Jiu-jitsu on full display in Brazil
Twelve fights. Eight submissions. This was the order of things for the UFC in steamy Fortaleza, Brazil: knee bar, rear-naked choke, arm bar, triangle choke, arm-triangle choke, reverse triangle arm bar, arm-triangle choke and arm bar.
The point is if you're like me and enjoy the tension that comes while mixed martial arts bouts flirt with/finish submissions, Saturday's card was extremely fun.
For all the melodramatic hand-wringing over the death of jiu-jitsu in MMA, and a lack of joint locks and chokes at the highest level of fighting, an event featuring the sport's top two Brazilian-born heavyweight grapplers offered a welcome rejoinder.
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No one had more pressure to perform than Erick Silva. Coming off a tough loss to Jon Fitch, Silva rebounded as well as he could have by owning Jason High and forcing an early finish. Silva is athletic, dynamic and a terrific talent, but he's not a kid anymore. Were it not for the bogus disqualification loss against Carlo Prater, the 28-year-old would be 4-1 in the UFC. This performance was a message, Silva's not messing around.
Rony Mariano Bezerra
The featherweight had his way with UFC newcomer Mike Wilkinson, slapping on a perfect triangle choke before the fight was called at 1:24 of Round 1. Rony "Jason" is 3-0 in the UFC, and due for a bump in competition. Based off his speed and precision with the triangle against Wilkinson, this is a guy who can catch plenty of fighters. He looked terrific Saturday.
Thiago Silva needed this win badly, as another loss could have cost him his contract with the UFC. The 30-year-old Brazilian took a couple minutes to get on track, but once he did he was extremely efficient against Rafael Cavalcante. There's no denying the effectiveness of his power, and if Silva can find his form he may yet put together a meaningful run at 205. I wouldn't read too much into the win, though. Between his mixed record the past four years and his issues with drugs, Silva is far from a sure thing.
Fabricio Werdum sealed the victory like a top contender should. Settled in as a future title challenger, Werdum probably won't get much of a chance from fans and pundits of defeating Cain Velasquez or Junior dos Santos. Dismissing him would be a mistake. Werdum has improved with each fight, and his technical tools and experience are worth noting. Whether he's athletically gifted enough is another worthwhile question, one that could determine his future in the UFC. As it is, owning submissions over Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is about as good as it needs to get.
Get an opportunity, make the most of it. That was Leonardo Santos on Saturday, as the 33-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu stud stepped in to the TUF Brazil 2 finals and scored a decisive second-round side choke. The odds of Santos making a dent at 170 or 155 in the Octagon are slim, but that does nothing to take away from a feel-good story. Santos' heartfelt postfight speech was powerful enough to bring tears to the eyes of his teammate and friend, Jose Aldo.
Rafael Cavalcante had it going early, but he wilted fast against Thiago Silva's power. There's talent present, but not a lot else. "Feijao" has had difficulty with his weight and stamina over the years, and a recent positive drug test isn't going to do much for his reputation. He's dangerous yet inconsistent, and will surely find a big win or two along the way. But can he string anything together that lands him close to a UFC title shot? Unlikely.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
On the heels of his 37th birthday, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was forced to submit to an arm bar -- just the second time in his career he got caught. He's not a top-10 heavyweight, OK? Considering all his accomplishments, Nogueira is not the guy anyone wants to see endure a bad stretch to close his career. As it stands, he's 2-3 over the past two and a half years, beating Brendan Schaub and Dave Herman. Fans love to remember "Minotauro" as the dynamic heavyweight who did so well in Pride. But a few more like this loss and enough of the luster will be gone so that it impacts how he's viewed when his career is over.
Jason High never got started, so his attitude in the cage was all defense and survival. After the drubbing, which lasted 71 seconds, High tweeted, "I can think of better ways to waste 8 weeks of my life." He's being hard on himself, but then again the welterweight is known to be blunt. Considering he had won seven in a row coming in, and this was his first fight in the UFC since 2010, the result was as bad a return to the Octagon as he could have produced.
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