This one felt really special coming in, with a stacked card and an inbuilt Strikeforce invasion storyline, we were all set for what could be one of the cards of the year.
It didn’t disappoint.
Yoel Romero set the tone for the evening with a flying knee knockout of Clifford Starks only 32 seconds into his UFC debut. That put the former Strikeforce fighters 1-0 for the evening and earned Romero a $50k bonus. It wouldn’t be the last knockout bonus of the night…
Former WEC fighter Anthony Njokuani can be relied upon for a striking masterclass but was pressed hard by another SF import, Roger Bowling. Bowling’s aggressive style probably earned him the first round, but Njokuani found his range in the second and Bowling pretty much ran straight into a short right hand than dropped him instantly. Stunning knockout, great performance from both men.
Bowling drops to a 0-2 streak but I’m sure we’ll see him again, given the gameness of his performance.
Incidentally, that’s Strikeforce imports at 1-1.
The FX prelims continued the theme of knockout victories, but this portion of the show could be called the Team Alpha Male KO party as TJ Dillashaw, Joseph Benavidez and Chad Mendes all scored TKO wins that placed them (back) in title contention in their respective divisions. I guess that Duane Ludwig is a pretty good striking coach, then?
We also saw the train that is Myles Jury continue it’s impressive run, advancing to 12-0 at the expense of Ramsey Nijem’s chin and another pair of Strikeforce imports split close decisions as Jorge Masvidal gutted out a win over Tim Means and Lorenz Larkin dropped an even closer call to Francis Carmont.
That’s 2-2 for the evening.
We move onto the main card with Matt Brown in the form of his life, facing a hype train in the shape of Jordan Mein (who despite actually being in his second UFC match, is still a recent Strikeforce import and will be counted as such for the purposes of my score.)
Wow. We have a fight of the year contender on our hands here. Both guys started up at a real pace, both landing good shots but Mein got the first real highlight, dropping Brown with body shots and swarming , looking for the TKO. Brown responded by luring Mein into a super tight Triangle choke that the youngster somehow escaped from and the round ended with both guys trading blows and busted open.
THAT is how you kick off a major broadcast.
The second round saw Brown take charge, landing some heavy knees and backing Mein against the fence. As Jordan started to crumble, Brown kept up the pressure with elbows to the back which drew the TKO.
Stunning performance for ‘the Immortal’ to go 5-0, really making him a contender at the sharp end of the 170lb division. We’ll see Mein again. He can only learn from experiences like this…
Our next bout has a story all it’s own, as Josh Thomson‘s contentious trilogy with Gilbert Melendez could be seen as giving him something to prove against Cesar Gracie JJ, here represented by Nate Diaz who hasn’t ever been in a dull fight at Lightweight.
Diaz started in classic fashion, pressing the action while Thomson adopted a stick and move game, trying to score leg kicks off the back foot while not getting dragged into Diaz’ preferred scrappy brawl. As Diaz began to get frustrated, Thomson started standing his ground more, landing a few high kicks and having Nate walk into some hard straight lunches.
As Diaz tried to press him against the cage, Thomson landed a nice trip to end the round on top, 10-9 Thomson on my card.
Diaz was more aggressive in the second, but it cost him momentum as he landed a (rather deliberate looking) groin shot that gave Thomson a minute to recover. Thomson busted Nate open with elbows before Diaz got a takedown and tried to impose his submission game, but to no effect. Back on the feet, Thomson returned to the high kicks which had landed nicely in the first frame and was rewarded with a sweet shin to forehead contact that staggered Nate and Josh followed up with some punches that turned the lights out.
Following his contentious split decision loss to Melendez, this is a real vindication for Thomson and it makes him the first man to EVER stop Nate Diaz with strikes, an achievement that rightly won him a $50k bonus.
The co-main event between Frank Mir and Daniel Cormier was plenty heated with the pair exchanging some real fighting talk in the run up. Mir looked in great shape, but Cormier’s confidence shine through.
Sadly the match didn’t really live up to expectations as a slobber knocker, as despite Mir showing an expanded range of kicking in the early exchanges, Cormier largely stuck to a gameplay of backing him against the cage, controlling him with wrestling and wearing him out with body shots.
Aside from a Cormier spinning kick at the start if the second and another Mir flurry at the start of the third, that was the story of the match. Grindingly effective, but not the explosive show that the San Jose crowd (or us) were really wanting.
Despite his new training camp, Mir had no answer for Cormier’s quickness or wrestling and he really seemed to tire through the fight. On the other hand, Cormier lost a real opportunity to win the fight in more impressive fashion as he spent the bulk of the bout holding Mir in a position very reminiscent of where Shane Carwin uppercutted Frank into oblivion back in 2010.
Now, if I could see that, don’t tell me that DC or Dave Camarillo couldn’t.
Anyways, DC advances to 12-0 and has some decisions to make as he is de facto no.1 contender in the heavyweight division (depending on how Fabricio Werdum does against Big Nog) but that could well mean facing his teammate, Cain Velasquez.
Another option is dropping to 205lbs and making a run at the Light Heavyweight title, but with Cormier’s history of near fatal weight cuts, that’s not an option I’d recommend lightly…
Oh, 4-3 Strikeforce, for those counting.
Last but by no means least, we have our champion vs. champion main event. Would Benson Henderson or Gilbert Melendez make a real statement about who was the #1 lightweight in the world and would we be left with an undisputed champion?
No, and no.
I’ll be honest, it was 3am here and play by play and round for round scoring was a little beyond me, but these two took each other to the wire and my instinct was that Melendez won the fight by being the more ‘front foot’ fighter.
Nonetheless, Henderson retained the belt by split decision (48-47, 48-47, 47-48) to the great displeasure of the crowd, and incredulity of most folks on Twitter.
I’m going to rewatch the bout at a reasonable hour and try and watch it with my judging hat on, because I couldn’t make a concerted point either way at this time.
This throws open the usual controversy about judging, rematches and arguably some grand illuminati conspiracy to keep Benson as champion (it’s his third wafer thin decision victory in four title matches)… OK, scratch that last one as having more to do with me being REALLY tired. What really matters is that Benson moves forward as champion, once again.
In any case, what scion of a shadowy New World Order could propose to his girlfriend, on national TV, after a successful title defence?
Benson’s lady said yes, and we wish them all the happiness.
Oh, and that contentious decision saved the UFC from losing on the night to the Strikeforce imports, tying the score at 4-4.
I’ll just throw that one last log on the conspiracy fire….
In all seriousness, this was a GREAT card and the highlight reel knockouts from the prelims as well as the Brown-Mein, Thomson-Diaz and Henderson-Melendez fights are required viewing for MMA fans if you missed them.
One last thought. But for the opinion of two judges, Josh Thomson could so very easily be the UFC Lightweight champion right now. How mad is that?
MAIN (FOX, 8 p.m. ET)
• Benson Henderson def. Gilbert Melendez via split decision (47-48, 48-47, 48-47) – retains lightweight title
• Daniel Cormier def. Frank Mir via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
• Josh Thomson def. Nate Diaz via TKO (strikes) – Round 2, 3:44
• Matt Brown def. Jordan Mein via TKO (strikes) – Round 2, 1:00
PRELIMINARY (FX, 5 p.m. ET)
• Chad Mendes def. Darren Elkins via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 1:08
• Francis Carmont def. Lorenz Larkin via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
• Myles Jury def. Ramsey Nijem via knockout (punch) – Round 2, 1:02
• Joseph Benavidez def. Darren Uyenoyama via TKO (punches) – Round 2, 4:50
• Jorge Masvidal def. Tim Means via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
• TJ Dillashaw def. Hugo Viana via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 4:22
PRELIMINARY (Facebook, 4 p.m. ET)
• Anthony Njokuani def. Roger Bowling via TKO (punch) – Round 2, 2:52
• Yoel Romero def. Clifford Starks via knockout (strikes) – Round 1, 0:32