UFC 156 featured plenty sleight of hand

February, 4, 2013
2/04/13
12:42
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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LAS VEGAS -- Ricardo Lamas was in Las Vegas for UFC 156 Saturday night. He was the first upset. By the time the smoke cleared and everything we presumed to be the case no longer was, he tweeted out a simple statement.

“What am I, a mirage?”

Lamas was on hand presumably to challenge the winner of the featherweight title bout between Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo. But was Lamas really ever there? Aldo earned the decision, yet before Dana White could hit the microphone at the postfight news conference, the UFC president had received a tantalizing text from Anthony Pettis saying he wants to come down to 145 pounds and challenge Aldo next.
[+] EnlargeRicardo Lamas and Erik Koch
Ross Dettman for ESPNIn the matter of a week, Ricardo Lamas went from "in line for a title shot" to "back in line."

Boom. The UFC owes Pettis a title shot. Bells went off in White’s head. We know this because he shared the text with the media. What a sick fight that would be. ... We all thought it. Benson Henderson is busy with Gilbert Melendez; so, Pettis versus Aldo solves conundrums. Pettis and Aldo turns the neat trick of having last week’s UFC on Fox 6 winner, Lamas -- who triumphed over former contender Erik Koch -- vanish before our eyes.

And you know what? This was the most normal thing that happened Saturday night.

All the other scenarios, dangling carrots and conditional promises didn’t go according to plan. In fact, the underdogs and Strikeforce refugees made things downright chaotic.

Let's start with Alistair Overeem. He just got too comfortable in there with Antonio Silva, just too incautious. A couple of times, "The Reem" exposed his chin and dropped his hands altogether. At the end of the second round he gave Silva a smile and a casual nod. He did everything but blow him a kiss. Minutes later he was converted into a Monday morning GIF, getting chopped down early in the third round by Silva’s unmistakable cinderblock hands.

And now matchmaker Joe Silva has to prove that he’s good in a scramble.

Just like the middleweight division a couple of weeks ago, when it was Michael Bisping’s title shot to lose against Vitor Belfort, the scenario was simple: Once Overeem takes care of Silva, he gets to fight Cain Velasquez for the title.

Then, like Bisping, he loses (spectacularly), and the question becomes: Who’s next for Velasquez? "Bigfoot" Silva again? He lost to Velasquez nine months ago while floating in a warm pool of his own blood. That isn’t a rematch that people will be (or should be) pining for. But neither does it make complete sense to roll out Velasquez/Junior dos Santos III. Too soon. Daniel Cormier won’t fight his AKA teammate Velasquez. Fabricio Werdum is tied up with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Josh Barnett isn’t here or there yet.

Who does that leave? Roy Nelson?
[+] EnlargeAntonio Silva, Cain Velasquez
Rod Mar for ESPNIt's hard to imagine fight fans are pining to see a rematch between champion Cain Velasquez and Antonio Silva.

Then there is the ongoing Anderson Silva sweepstakes, in which Rashad Evans figured he was in the bag. Should he take care of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, he would be considered for a title shot at 185 pounds against Silva. We wondered all week: Can he make the weight to fight Silva? Turns out we should have been wondering if he could make it past Lil Nog.

Nogueira did his Nogueira magic and kept Evans at bay with jabs and straight lefts. He thwarted, he stuck, he toiled. Meanwhile, Evans kept roaring his engine in the garage, yet never came peeling out of it. He was setting up for something that never happened. He was tentative, and he lost. White wondered out loud whether Evans had “lost that hunger.”

So, no Evans-Silva. Which means we’re looking at contender Chris Weidman against Silva by way of attrition. Weidman was the original mirage, but it looks like he’s finally materialized as the guy to next face Anderson Silva.

Then again, it’s hazardous to take too much for granted. Bobby Green choked out Jacob Volkmann. Yves Edwards lost to Isaac Vallie-Flagg. Demian Maia “out-Fitched” Jon Fitch. This is a volatile, ever-changing, rarely predictable game.

And if UFC 156 taught us anything, it was that Lamas wasn’t the only mirage on Saturday night -- turns out everything we expected to be on Sunday was a mirage, too.

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