The Smark Rant for UFC 39: The Warriors Return

– Live from the Mohegan Sun Casino.

– Your hosts are Jeff Osborne & Mike Goldberg.

– With the suspension of heavyweight champion Josh Barnett due to steroid use, tonight’s main event sees Ricco Rodriguez facing Randy Couture to fill the vacancy, as they avoid any stupid tournaments this time and actually put the two best contenders against each other. On the other hand, the lightweight title (also vacant, for those keeping track) WILL be filled by a stupid tournament, albeit a stacked one. Now we just need a Middleweight champion. This is a crazy stacked card overall, by the way, filled with legitimate stars top to bottom. Let’s get to it!

Middleweights: Phil Baroni v. Dave Menne

Menne got knocked out by Murilo Bustamante of all people, so I don’t like his chances here. Baroni comes out swinging and just DESTROYS Menne on the fence for the quick KO at 0:18. That was like what would have happened to Brock Lesnar in the Carwin fight if Brock wasn’t a superhuman freak. And Baroni’s not shy about celebrating his victory. I’d say that puts him in line for the vacant title.

– Mike Goldberg talks about Barnett’s drug failure and talks to Dana White about the situation. Dana still has hair and humility, weird to see indeed.

Heavyweights: Gan McGee v. Pedro Rizzo

Obviously they’re trying to set Rizzo up as the next challenger for the heavyweight title (again), but I think time is running out on him by this point. Rizzo wisely hangs back and kicks at the leg of McGee, which the crowd doesn’t like. Well, screw them, that’s the smart move. McGee’s standup is really tentative, allowing Rizzo to circle around and concentrate on the legs. Rizzo also waits for McGee to try his weak strikes and scores with solid lefts on the counter. Gan goes for the takedown instead and Rizzo stops it, trying to keep it standing. McGee finally rushes in and gets a good combo, but can’t follow up. Rizzo gets lazy, though, and McGee tags him and busts his nose open as the round ends. 10-9 Rizzo, but they might have to stop it. And sure enough, the doctors declare Rizzo unable to continue, which I guess makes Gan McGee the new #1 contender. Man, that didn’t work out so well for the UFC, either. Kind of a dull, ugly fight until the huge finish.

Lightweights: Din Thomas v. Caol Uno

This is round one of the lightweight title tournament, with the winner meeting the winner of tonight’s Penn v. Serra match. I think we’re all cheering for Penn v. Uno as the finals. Thomas powers in with a pair of takedowns and gets full mount against the fence, but Uno keeps him wrapped up and unable to finish. Thomas switches to the back and gets the hooks in, but Uno won’t let him have the choke. So now Thomas switches to an armbar from the bottom out of Uno’s counter, but Uno braces himself on the fence and blocks THAT, too. Uno ends up on top, but now Thomas snaps off a triangle attempt, which Uno calmly escapes from. This guy is friggin’ Houdini. They work from Thomas’ guard until the round ends. Very close round, I’d almost go 10-10 because it took as much skill for Uno escape as it did for Thomas to attempt the submissions. But since they don’t usually score it that way, 10-9 Thomas.

Round two and Thomas gets a strong takedown with a leg sweep, but Uno calmly works for an armbar from the bottom while stopping Thomas’ attempts at passing guard. Uno ends up on top out of that, but now Thomas blocks the guard pass attempts…but kicks Uno in the head and loses a point. That’s gonna be costly. So Larry Landless restarts them and Uno gets a takedown and works some ground and pound, staying busy as the round ends. It was already Uno’s round, but with the point deduction that’s 10-8 Uno. Thomas is going to need to finish now.

Round three and Thomas gets some punches in before Uno clinches to stop it, then takes Thomas down with a leg sweep. Din tries for the armbar, but that’s not happening against Uno. Nothing going on, so Landless stands them up. Thomas comes in with a judo throw attempt, but Uno blocks it and ends up on top, foiling all of Thomas’ attempts to get something going. Uno tries to pass the guard and can’t get anywhere, so he throws elbows from the top instead, keeping busy as the round ends. 10-9 Uno, and that should be enough to win the fight 29-27. Judges say: Unanimous decision for Uno, 29-27. Great technical fight!

Lightweights: BJ Penn v. Matt Serra

Winner of this gets Uno for the lightweight title. Both guys are in a hurry to fight tonight, and they rush into a clinch on the fence. They trade some shots and Serra backs off. Back to the fence again as Serra fights for a takedown, but can’t get anything. Penn stops another takedown attempt and hammers on him, but neither guy can get the takedown out of it. They go back to boxing and it’s very even as the round ends. Close call, but I’m going 10-9 Penn because he hit more. Serra’s corner advises him: “You gave away the first round, now you gotta fight your balls off.” Advice just like grandma used to give.

Second round and Serra almost gets a choke from standing position, but BJ pulls guard to bring it to the ground. They quickly stand it up again, as Penn seems to want a punching match while Serra is desperate for a takedown. Serra, however, gets some good shots in with the round winding down, and controls Penn against the fence as it ends. We’ll go 10-9 Serra there for the strong finish.

Third round sees Serra getting more confident, trying for the takedown and throwing overhand bombs to counter BJ’s block attempt. Weird to see Penn, an elite fighter today, leaving his head open like that time after time. Serra keeps trying for that takedown and Penn just won’t let him take it to the ground. Neither guy did anything to win the round, so the judges’ decision is a mystery to me. And they decide: Penn by unanimous decision, 29-28, to give him the rematch with Uno for the lightweight title. Couldn’t really argue either way they went with it.