UFC 95, held on Feb. 21 at the O2 Arena in London, was almost an afterthought of a card.
The event was held after a string of major events, starting with Brock Lesnar's win over Randy Couture at UFC 91; the triple-main event blockbuster that was UFC 92; and the champion vs. champion showdown between Georges St. Pierre and B.J. Penn at UFC 94.
But what the card, which aired on same-day tape delay in the United States on Spike TV, lacked in superstar power, it made up for in octagon action.
Diego Sanchez, who was the middleweight winner of the legendary "Ultimate Fighter 1," was dropping down to lightweight after finding his career stalled in a loaded welterweight division. He found himself going up against "Ultimate Fighter 2" winner Joe "Daddy" Stevenson, who himself was in need of a victory. The Victorville, Calif. native fought in England a year prior and lost to B.J. Penn in his shot at the UFC lightweight title. He then went out and was finished in the first round by Kenny Florian at UFC 91.
Sanchez's drop in divisions turned out to be the right call. In front of a crowd of 13,268, "The Nightmare" flustered Stevenson from the outset, looking quicker and sharper than his foe from the get-go. Sanchez, whose striking has long been considered his weak point, battered his foe with a mix of punches and knees. And while he wasn't able to put away the tough Stevenson, Sanchez cruised to a win on the scorecards, taking twin 30-27s and a 29-28.
"It's my fault for anything that happened," Stevenson said afterward. "I lost. I went into this fight reluctantly."
Stevenson used the setback to change his approach to the sport. He left his camp in Las Vegas and began training with the vaunted Jackson's MMA in Albuquerque, N.M. The fresh look paid off with his June 20 win over Nate Diaz. That same night, Sanchez won a fight-of-the-year caliber battle against Clay Guida, putting him on the fast track for a title shot.
Just two months removed from Junior Dos Santos' stunning knockout of Fabricio Werdum, another Brazilain newcomer made waves with a brutal KO. Unbeaten Paul Thiago made short work of Josh Koscheck with a first-round knockout. Thiago will meet Koscheck's campmate, Jon Fitch, at UFC 100. Brash welterweight Dan Hardy enhanced his status as one of the UFC's up-and-coming U.K. stars with his quick knockout of veteran Rory Markham.
Quoteworthy: "I am here to do what the UFC wants me to do. If they want me to fight BJ Penn, Kenny Florian or Sean Sherk, I don't mind." – Sanchez, on moving to lightweight. RESULTS
Paul Kelly def. Troy Mandaliz, unanimous decision
Mike Ciesnolevicz def. Neil Grove, submission (heel hook), 1:03 R1
Evan Dunham def. Per Eklund, TKO, 2:13 R1
Junior dos Santos def. Stefan Struve, TKO, 0:54 R 1
Terry Etim def. Brian Cobb, TKO, 0:10 R2
Paulo Thiago def. Josh Koscheck, KO, 3:29 R1
Demian Maia def. Chael Sonnen, submission (triangle choke), 2:37 R1
Nate Marquardt def. Wilson Gouveia, TKO, 3:10 R2
Dan Hardy def. Rory Markahm, KO. 1:09 R1
Diego Sanchez def. Joe Stevenson, unanimous decision.