(Check out the full UFC 109: Relentless photo gallery here.
When UFC Middleweight contender Chael Sonnen took the microphone at the pre-fight press conference for UFC 109 he acknowledged that on paper Nate Marquardt was better at many aspects of mixed martial arts. Then, to the delight of the crowd, he uttered five words that couldn’t have been more true on Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“We don’t fight on paper.”
Sonnen, who scored absolutely dominant decision wins over tough Dan Miller and ridiculously tough Yushin Okami in his two fights prior to his meeting with Marquardt admitted on Pro MMA Radio last week that as he was walking to the cage for those fights he had no idea how he was going to win. He also admitted that he didn’t know how he would beat Marquardt. The oddsmakers who made Chael more than a 4-1 underdog obviously had the same feeling. Ironically, the answer to beating “Nate the Great” wasn’t all that complicated…just do the same thing to him that he did to Miller and Okami and the title shot he has so desperately wanted would be his.
Let’s be very, very clear. Sonnen didn’t just beat Marquardt. He utterly dominated him from bell to bell with a relentless mix of high-level takedowns, virtually continuous control and an unhealthy dose of elbows and punches that only left the question of whether Chael was scoring 10-9 rounds or 10-8’s. Now before you get the impression that it was all smooth sailing for the new top contender, it wasn’t. Marquardt, the number two ranked middleweight in the world coming into the fight, had his moments. Four to be exact. He slapped on guillotines in the first and third rounds, the last one a “miserable experience” according to Chael. Nate also nailed Sonnen with a huge knee in the first and an elbow off the bottom in the second that had him bleeding badly. Fighting through those momentary setbacks to log such a one-sided victory make the performance all the more impressive. For their efforts, Sonnen and Marquardt were awarded $60,000 each for Fight of the Night.
Now Sonnen, who garnered a lot of attention for his pre-fight comments about Anderson Silva, who he called overrated, and Mark Coleman, “a bum,” will get the winner of the middleweight title fight between the fighter most see as the invincible, pound-for-pound king and challenger Vitor Belfort at UFC 112. He will carry the added motivation into his title shot of the promise he made to his dying father years ago that he would become a world champion. While he’s beaten WEC, Bodog and Strikeforce champs, he has never officially held the belt. On paper, he shouldn’t beat Silva or Belfort. But they don’t fight on paper.
• Phil Davis had one of the most impressive debuts I’ve seen in the Octagon. The highly decorated collegiate wrestler out of Penn State put on a clinic against a tough but completely overmatched former WEC 205 pound champ, Brian Stann. Davis showed explosive takedowns and, unlike many wrestlers who come to MMA, maintained dominant positions while inflicting damage and displaying fast, smooth transitions. Stann simply had no place to go. I am incredibly impressed with Davis, who only had four fights before his first Bruce Buffer intro. In my opinion, Davis has GSP-type potential. Read that again and make a mental note of the word potential while also knowing that I’ve never said that about anybody. As he gets more skilled in the submission game and tightens his striking a bit, he really could be that good. Davis and fellow phenom Jon Jones are the future of the division.
• 46-year old Randy Couture did exactly what Randy Couture does. “The Natural” put 45-year old fellow Hall of Famer Mark Coleman up against the fence and wore him out with dirty boxing and multiple upper cuts that left “The Hammer” looking tired at the end of the first round. Couture scored a takedown early in the second, secured mount, dished out some punishment and smoothly transitioned to a rear naked choke that ended Coleman’s night early.
• Damian Maia rebounded from a devastating knockout at the hands of Nate Marquardt by, surprisingly, outstriking Dan Miller. The BJJ wizard seemed very comfortable on his fight and content to punch his way to a well-deserved unanimous decision.
• Paulo Thiago is now 2-1 against the AKA trio of welterweights after putting Mike Swick to sleep with a beautiful D’arce choke in the second round. I’m not shocked that Thiago submitted the AKA product, but what is surprising is how much Thiago’s striking has improved in just four UFC fights. That makes two straight losses for Swick.
• Frank Trigg felt that his fight with Matt Serra was a “loser leaves town” type match. If he’s right, that’s bad news for him. Trigg looked very comfortable with his counter-striking and seemed content to stay on his feet. Not a good idea. It would have been better to use his wrestling to try to control Serra and dish out some ground and pound. Instead, he caught a big right hand that put him on the mat and ate a few more blows that led to the proper end to the fight and, maybe, his latest run with the UFC.