Dissecting the topics of discussion coming out of UFC 131 in Vancouver
NO EASY SOLUTION TO THE JUDGING ISSUE
Saturday's event featured a couple of fights that resulted in curious scorecards being submitted. Two officials offered questionable 30-27 scorecards, causing a wave of commentary on what needs to be done, but the truth of the matter is that human error is always going to be a potentially hazardous part of this sport.
Let me make one thing clear: I'm not excusing the 30-27 turned in by Dave Hagen in the Omigawa-Elkins fight or the similar scorecard Nelson "Doc" Hamilton offered in Munoz-Maia. I strenuously disagree with both.
The problem is that no matter what you do to improve the position, some of these judges are going to screw up from time-to-time. It sucks, but it's the truth.
UFC 131 marked the second consecutive event where officials had monitors available, and it clearly made little difference. Neither did the fact that Hamilton has judged thousands of fights over his time as an official. He still got it wrong, and so did Hagen.
Education, not technology, is the key. Yes, the monitors help you see things that might be obscured due to positioning, but you have to know what you're looking for. From there, you have to understand the dynamics of what is happening. Personally, I think every official should be required to take some kind of certification, re-certify every couple of years, and explain their questionable decisions to the commissions they're representing.
At the end of the day, however, these things are still going to happen. I know that doesn't make it any better, but neither does kicking and screaming. The only thing that will help is more education, time and hard work.
DOMINANT DOS SANTOS GETS BACK TO TITLE SHOT
Before he stepped onto Spike TV as a coach on this season of The Ultimate Fighter, Junior dos Santos was the #1 contender in the heavyweight division. His victory over Roy Nelson earned him a shot at the title, but Cain Velasquez's injury put a wrinkle in the plans.
After more than nine months on the sidelines and putting his place opposite Velasquez on the line on Saturday night, dos Santos is back were he deserved to be all along, standing as the top contender in the heavyweight division.
The Brazilian dominated Shane Carwin on Saturday night, getting the better of his fellow power puncher by utilizing superior speed and technique in a blistering first round that left Carwin a bloody mess. Now 8-0 in the UFC, dos Santos admitted he tired a little after the first round, leading to him taking his foot off the gas and riding his jab — and a pair of surprise takedowns in the third — to a unanimous decision victory.
With Velasquez coming off shoulder surgery and dos Santos' profile higher than it has ever been, the challenger opened as the favorite in the eventual title fight, at date for which has yet to have been established.
FLORIAN PROBABLY EARNS FEATHERWEIGHT TITLE SHOT
While Dana White wasn't emphatic in answering whether Kenny Florian would be the next man to face featherweight champ Jose Aldo, his "probably maybe" response and Florian's high profile are enough to convince me that it's going to get done.
After a brutal weight cut that was one of the main topics of conversation all week in Vancouver, Florian showed no real signs of weakness in securing a unanimous decision victory over Diego Nunes on Saturday night. In defeating a consensus top 10 guy like Nunes in his divisional debut, and boasting greater name recognition than anyone else in the division, moving Florian ahead of Chad Mendes and into a title shot seems like the next step.
I don't necessarily agree with the fairness of the move, but I learned long ago that life isn't fair. Mendes was originally supposed to get the shot in August after amassing five straight wins in the division before Aldo pulled out. He's taken another fight instead, and with Florian in his place, the dollars of the deal make perfect sense.
Getting a win over the feisty Nunes was integral to Florian's future; a loss would have left him with few interesting options and no choice but to become a gatekeeper somewhere. Now that he's cleared that hurdle, he'd better figure out how he can improve his weight cut and hit the gym, because a loss to Aldo would move him to 0-3 in title fights and once again – and perhaps permanently – leave him out of options.
QUALITY WIN, BUT THERE IS STILL WORK TO BE DONE
Mark Munoz picked up the biggest win of his career Saturday night, earning a unanimous decision over former middleweight title challenger Demain Maia. In a very close contest, Munoz did enough to earn the clean sweep, rebounding from a tough first round to take the final two frames and the fight.
There are a number of positives for Munoz to take away from this performance. He escaped a couple of slippery situations on the ground with one of the foremost Brazilian jiu jitsu stylists in the sport, and showed the quality hands and wrestling acumen many expected to see in this fight. That being said, Munoz still has things he needs to work on if he hopes to continue his climb up the middleweight ladder.
Despite what judge "Doc" Hamilton thought, Maia clearly won the opening round, and was getting the better of the stand-up action against Munoz. Though his boxing has improved dramatically over the last two years, Maia shouldn't be getting the better of any contender on the feet.
Additionally, though he managed to avoid any serious danger and even threatened with a choke of his own, Munoz put himself into precarious positions on the ground, and that needs to be cleaned up as well. Though nothing bad came of it, there are only so many times you can play with fire before you get burned. It may not have happened in this fight, but if you put yourself in risky situations, someone is going to capitalize.
Munoz said in the post-fight press conference that he didn't expect Maia to stand with him and that threw him off a little. He also said he didn't expect Maia's hands to be as good and strong as they were. I'm all for building a game plan and trying to play out the fight in your head, but it's still a fight and you've got to adapt quickly. I saw Maia's boxing was much improved inside of 30 seconds.
The list of guys Munoz could fight next isn't long, but it is dangerous. Brian Stann is the first name that comes to mind for most, but the winner of Wanderlei Silva and Chris Leben is an option, as is the winner of the bout between Vitor Belfort and Yoshihiro Akiyama.
All of them have better hands than Maia, and they hit even harder.
A NEW STAR IN THE MAKING, PART ONE
What do you get when you combine knockout power, diverse striking, a willingness to take abuse, and a sardonic wit that keeps the media on their toes?
There are two answers:
(1) Heavyweight newcomer Dave Herman
(2) A future superstar
Herman used his blend of brutal power and varied strikes to get the better of Jon Olav Einemo in their Fight of the Night encounter on Saturday night. Though the bout lasted just over eight minutes, it was exciting from start to finish, and will definitely help raise Herman's profile.
Everyone loves a good heavyweight scrap, and Herman appears destined to be involved in more than a few of those moving forward. Keeping his hands low and his head held high will endear Herman to his new audience in the UFC, and could lead to some more slugfests down the road, though he'll need to correct those things if he hopes of contending with the best in the business.
Contention is still a ways away though, and between now and then, I anticipate Herman becoming a fan favorite and a star on the rise in the UFC.
A NEW STAR IN THE MAKING, PART TWO
When the UFC folded the fighters from the WEC into the mix, Donald Cerrone jumped off the page at me as a fighter who could get the UFC marketing and publicity machine behind him, take advantage of the bigger stage, and become a superstar.
So far, "Cowboy" is right on course.
Though his victory Saturday night was very much expected and ultimately uneventful, Cerrone still managed to infuse the bout with his personal brand of bravado and charisma that is turning him into a quality anti-hero inside and outside the Octagon.
Cerrone wagged his finger at Vagner Rocha when he tried to coax him into playing jiu-jitsu with him the same way Dikembe Mutombo used to after swatting away weak jump shots and lazy layups in the NBA. His leg kicks had a little extra force to them over the final frame, and Cerrone wore a smirk on his face that seemed to show he enjoyed delivering them more and more the longer the fight wore on.
Though he didn't say much after the fight, Cerrone is never one to mince words. He still wants to avenge his friend Leonard Garcia's loss to Cole Miller, and would welcome a chance to face original opponent Mac Danzig at the drop of a dime, I would imagine.
His success in the cage combined with that moxie and true gunslinger mentality is carrying Cerrone to new heights now that he's in the UFC. Don't expect the ride to stop anytime soon, either.
GOOD NIGHT FOR CANADIANS
Surprisingly few Canadians took to the cage for a show on their soil, as only four Canucks stepped into the Octagon. Three came away with wins, sending their fellow countrymen and women how happy, for the most part.
Winning 75% of the time is great, except maybe if you're the one out of four who didn't come away with your hand raised.
Sam Stout capped Canada's night with an emphatic first round knockout of Yves Edwards. Dana White called it "one of the most brutal knockouts in UFC history, if not the most brutal" after the event. While we'll put the quote to the test later this week here at Heavy MMA, I can agree that it was a thing of beauty.
The Stout counter-punch KO came after the lone low point of the night for the hometown fans. Rising middleweight prospect Chris Weidman maintained his unblemished record, choking out Kenora, Ontario's Jesse Bongfeldt with just seconds to go in the opening round. Previous to that, both Nick Ring and Krzysztof Soszynski earned much-needed wins in their bouts.
Overall, the Canadian contingent earned a trio of wins and covered every main method of finish inside the cage in accumulating the hat trick: knockout, submission and decision.
POIRIER DESERVING OF A STEP UP THE LADDER
Lost in Kenny Florian's debut featherweight win and "probably maybe" title shot is Dustin Poirier.
If you'll remember correctly, the 22-year-old from Louisiana is the one who originally caused all the mess in the 145 pound ranks in the first place by upsetting Josh Grispi at UFC 125 when he filled in for the injured champ, Jose Aldo.
On Saturday night in Vancouver, while Florian was getting the featherweight attention, Poirier was earning another win without much fanfare. He battled British kickboxer Jason Young to an entertaining decision, taking the bout 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 to earn his third consecutive win and second in the UFC.
Originally scheduled to face decorated BJJ black belt Rani Yahya, Poirier really needs the opportunity to face some established in his next fight. Grispi's subsequent loss to George Roop a couple weeks ago is detracting from what Poirier did on New Year's Day, and though you could argue he has as much claim to a title shot as Florian (if not more), it's going to take a high profile, main card contest to get Poirier officially into the mix.
WE'VE GOT A NEW NICKNAME FOR JOEY BELTRAN
After Beltran took the best Pat Barry had to offer and kept coming forward during their fight back in January, the comedic heavyweight called him a zombie.
Saturday night, Beltran once again showed his zombie-like quality, stepping through the best Aaron Rosa had to offer in a pair of exciting and entertaining rounds before finishing off his exhausted opponent in the third. Rosa hit Beltran will everything he had, and vice versa, but while the damage showed on the Strikeforce veteran, Beltran seemed remained unfazed.
Not wanting to forget to pay homage to his heritage, but feeling the need to incorporate his very valid descriptor into his style, Beltran will henceforth be known around here at "The Mexican Zombie."
For starters, it's much easier to say than "The Mexicutioner," and isn't shared with superstar boxer Manny Pacquia or Kansas City Royals reliever Joakim Soria, both of whom boast the "Mexicutioner" moniker as well, though for different reasons.
Plus, zombies are "in" right now, and switching names would make the potential for an all-zombie MMA tag team to be formed between Beltran and "The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung.
Props to Heavy MMA Associate Editor Jeremy Botter for the new name.
I FEEL BAD FOR OMIGAWA, BUT…
Listen, I think Michihiro Omigawa beat Darren Elkins. It seems like everyone except the three people whose opinions really mattered felt that way too, as the unanimous decision defeat the Japanese judoka was handed on Saturday night was universally panned.
I'm glad the UFC is paying him his win bonus and treating this performance like a victory, ensuring he gets the chance to fight again in the UFC. That being said, I can't help but wonder how this guy was a fringe top 5 featherweight just a few months ago?
Coming into his return at UFC 126, Omigawa was a consensus top 10 featherweight, having won eight of nine against some of the best 145 pound fighters in the world. Chad Mendes dominated him that night, using his wrestling base and improving hands to earn a decision, and Darren Elkins just about did the same on Saturday.
Elkins, need I remind you, is no Mendes.
Though I agree the decision went the wrong way, I still wasn't overly impressed with Omigawa's performance in the cage. Maybe I'm giving Elkins too little credit, though he hadn't earned much with me prior to this fight, but this was a fight where Omigawa was supposed to cruise. He didn't. That should set off alarms in his camp.
His hands looked better this time around than they did against Mendes, but he needs to improve on both sides of the takedown. Judo is a hard skill to translate into the cage, but it becomes even harder when you can't get to the positions you want on the ground, and thus far, that has been Omigawa's biggest shortcoming.
He needs to make a statement next time or else Omigawa will be on the outside of the UFC looking in for the second time in his career.