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Dennis Bermudez edges Matt Grice in early Fight of the Year candidate

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

This is not an easy time to be a UFC fighter. The roster is bloated. Jobs are on the line. And so for fighters, the decision must be made: fight conservatively in hopes of winning and keeping your job, or go for broke and hope your aggression wins the favor of management.

Those are the two schools of thought, and neither is right or wrong. It is just a hard fact of life that the decision must be made. At Saturday night's UFC 157, we had a little bit of both by the time Dennis Bermudez and Matt Grice stepped into the octagon for their prelim fight. The two fighters, both of whom have wrestling backgrounds, would seem like naturals for the first category. But on Saturday, they were showmen.

More Coverage: UFC 157 Results | UFC news
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For three rounds, the featherweights waged a grueling battle that saw both on the edge of defeat at various times. They both made it to the final bell, where Bermudez edged out a split-decision by scores of 29-28, 29-28, 28-29.

The action started from the opening bell, when Bermudez (10-3) took Grice down and mounted him, trapping his right arm and raining down punches. It looked like it could be over early but Grice escaped. It was a fortunate break for the event's observers based upon what was to come. It was a war. By the end of the round, Grice (15-5) had rocked Bermudez, then floored him with a left hook. It was on.

The rest of the fight was more of the same, heavy leather traded, a few cursory takedown tries, some groundwork. It produced a little bit of everything.

The fight had few lasting waves of momentum until the third, when Bermudez drilled Grice early with a right hook. At several times over the course of the next five minutes, Grice looked like he might be out on his feet, and ref Herb Dean closely watched over the action. But he let it go. And wouldn't you know it, Grice would come back to life, and occasionally land a big bomb of his own.

"In the third round I knew he was tired," Bermudez said. "I pushed a hard pace. He was belting me. I was getting hit anyways, so I might as well throw back."

By the end, the decision was in doubt, but the effort wasn't. The Honda Center crowd serenaded them with a raucous and well-deserved ovation for a fight that still will be remembered in December when the year's best are recapped.

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