Enticing title bouts loom post-160
Memorial Day weekend cards generally deliver an entertaining show for the UFC. The heavyweight championship event on Saturday at the MGM Grand did so and more.
There's time, of course, to dwell on the results (we'll do that in a few paragraphs) but with UFC 160 slipping away in the rearview mirror, the general attitude will soon be to focus on what's ahead.
Thus far they haven't engaged in the war everyone wants, but before the third fight of the trilogy, the feeling will be that this is the right time. There's no question we're talking about the two best heavyweights in MMA. They should bring out the best in one another, so long as both fighters are healthy and prepared. If so, this should become a heavyweight championship contest that resonates with casual sports fans and does big business for the UFC.
Also, we know Benson Henderson will face a difficult and somewhat improbable test against TJ Grant. I don't think there's any doubt that Grant is a true challenge for Henderson, and I can already say I'm likely to pick the Canadian when that fight comes to pass.
All exciting stuff.
UFC 160 grades
If you can find a fault in Cain Velasquez's first title defense, please tweet me or comment at the bottom of the story. As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing to quibble over whether he should spend another 81 seconds in the cage with Antonio Silva. Velasquez owns the Brazilian and shouldn't be asked to fight "Bigfoot" again unless some incredible run happens. When Velasquez is on, he's a true force. He can hurt you in so many ways. If he beats Junior dos Santos in the rubber match, Velasquez might just be the guy to muster an extended reign at heavyweight. If it works out that way, and the Latin American market jumps on board, and he fights Jon Jones someday, Velasquez could become a force on pay-per-view. But winning is everything with him.
TJ Grant bullied "The Bully," swatting Gray Maynard around the Octagon for just over two minutes. This was utter domination on the Canadian lightweight's part. Grant walked through stiff punches without any problem, and as lightweights go Maynard can crack. Grant's size, footwork and crisp striking led to his early stoppage, a huge statement as he's earned the right to face champion Benson Henderson next. Grant can beat Henderson, no question about it.
Glover Teixeira treated James Te Huna like a lower-tier fighter before forcing a tap midway through the first. This was impressive all the way around. The Brazilian made a statement while showing off what seems to be a depth of talent. What a busy 12-month stretch it's been for Teixeira, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that he'll fight twice more this year. He is a hefty talent at 205, and if Jon Jones continues handling business, this is a fight that really ought to happen.
Junior dos Santos
I wondered heading into UFC 160's co-main event which way Junior dos Santos would take the fight to Mark Hunt, and dos Santos took an all-of-the-above approach, which meant, among other things, wild bomb rights and a bit of everything. It would have been easy and foolish for dos Santos to get sucked into a kickboxing contest. Instead, he boxed, using a stiff piston of a left to keep the shorter, less-quick Hunt at bay. As for the finish, the spinning hook kick was a thing of beauty. This was a heavyweight twirling in the cage, lifting his leg, and dropping an opponent regarded as owning one of the best chins in fight sports. A lot to be impressed with here. A healthy JDS gives a healthy Velasquez a real run for his money.
Donald Cerrone stepped into the Octagon against an inferior fighter and handled business the way he was supposed to. There's nothing wrong with KJ Noons except that he's still very much the same fighter who stepped into MMA for the first time in 2002. Noons likes to box. He doesn't mind kickboxing. He'll try to stop a takedown, but if he can't and the person on top chooses to attack him in certain ways, he's suddenly immobile on the canvas. It was mentioned that Josh Thomson might be next up for Cerrone. That's a terrific fight, and I'd favor Cerrone.
If Mark Hunt chooses to walk away from MMA, you'd have to acknowledge how much he improved after losing six straight over a four-year stretch, including his UFC debut in 2010. On Saturday, all the things that made Hunt great in K-1 were still in play. Hunt was lit up a few times by dos Santos, including one right hand over the top that forced the kickboxer into less-than-ideal conditions.
The notion that Noons could be a top-shelf lightweight has been bandied about for a while. Those of you holding out hope that the Hawaiian has what it takes to emerge as a championship contender are better off worrying about something else. Noons was ground up during his three rounds with Cerrone. It's a tough job, and Saturday was a rough evening for a guy who never quite got over the hump.
What can you say? Silva was just too slow for Velasquez. He defended early takedowns, but that only led to a right hand that crushed the Brazilian giant's pronounced jaw. Silva protested the stoppage afterward, complaining of shots to the back of his skull. It looked as if he had some fight left in him when the contest was called, but there wasn't much to argue about. Speed and power on the opposite side of the cage aren't things Silva copes with well.
Maynard is at a crossroads, one that might have him searching for an answer until his days as a top lightweight are done. He couldn't overpower TJ Grant and suffered horribly for it. Maynard's speed seemed to be a significant factor early in the bout, but as soon as Grant landed a purposeful punch the entire tone of the fight changed. Maynard is great against undersized or lankier opponents, but against brutes like himself, he struggles.
James Te Huna
Te Huna was outclassed by Teixeira, but in my eyes he remains an interesting prospect who deserves another look when he's not stepping up on short notice.
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