The UFC made its triumphant return to Brazil with UFC 134: Silva vs. Okami in Rio de Janeiro. The card was loaded to the hilt with Brazil’s biggest stars as well as a few hometown heroes as the South American nation took on the world. In their bouts, the Brazilians had resounding success with “The Spider” Anderson Silva (29-4), “Minotauro” Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (33-6-1), and “Shogun” Mauricio Rua (20-5) all taking home spectacular knockout wins and undefeated young Edson Barboza (9-0) taking a “Fight of the Night” winning Split Decision. With “Thunder” Yushin Okami (26-6), Forrest Griffin (18-7), “The Hybrid” Brendan Schaub (7-2), and “The Real Deal” Ross Pearson (17-7-1) all coming up short, the lone main card victor from the visitor’s dugout was Stanislav Nedkov (6-0) who scored a come-from-behind TKO win over “Banha” Luiz Cane (9-4). The fans were the real winners as the UFC again came out and proved why it is the greatest mixed martial arts organization in the world, bar none, but did the fighters come out as well as the fans did? To answer this, MMA Gospel brings The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
Anderson Silva: Love him or hate him, Anderson Silva is without a doubt the greatest stand-up fighter in the world, hands down. With the arguable exception of welterweight champion “Rush” Georges St. Pierre (22-2), there is no fighter who can even pretend to have a claim as the best pound-for-pound fighter alive. With his almost negligent destruction of Yushin Okami, Silva has stamped out the only loss he has suffered in the past seven years, a period in which he has fought 17 times and finished 12 opponents with strikes including nine fighters considered top ten talents at the time of their fight and four former UFC champions, one of them twice.
Mauricio Rua: “Shogun’s” first UFC bouts were a very dark period in his MMA career. The vaunted elite striker was dominated and finished by Forrest Griffin before putting on a pitiful display against “The Hammer” Mark Coleman (16-10). After that slow start, he exploded up the ranks and eventually captured the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. After losing the belt, he finally got the chance to come full circle and erase the lackluster performance that started his UFC roller coaster career. He did so with a devastating KO of the respected TUF 1 winner Forrest Griffin. While questions about his mercurial nature and ability to consistently perform at a high level are still unanswered, there is no question that he has earned his place among those top fighters.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: “Big Nog” has had a career-defining run of fights in the last two years. He won, then lost, the UFC Interim Heavyweight Championship, suffered not only the first stoppage but the first knockout loss of his long career as well. Nogueira then rebounded with a win over UFC Hall of Fame and former champion “The Natural” Randy Couture (19-11) before sustaining another knockout loss at the hands of the current champion. While he was competing at the highest levels with several known health issues and injuries, many fans had already begun to write him off as finally having taken so much punishment over his life that he simply couldn’t take the hits anymore. He was the big name that would launch Brendan Schaub into the upper echelon of the UFC. Then “Minotauro” weathered several hairy moments before derailing the Schaub hype train with a “Knockout of the Night” winning hook. The punch sent a message – PRIDE may be dead, but its first heavyweight champion is still very much a contender.
Edson Barboza: The young undefeated Brazilian may have made the main card after two UFC bouts only because the event was in Brazil. He may also have picked up a slight edge with the judges due to his home field advantage. However, the Split Decision he won over Ross Pearson was hard fought, competitive, and well deserved. One of the most important things for a fighter to further his UFC career is the ability to make even his bouts that go to the judges entertaining and Barboza proved he can do just that with his three-round barn burner against Ross Pearson. He is young and needs a bit more seasoning before he starts looking at 12lbs. golden belts, but he caught Dana White’s attention in a good way and has likely earned himself a chance to headline a Fight Night or even open a major PPV card in Vegas.
Yushin Okami: Okami fought long and hard to get his crack at Silva’s middleweight title. Twice he battled his way to a chance at contendership since his debut in 2006 and twice he was defeated, forcing him to begin his campaign again. When he finally earned his chance to take the belt from the man he had beaten once before, he looked like a deer in headlights. Anderson Silva played with Yushin, danced with him, humiliated him with an almost apathetic attitude, and put him out of his misery midway into the second round. A loss this one-sided will likely mean another five years before Okami gets a second whiff of UFC gold.
Ross Pearson: While a “Fight of the Night” performance is rarely a bad thing, especially one earned in a razor thin Split Decision loss, Ross Pearson has very little to celebrate after UFC Rio. The TUF alum is in one of the most competitive divisions in the sport and has now suffered a second loss to an up-and-comer. While Pearson’s exciting style and solid skill set will likely not lead him to the chopping block anytime soon, he will need several dominant performances to escape a future as a gatekeeper for the talent rich lightweight division.
Luiz Cane: Cane looked phenomenal for about four minutes of his bout with UFC newcomer Stanislav Nedkov. He was landing punches flush, moving well, and controlling the pace and it seemed a foregone conclusion that he would finally break away from the hot/cold pattern of his past and join the list of UFC mainstays. Then he ate a punch that put him on Queer Street and 13 seconds later, he was staring at the lights from his back as Nedkov celebrated a win that will surely be added to the 2011 highlight reel as it becomes the Year of the Comeback.
Stanislav Nedkov: Nedkov’s come-from-behind TKO of Brazilian bomber Luiz Cane was certainly a memorable UFC debut that will earn him a slot against some of the division’s better mid-level fighters. However, this is not a good thing for the Bulgarian. While he scored a TKO win, his performance was far from impressive as he was dominated for much of the fight leading up to the punch that saved him a loss. Everything about his skill set screamed “green” out loud and the UFC light heavyweight division is not the place to be fine tuning a fighter’s skills, let alone working the chinks out of them.
Forrest Griffin: Forrest Griffin came out against “Shogun” looking like he didn’t even plan on trying to win the fight. He calmly sat in “Shogun’s” wheel house and tried to trade blows and paid the price before quickly exiting the cage as has become his hallmark after getting KO’d. The loss in and of itself, while a career setback, would not be such a horrible thing; after all, the men who have beaten Forrest in the UFC are all former champions save one. However, with the amount of bad publicity Forrest built leading up to the fight with comments ranging from having no desire to fight, especially if it meant he couldn’t sleep in his own bed the night before, to taking this bout only as a favor to the UFC, the TUF golden boy has likely begun to wear thin on the patience of both his bosses and many of his fans.
Brendan Schaub: The Brendan Schaub “Hybrid Hype Express” had him slated to break into title contention despite his previous opponents having a combined UFC record of just 12-15 including the man who defeated him in the TUF Live Finale. He had built himself quite a following based on wins over sub-par and over the hill talents and was rewarded with what he wanted, a chance at the big time against ailing former champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. However, “Big Nog” showed the world just how big the jump in competition was from Schaub’s former opponents to a UFC title contender as he derailed the young fighter’s hype train with a vicious hook that ended Schaub’s break out fight after just three minutes.
Click here for the full list of UFC 134: Silva vs. Okami fight results.