File Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
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.
With one crushing elbow, Jon Jones left an indelible impression on Brandon Vera’s cheekbone and the audience looking in for the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s debut on the Versus network.
The 22-year-old Jones eschewed his six-inch reach advantage to quickly grab under hooks and sweep Vera to the mat. He later hit a single-leg takedown and threw a left elbow from inside Vera’s guard that left him wincing and turning away from contact. The shot broke Vera’s cheekbone in the three places, and a surgery to insert two plates was needed to repair the damage. He will be unable to spar for an estimated four to six months as a result. The loss marked the first time Vera has been convincingly stopped in his career; a 2007 technical knockout loss to Fabricio Werdum saw Vera spring up in protest.
The win bolstered the rapid rise of Jones, one of the youngest fighters ever to be put into a main event position in the Octagon. UFC President Dana White said that, while he has been deeply impressed with Jones, he remains a year away from title contention and would get three more fights before meeting someone like Rashad Evans, Quinton Jackson, Mauricio Rua or Lyoto Machida next year. The typically reserved Jones showed a glimpse of attitude at the weigh-in, stepping up to Vera aggressively at the faceoff. Jones took home $40,000 in disclosed pay for the victory, compared to Vera’s $60,000 in show money. Jones also notched a $50,000 “Knockout of the Night” bonus.
The fight capped an at-times strange event on March 21 before a sellout crowd of 6,443 at the 1stBank Arena in Broomfield, Colo., which translated into a $568,125 gate. The turnout was a tick below the UFC’s first card at the arena, UFC Fight Night 13 in April 2008, which drew 6,742 and a $753,429 gate.
The broadcast was a success for Versus, drawing a 1.14 rating for an average of 1.24 million viewers and peaking for the main event. The number blew away recent World Extreme Cagefighting numbers on the network; WEC 47 two weeks ago averaged 373,000 viewers. Likely because Versus is available in some 24 million less homes, the March 21 special did a lower number than is typical for UFC Fight Nights on Spike TV. Versus picked up exposure in 14 million new homes the week before the event by reaching a deal to return to DirecTV. The rating represents the third highest for an MMA event on Versus. WEC 34 “Faber vs. Pulver” drew the record 1.44 rating and 1.54 million viewers, while WEC 41 “Brown vs. Faber 2” drew a 1.15 rating and 1.28 million viewers.
The event saw a series of fights halted by quirky fouls, injuries and referee interventions, and it did not feature a fight UFC officials saw worth deeming “Fight of the Night.” Instead, three $50,000 best knockout bonuses were awarded to Jones, John Howard and Junior dos Santos.
Dos Santos established himself as a firmly arrived contender with a first-round knockout of Gabriel Gonzaga. The powerful striker made Gonzaga miss in a feeling-out striking process and returned to his feet off a takedown before the grappling champion could work his strength. Dos Santos then countered a left kick with a left hook that dropped Gonzaga.and left him prone to fight-ending bombs. Post-fight, in improved English, dos Santos declared he was ready for a title shot whenever the UFC sees fit.
Also at heavyweight, Cheick Kongo had little trouble taking down Paul Buentello and delivering thorough punishment for two and a half rounds. Buentello tapped as he was being elbowed in the ribs. Kongo earned an event-high $110,000 in disclosed pay for the win. The fight saw an odd moment in which Buentello appeared to dislocate his pinky on an attempted punch, causing him to bounce on his feet in pain.
Referee Herb Dean thought the injury was actually a problem with Buentello’s glove and allowed a halt in the action, though technically fights are to be declared TKOs if fighters are unable to continue due to injury. Only the impacted fighter is allowed to pop a dislocated joint into place to continue, but a ringside physician entered the cage and pulled the digit back into place. Buentello’s coach, Trevor Wittman, told MMAJunkie.com that the heavyweight veteran had dislocated his finger and tapped largely due to the pain it was causing him.
There was also some confusion in the first televised contest of the evening. James Irvin was hit with a left from Alessio Sakara and reacted as if he had been stricken by an eye poke; a replay showed it was a legal punch. Referee Josh Rosenthal called for a TKO, and the crowd booed vociferously at what it saw as a premature stoppage. It was an unceremonious outcome for Irvin, who, before the fight, spoke of his recent battle with painkiller addiction and looked to have had a brutal cut to middleweight that rendered him scarily gaunt on the scale.
In a preliminary fight that made the Versus broadcast, John Howard recovered from a takedown from the undefeated Daniel Roberts and escaped a shoulder lock attempt to drop a left that knocked out Roberts. Howard continued with two unnecessary shots on the ground before referee Tom Johnson moved into position to stop it. Two other preliminary fights -- Clay Guida’s second-round arm-triangle submission over Shannon Gugerty and Brendan Schaub’s first-round TKO of Chase Gormley -- also made television but on a March 24 broadcast of UFC “Unleashed” on Spike TV. Guida earned the “Submission of the Night” bonus for his finish. Gugerty was released from the UFC after the loss.
Also picking up wins at UFC on Versus 1 were Vladimir Matyushenko (split decision over Eliot Marshall), Mike Pierce (unanimous decision over Julio Paulino), Jason Brilz (unanimous decision over Eric Schafer) and Darren Elkins (TKO due to injury over Duane Ludwig). Ludwig suffered a severe fibula fracture when he twisted his ankle while being taken down. The injury will keep Ludwig on the shelf for six months, his manager told MMAWeekly.com. Marshall and Schafer were released after their losses.
The UFC announced it would return to Versus on Aug. 1, with a live special from Oakland, Calif. The company’s contract with Versus calls for two UFC brand events and seven WEC brand events in 2010.