UFC 152: Expectations vs. reality

A good, strong pay-per-view card was exactly what the UFC needed after a summer of injuries, other bad news and the first major cancellation in the promotion’s history. Attendance in Toronto was a puzzler — a couple thousand and a couple million less than the UFC’s December visit to the same venue. But it likely did good business on TV, and it didn’t disappoint.

Here’s what happened and how it compared to the fight odds and various gut feelings:

Kyle Noke vs. Charlie Brenneman (welterweight)

What we expected: Former contender Brenneman working his way back up against TUF alum Noke, who was dropping a weight class in either a shrewd move of a bit of desperation.

What we got: A 45-second demolition by Noke.

Mitch Gagnon vs. Walel Watson (bantamweight)

What we expected: A tough bout for the long-limbed Watson, trying to maintain his UFC status after two losses, against Ontario’s own Gagnon.

What we got: Watson leaped in for the ever-risky Superman punch, and Gagnon countered perfectly with a powerful left hand. Gagnon cleaned up with a rear naked choke for his first UFC win, needing just 69 seconds to do it.

Simeon Thoreson vs. Seth Baczynski (welterweight)

What we expected: A toss-up bout between an intriguing Norwegian prospect and a gritty TUF alum. (Thoreson is the Norwegian, in case you couldn’t guess.) Bloody Elbow thought this would be a ground-fighting battle.

What we got: Thoreson was picking Baczynski apart on the feet until … bam. One good left from Baczynski sent Thoreson toppling face-first, and referee Big John McCarthy raced in to pull Baczynski away and stop the fight.

(Total time of the three Facebook fights: 6:04.)

Jimy Hettes vs. Marcus Brimage (featherweight)

What we expected: Another step up the ladder for Hettes, who was so impressive in wiping out Nam Phan. The oddsmakers had this one as the second-widest gap between favorite and underdog on this card. (Jones over Belfort was No. 1.)

What we got: Sharp striking from Brimage and a well-deserved unanimous decision for the TUF alum, who looks much better now than he did on the show.

Sean Pierson vs. Lance Benoist (welterweight)

What we expected: Hard to say. The odds favored the far younger Benoist, but Pierson had the experience edge and the home crowd. And Benoist was fighting on relatively short notice.

What we got: A good one. Pierson had the better of it until the end, when he got tagged and had to survive a late onslaught. Pierson got the decision.

Evan Dunham vs. T.J. Grant (lightweight)

What we expected: A Fight of the Night contender. Dunham was on the rise until “losing” a ridiculous decision to Sean Sherk, though he  was set back a bit more with his loss to Melvin Guillard. Grant was OK at welterweight but has looked good at lightweight.

What we got: Fight of the Night. Grant bloodied Dunham badly but had to work to eke out a close decision. Dunham disagreed.

Igor Pokrajac vs. Vinny Magalhaes (light heavyweight)

What we expected: A classic striker-vs.-grappler matchup, with the underrated Pokrajac likely to take the win if he could stay out of the grappling specialist’s armbar.

What we got: He didn’t stay out of the armbar.

Cub Swanson vs. Charles Oliveira (featherweight)

What we expected: Another grappling showcase for Oliveira.

What we got: A stunning knockout, with Oliveira falling in slow motion. On a night of big knockouts, Swanson won the bonus. After after being merely above-average in WEC competition, he looks like a powerful force in the UFC.

Matt Hamill vs. Roger Hollett (light heavyweight)

What we expected: An easy tune-up for Hamill in his return from retirement.

What we got: A boring tune-up for Hamill in his return from retirement. Formerly a dominating wrestler, Hamill looked like a slow kickboxer. Two takedowns and the ensuing ground-and-pound — effective in subduing both his opponent and the crowd — were enough to earn an easy decision.

Michael Bisping vs. Brian Stann (middleweight)

What we expected: The hype rang hollow — did anyone think Bisping was doing anything other than playing the “heel” role in his taunts of one of the sport’s all-time good guys? But it was still an intriguing matchup, with the ever-dangerous Bisping sure to test Stann.

What we got: Bisping looked fantastic. Stick, move, stick again, takedown. Stann simply had no answers. And yes, Bisping showed a ton of respect for Stann in the postfight interview, which should shock absolutely no one. This was never a genuine feud.

Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez (flyweight title fight)

What we expected: A barnburner between two perfect examples of the fast pace and superb technique in the new flyweight class.

What we got: A barnburner that mysteriously drew boos from some in the crowd. Dana White rightly questioned their intelligence. Great fight, good decision win for the sharp Johnson despite a powerful  fourth round for Benavidez.

Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort (light heavyweight title fight)

What we expected: No more than a puncher’s chance for the accomplished but aging Belfort against the supremely talented Jones.

What we got: Puncher’s chance? We meant submission chance. Belfort pulled guard several times and had Jones in serious trouble with an armbar in the first round that may have damaged Jones’ arm. Yet Jones, to me at least, never looked like he was going to tap. Jones maneuvered his way out, then went to work with his elbow-heavy ground-and-pound attack. In the next couple of rounds, he put on a kicking clinic, dropping Belfort with a strong body kick. By the fourth, Belfort had little left to offer, and Jones landed on top of him in side control. Only a few seconds later, Belfort tapped to a keylock.

The Ultimate Fighter: Season 14, Episode 9: Efficient, yes, but exciting?

I messed up “Episode” and “Season” in my last headline. Oops. Anyway, it’s Season 14, Episode 9.

Dustin Pague and his Mayhem teammates drop off a bag of food for a needy guy they’ve seen on their route to and from the training center. Nice.

Dustin also has a fight coming up, and Mayhem says he has dramatically improved. The game plan: Move around a lot, create angles, stay away from TJ Dillashaw’s straight-ahead punches and takedown efforts. Also, God’s plan will prevail.

Continue reading The Ultimate Fighter: Season 14, Episode 9: Efficient, yes, but exciting?

The Ultimate Fighter: Episode 14, Season 8: Fire extinguishers! Near-KOs!

Five minutes ago, I was watching the Family Ties episode in which Alex races to the train station to confess his love to Ellen, a scene made that much sweeter by the knowledge that the actors — Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan — are a couple to this day.

Now? Michael Bisping. This is like switching from the Sundays singing “Wild Horses” to Megadeth ranting about whatever those idiots rant about.

The house is splitting up into three groups. John Dodson and the other flyweight leprechaun dudes hang out in one spot. Dennis Bermudez, Johnny Bedford and a few others are studying the Bible. The others are in the “casino” group, playing cards.

 

Akira, the prankster who manages to rationalize his own hijinks while flipping out when someone returns the favor, shaves part of someone’s hair. That appears to be Bryan Caraway, who chases him across the house to threaten him. These lighter weight classes are FAST. (See SB Nation for more of Akira’s rationalizations. They’re actually quite amusing. He might be the most diabolical genius ever to appear on this show.)

Mayhem heard Bisping was planning a prank on his car. He arrives at the training center by bike.

Bisping and his coaches arrive in the parking lot with a massive skid, as if they’ve just won a NASCAR race and want to try a few donuts in celebration. Bisping and Tiki Ghosn peek into Team Mayhem’s dressing room for an idiotic chat to distract everyone. Spike has been building this prank up for weeks. Let’s see … after the break …

The ad break includes a terrific ad for UFC 139, which has a tremendous main card. Hendo-Shogun, Wandy-Cung Le, Faber-Bowles, Kampmann-Story. How deep is the card? Ryan Bader and Miguel Torres are in the prelims. (No, not against each other. Bader wold have a slight size advantage.)

When we return, Bisping blasts fire extinguishers into Mayhem’s dressing room. Bisping’s dressing room door is destroyed. Then a mariachi band walks through the hallway and appears outside. No further explanation would make any more sense of the situation.

Mayhem applauds, giving the credit to Tiki. Bedford, who can be found griping each week at mma.usatoday.com, gripes about it.

Bisping says they did the research and found the fire extinguishers aren’t toxic.

The whole thing seems to backfire on Bisping in a sense, though. The gym is trashed from the fire extinguisher crossfire, so Louis, Diego, Josh and Akira run sprints around the parking lot because they can’t train.

Back to the house — we don’t know much about Dennis, and it turns out we haven’t heard much because he’s not particularly coherent.

Back to the gym — Bisping gets a water-spraying ambush from a restroom. He doesn’t like water sprays. He kicks open the door. Surprise! It’s Akira! Who’s on his team!

Since Akira is supposed to be fighting Dennis, they put Akira through a brutal workout in which he starts out on his back and has to escape over and over while teammates take turns holding him down.

But Akira has enough energy to do another prank with Marcus Brimage’s help. Marcus jumps on Bisping’s back and rubs his sweaty jock strap in Bisping’s face. Marcus runs away, leaving Akira to deal with Bisping. The larger, fresher coach tosses Akira down and wraps the jock strap around Akira’s face. “I actually had to taste his salty balls,” Akira says.

This has gone to a weird place.

After the ad break, Bisping shows up at the house and calls Marcus out of the house. The result: A silly-string war.

Team Miller finally gets some screen time. Mayhem brought his dog again. More importantly, he brings Siyar Bahadurzada, a Golden Glory-trained fighter who just signed with the UFC and has impressive kickboxing skills. He apparently has some experience with Akira as well.

Back from the break, Akira serenades Dennis, rhyming “weigh-in” with “slaying.” He has a terrific voice. The UFC should hire him to do trash talk for reticent fighters.

Johnny says Akira-Dennis will be about a “three-minute beating.”

Dana thinks Akira bit off more than he can chew by calling out Dennis.

Bisping talks more trash to Mayhem, leading to this odd confessional quote from Mayhem: “I respect Michael Bisping. He’s a seasoned fighter. But I respect my father, and that didn’t stop me from kicking his ass.”

It’s already 10:47. This is shaping up to be a short fight. And the winner is in the final. He’ll get slaughtered by Diego Brandao, but still …

MMA Junkie always posts its recap at 10:55, so we may know the result before the broadcast of the fight starts.

We start at 10:52. Akira catches him early. And again. And he stuffs two Dennis takedown attempts. Dennis is lunging with punches. They trade big punches. Akira lands another big one. Dennis responds. Huge left drops Dennis, who recovers and shoots, then slams. He ends up with a guillotine. Akira taps just before he conks out. Herb Dean, ironically, was the ref when Akira possibly tapped in his last fight, and he’s here to stop this one.

In the recap, Marcus marvels that one of Akira’s punches spun Dennis around. Mayhem laments Dennis’s long-range takedown efforts but was happy that the takedown occurred in his own corner. He was able to ccoach Dennis like he was playing a video game.

Akira comes to and thinks the fight is still on. Bisping has to stop him, saying “guillotine, guillotine.”

A stunning fight, one that surely won’t hurt Akira’s UFC prospects despite the loss. And another fast-paced episode. Did you ever guess Mayhem would be less interested in pranks than Bisping?

Next week: Bisping-Mayhem coach’s challenge — air hockey! Dustin Pague eats a bug and then faces TJ Dillashaw.

The Ultimate Fighter: Season 14, Episode 7: Ground and … hey! Hold still!

Roland Delorme’s foot looks nasty, and he’s despondent. He’s supposed to be getting ready for a fight against TJ Dillashaw.

Chute Boxe pioneer Rafael Cordeiro comes in to join Mayhem’s training. John Dodson in particular seems entranced as he watches Cordeiro teach.

Bisping brings in a special guest of his own — Tito Ortiz. Akira is thrilled. Ortiz gives a speech that seems geared toward elementary school students, but then he gives a ground-and-pound lesson. Marcus Brimage is stunned that Tito has such a big head. He means that literally.

Akira and Diego Brandao, both Bisping featherweights, decide to teach “draft-dodger” TJ Dillashaw a lesson in training. Diego gets TJ in some nasty submissions, including a kneebar. Akira gets a little rough in sparring, which TJ avenges with a nice slam. Marcus wasn’t initially involved, but he gets ticked when TJ starts roughing him up.

“I didn’t know there was a deeper reason,” Bisping says of the rough stuff. Akira tells him later the plan was to knock TJ out, which Bisping does not appreciate. The coach gives TJ a night off.

Delorme gets cleared to fight. And some good news — having an infection helped him keep his weight down, so he won’t have to cut as much before facing TJ.

Prank time! Somehow, Mayhem gets a road crew to put jersey walls around the Escalade of Bisping assistant Tiki Ghosn. Mayhem spray-paints a couple of red Ms to get the point across. He also paints 12-3-2011 — the date he’ll face Bisping.

The weigh-in is sponsored by the Harold and Kumar 3D film.

We learn more about Roland. He sold a restaurant outside Winnipeg. Not mentioned: He impressed at his audition by cussing out the producers.

TJ was a college wrestler at Cal State Fullerton. We aren’t told anything particularly interesting about him. That might not be an editing oversight.

Steve Mazzagatti is our ref, and off we go. TJ takes him down right away, but Roland surprisingly gets back up right away. TJ goes again, and Roland goes for a guillotine. That’s a miscalculation that allows TJ go get on top. TJ quickly passes to side control, and the chances of an upset are dimming. But Roland escapes again. TJ throws a hard uppercut. But he prefers takedowns, and he drags Roland down against the cage, taking his back in the process. TJ starts to go for the rear naked choke, but Roland fends that off and flips to his back, keeping TJ in half-guard. TJ does some ground-and-pound, though not with much authority. They scramble again, and TJ goes for a difficult choke from a strange angle. Roland gets up once again and lands a decent combo, then fends off another takedown attempt. TJ trips him into a scramble and again winds up on top at the end of a round he won rather easily, even if he pounded the mat more often than his opponent.

Round 2 starts with a TJ knockdown off a powerful right hand. Roland tries to recover, and TJ again goes for a fancy choke before settling on the devastating technique known as “laying on someone.” But he progresses to the side and rakes a few elbows on Roland’s face, which is finally starting to show some wear. TJ finally gets a more conventional rear naked choke. Roland was never in it, and the side of his face is swollen pretty badly.

For once, we have no shenanigans in the cage after a Bisping victory. We go straight to semifinal picks, where they bring in the fighters. Bedford wants Dodson to pay him back for his treachery. The editors don’t spend much time on the featherweights.

The coaches actually agree on the picks, continuing the most subdued showing from Bisping all season. Maybe his most subdued showing in three seasons as a coach and fighter.

The picks are:

TJ Dillashaw vs. Dustin Pague

John Dodson vs. Johnny Bedford – Dodson says Bedford is too lanky to deal with him. Bedford has been ripping Dodson at USA TODAY all season.

Akira Corassani vs. Dennis Bermudez – Akira says Dennis is a wrestler who’s scared of his standup. Yeah, Dennis is going to walk through him. And Akira seems a little less popular in the house these days.

Diego Brandao vs. Bryan Caraway – the phenom vs. the veteran.

Next week, we see Akira get his comeuppance. Maybe. This isn’t scripted, you know.

The Ultimate Fighter: Season 14, Episode 6: How to win friends and influence people

First up: A quick recap of last week’s controversial Akira-Neace fight, in which everyone in the world thinks Akira tapped besides Akira, Bisping and Herb Dean. And everyone in the world thinks Akira and Bisping acted like idiots, taunting Neace and Miller after getting a gift win, except Akira and Bisping.

We finally put a name to the face of the bald Miller assistant who has had the most issues with Bisping. He’s Ryan Parsons, and he confronts Bisping, telling him he now understands why the Englishman is the most hated man in the UFC. Bisping responds by saying how rich he is. If Bisping were on Wall Street, he’d be the guy mooning the Occupy movement with the word “SUCKERS” tattooed on his butt.

For good measure, Bisping is also incredulous in the confessional, giving the Bill Laimbeer “What’d I do?” routine. I’ve had good conversations with Bisping, and I never thought he was quite as bad as people thought. I’m starting to wonder, though, if he’s simply decided to burn down every last bit of fan support he ever had.

Miller reassures Neace that he doesn’t owe anyone an apology. And we move on.

Miller doesn’t understand why Steven Siler, his last draft pick, wants to fight Diego Brandao, Bisping’s first. Dana White is also a little surprised that he wants this fight, but I’d guess Dana is also a little impressed and will remember that willingness to step up. “(Diego) has this Brazilian mystique about him.” But Siler has great cardio. I should say here that I’m watching this while already knowing the results. The cardio isn’t going to matter.

Continue reading The Ultimate Fighter: Season 14, Episode 6: How to win friends and influence people

The Ultimate Fighter: Season 14, Episode 5: Bisping’s bad, he’s bad, you know it

Really not a fan of the mouthpiece shots in the opening credits. Arlovski has creative. These guys? No.

Mayhem calls in his team for a quick huddle after Dustin Pague’s win over Louis Greenhairnot. Dustin asks if they can yell “Glory to God!” Mayhem is not one for religion, but he grants the wish with no fuss.

For some reason in this rapidly paced opening segment, Diego Brandao (Bisping’s top pick) yells at Steven Siler (Mayhem’s last). “You think I’m here to kiss or what?” Bisping calms down Diego after he punches a wall, warning him that he’ll break his hand. Diego recognizes the sound advice.

Mayhem drops by the house with a cowboy hat for Dustin Neace. It looks like Josh Ferguson’s. Josh: “I’ve got one thing going for me, and you’re trying to rip it off.”

But Mayhem had an ulterior motive. He pulls Siler into the pantry and mentions that he thinks there’s a mole on the team. They quickly figure out that it’s John Dodson. So Mayhem says he’s changing the matchups, but we’ll keep that on the DL. He decides to make Diego wait.

Continue reading The Ultimate Fighter: Season 14, Episode 5: Bisping’s bad, he’s bad, you know it

The Ultimate Fighter: Season 14, Episode 4: You know the matchup, but can you stop it?

Who decided that a bantam was lighter than a feather? Never really understood that.

Next matchup: Stephen Bass (Bisping featherweight) vs. Dennis Bermudez (Miller). We learn this from Louis Gaudinot, who tells his coach Bisping, who heard it from (sigh) John Dodson. My man. The mole.

Stephen doesn’t want to do a third round in training. Bisping pushes him through it. This is what we in the media call “foreshadowing.”

Bisping doesn’t show for the fight announcement. Not the first time he has spaced out on a TUF commitment (see USA-UK season). Mayhem gets a fight dummy to stand in for him and does a pretty good voice impression. Bisping’s absence is never explained.

The fight announcement is … Bass vs. Bermudez. Shocker.

Continue reading The Ultimate Fighter: Season 14, Episode 4: You know the matchup, but can you stop it?

The Ultimate Fighter: Season 14, Episode 2

Slight change in the opening credits from season past — it’s almost all fight footage. Very little from the gym. It’s as if they’re sending a message that the fights this season are going to be as impressive as we saw last week.

Rare bit of trivia: The house is 15,000 square feet.

“We ate and ate and ate and ate,” they say of their early time in the house. John Dodson is manning the grill.

Draft day — we see Miller’s rankings. Dodson (bantamweight) and Diego Brandao (featherweight) are No. 1.

The coin toss goes awry when “we have a roller,” in Dana White’s words. Bisping wins and opts to take the first pick rather than first fight. That suits Mayhem, who’d rather have the first fight.

In a change from years past, they draft each weight class separately. Bantamweights first:

Continue reading The Ultimate Fighter: Season 14, Episode 2

What’s on: UFC 114, Culture Clash at Mandalay

UFC 114
Prelims: 9 p.m. ET Saturday, Spike
Main card: 10 p.m. ET Saturday, pay-per-view
Venue: Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas

Rankings from USA TODAY/SB Nation; odds from MMAOdds.com

Main event, light heavyweights: Rashad Evans (#3) vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (#4)

It’s the first time a UFC main event has featured two African-Americans, it’s a showdown of former champions, it’s a long-delayed matchup of two coaches from The Ultimate Fighter, and it’s a title eliminator, with the winner getting a shot at champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

But it’s really all about the talking.

Continue reading What’s on: UFC 114, Culture Clash at Mandalay