UFC Fight Night 134 in Hamburg, Germany, has come and gone. It was not exactly appointment viewing, even on a Sunday without the National Football League in season. In fact, it was a long and bittersweet slough. However, that does not mean we can’t learn anything from it.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, a legend and indefatigable icon in the sport, got waxed in less than 90 seconds by Anthony Smith. The only thing that felt good about such a pitiable occurrence is the fact that it broke a spell of nine straight decisions on an otherwise forgettable card. Nonetheless, fights are fights, and there are always takeaways.
Where does the 205-pound division stand? How has the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s broadcasting on its own digital platform gotten so terrible? Despite a bad nickname, can you be thrilling enough to validate it? Here are a couple of lessons to be gleaned from UFC Fight Night 134:
Power’s the Last to Go, But There’s More That Matters
Rua entered the main event on a three-fight winning streak. In fact, “Shogun” had not won more than three consecutive fights in 12 years. He was only a +130 underdog to Smith at the close of most sportsbooks. He went out swinging, but the same thing that brought him to the dance put him in the dust.
For his entire thrilling career, what made Rua such a treat to watch was his penchant for wild and reckless offense. In many ways, he was the last of the great Chute Boxe products, but he was the perfect late-era Chute Boxe product; he wasn’t a disciple of Rudimar Fedrigo’s co-opted Brazilian muay Thai scheme but a wild and winging student of Rafael Cordeiro’s taekwondo-inspired offense. He didn’t fight like Jose “Pele” Landi-Jons or Wanderlei Silva; he fought with a different sort of reckless abandon and had the physical toughness to back it up. Not anymore.
“Shogun” threw all the same wild techniques for which he has been known in the main event, perhaps short of the flying stomps and soccer kicks that helped make his name in Pride Fighting Championships. Yet, it was all labored. The speed, acuity and intensity that made him a sensation in 2005 were gone. The minute Smith opened up on him and landed punches, he was absolutely toast; the sturdy and solid chin that buttressed his fight style had dissipated. If Rua fights on, he still has enough power to sling some leather, surprise a fighter and ding them on the chin, but what made his entire fight style work was the fact that when he got hit in return, he would gobble it up and keep on throwing like a whirling dervish. At 36 years old -- and that’s in real years, never mind the tax and toll that his injurious career has taken on him -- that has entirely disappeared. “Shogun” still has the power to vanquish most light heavyweights with a single, whipping overhand right, but at this point, he’s a tired and blinded gunfighter who, once he misses his opening shot, is about to get gunned down at the O.K. Corral.
Light Heavyweight Hope Springs Eternal
Perhaps you don’t think much of Smith’s long-term potential at 205 pounds, and I don’t blame you. At best, he’s a reliable action fighter that will always show up, use eight-pointed striking and entertain. However, UFC Fight Night 134 did give us a few glimpses of talent that may provide us with a future after champion Daniel Cormier hangs up his gloves.
On the undercard, both Darko Stosic and Aleksandar Rakic looked sensational. Sure, you might not think the world of Jeremy Kimball and Justin Ledet as competition, but sometimes it’s less about the goodness of the pitch and more about the sweetness of the swing. Stosic physically imposed on Kimball, tossed him to the ground into top position with a single underhook and then knocked him silly with a series of vicious, short and compact elbows. Rakic took Ledet’s undefeated record from him, crushing his legs with low kicks and savaging him to the point that two judges gave him three 10-8 rounds. Both men are only 26 years old.
While he’s had his stumbling blocks along the way, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 19 winner Corey Anderson had the most consummate performance of his career at the event, devouring and dominating perennial divisional standout Glover Teixeira to a unanimous decision. With the mercurial and embattled Jon Jones’ future still a mystery, Cormier holding a heavyweight title and set to hang up the gloves by his 40th birthday in March and Alexander Gustafsson constantly battling injuries, the light heavyweight division needs all the help it can get. If nothing else, UFC Fight Night 134 was a quiet reassurance that 205 pounds can always be a marquee weight class.
On the Other Hand …
The 205-pound division is not entirely out of the woods yet. Keep in mind, the UFC Fight Night 134 headliner was supposed to pit “Shogun” against Volkan Oezdemir; it’s hard to say how much more damaging the original matchup would’ve been for the Brazilian than Smith was. Nonetheless, Oezdemir was pulled from the bout and replaced with Smith to line up an ostensible title elimination bout between “No Time” and former two-time title challenger Gustafsson at UFC 227 on Aug. 4 in Los Angeles. Well, guess what? Both Oezdemir and Gustafsson are now injured.
During the last week, Oezdemir bowed out of his re-jiggered bout with Gustafsson due to a broken nose. After Smith beat Rua, hip to the news of Oezdemir’s injury, he was happy to volunteer his services to step into the slot against the Swede. However, just an hour or so before Smith stepped into the cage, it was reported that Gustafsson is also off of the UFC 227 bill due an undisclosed injury of his own.
Since the days of Frank Shamrock and Tito Ortiz, the light heavyweight division has almost always superseded the heavyweights as the marquee weight class in MMA. However, the repeated antisocial behavior and drug test failings of Jones, the repetitious matchmaking and beaucoup injuries to high-level fighters has created a stagnant environment at 205 pounds. Cormier may never even defend the light heavyweight title again before he retires. When Bellator MMA has a livelier 205-pound division than you do, you know you have a problem. The UFC needs to iterate a focus on signing and squaring off as many talented 205-pounders as it possibly can just to put some juice back into a division that has long been the hallmark of the sport; the weight class has fallen into a holding pattern, with the same handful of fighters going round-and-round, with no talent being nurtured, developed and put into a position to succeed.
Fox Sports 1 Pacing Comes to UFC Fight Pass
Since UFC Fight Pass was launched in 2014, part of the charm to the service wasn’t just the expansive fight library; it was knowing that if and when the UFC conducted a live fight card from some far-flung city of the world, even if you had to wake up at some Godforsaken hour to watch, it would at least be an expeditious process. Not anymore.
UFC Fight Night 134 started at 10:30 a.m. ET. By my watch, it ended at 5:05 p.m. ET. That’s over six and a half hours for a card with no real commercials, no network desk segments and no real reason to screw around and waste a viewer’s time.
Now, I know the UFC can’t safeguard against the fact that nine fights in a row went to decision and I realize that 13-fight cards are an unfortunate, necessary reality because the company has nearly 600 fighters on roster and needs to fulfill their contracts. With that said, do we really need to cut away to a lifeless, rolling “We’ll be right back!” screen after every fight? I’d rather watch another MetroPCS commercial in between fights just to keep my brain alert and aware. The entire perk to UFC Fight Pass cards -- which are almost universally watered-down, ersatz events filled with regional talent -- is that no matter the hour that they started, they zipped along at a steady pace and let you watch a decent fight card in a decent amount of time. Maybe this was an aberration, but if this is the new standard, it’s just another annoying headache for fight fans.
When Dumb Nicknames Have Serious Purchase
If you were actually awake bright and early on a Sunday to catch the undercard of UFC Fight Night 134, you were fortunate enough to watch unbeaten bantamweight prospect Manny Bermudez move to 13-0 by tapping Davey Grant in under 60 seconds with an incredible, fluid display of grappling that only reaffirmed why he is nicknamed “The Bermudez Triangle,” gruesome as the moniker may be.
Sure, your heart goes out to Grant, who has only fought four times in the four and a half years since his loss to Chris Holdsworth at “The Ultimate Fighter 18” Finale due to a spate of injuries, staph infections and the like. Even still, Bermudez completely styled on him, dropping him with a brilliant jab feint-right cross before diving immediately into mount and looking for his signature triangle choke. That’s now six triangle choke wins for Bermudez in 13 fights, four of them consecutively.
Quick as it was, the entire sequence was amazing. The minute Bermudez blasted Grant in the face, he was into full mount, looking for a topside triangle like a prime Hatsu Hioki. When he got it locked, Grant rolled and defended, forcing Bermudez to switch to an armbar. As soon as Grant bucked back, defended and rolled, it was only bait into the larger trap. The minute Grant turned over, Bermudez effortlessly rolled into an airtight triangle, and short of throwing up the Nate Diaz double birds, you could tell the hunter had his prey. A considerable jump in competition is now necessary for the 24-year-old stud, as the UFC may have a future 135-pound title contender on its hands.