Aggression key to Cain's success
The final Report Card for 2012 hones in on UFC 155, a deep lineup that produced several memorable outcomes and -- no small feat -- 17 grades. The event, of course, delivered one of the best UFC heavyweight title fights in years between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez.
The title-changing fight was a showstopper. The Las Vegas card also hashed out a few things at 185 and 155 pounds, offering more intriguing possibilities as we head into the new year.
UFC 155 grades
Relentlessly determined, like a bull in front of a cape -- such was Cain Velasquez while forcing Junior dos Santos through a 25-minute beating to recapture the UFC title. Velasquez, 30, sealed the Brazilian's fate in the last 90 seconds of the opening round with a wicked right hand. From that point forward, JdS just didn't have his legs, and Velasquez (11-1) essentially mauled away in all phases. The repeating champion's talent to change levels and win scrambles paid off, as did a storm of punches inside and out, yet it was torrential pressure coupled with a lighter man's stamina that determined the outcome. He was terrific, and there's no reason to suspect this wouldn't be the way he fights so long as he's healthy. Velasquez operates without a nickname. This could be totally cliched, but I can't think of anything that describes him better than "El Toro."
Jim Miller (21-4) locked into his mind that nothing Joe Lauzon did to him would matter, and it didn't. The lightweight stomped around the Octagon, raining bloody mayhem for three rounds. It was intense, even by his standards. So we know now not to write off the 29-year-old fighter from Sparta, N.J., despite how he looked in May against Nate Diaz.
Erik Perez, 23, took his third straight first-round stoppage since joining the UFC in June, an impressive start that has people taking notice of the Mexican's skills. Perez (13-4) handled Byron Bloodworth (6-3) and seems poised to do the same to similarly weighted opposition. The question is: When will UFC venture to put the bantamweight in a tricky fight? They're not the sort to wait, but Perez's potential marketability to Mexican fans (he wears a luchador mask!) means he'll get a promotional push sooner than others.
Consider his attitude adjusted. Todd Duffee (8-2) returned to the UFC following an unceremonious release in 2010 and hammered out Phil De Fries in just over two minutes. If his head is on straight, Duffee can do something, but the division is deeper than it's ever been and he can't rely on being the biggest kid on the block. Working with the likes of Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier should help him along. Fully prepared and disciplined, who knows?
Junior dos Santos
The last high-profile beating I remember that rendered a heavyweight as swollen and lopsided as Junior dos Santos was on Saturday happened at Pride 10 (Enson Inoue's head might have tripled in size after Igor Vovchanchyn's 10-minute destruction). Despite his fate against Velasquez, dos Santos, 28, showed the incredible ability to soldier on over five rounds while revealing himself more than capable of surviving on the floor. It takes a great opponent to bring out the best in a fighter, and JdS has found his rival in Velasquez. They won't talk. They won't bicker. But they'll fight, I'm guessing at least a couple of more times.
Joe Lauzon, like dos Santos, earned high marks for hanging tough, fighting back and making a great fight out of what might have otherwise been a blowout. I don't think there's anything he could have done differently against a jugular-focused Miller. So he's a dangerous and exciting fighter with guts, but no matter how many bloodbaths he's in, that's not enough to win a title in the deepest division in MMA.
Yushin Okami (28-7) went Oregon Gangsta on Alan Belcher, owning the fight over three rounds because of grappling and control. He's still relevant at 185 pounds, which is churning over with interesting fighters and contenders. But people aren't excited to hear his name, and considering he had his shot there won't be an express elevator to the top. Still, palling around with Chael Sonnen has been good for the 31-year-old fighter from Japan.
Welcome to the mix, Constantinos Philippou. The 12-2 southpaw hammered out a third-round stoppage of Tim Boetsch, settling any questions about his prospects at a higher level. This makes five straight wins in the UFC after losing his first one, improving throughout the stretch. Philippou, 33, fought with patience during an even first two rounds and turned the fight in his favor when Boetsch played guard late in the second. He's an intriguing middleweight with plenty of power and a growing sense of ease in the Octagon.
Eddie Wineland (20-8-1) was better than the split decision he received over Brad Pickett. The bout had its moments, including a first-round knockdown of Pickett, but nothing overly dramatic. Wineland, 28, connected with a variety of crisp punches while shuttering Pickett's offense. This was an important win for Wineland. Bantamweight remains a work in progress and the champion, Dominick Cruz, is going to be out for a while. I'd wager Wineland gets labeled No. 1 contender in 2013.
Myles Jury went to 11-0 with a sweeping unanimous decision over Michael Johnson (12-7). The 24-year-old lightweight kept it simple and made it look easy, especially while grappling. Jury owned takedowns, moved to numerous dominant positions and attacked when he could. This was a terrific outing for Jury, who deserves a bump in competition.
John Moraga (13-1) needed a couple of rounds to get going, but when he did he blasted through Chris Cariaso and finished with a sneaky chin-to-chest crank/choke. It felt like Moraga, 28, could have done something like this when he wanted, but he waited until the third round (and quite possibly down 20-18 on the cards) to pressure Cariaso into a mistake. This is a flyweight worth watching.
Derek Brunson, 28, made solid use of his UFC debut by outpointing veteran Chris Leben. Brunson (10-2) dictated action against a fatigued fighter. He did what he had to, but this was not a superlative effort from a guy who was knocked out in less than a minute in his last fight, and before that lost a split decision to Kendall Grove.
Max Holloway's length and accuracy carried him past an active Leonard Garcia. Judges split in Holloway's favor, and I agree with the majority. He countered and scored plenty against a guy who threw -- and missed -- a ton of strikes. Holloway (7-1) is only 21 and has the characteristics of a quality fighter. He'll stick around at featherweight for a while.
Judges offered the most ridiculous of split decisions (30-27s on all sides) and Jamie Varner walked away with the win, which he deserved. Delayed a few weeks because he fell ill on fight night, Varner met a fired-up Melvin Guillard and mixed it up enough so Guillard didn't know when a takedown or punch was coming. It was quite a comeback for Varner (21-7-1) in 2012, with three wins in four fights against Drew Fickett, Edson Barboza and Guillard.
After four wins in a row, Saturday's effort against Okami was a setback. Many had Belcher stacking up to be a serious challenger. Unlike the ground assault from Rousimar Palhares in May, Belcher failed to counter, deny or reverse Okami. He was swarmed under and looked lost at certain points in the fight. A win would have set Belcher up for the possibility of a monster 2013. Losing, as it happened, is disappointing but not debilitating.
Tim Boetsch started pressing Costa Philippou into the fence, roughing the New Yorker up when he could, but "The Barbarian" wasn't destined for an easy night. Boetsch (16-5) absorbed an accidental head butt that cut him open and a finger to the eye in Round 2, and neither helped his chances. As he grew desperate, takedown attempts manifested from too far out, and he was forced to pull guard. It was on the bottom where Boetsch, 31, lost full control, and eventually the fight, at 2:11 of the third.
Chris Leben, 32, looked slow and worn to a nub during his three-round fight with Derek Brunson. He hadn't fought in 13 months due to a suspension for painkillers after losing to Mark Munoz, and it showed. Leben (22-9) looked dismal Saturday, a shell of a guy who used to be good. Have the brawls and the life he leads caught up to him?
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