Las Vegas - We should be used to this by now. It seems like every time fighters in MMA’s lighter weight classes get a chance to shine on the big stage, they take full advantage. The fact that bantamweight challenger Urijah Faber and champion Dominick Cruz turned in an absolute crackerjack of a main event on Saturday at UFC 132 will not surprise anyone who had been paying attention for the past few years, but their bout is nonetheless being hailed as something of a watershed moment for the sub-155-pound divisions. Welcome to the party, everybody.
Actually, now that we’re on the topic, score one for guys of all sizes on Saturday night, as UFC 132 turned out to be one of the fight company’s better offerings in recent memory. As always, there were lessons to be learned. Here are the five most important to emerge over the weekend …
1. Cruz, Faber have not seen the last of each other.
Cruz emerged with a unanimous decision win – one judge handing him all five rounds – but the lasting impression of this fight should be as a win-win for the bantamweight division. Both champion and challenger delivered the kind of fast-paced and nuanced action that typified the now defunct WEC under the Zuffa, LLC reign and it was great that a worldwide pay-per-view audience finally got to see it, even if the buyrate doesn’t turn out to be stellar. Bravo to both men.
Cruz and Faber gave every impression that the two best 135-pounders in the world were in the cage on Saturday night and there has already been talk of a rematch. That suits me fine, but I’d like to see each guy get another one or two wins under his belt first. Faber may have been the biggest factor in drawing eyeballs to this fight, but I’d like to think Cruz emerged as a budding star as well. Let him defend his title against former champ Brian Bowles (another rematch) and then perhaps Demetrious Johnson and if both he and Faber have positioned themselves correctly, their third bout will be even bigger for the waiting.
2. End of the line for Wanderlei?
Yes, Chris Leben hits like a Mack Truck, but the ease with which Wanderlei Silva was separated from his senses at UFC 132 should be a major concern. UFC President Dana White hinted after the bout that this might be the “end of the road” for Silva, and I for one wouldn’t argue with that assessment. Wanderlei turned 35 on Sunday and watching him get put down by Leben in just 27 seconds the night before made his declaration from earlier in the week that he’d like to fight another five years seem all the more cringe-worthy. You know your performance was sad when not even Chael Sonnen will say bad things about you during a postfight interview.
All the best to Silva, one of the most popular MMA fighters of all time, but at this point I don’t see the point of him soldiering on.
3. Ortiz staves off the inevitable.
Admit it, as many criticisms as we’ve heaped on Tito Ortiz during a near-five-year winless streak, it felt good to see him beat Ryan Bader. Good, and unbelievable. When Ortiz dropped Bader with a short right hand and then choked him out with an arm-in guillotine on Saturday night, it kind of seemed like Ortiz was just as surprised as anyone in the arena.
The startling win put his retirement talk on the backburner, but for how long? This one victory feels good, but it doesn’t erase the four losses and one draw he put on the board between 2006-10. In other words, if the UFC wants to capitalize or Ortiz’s revitalization, it better do it now. Personally, I like him for the winner of Rich Franklin’s upcoming bout with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 133 or a third (and hopefully decisive) fight with Forrest Griffin.
4. Condit could be on deck.
It's not just that Carlos Condit has won four straight UFC bouts and 12-of-his-last-13 overall, but that his last three fights in the Octagon have ended with increasingly impressive stoppages. Condit needed a third-round, come-from-behind TKO to take out Rory MacDonald at UFC 115, but bounced back to KO former No. 1 contender Dan Hardy down the stretch in the first at UFC 120. Saturday night at UFC 132, it felt like Dong Hyun Kim didn’t really have a chance.
The one time Kim did successfully put Condit on the mat, he got immediately swept and came back to his feet looking like his American opponent had gotten the better of the exchange. A minute later, Condit sewed up “Knockout of the Night” honors by flooring Kim with a flying knee and following it up with punches to force a stoppage.
Owing to Condit’s 2009 win over Jake Ellenberger, the “Natural Born Killer” likely now assumes the role of de facto No. 1 contender regardless of what happens during Ellenberger’s upcoming bout with Jake Shields. UFC President Dana White shied away from guaranteeing the Condit-Kim winner a title shot prior to the fight, but the company sure went out of its way to promote Kim as “undefeated” during its broadcast – steadfastly avoiding his loss to Karo Parisyan, which was later overturned when Parisyan tested positive for drugs – so it seems probable that something is in the works now for Condit.
5. Guillard rises, while other contenders slink away.
Big picture, it was not a terribly revelatory night for the lightweights. While Dennis Siver grabbed a fishy decision win over Matt Wiman – thereby eliminating Wiman from immediate title talk, while not really helping his own cause much – Rafael dos Anjos further removed Georges Sotiropolous for contendership with a first-round KO. Melvin Guillard, on the other hand, was out of sight.
In some ways, Guillard did exactly what we thought he would do, running over Shane Roller en route to a first-round KO victory. Somehow though, this felt like the best Guillard we’ve ever seen. Competition notwithstanding, he cemented the idea that he’s vastly improved since joining Greg Jackson’s New Mexico-based fight team early last year. He ran his current win-streak to five fights and gives every indication of being the kind of dynamic, strike-first finisher the UFC loves to promote. Expect Guillard to get boosted into a No.1 contender bout against Jim Miller, so long as Miller gets by Ben Henderson at UFC Live 5 on Versus in August. Of course, a lot still depends on the on-going saga between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, but if the UFC doesn’t capitalize on Guillard’s potential stardom now, it’ll be a mystery.
UFC President Dana White (above) embarrassed after Gray Maynard beat Clay Guida by split decision to win a lightweight bout and the main event of the UFC card in Atlantic City.
Can anyone top the big three of Silva, Jones, and GSP as the best pound-for-pounder fighter?