Unbeaten Czech prospect Vemola, fighting out of the London Shoot gym, had finished all of his previous seven opponents coming into his UFC debut while Madsen had put together two wins since his TUF run albeit in two of the worst UFC fights in recent memory. My hope here was for a Vemola knockout, but given that he’s an undersized HW with a lack of a wrestling background, the smart money was on another Madsen snoozer.
First round gets underway and Vemola comes out quickly, throwing a right hand before looking for the takedown. He lifts Madsen up for a slam, but Madsen shows some good wrestling skill to avoid it and ends up grabbing a front facelock to slow the newcomer down. Big right hand from Madsen on the way out wobbles Vemola, and he looks for a single leg, but Madsen stuffs it and lands some punches. Vemola attempts a judo throw but Madsen blocks that and they clinch, where Madsen muscles the Czech into the fence and lands some short punches. Crowd begin to get restless as Vemola struggles to break away, being pinned firmly into the cage by the larger man. Referee Mario Yamasaki calls time as Vemola’s lost his mouthpiece, and after a quick rinse they restart standing. Wild swing misses for Vemola and Madsen stuffs a takedown attempt too, and we’re back to the clinch. Yamasaki calls a break after some inactivity, and they circle before Vemola throws the wild right again into the clinch. Madsen muscles him into the fence again though and this time he gets a takedown to half-guard. Solid body shots land for Madsen as Vemola looks stuck from underneath. Round ends in that position. Seriously dull round that goes to Madsen 10-9.
Vemola looks gassed pretty bad between the rounds. They come out for the 2nd and circle before Madsen grabs a clinch and runs the pipe as Vemola tries to get away, before getting a takedown to half-guard. Very little happens from there as Madsen grinds away with his elbow in the face of the Czech, and it doesn’t look like Vemola’s going to be getting up unless the ref calls a stand-up. Finally Yamasaki calls the stand-up, but Vemola looks EXHAUSTED now and Madsen looks to open up with punches. He swiftly changes his mind as Vemola swings the overhand right into a takedown attempt again, unsurprisingly stuffing it and forcing the Czech into the fence. Quick separation from the referee and Madsen pushes forward before countering a leg kick with a sharp right hand. He forces Vemola into the fence again and ends the round with some knees. Round was all Jon Madsen but it was far from exciting again.
Third and final round and Madsen avoids the wild swings again to get a clinch. Vemola manages to break off, but he’s telegraphing all his strikes now. Single leg from Madsen brings the Czech to the ground in full guard. This is one of the most boring UFC fights of the year. No surprise that Jon Madsen would be involved. Madsen does little from the top, and really the only action ends up being a weak kimura attempt from Vemola that Madsen avoids easily. Crowd begin to boo as Madsen advances into half-guard and then side mount. He still doesn’t do much though as Vemola attempts to push off the fence using his legs. Yamasaki decides to stand them up from north/south position, disgusting Joe Rogan, but to be fair Madsen was doing absolutely squat. He quickly closes the distance and this time Vemola attempts a guillotine and pulls guard, but Madsen pops his head free and ends up on top. Very swift stand-up follows and Vemola ends the fight with a series of uppercuts from the clinch.
Judges have it 30-27 for Jon Madsen. Well, Vemola tried, but he gassed early and his offense was way too stiff and telegraphed to give Madsen any problems. That said, Madsen hardly looked stellar, and did so little that in terms of excitement he made Gray Maynard look like Carlos Condit. I don’t think there’s ever been such an underwhelming three-fight winning streak in the UFC, in fact. Horrible, horrible opener.
Roberts – who had been viciously KOd by John Howard in March – was initially pegged to fight Julio Paulino here, but the Dominican got injured and so Petz, who hadn’t seen UFC action since October 2007, stepped in on short notice. Given that Petz hadn’t looked stellar since leaving the UFC, my pick here was a Roberts win.
Round One begins and Roberts pushes forward right away, looking for a takedown and getting it pretty easily. Petz looks to use the cage to escape to his feet, but Roberts gets hold of his legs and keeps him down. Good job from Petz to post up though, and he shoves off and breaks free. They circle with Petz pressing the action with strikes, although he doesn’t land anything noteworthy. Takedown from Roberts but Petz again escapes back to his feet. Good knee to the body from Petz inside the clinch as they muscle for position. Roberts breaks off before shooting again, and this time he manages to wrestle Petz to the ground. He works into side mount and then takes full mount, taking the back as Petz attempts to roll. That was a nice move. Roberts looks to snake the left arm under the chin to get the rear naked choke, but Petz shows some veteran savvy and defends it nicely, managing to last out the round. 10-9 Roberts pretty much for the last minute or so.
Round Two and they circle with Petz landing a couple of leg kicks. Roberts shoots for the takedown, but Petz stuffs it and lands a right hand. They continue to circle before Roberts looks for a single and turns the corner to put Petz on his back in guard. Petz immediately looks to scoot back towards the fence to stand, but Roberts pulls him back down and transitions onto the back again, getting both hooks in. It’s a carbon copy of the first round from there as Roberts looks for the choke while Petz defends, but this time Petz does a tremendous job of escaping, turning into Roberts before taking his back. Punches land for Petz and he rocks Roberts with a big right hand as they get to their feet. Roberts goes on the retreat and Petz looks to follow up, but he can’t land cleanly and Roberts manages to get a single leg. Petz uses a whizzer to avoid going to his back for a second, but Roberts scrambles and manages to land on top in side mount. He can’t hold Petz down this time though and they come back to their feet before Petz slams Roberts down. Roberts looks for a guillotine, but he can’t lock it up correctly and the round ends with Petz on top. Close round but I’d go Petz 10-9.
Round Three and both men look pretty tired, but Petz seems slightly fresher and he looks to throw some strikes. Good right hand lands for the Meat Cleaver. Leg kick follows and slows Roberts down. Head kick attempt glances off Petz. Roberts is letting this fight slip away here. Roberts continues to push forward, but a couple of punches land to his body and Petz follows with a hard left hook. Single leg attempt from Roberts and he drives Petz back before bringing him down. Roberts passes to half-guard and drops some elbows, landing some solid shots as Petz tries to scramble free. Little happens now as Roberts holds him down, before looking to pass to the mount. He manages to get it, and looks to isolate an arm before giving up on it. Petz desperately scrambles from the bottom, but can’t escape the mount and Roberts ends the fight in dominant position. Super-close fight to score but I think I’d give it to Roberts based on the last minute or so.
Judges have it a split decision, 29-28 Petz, 29-28 Roberts and 29-28 for Daniel Roberts to steal the win. Well, I knew it was close and really you could argue for either man taking the fight as they both did well in some areas while neither man really did enough for the clear-cut win. Not the greatest fight in the world but it was solid enough and the UFC always needs more mid-level guys so hey, I’m not complaining.
After two successive KO wins since his return to the UFC, I expected Joe Silva to match Harris with someone higher up the ladder here, but instead he was faced with another UFC debutant in Branch. Despite Branch sporting an unbeaten record I figured Harris’ previous Octagon experience would come into play and he’d score another knockout here.
Fight begins and we get little action in the first minute as they circle around waiting for the other man to make the first move. Harris has a seriously low stance here. Head kick misses for Branch. Leg kick lands for him as Harris hasn’t done much yet. Harris rushes in with a flurry, but eats a knee coming in from Branch that slows him down. Quick combo from Harris puts Branch on his back foot but he doesn’t really follow it up. Couple of big swings miss for the TUF veteran. Harris continues to swing for the fences and despite missing manages to knock Branch off balance for a moment as he backpedals. Right hand from Branch. Good combination from Harris into the clinch and he muscles Branch into the cage. Harris drops for the takedown but Branch defends and remains on his feet. Couple of nice elbows to the head and shoulder from Branch, but Harris manages to elevate him and drop him down into guard. Round ends as Branch looks for a triangle. Pretty dull round actually; I’d score it 10-10 because neither man really imposed their will.
Round Two and Harris easily shrugs off a weak takedown attempt. They circle out again before Branch tries the high kick again. Harris avoids and gets a takedown to guard, but Branch quickly looks to set up something from his back, keeping his hips active. Good elbow from Harris. He postures up and delivers a pair of solid right hands, but Branch remains calm and keeps looking to get his legs up for a submission. They come back to their feet and Harris lands a knee inside the clinch. Branch reverses position and forces Harris into the fence, before Harris drops for a single leg and gets him down again. Branch gets full guard, but Harris avoids his attempts at the triangle and then stands, cracking the newcomer with a right hand on the way up. Thirty seconds remaining and Branch pushes forward before Harris lands a right hook to slow him up. Round goes to Gerald Harris, 10-9.
Third round and Branch comes out aggressively, charging in and landing a head kick early. Harris looks for the takedown, but Branch gets a triangle choke almost locked before Harris SLAMS HIS WAY OUT. Nice. Harris winds up on top in the guard before Branch pushes off the hips and gets to his feet, eating a short left hand on the way out. Branch shoots his way into the clinch and lands a couple of knees, as the camera angle exposes that he’s holding the fence to keep Harris in place. Herb Dean decides to break them up for the foul and they restart with Branch landing a knee and a right. Harris drives in for the takedown and forces him back into the cage, really dropping his head, and this time Branch jumps to guard....but Harris catches him and DELIVERS A HUGE SLAM FOR THE KNOCKOUT!~!
Holy shit that was a loud slam. Insane stuff. Replay shows Harris placed his forearm across the throat to prevent Branch from tucking his head which is both smart and terrifying. He didn’t even have to follow up with another shot as Branch was out the moment he hit the ground. Fight wasn’t much but that slam is a surefire contender for knockout of the year and has propelled Harris onto the main PPV card for his next fight.
Initially this was pegged as part of the Spike TV prelim broadcast, but after Grove bashed Spike for silly reasons, the fight was relegated to the untelevised portion of the show. With Reljic being a guy who I figured had a lot of potential prior to his awful back injury, I was picking him to finish the former TUF winner early in this one.
First round and they circle with some feeler strikes, both men missing high kicks. Two minutes gone and neither man’s landed anything significant. Reljic is still really throwing the left kick all the time, just as he’s done in all of his UFC fights. Single leg attempt from Reljic and he gets Kendall down to guard. Couple of decent elbows land for Grove from his back, and when Reljic stands to drop some shots, he catches him with a BIG UPKICK that drops the Croatian for a second! Nice! Grove pops up but Reljic looks recovered pretty instantly. Grove closes in and looks to follow up, grabbing a plum clinch, but Reljic quickly breaks it and forces him into the fence. Reljic looks for the takedown, but he can’t get Kendall to the ground and they exchange knees before separating to end the round. Close round but I’d give it to Grove for the upkick as it was practically the only significant offense from either man.
Round Two and they circle before Reljic catches Kendall cleanly with a hard left hook. Grove looks stunned, and takes a big knee to the gut before landing a single leg takedown to put Reljic on his back. Butterfly guard from Reljic and he looks to hook up Kendall’s arm, going for an oma plata, and in a nice move he uses it to sweep into top position, avoiding a leglock in the process. Reljic stands over the TUF winner and this time keeps his distance to avoid the upkicks, but he still eats a glancing one on his way back into the guard. Kendall stays active from his back with some elbows as Reljic stays low in the guard, only landing the odd decent shot. Exchange continues in the guard and it must be said that Grove is the more active of the two despite being on the bottom. Crowd begin to boo with about 1:40 remaining in the round, and with a minute to go referee Mario Yamasaki calls a stand-up. Grove pushes forward, but takes a low kick that knocks him off balance for a moment. Neither man gets the better of the exchange and the round peters out on the feet. Difficult round to score as Reljic did better standing and got the sweep and top position, but Grove did more damage from his back. Probably a 10-9 round for Reljic but it could go either way.
Third and final round and this should be the decisive one. Grove pushes forward early and pops Reljic with a right hand that puts the Croatian on the defensive. Left high kick misses for Reljic. Takedown attempt from Reljic but Kendall stuffs it nicely. High kick is blocked by Reljic. Good inside leg kick follows for the TUF winner. Grove continues to push forward, but Reljic gets a single leg and takes him down. Grove grabs a guillotine though and uses it to stand before delivering a knee on the break. Good body kick from Reljic. Hard leg kick from the Croatian and it wobbles Grove’s legs, but Kendall comes back with the plum clinch and lands two knees and a Faber-style hopping knee. Reljic drives him into the fence and looks for the takedown, but Kendall defends it and lands some elbows from close distance. Knees from Reljic and he gets the takedown to half-guard, then works to pass into side mount. Grove blocks it, but the Croatian slips out into side mount and transitions to north/south. Seconds to go and Reljic controls him, but doesn’t do any damage and Kendall scrambles to his feet on the buzzer. Really close round to score but I’d probably say Reljic stole it right at the end. Fight could go either way.
Judges score it a split decision, 29-28 Reljic, 30-27 Grove and 29-28 for Kendall Grove. I could see all of those scores to be honest as while this was a decent little fight, neither guy really asserted themselves enough to be the clear-cut winner. Good win for Grove but I suspect Reljic would be better off going back to 205lbs as this move to Middleweight hasn’t seemed to have done him any good thus far.
Newcomer Romero – out of the same camp as Frankie Edgar – was bringing in a solid reputation to his UFC debut after winning 10 of 11 fights with his only loss being by DQ. Initially pegged to face former WEC champ Steve Cantwell, he ended up being matched with the Kimbo Killer, metrosexual legend Seth Petruzelli in his own long-awaited Octagon return. Being a longtime fan of Seth’s I picked him to win by knockout. On a side note, apparently Seth’s entrance here initially involved a midget portraying a ‘mini-Seth’, but Spike TV nixed the plans when they decided to air the fight. Bastards.
First round begins and at a glance Romero resembles old-school UFC fighter Petey Williams! Seth looks to be in tremendous shape. Leg kick opens the fight for Seth and he follows with some crisp punches. Single leg attempt from Romero but Seth stuffs it nicely. Combination hurts Romero and Seth follows up and has him on the run, but the newcomer manages to clinch to slow him down. Seth shrugs him off and lands another combo ending with a head kick that drops Romero for a split-second. Good jab from Romero and he looks for a takedown, but Petruzelli again muscles him off and creates some distance with a front kick. Decent punches from Romero into the clinch, but Seth muscles him off again. Seth looks a little slower now, but stuns Romero again with two right hands and has him on the retreat. Spinning back kick misses for Petruzelli and it allows Romero to grab a rear waistlock and pull him to the ground. Romero goes for a Peruvian necktie but misses it, and Seth gets on top and opens up with some heavy ground-and-pound. Good right hands from Petruzelli and then he postures up and lands some hard shots. Romero manages to reverse him though with a lift, and puts him on his back before taking full mount. High mount from Romero and he grinds with his forearms before looking for a keylock, but Seth rolls and gives his back. Good elbows from Romero and then he goes for an armbar, but Seth pops free and gets to his feet, where he drops Romero with a big uppercut! Single leg attempt from Romero but Seth goes donkey kong and drops some DOUBLE HAMMER FISTS TO THE HEAD! Whoa. He suddenly runs out of gas though, and gives his back in a horrible move, ending the round almost caught in a choke. That was an awesome round. 10-9 Petruzelli.
Round Two and Romero pushes forward as Seth still looks tired. Big knee and head kick hurt Romero though and cause him to stumble, but he still keeps coming forward. This guy is tough as nails. Another combination has him rocked, but he still won’t go down. Romero shoots for a takedown and Petruzelli stuffs it and almost gets an armbar, but Romero slips free. Seth continues to look for the armbar, and it looks for a second like he’s locked it up, but Romero twists free and winds up on top in the guard. Romero’s cut badly somewhere on his face, but it doesn’t seem to be affecting him as he works the body over with punches. Seth tries some elbows from the bottom, and then looks for a triangle, but Romero slips free and passes to north/south. Petruzelli looks a bit stuck, and Romero sets up for a straight armbar and cranks on it, causing some SERIOUS PAIN as Seth taps, looked like he might’ve popped the elbow or something.
Nasty ending to what turned out to be a hell of a fight, as Seth came out like a man possessed and hit Romero with everything but the kitchen sink, but Romero turned out to be as tough as leather and wouldn’t go away and in the end Seth just ran out of gas and got caught in the submission. Discounting the Korean Zombie-Leonard Garcia fight as that was a WEC show, this was probably the best prelim fight Spike TV have managed to show thus far. Tremendous stuff.
This was sort of an appetiser for the main event, as Schaub trains with Shane Carwin while Tuchscherer is Brock Lesnar’s primary training partner. Given how good Schaub had looked against Chase Gormley in March and given how, well, awful Tuchscherer had looked in both of his previous UFC outings, I picked the Hybrid to win here by nasty KO.
Fight begins and Tuchscherer circles around as Schaub takes a very low stance, clearly looking to strike. Leg kick from Tuchscherer but he eats some quick punches from Schaub coming in. They continue to circle before a STIFF RIGHT HAND TO THE TEMPLE drops Tuchscherer hard, and Schaub quickly finishes things off with some punches on the ground. Post-fight Tuchscherer tries to protest the stoppage...then falls right back down when he tries to get up. HA.
Damn, Schaub did not fuck around there. Sure, nobody is going to mistake Tuchscherer for an elite-level fighter anytime soon, but still, to get to the top you have to beat guys like him and Schaub did it in the most impressive way possible. Looks like he might be on his way to living up to the potential he showed on the TUF tapings after all. Hell of a knockout.
Fresh off the biggest win of his career over Joe Stevenson, Sotiropoulos was faced here with another man who had been on a strong winning streak in Pellegrino, who hadn’t lost since a 2008 submission to Nate Diaz. Close fight on paper but I gave the slight advantage both standing and on the ground to Greek George, and picked him to win a decision.
Fight gets underway and George comes out firing quick, crisp punches and lands a right hand over the top. Leg kick lands for Pellegrino but he eats a combination from the Aussie. Both men look content to box here. Exchange continues and a big combination lands for Sotiropoulos and drops Pellegrino, and George quickly gets on top and looks to capitalize. Big punches land for the Aussie and he takes the back, but Kurt manages to spin to avoid back control. Good scramble from Pellegrino and he escapes to his feet, where he lands a nice right hand. Jabs from George and he’s definitely getting the better of the punching exchanges. Pair of left hooks stun Pellegrino again, but he gets a takedown. Good scramble from George allows him to escape to his feet right away. Crowd begin a USA chant, but Sotiropoulos appears to be landing the left hook practically at will. Good knee from George as Pellegrino leans in. Right hook into a left hook land for the Aussie before Pellegrino hits a takedown to guard. Sotiropoulos immediately goes to the rubber guard and locks him up with both legs to land some strikes from the bottom. Pellegrino does a good job of popping out though and moves to half-guard, but Sotiropoulos quickly transitions to full guard and lands an elbow to finish the round. Good round for George Sotiropoulos, 10-9.
2nd round and Sotiropoulos comes right out and works the jab, before Pellegrino lands with a left hook. Single leg from George but Kurt shows some good balance to avoid. Good work from George allows him to drag Pellegrino to the ground though and right away he moves into half-guard. Excellent job from Pellegrino to get back to full guard and he tries to work the elbows from the bottom, but George passes into half-guard again and then works into full mount before a hip escape gets half-guard back for Kurt. Elbows from Sotiropoulos and then he lands a series of short punches to the head. Good elbows to the side of the head follow and George almost passes, but Kurt keeps scrambling and gets to the fence. Pellegrino looks to wall-walk to his feet, but George pulls him down and moves to side mount. Again Kurt tries to get to his feet, and risks giving his back in the process. This time he gets back to standing, but George still has a hold of him with a waistlock. He almost gets a slam, but Kurt shows some solid base and stays on his feet. Crowd begin to boo and fuck them, quite frankly, as this is a great fight. Finally Kurt breaks free, and they exchange combinations with George landing a glancing head kick before Kurt hits him with a lunging knee. Round ends with Sotiropoulos landing a one-two, and man, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fighter look as dejected as Pellegrino does walking back to his corner. I’m talking Kalib Starnes against Yushin Okami levels. At least Kurt doesn’t admit to his corner that his opponent’s faster than him and hits a lot harder than him, however. 10-9 George Sotiropoulos.
Final round and they exchange punches again, but again George gets the better of it using the left hook and the jab. Big punches have Pellegrino looking wobbly, but he again manages to take the Aussie down. George immediately works with elbows from the bottom though and stays active, shifting his hips constantly. Looks like he might be prepping for a sweep, but Pellegrino shows some good base to avoid and lands a good elbow. Rubber guard from Sotiropoulos into “crackhead control” and man do I wish Eddie Bravo would come up with better names for these positions. Shit, use Portuguese if you like, that always sounds cool. One minute to go and Kurt manages to pull free and lands some punches on the way back to their feet. Into the clinch and George muscles him into the fence, but with seconds to go Kurt breaks off and drops him with a knee and a flurry of punches on the buzzer! Wow.
We’re going to the judges and they have it a unanimous decision for George Sotiropoulos, 29-28 all round. Well, Pellegrino probably took the final round with the knockdown, but that was about the only bit of success he had in the whole fight as the Aussie outworked him in all areas, standing and on the ground, from start to finish. Sotiropoulos has come a long, long way since his “I’m not your fuckin alarm clock, mate!” days on TUF. In a way the one bad thing about the WEC merger is that the Ben Henderson-Anthony Pettis winner gets an instant title shot, as it means if Sotiropoulos beats Joe Lauzon this month (which I suspect he will) he’ll probably have to fight again before a title opportunity when he’s probably done enough to deserve one now. But hey, George against the winner of Kenny Florian-Evan Dunham in May or something for the #1 Contender’s spot could work I guess. This fight was tremendous stuff by the way, awesome from a technical standpoint with very few slow spots.
These two had clashed at UFC 110 in an exciting match that ended on a largely bullshit call, as Bonnar got cut via an accidental headbutt but the referee still called a TKO win for Soszynski. Despite Bonnar being desperate for redemption, I’d had Soszynski ahead at the time of the stoppage in the first fight and couldn’t see a different result here.
We get started and they trade wildly right off the bat with Soszynski getting the better of it. Bonnar dances out and takes a leg kick from the Canadian before Stephan answers right back. Bonnar begins to push forward, and catches a leg kick to take Soszynski down. Soszynski ties him up from the guard and then manages to roll Stephan over and escape to his feet, where he opens up with a combination that forces Bonnar to cover up. They clinch against the fence and muscle for position, and it looks like Stephan is cut already. Good elbows inside from Bonnar and he looks to have Soszynski slightly hurt. They break off and continue to trade strikes before Bonnar misses a spinning back kick and allows Soszynski to grab a rear waistlock. Bonnar slips free, but eats a flurry that puts him on the retreat before they clinch. Good elbows inside the clinch again from Bonnar and Soszynski has to back out. Big kick to the body and a right hand land for Stephan and he forces Soszynski back into the cage. Stephan looks for a single leg, but Soszynski blocks it before Bonnar breaks. Good one-two from Soszynski, and he tags Bonnar with a hard combo that forces him to clinch. This is literally Round Four. Head kick breaks the clinch for Bonnar and he ends the round with a front kick. Wild stuff as you’d expect.
Round Five, erm, sorry, Two, and Bonnar opens with a nice double jab. Big punches form Soszynski have Stephan wobbled badly, and he looks to finish him off but Stephan manages to grab a clinch to slow him down. Good knee from Bonnar and he opens up with a flurry that has Soszynski covering up, before he fires back with a right that wobbles Bonnar’s legs! Soszynski now looks to follow, but they end up clinched again and it looks like Soszynski’s going for a takedown. Big knee breaks for Bonnar and he lands a right uppercut that stuns Soszynski, and Stephan follows with more punches and a head kick. Bonnar continues to push the pace, causing Soszynski to drop for a takedown, but Stephan switches position and drags him to the ground, landing in side mount. Elbows to the lower back from Bonnar and it looks like he might be setting up for a kimura, but Soszynski powers back up to his feet. Both men are covered in blood now. Suddenly a BIG KNEE from the clinch buckles Soszynski’s legs and drops him face-first to the ground, and as he turtles up Stephan pounds away at the head! Soszynski tries desperately to hang on, but Stephan continues to punch at the head and finally Mario Yamasaki steps in to stop it! Bonnar gives the TRADEMARK CREEPY STARE!~! to the camera in celebration and the crowd go wild like it’s mid-2005 again.
Neither man is going to be contending for the title any time soon but man was that a fun fight. They just came out swinging literally from the first second and never stopped until Soszynski got hurt and couldn’t take any more. Crazy stuff. Big win for Bonnar too and a very important one as this was his first win since his TKO over Red Schafer in 2007 (!). I was never a Bonnar fan back in his early post-TUF days, but I’m beginning to appreciate his ridiculous wars now and can’t wait for the next one.
On paper this was the surefire contender for Fight of the Night, as both men always bring a wild match despite never really rising above the level of gatekeeper. Both men are well-rounded but I thought the fight slightly favoured Lytle who seemed slightly better in all areas.
Round One gets underway and Brown comes out aggressively, but almost walks directly into a right hook. Wild swing misses for Lytle but he lands a combo en route to the clinch. Lytle forces Brown into the cage, but Brown breaks with a knee and comes chasing forward. He clinches again and gets a trip, but Lytle quickly pops back up. Good knees to the body from Brown in the clinch, before breaking with a nasty head kick. Good knee back into the clinch from Brown but Lytle pushes him into the fence. Takedown from Brown into the guard, but Lytle quickly goes for an oma plata and then attempts a reversal and a takedown of his own. Brown stays on top and it looks like he’s got a D’Arce sunk in as he drags Lytle back down, but the position of Lytle’s arm means there’s a gap in there to keep the blood flowing to his head. Pretty dangerous position though as the choke’s definitely sunk in. Eventually though he breaks free and works to his feet, forcing Brown back into the fence. Big right hook breaks off for Lytle, but Brown pushes forward with a body kick. Left hook lands for Lytle and he follows with some wild punches as Brown’s hands are beginning to drop. Brown shrugs off a clinch but eats a right hook to the body. Leg kick from Brown and he knocks Lytle down with another one, looked like Lytle was off balance though. Round ends with Lytle rolling for a kimura. 10-9 Brown for the choke attempt I’d say but it was a close round.
Into the 2nd and Lytle opens with an overhand right. They trade some leg kicks and Lytle continues to swing big punches. Good shot to the body from Lytle. Both men land some nice shots, but Lytle hurts him with an uppercut and uses a guillotine to get into top position when Brown shoots. Lytle looks to mount with the guillotine locked on and does so, but he only has one arm snaked around the neck and lets it go. Lytle moves into side mount and then locks up a mounted triangle, and from there he punches at the head before locking up a straight armlock on the far side, and Brown has to verbally tap out. Beautiful submission.
Another super-exciting fight as both men came in to throw down, but in the end Lytle’s superior punching technique and ground game was enough to win him the day, which is basically the one difference between these two gatekeepers – Lytle has the skills to hang with the very best in the world if he’s given the chance to use them. This was three in a row for him, too.
Initially this co-main event would’ve seen Akiyama taking on Wanderlei Silva, but Wandy pulled out with injury and so Leben – who had only competed like two weeks earlier at the TUF 11 Finale – stepped in on horribly short notice. Despite that, I thought the fight favoured Leben as not only had Akiyama not fought in almost a year, but he has a tendency to trade and that’s always a mistake with Leben, and he looks undersized at 185lbs meaning I thought he’d have problems taking Leben to the ground.
Entrances here couldn’t be more different – Leben comes out dancing like a hyperactive kid or Clay Guida, make your pick, while Akiyama does his traditional Con Te Partiro deal with the praying in the entranceway and what-not. Probably the best entrance in MMA right now in fact now Diego’s dumped the YES!~! thing, although of course the DVD has the shitty overdubbed music rather than the real deal.
Round One and Akiyama catches a low kick attempt and gets a quick takedown. Scramble by Leben allows him to pop back up to his feet though and he begins to push forward. They exchange some low kicks before Leben clips him with a counter left hand. Crowd begin a USA chant as Akiyama catches Leben in the groin with a kick. Ref calls time but a few deep breaths have him recovered quickly. Leg kick by Leben is countered by a right hand from Akiyama. Leben ducks a spinning backfist and then lands a knee, but Akiyama hits a nice judo trip to put him on his back in guard. Armbar attempt from Leben and it looks sunk for a second, but Akiyama lands some swift hammer fists and breaks free. Leben continues to work a high guard though, and goes for the armbar again, but Akiyama looks calm and pulls out, then passes the guard and goes for an armbar of his own. He almost gets a top side triangle too, but Leben defends both spots nicely and manages to escape. He ends up on the bottom in half-guard, but looks at least out of danger now. Akiyama works to pass the guard, but Leben has him locked down and then escapes to his feet. Standing guillotine attempt from Akiyama as they get up, but Leben breaks free and they wind up clinched against the fence before Akiyama breaks. Final seconds to go and Leben lands a left hand and looks to close in, but Akiyama hits another nice trip takedown and lands in side mount as the buzzer sounds. 10-9 Akiyama in a strong round for him.
Second round and Akiyama actually looks pretty tired coming out. Leben slips early, but pops back up before Akiyama can capitalize. Weak takedown attempt by Akiyama is easily stuffed. The Japanese star then lands a HEAVY spinning backfist, but Leben eats it right up without flinching. Superman punch from Leben but Akiyama comes right back with a right hand, and they trade for a second before Akiyama backs out. Right hand lands for Akiyama, but Leben answers with a left and follows with another that stiffens the legs for a second. Leben quickly follows that with a combo that wobbles Akiyama badly, but he comes right back with a right hand that hurts Leben! Crowd explode as Leben goes into ZOMBIE MODE and just eats clean punches on the jaw before firing right back and almost decking Akiyama with a left! Holy shit. Both men look hurt and finally slow down for a second, before another WILD TRADE follows and somehow both men are still standing. Into a clinch and Akiyama trips him down beautifully, then manages to keep Leben down as he attempts a scramble. Full guard for Leben and he looks to use the cage to get to his feet, but he also looks pretty exhausted. He manages to work up with 1:30 remaining, but Akiyama keeps the clinch and forces him into the fence. Takedown attempt from Akiyama, but Leben blocks with a front choke attempt before Akiyama backs up. Big exchange follows and both men look like they’re running on fumes now. Leben gets the better of it and lands the left twice, but Akiyama stays in the pocket and fires right back, landing some clean punches of his own! These guys are INSANE. Round ends in the clinch. You’d have to score the round for Akiyama I think as he got the takedown and landed just as many clean punches as Leben, but between rounds he FALLS OFF HIS STOOL from exhaustion.
Third round and Leben raises his arms before it begins, popping the crowd hugely. This is an awesome fight. Akiyama practically staggers out of his corner, but still pushes right forward. Body kick lands for Leben. Left uppercut follows and Akiyama looks like he’s having trouble keeping his hands up. Head kick lands for the Crippler but Akiyama takes it LIKE A MAN. Leg kick follows but Akiyama gets a takedown off it and lands in the guard. Leben begins to work from the bottom with elbows though, and even slaps at the ears with double punches when Akiyama attempts a can opener. Armbar attempt from Leben and again it looks sunk, but he can’t extend the arm fully and Akiyama POSTS HIM ON HIS HEAD before managing to escape into half-guard. Arm triangle attempt from Akiyama now, and he uses it to take full mount, but a hip escape pushing off the cage gets Leben back to half-guard. Crowd begin to chant for Leben as they exchange some short punches, and then Leben escapes back to full guard and lands some elbows. Akiyama fires back with some shots of his own, but Leben’s getting the better of this. Suddenly he throws up a triangle and locks it up, and Akiyama tries to stand free, but falls back down! Leben begins to land the elbows again and Akiyama tries one more time to get out, and then TAPS!~!
WOW. Absolutely unbelievable fight. I’m talking high-end Fight of the Year Contender stuff, easy. I mean, this had it all, wild exchanges on the feet, beautiful judo takedowns from Akiyama, some excellent grappling exchanges and a pretty crazy ending with Leben who isn’t known for his grappling becoming the first man to ever submit Akiyama who’s always been known as a great submission guy. The big difference here was the cardio, as Akiyama seemed to gas out badly after the second round while Leben was much fresher, and to me that has a lot to do with the fact that Akiyama looks very undersized at 185lbs and could probably do with losing a little muscle and dropping to 170lbs. But hey, when he’s putting on fights like this, who honestly cares? Post-fight Leben calls out Wanderlei Silva, which would be a TREMENDOUS fight, but somehow Joe Silva’s ended up matching him with BRIAN STANN next which doesn’t make any sense to me, but whatever, that’s another story.
Not only was the interest surrounding this one massive due to Lesnar’s return to action from over a year out thanks to diverticulitis, but everyone was anticipating it due to the fact that Carwin was practically his mirror image – a monstrous wrestler with brutal knockout power in his punches. If anything, Carwin’s wins over Gabriel Gonzaga and Frank Mir were equally as impressive as Lesnar’s over Mir, Randy Couture and Heath Herring. On paper this was a hard one to pick as it basically came down to who could land first, but despite Carwin being the more powerful puncher, Lesnar’s wrestling advantage (Division I national champion as opposed to Division II champion) meant that if he got hit he may be able to get the takedown while Carwin probably wouldn’t be able to do the same. In the end I took Lesnar by second round TKO, but to see Carwin knock Brock’s block off wouldn’t have surprised me either. With Fedor Emelianenko finally losing a few weeks prior to this as well, the stakes suddenly got higher as it was pretty well established with most hardcore fans that the winner of this one would be seen as the top Heavyweight fighter in the world. So yeah. BIG FIGHT.
Crowd are LOUD for this, one of the biggest reactions I can remember in UFC history. Crowd seem to be fully behind Carwin while Lesnar gets a mixed reaction with more boos than cheers. Guess they haven’t forgiven his meathead ways after the Frank Mir fight at UFC 100, despite his amazing recovery from serious illness. Interesting staredown as Lesnar looks much bigger despite Carwin weighing in heavier. Lesnar’s frame is just ridiculously big though.
And HERE WE GO!~! Both men look tentative to begin as they circle, before Carwin clips Lesnar with a short right hand. Brock immediately shoots for the takedown and drives Carwin back, but as they go down Carwin uses a whizzer and escapes to his feet before breaking with a knee! Big pop for that. Crowd begin to chant loudly for Carwin before he lands a BIG LEFT UPPERCUT that has Lesnar reeling! Brock looks panicked and backs up as Carwin follows in, throwing short uppercuts that cause Lesnar to cover up and attempt to clinch! Carwin shrugs him off and keeps coming, stuffing a takedown before landing a knee and another uppercut! This time Brock runs back covering up and finally GOES DOWN!~! Crowd go APESHIT as Carwin bombs away looking for the finish, but Lesnar manages to push him off. Carwin gets back on him and continues to pound, but to his credit Brock does a good job of covering up to deflect the shots. Carwin slows down for a second before OPENING UP again with some huge shots, but despite being bloodied Brock still looks with it. Carwin slows down as if he’s pacing himself, then rears up and CRACKS him with a huge elbow, before following with some more hard shots. Referee Josh Rosenthal looks close to stopping this. Somehow Lesnar manages to push him off again, and now Carwin’s definitely slowing down. Lesnar still looks badly hurt though and he’s a bloody mess. Carwin looks to get from half-guard to full mount, but Lesnar works his way back to his feet and looks for a takedown! 45 seconds to go in the round and Carwin defends the takedown, but Brock lands a knee from close range. Round ends inside the clinch, the first time Carwin’s gone out of the first round. And although you’d have to give the round 10-8 to Carwin on damage alone, he looks GASSED in his corner while Lesnar looks hurt but fresher. Insane round.
Round Two, and Carwin is sucking in enough wind to deprive the front row of oxygen. He tries to shake out his arms after throwing a punch, but he still looks exhausted and Brock stays out of range before hitting a double leg to half-guard. Now it’s Carwin who looks in trouble, and Lesnar works from the top before PASSING TO MOUNT! From there he LOCKS UP AN ARM TRIANGLE, and passes to the side to tighten it up, and CARWIN TAPS!~! Holy shit. Crowd go ABSOLUTELY CRAZY.
Post-fight Lesnar claims that his illness changed him and he stands before everyone as a HUMBLE MAN, but he’s still the TOUGHEST S.O.B. AROUND. Total babyface stuff and a complete contrast from how he came across after his last win.
This fight seemed to draw a mixed reaction from people, but fuck the haters, to me it was a genuine classic – almost the Heavyweight version of the legendary Matt Hughes-Frank Trigg fight, with the champion taking a tremendous beating early on and almost being defeated before rallying to somehow fight back and retain the title. You just won’t find a more dramatic Heavyweight Title fight than this, point blank. Did both men show some serious flaws? For sure. Lesnar showed that his stand-up defense isn’t great and he doesn’t react well at all to being hit, while Carwin showed that the fears surrounding his cardio were definitely genuine, but hey, all fighters have weaknesses (except GSP!) and it doesn’t take away from an incredibly exciting fight, just as Trigg’s shitty rear naked choke defense doesn’t stop that fight from being considered one of the greatest in UFC history. In the end this lived up to all the hype and more.
-Highlight reel rolls and that’s the show.
Coming into this one I wasn’t all that hot on the card as outside of the main event, none of the fights seemed to have real title or ranking implications, but for a weaker card on paper it turned out to be absolutely tremendous. I don’t think it’s quite the best UFC show of all time as some have claimed – I’d still put UFC 84 and probably 31, 40 and 52 ahead at a push – but outside of two pretty bad fights in Madsen-Vemola and Roberts-Petz the whole card is great, from highlight reel finishes for Schaub, Bonnar, Lytle and Harris to a great technical fight between Sotiropoulos and Pellegrino, a total gutter-war brawl between Akiyama and Leben and finally a hugely dramatic – if flawed – main event that lived up to all of the hype. I fully expect this to win all the awards for best UFC show of the year come December, and it’s totally deserved. Thumbs way, way up.
Best Fight: Leben-Akiyama
Worst Fight: Madsen-Vemola
Overall Rating: ****3/4
UFC: 117-121, Versus 2, Fight Night 22
King of the Cage: Various shows