Sunday, February 3, 2013
UFC 156 proves nothing is a given in MMA
By Franklin McNeil
LAS VEGAS -- It's never a fighter’s intent to give his opponent extra motivation, unless of course you’re heavyweight contender Alistair Overeem and you just don’t respect the other guy.
Lack of respect is almost certain to serve as extra motivation for any fighter, and Overeem’s opponent Saturday at UFC 156 -- Antonio Silva -- was no exception. But Silva and fellow Brazilian Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who faced former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, didn’t need antagonism from their foes to give them an extra adrenaline pump. The promotion had done that for them.
Before their main-card bouts at Mandalay Bay Events Center, Overeem and Evans were being offered UFC title shots if they managed to win their respective fights. No such promises were made to Silva and Nogueira.
Whether intended or not, they were on the show as fodder for Overeem and Evans. According to the UFC’s master plan, the Brazilians were on hand to take their beatings like men, get paid, go home and wait by the phone to learn of their next fight -- and who knows when that would have been? Silva and Nogueira weren’t the stars at UFC 156; that distinction was reserved for the guys standing across the cage from them.
The nerve of UFC: making title-shot plans without first consulting with "Bigfoot" and Lil Nog.
But Silva and Nogueira are proud men. They are also company guys, so neither made any verbal stink before fight night. Each would have his say inside the Octagon, however, and UFC officials weren’t going to like the messages being delivered.
It took Silva some time to express himself against Overeem. He was behind after two rounds, in a bout that lacked much excitement up until that point. But in the third, Silva made his feelings known. He delivered a vicious overhand right to Overeem’s head, followed by several more hard punches.
The trash-talking, overconfident Overeem slumped to the canvas, virtually unconscious. And while in that feeble position, Silva stood over him, screaming at him to get up.
“Many people did not believe in [me],” Silva said after tossing a monkey wrench into the UFC’s heavyweight title plans. “But I believed in me.
“Alistair did not respect me. But I worked hard on my striking for this fight. I showed the world a lot about me. And I specifically showed Overeem how to respect another fighter.”
He also showed -- better yet taught -- UFC officials a thing or two about going public with potential title-fight plans before all the ducks are in a row.
In fairness, Silva’s knockout of Overeem was highly unforeseeable. But a Plan B should have been in place and made known to the public, at least to save face.
Now UFC decision-makers find themselves in the awkward position of scrambling to find a suitable opponent for Cain Velasquez.
Silva’s upset win exposes a topic that has been swept under the rug in recent months -- UFC’s heavyweight division still has a dearth of title-worthy contenders, despite the addition of Strikeforce fighters. That shallow well has UFC scrambling to find a suitable replacement for Overeem.
White hinted at Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier as the most deserving opponent for current champion Velasquez, but he’ll have a difficult time making that fight a reality. Cormier has stated repeatedly that he will not fight his American Kickboxing Academy teammate and close friend.
So determined is Cormier never to step in the cage opposite Velasquez -- and vice versa -- that he’s already begun the process of cutting weight for an eventual showdown with light heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones. In other words, good luck UFC getting Velasquez and Cormier on a billboard facing one another.
Rashad Evans, left, couldn't get out of first gear against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
The news wasn’t all bad Saturday night for UFC. While Evans was looking at a possible middleweight showdown with that division’s titleholder, Anderson Silva, top contender Chris Weidman is a solid option.
No timetable can be set for that fight until more is known on the progress of Weidman’s recovery from shoulder surgery. Silva-Evans, however, was gaining traction and would have generated a lot of fan interest.
Giving Evans hope of a 185-pound title shot seemed like a nice gesture initially. But no one took time to consider Nogueira’s feelings. He was the forgotten man at UFC 156. There were no high-profile stories written about him, nor was anyone suggesting that he receive title-shot consideration with an upset of Evans.
Nogueira is a quiet, sensitive man, who used the prefight slight as motivation. And it worked to his benefit as he utilized a stiff right jab, a hard straight left and picture-perfect takedown defense to register a unanimous-decision win.
“[Offering Evans a title shot] motivated me a lot because before he could fight Anderson Silva, he had a big fight against me,” Nogueira said. “I worked a lot on my wrestling skills and my boxing. I know I was very ready for this.”
Silva and Nogueira might have felt a bit slighted by UFC, but each used it to their advantage Saturday night.
Intended or not, making prefight title-shot plans public can work against UFC’s interest. But on second thought, it can also work in the promotion’s favor -- an entertaining heavyweight fight developed due to Silva’s added desire to silence Overeem.
And Nogueira used his extra incentive to become relevant again. He certainly won’t be the forgotten man the next time he’s slated to appear on a UFC card.