Jung excels; Hardy falls short again
With the Ultimate Fighting Championship's debut in Seattle closing out the first quarter of what's already been a massively busy year for mixed martial arts, there's no shortage of results to dissect.
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One week after Jon Jones captured the UFC light heavyweight title and rose to as high a plane of visibility as any mixed martial artist before him, the man many see as potentially his biggest threat, Phil Davis, had an opportunity to prove that point against veteran Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Davis remained unbeaten, but did he do enough to match Jones' A-plus performance against Mauricio Rua?
UFN 24 report card
Chan Sung Jung
The "Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung earned his "A" with a beautiful submission over Leonard Garcia. It was the first twister -- a highly painful manipulation of the neck that originated in wrestling -- pulled off in UFC competition, and will be among the year's best when it comes time to judge such things. The rematch of their year-old brawl wasn't what some expected. Both fighters opted against that reckless sort of style, and it was Jung (11-3), in desperate need of a win after having dropped three of four, who benefited most. Jung only added to his status as a hard-core fan favorite with the performance.
He made weight. He pushed the action for three rounds without any problems. And he won. Yes, it was a terrific night for Anthony Johnson. Some have criticized the enormous 26-year-old welterweight for opting against standing and trading punches with Dan Hardy, as he said he would. This is silly. Johnson fought to his advantages, which happened to fall in line with Hardy's shortcomings. He was aggressive in spots, worked to pass Hardy's guard, sought submissions, and was the fresher fighter at the closing bell. A big night for "Rumble" Johnson.
At the age of 20, Michael McDonald ranks among MMA's best prospects. The bantamweight showed his potential early against Edwin Figueroa. But he also displayed his lack of experience in the latter stages. After voicing his exhaustion to his corner (mainly due to dead legs), McDonald learned what it was like to will himself to victory -- no doubt the most important lesson he'll take away from the entertaining decision win. McDonald has all the tools.
So much was made of Phil Davis as the potential antidote to Jon Jones that it would have taken a prolific effort against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira to satisfy the masses. That didn't happen. Instead, we saw Davis forced to cope with an opponent capable of shutting down his wrestling -- for half the fight at least. Davis (9-0) came out kicking, and though he showed a commitment to expanding his game, including a fairly powerful high kick, he paid a price -- and more likely learned a lesson -- about the kind of punching counters that can come your way with that strategy. Most impressive was his recognition that he had to change tactics. Power double-legs weren't working, so he switched to a low single, which put Nogueira on his back and ultimately allowed Davis, 26, to rack up enough points to win.
John Hathaway rebounded from the first loss of his career (15-1) to earn a decision over Kris McCray. Judges were split, but the 23-year-old Englishman was the clear victor on my card, taking all three rounds. Throughout the 15-minute fight, Hathaway's size, wrestling (yes, a Brit who can wrestle) and high pace allowed him to dictate what -- and more importantly, who -- went down in the Octagon. I still believe he's Britain's best young prospect.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (19-5) nearly pulled one off for the older guard. But despite making life difficult for Davis in the first half of their fight -- he made it closer than the judges saw it (30-27 across the board) -- the 34-year-old veteran failed to answer to the wrestler's pressure and change of tactics. The good news for Nogueira: He showed plenty of fight and can still claim to be a dangerous mixed martial artist, which was in doubt after a close win against Jason Brilz and a decision loss to Ryan Bader. The bad news: He's lost consecutive fights for the first time in his career, and he turns 35 on June 2.
It's possible to win despite losing, and Edwin Figueroa (7-1), with just one week to prepare, did just that against Michael McDonald. The Texas striker fought with poise despite being swarmed on early. He must work on his wrestling, though. The inability to fend off a tired fighter's takedowns is the reason he's no longer undefeated. But he sure hung on as long as possible by avoiding submission after submission, including deep chokes.
Amir Sadollah (5-2) deserves a better grade for disposing of DaMarques Johnson the way he did, but the fact that Johnson took the fight on two weeks' notice suggests it would be wrong to put too much stock into the second-round technical knockout. Until Johnson fatigued, he actually gave Sadollah a fight. But a combination of Sadollah's aggression -- to "The Ultimate Fighter 7" winner's credit, he always fights at a high pace -- and lack of preparation on Johnson's part sealed the deal. As shown in his loss to Dong Hyun Kim in May, Sadollah's most glaring weakness is his wrestling, and he'll eventually have to fight a top grappler again if he wants to do anything in the division.
No controversy this time for the split-decision king. Garcia, a wildly inaccurate puncher, tempered his all-out approach in the rematch against Jung, giving the Korean a chance to find his comfort zone. Forced to tap to a twister, Garcia's record in Zuffa-promoted bouts moved to 6-6-1, and 15-7-1 overall. You know what you get when watching a Garcia fight: aggressive mediocrity.
One year ago this weekend, Dan Hardy had no answer for Georges St. Pierre's physicality and wrestling. Little, it seems, has changed in the 28-year-old fighter's repertoire, which is why Hardy has lost three in a row for the first time in his career after suffering a similar fate against Anthony Johnson. Hardy (23-9) was forced to his back, where he struggled against an opponent not known for his guard passing or submission skills. Hardy's days in the UFC aren't over, but his time as a contender appears to be, unless he finds a way to keep fights standing.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
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