UFC 139 was not only a solid offering in the box office, it was one of the best overall MMA cards in recent memory headlined by a fight that is at the front of the running for greatest UFC fight of all time. In a five-round war that left both fighters unable to stand for several moments after the final bell, the victorious “Hendo” Dan Henderson (29-8) was carried from the Octagon on the arms of his corner men, much as “The Russian Bear” Oleg Taktarov (14-5-2) was after winning UFC 6, and “Shogun” Mauricio Rua (20-6) was bloodied, swollen, and barely able to speak in his post-fight interview he was so exhausted. “The Axe Murderer” Wanderlei Silva (35-11-1) overcame a very rough first round to knock out three-time world kickboxing champion Cung Le (7-2) in the co-main. “The California Kid” Urijah Faber (26-5) put on a stunning performance in his domination of Brian Bowles (10-2), earning a rubber match against “The Dominator” Dominick Cruz (18-1). Welterweights “The Hitman” Martin Kampmann (18-5) and “The Horror” Rick Story (11-4) clashed in a mostly stand-up war to restore their place in the divisional rankings and “The American Psycho” Stephan Bonnar (14-7) ran the show against light heavyweight hopeful “Kingsbu” Kyle Kingsbury (12-3). While it is difficult to truly find fault with any fighter involved in such a stellar card, not everyone can come out a winner in the big picture.
Dan Henderson: At some point in the every season of The Ultimate Fighter, UFC President Dana White reiterates one of the most cliché pieces of advice every coach gives every fighter: go out there and leave it all in the cage. Dan Henderson’s epic five-round war with fellow former PRIDE star “Shogun” Rua was a perfect example of what that means. “Hendo” and “Shogun” beat each other to a pulp but it was the Team Quest fighter who got the better of the exchanges for three solid rounds before narrowly losing the fourth and spending the fifth so gassed that all he could do was stay alive and get the win. Several times he got tagged and he responded with his “H-Bomb” right hand to instantly take control, almost finishing the bout at least three times. He may not have blasted Rua into the fourth row, but he still made a triumphant return to the Octagon that will cement his place at the top of the light heavyweight title contention heap.
“Shogun” Rua: Even though he lost, there is absolutely no shame for Rua in his role in what may be the greatest MMA fight of all time. He not only survived Henderson’s feared overhand right multiple times, he hung in the pocket and retaliated, and in the end, took the mount for the entire final round. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough left in the tank to get the finish. “Shogun” swung for the fences, “Hendo” swung for Rua’s windshield somewhere in the back of the parking lot and in the end, both efforts were rewarded with “Fight of the Night” bonuses, but the greater effort was rewarded by the judges.
Wanderlei Silva: “Fight of the Night” and “brutal knockout” are used to describe Wanderlei Silva bouts so often that they have almost become part of his name. Even when he gets blasted into dreamland, Silva is always exciting and his opponents always know that they are only a half-second away from being brutally beaten to a pulp at any point in the fight that Wanderlei is still conscious. Against Le, Wand looked lost for the first three or so minutes. He was out-struck, couldn’t mount an offense, and was almost finished. Then Cung Le started to gas and “The Axe Murderer” started finding a home for his lead hook and a sneaky inside uppercut as Le exited the pocket. Over the hill, washed-up, glass jawed, doesn’t have it anymore, are all statements that the whole of the MMA world made about Silva leading into UFC 139. In the second round, Silva reminded them all why he is to be feared now as he was in PRIDE. He is a natural born fighter with a killer instinct that is always there. As the second round was coming to a close, Silva caught Le in the Thai clinch and proceeded to unleash his almost forgotten breed of ultra violence on the former Strikeforce champ. He may never be champ again himself, but make no mistake; Wanderlei Silva is still more than able to brutally finish any fighter in the sport.
Urijah Faber: The young former featherweight champion has been struggling with the possibility of seeing his day in the sun come to an end. Faber had won just two of his last four fights and entered UFC 139 3-3 since losing his belt in 2008. He experienced a revival of sorts as a bantamweight, winning two en route to a title shot rematch with Cruz, but he hadn’t really impressed. After a loss to Cruz, many felt that Faber was the miniature version of Matt Hughes (43-9), still good enough to win at the top level, but no longer relevant in the title picture. He fixed that at UFC 139. Faber came out with a new life against Brian Bowles and quickly took control of the fight, driving the pace far past the point his fellow former champ could match. It was a good fight and Bowles was far from dominated, but Faber kept his foe on the defense the entire first round before coming out in the second, landing a solid uppercut, and choking Bowles out with a Guillotine Choke. The win has revitalized Faber’s fan base, gotten people talking, and earned him another crack at the bantamweight title.
Martin Kampmann: Though to a much lesser scale, Kampmann must have felt much as the Boston Red Sox did after winning the World Series in 2004. Twice the judges have given Kampmann the short end of the stick, robbing him blind with horrible decisions in his most recent UFC fights. With his relevance in the division on the line, “The Hitman” vowed to finish Rick Story. He failed to do so, but the Dane still managed to use superior striking to out-work the young blue chipper on the feet and totally dominated the ground game in the second and third with solid takedowns, top control, and submission attempts. One judge saw fit to attempt to rob Kampmann again, but the curse was broken by the other two, giving “The Hitman” a Split Decision win he sorely needed.
Stephan Bonnar: Though the crowd booed portions of his performance and his post-fight apologies were not what fans expected after a win, Bonnar was nonetheless completely dominant in his win over Kyle Kingsbury. Bonnar is the ultimate gatekeeper for the UFC shark tank of a 205lbs. division. He loses to top flight talent, but tests them in every aspect of the game, including gameness, in the process. When he wins he keeps those fighters out of the upper ranks of the division who would only suffer defeat and injury, beating them often in one-sided fashion. Bonnar has now built his first three-fight win streak since 2006.
Cung Le: Le learned an extremely valuable lesson at UFC 139. He is a very gifted fighter, but not so gifted that he can half-ass his way through his cardio training while doing B-movies and hope to compete in the UFC. The lesson will be even more pointed when he has to use his “Fight of the Night” bonus to pay a cosmetic surgeon to fix the damage Wanderlei Silva did to his face and nose in the second round. Le was dominant early in his UFC debut, but after three minutes of running the show, he started to gas and was promptly destroyed in the second frame.
Brian Bowles: Bowles spent a pair of fights flying under the radar after losing his belt to current champion Dominick Cruz. He won two bouts and earned a shot at a rematch and everything looked good. Unfortunately, the man across the cage was former featherweight kingpin Urijah Faber who was revitalized and motivated to get his rubber match in short order. Bowles came out looking to size up the situation and Faber had none of it. He bullied Bowles around, left him in the dust, and Bowles never caught back up. It wasn’t a career killer; it was more Faber’s good performance than Bowles’ poor one, but it made him look woefully inadequate to fight for the belt again.
Rick Story: Rick Story had suffered a major setback in his rise to the top as the next big thing when he lost at UFC on Versus 4: Kongo vs. Barry. For streaking young blue chip prospects, losses all but kill the momentum, but they do usually retain status as being a fighter on par with the opponent they beat in their big upset win. However, two losses in a row typically gets them labeled a fluke and thrown right back into the pack of hungry young warriors looking to make it big. Story lost to Martin Kampmann in an exciting three-round fight. Unfortunately, it was also a 15-minute display of all the holes in Story’s skill set. First he was out-struck, then out-wrestled, and eventually out-grappled, a trifecta of reasons he will find his next bout against a UFC newcomer on the prelims rather than against another top welterweight talent.
Kyle Kingsbury: The Ultimate Fighter seems to be the bane of “Kingsbu’s” career. On the reality show, he lost in the first round, got a second chance due to an injury, lost again, then lost to yet another TUF fighter on the finale card. However, Dana White liked him so he got to stick around on the prelims. Kingsbury quickly ended the UFC careers of four fighters who made it to the UFC the traditional way and stepped in at UFC 139 to face the UFC’s light heavyweight door man, an alum of the original TUF cast, Stephan Bonnar. Again, the reality show proved the undoing for Kingsbury. He was good enough to make the show, but not good enough to win there. He was good enough to make it to the gates of the UFC 205lbs. division and yet another TUF alum dominated him from bell to bell and proved that he still hasn’t got the goods to swim with the sharks.
Click here for the full list of UFC 139: Shogun vs. Henderson results.