Four Brazilian athletes – plus one New Mexican flyweight fighting out of Sac-town – swept the main card in a night of surprising game plans and unexpected outcomes inside Mandalay Bay.
Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar
The crowd chants alternated between “Fran-kie!” and “Al-do!” but the main event featherweight fight was all Jose Aldo as he defended his championship with a five round war against former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar.
Edgar’s boxing was fast, but Aldo’s head and body movement was faster and he generally avoided contact early on. Aldo, on the other hand, landed left jabs and right hands throughout the first round, and the damage showed early with Edgar’s face reddened and his nose bleeding by the end of the frame.
Edgar charged forward harder in the second and increased his output of leg kicks, but still ate plenty of punches on the exits and had two takedown attempts rebuffed. One Aldo leg kick nearly felled Edgar, and another one seconds later did so. Edgar answered a flying knee with a tie-up on the fence, but Aldo again pushed away before being taken down. Edgar then turned an Aldo kick into a takedown, but both men sprang back up.
It was Edgar who moved forward in the third, but still Aldo who got the better of exchanges with a two-inch reach advantage that seemed much greater when combined with his speed. Edgar’s best moments came when he was able to catch Aldo’s leg attacks: He scored a body kick off a caught knee and a takedown from a kick early in the round.
Come the championship rounds, Edgar was more active and did better with a variety of kicks and a couple of right hands. But instead of fading, Aldo merely staked out the center of the cage, evaded most of the attacks and held his own. After being rebuffed once, Edgar finally scored a signature takedown with a huge slam in the fourth as the crowd erupted. Aldo bounced back up as Edgar pressured from behind on the fence, and then the two returned to the foot war. Aldo’s combinations came less often as he slowed, but he seemed to have plenty of energy to stay out of harm’s way – not to mention push himself off the cage for a nasty Superman punch at the end of the fight.
Aldo’s scores were 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47 for Aldo, who is now 22-1 with four title defenses in the UFC alone. Edgar’s featherweight debut left him at 14-4.
Rashad Evans vs. Rogerio Nogueira
In UFC 156’s two-bout series between the heavily-favored members of the Blackzilian team and plain old Brazilian fighters, Brazil went 2-0 as light heavyweight Rogerio Nogueira outboxed and outfoxed Rashad Evans.
Round one was subdued – Evans circled, throwing an occasional kick and eating the occasional left hand from the southpaw Nogueira. With a couple of minutes left, he exploded with a flurry, then got a takedown, but Nogueira stood and they returned to the center of the cage.
Round two was more of the same. Evans did better with his right hand but continued to be tagged by Nogueira’s lefts. Nogueira sprawled out of one takedown attempt, and Evans landed a flashy head kick in the final seconds, but save one exciting exchange, both men mostly remained measured in their offense.
Evans’ punches were faster in the third, but not really any more frequent. An accidental eye poke to Nogueira halted the action, as it were, mid-round, but things soon resumed. Nogueira fended off two more takedown attempts and landed a knee to the body, but there was little else new brought to the Octagon.
Nogueira scooped up the third underdog win for Brazilians on the main card (after Demian Maia and Antonio Silva), earning three scores of 29-28 in his first bout since December 2011. “I didn’t want to talk a lot in the lead-up to the fight," said Nogueira. "I just trained very hard and I came with good boxing and great wrestling and I was able to make it hard for him to take me down."
Lil' Nog now stands at 21-5; Evans slides to 22-3-1.
Watch Lil' Nog's post-fight interview
Alistair Overeem vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva
After warning a disdainful Alistair Overeem that he would make him respect his power, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva did just that, earning a TKO over the fellow monster-sized heavyweight at 25 seconds of the third round. Overeem entered the Octagon with a dance-party walk-in that could have been a main event itself, then went ahead and fought Silva, losing an unpredictable fight in predictable heavyweight knockout style.
Standing in the center of the cage for most of the opening round, Overeem looked relaxed in his first bout in over a year -- smiling, switching stances, keeping his hands down, teasing with jabs and even clapping his hands at Silva. Though they traded leg kicks and Overeem landed one overhand right, the first round was by and large a show of power, as Overeem backed or bullied Silva against the fence for a half-dozen tie-ups.
Overeem at least had the courtesy to come out in a fighting stance for the second round. After two low kicks from Silva, Overeem got a big takedown and laned in side control. Silva punched from the bottom and wound up with “The Reem” in his guard. Overeem crashed through with elbows to the face and one big punch to the chest before being kicked backward. He pursued Silva back on the mat and wound up in Silva’s guard, then half-guard, before the fight was eventually stood up. This time they wasted no time, both exchanging blows, knees from the clinch, and a “Come at me bro” glare at the bell.
The sparring session was over at the end of the second: Overeem pushed forward with underhooks, but Silva pushed his way out. He hit Overeem with a right hand, stunned him with a head kick, then used his massive fists to land an uppercut and a right that pushed Overeem back to the fence. From there, he unloaded rights and uppercuts until Overeem was out on his feet and then the mat, just 25 seconds in.
“After I knocked him out I was yelling at him ‘Let’s go! I want more… come fight!’” said Silva, who had to be physically restrained by referee Herb Dean. “It really bothered me that he hasn’t respected me in interviews leading up to the fight. He talked a lot of trash and I told him that I’d make him respect me tonight.”
Overeem, who had been expected to face champion Cain Velasquez if he won this bout, is now back in the thick of the heavyweight division and 36-12 (1 NC) in his career: Silva is 18-4 with his only losses since 2010 coming at the hands of Velasquez and Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier.
Watch Silva's post-fight interview
Jon Fitch vs. Demian Maia
In his third fight, third win and first decision at welterweight, BJJ black belt Demian Maia beat power wrestler Jon Fitch at his own game, controlling him on the ground for 15 grueling minutes.
Maia wasted no time and immediately charged for a takedown and got it. After a struggle on the fence, he scored the outside trip takedown and got Fitch’s back with his hooks in – with 4:30 left in the round. Fitch managed to stand, but had Maia on his back the entire time, his legs locked and arms punching to create space under Fitch’s chin. He got his arm under a couple of times, but didn’t sink the arm under the chin. Eventually Fitch worked out, but Maia got another takedown and maintained top position, kneeing Fitch’s body as Fitch turtled. Fitch made it to his knees, but Maia never gave him space, keeping his legs in a body triangle from behind and punching.
Fitch tried to make space in the second with jabs and low kicks, but again Maia got two takedowns and controlled things on the ground, working from Fitch’s back and striking every second that he wasn’t angling for a rear-naked choke. Fitch opened wildly with a high kick in the third, and Maia slipped under, grabbed the back and gave Fitch more of the same: Nonstop takedowns, lead blanket-like control from the back and submission attempts galore.
The decision was an easy one for the judges, who all awarded the bout to Maia 30-27. “The game plan was to control him," said Maia. "I think when I went for the takedown he was surprised. I kept him off his game and that’s what won me that fight." The Brazilian is now 18-4 overall and 3-0 since dropping to welterweight; Fitch is now 27-5-1 with one no contest.
Watch Maia's post-fight interview
Joseph Benavidez vs. Ian McCall
Two of the original four participants in the UFC’s inaugural flyweight tournament finally met, as Joseph Benavidez used dynamic standup and athleticism to outpoint Ian “Uncle Creepy” McCall over three rounds.
The entire fight took place at the high-speed, pop-and-tumble, fast-motion pace that has come to characterize the emerging 125-pound division. Throughout the first round, Benavidez would eat a low kick in order to land some punches, and he landed multiple solid hooks in the combinations. Though there were multiple tie-ups on the fence, the round was characterized more by the frequent lightning-fast flurries between the men. Though both men landed tens of strikes, Benavidez knocked McCall back with a few of his, while McCall opened a cut on Benavidez’ forehead during one of his own pushes. Benavidez slowed his low kicks after a couple of accidental low grazes on McCall and traded them for push kicks, while McCall continued to use leg kicks throughout.
The action continued in the second. Though they took turns coming forward, Benavidez was usually the one to move in for exchanges. McCall ducked in to move in, and Benavidez – alternating between orthodox and southpaw – lanched counterassaults, Both guys launched haymakers, and Benavidez landed two of them in the form of his right hand. Benavidez initiated a clinch off a takedown attempt from McCall, using it to push McCall to the fence. But back in the center, Benavidez shot for a takedown attempt and missed, and McCall pounced with hammerfists throughout the ensuing scramble. Eventually Benavidez powered to his feet, but ended the round with McCall clinging to his back and throwing knees against the fence.
Benavidez opened the third by backup up McCall and unloading in a flurry. McCall answered with a takedown attempt, and another later in the round that he completed. McCall slipped off a kick and Benavidez used it to take control and push him against the fence. Benavidez continued his standup mix with jabs and body kicks.
Judges gave Benavidez the fight 29-28 across the board –his 17th career win (with 3 losses) and fourth in the UFC. McCall slides to 11-4-1, with two losses and one draw inside the Octagon. Benavidez praised McCall’s toughness and said “My corners didn’t sugarcoat it: They told me very clearly that I had to get the third round. It was one to one going into the final five minutes and I had to go out there and take it."
Hear what Benavidez had to say after the fight