Fourth time the charm for UFC on Fox
What a night it was for mixed martial arts at Staples Center. Good enough to wipe the stain of UFC 149 from our collective chins? Hey, I think so.
Hopefully the fourth UFC on Fox card prompts critics to take a step back and collect themselves. Every event can't be amazing, but much more often than not, MMA delivers. It was only a matter of time before things fell into place for Zuffa on national television. Each of the four fights brought action worth remembering. And for the most part, so did the undercard, which ushered in festivities with quality action.
Watch out for John Moraga, who was nails in his UFC flyweight debut against Ulysses Gomez. Big power in Moraga's 125-pound frame.
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There was also heartbreak, particularly the no decision between Phil Davis and Wagner Prado. Davis hoped to leave an impression on a night when light heavyweights were the focus, but instead he pawed at the Brazilian's face with an open hand.
Energy was high in Los Angeles. The crowd loved it. This was a perfect night of fights at a moment when UFC needed something along those lines.
And, to everyone's benefit, the undercard paled in comparison to the main card.
UFC on Fox 4 grades
Trim, fast and confident, Lyoto Machida was well-prepared to beat Ryan Bader, which is exactly what he did. Bader helped with poor tactics; however, "The Dragon" deserves praise for the style with which he closed out the show. This was an eager, almost cocky Machida (18-3), and while some people felt it necessary to rip into him for his counter-striking ways, any level-headed viewer will give the 34-year-old former UFC champion his due. He was terrific. One last reminder on Machida's chances against Jon Jones (I'm not discounting Dan Henderson when I say this): The Brazilian, now fighting out of Los Angeles, actually connected on punches and won a round. That's way better than most.
Welcome back "Quick." After 2½ years off due to illness and injury, Mike Swick, 33, scored a knockout of the night thanks to a beautiful sequence in Round 2. Cage rust? Forget it. Swick reminded everyone how much of a threat he is, especially when momentum is on his side. The finish -- from catching a kick to planting DaMarques Johnson on his back to landing a debilitating right hand in the bat of an eyelash -- was perfect. There's a wide gulf between Johnson and the top of the welterweight division, so be careful not to read too much into Swick's prospects. But for opening the night on Fox in style, and for hammering home a blistering knockout, Swick (15-4) gets high, high marks.
I don't understand the criticism of Mauricio Rua's performance. Are people actually on his case for being fatigued and looking out of shape? I'm sorry, but having the awareness, power and accuracy to hammer home a finish nearly 20 minutes into a fight is legit. Were it not for Brandon Vera's ability to take punishment, this fight would have been over early in the second. Rua, 30, went for the kill multiple times, showed no ill effects from his war against Dan Henderson, and clearly remains an elite light heavyweight. Pretty good, if you ask me. Maybe Rua (21-6) didn't impress Dana White enough to earn a crack at a UFC belt, but it's a short line to the front and he's right there.
What a great win for the 28-year-old lightweight. Yup, Joe Lauzon is 28, which is sort of crazy because that means the Massachusetts native is into Year 6 of his UFC career. Lauzon is an imperfect fighter, but he's highly entertaining and dangerous. Regrouping off an 81-second head-kick loss to Anthony Pettis in February, Lauzon (22-7) went for it at the right moment, out-grappled Jamie Varner and wrapped up $100,000 in bonus money for submission and fight of the night. He showed his durability and determination in this one -- the most competitive bout during a night of tremendous contests.
Brandon Vera defied expectations to give "Shogun" a fight. Though he was stopped in the fourth round, Vera's effort was plenty good enough to stave off a release from Zuffa. When the 34-year-old striker put combinations together, predominantly in Round 3, he actually posed a threat. But in reality, for all the good things he did Saturday, Vera was still knocked cold and lost almost every round prior to the finish. Vera (12-6, 1 NC) simply isn't as good a mixed martial artist as Rua, which, to be fair, most light heavyweights aren't. Vera deserves respect for fighting to the end and going out on his shield. It's too soon to know what this performance means moving forward, but for at least one night Vera showed why so many people held him in high regard six years ago.
Jamie Varner, 27, walked into the cage, again on short notice, with the attitude that there was nothing to lose. For two rounds, he fought that way and did very well, peppering Lauzon to the body and head with heavy, accurate punches. But then things shifted. Whether it was the result of an injured hand or the looming possibility of victory, Varner (20-7-1) shifted from striking to takedowns in the third. His power double was there, but he failed to make any headway on the floor. Instead, he was swept and, in the end, forced to tap to a triangle. Despite the outcome, this was a terrific fight for the former WEC lightweight champion.
DaMarques Johnson is a slugger, and that may entice some to care when he fights, but I have much less interest. The 30-year-old welterweight fell to 4-5 in the UFC (16-11 overall) when Swick lambasted him in the second round. There really isn't much upside here. What you see is what you get.
So much for that Karate-inspired sparring partner. Ryan Bader, 29, looked lost against Machida. He didn't have the first clue what range to fight from, so he chose the worst possible one -- way outside -- and offered lunging, running, straight-line attacks that played directly into the Brazilian's impressive counter game. The American wrestler didn't take a single shot, either. In every way imaginable, this was the worst performance Bader (14-3) could have mustered. He wasn't supposed to beat Machida, but giving the former champion a fight seemed reasonable enough a proposition heading into the night. Not so much.
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