UFC Live/Strikeforce/Bellator report card
For the first time this year, mixed martial artists signed to America's top three promotions -- UFC (tops by a wide margin, of course), Strikeforce (settling in as a quality No. 2) and Bellator (an upstart headed in the right direction) -- put their skills on display over one busy weekend.
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From A to F, the evening's report card:
UFC 127 report card
Why such high marks? The odds. When former WEC bantamweight champion Brian Bowles submitted Damacio Page by guillotine choke at 3 minutes, 30 seconds of Round 1, it marked the second time in his career the 30-year-old from Athens, Ga., accomplished that exact feat. In Bowles' first fight since losing the title and his unbeaten record one year ago to Dominick Cruz, he showed poise, power and the uncanny ability to repeat history. His hope, of course, is that manifests into another title shot.
Hard to find any fault in a 54-second technical knockout. Mark Munoz (10-2) is a dangerous opponent for anyone in the middleweight division. His combination of determination, power and wrestling ensures he's never out of a fight. Will Munoz morph into an elite middleweight? It's too soon to know. But he's better than a gatekeeper, that's for sure.
Dan Henderson ranks among the great mixed martial artists of this generation, and Saturday he showed that even after eclipsing his 40th birthday there is fight in him. Hurt early by a stinging punch from Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Rafael Cavalcante, Henderson relied on guile and superior wrestling to prevent the bigger, younger Brazilian from hurting him again. It was Henderson's right hand -- arguably the best weapon for any fighter in the sport -- that paid off in the end, as he clipped Feijao to set up the finish in Round 3. It doesn't appear Henderson (27-8) is ready to head into the sunset of his career.
Forget how it ended. In his first action in 14 months, Jay Hieron (20-4) appeared too strong and determined for Anthony Lapsley. The controversial stoppage by referee Josh Rosenthal may have overshadowed Hieron's effort, but there's no doubt that for three-plus minutes he looked like the Bellator welterweight tournament favorite.
For the second consecutive fight, judges said Martin Kampmann lost, even though he thought he won. The 28-year-old Dane was crisp against Diego Sanchez but he failed to put on the kind of sustained attack that could have put away the popular welterweight. It was a difficult result for Kampmann (17-5), in that it halts a run at the UFC welterweight title. Fair or not, that's the reality.
You can hold Sanchez accountable for his early troubles or give him credit for surviving against a quality welterweight that knows how to finish. I'm opting for the latter. Somehow the 29-year-old Sanchez rebounded from a terrible opening period to push Kampmann for another two rounds. No matter how you reacted to the judges' decision -- 29-28 three times for Sanchez -- it's worth remembering that Sanchez (23-4) never stopped fighting, despite having his face mangled at the start.
Lyman Good rebounded from the first defeat of his career to outpoint a game Chris Lozano. This wasn't the war many thought it would be until the third round, when Lozano made Good earn the victory. Good (11-1) came out of his fight unscathed, which makes a quick four-week turnaround to fight Rick Hawn no big deal. Lozano brought the type of style that plays into Good's strengths. He faces a more difficult task in dealing with the grappling-savvy Hawn.
Credit Marloes Coenen (19-4) with the wherewithal to withstand the assault of a younger, stronger, undefeated challenger. It wasn't her prettiest effort, but in submitting Liz Carmouche the 29-year-old Dutch fighting queen made a statement about her competitiveness and durability. Coenen's inability to defend against the mount position is troubling, and no doubt future challengers, notably Meisha Tate, will take notice. Coenen is a complete mixed martial artist, and she needed that all-around game to retain the title.
Outside of one mistake, Carmouche was excellent in her attempt to capture the Strikeforce women's welterweight title on just two week's notice. Young in her career, Carmouche (5-1) did more than dictate much of the action, before succumbing to triangle choke in Round 4. She dominated a classy grappler in the second and third rounds, doing well to take down and maintain mount once she found it. Inexperience, however, was the difference here. As Coenen said after the fight, Carmouche, a 27-year-old ex-Marine, has the talent to be champion some day.
On Saturday, Cavalcante (10-3) could have proved he deserved being ranked among the top 10 light heavyweights in MMA. And though he fell short against a far more accomplished fighter, Feijao's performance suggested he could still reach that level in time. Cavalcante's wild striking leaves him vulnerable to counter striking and clinch work -- a perfect storm against someone with Henderson's skills. He may need to temper his aggression, or at least tighten up his striking to the point he's no longer out of position after attacking. Cavalcante has room to improve, but the idea that he's a top prospect has for the time being been shelved.
Hawn's points win against Jim Wallhead came as ordered. The Olympic grappler decided he was best off striking against a fellow judoka, and so he did. He has quite a bit of room to grow as a striker, and regardless of if he's ready for someone of Good's caliber, Hawn (10-0) appears to be made of the right stuff to do things in the welterweight division. He had superficial damage around his eyes after the fight, which makes sparring problematic for the next 10 days. Considering his return to the cage on April 2, that may put him at a disadvantage in terms of preparation.
We could easily be writing about Dan Hornbuckle, whom most observers, including Brent Weedman, thought was headed to the Bellator 170-pound semifinals after their 15 minutes in the cage with Weedman. But judges saw it unanimously for Weedman (18-5) following a back-and-forth contest in which he was cut above the left eye in the opening exchange. If an upstart is going to capture the tournament, it's up to Weedman to make it happen. He'll have to cope Hieron, a physically stronger opponent than Hornbuckle, in the next round.
CB Dollaway didn't get a chance to fight Munoz after taking a mammoth right hand to the jaw less than a minute into their middleweight bout. Some suggested the referee stoppage came early, but I don't agree. Dollaway (11-3) was out for the first time in his career. This is a big step back for the 27-year-old wrestler.
Damacio Page missed with wild haymakers before making the mistake of giving up his neck to Bowles. The result marked consecutive losses for Page (15-6), who doesn't look equipped to make a serious run at the UFC 135-pound title.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
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