Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
It was the best of cards, it was the worst of cards. UFC 153 offered much of what makes mixed martial arts great, while also showing what continues to hold the sport back. Let's separate the signal from the noise in recapping Saturday night's best and worst.
How can one card showcase the most unique and special talent arguably in combat sports, yet play host to mediocrity, imbecility and outright incompetence? I don't know, but that's the norm in mixed martial arts these days. Here are your best and worst moments from UFC 153.
Most Believably Unbelievable: Anderson Silva
I never know where the line is between giving Silva his due praise and outright idol worship. It's odd, but if you describe his game accurately, you almost have to traffic in hyperbole or hagiography.
What Silva did on Saturday is what martial arts action heroes do in movies: they seemingly know their 'powers' are far greater than their foe's, so they allow their hapless adversary to strike or do whatever he can. Eventually when they grow tired of their shenanigans, they wield their scythe of pain and misery over the wheat field that is their opponent ending their tomfoolery in one fell swoop. Silva probably spent more time thinking about how to let Bonnar last longer than he did in thinking about how he could or would put him away.
Look, I don't know if Silva can beat Jon Jones. We'll have to see what happens if Silva ever faces Georges St. Pierre. What I do know, however, is that he is incomparable when it comes to tuning violent spectacle into high art in MMA. It's conceivable that others can defeat Silva in a fair fight, but no one - and I mean no one - can dazzle and amaze like the lanky spider from Curitiba, Brazil.
Least Likely to Let You Use Jiu-Jitsu: the Yamasaki brothers
As a Washington, D.C. resident, I've known both Yamasaki brothers for years. I've worked with them on various local shows. They're both kind, generous, extremely hard working and intelligent guys. In my direct experience with them, they've never been quick to stand fighters up, stop fights late or engage in other dubious refereeing decisions. No referee is perfect, but they've been exemplars of good refereeing when it comes to work on home turf.
So, it is with confusion and surprise that I note this wasn't really the case at UFC 153. Fernando's trigger finger on standing up fighters in grappling positions was exceedingly itchy. What's strange is that both Mario and Fernando, iu-jitsu black belts themselves, were forcing fighters to their feet seemingly within seconds of ground action or even as one fighter would be working from advantageous positions like half guard. I deeply admire both brothers, but there's no defense for that.
What's to account for it? I have no idea. Maybe they didn't realize they were doing it. Maybe they were told in rules meetings what the acceptable threshold was for stand-ups. Maybe they made bad judgments. Whatever the case, it didn't ultimately impact the night's more important bouts, so let's not fret too much. But it was nevertheless disconcerting to see referees this experienced and this knowledgable making decisions this obviously mistaken.
Best Redemptive Moment: Fitch's Rear Naked Choke Escape
Jon Fitch has had to eat - in the words of Vice President Joe Biden - 'a lot of...stuff''. He's had run-ins with UFC brass, dealt with internecine fight camp squabbling, faced crippling financial pressure, been routinely hounded for his lackluster fighting style and up until Saturday night was facing the possibility of being irrelevant as a welterweight talent in MMA.
All of that nearly crystallized in a single moment in the fight, too. Erick Silva had Fitch's back with what appeared to be a fully sunk-in rear naked choke. There it was: the one moment where all of the stress, pressure and challenge was going to irreparably break Fitch and sink his once-promising career. And just as Fitch's plum-red face seemed to go lifeless, the embattled AKA-product turned everything around.
He not only methodically worked his way out of the borderline indefensible choke, he eventually took over the younger welterweight and the fight by the time the contest was over. Fitch lost the second round, but beat Silva from pillar to post in the third, demonstrating he was the superior fighter. His performance showed that erhaps the adversity he faced - while probably severe - only served to strengthen his resolve.
Many fighters on the precipice of failure let the gravity of their problems overwhelm them. Many fighters under the duress of an expertly applied rear naked choke give in to the strangulation. Fitch, in one fell swoop, fought back from both and gained back much of what he lost in the process. Kudos to that guy.
Worst Judge of a Single Round in the History of the Universe: Romulo Bettencourt
Let's just say it: scoring the first round of Glover Teixeira vs. Fabio Maldonado a 10-9 is outrageous. That is a 10-8 round, arguably 10-7.
The numbers couldn't be clearer: Teixeira landed 86 punches, 64 of them significant. He scored a takedown, is credited with two guard passes and came close on a submission attempt. He spent significant portions of the round doing damage or attempting said submission from mount. This went on for approximately four minutes.
Some have suggested the punch Maldonado landed at the end of the first round wobbled Teixeira enough to merit the round being 10-9. Um, no. Maldonado did nothing with it, largely because he'd spent the last four minutes with a Brazilian psycopath on top of him using his elbows to basically gnaw at his face. Moreover, it was a left hook from Teixeira that rocked Maldonado at the beginning of the round and Teixeira did more to follow up there. If the two left hooks from the fighters cancel each other out, you still have minute over minute of insane abuse from the hands of Teixeira to account for in the scoring of the round.
The first frame of that bout was one of the most lopsided in modern UFC history that didn't result in a finish. If that round isn't a 10-8 in mixed martial arts, nothing is. 10-9 for the first frame of Teixeira vs. Maldonado is, stated plainly, utterly indefensible.
Least Deserving of Slavish Praise: TUF Brazil Cast Members
Can we stop pretending the next best generation of fighting talent is coming through Brazil's version of TUF? They're not. At least, it's highly likely they're not.
This isn't to say they're all terrible or that there aren't some bright spots. Franciso Trinaldo probably won't evolve much beyond what he is, but what he is is ferocious and a reasonable challenge for other mid-tier lightweights. I'm curious to see what more Daniel Sarafian can do. Rony Jason will also probably improve a little more.
But Jason also had a pretty tough scrap with Sam Sicilia. Sicilia is no pushover, but the only fighter he's ever defeated with a Wikipedia entry is Cristiano Marcello. It's not clear he's long for the UFC world and even he had moments in the fight where he was taking it to the season one winner from TUF: Brazil.
There is seemingly an unlimited amount of potential billowing out of Brazil in nearly every weight class. There's plenty to be excited about. But can we stop heaping huge amounts of undue praise on fighters who haven't accomplished much yet and have arguably limited upside? Their fights aren't 'good' just because there's parity between lesser-skilled fighters.
Best Chance of Establishing New Threshold for Submission Greatness: Demian Maia's Rear Naked Torque
You had to know if Rick Story was to ever be finished in his mixed martial arts career, it'd be in utterly spectacular fashion. Junk yard dogs like that do not go gently into that good night. Coincidentally, there was nothing gentle about the way Maia contorted Story's anatomy to induce maximum pain and discomfort. As people remarked on Twitter, it appeared as if Maia was 'juicing' Story's head for blood.
There's a really cool video with Eddie Bravo on YouTube that speaks to an overlooked aspect of Maia's ability. Well, Maia has many abilities in the grappling department, but I'm referring to 'the squeeze'. Expert black belts often perfect the art and science of squeezing their opposition in addition to drilling takedowns, knee cut-across guard passes and the like. The tiny, tiny mechanics of the application of a choke matter and getting the minute details right is the difference between a fighter like Story defending your rear naked choke and him tapping to your rear naked torque. What you saw on Saturday night wasn't a moment of improvisation, but adaptation. And that sort of adaptation is the province of only the elitist of elite grapplers borne from an understanding of their craft at the most granular level.
That submission was a place where the perfection of technique and the ferocity of MMA intersected to produce a moment of rather unique and incredible gore. At the highest level, that's what we love about fight sports, isn't it?
Most Whatever, Man: Dave Herman
Dave Herman looks to be in shape and I'm certain trains hard, but does anyone ever get the sense that no fire burns within him to compete?
I'm not castigating him if it doesn't. There's a portion of the MMA fans and media who'll chide a fighter for not wanting it more. My attitude? If he doesn't want it, upbraiding him isn't going to change his opinion any. Either it's there or it isn't and from what I can tell as an observer, it isn't. He never seems to fight with a sense of urgency. That isn't to say he doesn't fight hard, but there's a general lethargy about his attitude and I don't just mean during pre- and post-fight press conferences.
Herman is a talented guy and for a time was a true heavyweight prospect. He's young enough and athletic enough to be more than he is if he decides he wants to be. But I don't know if he wants to be. And that's fine. You have to do what makes you happy in this life. But if he isn't getting the kicks out of this endeavor that he's seeking and he isn't achieving the sorts of heights he is capable of reaching, what's the point of it all?
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