A mixed bag of grades from Sydney
Streaks, halted. Prospects, stopped. Veterans, aged. Title contenders, stalemated. Fighters, embarrassed. Underdogs, vindicated. That was UFC 127.
It was a card that raised concerns and questions as much as it showcased inspired performances. The UFC returned to Australia for a Sunday afternoon of fights. It departed in a tough spot.
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It wasn't all bad for Zuffa. The gate was strong, as it almost always is. Their top German fighter won an huge bout. The promotion's lone Chinese competitor, Zhang Tie Quan, needed less than a minute to choke Jason Reinhardt, who shouldn't be in the UFC, but that's beside the point. With the fight streamed online to China, Quan's win was important step forward in the organization's intent to hold an event there.
Though it featured one of the least interesting undercards in a long timebecasue of the number of warm bodies, UFC 127 created quite a bit of intrigue during it's latter half.
From A to F, the evening's report card:
UFC 127 report card
In an up-and-down night for Australian fighters, Kyle Noke shined. Subbing Chris Camozzi made it consecutive wins by rear-naked choke for the veteran middleweight, who improved his record to 19-4-1. The 30-year-old fighter swarmed on the ground and finished in just 95 seconds. Sweeter yet, it was a great note to begin the UFC pay-per-view in his home country.
The card's biggest underdog fought like its heaviest favorite. Dennis Siver was impossible to take down, and it paid off with George Sotiropoulos hitting the canvas twice in Round 1. Showing impressive balance, Siver repeatedly escaped the dangerous grappler's grasp, forcing instead a 15-minute kickboxing bout. In his last 10 fights, Siver gave up eight of nine takedowns; he shut down all 10 tries in Sydney. Siver (18-7) fought to the bell and came on strong in the third, which is an improvement over past bouts.
If you'd never seen Ebersole before, you probably walked away thinking he was one wacky dude. True enough. With over 60 fights on his record, Ebersole is a fighter who matches Chris Lytle for experience. Everywhere else, the 30-year-old appeared to have Lytle's number, carrying the fight unanimously. Though I don't see him as any kind of threat to top welterweights, Ebersole stood out in more ways than one in Sydney, earning an additional $70,000 for fight of the night honors. (Note: This grade ignores the upward-pointing arrow carved out of his chest chair.)
I thought he won. Typical Jon Fitch, grinding down yet another opponent. For the first round and a half, Fitch (23-3-1) reacted to Penn, who forced the issue by favoring grappling over boxing. Fitch showed resilience, several times calmly working his way out of dangerous positions. Once the No. 2 welterweight in MMA found a rhythm, he took over, attempting a UFC record-tying 181 strikes in the third round. For all the aggression, though, Fitch didn't pass Penn's guard and failed to score concussive shots; he never came close to finishing "The Prodigy."
What can you say about B.J. Penn? If he isn't remembered as one of MMA's great fighters -- with a record of 16-7-2 it's debatable -- there's always the consolation of being grouped among its most talented. Penn showed up in Sydney to beat Fitch and he managed a draw. His grappling was terrific. Penn surprised Fitch with takedowns and found dominant positions. However, he failed to take advantage, and the 32-year-old Hawaiian faded at the end. Get this: Penn was out-struck a mind-boggling 149 to 2 in the third round. If UFC ramps this one up again, perhaps for a vacant title, should Georges St. Pierre relinquish the belt? Can you picture Penn surviving 25 minutes against Fitch?
Rebounding from last September's submission loss to Cole Miller, Ross Pearson benefited from a positive stylistic matchup against Spencer Fisher. In an entertaining bout, the 26-year-old Brit (12-4) showed late what he was made of, snapping off punching combinations after getting a sense for Fisher. The TUF 9 lightweight winner staved off the wolves with his points win, remaining relevant in a highly competitive division.
Many believe Spencer Fisher doesn't have it but he showed more life against Pearson than he had against anyone else since the war with Sam Stout in 2007. Still, Fisher's mileage was apparent while succumbing to a younger, fresher fighter in the latter half of the fight. That's three losses in four fights for the 34-year-old lightweight, dropping his record to 24-7. He may be at a crossroads.
No one deserves to be treated the way Rivera was against Bisping; the Brit's antics (more below) were unconscionable. You could almost say the same for the actions of UFC's ringside physician. Rivera, medical expert that he is, was allowed to make the call on whether or not he could continue after a concussive knee illegally slammed into his head in the first round. Of course, Rivera said he was fit to fight, only later admitting that he was badly hurt and felt compelled to continue. The vast majority of professional fighters are, like Rivera, warriors. What did you think he was going to say? But the doctor let it continue, and for the next few minutes Rivera was battered. Before the knee, the 39-year-old middleweight had trouble with Bisping's game plan, which focused on putting the slugger on the canvas. It felt like Rivera (19-8) was bound to lose, but you never know. How did the Bostonian cope? A new tattoo the day after the fight.
Riki Fukuda is a veteran middleweight who always shows up. After three rounds with Nick Ring, it seemed like a lock that the 30-year-old Japanese fighter was about to earn a win in his UFC debut. But the judges at cageside thought differently, prompting another completely warranted haranguing of mixed martial arts officials. UFC president Dana White did the right thing by awarding Fukuda (17-5) his win bonus and lambasting the judges -- again.
One of the longest unbeaten streaks in the UFC (7-for-7) disappeared because George Sotiropoulos couldn't force German Dennis Siver to grapple with him. The 33-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert showed a ton of grit while surviving two knockdowns in a tough opening round. The Australian lightweight found a rhythm midway through the fight but tailed off at the end -- no doubt a result of his early troubles. Winning would have set him up for a monster fight, but an inadequate takedown game proved there are holes yet to fix. His best bet is to ramp up his striking, which is entirely possible, and fight aggressive enough that opponents are forced to take him down.
"C" is for "classless." Unless you actually believe Bisping (21-3) when he apologized for a blatantly deliberate illegal knee to Rivera's face, which undoubtedly affected the outcome of the fight. Or the homophobic slur during weigh-ins. Or flipping off Rivera's corner afterward from frustration over lampooning prefight videos. Or hawking a loogie in their direction. Or, in reality, Rivera and his camp are the classless ones for being upset by all of the above. If you believe him, well, then "C" is for "contrite." Many fans, though, are smarter than that.
Still unbeaten after winning a decision he should not have, the 32-year-old Canadian finds himself in an odd spot. Yes, Ring is "11-0." Yes, he "won" his UFC debut. But in the minds of many, he isn't a winner. Ring surrendered numerous takedowns and appeared fairly stiff on his feet. He has a record built on middling opposition and needs to show much more if he wants to contend at 185 pounds in the UFC.
After 53 MMA bouts and another 15 in boxing, Lytle is beginning to fight the way he talks -- that's not good. One of MMA's most consistent warriors, Lytle loves what he does. And that might finally be catching up to him. Against Ebersole, Lytle, 36, was hit a ton, ending the evening with an absolutely awful gash on his forehead. His four-fight winning streak is over, as is a shot of finally fighting for the UFC title.
Nothing good to takeaway here. The 24-year-old Camozzi (14-4) was overwhelmed by Noke.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.