When judges Richard Bertrand and Sal D'Amato decided that the aggression by Jake Shields in going for, and failing to get takedowns in the fifth round trumped a few solid lefts by Demian Maia in the fifth round, it solidified the big winners of Wednesday night's fight card.
They were Carlos Condit and Matt Brown. And neither was on the show.
A win would have put Maia at 4-0 in the division. An impressive win in a battle with one of the top American grapplers, coming off Maia's win over top 10 fighter Jon Fitch, would have given the multi-time Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world champion a strong case for a welterweight title shot.
The fight was so close that the winner still seemed up in the air until the actual announcement by Bruce Buffer. But as the fifth round, which would have decided the outcome, started, Maia and Shields were both in a position where a win would be in the record books as a "W," but the "W" wouldn't signify the weight of a usual win with their level of fighters.
On paper, what Shields and Maia had going into the fight was the intrigue of two ground specialists. It's no secret that Shields' stand-up is rudimentary at best. But it's been good enough to set up his ground game, which has made him a top level fighter for more than a decade. Maia's stand-up has improved. But on nights he's committed to showing the other part of his game, his Jiu Jitsu game is amazing.
Often, when two grapplers are booked against each other, the idea is their wrestling skills will cancel each other out and it'll end up a striking battle. In this case, there was more than enough stand-up to show that five rounds of striking between these two would not have been pretty.
Five rounds on the ground didn't end up much better. What we learned is Shields' ability to control while on top was enough to shut down any offensive moves from the bottom by Maia, the worst-case scenario when it came to an exciting fight.
But the reverse was also true. Shields has a propensity for fights that are less than spectator friendly. His previous fight with Tyron Woodley, another split decision, was even less exciting. A stand-up battle with Sexyama (Yoshihiro Akiyama) in Japan was ugly. He had a four-fight streak at one point with Jason "Mayhem" Miller, Dan Henderson, Martin Kampmann and Georges St-Pierre of high-profile fights on big stages, that made Wednesday's fight look like the classic woman's fight on Ultimate Fighter which followed them on Fox Sports 1.
Shields flipped Maia off from the piggyback position and ended round one on top, which Maia had gotten the first takedown and got Shields back in, which was the most dangerous position either had in the fight.
Shields got a takedown in round two and stayed on top the rest of the round. Maia got the first takedown in round three, but in the closest thing to an exciting move of the fight, Shields scored a nice reversal and remained on top to take it. When Maia was able to get on top after Shields failed on a takedown in round four, this time Shields didn't threaten from the bottom.
So it came to the fifth round, and from the way the fight was going, it looked like the first takedown would win. And instead, when that first takedown never came, it was the guy who at least attempted to get the first takedown the hardest that ended up winning.
When it was over, UFC announcer Jon Anik called the fight "an acquired taste." That's the nice way of talking about a fight that was roundly booed in the latter rounds. The fight had intrigue, in the sense that the outcome was always in doubt. But the idea of the classic ground battle between one of the U.S. and Brazil's beat MMA grapplers with the idea they were among the few who could actually put the other in danger on the ground never even came close.
Even in winning four in a row, although one win was overturned by a failed drug test, Shields isn't going to find himself near a title fight unless a plague encompasses the upper echelon of the division. He lost to St-Pierre once in the type of fight that nobody would really want to see again. Maia is going to need to start a streak starting next time out because whatever intrigue the idea of him being a guy who can put St-Pierre in danger on the ground is going to be difficult to sell today.
The division shakeout now looks like the Nov. 16 St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks winner and challengers coming from a match the same night with Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald and a Dec. 14 fight with Condit vs Brown. In theory, the most impressive winner out of these two fights would have the best shot. But there are other factors in play.
MacDonald, the favorite against Lawler, is a St-Pierre teammate who has made it adamant whenever asked that he will never fight the current champion. Lawler is the opposite of Shields, an entertaining slugger, who is 2-0 since moving down from middleweight. His record against top-level competition isn't the best, but his style will get him opportunities without having to pile up as many wins.
Condit has fought and lost to both St-Pierre and Hendricks, both exciting fights and there is the argument that Condit may have beaten Hendricks if their first fight had gone five rounds. He did have St-Pierre in trouble after a head kick, but aside from that, lost 50-45 on two of the three scorecards. The Hendricks fight was closer, and Condit was putting it to Hendricks in the third round.
But if Hendricks wins, St-Pierre with his long reign as champion, would likely get the first shot, even though the winners of both fights would be viable contenders. If St-Pierre wins, and MacDonald wins, the pickings become slimmer.
Two years ago, after Brown had submitted to Seth Baczynski, to make his record 12-11, the very idea that he'd ever be considered a viable opponent for St-Pierre would have sounded like comedy fodder. Six straight wins, five by knockout later, and he's become a cult favorite, who may garner the most interest of any of the contenders should he win.
We'll look now at how Fortunes Changed for Five of the stars of Wednesday's show:
JAKE SHIELDS - The main event winner is usually on to bigger and better things. But what happens next with Shields (29-6-1, 1 no contest) is far more uncertain.
A streak of less than spectator-friendly fights coupled with his age (nearly 35) and the plight of Yushin Okami and Jon Fitch (both cut while ranked in the top ten), he may have been hurt more with this win than had he lost in a more exciting fight. He's fought a lot of the top names in the division, and in most cases, they aren't the type of fights that make people clamor for a rematch. The difficulty in booking him means even one loss, which would knock him out of title contention, could be fatal to his UFC career.
No matter what his record is, there has to be concern about putting him in a main event position, and to avoid matching him with anyone who doesn't have strong takedown defense. If Hendricks were to lose to St-Pierre, he's a possibility. If MacDonald wins, provided St-Pierre also wins, that's another potential opponent.
Dong Hyun Kim, as far as two guys coming off wins on the same show would look like a possibility, but that is a very risky fight for television. But in all cases, you would then have to be careful of what show you put them on, and where they are placed.
DEMIAN MAIA - Maia (18-5) is a lot easier to book going forward. There is a deep division worth of potential new opponents. This result looks like it will derail any potential title opportunities for a long time. One of the losers of St-Pierre vs. Hendricks, MacDonald vs. Lawler or Condit vs. Brown would all make for potential next foes, as would Jake Ellenberger, Tyron Woodley, or Martin Kampmann.
ROUSIMAR PALHARES - Palhares' fortunes changed twice within a minute. First, after submitting Mike Pierce in 31 seconds, Palhares (24-5) looked to be in line for a top ten fight. Then, in continuing to crank the heel hook after the tap, he's instead now looking for employment.
In sending a message that couldn't be stronger, Dana White stated Thursday that Palhares was "done" with the UFC.
On Aug. 25, 2007, the UFC fired Renato "Babalu" Sobral for not releasing a choke on David Heath for a few seconds after the fight had ended. Sobral never worked for the UFC again.
The question is whether Palhares will be picked up by Bellator and remain on the U.S. national stage. They have in the past picked up a number of former UFC fighters who were dropped for discplinarty reasons, including Matthew Riddle, War Machine and Paul Daley. Sobral also worked for Bellator, although it was years after his UFC firing.
DONG HYUN-KIM - The single most unlikely result from Wednesday was the Dong Hyun Kim won via knockout over Erick Silva. Kim winning wasn't so much a shocker, but the feeling was his only way to win was based on ground control. And the way he was fighting, almost desperate to get the fight to the ground, it appeared he thought the same way.
Kim (18-2-1, 1 no contest) was getting tired from his constant attempts to take Silva down and appeared to be a sitting duck for the more explosive and diversified striker. But a left hook out of nowhere gave him the most memorable finish of his UFC career.
The division is filled with potential opponents for him, but the winner of the Nov. 16 fight with Josh Koscheck vs. Tyron Woodley, depending on how that fight goes, would be someone at his level.
RAPHAEL ASSUNCAO - Wednesday's only battle of top ten contenders, saw No. 5 ranked Assuncao (21-4) win a close decision over No. 9 ranked T.J. Dillashaw (9-2) in a bantamweight fight that could have gone either way.
It wasn't the killer win that makes you think the guy is a world-beater, but it was an exciting fight that would make him a viable opponent for any top fighter in the division.
The win puts Assuncao at 5-0 in the division. It appears the next two title shots are taken, with Renan Barao vs. Dominick Cruz to settle who is the rightful champion, and the winner of the Dec. 14 fight with Urijah Faber vs. Michael McDonald being the logical next contender.
With the win, Assuncao would be the next man in line from there. The winner of the Dec. 7 fight with Takeya Mizugaki vs. Nam Phan, or the Faber vs. McDonald loser, would make the most sense from there.