UFC: A Summer Primer

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It’s been a while! Totally my fauilt. I’ve been lazy, and I’d like your forgiveness though. I will however only politely ask for it. I won’t beg.*

Being that the summer is consistently an excellent season for the UFC, I thought I’d give you a little taste of where we’re at and what the (immediate) future holds for each division.

Let’s get started!

Heavyweights:

Cain-Velasquez-Junior-Dos-Santos

After Cain Velasquez demolished Bigfoot Silva and top Heavyweight Junior Dos Santos finished the tough-as-nails Mark Hunt, it looks like the two clear best big men in the biggest division will get the opportunity for their third meeting, which I predict will be insane.

The most important upcoming heavyweight fight is tomorrow, when Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Rodrigo Minotauro Nogueira face off as coaches from The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. A win for Werdum means another really good contender for the big guys, while a win for Big Nog catapults him back into “the mix”, and recently he’s kind of had more of that “gatekeeper role” in the division.

Other relevant fighters in the division: Daniel Cormier (Strikeforce Grand Prix champ and Cain Velasquez teammate), Roy “Big Country” Nelson (one of the toughest persons at heavyweight; his chin is quite possibly an actual cinder block and so are his hands), Josh Barnett (back from his journeyman status), Alistair Overeem, and Travis Browne (who will fight each other at UFC on Fox Sports 1—a card I am very much looking forward to btw—on August 17)

Light Heavyweights:

MMA: UFC 152-Jones vs Belfort

It’s Jon Jones’ world at 205; everyone else is just living in it. There’s talk of Jones possibly moving up to Heavyweight over the course of the next year or so, which would be understandable. In the 6 fights he’s had as the Champ at 205, he’s finished 5 of them and his fight with Rashad Evans was a decision that not even Cecil Peoples** could screw up. The biggest consideration is who will fight Jones next. The title shot was “promised” to Lyoto Machida, although there’s a strong possibility that Alexander Gustafsson will end up clinching the shot instead since the last time Jones and Machida fought, Jones dropped him like a hot rock.

Upcoming relevant bouts at LHW include Dan Henderson vs Rashad Evans (two of the division’s best coming off of losses where nobody involved looked impressive), Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Chael Sonnen (a fight that Chael might actually be able to win), and Lyoto Machida vs. Phil “Mr. Wonderful” Davis (a fight where we can finally see if Davis is worthy of consideration as a top guy at 205 or if he’s just another guy in the pack. He’s been babied for a little too long methinks so this should be a good test). There has also been rumor of a fight between hot up-and-comer Glover Texieira and elite wrestler Ryan Bader, but that has not been made official.

All in all it’s an exciting time to watch the LHW division, although it remains to be seen if Jones has any real weakness. He’s so far been very clearly better than everyone else by a wide margin. I will however be excited to see him fight someone his own size again, as his two most recent opponents (Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen) are natural Middleweights and Jones is likely going to end up at Heavyweight, giving him a noticeable size discrepancy that hopefully won’t continue into his next bout.

Middleweights:

Silva_vs._Weidman_poster

Everything I just said about Jon Jones is basically more accurate for Anderson Silva and the 185 lb division. Silva has ruled that weight class with an Iron Fist since 2006 (!!!) and shows no sign of going up to 205 or retiring. Even at 38 years old, you better believe Silva will beat your ass. And for the most part, he’ll do it before you even stop into the cage. His psychological dominance, his movement, his striking, his timing all give him an air of invincibility. His toughest competition—Chael Sonnen—absolutely manhandled him for 4.5 rounds of their 5-round fight the first time they fought and Silva still won the fight and found a way to finish Sonnen. Most of his fights have been almost comical. Silva has said in an interview, “I’m not that amazing. I just do things that other people think are impossible.” The man is incredible.

Anderson will try and keep his title against challenger Chris Weidman on July 6th (The UFC’s 4th of July weekend card is usually a barnburner, so try to catch that one if you can) and I expect fireworks.

The rest of the division is in a bit of a rough place, with most of the folks vying for contender slots losing those fights. Vitor Belfort is doing extremely well, losing only to Anderson Silva at Middleweight over the last 5 years*** but his problem is that he is currently fighting overseas with a TRT exemption—a doctor’s certification that he can use Testosterone Replacement injections to go with his training—something that US Athletic commissions likely won’t allow due to Belfort’s steroid use much earlier in his career. We’ll see if that causes him any problems down the road.

Other relevant guys at Middleweight include Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold, Tim Kennedy, Hector Lombard, Yushin Okami, and Jacare Souza.

Welterweight:

St.-Pierre

The Welterweight division of the UFC is home to some of the company’s biggest stars. For a time, that meant Matt Hughes. Then it meant BJ Penn. Now it means Georges St-Pierre, one of the most dominant champs in the company’s history. The man just doesn’t lose fights. And more than that, he doesn’t really lose rounds of fights. Some curmudgeonly fight fans (like myself) lament GSP’s inability or unwillingness to finish fights, but at the end of the day the man has a whole lot of W’s in his column. Soon, he’ll be facing Johnny Hendricks for the title. Hendricks, like St-Pierre, is a guy who has killer offensive wrestling that allows him to implement his own proactive gameplan and force others to react to it. Unlike GSP though, Hendricks also has an insanely mean Left, which finished very tough competition like Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann…in under a minute each. That’s knockout power that the champ has to respect, and it should make for a hell of a fight.

Other matchups include Carlos Condit (I think very underrated, which is saying a lot considering he’s already one of the top guys) against Martin Kampmann, Rory MacDonald (who some say is the “new GSP”) vs Jake Ellenberger, Demian Maia vs. Josh Koscheck (this fight will be in late August).

Lightweight:

Ben_Henderson

Ben Henderson is in charge at 155, and he’s had the most contentious reign of the current champions. Of his 7 fights in the UFC, he is 7-0. But all seven of those wins have come via decision, and two of them were razor close (one of which I definitely think should have gone the other way, but I’m a little biased).

Personally, I don’t much like this.

Now, understand, I’m not against decisions on principle. Some of the best fights I’ve ever seen were arbitrated by the judges at the end (Griffin/Bonnar, Hendo/Shogun, Edgar/Maynard II, Lauzon/Miller, etc) but they have to be WARS for me to be fine with the outcome decided by the judges. And Bendo’s victories over Mark Bocek, Jim Miller, and Nate Diaz were absolute routs. These weren’t fights where it was contentious. Where someone like me could curse the judges for being SO STUPID that they couldn’t see that Frankie clearly won and how could they give it to Bendo…

I’m sorry. I’ve digressed.

The point is, there have been fights where Bendo seems to me like he’d be capable of putting some of these guys away. We’ve seen that some of the guys he’s fought, like Frankie and Gilbert Melendez, are tough as nails, evasive, and crafty. So that’s understandable. But did you guys watch the Nate Diaz fight? (You should have! It was on Fox so even poor people like me could see it from the comfort of my own home) That fight was basically a mugging.

I’ll be happy to give Benson some props as soon as he starts getting his hand raised before 25 minutes have elapsed in the fight.

Relevant fighters in the lightweight division: TJ Grant is next in line after a brutal and decisive victory over Gray Maynard, Joe Lauzon is still in the mix somehow (mostly because he’s possibly the most entertaining current fighter on the UFC’s roster and has the post-fight Bonus record to back it up), Josh Thomson, Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce’s two best 155’ers that absolutely proved they belong in the UFC with Thomson being the only guy in the UFC to stop Nate Diaz—with head kicks no less—and Melendez arguably beating the current Champ at his own game; Gray Maynard, Jim Miller, Pat Healy, Donald Cerrone, Jamie Varner, and possibly Rafael Dos Anjos (he seems to be coming his own and making a name for himself)

It is also worth noting that the Lightweight division in the UFC is definitely their deepest. It was already a deep division about 3-4 years ago, but the UFC has since purchased and largely absorbed two other companies—the WEC and Strikeforce—that both had thriving and well-staffed 155 lb divisions of their own, making the Lightweight division a very crowded and competitive arena.

Featherweights:

Aldo vs Pettis

Jose Aldo is the champ at 145. He is an athlete who can easily be a 155er—he’s a big featherweight—but he can make the cut and is generally pretty devastating. His highlight reel from his days in the WEC is insane; unfortunately his UFC resume is similar to Ben Henderson’s. I would argue that he’s had very tough competition—Kenny Florian and Frankie Edgar are incredibly dangerous fighters and perhaps a conservative gameplan is necessary for them—but even still, he only has 1 finish in his UFC career.

Aside: That one finish is one of my favorite ones in UFC history though. He knocked out Chad Mendes with a brilliantly timed knee during Chad’s takedown attempt (that may have been more luck than timing, but whatevs) and then dashed out the cage into the crowd of his native brazil, where he was lifted and basically surfed throughout the crowd. I thought it was fucking awesome and a moment unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. Definitely not something that would ever happen in a US crowd.

Anyway, there’s lots of tough fetaherweights now too.

Coming up soon, Frankie Edgar will be fighting Charles Oliveira, while Chan Sung Jung “The Korean Zombie” will be fighting with Ricardo Lamas to likely determine the future #1 contender. Cub Swanson and Dennis Siver will also be fighting very soon. The featherweight division has been kind of stalled recently so it makes sense that the UFC is trying to get lots of things moving on that front.

Meanwhile, Mr. Aldo will have his hands very full when he takes on contender Anthony Pettis. Pettis, a usual lightweight who can easily make featherweight like compatriots Edgar, Siver, and Guida, was in line for a title shot at 155! But, to Pettis that’s old news. He’s been in line for that title for years only to have it slip away from him and set him back. So he’s moving down a weight class to challenge there. And MAN Pettis is no joke. He is an insanely creative, unorthodox, and powerful striker who can create knockout shots from nowhere and has phenomenal knees and kicks. That fight, which headlines UFC 163 at the beginning of August, should be phenomenal. Make sure to check that one out.

Bantamweights:

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This division is currently a dumpster fire. Champ Dominick Cruz has had multiple knee injuries that kept him on the bench throughout 2012 and possibly all of 2013 as well. So they did what they sometimes do (and I can’t stand): they had an interim title fight, won by Renan Berao. Except now he’s injured too. Add to that the fact that the 135 lb division has the least star power of any other division save one guy (Urijah Faber, who is incredibly popular and fun to watch but one guy does not a division make), and that one guy keeps losing the goddamn title shot!

Hopefully this will all get straightened out soon, but until then it’s kind of a mess. Here’s hoping the UFC can farm some good talent or someone awesome will show up, kick ass, and remain healthy.

Female Bantamweights:

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UFC president Dana White at one time said that women would not be in the UFC. To provide “evidence” for this claim, he simply said that there weren’t enough good women fighters to build a division.

Then he met “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey, saw dollar signs, and changed his mind.

Ronda is exactly what Women’s MMA needed. She’s got a quirky energy to her that makes her fun in interviews, she’s good looking (we can debate another time whether or not this should matter, but suffice it to say that it currently does), and oh yeah she kicks ass.

She’s undefeated. And EVERY SINGLE ONE of her wins has come via 1st round armbar. That’s insane. To be a top level fighter and have one thing that everyone knows you do better than anything else (and can thus extensively prepare for) and you still use that move to finish everyone is pretty awesome.

Her fight against relatively unknown Liz Carmouche this past fall was phenomenal. She ended it via first round armbar of course, but not before almost getting submitted herself due to rear-naked choke/jaw breakage.

Anyway, they pretty much built a division around her, and now women’s MMA has several definite players. Rousey will fight “rival” Miesha Tate after their stint as opposing coaches on next season’s The Ultimate Fighter (the first and possibly only season to have both female and male fighters in the house together). Tate is replacing Cat Zingano, who won the fight between them to decide who would coach opposite Rousey and then screwed up her knee. She’s very dangerous though, so expect big things when she recovers. We also have Julie Kedzie fighting Germaine de Randamie, and Sara McMann vs. Sarah Kaufman as notable matchups in the division.

Flyweights:

demetrious-johnson_t2681

You wouldn’t think there’d be that much excitement when the guys are 125 lbs, and yet they are insanely fun to watch. There is more movement in a flyweight fight than possibly every heavyweight fight ever. Combined. There’s a lot going on, and a ton of very cool technique being displayed, which makes sense if you think about it as fewer flyweights can rely on power to win them the big brawls.

Champ Demetrious Johnson won a very tough and grueling fight to get the first UFC flyweight belt, and I couldn’t be happier for him. This is a guy who fought the best of the best at 135, including fighting Dominick Cruz for the title (!) even though at the time he was pretty much the smallest guy in the division. Oh yeah, and while he was busy being the 2nd best guy in the weight class above his natural weight, he was working a fulltime job because he couldn’t support himself fully on his training. Dude is a B.A.M.F. He also defended his title masterfully against recent challenger John Dodson where he was outclassed in two rounds and then used his superior cardio and conditioning to kick his game plan into overdrive and totally wear Dodson out.

Luckily, Dodson still definitely has a good shot at success since the division is currently quite shallow, but there’s a lot of competition in guys like Joseph Benavidez, Ian McCall, John Moraga, and John Lineker. This division is very fun to watch, and I’m expecting big things as they continue to recruit and cultivate talent.

Whew! That was a whole lot of primer, but I hope that this can give you casual fans a couple names, divisions, and interesting upcoming fights to keep you a bit more interested! Until next week, thanks a bunch for reading!

 

Andy

 

*This is a blatant lie.

**Cecil Peoples is widely regarded as the worst MMA judge around. He is a bad judge and an even worse ref. Submitted for your approval:

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