Sunday, October 9, 2011

UFC 136: Fights are fought in the cage, not on paper

There's a reason fights are fought in the cage, not on paper, and UFC 136 on Saturday night proved why? Quite simply, logic and common sense don't always win out. In my preview I asked the question whether or not the third time would be the charm? On this night the answer would end up being yes and no.

The yes came in the form of UFC Lightweight (155 lbs.) Champion Frankie 'The Answer' Edgar (Pictured @ left). After two previous fights with challenger Gray 'Bully' Maynard that ended once in his only defeat and once in a draw, Edgar finally put to rest his only demon. Strangely enough, this fight looked eerily similar to the second fight they had on New Years Day.

Edgar (14-1-1, 3 KO’s 3 subs), just like in round one the last time, got rocked by Maynard, this time by a right uppercut that had him on queer street. This time Maynard (11-1-1, 8 KO’s), instead of going all in and punching himself out, took a more pronounced approach, but had Edgar on the verge of defeat. However, this undersized lightweight has a heart the size of a heavyweight and it showed as once again he weathered the storm and came back to win round two.

A combination of Edgar's slick kickboxing and Maynard's unwillingness to go in for the kill, gave the champion the time he needed to shake the cobwebs and get in a rhythm. That would eventually prove to be Maynard's undoing as in round four, Edgar connected with a right hand that hurt 'The Bully'. A follow-up right hand dropped him and the champion, unlike his challenger, went in for the kill and got it as the ref jumped in to save a defenseless Maynard. While it may not have been Ali-Frazier, this trilogy delivered with the final record being 1-1-1; Edgar however won the latest and most important of the three.

As stated above, there was a "no" response to the 'third time is the charm' question. Unfortunately, that came in the form of featherweight (145 lbs.) title challenger Kenny 'Ken-Flo' Florian (14-6, 3 KO’s 9 subs). After two unsuccessful attempts at the lightweight title, Florian had worked his way to challenge the featherweight champion Jose Aldo (20-1, 12 KO’s 2 subs). While Florian had his best showing in a title fight, it was far from his best performance.

Early on Kenny looked relaxed and on his game working a structured game plan of clinching with the champion to perfection. It subdued Aldo's explosive stand up skills and had him on the defensive as he had to work to avoid takedowns. There was one flaw in the plan, when he was able to take Aldo down; Florian was unable to keep him there. Meanwhile Aldo was able to get on top of Florian in rounds three and five and do what Florian was unable; inflict some damage when he had that position.

Ultimately the result was a unanimous decision victory for the champion, though I don't know if he so much as won as much as the challenger lost. While he never really had Aldo in trouble, there were many times throughout the fight where Florian had Aldo pressed up against the cage and I felt could have utilized the position to throw punches and knees. He didn't, choosing instead to focus on positioning for possible takedowns that never materialized. The result, Florian comes up short again; and at 35 with so many successful ventures outside of the cage, only Ken-Flo knows if he'll keep fighting.

With two title fights on the card, the show may have clearly been stolen by the UFC's most controversial fighter and figure, middleweight (185 lbs.) Chael Sonnen. In his first fight, since his thrilling loss to champion Anderson Silva over a year ago, Sonnen (26-11-1, 7 KO’s 4 subs) didn't miss a beat as he picked up right where he left off. Using superior wrestling, ground and pound and jiu-jitsu, he manhandled 'All-American' Brian Stann (10-4, 7 KO’s 1 sub), eventually winning by submission via an arm-triangle choke in round two.

The win should and could have been enough, but it paled in comparison to Sonnen's post-fight interview with Joe Rogan. When asked what's next, the always outspoken Sonnen said, "Anderson Silva, you suck! Super-Bowl weekend, I'm calling you out and raising the stakes; you lose, you leave the division; I lose, I leave the UFC forever." Anderson Silva who was sitting cage side could only smile, while Charles Barkley sitting beside him laughed out loud. Sonnen is great at working his way into the limelight and I think he just did it again.

While the biggest surprise of the night may have been Joe Lauzon's, (21-6, 4 KO’s 17 subs), first round submission victory over Melvin Guillard (29-9-2, 19 KO’s 2 subs), that thunder was quickly stolen by the fight afterwards. The rematch between featherweights Nam Phan (17-9, 7 KO's 5 subs) and Leonard Garcia (15-8-1, 3 KO's 9 subs), not only stole Lauzon's thunder, it earned 'Fight of the Night' honors. As he always does, Garcia seems to know only one way to fight and Phan, who felt robbed of a decision in their first fight, was happy to oblige.

The difference here was Phan was technical in his approach, while Garcia was his usual wild, swinging for the fences, self. The result, Phan won the first two rounds, barely surviving a Garcia comeback in the third, thus earning a well deserved unanimous decision victory. When asked by Joe Rogan if a third fight was in the offering between these two, Garcia was all for it by saying, "If it's in Houston again, I'm down." Phan meanwhile was quick to respond, "No that's okay." Tonight showed why fights are fought in the cage, not on paper.

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