Wow! I bet nobody saw that coming! Definitely not the conclusion we all wanted to possibly the biggest fight of the year but this is a volatile sport we love and these things happen. Overall UFC 168 was a pretty stellar card and as always provided us with some quality fighting entertainment. Let’s take a look at each one of the night’s fights:
Estevan Payan vs. Robert Peralta
Though nothing overly spectacular this fight was a great opening to the evening’s card and set the tone nicely. This fight right here is one of the reasons we should never overlook fights between the younger, lesser known, guys trying to climb the ladder because they almost always deliver the goods. These 2 were no different and each guy did quality work with their own style. I liked Peralta’s aggression and tenacity in attempting to hurt his opponent but equally impressive was Payan’s composure and ability to stick to the game plan and not get caught up in a fire fight against a more powerful foe. As the fight wore on Payan’s more patient, measured, style began to pay dividends as he found openings more and more often. Also impressive and smart was Payan’s attempts to close out each of the 1st 2 rounds with a takedown and a nice flurry of knees to the body, judges love that kind of thing and it’s always a good idea. The 3rd round showed why it isn’t over until the fat lady (or Bruce Buffer) sings. You have to respect Peralta’s sense of urgency coming out in the final frame and going for the kill. He got it and finally made his more physical, aggressive, style pay off with the big (T) KO win. Good performance by both guys and we should see Peralta get a bigger name opponent next time out, maybe Clay Guida or Hatsu Hioki.
William Macario vs. Bobby Voelker
Another fight between a more precise, measured, fighter (Macario) taking on a rugged, physical, bruiser (Voelker) and it picked up where the previous fight left off. You could tell that after finally making it to the big show and disappointingly losing his 1st 2 UFC fights that Voelker came to make a statement. He came out hard right away and threw big shots with bad intentions. It must’ve been quite a shock for the 10+ year MMA veteran when Macario was having none of it and was consistently a step ahead of Voelker. Macario picked his punches nicely and mixed it up plenty to keep Voelker guessing. Half way into the fight with Macario firmly in charge he started to slow down considerably and showing the veteran savvy you love to see from a 3 year MMA newbie he hit and opportune takedown so he could recharge a little. That proved to be all the rest Macario needed and he resumed busting Voelker up in the 3rd round. Much props to Voelker for leaning on his experience to carry him through being beaten up and out-fought pretty handily. Some guys just made it to the UFC a few years too late to really make an impact and now at 0-3 Voelker is looking like 1 of them. Great performance by the younger Brazilian fighter William Macario, a fight with Alex Garcia could be fun.
John Howard vs. Siyar Bahadurzada
A nice welterweight fight between 2 solid fighters with a Muay Thai base, both men came out swinging. Nothing of consequence was landed by either men for the first 1.5 rounds of the fight but that didn’t stop them from trying. Both men became quite winded as the fight progressed and by the time the 3rd round came around it was clear that Howard’s overall toughness and ability to dig that much deeper was going to be the difference. Howard also had the edge in size and grappling ability and while I was actually pleasantly surprised with Siyar’s wrestling, Howard was just a little bit better and more effective in every facet of the fight. Siyar has a ton of heart and will not lie down for anyone, but the talented Afghanistan native has failed to impress since he debuted in the UFC emphatically with a brutal KO of notoriously tough Paulo Thiago. The 2 fought it out to the last second and in the end Howard came away with a decision win, his 2nd in a row since re-entering the UFC earlier this year. I hope Siyar gets another shot in the octagon against a fighter who will engage in more of a straight up kickboxing battle. As for Howard, give him Josh Koscheck or for Koscheck’s possible last fight.
Dennis Siver vs. Manny Gamburyan
I loved this matchup when it was announced and enjoyed the actual fight as much as I thought I would. The 2 brutish featherweights are very similar fighters despite their different martial arts backgrounds although both men have a grappling and striking base. Siver started in Judo and Sambo before really excelling in Taekwondo and Manny earned a black belt in Kyokushin Karate also going on to a very high level Judo career. It made for a very good fight that was equal parts physical prowess and technical ability. Siver especially has become an extremely good fighter after close to 7 year career in the UFC that has seen 3 weight classes and now every facet of his game is tight. He hit some great, lightning quick takedowns on the decorated judoka and really did well in the grappling portion of the fight. Manny also has emerged a very solid fighter and looked good in this tough fight. Siver shutting down Manny’s grappling offense and gaining more dominant positions along with his landing the harder shots earned him a clear cut but hard fought unanimous decision win. I’d love to see Siver face Nik Lentz next.
Gleison Tibau vs. Michael Johnson
Michael Johnson may be finally hitting his stride after an up and down 3 years in the UFC so far. I picked against him in his last 2 fights and both times he has impressed with 2 decisive wins against tough, veteran, fighters. Tibau surprised me by not being more effective with his usually money takedown and grappling games but Johnson deserves some credit too for doing what he had to do to avoid it. The Blackzillian camp in general got a lot of heat after a rocky start but it appears they are turning it around with Rashad Evans, Eddie Alvarez, Michael Johnson, and others really looking good lately. As for this fight, many of us thought it would be hard for Johnson to deal with the size of Tibau but his outstanding athleticism was the perfect foil. With Johnson being as good of an athlete as he is, if he continues to improve his skills he may make a nice deep run in 2014. He caught Tibau tonight by finding an opening and exploiting it perfectly with a nice stiff shot behind the ear. Great showing from the young Blackzillian fighter and I look forward to seeing him fight again, Johnson vs. Edson Barboza sounds great to me.
Urijah Hall vs. Chris Leben
It’s always tough to see guys like Leben who were instrumental to the all-important “ZUFFA boom” start to fall off, but Leben has fallen. He looked in great physical condition tonight and has made a permanent move to MMA powerhouse gym Alliance MMA, but it was not enough to reinvigorate the veteran middleweight. Leben has now lost his last 4 and 5 of his last 6 and was finished in 3 of those fights. He has been in the game since 2002 and after a long and very rocky career it may be time to seek out fights against lesser competition. Hall looked great in there tonight with much more killer instinct than we have seen in his last 2 fights combined. Hall can still be a player if he plays his cards right seeing as how he has pretty incredible skills. He scored an impressive 1st round stoppage tonight against a still tough Leben and should be matched next time out accordingly. Urijah vs. fellow TUF guy Clint Hester would be fireworks.
Dustin Poirier vs. Diego Brandao
Diego has a well-known intensity about him that has been a double edged sword thus far in his career. It makes him undeniably effective but also gets him so fired up he gets a bit wild. He has showed signs of progression in that area but tonight when he missed weight badly and screamed his way to the cage during his walk out it was not a good sign. Poirier is remarkably consistent and you can always count on his style that is a perfect blend of horsepower and technique. The fight played out accordingly with Diego going for broke early, Poirier weathering it, and taking Diego out with shorter more efficient punches. It’s back to the drawing board for Diego and another good solid win for Poirier. Dustin Poirier fighting Dennis Bermudez makes a lot of sense to me.
Jim Miller vs. Fabricio Camoes
Camoes has looked pretty good since being cut by the UFC in 2010 but has yet to show that he can hang with a fighter of Jim Miller’s caliber. Miller is incredibly reliable and always a very tough fight for anybody. Camoes came out aggressive tonight and was doing well, even reversing and trading takedowns with the wrestling savvy Miller. Miller’s well roundedness was too much for the Brazilian though and once Camoes was on top and Miller started working his guard game the finish was just a formality. Another good win for the New Jersey native Jim Miller, now put him in there with the streaking Bobby Green, and soon.
Travis Browne vs. Josh Barnett
Browne came out full of confidence in this fight and after winning 7 of 9 UFC fights we can understand why. After he clinched up with the reliably awesome Barnett though you could see that he was not expecting Barnett to be as strong as he is. Browne kept cool though and when Barnett shot and re-shot for the double leg Browne went to work with those nasty elbows that are becoming something of a trademark of his. He finished Barnett in brutal fashion which is a huge statement. Barnett has not been finished since 2006 and has faced quite a few tough guys since then. That’s the way it goes though at the highest levels of this unforgiving sport and it will be interesting to see if Barnett can resume his consistency going forward. Browne appears to be in his fighting prime right now and could make a run at the title if he keeps improving at the rate he currently is. Browne vs. Dos Santos sounds like the perfect next step.
Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate
Tate was plenty cool, calm, and collected in the lead up to this fight which was a bit surprising considering how she was beat handily in the first fight between the two. She showed up tonight and made a hell of a fight out of tonight’s contest though and forced the champ into the 2nd round for the first time ever. I have to say though, what on earth was Tate thinking shooting those few takedown attempts at Rousey? She did not come close either time and was doing better on the feet. Each fighter surprised with Ronda doing better than expected in the striking and Miesha getting a few good positions on the ground. Ronda is just too damn good a grappler though and won the fight handily with another trademark armbar. A fight against fellow world class grappler Sara McMann should most definitely be next for Rousey.
Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva
First things first, even though we did not get the definitive conclusion we hoped for we did see quite clearly that Chris Weidman is the better of the 2 fighters. The champ came out looking calm and went right to work scoring a nice single leg takedown in the 1st round. Weidman then proceeded to drop the former middleweight number 1 with a well-placed right hand from the clinch. He was close to another 1st round finish but Silva recovered and hung tough. In the 2nd round just as it became clear that Weidman was very well prepared to deal with Silva’s leg kicks, he checked another beautifully and Silva was down in pain. Breaking his tibia and/or fibula, Silva was done and Weidman cemented himself as the clear cut UFC 185 lb. champion. It would be great to see Silva comeback eventually (Cory Hill still fights) and go out in a way the greatest of all time deserves. Weidman has another tall task ahead of him in the form of the best version of Vitor Belfort we have ever seen and it should be awesome.