UFC 89 took place last night at the relatively intimate National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, England. The event had its highs and lows, with a few fights suffering from slow stand up and others delivering with frenetic flurries of fistic fury. This is how it all went down and where the night’s big winners and losers go from here:
In the first televised fight of the night ex-pro boxer Marcus Davis looked to get back on track from his first loss in 12 fights, where he was held down and outworked by Mike Swick. His opponent was local favorite and Wolfslair powerhouse Paul Kelly, undefeated in 8 professional fights. Davis had all the answers on the feet in this one, making expert use of distance to keep Kelly at bay and sting him with the jab. Kelly was unable to chase Davis down and reach a range where he could exploit his power and Tasmanian devil style, with Davis moving away exquisitely to angles on every attempted rush. Without a threat on the feet Davis effectively used his range to pepper Kelly with jabs and kicks to the body and head. In the second round it seemed the American was beginning to find his range even better, when Kelly wisely switched things up and drove through for a double-leg takedown. In a lapse of concentration the Brit failed to notice Davis had his neck and fell prey to a standard guillotine. Kelly will be extremely frustrated by his mistake, but Davis showed his class on the feet and a sharp submission game to outclass his relatively green opponent.
Kelly – Sharpen up footwork and gain big name experience. Arroyo, Carneiro, Fioravanti, Cummo next.
Davis – Stay fit and health and keep rounding out skills. Apparently he goes onward to fight Chris Lytle for contender status.
Next up was an all out war between two of the UFC’s most reliable performers, Chris Lytle and Paul Taylor. From the offset both fighters showed their kickboxing skills in what appeared at times to be a cloud of fists and feet flying. Taylor was again the epitome of technique, landing crisp jabs, right straights, low kicks and uppercuts. Lytle brought good head movement and a crushing right hand to each exchange. Such exchanges were littered throughout the fight and it was hard at times to tell who had gotten the better, since both fighters showed unbelievable resilience to being hit and tough chins. At the end of each exchange the crafty Lytle would tie Taylor up on the cage, controlling the action and taking a breather to catch up with his cardio machine of an opponent. Taylor showed improving takedown defence and was able to scramble to his feet quickly on the few occasions he hit the mat. The third round stole the show though, starting with Lytle forcing his opponent against the cage with an onslaught of heavy blows which would have put down many fighters. Taylor shook off the punishment and at the end of the round, with Lytle visible gassed, landed a blistering uppercut-left hook combination to hurt Lytle. In the end Taylor ran out of time to finish the fight, but showed serious potential for the future. Lytle took a deserved unanimous decision after controlling the fight with his experience.
Taylor – Gain experience, round out skills and work on tactics. Gono, Goulet, Hazelett or McCrory next.
Lytle – Keep on improving tactical game to maximise his considerable skills. Marcus Davis or Karo Parisyan next.
Sokoudjou vs Luiz Cane was a battle between two of the biggest hitting enigmas of the 205 division. From the bell for the first round it was obvious Cane had no answer to the Cameroonian’s cat-like speed and power as he surged forward throwing thundering body kicks and showing outstanding boxing (I’m doing all I can to describe Sokoudjou without using the word “explosive”). When Cane did come forward with punches the African slipped them expertly and landed his own. Hard to believe this was actually the perfect game plan for the Brazilian. All the while Cane had been blocking and absorbing the majority of strikes thrown by his over-muscled opponent, who was breathing heavily by the end of the first round. Cane began to find his range from then on and into the second round, stalking Sokoudjou into the cage and landing knees and left hands consistently while Sokoudjou backed up looking for a rest. With a minute left in the round and Sokoudjou’s corner screaming for him to take his opponent down, Cane landed a knee as his opponent ducked, followed by a right and the crushing left he had probed for the whole fight. The African crumpled to the floor and the ref stopped the fight as Cane followed up with a vicious barrage of accurate strikes. Very impressive by Cane but questions will arise whether Sokoudjou is tough enough to run with the big boys. He can out gun anyone for 3 minutes or so, but that will never be enough.
Sokoudjou – Cardio, cardio, cardio. Fatigue makes cowards of us all and that’s what happened tonight. A test against Eric Schafer or Tim Boetsch may be a good next step, or a battle with fellow human firework Houston Alexander for the fans.
Cane – Tough as teak! Cane appears very solid, powerful and durable. He looks one of those fighters who is built for war. Time for a step up against the big boys as he joins the pool of contenders. Vera, Boetsch, or Matt Hamill next.
Both men needed a win in the next contest between the inconsistent Keith Jardine and an off the boil Brandon Vera. Jardine came straight out and took Vera down from the offset, landing a few strong punches from the top and avoiding some weak submission attempts. After a few minutes of slow action the referee stood the fighters and they threw down with their fists. First Vera put Jardine on one knee with a right hand, and then Jardine returned the favor, following up with a takedown and some clobbering punches to stun Vera. At the start of the second frame Vera timed a push kick to Jardine’s thigh perfectly as he came forward, buckling and hyper extending the knee. Many fans have claimed this was unsportsmanlike, however in my view a fight’s a fight and this was a good technique. Although Jardine was clearly struggling with his leg, both men had some success on the feet, swarming in with punches and body kicks, with Jardine possibly slightly more able to evade attacks and engage on his terms. The third continued in much the same vein, apart from a short period where Jardine pinned Vera against the cage and slung hooks at him from behind. A very tough fight to score and both men will believe they didn’t fight to their potential, but Jardine deservedly won a split decision to move up the ranks. In the end perhaps it was just aggression, a few takedowns and a better strategy which won the day for “The Dean of Mean”.
Vera – Seems to be under performing given his talent. Perhaps use of his wrestling and top game to add a threat to his striking is an option. A loss against Jardine is not a disaster, but he may have lost contender status for now. Does he need to be this small to fight at 205 lbs, why not cut from 215-220lbs and keep the strength? Sokoudjou, Cane, Liddell, Hamill would all be good options for a next opponent
Jardine – This solid win should get him a shot at another contender and a title shot looms if he can get another big win or two with another perfect game plan. The winner of Thiago Silva vs Machida or Shogun Rua vs Coleman would be a great contender bout.
Michael Bisping and Chris Leben’s talk of brutally knocking each other out failed to come to fruition in the main event of the evening. While unspectacular at times, Bisping appeared to have the perfect game plan to thwart his aggressive opponent and executed it almost flawlessly. Leben started out well, stalking his rangier foe with pounding inside leg kicks and his trademark looping punches. Had he continued with the leg kicks he may have found more success walking down Bisping, however after being stung with a few jabs he returned to his wide open glove-slinging style. Leben searched for his home run left hand. Bisping circled away accurately landing jabs, right hands down the pipe at the southpaw and body kicks. A round by round analysis would be futile, as the rest of fight played out exactly like this with the exception of a couple of quickly negated takedowns. Bisping made a mess of Leben’s face and frustrated the brawler as he had stated he would, landing the more telling blows and turning Leben’s head a couple of times. Toward the end of the fight Leben offered his chin to Bisping to goad him into a scrap, but Bisping was measured as ever and simply landed a nice head kick. Some fans felt the main event was lack lustre, but none can doubt the skill and discipline with which Bisping dispatched a very tough opponent convincingly. After the fight Bisping admitted to having fought for a decision win, which will not win him any fans. Leben was aggressive throughout and gracious in defeat, and his stock will not have gone the way of the Nasdaq due to this one performance.
Leben – Old habits die hard and if he continues to rely on the left hand/iron chin technique he will continue to be out-foxed by the division’s more cunning fighters. A marked improvement in conditioning could now be supplemented with a small training session with one of the fight games mastermind coaches. Greg Jackson, Matt Hulme or Mark Dellagrotte might all be able to fine tune Leben’s game to the next level. Alan Belcher, Wilson Gouveia, Martin Kampmann, Rousimar Palhares would all be excellent next tests.
Bisping – A good performance from the pride of British MMA, but it seems he has some way to go before he’s ready for the division kingpin. His wrestling looked ineffective and he would be unable to rely on the same stick-and-move strategy against Anderson Silva. He has demonstrated that intangible quality though – the ability to win. He is now firmly in a middleweight contender spot. The winner of Franklin vs Henderson should be his next opponent. Failing that a fight with Nate Marquardt would also clear up the divisional picture.