UFC 145 offers glimpse into future
Michael "Mayday" McDonald, 21, and Rory "Ares" MacDonald, 22, left their respective marks on the UFC 145 undercard, further proof that the next generation of fighter -- truly the first to grow up training "mixed martial arts" as its own unique, all-encompassing style -- is quickly going to have a strong say in what happens inside the Octagon.
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McDonald's rise to the top of his division could come faster than MacDonald's, but that's just a byproduct of the contender landscape at 135 (where McDonald plies his trade) and 170 pounds (MacDonald's territory). No matter when it happens, each man will have a chance to prove he's the best in the world at his weight.
Can they come through like Jones did, when he defeated Maurico Rua to claim the UFC light heavyweight title? Only time will tell.
It wasn't just kids who lit up the highly anticipated weekend, and the Report Card is jam-packed.
From A to F, here's how they fared:
Bellator 66/UFC 145 grades
Welcome back from the brink. Whatever cliche you want to use about being in a bad spot, that was Eddie Alvarez's future had he not come out on top against Shinya Aoki on Friday. Not only did the exciting 28-year-old Philadelphian win, he did so in a rout, needing less than half a round to hit and hurt the Japanese fighter. Alvarez has one fight remaining on his Bellator contract. If he wins that one, then he's loving life and would likely receive a contract offer from the UFC, much like Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard has. Alvarez (23-3) asked his promoter, Bjorn Rebney, to show him the money. Would he be worth it? That's a question the thus-far frugal fight group would need to figure out, and quickly.
Travis Browne (13-0-1) did what he was supposed to do against Chad Griggs: Look impressive and score an early stoppage. The 29-year-old Hawaiian had little trouble doing either, wrapping the fight with an arm-triangle choke midway through the opening round. I continue to like what I see from Browne, though the UFC has helped him along the way with matchups. Sooner rather than later, he'll take a step up in competition since there's no depth problem in the heavyweight division. I don't see him as out of his element when that happens.
If you heard Rory MacDonald (13-1) on my podcast last week, you know he's extremely confident that one day he'll rank among the best in the world, perhaps at the top. If he keeps getting opponents like Che Mills, there's absolutely no way he doesn't look that good on a regular basis. Fortunately for us -- and for him, really -- the tests are going stiffen soon. As far as I'm concerned, his most impressive performance remains his only loss. Time to get used to the idea that a kid who named himself after the god of war is going to stick around the UFC for a while.
I had to see it to believe, and it's time to consider me a full-fledged convert. Michael McDonald is the real deal at 135 pounds. Fighting out of soon-to-be dusty and hot Modesto, Calif., the kid matured in the state's competitive central valley fight circuit. Now he's known for an opening-round knockout against former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres. He plays the nice card outside the cage, but when it's time to fight, McDonald (15-1) gives no quarter.
People can talk trash about Bellator's format all they want, but when it delivers fighters like Rick Hawn (13-1), I don't think there's anything to complain about. The former Olympian has been tremendous since dropping from welterweight to lightweight. He's a split-decision loss (against Jay Hieron) from being undefeated. He obviously possesses serious pop in his punches, taking out Ricardo Tirloni and Lloyd Woodard with clean knockouts en route to the finals against another 170-pound convert, Brent Weedman. There's a lot to like about Hawn. A fight between the 35-year-old New Englander and the Bellator lightweight champ, Michael Chandler, would pique my interest.
If this is what happens when Ben Rothwell is in shape and motivated, there's no excuse for him showing up to fight any other way. "Big" Ben (32-8) stood his ground and happily traded shots with Brendan Schaub. The ensuing finish prompted Schaub into a fit of mime-jitsu as he grappled with the air, and will be looped on the Internet for as long as it exists. There is hope for the 6-foot-5, 30-year-old former IFL champion following a monster win.
There was no doubt start to finish that the UFC light heavyweight champion was going to keep his belt. Jon Jones, who doesn't turn 25 until the middle of the summer, was everything we've come to expect, save being a finisher. He was dominant, at times brilliant, and unquestionably in control. Jones made his left hand a weapon, especially with a jab that hit the mark all fight. Those elbows, though. I'd never seen anyone do what Jones did in Round 2, connecting from varying ranges and angles with elbow strikes. "Bones" (16-1 but 17-0, really) could very well be the best fighter in MMA right now. He's improving fast, and he has the chance to beat up Dan Henderson next. Maurico Rua. Quinton Jackson. Lyoto Machida. Now, Rashad Evans. Dan Henderson, perhaps? A hell of a run.
John Alessio politicked his way back into the UFC, launching a Twitter campaign aimed at Dana White that paid off when Matt Wiman was injured three weeks ago. Though he lost on points, Alessio really did make the most of his effort. Twelve years after fighting Pat Miletich at the age of 19 for the UFC belt, Alessio moved to lightweight hoping to rekindle his career. He won his first two before running into Bocek. You can count on Alessio, now 32, for a few things, among them his incredible hair and the fact that he lost 15 times because he can't stop takedowns. Don't be surprised to see him fighting in the Octagon again, based on this effort.
Andreas Spang, 33, engineered the best comeback of the weekend after absorbing multiple attempts by Brian Rogers to make SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays. It was a mammoth win for the Swede (check out how well the Swedes are doing in the cage lately!) because it set him up in the 185-pound Bellator finals. The guy seems to have a great chin and an attitude problem. Spang (8-1) shoved Rogers at the weigh-in Thursday, then did so again when Falcao stepped into the cage to challenge him moments after he snapped off a stunning consciousness-robbing counter left. Despite the result, it's hard to know how good he is: Just over a year ago "Sweet Swede" was choked early by Ali Mokdad in the Maximum Fighting Championship. Beating Falcao would put Spang on the radar.
The 30-year-old Canadian grappler had a tougher than expected time against late replacement John Alessio, though he walked away with a fairly lopsided judges' ruling in his favor. Mark Bocek, as is usually the case, was better on the ground than his foe. But he wasn't any kind of overwhelming presence on the ground, which helped Alessio escape and tune up his striking game in response. Troubling for Bocek (11-4) supporters was his spotty stamina and failure to capitalize on dominant positions. He remains a tough out for all but the elite at 155 pounds, and that's where he'll remain for a while.
A failure to defend rendered Eddie Yagin's face an utter mess at the end of three rounds against Mark Hominick, yet the heavy-handed featherweight dished out enough offense to walk away a winner. The veteran Yagin (16-5-1) has been a surprise since entering the UFC. After stepping in on short notice and nearly winning September, the 33-year-old slugger earned the most important win of his career this weekend. He's a brawler with heavy hands and a tremendous will to fight. Yagin is coming off like a sure-fire bet to show up and fight, which is a great way to stick around the UFC for a while. Whether that translates into any kind of real resurgence, in which all of a sudden he's in the mix for a title, remains to be seen. I seriously doubt that's how it will end up for him.
Mark Hominick, 29, surrendered his third straight bout, this time losing a split decision to Eddie Yagin. Hominick's typical bag of tricks paid off throughout the three-round fight; however, he couldn't put the finishing touches on Yagin. Hominick's hunt-and-peck style would have been a winning strategy had he done what his corner asked and made the power-punching Filipino fighter miss more often. Instead, Hominick (20-11) took the brunt of several salvos and it cost him on two judges' cards. He still has something to prove at 145 pounds, especially in the wake of his mentor Shawn Tompkins' unexpected death, and a resurgence isn't out of the realm of possibilities.
Maiquel Falcao, 31, scored a razor-thin unanimous decision over Vyacheslav Vasilevsky (16-2) to make it to the Bellator middleweight tournament final, but it wasn't the sort of performance that suggested he should be favored over Spang. The most interesting moment of Falcao's night came after his win, when Spang shoved the Brazilian in the center of the cage. Falcao (30-4) replied with a knee to the Swede's gut -- an unfortunate display from both fighters and a lesson worth learning for Bellator.
Brent Weedman made it to the Bellator lightweight finals thanks to a fairly pedestrian effort against Brazilian kickboxer Thiago Michel, whom I had winning 29-28. Judges were split in selecting Weedman, which is all that mattered for the former welterweight as he moves to 20-7-1 (2-0 at 155 pounds). The 27-year-old Kentuckian must be much better against Hawn on May 25 or he won't have a shot of winning the tournament and earning the right to fight Michael Chandler.
Don't take too much away from Rashad Evans. He remains a top light heavyweight, despite the five-round drubbing by Jones. What's clear now is he'll never beat Jones. He had his shot in Atlanta and blew it, suggesting afterward that he was flat. If there's any truth to that, then shame on Evans. This was the biggest fight of his life and he couldn't measure up to the moment. Evans (17-2-1) looked like he fell into a trance over the course of the fight, as such he didn't muster much against the current champion. Some are suggesting Evans, 32, should move to 185 pounds. No way. He's in the correct division (after all, he just made it the distance against Jones). A rematch against Lyoto Machida is appropriate at this time.
Che Mills was on the receiving end of a hard sell by the UFC, which must have made his annihilation at the hands of MacDonald a curious thing to anyone who didn't know better than to listen to the UFC announce crew label him an "elite, elite" welterweight. Mills (14-5) is explosive and rangy, but he's nowhere near a top-echelon 170-pound fighter, a point hammered home by his young Canadian opponent. Even though the 29-year-old Englishman was coming off a "knockout of the night" bonus and five consecutive wins, Saturday's matchup seemed to be based around making MacDonald look good. Mission accomplished.
I can't think of a top-ranked fighter who makes himself look worse than Shinya Aoki does when he falls on the wrong side of the ledger. In fact, Aoki (30-6) totally folded against Alvarez. When things are going his way, Aoki is terrific. When they don't, he comes across as a quitter. Aoki showed no poise under pressure. He failed to recover guard as Alvarez rained down punches, and just sort of fell to his side until the referee broke it up. Alvarez clearly landed hard shots, but Aoki's failure to respond in any kind of way signals he's not worthy of being considered an elite fighter. He needs to stay away from the U.S. and those wire-mesh cages promoters like to use over here.
Brendan Schaub, 29, finds himself in a bad spot following consecutive knockout losses. The heavyweight division is the wrong place to possess a questionable chin, which is exactly Schaub's predicament. He's agile and quick, but that doesn't matter much when it comes to engaging in a slugfest against a guy like Rothwell. The football convert is 8-3 since trying his hand at pro MMA in 2008. He's taken strides toward becoming a legitimate prospect, but that seems to be the cap to his ceiling. And as one Twitter follower chimed in, it might be good idea to avoid anyone nicknamed "Big."
Be careful what you wish for, I guess. Miguel Torres' commuted sentence from Zuffa meant he got to fight in the Octagon again, which is all he wanted, but that meant stepping in with, as it turns out, one of the best prospects on the roster. Torres (40-5) came out looking as if he planned to use the jab-heavy tactics that have come to define his style since training commenced at Tristar Gym in Montreal. He failed to return fire, an absurd notion just a couple years back, and took whatever McDonald dished out. In the end, that featured a solid uppercut that put the 31-year-old former bantamweight champion down. That's four losses in seven fights; Torres' best days are behind him.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
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