Commentary

From bottom up, UFC 108 card delivered

Updated: January 5, 2010, 2:40 PM ET
By Franklin McNeil | For ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- This time the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and in particular its brash-talking president Dana White, would drop a peg or two. And what better moment than on one of its marquee cards for UFC to digest some humble pie?

According to some in the media, UFC 108 would reveal the promotion's vulnerability. Maybe even the beginning of its downfall.

The New Year's card is considered one of UFC's jewels, but the 2010 version was shaping up to be a disaster. Several high-profile mixed martial artists -- Anderson Silva, Brock Lesnar, Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira and Gabriel Gonzaga -- were forced off the card due to injury.

Minus these superstars, surely UFC 108 was destined for failure. But an interesting thing happen Saturday at MGM Grand Garden Arena: Several exciting fights broke out.

From the opening bout -- a unanimous decision win for lightweight Rafaello Oliveira over John Gunderson -- many in the crowd were on their feet cheering. The excitement continued to grow when Jake Ellenberger stopped fellow welterweight Mike Pyle just 22 seconds into Round 2. And these were prelim fights.

"The show speaks for itself," said lightweight Sam Stout, who improved to 16-5-1 with a unanimous decision over Joe Lauzon. "Everyone who came out put on impressive performances. All the fights were exciting. There were a lot of exciting finishes."

Oliveira/Gunderson
Ric Fogel for ESPN.comRafaello Oliveira, top, and John Gunderson helped kick off a night of action-packed fights.

For White, the success of UFC 108 won't be forgotten anytime soon. He took the prefight criticism to heart.

White didn't view the knock on his show as a personal attack, but a swipe at the fighters. The success of this card was a testament to his fighters' skill and willingness to give all they have to pull out a victory.

"Guys felt disrespected, but this is the way these guys fight every time," White said. "All these guys want to win, all these guys want to be the best in the world. … More disrespect was thrown at the fighters this week than ever before.

"People think they are taking shots at UFC, but they are taking shots at the fighters. We put together the best fights we can and try to promote them. Real fight fans want to see real fights, and they saw it tonight.

"I knew this was going to be a good card; I was excited about this card. I love when people under-expect and we over-deliver."

The person White can thank most is matchmaker Joe Silva. Whenever words came down that another fighter would be unable to perform, Silva quickly got on the phone with a potential replacement.

Silva's matchmaking ability is becoming legendary in mixed martial arts. He doesn't simply thrive to put big-named fighters in the Octagon together, Silva looks for matches that will potentially offer the most excitement.

"He's the best matchmaker in the business," White said. "When these kind of things [fighter injuries] happen, he's the guy on the phone calling these guys up, trying to get them to get in shape and take fights."

Life is never easy for Silva, but the job he did leading into UFC 108 will ease some of his burdens in the months ahead. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans survived a third-round scare to earn a unanimous decision over Thiago Silva, who is no relation to the matchmaker.

Evans' victory assures that the highly anticipated showdown with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson will happen. According to White, the fight could happen as early as May 1.

Jim Miller stepped out of the lightweight shadows with an impressive armbar submission of Duane Ludwig. Heading into the fight, the knock on Miller, whose lone professional defeats have come against top contenders Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, was that his stand-up was inadequate.

Those criticisms were softened by a solid stand-up performance Saturday night. Miller set up his finish with a solid right that stunned Ludwig and sent him to the canvas, where the finishing hold was applied.

"It was a great win over a great opponent," Miller said. "I train to improve my stand-up everyday.

"I was training in a way that a win over my original opponent [Tyson Griffin] would put me in the top 10 in the world. I was ready to fight anybody.

"Whoever they threw in the Octagon against me, I was going to go after them. Once I knew it was Duane, I needed to make him respect my hands."

Junior dos Santos cemented a spot in the heavyweight title picture with an impressive first-round TKO of Gilbert Yvel.

What is next for dos Santos remains a mystery. One thing is certain: He will never face his mentor Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira. That point was reiterated Friday to ESPN by Black House boss Ed Soares.

Hard-hitting welterweight Paul Daley made it known that he wants a crack at highly rated Thiago Alves. White appeared receptive to making such a fight happen, especially after Daley's impressive first-round knockout of Dustin Hazelett.

The result of these fights will be felt in the very near future, but the entire card will be remembered for a very long time. Having megastars on a card makes promoting the event much easier, but Saturday proved it's good matchmaking and the participants' willingness to perform that matters most on fight night.

UFC 108 did not live up to expectations. In this case, that's a very good thing.

Franklin McNeil appears regularly on is ESPN.com's "MMA Live."