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UFC 102: Couture vs. Nogueira review
by Scott Newman (MMA)
Posted on December 30, 2009, 3:20 PM

UFC 102: Couture vs. Nogueira

Portland, Oregon

-Another new state here and naturally the crowd are crazy hot from the first prelim. See, this is why it’s so cool for the UFC to move around like they do these days rather than sticking to Vegas and California like they did back in 2006. I’m not American, but I’d love it if they did a show in every single state. Yeah, even North Dakota and places like that.

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Lightweight Fight: Evan Dunham vs Marcus Aurelio

Rising local prospect Dunham – fighting out of Eugene, Oregon – was originally supposed to fight fellow prospect Matt Veach here but when Hughes’s protégé pulled out with injury, veteran Aurelio – last seen losing a decision to Hermes Franca at UFC 90 – stepped in on late notice. Since the Franca fight Marcus had won two in a row on the smaller circuit, and despite Dunham being the big crowd favourite I thought this was too much, too soon for him and figured Aurelio would probably tap him out late in the first round.

Opening round begins and they throw out some feeler strikes before Dunham lands a solid right hook. Good combo from Dunham ending with a straight left backs Aurelio up. Winging right hook from Aurelio but Dunham manages to avoid it. Aurelio is really swinging with the right hand here. Good combo from Dunham but Aurelio covers up to avoid damage. Big right hook and straight left from Dunham drops the Brazilian and Dunham closes in as Aurelio dives for a single leg. He winds up pulling guard, but takes some BIG SHOTS and looks to be in serious trouble! Dunham finally slows down as Aurelio manages to control his posture inside the guard, but then he lets him go and Evan stands and waves Aurelio back up. Takedown attempt from Aurelio but he still looks wobbled and Dunham stuffs it easily. Couple more straight punches land for Dunham and he’s lighting Aurelio up standing here. Another takedown is avoided and it looks like Aurelio’s face is marked up badly now too. Beautiful one-two from Dunham backs Aurelio up again. Round ends with Dunham unloading again. Great round for the youngster.

2nd round and Dunham stuffs a takedown early on. Good low kick from Dunham and again he avoids a takedown. Straight left from Dunham lands again but Aurelio comes back with a right and gets a takedown to half-guard. Beautiful escape allows Evan to his feet though and he lands the left hand right away as they stand. Couple of right hands land for Aurelio but he’s walking into counters from Dunham. Errant punch pokes Dunham in the eye and the ref calls time before restarting them quickly. Wild trade follows and Dunham gets the better of it, causing Aurelio to go desperately for the takedown. Nice stuff from Dunham and he escapes from the clinch. Good right hook lands for Dunham onto the temple of the Brazilian. They exchange punches and Dunham lands a body kick and almost a flying knee. 90 seconds to go and Aurelio looks for the takedown again, but he still can’t get Dunham down and Evan breaks off with a left hook. Aurelio is beginning to look tired too. Beautiful one-two from Dunham as Aurelio walks in. Aurelio has a solid chin to be taking all these shots. Straight left lands again for Dunham and the round ends there. I have Evan Dunham up two rounds now.

Third and final round and Aurelio lands a nice short right and gets Dunham down with a double leg. Dunham has full guard but it’s pretty loose and Aurelio lands some solid elbows before Dunham gets his back to the fence and looks to wall-walk. Dunham tries a butterfly guard to elevate Aurelio, but Marcus’s top game looks solid and he remains on top. Aurelio works to pass the guard and then spins to get a front facelock as Dunham stands, and from there he transitions from a standing guillotine to an anaconda attempt. Crowd begin to get restless as the action looks slow, but Aurelio’s got an anaconda choke in and he rolls him over, but somehow Dunham guts it out and uses a butterfly guard to flip over, before managing to pop to his feet! Crowd pop big for that but Dunham looks slowed down now. They trade some punches and Aurelio lands a good right hand before dropping for the takedown. Dunham tries to stuff it and ends up kneeling, but Aurelio sucks his leg out and gets him down into half-guard. Dunham manages to use the elevator to escape though and now they’re back up with about a minute to go. Takedown from Dunham now but he decides to get up and now both men look tired as they exchange punches standing. Good combo from Dunham looks to have Aurelio stunned and he shoots in again, but Dunham shoves him off to the ground and then lands a big body kick. Good left from Dunham as Aurelio pushes forward, and then they openly trade as the fight ends.

Third round was excellent for Aurelio but this is Dunham’s fight 29-28 on my scorecard. Judges have it 29-28 Aurelio, 29-28 Dunham and 30-27 for Evan Dunham to take the split decision. Well, Aurelio did take the fight on short notice and it was close, but man, what a huge win for Dunham in just his ninth pro fight. Fight was really good too, incredibly high pace throughout and both men put on a good show. The difference was largely Dunham’s striking being a level above Aurelio’s, but it wasn’t a one-sided beating or anything and Marcus definitely came close with the anaconda choke in the third round. Excellent opener.

Middleweight Fight: Mark Munoz vs Nick Catone

Munoz was a guy I’d had high hopes for following his move from the WEC, as he was bringing some serious wrestling credentials in – an NCAA Division One champion in 2001 – but he’d looked severely undersized at 205lbs against Matt Hamill and was knocked out viciously. This was his second time in the UFC Octagon and not only was he at a more natural 185lbs, he was facing an inferior wrestling-based fighter in New Jersey’s Catone, so I saw this as Munoz’s fight to lose.

We begin and they clinch early and exchange some strikes inside before Catone breaks and tags Munoz with a heavy combo! Good kick to the body from Munoz and he shoots on a single and gets Catone down, but Catone hits a beautiful switch as they hit the mat and then manages to spin free and escape to his feet. Great little wrestling exchange there. Overhand right misses for Munoz and he looks for the takedown again, but Catone stuffs it and forces Munoz into the cage. They exchange some knees to the body and break, and Catone lands a good right hand. Looks like he caught a kick to the groin though and referee Yves Lavigne calls time to let him recover. They restart and Catone gets a nice single leg and ends up in side mount, where Munoz holds an ineffective guillotine. Good knees to the body from Catone and Munoz releases the guillotine as Catone controls him. Munoz tries a hip escape to half-guard, but Catone has good control and manages to keep him down. Scramble from Munoz puts Catone in the donkey guard, and it looks like he’s rolling for a kneebar, but Munoz opens up with some heavy punches and Catone is forced to scramble to his feet. Rear waistlock from Munoz and he tries to suplex Catone down, and then manages to lift him and slam him down. Catone immediately escapes to his feet though. Less than a minute to go and Catone is landing the better strikes here I would say. Takedown attempt from Munoz but Catone defends it well and drives Munoz into the fence. They exchange knees inside the clinch and the round ends with a takedown from Catone. Did not expect Catone to do that well at all, but the round clearly goes to him 10-9.

Round Two and both men come out looking to strike, throwing some combos before Catone tackles him to the ground right into side mount. It looks like Catone might be going for Jeff Monson’s north/south choke, but Munoz scrambles and ends up giving his back and escaping to his feet. Good job from Munoz there. Nice knee to the body from Munoz as he steps in and he forces Catone into the fence, and manages to get double underhooks and drags Catone down. Good job from Catone though to stand right back up. Nice uppercut from Munoz to break the clinch and they exchange some strikes. Action slows a little as Munoz pushes forward, before Catone lands a stiff right hand that looks to have the Filipino a little stunned. Good recovery though and he grabs a clinch off a one-two. Trip takedown from Munoz and he takes Catone’s back for a moment, but then Catone scrambles to his feet. Good knee to the body from Munoz, but Catone answers with an uppercut to break. They clinch again for a moment before breaking and Munoz lands a solid right. Good exchange follows with both men landing, but Munoz looks more aggressive and he’s really swinging leather here. Takedown attempt from Munoz and he goes into a front choke attempt, but he can’t lock it up and the round ends there. Great round and it was a hard one to score too. I’d be tempted to go 10-10 in fact.

Round Three and Munoz presses with some strikes before dropping for a single. Catone stuffs it and goes for a guillotine, but takes an uppercut in a scramble and has to retreat. They exchange some punches and both men land some solid shots, before Munoz shoots and Catone manages a good sprawl before spinning onto Munoz’s back. The Filipino quickly pops up to his feet though and lands some heavy uppercuts from close distance. Good takedown defense from Catone again though as he avoids another shot. Catone looks for a takedown of his own now, but he telegraphs it a bit and Munoz stuffs it and goes for a guillotine. Catone stays calm though and pops free, winding up on top in side mount. Catone rolls for a toehold, but Munoz manages to roll free and gets a waistlock before hitting a nice suplex! Big punches from Munoz from the waistlock position before Catone stands and breaks with a right. This is a great fight. Big right hand from Munoz in an exchange but Catone shoots on a leg and gets him down again. This time Catone manages to take the back and gets one hook in, but he looks too high up and Munoz manages to free himself and lands in side mount. Hip escape gets half-guard back for Catone but Munoz lands with some solid elbows to the side of the head. Side mount now for Munoz but Catone rolls and gives his back. Good control from a waistlock from Munoz and he lands some vicious right hands to the head, and now Catone seems to be wilting a bit. Big shots continue to land for the Filipino and the round ends shortly thereafter.

Well, I’d give the last round to Munoz which makes it a 29-29 draw in my book, but who knows really? It was a very close fight. Judges have it another split decision, 29-28 Catone, 30-27 Munoz and 29-28 for Mark Munoz to take the victory. Unlucky break for Catone but it was an insanely close fight to be fair. I’ll be honest here though and say I did not expect such a great fight from these two in a million years. They came out and threw down standing, hit some awesome wrestling exchanges, and the pace was incredible throughout and yet neither man seemed close to being gassed. Hats off to both men and I’d say this was even a better fight than Dunham-Aurelio.

Heavyweight Fight: Todd Duffee vs Tim Hague

The debut of American Top Team’s Duffee was to me one of the most intriguing things on this card, as not only is he a ridiculous physical specimen – 260lbs and ripped to shreds – but he’d beaten longtime veteran Assuerio Silva in just his fourth pro fight. Originally he’d been set to fight Mostapha Al-Turk at UFC 99, but when Mirko Cro Cop returned to the UFC his debut was put off until here, where he was faced with Canadian Tim Hague, who had upset Pat Barry in his own Octagon debut. With Duffee’s reputation as a possible ‘next big thing’ at HW, I was firmly behind him to win his first test in the UFC.

Pre-fight Hague signals to Duffee that he wants to touch gloves, to which Todd is like, no way man. Uh oh. We get underway and Duffee comes out and DECKS HIM WITH A LEFT! Hague is in trouble and some BIG PUNCHES FINISH THINGS OFF!~!

Holy God. Whole fight lasted SEVEN SECONDS and that’s officially a UFC record! Unbelievably brutal stuff and man, Duffee lived up to the hype and more with that knockout. I mean sure, we still don’t know all that much about the guy but how can you argue with a seven-second knockout? Post-fight the crowd go ballistic as Duffee tells us it’s all about hard work, and he never had a gameplan coming in outside of deciding what to do in the moment. Guy just made himself a star right there and I cannot wait to see him back in the Octagon in 2010. I’m on this bandwagon already!

Heavyweight Fight: Mike Russow vs Justin McCully

Chicago police officer Russow had reeled off seven wins on the bounce following his one-sided PRIDE loss at the hands of Sergei Kharitonov in 2007, and this was his UFC debut. McCully meanwhile had debuted in the UFC in 2007 with a dull win over Antoni Hardonk, but had gotten himself into much better shape for a late 2008 win over Eddie Sanchez. With Russow looking completely out of shape for this fight – seriously, physically this guy looks as bad as any pro-fighter I’ve ever seen – I was expecting McCully to pick up a submission win.

Round One gets started and McCully pushes forward with some jabs as Russow looks ready to bulrush him like Jonathan Wiezorek or something. Single leg from the clinch from Russow and he switches to a double and gets McCully down. Russow stands over him and then passes and lands some punches as McCully looks to stand. McCully gets to his feet but Russow quickly takes him back down and looks to land punches as McCully tries to kick him away. Few good shots land for Russow as McCully covers up, and the crowd randomly begin to boo despite Russow being very active from the top. Russow tries to work to pass the guard, but McCully manages to keep it, although to be fair he’s not really controlling Russow’s posture and the cop lands some more elbows. Russow passes into half-guard and lands some heavy punches with McCully’s head stuck against the cage. Scramble from McCully and he escapes to his feet, but Russow quickly gets a single leg and takes him back down. Russow works the head and body, but in an odd move McCully manages to switch out and take the back with both hooks! I honestly have no idea how he managed that. Russow manages to turn into him though, getting back into McCully’s guard, but as he stands over him McCully secures a leg and rolls into a toehold attempt! Russow scrambles free though and ends up back in McCully’s guard, and the round ends there. McCully’s submission attempts late saved him from a 10-8 round there I would say. So 10-9 for Mike Russow.

Odd situation between rounds as McCully looks badly hurt and the doctor decides to test him by...shoving him to see if he falls over. The hell? What’s he doing, testing him to see if he’s drunk or something? Apparently his vision’s blurry, although his corner swear blind he’s fine. If I’m the doctor I stop this now. Crowd are disgusted now as the doctor decides he’s fine to continue, and finally we get to the second round.

McCully swings to open the round but Russow clinches, only for McCully to break off with a good knee. Takedown attempt from Russow and he gets a double leg into McCully’s half-guard. It looks like he’s setting up for a far-side kimura, but he can’t lock it on correctly and instead goes back to driving his elbow into McCully’s face. McCully tries to scramble up as Russow stands to pass, but the Chicago cop quickly gets him back down. He’s basically just using his weight to hold McCully down here. Russow looks for a D’Arce choke as McCully leaves his head out, and then he switches to an anaconda before just going back to the ground-and-pound. Into side mount for Russow and he continues to maul McCully with punches and elbows. Herb Dean decides to call time as Russow’s striking the back of the head, and now he threatens to stop the fight if McCully doesn’t defend himself. They restart standing and throw some ineffective strikes out before McCully tries a flying knee and gets taken down for his troubles. Russow passes into side mount immediately and almost gets the kimura right on the buzzer. Damn that was close. Totally one-sided round there, 10-8 for Mike Russow. This is pretty much a foregone conclusion at this point.

Third and final round and McCully throws out some decent combos that Russow doesn’t exactly look at ease dealing with, making me wonder what someone who could stop a takedown might do to him. McCully though can’t stop the takedown and ends up on his back in guard again, where Russow continues the mauling. Herb Dean decides to stand them up as the action slows down a little, and finally McCully stuffs a takedown and lands some strikes, but they don’t really do much damage as it looks like he’s worried about committing due to the threat of the double leg. Sure enough Russow drops and gets him down again, pinning him into the fence and landing some punches, and the crowd aren’t liking this at all now. Russow’s pace has really slowed in this round which is unsurprising given the shape he appears to be in. McCully just looks exhausted from the beating he’s taken though and he can’t get up at all. Herb decides to bring them back up with about 20 seconds remaining, and McCully finally swings for the fences, but gets taken down quickly and the fight ends on the ground.

Should be a decision for Mike Russow and I have it 30-26. Judges have it a unanimous decision for Russow, 29-28, 30-26 and 30-27. That wasn’t especially an entertaining fight although to be fair to Russow it wasn’t so much that he pulled a lay-and-pray special, more that McCully just seemed unable to do anything at all and yet Russow couldn’t put him away despite landing some solid ground-and-pound as well as having a couple of close submission attempts. Nice win for Russow I guess, but I don’t see him making much noise once he’s matched with someone a little higher up on the totem pole.

Heavyweight Fight: Gabriel Gonzaga vs Chris Tuchscherer

Despite all the talent in the world Gonzaga hadn’t quite lived up to the hype he received after his head kick KO of Mirko Cro Cop, and this was his second ‘rebuilding’ period after his surprising March loss to Shane Carwin. Opponent Tuchscherer had been training with Brock Lesnar at the Minnesota Martial Arts academy for this one, and physically he looks like a cross between Brock and TUF 7’s Jesse Taylor. Or a fat version of WWE’s Mr. Kennedy, make your pick. As Gonzaga had always dealt nastily with these sorts of guys (see Hendricks, Josh) I expected something vicious to finish Tuchscherer here.

Fight begins and they circle before Gonzaga lands a BRUTAL KICK TO THE GROIN. Shit. Referee Dave Hagan quickly steps in and calls time and this one looks HORRIBLE. Tuchscherer’s in SERIOUS PAIN and he’s writhing around on the ground, and it looks like this fight’s over. Doctors flood the ring and try to do, well, something to Tuchscherer that causes him to panic, and he thrashes around like he’s having a fit. Holy fuck, now he’s heaving and coughing like hell. Doctors bring in a bucket and we don’t see it on screen but apparently he’s throwing up. And man, do we REALLY need like four or five replays of this?

Referee explains Tuchscherer gets five minutes to recover, and then with a minute to go, the crowd pop huge as he’s decided to continue! Insane.

We restart, and Tuchscherer is clearly a bit tentative. Gonzaga comes forward and lands a BRUTAL LEFT HIGH KICK that folds him up and knocks him down, but the Brazilian goes down with him too, falling off balance. Tuchscherer tries to grab a single leg, but he ends up mounted and takes some nasty shots before Tuchscherer ends up scrambling and winding up in mount again. Elbows from Gonzaga and Tuchscherer’s cut WIDE OPEN, his forehead absolutely pouring with blood. Tuchscherer gives his back and Napao almost gets a choke before just punching away, and then Tuchscherer rolls and ends up with his face stuck into the cage, taking some BOMBS from Gonzaga. This is criminal. Mount from Gonzaga again and then he takes the back and lands some more shots before Tuchscherer desperately tries to turn into him for a single leg. Napao easily avoids and Tuchscherer ends up in the turtle position, literally crawling as Gonzaga stands back up. Napao spots that he’s wounded and charges in with a right hand that drops him to his stomach, and from there he lands some vicious punches before the ref mercifully stops things.

Normally I like a good beatdown, but that was tough to watch as Tuchscherer was clearly hurt very badly by the groin kick, and really took a largely needless beating before the stoppage. I mean, the guy was bleeding all over the place, barely defending himself – why let it go on for as long as it did? Thank God this wasn’t aired on PPV or the anti-MMA crowd would’ve had major ammunition. You have to feel for Tuchscherer as while I think he was outmatched by Gonzaga anyway, it would’ve been a far better fight without that awful kick. As it was, I’d call it one of the worst fights of 2009 – not for the usual reasons of it being slow or boring, more that it was genuinely awful to watch.

Middleweight Fight: Aaron Simpson vs Ed Herman

This was a pretty big fight for Herman – fighting in his home state finally – as he really needed a win to get his UFC career back on track following a bit of a sticky patch that saw him win just one of three fights since the end of 2007. Arizona Combat Sports’ Simpson meanwhile had come into the UFC from WEC with little fanfare, but as a top-class wrestler with ridiculous athleticism and insanely heavy hands, even at the advanced age of 35, he was clearly a dangerous guy to be facing. My pick here in a mild upset was Simpson by TKO.

First round and they circle, pawing with jabs and throwing out some fast combinations early. Good right hand from Simpson and he follows with a trip takedown before standing over Herman’s guard. Herman manages to pop back up to his feet, but eats a pair of big rights from Simpson before the Arizona native looks for a takedown again. BIG SLAM from Simpson and then he stands over Herman again and drops a couple of hard rights over the top. Crowd chant loudly for Herman as he throws some upkicks, including a couple of odd crab-style side kicks. Simpson avoids the majority of them though and looks to pass, but he can’t get past Herman’s legs and so he tries to drop punches through the guard instead. Good upkick by Herman has Simpson stunned though, and he backs up as Ed gets to his feet. Both men swing for the fences, but Herman gets shoved to the ground on a big knee attempt and that allows Simpson to recover. Herman pushes forward but takes a big clean combo from Simpson that drops him, and now he looks in trouble as Simpson throws some BOMBS down onto the head. Simpson passes into side mount momentarily and lands some more heavy blows, but Herman manages a good hip escape into guard and rolls for an armbar that Simpson avoids. Simpson gets up and stands over him again, and Herman gets back to his feet with a minute to go. Big right hand lands for Simpson and he tackles Herman down, but as they hit the ground Herman visibly yells in pain and it looks like something went wrong on the way down. Simpson smells blood and begins to bomb away again, but Herman manages to keep full guard in and guts out the round. Awesome round.

Between rounds Herman’s knee looks badly injured and it looks like he blew it out on the final takedown based on the replay. I think Simpson probably landed on it with all his weight and that’s what caused the damage.

Surprisingly Herman decides to come out for the second round, actually limping out of his corner, and I can’t believe referee Yves Lavigne is even letting him continue. This is the definition of more guts than brains. Herman comes forward, but as he throws a kick his left leg buckles from underneath him and as Simpson looks to pound him Lavigne stops it there. Post-fight Herman is in AGONY. Awful break for him.

Well, up until the unfortunate injury that was a great fight and was shaping up to be possibly the best of the night. Simpson was clearly ahead but it wasn’t like Herman was taking a beating or anything, and I think it could’ve gone either way had Herman not injured his knee. Herman is tough as old leather for coming out for the second round, but if we’re being honest it was probably a bad decision on his part as he most likely injured himself further. As for Simpson, the guy is clearly a stud and it’s a pity that he’s come into MMA so late, as if he were ten years younger I think he’d be seen as *the* major prospect at 185lbs right now. You can’t really teach his blend of athleticism and power, but whether he can learn all the subtle nuances of MMA before his physical prime passes him by is the big question.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Brandon Vera vs Kryzysztof Soszynski

Vera was originally set to face Matt Hamill here in what would’ve been a pretty intriguing fight, but when the Hammer got injured, TUF 8’s Soszynski stepped in, looking for his third UFC win of 2009 following victories over Brian Stann and Andre Gusmao. Despite Soszynski building some momentum with those wins, I couldn’t see him beating Vera, who, while he hadn’t quite lived up to his potential, clearly had raw talent in all areas that Soszynski was always going to struggle to match. I figured Vera would use his superior Muay Thai to pick the more brawling, plodding Soszynski apart en route to a TKO.

We get underway and Soszynski comes out aggressively swinging, but he takes a VICIOUS body kick from Vera that slows him right down. They throw some strikes from distance and then Vera lands a good knee to the body as Kryzysztof steps forward. Soszynski looks tentative now and he’s keeping well on the outside as Vera looks to counter. Good uppercut glances off the jaw as Soszynski steps in, and then the TUF 8 veteran grabs a clinch and forces Vera into the cage. Vera works to reverse position and then breaks off though, where he lands a good leg kick. Counter right lands for Vera as Soszynski throws a kick. Another good leg kick lands for Vera and this looks like Soszynski’s out of his depth standing. Clinch from Vera and he muscles Soszynski into the fence, where he lands some knees inside. Crowd get restless as the action slows, and then they break off and Vera lands a couple of leg kicks while avoiding Soszynski’s punches. Soszynski tries a takedown, but Vera easily stuffs it and breaks off with a pair of elbows. Good first round for Brandon Vera.

Into the 2nd and Vera opens with a leg kick and a good left hand. Soszynski just can’t seem to catch him with a thing as he throws his punches, and Vera lands another low kick before they clinch. Crowd boo again as they exchange some knees, and a good knee breaks for Vera. Clinch again and this time Vera forces Soszynski into the fence, and they muscle for position before breaking again. Vera is in full counter mode here, and he lands an uppercut before side-stepping Soszynski like a matador. Soszynski manages to clinch again, but Herb Dean calls time to replace Vera’s mouthpiece before restarting them. More punches miss for Soszynski before he goes for another takedown, but he doesn’t come close to getting Vera down and Brandon works to break away. Nice left hand from Vera as he comes forward, and Soszynski grabs a plum clinch but can’t land any knees before forcing Vera into the cage. Soszynski manages to get him down this time, but Vera immediately gets to one knee and works his way up to his feet. Couple of good knees to the legs land for Vera and the round ends in the clinch. Crowd aren’t really into this but it is a good display of technique on the feet from Vera.

Round Three and Soszynski comes forward but walks right into a stiff right hand. Spinning elbow into a body kick from Vera finally pops the crowd. Leg kick and left hand follow and Soszynski just looks unable to do anything. He gets a clinch, but even from there Vera looks technically superior and he stuffs another takedown using a standing kimura. Soszynski gets the clinch again after missing some more shots, and they exchange some knees along the fence. Nice takedown from Vera follows and Soszynski gets half-guard. Some nice punches land for Vera as Soszynski attempts to roll and escape to his feet, but he ends up giving his back and Vera lands a good knee as they stand. Nice knee to the body from Vera but a second one lands low and Herb Dean steps in to separate them, giving Soszynski time to recover. They restart and it’s more of the same as Vera picks him apart before they clinch. Vera breaks off and lands some good shots from the outside, avoiding the desperate swings from the Polish Experiment, and he ends the fight with a nice combo of punches and leg kicks.

Judges score it a shutout for Brandon Vera, all three of them going 30-27. Not the most entertaining fight, but as a display of technical striking from Vera you can’t complain, as he avoided practically everything Soszynski threw at him whilst picking him apart with punches, kicks and knees, and really even in the clinch, Vera was the one who came off better from the position. The body kick in the first round basically set the tone for the fight as Soszynski was slowed down from there and never got back into the fight. Not that it was a flawless fight from Vera – while he won easily I felt that if he’d been more aggressive he could’ve stopped the TUF veteran – and I think if he really wants to reach the upper echelon of the division he needs to amp up his offense rather than playing the counter-striker like he’s been doing recently.

Middleweight Fight: Nate Marquardt vs Demian Maia

How this wasn’t the co-main event of the evening I wasn’t sure, as discounting Dan Henderson for a second, the winner of this one to me clearly put themselves at the front of the queue for a shot at Middleweight champion Anderson Silva. While Maia had submitted everyone put in front of him in his UFC run to this point, and was a more interesting challenger for Anderson purely because of the stylistic match (and the fact that he hadn’t fought Silva before), I couldn’t see him beating Marquardt as Nate had him beaten in all areas outside of pure grappling, and as Carlson Gracie once said, you punch a black belt in the face once and he becomes a brown belt, again and he becomes a purple belt, and so forth. So my pick was Marquardt by TKO midway through the fight.

First round begins and Maia comes out throwing some kicks...before leaping right into a HUGE RIGHT HAND COUNTER from Nate that knocks him silly! Maia is DONE and Marquardt doesn’t even have to follow up to finish him off. Good lord.

Replay shows the knockout was even sicker than it first looked as Maia was knocked out cold in mid-air and faceplanted down into the canvas. Brutal stuff – one of the best KOs of the year in fact. Didn’t expect that win to come so quick and easy for Marquardt, that’s for sure. And that’s a nasty way to take your first loss if you’re Maia, too. Marquardt really is an incredible case study in what human drive and sheer will can do for you, as he’s gone from one of the most dull guys on the roster in terms of his fighting style to one of the most exciting, purely because he lost to Anderson Silva and decided he needed to be more aggressive with his offense because of it. At this point I think he’s the second-best 185lber in the world behind Silva and I’d definitely pay to see a second fight between the two. This was total highlight-reel stuff and was enough to steal the Knockout of the Night award from Todd Duffee, which is saying something!

Middleweight Fight: Jake Rosholt vs Chris Leben

This was Leben’s return to action following his suspension for steroid abuse after his loss to Michael Bisping, and being a hometown guy I was expecting the Portland crowd to go nuts for him. However, on paper I saw Rosholt as a bad fight for him as Jake is perhaps the very best wrestler in the world at 185lbs, and not only that, he appeared to have a very hard head in his WEC fight with Nissen Osterneck. In a mild upset I was taking Rosholt to use his superior wrestling to grind out Leben for a decision.

Round One begins and Rosholt takes the center of the cage as Leben circles on the outside. Leben actually looks tentative here, probably due to the threat of the takedown, and nothing happens for pretty much the whole first minute as the crowd chant for the Crippler. They exchange little outside of a couple of low kicks, and then Rosholt steps in with a good right hand and a knee. Leben manages to counter it though by taking Rosholt down, where he gets full guard. Leben chops at the body as Rosholt looks to control him from his back, and then manages to kick him away and escapes to his feet. Good leg kick from Leben as he pushes forward and the action slows before Rosholt gets a bodylock and trips Leben down, moving quickly into mount. Leben sits up against the fence and leaves his head free, so Jake looks to work a guillotine before letting Leben stand, where he catches him with a right hand and a good knee. Leben of course eats it right up and stalks forward, landing a pair of left hands that put Rosholt on the run as the round ends.

Round Two and Rosholt comes out and lands a heavy one-two, but Leben answers by countering a kick with a left hand that drops Rosholt to the ground. Rosholt gets guard but Leben passes to half-guard right away and slugs at the body. Good work from Rosholt to get back to full guard and they exchange some short strikes from there but things get a little slow as Leben isn’t really active from the position. Referee decides to stand them back up and Leben’s looking for the big left now. Left high kick lands for Leben and he follows with a nasty left hook, but Rosholt takes it without even wincing, out-chinning Leben himself almost! They end up clinched and Leben goes old-school Marco Ruas style by stomping the feet. Elbow breaks for Rosholt and he comes forward with a right hand and a double leg. He passes to half-guard and grabs a headlock as Leben turns, but he lets go and decides to stand before dropping back into half-guard. Few good punches land for Rosholt and then he stands over Leben and allows him back to his feet. Leben comes chasing forward, landing some heavy punches to end the round, and man does Rosholt have a good chin. Fun round actually.

Round Three and Rosholt circles on the outside before taking a body kick. Single leg from Rosholt and he lands in half-guard. He lands some short punches and looks to pass, trapping the right arm for a potential arm triangle. Leben frees that, but gives up mount in the process. He hip escapes back to half-guard but Rosholt lands some good elbows and then as Leben attempts to slip free, Rosholt mounts again and this time he grabs the arm triangle fully as Leben tries to turn. This looks horribly tight and Rosholt turns like a clock and squeezes, and Leben decides to go out on his sword and passes out rather than tapping. Referee Yves Lavigne pulls Rosholt off...and Leben begins to twitch, kicking his legs up in the air like he’s having a seizure. SICK. That finish alone makes up for the dull moments earlier in the fight!

Not the best fight of all time as there were some slower points, but overall this was a very impressive win for Jake Rosholt as he took some of the best shots Leben had to offer, and ended up choking out a far more experienced fighter after holding his own in practically all areas. If he can continue to hone his game then he could develop into a very good fighter in the future. As for Leben, I just don’t know at this point – with his win over Terry Martin in 2007 he did appear to be on the way to reaching his potential, but since then he seems to have digressed back to the iron-chinned brawler that he was on TUF, and with a wild rumor flying around that he hadn’t even trained for this fight with Rosholt you wonder how much longer he’ll be able to survive in the UFC, as he’s largely staying afloat on his ‘TUF bad boy’ reputation at this stage.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Thiago Silva vs Keith Jardine

Both of these men were coming off losses – Silva to Lyoto Machida, Jardine to Rampage Jackson – but they’re perennially ranked in the top ten at 205lbs and so that alone made it an interesting fight to me. As far as a pick went, while Jardine’s got great skills in all areas, his losses to Houston Alexander and Wanderlei Silva had shown that he struggles if his opponent swarms on him, and Thiago is one of the most aggressive fighters in the whole division, so I was taking the Brazilian to stop Jardine early in the first round with a brutal knockout.

We begin and Jardine comes out with a low stance and lands a vicious, chopping leg kick. Silva stalks forward as Jardine switches stances a couple of times before landing a kick to the body. He slips though and winds up on his back in guard, where he looks to control Silva’s posture as Thiago works through to half-guard. Nice sweep from Jardine and they come back up to their feet. Silva pushes forward as Jardine looks to land with combinations, but as he throws one Silva counters with a short left hook to the jaw that drops the Dean of Mean! Jardine sits up to recover, but Thiago wastes no time in dropping some BRUTAL SHOTS over the top that land flush and stiffen Jardine up.

That was a nasty, nasty knockout. Fight went pretty much how I’d expected as Silva capitalized the first time he hurt Jardine and put him away with stone cold precision. Jardine’s still a dangerous match for anyone, but at this point I think his chin’s been cracked too many times and it looks like if you can catch him and follow up quickly then he can be put away with little difficulty. Silva’s not the most technical guy standing but he carries knockout power and has scary killer instinct, and it was that killer instinct that won him this fight. Easily the biggest win of his career thus far and another highlight reel knockout on a show that’s had a few thus far.

Heavyweight Fight: Randy Couture vs Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

While this was an admittedly huge match on paper as both men had been around the top five of the Heavyweight division for years, in all honesty I just didn’t know what to expect. Both fighters had been stopped by TKOs in their last fight, and with Couture’s advanced age and Nogueira having taken perhaps more punishment than any other top-level fighter in the game, I just didn’t know how much either man had left in the tank. Still, the winner was likely to put themselves in line for a future title fight based on name recognition alone, and so that in itself made it a mega-fight for the UFC.

While on paper the advantages seemed to lie with Couture, who was seen as the better stand-up fighter and was clearly the better wrestler, I just couldn’t look past the fact that Nogueira had always somehow been able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and the rumor that the loss to Mir had been caused more by a knee injury and a horrible staph infection was still floating around. With Couture looking more physically deteriorated than he’d ever done before in his previous fight against Brock Lesnar, I was leaning towards Minotauro to pull out the victory, either by submission or decision, despite the fact that the smart money was on Couture pounding him out on the ground.

Crowd give Couture a MONSTROUS pop upon entrance; probably as loud, if not louder than his pop in Columbus at UFC 68 when he first came out of retirement. Well, it is his hometown. Thankfully Portland is respectful though and they don’t boo Nogueira at all, giving him a decent pop in his own right. Well, let’s be honest, who could boo Nogueira anyway? The guy is not only a legend, he comes off as pretty much the nicest guy in the world too. And physically he looks a million times better than he did in the Mir fight too, 231lbs here as opposed to the 250lbs+ that he was at that point.

And here we go! Combination lands for Randy early but Nog shakes it off. Takedown attempt from Nogueira is easily avoided by Couture. Massive RANDY chant erupts from the crowd as they exchange jabs and Nogueira clips him with a right hand. Good right from Randy and then they pull the Frye-Takayama spot, grabbing each others head and punching away before Nog attempts to pull guard. Randy’s having none of that and stands right back up. They exchange into the clinch and work for position before Randy breaks off, and then he lands a right hand into another clinch. They break again and exchange punches, and Nogueira DROPS HIM WITH A RIGHT HAND! Nog pounces on him and Randy tries to get up, but leaves his head out and Nogueira locks up a D’Arce choke and SQUEEZES! Randy looks in DEEP TROUBLE as Nogueira gator rolls, trying to finish the choke, but somehow Couture survives it and escapes to his feet! Crowd go WILD for that. Good leg kick from Nog as they exchange jabs. They circle and now Randy lands some good punches before Nogueira answers with a nice combo of his own. Massive left-right combo lands for Randy but Nog stays in the pocket and fires back with a left! He’s bleeding from his left eye though. Another combo from Randy and now they’re just going TOE TO TOE trading shots! Holy fuck. Crowd are going INSANE as they brawl in the center of the cage before Randy forces him into the cage. Never expected these two to have a shootout like this, that’s for sure. They muscle for position in the clinch and Randy gets the better of it, forcing Nog into the fence, and the round ends there. AWESOME round but it has to go to Nogueira for the knockdown and the D’Arce attempt. THIS is the Nogueira we all know and love from PRIDE.

Into the 2nd and Randy looks to work the jab as Nogueira fires right back and they almost trade off again. Good left hook from Minotauro stuns Randy and he grabs a guillotine and looks to pull guard, but Randy slips his head free and ends up on top in the guard. Good elbows from the top for Randy as he looks to grind Nogueira out, but suddenly Nog hits a SICK REVERSAL TO MOUNT!~! Now Randy looks in trouble again as Nog peppers him with punches, but he manages to get a hip escape to half-guard. Arm triangle attempt from Nogueira and it looks locked up, and he moves to full mount, but Randy answers the phone to prevent the choke so Nog looks to soften him up with some punches. Randy manages to free his arm and the crowd EXPLODE. This fight OWNS. Randy manages to get half-guard back again and then as Nog looks to pass, he escapes to his feet. One minute to go in the round and Randy comes forward swinging, and we get another trade-off! Pair of HARD LEFTS land for Randy and snap Nogueira’s head back, but he keeps coming forward. THE REAL NOG IS BACK. Good leg kick lands for him and the round ends with another exchange. I’ve got Nogueira up two rounds to none here. This is an unbelievable fight.

Round Three and Randy comes out and lands a good combo that barely even flinches Nog. They trade off again and this time Nogueira gets the better of it and wobbles Randy with a right hand. BIG RIGHT HAND folds Randy like a bad poker hand and Nogueira pounces with hammer fists, looking to finish! Couture manages to cover up and survives, but now he’s in guard with Nogueira on top. Nog moves into half-guard and then slides into side mount, where he lands some punches to the head as Randy tries to move himself back to half-guard. Looks like Randy is cut over the right eye now. He tries to work his way to his feet, but gives his back and Nogueira gets one hook in. Two minutes to go now and Nog can’t get the second hook in. He tries to slide his arm under the neck, but Couture reverses into the Brazilian’s guard to a HUGE CROWD POP. There’s a minute to go though and he needs to finish to win. Good elbow from Randy but he looks pretty tired to be fair and with seconds to go Nog hits a beautiful sweep to end the fight. Incredible stuff.

Judges have it 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 for Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Truly one of the greatest performances of his amazing career, especially coming off the awful loss to Mir. Not that Randy fought badly or anything – he fought his heart out and looked much better here than he did against Lesnar – but he was beaten by a better fighter on this night. Forgetting about a winner and a loser for a moment though – I didn’t know what to expect from these two based on their last fights, but man, to see them deliver a classic like that was unbelievable. This was pure action from start to finish, with insane striking exchanges, great grappling, submission attempts and escapes, and a red-hot crowd. There were some great fights this year but this is right at the top of the tree, a high-end FOTYC. I am in awe of Rodrigo Nogueira and Randy Couture. Bravo to both men.

-Highlight reel follows and God damn did Portland get a great show.

Final Thoughts....

I’m sure some people would say I’m overrating it a little, but I honestly think UFC 102 is by far the best show the UFC put on in 2009 and I’d go as far as saying it was the best show since UFC 84 back in May 2008 too. There were no real bad fights although Vera-Soszynski and McCully-Russow got slow at points (and Gonzaga-Tuschscherer was hard to watch, but let’s not touch on that), and for the most part the card was full of either back-and-forth, exciting wars like Catone-Munoz, Dunham-Aurelio and Herman-Simpson, or highlight reel finishes like Duffee-Hague, Marquardt-Maia and Silva-Jardine. Even the lone submission was memorable thanks to Leben’s odd kicking after he’d passed out. Add in a high-end Fight of the Year Candidate between the two legends in the main event – a classic where I was honestly expecting far, far less, and you’ve got a genuinely awesome show. Thumbs way, way up for this one.

Best Fight: Nogueira-Couture
Worst Fight: Gonzaga-Tuchscherer

Overall Rating: ****3/4

Coming Soon....

UFC: 103-107, Fight Night 19
WEC: 45
Strike Force: Fedor vs. Rogers and Evolution
King of the Cage: Various shows

Until next time,

Scott Newman:

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