Hey, Nay Sayers, stop saying nay!
Well, a much maligned card delivered a stonking final three fights as well as a clinical come back from injury for Terry Etim which earned him Submission of the Night and Knockout of the Night went to Che Mills for taking out Chris Cope with consumate ease. Pickett and Barao's brief war earned them $70,000 a piece for Fight of the Night. The post fight press conference made interesting watching as a triumphant Dana White felt vindicated for what most people considered a pretty thin main card.
The undercard was pretty hit and miss, starting off with a disappointing decision loss for Vaughan Lee in a slightly underwhelming fight. Che Mills viscious knees got the crowd rocking but the rest of the pre-show was quite heavy on grappling and the Birmingham crowd grew quite restless. The main card absolutely delivered though and below I will talk through what happened and the impact some of the results might have.
Faaloloto is the not the toughest test Terry Etim will have to face if he is to climb the ladder of the UFC's lightweight divison, but you can only beat what is put in front of you and Etim did it in devestating style in just 17 seconds. Faaloloto attempted to press Etim who landed constantly while moving, then as the Hawaiian realised he had no businesses standing with the Brit he tried to take him down and Etim decisively jumped into a tight guillotine. Dana White said after the fight that Etim will likely be quickly back in action and he will almost certainly face a tougher test next.
Here's a link to the Post fight press conference
This was quite a strange fight to see inhabiting the main card and it lived up to its lack of hype and expectation. Although he spent some time resisting, as soon as the fight got to the ground Diabete looked completely out of place with a high level grappler like Perosh and succombed to a rear naked choke in the middle of the second round. I suppose Perosh will continue to hover around the undercard in the UFC for a while longer.
I seemed to be one of the only people eager to see Papy-Adebi do well in this fight and I was rather disappointed that it ended the way it did, as quickly as it did. I have read a little bit of reaction so far praising Abedi's standup and speculating that he was troubling Alves in the beginning. I thought the outcome of the fight would depend on whether Papy could take Alves down but he looked confident to stand and trade with the Brazillian. Big mistake. Although Thiago Alves took a little while to figure Abedi out, he quickly made the Congolese fighter pay with crisper, more powerful shots. His submission finish was a bit of a surprise but by then he could have done whatever he wanted to finish.
Alves looked really impressive and as I said earlier, you can only beat what is put in front of you, but I would be a little bit hesistant to suggest the Alves of old is back. He needs some tests against proven talent before we really know what level he is at. As for Abedi, it was always a big ask for him to make his UFC debut against a guy of Alves ability and experience when his own MMA career is at the very early stages. I certainly would not rule him out from making progress later, especially if gets some opponents closer to his current level, but this was a not a great start for him.
For a lot of UK fans this was the de facto main event and it lived up to the promise of being a barn burner. In the pre-fight press conference Pickett said he was happy to make this a war and see which of the two had the stronger chin. That is the kind of fighter he is and he usually comes on top in these kind of fights. Barao, though, is a different kind of fighter. He threw bombs and while Pickett threw heavy leather too Barao outlanded him significantly. It was a knee that put Pickett in trouble but he was being out struck even before that. After the crunching knee Barao pounced with some brutal ground and pound, a super speedy back mount and an rear naked choke. Pickett was visibly devestated and rightly so. He showed great composure and recovery to stay aware as Barao swarmed but the Brazillian showed he was on another level and gave Pickett no room to get back in the fight.
This will by no means be Pickett's last fight in the UFC, but it has set him back a fair way from the title shot he is after. He is still a force to be reckoned with in the 135lb division but I think he got caught by a guy who until now had not been really tested and he maybe made some assumptions about him. Well Renan Barao passed his test with flying colours having stood and traded with one of the hardest punchers in the division and put him away. Perhaps he needs to fight another of the top pool of fighters, maybe the winner of Faber vs Bowles (who will potentially have a gap to fill as Dominic Cruz recovers from surgery), before we can say he is deserving of a title shot, but he is certainly close.
Had there been any hype leading up to this card, this fight would have lived up to it. Leben is clearly a fan favourite in the UK and the fans blew the roof off as he entered the cage. Leben came into the fight off the knockout of Wanderlei Silva, saying that if Wanderlei could not go toe to toe with him, no-one could. It seems like he was proved right.
This fight started with both fighters feeling each other out for all of 25 seconds before Munoz took the fight to the ground. The next few minutes saw Leben getting up and Munoz trying to keep him down or on the cage. Leben did manage to get on top himself at one point too. This was punctuated horrible looking standing exchanges as both fighters looked to knock the other guy out. After a round which Munoz edged due to repeated take downs the last 10 seconds saw Munox just trying to avoid Leben's bombs.
At the start of the second round Mike Goldberg said “this fight is one swing away from being over at any time”, but Leben walked through the best Munoz had over and over again. Leben tried a few chokes but he never really had them anywhere near deep enough, nor did he have Munoz's body controlled. Munoz on the other hand hit Leben with some of his 'Donkey Kong' ground and pound, hit him on the way back up, basically hit him with everything he had. Check out the post fight press conference. Someone asks him was he worried about Leben coming out swinging if he was hurt but he answers that he does not think he really was hurt. He kept walking forward in the same plodding zombie manner that he did from the first bell. The referee probably should have stopped it when he first looked at the cut and told Leben to tell him he could see so that the fight could continue, but by the end of the second round there was no way he could continue.
I have not always been a fan of Leben. I tend to prefer fighters who fight with more finesse and intelligence, rather than seeing which fighter has the toughest chin or the hardest hands. After tonight though, I really realised that for Leben his chin is his greatest weapon and his style is the best way for him to utilise it. If it were not for the cut to his eye, who knows how the fight would have gone. Leben seems unknockout-able and he may well have found his opportunity as Munoz tried harder and harder to put him away as the fight progressed, has he not been cut.
Munoz really impressed. He proved he too has a great chin and a really diverse attack. We saw some wrestlers really lie on top of opponents for five round on some of the prelims to this card, but Munoz stays busy, looks to advance and looks to do damage. The low key nature of UFC 138, the loud mouth of Chael Sonnen and the exposure Mike Bisping will receive with his latest reality TV stint probably means that Munoz will need another fight to gain the momentum and hype for a title shot. I feel like Sonnen had his shot and, while he came closer than most to beating Anderson Silva, the clostest he came was being choked out by the champ. However, any illusion we had about the cast iron fairness of title shots in the UFC has been broken many times, especially after the Diaz/Condit/GSP affair and I think it is safe to say Sonnen will be the next in line. In that case I would love to see Bisping vs Munoz as a number one contender match up.