Pep Talk: Houston, We Have a Problem

(Check out the rest of our TUF Finale gallery here.)

by FIGHT! contributor Larry Pepe

“I am not sure if Kalib Starnes was training him or what, but that wasn’t the Houston Alexander I had seen fight before,” said Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White.

No, it wasn’t. Instead, we saw a guy known for his aggression literally circle the cage for the majority of the fight, afraid to engage with the YouTube sensation. When he did flick leg kicks at Kimbo’s knee, they rarely had enough torque on them to be more than a nuisance and the handful of punches he threw across the three rounds were rarely thrown with the bad intentions we’ve seen from him in the past. The most embarrassing moment of the fight came in the third round when Houston actually landed a leg kick that put Kimbo on the ground and he just stood there for a few seconds before making any attempt to follow up and finish. Huh? This is the same guy who had shark-in-the-water killer instinct and he’s staring at a downed opponent in the biggest fight of his life?

The only thing “the Assassin“ assassinated this night was anyone’s desire to see him fight in the UFC again and that’s exactly why I can’t anoint Kimbo as a legitimate UFC-level fighter just yet. I don’t know how you can make that jump based on beating the version of Houston that stood in front of, make that ran away from, him tonight.

For his part, Kimbo looked like a much better fighter than we’ve seen. Most notably, his ground game has improved dramatically from what we saw in Elite XC thanks to Ricardo Liborio and the crew at American Top Team. He had some great slams against Houston, mounted him and even attempted a rear-naked choke in the second round. In fact, his most impressive moments in the fight centered on his grappling, not his stand up.

On the feet, he was understandably patient at times, but often confusingly reticent to let his punches go when he had the opportunity. His legendary backyard power hasn’t been proven in a sanctioned fight yet despite landing some blows on the same chin that James Irvin crumbled in eight seconds. And it took a round and a half before he started cutting down the cage so he could engage Houston in the fight, but he might have been as confused as the rest of us as to what the hell was going on.

But Kimbo accomplished something that has to make the UFC and his legion of onlookers happy. He made people want to see him fight again. Maybe then we can answer those nagging questions about the level of fighter he really is. As the old saying goes “It takes two to tango” and we can only hope that his next opponent wants to dance.

Hamill Takes Unnecessary Beating As Jones Gets Robbed

Jon Jones walked into the Octagon undefeated for his fight against Matt Hamill. He has Steve Mazzagatti, not Hamill, to thank for not walking out the same way.

Jones completely dominated Hamill, securing a perfectly timed Greco takedown and a full mount toward the middle of the first round. From there, he put Hamill through one minute and 45 seconds of hell as he rained down over 75 rapid fire punches and elbows, some of which were blocked by Hamill’s arms, many of which got through, as the oft-maligned Mazz looked on. At no point during the onslaught did Hamill show any hip movement or even attempt to buck Jones off and he was bleeding around both eyes. Jones even paused on two different occasions and looked up at Mazzagatti as if to ask “How much more do I have to do to this guy before you’ll stop it?”.

Then the mistake that should have never happened…happened.

Jones dropped two illegal 12-to-6 elbows on Hamill that finally caused Mazzagatti to jump in and stop the fight. Jon had a point deducted and when Hamill couldn’t continue we went to instant replay for the first time in the State of Nevada. Mazz concluded that the illegal elbows were intentional (not malicious, but not accidental) and disqualified Jones, giving Hamill the win. It was the correct result at that point in the action, but we should have never gotten there. Mazz, who allowed Cheick Kongo to brutalize Mustapha Al Turk on the ground at UFC 92, must define intelligently defending yourself as retaining consciousness and sight. The fight should have been stopped well before the two illegal blows were ever delivered. While his record is now blemished, Jon Jones’ distinction as the future of the 205-pound division remains intact.

Closing Shots

• Roy Nelson looked great…umm, let me rephrase that…fought great with a huge first round KO that earned him Knockout of the Night and the TUF 10 Championship. You have to wonder why a former International Fight League champ had to do TUF to get on the roster. You really have to wonder how he was the 9th pick overall. I guess Rashad and Quinton don’t follow non-UFC events.

• We can now conclude that Marcus Jones is beastly strong and doesn’t have a chin. Your chin doesn’t get better as you age and get KO’d in consecutive fights.

• Frankie Edgar should get the winner of Florian/Guida or the winner of Penn/Sanchez if Gray Maynard doesn’t beat Nate Diaz in January. Edgar’s hands are top-notch and his ground game looked phenomenal with fast transitions and consistent punishment that led to a fight-ending rear naked choke on Matt Veach in the second round and an extra 25K for Fight of the Night.

• The TUF Season 11 coaches are Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell. Hopefully the fights will be better than this season and neither one of them will be offered a role in the movie version of “Cheers.”

Larry Pepe is the host of Pro MMA Radio.

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