The first time the Ultimate Fighting Championship graced the FOX network last November they planned to hit their audience bang on the jaw with their UFC heavyweight title fight but 64 seconds of in-cage action can’t have been what they had in mind.
Round two on FOX served its purpose, it set up Chael Sonnen and Rashad Evans to challenge for championship gold on pay-per-view but excitement wasn’t the key with three decisions that can’t have wet any new viewer’s appetite for mixed martial arts.
Just when you thought we were on a downhill slope, UFC on FOX 3 delivered in hoards for entertainment value the entire broadcast giving us a dose of hard-hitting heavyweights, savvy submission specialists and hard-fought battles.
As I always do following a big-fight card I’ll take over as an armchair matchmaker and mix and match some interesting scraps moving forward.
I’ve said this after his last three trips to the octagon but last night served as the most impressive performance in the career of Nate Diaz.
Since returning to 155-pounds after a few cameo appearances at welterweight he has looked phenomenal and yesterday was no different, from the moment the fight kicked off the 209-native used his length to pressure AMA Fight Club’s Jim Miller.
Capping off an impressive opening stanza dropping his opponent and avoiding the takedowns he entered frame two with even more confidence and drive, eventually Miller tried to take him to the floor when he was hurt but the black belt under Ceaser Gracie was too crafty on the floor having him locked up within moments.
With this win it seems that the younger Diaz brother has punched his ticket to challenge for the UFC lightweight title, facing the winner of the eventual rematch between Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar.
The only issue with this is he will have to sit on the sideline for a considerable amount of time, although not set in stone Edgar & Henderson are suspected to rematch at UFC 150 on August 11 in Denver, Colorado, thus barring any injuries, best case scenario he can challenge for the top prize at 155-pounds towards the end of the year.
Johny Hendricks showed that he belongs at the top of the pecking order at 170-pounds defeating his second-straight former title-challenger narrowly getting past Josh Koscheck by split decision.
In two almost mirror images of one another, two former national wrestling champions turned feared strikers battled it out for fifteen minutes, both loading up with their power-punches looking to put the others lights out.
When all was said and done the former Oklahoma Cowboy did just enough to get past the original Ultimate Fighter bad boy on two of the judges’ score cards.
This win unquestionably places Hendricks towards the top of the challengers list but there’s a major logjam there with two champions, George St-Pierre and Carlos Condit who will hopefully meet in November and a everyone and their mother having a rightful claim to be next in line.
I would expect Hendricks to be pressured to take another fight; the most logical choice would be the winner of the upcoming bout between Martin Kampmann and Jake Ellenberger.
Both those men are on impressive runs through the 170-pound division, both will provide an entertaining fight and keeps everyone involved busy while setting up the next challenger following the unification bout.
Alan Belcher on paper looks to have all the tools to be a real player in the 185-pound division – Good wrestling, jiu-jitsu black belt, crisp striking and a wealth of experience against tough competition but he’s never put together a run towards the title.
That might be about to change, Belcher pushed his winning streak to four-straight last night finishing submission ace Rousimar Palhares. The Brazilian leg lock specialist took the fight to the floor early but found himself being pressured by Belcher who wasn’t afraid to play footsies with the powerhouse.
Eventually Belcher got his Brazilian foe in trouble raining down a string of punches and elbows that forced the fight to end, raising his profile as a player in the middleweight division ten folds.
Right now, with a win over a talented middleweight he needs to be facing top-ten opposition and working his way up that ladder so a fight with the winner of Michael Bisping and Tim Boetsch could be appropriate.
Both men have a serious claim towards being top contenders with Bisping controversially losing to the the next title-challenger Chael Sonnen while Boetsch just upset longtime top-ranked middleweight Yushin Okami.
Lavar Johnson has impressed fans, critics and media personnel alike with his two octagon performances knocking out two heavy-handed strikers in Joey Beltran and now Pat Barry.
Barry looked to impose his will on Johnson early taking it to the floor and seeking an Americana on the mat to no success but once we returned to the feet the powerful strikes of Johnson were evident as he cornered him and unloaded with a series of strikes before he was sent crashing to the canvass.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect Johnson to be challenging for a UFC championship anytime soon but he beat two good heavyweights, the winner of the upcoming Stefan Struve vs. Mark Hunt would be appropriate.
A lot of hardcore fanatics are putting all their eggs in the Mark Hunt basket but he has a tough test against the lanky submission artist in Struve, either would pose real problems to Johnson and would make for an exciting fight.