I was as excited as I have been for a UFC event in years before UFC 126. This card was stacked from top to bottom with interesting fights that also had the potential to be exciting. On Bloody Elbow I asked readers if this was the best "on paper" card in the promotion's history.
I'd be lying if I said the card lived up to my expectations. Let's take a look at how things went down:
- Demetrious Johnson and Norifumi Yamamoto kicked off the broadcast portion of the card with an interesting enough battle. Johnson showed incredible timing and quickness to constantly duck under the punches of Yamamoto and score takedowns. He wasn't able to do much on the ground with "KID" getting back to his feet with regularity but he mixed in some decent strikes to make it clear that he had earned the decision.
- On the Spike TV portion of the broadcast Chad Mendes looked great in dominating the overmatched and overranked Michihiro Omigawa. Mendes has often faced criticism for being a boring "lay and pray" artist but he beat up Omigawa standing, even dropping him with a shot in round two.
- Donald Cerrone made his UFC debut against Paul Kelly and didn't exactly impress. Cerrone is known as a "slow starter" but he was getting beat up on the feet by Kelly. It only cemented my feelings that Donald is far from a future UFC title contender.
- Then the PPV broadcast started and everything went to hell. Miguel Torres fought Antonio Banuelos in the opener and what should have been an exciting slugfest turned into a snoozer. It's hard to fault Torres for not doing more than jabbing Banuelos over and over (with the occasional right hand mixed in). Banuelos refused to try to change up his gameplan and stood outside against a much longer fighter, the worst gameplan possible. Torres was right to fight safe unless Banuelos forced him to do otherwise, but that doesn't mean the fight was a great watch.
- Carlos Eduardo Rocha looked great in round one against Jake Ellenberger. Once the BJJ black belt got on top he was transitioning from position to position like it was nothing. Even the extremely casual fans I was watching with appreciated the technique on display. Unfortunately the second and third rounds took place though. Ellenberger looked willing to do only the bare minimum to win both rounds and we were treated to 10 minutes of pawing, mostly missed strikes. It went from an exciting technical display to a dreadful mess.
- Jon Jones trucked Ryan Bader. It was fun to watch Jones handle the best fighter he's been in with but disappointing that Bader got mentally defeated so quickly. Jones getting his shot at Mauricio Rua may be a little too soon but it's still an insanely interesting bout.
- I've seen several fans attempt to sell the Rich Franklin vs. Forrest Griffin fight as a "good technical battle." It was not. Griffin dominated round 1 with a ground and pound attack before they went into a sloppy stand-up fight for two rounds. Knowing both men and how good they are, I think it was probably a case of two rusty fighters coming off injuries that made the fight somewhat lackluster. Also, Rich Franklin seemed almost content simply to get to the scorecards rather than push the pace in the third to try to win the fight on them.
Anderson Silva saved my night with his brutal front kick KO of Vitor Belfort (photo by James Law of Heavy.com). The fight started slow which was not a shock given the usual start to Silva's fights. He likes to get comfortable and find the rhythm of the fight before opening up. It took a bit longer than normal for him to let something fly, but when he did it was amazing. Jonathan Snowden of Bloody Elbow asserts that this secures his place as the best fighter in MMA history and it's hard to disagree.
Maybe it was my own unfair expectations of the card that left me feeling so deeply let down. All I know for sure is that I'm glad Anderson Silva gave me something to remember.