A slew of bad calls defined UFC 131
The UFC fight train rolled through Vancouver on Saturday promising big things. With heavyweights who finish as well as Junior dos Santos and Shane Carwin meeting in the main event, for once the hype surrounding a fight -- someone was going down, we were promised -- didn't come off as hyperbolic.
We should know, though, that nothing is guaranteed in mixed martial arts -- except, unfortunately, inadequate judging.
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While officials handled the dos Santos-Carwin decision well enough, there were several moments throughout the night that made it seem as if the people charged with scoring bouts simply have no idea what they're doing. It's gotten to the point that fans are dreading decisions as much as fighters and promoters, and that's an awful set of circumstances for the UFC and MMA to contend with. Did Michihiro Omigawa deserve to lose against Darren Elkins? I don't think so. Neither does UFC president Dana White, who's treating the contest as if Omigawa earned the nod, going so far as to pay him his win bonus.
What exactly did Mark Munoz do to take the first round against Demian Maia? What more should dos Santos have done to Carwin to earn a 10-8 score in the opening period of their fight?
Judges were all over the place and deserve at best a C-minus.
But enough about them for now. Let's focus on the men who risked something in British Columbia. By establishing a new No. 1 contender in the UFC heavyweight division, to potentially doing the same at 145 pounds following Kenny Florian's debut at featherweight, UFC 131 offered quite a lot to dissect.
UFC 131 report card
Finally, Sam "Hands of Stone" Stout (17-6-1) lived up to his nickname. On top of that, at the midway point of 2011, there's a new front-runner for Knockout of the Year. Stout's left hook was textbook in the same way that Rashad Evans' finish of Chuck Liddell was in 2008. Nothing fancy, just a perfectly sequenced punch that ended in a cold KO. The plus-portion of the grade belongs to Shawn Tompkins, the trainer of the 27-year-old Stout, who identified a pattern in Yves Edwards' hand movement that suggested the finishing punch would work.
Junior dos Santos
All in all, Junior dos Santos, the No. 2-ranked heavyweight in MMA according to ESPN.com, was excellent Saturday night. He battered Shane Carwin while simultaneously maintaining a game plan that minimized his chances of getting caught. The key all night was the 26-year-old Brazilian's lead hand. When he jabbed and hooked off his jab, he put it on the bigger heavyweight. We also saw what to this point had been only advertisements from those around dos Santos (13-1): He can counter-grapple and strong hips make him difficult to take down. It's a puzzle Cain Velasquez is now tasked with deciphering. What a fight that will be.
This wasn't a cakewalk for Chris Weidman, but he didn't require more than one round to snap off a standing guillotine choke against Canadian Jesse Bongfeldt (15-5-1). Weidman, considered among the best East Coast MMA prospects in quite some time, found himself in a close contest early. But as he found his rhythm, the 26-year-old wrestler from New York took control of the scrambles, eventually leading to the submission. Weidman has plenty of room to grow, but he already has people talking. At some point, Weidman (6-0) will be asked to fight the better wrestlers at middleweight, and then we'll know if he's the real deal.
For his weight cutting and professionalism, Kenny Florian, an analyst for ESPN's "MMA Live," deserves high marks. So, too, for his performance against Diego Nunes, which suggested that at featherweight Florian (15-5) gains strength as the fight continues. That's a tremendously positive sign for his prospects at 145 pounds. Once Florian found his legs after a shaky first round, his jab and size -- yes, he's finally the bigger man -- paid off. The weight cut didn't hurt his ability to take a punch, as we saw when Nunes pasted Florian, 35, at the end of Round 3. If that had been a lightweight delivering the blow, Florian might have gone down. There are many fights to make at 145, and it appears Zuffa wants to give KenFlo a crack at the division's champion, Jose Aldo.
Surprised in the early going by Demian Maia's retrofitted striking, Mark Munoz used his power, wrestling and determination to carry him through a fight that I thought was the best example of mixed martial arts on Saturday. This was a vital win for the 33-year-old "Filipino Wrecking Machine" on his rise up the ladder at 185 to a not-quite-inevitable title shot. Munoz (11-2) won the second and third rounds after he changed the range of the fight. We saw that he can adapt on the fly under difficult circumstances.
Saturday was the first time many saw Dave Herman. I've seen him plenty, so the antics, approach and all-out wackiness of his performance was expected. Herman, 26, is athletic and relies on balance and speed to carry him through fights. It'll catch up to him some day, especially since he campaigns as a slender heavyweight. John Olav, a big plodder, wasn't the fighter to expose Herman's unorthodox approach. Rather, they came together for one of the best rounds of the year. Round 2 was tremendous, mainly because neither fighter shared an interest in defense. Herman (21-2) took what Olav gave him, moved straight back, took some more, then reversed course with a kick-knee-punch combination that led to the finish. Exciting stuff.
Once Donald Cerrone (15-3) realized all he had to do was avoid going to the ground against Vagner Rocha -- and that he could accomplish that without much difficulty -- their lightweight fight played out to a predictable tune. Rocha (6-2) isn't on Cerrone's level and probably would not have fared particularly well in the WEC's lightweight division, where "Cowboy" mixed it up and matriculated to the UFC with a chance to make some noise in the division. Two wins later, it's time for Cerrone, 28, to face a legitimate test -- which I'm sure he'd welcome.
For five minutes against Munoz, Demian Maia was on his way to an "A" grade. His technical striking power and timing were superb, beyond anything we'd seen from the 33-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu lion in 16 previous contests. The former UFC No. 1 contender at 185 got what he wanted when Munoz was forced to grapple with him; however, he couldn't dictate range on floor, or control the action. Maia remains very dangerous and should not be discounted in the middleweight division.
Shane Carwin displayed as much grit as a man could on Saturday, but that isn't the way to win against younger, faster, more talented opponents. I wasn't at all surprised by how things played out during UFC 131's main event. Carwin (12-2) is unquestionably powerful, but his wrestling is hardly the most technical, and because of that he failed to exploit what many figured would be an advantage against Junior dos Santos. I think we've seen the ceiling on Carwin, who at 36 needs to nurse a broken nose and, according to his management, a potentially busted cheek bone. On the positive side, Carwin took much more punishment than most fighters could in the opening round, and managed to not only survive for the full 15 minutes but actually have some life at the end. Impressive, even as lopsided as the fight was.
It looked like Nunes, 28, could pull off the upset of Florian after five minutes in the cage, but it turned out that was more about Florian finding his featherweight legs than anything Nunes did. The speed advantage Nunes carried into the fight was quickly offset by fatigue. He seemed completely sapped of energy by the end of Round 2, and Florian poured it on in the third, save a late punch by Nunes (16-2) that dropped "KenFlo" to one knee. On the bright side, Nunes' loss means there's no conflict inside the Nova Uniao gym about fighting his teammate, Jose Aldo.
Olav is, as some of my ESPN colleagues said, "beastly." But he's also slow and unathletic. And because of that we're talking about someone who won't find his way into the title hunt. Olav's spirit is worth noting, especially at the start of the second when he went after Dave Herman, eventually leading to some wild exchanges that earned the pair "Fight of the Night" and an extra $70,000. A sparring partner of Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem, Olav (6-2) is best focused on teaching Golden Glory fighters how to grapple, though the one chance he had to do so against Dave Herman was lost because the 35-year-old Norwegian didn't have an answer for the American's wild explosion from the bottom.
Is this the end of the line for Edwards? To the extent that he has legitimate title aspirations, I'd say so. We're talking about someone who entered the game five months after Randy Couture made his debut. Edwards, 34, isn't over-the-hill; he just doesn't seem destined to fight for a championship in the UFC. After unloading a knockout of Josh Thomson in 2004 that will perpetually be looped in highlights, expect the shot that Edwards (40-17-1) took from Sam Stout to receive similar treatment.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
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