Nogueira, Sanchez and Duffee fail to shine at UFC 114

Even though many people said that UFC 114 was a one-fight event, the supporting fights on the main card provided plenty of excitement for fight fans. Will Cooling takes a look at what we learned from the weekend’s action.  

I’m sure most people have watched Rocky, I mean, everyone’s watched Rocky.

What people often forget is that Rocky was based on a true story, that of Muhammad Ali being taken to fourteen rounds by little fancied journeyman Chuck Wepner. Well, the UFC 114 saw a fight that was worthy of inspiring its own underdog film with last minute substitute Jason Brilz taking on Antionio Rogerio Nogueira. The little brother of legendary heavyweight Minotauro was heavily fancied after his quick demolition of Luis Cane, with many fighters turning down the opportunity to replace the injured Forest Griffin. Possessing world-renowned boxing and grappling skills Nogueria was widely expected to make short-work of Brilz.

But then the bell sounded, and something strange happened.

From the off, the underdog showed that he wasn’t there to make up the numbers. He was the equal of Nogueria standing and showed no fear of Little Nog’s grappling skills, successfully shooting for several takedowns. In the second round he was able to best Nogueria on the ground, trading several transitions and coming very close to finishing with a guillotine choke. Nogueria came back strong in the third round but Brilz showed tremendous heart to get out of a couple of dicey positions and ensure that he was able to see out the fight. Most assumed that the underdog had secured the surprise victory with a narrow advantage in round one and a dominant performance in the second. Sadly just like Rocky the underdog did not get the benefit of the judges’ decision as Nogueria squeaked a victory via split decision. Post-fight, the smile on Brilz’s face showed that he realized that regardless of the result he would seen as the victor by most. Nogueria on the other hand was subjected to a torrent of abuse from a disgruntled crowd and piercing questions from a disbelieving press, both dismayed at being denied the life-affirming story of an underdog victory. Still at least Nogueria got the win…if only on paper.

Diego Sanchez wasn’t even that lucky as he was on the receiving end of a unanimous decision defeat at the hands of little-fancied John Hathaway. This was Sanchez’s first match back at 170Ibs and he looked soft and undersized with Hathaway noticeably bigger than the former TUF winner. Sanchez tried to move past Hathaway’s reach advantage by pushing the action with his wrestling but was frustrated by Hathaway. Indeed, it was a takedown attempt that almost saw Hathaway finish Sanchez as the Brit countered a takedown with a big knee right to Sanchez’s head. While Sanchez was able to avoid being finished, he seemed to have no answer to Hathaway’s takedown defense and his ability to use his reach and power to control the fight on the feet. Hathaway put in an impressive performance, refusing to be overawed by the experience of fighting in America for the first time and his opponent’s fame. Sanchez’s performance raised questions about whether the move back to welterweight was the correct decision, with no less an authority than Dana White urging Sanchez to once again endure the weight cut and fight at lightweight. That said it’s quite possible that Sanchez poor performance was merely the result of taking Hathaway lightly and that with better preparation Sanchez can still achieve success at welterweight. After all at lightweight he was obviously struggling to push the pace and maintain the superior conditioning as he had previously in his run at welterweight.

When Nogueira and Sanchez start to plan how they’ll bounce back from their disappointing performances, they could do worse than follow the example of Michael Bisping. After suffering two defeats in his past three fights he comfortably defeated Dan Miller via unanimous decision. This was billed as a classic ‘striker versus grappler’ match but Bisping was easily able to neutralize Miller with his kickboxing by cleverly using his reach and movement to deny the American the proximity or angles to shoot for the takedown. Even when Miller secured a takedown in the third round, Bisping was quickly able to get back up. Bisping once again showed that he’s a complete mixed martial artist with his underrated takedown defense once again proving too much for his opponent.

However, I still have concerns about his stand-up, with Bisping once again seeming to lack power standing despite his excellent kickboxing technique. In the post-fight press conference, Bisping put that down to him fighting on the back foot to avoid being taken down by wrestlers. However I’m not sure as sometimes it seems that after being knocked out by Dan Henderson at UFC 100 and being knocked down early by Dennis Kang at UFC 105 he’s nervous about fully committing standing, lest he be knocked out again. At UFC 110, he seemed very hesitant against Wanderlei Silva even though when he pushed the action he was more than able to dominant the Pride legend. The same was true here, and he was visibly affected when Miller landed a hard right hand at the start of the third round. As far as I’m concerned, Bisping is one of the most capable fighters in the division but he needs to be willing to take more risks. I remember watching Bisping demolish Dennis Kang in the second round of their fight and he did that by being aggressive, including using his wrestling offensively. If he can find it within himself to take risks and push the action then Bisping will stand a very good chance of fulfilling his world championship ambitions.

Of course there’s many good reasons why fighters don’t like to take risks and one of them is that no matter how far ahead you are on points your opponent always has a puncher’s chance. Heavily hyped heavyweight Todd Duffee absolutely tore into Mike Russow, unloading boxing combination after boxing combination on the rotund wrestler. Indeed he was so dominant that not only did he punch himself out but the fans began to tire of his inability to finish the fight. Unfortunately for Duffee, he was punished for his failure to finish as in the final round Russow threw a right hand and somehow it landed square on Duffee’s jaw. Another hard diving punch and the fight was over, and the demolished loser had left the Octagon the winner. The only fight I’ve seen this year that compares to this is Audley Harrison versus Michael Sprott, where Harrison was able to rescue a fight in the twelfth round with a thunderous hook shot. Unlike Harrison, Russow didn’t have the excuse of injury and had the good grace to be disappointed with his performance. Still he showed tremendous heart and a superhuman ability to take a punch. Just like Nogueria and Sanchez, Duffee will have to look back at this fight, learn where he went wrong and improve his game (most notably his cardio).

As we move on from UFC 114 its worth remembering that its much maligned supporting fights delivered both action and surprises with Brilz and Hathaway proving that underdogs often rise to the occasion, Nogueria and Sanchez learning that being the favorite means nothing when the Octagon door closes and Russow showing that a fight is never over until it’s over. While the main event may have gone exactly like many predicted the other fights on the main card showed just how unpredictable mixed martial arts can be.

Full Results from UFC 114 Main Card

John Hathaway defeated Diego Sanchez by unanimous decision

Antionio Rogerio Nogueira defeated Jason Brilz by split decision

Mike Russow defeated Todd Duffee by Third Round TKO

Michael Bisping defeated Dan Miller by unanimous decision

Rashad Evans defeated Quinton Jackson by unanimous decision

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