Commentary

ESPN.com MMA awards for September

Originally Published: September 1, 2011
By Brett Okamoto | ESPN.com

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Carlos Condit. I understand Nick Diaz as much as one can reasonably understand Nick Diaz. Personally, I would never allow an opportunity like competing for a UFC title slip away just because I didn't want to attend a couple of news conferences, but that's Diaz. In the end, of course, I believe he would have showed up to the fight, and I think he'll get another chance if he beats B.J. Penn. What a contrast, though, in the professionalism of Carlos Condit. Hours after replacing Diaz, Condit was already in Las Vegas conducting interviews. He deserves his shot against Georges St. Pierre and I, for one, am not counting him out.


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UFC 135 heavyweights. I get it. They were fighting in the "Mile High City." But I just don't buy this excuse that altitude single-handedly made the fights as ugly as they were. Ben Rothwell and Mark Hunt gassed in the first round. The first round, guys. People are saying "No more heavyweight fights at altitude." Junior Dos Santos and Brendan Schaub both looked terrific fighting in Colorado. Those fights ended in the first round, but there was no evidence that altitude affected either of them at all. Bottom line: None of the UFC 135 heavyweights looked like professional athletes, which is what they're supposed to be.


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Jake Ellenberger def. Jake Shields, UFC Fight Night 25. The UFC card in New Orleans was somewhat lost in the shuffle of a very busy month in mixed martial arts. That's unfortunate, because the emergence of Jake Ellenberger as a legitimate star at 170 pounds isn't something we should overlook. I liked his demeanor leading up to the main event, and he's one of those guys, at 26, whose future looks incredibly bright because he improves so much between fights. Even though he was coping with the loss of his father, Jake Shields has to be looked at as a very dangerous opponent, and Ellenberger took less than a minute to finish him. He's the real deal, with a solid grappling base and knockout power.


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Submission: Nate Diaz def. Takanori Gomi, UFC 135. I can't explain why Takanori Gomi basically started swinging for the fences a mere 30 seconds into this fight, but I can say that was probably the best Nate Diaz has ever looked in a seven-year career. Although it was a submission win, the real story was on the feet, as he picked Gomi apart. Not just pitter-patter shots, either. He threw hard, straight punches that had a noticeable impact. Once the fight hit the ground, it was Diaz being Diaz, working his way from triangle to armbar to triangle back to armbar. He's at his correct weight class at 155 and when he's motivated, as he was to fight a former hero of his in Gomi, he's terrific.


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Luke Rockhold def. Ronaldo Souza, Strikeforce: "Barnett vs. Kharitonov." Some people scored it in favor of Ronaldo Souza. Personally, I scored it for Luke Rockhold, three rounds to two. Any five-round fight that goes the distance, in which both guys are still working at the end, is a great fight to me. It became clear early on that Souza wasn't going to be able to take Rockhold down at will and keep him there. You could see Rockhold's confidence rising during the fight, which was fun to watch. It didn't have crazy momentum swings like some other great fights, but it was a solid, high-paced fight with good technique and gamesmanship.


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Daniel Cormier def. Antonio Silva, Strikeforce: "Barnett vs. Kharitonov." I still can't really believe what happened. Not that Daniel Cormier didn't have ways to win the fight. I didn't think that. But this is a guy who hasn't been fighting all that long, and -- I believed at the time, and kind of still do -- competes at a higher weight class than he should be. And, I mean, we'd seen Antonio Silva take the punches of a Fedor Emelianenko and Andrei Arlovski. Even though he'd been knocked down in his career, it never seemed like he had really been hurt all that badly. Cormier comes in, floors him, finishes him. Unbelievable.


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UFC 135. The Strikeforce Grand Prix card was strong and Bellator 51 featured some awesome finishes, but the best card to catch this month was UFC 135 in Denver. Takeya Mizugaki was relentless in his finish Cole Escovedo. Tony Ferguson continued to show off the power and speed that got him through the "Ultimate Fighter" reality series, breaking Aaron Riley's jaw in the first round. Nate Diaz was awesome. Might have been the curtain call for Matt Hughes and Jon Jones beat up a very in-shape Quinton Jackson.


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Quinton Jackson, during the UFC 135 postfight news conference: "I've got a question. [To Jon Jones] Jones, what the hell were you doing in the beginning of the first round?" It was funny, given the context, but it also was symbolic -- at least to me. A veteran like Jackson can train the hardest he has in his career, and Jones confuses him in the fight's opening moments. Now, the crouched stance Jones came out in didn't end up doing much, but this champion is unpredictable, and until someone beats him, he has no fear of trying things in the cage others wouldn't.


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Alistair Overeem signed with the UFC, cut ties with Golden Glory. The UFC added a major player to its heavyweight division with Alistair Overeem -- a division in desperate need of talent. The deal is long-term and exclusive, meaning that Overeem is done competing in K-1 and Dream overseas. Several weeks later, Overeem severed ties with his longtime management team, Golden Glory, citing a "breach of trust," despite the fact the team had just negotiated his deal with the UFC. Overeem wished the management team success in the future. He fights Brock Lesnar in Las Vegas on Dec. 30.


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What's next for Wanderlei Silva? Cung Le, at UFC 139. After suffering a 27-second knockout loss to Chris Leben in July, Wanderlei Silva will return to the UFC in a November fight against Cung Le. Although I never expected Silva to retire after the Leben fight, I admit I thought he should. Leben claimed the punch that knocked Silva out would have done the same to anyone, but I didn't really believe him. When you can't take a punch anymore you shouldn't be fighting, and Silva has been knocked out four times in the past five years. That said, a fight against Le is at least one that makes sense if Silva is committed to continue. His job in the UFC will certainly be on the line. Here's hoping the classy Silva can find a way to leave the sport, somehow, on his terms.


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Who can beat Jon Jones? Not everyone agreed, but I did think the best Quinton Jackson showed up in Denver, and even he couldn't get Jon Jones in trouble. If you're going to beat Jones, you have to beat the 84-inch reach -- which is a problem. I see three guys at 205 who can do it: Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Phil Davis. If Anderson Silva moved up, I'd like his chances against Jones, too. Problem is, I don't really see any of the three I mentioned actually pulling it off, and I don't see Silva moving up. So again, who can beat Jon Jones?


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It's finally time for Frankie Edgar versus Gray Maynard III. Happy times. We'll finally get a resolution after what happened at UFC 125: "Resolution." Right after the draw, I said Frankie Edgar would win the third installment. Then I didn't know. Now I'm picking Gray Maynard. That fight headlines a stacked UFC 136 card, featuring the featherweight title fight, and Chael Sonnen returns to the Octagon. I'm also looking forward to the Bellator welterweight title fight against Ben Askren and Jay Hieron on Oct. 29, and, of course, Georges St. Pierre takes on Carlos Condit that same night. Nick Diaz fights B.J. Penn as well. If he wins, UFC has to ask, "Man. Are we willing to try this guy in a main event again?" I think they would.