Looking back at Saturday's UFC on FOX event in Chicago...
THE LIGHTWEIGHT TITLE MESS
With UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis sidelined by injury, the jockeying among the rest of the 155-pounders has been going on in earnest, but the next shot at “Showtime” was securely in the hands of the man who was supposed to fight him before that injury, Josh Thomson. Saturday night, Thomson saw that shot slip away when he lost a controversial split decision to former champ Benson Henderson. Now there’s even more of a scramble and more of a mystery as to who will challenge Pettis next. Henderson could be seen as a frontrunner, but after the less than convincing win and two previous losses to Pettis, that fight will be a tough sell at the moment. Many believe Thomson deserved the nod at the United Center, but coming off a loss, that, again, would be a tough sell. TJ Grant had a shot at the belt secured, but since he’s still out due to injury – and may want an interim fight when he comes back – you can take him off the immediate list as well. So who’s next? A Pettis-Gilbert Melendez fight would be an interesting one, especially considering that many believe Melendez beat Henderson in their 2013 title fight. And with “El Nino” not scheduled at the moment, the timing may be perfect for when Pettis does return.
WHAT TO DO WITH BENDO
There are seemingly no easy fights for Benson Henderson, and you’ve got to appreciate the fact that against the elite of the lightweight division night in and night out, more often than not he finds a way to win, even if some of those wins are of the controversial nature. But what do you do with him at this point? He beat the man in line for a shot for the title in Josh Thomson, but it was far from a decisive win, and as mentioned earlier, his August 2013 submission loss to Anthony Pettis doesn’t make the UFC fanbase clamor for a third bout between the two WEC vets. But the man can’t wait until a title fight opens up; he’s got to fight, and at this point I wouldn’t mind seeing a third fight between Bendo and the surging Donald Cerrone. The two fought twice in the WEC – the first was epic, the second not so much, and while both were won by Henderson, a lot has gone on for both since their second fight in April of 2010, making it an intriguing bout that could propel the winner into a title shot that fans want to see.
THE PUNK IN PRIME FORM
Despite not getting the win on the scorecards Saturday night, Josh “The Punk” Thomson picked up more than a few new fans with his effort against Benson Henderson. What may be even more notable is that he fought much of the five rounder with an injured hand. And while he hinted at retirement at Saturday’s post-fight press conference, his last three bouts against Henderson, Nate Diaz, and Gil Melendez have shown him to still be among the elite at 155 pounds at an age (35) when many fighters are on the downside of their careers. The former Strikeforce lightweight champion clearly has more to give to this sport as an active fighter, and if champion Anthony Pettis is going to be out longer than expected, how about a fourth fight between Thomson and Melendez, this time in the Octagon?
THE COWBOY RIDES ON
Donald Cerrone looked listless and out of sorts in his losses to Anthony Pettis and Rafael Dos Anjos, but against Evan Dunham and Adriano Martins, he’s been showing off some of the best form of his highlight reel career. Saturday’s Knockout of the Night win of Martins is an early KO of the Year candidate, and hey, if he wants to fight six times this year, no one will complain about seeing the “Cowboy” every other month in 2014. As for that hint at moving to 145, I wouldn’t expect that to happen anytime soon because Cerrone is clearly a player again in the lightweight division.
MIOCIC IMPRESSES AGAIN
Stipe Miocic’s last two wins over Roy Nelson and Gabriel Gonzaga have him moving steadily up the heavyweight ranks, and victories against veteran opposition will do wonders for the Ohio native’s own experience level. Now it’s time to see what he can do against top five level competition, and his boxing can keep him in good stead against any heavyweight. But there are some question marks. The first, how will he cope with a ground wizard like a Fabricio Werdum? The second, will his confidence standing in the pocket eventually catch up to him. Gonzaga drilled him with several hard punches and kicks, and while Miocic didn’t blink with any of the shots, you can’t roll the dice like that every time.
The quietest unbeaten streak in the UFC most certainly belongs to bantamweight Alex “Bruce Leroy” Caceres, who has not lost in his last five fights, winning four of them (his March 2013 win over Kyung Ho Kang was overturned after he tested positive for marijuana). Saturday night, he picked up Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night bonuses for his come from behind win over hot prospect Sergio Pettis, and he may very well be on the road to becoming a contender sooner rather than later. And though his finish of the talented Pettis was impressive, what really stuck out was his resilience in coming back from a rough first round in which he ate some big shots. Yeah, he’s a quirky kid, but in his heart, he’s pure fighter.
THIS AND THAT
Jeremy Stephens moved to 3-0 at featherweight with a workmanlike win over Darren Elkins, and I don’t know if it showed up on TV, but live, you can hear the punches coming from the “Lil’ Heathen.” He’s one fighter no one should be amped up about sharing the Octagon with. He’s scary. Kudos to Elkins for surviving such hellacious incoming fire and almost pulling off a last second submission…I thought the Eddie Wineland-Yves Jabouin bout was going to be Fight of the Night; Wineland made sure it wasn’t, scoring an impressive second round TKO of a talented striker in Jabouin…Daron Cruickshank’s striking is always fun to watch, and Saturday night’s win over Mike Rio did nothing to change that opinion…Speaking of throwing hard, Hugo Viana was unleashing some bombs in his bout against Junior Hernandez, but those bombs fizzled as the third round approach, and Hernandez turned up the heat. If this was a five rounder, the odds would have shifted drastically in the Iowan’s favor, but in a three rounder, the Brazilian’s early work was more than enough to get the win…Solid workmanlike wins for Chico Camus and George Sullivan. Both guys put on their hard hats and put in 15 minutes on the clock, earning their wins the old fashioned way…Heavyweight prospect Nikita Krylov opted for a quick night, needing just 25 seconds to take out Walt Harris in a fight that just had no chance of going three rounds…