Rich Franklin v. Dan Henderson was about the fight I expected it to be. These two guys are top 5 Middleweights but their styles don't exactly mesh. Hendo is a poor man's Randy Couture, a guy who will grind on you and try to take you out of your game. Franklin is a tremendous striker but was never going to pose a problem to Hendo on the ground. I scored the fight 29-28 Henderson, so I have no complaint with the decision. However, I have no desire to see a rematch. I really don't see a different fight unfolding, unless it is a 5 round title affair, and that isn't going to happen anytime soon. Franklin is now in limbo, not a contender at 185 or 205. I think a nice fight for his return would be against Thiago Silva (more on him later). Hendo is now one win away from a title shot at 185. I don't see Bisping beating Hendo. I'm no fan of Bisping, but he has impressed me with what I've seen. Henderson will be the biggest test to date for "The Count" and I think it may be too much at this point in his career.
Man Oh Man! What a whirlwind ride January was. Three big time events in a row, not to mention Sengoku started off the month crowning two new, surprising champions. With so much having happened, I'm only going to hit on the high points because by now, you've read so much you probably want to vomit.
Familiar with the song Mrs. Robinson by Simon & Garfunkel? Remember the lyric "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?" Well substitute Shogun for Joe D. Shogun was the future of 205 as recently as 2 and a half years ago, but no more. He looked slow and sluggish against Mark Coleman, couldn't stop half-assed takedown attempts and was a shell of the fighter we saw destroy the competition during the 2005 Pride GP. Do you remember the lineup Shogun beat in that tournament? He torched Rampage, had a FOTY candidate with Little Nog and then TKO'ed Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona in the same night. You're talking three top 10 LHW and a top 10 HW....amazing! I hope we can see a glimpse of that Shogun in his battle with Chuck Liddell coming up. That fight is a nice co-main event to the interesting choice of Anderson Silva v. Thales Leites for main event. However, I expect Liddell to get a win via 2nd round KO.
Affliction presented a solid sophmore effort on the 24th. Big winners on the night included the aforementioned Little Nog who avenged a defeat at the hands of Vladimir Matyushenko with a solid 2nd round stoppage. Babalu choked out Sokodjou after Soko seemingly gassed in the 2nd round. Who doesn't want to see Little Nog v. Babalu? What a tremendous battle that would be!
In the "OMG" moment of the month, Vitor Belfort absolutely crushed Matt Lindland. Pundits had been predicting Lindland to grind out a decision, but instead he was on what may hold up to be the most brutal KO of the year. Belfort wasted no time and just put him out in under 30 seconds. I'm glad Matt is ok, but boy was I pleased to see Belfort look incredible. It was in many ways a must win for Vitor. Affliction doesn't exactly have a ton of talent at 185 for Belfort, so I'd love to see them go out and get Gegard Mousasi and pit these two strikers against each other. Imagine the fireworks! If Belfort were to beat Mousasi, sign him up to face Anderson Silva and let's get it on!
Josh Barnett controlled Gilbert Yvel in route to a 3rd round stoppage. Not the best fight I've ever seen, but Barnett is good at what he does. I was more impressed with Yvel though. The guy kept fighting back, even landing some good shots from being underneath Barnett. Even better, he fought clean and was extremely gracious in defeat. Affliction should bring him back to take on Paul Buentello, another winner at Day of Reckoning.
And of course, Fedor Emelianenko defeated Andrei Arlovski via KO. Yes, Arlovski was winning the fight before he got greedy, but I don't feel we should assume AA was going to win that fight. Fujita had Fedor in more trouble than Arlovski did and the powerful Iron Head could not finish. I think Arlovski had the right gameplan and may have won the fight, but the concept of having Fedor in trouble and potentially beating him took over his mind and he paid dearly for it. I can relate though...I remember playing high school basketball and we were battling the undefeated team in the league and really hanging tough with them. We're up early in the fourth quarter, and then we kind of self-destruct....start taking needless three pointers to try and get out further and got away from what kept us close to begin with...this is what happened to Arlovski. I would like to see a rematch eventually, but it appears Arlovski is bound for the boxing world. I hope it isn't for long, as AA is a true great and I love watching him fight.
So we've got all the makings for Fedor v. Barnett this summer. Sweet fight, one I've wanted to see for a while. However, I question Barnett's mental state. Kick it back to 2006....Barnett battled through an incredible field to finish 2nd in PRIDE's OWGP. He was offered a fight with Fedor at Shockwave, but turned it down saying he was too exhausted after a strenuous stretch. However, he goes out and fights Big Nog in a rematch....seriously Josh? Did you think that split decision you earned was going to make a rematch an easier fight? Flash forward to the end of 08, when Barnett again turned down a fight with Fedor. I don't think Barnett wants to fight Fedor. I think Fedor can put any friendship they have aside and turn on his Cyborg mode while Barnett can not. If this is true....expect a Fedor victory. And yes, Fedor is the p4p best fighter in the world. His resume is a who's who of victims.
Now we come to UFC 94, with the much-anticipated "superfight" that turned into a snoozer. I don't really want to touch on the controversey surrounding the fight because I think we should all wait to see how this plays out. However, Penn looked overmatched and exhausted by the third round. GSP used the clinch against the fence effectively and was too strong for Penn to contend with. Penn couldn't really get off any good strikes and GSP just dominated him. I don't think the grease makes much of a difference, and therefore don't want to see a "rumored" third fight. I'd much rather see GSP take on Anderson Silva. However, Thiago Alves awaits! What a match that is going to be. Alves will probably be bigger than GSP come fight night which is saying something considering GSP is huge at 170. Alves was my Fighter of the Year for 2008 and I like him in this contest. Alves will be the best striker GSP has fought and should give him a ton of trouble on the feet. If Alves' TD defense is good, it could be a tough night for the champ. As for Penn, I certainly hope he doesn't retire...he has too much work left to do at LW. Fights with Kenny Florian, Sean Sherk II, Tyson Griffin and perhaps superfights with Shinya Aoki and Eddie Alvarez would all be fights I'd like to see. I think Penn's ego prevents him from retiring after that performance.
Lyoto Machida, you impressed me, but not to the level you did everyone else. Yes, you finished Thiago Silva in impressive fashion. Yes, Silva was 13-0 as well. But take a good look at Silva's resume...not exactly impressive. While Silva can be a devastating striker, the guy is not top 10 material right now. I hope Rampage beats Jardine so Machida has to wait on his title shot. Or, better yet....make Machida fight Forrest Griffin...Machida needs to beat more top 10 LHW's in the UFC before I crown him the future of the division.
Odds and Ends:
If you recall, I predicted Satoru Kitaoka to defeat Takanori Gomi for the Sengoku LW title. And he delivered. The once intimidating, invincible Fireball Kid is no more. The man needs some time off to re-evaluate his place in MMA and to improve his game. The other big surprise coming out of Sengoku was Jorge Santiago choking out Kazuo Misaki in the 5th round to claim the Sengoku MW title! Really impressive stuff from Santiago who has claimed a place in the top 10 at MW. I also love how Sengoku uses 5 round fights for their title fights!
Speaking of the Far East...both Dream and Sengoku have announced they plan to forge on in 2009 with both hosting a FW GP. While I love the fact both promotions will continue (especially Dream) I have to question this concept. They ran the same GP events in 2008, and are doing the same in 2009. Why not offer something the other organization is not? That way, perhaps Sengoku could run a FW GP in 2010 and maybe have some of the fighters from the 2009 Dream FW GP in their tournament. Either way, Dream's tournament is shaping up to be a much more exciting, stacked field than Sengoku's.
After being spoiled for the past month, there are really no big fights on the horizon. UFC 95 features a headliner of Joe Stevenson taking on Diego Sanchez who is debuting at 155. Nice fight, but not a true headliner in my book. Thankfully the card is free on Spike.
UFC 96 features Quinton Jackson taking on Keith Jardine as the headliner...another fight I don't consider a true headliner. We'll also see Martin Kampmann headling an upcoming UFC Fight Night against the debuting Carlos Condit. I think that fight excites me more than the previous two I mentioned. It's not until UFC 97 in Montreal that I'm really juiced for (Silva v. Leites & Liddell v. Rua).
Speaking of Condit, the WEC has disbanded their WW division and absorbed the top talent into the UFC. Good move I guess, but I agree with Sam Caplan of Sportsline.com that the WEC may have run its course. Great article by Sam so I suggest all of you check it out. Sam is probably the best in the business as an MMA journalist!
I wish Zuffa and FEG would work out a talent exchange. With the Dream GP coming up, wouldn't you want to see Urijah Faber or Miguel Torres in that tournament? I know I would. In return, FEG could send over Kid Yamamoto or Alistair Overeem. C'mon, let's make it happen!
Strikeforce purchased select assets from the near-dead ProElite. Great job by Strikeforce to pick up the big name fighters, video library and get a new deal with CBS. If you've followed Strikeforce, they've done things the right way. They are a regional promotion that does huge numbers in San Jose and the California area, and this could be a big step towards national recognition. CBS has big ideas and plans for the company, so hopefully we could see a viable challenger to the UFC before long. Most importantly, I'm looking forward to seeing Gina Carano in all her glory again!
As always, send comments, questions and whatever and I'll be glad to answer them. Might end up in the next mailbag too. Until next time...