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The Best and Worst of UFC 150

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC 150 was a serviceable event. Not particularly amazing and certainly no UFC 149. There were letdowns, but also high marks and plenty of brutality to go around. I doubt the event will do particularly well on pay-per-view (DirecTV going black didn't help matters), but there's still a fair amount of substance to pore over on this Monday morning. Here are the biggest winners, losers and most herculean from a night where we were all reminded ad nauseum the air was thin.

Biggest Winner: Ben Henderson
There's a lot to love about Henderson. He's always prepared for fights. He competes with unbridled ferocity. He either runs over or brings the best out of his opponents (something he never gets credit for). And he wins. A lot. What's not to like? Well, for starters, adapted pop hymnals as walkout music. That was atrocious, although Henderson's prerogative. What's notable about Henderson, though, isn't his taste in music: it's how his fighting style sends silent messages of authority to judges. I'm not here to suggest Henderson is where he is by accident. He's earned his place. But in close fights against Edgar - razor-thin close - there's something about his game that looks more dominant. With Edgar, you've got to pay close attention and notice the finer details. That's good a thing in the eyes of the ultra competent, but the ultra competent are few and far between. It's hard for me to articulate, but the point is this: either Henderson steam rolls opponents in dominant fashion (without stopping them in the UFC, though) or he wins close decisions in very close fights with Edgar by having a game that often feels more dominant than it may actually be. Winning when you're not even winning is the hallmark of winners everywhere. BenHen's got the stuff.

Biggest Loser: Frankie Edgar
My initial inclination when the decision was read was that Edgar was robbed. I'm a little hesitant about going to those lengths now in hindsight, although I still believe he won. But as Edgar himself stated on Saturday night, it doesn't matter what he or I think. We aren't paid for our qualitative judgment of his bouts and those who are gave him the thumbs down. What's depressing for Edgar is he did enough to make a case for himself as a top lightweight - if not the top lightweight - amidst questions about whether he even belongs in the division. The only way to give critics the answer you'd like is to win and he did. Only he didn't and despite coming close, he is left with little choice to acquiesce to pressure about a move to featherweight even though he's basically right about being a lightweight. How do you prove yourself right and the critics wrong, yet still end up in a position where the critics get to claim victory? That's the odd space Edgar found himself Sunday morning.

Most Impressive in Defeat: Frankie Edgar
How can anyone else but the former UFC lightweight champion qualify for this category? By many if not most observers (save for three judges in Denver), he won the fight. And even if he didn't, he came exceedingly close. Outside of Anthony Pettis' WEC Night of Parkour Kicks, no one in the Zuffa organization has given him the kind of challenge Edgar has. It's a pity he doesn't have much to show for efforts, but let the record be clear: Edgar fought up to the challenge even if by the measurement of opinion he didn't meet it.

Least Impressive in Victory: Yushin Okami
I don't know if Okami's days as a top contender are numbered or already over, but I've certainly got a sneaking suspicion they might be. Okami entered his bout with Buddy Roberts on a two-fight skid, the first ever of his career. On the ground he managed to make it look easy against the Greg Jackson-product, but was arguably getting hit too much for anyone's comfort save Roberts. Okami ended his losing streak and will likely get a tough opponent next in the new and improved middleweight division, but one wonders if the storm that had 'Thunder' in it already passed over the MMA world.

Most Likely to Be Themselves: Jake Shields
What is there to say? Shields is gonna be Shields. The black belt from San Francisco, California did in Denver what he does best: turn fights into grappling matches where he's doing most of the controlling. It's true Ed Herman deserves a nod for hanging with Shields and showing strong defensive fundamentals, but what does that really amount to in the end? It amounts to a win for Jake Shields. It's hard to argue with success, but not impossible. Shields made the biggest noise in MMA when he was the top poached talent in the Strikeforce vs. UFC era. He's certainly defeated incredibly tough, talented guys since then, but it's hard to see another day when Shields will be lauded for his accomplishments and celebrity as the day he was sitting next to Dana White at a UFC show while still under contract for Strikeforce.

Best Weight Cut: Nik Lentz
Lentz said he changed his entire life for his featherweight debut. He left his team, coaches, hometown and lived in horrible hotel for eight weeks to make the shift. I don't know if all of that was necessary to have a strong showing over Eiji Mitsuoka. He could've stayed in Minnesota as long as he was on the Dolce Diet and probably had similar levels of success. What is admirable wasn't just the execution at that weightclass, but the intensity he displayed in taking up the new challenge. Belief in one's self is admirable; belief in one's self as a result of walking through fire is special. Lentz didn't just cut down on salts and sweets, he put himself in the best position to maximize his talent by taking calculated risks. In a sport where burnout comes quickly, to display the kind of authentic passion in himself after sacrifice and change is a rare and rather touching thing.

Strongest Like an Ox: Dennis Bermudez
There've been a few instances of fighters being lifted off of their feet from standing guillotines. I'm not sure if Bermudez's attempt on Tommy Hayden from Saturday night qualifies, but it was close. And either way, it was an impressive feat of strength. Listen, not everyone has the grip and cinch of Marcelo Garcia. Some of these guys out here are just going to He-Man each other. And if you've got the physical ability to do it, why not? Use what the good lord gave you, right? I'm not sure how far Bermudez can go in the UFC, but I know this: win or lose, the kid is going to Hulk smash a few hapless souls into high amplitude throws or origami-esque submissions. Ain't nothin' wrong with that, folks.

Rib Roasting-est Putaway: Max Holloway
Heads up, fighters. If you open a UFC pay-per-view and finish your opponent before the third round with a rib roasting body punch followed up by a liver shot, you can either marry my daughter or have my first-born child. Your pick. That's the position Max Holloway finds himself in after dispatching with Justin Lawrence on Saturday. If I've got issues with MMA striking, it's that it's often more offensively-minded than it should be. It's less refined, less focused on the details than pure boxing or kickboxing. Understandably, in some ways, but frustrating in others. That's why it's such a joy to see someone break an opponent down with something other than a hook that landed because it just wasn't blocked. I'm not calling the 20-year old Holloway the next Anderson Silva. But I will give him a tip of the cap for having the courage and know-how to show a side of offensive striking that has a modicum of refinement without a tradeoff in brutality.

Biggest Saving Grace: Melvin Guillard vs. Donald Cerrone
I'm going to keep saying both because it's true and it matters, but there are too many UFC shows. Many UFC fans are burned out the product is being watered down. It's really not even debatable anymore. However, there are still bright spots on every card. UFC 150's main event was certainly an excellent fight, but so was the co-main event between Cerrone and Guillard. It was good in that appropriately violent, 'let's just get this over with' kind of way. No dancing, no feeling out, no deviations from the norm, no foreplay. Just action, back and forth, with the outcome teetering in one man's favor only to abruptly swing in the other direction. That's not the best MMA has to offer, but it might be the most likely to wake your neighbors as you scream in surprise and delight.

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