Pep Talk: Lights Out In North Carolina

(Welcome to the Octagon, Gomi.)

As Roy “Big Country” Nelson and Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve stood in a dark Octagon and Bruce Buffer wondered why the hell he couldn’t hear his voice booming throughout Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina, one could only hope that the power outage wasn’t a sign of things to come in the upcoming co-main events. But when the lights came on, it took Nelson just 39 seconds to turn Struve’s lights out and simultaneously move to 2-0 in the UFC while serving notice on the rest of the heavyweight division that judging this book by its chubby cover is a huge mistake. When pressed by Joe Rogan in his post-fight interview for an opponent he’d like to fight, the good-natured Nelson chuckled and said, “James Toney.” Yes, the boxer turned part-time UFC fighter better known as “Lights Out”. How appropriate.

Nelson is often left out of the discussion when top heavyweight prospects are discussed. Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin will unify the belts in July, Cain Velasquez waits in the wings for the winner and Junior Dos Santos is in the mix. Frank Mir is effectively out of contention, at least for now, but Big Country gets less love from the UFC faithful than Todd Duffee, who has spent a total of seven seconds in the Octagon. That should change after Roy’s second straight first round knockout, particularly when you consider that the former IFL Heavyweight Champion is a Renzo Gracie BJJ Black Belt whose ground game is better than his standup. Belly or no belly, he’s earned a trip up the ladder to big name opponent in his next fight and I expect he’ll get it. He also earned a cool 30K for KO of the Night.

In the main event, only the wisdom to tap saved Takanori Gomi from getting his lights turned out by Kenny Florian once Ken Flo locked in a rear naked choke in the third round. Kenny absolutely picked the last Pride Lightweight Champion apart in the first round courtesy of a jab that repeatedly found its mark and beat Gomi to the punch. The second round wasn’t quite as one-sided, more due to less overall activity by both fighters than a real back and forth battle. Kenny displayed a calm, icy style with good movement and little wasted energy throughout rounds one and two while Gomi looked overmatched and wildly swung for the fences several times, never really touching Florian with anything significant. After being instructed to more aggressively move forward in the third round by his corner, Kenny took the fight to the ground where Gomi was no match for Florian’s jits, which earned Flo Submission of the Night.

Florian is now 9-2 in the Lightweight division since the UFC brought the division back into the fold. His only losses are in his two shots at capturing the belt against Sean Sherk and BJ Penn. With his wins over Guida and Gomi since the loss to BJ, he appears to be improving with each outing. That said, I’m a firm believer that at 155 there is BJ Penn and everyone else in the world, so Kenny’s best shot at the belt will probably come when BJ decides to move up to 170. In the meantime, a fight with Gray Maynard in Boston sounds like a great opportunity for both fighters to lay claim to top contender status.

Gomi, on the other hand, is tough to analyze from this fight. He looked simply outclassed by Florian and, dare I say, amateurish in doing little more than swinging wildly and eating a ton of jabs before getting submitted. His ability to last into the third round (longer than Lauzon, Stevenson and Guida) has more to do with Kenny’s patient, jabbing approach than anything else. Gomi could have very well been affected by numerous factors that have certainly gotten the best of plenty of Pride stars turned Octagon warriors…the weight cut, North Carolina’s double weigh in, the cage, UFC jitters. Let’s see how he does next time out, but the way he looked tonight a lot of UFC lightweights might be texting matchmaker Joe Silva asking for the next shot at him.

Closing Shots

• One of those lightweights might be TUF 9 Champ Ross Pearson. I couldn’t have been more impressed by the two-round striking clinic that Ross put on against tough veteran Aaron Riley at UFC 105 and nothing in his Fight of the Night with underrated Dennis Siver tells me that the “Real Deal” isn’t a solid prospect with a bright future. Siver came into the fight riding a three-fight UFC win streak courtesy of two spinning back kicks (ask Nate Mohr and Paul Kelly) and a rear naked choke (Dale Hartt). Pearson again showed strong striking, winning the exchanges and causing more damage while out-conditioning Dennis.

• Jorge Rivera won his third straight with a second round TKO of Nate Quarry after almost finishing him in the first round. Rivera said before the fight that if Nate stood with him and traded blows as he did when he fought Tim Credeur that he wouldn’t last. Jorge was right. His right hand found Nate’s face early and often, leaving him tired and bloody at the conclusion of the opening stanza. The trend continued early in the second until the referee stepped in at 29 seconds of the round.

TUF Stuff

• Pretty sure I saw more action in the first episode of TUF 11 than the entire season of TUF 10. The middleweights that made it into the asylum otherwise known as the TUF house look to be a very athletic group with solid skills.

• After watching the obligatory teaser reel at the end of the episode that gives highlights of things to come, I’m also pretty sure that I wouldn’t want to be one of the doors at the UFC Training Center.

Larry Pepe is the host of Pro MMA Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @LarryPepe.

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