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Falling Action: Best and Worst of UFC 134

UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro was a memorable night for several reasons, not the least of which was the complete dominance of the Brazilian contingent on the card.

You could look at the match-ups beforehand and tell they were perhaps slightly titled in Brazil's favor, but who among us really thought Stanislav Nedkov would be the only foreigner to defeat a Brazilian?

But now that the action's over and the post-fight interviews are done, it's time to sort through the aftermath to find UFC 134's biggest winners, losers, and everything in between. Won't you join me?




Biggest Winner: Anderson Silva
It's clear to me now that this man has something different in his brain. The same way an owl can triangulate the exact location of a squeaking field mouse in the dark, Silva can perform a minute's worth of feints and look at where you reflexively move your head and hands and feet, and from there decide exactly how to separate you from your conciousness. To put it another way, he's on some next level stuff out there. Normal human beings, no matter how much they practice, can't do that. It seems to come so naturally to Silva that he appears at times incapable of appreciating how rare his violent gifts are. Fortunately, he has the rest of us to tell him, and accomplished, though helpless opponents like Okami to show him.

Biggest Loser: Brendan Schaub
Not only was he the biggest betting favorite who ended up on the losing end in Rio, he was also the USA's best hope for a win on the night. We expected David Mitchell and even Dan Miller to get beat, but Schaub? He was supposed to be the next big heavyweight prospect, and maybe even the lone American to come back to the Northen Hemisphere with a victory stowed in his carry-on. He couldn't get his head out of the way of Nogueira's punches, however, so he ended up face down on the mat instead of hands raised on top of the cage. He's still young and still growing as a fighter, so it's not a major catastrophe, career-wise. At the same time, getting knocked out by an aging legend who seemed one or two defeats away from forced retirement is the kind of thing that'll hit the pause button on your superstar plans with a quickness. The hype train hasn't derailed, but it is always harder to get it started up again once it's come to such a sudden stop.

Most Impressive in Defeat: Ross Pearson
That was a painfully close fight, and if it's anywhere but Brazil, where even a glancing blow by a Brazilian brings the crowd to its feet, maybe he gets the decision. Even without it, he did better than many (myself included) expected him to, and proved his toughness beyond a reasonable doubt. Pearson may not be the best pure athlete in the lightweight class, but the man will keep walking you down and forcing you to fight him. Does that style have its limitations? Sure it does. Is it a whole lot of fun to watch, especially when the practitioner of such a style can take a shot as well as Pearson can? Definitely. I don't see the hard-headed Brit becoming champion any time soon, but every division needs role-players as well as greats. If Pearson's role is to put on exciting, gritty fights, at least it's steady work.

Least Impressive in Victory: Thiago Tavares
His plan seemed to be to control Spencer Fisher on the mat and grind the pace down to such a yawn-worthy crawl that his opponent would eventually do something dumb just to try and force some action. Somewhat disappointingly, it worked. It's not that Tavares didn't deserve to win -- he effectively dictated where and how the fight was contested, so that's something -- but he has to know that he won't win many fans with takedowns and short, ineffectual punches on the mat. In a night of memorable Brazilian triumphs, his win was among the most forgettable. At least it's better than losing.

Most Strangely Sympathetic: Forrest Griffin
Yes, he's a grumpy young man. And no, he does not travel well. But honestly, once you see that sadsack look on his face and consider the fact that he'll probably never be able to think about his daughter's birth without also thinking about the night he got knocked out by "Shogun" Rua in Rio, you have to feel for the guy. What I wonder is whether the pursuit of cold hard cash alone is enough to sustain him in this business. He used to be a workhorse in the gym, the guy who told the new crop of TUF hopefuls that "the juice is worth is the squeeze." These days he doesn't act like he really believes it. It's one thing to hate your job and do it anyway if you work at a kiosk in the mall selling cell phone accessories. When you fight for money, however, there are too many hungry young mercenaries out there for you to be going through the motions just for a paycheck. Griffin needs to decide whether he's all the way in this sport. If not, he ought to get out.

Most Surprising: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
The walk to the cage was the most many of us had seen Big Nog move all week, so it was hard not to analyze every step for what it might tell us about his post-surgery mobility. He wasn't exactly fleet of foot once the fight started, but then he was never known for his foot speed even in his prime. It seemed as though Nogueira's plan A was to take Schaub down, but when that went nowhere he quickly resported to plan B: punch the guy in the face until he falls down. Before the fight, I would have said this was a terrible idea. Then he tried it and found Schaub was not all that difficult to hit. I might tap the brakes on the whole 'Nogueira is back!' meme that instantly sprouted up after the win, but at least this proves he's not done. Not just yet, anyway.

Most Baffling: Rousimar Palhares
That's two bizarre mental lapses in three tries for "Toquinho." At least this one didn't cost him the fight. I loved how Herb Dean reacted to Palhares' premature celebration by looking at Dan Miller like he was a loose ball in a football game, just waiting to be noticed and scooped up. I admit I was a little curious to see what Miller would have done to Palhares had he been allowed to attack as Palhares straddled the top of the cage, flexing for the crowd, but I guess that was the rational point for Dean to pause the action and sort out the confusion. Palhares is obviously talented and has a lot of physical tools at his disposal, but somebody needs to teach this guy to fight until the referee tells him it's over. There are too many ways to lose in MMA without creating new ones for yourself.

Most Unhelpfully Brief Cage Appearance: Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
I'm sure he doesn't mind winning inside of two minutes, but I sure would have liked to have seen a little more of him. It's hard to know where his overall game is at when all his fight lasts about as long as it takes to microwave a Hot Pocket. Rua has always had that explosive power, particularly early in the fight. What people rightfully wonder about is his conditioning over the long haul. Saturday night's fight didn't give us a chance to find out anything about that, but hey, you can't really complain about a first-round knockout. You also can't say that you learned all that much about a fighter's overall game that way.

Least Potent Offense: Yushin Okami
Aside from a clinch and a couple pawing right hands, Okami didn't manage too many attempts at hurting Silva, which I thought was kind of supposed to be the goal. Then again, when you consider what happened on the few occasions when he did try to go on the attack, it's hard to blame him. It seems like no matter what you do to Silva, whether it's tossing out a jab or shooting for a takedown, you're only giving him more information about how best to defeat you. Still, if you're going to step in the cage and fight him, you have to fight him. The more time you spend standing around and letting him figure you out, the worse it's going to be. As for Okami, he seemed defeated by the time he got off the stool for the second round. Again, hard to blame him. Just because he failed to figure out a fighting genius in the span of a few minutes, that doesn't mean he's not still a gifted fighter in his own right. It's just that, especially in this business, the space between very good and great is so painfully vast.

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