UFC Fight Night 26 was a fight card that was hyped as one of the most stacked ever, but it didn’t feel that way going into last Saturday night. The main and co-main events were fights where 75 percent of the combatants were coming off losses, so it was difficult to buy into what was being served up by the promoter.
But the tone quickly changed once the prelims started.
With seven finishes (three submissions and four knockouts), UFC Fight Night 26 lived up to the hype and changed fortunes for several competitors involved.
Chael Sonnen is still a formidable middleweight
Yes, he talks a lot. Yes, he has a pro wrestling schtick that’s getting tiresome a lot of people. And yes, he was brutally beaten up in his previous two fights. But Chael Sonnen, a middleweight, took a fight to a guy many consider a top 10 light heavyweight and dominated him from beginning to end, submitting Shogun Rua in the first round. And it’s not as though he got lucky doing it.
Sonnen recently moved to Southern California after the gym that he had been training at in Oregon closed up shop. With the move came a new home and team in Reign Training Center, led by fellow middleweight contender Mark Munoz. More times than not, a major geographical move like that would be a distraction in preparing to feature in the main event of a UFC card. But, evidently, this wasn’t the case for the “American Gangster.”
Sonnen implemented his game plan, shooting in for a classic takedown as soon as the fight began, neutralizing any offense Rua had in mind. And once the takedown occurred, Sonnen let the former Pride Grand Prix winner have it with 58 strikes landed. That’s a steep comparison to what Rua landed with nine, according to FightMetric.com.
Shogun, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, is no slouch on the ground, so it’s perplexing to wonder why — beyond being exhausted from defending himself on the ground — the fighter would give up his head for an obvious guillotine. Regardless of why, Sonnen took full advantage and finished the fight at 4:47 of the opening frame.
Sonnen has fought at light heavyweight before, but UFC fans are used to seeing him fight one division below at 185 pounds. His recent UFC stretch at middleweight has him losing to Anderson Silva (twice), with his only other loss in the division to Demian Maia, who isn’t even a middleweight anymore. Nate Marquardt, Yushin Okami, Brian Stann and Michael Bisping all tried to top Sonnen, but none had their hands raised at the end of their matches with him. With a run like that, it’s difficult to say this man is done at 185 pounds. The Shogun win just puts the icing on the cake.
And now Sonnen wants to take care of business with Wanderlei Silva, calling out “The Axe Murderer” during his post-fight interview, as seen in the video below.
“Wanderlei Silva, in three months: you and the bad guy,” Sonnen so eloquently said.
And while a fight with Silva sounds appealing, given the history the two have that started with a car ride wherein Sonnen gets threatened to have his teeth knocked out, there’s another middleweight that wants a piece.
Vitor Belfort has shot down every fight offer the UFC has given him since beating Luke Rockhold earlier this year, but Sonnen’s performance may have woken up the “old lion.” Belfort wants Sonnen, and if you follow me on Twitter you’ll know I’m OK with this.
Sonnen is ranked No. 9 in the UFC rankings, but I don’t see a problem with a No. 1-contender fight between him and Belfort. Rankings are, after all, next to meaningless these days in UFC matchmaking involving Sonnen.
Alistair Overeem has lost his luster; beware of Travis Browne
Once upon a time, Alistair Overeem was a big, scary man that anyone above 206 pounds feared when staring at him from across a ring or cage. “The Reem” toppled opponents outside of the Octagon, earning championship belts in DREAM, Strikeforce, and even a kickboxing title in K-1. Impressive.
With accolades galore and a reputation for being the most dangerous striker in the heavyweight division, Overeem came to the UFC in 2011 with a promise that he’ll add to his collection of gold belts by first decimating Brock Lesnar (which he did, to his credit) followed by then-champion Junior dos Santos. Sounds great and all, but Overeem’s talk and muscular physique were the only things big about his UFC performances.
Overeem was knocked out by Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva at UFC 156, then met Travis Browne’s front kick before being knocked out last Saturday. As a result, the once-most-feared heavyweight is on a two-fight losing streak and the aura of Overeem has dwindled down from a solar flare into a faint glimmer with questionable endurance and a suspect chin.
With the loss, Overeem’s chances of collecting that coveted UFC heavyweight belt are further away than when he was beating up tomato cans in DREAM. It’s a shame, really, because the thought of Overeem being the No. 1 contender made MMA fans shake with excitement in early 2012.
Now, it will likely never happen. What a letdown.
If there’s anything else that can be taken away from UFC Fight Night’s co-main event, it’s that Browne deserves all the credit in the world for surviving an early first-round onslaught that could have been stopped by the referee in any other fight. For a moment, it looked as though Overeem was about to get a technical-knockout win by landing several knees to Browne’s body and hammering down punches while the fighter crouched over, covering his head.
To the surprise of many, Browne got up. And sure enough, Overeem gassed out.
Browne then applied several front kicks before landing one square on his opponent’s chin, sending the mammoth Overeem to the canvas for the last time in the fight. Two hammer fists later, it was all over.
The win brings Browne to a 6-1-1 record in the UFC, the only loss being a TKO at the hands of “Bigfoot.” One has to ask: If Browne hadn’t injured his knee during the Silva fight, would the outcome be the same? It’ll be interesting to see what would happen if the two are pitted in a rematch with a healthy Travis Browne and a “Bigfoot” needing a win to avoid two losses in a row. Surely, a win for Browne would put him right up there into talk of title contention, while a loss for Silva could possibly mean a trip to Bellator.
After last Saturday, maybe Silva would meet Overeem there.
Conor McGregor is featherweight’s cash cow
So this Conor McGregor kid is pretty good, huh?
With his win over Max Holloway, McGregor further set his place in the UFC’s 145-pound division — as if being a prelim fighter getting his own pre-fight media workout wasn’t enough of an indication. The Irishman displayed an array of striking techniques for people to marvel at, outpointing Holloway for the duration of three rounds, even earning a 10-8 score on one of the judges’ scorecards.
Saturday was nothing less than a dominant performance for McGregor, and as great as it was it panned out to be the first decision win of his career. While some might scoff at the win, complaining that anything less than a knockout or submission is a disappointment, few take into consideration that McGregor went 15 minutes without looking like he was running low on energy.
The guy has stamina, no question.
If the new kid on the block keeps making hits like he did in Boston (yes, that was a NKOTB reference for those wondering) on Saturday, he’ll soon find himself in consideration for a shot at division champ Jose Aldo. There’s no doubt that a striking exchange between the two would be fun to watch. If McGregor’s stamina can last him for five rounds, there’s a good chance he can lay more shots on a weary Aldo, whose championship-round stamina has been questioned in the past.
After two fights in the UFC, McGregor is a shooting star that doesn’t look like it’s burning out any time soon. Skills, confidence and a huge following are all things that McGregor possesses and can help the UFC’s 145-pound division gain some steam against their heavier colleagues.
More Irishman, please.
“The Guard Past” is a post-fight column by GRACIEMAG Assistant Editor Erik Fontanez.