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Falling Action: Best and Worst of UFC 149

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Dana White was "embarrassed" by UFC 149, while most fight fans were simply bored by it. It’s probably safe to say that this event won’t become a hit on DVD, but it still gives us plenty to think about across several different divisions. Here now are the biggest winners, losers, and everything in between after a bizarre night in western Canada.

Biggest Winner: Renan Barao
The fight didn’t provide enough fireworks for the crowd in Calgary, but you can hardly blame Barao for that. Or, then again, maybe you can. He did shut down Urijah Faber’s offense for the full five rounds, but you could argue that he also made up for it with spinning head kicks and jumping knees. What’s not up for debate is the fact that he clearly earned that decision victory, and he did it by being the better fighter both tactically and physically. And what did he win? How about an interim title that looks nice, but is only slightly more meaningful than the belt Chael Sonnen used to carry around. That, and the right to challenge Dominick Cruz for the real bantamweight title once the champ is back to full health. It should make for an interesting clash of styles when it finally happens. I just can’t help but wonder how long we’ll have to wait to see it, and whether Barao will be convinced to put his jewelry up for grabs in the meantime. Might as well. Even if he loses it he can still get another one for a few hundred bucks on the UFC’s website.

Biggest Loser: Hector Lombard
He came barreling into the UFC with a ton of hype behind him. Now that train is limping out of the station, destined for parts unknown. If you believe the stories floating around out there, Lombard has had no shortage of sparring sessions that were more exciting and decisive than his fight with Tim Boetsch. After three plodding rounds with only occasional fits of action, I found myself wishing that I was watching some of that training footage instead. Lombard might have won the staring contest with Boetsch, but he lost the split decision and a ton of career momentum. It’s the latter that will be the toughest for him to recover from. Dana White thinks he should consider a move down in weight, but it seems to me that the one-punch-and-wait strategy he employed against Boetsch wouldn’t go over any better as a welterweight. His problem was not that he was outmuscled; it was that he was outworked. We can write some of that off to Octagon jitters, but we can only do it once. If Lombard has any hopes of maintaining the reputation he came to the UFC with, he’d better make the next one count.

Most Impressive in Defeat: Court McGee
I know some fans are still outraged by the decision, but even if you had McGee winning on your scorecard you have to admit that it was a close fight in the other guy’s hometown. Those will often go against the out-of-towner if he doesn’t do more to distinguish himself. Even in defeat, McGee showed off the same resiliency and pressure we’ve come to expect, and the proof was all over Ring’s face at the end of three rounds. McGee might not ever be a champion or even a regular on the main card at pay-per-view events, but you always know what you’re getting with this guy, and it's a full night of work, win or lose.

Least Impressive in Victory: Cheick Kongo
Kongo would have us believe that injuries were responsible for his decision to lean on Shawn Jordan for three full rounds. In other words, he was healthy enough to take the fight and get paid, but not healthy enough to give fans anything remotely close to what they came to see. That’s the problem with the post-fight injury mea culpa. It’s one thing if you get hurt during the fight. It’s another thing if you tell us that you showed up in a diminished capacity, asking people to pay full price for half a Kongo. Not that Shawn Jordan did much to improve the overall performance, of course. He tried the same takedown attempt over and over again, but the only time he got Kongo down was when the big Frenchman put himself there after screwing up an attempt to take Jordan’s back. Even then, Jordan couldn’t do anything with it, and they ended the fight by wheezing on one another against the fence. It’s an especially rough result for Kongo who, once again, failed to lift his own stock. It was much the same with his decision victory over Matt Mitrione last October, and also with his draw against Travis Browne the October before that. His last impressive win was the comeback KO of Pat Barry, and he had to toe the line between the conscious and the spirit world in order to make that one happen. If injuries are stifling him now, he might be better off taking some time and getting those problems fixed while he still has some measure of goodwill with the fans and the UFC. I’m not sure how much more of this kind of success he can stand.

Most Surprising (in a good way): Matt Riddle
He said he wanted to make his bout with Chris Clements a memorable affair, and he did. If not for referee Josh Rosenthal’s unnecessary intervention after a body kick early in the fight, he might have even finished it sooner. Right from the start it was apparent that Riddle had come to entertain. He probably could have outwrestled Clements en route to a decision, but he opted not to. Instead he made a show out of it, finished with an arm triangle choke, then delivered the biggest laughs of the press conference when he called out Dan Hardy before relating a hilariously sincere tale from his first UFC loss that could have been entitled: Why I'll Always Remember Manchester. If only every fighter had been as intent on entertainment as Riddle was, maybe Dana White wouldn’t have had to apologize for his company’s product at the end of the night.

Most Surprising (in a bad way): Brian Ebersole
I think most of us expected the 4-1 favorite to make quick work of James Head after Ebersole agreed to delay his drop to lightweight in order to step in on short notice here. Instead he seemed to treat the fight like it was a Saturday morning sparring session, and he ended up on the wrong end of a split decision as a result. Ebersole’s quirky style often blurs the line between fighting and screwing around, but this time he might have taken it too far. He tried the same few techniques over and over again, with little to show for it, and never displayed much of a sense of urgency as a close fight headed into its final stages. It was as if he thought that all he had to do was show up and be Brian Ebersole, and the rest would take care of itself. Now he knows better, even if that lesson came at a cost.

Best Debut: Ryan Jimmo
A seven-second KO, followed by a pretty decent rendition of the robot, punctuated by a drop into the splits? Yeah, that’s how you make a memorable impression in the UFC. Jimmo’s been criticized for some lackluster wins on the Canadian circuit, but he announced his presence with authority against Anthony Perosh. The only problem is, how is he supposed to follow that? Anything less than a flying knee knockout followed by a Carnival-quality sambo display in his next UFC fight will be a disappointment.

Most Bittersweet Legacy: Urijah Faber
It’s starting to look like no matter how many cracks he gets at one title or another, Faber will never be able to add ‘UFC champion’ to his already impressive resume. Partly, that feels like an issue of semantics. He was the WEC titleholder back when it was essentially the featherweight version of being a UFC champ. But by the time the initials changed and the WEC disappeared forever it was too late for Faber, who is now 0-2 in UFC title shots and winless in his last five championship fights overall. What makes it feel vaguely unfair is the fact that Faber was the one who put the little guys on the map back when no one, including the UFC, thought much of anyone under 155 pounds. He carried that torch for a long time. It almost feels like he deserves to be thought of as a UFC champ somehow, even though it seems unlikely that he’ll ever actually win one at this point. Faber is 33 years old and closing in on a decade inside the cage. He’s still good enough to beat the vast majority of UFC bantamweights, and probably most of the featherweights, too. Anyone who beat Faber in the last six years earned the title of champion as a result. He’s got many such metrics that tell you how good he was, and still is. He just doesn’t have a UFC title to go along with it.