Ultimate Fighter Finale Musings
But things only got better from that point.
Sanchez-Guida was as advertised
The first minute of the fight was as fast and furious as any 60-second period as we have ever seen inside the Octagon. Diego Sanchez exploded out of his corner like a bat out of hell, firing punches with both fists as if the fight had a one-minute time limit. Guida was a willing participant, eating shot after shot and firing back with reckless abandon. It was an unbelievable moment.
But things only got better from that point.
Shortly after working back to his feet following a Guida takedown, Sanchez landed a thunderous high kick, his shin landing squarely on his opponent’s chin. The shot instantly dropped Guida to the ground. In the nanosecond it took Sanchez to pounce on his fallen foe with the hope of finishing the fight, Guida had cleared the cobwebs and was ready for more action.
In the second round, Guida finally was able to take Sanchez down and keep him on the ground for a prolonged period. Many fans get up to grab a soda or beer during ground-and-pound assaults. Anyone who opted to take a break during that moment will forever regret that decision, as the action was anything but one-sided with Guida on top. Instead, as Guida pounded away from the top, Sanchez fired vicious, piston-like elbows from the bottom, opening up Guida’s scalp.
Toe-to-toe standup exchanges. Big knockdowns. Tight submission attempts. And one of the most thrilling ground-and-pound exchanges ever.
The entire 15 minutes of razor-close action was a timeless back-and-forth struggle that tested the mettle of each man’s fighting soul. As predicted, this one will undoubtedly be a finalist when Thomas Gerbasi announces his “Highly Unofficial” Fight of the Year candidates in January. Not only was it as advertised, it surpassed the lofty expectations I had coming into the fight. And I’m quite sure that I’m not alone on that one.
Sanchez puts himself into title contention with the win
A couple of wins in a division is rarely enough to justify a title shot. But Sanchez isn’t just another lightweight contender. Aside from champion BJ Penn, Sanchez is the division’s biggest name—a legitimate main event fighter. He rose to domestic fame by winning the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter as a middleweight, not a lightweight.
In the show’s finale, he completely destroyed top lightweight contender Kenny Florian. The carnage actually took far less than the two minutes that the fight lasted, as Florian looked more like Usain Bolt than an ultimate fighter early in the bout, spending the first minute-plus running away from Sanchez like Bolt ran away from the pack in the Olympic 100-meter finals. Both are completely different fighters today than they were back in 2005, particularly Florian, but the win was so dominant that it is difficult to imagine the outcome being different in a rematch.
After Penn and Florian resolve their unfinished business later this summer, Sanchez will stand as the most logical next in line. Granted, one can never guess what the future will hold. But Sanchez versus the winner of Penn-Florian seems like a pretty safe bet.
Team UK’s domination highlights global reach of MMA
Five years ago, the notion of pitting eight American mixed martial artists against eight combatants from the UK would have been farfetched. Top US fighters would have walked through the competition. Fast-forward half a decade and the exact opposite happened, as Team UK throttled Team US by advancing three of its fighters to the four finalist spots.
The all-Brit lightweight final left no doubt that Team UK would have at least one TUF winner. But DeMarques Johnson, thought by many to be the best welterweight on either team, posed a daunting hurdle for Wilkes to make it a clean UK sweep. Undeterred, Wilks took less than one full round to prove that MMA is truly a global sport, submitting Johnson with a rear-naked choke.
Wilks and Ross Pearson joined an exclusive fraternity on Saturday night, winning multi-fight, six-figure contracts in the process. The pair became the 14th and 15th winners of TUF, following in the footsteps of such UFC stars as Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Diego Sanchez and Michael Bisping, among others.
Whether either man enjoys the same amount of success their aforementioned colleagues have remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that MMA is truly a global sport.
Stevenson wins, but Diaz doesn’t suffer
Riding back-to-back losses, Joe “Daddy” Stevenson desperately needed a win over fellow TUF winner Nate Diaz. That was apparent by his decision to follow a very disciplined game plan that consisted mainly of wrestling and position control. Diaz probably left the Octagon without much more than a few scratches, but there are no valid arguments to challenge the unanimous decision in favor of Stevenson.
The win put Stevenson right back into the mix and validated his decision to venture down to New Mexico and spend six weeks with Greg Jackson in preparation for his bout. This was the most disciplined Stevenson that we’ve seen probably ever, which is a huge testament to Jackson’s coaching prowess. Gone were the vulnerabilities that we saw in his losses to Penn and Florian. Gone was his willingness to exchange on the feet, something Stevenson struggles mightily with against top opponents. Instead, he focused on his strengths and thus forced his will on a very tough opponent.
For his part, Diaz suffers nothing in the loss. Again, he wasn’t beaten up in any way, shape or form. He was outwrestled—nothing more, nothing less. Wrestling is one of the weaker parts of Diaz’s game, so the outcome was somewhat predictable, based on Stevenson sticking to a disciplined game plan that leveraged his advantages in the this matchup. But that doesn’t change the fact that Diaz is an extremely exciting, dangerous lightweight who has the potential to put on a tremendous show each time he enters the Octagon. Mix that with the fact that he is still a baby in the sport at 24 years old, and Diaz remains one of the brightest next generation stars in the division.
Guillard shows great promise
Melvin Guillard has always had a ton of potential. His elite athleticism and excellent standup make him an absolute monster on the feet, but his lack of top-level takedown defense and inability to deal with submission artists once the fight hits the canvas make him easy prey for the sport’s well-rounded elite. With more than 50 fights under his belt heading into his matchup with Gleison Tibau, one had to wonder if Guillard would ever successfully address those two glaring holes in his game.
If Saturday night was any indication, “The Young Assassin” may be on the verge of a run in the Octagon because it was his takedown defense, scrambling ability and submission defense that led to his victory over a very tough opponent. If the win is evidence that Guillard has finally had a breakthrough in developing those skills, then he may finally become relevant in ultra-deep UFC lightweight division because a fully mature, well-rounded Guillard is a handful for almost anyone.
It’s impossible to talk about last Saturday’s fight card without mentioning the hard-fought battle between Chris Lytle and Kevin Burns. Lytle survived three unintentional groin shots to best Burns in a brutal slugfest. The Indiana fireman has repeatedly claimed that putting on exciting fights is as important to him as winning. He did both against Burns, a willing co-conspirator in one of three Fight of the Night award winners—a first for any UFC card.