Falling Action: Best and Worst of UFC on FUEL TV 4

Photo by Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC on FUEL TV 4 gave us more than just another event with a clunky name -- it also introduced an exciting new middleweight contender, and in memorable, gruesome fashion. Now that another show from the hinterlands of cable TV is in the books, it’s time we took a gander at the biggest winners, losers, and everything in between.

Biggest Winner: Chris Weidman
How could his night have possibly gone any better? He made an NCAA national champion wrestler look like some novice from Liverpool who’d never seen a decent double-leg before, then he showed off his stand-up skills with an elbow that would make Jon Jones jealous. Maybe it would have been nice if referee Josh Rosenthal hadn’t made it necessary for him to commit so much unnecessary violence there at the end, but I suppose no evening is perfect. In less than seven minutes of cage time, Weidman did more to make his case as a top middleweight contender than most of the other guys in the division have done in the last seven months. On paper, Mark Munoz presented the greatest challenge he’d ever faced in the UFC, and Weidman blew through him like it was a showcase fight. Does that mean he’s ready for Anderson Silva? I’m not sure. He still has fewer than ten pro fights and he’s on the young side of 30. The cold-blooded pragmatist in me would like to see him get one more under his belt before he tests himself against the best in the world. But then again, how could you possibly improve upon a performance like that?

Biggest Loser: Mark Munoz
The look on his face after those effortless takedowns by Weidman said it all. Munoz was a man in a state of shock. There he was, a wrestling hero from Oklahoma State, and some kid from Hofstra was planting him on his back like there was nothing to it. After he got so thoroughly dominated on the mat in the first round, you can’t blame him for thinking that he had to throw the overhand right while he had a chance in the second. He’d spent so little time upright by that point, he had to make the most of it while his feet were still under him. It just so happened that in lunging in for the kill, he ran right into a Weidman elbow that he never had a chance to avoid. After that it was a face full of mat for Munoz, followed by a few punches that put him out, then a few more that almost brought him back around, then a bunch more that landed him in some special nether region where time ceases to exist and everything tastes like blood. As great as this night was for Weidman, it was just as terrible for Munoz. He went from being a middleweight contender to being the recipient of one of the most brutally one-sided beatdowns in recent memory. He did it with a smile and an easy charisma, because that’s how Munoz does everything. You hear it all the time, and it’s true: he really is the nicest guy in MMA. After that rough night at work, this morning he’s probably also the sorest guy in MMA.

Best Worst Display of Mutant Healing Ability: Joey Beltran
He knows why the UFC brought him back for this fight, and it’s not because Joe Silva thinks he’s going to be the next light heavyweight champ. It’s because he can take a baseball bat to the head and it won’t even change the expression on his face. It’s an amazing thing to see, but also kind of a terrible position to be in as a fighter. Beltran isn’t the most technical striker out there, and his defensive philosophy has a little too much in common with Homer Simpson’s. He essentially gambles that you’ll get tired of hitting him before he gets tired of being hit. Against Te Huna, who admitted that he hurt his hand and his foot on Beltran’s concrete head, it almost worked. Almost, but not quite. Beltran gave the people their money’s worth of pain and punishment. He survived a couple near stoppages and walked through shots that would have stopped mortal men. And what did he get for it, aside from a paycheck, a face that no longer matches his photo ID, and maybe a chance to do it all again in a few months? Not much. That’s the problem with being the fighter whose appeal is an ability and willingness to take an incredible beating. At this level, there are no shortage of opponents with an ability and willingness to dish one out.

Most Predictable: Aaron Simpson
He’s found a home in a new weight class, but it’s largely the same old stuff from Simpson. Of his ten fights in the UFC, only three have ended inside the distance. One was a legitimate knockout victory over a guy who was then cut from the UFC. One was the result of a knee injury to Ed Herman. The third was when he was TKO’d by Chris Leben. Other than that, Simpson has done a fine job of making sure the judges get a chance to ply their trade. That’s not to say that decisions are necessarily bad -- Te Huna won a decision over Beltran, and that was Fight of the Night -- but it’s hard to make much headway in any division if you get a reputation as a guaranteed three-round grinder. Simpson seems to know that, which is why he promised to start finishing opponents at his new weight class. But it’s one thing to say it in post-fight interviews. It’s another to make it happen in the cage.

Brightest Prospect: Francis Carmont
The first couple times we saw him in the UFC, he was the guy who trains with Georges St-Pierre. Now, after his second straight finish in the Octagon, he’s starting to craft his own identity, even if it’s as the guy with the French accent who will almost certainly have to fight his way out of an early submission to get one of his own. First against Magnus Cedenblad, and now against Karlos Vemola, Carmont proved that while he might give opponents a few too many openings on the mat, he’s also dangerous there himself. His non-stop motor will wear a lot of people out, and as he gains more confidence in his all-around game he’ll have more tools with which to threaten his fellow middleweights. We’re still waiting to see how far he can go, but he’s rapidly approaching the point where the fact that he has GSP in his corner will be more of a sideshow than the main attraction.

Most Improved: Rafael dos Anjos
We’ve seen his power on the feet, and he flashed it again in the first round of his bout with Anthony Njokuani, but it was his wrestling that really impressed. If you’re a lightweight in the UFC, you’ve got to be able to defend against and execute a takedown, otherwise your career trajectory will flatten out in a hurry. Dos Anjos struggled against superior wrestlers early on, but now he seems to have added those skills to his arsenal. He’s still got some improvements to make, so let’s not toss him in against Ben Henderson just yet, but at least he’s making the right adjustments and focusing on the right things. We already knew he could kick people upside the head. Now we know he can give them something else to worry about, and one development should only help the other.

Still Surviving: Alex Caceres
If you’d told me after his dismal UFC debut that, nearly a year and a half later, "Bruce Leroy" would still be in the UFC, I’d have assumed you were either crazy or a family member of his, maybe both. But after some ups and downs and a very beneficial drop to bantamweight, he’s still here, still doing just enough to keep us from forgetting him entirely. He made it all too easy for Damacio Page to put him on his back, and yet he made the most of his opportunities there, thanks to a deft submissions game from the bottom. That’s probably not going to be a winning strategy against everyone in the division, but it was good enough for a Submission of the Night bonus. It also put a little more distance between Caceres and the chopping block, which gives the 24-year-old more time to tighten up his game and find out what he can become. It’s a steep learning curve in the UFC, and Caceres has suffered at times because of it. But if you thought he was going to go away easily after his 15 minutes of reality show fame, think again.

Ugliest Moment: Josh Rosenthal’s late stoppage
Once is an understandable mistake. Twice is a cause for concern. This is the second high-profile fight in less than two months where Rosenthal has stared right at a fighter who was putting up about as much resistance as a slab of beef and failed to see that it was time for him to jump in. When it happened in the Cain Velasquez-Antonio Silva fight at UFC 146, we shook our heads in dismay and said it was a real shame, especially since Rosenthal is usually one of the good ones. But as he stood a few feet away from an unresponsive Munoz and watched as Weidman tried to resuscitate him with right hooks, it became apparent that maybe Rosenthal has a problem with knowing when a fight is over. I know, I know. The referees have a difficult job and if they stop it too soon we vilify them for other reasons. But as Chael Sonnen pointed out in the post-fight show, those fighters are counting on him to protect them when they can no longer protect themselves. On Wednesday night, he didn’t do that. Instead he stood idly by like he was waiting to see how many punches it would take before Munoz’s head popped off and went skidding across the mat like a flat stone across a lake. It didn’t have tragic consequences this time, at least not right away. Munoz was up and coherent moments later, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s completely avoided the bill for all that needless punishment. All it means is that he didn’t pay it in full on this particular night. Professional cage fighting is, not surprisingly, a dangerous endeavor. Getting your head thumped on is part of the deal. Getting your head thumped on long after you’ve stopped fighting shouldn’t be. Telling the difference involves drawing a difficult and sometimes controversial distinction, but it’s arguably the most important aspect of Rosenthal’s job. Maybe it’s also one that he needs to get a little better at, and soon.

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