Stann soars on Memorial Day weekend
In the absence of a UFC lightweight championship bout between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, Saturday's event in Las Vegas became much more about the totality of the lineup than a particular fight.
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That wasn't necessarily a bad thing for other competitors on the card, but for those of us wishing to see a main event championship war, the news was disappointing. As always, the show moved on and the storyline changed.
When it was done, UFC 130 will be remembered for putting fighters' careers in perspective.
From A+ to D-, here's how performances stacked up:
UFC 130 report card
Of course, Brian Stann, a Naval Academy graduate and Silver Star-winning marine, put together the best fight of his career on Memorial Day weekend. What else would he do? The 30-year-old middleweight looks so much better since moving down from light heavyweight in '10, and his stoppage of highly regarded veteran Jorge Santiago showcased why. Stann (11-3) is a stalker with big power. The more he refines his skills and tightens everything up, the more dangerous he'll become.
Stone-cold knockouts are good for an "A" here. Travis Browne earned his with a "Superman Punch" on the giant Stefan Struve for a dramatic first-round finish. Browne, undefeated at 11-0-1, moved well -- as one might expect as he continues to grow under the tutelage of Dominick Cruz's trainer, Eric Del Fierro -- before the end. He didn't look it against Struve, but standing 6-foot-7, the 29-year-old Hawaiian is quite an imposing figure.
Quinton Jackson, 32, answered questions about his motivation, fitness and determination against Matt Hamill. "Rampage" remains among the top three light heavyweights in MMA and reminded us that when he's on -- moving on light feet, strong takedown defense and crisp punching -- he is incredibly dangerous. Does that mean Jackson (32-8) is the antidote to Jon Jones? I wouldn't go that far -- plus Jackson needs to have a fractured hand looked at first -- but with the win he's right in line to find out.
Putting together one of the most complete performances of his career, Frank Mir (15-5) had no problem with Roy Nelson. From the beginning, Mir put it on "Big Country" with punches and knees, especially from an especially effective Thai plum clinch. Then Mir mixed in takedowns and completely neutralized Nelson on the ground. Mir's only bad moment came postfight, when he went to the hospital with a broken jaw and damaged ribs while Nelson joked around at the news conference. It's a big win for the 32-year-old Mir, who sets himself up for possibly another path to the UFC heavyweight title.
Talk about a bull. Story, 26, pushed through the dangerous Thiago Alves thanks to pressure created by moving forward and wrestling. Oh, and the ability to take a punch, which he did many times over three rounds. Story has defeated different types of mixed martial artists throughout his unblemished UFC stint, and Alves was undoubtedly the biggest scalp. Story (13-3) is angling for Jon Fitch now, but the perennial No. 2 at 170 is recovering from shoulder surgery. There are fights out there for Story, and he probably won't be shy in accepting them.
In a manner similar to Joseph Benavidez, Demetrious Johnson seemed well suited to give Miguel Torres problems. And so he did en route to a tight and deserved decision. The bout was action-packed, especially for grappling aficionados. Some pundits felt Torres earned the nod. I didn't. Not to be forgotten: Johnson (10-1) scored with strong leg kicks in the opening round, and smartly avoided Torres' long and accurate jab. This was a huge résumé booster for the 24-year-old "Mighty Mouse."
The former No. 1-ranked bantamweight dropped his third fight in five tries, but outside of the final result, there was plenty to feel good about. As he's known to do, Miguel Torres (39-4) gave up takedowns with barely a whimper. In part that's because his bottom game is so good, it's not worth defending the shots. But in MMA, takedowns are about as valuable a maneuver as you find when it comes to scoring, and Demetrious Johnson took advantage of that. Torres, 30, did a wonderful job of sweeping the smaller wrestler, gaining dominant positions, and maintaining a beautiful pace throughout the fight. In a tight fight, that wasn't enough since Johnson was as active.
Rare is the fight for Thiago Alves when size is not a major advantage for him against an opponent. Such was the case against Rick Story, who muscled Alves for much of their 15-minute fight. Through two rounds, Story was clearly ahead. Alves, though, closed the gap in the third. The 27-year-old welterweight was patient and eventually found momentum in the final period when he defended takedowns, found some room, and bounced punch after punch off Story's head. Alves (18-8) put in good work, just not enough to stop a fighter who would not be denied. The hard truth for Alves is this: He struggles against strong wrestlers and the 170-pound division is overflowing with them.
Few thought Roy Nelson would be outclassed against Frank Mir, but that's exactly how it went down. Much of the blame for Nelson's performance was directed at his weight and physique. That's not very fair to either fighter. Nelson, 34, was exhausted and lost because Mir punished him, just as Junior dos Santos had in August. The reality is Nelson (15-6) loses when the competition gets better. Mir, dos Santos, Jeff Monson, Andrei Arlovski, Ben Rothwell Nelson fell to all of them. His best win came against Stefan Struve -- which helps explain why he's failed to crack the heavyweight top 10.
Jorge Santiago's dream of making a run at the UFC middleweight title disappeared thanks to the thing that forced his long absence from the organization to begin with: He can't take a punch. The 30-year-old Brazilian put together a great string of performances the last three years, but in his return to the UFC he reverted to taking punches and folding under their considerable pressure. The price of Santiago's loss to Brian Stann will be stiff. He'll fall out of the top 10 at 185 pounds, and many will use the result as another example when comparing the level of competition in UFC versus the rest of MMA.
The 6-foot-11 23-year-old Dutchman was knocked out by punches for the third time in eight Octagon-bound fights Saturday. Struve, despite being the tallest fighter in the UFC, has continually let punches find a chin that's evidently not an attribute. At his age, it's never smart to write off a fighter, but the "Skyscraper" is looking less and less like a major threat.
Matt Hamill, 34, found himself easily handled by "Rampage," and that is surprising. Even when he was pounded to the body by Rich Franklin or abused by Jon Jones, Hamill never appeared to concede defeat. Against Jackson, though, Hamill (10-3) came off as a beaten man well before the final bell. This was clearly not his best night. Hamill's takedown attempts came from way outside, he never felt comfortable with the risk of exchanging against Jackson, and, as usual, he got hit far too much. As of right now, the man with one of the best stories in sports doesn't seem likely to add "UFC light heavyweight contender" as a chapter in his tale.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
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