MILLER-LAUZON EXCEEDS THE HYPE
Styles make fights. That is an undeniable reality of combat sports. Yet, a great stylistic matchup doesn’t guarantee a great fight. It only guarantees the possibility of a great fight. Two men must still make the affirmative decision to fight with passion and a bit of recklessness to get a potentially great fight to live up to the hype.
Jim Miller and Joe Lauzon had all the ingredients for a great fight. Both men are aggressive, confident fighters who love to get in there and mix it up. Both prefer to work for submissions, rather than playing it safe, once the fight goes to the ground. And both have extremely deep gas tanks.
Everyone expected the bout to be the fight of the night, which is why the lightweight bout was elevated to feature-bout status, second only to the heavyweight championship bout between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez. I don’t know if anyone expected the fight to be as great as it turned out to be.
Miller dished out a savage beating in the first round. He hammered Lauzon seemingly at will for the full five minutes. By the end of the round, Lauzon was left in a bloody heap looking a bit dazed and confused. I actually can’t recall a fighter losing more blood than Lauzon did in the opening five minutes and still continuing to fight on.
The second and third rounds were great examples of the human spirit. Lauzon gave as good as he got for the most part, despite leaking fluid like a rusted-out clunker. Miller was completely exhausted and covered in his opponent’s blood. Yet, he kept attacking. It was mixed martial arts at its finest.
This was one of those fights where there is a technical winner, but neither man was a loser. Not by a mile. Both raised their standing in the deep lightweight division, and I can’t wait to tune in the next time each of those guys steps into the cage.
COSTA STEPS OUT OF THE SHADOWS
Costa Philippou is quietly putting together one heck of a middleweight resume. He is now perfect in his last five fights, including his impressive third-round stoppage win over top contender Tim Boetsch. It is impossible to ignore this guy anymore as a legitimate title contender. Granted, he hasn’t shown much of a ground game yet. And his takedown defense still needs some work. But his standup is incredible.
Mark Munoz would be an interesting next test for him. Can he stop the “Filipino Wrecking Machine” from taking him down? A bout versus the winner of Brian Stann and Wanderlei Silva would be a fan-friendly affair that would really showcase the skills of the winner, since all three men matchup extremely well with each other stylistically. The same can be said for a bout versus the loser of the upcoming bout between elite middleweights Vitor Belfort and Michael Bisping.
Whatever is the case, guys in the middleweight division need to start paying attention to Philippou because it seems like he is here to stay.
OKAMI DOESN’T HELP HIS CAUSE WITH THE WIN
I’ll keep this one short and to the point. Yushin Okami is one of the best middleweights in the world. It takes one heck of a fighter to completely control Alan Belcher like he did on Saturday night. But that win won’t do anything to move him closer to his ultimate goal of securing another shot at UFC gold. Why? No submission attempts, despite the fact that several presented themselves. No aggressive ground and pound, despite the fact that Okami was in the perfect position time and time again to really lay some wood on Belcher. And no love from the crowd, which voiced its displeasure at this conservative approach.
Okami earned the win, but he definitely laid an egg in the process. The kind of egg that likely stalled his ascent back up the 185-pound ranks, at least for now.
WAS IT RING RUST OR THE ACCUMULATION OF MANY HARD MILES?
Derek Brunson should have been tailor made for Chris Leben to reestablish himself in the middleweight division. Brunson is an excellent wrestler, but he lacks the submission wizardry to tap a guy with Leben’s ground game. And he certainly doesn’t have the technique or pop to knock out a guy with arguably the sturdiest beard in the game.
Mix in the fact that Brunson also agreed to the fight on extremely short notice, so cardio was always going to be a major issue if the fight lasted beyond the first round. Lastly, it was Brunson’s UFC debut, so an adrenalin dump was almost certain to happen, further sapping whatever limited cardio Brunson possessed.
This fight had Chris Leben highlight-reel knockout written all over it. Someone obviously forgot to send both fighters that memo prior to Saturday night. Instead of a spectacular Leben win, Brunson ground out a respectable yeoman-like decision by throwing just enough strikes to open the door for takedowns and then using his great wrestling skills to neutralize Leben on the ground.
Sure, it was a bit tiresome to watch. But people should not vilify Brunson for the outcome. The guy was exhausted after just a few minutes of competition, which was to be expected. Yet, he was able to scratch out a win.
That wouldn’t have been possible, if Leben was at his best on Saturday night. The problem, of course, was the “Cat Smasher” (yeah, I prefer his old moniker, those who regularly read this column are well versed in that fact) was far from his best.
Leben looked like he was fighting in slow motion. The opportunities to land big punches abounded throughout the fight. Leben saw them, too. He just couldn’t pull the trigger on his nuclear left hand. Instead, he repeatedly telegraphed that he was about to throw a bomb and then released a dud in the form of a slow arm punch.
I don’t know why Leben was so sluggish and slow on Saturday night. Was it the 13-month absence from the cage following his 2011 suspension? That is certainly a good possibility. It is tough for anyone to stay out of action for that long. The pressure to perform and the lack of fight-speed muscle memory often combine for less than stellar results.
Or is Leben starting to physically break down after 20 fights in the UFC? The guy isn’t old by modern-day athletic standards. But Leben is an extremely old 32. This guy has been in a ton of back-and-forth wars during his nearly eight-year UFC career. Those wars take a lot of tread off the tires. It’s oftentimes tread that never comes back, either.
Hard living outside the cage certainly hasn’t helped matters, either. Leben’s personal demons are well chronicled, so there is no reason to rehash them here.
Leben has now lost three of his last four fights, and he didn’t look even remotely good in any of those losses. Of course, he also defeated Wanderlei Silva during that stretch in what many probably view as a career-best performance for him. That is what confuses the issue.
Is the excess mileage starting to accumulate to the point where Leben is on the downside of his great career? Was Saturday just an off night due to inactivity or other factors? Will Leben get back to his old cat smashing ways the next time he steps into the Octagon?
I don’t know. I wonder if Leben himself knows at this point.
GARCIA PROVES THAT EFFORT IS AS IMPORTANT AS RESULTS FOR UFC JOB SECURITY
Leonard Garcia came into his fight with Max Holloway having lost his last three fights and four of his last five. He continued his tough stretch on Saturday night, dropping an ultra-close split decision to young prospect Max Holloway.
Very few fighters receive another opportunity in the UFC after experiencing such a string of results. Instead, they are almost always sent packing to polish their game and build their confidence in mid-major shows. It then typically takes a fairly impressive run of wins before the fighter finds himself back in the Octagon.
Garcia, however, won’t have to stride down that well travelled path before his next UFC fight, according to UFC President Dana White. Why? The answer to that is as obvious as the nose on your face, if you have had the pleasure of watching Garcia compete during his recent run of tough outcomes. This kid is as fun to watch as anyone in the sport, and this is the fight business, after all.
White, who grew up an avid boxing fan, has always had a special place in his heart for blood-and-guts warriors. He loved watching Arturo Gatti, who was truly just an above-average professional boxer, but was must-see TV because of his never-say-die, caution-to-the-wind style. Gatti never quit. He never played it safe in search of a win. And he always made sure fans received full value for spending their hard-earned dollars to watch him compete.
Garcia is definitely cut from that same cloth, so he will not be released from his contract, despite the four-fight losing streak. I’m guessing that makes the bitter taste of defeat just a little more tolerable right about now.