12 July 2007

UFC 73: 'Stacked'


I shall endeavour not to get carried away with the mind-blowing stackedness of this card, despite Mike Goldberg’s grand proclamation that this is the finest card of fights ever formulated; my effort will be made retroactively easier by the actual broadcast PPV belying the paper quality of the show.

Still, viewers were treated to two title fights (a mixed blessing if ever there was one), a grudge match between two stars, the debut of an elite heavyweight fighter and even a freebie lightweight match. As a Bravo viewer, ergo one who didn’t pay PPV rates, this was actually quite the show. Not the best this year or anything (I terms of sheer thrills, that last Pride USA show is still king), but it was the finest Zuffa show in some time.

I had a very grave fear as this show approached: as big name and exciting as it ostensibly was, there was always the very real danger, with the three top matches featuring effective MMA wrestlers, of a touch of lay and pray. With two of those matches being five-rounders, that danger was profound indeed. But before we get into those, there was the little matter of a debuting Nogeira.

Antonio Rodrigo (shame on Buffer for the mispronunciation, and on Rogan for skipping the surname altogether) Nogueira is a fighter who fills me with massive concern. While he is indubitably one of the finest heavyweights this young sport has yet seen, his strategy seems to involve wading into enemy fire until he finds a way to win; this is a strategy that is visibly taking its toll on the man.

Against grapplers like Kiyoshi Tamura this was no problem, as he simply dominated them on the ground. Sadly, his career has not been filled with Tamura-level fighters, so he has endured lengthy assaults from Mirko Filipovic and Bob Sapp before finally overcoming them, not to mention the unreal ground and pound from Fedor Emelianenko, of the brutal kind there is no heroic rallying from.

This nearly came to a frightening head at UFC 73 in the closing moments of the first round of his fight with Heath Herring, a man he has twice comfortably defeated. That high kick thrown by Herring, which downed Nogueira like few shots have, seemed to be enough for Herring to steal a round Nogueira had handily won until then. Fair enough, as Heath was closer to finishing than Nogueira had been.

What the ‘Texas Crazy Horse’ will no doubt be ruing, though, is his inability to finish a clearly imperilled Nogueira, instead trying to wave the ex-Brazilian Top Team totem to his feet, thereby killing both time and his chance at a massive upset. (Indeed, Herring should have thrown caution to the wind at this stage; a win over Brad Imes will only buy so many lunches.)

With round one in the record books, and Nogueira slowly collecting his faculties, the flow of the fight ebbed irrevocably back in the favour of the former Pride FC heavyweight champion. Nogueira predictably enjoyed the best of the ground action, though it is to Herring’s credit that the Texan wasn’t as open to submissions as last time they fought, which ended with a glorious anaconda choke. By the end of the fight, Nogueira’s cleaner boxing style and majority of the offence meant he would be spared the indignity of the UFC debut loss that has haunted such names as Herring and Filipovic.

Sean Sherk is an incredible athlete. He maintains a sublime body in that it is incredibly thickly muscled but manages to avoid tiring over the five round course of a twenty-five minute fight. Joe Rogan commented that he was the epitome of a champion, an assertion with which, his hard work and high skill level accepted, I will have to disagree quite vehemently.

The main reason why I cannot agree with Sherk epitomising the MMA champion is because I see little inspiring in him, and I firmly believe a champion (certainly the epitome thereof) should be as much about inspiration as dogged perspiration. With that in mind it is hard for this fan to be inspired by a fighter who actually seems intent on working for a decision over a stoppage.

I’m not saying Sherk is lazy in the slightest, nor am I disparaging Hermes Franca. Franca, a representative of the last time UFC had a lightweight division through his battles with the likes of Caol Uno and Yves Edwards, and vanquisher of TUF 5 alumni Gabe Ruediger and Nate Diaz (I suppose Gabe isn’t technically an alumnus due to getting kicked off the show early) seemed a pretty logical opponent for Sherk. He was certainly more qualified as a lightweight than either Florian or, indeed, Sherk were when they challenged for the belt originally.

No, Sherk’s performance was near-constant domination of a very good lightweight veteran; a masterclass in technique and stamina. But for every easy takedown Sherk won, and for every time he passed Franca’s guard like a hot muscle shark through butter, I couldn’t help wondering why the stoppage neither arrived nor even looked like doing so. As outclassed as Franca was, I never actually feared for his safety of consciousness.

Sean Sherk used to be routinely referred to as a smaller Matt Hughes, but that is hard to believe. Against even top notch opponents like Penn, St. Pierre and Trigg, his wins have come inside the distance. While Sherk has the same stoppage rate at Hughes (seven out of their last ten wins), Sherk’s wins over high quality opposition – Diaz, Florian and now Franca – have been awarded by the judges. It is frustrating as a viewer to see a man so eminently skilled, so strong both of sinew and will, so unable to stop his opponents in the big show.

Rogan expressed his amazement at Sherk’s brilliance during the fight, and some writers have expressed the opinion that boredom during this last fight must be due to ignorance; there really seems to be something of the naked Emperor about Sherk. One wonders how much of this is genuine feeling, or whether it is instead an over-protesting reaction to the UFC attendees who boo ground work due to their own ignorance, or even the UFC matchmakers who reward people for clumsily trading punches in a bar brawl-style fight.

I love grappling. I am even a fan of Dean Lister, Ricardo Arona and Paolo Filho; I was bored by that match. I was bored because Sherk averaged one serious submission attempt per round, because his ground and pound was largely non-existent; I was bored because, for a man dominated, Franca made more of an active effort to finish the fight, with his knees and guillotine attempts. As technically great as Sherk is, I fear his reign may hinder the public thirst for lightweight mixed martial arts; that he is such a powerful champion renders the fear quite profound.

A champion I never fear watching is Anderson Silva. It is safe to say that after dismantling four straight opponents in the UFC, Silva has certainly arrived. I would have said that Nathan Marquardt represented Silva’s sternest Zuffa-based test yet, but then I thought Franklin would be a big test for him, before they fought.

Yes, on a card that fulfilled the promise of both Sherk-Franca and Ortiz-Evans (I’m not even going to bother with that one, other than to say I dread the rematch) bouts going the distance, I dreaded this one. Said dread was based in no small part on the Nate-Salaverry (and if Ivan has really retired, I’d like to wish him all the best, as he was one of my favourite fighters. It is rare that someone can deliver highlight reel submissions in the UFC, then blow kisses to his fans) fight that both still haunts my nightmares and got both guilty parties fired.

The ray of hope came in the vicious beating Nate gave to the tough Dean Lister, but my assumption was that Silva’s aggression would lead to the Nate of the Salaverry fight, rather than the Lister – or even the Doerksen – fight. Thankfully, both Marquardt and Silva came with fireworks in their fists, and Silva displayed the most terrifyingly accurate ground and pound bomb since ‘Shogun’ stopped Overeem at Pride 33. This fandom of Silva comes not simply from the fact that he throws bombs and pleases the great unwashed, but because he takes calculated risks in the heat of battle.

Calculated risks paid off for ‘Lights Out’ as Chris Lytle impressed against Jason Gilliam, though I am unsure to what extent a win over Gilliam should impress. The final moments of the fight were excellent, as Lytle worked two submission holds simultaneously. Though the tap was announced to be from the marvellous reverse triangle from top, it was the arm that Gilliam was gingerly moving post-match.

Lytle is a fighter I never groan about, but it is hard to say I am dying to see him fight again soon given the fact that 170 is so stacked with talent. With nothing against Lytle, i would much rather watch the imminent St. Pierre vs. Koscheck and Fitch vs. Sanchez bouts. A win or two over name competition should see ‘Lights Out’ re-ascend to a PPV position, wherein we viewers can discern what he really has left.

Less impressive was returning fellow TUF alumnus, and friend of Rich Franklin, Jorge Gurgel. Despite a fair amount of TUF hype, writing on his passion for the sport, and his ostensible talent, the Brazilian fighter is still yet to show he deserves placing among the elite in MMA. While he won a unanimous 30-27 decision, I fail to see how he won the second round over compatriot Diego Saraiva, who nailed him with numerous effective, if sloppy, punches to little riposte.

That said, Gurgel did just enough in the slower rounds one and three to secure the decision. He was a tad more consistently offensive on the feet, and delivered ground and pound that, while never particularly dramatic, logged unanswered points in a frustrated and neutralised Saraiva guard.

Though less auspiciously placed on the card than he was a couple of years ago, Stephan Bonnar attained temporary respite from the career freefall that has thus far seen consecutive losses to Rashad Evans and Forrest Griffin (the latter coming by a far clearer margin than their Finale 1 fight, and both hot on the heels of a controversial win over Keith Jardine) compounded by testing positive for horse steroid Boldenone.

While opponent Mike Nickels is far from career-saving in stature, Bonnar’s first round rear choke victory was an impressive show of grappling against a Machado purple belt. The ‘American Psycho’ has an appealing demeanour and, though he is unlikely to challenge the likes of Quinton Jackson or Mauricio Rua, his combination of second-tier skill and charming personality should stand him in good stead. Hopefully this is a sign he intends to keep his buttocks syringe-free.

In all, this was a fine card. Not the greatest PPV ever, as outlined above, but an incredibly solid card from top to bottom; it’s just a shame a couple of the marquee fights were rather damp and squibular. If this was Stacked, it seems rather a misnomer compared to the treats August promises, in the shape of Gonzaga vs. Couture and Koscheck vs. St. Pierre. The UFC seems to be on a roll – as long as they stop screwing UK audiences with TV-level cards, eh?

2 comments:

  1. Man, Cro Cop didn't actually lose his first fight -- he won in a very unspectacular fashion.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh crap, that is very true. The Gonzaga kick must have given me concussion or something. I now officially hate Eddie Sanchez.

    Damn, I hope Snowden spotted that...

    ReplyDelete

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