Never Leave It In the Hands of the Judges, Take Two

(Check out FIGHT!’s gallery of UFC 105 photos here.)

by FIGHT! contributor Larry Pepe

Here We Go Again

I can’t tell you how badly I’m hoping for highlight reel finishes in the Mike Brown/Jose Aldo and Tito Ortiz/Forrest Griffin main events at WEC 44 and UFC 106 this week. You might think I’m having flashbacks of Machida/Shogun from UFC 104 but that’s the main story coming out of the headliner of UFC 105, where Randy Couture notched a unanimous decision win over Brandon Vera with every judge scoring it 29-28. Do I agree with it? No. I didn’t have Randy winning a round. I scored the first round even, clearly gave the second to Vera 10-9 and gave him the third by the same count, though it was razor thin and I considered going 10-10 again. That makes my score 30-28 Vera. Am I bothered by the decision? Not at all. The only round with a clear winner was the second, which I’m sure every judge scored for Brandon. (If not, don’t ever let them near the cage with a pen in their hand again). But with the first and third so close, it’s not surprising that the judges saw those rounds for Randy and awarded “The Natural” the win. Unlike the Machida fight, I don’t expect this fight to stir the scoring method debate (I still favor one winner from each judge over a ten-point must system) or have some ridiculously screaming fix.

While Brandon was “upset” (more on that in a minute) he won’t be entirely happy with himself when he looks at the tape. He was in a rocked Couture’s guard in the second round and seemed comfortable to lay there for almost a minute when he had a shot to finish the fight. He may have been tired from fending off nonstop takedown attempts (he showed great takedown defense). He was also ineffective in creating distance when Randy was hurt and he had the opportunity to score more decisively with the judges.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read…Brandon Griffin?

With the event taking place in England, I knew that the first touch of gloves took place at 9:20 a.m. local time in Sin City, the neon bizarro world I call home. I tried to make it to 8 p.m. without going online or looking at texts from MMA friends and media, but like a borderline alcoholic swearing he’d wait to have one drink with dinner, I gave in at about 4 p.m. and read a few reports on the event. By some accounts, Brandon had done his best Forrest Griffin circa Anderson Silva humiliation impersonation and fled the cage like Butterbean dashing for a Vegas buffet. Imagine my surprise when I saw Brandon sitting on the cage steps after a heartbreaking loss that would have put him on the 205 map and then to find out that he went back in the cage a few minutes later to do a post-fight interview with Joe Rogan.

One Title Shot or Two?

Dan Hardy became the first Brit to earn a title shot in the UFC with a well-deserved, non-debatable unanimous decision over Mike Swick. I’ll be the first to admit that I underestimated Hardy and really thought Swick would be the champ’s next opponent. Dan clearly got the better of Swick on the feet and on the ground and hurt him in each of the three rounds. What I don’t understand is why Swick, a great striker with blazing hand speed, chose to negate those advantages early in the fight and spend tremendous energy on unsuccessfully trying to take Dan down. He almost reminded me of Sean Sherk abandoning his wrestling lately to prove he’s a striker. Sherk has gone 1-2 since abandoning his strength and removed himself from the title picture. Maybe Swick thought he held a bigger advantage on the ground. While I’m not sure that’s true with Hardy holding a purple belt in jits under Eddie Bravo, once the takedowns weren’t working he made a huge error by not going back to the skill that had his UFC record at 9-1 coming into this fight. Take nothing away from Hardy. He dominated Swick and now gets GSP in 2010. The good news…Hardy can sell the hell out of a fight. The bad news…GSP isn’t Swick and should take Dan down at will. Maybe I’m underestimating him again, but I don’t think so.

While Dan is getting a title shot, it’s too early to pencil Randy in for the winner of Machida/Rua. While I would love to see Randy fight whichever Brazilian holds the belt after the rematch, a paper thin win against a fighter who isn’t in the top five in the division in your first fight at 205 in 45 months doesn’t equate to title shot by my math. Yes, I know it’s Randy Couture and I’m as impressed with the legend as anybody, but another fight with a contender in the division would seem warranted. Perhaps the winner of Rashad Evans/Thiago Silva or maybe, just maybe, a rematch with Tito if he beats Forrest might sell a few tickets. Will they go that route or be too concerned that a Randy loss will blow the marketability of a title shot? Time will tell.

Who is Denis Kang?

He’s the guy who went on a 3 ½ year run that saw him put together a 21-0-1 record, including eight straight wins in Pride with six first round stoppages, the guy MMA forum addicts routinely begged Dana White to sign and put in the cage with Anderson Silva. After his loss to Michael Bisping last night, his UFC record is an underwhelming 1-2 with his lone win coming in the form of a unanimous decision over Xavier “Professor X” Fouka-Pokam, who has since been dismissed by the promotion. Both his losses have come late in the second round after he dominated the first round. Is it a cardio issue? Is Dennis losing focus? Or is the competition in the UFC that much better than what he dealt with overseas? I’m guessing that Dennis will only get one or two more chances to answer that question.

Brits Kick Ass

105 took place in Manchester, England and the locals had to leave the arena in great spirits. Bisping’s come from behind stoppage of the aforementioned Kang answered the question of how he’d rebound from the head trauma Dan Henderson inflicted on him at UFC 100. TUF Season 9 lightweight winner Ross Pearson looked incredible in utterly dominating tough veteran Aaron Riley on his way to a second round stoppage. Pearson, a 2-1 underdog, put on a striking clinic with a barrage of punches, elbows, knees and kicks that repeatedly found their mark on Aaron’s head and body. Season 9 runner-up Andre Winner started his UFC career with a highlight reel, first-round KO of Roli Delgado and another TUF 9 veteran, Nick Osipczak, stopped heavily favored Matt Riddle’s undefeated, three fight win streak in the UFC. And last but not least, Terry Etim earned Submission of the Night and his fourth straight victory in the UFC when he slapped a fight-ending guillotine on Shannon Gugerty. (This guy needs to be on the televised card in his next fight). All in all, the Brits won six of the eight fights in which they faced non-UK opponents and were only favored in two of those six fights. They’re still partying in Manchester!

Larry Pepe is the host of Pro MMA Radio.

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