round. But in the second round he showed off dynamic guard skills, sweeping, threatening submissions, and forcing Story to shell up while inside the guard. Then the third round was clearly Pyle's. And while it was certainly a close fight, MMA judges actually appreciated guard play and gave a round to the fighter who was actually getting the better of exchanges and not just the guy on top. Some argue the fight should have been scored a draw, citing that Story's offense in the first round warranted a 10-8 and I don't take issue with that, but I'll take the baby step of judges no blindly awarding a round to a fighter for simply being on top.
- Max Holloway put on a hell of a fight, and while Dennis Bermudez got the split decision, Holloway was impressive. This is the balance to the judges scoring the second round of Pyle/Story correctly as Holloway should have been the one getting his had raised. While Bermudez isn't a world beater this is the first fight I've seen from Holloway that really makes me think he deserves the title of "Prospect" and he showed real improvement from past performances.
- Khabib Nurmagomedov missing weight and then not even trying to finish the cut is a bit of a mystery still, but boy was he impressive in the cage. Javier Vazquez spoke about this on the Sherdog Rewind last Sunday,but MMA originally was about contraction. In the 90's fighters latched onto the basic fundamentals that worked in MMA and discarded what didn't immediately work for them. Now many fighters have very similar skill sets and MMA is experiencing a period of expansion. Now fighters have a better understanding of how MMA is fought and they can use techniques previously thought useless in MMA. In this fight, a pattern continued as Nurmagomedov, who learned his takedown skills while wearing a gi top in Sambo, was consistently able to throw Abel Trujillo around. In the past wrestlers have dominated Judo and Sambo fighters with their single and double leg shots, but now fighters are so adapt at stopping those the clinch takedown game is becomin increasing important. And the trips, blocks and sweeps of Sambo and Judo are showing their effectiveness more and more as wrestlers seem unprepared for them. Up-right clinches, where those kind of techniques work the best, rarely happen in Freestyle wrestling because of the posture in that sport, and are illegal in Greco-Roman wrestling.
- Hats off to Mario Yamasaki for not rewarding Trujillo's sad puppy dog eye's defense. Nurmagomedov was dominating Trujillo in the clinch, and the former wrestler's only response was to wave his hands in frustration and look over a Yamasaki to break them apart. This sort of behavior should not be rewarded by referees and it was not in this case. Trujillo can head back to the gym and work on his rear waist lock escapes and not rely on the ref to save him from bad positions.
- Stephen Thompson didn't look terrible, but he didn't look great either. He out struck Nah-Shon Burrell and out clinched him, but he slowed down a great deal at the end of that fight. Not sure he'll be successful against more well-rounded fighters at Welterweight, but he still appears to be a good athlete, so he may be able to improve.
- Don't look now, but George Roop is 2-0 at Bantamweight, with a win over a former WEC Champion now. Roop isn't a perfect fighter, he is still very hittable and isn't very quick. But he is long for the division and technical on the feet, and he is gonna be able to win fights
- Brian Bowles didn't have a great night, but it also wasn't the end of his career. He clearly demonstrated he still has power in his right hand, and that he can land that punch. Going for that front head lock choke when he had Roop hurt was likely a mistake, and Bowles slowed down a great deal in the second round but considering his 18 month layoff I'm inclined to give Bowles a mulligan. Expect Bowles to bounce back from this one.
- Most times when guys cut down a weigthclass after a losing streaking things don't go their way, but Jeremy Stephens made an impressive Featherweight debut, beating the tar out of Estevan Payan. Impressive showing for Stephens let's see what he can do with it moving forward.