Heading into UFC 164 it seemed impossible that Anthony Pettis would be able to surprise MMA fans after his Showtime Kick helped him wrest away Ben Henderson's WEC Lightweight title. But Pettis' career has been one surprise after another and he was able to yet again pull a rabbit out of the hat for UFC fans last night.
His armbar of Ben Henderson was masterful. Submissions from the guard in major title fights are so rare in the history of MMA and to see one performed on Ben Henderson, who has historically very difficult to submit, and for it to be an armbar, one of the hardest submissions to lock up from the guard in a no gi environment all made for a very special passing of the title.
Henderson defended the armbar very well, attempting to stack and get his elbow out, subtly turning the wrist, all the things expected of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and Pettis countered them just as well. Pettis proved himself to be one of the elite guard players in MMA with the speed and precision of that submission. And that fact that he did it with an injured knee makes it all that much more impressive.
On to the the other thoughts from tonight:
- Ben Henderson took the loss in stride, giving all the credit due to Pettis and even giving a breakdown of the armbar that caught him. While some fans are annoyed by Henderson's "in your face" take on religion, it is nearly impossible not to like Henderson personally as he responds so well to a setback like this.
- Lightweight becomes very interesting as the floodgates are thrown open and Pettis starts his reign as champion. T.J. Grant, Gilbert Melendez, Josh Thomson, and Rafael dos Anjos all make for interesting matches up and that doesn't even mention a sure-to-be resurgent Ben Henderson.
- Josh Barnett took a page out of Shane Carwin and Daniel Cormier's play book. Mir is a competent boxer at range but he can be put against the cage. And there, a fighter can put serious strikes on Mir. That is just what Barnett did and he showed far more urgency in his striking game and the results were impressive.
- The stoppage was a little early in that Mir seemed to be out but I would have liked to see how he responded to some follow-up strikes as he seemed to regain his wits quickly. But Mir went down like a sack of meat and considering his history of going out when hit hard, it is hard to fault Rob Hinds on his split-second call to stop the fight.
- Again the impact of Duane Ludwig as the head coach of Team Alpha Male was felt, this time by Clay Guida. On the feet Chad Mendes looked very comfortable against the Tae Bo style attack from Guida, which landed next to no actual offense for two rounds. In the corner before the start of the third round Ludwig called for the right cross counter and just moments into the round, Mendes landed the right cross perfectly and then finished the fight with a nasty right hook that just blasted aside Guida's guard.
- Ben Rothwell and Brandon Vera was a bit of a clunker. Vera was landing clean strikes in the center of the cage. But once Rothwell backed him against the cage he would begin to land on Vera, he would willingly enter into the clinch for no visible reason. In the third Rothwell seemed to fire himself up and then unleashed when he had Vera trapped on the cage instead of clinching, and the result was spectacular.
- Erik Koch and Dustin Poirier turned in what very well could be the round of the year as both fighters had two near-finishes - Poirier dropped Koch with punches and then nearly got finished by two very tight triangle chokes. Poirier set the tone early with heavy punches though and it was all downhill for Koch, as he was soundly out-struck. Poirier threw heavy right hooks on breaks from the clinch and twice it hurt Koch badly.
- Koch seemed to snap back in the fight when he had the back of Poirier and it looked a bit like he was setting up an armbar. But Koch gave up on it and just locked in the body triangle. I was not a fan of that move as time was ticking down, he was clearly down on the cards and the options from the body triangle back control are very limited. In that situation it might have been a better idea to attack an arm, and even if Poirier escapes he can work a chain attack and stand a better chance of winning than waiting out the round on the back with only one choke to attack for.
- Jamie Varner put a spirited effort but fell victim to the classic Gleison Tibau fight. Tibau was winging punches, clinched, went for a slam, advanced position on the ground, and then tried to squeeze Varner's head off in choke attempts. It lasted about two rounds and then Varner mounted a come back with boxing, but it was too little, too late.
- Tim Elliott was very impressive in his match with Louis Gaudinot. Elliott used his reach on the feet very well and on the ground he was constantly working and striking. Gaudinot was ground down by the pace and Elliott struck very well in transition, which is always a good sign for a up-and-coming fighter.
- Kyung Ho Kang put up a hell of a fight against Chico Camus and likely should have gotten the win. Regardless of the ruling or outcome, this is a reminder that South Korea is quickly getting better at MMA. And Hyun Gyu Lim's win over Pascal Krauss is a perfect example that Korea is producing well-rounded and dangerous fighters.
- Soa Palelei and Nikita Krylov was hysterically bad. It was a laugher of the first order.
- Al Iaquinta put a progressively brutal beating on Ryan Couture as the fight went on. Hard to recall that Iaquinta was for a while one of the better prospects out of the Serra-Longo Fight Team and he looked very convincing as he beat the tar out of Couture for three rounds.
- Magnus Cedenblad got the night off to a great start with a wonderful mounted guillotine finish of Jared Hamman. A nice display of how a technique has evolved in its application in MMA. For the longest time the guillotine was a strength move by guys, but slowly we've seen the evolution used in sport grappling move over to MMA. The mount guillotine for the longest time was only used by highly technical headlockers like Jake Shields or Urijah Faber, but now it is become more and more common, to the point of seeing it twice in one week on undercards of UFC events.