Ten thoughts on a very wild and unforgettable UFC 168:
1. First and foremost, hearts out to Anderson Silva. No one wants to see a guy go out like that. Silva is one of the legends of MMA, fighting in the twilight of his career. Even if he lost to Weidman, at least it would have been on his terms. Breaking his leg…not so much. Fight fans didn’t get to see the ending they wanted to see, whatever it may have been, and what’s worse is a great former champion and fighter seriously injured himself and will probably be forced to retire, if not have a nagging limp and pain in his leg for the rest of his life. A shocking and bitter ending for the greatest to ever do it. Hearts out to him.
2. With that said, does the way Weidman vs. Silva II ended mar the legitimacy of Chris Weidman’s victory? Absolutely. Just like any other fight that’s stopped prematurely due to injury or something like an unintentional eye poke. Weidman didn’t beat Silva, Silva just couldn’t fight anymore. Let’s not pretend that Weidman checked that leg kick thinking Silva would break his leg on it. He did a great job checking them of course, but that wasn’t the foundation of the game plan. That was a freak accident, or maybe not so freakish considering Silva’s age and fight experience. It didn’t leave a sense of finality on anything. What Silva did to Sonnen in their rematch, what Cain did to JDS in their last fights, what Frankie Edgar did to Gray Maynard. They all answered those lingering questions emphatically. Weidman was whooping all kinds of ass in the first round, but Silva survived and the rest of the fight was still left to be fought. We just don’t know what would have happened and we most likely never will.
3. Is Chris Weidman the undisputed and very legitimate UFC middleweight champion? Without question. Weidman dominated Silva for the first round and very nearly finished the fight. More than a few people were on their feet holding their breath, just waiting for the ref to step in and wave it off and had Herb Dean done so, not many would have argued about an early stoppage. Silva recovered like a veteran though, but still couldn’t escape from Weidman’s top control and punishing ground and pound. Silva didn’t play those games like he did in the first fight and it didn’t matter. Weidman hurt him and very nearly finished him once again. Many might say it’s because Silva’s age finally caught up to him, his prime is over, blah blah blah. Look, Weidman was the first guy to do it. There’s a long list of fighters who couldn’t seriously challenge Silva, let alone hurt him and put him in danger. Weidman is the real deal folks.
4. Ronda Rousey Part I. Rousey’s judo is something to behold. I don’t know if she ever looked better with some of her tosses, flips and takedowns. They were beautifully executed and demonstrated that Rousey is simply in a class of her own in terms of grappling/judo. She used Tate’s momentum against her several times and threw Tate around like a rag doll. That kind of experience and know-how comes from years and years of training and practice and experience. The value of her elite judo cannot be overstated. Arm bar schmarm bar. Her judo was what won her the fight.
5. Rousey II. That said, Rousey could very easily lose. For everything Rousey does right, it seems like her two fights in the UFC also exposed holes in her game. Her judo is unrivaled, but her striking is barely adequate. She reminded me very much of a rougher Georges St. Pierre, who relied on takedowns and top control to win fights. Rousey of course is cerebral in finding a way to lock in an armbar, but her striking isn’t going to dominate anybody right now. That’s going to be a problem against some fighters. Women’s MMA is still growing and the competition in the UFC women’s bantamweight division is getting fierce. We’re seeing the leveling of the playing field now and the stars and elite fighters are starting to emerge. Tate taking Rousey to three rounds will encourage a lot of people, and her outstriking Rousey is going to stick in some minds as well. Rousey ate a ton of punches to lock things up. She proved her toughness without a doubt, but Tate isn’t exactly a homerun hitter with her fists. Rousey won by armbar yet again, but her aura of invincibility was definitely weakened, if not altogether dissolved. Imagine Cyborg Santos throwing those punches at her, or Cat Zingano in a Muay Thai clinch. Rousey doesn’t look so invincible anymore.
6. Rousey III. Rousey a poor sport? Try again. So Rousey didn’t shake Tate’s hand after the fight was stopped. Who cares? If this was tennis, or college basketball, or soccer, or hockey, or any other sport where it is tradition for opposing players/coaches to meet after games to shake hands, then yes, give Rousey hell for her conduct. But this is fighting. Hell, when I play pickup basketball, I get pissed off and refuse to shake someone’s hand after they foul me unnecessarily hard. And we’re not even fighting. People want to see two fighters try to destroy each other for 25 minutes, then hug it out afterwards like nothing ever happened? This isn’t the WWE. Some fighters genuinely don’t like each other and there ain’t no love lost before, during or after fights. Rousey and Tate have a long history and they went through a TUF season together. The hype and buildup was centered around their genuine dislike of each other and people bought into it. What was so surprising about Rousey refusing to shake her hand afterwards? Don’t call it poor sportsmanship because she complimented Tate afterwards. It’s just Rousey being herself in front of thousands of booing fans.
7. Travis Browne should be on Cain Velasquez’ and Fabricio Werdum’s radar. He made Barnett look silly, and Barnett is a killer. Daniel Cormier couldn’t do that to Barnett in five rounds. Frank Mir didn’t stand a chance. And Browne floored him. Browne simply outfought him and did it extremely impressively. He’s going to fight for the heavyweight title at some point, and if he keeps performing the way he does and improving as well, he may very well win the whole damn thing. Bonus points for the kick-ass post fight speech, somewhat taunting the front row spectators and shouting out the fans in the nosebleeds. He also called out Fabricio Werdum, and with Cain on the sidelines with an injury, we may see that happen as the title eliminator.
8. Awesome capitalization by Jim Miller. What an awkward way to nail an armbar. It shows how fights can progress and how the fighter who seizes on potential opportunities the most quickly and effectively is the one most likely to end up winning the fight. These were two expert grapplers and jiu-jitsu guys going at it, and Miller was the one who came up with the submission attempt and eventual finish. If he was going to win against the very capable Camoes, many thought it would be through a mix of striking and grappling. Subbing a fighter like Camoes is just icing on the cake.
9. Dustin Poirier is right back in the mix. He wants Cub Swanson after a full training camp and you’d have to think it would be different the next time around, if it happened. Poirier took their first fight on very short notice. He ran through Diego Brandao, a slugger, and beat him at his own game, by outstriking him. Picking apart a guy as dangerous as Brandao is one thing, but staying in the pocket and not being afraid to trade with him, and avoiding those haymakers with such a high level of skill…well, that’s something else completely. Poirier looked fantastic against a very good and tough fighter and put a screeching halt to Brandao’s building momentum. That was a reminder to not sleep on the guy.
10. Uriah Hall comes through in the clutch. It took a guy with a rather simple fighting style and game plan to make Hall look good, but anytime you can make a fighter like Chris Leben want to stop, that’s saying something. Hall looked great in staying active and on the move, avoiding the big bombs that Leben was throwing and then countering at the right moments. But let’s be realistic, Leben is a one trick pony who doesn’t have a versatile repertoire to mix things up at will. Hall had to win that fight, he has way too much size, athleticism and talent to lose to Leben. But now what? Hall has heaps and tons of potential, but he should be built up slowly against a steady diet of beatable opponents. Until he starts showing that he’s the next Jon Jones/Anderson Silva/GSP against real contenders, let’s not jump on that hype train again.
Extra shout out: Michael Johnson looked great against Glieson Tibau. It looks like he’s starting to realize his potential. His takedown defense was always his weakness, but he looked much improved against Tibau, who really couldn’t do a whole lot against Johnson. Look for him to make some noise in the lightweight division.