After a jam-packed weekend of UFC action, there's just no way to give every fight and every fighter his due attention. Not unless I wanted to write a 10,000-word version of Falling Action, which I don't. So instead, this week we're combining the two events, just as we did with the MMA Wrap-Up, and looking at the biggest winners, losers, and everything in between from two days of fighting.
Biggest Winner: Rich Franklin
Once again it’s "Ace" to the rescue for the UFC. Like a superhero with a Beatles haircut, he swooped into Brazil, replaced an injured Vitor Belfort, and became one half of a memorable main event on an otherwise forgettable pay-per-view. He even got his skull thumped on in a near-finish that fired up the local crowd, but he still did just enough to survive the round. Then he recovered like a 190-pound Frankie Edgar before going right back to work in the next frame. Franklin seems to have no memory of that, according to his post-fight remarks, but hopefully his family remembered to DVR it for him so he can enjoy it when he gets home. This was one more solid performance in a career full of them. Franklin was a good champion for the UFC back before Anderson Silva showed up and changed the landscape of the middleweight division. Ever since, he’s been an excellent role-player, filling in where needed and treating even the meaningless bouts like they’re title fights. It’s easy for that to go unnoticed, but you get the sense that Franklin does it not for the glory or the accolades, but for the same reason he can’t bring himself to walk away just yet: he really, truly loves this stuff. Does he have another middleweight title run left in him? Probably not as long as Silva is still around. Or Sonnen. Or maybe even Belcher. But one thing you know about Franklin is that no matter what you ask him to do, he’ll do it with everything he’s got. There’s always going to be a need for that kind of fighter -- hell, for that kind of person.
Biggest Loser: Clay Guida
It was a stick-and-move performance with far more move than stick. The stats tell us that he was throwing more strikes than Maynard, but he appeared to be doing so on the run, which rarely makes a good impression on fans or judges. You can’t blame him for not wanting to stand in front of a bigger, stronger fighter and trade haymakers or blast doubles. Glorify the ‘going out on your shield’ mentality all you want, at a certain point it becomes indistinguishable from a pointless brand of self-destructive stupidity. At the same time, you don’t get the impression that Guida ever asked himself: ‘How can I put this guy away?’ He seemed to start from the assumption that he could only win by decision, then went from there in search of a strategy that would allow him to stay conscious long enough to give him a chance at it. Again, I can’t exactly blame him for that. He wasn’t going to outwrestle Maynard and he wasn’t going to knock him out. The greatest advantages he had were quickness and cardio, and he put them to work. I thought he won the first two rounds that way, and was at least in the conversation for the third. But even if he’d won the decision that way, public opinion (not to mention Dana White opinion, which often has more force behind it) still would have turned against him. Guida chose a smart way to avoid getting knocked out, but a terrible way to continue being a fan favorite. He’s a guy who got where he is not because he won every single fight, but because people liked to watch him either way. If he loses that, what is he left with?
Most Impressive in Defeat: Wanderlei Silva
Concerns about "The Axe-Murderer’s" chin can be put to rest, at least for a little while. For the second straight fight Silva showed that he can still take it and give some back without crumbling to pieces as soon as he's touched. He may have ended up on the losing end this time, but he got a chance to demonstrate his durability even while showing off a little of the old reckless aggression. Is he going to be a champion again? Absolutely not. Can he still give you your money’s worth in looping hooks and bull-rush attacks? Sure he can. At least for a little while. One of these days they’re probably going to have to drag Silva out of the cage and strap him down in a cageside seat just to get him to quit fighting. But not today.
Least Impressive in Victory: Gray Maynard
You could argue that Guida didn’t give him much to work with, and you’d be right. Still, nobody looks good while doing the Frankenstein plod followed by lunging right hands that catch nothing but air. In the post-fight press conference, Maynard complained about Guida’s game plan, saying: "You can’t just go to the end of the cage and then back to the other end and back to the other end the whole time. You’ve got to give me a chance too." Well no, actually, he doesn’t. If he can hit you and be gone by the time you hit back, that’s pretty much ideal. You’re not out on the basketball court playing a friendly game of HORSE. Your opponent is not obligated to let you have your turn. If he’s too fast for you to catch, and if he can hit you without being hit in return (something Guida did quite well in the first half of the fight), then it’s up to you to find a solution. It’s not your opponent’s responsibility to stand still and fight the way you want him to.
Most Pointless Hysteria: Complaining About Greg Jackson’s Game Plans
From fighters to fans to a not-so-subtle stab from UFC president Dana White himself, plenty of people were quick to lay the blame for Guida’s performance on Albuquerque’s preeminent fight trainer. Some griped that this was just one more instance of Jackson teaching his fighters to avoid fighting. Others claimed he was single-handedly killing the sport of mixed martial arts. Nevermind the fact that, on this same fight card, Cub Swanson -- another of Jackson’s fighters -- earned the Knockout of the Night bonus for his finish of Ross Pearson. Nope, Jackson gets no credit for that, just like he gets no credit for any of Jon Jones’ spectacular finishes, or Donald Cerrone’s resume of destruction, or Diego Brandao’s human buzzsaw routine. These days, it’s only when one of his fighters disappoints that people obsess about Jackson’s influence. As if the good stuff is all the work of the individual fighter, while the bad stuff is the result of a Jackson-led conspiracy to ruin MMA. This is ridiculous, and it ought to be obvious to anyone who’s paying attention. Jackson isn’t MMA’s destroyer anymore than he is its messiah, though he’s been accused of being both at various points. What he is, however, is an extremely successful coach with a ton of fighters in his care. Inevitably, some nights are going to be better than others, but you can’t give Jackson all the blame on the bad nights unless you want to give him all the credit on the good ones.
Underappreciated: Brian Ebersole
He survived an early knockdown and a near submission at the hands of grappling wunderkind T.J. Waldburger to win his fourth fight in four tries with the UFC. This, from a guy who wasn’t really even supposed to be here, a guy who, for a long time, was seen as just another journeyman fighter racking up wins in nowhere promotions. He says he wants to move to lightweight now, even after going undefeated as a welterweight in the UFC. If he can get down to 155 pounds without starving himself, he could be a problem for a lot of very good fighters in an already crowded division. Don’t let the chest hair fool you, this man is to be taken very seriously.
Overappreciated: TUF Brazil finalists
After long periods of tedium interrupted by brief spasms of violence, Cezar Ferreira and Rony Mariano Bezerra were crowned the winners of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. But despite the UFC’s attempts to make it seem vaguely historic, it came off feeling like a lot of hype for relatively little action. Don’t get me wrong, Ferreira and Sergio Moraes combined for their fair share of action (can’t say the same about Rony "Jason" and Godofredo Pepey), but pay-per-view quality performances these were not. Then again, that’s the case with most TUF finales. It’s just that most TUF finales are on free TV, so expectations are low to begin with. By trying to portray the TUF Brazil finals, which featured one non-finalist playing the part for the sake of convenience and expediency, as if it was somehow more significant than any other season of the UFC’s long-running (emphasis on the long) reality show is hard to swallow. If you want to tell us we’re watching unpolished up-and-comers compete for a place at the table, fine. But just because they all have the same stamp on their passport, that doesn’t make it a vital piece of UFC history.
Lost in the Madness: Fabricio Werdum
There aren’t many ways to take on a heavy, unheralded underdog and still come out looking good, but Werdum found one. The jiu-jitsu expert absolutely throttled Mike Russow with his new and still improving stand-up skills, knocking out a guy known for his durability and making it look easy. Not a lot of people are going to be blown away by a win over Russow, despite the fact that he was 4-0 in the UFC coming into this fight. I understand that. He hasn’t exactly draped himself in glory so far, plus he just looks unimpressive, and a lot of fans write him off based on the flab factor alone. But what else can you possibly ask of Werdum in this situation? If a first-round knockout -- even against a relatively mediocre opponent -- isn’t enough to convince you to give the guy at least a little bit of credit, then you’re essentially saying that Werdum would have been better off staying home on Saturday night. Instead, he took a fight that had a lot of downside and very little upside, and he made the most of it. He also showed off some striking skills that ought to have a few other UFC heavyweights worried. If a guy who’s that good on the ground starts believing in his stand-up, that’s trouble.