The ability to successfully complete and/or defend the takedown was the deciding factor in most of the fights on Saturday night. By the end, I think half the arena had unconsciously learned how to shoot a single-leg just from seeing it done over and over and over again. Bet that made for some interesting after-parties.
So who were the biggest winners, losers, and everything in between after Saturday night's wrestle-fest? The answers await you below.
Biggest Winner: Chan Sung Jung
"The Korean Zombie" became the first UFC fighter to finish a bout with a twister, and he did it in his UFC debut. In the process, he also got his first win in North America, pocketed an extra $55,000 for Submission of the Night, and gave the multitude of fans who wore their Korean Zombie t-shirts to the Key Arena something to cheer about. All in all, a fantastic night for the walking dead. Perhaps the most important lesson Jung learned is that he can still be a fan favorite without brawling recklessly or walking face first into strikes. He fought smart, was technically sound, and he got paid without getting beaten up. Isn't that the dream of every zombie? Well, that and an endless supply of brains.
Biggest Loser: Dan Hardy
The decision loss to Anthony Johnson was his third defeat in a row. Usually that's the magic firing number in the UFC, but it won't be for Hardy, and with good reason. He's still a good fighter, and can still attract some eyeballs – some because they hate him and others because they love him. But after being headkicked to the mat and then thoroughly outwrestled on Saturday, Hardy has to face the fact that he's got some major holes in his game. That's not to say he can't fix them. He's a talented athlete, and at just 28 years old he still has time to grow as a fighter. At the same time, his line of credit with the UFC has its limits. If he doesn't start winning again very soon, he's going to find himself cut off in a hurry.
Most in Need of Some Time Off: Phil Davis
The former NCAA wrestling champ broke into the UFC in February of 2010, and then proceeded to fight five times in thirteen months. As most fighters will tell you, it's hard to add much new material to your game when you're constantly training for the next fight. Against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira we saw a fighter who was perhaps a little too reliant on takedowns and top control, which is to say we saw a wrestler who hasn't yet become a complete fighter. That's understandable, since he's only been at this sport for two and a half years, but what he needs now is some time to get back in the gym and concentrate on improving rather than just fighting. With his obvious ability he can go far in this sport, but Davis (and his management) ought to be wary of getting stuck on the fast track.
Best Worst Game Plan: Anthony Johnson
You have to admit, it was smart. After all the stand-and-bang talk, he attacked Hardy's most glaring weakness and wrestled his way to a victory. When you absolutely, positively have to get your hand raised at the end of the night, that's the way to go. It won't necessarily make you very popular with the fans, though. The thing is, "Rumble" seemed like he could have won this fight on the feet. He dropped Hardy with that head kick early, but then never even considered contesting the bout on the feet after that. Again, playing it safe is playing it smart, but only to a point. You can only successfully pull off the trick of promising a stand-up war and delivering a wrestling match once before you become the boy who cried 'slugfest.'
Most Effective Cautionary Tale: DaMarques Johnson
He took the fight with Amir Sadollah on about two weeks notice, and it showed in the second round. Johnson was doing well early on, but that pace is hard to sustain when you haven't had a full fight camp to prepare. The upside of the short-notice fight is that you get to make the UFC happy and earn yourself a little bit of slack if things don't go your way. The downside is, a loss is still a loss and a beating is still a beating. Johnson took a serious one when he ran out of gas against Sadollah, and now he's lost two of his last three. Sure, he stepped up and did the UFC a solid, but when people look at his record a year from now and see the submission due to strikes against Sadollah, how many of them will even remember the circumstances involved? Maybe the better question is, how long will the UFC remember them?
Best Prospect: Michael McDonald
On paper, a decision win over a guy who took the fight on short notice might not be so impressive, but in reality it took almost superhuman effort by Figueroa to survive for the full three rounds against McDonald. This kid is just 20 years old and already has thirteen pro bouts to his credit, with only one defeat. He showed a full range of skills against Figueroa and turned in the kind of performance that makes you truly excited to see what the next generation of MMA fighters will look like. It was also the kind of showing that makes you glad the UFC finally embraced the little guys. These two bantamweights were undoubtedly deserving of the Fight of the Night bonus, and it's nice to see them rewarded accordingly.
Least Convincing Effort: Sean McCorkle
From the moment Morecraft started unloading on him, it just didn't seem like "Big Sexy" really wanted to be in the cage on Saturday night. Whatever motivation he had coming in to the fight began to drain out of him before our very eyes in the second round, and then he stuck his head in a standing guillotine and did little to defend it before being unceremoniously choked out. Maybe there was a good reason for the lack of fire from McCorkle, or maybe he was just having an off night. But if you're not going to win, you have to at least like you're interested in the proceedings if you want to stick around in the UFC.