UFC 75 was yet another tremendous card for the top MMA promotion in the world. There were plenty of talking points coming into the event and even more after its conclusion. Unfortunately, some of the discussion surrounding the event has not been pleasant. So, let's go straight to my thoughts on what we saw.
Rampage is the true light heavyweight champ of the world
UFC light heavyweight champ Quinton "Rampage" Jackson added to his impressive UFC resume last night by defeating PRIDE light heavyweight champ Dan Henderson to unify the belt. Jackson followed up his decisive victory over Chuck Liddell in which he displayed his striking prowess with a fight in which he showed the rest of his arsenal, especially on the ground.
If someone had told me before this bout that the fight would last all five rounds and that most of it would be fought on the ground, I would have said that was a recipe for a Henderson win. Instead, Jackson showed that he has all-around skills and looked very comfortable on the ground, controlling the action there and rightly walking away with the unanimous decision.
I asked in my UFC 75 preview piece what would happen to the loser of this fight? Well, in this case, I think Henderson acquitted himself very well in his re-introduction to UFC fans. Jackson was the bigger, stronger man -- and it showed -- but Henderson also showed fans that he is a very skilled athlete as well. And, don't forget that Henderson is still the PRIDE middleweight champion. As strange as this sounds, I think he should permanently drop down to middleweight and fight another unification fight, this time against Anderson Silva for Silva's UFC title. The UFC's middleweight division is the promotion's weakest division and Henderson would instantly bolster its ranks.
As for Jackson, the road doesn't get any easier for him. The UFC light heavyweight division is so stacked that there are no easy wins anymore. I believe that if Mauricio "Shogun" Rua defeats Forrest Griffin at UFC 76, Shogun should be Rampage's next opponent. Newly-acquired Wanderlei Silva is an option as well. Either way, Jackson is in the midst of one of the most impressive runs in opponent quality that MMA has ever seen and, so far -- under the tutelage of trainer Juanito Ibarra -- Rampage looks like he's up to the task.
Hamill remains unbeaten (in the eyes of many MMA fans)
Read the comments on this blog and other blogs and forums throughout the Internet and one thing is clear -- almost everyone outside London thinks Matt Hamill won his fight against Michael Bisping. And I agree with them.
I re-watched the fight this morning and rounds one and two easily go to Hamill. Round three could be seen as a toss-up because Bisping had a couple of nice flurries early on in that round. But, Hamill scored a couple of takedowns late in the third round and controlled the second half of that round. I scored the fight 30-27 for Hamill. Being generous to Bisping, one could argue it was a 29-28 fight for Hamill. Either way, Hamill should have walked away a unanimous-decision winner.
At worst, Hamill neutralized Bisping standing up (at best, Hamill controlled the Octagon and landed some very nice punches) and clearly dominated the ground game with numerous takedowns and total control on the ground. I don't remember seeing a single Bisping takedown. Was Bisping's striking that overwhelming to two judges that they gave him two rounds? I just don't see it.
The result brought up another interesting question in my mind -- is MMA judging so subjective that three judges watching the same fight can score the fight so differently? This is an issue that needs to be resolved in the sport in general (I saw the same thing at IFL's team semifinals in August) before people start thinking of the dreaded b-word (boxing) when it comes to decisions. However, these decisions do remind fighters that the only true way to control one's destiny is to win by stoppage. If a fighter doesn't want to lose by a controversial decision, then go for the stoppage!
I've also been asked by a number of readers what UFC president Dana White can do to rectify this decision. In my mind, there's very little he can do. Occasionally, we see decisions like this in the sport (Ortiz-Griffin comes to mind.) However, I do think Dana White can somewhat help the situation by treating both fighters as if they won or at least fought to a draw. Don't punish Hamill and don't give Bisping credit with respect to future matchmaking. In the end, maybe the only proper solution is a rematch.
Hamill continues to improve from one match to the next and last night he looked more comfortable on his feet than I've ever seen him. As for Bisping, I would like to see him drop down to middleweight (much like Henderson) and help solidify that division. I think Bisping would have a better chance being a contender as a middleweight than he would fighting at 205 lbs. Last night's fight showed us that both Hamill and Bisping are still middle-of-the-pack light heavyweights.
Houston Alexander continues to impress
Houston Alexander, on the other hand, is a light heavyweight shooting up the UFC ranks. Alexander put on another show last night in absolutely dominating Alessio Sakara. Alexander showed a lot of energy and a lot of aggression and he also showed us that along with the fists that he displayed against Keith Jardine in his last fight, he has some wicked knees too. Alexander is a powerfully built fighter and Sakara could do nothing to keep him on the ground.
I mentioned in my preview piece that I would like to see Liddell fight Alexander next rather than Jardine. I think Alexander has definitely earned the opportunity to get a shot against someone in the upper ranks of the division. While Alexander has been impressive, he hasn't truly been tested either. How will he fare in longer matches or against fighters who can withstand his striking and take the fight to the ground?
I'm sure we'll find out soon enough. Either way, Alexander has proven to be a gem of a find for White and UFC.
What next for Mirko Cro Cop?
UFC's heavyweight division is no joke either. And Mirko Cro Cop is finding that out the hard way. The Croatian was brought into the promotion with much fanfare but through three fights the former PRIDE superstar has been a major disappointment. Last night against Frenchman Cheick Kongo, Cro Cop had no answers -- instead he looked tentative and listless throughout much of the fight.
Kongo was Cro Cop's equal standing and did a good job on the ground to wear down the former member of the Croatian Special Forces. Right now, Cro Cop appears to be a very one-dimensional fighter. If he can't get his opponent with a left leg kick, how will he win? He hasn't shown much else in his arsenal since he joined UFC. He doesn't appear comfortable in the cage or fighting under the slightly different rules of UFC (that allow elbows but don't allow soccer kicks.)
And given how much money White is paying Cro Cop, it appears that there will be no rest in sight for the heavyweight. And, there is probably no title shot in Cro Cop's near future either. For now, he has to simply work on improving his game and coming out with a victory. I will be very interested to see who UFC matchmaker Joe Silva puts Cro Cop up against in his next fight. Andrei Arlovski, maybe?
Kongo, on the other hand, was impressive in this fight. He's right in the mix in a strong heavyweight division and may be a couple of wins away from his own title shot. If Fedor Emelianenko is not signed by UFC any time soon, I would assume that Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira would get the next title shot against Randy Couture. And, don't forget about Tim Sylvia, Arlovski, and the recently-resigned Brandon Vera, who are all probably ahead of Kongo in line for an opportunity to fight for the belt.