UFC 119: Mir vs. Cro Cop may go down as the most disappointing card since the ill-fated UFC 33 card when Zuffa first took control of the UFC. Oddly enough, the majority of that tone was set by the only fight on the card that did not end in a decision, the main event battle between Frank Mir (14-5) and “Cro Cop” Mirko Filipovic (27-9-2). Overall, the card was fairly solid with back and forth battles between determined opponents that did all they could to finish the fights, but fell just short. The sad thing is that the main event was so terrible that it caused the entire card to be looked on in a negative light and if the fans were the ones calling the shots, there would be no “The Good” section in this article. Luckily for men like Matt Mitrione (3-0), “Lights Out” Chris Lytle (30-17-5), and Evan Dunham (10-1), who all had very good performances, they work for Dana White. For all the grief Dana gets for how he treats fighters or how he does business, the fact remains that he is an educated fan who rewards fighters for their efforts regardless of the response a card produces. Where most promoters would look at everyone on the card in a poor light, Dana will undoubtedly give those who fought for the win on the under card their do. Let’s explore who those athletes are in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
Evan Dunham: The young man lost both the fight and his undefeated to “The Muscle Shark” Sean Sherk (34-4-1), but Evan Dunham clearly furthered his career in his split decision loss. Yet another victim of suspect judging, Dana White and the majority of the journalistic following of MMA felt that Dunham clearly won the fight. Even his opponent said that he would one day hold UFC gold in the lightweight division. Evan needed to prove that he belonged in the upper echelon of the UFC lightweight division and he did just that.
Matt Mitrione: Meathead faced the first real test in his very young MMA career against Joey Beltran (10-3) and passed that test with flying colors. Perhaps even more important that Mitrione’s Fight of the Night performance is the continued improvement of his skill set. During his time on TUF season 10, practically every fan and pundit and even his own coaches wrote Mitrione off as someone who lacked the discipline and drive to succeed. He has done much to allay that stigma and this fight was a great step forward in that quest.
“The Young Assassin” Melvin Guillard (25-8-2): Once a young thug with a bad reputation and a penchant for slacking in the gym, Guillard has apparently had a major turnabout. “The Young Assassin” who put on a dominant performance against tough as nails opponent “Lil’ Heathen” Jeremy Stephens (18-6) bore little resemblance to that young man. Guillard proved nearly impossible to hit throughout the entire three round affair and peppered Stephens with counter combinations in route to a split decision victory. Melvin was well spoken and respectful in his interviews and expressed his displeasure at failing to finish his opponent with none of the bravado that colored all previous interactions with the fighter.
Sean Sherk: Sherk may have been gifted the decision but he definitely gave plenty of good excuses for the decision to the offending judges. Sherk seems to have shaken away the funk that settled in on him following his dismantling at the hands of “The Prodigy” BJ Penn (15-7-1). He mixed his striking and takedowns well and did considerable damage from the top in the first round and left the second round close enough to provoke a split decision. Sherk showed signs of his old championship qualities for the first time in several years and for that alone he deserves his props.
“Darth” Ryan Bader (12-0): It wasn’t a pretty win by any stretch of the imagination, but “Darth” managed to snatch the win from “Little Nog” Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (18-4) in the area he was supposed to have the advantage. Bader had almost no success trying to take Nogueira down, but the threat of those takedowns caused “Little Nog” to use a cautious approach that allowed the Arizona wrestler turned Lion’s Den fighter to seize control of the stand-up. Bader came just a few punches shy of becoming the second man to finish Rogerio in the first round with a vicious ground-n-pound assault then calmly adapted to the situation as he began to gas late in the fight instead of panicking like many others do.
Chris Lytle: Chris did everything he could to finish “The Terror” Matt Serra (10-7) in their rematch and it showed. The two men beat each other in what was essentially a boxing match in four ounce gloves for three solid rounds of fan pleasing violence. Lytle’s first bout with Serra saw him fall prey to the same mistake that claimed “Lil Nog” in his bout with Ryan Bader later that evening, he was so worried about the takedown that he used an overly conservative approach that sacrificed his advantage on the feet. This time Lytle let it all hang out, stood in the pocket, and fired of combinations that battered Serra into a clear defeat.
Little Nog: The smaller of the Nogueira twins took a cautious approach against wrestling stand out Ryan Bader and paid for it. He fell into the trap so many fighters do, he failed to commit to his attacks. Every attack creates an opening and when a fighter holds back in order to minimize that opening it never turns out for the better. The result is a performance like Rogerio had. Yes, he stopped the takedowns of a far superior wrestler, but in exchange he gave Bader the advantage in the only area Nogueira could win the fight, the stand-up. Coming on the heels of his lackluster victory over “The Hitman” Jason Brilz (18-3-1), this bout did “Little Nog” no favors.
Matt Serra: Matt Serra made a serious mistake. In an attempt to please the fans he boxed the boxer. Serra realized this far too late. Serra’s corner should have pleaded with him to seek the takedown after he came out on the losing end of the majority of the exchanges in the first round. They didn’t and it took a lopsided beating in the second to force Serra into changing his game plan in the third. By the time Serra started looking for takedowns and throwing kicks, he had already taken too much damage to be effective.
Jeremy Stephens: Stephens showed his biggest weakness against Melvin Guillard; his fight I.Q. is practically non-existent. “Lil’ Heathen” spent the entire fight chasing the elusive Melvin Guillard and got tagged repeatedly for his trouble. However, rather than change his approach and attempt to neutralize his opponent’s advantage in terms of speed, head movement, and footwork, Stephens chose continue barreling into Guillard with wide hooks and unidirectional movement. Much like a bull against a matador, Stephens charged, missed, and got stung over and over again until the inevitable end came.
Frank Mir: Two-time former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir went into his main event bout with a new approach and a solid game plan. The problem arose when his opponent took an incredibly conservative approach that forced Mir to adjust that plan. The issue there was Mir’s wrestling was so bad that he couldn’t takedown the much smaller Mirko Filipovic aggressively and Cro Cop never gave him the chance to counter wrestle. The result was an incredibly boring affair that saw both men circle each other with a handful of brief exchanges and Mir clenching Cro Cop against the cage in a vain attempt to take him down. Mir eventually goaded Mirko into the attack and countered with a beautiful knee strike that ended the fight near the end of the third, but it was too little too late. No one was please with his performance, not even himself.
Mirko Cro Cop: Mirko Cro Cop committed the same crime that “Little Nog” did; he was too conservative. Mirko did almost nothing in his bout with Mir, throwing only a handful of strikes each round. He simply would not pull the trigger against Mir for fear of the takedown. In fact, he rarely even counter struck Mir’s own attacks. Mirko finally went for the kill with just one minute left and paid dearly for it as he once again went in half-cocked. Cro Cop needs to regain his faith in his kicks before he steps in the cage again.
Mark Hunt (5-7): Please quit Mark. You were great in K1 but are obviously out of your depth in MMA. Even if your arm isn’t broken, your pride should be.