The Greatest MMA News Column 10.22.13: UFC 166, More
Posted by Dan Plunkett on 10.22.2013
News and thoughts on UFC 166, Velasquez vs. dos Santos, Velasquez's next challenger, Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas, Rampage's Spike TV special, and more!
UFC 166: Velasquez vs. dos Santos III Thoughts
UFC 166 was a prime example of everything great about mixed martial arts all while bearing harsh reminders of the brutal reality of the sport. Cain Velasquez cemented his spot as the top heavyweight of the post-Fedor era with a 23-minute shellacking of the man universally regarded as second-best in the division, Junior dos Santos. Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez engaged in a war that ranks among the best in UFC history. On the preliminary card, Adlan Amagov showed true potential with a knockout of TJ Waldburger three minutes into the bout.
While Velasquez's performance was remarkable, the prevailing feeling I had during the latter portion of the main event was discomfort witnessing a man get punched in the head far too many times, long after he was beat. Sanchez, who has been involved in no less than five legitimate ‘Fight of the Year' candidates, slurred his way through his post-fight interview. Waldburger remained unconscious for an extended period of time and had to be stretchered out of the cage.
Thankfully, dos Santos sounded okay following the fight, though he was immediately transported to the hospital. Sanchez's speech cleared up after he left the cage, and Waldburger passed tests at the hospital and was out later that night. Still, all three happenings can't help but make one reflect on the dangers of the sport. There will be fan-favorite fighters and even all-time greats that suffer from irreversible brain trauma for the remainder of their lives. It's fun to watch a fighter like Diego Sanchez involved in brawls, but it may be equally as uncomfortable to watch that fighter stumble through an interview in twenty years. The health of the athletes always has to be the top priority in a sport like this. That's why it's important for organizations to adopt a stronger steroid testing policies and become more cautious when booking a fighter after a knockout loss or a fight in which they took a good deal of damage.
The show drew a sellout crowd of 17,238 for a $2.5 million take at the gate in Houston's Toyota Center. Lower ticket prices helped the show sellout, and they are also the reason the show was beaten at the gate by UFC 69, held in the same building, despite selling more tickets. The only pay-per-view indicator at this point isn't particularly strong. "UFC" and related terms brought in more than 200,000 Google searches over the weekend, which is in the same ballpark of UFC 160, also featuring Velasquez and dos Santos. UFC 160 was estimated at 380,000 buys, and a similar total for 166 show would be very disappointing.
The show certainly wasn't helped much by UFC's new television partner Fox Sports 1, which hasn't been as strong as many hoped it would after launching August 17. UFC's Primetime promotional vehicle was less visible than ever. The first episode on a Wednesday drew just 126,000 viewers while the second, on a Tuesday due to the live fights the following night, drew even worse at 85,000. With the cost of those shows running in the millions (the first series building to UFC 94 cost $1.7 million), they probably aren't cost effective on Fox Sports 1. That's not a great sign for the next two PPVs, both of which will be built using Primetime. Unless either of the upcoming specials has strong word-of-mouth, they won't find an audience on Fox Sports 1. A documentary on UFC's twenty year anniversary, being celebrated at UFC 167, will also air on FS 1. UFC did try to get a single episode Primetime promoting the second Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen bout on Fox, but that fell through. Ultimately, if UFC's goal with UFC 168 is to break their all-time PPV record, they are going to have to find a bigger audience from the Primetime show.
But for a very brief moment early in the fight, Cain Velasquez dominated Junior dos Santos and finished his rival midway through the fifth round. Once again, Velasquez's pace was too much for the Brazilian to handle. He out-landed dos Santos 274 to 62 over five rounds, scored a knockdown in round three, and landed two takedowns. There was talk prior to the fight that Velasquez and dos Santos may end up fighting at least once more before they call it quits, which may be the case, but after two one-sided bouts a fourth fight will be a tough sell for the next couple of years.
Next for Velasquez appears to be Fabricio Werdum. At the very least, Werdum, 36, brings an element to that table that Velasquez hasn't had to deal with: world class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Cain has faced black belts before in dos Santos, Antonio Silva, and Minotauro Nogueira, but none of them are on Werdum's level on the mat. The one that comes closest, Nogueira, didn't or wasn't able to bring the fight to the ground against Velasquez before being knocked out.
Since being released by the UFC in 2008 after a knockout loss to dos Santos, Werdum saw the best success of his career. After beating Mike Kyle and Antonio Silva he was matched with then-top heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko. Werdum submitted him in 69 seconds, paving the way for a new number one ranked heavyweight for the first time in seven years. He then faced Alistair Overeem in a strange fight where he flopped to his back far too many times, but was winning brief exchanges on the feet. Overeem won a decision, but it wasn't a fight where one fighter came across as better than the other. Back in the UFC, Werdum has beaten Roy Nelson via lopsided decision, Mike Russow by first round TKO, and Nogueira by way of submission.
Nobody in the heavyweight division can be considered a favorite against Velasquez, but Werdum is at least one of the very few that brings an interesting dimension to the table with the ground game. If Velasquez proves as dominant against Werdum as he's been against every opponent he's ever faced (save for dos Santos in their first bout), heavyweights may have to wait until his body breaks down before they stand a real chance against the champion.
Daniel Cormier's planned last fight at heavyweight went about as well as he could have expected. He tired Roy Nelson out, kept him from throwing his dangerous right hand with takedowns and even some head kicks, and landed really solid punches that would have made the overwhelming majority of human beings fall down. Just four years removed from his MMA debut, Cormier, 34, has developed into one of the smartest fighters in the sport in addition to being athletically gifted and a world class wrestler. The only placed Cormier has regressed is interviews. He was brilliant calling out both Jon Jones and Frank Mir in January, but on one of the biggest stages of his career Saturday night opted against calling out the champion.
The logical next opponent for Cormier is either Alexander Gustafsson or Phil Davis. The former would earn him a title shot, while the latter would get him a title shot only if Gustafsson loses his next match.
In a fight that will probably win ‘Fight of the Year' honors, Gilbert Melendez won a decision over Diego Sanchez. The fight was very good for the first two rounds, largely controlled by Melendez, but the third round really put it over the top. Sanchez, a noted crazy man, had been battered and bloodied (with a big cut over his eye) over the first two rounds, but came back in the third to knock Melendez down with an uppercut. The two stood toe-to-toe throwing punches as the fight ended. If you like fighting and missed this fight, go out of your way to see it.
A right hook from Gabriel Gonzaga put down a forward-moving Shawn Jordan and he finished the fight shortly thereafter. Gonzaga is now 4-1 since returning from the UFC after a brief retirement/release, with the only loss being controversial as he was hit in the back of the head numerous times by Travis Browne.
John Dodson ended Darrell Montague's night with a left hand in the opening frame of their flyweight bout. After the fight he tried a backflip off the cage and took a nice bump. Dodson, 29, has unreal power for the flyweight division and is as quick as any fighter. This was his first fight since his January loss to Demetrious Johnson, where he knocked the champion down multiple times. With the division being so thin, Dodson should be next in line for the title after November's Johnson-Joseph Benavidez rematch.
Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas possible for Super Bowl Weekend. The gap on UFC's Super Bowl Weekend card left by Jon Jones vs. Glover Teixeira may be filled by a featherweight title bout. Ricardo Lamas may finally get his shot at Jose Aldo on the show. Lamas earned the opportunity to face Aldo in January with a dominant win against Erik Koch. He was then slated to face The Korean Zombie in July, but an injury to Anthony Pettis, the top lightweight challenger who moved down and jumped ahead of Lamas, left a vacancy in the featherweight title match at UFC 163 that could only be filled by the undead. Since, Lamas has been sitting out waiting for his opportunity. The match doesn't figure to draw well on pay-per-view and Aldo would enter heavily favored.
Another potential option for that show would be the heavyweight title match, Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum. If Velasquez is able to make what would be a relatively quick turnaround for him, that would be a better option than the featherweight title bout.
Quick news. After Gilbert Melendez's strong performance at UFC 166, TJ Grant may not have a title shot waiting for him when he returns from a concussion that pulled him out of two lightweight title bouts.
As expected, Dana White says he isn't interested in Bellator's offer to let Ben Askren go if UFC offers him an immediate title match. He noted they were waiting for the matching rights period to come to an end next July. Really, it's not even worth considering the offer until December when the welterweight title picture unfolds.
Rampage4Real debuts with a whimper. When I tuned in to Rampage Jackson's three-part series on Spike TV leading into his PPV bout with Tito Ortiz, I expected a show that would at least attempt to make people want to see the fight. I was wrong. The show instead focused more on Rampage's comedic talents, his lack of dedication to training for the fight (if he doesn't care enough to train for it, why should anyone want to watch?), and parts came across as blatantly scripted or set up. It wasn't as though Rampage came off as unlikeable or the show was unwatchable, but in the end it accomplished nothing and felt unnecessary. I can't imagine anyone had any more desire to see Rampage vs. Ortiz after watching than they did before. Perhaps it will improve in the next two weeks, but I probably won't be watching. The show drew 404,000 viewers, losing more than 60% of its lead-in audience from TNA's Impact Wrestling.
Bellator 104 results. Rick Hawn beat Bren Weedman to advance to the finals of the welterweight tournament in the main event. It will be Hawn's second welterweight tournament final and third overall. Barring injury, he'll face Ron Keslar, who submitted War Machine in the only finish of the main card. In a middleweight feature, Kendall Grove won a decision over Joe Vedepo. At heavyweight, Peter Graham beat Eric Prindle, who was nearly purple by the end of the fight. In preliminary action, UFC vets Paul Bradley, Paul Sass, and Rob Emerson scored wins.
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