Silva, Maia steal UFC 148 spotlight
Some UFC 148 housekeeping before we get to grades.
It's worth reiterating that the knee Anderson Silva landed in the second round against Chael Sonnen was perfectly legal. Silva targeted and struck Sonnen's body. Even if the Brazilian's thigh touched Sonnen's face, it wouldn't matter. That's not a knee.
Less legal (i.e., illegal) was Silva's short grab in Round 2 that helped him fend off a Sonnen takedown. Silva's prefight routine also prompted some people to accuse him (again) of rubbing down his chest and arms with Vaseline. Referee Yves Lavigne did a fine job of handling the important assignment. He immediately saw what Silva was doing, intervened and wiped the champion off with a towel. You can argue the lack of effectiveness of terry cloth versus petroleum jelly. It didn't matter much in the end.
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The undercard was as weak as it appeared to be on paper. Over the course of fight week, I did interviews with ESPN radio affiliates across the country and was hard-pressed to answer, "What else should we keep an eye on Saturday in Las Vegas?" Each time, I mentioned Chad Mendes, who went on to destroy Cody McKenzie.
Although it will remain an important point of contention in MMA, testosterone-replacement therapy, popularized by Sonnen, clearly isn't some magic elixir, at least not when stacked against Silva's pedigree.
(I'd bet there will be a UFC champion openly taking testosterone within the next 18 months.)
Ungraded but worth mentioning:
Khabib Nurmagomedov received help from the judges to remain unbeaten. I had Gleison Tibau winning 29-28.
Melvin Guillard picked up a victory but wasn't altogether impressive. Credit Fabricio Camoes for making it difficult, though Guillard continues to make questionable choices in the cage. This time, at least, he escaped with a win.
That's all for now. From A to F, here's how Saturday's pay-per-view fighters fared at the MGM Grand Garden Arena:
UFC 148 grades
As Anderson Silva said in the aftermath, he wasn't injured. And when he's uninjured, motivated and prepared, he's going to beat pretty much everyone. Silva withstood Sonnen's rabid opening stretch by playing a good (not especially impressive) defensive guard, and the challenger didn't do anything after securing a dominant position. The opening round was worthy of a D+ for the UFC champion, but suffice to say the second period was better. Silva's takedown defense allowed him to keep it on the feet, where he pressured Sonnen and made the most of that heinous spinning backfist. Replays showed how brilliant the 37-year-old Brazilian is in tight spaces -- his recognition was instantaneous, allowing for bobbing and weaving and countering in one fell swoop. To beat Silva, an opponent must find perfection. That hasn't happened since 2004, when Ryo Chonan one-upped perfection with a straight miracle. Silva (32-4) and fans deserve a mega-fight. Georges St. Pierre or Jon Jones?
There's much to learn about Demian Maia (16-4) the welterweight, but so far so good. The 34-year-old Brazilian showed he can make 170 and appeared willing to grapple, which is more than you can say about his recent contests. That's noteworthy because one of the best submission fighters in MMA wasn't making the most of his skills. Maia's clinch takedown injured Dong Hyun Kim, ending the fight in 47 seconds and creating many possibilities at Maia's new weight.
Chad Mendes (12-1) did what he was supposed to against Cody McKenzie, handling the overmatched featherweight in short order. Mendes, 27, used speed and movement to slam home a picture-perfect punch to McKenzie's midsection. That was it. All Mendes needed was 31 seconds to rebound from his first pro loss in January against Jose Aldo. This one was wrapped in a bow, courtesy of Joe Silva.
Cung Le looked his age (40), which makes the shutout unanimous decision against Patrick Cote all the more improbable and impressive. There's no room for Le (8-2) near the top of the middleweight division, but as long as he wants to fight, which he does, the UFC will utilize him. Organizers already have designs on putting him on the Macau card in November.
Forrest Griffin, 33, couldn't suffer the consequences of a loss to Tito Ortiz. He won't have to because he kept composure under Ortiz's attacks. Despite being dropped twice in the fight, Griffin recovered and eked out rounds thanks to volume punching and a high pace. The victory did little to inspire confidence that the one-and-done UFC champion has what it takes to regain that status. Regardless, Griffin (19-7) will be in the UFC for as long as he wants.
There's no way to sugarcoat Chael Sonnen's mess-up of a spinning backfist in Round 2. It was ill-timed, ill-conceived and poorly executed. I'm not sure he's thrown a spinning backfist in a live fight scenario before. Sonnen had the right style and intention to beat Silva, but without the mental component he didn't stand a chance. Sonnen needed to duplicate his 2010 performance sans the glaring mistake. That didn't happen. He lost. There are fights to be made at 185 pounds. Sonnen (27-12-1) turned himself into a star the past two years. How much of that will stay with him now that it's clear he can't beat Silva?
Mike Easton, 28, did enough (barely) to beat Ivan Menjivar. I remain unimpressed. He's predictable (simple combinations). He lacks meaningful movement (that gyrating stuff is useless if he's going to keep his feet planted in the ground). And Easton (13-1) isn't an eager finisher. Maybe something will click in the next year or two. It needs to. Right now the best thing he does is move forward.
Ivan Menjivar's three-bout winning streak in the UFC is done. The 30-year-old Canadian (by way of El Salvador) couldn't close the gap and reach Easton. Failing to establish a proper range, Menjivar (24-9) was mostly defensive during the 15-minute fight.
Tito Ortiz is washed up and slow, but the man retained a noble desire to compete and that's what he attempted in the co-main event on Saturday. Ortiz enjoyed several moments. He dropped Griffin, got on top of the TUF 1 winner, used ground-and-pound effectively. But that's the best thing you can say about Ortiz after he stepped out of the cage for (what he said) will be the final time. If he's indeed done, Ortiz leaves MMA with a 16-11-1 record. Dating to his New Year's weekend fight with Chuck Liddell in 2006, he fought the past six years to a 1-7-1 record. Ortiz isn't the best light heavyweight the UFC has promoted -- not even close. But he carved a niche for himself, and fans have supported the 37-year-old Californian since he entered the UFC in 1997.
Dong Hyun Kim
What an awful result for Dong Hyun Kim, who was forced to deal with what looked like a painful rib injury when Maia dragged the South Korean to the floor during the first minute of the fight. I expected a close, tight contest.
The night went so badly for Cody McKenzie that Dana White joked about Forrest Griffin fighting him next. Griffin weighs 205 pounds. McKenzie, 145. So, yeah. Look, McKenzie (13-3) is a tough guy, but he ran into an elite featherweight and was dispatched without much fanfare.
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