December 31, 2008

Post UFC 92 Notes - The End of an Era

By Nicholas Bailey (nbailey@mmaratings.net)

Despite a lot of exciting fights, dramatic finishes, and an absolute gem of a main event, this card was bittersweet, and not just because I lost a bit of money on Nogueira (although if you followed my official plays you were one of the few people to turn a profit gambling on this event). Really, I was just sad to see Nogueira and Wanderlei go out like they did. Both men are icons of what I’ve come to think of as the “golden age” of MMA—the time period featuring the rise of Fedor, Wanderlei’s title Reign, the peak of the UFC/Pride Rivalry, and all around a very fun time to be following the sport.

There’s little doubt that the sport is now heading into a new era, with more homogeneity, even higher caliber fighters, and the simple reality of new blood replacing the old. In some ways, this year-end card closed the door on that golden age for good.

Rashad Evans def. Forrest Griffin via TKO (punches) -- Round 3, 2:46

Forrest fought a very good fight here. He landed more shots in the first two rounds but needed more power and chin and guard. Midway through the second round he landed hard on Rashad and flurried, landing a good amount of a very long series of strikes, and tagging Rashad pretty hard. However, Rashad seems to have a pretty good chin (although I still want to see him tagged by a real big hitter) and Forrest isn’t known for being a powerhouse. Although Forrest took the first two rounds, Rashad’s big right was always there, and there were several near-misses. I suggest taking a look at the FightMetric scores for this bout.

In the end, Rashad’s handspeed and power was just too much, and Forrest ended up playing a very sloppy guard (leading me to believe he was hurt in the knockdown). Rashad finally could make his compact build work to his advantage, delivering a huge amount of power in very short strikes and just piling on the damage.

Rashad’s hands are obviously the real deal, and his speed and power give him a shot in any fight. However, I still think he’s too incomplete to be a long-reigning champion. The division is full of great strikers, most of whom hit harder than Forrest. Unless Rashad has an iron jaw or improves his hands even more, getting hit as often as he did against Forrest will mean giving up his belt.

Forrest is going to continue to find success with his work ethic and size, but the difficulty he has in putting guys away, coupled with an average chin, mean that anyone he faces is going to get a lot of chances to knock him out. Without being a fantastic wrestler or having bulletproof defense, it’s going to be very difficult to find sustained success at the top level with a fighting style based around wearing down your opponent.

Frank Mir def. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira via TKO (punches) -- Round 2, 1:54

So, this is what Mir looks like when he trains properly? Nogueira was just a punching bag, so Mir was able to throw tons of variety and combos on him. Still, his hands looked improved and heavy, and he didn’t explode after the first round, so that’s an improvement. However, to be fighting the best in the division, decent hands and SOME cardio (Mir was breathing through his mouth beginning with the end of the first round, and slowed down noticeably in the second) are insufficient. When Mir gets in the ring with Lesnar, Brock is going to rip off his head and take his soul.

Mir’s improvements were aided by the fact that Nog looked absolutely awful. He came in about 10 lbs heavier than his last fight, didn’t move, offered no offense, and basically just got hit by anything Mir threw. Nog apparently had a serious leg injury and couldn't train properly (according to Nog, believable since he came in so heavy and moved so poorly), and was coming off of a staph infection and illeness (according to Dana White, believable since Nog sounded so hoarse in his interviews). I'm sure he had dengue fever and leprosy too, knowing how these things go. I think this loss really drops Nog’s stock massively. Being knocked out for the first time will definitely hurt his confidence in his chin, and confidence plays a big role in one’s actual ability to take a punch. The Nogueira that outboxed Sergei Kharitonov or even Heath Herring was nowhere to be found at UFC 92, and I don’t know if we’ll see him again. At this point I think Cheick Kongo would finish off a very done-for Nogueira. However, heavyweight is very weak, so if he gets favorable matchups, he could find some continued success before his now-impending retirement.

C.B. Dollaway def. Mike Massenzio via TKO (strikes) -- Round 1, 3:01

C.B., like other TUF runners-up have in the past, got a tougher matchup for his UFC debut here than the winner will likely get. Between Mike's leg injury and an improving guard pass game, C.B. didn't seem to have too much trouble here, although he did get a nice chin-check, which is always good for a developing fighter.

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson def. Wanderlei Silva via KO (punch) -- Round 1, 3:21

Rampage has very serious power in either hand, as we all knew, and a guy simply can't eat too much of what he can throw. Rampage will probably smash his way to a title shot again if he keeps training this hard and doesn't end up in prison. This knockout was very close to a replay of Rampage's shot on Chuck, somewhat similar to vintage Mike Tyson with the peek-a-boo style adapted to MMA. We still need to see if Rampage can overcome someone that wants to back away from him and has a reach advantage, as Forrest exploited, since Jackson has such a defensive, counter-oriented style (although he did stalk Wanderlei through much of this fight).

Wanderlei actually looked pretty good in this fight until he got smoked. He was very fast and crisp, although he was still throwing action figure punches and (unfortunately) leaving his chin very exposed. While he still has a couple more fights like the Keith Jardine mugging in the tank, I don't think Wanderlei can manage to string together enough knockouts to ever wear a major title belt again, but he could be extremely useful in putting on wonderful shows in giving UFC washouts the final boot out of the organizaiton. The man has sacrificed for MMA his entire life, so he really deserves to get a nice semi-retirement of returning to his old can-crushing days.

Cheick Kongo def. Mostapha Al-Turk via TKO (strikes) -- Round 1, 4:37

Cheick has the most impressive physique in MMA right now. Kongo has finally managed to use his massive physical gifts to fight off takedowns, which bodes very well for his future in the talent-thin heavyweight division. Al-Turk looked pretty poor in this fight, but he's a pretty good guy and can probably find some success in fighting the Justin McCully's of the world. The other really impressive thing was Kongo's ground-and-pound. In addition to its viciousness, it was very technical, with Kongo throwing combos and switching up his angles so that it was almost impossible to block it. I think at this point nobody in the division wants to be underneath Kongo, and very few will be comfortable standing with him. Again, with the unbelievable strength all his training partners talk about, Kongo is going to be hard to put down too. Kongo isn't a young guy, at 33, but he still seems to be in his physical prime, so he might have the time to really put together a good streak and even knock off some top guys en route to losing in a title shot.

Yushin Okami def. Dean Lister via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

Very predictable. Lister really hasn't become a well-rounded fighter at all, and Okami fought a very smart and controlled fight. Okami really has serious skills, but his control-based style is not going to make him a fan favorite. Lister needs to leave MMA alone. Soon.

Antoni Hardonk def. Mike Wessel via TKO (strikes) -- Round 2, 2:09

Hardonk still can't wrestle, but his jiu-jitsu is getting a little better, I guess. He's still very loose, which will hurt him against someone that can grapple at a higher level than Mike Wessel. Hardonk also needs to work on not getting clinched up all the time. Yes, his knees looked brutal and Wessel must have a hell of a chin, but it also lets his opponents just tie him up and dump him over, which he really should try to avoid at all costs.

Matt Hamill def. Reese Andy via TKO (strikes) -- Round 2, 2:19

Hamill is incredibly tough and just a rough fight for anyone, always moving forward, and always throwing his bruising bear-maul style of strikes. However, if he continues at this rate, he's going to lose on the fight against anyone with technical striking, especially if they have power (witness the clinic Rich Franklin put on him). Reese was simply overmatched here, and is likely headed out of the UFC. Unfortunately for Hamill, he will probably be most useful to the UFC in taking a serious beating from Thiago Silva, after Silva loses to Machida.

Brad Blackburn def. Ryo Chonan via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

Blackburn has serious boxing skills, and his gassing has been overblown. He did slow down, lose the third round, and get his nose broken, but it wasn't a Phil Baroni-level gas disaster. Chonan really needs to figure out how he's going to approach fights. He seemed to just float along through the first two rounds and content himself with those karate kicks to the leg. Chonan doesn’t have the control skills to win rounds, or the firepower to finish fights. Unless he can work out some way to overcome that, he’s going to wash right out of the UFC, if he hasn’t already.

Patrick Barry def. Dan Evensen via TKO (injury) -- Round 1, 2:36

This just shows that not everyone who fought in K-1 has “K-1 Level” striking. Evensen doesn't belong in the UFC, just as Barry doesn't really belong at heavyweight with his height. Still, if he can continue to work a distance kickboxing game as dilligently as he did in this fight, he'll probably knock out a lot of heavyweights. Barry has a good chin too, never having been knocked out even in his K-1 career. He did a good job of shrugging off or redirecting Evensen's sloppy takedown attempts, but Barry is probably totally useless off his back, so he's going to need a gentle hand in matchmaking or he's just going to be fodder for rebuilding an elite ground-based fighter like Cain Velasquez or Gabriel Gonzaga.


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