MMA on DVD: UFC 55: Fury

MMA on DVD: UFC 55: Fury

The Backstory: In 2005, the UFC had an interesting problem: they had four talented and marketable champions in Matt Hughes, Rich Franklin, Chuck Liddell, and Andrei Arlovski, but only Hughes and Liddell had anyone who could give them a challenge in their weight classes. After Matt Lindland left the promotion and Evan Tanner lost twice in a row to Franklin and David Loiseau, the 185-pound division was thin, but the heavyweight group was even thinner: former heavyweight champion Frank Mir had been seriously injured in a motorcycle crash and Tim Sylvia, another former heavyweight champion, was still trying to recover from a 48-second submission loss to Arlovski.

So what could they do in the absence of a real heavyweight contender? Find the next best thing.

Paul Buentello was a burly striker who trained with California’s American Kickboxing Academy; of his 19 career wins, all of them had come by knockout or submission. He knocked out Justin Eilers in the first round of his UFC debut and forced Kevin Jordan to submit in his next fight, so the UFC, desperate for a new heavyweight contender, rushed him right into a title shot against a champ who had dispatched his last five opponents early.

–From the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut on October 7, 2005.

–Your announcers are Some Guy Who’s Not Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan. Man, not hearing Goldberg is going to make this whole show seem a little odd.

Alessio Sakara vs. Ron Faircloth: Strangely enough, the UFC seems to refuse to admit that this fight ever happened, as there’s absolutely no mention of it anywhere on their website. This is Sakara’s UFC debut, as Some Guy mentions that he was the IBF junior heavyweight champion at one point. Faircloth looks like he’s someone’s gym or shop teacher in his spare time, but he’s actually carved out a pretty respectable MMA career record of 19-12.

Round 1: Sakara charges across the ring, but Faircloth backs him up a little with a missed kick. Sakara throws a couple of quick jabs and then a four-punch volley, landing all of them, so Faircloth looks to clinch, but Sakara spins away and throws a sharp hook into his ribs. They circle as Sakara takes the middle of the octagon, and then Sakara lands another nasty four-punch combo, pulls Faircloth’s head down, and just barely misses a knee to his head. He keeps firing away and eventually knocks Faircloth down with a left hook, but Faircloth climbs right back up, so Sakara takes him down, climbs into his guard, and just keeps banging away. I have to question Sakara’s wisdom here, because he was absolutely kicking Faircloth’s ass standing up.

Faircloth ties Sakara’s arms up, but Sakara manages to wriggle his left arm free and bashes Faircloth in the face with a left hand, which loosens up Faircloth’s grip on his right arm, which he uses to blast Faircloth with twice. Faircloth recaptures Sakara’s right arm, so Sakara bludgeons him with left-handed hammer fists. With his left hand free, Sakara keeps pounding away at Faircloth’s face with punches and elbows. So far, this fight has been almost embarrassingly one-sided, and Joe posits that Herb Dean may stop the fight unless Faircloth comes up with some kind of offense.

At this point, Faircloth isn’t even able to pin Sakara’s arms down, so Sakara is basically punching him in the face at will. Without even token resistance from Faircloth, Sakara switches to dropping elbows on his opponent’s face and head, as the bout is slowly going from sickly entertaining to almost uncomfortable. We get a close-up of Faircloth’s face, and everyone can see the huge series of welts forming above both of his eyes. Finally, mercifully, the horn sounds to end the round.

Well, I’ve never thought that I’d see a full five-minute round where one fighter may not have even landed a punch, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. The docs check over Faircloth between rounds just to make sure there’s some brain activity, I guess.

Round 2: With his first and only offensive move of the fight, Faircloth snaps an inside leg kick square into Sakara’s privates, crumpling him to the mat and drawing the ire of the fans even as Joe admires his accuracy. Sakara’s writhing on the mat in pain as we see replays of the violation; quoth Joe, ¡°And Sakara’s Italian, so you know that’s a big target.¡±

Sakara lies on the ground coughing as Joe relates the pain of being a victim of testicular battery, and Herb Dean stops the fight, declaring it a no contest.

The Verdict: Man, talk about an abrupt ending, but at least Faircloth made his one good shot count. Sakara was winning as one-sided a fight as I’ve ever seen before getting canned, but gets nothing for his efforts in the end.

Faircloth hasn’t been seen in the UFC since, while Sakara’s had something of a star-crossed UFC career, winning a decision against Elvis Sinosic at UFC 57 but losing to grappling legend Dean Lister at UFC 60 and then suffering the indignity of being outboxed by Miletich fighter Drew McFedries at UFC 65.

Keigo Kunihara vs. Marcio ‘Pe de Pano’ Cruz: Both men are making their UFC debuts: Kunihara is apparently a rock star in judo circles, while Cruz is a multi-time world champion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Great–two guys from disciplines where punching and kicking aren’t allowed fighting each other…sounds like a recipe for excitement.

Round 1: Both men circle for a few seconds, then Cruz throws a leg kick that Kunihara catches and turns into a takedown, which actually works to Cruz’s advantage, since he’s a big BJJ champ. Kunihara lies in Cruz’s guard for a little bit and then tries to stand up, but Cruz hooks one of his arms and locks on an armbar, but Kunihara moves with it and eventually frees himself, making sure to smash Cruz on the way out with the fist at the end of the arm that he was just trying to remove. Cruz flails at Kunihara, who throws a very weak jab in response, as Joe warns, ¡°This might be the worst striking that we’ve ever seen in the UFC.¡±

When your color analyst is saying that only a little more than a minute into the fight, that’s not a good sign.

Cruz flails at Kunihara again and does manage to land a half-decent leg kick, and both men clinch as the crowd starts to get a little restless. Kunihara tries for a judo throw, but Cruz blocks; Kunihara persists and gets a fantastic throw, essentially hip-tossing Cruz across his body. Back in Cruz’s guard, nothing happens: Kunihara moves Cruz to the fence and manages to land a couple of glancing punches. Cruz sits up against the fence, but Big John restarts them on their feet.

Just as Joe continues to rag on their striking, Cruz actually connects with a solid right cross and follows up with another decent leg kick. Kunihara shoots in for a takedown, and Cruz stuffs it and hangs onto Kunihara’s shoulders, but Kunihara won’t go down. He finally breaks free, and both fighters trade bad strikes to end the round.

To be honest, I’m not really sure who to give this round to: Cruz has been throwing out more ‘strikes,’ but Kunihara did manage to get the takedown. Still, let’s just say that you won’t be seeing this on any ‘greatest fights’ compilation.

Round 2: Cruz snaps off another leg kick, but Kunihara rushes forward with palm strikes into a clinch. He gets another terrific judo throw and then transitions into a full-guard guillotine choke, but Cruz slips out easily and ends up on top. Cruz stands up and easily passes into side control; Kunihara stands up, so Cruz takes his back and quickly locks on a rear naked choke. Great camera work as the director switches cameras to a cameraman standing right in front of both fighters, so we see Cruz getting a piggyback from Kunihara and sticking his tongue out at the camera as Kunihara taps.

The Verdict: Hey, I’m just happy that this one’s over, but that’s what happens when you get two MMA newbies from non-striking disciplines fighting each other. The less said about this, the better.

Kunihara hasn’t had a professional fight since this, while Cruz would go on to score a mild upset over former heavyweight champion Frank Mir in his next fight.

Dennis Hallman vs. Jorge Rivera: Hallman’s the only fighter to beat Matt Hughes twice, submitting him both times in under a minute, while Rivera beat David Loiseau in his UFC debut but lost by submission to both Lee Murray and Rich Franklin coming into this fight.

Round 1: Hallman immediately rushes across the ring and takes Rivera down. Working through Rivera’s guard, he passes easily into side control and tries to go to full mount, but Rivera takes the opportunity to roll through and end up on top of Hallman. Hallman grabs Rivera’s arm and snatches a loose triangle choke as Rivera stands up, but Rivera slides out, backs away, and lets Hallman up. Hallman rushes back in and grabs a leg, but Rivera balances out against the cage, and the fighters clinch. Hallman pops Rivera in the head with a knee, but Rivera, breaking an arm loose, elbows him in the face twice. Switching to a Thai clinch, Rivera knees Hallman in the ribs, then punches him in the face; Hallman tries a takedown, but Rivera stuffs it. Hallman drops to his back, so Rivera jumps into his open guard and just tees off with roughly twenty fists and elbows, scoring with almost every shot.

He inexplicably decides to let Hallman up and almost immediately pays for it, as Hallman knocks him loopy with the spinning back fist (!) then clinches, drops down, and grabs a heel hook, but Rivera manages to kick free and the horn sounds to end the round.

Wow–great first round with lots of action. Here, Dennis Hallman teaches us to be careful what we wish for, as he constantly presses for a ground fight only to almost get pounded out by Rivera there.

Round 2: Hallman drops down for a takedown only to get kicked hard in the chest, then rolls onto his back. Rivera steps back, so Hallman gets back to his feet. Both men trade leg kicks, and Hallman already looks dazed; as if to emphasize that, he walks right into a Rivera right hook and a massive uppercut. He grabs a clinch and backs Rivera up with a couple of knees to the midsection, but Rivera pushes Hallman’s head down and knees him hard in the face. Rivera’s got the Thai clinch locked again, landing a few more knees and snapping Hallman’s head back with another uppercut. Rivera opens up his clinch for a moment, and Hallman drives an elbow into his face. Finally, Mario Yamasaki separates them for the restart. Both fighters trade punches: Rivera gets in a nasty overhand right, but Hallman comes back at him with a short right hook and uppercut, which leads Rivera to clinch.

From the clinch, Rivera throws knees, then drives three right hands and an uppercut right into Hallman’s face. Pinning Hallman’s head against the cage with his left forearm, Rivera rains a couple of right hands into his face, only to get backed off a bit by a knee to the ribs. Hallman’s got a healthy gash on the bridge of his nose, and Rivera works that gash by landing punches on it. He changes his plan and starts popping Hallman’s ribs with short body shots, landing about 15 of those before Mario steps in and restarts them.

Both fighters, now visibly tired, square off for about 10 seconds, then Rivera comes in and clinches; against the fence, Jorge backs away a little and fires a huge right elbow into Hallman’s face, but Hallman responds with a nasty short uppercut just before the end of the round.

Another excellent round for Rivera, as Hallman is an absolute mess and looks completely gassed; at this point, Rivera’s just having his way with him.

Round 3: Both fighters are breathing hard, and Hallman starts off with a weak leg kick. Rivera misses two home run shots, whiffing on an overhand right and a huge uppercut, but Hallman can’t capitalize, so Rivera fires in a big leg kick, and then another. He throws a big head kick, but Hallman barely blocks it, so Rivera shoots a sharp right cross right into Hallman’s nose. Rivera keeps throwing shots from too far away, and Hallman keeps blocking them, but can’t counter with anything. He gets a little surge of energy, throwing a Superman punch that misses and then grabbing Rivera’s head and throwing a couple of knees, both of which Rivera blocks. He then shoots in for a takedown, but Rivera’s able to use the fence to block it. They clinch, and Rivera turns Hallman into the fence and throws a punch to the ribs, but eats a knee for it. After some inactivity, Mario restarts them, and Hallman tries another spinning back fist but Rivera gets his hands up to block.

Both fighters circle, then Hallman throws a weak jab and a wild head kick, actually slipping and falling onto his back. Rivera kicks the prone Hallman in the ass and hamstrings, but eventually stands back; as Hallman tries to get up, Rivera decides to jump on top of him. Hallman slides around, grabs one of Rivera’s legs and tries to straighten out a kneebar. That doesn’t work, so he tries to turn it into an anklelock, and Rivera, with the decision clearly in hand, is simply trying to last for the final 15 seconds of the fight and just barely makes it.

Someone other than Bruce Buffer announces the unanimous decision, and to no one’s surprise, it goes to Jorge Rivera. Man, no Goldberg and now no Buffer?

The Verdict: If you’re a fan of Jorge Rivera, this was an excellent fight. He showed terrific striking and solid ground-and-pound; still, his corner warned him to keep his distance in the third because Hallman might suck him into a submission, and what did Jorge do? Get sucked into a submission. Not too smart, really.

After getting knocked out by Chris Leben in his next fight, Rivera would go on to greater fame as a cast member of season four of The Ultimate Fighter. He beat Edwin Dewees in the season finale, which seemed to help re-establish him as a middleweight contender, but was then promptly destroyed by Terry Martin in his first fight at 185 pounds.

As for Hallman, this was his last UFC fight: he went on to fight in smaller organizations before joining the IFL last year for its inaugural season.

Joe Riggs vs. Chris Lytle: Riggs is the UFC’s enigma wrapped inside a riddle wrapped inside a conundrum: a monstrous striker with above-average submission skills who was also a high-school All-American wrestler. He should have won a title by now at either 170 or 185, but a string of personal problems and inconsistent showings have kept his UFC record at .500. In a similar vein, Lytle’s a terrific professional boxer with very good submissions and excellent defense who just can’t seem to put together a winning streak. At this point, Riggs is coming off a submission loss to Ivan Salaverry, while Lytle is coming off a decision loss to Karo Parisyan.

Round 1: Both fighters circle to start as Riggs throws a high kick to start and Lytle ducks under it and shoots in for a takedown. Riggs stuffs it and both men clinch against the cage: Riggs throws a couple of knees, but Lytle gets them off the fence, takes Riggs down, and goes into his guard. Lytle slides into side control, but Riggs ties up his arms effectively. Riggs manages to slide him back to full guard and sits up against the cage, as Lytle taps Riggs with short punches but doesn’t try to land anything decisive. Both men keep jostling for position as Lytle moves Riggs around the octagon on his back until Riggs locks on an oma plata; Lytle has to roll through various positions to get out of the hold, which allows Riggs to get dominant position on the ground.

Lytle throws a few good right hands from the bottom, so Riggs dives into his guard. He sits up a bit and blasts Lytle with an elbow, then stands up a bit more and misses with a haymaker right hook. Lytle uses a butterfly guard to keep Riggs at bay, so Riggs grabs one of Lytle’s legs, stands up, and crushes him with a diving left hand. Moving effortlessly into side control, Riggs swings a leg up over Lytle’s head and hits him with a huge hammer fist; in response, Lytle tries to roll over, so Riggs just takes his back, which Lytle counters by rolling onto his back and putting Riggs back in his guard. From half-guard, Riggs drives a couple of elbows into Lytle’s face, then stands up and crushes him again with another diving left hook. He follows that up with a right uppercut, another huge left hook, and a crashing right hook.

Lytle finally pries Riggs off him and slides him back to full guard, but he’s continuing to take some nasty abuse as Riggs comes over the top with another right elbow that lands flush. Bored, Riggs stands up and dives in again with a huge left hook and just keeps pounding away on Lytle, whose right eye is almost swollen shut. With ten seconds left in the round, Riggs lands one more massive diving hook for good measure just before the horn sounds.

What an amazing display by Riggs: as soon as he got dominant position, he just started trying to take Lytle’s head off, throwing huge wide punches and landing almost all of them. Lytle’s well-known for his ground game and submission defense, but those are both completely useless when you’re letting your heavy-handed opponent hit you in the face as hard as he possibly can.

Funny moment between rounds as Some Guy pimps the Forrest Griffin-Elvis Sinosic fight as “a battle between two men who both…(awkward pause as Some Guy desperately tries to come up with something to say)…want a victory.” Geez, I should hope so.

Round 2: Lytle looks like a street gang just mugged him, while Riggs looks like he just came back from a light jog. Riggs rushes right out and takes Lytle down, and Lytle starts trying to punch him in the side of the head from the bottom. Both men fight for position, but Lytle manages to reverse and get the dominant position himself, pushing into Riggs’ half-guard and landing short punches to his kidneys. Again, though, Riggs is very active on the bottom and Lytle can’t get into position to land anything more than a glancing blow.

While fighting for position, Lytle leaves his chin up, and Riggs blasts him from the bottom with an elbow, opening an enormous gash above Lytle’s right eye. Lytle’s bleeding all over the place, so Big John calls time to check the cut, and then stops the fight on the doctor’s advice, giving the win to Riggs.

The Verdict: Good God, what an ass-whupping. Not to take anything away from Lytle, a class act and one of the toughest guys in the UFC, but Riggs just completely dominated him in almost every facet of the fight in a brutal display of strength, speed, and power.

Like Rivera, Lytle would join The Ultimate Fighter‘s season four cast and lose to Matt Serra in the welterweight final; after that, his most recent fight was a three-round decision loss to Matt Hughes at UFC 68.

Again, Riggs had tantalizing potential but couldn’t string together two consecutive wins: his quick wins over Doerksen, Lytle, Diaz, and Von Flue were separated by his quick losses to Salaverry, Hughes, Swick, and Sanchez. He’s moved to Zuffa’s new acquisition, the WEC, to fight in their 185-pound division, and I hope that he can find some consistency there.

Renato ‘Babalu’ Sobral vs. Chael Sonnen: Sonnen, a collegiate All-American wrestler and Team Quest fighter, was making his UFC debut here but had already amassed a decent MMA record of 11-6, with wins over Jason Lambert and Alex Stiebling and losses to Jeremy Horn and Forest Griffin. Babalu, on the other hand, was on an eight-fight winning streak dating back to his loss to Chuck Liddell at UFC 40; according to Some Guy, he’d defeated Jeremy Horn, Trevor Prangley, and ‘Shogun’ Rua in one night to become the IFC light heavyweight champion.

Round 1: Sonnen fires out a leg kick, but Babalu immediately smashes him with a huge right cross and takes him down. Sonnen kicks Babalu off and stands back up, but Babalu rushes back in, clinches and knees Sonnen in the ribs. From the clinch, Babalu takes Sonnen down again and climbs into his guard, but Sonnen climbs back up to his feet again, so Babalu locks in a standing arm triangle and sandwiches Sonnen between himself and the fence. Sonnen gets out of the hold, but both of them get back into the clinch and fight for position, throwing little rabbit punches to the back of each other’s heads and trading knees. Babalu finally gets Sonnen to a seated position against the fence; Sonnen gets back to his feet, but not before Babalu crushes him with a huge right hook on the way up. Sonnen tries for a takedown but Babalu throws him off, and both fighters go back to circling.

Sonnen leans in for a jab, but as he does, Babalu nails him with a big head kick, wobbling him. Babalu rushes in, clinches, and takes Sonnen down, but Sonnen reverses into dominant position on the ground; from the top, Sonnen creams Babalu with a left elbow and some rabbit punches to the back of the head. Babalu gets his legs up looking for an armbar or a choke, so Sonnen switches positions and goes back into Sobral’s guard, where he lands the occasional head and body shot. Babalu gets his legs up and scores with a very nice upkick, so Sonnen dives back in, where Babalu ties him up. Sonnen gets his left arm free and smacks Babalu in the face with his elbow, but Babalu keeps shifting his position, so Sonnen keeps diving back in and punching away. Babalu shifts his hips, and Sonnen sees an opening and pounds his way through it with four straight punches; Babalu finally kicks Sonnen off, but Sonnen charges back in before Babalu can get to his feet and lands another couple of big punches over the top.

From the bottom, Babalu grabs one of Sonnen’s legs and straightens it out into a heel hook, and we get another great camera shot from just outside the cage of Sonnen grimacing in pain as Babalu cranks on the submission, but Sonnen manages to hang on until the end of the round.

You could probably make a case for Sonnen taking the first round, as Babalu came out strong but found his wrestling stalemated by Sonnen’s own skill. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though: if you spend all of your time training with Dan Henderson, Randy Couture, Matt Lindland, and Evan Tanner, you’re probably going to be okay at ground-and-pound.

Round 2: Both fighters circle, and Sonnen throws out a couple of jabs, but Babalu kicks his leg out from under him and jumps right into his guard, cracking him hard with a right hand on the way down. Sonnen ties Babalu up, so Babalu decides to stand up in his guard for a little leverage, but as soon as he does, Sonnen puts his feet on Babalu’s hips, kicks him off, and gets back to his feet. Babalu rolls onto his back, so Sonnen dives in and scores with a couple of overhand rights. Again, Babalu gets his legs up, so Sonnen stands up a little and dives back in with another big right, but as the punch lands, Babalu grabs his right arm, pulls it forward, and then locks his legs around Sonnen’s neck, sinking in a triangle choke! Trapped in the middle of the octagon with Babalu hanging from his neck, Sonnen has no choice but to tap.

The Verdict: Usually, something like this would just be a nice little undercard match, but on this card, it’s the leading candidate for fight of the night. Sonnen looked good here, but Babalu completely outfoxed him, showing the difference between a wrestler and a mixed martial artist with great submission skills. It’s a shame, because Sonnen was in control of the fight, showing off great reversals and good ground work, but Babalu didn’t get his reputation just by posting about himself on message boards.

Your prototypical Team Quest guy (athletic ex-wrestler), Sonnen pulled out a decision win over Trevor Prangley at Ultimate Fight Night 4, but ended up getting submitted by Jeremy Horn (the second time that Horn had forced him to submit in his career) at UFC 60. He hasn’t fought in the UFC since, but he’s making a nice name for himself in BodogFights, winning his first two fights in the promotion.

Babalu’s path is a little more well-known: after this, he forced Mike Van Arsdale to submit in his next fight, which set him up for a rematch with Chuck Liddell that went exactly the same as their first fight. After Chuck pounded Babalu into oblivion again, he was ignominiously knocked out in his next UFC fight by Jason Lambert, so at this point, his UFC career is kind of in limbo.

Forrest Griffin vs. Elvis Sinosic: From a pure publicity standpoint, The Ultimate Fighter may have been the best thing to ever happen to the UFC, and no member of the original cast was more popular than its light-heavyweight champion, Forrest Griffin. After his first official UFC fight, his three-round war with Stephan Bonnar, the UFC began matching him against veterans who were recognized as tough fighters but weren’t really likely to beat him, such as his first pay-per-view opponent, Bill Mahood, and his opponent on this card, Elvis Sinosic. In his UFC debut, Elvis had pulled off an upset submission win over Jeremy Horn, but he then subsequently lost his next three UFC fights to Tito Ortiz, Evan Tanner, and ‘Babalu’ Sobral. Elvis had been in there with the best at 205 (including Frank Shamrock), so while Forrest was definitely the favorite here, no one thought it would be easy.

Round 1: Both fighters trade to start, and Elvis acquits himself pretty well in the early going, landing a sharp jab/cross combination right on Forrest’s nose, but Forrest snaps his opponent’s head back in response with a stiff jab. Elvis lands a couple of leg kicks, and Forrest comes charging in, missing with a set of wild punches. Forrest lands a leg kick, so Elvis punches him in the face to counter. Both men throw leg kicks at the same time, and Forrest follows that up with another left jab into Elvis’s face. They keep trading, as Forrest lands another leg kick/straight jab combination, but Elvis refuses to give ground. In one flurry, Elvis blasts Forrest with an overhand right, backing him up, but Forrest, human bop bag that he is, just bounces back for more. Both fighters keep throwing lots of punches and missing, but Elvis does manage to land a very nice leg kick. Elvis checks a Forrest leg kick and catches him with two good shots to the chin, so Forrest moves forward again with a three-punch flurry. At this point, Forrest has thrown and missed most of his shots, but it looks like he might be starting to find his range.

Forrest scores with a very nice jab/cross/leg kick combo that backs Elvis up, blocks all three of Elvis’s hooks to the head, and then charges forward throwing knees to the midsection and looking for a Thai clinch. Elvis backs away, so Forrest pries his hands open with a stiff jab, misses a couple of punches, and then pounds Elvis with a right hook. Both fighters clinch: Elvis knees Forrest in the ribs, but Forrest, holding Elvis’s head, smashes him with a short right hook, a nasty uppercut, and then another short right hook. Elvis misses with a wild overhand right, but that’s just enough to back Forrest off a bit. Forrest misses a few jabs, and Elvis backs him up with a good jab to the midsection.

Forrest blocks a couple of punches and smacks Elvis with a wide left hook, and Elvis whiffs on a leg kick. Elvis throws about six wide crosses and hooks–none of which really land but do serve the purpose of keeping Forrest at a distance. Finally, Forrest comes charging forward with a Chuck-esque barrage of punches, including a couple of right hands, a huge right uppercut, and a wild left hook that knocks Elvis down. Elvis is dead, so Mario Yamasaki stops the fight.

The Verdict: This wasn’t a pretty fight by anyone’s estimation: you had to figure that both fighters wouldn’t be able to sustain the pace that they were setting for very long, and that’s just what happened.

I was reading a book about Joe Frazier, and the phrase that caught my attention was the term volume punching. Yank Durham, Joe’s trainer, would train Joe’s cardio and muscles for constant action, making him relentless against his usually heavier opponents. If Joe’s opponents began to get tired in the later rounds, they could be sure that Joe would be right on top of them, firing away as if it were still the first round. Joe would wear his opponents down by permanently putting them on the defensive, turning all of his fights into wars of attrition.

Forrest Griffin seems to take a similar strategy: his conditioning is so good that he doesn’t seem to care how accurate his punching is, because he’ll still be as fresh in the third round as he is in the first. So he constantly pushes the pace, throwing wild punches and looking to turn the fight into a slugfest. Of course, he has some good wrestling and submission skills, but he rarely seems to use them. The hole in that strategy–as exposed by both Muhammad Ali and Keith Jardine–is that to dish out that kind of punishment, you have to subject yourself to a lot of punishment, and eventually you may come across someone that hits harder than you do.

For his part, Elvis was game to fight Forrest’s kind of fight, and actually acquitted himself fairly well on his feet, but I still can’t believe that he didn’t try and take Forrest down at some point and turn this into a ground match. He played right into Forrest’s hands, and lost the fight because of it.

Sean Gannon vs. Branden Lee Hinkle: Such was the state of the UFC’s heavyweight division in 2005 that we get Sean Gannon and Brandon Lee Hinkle as a pay-per-view fight. Hinkle is a NCAA wrestling champion, while Gannon, a full-time Boston cop in his second pro fight, is a Massachusetts Golden Gloves champion, a judo champion, and a grappling champ.

Round 1: Gannon is freaking enormous, but Hinkle comes charging out across the ring, sucks Gannon into a clinch, and starts throwing knees to the midsection. Both men grapple for a bit, then Hinkle drops down and takes Gannon to the mat with a single leg takedown. Gannon maintains a pretty strong guard, so Hinkle stands up a little, but still can’t really get through his guard, so Gannon tries to punch up and throw elbows to the side of Hinkle’s head.

Both men fight for position–Hinkle tries to pass into side control, and Gannon keeps trying to sweep Hinkle out–but Hinkle finally makes his way through Gannon’s guard into full mount. Gannon’s still active on the bottom, desperately trying to roll somewhere, but Hinkle tries for a kimura, so Gannon takes the opportunity to roll Hinkle back into side control, but he just easily slides back over into full mount. From there, Hinkle tries another kimura, but then decides that he’s had enough with the submission attempts and sits up and starts raining down elbows and punches on Gannon’s head.

Hinkle rolls back into side control and starts elbowing Gannon in his prodigious midsection, then changes his mind again and starts elbowing him in the head, making his nose bleed. Hinkle slides back into full mount and keeps driving his right elbow down into Gannon’s face as blood is now covering Gannon’s face, chin, and chest; Gannon rolls to his right, so Hinkle just keeps up the punishment by blasting him square in the face with left hands. Finally, Herb Dean steps in and ends the fight, giving Hinkle the win by TKO.

The Verdict: Yet again, we see a brutal one-sided ass-whupping on this card. Did Joe Silva make this card, or did someone else (who probably got fired) come up with these matches? Hinkle completely destroyed Gannon here: this would normally be the most one-sided match on most cards, but it has some serious competition tonight.

This was Gannon’s last professional fight, while Jeff Monson would force Hinkle to submit in his next UFC fight.

Andrei Arlovski vs. Paul Buentello: As mentioned earlier, Arlovski was leaving a trail of dead across the UFC heavyweight division, and they needed someone to step in and fill the void, so Buentello took his opportunity for a shot at the heavyweight title.

Before the fight, Some Guy actually reveals his name, but I’m not going to tell you what it is. If you want to find out, you’re just going to have to sit through this godforsaken card like I did.

Head down and all business, Buentello walks to the ring as Some Guy and Joe try and sell the idea that he has a shot in this fight, even though they just ran a two-minute clip of UFC stars each predicting that Arlovski was going to win the fight. Arlovski, on the other hand, comes to the ring bouncing around and loose, looking about as collected as humanly possible. In the pre-fight instructions, Arlovski’s eyes burn a hole through Buentello’s forehead; Buentello, on the other hand, is staring straight down and looks like his best friend just died.

Round 1: We’re off, as Buentello blocks a right hook from Arlovski and counters with a quick jab. Arlovski winds up for a big right, but Buentello takes the opportunity to pop him with a quick jab/cross combination. He follows it up with a solid jab and then squares up for a big overhand right, but Arlovski literally beats him to the punch, smashing him right on the chin with an overhand right so fast that we could only see it properly on the slo-mo replay. Buentello is out, falling on top of Arlovski and crumpling to the ground when Arlovski moves out of the way. Big John immediately steps in to stop the fight: Buentello eventually gets up and starts complaining to him, but suddenly starts wobbling backwards as he does, so something tells me that Big John may have made the right decision here. 15 seconds after the fight started, it’s over.

Utterly confused, the fans boo until they see the replay and then grudgingly accept what happened.

The Verdict: Again, what can you say? Buentello came out strong and was striking with intent but Arlovski hit him with a nasty haymaker; even if Big John hadn’t stopped the fight there, Arlovski would have forced a stoppage in the next ten seconds.

Buentello went on to knock out the late Gilbert Aldana at UFC 57, but that was his last fight in the promotion before moving to West Coast promotion Strike Force. Arlovski, as we all know, suffered a flash knockout loss to Tim Sylvia in his next fight and lost the rubber match against Sylvia by decision. He came back to knock out Marcio Cruz at UFC 65, though, and now faces a very stern test in against former PRIDE heavyweight Fabricio Werdum at UFC 70.

The Final Verdict: Whatever you do, do not rent or buy this card. Seriously, it’s about 120 minutes of your life that you can’t have back, and the drop in quality from today’s UFC to this is utterly astounding. Most of the fights were one-sided blowouts, and not even particularly fun one-sided blowouts; there were at least three fights where it looked like one of the fighters had absolutely no business whatsoever even being in the octagon, and I’ve almost never been able to say that about any other professional fighting event at this level. In fact, I feel sorry for anyone who actually bought this card on pay-per-view.

As I said in the beginning, this card is definitely indicative of the major problem that the UFC faced in 2005, which was a complete lack of depth on the talent roster. The fact that they’ve managed to overcome that with smart signings (the PRIDE refugees and the Gaidojutsu fighters) and excellent long-term planning (integrating the Ultimate Fighter graduates and the resurrection of the lightweight division) is a testament to how well the company has planned things out.

At this point, the UFC doesn’t have to rush unprepared fighters into title matches, as they did with David Terrell, Nate Quarry, and Buentello; now they can afford to take their time, let their younger prospects get a little experience, and build interest in them as legitimate contenders. Not only does that guarantee us–the fans–better title fights today, but it also guarantees us better challengers in the future.

And the heavyweight division? You’d hardly recognize it today, with the only holdovers from 2005 being Sylvia and Arlovski. With the newly unretired Randy Couture, Arlovski, Cro Cop, Sylvia, Werdum, Heath Herring, and Brandon Vera to go with prospects like Gabriel Gonzaga and Jake O’Brien, the days of Hinkle-Gannon being televised on a pay-per-view are thankfully over.

As for UFC 55, all you can really say about it is that it makes you appreciate what you’re seeing from the UFC today. Avoid it at all costs if you can.

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