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UFC 116 Parting Shots

By on July 6, 2010

chris lebenWe all got treated to a great night of fights via UFC 116, which also gave us a legitimate follow-up to Fedor Emelianenko as the top heavyweight in the world. It’s good that we have plenty to talk about, as the rest of July will be quiet for the North American MMA scene, with no offerings from the UFC (or WEC), and a “Challengers” event being the lone Strikeforce effort.

Lesnar, Carwin Part of UFC’s Biggest Advantage Over Boxing

Since the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter”, the UFC as an organization has really taken it to boxing, with the exception of a big fight here or there including a star like Floyd Mayweather. However, the absolutely gigantic buyrates that have resulted whenever Brock Lesnar has entered the Octagon have highlighted the biggest advantage that the UFC has: a compelling heavyweight division.

Fight fans simply love heavyweights. Even though many seasoned MMA fans tend to prefer the lighter weights for the faster action and greater technical skill that often accompany them, heavyweights pack an unpredictable element that is hard not to get excited about. For many fans, just thinking about nearly 600 pounds of concussive force trapped in the cage on Saturday night was probably enough to challenge UFC pay-per-view records.

Boxing’s best days ended when the heavyweight division became a mess, then lost its luster altogether. While Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis and a few others tried to carry the division, Mike Tyson was the last true star that heavyweight boxing has provided. Since then, a long line of inconsistent fighters and dull champions have taken the excitement out of the flagship division.

MMA, meanwhile, was built without the luxury of having a truly strong heavyweight contingent. When you look at the UFC’s best heavyweights at any point in time- Mark Coleman in the early days, Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski and Josh Barnett later on- there aren’t a lot of box office draws there. Even in Pride, besides Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Fedor Emelianenko himself, there weren’t a ton of stars to be found. For both the UFC and Pride, the “money division” was always light heavyweight, until more recently.

Now, MMA as a sport and the UFC as an organization have a chance to continue to grow even more. With a great roster that includes all-time greats like Randy Couture and Nogueira alongside current top fighters such as Lesnar, Carwin and Velasquez, the UFC has plenty of potential matchups that will capture the imaginations of MMA fans and newbies alike. Meanwhile, a stacked lineup of prospects such as Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos, Brendan Schaub and more will ensure that the future is just as bright as the present. Even Strikeforce has plenty of talent in the once-thin division, including Fedor, Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, Brett Rogers, Arlovski and Bobby Lashley.

Leben-Akiyama Provides Plenty of Discussion Topics

Many expected Chris Leben to fight hard (as always) but ultimately be outclassed by Yoshihiro Akiyama on Saturday night. If anything, the route to victory for Leben, coming off of just a two-week break since his last bout- was thought to be a big right hand out of nowhere. Few would have picked Leben to win by submission, and even less would have thought that he’d triangle choke Akiyama out of the guard.

Well, here we are a few days later, and Leben is now in line to get the fight that Akiyama wanted (against Wanderlei Silva), and if he can win that, is right in the title picture. Meanwhile, Akiyama is just 1-1 in the UFC and hasn’t looked particularly good in either bout. His gas tank is highly suspect, and his technical striking and grappling erodes quickly when he tires, leaving him to become a sloppy remnant of his former self. Another loss, and we’ll be counting Akiyama among the many who have come over from Japan only to fall face-first in the UFC and be sent right back.

We lost a great fight in Akiyama-Silva due to Wanderlei’s multiple injuries during training camp, but we may have gained a better one in Silva-Leben. That will be a brawl for the ages, and with Wanderlei getting on in years, Leben has more than the usual “puncher’s chance” to advance towards the top of the division. Also, I must say that I’m happy for Leben, who has made about a quarter of a million dollars in the last two weeks in the Octagon. With two win bonuses, a knockout of the night bonus at The Ultimate Fighter 11 Finale, and a fight of the night bonus from UFC 116, he really cleaned up. It’s good to see, especially since Leben fought for quite some time for much less money after graduating from the first season of TUF.

What to Do With Lytle?

On the surface, there isn’t much more to say about Chris Lytle than there usually is after one of his fights. He’s exciting, has great submissions and represents a clear division between the upper-most echelon of the welterweight division and, well, everybody else. While Lytle hasn’t been able to pull off a victory against a top contender (with losses to Hughes, Koscheck, etc.), he regularly bests talented competitors like Matt Brown. What can the UFC do with him?

Well, he’s won three in a row, and has to be bumped up to tougher fights now, and if he remains successful, is in the title picture. I like the idea of Lytle fighting Paulo Thiago, Carlos Condit, or even Mike Swick. If he wins that bout, a fight against a top-five UFC welterweight should follow, with a possible title shot looming. Georges St. Pierre has fought just about everyone else in the division, and a five-fight win streak including the likes of one of the three I mentioned and another top welterweight would definitely prove that he’s earned it.

Speaking of earning things, how did Lytle not get submission of the night? Sure, “nobody” expected Lesnar to win by submission, but it’s not as if he broke out a gogoplata on Carwin or arm barred him from his back. He used an arm triangle, a simple-yet-effective submission that is well within his skill level. Lytle, meanwhile, did something that you rarely see, and should have been rewarded thusly. Dana White did say that many other checks were being issued besides the official bonuses, so here’s hoping that Lytle got his due for his beautiful straight arm bar on Brown.

Quick Shots

–Stephan Bonnar finally got in the “W” column with a great comeback victory against the tough Krzysztof Soszynski on Saturday night, and may have salvaged his spot on the UFC roster after all. Previously, White had said that “those guys will always be with us,” referring to Bonnar and Forrest Griffin, whose excellent brawl at the finale of the first TUF season helped propel the sport to success. However, after UFC 116, White maintained that he would always take care of Bonnar and Griffin in the future, but that either could be cut if the situation warranted it. What that means, nobody knows- perhaps they would be kept as commentators or work behind the scenes? At any rate, Bonnar may get a few extra chances, but apparently he can be cut just like anyone else if he under-performs for long enough. Also keeping his job was Kendall Grove, who has had a tough go of it lately but came up big in his prelimary bout.

–It’s good to see that the tradition of great fighters who were on, but didn’t win “The Ultimate Fighter” continues, as both George Sotiropoulous and Brendan Schaub are looking like legit future title contenders following their most recent successes. Sotiropoulous has an absolutely outstanding ground game, and Schaub is the rare type of athletic heavyweight that will give his future opponents fits. In fact, a total of seven former cast members won fights on Saturday night, none of whom actually won the show (three of them: Bonnar, Grove and Lytle, were runners-up). Some of the most successful alumni, including Chris Leben, who won his eleventh career UFC fight Saturday, have been those that didn’t actually win.

E-Mail Jon Hartley

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