UFC 136: Ten Things We Learned

Edgar Maynard-47Examining the talking points from Saturday night’s UFC 136 in Houston, Texas

HEART OF A CHAMPION

We dissect every fight based on the information available to us, pouring over previous opponents, height and reach advantages, comparing and contrasting styles inside the cage. Frankie Edgar showed that the biggest asset a fighter can possess is one that can’t be measured pre-fight: heart.

Plenty of fighters would have been finished in that opening round, just as they would have been ten months earlier when Gray Maynard put together an eerily similar round on the lightweight champion in their second meeting. Both times, Edgar battled, hanging on when you weren’t sure how, only to emerge after the break as if nothing happened.

For all the talent Edgar has — and he has plenty — his greatest asset is his heart. When plenty of other athletes would succumb to the onslaught or wilt under the pressure, Edgar simply refuses to be beaten, and that can do as much damage to an opponent as a well-placed punch or kick.

We saw that again on Saturday night.

WHAT MORE DO I HAVE TO DO?

Some variation of that question surely ran through Maynard’s head on Saturday night, watching as he battered Edgar in the opening round for a second straight fight, only to watch the champion pick himself up, dust himself off, and come back out refreshed to start the second.

As fans and media search for answers as to why Maynard didn’t press the action more in the second, one of the explanations for me would have to be that Edgar’s resiliency hit him like a ton of bricks. After waiting ten months for this rematch, it has to be deflating to put a first-rate whipping on your opponent early, then watch him come back like nothing happened.

That has to take the wind out of your sails, and it seemed like that was the case with Maynard. When he was pressed for answers at the post-fight press conference, he had none; all he could do was praise Edgar for his toughness and fight off tears.

We’ve all felt that feeling at one point or another in our lives, where we gave our best and still came up short. Luckily, most of us don’t have to do it with millions of eyes watching or be asked questions about it afterward.

ALDO’S ADJUSTMENTS

There are going to be those who criticize Jose Aldo for winning a second consecutive unanimous decision, for not showing off that electric striking that is always discussed heading into his fights. The trouble is that while people were looking for a double flying knee knockout and getting restless, they missed a fundamentally and technically precise performance from the featherweight champion.

Aldo did an excellent job of adjusting to the pace and style of fight that Kenny Florian wanted to fight. He found his timing opposite Florian’s attacks, picked his spots, and sniped at the challenger like an expert marksman. While Florian delivered a higher quantity of strikes, Aldo delivered the more quality strikes, and that is what carried him to his 13th consecutive victory.

At the highest levels, the crazy highlight reel finishes aren’t as common, but technical mastery is; we see it with Frankie Edgar, Georges St-Pierre, and Dominick Cruz, as well as Jon Jones and Anderson Silva, though those two up the ante by finishing opponents as well. Instead of being disappointed with the decisions, fans need to start appreciating the artistry being offered up in the cage.

THE EXCELLENCE OF CHAEL SONNEN, PART ONE

The things Chael Sonnen said after his bout with Brian Stann are going to be the major talking point from this fight moving forward, and that is completely understandable. But as I said yesterday when explaining Sonnen’s place on the Breakthroughs list, his effort in the Octagon was equally impressive.

Brian Stann has been on a serious roll since dropping to middleweight, and Sonnen crashed through him with ease. He did this after being on the sidelines for more than a year, and he didn’t just grind out a decision from top position either.

Sonnen worked fluid transitions the entire time he had Stann on the canvas, advancing to dominant positions on a number of occasions. He roughed Stann up with punches, elbows, and knees, then finished things off with a tight arm triangle choke.

If this was anyone other than Sonnen, that performance would be getting a lot more recognition than it has to this point.

THE EXCELLENCE OF CHAEL SONNEN, PART TWO

Purists undoubtedly hate the post-fight diatribe offered by Sonnen towards Anderson Silva following his win over Stann.

I loved it, and I look forward to more of it in the future, and not just from Sonnen.

Did he take a page from the professional wrestling playbook with that promo? Absolutely, but he also got hundreds of thousands of people to early await the rematch between he and Silva. While it was already a fight many people wanted to see, this upped the ante.

Sonnen’s comments got the biggest pop of the night from a very vocal and engaged crowd at the Toyota Center, and that has to tell you something. With the majority of the post-fight interviews playing out the same, we need to embrace the small group of fighters capable of keeping the entertainment coming even after the fight has ended.

What Sonnen said after the fight did more to market and promote that fight than anything the UFC could have put together, and that’s saying a lot because the UFC marketing department has stepped their game up as of late. Expect to hear all or part of Sonnen’s speech in some promotional material in early 2012.

SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY

When I spoke to Melvin Guillard prior to his fight with Joe Lauzon, he told me the only person in the lightweight division who could beat him was himself.

Well Melvin, you beat yourself on Saturday night.

That’s not to take anything away from Lauzon, who clocked Guillard with a tight left hand and sunk in the finishing choke with precision, but as Guillard made his way to the cage, I knew he was beaten. He looked like a man who was already celebrating a victory, instead of a fighter preparing to do battle, and it cost him dearly.

IF TWO’S COMPANY AND THREE’S A CROWD, WHAT DO YOU CALL THE LIGHTWEIGHT DIVISION?

Lauzon added his name to the list of contenders is the overcrowded UFC lightweight division Saturday night in Houston with his upset win over the aforementioned Guillard.

By my tally, there three fighters all with legitimate claims to a title shot right now, with another ten who are a win or two away from joining that list. Is there another division that can even come close to claiming they’re 13 deep when it comes to contenders?

Either Gilbert Melendez or the winner of the Ben HendersonClay Guida match-up will get the next title shot, with the other earning next in line status. That should carry us through to the summer, which gives the UFC plenty of time to sort things out with guys like Donald Cerrone, Lauzon, Anthony Pettis, Jim Miller, Guillard, and Maynard.

The way things are stacked up now, we should be good for title contenders at ’55 for the next couple years, at least.

DON’T HATE ON DEMIAN MAIA

This one is kind of similar to the point I made earlier about Jose Aldo making adjustments and winning his fight with Kenny Florian on technique and fundamentals.

Demian Maia submitted the first five opponents he faced in the UFC — including Chael Sonnen — taking home four Submission of the Night awards in the process. Though he’s added four more wins since then, they’ve all come by decision, leaving many to wonder if Maia has lost his touch on the ground or is simply taking fewer risks in order to put a tick in the win column.

I think it’s something else entirely.

It’s hard to finish an opponent when they’re doing everything in their power to not get finished. Saturday night, Jorge Santiago played defense on the ground for the majority of his fight with Maia, working to avoid being submitted, rather than leaving himself open by trying to get up or produce any kind of offense.

Everyone knows how dangerous Maia is on the ground, and they’re not going to give him any chances to finish, even if it means they end up losing a decision. That’s the guy who deserves the criticism, not Maia.

KEEP AN EYE ON STIPE MIOCIC

I’m a sucker for undefeated heavyweights, simply because there aren’t as many talented big boys as there are, say, lightweights competing in mixed martial arts. That’s why I was looking forward to the debut of Stipe Miocic on Saturday night. Now that it’s in the books, I’ll be keeping an eye on Miocic moving forward.

The unbeaten heavyweight prospect earned a solid decision victory over the always game Joey Beltran on Saturday night, and showed why so many people have been high on him up to this point. His striking was crisp, he’s got a wrestling base to fall back on, and he looks to be one of the more athletic competitors in the heavyweight ranks, standing 6’4″ tall and carrying 240 pounds effortlessly.

It will be interesting to see who he gets matched up with next, as the name placed across from him may be an indication of how Joe Silva’s thoughts on his future as well.

C’MON ROGAN

I generally like Joe Rogan as a commentator, but he missed the mark Saturday night during the Jose Aldo-Kenny Florian fight.

From the way he called the action, you’d have thought we were going to have a split decision, the judges pressed to make the daunting choice between Florian’s aggressiveness and the number of times Aldo punched him in the face.

Yes, being the aggressor is one of the things judges look for round-by-round, but it doesn’t outweigh your opponent landing significant power shots, but that was the impression Rogan gave on Saturday night.

Honestly, judging isn’t as hard as people make it out to be; you just have to understand what you’re looking at in the cage.


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