Falling Action: Best and Worst of UFC Live 4
Between Nate Marquardt's murky, ongoing professional nightmare and Cheick Kongo's dramatic comeback in the main event of UFC Live, it was a weekend to remember in the MMA world.
Now, after a good night's sleep filled with terrifying uppercut-related dreams, we return to the weekend's action and inaction alike to ask ourselves the eternal question: what the heck happened last night?
Answers may (or may not) lie with the biggest winners, losers, and everything in between from UFC Live.
Biggest Winner: Charlie Brenneman
What do you say when you get the call to sub in for the co-main event on a day's notice? Most of us might have suddenly remembered that we had somewhere else to be, but Brenneman stepped up and made it count. He out-wrestled and out-hustled Rick Story, who seemed surprised that this guy was taking the fight so seriously. It was not only the biggest win of Brenneman's career, it was also yet another reminder to every fighter on the UFC roster to be ready for absolutely anything at any time. You sign to fight on the prelims? That doesn't mean you won't be in the top spot by the time fight night rolls around. That's just how it goes in this insane sport of ours. One minute you're weighing in just to get your show money, and the next you have a victory over the UFC's up-and-comer of the month. Like they say, luck is when preparedness meets opportunity meets a good double-leg takedown.
Biggest (Active) Loser: Rick Story
Some said it was a no-lose situation for Brenneman. Really, it was a no-win situation for Story. He'd stepped up on short notice to face Marquardt -- a former title contender at middleweight who found himself in need of an opponent at welterweight. But when Marquardt got pulled under mysterious circumstances, Story went from fighting up the ladder to fighting down it. There's no other way he would have gone from a win over Thiago Alves to a fight with Brenneman, who was 2-1 in the UFC before Sunday night. Story thought he'd be the one with everything to gain, but Marquardt's "medical" problems fixed that. Through no fault of his own, Story's great opportunity turned into a raw deal this weekend. Then his lack of a strong takedown defense did the rest.
Biggest (Inactive) Loser: Nate Marquardt
All we know for sure at the moment is that he wasn't medically cleared to fight, and that he knew he probably wouldn't be medically cleared to fight, at least according to the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission officials. We also know that Dana White is "disgusted" with him, which tells us that the likely culprit is not something as innocent as a failed eye exam. Marquardt and his team have chosen to hold their tongues until Tuesday's MMA Hour appearance (you're not going to want to miss that, by the way), but unless he has a ridiculously good explanation for all this, Marquardt's probably going to come out looking like the bad guy on this one. He already lost his UFC gig at a very limited time for MMA free agency, and now he has the ire of the fans to deal with on top of it. It's a rough time for Nate the Great and, depending on what he has to say on Ariel Helwani's show tomorrow, it may only get rougher.
Most Amazing: Cheick Kongo
How he even had his legs under him well enough to throw a decent punch after getting rolled up by a couple of Pat Barry bombs, I'll never know. How he managed to get enough on that punch to knock Barry out cold -- a feat never before accomplished in either MMA or kickboxing -- that might remain one of the world's great mysteries. Kongo said afterward that he was never knocked out, but then again he also said that he didn't remember much after Barry's right hand dropped him to his knees. He did seem to be briefly separated from his senses, but they became reacquainted with one another just in time to take advantage of Barry's reckless aggression, and the result was one of the greatest comebacks in MMA history. After the fight Kongo seemed more freaked out than elated, sort of like a man who had narrowly avoided a horrible wreck on the freeway, then pulled off at the next exit and bought the winning lottery ticket at the first gas station he saw. I'm not sure if this one memorable win is enough to reinvigorate Kongo's somewhat stagnant career, but it sure saved this fight card, for what that's worth.
Most in Need of a Hug: Pat Barry
If I ever need to teach a robot how to recognize human sadness (shut up, it could happen), I'll just show it the look on Barry's face right after the Kongo fight. He didn't need to say a word -- all the hurt and crushing disappointment was right there in his perma-pout lower lip and his glassy eyes. One look at him and you almost know how it must feel to come so close to a great victory -- to have it just outside your reach as you chase it like a toddler after a butterfly -- and then to end up on the business end of a highlight that will live on in UFC hype clips from now until when super-intelligent apes enslave us and take over the planet. Barry is one of the nicest, most emotionally honest fighters in the game, which makes it all the more difficult to see him go through something like that. It's just another reminder that of all the things this sport does with great efficiency and regularity, its ability to break your heart in a few seconds flat is still unparalleled.
Most Impressive in Defeat: Nik Lentz
As anyone who jumped on Facebook in time to watch the prelim fights already knows, a) your ex-girlfriend is only pretending to be so happy in all those photos, and b) Lentz was the victim of one of the most egregious referee errors in recent memory. Charles Oliveira nailed him with an obvious illegal knee, and the ref did absolutely nothing as Lentz crumpled up and Oliveira finished him off. The hell of it is, right up until that point Lentz was engaged in the most exciting fight of his UFC career. His slow-paced, clinch-heavy fighting style has been the biggest knock against him so far, which makes it sadly ironic that his first loss in the UFC should come in a thrilling effort on the undercard. At least, it's a loss for now. If the Pennsylvania commission has any sense at all, it will overturn that one on appeal. This isn't even one of those cases where you need a lengthy slow-motion video review to sort things out. A flipbook of Oliveira's transgression and the ref's inaction should do just fine.
Least Impressive in Victory: Matt Brown
After three straight losses, you can see why he might have felt the need to fight a little conservatively and get the win. But the performance that Brown and John Howard put on quickly went from conservative to anemic. One of Brown's greatest strengths as a fighter -- in fact, it may be what's allowed him to hang around through so many defeats of late -- is his exciting, go-for-broke style. If he abandons that in favor of a style that results in these narrow decision wins, he better make sure he never ends up losing another fight. While the UFC will tolerate you through a few interesting losses, it has far less patience for boring victories.
Best Walk-Off Knockout: Matt Mitrione
He must have felt a sinking feeling in his stomach when he saw the uppercut that Kongo used to put Barry to sleep. Before that punch, Mitrione had the $50,000 Knockout of the Night bonus all but spent already. Then Kongo landed one blow and took that money right out of his bank account like a vengeful divorce lawyer. Bummer. The good news is, Meathead has another highlight-reel finish, and he even got to show his compassionate side by leaving Morecraft alone as he struggled to regain his wits. Sure, you could argue that it's the referee's job to decide when the fight's over, but it's not like all the referees had been living up to their end of the bargain by that point. Fortunately for the dazed and vulnerable Morecraft, Mitrione knew when to walk away.