Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
LAS VEGAS -- You only had to see Frankie Edgar's face to know what disappointment looks like. As he always does, Edgar gave his everything in pursuit of victory, but for the third straight time in a title fight, he lost. After completing his post-fight medicals, but before a likely trip to the hospital to get checked out, he walked into the UFC 156 post-fight press conference about two-thirds of the way through it, owing nothing to anyone but appearing out of a sense of duty. This is part of what makes Edgar great. He is accountable for his actions, whether in the gym, in victory or in defeat.
It was painful for him to be there, that much was clear. He sat down and stared ahead blankly until Demian Maia tapped him on the leg. That seemed to briefly awaken Edgar, who turned and shook his hand, glumly offering congratulations to the victorious Brazilian that sat alongside him. Then he turned back towards the media and fell into the same trance. He wore a black sweatshirt with a hood over his head, and covered his mouth with his right hand, but he could not hide his chagrin or the damage. There was the swollen left eye, and cuts and bruises, and strained pride.
Edgar answered each question that came his way in his typically condensed speaking style, saying all the right things. That there was no point in second-guessing the judges' decision. That he felt fine as a featherweight. That Aldo was a deserving champion. And then as soon as the press conference ended, he was the first one to dart off the stage.
It was that kind of night, one in which you left the arena or turned off your television only to ask, "What just happened?" Did Demian Maia easily out-grapple Jon Fitch? Did Antonio Silva really knock Alistair Overeem's block off? Did Antonio Rogerio Nogueira just upset Rashad Evans? Yes, yes and yes, and that wasn't nearly all of it. In 10 fights with legitimate betting favorites, underdogs won six times. Debuting Strikeforce fighters went 3-0 against UFC veterans. Brazil went 4-0 on the main card. Tyron Woodley had a 36-second starching of Jay Hieron and didn't even win a Knockout of the Night bonus.
What just happened? How about a night of surprises, lost opportunities and chaos.
In the arena, the night's most electric moment came courtesy of the heavyweights when Silva brutalized Overeem, folded him right in half with some brutal strikes against the cage.
Partly due to his superhero build, Overeem had seemed prime to become a superstar in the UFC. He had already crushed Brock Lesnar, and fans had little issue with forgiving him for his suspension for elevated testosterone levels a few months later. He got a star reaction when he walked out to the cage, and a win would have set up a major money matchup against Cain Velasquez. But Overeem was fairly flat in the first two rounds, even though he won both on all three judges' scorecards. It looked as though he'd cruise to a unanimous decision when Silva caught him with a giant right hand early in the third and mauled him until the finish, leaving Overeem crumpled on the floor and the division in tatters.
"When he punches, he’s a lion. When I punch him, he’s a cat," Silva said.
Of course the quiet Brazilian guy who has spoken English the shortest amount of time got off the line of the night. Of course he did.
Overeem wasn't the only one to lose out on a major fight due to an unexpected loss. His teammate Rashad Evans suffered a similar fate when he was upset by the biggest underdog on the card, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Before the fight, Dana White said that Evans could move on to fight Anderson Silva. All he had to do was win. But if Overeem was flat, Evans was downright bad in a performance that was incongruous with his talent level. Over 15 minutes of action, Evans landed only 22 strikes.
"Rashad looked worse than I’ve ever seen him tonight," White said. "He looked terrible."
It doesn't help that Evans' performance came on the heels of a mini-bombshell he revealed days ago, that he considered retirement in the wake of his loss to Jon Jones because he'd struggled to rediscover his passion for the sport.
"The fact that he even said the 'R' word, it shows you where his head is at and what he's thinking," White said.
Who knows what lies ahead now? We're now living in a world where Edgar is no longer a title contender, Overeem's aura is shattered, and Evans could suddenly be over the hill at age 33.
To be fair, there was the good news, too. Aldo wrote another chapter in his blossoming legacy, Nogueira earned a signature win, and Silva came off as the most lovably scary giant since Fezzik in "The Princess Bride."
But the best-laid plans? Those were shattered. No record-tying second divisional title for Edgar. No Overeem-Velasquez mega-match. No Evans vs. Silva. What comes next? Who knows, right Frankie?
"I don't know what I'm doing, man," he said. "To be honest with you, it's just too soon."
The disappointment was reflected on his swollen face. At that moment, staring back at him were a sea of faces that registered a similar feeling: confusion. The rest of us are going to need time to digest it, too, the night that the answers only led to more questions.
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