Last night the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Last Vegas, Nevada played host to UFC 130: Rampage vs. Hamill. The event was stacked with important fights for budding prospects and divsional hierarchy, but was marred by losing its main event between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. Still, there was respectable action last night from UFC newcomers and veterans alike.
A few observations about UFC 130:
- The UFC deserves credit for creating a fight card full of parity. While parity often leads to decisions, when the magic is right the three rounds preceeding the decisions are filled with back-and-forth action, tense moments and demonstrations to iron will. Throughout the card we were treated to competitors closely matched in skill who had to fight through very difficult opposition to gain any upperhand. Submissions and knockouts are nice, but not essential in a close, hard-fought fight between skilled competitors.
- The eventual attendance and live gate numbers at the MGM Grand were proof this was not a hotly-anticipated card. Some have suggested the UFC would've been better served taking something of this magnitude (read: not much) and putting it on free television.
- The main event is proof once again that even in MMA and even with a strong supporting cast of fights, what truly sells fights are the main events. They are the promotional anchor that fans use to gauge their eventual purchasing decisions. A fight card filled with important bouts for key divisions is not what most fans, hardcore or casual, gravitate to.
- I like how the UFC includes each fighter's Twitter handle on on-screen graphics as they enter the cage. It's smart promotion and further entanglement of the UFC brand with digital media.
- This was the first UFC event in Nevada where judges were using individual video monitors to help them evaluate the scoring. Did it help? It's far too early to tell. I had an issue with the scoring in the Cariaso vs. McDonald bout and others believed Miguel Torres was robbed against Demetrious Johnson. It's far too early to tell what effect, if any, the monitors had. Judges will have to get used to using them and we'll need a much larger sample size to evaluate whether or not perceived robberies occur with lesser frequency.
As for the fights themselves:
- For a UFC debut, Renan Barao looked impressive. He displayed an impressive array of Muay Thai hand-and-foot combinations, savvy submission defense, respectable takedowns and perhaps most importantly, poise. He's a credit to Novia Uniao, the burgeoning Brazilian MMA scene and his own ability.
- Michael McDonald won a close decision over Chris Cariaso, a fight where I scored all three rounds for Cariaso. McDonald largely resorted to counterfighting and made adaptations too late in the fight. Neither fighter looked bad as, again, the parity of the matchmaking forced both to deep dig into their bag of tricks.
- Gleison Tibau made a case for himself to get a more prominent placement on future UFC cards. The Submission of the Night winner never gave Rafaello Oliveira a chance to ever do much. Oliveira did his best on extremely short notice, but was unable to deal with the physicality of Tibau. Tibau's combination of brute force and much-improved technical prowess makes him deserving of a chance against accomplished lightweight competitors.
- Tim Boetsch admitted last night his previous fight with UFC light heavyweight contender Phil Davis made him realize he had to move down to middleweight. Briann Stann had previously said the same thing. That makes two fighters Phil Davis has sent packing to the middleweight division because of the way he manhandled them.
- Speaking of Boetsch, he looked somewhat limited against Grove, but ultimately prevailed. The weight cut from 205lbs to 185lbs without recent experience doing so clearly caught up with him late as did the strategy of relentlessly pursuing the takedown. But for a first performance at a new weight class against a credible contender in Kendall Grove, Boetsch looked respectably sharp. Middleweight, generally speaking, is a thinner division than light heavyweight, so it's worth paying attention to Boetsch's at 185.
- Brian Stann did exactly as I expected him to, which isn't to say Jorge Santiago is an easy fighter to beat. Quite the opposite. My suspicion, though, was that Santiago's was riding a wave of hype from beating weaker competition, Kazuo Misaki included. Santiago's well-documented chinny-ness combined with Stann's power, takedown defense and general patience was enough to suspect Stann would eventually put his lights out. And that he did. After nearly finishing the job in the first, Stann took his time and waited until the eventual KO came. It was a just a matter of engaging in enough exchanges before Santiago's number was up.
- Rick Story is proof of the Miletich Theorem: anyone can be a fighter, but it generally helps if you've had a hard life. Story's personal background is filled with setbacks and having to make something out of nothing, which is tantamount to what he's done in the UFC. Slowly, but surely, Story has notched key victories against credible opponents including top contenders who he derailed before both came to the UFC (Jake Ellenberger) all the way to last night's win over the proven Thiago Alves. Story will need to add a significant amount of technical prowess to his arsenal to give Jon Fitch or Georges St. Pierre a run for their money. However, his tenacity, his primal unwillingness to accept unfavorable outcomes makes him the case study in how athletes rise to the occasion.
- Stefan Struve worries me. First, he's had a number of devastating knockouts at a young age. Second, he doesn't seem to learn as much from losses as I'd expect. He still plays with fire. Rather than be a disciplined striker mindful of pocket real estate, he launches himself into the air leaving himself hugely exposed. Against a limited but powerful striker in Travis Browne, that was a death sentence. I specifically asked Struve before this fight about using a jab or push kick to keep distance and he told me it was something he worked on. If he did, he let it all go once he entered the cage. Struve is probably eager to excite the crowd, but for his own health and career, he's going to need to be more mature about his decisions if he wants a future in the UFC heavyweight division.
- Roy Nelson, too, needs to rethink his career. He's got some of the physical gifts and experience to take him this far, but he's got no hope of climbing the ladder past potential contender in his career with his current arrangement. His weight, in and of itself, isn't just an issue for cardiovascular fitness. It also limits his physical and strategic options. Nelson deserves credit for using this unusual physical appearance to brand himself, but he's doing so at the expense of his eventual growth as a fighter. He needs to decide which he favors more and make adjustments (or not) accordingly.
- Frank Mir looked respectably sharp. I was surprised with his commitment to wrestling in this bout, but that was probably the point. If we weren't expecting it from Mir, it's clever of him to head in that direction. I still think he's a tad "heavy" and slow with this extra muscle on him, but his cardio seemed up to par. But he seemed to be adaptive in the moment, finding ways to stifle Nelson with close distancing, more varied striking and a game plan that exploited Nelson's excess weight. I'm not sure I'm confident Mir is ready to tackle the true upper echelons of the division, but he clearly differentiated himself from the middle of the pack.
- Rampage Jackson vs. Matt Hamill looked like a glorified sparring match. Hamill was unable to land a single takedown on Jackson and was chewed up with heavy body shots, uppercuts and right hooks throughout the fight. It was all Hamill could do to hang on. My personal sense is Hamill's sluggishness is due to him being far past his athletic prime. Rampage likely still has KO power, but needs to be consistently fighting to really make effective use of it.
- The UFC did Jackson a big favor with this Hamill fight. The UFC doesn't hand out tune-up fights and likely did not intend to here, but that's the effect it's going to have. Rampage was able to get 15 minutes of valuable experience against a fighter who had no hope of winning. He was able to work out the kinks in his timing, combinations, cornering footwork and more. If his hand heals quickly and he's able to fight again soon (potentially a title shot, according to UFC President Dana White), this Hamill fight should be looked at as valuable experience for future endeavors against a higher class of opponent.
My favorite moment of the night? The Demetrious Johnson vs. Miguel Torres bout. Johnson has asserted himself as a bantamweight force, but had to push through several tense moments to get there. Torres spent much of the fight on his back, but never laid his hips and shoulders flat. He was constantly pressing the attack with submissions, which even if they didn't land at least created scrambles. Most importantly, however, was Torres ability to off-balance Johnson throughout the fight. He wasn't just landing sweeps, although that was beautiful to watch. He also created enough disruption to Johnson's top game to force him to be more careful, cautious and reserved. Only when a fighter is comfortable on top can they really open up with ground and pound or pass guard with authority. Torres was either reversing positing or forcing Johnson to hold top position conditionally. For those who say jiu-jitsu is stale and boring without submissions, I implore you to watch this bout.
Which brings me to the eventual question: what was your favorite moment of UFC 130? Be sure to vote and let your voice be heard.
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