Fortunes changed for five at UFC Fight Night 40

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night of upsets ended up as one of UFC's more crowd friendly shows of the year, even though it didn't have a lineup filled with top name fighters. Matt Brown, the biggest star who emerged out of the show, went from a fighter who was lucky to have not been cut three years ago, to someone who could be booked in a title fight tomorrow with little complaining.

Saturday night was the perfect example of why MMA is so completely unpredictable.

It wasn't just that nine of 13 favorites going in went down to defeat, making all of us who predict results look foolish. It's that whenever you see an event low on big names, there is an expectation that it won't be good. Nobody was really dying to see the show, and even Dana White noted disappointment with a smaller than expected crowd for the company's first show in Cincinnati since 2007.

Among all of the Fight Pass shows, and Saturday's somewhat low key Fight Night, the shows that look the weakest when it came to star power delivered some of the best action of the year.

The main event had two different reactions. The first is the marquee reaction, in the sense that neither fighter had a history of main events. The second is, the way the two matched up, the fight going in looked like it could be something.
And it was that plus more.

The big talking point coming out of the show was where Matt Brown vs. Erick Silva ranked in the pantheon of great UFC fights. I felt it more like a potential fight-of-the-year as opposed to an all-time great match. After midway through the first round, it was a one-sided fight where the main drama was how much punishment could an exhausted Silva take before the fight was going to be stopped. But as a television main event, it may lead the pack in a 2014 list.

This year's most exciting fights, with the exception of Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler (UFC 171 main event) and Abel Trujillo vs. Jamie Varner (UFC 169 pay-per-view fight), were bouts that not a lot of people have seen. It's been unlikely fights with little known names, airing on Fight Pass--Yui Chul Nam vs. Kazuki Tokudome on a Fight Pass card from China; Hyun Gyu Lim vs. Tarec Saffiedine on a similar show in Singapore, and the already forgotten Ray Borg vs. Dustin Ortiz fight which was a Fight Pass prelim from the Apr. 19 show from Orlando.

As much as you could criticize the idea of it for a main event as far as top-ranked fighters, you could also envision the fireworks as soon as Brown vs. Silva was announced. Silva is known for explosiveness and quick finishes. Five of his seven prior UFC fights ended up the first round. The other two, both losses, to Jon Fitch and Dong Hyun-Kim, were all you could hope for when it comes to excitement, and that was against opponents who weren't exactly known for having the most exciting bouts.

The new Matt Brown (19-11), the guy who was reborn in 2012, had finished five of his previous six opponents and working on one of the longer winning streaks in UFC history. He was ranked higher than Silva, but the odds makers had labeled him the underdog. He was also the one closest to a championship shot with a win. A back injury had kept him out of a fight with Carlos Condit that either would have ended the streak or put him in the forefront of contenders.

When the night was over, Silva proved he was ridiculously tough. Brown brought forth memories of the old-fashioned hard-nosed fighters of another era, like Don Frye. He survived the kind of paralyzing body shots that almost always end fights, particularly a barrage after a shot in the first minute. Brown then rewarded referee Herb Dean's decision not to stop it when it looked bleak.

With his seventh win in a row, Brown is tied for ninth place on the all-time UFC list. Of active fighters, he's tied with bantamweight champion Renan Barao, and behind only Jon Jones, with 11. Georges St-Pierre, if he does fight again, will come back with a 12-fight winning streak. St-Pierre, Barao and Jones are three of the best fighters the sport has ever seen. Brown, on the other hand, is still looking for his first day in the top five in his division.

Still, as hard as it is to win seven straight, and it's a great time to jump on the Brown bandwagon, there are a few points that need to sober one up.

First is the list of victims. Before Silva, the list included Chris Cope, Stephen Thompson, Luis Ramos, Mike Swick, Jordan Mein and Mike Pyle. And while it's Thompson's only career loss, nobody on that list with the exception of Silva was within an arm's reach of the top ten. And even though Brown, in trying to push himself as a top contender after beating Pyle, by saying Pyle was better than St-Pierre, Pyle has always been a gym legend who never seemed as good in competition.

In addition, while the seven in a row club in UFC history includes people like Chuck Liddell, Benson Henderson and Cain Velasquez, it also includes Jim Miller, who has never gotten over the hump to be a No. 1 contender, and George Sotiropolous, who with hindsight, is a name who looks all wrong in that company, so it's not a guarantee someone is a title contender yet.

A few fights back, when Brown started talking about a title match, the reaction was more like who is he kidding. Today, nobody snickers at that notion.

But what we really have is an always entertaining fighter, and a great story. He battled back from drug issues. He had a 12-11 record at the end of 2011, at the age of 30, coming off losing four out of five fights, all by submission. It's unusual for someone on that kind of a streak to even remain in UFC.

Now, he could be put in a title fight tomorrow, at 33, with few complaints, coming off this win. But welterweight is a loaded division. With a slew of contenders, and champion Hendricks on the shelf until the fall due to surgery to repair a torn biceps, Brown is probably not getting near a title fight without a signature top-five win.

Let's run down how Saturday night changes the Fortunes for Five of the stars of the show.

MATT BROWN - The way the welterweight division looks, the winner of the June 14 Tyron Woodley (13-2) vs. Rory MacDonald (16-2) fight seems to have the inside track to face Hendricks. But a boring fight, or unimpressive win, could change things, and there is always the injury situation. Brown's big test would look to be against the winner of the May 24 fight with Lawler (22-10) vs. Jake Ellenberger (29-7). Two other possible opponents would be Hector Lombard (34-4-1) or Dong Hyun Kim (19-2-1).

Lombard, having completely dominated Jake Shields, would be a strong enough win to justify a title shot. Lombard looks to be far stronger as a grappler, but Brown's edge, as he showed in the Silva fight, of keeping a fast pace, could help him past round two, since the muscular Lombard has faded in long fights.

If he's against the Lawler-Ellenberger winner, a win there, unless St-Pierre opts to ask for a title shot for his return, would have a good chance of getting him his title fight.

ERICK SILVA - With his youngish look, and tremendous finishes, Silva looked like one of the best welterweight prospects to come along when he faced Jon Fitch two years ago. Even though he lost the decision, he did well enough against the longtime No. 2 man in the division that it was felt his day would come.

But he's now almost 30, and has a 4-4 UFC record. Granted, that's a little misleading there was a disqualification loss in a fight he looked to have finished in seconds. But in every UFC fight that has gotten out of the first round, he's lost. He should try and get Kim, who knocked him out on Oct. 9, because he looked on the verge of winning there until the finish. But UFC may not want to book a rematch so soon. But he's in a position where he's probably not going to get any other top guy. And anyone who isn't a top guy isn't going to help him much with a win. Perhaps Saffiedine (15-3), who has been battling a series of injuries of late, would be the most viable option, but Silva is coming off a loss and Saffiedine is coming off a win.

NIK LENTZ - Lentz (27-6-2, 1 no contest), the former wrestler at the University of Minnesota, is still having to live down a reputation as a boring fighter from a 2010 victory over Andre Winner. He was cut a year later, but nobody knew it, since he returned as a short-notice replacement fight almost immediately. Once moving to featherweight, he has only lost once, to top contender Chad Mendes.

He won all three rounds from former title contender Manny Gamburyan (16-9, 1 no contest). Even ranked as the No. 9 contender coming in, he was still relegated to the Fight Pass portion of the show.

His stand-up game has evolved greatly, and he had one of the most exciting bouts on the card. He claimed he's better than No. 9, and came out and issued a challenge to everyone ranked ahead of him. With the other top fighters in the division tied up, his best shot would be to get either Clay Guida (31-14) or Dustin Poirier (16-3) next.

COSTAS PHILIPPOU - After only lasting 2:31 against Luke Rockhold on Jan. 15 in a television main event, Philippou, at 34, talked retirement.

"I reached a point where I was doubtful if I still wanted to fight," he said.

"Two fights ago, I spent 12 of 15 minutes laying on my back.  The last fight was even worse. I got knocked out for the first time in my life. I started doubting I could keep doing what I was doing."

But he was told to quit feeling sorry for himself. "My coaches told me to put on my big boy pants and fight."
He did just that. He and Lorenz Larkin went back-and-forth, with Larkin landing solid shots, but Philippou, who physically looked much stronger than in January, was hitting harder and ended the fight in the first round.

Where he goes next is a tougher situation. He's unlikely to get the top tier with two losses in three fights. Yoel Romero (8-1) could be an opponent, but he'd have to improve his wrestling to survive that. Thales Leites (23-4) isn't the wrestler Romero is, and that could be the striker vs. grappler type match-up that would depend on whether the Leites takedown game works.

DARON CRUICKSHANK  - Cruickshank (15-4) scored his biggest career win over Erik Koch, to move his UFC record to 5-2.

Cruickshank, who came off season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter, has been a guy who seemingly has the tools, a diverse striking game with wrestling. When he wins, he looks like the "Detroit Superstar" he professes to be. But he's yet to get past being just a guy in the deep lightweight pack. He came into Saturday looking to be a guy to build Koch's climb after moving up from being a featherweight contender.

The upset win causes a reevaluation, but he's still a few wins past answering the questions regarding if he can continue to fight like he did Saturday, and like he has in several of his wins, against more viable opponents.

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