Maybe I’m reading into things too much, but UFC 164 seemed to have an abnormal amount of compelling outcomes. Even though the UFC hype machine would have you think differently, not every card has fights that matter in the long term. Some might be for a number one contender spot, some are completely senseless and some are flat-out fun. How will history look back on UFC 164?
The Big 2-0
Gleison Tibau, congratulations on your twentieth career UFC appearance! You join the ranks of Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Frank Mir, BJ Penn and Georges St-Pierre. At just 30 years old, you’re the youngest to ever reach this milestone. Your reward? The main event slot...on the preliminary card.
Look: I’ve never tuned into a UFC show just to see Tibau. Neither have you. But twenty octagon appearances is rarified air and the company should always find a way to celebrate these workhorses and get them onto the main card. Melvin Guillard suffered the same ignominious fate and he’s actually been the last fight of the night before. Again, I’m not saying you need to put any effort into building it up, just quietly give him the opening slot and make sure your announcers mention it. Your average professional fighter might get five UFC appearances if he’s lucky. Twenty is a big deal. Let’s treat it that way.
Leaders of the New Generation
One reason Dustin Poirier and Erik Koch continue to benefit from positive hype despite their recent setbacks is that they’re so darn young and so darn good. If this were boxing, you’d never see these two fighters matched up this early in their careers. That’s the beauty of MMA: nobody is protected. If you want that number one spot, go get it.
In defeating Koch, Poirier separated himself further from the other young prospects at 145. He showed great resilience and maturity, escaping submissions and making sure to pace himself so that he could survive Koch’s comeback in the third round. It would have been easy for Poirier to gas himself out early on searching for a finish that might never come. He kept his wits about him and picked his shots wisely. It’s only a matter of time until he starts knocking off bigger names on his way to the top.
The End of an (V)Era
I had to do it.
Anyone who saw Brandon Vera’s early returns in the UFC would have been convinced that this was a superstar in the making. He was flashy and fun and he said all the right things. Most memorably, he boasted that he would win both the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles. This did not come to fruition. He did headline three non-PPV cards, which shows that the company had faith in his ability to draw an audience.
During his walkout for the Ben Rothwell fight, he looked lost and not at all enthusiastic about his return to heavyweight. On some level, it was an acknowledgment that his lofty goals were done for. He moved back up in weight because moving back up got him another fight.
The size difference between Vera and Big Ben was shocking. Vera still looked like he was fighting at 205. He showed flashes of his past brilliance, arguably winning the first two rounds with some deft movement and counter kicks. Then Ben turned it on, shuffling like LMFAO before putting Vera down for the count.
The sight of Vera crumpled down on the mat was disheartening and worse, all too familiar in the latter part of his career. In sixteen UFC appearances (including one no-contest), Vera did not even fight for the title, much less win one. That’s still a fine career and only disappointing when held up to the hype generated by the fans, the media and himself.
Making a Statement
Chad Mendes finds himself on the same path once travelled by former welterweight contender Jon Fitch. He is far and away the second best featherweight in the world, but he can’t seem to shake off the notion that a rematch with José Aldo would be as one-sided as their first encounter. So what is a guy to do?
How about become the first person to defeat Clay Guida via strikes? Guida inserted himself into the top ten of the division with a controversial split decision win against Hatsu Hioki. In forty three career fights, he had never been knocked out. Tyson Griffin, Diego Sanchez, Takanori Gomi, Anthony Pettis, Gray Maynard...these are just some of the names that tried to separate Guida from his consciousness and failed. Ten years after Guida’s first professional fight, Mendes blessed him with a new experience.
On top of that, nobody (the champ included) has won four straight fights in the UFC’s featherweight division via KO or TKO. If you’re looking for historical impact, Mendes delivered in spades. That rematch could still be a long time coming. When it comes, there won’t be a single person who can say Mendes isn’t ready for it.
Apparently, You Can Go Home Again
It was awkward seeing Josh Barnett, one of MMA’s most well-spoken and affable personalities, welcomed back with such open arms. During the post-fight conference, nobody even thought to mention why he had to forfeit the UFC heavyweight title all those years go.
Look, I don’t want to be a buzzkill, but this has to be setting some sort of precedent, doesn’t it? The UFC hasn’t been interested in doing business with Barnett until recently and it would be ridiculous to suggest it had nothing to do with his previous steroid use. I’m not sure what message it sends when you give him such a high profile spot on a fight card and then get right back to hyping him as a contender considering Dana White’s recent crusade against PEDs and TRT.
I’m a big Barnett fan and I’m more than happy to welcome him back. I’m also not the commissioner of the UFC. They better pray The Warmaster can stay clean, otherwise this will go down as another blemish on the sport’s tempestuous relationship with PEDs.
The lightweight title has proven difficult to defend; not surprising considering the depth of talent within the division over the last few years. Benson Henderson had been hanging on by a thread and many would argue that he failed to definitively protect his championship against both Frankie Edgar and Gilbert Melendez. You can only tread that thin line for so long before someone catches up to you. Many predicted it would be Anthony Pettis. I would never have predicted a first round submission.
For the UFC, this has to be considered a blessing. This is their best shot at turning the 155 pound title into a drawing belt again. As gifted as both Edgar and Henderson are, for some reason they failed to connect with the fans on a massive level. BJ Penn had a unique look and skillset and he knew how to sell a match. There was a big-time fight feel whenever he was in the spotlight. Pettis has the potential to live up to the "Showtime" moniker.Henderson had hoped to not only break Penn’s record of four straight lightweight title defences, but also to surpass Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre as one of the most dominant champions of all time. It had to be painful to have those plans derailed by Pettis, the second time he’d dropped a title to his rival. What was supposed to be a shot at redemption turned into a case of history repeating.