Falling Action: Best and Worst of UFC on FX
Is it weird to be sorting through the aftermath of a UFC event on a Saturday morning? A little, though maybe I could get used to it. The first UFC on FX show must be deemed a success, complete with exciting finishes and a solid job by the commentating duo of Jon Anik and Kenny Florian.
Now on to the fighters and the fights to find out who were the biggest winners, losers, and everything in between at the UFC on FX.
Biggest Winner: Jim Miller
Guys who are that good on the ground shouldn't have chins that solid. It's just not fair. It allows them to take shots that should, in a just world, at least make them woozy enough to negate their ground game for a minute or two. No such luck with Miller. He can dish it out and he can take it, and if you make even one little mistake he'll be all over your back -- even if he won't remember how he got there. This win was a helpful reminder that, his loss to Ben Henderson aside, Miller has to be regarded as one of the world's best lightweights. One bad night doesn't erase the seven-fight win streak he had going into that one. It just means he might have to beat a couple more Melvin Guillards while he waits for the title picture to clear up. That's not so bad, and the wait might not even be so long if Frankie Edgar keeps knocking off challengers. When you see what Miller is capable of, it just seems unfathomable that he won't fight for a UFC title at some point in the next year or two.
Biggest Loser: Melvin Guillard
Same old Melvin. He rocks 'em and socks 'em early on, things start to look good for him, and then his opponents remember his weak submission defense. He says he can't really fault himself for anything he did in the fight, and he swears his ground game is improving. Both those things may be true, but they don't change the fact that he's lost two straight via submission, just like he did back in 2007. By all accounts, he's in a much better place in his life these days, and he definitely seems more mature. Still, he won't be the "Young Assassin" forever. He'll be 29 in March. The "Middle-Aged Assassin" doesn't sound like anyone that the next generation of UFC lightweights will fear, especially since speed and explosive power -- the two attributes Gulliard has leaned on his entire career -- do not age well, as a rule. Technical skill ages well. Wrestling ability ages well. Submission defense ages well. And if Guillard wants to age well in the UFC, he's got to invest in a different kind of future. I believe he's trying, and he's shown a lot of improvement in recent years. But the clock is ticking.
Most Improved: Pat Barry
The old "HD" would have been done the moment his opponent got him down and moved to take his back. Remember his loss to Tim Hague? Or how about when Cro Cop submitted him with a choke that wasn't exactly a model of execution? Granted, Christian Morecraft isn't exactly Demian Maia, but he has submitted an opponent or two in his day, and yet Barry had no trouble shrugging off his attempts and getting back to his feet. That's not easy when you're one of the smallest guys in the heavyweight division, but as Barry showed when he got the fight back in his pool, he still packs one of the biggest punches. Anybody who still thinks he lacks the killer instinct necessary to finish should go ask Morecraft how he's feeling this morning. Barry bounced his head off the mat like a racquetball with those right hands, then within minutes went right back to being the jovial, self-deprecating comedian we know and love. How can you not want to see this guy succeed? How can you not get caught up in his infectious enthusiasm for everything?
Least Improved: Kamal Shalorus
He's still basically the same fighter he was in the WEC. The difference is, back then he excited people with his raw potential. Imagine what this guy could turn into with a little experience and polish, people said. The experience has slowly accumulated, but the polish hasn't. The submission loss to Nurmagomedov (please give that man a nickname -- how about Nurmy?) was his second defeat since joining the UFC. His split decision win over Bart Palaszewski in his final WEC fight could have even gone the other way, and his draw with Jamie Varner in the fight before that could have easily been a loss. Really, he hasn't had a solid win he could hang his hat on since a decision over Dave Jansen at WEC 46. So what happened? Maybe he just failed to develop much beyond the skills he first stepped in the cage with. Maybe people figured out his game and he failed to keep them guessing. Whatever the cause, Shalorus is shaping up to be a bust in the big leagues of MMA.
Most Surprising: Jared Papazian
He sure didn't fight like a 3-1 underdog, and his UFC debut was not, as Mike Easton predicted, a debacle. In fact, how those two didn't get Fight of the Night is beyond me, because theirs was certainly the most competitive and entertaining bout on the whole card. From start to finish, Papazian took everything Eason had and gave it right back to him. I agree with the judges decision in the end -- it's hard to win on the scorecards with your back against the fence for so much of the fight -- but Papazian showed why he belongs in there simply by hanging tough with a guy like Easton for three rounds.
Saved by the Skin of His Guillotine: Josh Neer
From the way he was eating punches and asking for more early, it did not look like this was going to be a good night for Neer. Fortunately for him, Duane Ludwig is still far more of a kickboxer than he is a wrestler, and in his haste to get back up from a takedown he played it like Louis XVI and left his neck open for the guillotine. Still, it's hard to see that as a great indicator of future success for Neer. He was getting easily picked apart on the feet, and he likely won't be able to take the welterweight division's better wrestlers down quite so easily. At best, his continued willingness -- one might even say eagerness -- to take a punch, combined with his all-around game and lack of any glaring weaknesses, will allow him to hang around a while longer without moving too far up or down in the rankings. In other words, he can keep getting in the cage and keep getting paid to do it, but that's about it. Then again, maybe that's enough for him. At least for now.
The Chris Lytle Award for Knowing When to Walk Away: Jorge Rivera
The 39-year-old brawler notched one last TKO win, then called it quits. In a sport where the self-awareness necessary to know when you're getting too old for this stuff seems to be in dangerously short supply, that's always nice to see. Rivera has always been the kind of guy who can give you a reasoned, sober analysis of his own abilities and shortcomings. Even when looking back on his first fight, he had no problem admitting that his opponent that night "beat the piss" out of him. But Rivera forged a career in this business out of determination and toughness. And sure, the natural ability to knock people silly didn't hurt either. It's sad that a gracious exit like his is rare enough to be remarkable, but it is, and it deserves to be noted. Rivera built a career he can be proud of, and there's no need to keep cranking the engine after he knows good and well that there's no gas left in the tank. Younger fighters take note. Some day it will be you. Some day you'll look at all the young bucks coming up and conclude that you're too slow and too old to compete with them. Some day you'll face the same decision that Rivera did. If you can handle it with half as much class and dignity, you'll have every reason to walk away proud.