Rick “The Horror” Story vs. Brian Ebersole

As soon as this fight was announced for UFC 167 I remember thinking it was another battle in the ongoing war between brains and brawn. I also remember thinking that facing Rick Story after over a year off was a tall task, but nowadays there are no easy fights in the UFC so its sink or swim for every last man and women. Story’s violent brand of MMA was immediately visible in this one, as was Ebersole’s craftiness. The clash of styles actually made for a very entertaining fight.

As predicted Ebersole looked somewhat rusty coming into this fight after over a year off. Ebersole also looked to be quite smaller than Story and with his talk of dropping to 155 it may not be a bad idea, either that or Rick Story has been hitting the weights hard. Story implemented his game plan from the jump and it quickly became clear what that strategy was, power punches to the head and body with enough leg kicks and takedown feints mixed in to keep Ebersole guessing. In other words it was textbook Rick Story. Story reminded us all what he was capable of and what it was that won him 6 straight a couple years ago including wins over 2 men who challenged GSP for the belt. Ebersole hang tough throughout though and should be commended for being a game, if somewhat outmatched, opponent. Ebersole seemed to be trying to get inside Story’s head a little by mocking his punching power but when Ebersole got rattled big time by a few shots to the head it was clear that it wasn’t happening. Story just kept his hands up and his chin tucked and went to work. Ebersole had more success standing as the fight went on landing his jab regularly and it was impressive that he kept his composure and was able to recover from those big left hands.

But In the end Story’s physicality was just too much and he just wore Ebersole down. Outstanding performance by Rick Story tonight, he stuck to a brutal game plan to thoroughly beat down a tough veteran opponent and get the unanimous decision win. There has been rumors of some friction coming out of Story’s gym Brave Legion and with the way Story looked after spending a good chunk of this fight camp up at TriStar with GSP and Firaz, I’d be kinda shocked if Story wasn’t the next in a long list of fighters to spend more time up in Montreal.

Ed “Short Fuse” Herman vs. Thales Leites

Leites came out aggressive and unsurprisingly looked to engage in a grappling battle asap. He wasn’t looking desperate on the feet but it was clear that he was using his strikes as a means to get the fight to the floor. It seems Leites has used his time away from the UFC to reaffirm to himself what it was that got him to the big show in the first place, and that is commendable. In Leites’ first UFC run he was still an outstanding grappler but whenever he faced an opponent he couldn’t have his way with it was easier than it should’ve been to coax him into a brawl. Since returning to the UFC though I like the way Thales has stuck to his plan.

This fight was all Thales Leites. He dictated the pace and location of the contest, he dominated in getting the fight down, he dominated positionally while down there, and he even dominated Herman’s bread n butter position, the clinch and dirty boxing exchanges. It was clear that Short Fuse knows how to fight and is a solid grappler in his own right, but he was at least a level or 2 below the BJJ black belt. After so many years in the UFC it seems Herman has peaked and plateaued as a fighter. He had that nice 3 fight run post knee injury but it was against the lower level UFC 185ers. He may be able to stick around for a while longer being a TUF finalist from the beginning of the ZUFFA boom but it will be an uphill battle. Either way, Leites looked great for the 2nd consecutive time in his recent UFC run.

Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone vs. Evan Dunham

When I first saw Dunham in the cage tonight I began to wonder if I had made the right call in picking Cerrone. Dunham looked a good deal more muscular and I felt the extra horsepower would compliment his game nicely. The fight started off with a bang, both guys aggressive and trying to establish some dominance over the other. It didn’t take too long however for Cerrone to take charge and pull ahead with his usual sharp, crisp, aggressive striking. The 2 traded blows for the rest of the round with a slight edge for Cowboy until Cowboy nailed Dunham with a nice hard knee that dropped Dunham whom Cowboy stayed on trying to finish him with strikes from on top. Dunham survived, regained top position, only to have to defend a triangle choke attempt from Cowboy. The round ended with both fighters on their feet. Round 2 brings more of the same but with Dunham getting the upper hand with strikes. A knee leads to a Cerrone takedown which leads to an escape from Dunham to top position. Dunham tries to attack from top but Cerrone’s crafty guard is too dangerous and he locks up a fight ending triangle choke. Another good fight between two guys who have many similarities in skill and career patterns.

I do think Dunham coming into this fight with a bit more muscle was a good move, assuming it was by design. For a guy who has always been more of a technical fighter the added strength will only benefit him. I expect he will get another shot in the UFC. Cerrone is simply a ton of fun to watch. Its because of guys like him that we have completely forgotten that when the WEC folded there was much doubt that the guys moving into the UFC would make an impact. It seems laughable now considering what Benson, Condit, Pettis, and Cerrone have done. Cerrone has talked of a move down to 145 which I think is a huge mistake. He is a big guy, not much smaller than GSP and has been used as a mimic for former GSP opponents as a matter of fact. Even if he can make the cut without killing himself, there has been few examples to demonstrate cutting another 10 lbs to be worth it.

Tim Elliott vs. Ali Bagautinov

With so many big names on this card it came as a surprise to some to see these two relatively unknown fighters kick off the main card. Hopefully that skepticism was knocked down a peg or two by these two awesome 125 lb. dynamos. I liked Elliott’s attitude and gamesmanship coming up to this fight and I felt the Dagestan native would continue to impress with his vast physical genius. That was pretty much the story of the entire fight, Elliott daring Bagautinov to hurt him and the Russian obliging him. Tim Elliott is tough as nails and will likely develop into quite the fighter in the coming months and years but I cant help but feel he had the wrong approach to this fight. Bagautinov made Elliott pay for each taunt and lapse in judgement that the American presented and frankly Elliott is lucky he made it out of the fight relatively unscathed. Bagautinov was the clear winner of this fight for almost the entire contest and did not disappoint his fellow Russian UFC fighters by ending this collective hot streak they have going.

It was very interesting to see the clash of the two different wrestling backgrounds going at it in this fight. Seeing Bagautinov hit the more brutish takedowns from the standing position and seeing the nice scrambling from Elliott that one would expect from a practitioner of the American folk style of wrestling was awesome. I expect Elliott to have a fine MMA career going forward and will no doubt accomplish his goal of racking up bonus money. As for Bagautinov, I was big on him before this fight and I am big on him now. His martial arts base is too big and too varied to be ignored and he will make a great addition to the growing contingent of Russian fighters at the highest levels of MMA. Where we used to have Semenov, Sulouev, and Chalangov, we now have Khabilov, Nurmagomedov, and Bagautinov, and it will be fun to watch.

Josh Koscheck vs. Tyron Woodley

The similarities between these two fighters did not escape me in the lead up to this fight. Great wrestling, physically strong as bulls, heavy hands, and athleticism for days, I could go on and on. The variables that created some uncertainty with regards to picking a winner were Koscheck’s age, desire/hunger, and Woodley’s inconsistency in the cage. As it turns out the fight that played out between the two was as simple as it gets. Woodley’s punching power was impressive and it was tough to see such a previously top ranked savage of a fighter in Koscheck get beat so badly. I will say that I didn’t expect Koscheck to survive the first series of right hands and when he did I started to let go of all doubt about Koscheck’s current ability to take a punch. But what soon followed was another set of right hands from Woodley that were even more brutal.

Koscheck got his second straight KO loss and it will probably take another, longer, fight to truly gauge what he has left. But man is Woodley a beast! He is a physical specimen of the highest order and at UFC 167 he made good on much of his potential. He was an absolute stud on top and his top control was at a level that you do not see often, Koscheck was going nowhere under that dude. It will be interesting to see where each guy goes from here, Woodley should get a bigger fight and Koscheck should probably get a Nate Marquardt or another fighter with a similar history.

Robbie “Ruthless” Lawler vs. Rory “Ares” MacDonald

As good as Lawler has looked since returning to the UFC I had my doubts as to how he would fare against the younger MacDonald. MacDonald is just so damn good at everything and while Lawler has certainly expanded his skills, he is cut from a different cloth. It was a close fight and some may not agree with the decision but it is now official, Robbie Lawler is back in a major way. Both men had their moments in the cage in ways that would be expected, Rory with his length, his jab, his takedowns, and ground control. And Lawler with his punches, takedown and clinch defense, and physical strength.

A great win for Robbie, and one that should be evident in the way he is booked going forward. The time is now for Lawler to make a run at the top, he has been in the game for over a decade and he aint getting any younger. We now know that Lawler’s revamped, new, and improved version of the game that he’s always had is still good enough to not only hang with the top guys but beat them, and that is a huge statement. Rory will be fine, its not like he took a serious beating and with GSP not completely out of the picture for good it may help to clear a path for some emerging contenders now that Rory has lost again.

Rashad “Sugar” Evans vs. Chael P. Sonnen

I’ll be honest, Chael disappointed tonight big time. I had an idea of how things would go at the weigh in when Rashad showed up looking physically better than he has in some time and Chael looked flat and dull. Difficult weight cuts aside there is something to be said for the swagger that a fighter has leading up to a fight and it was written all over Rashad. In the actual fight Chael had nothing for Rashad. Rashad easily stuffed Chael’s famous double leg and controlled Chael in the clinch which was surprising considering the decorated greco roman wrestling career that Chael had. Things got no better for Chael when the fight hit the floor and Rashad quickly gained dominant position and pounded out an over matched Chael for the impressive win.

I doubted Rashad’s ability to regain his former fighting prowess after he put in a few uninspired performances, I was wrong. Rashad made it clear he can still put in some quality work and I look forward to seeing him face more top guys. Chael on the other hand could’ve possibly had an injury, bad weight cut, or simply an off night and I’m not prepared to write him off in either of his 2 divisions just yet. 185 or 205, Chael should go where ever he gets the more favorable match ups even though im sure he’d never admit doing that.

Georges “Rush” St-Pierre vs. Johny “Big Rig” Hendricks

This fight had a huge amount of intrigue attached to it and for good reason. Hendricks is a beastly wrestler who can match GSP’s wrestling and exceed his power. It didn’t take long for GSP to get going establishing a nice rhythm and setting the tempo of the match. Hendricks was unfazed and proceeded to get his own attack in motion with nice counter punching and takedown attempts. It was GSP who drew first blood with a nice double leg but Johny got up, each fighter would land and counter each others takedowns throughout the fight that was mainly decided on the feet.

As expected, Hendricks gave GSP a taste of his power and had the champion hurt but GSP recovered nicely. Before long it became clear that GSP was working hard to avoid prolonged punching exchanges in Johny’s danger zone and he did a good job of this as the fight wore on. GSP landed very nice strike combinations during the fight and although he was bloodied up a bit by the challenger he avoided getting seriously hurt again for the rest of the fight. After Hendricks ate a few of GSP’s best shots without a problem he lost all respect for the champions power, this was a big statement. Where Johny failed was in capitalizing on this, he didn’t increase his attacks in frequency or intensity later in the fight, if anything he started to counter more. Meanwhile GSP stayed busy and offensive throughout.

This is why I believe got GSP the nod from the judges and kept him the belt. A good mount of judges still believe you have to beat the champ decisively to take his belt, in a fight as close as this one was i’d have to agree. I don’t know if Johny had his conditioning in mind or chose to play the patience game, but he lost a big opportunity by not being more aggressive for longer periods of time in pursuit of the finish. It was a close fight, and a good win for the champ in the eyes of this writer and neither man deserves anything but praise. Going forward we will have to see what happens with GSP and his belt but regardless of what he does we can be sure Hendricks will not be far from that belt for a long time to come.