Trend of champ dominance continues
Has the UFC finally ushered in an era of dominant champions?
That's the question on my mind after Dominick Cruz took a lopsided decision for his fourth bantamweight title defense a week after UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones easily dispatched Quinton Jackson.
In a sport that fosters parity, has it finally found some stability? I think so.
Anderson Silva has owned middleweight since 2006. With exception of his slip up against Matt Serra, Georges St. Pierre has done the same at welterweight. Featherweight and bantamweight are new to the mix, but they both feature champions poised to make long runs. Especially Cruz.
If Jose Aldo retains his 145-pound title against Kenny Florian next weekend, you'd have to say the same about him. Jones appears unbeatable, which, if true, means for the first time since Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva ruled, the light heavyweight division won't deliver a carousel of titleholders.
So that leaves heavyweight and lightweight.
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Cain Velasquez has everything you'd envision in a heavyweight who could leave a long-term impression. The division is relatively light on talent, and a win over Junior dos Santos in November leaves few real challengers outside of Alistair Overeem, should he defeat Brock Lesnar in December.
Lightweight, I'll concede, is something different altogether. The 155- pound class has an obnoxiously deep talent pool, and any kind of consistency at the top would run against the odds.
So is the existence of dominant fighters a net positive for the UFC and MMA?
The audience's attention span has to be considered here -- dwelling isn't a strong suit. But I'm having a hard time coming up with a downside.
As the stakes have increased, so has the gap between the best of the best and everyone else.
UFC Live 6 grades
Watching Anthony Johnson dismantle Charlie Brenneman offered a poignant reminder that a fighter with his kind of talent and limited experience -- 13 bouts is limited even if there are champions in the UFC with fewer fights -- should never be written off. Johnson, 27, is enormous for 170 pounds -- an advantage he holds over anyone at the weight -- and it's a point of discussion each time he steps in the cage. He'll eventually matriculate to middleweight, but for now Johnson has done enough to gain consideration as a threat at 170. Johnson (10-3) handled Brenneman like he would a younger brother. The only difference is that most brothers not named "Shamrock" wouldn't finish with a roundhouse to the face.
Stefan Struve has yet to thoroughly establish an identity in the Octagon, but if he remains on his current path, the 6-foot-11, 23-year-old Dutchman will be considered a demarcation line between legitimate heavyweights with a future and those who don't measure up. Struve's odd matchup against the shortest heavyweight in the UFC, Pat Barry, resulted in a textbook second-round triangle choke. He's a step ahead of the bottom-of-the-barrel in the division, but unless Struve (22-5) finds a way to up his game to match the competition, this is as good as it'll get for the "Skyscraper." Considering his youth and the problems presented with his height (sure there are positives too, even if he's not great at utilizing his reach), it's difficult to gauge how successful he'll ultimately become.
What a war with Mac Danzig. The 15-minute struggle was the best fight of the night, and it featured Matt Wiman at his best, as he put together a varied and active performance. We're still talking about a fringe top-25 lightweight, but against a similar level of competition Wiman (14-6) is aggressive and fun to watch. The 28-year-old's inside game, and particularly the effectiveness with which he threw elbows in the clinch, stood out as a strength on Saturday.
Credit Mac Danzig for fighting a terrific battle against Wiman. In the end, though, it represents yet another loss for "The Ultimate Fighter 6" champion. The 31-year-old lightweight is just 4-7 since 2007 (20-9-1 overall), and performances like this one will keep him around the UFC longer than he probably should. The bottom line: He's no contender.
The bantamweight champion dealt with a whirlwind of an opponent, another busted hand and won. Forget the fancy footwork. Cruz needed to grind out a victory, and he did. Cruz was too big for his challenger, Demetrious Johnson, and the champion played on his oft-forgotten wrestling to carry the victory. On the floor, Cruz's guard-passing was stellar, and though this is yet another fight that went the distance, it's unfair to hold that against the 135-pound king. Cruz (19-1) is a complete mixed martial artist. His weaknesses are few and far between. He wasn't the faster fighter? So what. Switch things up. Find a way. That's Cruz's story.
Demetrious Johnson (9-2) simply wasn't equipped to beat Cruz, but the effort was there. We're talking about a true flyweight pushing an emerging dominant bantamweight champion for 25 minutes. Johnson's speed was as impressive as advertised, and he continually rushed forward, leaping with punches and kicks, but too few of them landed. Johnson's ability to stand after takedowns diminished as the fight wore on, and his guard was passed with regularity. Against fighters his size, I don't see that happening, but he simply couldn't cope with a larger, equally determined, more skilled champ.
Even if he doesn't measure up, Pat Barry will likely stick around the UFC. He comes to fight and is well-liked by fans. And that's fine. But if you're holding out hope that the former kickboxer is going to emerge into a contender as a mixed martial artist, I have bad news: He failed to chop down Struve with leg kicks. He had no hope of getting to the inside against the long-limbed Dutchman. And in the end, Barry, 32, was sucked into a triangle choke finish. All of that makes him 6-4 as a mixed martial artist and 3-4 in the UFC.
Talk about falling flat. Following the terrific story of stepping in late to fight and beat Rick Story in his last fight, Brenneman was totally swamped by Anthony Johnson. Brenneman (14-3) was lost from the opening moments of the fight. He shied away from contact and focused on nothing but takedowns, which never came. There was some controversy about Brenneman's status after taking a high kick from Johnson, but I didn't see a problem there. What a big setback and disappointment for the 30-year-old wrestler.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
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