The Weekly Wrap walks readers through the last seven days in MMA, recapping and putting into context the week's top story, important news and notable quotes.
It took a little more than two minutes and seven punches for Cain Velasquez to jump from much-hyped prospect to bona fide title contender on Feb. 20, as the undefeated heavyweight became the second man to ever stop the illustrious Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, capping a landmark card for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
UFC 110 marked the promotion’s debut in Australia and played out in front of a Sydney audience of 17,431 that proved enthusiastic for everything from ring entrances to guard passes. But a stunned silence came over the crowd in the moments after Velasquez soundly dispatched Nogueira, one of greatest heavyweights in mixed martial arts history. Velasquez, 27, landed a series of crisp leg kicks on the 33-year-old Brazilian before unloading a right hook from the hip and a left -- a swift one-two that landed as Nogueira put out a left jab. Velasquez followed with five punches on the floor to finish the fight, to which UFC play-by-play announcer Mike Goldberg assigned the theme: “To be a legend, you have to beat a legend.”
The potentially career-defining performance earned Velasquez a $50,000 bonus for “Knockout of the Night” and a shot at the heavyweight title, if the winner of the March 27 Frank Mir vs. Shane Carwin fight cannot make a quick enough turnaround.
The knockout capped a pay-per-view that packed the Acer Arena in Sydney with the largest crowd the UFC has ever drawn outside of North America. The company also drew 400 people to a nearby UFC 110 viewing party and took in $2.5 million at the gate. It was the second-fastest sellout in UFC history and broke the record for merchandise sold for an event at the Acer Arena, which has hosted top musical acts and World Wrestling Entertainment shows.
Unlike a Las Vegas crowd, a majority of spectators were in place for the first preliminary fight, which started at noon, Australia time. The UFC 110 main card aired free on the OneHD sports network in Australia and drew an average of 123,000 viewers in a country with about 7.6 million television households. According to the Australian media site Throng, it was the second-highest rated program on sports networks that night.
The card was a successful manifestation of the UFC’s international ambitions; UFC President Dana White said the promotion is eyeing China, South Korea and India next. The company plans to return to Australia next year, likely to the city of Perth. The promotion is also eyeing Melbourne, which drew the highest television viewership for UFC 110 of any major Australian city by more than double, according to WrestlingObserver.com. There will be hurdles to jump there. The sports minister of the state of Victoria, the capital of which is Melbourne, called the sport “barbaric” in an interview on a local newscast. Like in the United States, MMA is regulated state-by-state in Australia. In Sydney, MMA is regulated by the New South Wales Combat Authority.
In the evening’s co-main event, Wanderlei Silva made a successful debut at middleweight, as he took a unanimous decision with three 29-28 scorecards over Michael Bisping. Despite Bisping’s local ties -- his wife is Australian -- the crowd decided he was the bad guy and imbued the fight with lively cheering and jeering. Silva, who brought back longtime trainer Rafael Cordeiro for the Bisping camp, showed solid cardio in his first UFC cut to 185. The Brit did a good job maneuvering around Silva’s heavy artillery and securing takedowns, though a shot towards the end of the second round nearly got him choked with a crude but powerful guillotine from Silva. Another last-minute offensive flurry, punctuated by a winging right hand, had Bisping on the verge of being finished as the third round wrapped.
Silva, who received a 30-day medical suspension coming out of the fight, was reportedly set to face Yoshihiro Akiyama next in a battle of two former top stars on the Japanese MMA scene. The fight is reportedly being targeted for UFC 115 in June. While gracious in his in-cage remarks, Bisping took issue with the judges’ decision in follow-up interviews, saying he felt he won the first two rounds.
While Velasquez and Silva took definitive steps forward in their weight classes at UFC 110, it was Australian lightweight George Sotiropoulos who seemed to make the biggest leap. “The Ultimate Fighter 6” afterthought rode a star-making wave of crowd support in putting forth a jiu-jitsu clinic against Joe Stevenson. Sotiropoulos executed an exceptional game of sweeps and scrambles and earned perhaps some of the loudest crowd reactions ever for guard passes. Stevenson threatened from the bottom at times but mostly struggled to string together momentum-changing offense. The Australian took the unanimous decision on three 30-27 cards. The exciting scrap earned both fighters $50,000 “Fight of the Night” bonuses.
In the other two main card bouts, Ryan Bader shifted from a takedown-centric game to land a left hook and put down Keith Jardine in the third round, and Mirko Filipovic stopped last-minute replacement Anthony Perosh via TKO due to a cut. Perosh was tapped after Ben Rothwell pulled out of the event due to a stomach virus. Filipovic mostly sprawled and landed strikes in the dull fight, opening a cut with an elbow in the second round that prevented Perosh from coming out for the third. “Cro Cop” expects to face Patrick Barry at UFC 115 in June, while Rothwell will square off with Gilbert Yvel at the same event.
The “Submission of the Night” bonus went to a likely yet unlikely candidate, as resident bomb thrower Chris Lytle used a rolling kneebar to tap Brian Foster in the first round. It was the fourth consecutive fight for which Lytle has received a UFC performance bonus. The bout aired on the pay-per-view, as did another preliminary fight between Krzysztof Soszynski and Stephan Bonnar.
Soszynski was declared the victor after a head butt caused a fight-ending cut on Bonnar’s head after two hard-fought rounds. Despite an illegal blow having opened the wound, referee John Sharp informed ringside officials that a punch had caused it and thus Soszynski should be declared the winner. Under the unified rules, an unintentional but illegal technique that causes a fight-ending cut in the third round calls for the fight to go the scorecards. At the time, two judges had the fight 19-19 while another had it 20-18 for Soszynski; had Sharp acknowledged the head butt, the score for 64 seconds of round three action would have been pivotal. Bonnar said in interviews he will seek to have the fight result reviewed by the commission and changed to a draw or no contest.
Also picking up wins at UFC 109 were C.B. Dollaway (unanimous decision over Goran Reljic) and James Te Huna (third-round TKO over Igor Pokrajac). Te Huna suffered a broken bone in his arm blocking a kick in the second round, MMAFighting.com reported.