Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Rocktagon Recap of UFC on Fox: Henderson vs. Melendez!

Featuring ex-junkies kicking their habits by kicking some ass, Strikeforce imports looking kinda’ impressive (sorta’) in their UFC debuts and arguably the most out of place wedding proposal EVER!


Another night, another deep-dish pesto pizza, and another UFC on Fox card. Anybody that can complain about a Saturday evening of the like is a soulless abomination, I say.

We are coming to you LIVE from the lovely Chicago Pizza and Sports Grille, which, despite the nomenclature, isn’t anywhere close to being in Chicago, while tonight’s UFC shebang is emanating from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. And seeing as how the venue is the old stomping ground for Strikeforce, I guess it’s probably more than mere circumstance that all four of tonight’s primetime bouts feature former Scott Coker-paid (maybe?) employees.

Anyhoo, enough jibber-jabber, no? Crank up that one Taylor Swift song that keeps getting played every five seconds, grab a somewhat frosty cup of Mr. Pibb, and get ready to RUMBLE as we embark upon the Rocktagon Recap of UFC on Fox: Henderson vs. Melendez!

Welterweight Bout
Matt Brown vs. Jordan Mein

Brown -- whom I must eternally acknowledge as former heroin user that hails from the same Ohio town where “Gummo” was filmed -- is on a four fight tear, chalking up a quartet of Octagon victories in 2012, including three via stoppage. Mein, a Strikeforce import, has won three in a row, including a pretty nasty ass kicking of Dan Miller just a month ago. To give you an idea just how stacked the UFC’s welterweight division is right now, the winner of this bout probably isn’t even a top ten contender within the weight class. And also, there will probably be a knockout or a really gross-looking submission in this one, at some point.

A downright awesome first round here, with Brown and Mein going back and forth like Wayne LaPierre’s stance on guns in schools over the last decade or so. Among the highlights of the first five here? Brown getting really pissed of because Mein kept backpedaling, Brown dropping his foe with a solid uppercut, Mein responding by dropping Brown with a body blow, Mein ALMOST pounding out Brown with like two minutes to go and Brown ALMOST sinking in a triangle with about a minute left. So yeah, as stated earlier: an AWESOME first round.

Crowd is super pumped for round two. Brown comes out blazing (sorta’ fitting, I guess, since it IS 4/20 after all), and manages to secure a takedown. Mein is now a bloody mess, doing his best turtle impersonation (but not as good as this turtle impersonation, of course), and the ref jumps in while Brown elbows his opponent’s kidneys into aquarium gravel. That’s five wins in a row for Brown, who MIGHT have just earned a top ten placement in the welterweight division following tonight’s impressive showing. Like I said, “MIGHT have,” though.

Mike Goldberg has a phone call with Ronda Rousey. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets beat up on the Chicago Bulls, while the Pittsburgh Pirates give the resurgent Atlanta Braves one of their first losses of the season. Still waiting for our deep dish, Chicago-style, red pesto, shrimp-feta-pineapple-and-spinach pizza, too.

Lightweight Bout
Nate Diaz vs. Josh Thomson 

About a year ago, Nate Diaz looked like he was on path to a facile Lightweight Championship reign in the UFC. After vanquishing Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller, he went toe-to-toe with ex-WEC standout Benson Henderson (who, as it turned out, is basically a browner, mildly skinnier version of GSP), and…well, the outcomes weren’t all that positive for Senor Diaz. His opponent this evening -- journeyman Josh Thomson (who has spent time in both the UFC and Pride before becoming a Strikeforce stalwart) is probably best known for his trilogy of fights against Gilbert Melendez, which concluded with a rubber match last May that many folks consider to have entailed a gift bag victory for “El Nino” (who, wouldn’t you know it, is making his grand UFC debut later this evening.) Needless to say, to remain relevant in a glutted Lightweight market, both of these dudes need victories, and direly.

Diaz a huge favorite in this one. My GF makes the observation that, most of the time, the dude that tries to make the meanest face before a fight is generally the dude that ends up losing. And like that, I have myself an all new match-picking system. Thomson the aggressor early, throwing some low kicks and then thwomping Diaz right upside the head with a head kick that he never saw coming. To be fair, it didn’t take Diaz down, but still. Diaz with a takedown, and we do some cage-side clinching. Thomson getting the better shots, when he’s not readjusting his hairdo. Alternate match picking protocol: whoever has the nicest haircut is usually the fighter that picks up the “W.” Thomson with a takedown, some vicious ground and pound, and the first round is over.

Diaz begins the second with a nice ball shot, so time out for Thomson to find where his testes are. Classic Diaz, as he drops the arms and starts the mess talking. Thomson gets a few shots in, and Diaz with a takedown. Diaz looking for a guillotine, but Thomson is landing some effective defensive elbows. Things get vertical, and Thomson ROCKS Diaz with another head kick. Diaz gets grounded, and Thomson is just unloading on him. The ref waves it off, and just like that, Thomson is all of a sudden a relevant force in the UFC’s lightweight division.

Some stuff about Cain Velasquez. Nobody really cares. Urijah Faber is in the house. Even fewer people care.


Oh, by the way, our pizza finally got wheeled out. If your local pizza place has a dish that looks this beautiful, please feel free to e-mail me a few snapshots, and I may drop by your hometown, you know, just because and stuff.

Heavyweight Bout
Frank Mir vs. Daniel Cormier

Daniel Cormier -- the unlikely alternate-turned-Strikeforce-Heavyweight-Grand-Prix-Champion -- has certainly chalked up an impressive record heading into his big UFC debut. Since going pro in 2009, Cormier -- who, if not in style, surely in physique, has earned the moniker of “Black Fedor” -- has gone 11-0, which includes victories over Josh Barnett and Bigfoot Silva. The highly touted heavyweight (who has gone on record as saying that he ain’t fighting Cain Velasquez and made his intents to pursue the Light Heavyweight strap instead rather clear) enters the Octagon for the first time opposite Frank Mir, the longtime heavyweight titan that hasn’t fought in almost a year (the less said about his lackluster showing against Junior dos Santos, the better). Cormier is considered a heavy favorite in some circles, but seeing as how Mir’s career has been resurrected from the dead more times than the protagonist of “Altered Beast,” there might just be a heavyweight upset in our midst this evening.

Ooo boy, this match, to quote the great James Ross, was “bowling shoe ugly.” I could give you a thorough, three round re-cap, but more or less, this was what the fight consisted of, for fifteen solid minutes: Mir throwing something, Cormier moving out of the way, grabbing Mir, pushing him against the cage, and lobbing pancake slaps on his chest while Mir was immobilized. Like I said, for fifteen minutes. Trust me, it was a lot more boring than it sounded -- probably the worst fight Mir has had since that Cro-Cop debacle from 2010, and mayhap the least eventful, big-time heavyweight throw down since THAT Werdum/Overeem bout from 2011. Cormier wins a decision, but considering how bad the fight was, I don’t think it’s going to necessarily earn him a legion of fans, either.

Brian Stann (whose head is about the size of a fax machine) and Chael Sonnen doing color commentary. A few spots run for UFC 159...aka, Chael Sonnen’s upcoming public lobotomy at the hands of Jon Jones.

UFC Lightweight Championship Bout
Benson Henderson (Champion) vs. Gilbert Melendez (Contender)

For all intents and purposes, this bout is an “unofficial” unification bout, which more or less merges the UFC and Strikeforce Lightweight Championships into a single belt. There’s really not a whole lot that can be said about current UFC title-holder Ben Henderson, who is undefeated since joining the organization in 2011 (outside of the fact that he may or may not have fought Nate Diaz while chewing on a toothpick throughout the duration of the contest, of course.) Currently riding a seven fight win streak, Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce Lightweight strap holder since Dec. 2009, in case you were wondering) makes his UFC debut this evening, having chalked up recent victories against the likes of Shinya Aoki and Jorge Masvidal en route to tonight’s championship showdown. And also, he starred in a commercial for that one EA MMA game that was kinda’ awesome, made even more awesome by the fact that Paul Heyman is the dude doing the voiceover in it.

Melendez over huge with the San Jose faithful, while Henderson gets booed like crazy. Henderson playing it very conservatively; he tags Melendez, but Gilbert (I wonder what’s eating him?) rebounds instantly. Melendez with a takedown, and some clinching follows suit. Another takedown by Gil, but Henderson is definitely doing some damage with those leg kicks. Melendez drops Henderson as soon as the round expires. Probably Gilbert’s round.

Round two, and the strategies here become apparent: Melendez keeps pushing with the punches, and Henderson tries to keep his foe at bay with low kicks (so, in other words, it’s a real life game of “Virtua Fighter 4” going on.) Gil’s legs are visibly bruised up; Henderson gets a nice shot in, but he can’t secure the takedown. 19-19, even on my scorecard.

The Shark Tank fans are definitely behind El Nino tonight. Henderson puts Melendez down with a low kick. Henderson with some nice follow-up punches, and a takedown. Melendez back up, and it’s swing city up in this. A nice bop on the nose, and Henderson is bleeding. Henderson with a leg sweep, and he concludes the round, atop Melendez, pounding like crazy. 29-28, for the defending champ.

More rights from Melendez and more low kicks from Henderson as the Championship rounds begin. Melendez blocks a takedown. Henderson with some more kicks, and another sweep. Henderson working Gil’s back, but no dice. The two trade paint for awhile, and Henderson says “eff this” and goes back to the low-kick strategy. Henderson decides to play Gil’s game, and lands some solid punches as the round concludes. 39-37 for Henderson.

A close fight, but I think Melendez will have to utterly annihilate Henderson here in the fifth to stand any chance of securing even a split decision victory. Melendez still pushing forward with the jabs, but Henderson keeps him distant with the leg kicks. Two minutes to go, and both dudes are employing rather conservative approaches, surprisingly. Melendez probably lands more straight shots in the decisive round, but it’s definitely not enough to win him the fight. I give it 49-48 to Henderson.

Two judges in San Jose score it 48-47 for Henderson, giving the UFC Lightweight Champ a narrow split decision victory. Personally, I didn’t think it was anywhere near that close, but it was still a pretty entertaining fight. The fans booed the hell out of the decision. In the post-fight interview, Henderson (who is without question what Willow Smith will look like when he’s thirty) decides to propose to his long-term girlfriend, which provokes even louder boos than the decision. So, just to stir the pot a little,: heterosexual love = lame, homoerotic violence = awesome.

SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? The UFC brass has stated that the winner of next month’s Gray Maynard/TJ Grant bout is next in line for the Lightweight Championship, although there’s still an outside shot that the winner of this summer’s Jose Aldo/Anthony Pettis mega-uber-super Featherweight contest may get the next Lightweight shot. Personally, I think a Henderson/Melendez rematch wouldn’t be a bad course to take either, and pending how things turn out in MMA-Land over the next few months, that might just be the impromptu match-up we’re given, anyway (spoiler: Gray Maynard don’t do exciting fights, ya’ll.) Melendez looked really good, demonstrating himself as true top five lightweight contender; why not give him the loser of the TJ Grant/Gray Maynard fight for a bout in September or something? Cormier has already expressed an interest in dropping down to 205, but I can see that EASILY disappearing if Bigfoot Silva manages the upset against Cain Velasquez on the Memorial Day card. If Cain wins, however, expect Cormier to drop to Light Heavyweight, where he will probably do battle with Alexander Gustafson -- arguably the most diametric fight in MMA history, since it would involve a lanky ghost-white dude taking on a blubbery brother that’s like, 5’9 or something. As for Frank Mir? Even as bad as the Heavyweight division is right now, he really can’t be seen as anything more than a gatekeeper at this point. Maybe a match-up against Travis Browne around late August, perhaps? I’d really like to see Thomson do some scrapping with one of the lesser-heralded Lightweight prospects, like, maybe Rafael dos Anjos, while I reckon the best thing to do with Nate Diaz is give him a shot against the loser of the upcoming Pat Healy/Jim Miller throw down. And lastly, how does this shit sound: Matt Brown, vs. the winner of the upcoming Robbie Lawler/Tarec Saffidene match-up? Good lord, can you imagine a Brown/Lawler slugfest going down? No matter what, somebody’s walking out of that show with some souvenir teeth, that’s for darned sure.

THE VERDICT? A pretty good show all around, with a mostly hot crowd, an entertaining main event, two barn burners, and a heavyweight match we will never, ever talk about again. All in all, I really dug that unpublicized “UFC vs. Strikeforce” hook going on here; why not up the ante, and make an official company vs. absorbed company PPV for later on in the year, DW?

SHOW HIGHLIGHT: The Brown/Mein match-up was really entertaining, as was Thomson and Diaz.

SHOW LOWLIGHT: Not that it really needs to be said, but good lord, was Mir/Cormier something hideous.

ROGAN-ISM OF THE NIGHT: “That’s the way you win a crowd, even if they boo the decision” -- uttered when Ben Henderson proposed to his girlfriend, in one of the most gloriously passive-aggressive comments in the history of humanity.

FIVE THINGS I LEARNED FROM TONIGHT’S SHOW:

- Former smack addicts are really good with elbow shots.

- Maybe inviting your opponent to try to kick your ass isn’t the best battle plan (see: Diaz, Nate.)

- Hugging up against a dude and sorta’ slapping his ribs every now and then is enough to constitute a “decisive victory” in the UFC Heavyweight division.

- The “Virtua Fighter” battle engine is actually an MMA simulator.

- Per the San Jose audience: watching two guys wrestler around, half-naked, trying to wrap their limbs around each other for 25 minutes is one thing, but asking your girl afterwards to marry you? Now that’s something that’s really gay.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for you kids this week. Crank up “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA” by Devo and “Winter” by Tori Amos, and I’ll be seeing you in just a few.

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