A couple weeks back, the UFC 166 event in Houston garnered a boatload of accolades for the consistent quality of the fights from top to bottom, and rightfully so, with Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez warring for three rounds, Cain Velasquez retaining his heavyweight title with a win over a game Junior Dos Santos in their rubber match, Jessica Eye and Sarah Kaufman battling it out, and a host of knockouts igniting the crowd at the Toyota Center.
Many even called it the greatest UFC event of all-time. That’s some praise, and anyone claiming it to be the best ever certainly has a case. But at the moment, and I always like these sort of things to ferment a bit before making a final call, my choice for best UFC card ever would have to go to the UFC 116 event from July 3, 2010.
Drama, action, fantastic finishes, they were all there, and while UFC President Dana White awarded the Bonnar-Soszynski II and Leben-Akiyama bouts Fight of the Night awards, I could also see two other matchups from that night in Vegas (Romero-Petruzelli and Lesnar-Carwin) earning award consideration. It was that good. And that’s without even mentioning Gerald Harris’ highlight reel KO slam of David Branch, Chris Lytle’s submission of future contender Matt Brown, and Brendan Schaub’s knockout of Chris Tuchscherer.
And while the night didn’t get off to the greatest start with some of the prelims, once Harris woke up the crowd, Kendall Grove eked out a back-and-forth split decision win over Goran Reljic, and then Ricardo Romero and Seth Petruzelli threw down for eight minutes and five seconds until the New Jersey product submitted the former Ultimate Fighter competitor.
From there, it was on…and there are so many memorable moments from that night: Stephan Bonnar standing bloodied, but unbowed, in the center of the Octagon after stopping Krzystof Soszynski, standup action hero Lytle once again showing his versatility by submitting Brown, Chris Leben winning his second fight in two weeks against Yoshihiro Akiyama, Brock Lesnar smiling at Shane Carwin after taking a horrific beating in the first round, knowing that his opponent had emptied his gas tank trying to finish him, and I could go on. If this DVD is not in your collection, you need to remedy that right now.
In the meantime, here’s how I saw it that night…and oh, what a night it was.
LESNAR VS. CARWIN
For a few minutes in the first round of the UFC 116 main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday night, it looked like the heavy hands of Shane Carwin were going to forcibly remove the UFC heavyweight title from the grasp of Brock Lesnar. But with an amazing show of heart and resilience, and a chin of steel, Lesnar survived the first round and then closed the show in the second with a submission victory that kept the belt around the waist of the premier heavyweight in the game today.
“This isn’t about me tonight,” said Lesnar, who was forced to the sidelines for nearly a year due to a bout with diverticulitis. “This is about my family, my doctors, all my training partners and staff. I am blessed by God. I stand before you a humble champion, but I’m still the toughest SOB around.”
At the bell, Carwin and Lesnar circled each other warily, Lesnar shooting out a couple jabs that fell short. As the champion moved closer, Carwin scored with a short right hand and Lesnar shot for a takedown that was turned away. In an ensuing exchange, Carwin rocked Lesnar with an uppercut and sent him sprawling across the Octagon. Carwin threw a series of unanswered blows, but wasn’t able to Finish Lesnar off. Lesnar briefly cleared his head and tried to score with a knee, but Carwin got his foe to the mat and again began teeing off. Lesnar, his face now bloodied from a cut over his left eye, amazingly didn’t give in to the increasing assault, doing just enough to keep referee Josh Rosenthal from stopping the fight. With less than two minutes left, Lesnar finally made his move and got back to his feet. This time, Lesnar’s knee landed hard as the two locked up against the fence, and though Carwin avoided a late takedown attempt, at the bell it looked like a brand new fight was about to begin.
“I was going after the kill,” said Carwin. “He’s a tough SOB, I tightened up.”
“I just had to weather the storm,” added Lesnar. “He’s got some heavy shots. I knew he was getting tired. Each shot was less dramatic than the one before, I just had to let him go.”
Lesnar smiled as the second round began and he touched gloves with Carwin at the bell. This time Lesnar made the move to get off first, and after a right hand didn’t do the trick, a takedown moments later did. Now in control on the mat, Lesnar locked in an arm triangle with a little over three minutes left. And though Carwin gallantly tried to break loose, he was eventually forced to tap at the 2:19 mark.
“I thought I had enough space to breathe, but he sunk it in tight, and I was going out,” said Carwin.
With the win, Lesnar improves to 5-1; Carwin falls to 12-1.
AKIYAMA VS. LEBEN
It was the conclusion to one of the most amazing stretches in UFC history, and middleweight Chris Leben pulled it off Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, winning his second fight in two weeks by taking an action-packed war against Japanese contender Yoshihiro Akiyama via third round submission in the UFC 116 co-main event.
Leben, The Ultimate Fighter season one alumnus who replaced the injured Wanderlei Silva in tonight’s bout, was coming off a knockout victory over Aaron Simpson on June 19th.
After catching Leben’s opening kick and putting him on the deck, Akiyama was able to land with the first blows of the fight, but Leben quickly rose and went back on the attack. This time, his kicks to the leg hit the mark, but Akiyama’s didn’t as he cracked Leben low, forcing a halt to the action. When the bout resumed, Leben engaged, but got thrown to the mat for his trouble. While in the bottom position, Leben looked to trap Akiyama’s arm on two occasions, but the Asian star broke loose and tried to return the favor. With 1:30 left, Leben pulled off an escape of his own, yet Akiyama kept the pressure on as he tried to lock in an arm triangle. Again, Leben got free, this time getting to his feet as well. It was Akiyama with the last word though as he scored with a throw just before the bell.
The fighters traded strikes early in round two, Akiyama landing with a spinning back fist and Leben scoring with his trademark left hand. Within moments, the two began staggering each other with flush shots, and Leben was taking the worst of it. Akiyama sensed this and followed up with a takedown on the now fatigued and bloodied Leben, who, after taking some more hard punches, made it back to his feet. Akiyama kept him pinned against the fence though, not a problem for Leben, who tried to lock in a guillotine choke. With under a minute to go, the two broke loose and again traded with reckless abandon. This time it was Leben forcing Akiyama to hold on until the bell.
With the crowd roaring, the two respectfully touched gloves to begin the third round, and decided to continue where they left off. Leben held an early edge, but Akiyama was able to catch a kick and land a punch to get the fight back to where he wanted it – on the mat. Leben was busy from the bottom, again looking for his opponent’s arm, but Akiyama wasn’t having it, and he shook loose. Then the slugging continued, only this time it was as the two jostled on the canvas. Finally, Akiyama got sloppy and left his arm dangling in front of Leben for too long, and the Oregon native made the most of it, locking in an arm triangle that produced a tap out at the 4:40 mark.
With the win, Leben improves to 21-6; Akiyama falls to 13-2 with 2 no contests. At the time of the finish, the bout was even, 19-19, on all three judges' scorecards.
SOSZYNSKI VS. BONNAR
After three straight losses, including a February defeat against the man facing him tonight, Krzysztof Soszynski, another TUF1 alum, light heavyweight Stephan Bonnar, needed a win in the worst way, but he didn’t just get the victory against ‘The Polish Experiment,’ he and his opponent engaged in an instant classic that saw the Las Vegan emerge victorious via a second round TKO.
“I like winning ugly, and boy do I look ugly right now,” smiled Bonnar, who was halted by Soszynski via cuts at UFC 110 in February.
There was no feeling out process in this one, with both fighters picking up where they left off earlier this year. Bonnar was able to land the first big punch of the fight, but it was Soszynski who almost pulled off an armbar moments later as they grappled on the canvas. In the ensuing scramble, Bonnar got back to his feet and the two traded blows, with Soszynski holding a slight edge. Bonnar bounced back, punctuating his next flurry with a hard knee to the head, but it was ‘The American Psycho’ emerging with a cut under his right eye. The blood didn’t deter Bonnar, and the two just kept throwing, with both men trading turns in momentum and earning a well deserved roar from the crowd at the bell.
Now cut over the left eye as well, Bonnar walked right back into the fray in round two, only to be greeted by a flurry of shots from Soszynski (20-11-1). Bonnar quickly got his bearings back and fired off an array of punches of his own, and after a brief pause, he landed with a knee, more punches and even a kick before taking Soszynski down at the two minute mark. After a brief stay on the mat, the two rose, but Bonnar kept the pressure on, dropping Soszynski with a right knee to the head. Soszynski tried to weather the storm, but Bonnar wouldn’t let him off the hook, and after a series of unanswered blows, referee Mario Yamasaki halted the bout at the 3:08 mark.
“I knew I hurt him and I was gonna keep throwing,” said Bonnar, now 15-7. “I said, they’re not gonna take this fight away from me.”
LYTLE VS. BROWN
Veteran Chris Lytle made it two in a row over Matt Brown in welterweight action, repeating his 2007 submission win with another victory due to tap out over ‘The Immortal’.
Brown came out determined not to go 0-2 against Lytle, and his intensity was evident both on the feet and even on the mat, as he almost caught his opponent in a finishing choke. The near-submission served to wake up Lytle, who began landing with more effective blows once he rose from the canvas.
Brown and Lytle traded punches for much of the opening minute of round two, pausing only when “Lights Out” took the bout to the mat. There, Lytle closed out matters with a hybrid triangle / armbar similar to the one that he finished Jason Gilliam off with in 2007, and got the same result, forcing Brown to tap out at 2:02 of the second round.
With the win, Lytle improves to 39-17-4; Brown falls to 13-9.
SOTIROPOULOS VS. PELLEGRINO
Another fight, another win, and another statement for lightweight contender George Sotiropoulos, who followed up his February victory over Joe Stevenson with an equally impressive three round unanimous decision over Kurt Pellegrino in the main card opener.
Scores were 30-27 twice and 29-28 for Sotiropoulos.
The fighters met at the center of the Octagon and immediately began throwing punches at the bell, with Soitropoulos clearly landing the crisper blows. 1:20 into the bout, he dropped Pellegrino with a left hand and moved in for the kill, but Pellegrino cleared his head and got back to his feet. The Australian standout continued to dictate the action for the next minute, but his aggressive attack allowed Pellegrino to score a brief takedown. Immediately springing back up, Sotiropoulos began measuring his attack, which suited Pellegrino fine as he was able to get in more counters. The bout soon went back to the mat, and Sotriopoulos looked to lock in a submission. Pellegrino fought loose and ended the round in his opponent’s guard.
After some brief standup to begin the second frame, Sotiropoulos got the single leg takedown and again tried to work his submission game. Pellegrino stayed active from the bottom position, but Sotiropoulos did the same, delivering punches and elbows while controlling the location of the bout, whether it was on the mat or against the fence. With less than 40 seconds left, Pellegrino finally broke free, but wasn’t able to turn the tide before the bell.
After two minutes of striking kicked off the final round, Pellegrino appeared to play possum as he got Sotiropoulos to move in, leaving him susceptible to the takedown. Pellegrino used the opportunity to land ground strikes and try to find an opening to turn things around, but Sotiropoulos was cool from the bottom position as he tried to catch Pellegrino, and after a stalemate, the two fighters rose with less than a minute left, and though the New Jersey native dropped Sotiropoulos with a right knee to the head just before the bell, there would be no miracle finish in this one, as Sotiropoulos remained unbeaten in the Octagon.
With the win, Sotiropoulos improves to 13-2; Pellegrino falls to 21-5.
SCHAUB VS TUCHSCHERER
All that training with Shane Carwin must be rubbing off on heavyweight prospect Brendan Schaub, as the former Ultimate Fighter competitor made it two quick knockouts in a row on the UFC 116 undercard at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday night, halting Chris Tuchscherer in just 67 seconds.
Schaub – who knocked out Chase Gormley in 47 seconds in March, kept Tuchscherer at bay with his strikes early, waiting for the one opening he needed. Soon enough, it came, and an overhand right landed flush and put Tuchscherer on the deck. A follow-up barrage kept ‘The Crowbar’ from shaking off the cobwebs, and forced referee Herb Dean to halt the bout at the 1:07 mark.
With the win, Schaub improves to 7-1; Tuchscherer falls to 18-3 with 1 NC.
PETRUZELLI VS. ROMERO
New Jersey’s latest hot prospect, Ricardo Romero, walked through fire to get his first UFC win, shaking off hard shots and submission attempts from Seth Petruzelli to submit the returning Octagon vet in the second round of an exciting light heavyweight scrap.
As promised, Petruzelli came out firing, and in addition to landing some initial bombs, he showed off his takedown defense as well as he kept the former Rutgers University wrestler at bay. As the round progressed, Romero was able to get some of his own shots in, and he was able to use a spinning back kick from Petruzelli to get his first takedown. ‘The Silverback’ recovered quickly though and got on top, freeing himself to land with strikes. Moments later, it was Romero on top and in control, and when he wasn’t looking for a submission, he was firing off strikes. With less than a minute left, Romero almost got an armbar, but Petruzelli escaped, got to his feet, and dropped his foe with a left uppercut. It was Romero in control at the end though as he looked to finish with a choke just before the bell.
After a well-deserved 60 second respite, Petruzelli and Romero resumed their battle, with Petruzelli rocking his opponent with his strikes again, prompting a takedown attempt from Romero. Petruzelli responded with an armbar attempt, but Romero escaped and began firing off ground strikes. Once more, Petruzelli tried for a submission from the bottom, but Romero hung tough, punched his way out of trouble and secured an armbar that forced Petruzelli to tap out at the 3:05 mark.
With the win, Romero improves to 11-1; Petruzelli falls to 14-6.
GROVE VS. RELJIC
Kendall Grove pulled one out of the well yet again, bouncing back from an April loss to Mark Munoz with a three round split decision victory over Goran Reljic in a back-and-forth middleweight battle.
“It was a big win,” said Grove. “I’m like a cockroach. I’m hard to get rid of.”
Scores were 30-27, 29-28, and 28-29 for Grove, who improves to 14-7; Reljic falls to 8-2.
The two engaged in a fast-paced kickboxing match for much of the opening round, with both fighters having their moments of success. Reljic shot for the first takedown of the bout with less than two minutes left and got it, but it was Grove who got the best of the exchange as he dropped Reljic moments later with an upkick from his back, without question the biggest shot of the round.
Reljic got even early in the second with a big left hand, prompting a takedown from Grove. Reljic worked for a submission from the bottom, but Grove escaped and tried to land with his upkicks again until Reljic found his way into his opponent’s guard. Grove did a lot of damage from his back with short forearms and elbows, and with a minute left, the bout was re-started by referee Mario Yamasaki, with a hard shot to the head by Reljic being the only significant scoring being done in the final 60 seconds.
Grove came out confidently for the final round, stuffing Reljic’s takedown attempts while landing with punches, kicks, and knees. Finally, with 1:14 left, Reljic got his takedown and tried to secure an arm triangle. Grove resisted the attempt, eventually making it to his feet just before the final bell.
HARRIS VS. BRANCH
Middleweight Gerald “Hurricane” Harris made it 3-0 in the UFC this year with his third straight knockout – this time taking out previously unbeaten newcomer David Branch in the third round.
After 45 seconds of eyeing each other in the pocket, Harris (16-2) fired off a looping left that produced an ‘ooh’ from the crowd and a smile from Branch (6-1). After another period of inactivity, both fighters began firing off strikes, and a right hand from Harris knocked an off-balance Branch into the fence. With 90 seconds left, Harris finally closed the gap and locked up with Branch. The Brooklynite fired off elbows in response, but was then sent flying to the canvas by a Harris takedown right before the bell.
Branch began the second more aggressively, leading Harris to take the fight to the mat and unleash ground strikes. Branch stayed active from the bottom and worked his way back to his feet, and this time he took control against the fence until Harris secured the takedown with 1:30 left. After a brief spell on the canvas, the fighters rose, with Harris landing a thudding uppercut on the way up. Branch took it well, but was unable to retaliate.
Harris’ first takedown of the final round almost got him in trouble, as Branch, a Renzo Gracie black belt, almost caught him in a submission. Harris slammed his way out, and the two rose to their feet shortly after. Branch tried to get his strikes off, but Harris was able to smother them and get inside. Branch tried to pull guard to get a spectacular finish, but it was Harris who ended up finishing things with a thudding slam that knocked his opponent out at the 2:35 mark.
ROBERTS VS. PETZ
Welterweight prospect Daniel ‘Ninja’ Roberts used his takedowns and ground game to earn his first UFC victory, as he scored a three round split decision over returning vet Forrest Petz.
Scores were 29-28 twice and 28-29 for Roberts, who improves to 10-1; Petz falls to 24-8.
The action in a slow first round picked up late when Roberts got Petz’ back on the ground and almost secured a rear naked choke, but ‘The Meat Cleaver’ was able to survive to the bell.
Petz got on the board early in the second thanks to a series of leg kicks, only to get taken back down by Roberts, who got his back again. This time, Petz was able to turn the tables and get back to his feet, landing with hard shots every step of the way. Roberts appeared to be rocked momentarily, but he did manage to get Petz to the canvas in the final minute. Petz made it back standing, scored with a takedown of his own, and fought off a guillotine choke attempt just before the end of the round.
The striking of Petz continued to pay dividends in the first half of the final round, as he scored with leg kicks, quick jabs, and a left hook that rocked Roberts midway through. In response, Roberts shot for, and got, the takedown, and fired off ground strikes, eventually getting into the mount position in the final seconds of a close bout.
MADSEN VS. VEMOLA
Heavyweight Jon Madsen spoiled the UFC debut and the perfect record of London’s Karlos Vemola in the opener, but didn’t win any new fans with his methodical three round unanimous decision win.
Scores were 30-27 across the board.
After a frantic start, the first two rounds of the bout were characterized by Madsen controlling matters on the mat and against the fence in less than scintillating fashion. Vemola was able to land some hard shots early in round three, but Madsen responded by taking the bout back to the mat, where he spent much of the final stanza, wrapping up a clear but unimpressive win.
With the victory, Madsen improves to 6-0; Vemola falls to 8-1.
UFC 20: What was the Best Card Ever?
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