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UFC Fight Night Musings

Michael DiSanto, UFC - Gray Maynard’s close decision win over former conqueror Nate Diaz wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t easy. The real question following Monday night’s fight, though, was whether it was enough to earn the former Michigan State University wrestler a shot at the division’s ultimate prize—BJ Penn’s lightweight crown.

 

By Michael DiSanto

Gray Maynard’s close decision win over former conqueror Nate Diaz wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t easy. The real question following Monday night’s fight, though, was whether it was enough to earn the former Michigan State University wrestler a shot at the division’s ultimate prize—BJ Penn’s lightweight crown.

It is the general consensus among fight cognoscenti that Maynard and fellow wrestler-turned-MMA-fighter Frankie Edgar are at the forefront of the contender’s queue. Each man can plead a plausible case as the number one contender, but it appears that Edgar has taken the lead. UFC Fight Night: Order the replay and unaired prelims

Who's Next for Penn?

Maynard’s case is a simple one. He wins, period. He has yet to be defeated in eight trips to the Octagon. That stretch started with a dubious double knockout when he shockingly rendered himself unconscious executing a fight-ending suplex against Rob Emerson in a fight that he was handily winning, leading to a no contest as the official result. Seven consecutive wins later, Maynard finds himself atop the division after avenging his lone career defeat—an Ultimate Fighter 5 bout dropped to Monday night’s conquered foe, Nate Diaz.

Critics will point to the fact that Maynard has yet to learn how to finish his opponents, despite his winning ways. His last six bouts have gone to the judges’ cards, with the most recent two resulting in close, and some would say disputed decisions. Maynard is winning, but he isn’t necessarily doing so in spectacular, dominant fashion.

Like Maynard, Edgar has but one blemish on his professional record, UFC or otherwise. His UFC record stands at an impressive 6-1 with three consecutive wins. His list of fallen foes is a veritable who’s who of the division, including former champion Sean Sherk, former title challenger Hermes Franca, top contender Tyson Griffin and the always exciting Spencer Fisher. And unlike Maynard, Edgar has finished two of his seven opponents.

Hear what Dana White told MMA Fighting about Penn's next fight

 

Of course, the big criticism hanging over Edgar’s head is that his lone defeat came at the hands of Maynard. His critics will argue, therefore, that he should stand one space behind The Ultimate Fighter alumnus. But given his recent form and Maynard’s razor-thin win over Diaz, UFC President Dana White has informed a number of media outlets that Edgar is going to be “The Answer” to the “Who’s Next for Penn?” question.

That doesn't mean Maynard is out of the picture though, and you can expect that he will be eagerly awaiting the winner later in 2010. For now though, the classy Maynard sent the following message out via Twitter: "Just want to say congrats to Frankie Edgar, I think he's a great opponent for BJ. I wish them both the best of luck on their upcoming fight!"  Watch Maynard's post-win interview

Escudero vs. Dunham: No Shame in Submitting
The fight was over the moment Evan Dunham secured the armbar midway through the final round of what had been a very close fight up until that point. Efrain Escudero knew that there was no escaping the hold. His fate was sealed. It was just a matter of time and his threshold for pain before Escudero received the first blemish on his perfect professional record.

Yet, the proud Mexican-American warrior initially refused to tap out, sitting in a fully extended armbar for nearly 20 seconds.

It was an impressive display of heart and courage, but it was also a foolish decision by a young fighter. Veteran fighters know that there is no shame in submitting when placed in MMA’s version of checkmate. It is nothing more than accepting the reality of the moment.

According to a post on his Twitter account, Escudero didn’t break his arm, so it’s possible that he can fight again in a few months. That was the best possible news for him, because if he suffered a broken arm or elbow or torn ligaments in his elbow or shoulder, he would have been out of action for an extended time at best and could have never fully recovered at worst.

Whatever the case, there was no reason for Escudero to risk suffering significant additional injury and an extended absence from action by hanging on once Dunham fully extended the armbar. Watch Dunham's post-win interview

'Atta Boy, Evan

We would be remiss to discuss Escudero-Dunham without giving the victor his just due. In a bout of two undefeated lightweight prospects, someone’s ‘0’ had to go. Fortunately for the Xtreme Couture pupil, it wasn’t his as he improved his career record to 10-0, including two wins inside the Octagon. What made the win particularly impressive was the way that Dunham weathered Escudero’s early firestorm, surviving a first-round knockdown to eventually submit the former TUF winner. The bout was a thrilling affair for all to witness and Dunham’s slick submission win earned him an additional $30,000 as the Submission of the Night. Not a bad bonus check.

Lawlor vs. Simpson: Win-Win Despite Decision
Talk about impressive comebacks. Aaron Simpson looked completely overwhelmed by fellow middleweight prospect Tom Lawlor in the first round of their three round barnburner. Simpson had to survive numerous bombs on the chin from his attacker just to make it out of the first round. But like Dunham, Simpson refused to be denied and continued to fight through the adversity to improve the perfect start to his career with his seventh victory in as many professional bouts.

The fans, who were firmly entrenched in Lawlor’s corner from the moment the fan favorite made his entertaining walk to the cage, were understandably disappointed in the decision. Nevertheless, this was very reminiscent of the entertaining war between Alan Belcher and Yoshihiro Akiyama. Belcher lost that night, also by split decision, but the rising star clearly endeared himself to the fans, arguably walking away as much a winner in the court of public opinion as his conqueror. Lawlor has to feel the same way right about now.

They both earned a $30,000 Fight of the Night bonus. Watch Simpson's post-win interview

Sadollah vs. Blackburn: Amir No Mere Flash in the Pan
I’ll be the first to admit that I was more than a bit skeptical about Amir Sadollah’s future in the UFC when he first rose to fighting prominence by winning the seventh installment of TUF. The UFC has its share of guys who cut their fighting teeth inside the Octagon with tremendous success, including reigning heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. The common thread among them, however, is an elite wrestling pedigree, which seems to be the ultimate equalizer for green fighters. A tremendous wrestling base often allows inexperienced fighters to dictate where the fight unfolds and control an opponent, even when they aren’t exactly sure how to finish off an injured foe.

Sadollah, of course, does not have an impressive wrestling pedigree. He is a Muay Thai fighter with very good submissions. Thus, when it became clear that he would be forced to learn his trade swimming among the sharks of the UFC’s welterweight division, possibly the most talent-laden group in the promotion, I had serious reservations about his chances.

Sadollah compounded those concerns when he got blitzed by Johny Hendricks in 29 seconds at UFC 101. Then, when I first learned that he would make his return to action against knockout artist Phil Baroni, I was more than sure that Sadollah was headed for a stint on the local fight circuit to hone his craft.

Whoops.

Sadollah’s masterful performance against Baroni announced his arrival as a legitimate prospect. Monday night’s impressive win over tough veteran “Bad” Brad Blackburn further cemented his position.

The TUF winner displayed very crisp technical striking in both of those bouts. He remained calm in the face of adversity and relied on his technique to carry the day much like a grizzled veteran, rather than responding with rage and aggression—a mistake commonly made by young fighters.

I don’t know if he will top the Baroni performance in the near future. I do know one thing, though. I am not going to count out Sadollah again anytime soon. Watch Sadollah's post-win interview