UFC 155 Takeaways – Velasquez Dominates, Miller & Lauzon Thrill
The UFC capped off 2012 with a card that encapsulated the organization’s year as a whole. The first 60% of the pay-per-view was unimpressive, just as the early part of the year netted low viewership and didn’t produce many memorable fights. However, like the last quarter of the year, the event picked up with a thrilling ‘Fight of the Year’ contender between Jim Miller and the most entertaining fighter of 2012, Joe Lauzon. Finally, just as the UFC’s year was capped off with impressive cards that built momentum towards 2013, this card was capped off with a memorable performance from Cain Velasquez, who has now reclaimed his spot as the top Heavyweight in MMA.
Despite the varied results of the pay-per-view portion of this card, there were consistently entertaining fights on the preliminary card that deserved to happen later in the night, but befuddling card construction has been an ongoing theme with the UFC this year. Without further ado, here are some thoughts on all the fights from Saturday’s card, in order of relevance:
- There isn’t much to add to Cain Velasquez‘s performance in recapturing the UFC Heavyweight Title than you could glean from watching the fight. He came out and immediately pressured Junior dos Santos from the opening bell, and really didn’t give the champion any space for the 25 minute duration. Although in the first few moments the challenger’s wild ankle pick takedown attempts looked rather pathetic, they had the desired effect of wearing ‘Cigano’ down, lowering his hands, and opening up the opportunity for Velasquez to land his right hand. The only criticism that may be lobbed in the new champion’s direction is that he was unable to finish a very hurt and tired opponent. However, to anyone who watched Velasquez’s early UFC fights against the likes of Denis Stojnic, Cheick Kongo, and Ben Rothwell, his game has always been one of attrition more than devastating stopping power. If there is one thing that could help Velasquez in this manner, it would be putting hooks in when his opponent is in disarray rather than riding his opponent. This is just not in the nature of Velasquez though, as he allows his opponent to stand up from a riding position while landing strikes so that he can sap more of their energy. It’s hard to argue with his results, and to be fair, dos Santos is quite likely the only Heavyweight on the planet who would have been able to see the final bell against the Velasquez who fought on Saturday.
- For his part, Junior dos Santos obviously has some adjustments to make if he is to do what Velasquez did and regain his title. It seems like his propensity for moving back in a straight line while on the defensive makes him susceptible to a similar — but more extreme — gameplan than that which was used to defeat Mirko ‘CroCop’ in his prime. Moving backwards was never the Croatian’s forte, and while dos Santos has a better counter-striking game than Mirko ever did, he is still far less effective when being pushed back than when he is the aggressor. For all the talk of his boxing skill, if he were to implement better angles to evade an oncoming opponent, he could save himself a great deal of energy in a potential rubber match with Velasquez. That aside, Junior’s takedown defence was surprisingly stout and his ability to get back to his feet was impressive, even when hurt and tired. That could be as much to do with Velasquez’s priorities while in top position than any skill on dos Santos’ part though.
- The biggest question coming out of this fight is if Velasquez/dos Santos could be a rivalry on par with Liddell/Couture, or an even greater one for the UFC. Who is capable of doing to ‘Cigano’ what Velasquez did in this bout? And is there anyone capable of beating Cain if he continues to put on the type of performance that we just saw?
- Give Jim Miller and Joe Lauzon a hand, folks. You should probably visit your local blood bank to help Lauzon recover from this bout too. In what ended up being Lauzon’s 2nd ‘Fight of the Year’ contender (I still stand by my pick of Lauzon/Varner as FOTY, by the way), his improved cardio almost allowed him to pull out the win against one of the tougher fighters in the division. Now that Lauzon has seemingly shored up that gaping hole in his game, he is a completely different fighter. When you’re able to attempt the same wacky techniques in the last round as you are in the first, it makes you a much more dangerous opponent. Most people had pegged Lauzon to come out early and take the first round, while Miller would take over late, when the opposite almost took place. Miller used aggressive striking to batter Lauzon in a round that was obviously a 10-8 to anyone who wasn’t one of the three judges, but faded from there and allowed Lauzon back into the fight, conceivably making it a draw if the 2nd and 3rd rounds were scored for him (which isn’t so far-fetched). Miller is still going to be a fighter who bounces around the middle to bottom of the top 10 at Lightweight, while Lauzon is going to continue to establish himself as arguably the premiere action fighter in the UFC, but neither guy is going to be fitting himself for a championship belt any time soon.
- Eddie Wineland continues to be the most underappreciated Bantamweight on the UFC roster. After putting together some fantastic fights in the WEC, Wineland made his way into the Octagon only to be beaten by then the #2a and #2b 135ers in the world, Alpha Male teammates Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez. Since that time, he has proceeded to batter Scott Jorgensen en route to a KO victory, and beat Brad Pickett up for 15 minutes (although one judge inexplicably scored the bout for Pickett), while showcasing improving defensive wrestling, and the type of movement that befuddles opponents (even if Joe Rogan can only focus on his hand and chin positioning). The man is far better than he was when he held the WEC Bantamweight Title back in 2006, and in my mind is actually one of the more interesting foils at 135 for Dominick Cruz, Renan Barao or Michael McDonald due to his impressive striking. Pickett is still on the cusp of being a top 10 fighter in the division, but is only well-rounded enough to compete with the top Bantamweights, rather than defeat them. He is undoubtedly a fun fighter, but people were overestimating him leading into this fight based on victories over the likes of Yves Jabouin and Damacio Page.
- Yushin Okami and Alan Belcher both find themselves in a state of Middleweight purgatory after their bout at UFC 62… I mean, UFC 155 (sorry, both fights played out the exact same). Okami is not exciting enough to get another title shot, no matter how many wins he is able to string together, and Belcher simply isn’t good enough. Many were hoping that Belcher had improved enough to erase the Okami blemish in 2006 from his record, but he’s very much the same fighter now as he was then. Skilled, but with poor fight IQ, and a grappling game that isn’t quite there. At FightLockdown (my MMA forum stomping grounds), I had predicted this fight to play out just about how it did, and posed the question that had Belcher defeated Rousimar Palhares AFTER Hector Lombard knocked him out, rather than before, if people would be nearly as high on Belcher as a potential contender. Belcher actually fared better than I expected in defending Okami’s takedowns, but attempted ill-advised guillotines in all three rounds that landed him on his back and essentially handed the fight to Okami after working so hard to deny top position to the Japanese fighter.
- I continue to not be particularly impressed with Costa Philippou. I had picked and bet Tim Boetsch to win this fight, and felt that he was on his way to doing so before a trio of maladies intervened. First, Boetsch suffered some sort of hand injury (although apparently his hand isn’t broken), then he received a nasty gash on his forehead from an accidental headbutt, and finally (and what seemed to have the most impact on the outcome of the fight), his left eye was poked, leaving him looking like the person waving their arms around in the pool searching for others in a game of ‘Marco Polo’. After the eye poke, Boetsch had no ability to gauge distance on his takedown attempts, and really no ability to defend himself either standing or even when he pulled guard. To his credit, Philippou parlayed these advantages into a stoppage victory. I still have serious doubts about Costa as a contender, since Boetsch — who is a serviceable, but not great wrestler — was able to take him down early, and would likely have been able to if not for the extenuating circumstances of the fight. Plus, I’ve always maintained that Philippou’s power has been greatly exaggerated, evidenced again by him landing the mother of all uppercuts, which didn’t even make Boetsch flinch. This isn’t to say I think Boetsch is a fantastic fighter — as I think he loses to both Okami and Lombard in rematches — simply a better one than Philippou.
That does it for the fights that SHOULD have comprised the main card, now for quick notes on the other bouts of the night:
- Jamie Varner and Melvin Guillard had a fight that was surprisingly devoid of weirdness, if you don’t count the odd slam at the very end of the bout. Varner again showed that he is far better than his unmotivated run at the end of his WEC stint, and a solid Lightweight who is just below the top level. It’s hard to believe Guillard was so close to title contention recently, but aside from the very top fighters in each division, matchmaking plays just as big a part in determining who gets to the top as anything else.
- Chris Cariaso acquitted himself well again, and should be a fixture at 125 pounds for the foreseeable future, however John Moraga has the potential to be much more in the division, and showed exactly why. After two very close rounds, Moraga’s more versatile game shone through, forcing Cariaso to tap to a variation of an Anaconda choke, and notching the only submission victory on the card.
- Todd Duffee returned to the Octagon, and showed how far being a decent athlete can go in the Heavyweight division, as he posted the quickest finish of the night in putting away Phil de Fries (who I was shocked to learn is actually 2-2 in the UFC now). After a relatively quick start for de Fries, Duffee proved too big, too strong and had too much power. He’s still a fighter who has the physical talent to be a solid Heavyweight, and now training at AKA and seeing the work ethic of fighters like Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, he may put his tools together.
- In one of the oddest main card bookings I’ve seen in a while, Chris Leben coming off of a yearlong suspension for Oxycontin, lost a terrible bout against Derek Brunson. This fight was going to end one of two ways, either Leben would land a big punch and Brunson would get stopped, or we’d be treated to what we saw. Everyone hoped for the former (unless you made the only conceivable bet on Brunson that you could; him winning via decision which hovered around +250), but got the latter. Brunson is a limited fighter with an even more limited gas tank, and he’ll make some appearances on undercards before being bounced from the organization if he doesn’t make drastic improvements.
- After being hyped by the UFC as they hope to cash in on the Latino market, Erik Perez went out and did what was expected of him, dispatching one of the worst Bantamweights on the roster in Byron Bloodworth. This win literally told us nothing about Perez, and it’s high time he moved beyond fighting the dregs of the division before the UFC goes full Roger Huerta with him.
- Myles Jury was far more impressive than his stint on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ showing once again what a bad benchmark for talent the show is. Jury was one of the more hyped competitors on the 15th season of the show, and in this bout showed why. Michael Johnson was aiming for his fourth victory of a 2012 campaign that had seen him continue to surprise in his development, but his ground game is obviously still extremely underdeveloped. Based on the products the Blackzilians camp has produced, I’m not sure that is the best place for him to improve it either, but every opponent of his moving forward has the blueprint to defeat him until that is addressed.
- In the only contentious decision on the card, Leonard Garcia was denied a rightful victory over Max Holloway. Yes, you read that right. Leonard Garcia had a decision go against him, and not only that, it was a decision that he actually deserved. It astounded me that Holloway — who has still yet to show any semblance of a ground game, or prove his takedown defence against meaningful competition — was such a massive favourite in this bout. I expected that if Garcia pursued the ground game he could very likely win by submission or decision. Even without following the logical gameplan, Garcia seemed to get the better of the striking; even though Holloway landed a higher volume of light punches as the Hawaiian practically ran from his opponent over the final 10 minutes. One of the better references when it comes to judging, MMADecisions.com shows that 7 media members scored the fight for Garcia, 2 for Holloway, and 1 a draw (although after reviewing that card, it was actually scored for Garcia as well). Holloway is still very young, and has potential, but he’s not remotely as far along in his progression as people seem to think.
UFC 155 would have been an excellent card if it was structured as it should have been, but the extended stretch of lacklustre fights early on the PPV card put a damper on things. Still, it will be remembered more for Velasquez’s sterling performance and the Miller/Lauzon fight than any of the stinkers, so it was a good way to end the year for the organization.
On to what we can only hope is a less injury plagued 2013.