Is this the end of an era? Last night may not have been the best card of the year (that pick for me still goes to UFC 91) but I think this was the most significant card of the year in terms of outcomes. We saw two titles change hands and a passing of the torch in the light heavyweight division. This very may well be the end of an era for Nogueira and Silva. It is really hard to believe that both fighters, at only 32, may have seen their best days come and go. I'm not saying they're finished as fighters. They are both very skilled and can handle 95% of the competition thrown their way but I don't see either guy making a serious title run again. Also, Silva has a HUGE fan following so I'm sure the UFC will keep him around as long as he keeps drawing big gates and PPV buys. However, we certainly saw a passing of the torch to younger, stronger, faster competitors in Frank Mir and Quinton Jackson. The best thing about both fighters is that both of them are just now hitting their primes. Mir has fully recovered from his motorcycle accident and appeared to be in the best shape of his life. And Jackson appears to be in a great place since switching trainers and dealing with his personal problems away from the glare of Las Vegas/So Cal. Last but certainly not least, Rashad Evans looks like a complete beast at light heavyweight. Yes he might be smaller but he is faster than anyone in the division with harder hands and great wrestling technique that makes him very difficult to overpower even with his small stature. Yes his ground game is unproven and if a legit BJJ fighter comes along at 205 he could be in trouble but right now there aren't any serious competitors with those skills at 205. I'm not saying Rashad will be the next great champion at 205 because the division is just too stacked. But he looks poised to make a serious run at it. Forrest gave it a good shot but Rashad was just too quick. Forrest isn't done though by any stretch of the imagination. He's still young and hungry and if he keeps improving his game he's got at least one good title run left in him. With all that said let's break down the fights:
Brad Blackburn v. Ryo Chonan: Blackburn wins a tough decision. I got the prediction right but I picked the wrong guy.
Yushin Okami v. Dean Lister: Okami wins a lopsided decision. I picked this one right on the nose!
Dan Evenson v. Patrick Barry: Barry looked great crushing Evenson's legs with kicks that eventually caused Evenson to quit in the first round. Evenson has looked terrible in his last two fights and I wouldn't be surprised if the UFC cuts him. Losing to Cheick Kongo is one thing but to lose to a UFC newcomer by TKO is not the type of outing the UFC was looking for since they were obviously trying to feed Evenson someone they thought he could finish. I was way off on this fight.
Matt Hamill v. Reese Andy: Hamill looked like crap in the first round but he was the first to admit that. He looked sluggish and he allowed Andy to get in a few shots even though Hamill won the round with his striking. The second round was all Hamill though as Andy tried to get the fight to the mat but Hamill is just too good a wrestler and too strong to let that happen. Hamill eventually pounded Andy out in the second round but Hamill will need to look better than this to get off the undercard any time soon. Andy, while losing to two tough opponents, most likely will not be back in the UFC in my opinion. He has looked terrible against two guys who did not have their best performances. I was close on this fight getting the pick and missing the prediction by one round.
Antoni Hardonk v. Mike Wessel: Hardonk had some trouble in this fight. Wessel really took it too him in the first round landing some good shots and scoring a take down (though he didn't do much from there). Hardonk looked better in the second round on the feet which prompted Wessel to take Hardonk down again but this time Hardonk did all the damage scoring a sweep and then pounding out an exhausted Wessel in the second round. Hardonk needs to get better in a hurry when guys like Wessel are bullying him around. I get the feeling we'll see Wessel again on an undercard. He has an appealing style even if his skills aren't top notch. I got the pick right but again missed the prediction by a round.
Cheick Kongo v. Mostapha Al Turk: Kongo looked great just picking Turk apart and then scoring a knockdown and finishing him off with one of the most brutal displays of ground and pound I've ever seen leaving Turk a bloody and battered mess. There was a strange exchange of possibly intentional low blows which I think made Kongo really wanna tee off on this guy and make an example out of him. I think Kongo is probably next in line for a title shot after Mir faces Lesnar but that probably means Kongo needs a big name win in his next fight to get that shot. I'm smelling a Kongo v. Nogueira fight next year. I'm sure we'll be seeing Al Turk again on an undercard against a lesser opponent. I picked this fight right on the button too!
Quinton Jackson v. Wanderlei Silva: This fight went nothing like I thought. Both guys played it very cautious and Silva was actually winning the technical striking battle due to some great leg kicks and for awhile all Jackson could land was a jab. However, Silva went in for the kill late in the first round and got caught with a vicious left hook that turned his light out. It was an impressive performance but I'll need to see more from "Rampage" before putting him back in the title hunt. It was a sad end for Silva who might actually be done contending for a title at a very young age. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here. I was way off in this fight.
CB Dolloway v Mike Massenzio: Massenzio looked strong early scoring a knockdown and almost catching CB in a guillotine. However CB recovered and was able to turn the tables on Massenzio with a sweep and quickly scoring a first round TKO. CB did not look great in this fight but he did enough to win and at this early stage of his career it's kind of all you can ask. I got the pick right and was off by one round on the prediction.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira v. Frank Mir: This fight was very one sided. Mir's stand up looked great scoring two knockdowns on Rodrigo in the first round while conserving his energy and did not gas out trying to look for the quick KO like he did so often in the past. Instead he bided his time until the second round and scored the finishing knockdown and then pounded Nogueira out for the first KO loss of his career. This was a very impressive fight for Mir and a very uninspired one for Rodrigo. Rodrigo has some soul searching to do after this fight while Mir moves on to fight a very anticipated rematch with Brock Lesnar in 09 to finally unite the heavyweight belt. I got the prediction right but I picked the wrong guy.
Forrest Griffin v. Rashad Evans: This was a great fight in the first two rounds. Evans probably won the first round landing some solid shots on Griffin but Griffin did land some great kicks that paid dividends in the second round. Griffin controlled the second round landing more kicks but this time with some to the body and head while confusing Evans and slowing him down. However, the third round was all Evans where he caught Griffin with a knockdown and then finished him off with some strong ground and pound to capture the title. I was way off again on this fight.
This was a great night for the UFC. They finally saw another heavyweight contender emerge in Kongo. They saw the torch passed from old school to new school with "Rampage" and Mir winning. They have their dream rematch set for the heavyweight championship. And they saw the fruit of their brain child pay serious dividends with Evans (season 2 TUF winner) beating Griffin (season 1 TUF winner) for the light heavyweight title. It doesn't get much better than that for them. I had an OK night on picks. I went 5-5 plus 2 bonus points for getting predictions right. This was a great way to end 2008 for the UFC and MMA overall. I'll post my final rankings of 2008 and that will do it for MMADNESS this year. It's been a great year folks. I've really enjoyed getting to talk about my favorite subject, MMA, these past months and trying to spread the love to you. To everyone who stopped by thank you and let's hope for bigger and better things for this column and MMA in 2009! Until then,
Soccer kicks and head stomps...