THE BANTAMWEIGHTS ARE ON THE MAP
The first bantamweight title fight in UFC history officially put the division on the map.
Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber paired up to deliver the kind of fight followers of the WEC and hardcore MMA fans have come to expect from the 135 pound division, going the distance in an instant classic. Casual fans who weren’t paying attention before this will definitely be keeping an eye on the lightest division in the UFC from here on out.
Lost in the rivalry between the two participants was the importance of this fight. A dud would have deadened the division with the audience that was getting their first big-fight exposure to the 135 pound fighters.
This fight needed to live up to the expectations that come with being the main event. For 25 frenetic minutes, Cruz and Faber went above and beyond. Not only did this fight bolster Faber’s standing as a superstar, but it established Cruz as a legitimate champion and one of the best in the business with the audience that didn’t know who he was before this week.
With a tremendous main event and a history of delivering highly entertaining bouts, we should see more bantamweight bouts getting a chance to shine moving forward.
CRUZ A DIFFICULT PUZZLE TO SOLVE
Saturday night, Faber came the closest to figuring out the bantamweight champion of any of his recent opponents. Though it wasn’t as one-sided as the 50-45 score from Sal D’Amato suggests, the end result remains the same: Dominick Cruz is going to be difficult to beat.
While Faber landed the heavier individual strikes, the incredible volume of strikes that Cruz offers is impossible to ignore. Mixing in well-timed takedowns and spending very little time in a defensive posture works in his favor as well. As he continues to hone his approach and add new wrinkles, it’s only going to get harder to deal with the champion’s chaotic style.
Notice I didn’t say he’s unbeatable, proclaim this “The Cruz Era” or anything like that; we’ve all learned our lessons in that regard. Faber had the right idea of loading up on every exit situation, and people are going to continue to chip away at Cruz’s style. But the champion will continue to adapt, continue to refine his approach, and continue to make the bantamweight division one to watch.
WHAT NOW FOR FABER?
By no means do I intend for this to take away from the tremendous performance Faber just put forward at UFC 132. He looked outstanding, went toe-to-toe with Cruz for 25 minutes, and proved he’s still one of the very best fighters in the world. But where does he go from here?
Faber is too talented and dangerous to risk putting him in the cage with an emerging prospect like Michael McDonald, Renan Barao or Demetrious Johnson. He’s already gotten the better of Eddie Wineland, is training partners with Joseph Benavidez, and very close with Scott Jorgensen. That doesn’t leave him many options at this point in time.
What’s more is that despite looking good against Cruz, the loss drops “The California Kid” to 0-4 in championship bouts over the last 32 months. As well as he did against Cruz on Saturday night, I don’t see the results changing if they were to meet for a third time.
It will be interesting to see who the UFC decides to match Faber up with next. Personally, Faber versus Miguel Torres seems to make perfect sense right about now.
LEBEN LIVES UP TO HIS NAME AGAINST “THE AXE MURDERER”
Chris Leben was indeed “The Crippler” on Saturday night. The original bad boy of The Ultimate Fighter ate a good shot from Wanderlei Silva that seemed to get his attention. Less than 30 seconds later, the fight was over.
The heavy-handed Leben unleashed a right that caught Silva right behind the ear, jolting his equilibrium and giving Leben the opening he needed to seal the deal. A series of lefty uppercuts followed, and in no time flat, Silva was face down on the floor as an ecstatic Leben celebrated in the cage.
It was a much needed win for the 30-year-old, coming off a first round loss to Brian Stann at UFC 125 on the opening day of 2011. With the middleweight division being so wide open, there are a number of different options for Leben now that he’s got another win under his belt.
Another potential slugfest with Vitor Belfort would certainly be entertaining, provided “The Phenom” gets through Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 133. So too would a pairing with Alan Belcher if he’s able to get through Jason MacDonald in September.
We’ll have to wait and see what direction Joe Silva goes with Leben next. Either way, this was an exhilarating performance and one that continues to show that when he’s focused and fit, Leben is a dangerous fight for just about anyone.
END OF THE LINE FOR WANDERLEI?
Seeing Silva laying face down on the canvas, you have to wonder if this is the end of the line for “The Axe Murderer.” Dana White openly lobbied Chuck Liddell to hang up the gloves after his loss to Rich Franklin at UFC 115, and he says he’s going to do the same thing with Silva.
He’s 2-6 over his last eight fights, a stretch that goes all the way back to his final two appearances in the Pride ring. He’s 35-years-old and been through countless savage battles that have left him a shell of his former self in the cage.
After having only been TKO’d twice in his career prior facing Mirko Cro Cop at Pride Final Conflict Absolute, four of Silva’s last six losses have been crushing knockouts that left him in a heap on the mat. He is a tremendous ambassador for the sport and beloved around the world, but his skills are deteriorating and there is no reason for him to continue taking the kind of punishment he’s endured in recent years.
The decision to walk away is never an easy one, but it looks like it’s time for Silva to call it a career.