Tuesday, July 5, 2011 Updated: July 24, 6:45 PM ET
ESPN.com MMA awards for June
By Brett Okamoto ESPN.com
Clay Guida. I can't say enough good things about Anthony Pettis. Well before the wall kick ever took place, those paying attention to Pettis' career knew he was special. He's slick on the ground, well-conditioned, confident and, of course, knows what he's doing on his feet. This was a huge win for Guida. Some called it boring. Here's what it was: Guida fighting smart and executing a game plan perfectly. You can't count Guida out of title talk anymore. He's 7-2 in his last nine fights and he's improved visibly since teaming up with Greg Jackson in Albuquerque. I had no problem with the way he fought against Pettis and I bet the true Guida fans who have been cheering for him all these years were nothing but happy to see him live up to his potential and finally beat an elite-level opponent.
Rick Story. Unfortunate series of events for UFC welterweight Story. He accepts a fight against Nate Marquardt on a month's notice, which, at the time, I felt wasn't all that risky a move because it was a high-profile fight against a big-name opponent. Well, that all changed once Marquardt failed his medicals and was replaced by Charlie Brenneman, who happens to be a grinding-style fighter from Pittsburgh, where the event took place. Suddenly, Story is fighting a lesser name and is off the main card and the risk factor shoots through the roof. He didn't look particularly sharp, which I credited to the circumstances and the simple fact the fight against Alves obviously took something out of him and he just wasn't ready to go a month later. He'll be back, but what a disappointing month.
Cheick Kongo KOs Pat Barry at UFC Live 4. I haven't forgotten Sam Stout but I'm sure some did after seeing the Kongo fight. I saw some comments on Twitter like, "Oh, that knockout wasn't that great because they were both just sloppy heavyweights throwing wild punches." Huh? It was intelligent striking by Barry that put Kongo down and amazing instincts by Kongo to work back to his feet still hurt and throw a technically sound uppercut. It was crazy and illustrates why this sport is unlike any other. I rewatched it 20 times that night, and it's still on the DVR.
Chris Weidman guillotine Jesse Bongfeldt UFC 131. There is a rule, not always strictly enforced, of no cheering on press row at a professional sporting event. I've never actually cheered, but I've unintentionally reacted to a fight on press row twice covering this sport. They're not what you'd expect, but remember, unintentional reactions come when you're genuinely caught off guard. The first was Mike Russow knocking out Todd Duffee at UFC 114 and the second was Weidman at 131. It's not that there was anything crazy or spectacular about his standing guillotine, I just couldn't believe he pulled off the move that late in the round (six seconds left) and he did it seemingly with no effort. It's a move not often pulled off with such success and he made it look easy.
Dave Herman vs. John Olav UFC 131. One of two things was going on in this fight, or perhaps a combination of both. Either Olav just doesn't hit that hard or Herman has the most indestructible chin I've seen. Olav, big handed Frankenstein-looking Olav, nailed Herman repeatedly in this fight. Herman was backing up when he took some of them, but others were squarely landed punches that should have fazed him. None seemed to. It was like something you'd see in a cartoon where a guy lets another guy hit him until he's completely spent and then puts him away with one punch. Which is kind of what happened, although in Herman's case that one punch was a beautiful combination capped off with a devastating knee. I don't know how successful either are going to be in the future, but Olav and Herman gave Vancouver a pretty sweet fight.
Charlie Brenneman decisions Rick Story at UFC Live 4. Brenneman was a 5-to-1 underdog against Story in Pittsburgh, but in the minds of many watching he might as well have been 50-to-1. Sure, he's a good wrestler who can wear a guy out with pressure from the top, but no one thought that would work against the gritty Story. I think what we saw was a combination of a few things: Story wasn't completely recovered from the Alves fight; as good as he is, he's not ready for a shot at the title yet; and Brenneman was undervalued.
UFC 131. The loss of Brock Lesnar was a blow to the Vancouver event. Couple that with the city was competing for a Stanley Cup in the same weekend, which apparently meant a lot to it, and UFC 131 didn't feel like the blockbuster event it was supposed to be. Quietly the event turned out to be stacked with good fights top to bottom. Stout's win -- a knockout he had been desperately looking for -- stood out, as he refrained from hitting an unconscious Yves Edwards after dropping him with a left. Donald Cerrone put on a Muay Thai clinic; Herman-Einemo was entertaining; and Mark Munoz and Demian Maia fought a terrific, technical fight that was dead even. And of course, we got to see Junior dos Santos at his best.
Dana White on the Versus prefight show: "I think it's pretty clear I'm pretty disgusted with Nate Marquardt. He's been cut from the UFC. He won't ever fight in the UFC again." A fired up White, speaking on the prefight show on Versus regarding Marquardt's status with the UFC after he failed his medicals and was pulled from the UFC on Versus card in Pittsburgh. That pretty much told us all we needed to know, but I asked White again the following week after he had time to cool off. His response was still, "Nate's done. I'm done with Nate." No word yet on whether Strikeforce could sign Marquardt, but my guess, considering White's comments, is don't count on it.
Nate Marquardt's release. No question what story made the most MMA-related headlines this month. A couple things to take away from this whole fiasco: First, I don't think all the details are out. That's just the sense I get from White's responses and the simple fact it seems the story has a few missing pieces. Because of the wording of the laws in Pennsylvania, maybe we'll never know every little tidbit of this story, but I do believe more facts will come out eventually. Second, testosterone replacement therapy is an issue that needs to be addressed. It needs more defined guidelines and universal rules. Expect the treatment to actually get more attention moving forward than Marquardt.
Is Antonio Silva the new Grand Prix favorite? Despite a very impressive win by Silva over Fedor Emelianenko in the quarterfinals, the Strikeforce Grand Prix has still kind of felt like Alistair Overeem's tournament to lose. Is it still that way? Overeem beat Fabricio Werdum in a fight in which neither looked all that good. Personally, I gave him a pass because of the way Werdum fought, but still, Overeem appeared to run out of gas during the later rounds and he was surprisingly outstruck on his feet. Rewind to Silva. His boxing looked strong and he showed he's a threat on the ground with grappling skills and his imposing size. Do we still feel good about Overeem winning it all? Is he even the favorite to beat Silva in the semis?
What are the chances of a GSP/Silva superfight? Slim. We kind of figured this, but the official answer came on June 1 when White tweeted the following: "U wanted it! U GOT IT!!! GSP vs. DIAZ Oct 29th UFC 137." If Georges St. Pierre is fighting Nick Diaz next, he's not fighting Anderson Silva, a matchup that seemed destined to be made not all that long ago. It seems, though, St. Pierre is clearly hesitant to move up in weight -- understandable, considering the disadvantages he'd face at 185. It also seems that, although not agreed on entirely across the board, we've all accepted that just because the two are widely considered the top two pound-for-pound fighters in the world doesn't mean a fight between them would be fair or solve anything. I would have watched and I'd still watch, but here's a prediction you'll never see these two face off in the Octagon.
Fedor Emelianenko. July will dedicate its greatest focus to one Fedor Emelianenko. Despite his recent skid of consecutive losses, the iconic heavyweight still carries a certain mystique about him, unmatched by any other mixed martial artist. Emelianenko is favored to defeat Dan Henderson at Sears Centre Arena on July 30, but I wouldn't argue with anyone who's picking Henderson to win the fight. Either way, the word "legend" gets misused occasionally in MMA, but not in a fight like this. These two have been tremendous figures in the sport, and regardless of the outcome, this should be a historic event.