Commentary

ESPN.com MMA awards for May

Originally Published: June 1, 2011
By Brett Okamoto | ESPN.com

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Bellator. Not only did the promotion come through with three solid events in a rather slow month, it set the stage for an intriguing summer. You're only as good as your biggest stars, and Bellator has two marketable ones in Eddie Alvarez and Ben Askren. But to keep a high interest in your champs you need quality opponents to challenge them, and they've got that now in tournament winners Michael Chandler and Jay Hieron. They're obviously doing something right, as Season 4 closed out with high ratings, including a 360,000 peak during Bellator 45.


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Rashad Evans. Can it get any worse for Rashad? The man is Jason Street from "Friday Night Lights": on the verge of great things but gets injured and is then forced to watch his friend become the star and take everything that was supposed to be his. I still feel more for Street because Minka Kelly trumps a UFC belt, but the bottom line is Evans now has to win a very tough fight against Phil Davis just to get back in line for a title shot he already earned. And in the meantime he likely has to watch Rampage -- his rival and a man he defeated in his last fight -- fight for that title before he does.


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Travis Browne KO Stefan Struve (Round 1), UFC 130. If you had to come up with three ingredients for a devastating knockout, a Superman punch, an opponent leaning in and a 7-foot victim are pretty good ones. What I liked about Browne's knockout is that it wasn't by luck. After UFC 130, Browne said he noticed that every time he and Struve broke from one another, Struve would come right back with a knee. So after a break, Browne loaded up on his right and met him head-on.


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Giedrius Karavackas armlock Sam Oropeza (Round 3), Bellator 44 If I had to guess, I wouldn't think what Karavackas did to Oropeza during the third round of this fight is quite as satisfying as a one-punch knockout -- but I bet it's close. Karavackas rendered Oropeza completely helpless early in the round, trapping Oropeza's right arm with his legs while in side control. A flattened-out opponent on his back with one free arm makes for a good punching dummy, which is all Oropeza was for about three minutes. With 60 seconds to go, Karavackas worked the finish with a neat little armlock, by far the niftiest submission we saw in May.


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Demetrious Johnson decisions Miguel Torres, UFC 130. I've learned that when a fight hits the ground, there are three types of spectators. The first one boos immediately, no questions asked. The second is willing to give it a minute or two, but you'd better get that submission fairly quick, because if you don't, he's booing right along with Fan No. 1. The third is into it regardless how long it stays grounded, as long as both guys are trying to advance position or finish the fight. Johnson-Torres, basically a 15-minute ground fight, was so entertaining I don't remember hearing anybody boo at all. Add the fact that it was in boo-happy Vegas and you know that was some fantastic grappling.


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Rick Story unanimous decision Thiago Alves, UFC 130. Story is my pick for the biggest upset of the month; however, I feel I should be more specific. This is more about "Rick Story's chin upsets Thiago Alves' fists." I thought, headed into this fight, "If Story makes this ugly and controls Alves against the fence, he'll win." The first two rounds showed that was true. But I also thought, "If Story stands with Alves for any extended period of time, he's taking a nap." That proved to be false. For reasons unknown, Story elected to stand in front of Alves in the third. Not surprisingly, Alves landed a few monster shots -- but none of them seemed to bother him even slightly. That was weird to me.


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UFC 130. Even though Bellator had a fine, fine month, it's going to take a lot for one of its shows to stand up to a UFC event. And although it was immediately cast as a disappointment, my colleague Josh Gross pointed out to me that UFC 130 answered a lot of questions in its own right. How good is Brian Stann? Pretty darn good at middleweight. Is Jorge Santiago the 185-pound contender we've been looking for? Not likely. Should we still care about Frank Mir? We absolutely should. Can Thiago Alves ever reach No. 1 contender status again? Only if every 170-pound wrestler quits tomorrow. Even though it didn't deliver the best action of the year, UFC 130 sorted out things that needed sorting.


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Brian Stann, during UFC 130 postfight press conference. Great quotes come in all forms. I was considering a Quinton Jackson quote regarding his inability to use the bathroom in public without it ending up on Twitter, but that took a back seat when Stann revealed that members of the Navy SEALs Team 6, responsible for killing Osama bin Laden, attended UFC 130. "I did hear ['USA!'] chants, and obviously it's a career moment for anybody that could be there in that kind of environment," said Stann, a decorated U.S. Marine. "There was a lot of veterans in the crowd tonight, including parts of SEAL Team 6, which I don't think any of you guys knew about."


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Brock Lesnar out again. In a month light on events, May certainly still saw its share of major news. The announcement that Brock Lesnar's case of diverticulitis was back (and subsequently forcing him out of a June fight against Junior Dos Santos) trumped them all. I think somewhere between his first case of the life-threatening disease and a comeback win against Shane Carwin in July, most of us realized we had actually grown fond of the irritable giant from Minnesota. Fresh out of surgery that removed part of his colon, Lesnar is recuperating now, and here's hoping everything goes well for the 33-year-old.


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"Will Nick Diaz box?" No -- for now. The answer came May 23 when boxing promoter Don Cargin released a statement saying Diaz would not take on former world champion Jeff Lacy this fall. Unfortunately, this only fueled a second question, namely, "When will he fight St. Pierre?" Although Dana White has consistently referenced major roadblocks to the matchup, I've got to believe some kind of announcement is coming. Who else is St. Pierre -- or, to a greater extent, Diaz -- going to fight?


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Can a fighter win off his back? I want to start this by saying I'm not outraged by the Demetrious Johnson decision over Miguel Torres. It was a close fight. But here's the thing, guys -- Torres won that bout. I could write a thesis on why I think so, but to keep it simple, look at Johnson's own quotes after the fight. He basically said he thought he won because Torres never hit him on the feet and he used his wrestling. That isn't the way to win fights! MMA is about offense! Now, visibly, there wasn't a lot of offense in that fight. Torres went for submissions and didn't get them. That's very little offense. But Johnson basically laid on him and spent the majority of time escaping submissions. That's zero offense! If Johnson had landed strikes while on top, that would be a different story. But Torres actively looked to finish the fight, and his sub attempts should count for more than doing nothing from top position. I'm not as big a critic of judges as some others are, but I do think this will discourage guys from trying to have an active guard, because they know if they don't get the sub, they're screwed.


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Chael Sonnen. The middleweight is eligible to apply for a fighter's license June 29. If denied, it would be an enormous blow to his career, as he would have to then wait a full year to reapply. I won't make a prediction either way, but will say my opinion is that the dude has served his time. Let him move on. Another thing to keep an eye on is high-profile guys debuting at lower weights. You and I aren't the only ones perfecting our beach bods: Former top contenders Nate Marquardt, Kenny Florian and Tyson Griffin are all set to compete at a lower weight class in June. I expect good performances by all, although none of them drew an easy pass as far as opponents are concerned. Obviously, the Strikeforce Grand Prix continues (I like the favorites to advance) and we get Gina Carano back, whom I'm guessing will look surprisingly sharp.


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