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UFC on FOX2 Musings

Michael DiSanto breaks down last Saturday’s UFC on FOX card, with thoughts on Evans-Davis, Sonnen-Bisping, and Weidman-Maia
EVANS UNDOUBTEDLY DISAPPOINTED, BUT IT WAS THE RIGHT APPROACH

Rashad Evans will be the first to admit that his win over Phil Davis, while completely one-sided, was far from pretty. Evans controlled his younger, larger foe from bell to bell with far quicker strikes, much more effective takedowns and vastly superior grappling. The problem is that Evans failed to put away his overmatched opponent. And the failure to end fights has become an albatross around Evans’ neck in recent fights, the recent knockout win over Tito Ortiz notwithstanding. 

The opportunities were there. Evans could have stepped up his standup, opting to sit down more on his punches and increase the volume in search of a crowd-thrilling knockout. He also could have taken more chances on the ground in search of a submission or stoppage due to strikes. He did none of those things. Evans instead remained focused on completely controlling the action without really taking any chances, which made the bout feel more like a sparring session than a fight.

It is no secret that I have criticized the former champion more than once for his conservative approach to competition. Not this time. In fact, I am going to take the opposite view of his performance.  I applaud Evans for the intelligent victory. Why? He did what he had to do in order to give the fans the biggest light heavyweight bout out there – the long-awaited grudge match with champion Jon Jones on April 21.

Evans knew going into the fight with Davis that, if he won, there would only be 84 days to heal up, rejuvenate his body and properly prepare for what could be the most significant fight of his career. He also knew that the short turnaround time meant the opportunity to face Jones would go to someone else, likely Dan Henderson, if he sustained anything more than a very minor injury against Davis. So, Evans did what he needed to do in order to set the stage for 2012’s first true mega fight and likely the most lucrative payday of his career.

I know. I know. Saturday was the biggest and brightest stage that Evans has ever performed on. This was a golden opportunity for “Suga” to turn himself into a fighting legend. But all that pales in comparison to securing the mouth-watering matchup with Jones. I’m sure many will take the opposite view, but this was one time when I completely support his decision to fight with a conservative approach. Well done, champ.

DAVIS LEARNS VALUABLE LESSON


Phil Davis was a much better collegiate wrestler than Rashad Evans. That much was obvious from their respective Big Ten careers. Evans, however, is a much better mixed martial arts wrestler. That was equally obvious from Saturday’s fight.

Davis needs to learn how to transition his elite wrestling skills into effective fighting techniques. I have no doubt that he will do just that, but it sometimes takes a wrestling reality check, like the one he received courtesy of Evans, to force the issue for someone with his amateur chops. Davis should focus on learning how to use strikes to set up his power double. He needs to better develop his clinch game so that he can execute judo-style throws and pull off high-crotch takedowns. And he needs to learn how to strike while still maintaining his balance so he can effectively sprawl. Once he does those things, the sky is the limit for this guy.

By the way, was it just me or did Davis look like he was a full weight class bigger than Evans? He looked absolutely huge inside the cage. I have no idea how much weight he cuts, but one has to assume that it is a significant amount. It would not shock me to see Davis pull an Alistair Overeem and put on a bunch of muscle in search of a run at heavyweight sometime in the next couple of years.

DID THE PRESSURE GET TO SONNEN?


Let’s get right to the point. Chael Sonnen had better hope that his performance against Michael Bisping was an off night. Otherwise, he is going to get brutalized by Anderson Silva this summer.
Sonnen appeared gassed as early as the end of the first round. His takedowns throughout the fight seemed telegraphed and lethargic. And his strikes were as robotic as usual. 

Those are harsh words, I know. But this is a guy who repeatedly claimed heading into the fight that he was “undefeated” and “undisputed.” He walked around with a fake championship belt. And, in true WWE style, he delivered a message about a “disclaimer” with the affect and cadence of a heel hoping to appear intimidating. It was fun stuff. Even Bisping acknowledged that the banter was entertaining. 
Boastful words like those, however, create tremendous pressure to deliver an impressive performance. Sonnen won, but he didn’t back up his words. Indeed, some, including maestro commentator Joe Rogan, felt that Bisping should have been awarded the victory. For the record, I agree. But the fight was close enough that nobody can really complain in earnest about the judges’ scores, other than maybe the one judge who saw it 30-27 in favor of Sonnen.

The former title challenger’s struggles against Bisping weren’t wholly unexpected. “The Count” is one of the most difficult middleweights to take down, and he is even more difficult to hold down. What was completely unexpected was Sonnen apparently running low on gas as early as the end of the first round. 

While the Team Quest standout will never be confused with the Energizer Bunny, he is not known as a guy with a particularly small gas tank, either. I have always viewed his cardio as better than average. Yet, it clearly betrayed him on Saturday night.

One has to wonder if the pressure of fighting on broadcast television contributed to the quick depletion of his conditioning. One must further wonder if Sonnen’s own mouth added to the pressure. Those are the likely culprits for performance, absent an unknown injury suffered during training that prevented him from getting into top shape. If that is the case, Sonnen needs to figure out how to deal with that sort of pressure because his next bout will be an even bigger event. And Silva won’t be entering the cage with an injured rib, either. 

NOTHING BUT POSITIVES FROM BISPING’S PERFORMANCE


Anyone who read my pre-fight breakdown knows that I didn’t give Michael Bisping much of a chance to defeat Chael Sonnen. It wasn’t that I believe Sonnen to be the better fighter. My opinion was solely based on the notion that 11 days wasn’t sufficient time to prepare to defend Sonnen’s takedowns, based on Bisping’s lack of an amateur wrestling pedigree. 

The Brit ultimately lost the bout because he was taken down in each round. Nonetheless, he showed tremendous takedown defense and an even more impressive ability to work back to his feet once taken down. Remember, folks, that Sonnen is a former US Olympic alternate in wrestling, whereas Bisping has no amateur wrestling experience at all. Viewed through that filter, his performance on Saturday was nothing short of amazing.

WEIDMAN’S GAMBLE PAYS OFF


Chris Weidman obviously isn’t afraid of taking risks. With less than two weeks to prepare, Weidman agreed to replace Michael Bisping as Demian Maia’s opponent for the UFC’s second televised event on FOX. It was the kind of opportunity that could make or break the career of a young fighter like Weidman. 

On one hand, a win over a contender on broadcast television is the best possible shot of adrenalin for a young prospect’s marketability. On the flip side, a brutal one-sided loss to Maia, whether by knockout or submission, in front of what was sure to be one of the largest television audiences in the history of MMA doesn’t do much to build interest in future bouts. That second scenario was a very real risk, since it was all but certain that Weidman would gas out, if he didn’t score a stoppage in the first round. There was simply no possible way to get into proper shape in less than two weeks. 
Weidman didn’t care. He stepped up to the challenge anyway. He expectedly hit a massive cardio wall early in the second round, but that did nothing to prevent him from gutting out a clear victory over arguably the most dangerous submission artist in the sport. 

Weidman’s decision to take the fight against Maia turned out to be a brilliant way to catapult his own career. I don’t know whether it was a calculated risk based on the matchup or just an example of Weidman’s unbreakable confidence in his own skills. Either way, this guy just made himself relevant in the 185-pound division.

MAIA NEEDS TO GO BACK TO HIS ROOTS


Maia’s dramatic change in style from grappler to striker over the last few years has done nothing to improve him as a fighter. Quite the opposite is actually true. Maia is a very predictable striker, one that a guy like Weidman would have no qualms about facing on short notice. By contrast, Maia is the single-most dangerous ground fighter in the sport, in my opinion. Remember him basically throwing Chael Sonnen on his head before quickly submitting him with a perfectly executed triangle choke? This is the same Chael Sonnen who almost defeated Anderson Silva.

I will forever wonder why Maia chose to work back to his feet, rather than work his submission game, on the two occasions that Weidman took him to the ground. Those takedowns were the only glaring mistakes by committed Weidman during the bout, in my opinion. They were perfect opportunities for the Brazilian to score an impressive win over his exhausted foe. Yet, Maia did nothing with them. 
Can you imagine the Maia of 2008 wasting those opportunities? Me neither. 

Someone in Maia’s team needs to sit this guy down for a major heart-to-heart. At 34-years-old, there isn’t enough time left in his career to evolve into Anderson Silva or Vitor Belfort on the feet. It just isn’t going to happen for Maia. Sure, he needs to continue to improve his overall skills if he wants to rise to the top of the division. Yes, he needs to continue to develop his striking to make himself a more dangerous fighter. But he should never forget what made him great in the first place—his otherworldly submission game. 

Allow me the egomaniacal moment of suggesting the best way for Maia to maximize his game.  First and foremost, he needs to learn how to strike with his right hand. That lone improvement will make him more effective in the standup game. Next, he needs to learn how to use strikes to set up takedowns. Third, he should work takedown after takedown, until he actually starts to believe in that part of his game.

As mentioned, Maia isn’t going to develop into a homerun hitter on the feet. No chance. And he isn’t going to turn into a stick-and-move guy any time soon, either. So, outpointing guys on the feet like Silva, Belfort, Bisping, Munoz, Okami or other top middleweights not named Sonnen probably isn’t in the cards.

His game plan for every fight should focus on getting the fight to the ground. His striking should be solely focused on setting up takedowns—period. Abandoning his world class submission game is the biggest crime being committed in the UFC at the moment. Getting guys to the ground will always present the best opportunity for Maia to win. I’ll take him all day every day against any middleweight in the world, including Anderson Silva, in a ground-focused fight. I feel the exact opposite about standup-focused fights.

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