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UFC 73: Stacked review
by Scott Newman (MMA)
Posted on February 2, 2009, 12:08 PM

So yeah, quite the break between reviews then I guess. 2008 was a busy year for me, what can I say? Of course it now leaves me with a ton of UFC to catch up on, as well as more Pride, WEC stuff, lord knows how much KOTC, and so on. So hopefully this will be the first of a few more reviews in 2009. With a sort of new beginning then comes a new feature for these pieces, that being an overall rating for the show itself. People often asked me why I didn’t give each fight a rating and to that I say it’s too hard to compare fights arbitrarily. Like, how do you compare say, Griffin-Bonnar to Sanchez-Diaz? Or further across the scale, a great fight from the old days like Gracie-Kimo to something from 2007 like Guida-Huerta? If Hughes-Newton is ***** and Hughes-Trigg is ****3/4, why the missing ¼ from the latter? I don’t think it’s fair to rate fights in that manner and I don’t want to open the can of worms that would undoubtedly come from it. Rating a show overall though is a little different. So here’s the scale I’ll be using....

***** - Amazing show from start to finish. No bad fights, possibly including a FOTYC or some highlight-reel finishes. May also be historically important. Pride Final Conflict 2003, or UFC 40, for instance.

**** - Generally great show brought down by a stinker or a couple of slow fights, or a lack of anything earth-shattering. UFC 54, for example.

*** - Decent show but nothing truly great, although one or two fights or finishes might stand out as being memorable and worth a rewatch. See Pride 22, or UFC 50.

** - A disappointing show with maybe one or two redeeming factors, probably in the form of one very good fight. Say, UFC 72.

* - Truly terrible show, full of slow-paced fights and a lack of historical importance. See Pride 9 or UFC 33, for example.

Onto the review...

UFC 73: Stacked

Sacramento, California

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Lightweight Fight: Frankie Edgar vs Mark Bocek

Edgar was coming off his surprising UFC debut win over Tyson Griffin, and was matched with a UFC debutant here in Canadian Mark Bocek, better known for his submission grappling prowess than his fighting record if we’re being honest. After such an exciting debut I was surprised they shoved Frankie into the prelims again, but ah well.

Bocek comes out throwing a left jab, but Edgar lands a right hand and causes the Canadian to shoot for a takedown. Frankie blocks, and breaks a clinch, before landing a right hand that wobbles Bocek. Edgar follows by tagging him with a one-two combo, then sprawls to avoid another takedown attempt. Suddenly Bocek fires back, dropping Edgar with a left hand, but Edgar pops right up into a clinch, before breaking and stunning Bocek with two left hands of his own! Edgar follows with a big combo that puts Bocek down on his back, and Frankie follows with a heavy right down into the half-guard. He passes to side mount, and lands some elbows as Bocek tries to roll out. Edgar stands and Bocek makes a grab for his leg, but gets rocked once more as he comes back to his feet. Edgar continues to tag him as they exchange, before avoiding another takedown attempt with relative ease. Edgar ends up on top off the takedown attempt, where he avoids a leglock to get into side mount, and from there he pins Bocek down and lands a series of punches before the ref stops it.

Finish wasn’t brutal or anything but it wasn’t like Bocek was doing much to defend himself and he’d already been hurt quite badly on numerous occasions. Another good showing from Edgar who continues to make waves at 155lbs, while Bocek didn’t really have a chance to show all that much in his debut.

Welterweight Fight: Chris Lytle vs Jason Gilliam

Gilliam was taking this fight on short notice, replacing Drew Fickett who himself had already replaced the perennially-injured Jeff Joslin. The story coming in here was that Lytle had basically decided to change his whole fighting style around after losing the close decision to Matt Serra at the TUF4 Finale and his fight with Matt Hughes in March, and rather than fight to win (read, fight not to lose) now he’d be just looking to make the most exciting fight possible and hope to get the win along the way.

We get underway and instantly Lytle makes good on his promise and comes out swinging, decking Gilliam with an overhand right followed by a vicious leg kick. He goes right into side mount and steps over to full mount, but Gilliam does a good job of defending, holding on before managing a reversal to Lytle’s guard. Lytle immediately goes for a leglock, but Gilliam escapes to guard, only to eat some punches. Gilliam tries to kick him away, but its to no avail as Lytle passes to side mount, and gets a crucifix, before transitioning into a topside triangle choke, and from there he combines that with a straight armlock for the tapout. Whoa.

Lytle promised a more exciting fight and totally delivered here, as Gilliam didn’t seem prepared at all for the onslaught and got destroyed in quick fashion. The combination submission was cool as hell too. In all honesty I’d rather see this Chris Lytle come out and swing and lose than the Lytle that fought Serra.

Lightweight Fight: Jorge Gurgel vs Diego Saraiva

Two Brazilian BJJ black belts squaring off then, although Gurgel from what I know is far more accomplished than Saraiva and also has a huge size advantage here, as Saraiva looks to me more like a blown up 145lber than a true 155lbs.

Round One begins and they press forward and exchange punches right away into the clinch. Diego throws some knees inside, but takes a combo from Jorge who breaks off, and lands another nice combination from close distance. A good left hook connects, and Jorge tags him a couple more times as they exchange shots. Diego shoots in, and pulls guard, but eats punches from the top as Gurgel blocks an armbar. Gurgel begins to take over with some ground-and-pound work, a number of clean right hands landing, but then he inexplicably decides to stand and go into a trade to close the round, with Diego coming back with a one-two. Gurgel’s round.

The exchange continues to open the 2nd round, and Jorge lands a couple of good leg kicks for good measure. Gurgel continues to get the better of the exchange, particularly from close distance inside the clinch, where he blocks a takedown. Saraiva tries a low kick but Gurgel catches it and lands a nice combo, and they continue to exchange flurries, before Gurgel catches him with a decent left high kick. Suddenly they go into a WILD TRADE though, and this time it’s Diego who gets the better of it, landing a swift combination that hurts Gurgel badly! Jorge gets a clinch, but Diego surprisingly jumps to guard, and Gurgel slams him down and follows with punches from the top. Diego uses a leglock attempt to sweep from the bottom, and they stand and trade wildly again, brawling to end the round with both men landing.

Third and final round and I have it one round apiece at this point. Gurgel continues to press the action, throwing wild flurries, as Saraiva tries to answer, but eats a hard leg kick for his efforts. More flurrying follows before Gurgel blocks a takedown and ends up on top in guard, where he lands some punches and elbows, avoiding Saraiva’s attempts at any submissions. He stays busy from the top but doesn’t really land anything truly clean, and right before the end of the fight they stand and trade one last time.

I have this as 29-28 for Gurgel, and the judges apparently agree, giving him the unanimous decision. The thing here was though, despite taking the win Gurgel walked away with a broken jaw due to the trading he did with Saraiva, which really was unnecessary given the way he picked him off from the outside and then worked him over with ground-and-pound in the first round. This was an exciting if sloppy fight, but really it’s another indicator as to why Gurgel is one of the more frustrating fighters out there to watch.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Stephan Bonnar vs Mike Nickels

This was Bonnar’s return match following a suspension for a positive steroid test about a year prior, and his opponent had also had around a year’s worth of layoff, as TUF3’s Nickels had been forced out of an October fight with Keith Jardine with a back injury. Probably doesn’t need to be pointed out, but Nickels’ tattoos are absolutely awful, Jesus.

Nickels lands a left hand early, and they exchange standing before Nickels catches a high kick attempt and gets the takedown. He surprisingly gets full mount on Stephan, but Bonnar escapes and scrambles, taking Nickels’ back. Nickels reverses to his feet quickly and looks for the takedown, but Bonnar hits a switch from there and takes the back again, this time getting both hooks in. Nickels somehow manages to wriggle free and escapes into Bonnar’s guard, but from there Bonnar locks up a kimura variant that looks like a police arm hold, and uses it to take the back for a third time. And third time’s a charm, as Stephan locks up a tight rear naked choke for the first round tapout.

That was a surprisingly decent ground battle actually, if a little sloppy at times. Bonnar’s cop hold into taking the back was especially dope.

Heavyweight Fight: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs Heath Herring

Opening the main card was the UFC debut of former Pride Heavyweight champ Nogueira, and I guess the idea was to give him an exciting debut fight that he’d most likely win, as the two previous fights he’d had with Herring were two of the best HW fights in MMA history, particularly the first one. And despite Herring promising a different result here, the reality was that he hadn’t looked good in the UFC at all thus far into his stint in the Octagon. Speaking of not looking good though, Nogueira physically looks pretty bad here, clearly having gained some weight since his Pride days and generally looks older. Guess those beatings were bound to catch up with the guy at some point.

They exchange briefly into a clinch to begin things, before Nogueira gets a nice takedown directly into side mount. He controls Herring from the top as Heath tries to squirm, and then looks to take the back, but as slippery as ever Herring escapes to his feet. Nogueira lands some good punches in an exchange, blocking a high kick along the way. The exchange continues and Nog gets the better of it again, this time catching Heath off balance with a left, knocking him backwards. Nog follows with a flying knee and they clinch briefly before breaking again, where Nogueira bloodies him up with shots from the outside. Nog is looking really good standing here. He gets Heath’s back from a standing position but chooses to release it, and then looks to land some more shots, but out of nowhere HERRING KILLS HIM DEAD WITH A HIGH KICK!! Holy shit! Nog hits the deck HARD and Heath pounces and flails away, but then decides to stand back and call Nogueira up to his feet. The hell? Ref yells at Nog to get up, but he takes FOREVER, giving himself a little break. He’s still wobbly as hell though and Heath lands another high kick and some punches, before blocking a takedown and ending up on top...as the round ends. Serious missed opportunity for Herring there, as Nog looked completely done after that kick and more pounding might’ve ended things.

Nogueira still looks wobbly to begin the 2nd, but for some reason Herring does nothing for the first whole minute of the fight, allowing him some more valuable recovery time. No idea what he was thinking there. Nog slowly shakes the cobwebs off and gets back to working the left jab, before getting a takedown to side mount. He mounts and then takes Heath’s back, working for a choke, but Herring rolls and escapes into Nogueira’s guard. Heath stands up and calls Nog to join him, but the Brazilian gets the better of the standing exchanges again, and begins to walk Heath down, landing some knees from the clinch before getting a trip takedown to end the round.

Third and final round, and really Heath can still pull this out if he takes this one. They exchange jabs to begin, and Herring fires off a couple of nice low kicks, but Nog gets a takedown to half-guard and then passes to side mount. He takes the back again, but can’t quite lock in a rear naked choke as Herring rolls to avoid the submission. Once again Herring escapes into Nog’s guard, where Nog looks to hook up a kimura. Herring spins and they scramble, ending up with Nogueira on top with Heath in the turtle position. He looks to take the back again, but Herring pops up and they exchange to a brief clinch before breaking. The exchange continues as the fight comes to an end, with Nog landing a few good knees to the body.

To the judges, and it’s a unanimous decision for Nogueira, but man what a missed opportunity for Herring. I’d never seen Nog put down like that, not even by Cro Cop or Fedor, and I honestly think if Heath had continued to pound away he might’ve stopped him there. Still, Nogueira as usual showed absolutely tremendous heart and recovery powers to survive that and come back to win, and even though it wasn’t near to the level of their first two bouts, this was still one of the better Heavyweight fights you’ll see in MMA.

UFC World Lightweight Title: Sean Sherk vs Hermes Franca

Sherk’s first title defence had been a long time in the making, as he’d won the belt in October and then had some time out to recover from a rotator cuff injury I think it was. Franca meanwhile had earned his title shot by going on a long winning streak (eight fights I believe) with all his wins coming by submission or strikes, including wins over Gabe Ruediger and Nate Diaz, and inside the UFC over Joe Jordan, Jamie Varner and Spencer Fisher. Going in though the main emphasis had been on the All Access episode showing Sherk’s insane training regime, and that alone made him a heavy favourite to retain his belt.

We get underway, and Franca comes out aggressively with a big knee, but Sherk catches it, scoops him up and gets a slam. Franca immediately clamps on a guillotine, but Sherk manages to work his way free (how the hell do you guillotine a neck like that anyway?) by passing into half-guard. Franca gets full guard as Sherk lands some punches, and then works to pass into full mount, where he lands some small punches but mainly just smothers Franca. He looks for an arm triangle choke, but then decides to switch to side mount and go for the Hughes crucifix instead. Franca scrambles to escape, but Sherk keeps him firmly down, and ends up getting a front facelock. They end up back in Franca’s half-guard, and Sherk doesn’t land much, but passes to mount again instead. Some more small punches land, before Franca turns and Sherk takes his back with one hook in. Franca manages to escape and gets on top briefly, but Sherk reverses back into the top position to end the round.

2nd begins and Sherk immediately comes out and shoots for a takedown, but shoots right into a BIG KNEE from Franca that causes him to faceplant hard. Franca quickly pounds away, looking for a finish, but Sherk survives somehow and gets a takedown to guard, avoiding a guillotine in the process. He works to pass, and moves to mount swiftly. Franca reverses over into Sherk’s guard though, and then stands looking to drop some bombs...but Sherk kicks him right off into the air and gets on top himself. Whoa. Sherk switches and gets a front facelock, then turns to Franca’s back with double underhooks, but Franca rolls back to half-guard. Sherk passes to side mount, and Franca scrambles but still can’t get out from underneath. Sherk lands the absolute minimal amount of punches, and then looks for a kimura, but Franca avoids and scrambles. He still can’t get out though and Sherk avoids another guillotine as the buzzer sounds.

Third round now, and Sherk presses forward, grabs hold of him and gets a slam to half-guard. Quick pass to side mount follows as Rogan creams over Sherk being able to pass Franca’s guard like butter. Some short elbows land from there, before Franca scrambles, but Sherk gets a ride with Franca in the turtle position. Sherk lands some knees to the body, and then Franca stands momentarily before Sherk tackles him right back down. Into side mount again, and this time he looks for a keylock, which Franca manages to avoid, still being controlled as the time ends.

Fourth round begins in similar fashion to the second, as Franca lands another big knee, but Sherk eats it right up and tackles him to the mat. Franca scrambles up, but gets taken down quickly and then Sherk passes to side mount. Franca somehow escapes to his feet and swings for the fences, but Sherk is relentless, getting another slam to side mount. Franca turtles up and takes some knees, and then scrambles to his feet for the briefest amount of time before being taken right back down. Sherk gets a side mount and it’s more of the same as we head to the fifth.

No play-by-play for the fifth round. It’s just wash, rinse and repeat as Sherk takes Franca down, controls him and passes guard before Franca escapes, only to meet the same fate. It’s like something from Dante’s Inferno except it only lasts 25 minutes for poor Franca. Judges all score the bout for Sherk, naturally. This one was controversial in terms of the fan reaction as some hardcore fans felt the need to praise it due to Sherk’s technical skill in being able to take down and control Franca, and particularly in passing Franca’s guard. I can appreciate that, sure – anyone who understands the ground game can – but that doesn’t make it an exciting fight, as five rounds of a guy taking his opponent down and dominating him in terms of position, only without doing much damage gets very boring indeed. Especially when you’re writing down play-by-play notes. Somehow I enjoyed this on first watch. Perhaps I was drunk?

To make matters worse of course, both men were subsequently busted for steroids following the fight. Franca came clean and admitted to it and was suspended for a year, Sherk denied it (and denies it to this day) and despite not proving his innocence really, got his suspension cut to six months. Someone explain how that works? Maybe the way to get out of any problem is just to deny it these days. Personally I won’t make any judgment I guess, but hey, ‘Stacked’ could well have referred to Sherk’s physique here if you know what I mean.

Lightweight Fight: Kenny Florian vs Alvin Robinson

Fun fact – this was in fact the last fight of the night, as for once UFC screwed up their timing and had to stick the ‘swing bout’ on last. Damn Sherk and his 25 minute fight. I guess it’s all well and good for the DVD version to stick it in here though. Florian was coming off a win over Mishima last time out and was faced with UFC debutant Alvin ‘Kid’ Robinson, no relation to Kid Yamamoto. Well, of course not, but some tools on Sherdog still got confused when the fight was signed....

Round One begins and Robinson bulls forward into a clinch, getting an arm throw, but Kenny pops right back up to his feet. They clinch again and exchange some knees, and this time Florian gets a trip throw down to guard. Nothing happens and the ref stands them quickly (maybe he watched the Sherk fight?) and on the restart Florian lands a heavy leg kick. They exchange in the clinch where Robinson catches him with a hard right that appears to stun Kenny, so Kenny trips him down. He works to half-guard, and then side mount, before taking the full mount and landing some punches, but Alvin bucks his way out. Florian drops some shots from standing, and ends up back in the guard, where he lands some more before passing to the side. He mounts for a second time but Robinson scrambles to his feet, and they exchange in a clinch before Florian gets him down again. This time he takes full mount and really opens up with the punishment, landing a myriad of punches and elbows before Robinson decides he’s had enough and taps out.

Good showing by Florian; sadly the DVD cuts out his goofy post-fight promo where he screams that “I FINISH FIGHTS!~!” obviously in a not-so veiled reference to Sherk. Good little fight for the time it lasted.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Tito Ortiz vs Rashad Evans

This was the main selling point of the card to casual fans; Rashad’s first real marquee test and Tito’s return to action after a bit of a layoff following his loss to Chuck Liddell. Of course, as with any Tito Ortiz fight, Tito made it somewhat personal, talking trash on Rashad in the build-up and I believe referring to him as a “nappy-headed ho”, whatever that means. And as with, well, any Tito Ortiz fight, in the pre-fight video he assures us he’s finally 100% healthy this time. Which probably suggests his back is still screwed. Big size advantage for Tito here – Rashad is clearly on the smaller end of the Light-Heavyweight scale.

Round One begins, and Tito comes right out of the gate with a high kick and a takedown! Did not expect that so early. Rashad ends up stuck against the fence, where he works to get back to his feet, and after a while he wall-walks up into the clinch. They muscle along the fence for position before breaking off, but right away they trade back into a clinch and Tito shoves him back into the fence. Referee breaks them up this time and they circle off with not much action going on. Tito lands a couple of good low kicks, before telegraphing a shot which Rashad blocks into the clinch. Tito manages to get him down, but Rashad uses a crotch lift to reverse and lands a couple of hard rights as they come back to their feet in a clinch, opening a small cut by Tito’s left eye. They continue to muscle in the clinch, with Rashad blocking a takedown to close out the round. Tito’s round methinks, 10-9.

2nd round begins with more aimless circling as neither man looks able to pull the trigger. Tito stuffs a takedown attempt, and they go into a clinch and muscle to the fence again. Tito cracks him with a nice elbow inside, but Rashad answers with one of his own and then drops for a takedown. Tito blocks with a knee, and then gets a warning from John McCarthy for grabbing the fence. They break and exchange some punches, before Tito blocks a takedown attempt. Tito shoots himself, but Rashad blocks, and Ortiz manages to get him down, but only briefly as Rashad quickly works his way back up. Rashad goes for another takedown of his own, and this time Ortiz gets docked a point as he uses the fence to block it. Rashad manages to get him down, but Tito locks up a tight guillotine...only for the buzzer to sound. Damn, that looked bad for Rashad and it was lucky for him that the round ended when it did. Tito’s round, but it’s a 9-9 due to the point deduction.

Third and final round, and it’s clear now that Ortiz looks to be slowing down, as the announcers point out that Rashad can only win now if he stops Tito; if he takes the round the best he can hope for is a draw. Evans lands a nice left hook as they circle, but Tito shoots in and again manages a takedown into the fence. He lands nothing from the position though, instead attempting a mount, and Rashad manages to escape to his feet. Tito looks for the takedown again but Rashad blocks, and McCarthy breaks them up. They circle off on the restart and Rashad lands some punches, avoiding a takedown attempt to get a clinch. Rashad begins to take over now, landing a good elbow before slamming Tito down to side mount! He lands some punches from the position, and the fight ends there.

Announcers have it as a 28-28 draw, same as yours truly, and the judges score it the same too. Bit of a slow, disappointing fight in the end as both men looked to impose their will via the clinch and takedown, and neither one really established any dominance. Rashad did appear to be struggling with Tito’s size early, but as Tito slowed down in the later rounds Evans came back and definitely took the third. Despite Ortiz claiming to be healthy I really doubt that was the case, as once again he didn’t look nearly as explosive as he once did, probably due to his nagging back injuries. Still, if it hadn’t been for the fence grab, Tito would’ve become the first man to beat Rashad here, and if that’d happened who knows how the LHW scene would look now, given the current standings of things? Unbelievable how something so small could have such an impact really.

UFC World Middleweight Title: Anderson Silva vs Nathan Marquardt

Finally the main event here was MW kingpin Anderson Silva’s first official title defense (would’ve been his second, but of course Travis Lutter screwed up his weight cut) against former King of Pancrase Nate Marquardt, who at this stage was 4-0 in the UFC and had looked better each time out. The feeling was that Marquardt would probably provide Silva with his toughest test to date, with his well-rounded game and no glaring weaknesses making him a very solid contender. Odd to see UFC move a guy right from the prelims to the main event, but then Tito and Rashad were the big draws here so hey.

Just a side note, Marquardt looks to be in unbelievable shape here, coming in at 183lbs even. Silva actually looks slightly bigger which I didn’t expect.

Both men press forward tentatively to begin, before Nate comes forward and eats a right hand that forces him to retreat. Silva comes forward with a jumping knee to follow, but Nate grabs the leg and gets a takedown and passes to half-guard. They exchange punches on the ground, before Marquardt looks to pass, only for Silva to get full guard. He kicks Nate away, but Marquardt comes back down into the guard, and then stands and drops a few punches. He eats an upkick on the way back into the guard, narrowly avoiding a triangle choke before the ref stands them back up. Silva comes forward off the restart, landing a glancing left high kick, before a BIG STRAIGHT LEFT that hurts Marquardt bad and causes him to shoot in. Silva blocks and punches the body, but Marquardt keeps driving forward for a single leg....until Silva suddenly hits a SICK switch and puts Nate on his back. Series of VICIOUS PUNCHES from a standing position follow and Marquardt covers up, and that’s all she wrote. Good lord does Silva hit hard.

Replays show Silva’s punches shot right through Marquardt’s guard and directly onto the jaw. I guess the above sentence should read, Good lord does Silva hit hard and accurately. Yet another scary performance from Silva who just blew through yet another highly ranked, skilled opponent while barely breaking a sweat. Seriously, Marquardt was supposed to be his toughest test and he hardly got a moment of offense in, as Silva stifled his attempts and then just killed him dead. Unbelievable stuff.

-And we end with a highlight reel. Despite Bruce Buffer yelling that the Florian-Robinson fight is coming up. Surely they could’ve cut that bit of audio on the DVD?

Final Thoughts....

On paper this was a stacked card, but it didn’t really deliver in the way Zuffa had hoped. Sure, the prelims were really good and Nogueira-Herring was a solid fight, but Sherk-Franca, while not on the level of Severn-Shamrock or anything, is hardly the most exciting fight in the world and while Evans-Ortiz was heated in the end it’s a disappointment. Still, Anderson Silva killing a dude dead is always cool, even moreso when said dude is a badass like Nate Marquardt. And nothing outright sucks, even Sherk-Franca which can be enjoyed from a technical standpoint. Well, sort of. So it’s a firm thumbs in the middle for ‘Stacked’.

Best Fight: Nogueira-Herring
Worst Fight: Sherk-Franca

Overall Rating: ***

Coming Soon....

UFC: 74-92, Fight Nights 11-16, and TUF V, VI and VII Finales.
Pride: Shockwave 2005, 32, 33 and 34.
WEC: 28-37
King of the Cage: 23, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 42, 48, 52, and 58.

Until next time,

Scott Newman:

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