LAS VEGAS – An Octagon's worth of observations coming out of UFC 109:
1. What Randy wants, Randy gets: If Randy Couture wants a title shot, he should get one. Sure, one of these days the ageless wonder is finally going to slow down. But he went toe-to-toe with Brock Lesnar and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at heavyweight in his first two fights back after a long layoff, and he's now 2-0 since his move to light heavyweight after his effortless win over Mark Coleman. It is an open secret that the UFC's champions from middleweight on up are clamoring for a crack at Couture while he's still a viable headliner. One could make an on-paper case for other fighters at each weight class, but at this stage of his career, if the five-time champion wants one more run at the gold, he has earned the right to call his shot.
2. Walk the walk: If you talk smack, you better be able to back it up. That's exactly what Chael Sonnen did on Saturday night, and in doing so, he is poised to become one of 2010's breakout stars. Sonnen made waves all week by badmouthing everyone from Couture to middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Then Sonnen, a stylistic throwback to Team Quest's glory days, did the job in the cage with a convincing win over super-tough Nate Marquardt. Sonnen made waves again after the fight, saying he would rather fight Vitor Belfort, Silva's next challenger, for the title, instead of Silva, because he considers Belfort a better fighter. While that is open to debate, there's no doubt Sonnen is a credible challenger who provides the 185-pound class a much-needed boost of out-of-the-cage spice.
3. Paulo Thiago is legit … But there's no obvious next match for the Brazilian jiu-jitsu standout. Thiago (13-1) needs another win or two before being considered a sellable contender to Georges St. Pierre's title. But he has already been matched up with the American Kickboxing Academy's three-headed welterweight roadblock, finishing Josh Koscheck and Mike Swick and losing to Jon Fitch. And the AKA trio's refusal to fight one another is making it increasingly difficult to set up the sort of matches that will separate the pack at 170 pounds. Assuming the winner of March's Fitch-Thiago Alves rematch gets a title shot, perhaps Thiago should face the loser of the match to see who moves up the ladder.
4. End of the road? There should always be a place in the sport of MMA for Frank Trigg. Unfortunately, that place doesn't appear to be the UFC octagon. Trigg returned to the company last year, but has lost a couple steps and suffered a pair of first-round knockouts, the latest being Saturday night's loss to Matt Serra. The veteran Trigg is one of MMA's most eloquent representatives, a thoughtful person who made an excellent color commentator in PRIDE. Hopefully the UFC can find an out-of-the Octagon role for Trigg that makes use of his versatile talents.
5. Get me rewrite: It seemed the book had been written on Melvin Guillard. "The Ultimate Fighter 2" cast member is explosive and exciting, but also sloppy and vulnerable to the choke, variations of which account for all four of his UFC losses. But Guillard finally appears to be getting serious, going to star trainer Greg Jackson's camp in New Mexico. In his first fight under Jackson's tutelage, Guillard looks like he may be ready to live up to his potential after all. Guillard fought a patient fight against Ronys Torres, avoided mistakes and ground out a unanimous decision win.
6. Inauspicious debut: Rolles Gracie has the pedigree, as the nephew of UFC Hall of Famer Royce Gracie. And he has the right trainers, as Renzo Gracie and Greg Jackson were both in his corner for Saturday night's opening match. But the heavyweight faltered in his debut, basically quitting in the second round against "The Mexicutioner" Joey Beltran when Beltran began to pour it on with his strikes. Gracie had only three prior fights and is clearly a work in progress, and it would seem best to let him gain more experience in smaller promotions before returning to the Octagon.
7. Auspicious debut: On the other hand, Phil Davis shined in his first UFC fight. The 2008 NCAA wrestling champ at 197 pounds from Penn State dominated former WEC light heavyweight champ Brian Stann on the undercard, stifling Stann on the ground to the point he picked up a pair of 30-26 scores in a unanimous decision win. Davis (5-0) obviously has the wrestling skills; with improvement in his finishing ability he could eventually become a contender in a stacked division.
8. And finally … With UFC 109 out of the way, it is worth taking a quick peek back at the past couple months in MMA. To hear some tell it, this was supposed to be a period of gloom and doom for the sport, as a slew of top fighters were felled by injuries and mishaps at the time boxing was undergoing its resurgence. Instead, the past two months featured a slew of solid cards. Strikeforce put on compelling events in both December and January. The WEC had an action-packed card in Sacramento that sets up its biggest fight ever, Jose Aldo vs. Urijah Faber, in April. And on the heels of a UFC 108 card that delivered in the face of doubts, UFC 109's co-main events also gave fans their money's worth. MMA, now in position for a killer spring and summer as boxing tries to rebound from the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fiasco, showed off its depth as a largely diverse cast of characters stepped up and delivered solid action while the biggest stars were on the sidelines. It bodes well for the sport's long-term health and is something to remember next time we hit an injury-plagued stretch.
- Randy Couture
- Chael Sonnen
- Anderson Silva