LAS VEGAS – An Octagon's worth of observations coming out of UFC 114 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
1. "Sugar" delivers: Don't count me among those who found Saturday night's main event a disappointment. Perhaps Rashad Evans vs. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson wasn't a 15-minute war like Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva, but if that's what you were expecting, you must not have been following Evans very long. The sellout crowd in Vegas spent the entire night booing Evans whenever he was shown on the big screen and throughout the first two rounds. But when Evans took Rampage's best shot in the third round, survived, and then imposed his will during the final two minutes of the fight, the people recognized Evans' brilliance in the fight and spent the remainder of the fight cheering the former champion. If you want to criticize "Rampage" for looking a step slow on one of the biggest spots of his career, that's fair, but the guy who had his hand raised held up his end of the bargain.
2. The Michael Bisping Appreciation Society: It's quite simply time to stop jeering Michael Bisping and give him respect for what he has achieved. Whatever Bisping has been asked to do in his career, he has done without complaint. Carry the company in the United Kingdom while the UFC establishes the brand in his homeland? Check. Come over to America and headline against Evans when people felt neither could carry a show? Check. Drop to middleweight? Check. Coach on "The Ultimate Fighter" as the Team U.K. coach against Team USA in a role that would ensure the wrath of casual U.S. fans? Check. Fight Wanderlei Silva? You get the picture. Now that the UFC is established in the U.K. and other fighters are making their names, there's less pressure on Bisping to carry the promotion end and more room to grow as a fighter. His win against the always-game Dan Miller on Saturday was a solid step in that direction.
3. Silva does it again: UFC matchmaker Joe Silva never shines brighter than when he throws an unknown on a pay-per-view main card and has it pay off. The most famous recent example was then-nobody Junior dos Santos' 2008 win against Fabricio Werdum. The best matchmaker in the biz caught grief from the message board warriors for making the fight, only to have dos Santos knock Werdum straight out of the UFC. This week, Silva took heat for putting Jason Brilz in place of Forrest Griffin against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Brilz and Nogueira put on a Fight of the Night performance in which Brilz more than held his own and nearly beat the jiu-jitsu ace at his own game with two second-round guillotines. While the decision was controversial, Brilz won't be damaged in any way by the loss and only gained from his strong performance.
4. Speaking of the Nogueira-Brilz decision … Of course, one thing Silva can't control is the judges' scoring. My first instinct when Nogueira was awarded the decision, along with just about everyone else in the building, was that Brilz was robbed. But on second thought, while I still think the decision wasn't correct, it wasn't as bad as it seemed. Brilz clearly won Round 2 with his two near-submissions. Li'l Nog just as clearly won Round 3 with a tremendous all-out effort. It comes down to how one wishes to interpret Round 1. Do you credit Brilz for his takedowns and aggression, or do you reward Nogueira for his stifling ground defense that kept Brilz from doing much with his advantage? The "takedowns vs. what you do after you hit the ground" argument is one of MMA's longest-running scoring debates, and in this case, Nogueira got the nod on two of three judges' cards.
5. Unhappy returns: It didn't take long for Diego Sanchez to look as if he made the wrong move in going back to 170 pounds. Against John Hathaway, Sanchez lacked the length and strength needed to find his range and impose his will on his opponent. This isn't to take anything from Hathaway, who put together a string of impressive performances on European undercards before finally getting his big spot in the limelight. But Sanchez, who moved back up in weight after losing to then-lightweight champ B.J. Penn, would be best served to do what Kenny Florian did after also losing to Penn: dive right back into the pool and start taking on the 155-pound class' best.
6. Stunning performance: Dong Hyun Kim is an interesting case. The Korean "Stun Gun" is a technically proficient fighter with strong ground work. He has won four of five UFC fights – a loss to Karo Parisyan was later ruled a no-contest when the latter tested for banned substances – but he hasn't quite connected with the audience because of his lack of flash. Still, after easily handling Amir Sadollah on Saturday, it is clear the time has come to test Kim against a higher-ranked foe in the welterweight division.
7. Back to the drawing board: Dan Lauzon had a public split with his brother, Joe, in the training camp leading up to his fight with Efrain Escudero. The older brother, Joe, felt his little bro wasn't taking camp seriously, and ended up giving Dan the boot out of their Boston-area gym. Saturday night's fight seemed to bear out the older sibling's take. Lauzon looked tentative and out of sorts as he dropped a listless 30-27 decision to the TUF champ. Lauzon has shown flashes of potential in his career but has dropped all three of his UFC fights; if he's going to develop, he needs to adjust his attitude in a hurry.
8. The fat boys are back: And finally, as for the portly Mike Russow's one-punch knockout of Todd Duffee, which earned him a knockout of the night bonus, I turn it over to MMAWeekly's Damon Martin. During the fight, as one Twitter post after another ripped on Russow for perhaps eating one too many donuts, Martin posted the Twitter comment of the night: "People ripping on Russow's body need to ask Fedor [Emelianenko] and Roy Nelson if you need a six pack to kick people's asses." Moments later, a straight right to the temple ended the better-conditioned Duffee's night in a flash.
- Wanderlei Silva
- Rashad Evans
- Michael Bisping
- Antonio Rogerio Nogueira