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Falling Action: Best and Worst of UFC 148

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Photo by Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Photo by Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC 148 promised to be the biggest event of the year, and at least so far it seems that it was. Rivalries and careers both came to a close, along with a little weirdness sprinkled in for good measure. Now, a closer look at the biggest winners, losers, and everything in between.

Biggest Winner: Anderson Silva
Did he attempt to move some Vaseline from his face to his body? Yes he did. Did he grab Chael Sonnen’s shorts in a blatant violation of the rules? Yep, that too. Did he win the fight anyway and dispatch his most significant rival in violent, legal fashion? Absolutely. Maybe some of Silva’s methods weren’t all that gentlemanly, but it was Sonnen’s own blunder with the spinning backfist attempt that marked the beginning of the end. For Silva, the win only further cements an already solid legacy. Don’t think he’s the world’s greatest middleweight, and arguably the greatest MMA fighter of all time? Okay, you’re wrong. Silva has dominated as UFC champ for nearly six years, and even at 37 he’s showing few signs of slowing down. It’s not at all unreasonable to think that he could stay on top for another couple years, if he wants to. For the sake of his legacy, he needed Sonnen. No one feels for a hero who hasn’t trembled, and you can’t have Batman without The Joker. By winning the second fight in such unambiguous fashion, Silva finished that important chapter of his career with a violent flourish. Whatever he does from here on out is just extra credit.

Biggest Loser: Cody McKenzie
In the post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White stopped just short of apologizing to Chad Mendes for wasting his time with such an unworthy opponent. Later, when Forrest Griffin joked that while he wasn’t done fighting yet, he wasn’t about to call out Jon Jones any time soon, White quipped that maybe they’d give him McKenzie next. The room erupted in laughter. That’s a little ungenerous to McKenzie (not to mention just needlessly mean), but we have to admit that he did not look good in the 30 seconds he spent in the cage opposite Mendes. In fact, he looked bad. He looked like he didn’t belong there, which is exactly how Mendes treated him. Was it just a bad night? Too much too soon? Or has he masqueraded as a better fighter than he is, albeit with the UFC’s help (it’s worth remembering that he didn’t book himself onto the main card of UFC 148)? I’m not sure, but I can tell you that he was in way over his head this weekend. Maybe he can use it as a learning experience, brief though it was.

Most Impressive in Defeat: Tito Ortiz
We have to qualify our remarks when we talk about Ortiz these days. When we say he looked good, what we mean is he looked better. When we say he looked impressive, we mean when compared to the last half-decade of his career. White said he thought Ortiz and Griffin both looked "old," and maybe he’s right. But by dropping Griffin twice and walking through the many, many punches that bounced off his skull, he still looked surprisingly adept for a guy who’s only won one of his last nine. Is it time for him to retire? Absolutely. But no one can say he didn’t give us everything he had left on his way out the door.

Least Impressive in Victory: Khabib Nurmagomedov

The Russian fighter who calls himself "The Eagle," (Like Yahoo’s Maggie Hendricks, I prefer "Nurmy," but anything not to have to spell his last name over and over again) got the decision victory over Gleison Tibau, but he did it largely by holding Tibau captive against the fence and nullifying his offense. That’s one way to do it, since it gives your opponent little chance to do anything that might impress the judges, but it’s not much fun to watch. Nurmagomedov was a little too content to settle for stalled takedown attempts in between brief, wild flurries that involved putting his head down and hoping for the best. It might have been enough to barely edge out Tibau, but that approach won’t take him far in the UFC.

Most Bizarre: Forrest Griffin
You’d think that after he took so much heat for running out of the cage following his loss to Silva, he’d have learned by now that it was best to stay put and take your medicine after the fight. I totally understand the impulse to run and hide when you’re upset, but professionals don’t get to do that. He only made things worse by seizing the mic after the decision was announced and conducting a weird (though, actually pretty decent) post-fight interview of Ortiz. That should have been Ortiz’s moment with Joe Rogan to reflect on his career, his retirement, and his performance in his final fight. Instead, Griffin made himself the center of attention. It’s kind of like the MMA equivalent of Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift, except that Griffin isn’t as obnoxious as Kanye and Ortiz isn’t as adorable as Taylor. But I digress. Griffin’s always had a reputation as something of an oddball, and the UFC has been pretty good about putting up with that when it has to. But if you’re an oddball and you have a boss who thought you looked old at 34 years of age? Not a great combination.

Most Oddly Charismatic: Chael Sonnen
Sonnen tends to become as gracious and reasonable after a defeat as he is bombastic and outrageous before a bout. If he wanted them, there were plenty of available excuses he could have grasped for following the loss to Silva. Members of the media offered up several such candidates for complaint in the post-fight presser, and Sonnen shot them all down. Did Silva grab his shorts? Sure, Sonnen said, "but I grabbed his right back," and "I'll grab someone else's shorts down the road." Was the knee while he was down a legal blow? "I hate those rules anyway," Sonnen said before insisting that he didn’t much care about the distinction between legal and illegal in that scenario. Most other fighters probably would have taken a different view (remember B.J. Penn’s response to "Greasegate?"), but Sonnen, who is so deft at avoiding responsibility for his own mistakes in other areas of his life, was almost eager to take more than his share of the blame. He even lauded Brazilian fans for "back[ing] their guy" and showering him with vitriol, saying, "I should be getting booed" when taking on Silva. That’s an abrupt about-face from some of his pre-fight comments, but it’s the right move at the right time. Say what you want about how he sells a fight, but a lot of other fighters could learn a thing or two from him about how to lose with class.

Most Surprising: Cung Le
He might be 40 years old and starting to get the old man torso just a bit, but he can still throw down for three full rounds. If Patrick Cote didn’t have bricks in his skull, he might have been knocked out by a few of those kicks. Instead, he took them and gave some punishment back. Ultimately, he had no answer for Le’s superior striking and varied attack. Does this mean we’ll see Le in a UFC title fight some time soon? Almost certainly not. But he can still fight and put on a show, even if, at his age, he’s probably going to need some time off after a battle like that. Just don’t tell White, who’s already agitating for Le to take a fight on the UFC’s debut in China this November. Le might want to start that vacation now so he can hurry up and get back into the gym.

Least Educational Performance: Demian Maia
It’s not his fault. In what little we got to see of him, he looked great. He also looked like a fighter who was ready to return to his roots as jiu-jitsu terror. It’s just too bad that the injury to Dong Hyun Kim denied us the chance to see what he could really do at welterweight. What we did see, however, was encouraging. Could it be that Maia really will find new life in a new division, and maybe even go back to the being the black hole that sucked up every limb and neck that was foolish enough to get close to him? Maybe. Too bad we didn’t get the opportunity to find out.