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UFC 117 Musings

UFC 117 is in the books and it was one of the best cards of 2010. But where do the warriors who competed in Oakland Saturday night stand today? Read on for Michael DiSanto's Post-UFC 117 musings...
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Chael Sonnen handed the best fighter in the world a good ol’ fashioned beating on Saturday night.  The only reward for his effort, though, was an extra $60,000 in his bank for Fight of the Night and the prospects of a possible rematch.

Despite completely dominating Anderson Silva for the first 23 minutes of action, Sonnen came up short in his first try for UFC gold.  It was a heartbreaking end for the gritty challenger and a vivid illustration why Silva is considered by most as the absolute best in the sport, pound-for-pound.  

The champion indicated during the post-fight presser that he would be happy to fight whomever UFC President Dana White prefers in his next bout, even if that means an immediate rematch with the only man to threaten his UFC reign.  To be honest, if I was Ed Soares, Silva’s manager, I’m not sure I’d want any part of a rematch because I think another dance between those two will unfold pretty much the same way, with the lone exception of Silva snatching victory from the bowels of defeat with a lightning-in-the-bottle triangle choke.

Then again, truly great champions find a way to win, no matter the circumstances.  And that is precisely what Silva did in Oakland, California.

Now, on the other side of the equation, if I was White, I’d be tempted to grant Sonnen his wish for an immediate rematch. But, alas, a bout with Belfort is the one that fans really crave, in my opinion.  Silva-Belfort is very likely to challenge for the Knockout of the Year award, with both men having similar odds of winning by spectacular stoppage.  I see Belfort as the only middleweight in the world who possibly holds a striking edge over Silva, and he definitely has a comfortable advantage in terms of one-strike explosive power.  If I were in White’s shoes, that is the fight that I would make for later this year.

In the interim, the fans can revel in the aftershock of the most exciting fight of Silva’s spectacular career.  It certainly was a breathtaking end to a fantastic main event.

FITCH CONTINUES GRINDING OUT OPPONENTS

Jon Fitch knew that in order to beat Thiago Alves, he needed to basically become a barnacle and attach himself to his foe for three full rounds in an attempt to win a three-round decision.  He did just that on Saturday night, taking down the Brazilian Muay Thai expert in each of the three rounds en route to a clean sweep on the judges’ cards.

The fight wasn’t the resounding statement that Fitch hoped to make in search of a second title fight against 170-lb kingpin Georges St-Pierre.  But a win is a win.  Workmanlike, methodical, whatever; it was a win.  And it was good enough to earn him “next in line” status behind teammate Josh Koscheck in the GSP sweepstakes.

For Fitch, a second shot at the title is a well deserved honor.  It is undeniable that the American Kickboxing Academy pupil is one of the toughest tests in the sport, across all divisions.  The guy has lost but a single time in over seven years.  During that stretch, he has competed 22 times.  Yes, that is right.  Fitch is 21-1 in his last 22 fights.  GSP can’t match that run.  Neither can Kos, Jake Shields, Mike Swick, Dan Hardy, or any other welterweight in the UFC.

Thus, Fitch deserves to “run it back” with GSP.  The problem, of course, is that GSP is busy dealing with Kos between now and December.  With the customary 90 to 120 days between fights, it seems as if March would be the earliest that the champion would be ready for a rematch.  That means, at a minimum, Fitch would set a new personal best in terms of days between UFC bouts.  

I’m not sure that is the best approach for the former Purdue University wrestler. He prefers regular competition so that he can remain sharp.  I think that a December fight, possibly on the undercard of GSP-Koscheck would be the perfect way to stay sharp until GSP is ready.  I’d like to see him square off with the rejuvenated Matt Hughes.  That is a matchup that may finally help Fitch pop the lid off of his vastly improved standup game, which is the one area he needs to gain more confidence in if he is going to defeat GSP, but Hughes is expected to take off the rest of 2010.

Of course, if Kos wins, then the situation gets much more dicey, since Fitch and Kos are teammates at AKA, but we’ll examine that situation if and/or when it happens.

IS MIDDLEWEIGHT THE ANSWER FOR ALVES?

Alves missed weight by a mere eight ounces on Friday afternoon.  Under the California Athletic Commission rules, he had two hours to attempt to shed just a bit more water.  Instead, he chose to accept a fine equal to 20 percent of his fight purse.

My email box was flooded on Friday night with questions why Alves would opt to pay such a hefty fine, rather than cutting a half of a pound.  I haven’t spoken with Alves, but it is pretty clear that when a fighter refuses to continue cutting weight, that means he has hit an insurmountable weight cutting wall, whether mentally or physically.  If the former, any more time on the treadmill or in the sauna risks breaking the fighter mentally.  If the latter, the inability to generate any additional sweat means that more time on the treadmill or in the sauna will have deleterious affects on his performance.  

Either way, Alves wasn’t in a good situation.

This is the second time in his last four fights that Alves has missed weight.  There is no getting around the fact that Alves is an extremely muscular welterweight, arguably carrying the most additional muscle mass of anyone in the division.  

I’m not sure that the added muscularity benefits him in any way.  There is a major difference between functional strength and big, full muscles.  The former doesn’t always require the latter, and the latter doesn’t necessarily translate to the former.

Confusing.  I know.  Just read that sentence a dozen or so times and it will make sense.  I digress.

White stated during the post-fight presser that he prefers for Alves to move up to middleweight. But standing only 5’9, Alves is already average or slightly below average for a welterweight in terms of height.  He would be a downright short middleweight, which would cause all kinds of problems against taller strikers like Silva, Belfort, and Marquardt, each of whom meet or exceed the six-foot barrier.

I’d rather see Alves refocus his weight room time to pure strength training exercises.  If he already focuses solely on movements designed to add strength without increasing mass, then I would dramatically cut down the time he spends moving iron.  If there is one thing that MMA can learn from boxing’s hundred-year history it is that weight room strength and punching power are not related.

If he sheds a bit of muscle – we’re only talking about a couple of extra pounds of lean mass – then I think his weight cutting follies would largely be a thing of the past and he would return to the unbelievably explosive striker who wreaked havoc in the division over the last few years.

BORN AGAIN CONTENDER

I’ll be the first to admit that I started to lose faith in Matt Hughes once it became clear that he was no longer the big, physical bully who could take down opponents at will.  Make no mistake about it:  Hughes remains to this day one of the most dominant forces in the game from the top position.  The problem, though, is that he hasn’t been overly successful taking down opponents over the last few years.

When I saw Hughes come out and start striking from an orthodox stance, I thought he was in for a long night.  His striking has never really come together in a fight, in my opinion.
All that changed against Ricardo Almeida.

Hughes looked tremendous on the feet.  He was fluid with his punches, and his footwork was excellent.  The left hook that dropped Almeida was textbook and proved to me that Hughes is, indeed, a complete mixed martial artist at this late stage in his career.

More impressive, though, was Hughes ending the fight with a submission.  Almeida is a high-level black belt who had never before been submitted in his professional MMA career.  Hurt or not, slapping on a fight-ending submission hold against “The Big Dog” is a serious accomplishment.

This fight absolutely rejuvenated my faith in Hughes as a contender.  I think the perfect next fight for him would be a bout against Fitch, who is also a dominant wrestler who has turned himself into a complete mixed martial artist.  I think that is the perfect matchup for both men to show off how well rounded their skills have become over the years and one heck of a fight for the fans.

JUNIOR LEARNS A THING OR TWO ABOUT NELSON

I will always wonder if Roy Nelson’s head trainer gave him the following instructions moments before the fight:

I want you to go out there and use your face to block Junior Dos Santos’ punches until “Cigano” gets tired.  And then I want you to open up with big bombs in search of the knockout, just like Mike Russow did against Todd Duffee a few months ago.  It will earn you the Knockout of the Night award and possibly the Fight of the Night award, too.

I doubt it.  Nobody outside of an insane asylum would intentionally follow that game plan.  Nonetheless, Dos Santos’ superior striking and athleticism forced Nelson to fight in exactly that way.

It almost worked.  Nelson landed a couple of massive right hands against a rapidly tiring opponent in the second round.  Almost, but not quite.

I don’t recall the last time Junior dos Santos shot for a takedown.  He shot in twice against Nelson after eating a couple of big shots.  That in itself is a resounding endorsement of Nelson’s power and general durability, even after taking a wicked beating throughout the fight.  This is the kind of fight that could make dos Santos question his own punching power.  He shouldn’t make that mistake.  Nelson is just one of those guys who can eat a crowbar across the jaw and continue marching forward.  

At the end of the day, dos Santos showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is in a completely different league in terms of his overall skill compared to Nelson.  Yet, it was still an excellent final tune up before “Cigano” challenges for the heavyweight crown against the winner of incumbent ruler Brock Lesnar and undefeated top contender Cain Velasquez later this year.  Dos Santos was pushed in ways that nobody else has been able to push him inside the Octagon, and that will serve him very well going forward.

For Nelson, it served as notice to the world that he can stand and bang with anyone, monstrous belly notwithstanding.

GUIDA BEING GUIDA

Has Clay Guida ever been in a boring fight?  I almost don’t care if he wins or loses his next four or five fights.  I’m going to tune in and watch each and every one of them because “The Carpenter” brings a full lunch pail to every bout and puts in a full day of work.  The win over Rafael Dos Anjos was just icing on Guida’s post-fight cake.
 
 

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