There’s a difference between obsequious cheerleading and illustrating the positive side of things, just like there is with cruelly berating someone and lending constructive criticism. The difference is, in the world of MMA, voicing the cons far outweighs acknowledging the pros.
So, to fill that niche in the market, I bring you “Suck My Sunshine”, where I will simply highlight some of the wholesome moments in our beloved world of face punching. Quite humbly, I’ll start by patting myself on the back for the graphic above, which is basically the greatest artwork mankind has ever created.
From UFC 131, in reverse chronological order, I’ll point out some encouraging facets of a fight, improvements from a fighter, or just something … good. I know it sounds totally bizarre and off the wall, but let’s try it.
1. Shane Carwin
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that many analysts and media outlets pinned a big question mark on Carwin’s conditioning and heart going into his bout with Junior dos Santos.
There was nothing cemented further than the admirable spirit and fierce determination of Shane Carwin in Saturday’s main event. He trudged on through the remaining ten minutes after enduring merciless punishment from dos Santos in the opening round. Carwin demonstrated that he didn’t have a five-minute expiration date, embracing the adversity by brawling valiantly to the first third-round and decision of his career.
Let’s also keep in mind that Carwin has tackled exactly four top-tier opponents in all of his fourteen fights, and is relatively inexperienced and still acclimating to the harsh environment of MMA’s elite level. This was a promising step forward for Carwin as a fighter despite the result.
Exactly one other heavyweight survived to a decision against the brick-fisted dos Santos after absorbing a three round torrent of leather, and that was Roy Nelson, who has a reputation for his resilience and ability to take a vicious beating. Carwin now has only two losses on his record: one to then-top heavyweight Brock Lesnar, who Carwin mauled to a near stoppage in a dominant first round, and the other to the prime contender and top ranked heavyweight Junior dos Santos.
2. Kenny Florian and Diego Nunes
Dropping a full weight class for the first time and fighting with a steady pace for three rounds is always a good sign, so I’ll give KenFlo a nod for that right away. Now, think about the expectations and pressure surrounding Florian for this fight, which was almost a lose/lose scenario. After being a perennial contender at lightweight and one of the most reputable names in the UFC, many had him pegged as the next big challenge for Jose Aldo as soon as his introduction to the weight class was announced.
One of Florian’s biggest advantages at lightweight was his startling quickness and agility; a plus that will significantly dwindle against the mighty mouses at featherweight. Along with the new weight class must come better realization of his new strengths and weaknesses, which Florian has plenty of time to map out.
As far as Nunes, not too long ago, Florian was paddling Takanori Gomi’s head around with his jab. “The Fireball Kid” was one of the most outrageously volatile strikers the sport — much less the lightweight division — has ever witnessed. Nunes not only went toe-to-toe with Florian, but wobbled him a few times with seriously enhanced stand-up, shook off a good number of takedowns while landing a few of his own.
I have trouble buying that Florian’s precise striking somehow regressed. Therefore, one could conclude that Diego Nunes, who was controlled by L.C. Davis and might have had more trouble standing with Mike Brown and Raphael Assuncao, is accelerating his credibility by tightening up his weak spots quickly and efficiently.
3. Mark Munoz and Demian Maia
I thought Joe Rogan summed this up accordingly: A ridiculously decorated sport grappler that many felt was “mostly one-dimensional” dazed and cornered Munoz with sizzling blasts of kickboxing, and was arguably more effective standing than on the ground. We’re talking about a guy whose striking went from “icky” to “I guess it doesn’t hurt my eyes, at least” to “well I’ll be damned” to “egads, Munoz is doing the stanky leg!” His progression in the last few years has been phenomenal, and this is another cat with just seventeen fights who’s been facing premiere fighters for only two years.
Conversely, D1 All American Mark Munoz took Maia down and didn’t get submitted, and won many of the sequences on the ground. Considering Maia’s past performances and scalding submission acumen, that’s a triumph in itself. He also won the fight. Not bad for a fairly green wrestler with four years and thirteen fights in MMA.
More rah-rahs after the jump.
4. Dave Herman and Jon Olav Einemo
Many questions surrounded both fighters coming into the bout, and one answer we got was that neither is out there to fight safely or to fool the judges. Einemo showed a significant increase in his striking game, Herman showed good takedown defense and a crafty escape from the certain doom from Einemo’s side-control with a fence-walk. Most importantly, both fighters showed great heart and a willingness to either finish the fight or go out in a blaze of glory trying to.
Herman is still getting by on raw potential, and has the time and ability to reinvent himself. As a fan, I love watching him smile like he secretly broke wind in church when he gets punched repeatedly in the face, but he also has the talent to be just as prestigious as he is entertaining with a dedicated focus. Since most (or all) of Einemo’s past fights took place in a ring, the characteristics of fighting in a cage are different, one example being allowing Herman to spin out in side-control and loosen his legs to thrust off the fence, which was a pivotal shift in momentum that Einemo can correct in the future.
5. Donald Cerrone and Vagner Rocha
Rocha had one month to prepare for Cerrone after Mac Danzig dropped out, and needless to say, “Cowboy” is quite a monster to face on short notice. Rocha hadn’t tasted an opponent even remotely close to Cerrone’s caliber, and yet he ate a plethora of devastating leg kicks for fifteen straight minutes. I can tell you that, within thirty seconds of being kicked with one single blow of that magnitude, before I even stood back up, I’d already called for a ride home and wiped out the next month of my schedule to do nothing but whimper and eat comfort food.
Additionally, Cerrone had never executed a bulletproof sprawl and brawl strategy in his career. He showed a sprawl — don’t get me wrong — but in most cases, he was unafraid to duel with savvy grapplers on account of his high octane guard. If he’d played that game against Rocha, he very likely would have lost, as evinced by his post-fight explanation about respecting Rocha’s submission skills. I only disagree with the apology, Mr. Cerrone: I was more impressed by your footwork, use of reach and underhooks, and lightning fast reactions to repel a grappler than I would be if you finished the fight.
6. Sam Stout and Yves Edwards
Sam Stout had never finished a fight in the UFC. Ever. The only time he engaged in a stoppage was when Kenny Florian laced a mata leao on him in 2006, so clipping a sturdy veteran like Yves Edwards is truly something to be proud of.
Edwards has fought a laundry list of frightening adversaries, and the only to finish him via strikes besides Stout are elite strikers K.J. Noons and Jorge Masvidal, and beastly elbows from Joe Stevenson, who trapped Edwards in a precarious position on the mat.
Stout can now wear the “Hands of Stone” moniker with pride, and Edwards can rest well at night knowing he doesn’t need to prove anything about this character or prowess as a fighter; he did that years ago. Edwards only fortified that human beings still lose consciousness when tagged directly on the jaw with a picture-perfect punch.
7. Chris Weidman
Anytime you’re a young, hyped phenom like Chris Weidman, it’s tough to replicate a groundbreaking performance. Despite suffering injuries in both of his UFC fights, that’s exactly what he did. Against Bongfeldt and Sakara, he managed to look just as impressive, and this was only his sixth professional fight.
8. Krzysztof Soszynski and Mike Massenzio
“Hi, Mr. Massenzio? Joe Silva here. Best opportunity ever: I know a giant, evil-looking, power-punching Polish madman who’s a natural heavyweight. You should fight him. Oh yeah, six days from now. How ’bout it?”
Of course, Massenzio not only agreed, but showed the oft-cliched “big heart and warrior spirit” by refusing to yield amidst a barrage of battery. Just one of those clobbering punches or elbows would hospitalize the common man.
As for K-Sos, he had the balls to admit his win over Bonnar was due to an unintentional head butt, then lost in the rematch. Also, Mike Massenzio was the third fighter that he’d prepared for, and they all had different styles. In a sport where one poor performance or a short string of losses can terminate your contract, K-Sos deserves a nod for taking the risk despite winning only two of his last four.
9. Nick Ring and James Head
All of the rage for the questionable decision of three men were transposed on Nick Ring, for doing nothing but defying the odds and giving Riki Fukuda three rounds of unfriendly fire. Golden Gloves boxer and freakishly advanced grappler James Head, who won the 2010 World Championships as a blue belt with only two years of BJJ experience, was no slouch of an opponent either. This was the guy who out-gunned Gerald Harris in his first fight outside of the Octagon after he was booted from the league to the extreme chagrin of fans.
Ring showed sharp striking and strong resolve in dismantling Head, both standing and on the mat, while Head deserves credit for fighting his way through the gallon of blood that poured out of the hole Ring smashed in his nose. I’ll look forward to seeing how both continue to evolve.
10. Dustin Poirier and Jason Young
Young was another late replacement that most expected to be crushed under the wheels of the Poirier hype-mobile. While Young showed that his kickboxing and gameness is on the level, Poirier employed an intelligent strategy by realizing that trading leather with his opponent wasn’t the ideal outlook. Even though it’s usually appalling to fans, he neutralized Young’s inclement striking by subduing him with takedowns and control in the third. He was even polite enough to apologize to Young for it.
11. Joey Beltran
As I mentioned in my preview, Beltran has paid his dues against better opponents, but was deemed the underdog against the debuting Aaron Rosa, and also, two other newcomers were elevated to the main card over him. Instead of complaining in the slightest, Beltran did exactly what he’s supposed to do, which, coincidentally, is what he does best: go out and beat the crap out the guy standing across from him in exciting fashion. Mission accomplished, and hopefully, people are taking note.
12. Michihiro Omigawa and Darren Elkins
First, let’s pay some respect to Darren Elkins. Sure, it’s great Dana White is speaking out about his thoughts on the decision, but Elkins, who had shown very little of his striking because his takedowns were so overwhelming, dueled with a technical boxer and top-ranked featherweight in his divisional debut. With the first and third being fairly clear, everything rests on the score in the second round, which one could hardly categorize as impossible for Elkins to win. Give the guy some credit for the biggest win of his career, and again, he didn’t hand in the scores.
After the first round, I think all of us Omigawa fans had the feeling that he was going to lose if he didn’t turn it on. Then … he did. He was much more enthusiastic with his head movement, aggressive with his offense, and emphatic with his punches. In his two fights since returning to the UFC, he fought the third-ranked featherweight in the world, and a wrestler who took everyone down within a minute in a higher weight class. Both fighters are exciting additions to the division who can still make waves against the top contenders.
13. The Judging
Strangely, there is a positive we can take away from the judging at UFC 131: can we now stop with the painful diatribes that “monitors” and “former fighters” are the solution to the judging problem? Scratch those off the list as the culprits to controversial decisions.
Bill Mahood, Jason Darrah, and Dave “30-27” Hagen were all former fighters. Monitors won’t hurt, but are not the absolute answer. And I don’t care if it’s a former fisherman, felon, or seamstress, I’ll take a former anything as long as he or she is a good MMA judge.
The benefit is that now we know that — while a revamp of the scoring criteria could be considered — what we need is simple: people who understood MMA and the scoring system.
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