It was all good and positive right up to the main event where once again, as we’ve seen so many times before, it was the judges who took to the limelight instead of the fighters.
Two-time NCAA Division 1 wrestler and knockout extraordinaire Johny Hendricks was left baffled following the conclusion of his Welterweight title tilt with long-time divisional kingpin Georges St. Pierre, wondering how on earth he left the octagon without a 10-lbs belt strapped around his waist.
Fans responded wildly on the Social networks and expressed their disappointment at the outcome of GSP’s split-decision victory, and the fact that such a controversy was allowed to take place on the promotion’s 20th Anniversary event was all the more unimaginable. No one could have predicted such an outcome.
Hendricks was believed to have taken rounds one, two and three and he did inflict more damage, as evident by the bruises on the French-Canadian’s face. “Bigg Rigg” also landed multiple takedowns on his opponent, which did wonders for his confidence given GSP’s huge MMA wrestling pedigree.
GSP, on the other hand, wasn’t quite himself in comparison to his previous title defenses. St.Pierre wasn’t as elusive as people expected him to be although he did land a higher percentage of strikes with combinations and such lying firmly in his favor. Perhaps that was why the judges decided to give him the nod, but that’s just an assumption.
After the victory and a huge sigh of relief to go along with it, GSP hinted at taking a short hiatus, although he didn’t extend on any details.
While the featured title bout of the evening undoubtedly overshadowed circumstances on a fine evening, the rest of the main card popped some surprising results too.
“Ruthless” Robbie Lawler took home a hardly contested and well-deserved decision victory over rising starlet and hot prospect, Rory McDonald. The American gave his Canadian counterpart lots to think about with his striking fitnesse, going as far as knocking McDonald down and almost gaining a stoppage win.
Former UFC Light Heavyweight champ Rashad Evans needed less than five minutes to dispatch Chael Sonnen. Following a takedown up against the cage, Evans slowly maneuvered to full mount, forcing his opponent to give up his back before mercilessly applying some ground-and-pound to force a stoppage from referee Herb Dean. In his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, Evans stated his desire for a second shot at Jones’ strap, and well with a win like that coupled with another one of two, he may very well be awarded that opportunity.
Josh Koscheck slumped to a three-fight losing skid after a knockout defeat against Tyron Woodley, who basically just overpowered his opponent with sharp, crisp and hard punches. Koscheck’s UFC career may very well be in jeopardy and he could get his walking over the course of the upcoming months or so. While his future looks bleak, Woodley managed to get back in the win column following a set-back against Jake Shields in his previous outing.
Ali Bagautinov picked up a Unanimous Decision victory over Tim Elliot to kick off the main card proceedings. Despite Elliot’s unorthodox movement and stances, the Russian, Bagautinov connected with the majority of strikes, and deservedly took home his win bonus.
It’s time for me sit in the match-maker’s armchair and speculate on what’s next for the main card winners after UFC 167. Do leave your comments below and let me know your thoughts:
*Ali Bagautinov (12-2) vs. Darren Uyenoyama (8-4)
The Combat Sambo Champ has made a wonderful transition to Mixed Martial Arts and is just the latest of several prospects from Russia that is set to take the MMA universe by storm. Now 2-0 in his young UFC career, there’s a lot more to come from Bagautinov. He upped his game against Tim Elliot at UFC 167 coming away with a Unanimous Decision victory, where many considered him as the underdog heading into that one.
Bagautinov’s strong, tenacious style could be a major force to be reckoned with in the future. Still adapting to the American style of fighting, the Russian hasn’t quite figured the rhythm of his contests thus far and instead, seems content in just lashing out with hard punches. That worked well in his UFC debut against recent Rebel FC signee, Marcos Vinicius, but should he be matched with tougher opponents, he may falter.
Regardless, a bout with Darren Uyenoyama looks credible and worthwhile in my eyes. Although the 34-year-old is coming off a lost, which came against Joseph Benavidez mind you, he’s still one to look out for in the 125-lbs division. As mentioned many a times before, given the lack of depth in the Flyweight division, a win or two could pivot a fighter towards a title shot, and that’ll be exactly what Uyenoyama and Bagautinov will be striving for should his bout materialize. For Bagautinov, it’s still early days and fighting a guy like John Moraga doesn’t make sense.
*Tyron Woodley (12-2) vs. Robert Whittaker (11-3)
Styles make fights and there’s no better bout then a classic striker vs. wrestler match-up. Tyron Woodley looked absolutely huge on fight night at UFC 167, with his muscular physique the subject of chatter between commentators Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan. As the latter put it, it can be good because you’ll have the dynamism to finish fights quickly. Conversely, it’s bad because in the latter rounds, it can have an adverse effect on your cardio. Thankfully for Woodley, though, he managed to put Josh Koscheck away in the first frame.
In-spite of his wrestling prowess, Woodley is a formidable stand-up opponent as well, and is an ever evolving Mixed Martial Artist. The Strikeforce vet would be a perfect challenge to young up-and-comer Australian fighter Robert Whittaker, another fighter with huge potential in the stacked 170-lbs division. Whittaker poses a threat both on his feet and on the canvas but is better known for his striking abilities.
This is a match-up that has “Fight of the Night” written all over it. With Woodley’s strength and wrestling background, coupled with Whittaker’s immaculate footwork and striking, this is a bout that’s well worth setting up. Even if Whittaker doesn’t get past Brian Melancon at UFC Fight Night 33, I sure hope this bout pieces itself together.
*Robbie Lawler (22-9, 1 NC) vs. Court McGee (16-3)
At this point of time, if you’re not a fan of Robbie Lawler, you deserve to be crucified. The turn-around in fortunes for the American Top Team native’s career is quite the story. Always known for his guns-blazing, never back down sort of a style that was in display in his upset win over Rory MacDonald, Lawler has certified a top ten status in the UFC’s Welterweight division. Few gave him a chance against MacDonald who had a good reach advantage complimented with strong MMA foundations, but Lawler came through with probably the biggest win of his pro MMA career to date, even coming close to finishing him at one point during the contest.
Now, with that said, who’s next? Dong Hyun Kim? Demain Maia? Matt Brown? Or even Carlos Condit? Well, neither. There’s one fighter waiting within the ranks that’s well deserving of a shot at a top contender and that’s Court “The Crusher” McGee. The 28-year-old is set to take on Ryan Laflare at UFC on FOX 9 later next week and should he garner a victory, a potential match-up with Robbie Lawler could be treat for anyone.
Both fighters have remarkable striking credentials but McGee, in my humble opinion, may have a slight edge in the grappling department. Nonetheless, it’s a step up in competition for McGee who, by all standards, is a worthy opponent for Lawler. It’d be a match-up that could have contender(s) implications in the near future.
*Rashad Evans (19-3-1) vs. Vitor Belfort (24-10)
Having scored a TKO stoppage over Chael Sonnen at UFC 167, “Suga” Rashad Evans actually finds himself in quite a predicament. He lost to Jon Jones in his bid to claim the 205-lbs championship strap for the second time in April of last year, and with top contenders Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira lurking in the title picture, it’s going to take a while before we see Evans’ name in the contenders’ mix. Not unless he gains a victory over a top ten or even a top five opponent, though.
Vitor Belfort is more than worthy to fit that bill. The Brazilian in on fire. With triumphant stoppage victories over Michael Bisping, former Strikeforce champ Luke Rockhold and most recently, Dan Henderson, the future has never been brighter for “The Phenom”. Belfort possesses a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and incredible hand speed which poses huge problems, as we’ve so many times, to opponents in the octagon.
Rashad Evans, meanwhile, is a well-oiled machine with an all-round MMA facet. He can strike with you, take you down to the canvas and when you least expect it, pull off submissions. Evans vs. Belfort guarantees to be a classic and MMA fans will be drooling at the prospect of seeing both these veterans collide in the octagon.
*George St. Pierre (25-2) [C] vs. Johny Hendricks (15-2) 2
It’s a no-brainer. Long time Welterweight kingpin and pound-for-pound great GSP may be one of the greatest fighters to ever the grace the octagon but his split-decision victory over challenger Johny Hendricks was not short of controversy. GSP’s usual stature of being methodical and analytical in his bouts didn’t come into effect this time around against Hendricks, with the latter finding lots of success with short uppercuts and punches. Suffice to say, GSP was in for a long night and Hendricks was, without a doubt, his toughest foe to date.
No matter how one sees it, Hendricks deserves a rematch. He finds himself in a situation much like Alexander Gustafsson, who also had a case in point for victory. Hendricks came close to finishing GSP and even had the champ on wobbly legs in another. Ultimately, though, the bout was scored against him.
Will a rematch produce the same sort of hype and ramifications? I most certainly would like to find out. And, we may very well have a new champ next around.
It has to happen.