Nate Diaz headlined the UFC’s latest FOX-televised card with a stunningly dominant win over the extremely tough Jim Miller, paving his way toward an apparent title shot to come in 2012. As we’ve seen a lot in recent UFC events, the main card was peppered with highlight reel finishes, which Dana White and company have to be pleased with, considering that these FOX shows are supposed to attract new fans.
In the Diaz fight, Diaz not only showed that his boxing continues to improve in measurable amounts, but showed that he’s got some power in his hands, as well. He dropped Miller with a straight left in the first round that really impressed me, and his body shots clearly had an effect as Miller was noticeably fatigued in the second round.
The finish, of course, was nothing extremely surprising, as it was vintage Nate Diaz. He opportunistically seized a guillotine choke on Miller’s takedown attempt late in round two, adjusted the hold to cinch it in tight, and got the win. One particularly grotesque visual was the sight of Miller’s tongue caught out of his mouth as he was tapping. He had already spit out his mouthpiece, so with the pressure applied from the choke one could only assume he was either already biting his tongue or just about to. Pretty nasty stuff, although no one seems to have talked to Miller about whether or not he hurt himself during the choke.
Diaz has to be seen as a real contender at this point, even to skeptics (read: me) who doubted his ability to string together wins against top competition. He has really refined his standup, especially in terms of his counter-striking, and his ground game remains top-notch. Since he fought what appeared to be a depleted Donald Cerrone, I think the Miller performance was Diaz’s best yet.
Suffice to say that the crowd in New Jersey on Saturday night will not go down as one of the finer UFC crowds we’ve seen. As if Jersey Shore wasn’t a big enough eyesore, the NJ fans decided to boo, well, everything pretty much all night long. They booed when the fight hit the mat; they booed when the fighters stood and exchanged. They booed when there was a clinch. They booed first, asked questions later. It was as if they thought they had bought tickets to a WWE show and were surprised to see a couple of guys actually fighting in the cage without the aid of steel chairs, sledgehammers, and evil referees to keep the action moving.
I know a bad fight when I see one; none of the fights on the main card fit that bill. Not even close. If you go to a show and find yourself booing that often during what were some pretty good fights, you may want to consider the fact that you probably just don’t like mixed martial arts. Either that or you simply really, really like beer (and/or making an ass of yourself). Either way, shame on the fans at the Izod Center for being a terrible crowd throughout the night.
Welcome to the Daaaarrrk Siiiiiide
At first viewing, I thought that Johny Hendricks clearly won two out of three rounds against Josh Koscheck. I still believe that, but I suppose the first was close enough that you couldn’t call it outright robbery if someone somehow decided Koscheck did enough to take it. The third was Koscheck’s, too, while the second round clearly belonged to Hendricks. Therefore, rather than complain about Ricardo Almeida’s scorecard (29-28 Koscheck), let me talk about something else.
Congrats to Koscheck for deciding to go completely to the dark side instead of deciding on a fight-by-fight basis whether to be a dirtbag or not. Koscheck showed in this one that he is totally cool with being a dirty fighter, and while this won’t endear most people (or myself) to him, I at least applaud the fact that he’s decided to embrace his tendency toward bending the rules. How in the world he continues to get away with his favorite combination, the left eye-poke/overhand right, is beyond me since everyone in the sport by now should recognize that he’s doing it. But to not only poke a guy’s eye, but also grab the cage repeatedly and appeal to the ref every time you’re in a tough spot that you can’t get out of? That’s a special performance.
Do we know that Koscheck is intentionally poking guys in the eye? Well, to that I’d say two things. One is that if you are repeatedly reaching out with your left hand (as if to throw a jab) with your fingers completely extended toward your opponent’s eyeballs, does it matter if it’s on purpose or just a bad habit? Eyes are still getting poked either way, right? The other thing I’d say is that this is the guy who put on a performance that Laurence Olivier himself would have been jealous of after being “hit” by an illegal knee that never actually hit him. Why doubt that he’d continue to poke the eyes of opponents on purpose?
–I see a lot of similarities between the endings of the Lavar Johnson-Pat Barry and Alan Belcher-Rousimar Palhares bouts. Barry in particular is being criticized for simply standing against the cage and absorbing Johnson’s punches while trying to recover. Why didn’t he move? Throw punches? Do something? Anything? Well, probably because he had just experienced serious head trauma and was simply surviving.
I don’t have my own MMA experiences to draw from, but I have watched thousands of fights and know that when somebody really gets rocked, it seems to “turn off” certain parts of their consciousness to the point where survival is all that matters. In these and many other cases, what happens is that a fighter simply covers up until the cobwebs clear up (as most people often put it). Palhares did the same thing on the mat while he was being pummeled by Belcher. You may be able to watch at home and see that Palhares should have done something differently or that Barry should have circled off of the cage, but being in there is a completely different experience, and these guys didn’t really have control of what they were doing.
Moving On Up Award
This one will be shared between Nate Diaz and Alan Belcher. Diaz fought the fight of his career so far and established himself as a true title contender. Meanwhile, Belcher beat Palhares in a way that only Nate Marquardt has been able to do, and that comes with a big, fat asterisk because Palhares’s crazy took over and he was having a conversation with referee Herb Dean when Marquardt knocked him senseless. For Belcher to (dangerously) play Palhares’s game on the mat, come out unscathed and then seal the deal was very impressive to see. Against all odds, Belcher has returned from a 16-month absence due to injury and returned right to where he was beforehand.
Beautiful Loser Award
This Bob Seger-inspired award goes to Pat Barry, who seems to have the corner on the market when it comes to absolutely heart-breaking losses. Barry had Laver Johnson in big trouble, maintaining side control and cranking an Americana that had Johnson visibly grimacing in pain midway through round one. However, after Johnson was able to escape the position, Barry was a little bit too willing to be stuck in Johnson’s clinch and took a knee that started the whole downward spiral for him this time around.
Adventures in Refereeing
This ADHD-inspired refereeing style we’ve been seeing over the last year or so in the UFC continues, as in the Barry-Johnson fight, referee Dan Miragliotta couldn’t resist hearing the sound of his own voice early in the first round. With Barry in side control and just having nearly subbed Johnson, Miragliotta could be heard saying, “You gotta work!” Umm, that’s what they were doing, Dan. Perhaps you should watch the fight instead of listening to the hyperactive New Jersey fans next time.
The same advice goes to Kevin Mulhall, who had an awful performance during the Koscheck-Hendricks fight. Several times he hastily separated the two fighters from the clinch, particularly when the boo birds got a little loud in the arena. He also seemed to respond to Koscheck’s gestures when Koscheck was stuck in certain positions, as when he was pinned against the fence in the first round, being controlled by Hendricks while Hendricks slammed knees into Koscheck’s legs. The knees were clearly effective, too, as Koscheck had started actively trying to block them before that particular intervention by Mulhall. As many people gave round one to Koscheck (inexplicably, in my opinion), that separation could have easily cost Hendricks the fight.
Let’s not forget that Mulhall also missed the eye poke that stalled Hendricks’ momentum for the first minute or two of the opening round, too. When you watch a fight and notice that the ref is doing his job as if he has money on one of the fighters, that’s not a good thing.
Holy $#!% Award
This goes to Alan Belcher for an absolutely blistering ground and pound attack on Rousimar Palhares, especially one right elbow that started the whole thing and had Palhares clearly dazed. Actually, their whole fight was pretty much worthy of this award, as there were some very tense moments on the mat where I thought Palhares was about to put Belcher back on the shelf for several more months, this time with a leg injury.