UFC 135 is in the books...Michael DiSanto breaks down the card, with thoughts on Jones, Rampage, Hughes, Kos, and more...
JONES LIVES UP TO THE HYPE
Jones undressed Rampage in Denver, Colorado. He picked apart the former undisputed champion on the feet with an ever-changing stance, using a plethora of kicks, both high and low, and punches from well outside of Rampage’s striking range. He also controlled the action on the ground, ultimately winning by rear naked choke.
Honestly, I’m not sure what Jones could have done better. Other than a one-punch knockout, I’m not sure what he else he can do to show people that he is definitely the best in the world at his weight. It was a virtuoso performance. What else can I say?
Rashad Evans is next up for the champ. I will break down that fight in detail in the days leading up to the bout, but Evans presents some unique challenges for Jones. First, his wrestling may very well force Jones to answer the question of his ability to fight effectively from his back. Second, there is probably no fighter in the world who knows Jones’ strengths and weaknesses better than Evans due to their history as training partners. Evans is an expert at game planning. That adds a special wrinkle to this matchup. Plus, there is real bad blood between these two, and that always makes for good TV.
I cannot wait for that fight.
RAMPAGE NEEDS TO LOOK INTO THE MIRROR
Rampage was once the greatest 205-pounder in the world. He remains the only man in the world to simultaneously hold championships in two elite promotions at the same time. But I haven’t seen any improvement in Rampage’s game since entering the UFC. Actually, one could argue that he has regressed.
Rampage used to be known for his crazy powerful slams. If he got his hands on an opponent, they were going for a ride. His PRIDE knockouts often came from ground and pound, not boxing. In the UFC, he looks like a pure boxer. Why?
Rampage claims he was at his absolute best heading into this fight. I believe that he trained hard. I talked with people who saw him prepare for this fight. He was in great shape. He was sharp. Yet, he only looked to box.
I think that Rampage needs to get back to his wrestling if he wants to climb back up to the top of the 205-pound mountain. There aren’t many opponents who will stand there and let him get away with just boxing. He has a puncher’s chance against anyone, even if he does nothing but throw hands. Rampage is better than that. He is a mixed martial artist. He needs to look into the mirror and find those well rounded skills from his past. They are there. He just needs to find them.
KOS TAKES CARE OF BUSINESS
No disrespect to Matt Hughes. He is the greatest champion that the 170-pound division has ever seen. If Georges St-Pierre wants to take his place, he has much more work to do. But I thought Hughes stood little chance at defeating Josh Koscheck.
Stylistically, the fight was a nightmare for Hughes. Kos is better in every area, other than jiu-jitsu. And that is a maybe. Practically everyone, other than perhaps Hughes’ inner circle, knew what the former champion was in for once the cage door closed.
Hughes looked great on his feet early in the fight. He surprised me. He certainly surprised Kos. And he probably surprised just about everyone in the building. But once Kos realized that Hughes wasn’t going to lie down, he took care of business in a definitive manner.
Kos looked great in his return bout. I don’t care that it was the perfect matchup for him. Nobody knows how a fighter will react after a beating like he took from GSP. Kos has apparently taken it in stride and is back to business as usual. His Knockout of the Night effort against Hughes will forever grace his personal highlight reel.
HATS OFF TO THE CHAMP
History has shown us that few fighters pull a Chris Lytle and retire on a win against formidable competition. They are beaten from the sport much more frequently than not. If, in fact, this was Hughes’ final fight, it was fitting that that defeat came at the hands of Kos, who in many ways is Hughes 2.0. The AKA star is a fellow former Division I wrestler who likely viewed Hughes as one of his idols when entering the sport. Unlike Hughes, he entered the sport at a time when being extremely well rounded was not a championship luxury; it was a requisite for mere survival.
Again, assuming this was Hughes’ last fight in the UFC, everyone, including Kos, owes him a tip of the hat. Not just for his great career, but also because he did not hesitate to take a fight against a guy who was a stylistic nightmare for him. And he took it on short notice no less. That is what champions are made of. Hughes is, and always will be, a champion deep down in his DNA, regardless of his win-loss record over the past couple of years.
I’ll have more on Hughes’ glorious career soon. For now, it’s time to celebrate his opponent’s win. Kos is ready for whatever the division has to offer after a performance like that.
DÉJÀ VU FOR GOMI; DIAZ FINDS A HOME
Nate Diaz followed in his big brother’s footsteps by submitting Takanori Gomi in a career-defining performance. This fight proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Diaz needs to remain at lightweight. He is a big, strong, long lightweight. He looked incredible in every aspect of the fight in his Submission of the Night win over Gomi.
Diaz is a carbon copy of his brother, minus 15 pounds. His standup has grown leaps and bounds since coming into the UFC. And his jits continues to scream for head trainer Cesar Gracie to promote him to a black belt. I honestly believe that Diaz is on the cusp of coming into his own as a fighter. I think he will springboard this win into something special if he remains at lightweight—something he acknowledged was the right career move at the post-fight presser.
The only open question mark for Diaz is his ability to deal with truly dominant wrestlers, who also happen to have solid submission defense. Think Gray Maynard. Think Frankie Edgar. It just so happens that his brother shares the same weakness, if one can claim that Nick has any weaknesses at this point in his amazing career.
The UFC is filled with elite wrestlers. For the most part, Strikeforce is not. Nick did not have to prove that he had addressed this issue as he rose to superstardom. Nate won’t have that luxury. Nevertheless, I like his chances. Look for this young man to put himself into title contention no later than mid-2012. I’m a believer. Just like I’m a believer in his older brother.
HUNT FINALLY ROUNDS OUT HIS SKILLS
Mark Hunt won the K-1 Grand Prix in 2001. That means he is a striker on a completely different level from any other UFC heavyweight, in terms of accomplishments. Yet, he has always been a novice grappler. Hunt had five straight losses prior to his UFC debut. Four of them were by submission. Even otherworldly striker Alistair Overeem took this guy to the ground and looked for a submission, rather than stand and trade leather with this guy.
Hunt lost his UFC debut by submission. That was the sixth straight loss. To be honest, I thought he was finished as an elite-level fighter at that point. Anyone with novice grappling is not going to make a living in the UFC—period.
Then something inexplicable happened. Hunt figured out the grappling part of the game. Ben Rothwell is an extremely well rounded fighter, and Hunt dominated him on the feet and on the ground. His takedown defense, takedowns, scrambling and submission attempts carried the day. Thank you Ricardo Liborio.
Oh yes, Hunt easily outclassed his foe on the feet. Rothwell showed an absurd chin. It was tested again and again by one of the best strikers in the sport. But he had nothing for Hunt on the feet.
I’ll tell you what. Hunt easily put on the best performance of his career on Saturday night. Yeah, I know I said the same thing about Diaz. It’s not hyperbole. It’s fact.
For the record, referee Adam Martinez’ decision to stand up the fight twice in the final round leaves me scratching my head. Hunt was in a dominant position each time. He was working his ground and pound. Why stand them up? The referee did not look to stand the fighters up earlier in the fight under very similar circumstances. I often wonder why referees apply a different standard to the final round, in terms of looking for an excuse to bring the fight back to the feet. The round is irrelevant. Good referees know that.
QUESTIONS ABOUND FOR BROWNE
Travis Browne is a heavy-handed, farm-boy strong, Island-tough fighter. He claimed heading into his bout with Rob Broughton that he was a top 10 heavyweight in the UFC. His performance did not live up to that claim.
If we are being honest with ourselves, Browne dominated the fight, but showed that he does not always show up in peak shape. Sure, the fight was held at altitude. Granted, athletes performing for the first time at altitude often gas very quickly, regardless of the sport. But Browne trained at altitude, so it should not have been an issue. That raises the question of whether he got himself into great shape. I wonder.
Browne has proven that he has the raw ability to be a real player in the UFC heavyweight division. No doubt about it. His complete domination of Broughton reminded us of that fact. But he won’t rise to the level of the UFC elite if he can’t maintain his gas for 15 or 25 minutes. My guess is that he will learn from this fight and come out in his next bout ready to go the distance, if needed.