Two UFC debutants here. Okami was one of the more interesting signings of the year for UFC, one of a number of Japanese fighters Zuffa bought in, and probably the best one too, sporting a record of 16-3 at this point with his only recent loss being a controversial decision to Jake Shields. He was actually scheduled to fight David Terrell here, but the Soul Assassin pulled out with a bad sinus infection, and Belcher, sporting one of the best nicknames I’ve heard in a long time – ‘The Talent’ – stepped in on short notice.
They get underway, and Belcher immediately presses forward looking to strike, but neither man lands anything of note for the first few moments, until Okami catches him with a nice uppercut coming in. Belcher continues to press forward though, not landing anything major, but he does manage to cut Okami just below the eye with a glancing blow. Okami misses on a takedown attempt and they exchange some punches before Belcher misses a high kick. Belcher keeps coming forward, but Okami gets a clinch and a takedown to guard. Belcher pushes off with his feet on Okami’s hips and almost escapes, but Okami keeps him down and then passes into half-guard. He works to mount, but Belcher scrambles free, only for Okami to land a shot from above as he stands. Belcher presses forward again as Okami retreats, but this time Okami lands a good straight left as Belcher steps in to end the round.
Into the 2nd, and Belcher continues to press the action as both men land good leg kicks. Okami avoids a superman punch, and then shoots in, but Belcher sprawls to avoid the takedown. Belcher comes forward flurrying as Okami continues to retreat, but this time he ends up backed against the fence and Belcher comes in with a nice flying knee into a clinch, only for Okami to trip him to the mat in half-guard. Okami works his way into side mount, and lands some elbows downwards, but Belcher pushes off the fence and rolls free to his feet! Nice escape there. Belcher comes forward again, but Okami shoots in and gets a takedown to half-guard and passes quickly to mount again. Belcher gets half-guard back though, and manages to survive without taking any real damage to end the round.
Third and final round, and Okami lands an uppercut into a clinch to open. Belcher looks for a throw, but Okami blocks and gets a takedown to guard near the fence. Belcher tries to scramble and stand, but gives his back in the process and Okami gets both hooks in. Belcher stands up and tries to shake him off, but Okami gets a body triangle and looks to work for the choke. Belcher lands some elbows to the thighs and works wrist control, and then suddenly steps forward and PULLS A FRONT FLIP WITH OKAMI ON HIS BACK!~! Somehow Okami not only survives with his neck intact, but still has Belcher’s back as the Talent pumps his fist, popping the crowd. Moments later Belcher works free into Okami’s guard, where the Japanese looks for a kimura. Belcher works into half-guard, but the kimura’s still there, until Belcher manages to get clear into side mount and stands up. Okami joins him and Belcher presses forward again, avoiding a takedown, but walks into a hard straight left before they clinch. Okami gets a takedown to guard, and chops away in the guard to end the round and the fight.
We go to the judges, and Okami picks up the unanimous decision, 30-27, 30-27, 29-28. That was actually a bit of a weird fight as Okami clearly won every round and controlled Belcher for the most part, but it was actually Belcher who pressed the action more, with Okami retreating, and all the highlight moments (flying knee, the front flip) belonged to Belcher. Still, a clear win for Okami in a fight that outside of those moments wasn’t exactly the most engaging.
These were another pair of debutants, albeit a little less known than either Okami or Belcher for that matter too. Both were carrying unbeaten records though – Heath at 8-0, Walmsley at 10-0, so something had to give. Rogan claims Heath wants it standing, while Walmsley’s more of a mat guy.
We begin and Walmsley charges right in out of the gate with a big right hand into a clinch, but Heath shakes it off and then gets a trip to half-guard. Walmsley works into full guard, but Heath works from the top, moving him to the fence and attempting to use a neck crank to open up Cory’s guard. Heath lands some elbows, and then Walmsley tries to scramble to his feet, but as he does Heath spins over to his back in a beautiful manoeuvre and pulls him down with both hooks in. Heath works for the rear naked choke, and even though it looks like it’s not fully under Walmsley’s chin, Heath pulls the arm across and Cory taps out there.
That was an impressive debut from Heath, but it’s difficult to gauge exactly where he stands in the bigger picture, simply because his opponent wasn’t really a proven commodity at the top level either.
Both of these guys were coming off losses in their UFC debuts, to Keith Jardine and Mike Nickels respectively. Looking back at this card, with all the debutants and fighters coming off losses, it’s easy to see why it was so widely criticised.
They circle to open and exchange leg kicks, with Gouveia clearly getting the better of the exchange, marking up the inside of Combs’s leg with a nasty welt. Gouveia lands a nice right hand too, and then follows with a combo and a double leg to half-guard. He wastes no time, passing into side mount quickly, and Combs tries to stop him there by holding a headlock. Gouveia’s clearly in no danger and works free, and from there he takes Combs’s back, landing some punches before hooking a rear naked choke for the tapout.
Gouveia looked pretty good there, but then he looked pretty good in the opening round against Jardine too, so it’s impossible to tell whether he’s sorted his problems (mainly conditioning) from that fight. Still, I’d like to see him back. Combs though looked totally out of his depth, which is somewhat unsurprising considering Mike Nickels supposedly clowned him too, so I doubt we’ll see him back in UFC any time soon.
TUF II alumnus MacDonald was coming off a win over a fellow TUF fighter in Kristian Rothaermel, while Schafer was another UFC debutant, a ground-oriented fighter from Milwaukee, using the amusing nickname of ‘Ravishing Red’. He’s got BJJ trainer Henry Matamoros in his corner, looking more like a roadie for a heavy metal band with 80’s style poodle hair.
Schafer opens up with some good leg kicks, before MacDonald catches one and looks to lift him in the air for a slam. He leaves his neck exposed though and Schafer grabs it for a guillotine attempt, but then drops back down to the clinch to avoid the inevitable slam. MacDonald tries a takedown, but Schafer reverses as they hit the mat and ends up on top in guard. MacDonald basically gives him half-guard, moving his leg out from around Schafer, and Eric naturally uses the position to pass into an easy full mount. MacDonald gives his back, so Schafer goes for a rear naked choke, and then transitions into a TIGHT arm triangle choke as MacDonald tries to roll, choking him completely unconscious before the referee steps in.
Schafer looked very, very skilled on the mat there and the submission finish was beautiful, but you’ve got to question MacDonald’s defences I think, as he basically handed Schafer the mount position in a gift-wrapped package. Still, Schafer showed no jitters over being in the UFC for the first time and definitely looked to be a talented fighter.
The first televised fight of the show saw Franca, who was coming off a successful UFC return on the previous show with a win over Joe Jordan, taking on newcomer Jamie Varner, who was sporting a 11-0 record. Rogan explains that he’s got a solid background in both wrestling and boxing, and describes him as a “baaaad character”, so hey, I’m interested.
Varner circles to open, looking to impose a jab as Franca lands a couple of low kicks. Varner changes tactic, and shoots in for a single leg, getting a takedown to guard where he avoids an attempted guillotine choke. He stands and drops some chopping punches down into the guard, mainly deflected by Franca, before standing and kicking at the legs. Back into Franca’s guard, but he stands to avoid an armbar attempt and then avoids a reversal, and they come back to their feet again. They circle and exchange some strikes, before Varner shoots in for a takedown again. Franca ends up on top, but a quick reversal later and Varner’s back in Franca’s guard. Franca avoids his attempts at ground-and-pound though, so Varner stands and Franca follows, and they circle, with Franca landing a couple of kicks to end the round.
2nd round begins with Varner catching a kick and getting a takedown to guard, but again, Franca deflects most of the punches that Varner sends down onto him. They go back to their feet, but Varner gets another takedown, this time taking Franca’s back. Hermes gets the kimura from the waistlock ala Sakuraba, so Varner escapes and ends up back in Franca’s guard again. He blocks more punches, as Varner stays busy, but can’t seem to do any damage, and they end up being stood back on their feet. Varner immediately takes him back down, and this time works his way into full mount, only for Franca to roll him before he can get on the offensive. Franca lands some punches, and then tries to climb up him for the mounted triangle he got on Jordan, but Varner lifts him up and TOSSES HIM DOWN! Nice move there. Franca avoids a takedown, but a second attempt is successful, and Varner puts him on his back again to end the round.
Announcers both have Varner up 2 rounds to 0, despite him not doing any real damage thus far. Third round begins though, and he’s clearly tired, as Franca begins to press forward while Varner goes on the retreat somewhat. Varner shoots and gets a takedown, but this time he’s not got the energy to hold Franca down, and he pops right up immediately. Varner shoots in again, but this time he eats a BIG KNEE from Franca who avoids the takedown, and now Varner looks wobbly! He tries another takedown, but Franca avoids it and begins to tee off with punches, and this causes Varner to RUN ACROSS THE OCTAGON, angering the crowd. Before Franca can close in though, Big John McCarthy steps in and calls time. The fuck? He tells the judges to take a point from Varner for running, but that’s a bad, bad call as it’s giving Varner time to recover, and Franca clearly had him on the ropes.
They replace Varner’s mouthpiece – giving him even more recovery time – before finally restarting. Franca clearly realizes he needs to stop Varner at this point, and charges right in with a BIG KNEE, landing a flurry to follow as Varner looks in trouble again. Somehow though he gets a takedown, only for Franca to reverse and get on top. Varner finds the energy for a reversal of his own, and ends up back in Franca’s guard, but this time Hermes snakes his legs up and gets an armbar from almost an oma plata position, twisting it to the side in a SICK ANGLE and Varner submits there. That looked seriously painful.
Pretty entertaining for the most part, I saw complaints online about Varner’s supposed “lay n’ pray” tactics, but it wasn’t that at all, he was busy constantly from the top, and it was more Franca’s excellent defense from the guard that prevented any damage. Needless to say, Varner was clearly ahead on the scorecards going into the third, and really it was only his lack of gas that cost him the fight. McCarthy’s decision to call time to take the point though could’ve been a serious error had Franca not been able to submit Varner, and if Varner had ended up winning the decision, it definitely would’ve been a big point of debate – why not wait until the end of the round, or even a neutral position before informing the judges? Still, a generally good fight with a nasty submission ending.
After an entertaining debut win over Gilbert Aldana, which saw him showcase some sharp striking skills as well as a supposed Greco-Roman background, French kickboxer Kongo was clearly being pushed by UFC as a future Heavyweight contender, hence a main-card PPV match with another newcomer – American Kickboxing Academy’s Christian Wellisch, a Hungarian fighter more known for his ground game, apparently.
Round One begins and Kongo opens with a good low kick, and Wellisch shoots in for a takedown. Kongo sprawls to avoid and they muscle for position in the clinch, crashing into the fence and apparently bending it, according to Joe Rogan. Wellisch manages to trip him down into a side mount and then steps over into full mount, and Kongo suddenly looks in trouble. Armbar attempt follows from Wellisch and he looks to have it locked in, rolling to his stomach, but he can’t quite extend it fully and Kongo manages to step over him and escapes nicely into a standing clinch. Kongo creates some distance and OPENS UP with a series of knees and punches, causing Wellisch to run in retreat! Kongo chases him down and lands another knee, following with a flurry of straight, sharp punches and some more knees, rocking the Hungarian. Wellisch shoots for a takedown but Kongo sprawls, so Wellisch goes for a rolling oma plata instead, but the Frenchman manages to avoid and grabs a front facelock. They come up into a clinch, and referee Mario Yamasaki steps in to replace Wellisch’s mouthpiece as they’re now in a neutral position. John McCarthy, take notes! They restart, and Kongo smells blood and comes forward with a combo, then a BIG KNEE TO THE HEAD for the knockout.
Replays show Wellisch was trying to duck Kongo’s punches and basically leaned right into the knee, really sick shot that was, and it looks like one of his teeth has been knocked out, too. Kongo’s striking looked frighteningly good here and his groundwork seemed to be pretty good too, giving people hope that UFC had legitimately unearthed a new contender, but that’d sorta come crashing down to earth with his next performance. Still, a nice fight even if it wasn’t a great one or anything.
Aside from the main event this was probably the fight I was most looking forward to on this card, as Neer’s original opponent Thiago Alves had dropped out through injury, and somehow UFC had gotten hold of Nick Diaz to replace him at the last second, creating an even more intriguing match (not that I don’t like Alves) and adding a much needed “name” fight to the card.
Round 1 begins and they circle and throw some punches, with Diaz talking trash and taunting Neer already. Into a clinch, and they muscle for position before Neer breaks with a knee. Another exchange follows and they go back into the clinch and exchange some shots there, before they break and the ref calls time to replace Neer’s mouthpiece. Restart, and they go right back to the clinch and exchange some knees and punches again, before Diaz breaks with a good right hook, and follows with a combination of uppercuts and hooks to stun Neer! Neer gets back to a clinch, but they break and then Diaz begins to take over, landing nice punches in combinations in and out of the clinch. Diaz lands a high kick and Neer tells him to bring it, before landing a nice knee of his own to the body. Diaz continues his offense though, peppering him with combos as Neer tries to swing back with some haymakers, and finally Diaz ends the round with a flying kick attempt and then a punch after the buzzer, angering Neer for a moment.
Into the 2nd and Diaz opens by landing some fast, shorter punches while Neer swings more wildly, looking for the one-punch haymaker, but misses most of them. They carry on like this, in and out of the clinch, with Diaz continually landing and Neer soaking up the punishment. Neer begins to look hurt as Diaz lands more and more combos, and then follows with a takedown to Neer’s guard. Diaz lands some shots from the top with Neer pinned against the fence, but Neer manages to escape and gets to his feet in the clinch, breaking off with a pair of hooks. Diaz opens up with some more combinations again, hitting up and down on Neer to the body and the head, before ending with a takedown to guard and an elbow to finish the round. Diaz is totally taking the fight over now.
Third and final round, and they exchange to open, before Diaz shoots in for a takedown. Neer blocks with a front facelock, but Diaz follows through and gets a double leg to guard, where he opens up, landing some shots. Diaz passes into side mount, and locks up a kimura from the top, and from there it’s only a matter of time, and sure enough he steps over the head and cranks on it, causing Neer to tap out.
Surprisingly one-sided fight for the most part, as Diaz just looked too quick and unorthodox for Neer to handle in the stand-up, as he constantly peppered at the Dentist with short, fast combinations while Neer could only swing – and most of the time miss – wild haymakers. And despite showing off his striking here for the majority of the fight, Diaz will always be a better grappler than he is a striker and he showed that with a really slick submission to finish things off. Probably his best UFC performance since the knockout of Robbie Lawler, actually.
After the first meeting between these two it was just a matter of “when”, rather than “if” there would ever be a rematch, and as both men rightly acknowledge in the video package to build the fight, this was probably the right time for the rematch with both coming off losses in their last fights (to Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans respectively). General consensus though – and I agreed – was that Forrest had improved far beyond what he’d been able to show in the first bout, while Bonnar had more or less stagnated, and the betting lines showed that as Griffin was the overwhelming favourite coming in. Randy Couture joins us on commentary from here.
They circle to begin and sure enough, Griffin looks much improved in the striking department already, landing some leg kicks and straight punches. Bonnar tries a leg kick of his own, but Forrest catches it and shoves him off balance, before following with a nice one-two. Bonnar comes back with a grazing spin-kick, but Griffin continues to land crisper punches, seemingly surprising Stephan. Bonnar lands a good right though, and follows with a sharp spinning back kick to the body. Both men land right hands, and then Forrest blocks an attempted left high kick. Bonnar tries a leg kick, but Griffin counters with one of his own and catches him off balance, sending him staggering back and Forrest closes in swinging, but Bonnar survives and they circle out. Another exchange follows, and Forrest stuns him with a right hand, forcing Bonnar to retreat once more. Griffin lands another nice one-two, and they both look to press the action as the round ends.
They begin the 2nd and circle, the exchange continuing on from the first round, with Griffin landing the better punches again, avoiding an attempted spinning backfist with ease. Griffin begins to work him over with a left jab/right cross combination, but Bonnar comes back and lands a one-two of his own, grazing Forrest under the left eye and drawing blood. Forrest counters a kick with a sharp right, and more one-twos land, as Griffin controls the pace well. Bonnar comes back with a one-two of his own, and they trade very briefly before backing out. The exchange continues, with both men landing relatively well, but not trading wildly like the first right at all. Griffin continues to use the jab well, while Bonnar seems content to fire wider combos as the round comes to an end.
More of the same to begin the third and final round, and both men are bleeding now and landing decently, but again, this is nothing like the first fight. Bonnar misses a spinning back kick and a backfist too, as Forrest presses forward, and they go into a short, wild trade that pops the crowd loudly. Griffin throws a high kick that Bonnar blocks, and then he clinches and shoves Stephan into the fence, but they break practically right away, and Griffin follows with a nice low kick and a left hook. Crowd get louder as the round goes on, and they start to wing more wild hooks at one another as the time ticks away, and the fight finally ends with both men swinging their way into a clinch.
We’re going to the judges, and there’s only one result here, and sure enough they’ve all got it 30-27 for Griffin, unanimous decision. Bonnar looks disappointed and the crowd mildly boo, but I don’t see how you could’ve scored that fight any other way. Post-fight Griffin takes offense to the booing and manages to bring the crowd around by cutting a charismatic promo, taking a veiled shot at Tito Ortiz to boot.
Well, what can you say really? It was never going to live up to the first bout, I think everyone knew that going in, and sure enough it never came close, as both guys seemed more intent to fight a smarter fight this time, and not get drawn into a risky, albeit more entertaining brawl. The result was much clearer this time however, and pretty much confirmed what everyone had thought going in, that Griffin had improved his game a lot while Bonnar just hadn’t made the same adjustments (quite possibly thanks to the death of his trainer, Carlson Gracie). Of course to make things worse for Bonnar, he got busted for using performance enhancers after this, so who knows when he’ll be back. As for Forrest, he seemingly continues to improve, and while he’s obviously not got the natural talent that some fighters have, with his work ethic I think he might surprise people still.
With the weakest undercard for a UFC show of 2006, the main event here had to be a pretty major one, and it was, as Liddell – coming off retiring Randy Couture in February – would defend his title against a man on a ten-fight winning streak in Babalu. Granted, Liddell had knocked him out in the past, but that was four years prior, and in that time Babalu had changed camps and appeared to be a much improved fighter, primarily in terms of his submission game. Make no mistake, this was one of the fights I was most looking forward to in 2006.
Entrances are AWESOME here as Babalu comes out looking partially coked out of his mind, partially insane, like he’s just been released from a fifteen year stretch, complete with glazed, scary stare and random chewing. Liddell for his part looks relaxed as hell, even when Sobral’s staring across at him like a maniac. Naturally the crowd are hot for this one.
They get underway, and Babalu stalks him as Liddell circles off, waiting for Sobral to make the first move. Babalu looks pretty relaxed, but then finally does make the first move, landing a clipping right hand, and apparently he thinks he’s got Liddell hurt as he closes in swinging, but as he does Liddell catches him with a glancing overhand right and then an uppercut as he backs off, causing Babalu to fall headfirst into the side of the cage! Babalu comes back up and tries to return fire, but you DON’T TRADE WITH THE ICEMAN and Liddell clobbers him, causing the challenger to stumble to the mat again. Babalu goes into the butt-scoot, just trying to survive now, but Liddell drops some BOMBS from above, and Babalu rolls to his side to cover up, causing McCarthy to step in and stop things there. Babalu is so out of it that he tries a takedown on McCarthy...who promptly sweeps him and gets full mount. Wow. An absolute massacre.
People called Babalu on his “gameplan” after this one, questioning how he could’ve ever thought trading with Chuck was a good idea, but I don’t see that myself – the replays actually show that Babalu was looking to set up a takedown with his punches, and actually was on the verge of shooting for a takedown when Liddell landed the uppercut which was the beginning of the end. I think it was more that Babalu thought he might’ve had Chuck hurt from the first punch, and then just got overzealous, rather than a bad gameplan. What the fight proved more than anything, I would say, is how difficult it is to catch Liddell out these days – his footwork and movement has improved tenfold over the past couple of years, and with his chin and punching power it makes him an almost impossible match for 90% of fighters. Evidently, Babalu included.
-We close with a highlight reel of the night’s fights, not a bad one in the end actually.
While UFC 62 was undoubtedly the company’s weakest card of the year on paper, for the most part the fights themselves were actually pretty entertaining. Nothing on the undercard (save for the slightly slow Okami/Belcher) is at all boring, while the first three PPV matches were solid enough by most standards. Griffin/Bonnar, while it never came close to being as good as their first fight, wasn’t exactly bad or anything, and despite being a bit of an anti-climax, the main event is fun, especially for big fans of Chuck Liddell or anyone who might dislike Babalu for some reason. There’s nothing must-see here, but UFC 62 is a fun show that’s worth a mild recommendation, at least.
UFC: 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 63, 64 and 65.
Cage Rage: 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18.
WEC: 10 and 11.
WFA: 1, 2 and 3.
King of the Cage: 15, 18, 21, 23, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 42 and 48.
Best of Shooto 2003 vols. 1 & 2.