Zuffa’s flagship promotion, the UFC, returned to network TV last night on the heels of a highly disappointing UFC 149 Pay-Per-View card to present UFC on FOX 4: Shogun vs. Vera. The UFC needed a big hit to make up for the debacle at 149 and they got one with their fourth effort on the major network. The opening bout between “Quick” Mike Swick (15-4) and “Darkness” Damarques Johnson (15-11) was a fast paced battle that culminated in a brutal come-from-behind KO courtesy of a “Quick” right hand. Next out, “J-Lau” Joe Lauzon (22-7) set the UFC record for bonuses when he ended a “Fight of the Night” performance against “C-4″ Jamie Varner (20-7-1) with a “Submission of the Night” winning third-round Triangle Choke. In the co-main event, “The Dragon” Lyoto Machida (18-3) earned a shot at the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship with a picture perfect knockout of “Darth” Ryan Bader (14-3), and in the night’s main event, “Shogun” Mauricio Rua (21-6) fought, and won, a war against returning prodigal son “The Truth” Brandon Vera (12-6). The overall card was a phenomenal success and definitely left some smiles on the faces of more than a few network executives, but not everyone can be a winner. For that, MMA Gospel has The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
Brandon Vera: Brandon Vera lost. He lost statistically in every round, likely lost every round on the scorecards, and was ultimately TKOed by an exhausted and out of shape “Shogun” Rua. The reason he came out ahead, however, lies in two facts: he not only made it four rounds, he was never far behind Rua on the feet, giving as good as he got, and he was supposed to lose. Every pundit, this one included, had Vera written off completely as the prodigal son of the UFC. He had a ton of promise, squandered it, and now is back getting table scraps from Dana White by playing as a tomato can for big name contenders. Vera embarrassed “Shogun” as much as “Shogun” embarrassed himself and looked damned good in the process.
Lyoto Machida: Machida did to Ryan Bader what Israel did to Egypt, Syria, and Jordan during the Six-Day War. He not only completely destroyed him, he made him look totally incompetent in the process. “The Dragon” landed 21 significant strikes, three times the number of Bader and more importantly, 88% of Bader’s strikes hit nothing but air. In the end, Machida’s patient dismantlement of Ryan Bader goaded the wrestler into bum rushing the Shotokan champion, resulting in a short right hand that halted the All-American in his tracks and left him unconscious on the canvas. Machida looked like he was in a class all his own at UFC on FOX 4 and earned a second crack at “Bones” Jon Jones (16-1) for his performance.
Joe Lauzon: Perhaps the only performance more impressive than Lyoto Machida’s complete domination of Ryan Bader was “J-Lau’s” double-bonus-winning submission over former WEC champ Jamie Varner. Lauzon, despite getting rocked twice in the first round, was never in danger and was able to repeatedly put Varner on the mat and move into dominant positions. He took the back of his foe twice in the second with ease and in the third, “J-Lau” turned a Varner double-leg against the former champ by sweeping him directly into position for a Triangle Choke. Once it was in place, Lauzon rolled to his back, tightened the choke, and finished his opponent to add another pair of bonuses to his collection.
Mike Swick: Things didn’t look too good for Swick’s return in the first round of his main card opening bout against Damarques Johnson. Though Swick was able to do significantly more damage on the feet, putting his fellow TUF alum in danger twice with right hands in Round 1, he was unable to prevent Johnson from tying him up and slowing the pace. Even worse, “Darkness” put him on his back and landed significant ground-and-pound that showed clean positional dominance on the mat. It all changed, however, in the second. Johnson came forward with a kick, Swick caught it, and blasted Johnson with a right hand on the way to the mat that instantly and brutally robbed “Darkness” of his cognitive functions. The “Knockout of the Night” win makes for a happy return for Mike Swick.
Mauricio Rua: “Shogun” ultimately reigned victorious and actually won each of the four rounds he fought with “The Truth” fairly decisively. That, however, is nowhere near enough to make up for the fact that he put on a terrible performance. Rua was out of shape and clearly gassed by the end of the second frame. In fact, had he not managed to do significant damage to Vera in the second round, there was every chance that a fully recovered Brandon Vera would have had his way with “Shogun”. He won with a late TKO in an exciting fight, but even his diehards knew that based on that performance and the one preceding it, “Shogun” has no business in the same cage as Jonny “Bones”. In fact, some called for a Shogun vs. Machida 3, but quickly recanted when they realized that “The Dragon” that showed up at UFC on FOX 4 would have completely destroyed the “Shogun” of the same night. Too many injuries, too many wars, and too many cheeseburgers have added up to an early career twilight for Rua.
Jamie Varner: Despite a three-bout win streak and a solid win at UFC 146, Jamie Varner hasn’t been an elite fighter since January of 2009, just before a 1-4-1 skid sent him into a brief retirement. Since then Varner hasn’t faced elite talent and has fared well, but Joe Lauzon sent him the wake-up call. Varner arguably is no longer a UFC caliber talent and he has a very short window in his second chance to prove otherwise.
Ryan Bader: Fighting Lyoto Machida is fast becoming like a death sentence for wrestlers. Every elite level pure wrestler that “The Dragon” has faced since 2009 has met the same fate, a highlight reel KO. For Bader, it was all the worse. For the fourth time in his career he faced an opponent who had worn or would soon wear UFC gold and for the third time he was totally outclassed. Bader looked completely lost as Machida methodically stopped him in his tracks at every turn and in the second, Bader cracked under the pressure and did the same thing “The Natural” Randy Couture (19-11) and “Sugar” Rashad Evans (17-2-1) did – he opened his guard to throw a big, looping, telegraphed punch, came straight forward, and ran right into a fight-ending blow to the chin. This leaves Bader with just one significant high profile win in four attempts making a strong case that he doesn’t belong among the 205 elite.
Damarques Johnson: Johnson can’t be much longer for the Zuffa roster. He has posted a dismal 4-5 UFC record including his failed effort to win The Ultimate Fighter and is now 1-3 in his last four bouts, none of which were against fighters that would be considered much more than high-level journeymen. His tendency to fight in a fairly exciting fashion has kept him around, but the UFC doesn’t tolerate consistent failure. Mike Swick turned out Johnson’s lights and another loss will probably leave his career in the “Darkness”.
Click here for the full list of UFC on FOX 4: Shogun vs. Vera fight results.