UFC 95

I have started a lot of these UFC write-ups without finishing them. So I will try to keep this relatively brief in the hope that it will actually get finished and stuck on the blog. This was a British show, in whose suitably unimpressive main event lightweight debutant Diego Sanchez bested perennial plucky loser Joe Stevenson. But before I talk about that, there were some other fights!

Oddly enough – maybe I’ve been sleeping on the UK scene – British fighters won more fights than I’m used to. High on the bill was Nottingham punk Dan Hardy, who beat Rory Markham quite comfortably in a kickboxing match.

This was quite satisfying, actually. They were playing up the whole ‘UK vs. America’ combative fiction and, while I generally loathe jingoism dressed up as patriotism, I hate Markham’s face even more. He looked like a constipated cross between Matt Hughes and Sid Justice, and wore some god-awful Tapout-branded stars-and-stripes t-shirt.

I’m sure that he’ll have been fighting for Gawd and the troops, too, so I’m happy Hardy’s win spared me that speech, if nothing else. For his part, though Hardy was guilty of banging on about how Britain is always in his heart, he was also charismatic, and seemed handy enough. Good for him, that’s what I say.

Another, less charismatic, Brit was Terry Etim. He was on the prelims, but I can see him featuring on the upper reaches of future UK cards after he made quick work of Brian Cobb, replacing the staphed-up Justin Buchholz. I’m not going to lie to you, a lot of the fights last night blended into one in my memory, with their brevity and knock-outs.

This one was right at the start of the second round, though, as Etim pegged Cobb right in the jaw with a roundhouse toe, before sticking a couple of punches in on the floor. Etim’s lanky build is made for that kind of win and, as long as he doesn’t come up against any particularly strong wrestlers, he should be fine. The ground and pound was perfunctory, but at least avoided the cries of ‘early stoppage’.

Such cries were all over the first televised match, in which welterweight hottie (you were all thinking it) Josh Koscheck was knocked out by otherwise unheralded Paulo Thiago. Pre-fight, Koscheck emphasised that if he is to convince as a title challenger, he certainly has to beat ‘this guy’.

For most of the fight’s three minute life, he was doing that. Thiago, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist, had no way of getting the superior wrestler to the ground, and Koscheck was happy out-striking him. Commentator Joe Rogan mentioned that the Brazilian was going to have to tighten his game when Koscheck, committed to a lunging punch, missed. Thiago capitalised with a short uppercut that floored the American.

Thiago rushed in to finish the fight with strikes on the floor, but the referee waved him off. Koscheck complained. Well he would, wouldn’t he. Josh argued that he was perfectly compos mentis, which he may well have been at that point. When the ref stopped the fight, though, he had been dropped and was limply flailing like a lobster left upside down on the surface of the moon.

More than that, Koscheck has only won three of his last six matches. The loss to GSP was fair enough: everyone loses to GSP nowadays. I hadn’t seen the Thiago Alves fight (or UFC 90 at all), but Kos lost a decision there. Again, that’s sorta understandable, and nothing to necessarily keep a fighter out of the top five.

Getting floored by a skinny BJJ specialist, though, is exactly the kind of loss Koscheck doesn’t need right now. If he was in line for a title shot, he has now been shunted to the back. On a personal level, Koscheck is one of the few American wrestlers that I particularly like, so I hope this loss doesn’t send him flying off the roster.

Another BJJ expert brought the pain on the next match, though in more traditional – and impressive – fashion. Demian Maia faced off against veteran Team Quest member Chael Sonnen for middleweight bragging rights. I don’t like Sonnen. I should, but I love Paolo Filho, and I can’t like anyone who feuds with Filho. Especially when he took Filho’s undefeated status away. Especially when I got told about it without even getting to see the show.

So I was concerned about this one, as Sonnen is a very good fighter from one of the historically great MMA camps (whose alumni/heads have included Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Matt Lindland and Evan Tanner). A good wrestler with strong striking, he’s a tough combination for anyone at the weight.

Maia, though, is no fool. He also has a history of beating Team Quest members. He has bested Ed Herman and Nate Quarry, as well as erstwhile TQ-killer Jason MacDonald. He choked them all out, too, earning submission-of-the-night honours for all bar the Quarry.

The fight was tense through its brief duration, each competitor respecting the skills of the other. Only halfway through the opening round, Maia under-hooked Sonnen’s arms, falling backward before flipping on top of Sonnen. As he landed in mount, Maia already trapped an arm: a triangle in reverse.

From here, Maia allowed Sonnen to roll on top, as the Brazilian closed up a perfect triangle choke. Sonnen had nowhere to go, Maia pulled the head down, and the tap was forthcoming. It was not just a win for the good guys, but an island of beautiful grappling in the UFC mire of messy striking.

Nate Marquardt is another really good fighter I don’t like. I’m not even sure why. Perhaps it’s because of the beating he gave Dean Lister, one of my favourites, two years ago. Old grudges die hard. A painfully effective wrestler with good strikes and sub defence, he is perfect for hammering out ground and pound stoppages. (Apart from when he’s on the receiving end, natch.)

His opponent, Wilson Gouveia, decided that Nate was good at lots of things, but ‘great at nothing’. That did Gouveia little good. After a tight first round, Marquardt began to tire out the Brazilian. He was out-striking, defending any submission attempts that came, and scoring gradual, sapping, damage.

Late in the final round, with Gouveia sucking in air, Marquardt went for the kill in a fashion I haven’t seen from him since the destruction of Lister. While many of his strikes missed, the combination of punches, spinning backfists and knees brought the fight to a dramatic end.

Judging by the Maia and Marquardt performances, their styles of fighting, and the opponents they vanquished on this card, the two seem destined to meet in the summer. The winner will take on seemingly unstoppable Anderson Silva, if he gets past… Thales Leites? While I would want Maia to tap Marquardt out in their theoretical match, I sadly foresee the American holding Maia down and pounding him out.

Diego Sanchez is an intriguing character. Winner at middleweight of the first Ultimate Fighter contest, he was debuting in London at 155lbs. He came out to ‘We Will Rock You’, while shouting ‘YES!’ every few seconds. It was hilarious and slightly scary. He has a history of swarming his opponents and battering them, though was getting increasingly found out at welterweight.

His opponent, Joe ‘Daddy’ Stevenson, apart from bearing one of the stupidest ring-names on the planet, was also a little terror. Good at wrestling, he would pound away until a chance for a guillotine choke reared its head. Har.

He challenged the mighty BJ Penn for the belt in January 2008. Penn, as he does to other lightweights, demolished Stevenson. While Joe seemed to wither instantly under a storm of punches, he actually ended up lasting four minutes before Penn choked him from behind.

This past November, Stevenson again lost in dramatic fashion. I must have seen his fight against lightweight terror Kenny Florian, but I don’t particularly remember it. Stevenson does, though, as it apparently led to a re-evaluation of his life and work ethic. Heavy stuff.

I have repressed the events of this alleged (by the UFC) ‘fight of the night’. They do like their FOTNs to go to decision, don’t they. Quite why this was better than, well, anything else on the card is beyond me. Joe Rogan, while commentating, perfectly articulated what it was about.

Stevenson was boxing Sanchez and, I might add, in mediocre fashion. Sanchez, meanwhile, was doing just enough to win. Peppering Stevenson with slightly more varied strikes, and sufficiently reputed a wrestler as to discourage takedown attempts, the fight was Sanchez’ to lose. Seems he learned something from his decision loss to Josh Koscheck at UFC 69.

This continued for fifteen minutes. The judges decided that Sanchez won. They were correct. I woke up. Sanchez congratulated Stevenson on his ‘improved stand-up’, which must be carny for ‘you were crap, but as winner, I have the luxury of tossing an empty compliment your way’. This was boring, mediocre stuff, and I cannot wait for them both to lose in their next matches.

I would imagine Sanchez will have a rematch with Florian, which should result in swift, bloody vengeance for K-Flo, who lost that inaugural TUF finale. Stevenson, if still employed, can face – and lose to – any of the impressive lightweight division. I was going to suggest Sean Sherk, but I wouldn’t want to put myself through the ordeal of watching that fifteen-minute dry-hump.

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