It was more like a really good Fight Night event, complete with the same few video game and credit report ads over and over and over again. At least now if I wake up in the middle of the night and realize I have sleepwalked to Wal-Mart to buy Assassin's Creed, I'll know who to blame.
But now that the paychecks and the concussions have been handed out and another one is in the books, let's sort through the wreckage to find the biggest winners, losers, and everything in between.
Biggest Winner: Mark Munoz
It was the cut over Leben's eye that stopped the fight, but it was Munoz's pace and power that put it there. Every punch Munoz threw was a home run swing, and it's hard not to wonder if his relentless pressure didn't help to convince Leben that maybe it wasn't a great idea to try and fight on through the mask of blood. If I had plasma obstructing my vision in one eye, I'm not sure I'd want to march back out into that hurricane again either. It's a great victory for Munoz, but does he really think he's ready for a title shot? He's won four straight against an increasingly impressive list of victims, but it would be hard to put him ahead of guys like Chael Sonnen or the winner of the Michael Bisping-"Mayhem" Miller bout. At 33, I realize he doesn't have years to wait around for his chance, but he needs at least one more high-profile win before he deserves a crack at the gold. If he continues to improve at his current pace, he might really be able to do something with the opportunity by then.
Biggest Loser: Chris Leben
Something about ending on a cut between rounds just doesn't seem to fit with the Leben mystique. No matter how legitimate or necessary it was, that's not how "The Crippler" is supposed to go out. He's supposed to keep plodding forward, keep deflecting blows with his skull, keep tossing back haymakers of his own until someone is down and out. For him to get stopped by a cut and look almost grateful for it to be over, it just feels wrong. There were rumors of a disastrous weight cut for Leben, so maybe he was genuinely glad to get out of there. Whatever the cause, he's now lost two of his last three, with the lone win coming against the guy who Dana White says should quit. When we talked last week and Leben expressed his belief that this was essentially a number one contender bout, I asked him how he'd feel if he never got a title shot in the UFC. What if he retired as the brawler who people loved to watch, but who never even got a close-up look at a belt? "You know what?" Leben said. "Actually I am fine with that. At this point in my career I want to fight epic fights and have great battles." Saturday night in Birmingham was probably a battle he'd rather forget.
Just What the Little Guys Needed: Renan Barao and Brad Pickett
We hear plenty of griping about the lack of finishes in the lighter weight classes, but Barao and Pickett both showed up intent on damaging someone's frontal lobe. When guys get into exchanging power shots like that, you know it will only be a matter of time until someone's consciousness flickers. The beautiful knee from Barao turned out to be the difference-maker, and he did a great job of capitalizing on Pickett's woozy state in order to sink in the choke. Before the bout, Pickett said he couldn't tell just how good Barao was, since he hadn't faced tough competition yet. That was a fair assessment at the time, but now we know: this kid is good. Pickett knows it too, just like he knows that maybe he should have been a little more worried about Barao's stand-up game after all.
Most Overly Ambitious Debut: Papy Abedi
The story coming out of Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg during the broadcast was that Abedi had turned down lesser names in order to make his UFC debut against veteran welterweight Thiago Alves. If that's true, it should serve as one more reminder that hubris comes with a price in this business. Abedi was game enough, and he certainly wasn't afraid of Alves. At least, not until a couple well-placed hooks had him doing the stanky leg. If you're going to fight in the UFC, I suppose you'd better think of yourself as someone who's capable of hanging with the best and the toughest, but does that mean you have to do it right away? Your first time in the Octagon might be difficult enough without a guy like Alves standing across from you. Sooner or later, you'll have to fight guys like him, but why not wait and do it when you're getting paid like a veteran rather than a rookie? Abedi showed everyone that he's got guts. Next time, maybe he should work on showing them that he's got brains, too.
Most Ado About Nothing: Thiago Alves' weight
With his history, it's understandable for people to freak out when he shows up on the scales a pound heavy. This is the same guy who got within a half-pound of making weight for his rematch with Jon Fitch, but ultimately decided to pay Fitch 20 percent of his purse rather than jump back in the sauna. But Mike Dolce, Alves' nutritionist, swears they didn't have any trouble stripping off that last pound while still keeping Alves in prime condition this time. As good as he looked against Abedi, I believe it. He was calm, patient, and violently efficient. Most importantly, he didn't look like he'd left his best stuff on the scale this time. Alves once told me (while we were sitting down to a great big lunch, appetizers and all) that the thing he hated most about fighting was the diet. He talked about a post-MMA life where he could eat whatever, whenever in the same wistful tones that insurance agents talk about retiring to play golf all day. It's no wonder that weight has been a struggle for him, but with Dolce he finally seems to have that part of his life under control. Next area of emphasis for "The Pitbull"? Takedown defense.
Most Resilient: Anthony Perosh
What's a 39-year-old Australian with a 12-6 career record doing riding a two-fight win streak in the UFC's light heavyweight division? Beats me, but Perosh just won't go away quietly. He still seems uncomfortable on his feet, and it's incredibly hard to imagine that he and Jon Jones are even in the same weight class, much less fighting for the same organization. Still, Perosh has legitimately dangerous ground game, even if he lacks the wrestling skills to reliably get the fight there. Diabate all but took himself down early in the second, and that was all the opening Perosh needed. He's every bit as patient and methodical on the mat as he is awkward and tentative on the feet. That was good enough for a win over Diabate, but how far can this middle-aged "Hippo" go with this relatively limited skill set? I have no idea, though he seems intent on finding out.
Quickest Comeback: Terry Etim
After more than a year and a half out of the cage, Etim's return was over in just 17 seconds. Not only is that not enough time to knock off the ring rust, it's not even enough time to work up a sweat. It was obvious right away that Etim and Eddie Faaloloto were simply not operating on the same level, so maybe it's good that it ended so quickly. Any longer and things might have gotten very ugly for Faaloloto, who simply can't be long for the UFC after that performance. It's good to have Etim back, but can we please get a translator in there for his post-fight remarks? I listened closely and tried my best to pick out a few familiar words, but it was like trying to read something in a dream. Whatever language he was speaking, it was just familiar enough to be frustrating.
Most Perfunctory Win: Michihiro Omigawa
His decision victory over Jason Young wasn't the prettiest or the most exciting fight you'll ever see, but Omigawa needed that one in a bad way. He snapped his two-fight losing streak in the UFC and learned that not all judges are as blind as the ones who handed him a loss against Darren Elkins, so perhaps it was more of a psychological boost than anything else. Now that Omigawa finally has a UFC win under his belt, he needs to prove that he can do more than just barely edge one out. It's great that he's halted his slide, but it means the opponents will only get tougher.
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