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Mixed martial arts is under way in 2011, and UFC 125 left us hopeful for a year of bouts like the night's main event.
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We know this is a time when fighters under contract with the UFC face more pressure to perform than ever before. So it seems appropriate as we get out of the gate to take a good look at results from Las Vegas.
Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena yielded all sorts of performances.
From A to F, the evening's report card:
Frankie Edgar, UFC lightweight champion
If doubts existed about the UFC lightweight champion's durability ahead of Saturday night, let them rest in peace. We knew he was a scrapper. Words such as "gritty" and "tough" worked as synonyms to his last name in media profiles. Now they don't accurately reflect the strength of his will. By surviving an early onslaught and fighting to a draw, Edgar did much more than retain his belt. People can never again claim the 29-year-old from Toms River, N.J., isn't worth watching.
Almost perfect. The fighter no one wanted to see helped elevate himself, his champion opponent and the division in which he fights. Not a bad night of work considering he didn't win. Maynard, now 1-0-1 against Edgar, went for an early kill and could not find it. By his own admission, he punched himself out in the first. But he found enough in reserve to be competitive the rest of the way, resulting in one of the best five-round decisions in a long time. Had he shown more patience in the first -- à la Cain Velasquez's classy finish of Brock Lesnar -- Maynard could very well be UFC champion. Still, he helped himself tremendously in the minds of fans.
The former Marine Corps captain secured the biggest win of his career with a violent finish. For that reason alone, Stann is deserving of excellent marks. But it was a moment after he battered Chris Leben to a first-round technical knockout that many people will remember. The Naval Academy grad, a middle linebacker for the institution's football team, had been better known for earning a Silver Star during a tour of duty in Iraq than his MMA exploits. And rightly so. He reminded everyone postfight of his ties to the Corps, speaking of a Marine who had served under his command and was killed in Afghanistan last week. It remains to be seen what kind of fighter Stann can become, and a questionable chin suggests he might not be destined for great things, but as people and stories go, you won't find many better.
Among the biggest winners of the weekend, the 21-year-old from Louisiana made the most of his featherweight debut. Relatively unknown, Poirier halted the rise of widely touted prospect Josh Grispi, who would have been challenging for a UFC title in the evening's co-main event had Jose Aldo not been injured. Poirier used his length very well, scoring various kicks including several gut-busting shots to the stomach as he swarmed his way to a unanimous victory. He is now among a featherweight class in the UFC that appears to be wide-open beneath the champ.
Fighting for the first time in a year, he looked strong in victory. Silva dominated Brandon Vera in three rounds, choosing at points to humiliate his broken opponent with open hand slaps. He stood his ground on the feet, happily sitting in the pocket and exchanging. He also showed a patience and maturity early on by putting the fight on the floor, where he could control and ground-and-pound. Silva, a bruising Brazilian, remains in the mix at light heavyweight and sets himself up for another high-profile fight.
Nunes endured a closed eye to outpoint Mike Brown -- a critical win in determining his place in UFC's featherweight division. Since taking a step up in competition from Brazilian promotions (he won, stopped or submitted every opponent), Nunes has gone the distance in his six North American Zuffa-promoted bouts. Having won his past three with an overall record of 16-1 puts him in the mix for a shot at the 145-pound belt.
That's three wins in a row for the dancing machine, all via submission. Saturday's guillotine against Takanori Gomi pushed the veteran's record to 8-5 in the UFC. It doesn't sound great, but Guida keeps plugging along and his most recent stretch has elevated his status in the division. He completely neutralized his opponent with a movement-heavy style -- it looked as though he was dry-heaving, but you can't question its effectiveness -- and dictated every moment of the fight.
Dong Hyun Kim
He scored an important win for himself and Korean MMA. Using size and wrestling ability, Kim controlled Nate Diaz for much of the fight until he faded through to the finish line. Questions about whether he could compete against a higher caliber of competition were partially answered at UFC 125. The Stun Gun is already expressing his desire to meet welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. He's not close to ready, but if someday he is, this is a result that would have helped him get there.
He rolled craps. From the penthouse to the outhouse, as it were. Or maybe looking bad against an unheralded prospect will be a good thing for the 22-year-old featherweight from Massachusetts. It would be easy to give Grispi a grade near failing, but that would be missing the point. Yes, he was owned on Saturday, but before UFC 125, he'd never been pushed to the brink. Never was asked to know and cope with adversity in long stretches. Never realized what it takes to be the best. Those were all lessons he should take away from his loss. All things considered, it might not have been a terrible night.
Confusing. He has moments of technical brilliance sandwiched between middling performances when he appears outgunned and outmuscled. That was Diaz in a nutshell against Kim. The guy will never stop fighting, and he attempted to rally late. But Diaz, a 25- year-old from Stockton, Calif., clearly doesn't have enough power to cope with larger welterweights. He's too big to comfortably make 155. It's hard to imagine he's at a crossroads so early in his career, but that's how it feels.
Beating Antonio McKee automatically nets an above-average grade, yet no one wants to watch the wrestler fight. It's not as though he's dominated opponents (three decision wins, two split since moving to 155) to the point where he looks like someone who could Fitch his way to a title shot. Still, a win is a win and a new day. Volkman drops from C-plus to C-minus, however, for remarks given during a postfight interview to MMAFighting.com. I'm all for athletes engaging in social discourse no matter where they fall politically. If an athlete speaks out on an issue, it can spark conversation. But there's a line, and Volkmann crossed it. When asked about President Obama, he said he'd like to be the person to "knock some sense into that idiot." Disagree with the president's policies all you like, but how about some respect for the office?
Mike Thomas Brown
He's yet to regain momentum since running into Jose Aldo at the end of 2009. Saturday's loss to Diego Nunes means Brown has alternated losses and wins in his past six bouts. At age 35, it may be too late for Brown, who twice bested Urijah Faber, to make a run at the UFC featherweight belt.
He tried. He failed. In his UFC debut, the 40-year-old brash lightweight suffered his first loss since 2003, ending his unbeaten streak at 15. The fight was slow, as they tend to be when McKee is involved. For all his talking, he couldn't do much to Jacob Volkmann. Why? For the first time in forever, McKee actually was matched against a quality wrestler. He won the final round but failed to do much in the first two. The UFC, without any fanfare, could decide that McKee's time in the Octagon was one-and-done.
You can walk into punches only so many times, sir. Leben survived against Yoshihiro Akiyama in July. Not this time. Brian Stann leveled him several times, using a wrecking ball of a knee to the chin to finally end it. As good as 2010 was for Leben inside the cage, it could not have started worse in 2011. He must now deal with the aftermath of an arrest on suspicion of drunken driving in Hawaii in addition to a loss that knocks him far from any UFC middleweight title picture.
First things first, he quit. At some point against Thiago Silva, Vera just stopped fighting. He didn't look as though he wanted to be in there, save for spurts at the start of each round. However, pressure from Silva always rendered him fightless. It was frustrating to watch. Vera gets points for his postfight attitude. His nose, mangled into a geometry assignment, brought a sheepish laugh when Vera saw himself during a replay in the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Vera doesn't seem to have much of a future as a mixed martial artist.
From the Japanese fighter's inability to adapt to a wild opponent to the fact that he was submitted for the fifth time in his career (not counting the gogoplata no-contest against Nick Diaz), Gomi was a major disappointment coming off a great knockout last year versus Tyson Griffin. A win over Clay Guida would have propelled Gomi back into contendership for the first time in years, but he offered little in the way of offense and looked completely out of sorts. Back to the drawing board.
Pummeled by an at-best average opponent is not the way to keep a contract in the UFC. Will Baroni endure? If he does, it's only because he's in the good graces of Dana White. The first-round knockout against Brad Tavares was the third loss in a row for Baroni, making him 3-6 since 2007. A showman? Maybe. Entertaining? To some, sure. But he's long gone as a fighter.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.