Japanese fans at the Saitama Super Arena were treated to a trip down memory lane on Saturday night, courtesy of a couple of former Pride Fighting Championships favorites who had been all but written off in advance of UFC on Fuel 8 only to serve the world notice that they aren’t ready to be stepping stones just yet.
In many ways, the situations of Wanderlei Silva and Mark Hunt are very dissimilar, and one could successfully argue that the only real links between their stories is that they were fan favorites in the days of Pride and were underdogs in their respective fights.
Otherwise, Silva is in a position where people have been saying he likely should retire (sure, I’ve thought it, too) due to concern over not necessarily the number of knockouts he’s absorbed in the last several years, but the severity of them. He’s not currently in the title picture, unlike Hunt, who has now won four in a row and now certainly could be given a title eliminator.
Still, Hunt has been written off in his own way, as it’s often said that his skill set hasn’t evolved enough to allow him to stay competitive. Namely, his submission game was considered too weak, along with historically questionable takedown defense, to force the standup exchanges he needs to shine. In a way, that’s not altogether dissimilar from criticism of Silva, which stated that his stubborn insistence on fighting in his uniquely wild, balls-to-the-wall style had made him irrelevant.
Silva answered with a rollicking brawl with Brian Stann, who not long ago was included in the middleweight top ten lists of many media members and is a feared, powerful striker. Though wobbled several times, Silva showed the remarkably quick recovery that he had earlier in his career (he was never impossible to drop, just impossible to finish) and prevailed in the end. Meanwhile, Hunt won in his own way, too, but in the process had to be taken out of what historically would be called his comfort zone, and looked much improved on the mat during extended periods of grappling with the submission-savvy Struve.
Writers, fans…we all live in the future. There’s not a lot of people that want to talk about what happened a month ago. It’s why I’m supposed to get these post-event articles up within a few days after each show, after all. Who wants to talk about a fight a whole week after it happens, after all?
Well, fighters don’t live in that world. Sure, they keep an eye on the future, and they have goals. But while all of us are wondering how many fights Silva has left and when Hunt’s increasingly-remarkable streak will come to an end, the two of them are just enjoying what they accomplished. Maybe we can learn from that.
Lombard on the Chopping Block?
Many people (including Hector Lombard himself) are asking whether Lombard will be cut following a loss against Yushin Okami on Saturday night. He has lost two out of three UFC fights since his great stint in Bellator came to an end, and sure, that alone isn’t a huge deal. The problem is that his salary is exorbitant for a new UFC fighter with little name recognition in casual fandom, and at the price he commands, he needs to be beating at least as many top ten fighters as he’s losing to.
Reportedly, Lombard got a $400k signing bonus to go with a $300k per fight agreement and PPV bonuses, as well. That, my friends, is what changes things.
I think a fighter as highly regarded as Lombard would be given some slack if he had a rough go in his first three bouts if he was getting paid a lot less than what he is. But in his first UFC bout, his “show” money was over two times anybody else’s on the card, and nearly ten times that of headliner Urijah Faber.
That kind of money is great, but with it comes pressure to perform. I think fighters should know when they sign with the UFC that an expensive price tag will only put you on the chopping block faster if you’re not getting the fans to buy tickets or winning your fights in impressive fashion.
As for Lombard’s performance, I thought he did okay throughout much of it. Okami was just better. And that’s not exactly unexpected…Okami is good at what he does. I was most impressed that Okami took some really solid shots from Lombard and shrugged them off. At the end of the day, though, you also have to look at the UFC and say, “You booked Lombard to fight Okami. What kind of fight did you expect?”
–It was a one-sided victory for Dong Hyun Kim; I won’t deny that. However, I wouldn’t be as satisfied as he appeared to be after mounting Siyar several times and failing to finish him at any point of the contest. Giving a dangerous opponent like Bahadurzada so many chances could have cost him, and Kim has to step up his finishing skills both to avoid giving those extra chances and to improve his marketability as a fighter.
–It’s good to see Japan’s own Takeya Mizugaki on a little roll after a tepid start to his UFC career. Starting just 2-2, he’s now won two fights in a row, beating both Jeff Hougland and Bryan Caraway. Anyone else want to see a rematch between Mizugaki and Rani Yahya, who also won on Saturday night?
Adventures in Judging
I’ve tried to wrap my head around the judging in the Diego Sanchez-Takanori Gomi fight for days now, to no avail. Both Barry Foley and Chris Watts somehow scored 29-28 cards in favor of Sanchez, giving Sanchez a thoroughly undeserved victory that also does the UFC no favors. Hmmm…a resurgent Gomi or Sanchez, who still hasn’t looked the same since that beating he took from BJ Penn years ago? Which presents better matchups in the middle-to-upper ranks of the lightweight division? Terrible decision.
Movin’ On Up Award
It’s hard to believe, but Mark Hunt is just one fight away from a title shot after his fourth win in a row, this time against fellow borderline top ten heavyweight, Stefan Struve. If he can keep the magic going for one more fight, Hunt will likely find himself in a title bout.
Beautiful Loser Award
Gomi and Kyung Ho Kang share the honors here, as neither one really deserved to lose, but were let down by the judges in their split decision “losses” on Saturday night.
Holy $#!% Award
Every now and then, an entire bout qualifies as one big “holy shit!” moment. Wanderlei Silva and Brian Stann’s instant classic was one of those fights. Aside from a couple of quick breaks for some unfortunate low kicks landed to Silva’s twig and berries and a couple of very small lulls in the action, this was a non-stop slugfest that was not about technique, but about heart, will, and other stuff that the Rocky movies made cool back in the 80s. Great fight.
Tags: Brian Stann, Diego Sanchez, Dong Hyun Kim, Hector Lombard, Mark Hunt, Mizuto Hirota, Rani Yahya, Siyar Bahadurzada, Stefan Struve, Takanori Gomi, UFC, UFC on Fuel 8, Wanderlei Silva, Yushin Okami