Miletich Fighting Systems rode high for awhile, as Jens Pulver, Matt Hughes, and Tim Sylvia all wore UFC gold. Brazil's Chute Boxe was legendary during PRIDE's heyday. Black House features Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida. Jackson's MMA in Albuquerque was and is the home of champions.
After Saturday night, there's little doubt Rio de Janeiro's Nova Uniao belongs right up there among the sport's legendary camps.
Rare does one gym feature two of the top five, and perhaps top three, pound-for-pound fighters in the world at once. But rarely has it been more obvious and up front than it was on Saturday night, when Nova Uniao's Jose Aldo and Renan Barao successfully defended their titles in back-to-back fights.
Aldo's case is well documented by now. He's laid waste to the featherweight division. Counting his WEC and UFC reigns on one continuous timeline, he's been champion for four years, three months, has defended his championship nine times, and hasn't lost a fight since 2005.
Saturday night, he toyed with a very good fighter in Ricardo Lamas. In the first round, he let Lamas know he could turn up the heat whenever he felt like it. In rounds two and three, he wrecked Lamas with his vicious leg kicks. In round four, he nearly finished him with a choke. Sure, Lamas had his moments in round five, and the late rounds are supposed to be Aldo's weakness, but no one's come close to finishing him yet in that spot.
Barao, meanwhile, may have done the fastest job of cleaning out a division in MMA history. Urijah Faber, defeated twice. Eddie Wineland, knocked out. Michael McDonald, submitted. Yes, the stoppage last night was quick, and it opens the door for a potential future rematch. But let's be honest here: Does anyone expect a third Barao-Faber fight to end with Faber's hand raised?
"I've been talking about Renan Barao for months, and I'm going to say it again tonight," UFC president Dana White said. "The kid is unbelievable. He's a finisher. … Every time this kid fights, he looks better and better and better."
Barao and Aldo, combined, have won 49 consecutive fights. In 2014, when the idea that even the best mixed martial artists lose from time to time is as accepted as death and taxes, two fighters from the same gym are on a combined win streak of nearly 50 fights going back almost nine years. Let that sink in for a second.
UFC 169 quotes
"You know you've heard me up here a million times talk about Herb Dean -- I think he's the best referee in the business. He rarely ever makes mistakes, but he made a mistake tonight. Faber was blocking those shots, he gave the thumb's up. You know, the guy's the best in the business as far as I'm concerned. Tonight he made a mistake." -- White on the Barao-Faber stoppage.
"After this win, I'm looking forward to fighting the toughest guys in my division. The ones that could get me close to the title shot such as ‘Cowboy"'Cerrone or Nate Diaz. I'm ready to get the gold." -- Abel Trujillo, who clearly wants another slugfest after his sensational knockout of Jamie Varner.
"No. I still have a long way to go at this weight division. I still have a lot of work to do. I just got the belt, so I'm not planning to go up." -- Barao, asked if he'd move to featherweight if campmate Jose Aldo moves up to 155.
Up: Alistair Overeem. I've been as critical as any reporter of Overeem over the years, but White's post-fight criticism had me baffled. Was Overeem supposed to come out flying and get knocked out again, just to please his boss? Overeem dominated Mir while fighting a smart fight. He went to the ground with Mir, the one place Mir is still dangerous, and not only didn't get submitted, but when they were re-stood in the third round, Mir looked like Glass Joe from Punch Out, one punch before Little Mac finishes him. White should be happy he came out of that heavyweight fight with a guy who can put on a show with any heavyweight in the division instead of an obviously spent Mir.
Down: Frank Mir. Yes, I'm stating the obvious here. But the degree to which Mir has looked shot over his past four fights has been kind of scary. Junior dos Santos and Josh Barnett both toyed with him before finishing him, and he was blown out of a pair of 30-27 decisions, against Daniel Cormier and Overeem. Mir said he'd continue fighting outside the UFC if he's cut. But if he does, I'm not convinced he beats Cheick Kongo at this point.
Hold: Urijah Faber. Only "The California Kid" could lose a sixth title fight and still come out of it a credible contender. Faber was fighting for the fifth time in 11 months, a crazy number for a fighter who will be 35 in May. He took the bout with a killer like Barao on short notice, was on the wrong end of an early stoppage, and showed class in the wake of the defeat. Bottom line, this is the same guy who cleaned out the competition aside from Barao in 2013, and he's still one of the few guys who can credibly headline at the lighter weight classes. He'll be back.
Down: John Lineker. At this point, we may as well call him John "Rumble" Lineker. Lineker actually made the flyweight limit on his second attempt on Friday, but a bad weight cut showed as he slowed down over the course of his fight with Ali Bagautinov and lost a decision. Never mind getting Lineker in with Mike Dolce. Lineker is a bantamweight, and the sooner he makes the shift, the better.
Hold: Jamie Varner. Yes, he was on the wrong end of one of the most memorable face-plant knockouts this side of Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler. But the fight with Abel Trujillo everything we've come to expect from Varner, with fast action and back-and-forth excitement. Sometimes those huge Varner flurries end in big wins, like when he beat Edson Barboza, or the night he croaked Rob McCullough to take the WEC title. Sometimes, in his exuberance, he makes fatal mistakes, like his fight with Joe Lauzon and last night. He's not going to be a UFC champion, but you can do far worse in this business than be Jamie Varner.
For one thing, on a night with 10 decisions, a single-night UFC record, nine of them were clear-cut correct (the one which wasn't was brutal, which we'll get to in a moment). So there's something to be said for last night's judging. In the meantime, Let's give it up to Dan Miragliotta, who could have stopped Jamie Varner vs. Abel Trujillo at several points during Varner's second-round onslaught, but never did, leading to the highlight of the night in Trujillo's one-punch knockout.
I'm not going to waste too much time beating a dead horse on the main event. Herb Dean blew the call. Dean is still far and away the best referee in the business. It happens to the best of them.
Of note on the judging end of things was this week's example that the total strikes stat means nothing, as Alan Patrick got a head-scratcher of a decision over John Makdessi. Patrick threw flashy, wild strikes which mostly missed. He also got stuffed on 11 of 12 takedown attempts. Makdessi patiently and almost flawlessly executed a counterstriking strategy.
Rewarding a fighter like Patrick for busy but ineffective offense is sort of like saying a basketball team which puts up tons of shots and misses most should still be given the victory over a team with fewer shots, a higher shooting percentage, and more points, simply because the first team more active on offense.
Fight I'd like to see next
First off, I'd really like to see a gym tape of Aldo sparring with Barao at Nova Uniao. That's got to be as good as anything that can be offered on PPV. But barring that, the idea it looks like we're finally going to see Aldo take on Anthony Pettis works. It was a year ago this weekend that Pettis texted White during the post-fight press conference and says he wanted a shot at Aldo's featherweight bout. This time, Pettis got through to White again, and said he wants to put his lightweight belt on the line. I disagree with the idea Aldo should have to relinquish his featherweight belt to do it -- B.J. Penn didn't have to drop his lightweight title to go up and challenge Georges St. Pierre -- but either way, Aldo vs. Pettis is a fight to contemplate and savor in a 2014 which doesn't have enough of them.