The heavyweights delivered at UFC 146, and fans got their money’s worth on a quick, but memorable night. Now that the dust has cleared and the blood has been mopped up, time to take a closer look at the biggest winners, losers, and everything in between.
Biggest Winner: Junior dos Santos
The heavyweight champ went all Babe Ruth on us and called his shot, then knocked it out of the park exactly like he said he would. After picking Frank Mir apart with clean, precise punches, he put him away with relative ease early on in the second round. After the fight, even Mir talked about JDS with a sense of awe in his voice. He expected the fast hands, he explained, but the champ’s footwork left him swinging at air after he had the wits punched out of him. Dos Santos’s first title defense is now in the books, and it sure looked like an easy one. Granted, Mir was the UFC’s backup plan, but he’s still a former champion who looked lost in the cage with JDS. You could argue that a better wrestler (like Velasquez or Daniel Cormier) or a better striker (like Alistair Overeem) would give him a tougher test, and you might be right. Then again, you might be terribly, embarrassingly wrong. We won’t know until we see it in the cage. Until then, dos Santos is alone at the top.
Biggest Loser: Jason "Mayhem" Miller
The fight with Dollaway was one he absolutely could not afford to lose, and he lost it. That’s never good. Causing a ruckus backstage probably wasn’t a great idea either, but, let’s be honest, he was probably getting fired whether he took the defeat like a gentleman or not. Dana White is no "Mayhem" fan to begin with, and Miller had vowed to retire if he lost to Dollaway. If you know it’s your last day of work -- and if you’re not angling for a reference -- I guess you might as well slash your boss’s tires on the way out. But can this really be the last the MMA world has seen of Miller? Personally, I hope not. He’s not only a fun guy to have around, he’s also a smart guy. Not that most fighters are dumb, but let’s just say there aren’t many who are as intellectually curious as Miller. You can actually sit down with him and talk about something other than fighting, which is refreshing. Because of that, maybe some of us in the media want him to be a better fighter than he is. I can admit it: maybe I want to see him stick around because he makes my job so much easier and more enjoyable. His performance against Michael Bisping might have been awful, but the Dollaway fight could have easily gone his way with just one or two more punches on the right spot at the right time. Still, that isn’t how went down, and it’s no good to make excuses for someone’s job performance just because you like him as a person. I still suspect that Miller is a UFC-caliber fighter, but I can’t say that he’s looked like it recently. I have to think that Bellator -- hell, maybe even TNA wrestling -- could use a guy like him. After everything that went down on Saturday night, however, it’s safe to assume that they won’t be in a bidding war with the UFC over his services.
Most Impressive in Defeat: Diego Brandao
For one round, Brandao looked like an absolute monster. The TUF 14 winner hit Darren Elkins with everything but a paternity suit, and he nearly decapitated him with a flying knee that had everyone within ear shot wincing at the sound of the impact. I’m still not sure how Elkins survived those first five minutes, but he did, and he found the holes in Brandao’s game over the course of the next two rounds. If you look at Brandao’s record you’ll see a lot of first-round finishes, but not too many late victories. Seems like whoever can survive three rounds with this little buzzsaw stands a pretty good chance of beating him. That’s something he’s got to fix, especially after every other featherweight in the UFC got a free primer on how to go at him. He’s still very young and obviously has a ton of talent, not to mention the kind of murderous aggression you just can’t teach. Maybe this loss will be all the motivation he needs to fix the holes in his game and come back stronger for the experience.
Least Impressive in Victory: C.B. Dollaway
In the post-fight press conference Dana White started to spout off his usual line about every fight on the card being a good one, but then he had to stop himself. "Well, almost every fight," he said. He didn’t go into any more detail than that, but one assumes he was referring to Dollaway’s decision win via top control. It’s true that he dominated Miller on the mat and roughed him up where he could, but on the feet he looked like a knockout waiting to happen. Whenever he faces an opponent he can’t take down and smother, he struggles. If you look at his record in the UFC, you see a string of victories over fighters who were later deemed not quite Octagon-worthy. He had enough to beat Miller on Saturday night, and the decision was a clear-cut one. But if you get up to the sound boos after your victory -- and if your opponent thinks that losing to you is reason enough to retire -- how good are you really supposed to feel about that?
One-Punch Wonder: Roy Nelson
You don’t have to like his ZZ Top beard or his monster truck mullet, but you have to respect that man’s punching power. One solid right hand spun Dave Herman like a top and brought him to his knees. Afterwards, according to White, "Big Country" had a few choice words for his employers as he jumped up on the cage. "That was his f--- you to us," White said, before launching into a monologue about Nelson’s image and attitude problems with a mix of frustration and begrudging respect. What are you supposed to do with a guy like Nelson? I’m not sure I know, but as long as he has that sort of fight-finishing force at his disposal, you’ve got to respect him.
Most Surprising: Jamie Varner
Go ahead and act like you expected Varner to beat up on Edson Barboza like that. Unless you’re a member of Varner’s immediate family (and maybe even then), nobody is buying it. Varner was one of the unlucky few to get dropped by Zuffa when the WEC got folded into the UFC, and let’s just say that he was not greatly missed after the merger. Less than a year ago he was talking about retirement, and even then it wasn’t like he had a legion of fans begging him to stay. When he took the fight against Barboza as an injury replacement, it looked as if the UFC 146 menu would include at least one serving of sacrificial lamb. He surprised everyone -- including Barboza -- by blasting his way to a first-round TKO over the previously unbeaten human highlight reel. Does this mean a career renaissance is in the works for Varner? Maybe. Or maybe Barboza just didn’t take his punching power seriously enough. Either way, Varner accepted an offer to get pounded into a pulp and turned it into his biggest win in years. Now let’s see what he can do for an encore.
Worst Stoppage: Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio Silva
Josh Rosenthal is usually one of the best referees in the biz, but he screwed up big time here. Silva was blinded by and choking on his blood even before the torrent of left hands streamed across his face. As "Bigfoot" lay motionless on his side, neither defending against the strikes nor reacting to them, Rosenthal seemed to be caught in a daydream. What was going through that man’s head as Silva’s blood was being splattered at his feet? Was he imagining the life he might have lived if he’d gone to medical school and pursued his dream of becoming a surgeon? Because, I hate to break it you Josh, with timing and reflexes like that, you’d lose a lot more patients than you’d save. Silva’s night was already bad enough, but Rosenthal’s inaction only made it worse. Usually, he’s better than that. In the future, he needs to be.
Quietest Riot: Stipe Miocic
Don’t look now, but Miocic is 3-0 in the UFC with two impressive knockouts. He doesn’t talk a lot, doesn’t do much chest-thumping or self-promoting. All he does is keep winning fights, beating tougher opposition every time out. He got a chance to show off his full arsenal against Shane del Rosario, who suffered the first loss of his career after Miocic opened his head with elbow strikes. Miocic also showed us he can take a shot as well as he can give one, and he did so with the savvy of a veteran fighter. Watching him in action, it’s easy to forget that he still has fewer than ten pro fights in MMA. It’s almost scary to think about what he might turn into once he has twice that many under his belt.
Most Predictable: Stefan Struve
Like we said before the fight, Lavar Johnson wanted no part of the Dutchman’s ground game, and Struve knew it. So what did he do? No need to waste time trading punches with a slugger like Johnson. He went old school jiu-jitsu and pulled guard. That’s not going to work on most heavyweights, but Johnson’s ground game is rudimentary enough that he was as good as submitted as soon as he hit the mat. That made for a quick night of work for Struve, who’s only getting better as he adds weight and maturity to his nearly seven-foot frame. One wonders if he would have had such an easy time of it against Mark Hunt.
Most Obviously Contrived Rivalry: The JDS-Mir-Big Nog Triumvirate
The UFC tried and tried to sell us on the promise of bad blood stemming from Mir’s bone-breaking victory over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, at times essentially forcing the words into dos Santos’s mouth. The champ resisted it, even when Joe Rogan gave it one final try in the post-fight interview. At that point, the whole thing come off as a script that the lead actor absolutely refused to follow, and good for him. Hopefully the UFC will learn from that minor public embarrassment and get back to selling the real stories rather than the imagined ones. Since when does the heavyweight championship need to be personal in order to be interesting? Some fights may be grudge matches, and that’s fine, but this wasn’t one of them and it didn’t need to be. When the fights are this big, with this much at stake, they can usually sell themselves. Trying to hammer in a phony sub-plot that clearly doesn’t fit only distracts from what's really happening.
Phoenix from the Ashes: Dan Hardy
With one left hook he snapped the worst UFC losing streak this side of Tito Ortiz, thus saving his job and possibly his career. Does this mean he’s back for good, or is it just a stay of execution? Only time will tell, but even the coldest, darkest heart has to feel a slight warming glow after seeing him endure his struggles like a man and end them with class and grace. Hardy earned a break in the clouds after everything he’s been through. Now we wait to see what he can do with it.