On any other night, Dennis Bermudez and Matt Grice would have been considered thieves, show-stealers of the highest order. But not at UFC 157, an event so hyper-focused on headliners Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche that the prelim duo could sit at their seats in the post-fight press conference and be virtually ignored. Although their bout captured the event's Fight of the Night award and was immediately greenlit into Fight of the Year consideration, Bermudez and Grice received only a single question apiece.
At various times, both men were on the verge of suffering knockouts, only to survive and turn the tide. The fight was essentially even into the third, when Bermudez seized control and unleashed hell. For a nail-biting portion of those five minutes, Grice walked the line between survival and unconsciousness. As a testament to his incredible conditioning, Bermudez fired off 132 total strikes in the final round, landing an astonishing 98, a total of 74 percent. Yet as evidence of his own remarkable grit, Grice wouldn't go down and stay there.
There were times when it appeared he was ready to go, only to be held up by the cage and some sheer force of will. And sure enough, he would somehow summon the energy to fire back. Even if it didn't end in victory for Grice, who lost by split-decision, it was the type of display of courage that draws us to sports. Hell, even the participants were blown away by the resilience they'd both displayed.
Bermudez called the whole experience "insane" and said he'd had to fight his own urge to quit after being knocked down in the first. Grice, who was somehow smiling and coherent at the end of the night, tipped his hat to his opponent.
"… In the last round I hit him with everything, Bermudez said. "I had him badly hurt but he just kept throwing big hooks as if I hadn’t spent the last 30 seconds beating on him. He’s crazy. He’s a great fighter, so tough. The crowd was going nuts but all I could think was 'Please, please go down and stay down!' That was an honor to fight that guy."
During a week when 16 fighters were cut and the likelihood that 100 total will be shed from the roster, Bermudez and Grice fought as if there would be no consequences to their careers. That battle is one each individual fighter will face in the gym and in their own heads as they prepare to compete. Do they take the safest route with the belief that any win, even an ugly one, will keep them employed, or do they go the maximum entertainment route?
It's not a simple question to answer. While fans sitting in the stands or at home who have plunked down their cash to watch expect heavy doses of action, the fighters in the cage have families, mortgages and futures to consider. That doesn't make it any easier to accept Brendan Schaub smothering of Lavar Johnson as the best use of our time on Saturday night, but Schaub was coming off two knockout losses, and needed the win more than we needed to be entertained. Perhaps we can make an unspoken agreement with fighters that we will tolerate conservative game plans when their jobs are on the line as long as it's only then, a sort of break-glass-in-case-of-emergency last resort.
Faber's feast or famine
I come from a baseball background, so I'm a statistics guy, and my favorite one from Saturday night was this: in his last six non-title matches, Urijah Faber is undefeated, a perfect 6-0; in his last five title matches, he is winless, 0-5. On one hand, he sure makes it hard to cast him out of the title picture when he beats literally every other contender he faces; on the other it's hard to figure out how he deserves yet another opportunity after squandering so many.
Lyoto's No. 1?
The co-main event, which many believed should be the night's headliner, fell flat, with Lyoto Machida edging Dan Henderson by split-decision. According to UFC president Dana White, that was enough to give Machida the next crack at the winner of April's Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen fight. Of course, Machida was supposed to be the top contender after his KO of Ryan Bader in August, so that promise isn't set in stone.
There are plenty of potential roadblocks to him cashing in that title shot. For one, the Jones-Sonnen winner might not be ready to fight until August or September, and by then, the complexion of the division and the overall UFC picture could be radically different. Remember, Alexander Gustafsson and Gegard Mousasi fight around the same time as Jones and Sonnen. If either wins impressively, Dana White and Joe Silva will have something to think about. The biggest strike against either man is the fight takes place on FUEL, so it won't have maximum audience reach. Glover Teixeira is also building up momentum, and he fights again in May. Finally, the UFC definitely has their sights set on a possible Jones vs. Anderson Silva fight in November if MMA gets sanctioned in New York, which seems a legitimate possibility this year. With all that going on, it's no sure thing Machida gets the opportunity he was promised.
Cris Cyborg couldn't stay away. Although she said on last Monday's edition of The MMA Hour that she would not be in Anaheim for the first-ever women's UFC fight, she showed up with her manager Tito Ortiz, with tickets provided by UFC president Dana White.
I'm not going to go all conspiracy-theory on you, but it seems to me that the UFC isn't in any kind of rush to dissociate themselves from Cyborg, even after she asked for her release, and even if White makes it sound that way.
"They're gone. It's over," he said after UFC 157. "You're fighting in Invicta, do your thing. The world isn't going to stop. Nobody even knows who the f--- Cyborg is. She has 30,000 followers on Twitter. Nobody knows her."
Yet Zuffa knows how quickly they can ramp up marketing to change that. If in White's opinion, Cyborg is an unknown despite a high-profile fight with Gina Carano and longtime exposure on Showtime, then Carmouche was an absolute nobody before a couple months ago, and that turned out OK for them. While Cyborg has moved on from the UFC, the two sides aren't straying far for a reason.
Decisions, decisions …
Sam Stout has had two runs in the UFC. The second began in June 2007 with a decision loss to Spencer Fisher. The most recent fight of that stretch was on Saturday night, when he earned a split-decision over Caros Fodor. In 13 fights during that time, he's had 12 decisions. Add in another decision he had during his first UFC run in 2006, and Stout has had 13 decisions, which is tied for the most in UFC history, along with the recently released Jon Fitch.
On the other extreme is Lavar Johnson, who had never once needed the judges' scorecards prior to his fight with Brendan Schaub. It was his first time going to a decision in 24 pro fights.
Welcome back, Robbie Lawler
After losing four of his last six fights, Lawler was a fairly sizable underdog to Josh Koscheck, but made short order of the former No. 1 contender. Lawler's win was his first in the UFC since Nov. 2003, a span of 3,382 days. That number is believed to be the third-longest span between UFC victories. The record is held by Mark Coleman, who went 4,537 days between wins at UFC 12 and UFC 100. Second is Dan Henderson, who won two fights at UFC 17, then left the promotion and didn't win again until UFC 88 in September of 2008, a total of 3,767 days later.