UFC 95 Musings

Michael DiSanto, UFC - Diego Sanchez entered the Octagon last Saturday night with one major question hanging over his head: would the cut to 155 lbs adversely affect his performance?

Sanchez answered that question in resounding fashion with a solid unanimous decision win over Joe Stevenson.
By Michael DiSanto

SANCHEZ ARRIVES IN STYLE

Diego Sanchez entered the Octagon last Saturday night with one major question hanging over his head: would the cut to 155 lbs adversely affect his performance?

Sanchez answered that question in resounding fashion with a solid unanimous decision win over Joe Stevenson.

The ‘Nightmare’ stepped into the cage looking like a natural lightweight. His did not appear overly gaunt at the weigh-ins, and his physique did not appear smooth, flat or skinny after rehydrating. So, despite not making a trial run at cutting the weight, Team Sanchez had the right formula for success.

From the opening bell, Sanchez appeared to be the bigger, stronger fighter. He had all of his trademark aggression as he picked apart Stevenson on the feet early. Sanchez did appear to run out of gas early in the final round, something completely foreign in his welterweight bouts. But he recovered nicely in the final minutes, showing that he had a reserve tank readily available. Sanchez’s cardio should be even better in future fights, as his body adjusts to a weight it hasn’t seen since his high school days.

Based on his performance against Stevenson, Sanchez, who improved his career record to an impressive 22-2, is going to be a dominant force at lightweight. Fans cannot forget the fact that he undressed No. 1 contender Kenny Florian in the TUF 1 finale back in 2005. In fact, I’m not sure that “undress” is a strong enough description. He vaporized Florian, outclassed him, and on and on.

A lot has happened in both fighters since 2005, with both men making tremendous strides in improving their overall game. There is no guarantee that Sanchez will have the same sort of success against Florian today. But history is history. Do you want to bet against Sanchez in a rematch against Florian after what happened in 2005? I don’t.

Think about that for a minute. If Sanchez could repeat his 2005 win over Florian today, that would put alone at the top of the list of challengers for BJ Penn’s lightweight crown.

Styles make fights, and Sean Sherk may be the one guy who, based on styles, has an edge over Sanchez at lightweight. If I were Team Sanchez, I’d avoid Sherk like the plague and begin making noise about the champion, hoping to create enough buzz to justify a quick title challenge.

HARDY SILENCES DOUBTERS

Granted, it is difficult to take a guy with a six-inch Mohawk seriously. He looks more like a skater than a fighter. But Dan Hardy is all fighter; he proved that by obliterating dangerous striker Rory Markham in 69 seconds.

Hardy has come a long way since suffering back-to-back losses in 2006. It remains to be seen whether he will develop into a legitimate title contender at welterweight, but it is going to be a fun journey to watch because this kid is an exciting, gritty competitor.

NATE MAY BE ‘GREAT,’ BUT MAIA SHOULD BE NEXT IN LINE

With his one-sided victory over Wilson Gouveia last Saturday night, Nate Marquardt added another elite name to his list of conquered foes. His 185-lb resume reads like a Who’s Who of middleweight contenders—Gouveia, Jeremy Horn, Dean Lister, Martin Kampmann, Joe Doerksen and Ivan Salaverry.

It is difficult to argue that anyone is a better all-around fighter in the division, with Anderson Silva being the lone exception. Nonetheless, it is equally difficult to forget that that he has two division losses—a TKO loss to Silva in July 2007 and a disputed decision loss to Thales Leites one year later.

There is another middleweight contender who may not have equal all-around skills, but he is undefeated and is otherworldly once the fight hits the ground.

Damien Maia carries a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu curriculum vitae that stands alone among UFC competitors. There are dozens of black belts competing inside the Octagon, but none have skills that match those possessed by the former BJJ world champion.

His win over Chael Sonnen was particularly impressive because he was able to take down a skilled wrestler who wanted to keep the fight on the feet. And before he got the fight to the ground, he had already transitioned into a dominant position, landing in the full mount with his left thigh under Sonnen’s right arm. That left him in perfect position for a triangle choke from the top, which he sunk in seconds later to continue his unbeaten professional career.

Maia is now 5-0 inside the Octagon. None of his opponents lasted until the final bell. All of them succumbed to some sort of choke. That is impressive enough. Add to that the fact that he hasn’t lost outside the Octagon either, and the UFC has legitimate challenger for Silva’s middleweight crown.

Of course, Silva has his own bit of unfinished business. He faces Leites at UFC 97 on April 18. With all due respect to Nate Marquardt, assuming Silva is able to get past Leites, Maia should be next.

THIAGO FIRES UPPERCUT HEARD AROUND THE WORLD

Few gave Paulo Thiago much of a chance to beat perennial welterweight contender Josh Koscheck. For the first minute of the bout, it seemed like just a matter of time before Kos landed one of his big overhand rights to bring the fight to an abrupt end.

Three minutes and twenty-nine seconds into the fight, the action came to such an end. But it wasn’t Thiago staring up at the lights. It was Kos.

Kos made a major mistake by lunging in with a jab that took too long to arrive. He threw the punch with a hitch, and that brief delay was all the time his opponent needed to fire a perfect counter right uppercut. The blow had Kos out on his feet, but the Brazilian landed a solid clean-up left hook just for good measure.

Although Kos was not happy with the stoppage, the referee did the right thing by quickly stepping in to wave off the action. Kos was conscious, but completely unaware of what was going on once he hit the canvas. He instinctively shifted his body to try and defend further attacks. Nevertheless, his eyes were glassy, signaling that his faculties weren’t firing on all cylinders. In fact, it took Kos several seconds before he protested the stoppage, which is evidence enough for me that the stoppage was proper.

The win skyrockets Thiago in the division because he was able to do what Georges St-Pierre and Thiago Alves couldn’t—defeat Kos inside the distance. It instantly legitimized his undefeated record, which now stands at 11-0. It will be interesting to see what UFC matchmaker Joe Silva has in store for him next.

The loss doesn’t really affect Kos’ standing as a contender. He got caught. It happens to everyone if they step into the Octagon often enough. Kos was dominating the action up to the moment that he got caught, so there is no shame in losing, despite it being his second loss in three bouts. The loss does, however, make his next bout ultra important. If he wants to remain a top competitor, he absolutely must defeat whomever he faces next.

DOS SANTOS ADDS TO HEAVYWEIGHT INTRIGUE

Junior Dos Santos must not like spending time in the Octagon. In two heavyweight bouts, he has spent less than three combined minutes in the cage, knocking out both opponents with a vicious display of throwing punches with bad intentions. The win over Stefan Struve may not carry the same name cache as his earlier win over Fabricio Werdum, but it showed that Dos Santos knows how to take care of business when facing a guy he is supposed to defeat.

Dos Santos’ arrival deepens what is now a very interesting heavyweight division. Along with fellow fresh contenders Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez, the re-emergence of former champion Frank Mir, the rise of champion Brock Lesnar, and the legend of former champions Randy Couture and Minotauro Nogueira, the UFC heavyweight division is positioning itself for a long run of interesting fights.

Médias

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