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UFC 95 – Conclusions And What’s Next?

Although widely criticized for having a lack of star drawing power, UFC 95 turned out to be a complete fireworks show, delivering first rate fights and fantastic finishes. Not only were the fights action-packed, but the results have a ton of implications on the respective fighters’ divisions. Plenty for us to get our teeth into then, as we round up the fights and, as always, ask the question “What’s next?”.

In the night’s main event, Diego Sanchez announced his arrival on the lightweight scene, as he got the better of Joe Stevenson in their three round stand-up war. I must say I was hugely impressed with Joe Daddy’s sharpened striking, and surprised at how well he held his own against Sanchez. He probably had the edge in boxing, but failed to make use of kicks, knees or any of his other weapons, perhaps a lesson for the future and another way for him to improve. Both of these guys are in that large pool of contenders right below BJ Penn in my opinion. This result sets up a tantalising battle between Sanchez and Sean Sherk, with the winner likely to get the next shot at BJ Penn after Kenny Florian. Stevenson could show he’s on his way back to the top with a win over Gray Maynard, Frankie Edgar or Joe Lauzon.

In the first fight of the night, Wolfslair bruiser Paul Kelly brutalized Troy “Rude Boy” Mandaloniz’s face for three rounds, displaying improved stand-up and some vicious ground and pound. One has to be impressed with the sheer heart Mandaloniz showed to stay in the bout, given the gash which opened up above his eye in the very first round, but it’s hard to think of a known fighter he could beat on the evidence of his displays so far in the octagon. Kelly moves up the pecking order with this win, and I for one would love to see him take on Junie Browning in his next fight, though he has stated a desire to move down to lightweight.

Mike Ciesnolevicz made short work of the mammoth Neil Grove in their heavyweight clash. Grove’s relative inexperience showed as he attempted a leglock, only to be devastatingly heel hooked himself in the process. It seems that, as Mike C torqued the hold, he did some serious damage to Grove’s knee. Given Grove’s advanced age, and the likely seriousness of such an injury, it’s not unthinkable that this could end his career. Here’s hoping The Goliath gets well soon. An impressive sub though from Mike C, who plans to go back to light heavyweight for his next fight. Maybe he and Thiago Silva or Vinny Magalhaes could get it on in the near future.

Evan Dunham and Per Eklund flew into each other with the kind of aggression which can produce only one result. It was Dunham who landed the final blows, although this fight was such a scrap, he remains somewhat of an unknown quantity. Sam Stout would make a good next fight for the youngster, whilst Eklund may well end up fighting the likes of Jess Liaudin next, in search of his next win in the octagon.

If you had to choose one monster NOT to engage in fisticuffs at heavyweight, it would have to be Junior Dos Santos. The Brazilian slugger smashed the lanky Stefan Struve in under a minute, stopping him with a barrage of heavy punches. His next fight will likely involve a step up in competition. How could a fight between Junior and UFC newcomer Pat Barry (renowned for his kickboxing) possibly fail to deliver the goods? Alternatively, Heath Herring could play gatekeeper and test him out for sure. It’s hard to know what to make of Struve on this performance, but maybe he and Mostapha Al Turk could get it on in Germany.

One of the UK’s rising stars, Terry Etim put on his most impressive showing to date, stopping his rookie opponent Brian Cobb with a head kick, followed by a flurry of punches. Etim’s range and experience on the feet is something about anyone at lightweight is going to struggle with. As always for a man with his frame, the battle will be for him to avoid being taken down and held down, as seen in his fights with Clementi and Tibau. Jeremy Stephens or Mac Danzig would undoubtedly be a stiff but fair test for Etim in his next fight.

Unwritten contenders’ rule number one: When you’re waiting for a title shot to become available, and Joe Silva calls, offering to feed you an unknown UFC newcomer, JUST SAY NO! Josh Koscheck was pounding his newbie opponent for a whole round, looking for another Mortal Kombat style finish to add to his highlight reel, when lightning struck. Apparently Paulo Thiago has some heavy hands, and as he blasted Kos with an uppercut and hook, the heavy favourite suffered a flash KO. It seemed to me that Koscheck was aware of his opponent coming in for the finish, and was ready to defend himself, but the referee called the fight then and there. By now we should all know anything can happen with the small MMA gloves, so this is far from the end of Koscheck’s career. I’d love to see him take on Anthony Johnson for his next fight, as I consider them two of the division’s most exciting strikers. Heavy hands, an outstanding chin and a good ground game he may have, but Paulo Thiago still has to prove this was not a fluke. Beating Matt Brown or Dong Hyun Kim next would do just that.

Demian Maia may be the man we’ve been waiting for to sell jiu-jitsu to the casual fan. It looks too easy for him on the ground at times, almost as if he’s elegantly going through the motions until he inevitably snags his victim in a neatly prepared trap. Chael Sonnen could never have expected to be tossed so stylishly to his back by Maia though, and as he found himself instantly mounted, he walked right into a triangle set up by trying to escape. Another win and another submission of the night for the undefeated Brazilian. He may find himself fighting Nate Marquardt next, while the two wait for a title opportunity. His amazing submission skills could just be Anderson Silva’s kryptonite. Disappointment for Sonnen, but there’s no shame in losing to Maia these days. Denis Kang is in a similar position, so maybe the two could battle to see who can get back on track.

In another top middleweight fight, we saw Nate Marquardt 2.0 take the dangerous Wilson Gouveia out with a dazzling kicking, punching, backfisting, kneeing combo. Nate “The Great” overwhelmed Gouveia for the whole fight, before staking his claim to the next title shot with the extravagant Tasmanian Devil style finish. I believe Nate Marquardt can make a ton of fighters look very bad, but Gouveia’s lack of cardio doesn’t help him out much either. Fights with Chael Sonnen or Denis Kang could give him the opportunity to prove he can improve. Onward to glory for the upgraded Marquardt, who may have to go through Demain Maia before getting another crack at kingpin Anderson Silva. I firmly believe Nate is the second best 185 pounder there is, and maybe Anderson will have to watch himself this time.

Dan Hardy vindicated his belief in his punching power with a one minute KO of banger Rory Markham. Hardy deftly slipped a wild swing by Markham and clipped his opponent with a left hook to the temple, crumpling him to the ground. Two great wins for Hardy now in the UFC, and he’s ready for the likes of Chris Lytle or Marcus Davis, a fight he was angling for at the post-fight press conference. Trash talk has already begun for that one, as Hardy berated Davis for claiming the British were his people, when Davis is an American. Markham would make a good test for young Brit John Hathaway.

Fights like these will ensure the UFC continues to gather momentum in the UK. Not bad for a free show on Spike either.