Rick Story file photo: Sherdog.com
Jonathan Brookins has arrived in the UFC.
In the “Ultimate Fighter 12” winner, the promotion does not only have a great talent on their hands, but also a unique character whom many will tune in to watch. The 25-year-old Gracie Barra Orlando product has an air of unpretentiousness and uniqueness about him, which makes him stand out as only previous “TUF” winners Diego Sanchez and Mac Danzig have done before.
It will be interesting to see where Brookins’ career takes him. It’s a sure shot that he can at least become another Joe Lauzon -- a solid mid-card fighter with enough consistency and a big enough fan base to make a living off of MMA. It is also certain that he has a lot of work to do on his striking and his athleticism. Originally from Oregon, Brookins will also have to add more bulk if he doesn’t want to end up being a chinook salmon in the shark tank that is the UFC 155-pound division.
Below, an in-depth look at the five main card matches from Saturday’s “TUF 12 Finale.”
Leonard Garcia def. Nam Phan -- Decision (Split)
What happened: Following his highly controversial win over Chan Sung Jung in April, Garcia was the beneficiary of yet another suspect judges’ decision. The Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product started the fight well, winning the standup battle early on, as Phan had trouble finding his range. It soon became apparent that the 27-year-old Californian was much more polished with his striking technique, while Garcia was throwing wild, looping punches. By the end of the first stanza, the fight was even.
By the middle of the second round, it appeared as if Garcia was battling serious conditional issues. Phan stunned Garcia with a flurry of superb body shots and then knocked him down with a reverse spin kick. For the remainder of the round, Phan controlled Garcia’s back, trying to sink in a rear-naked choke. In the third and final round, Garcia came out with guns blazing and opened up a cut on Phan’s face. Again, the Mexican American tired himself out, allowing for a late Phan rally.
In the end, two of the three judges award Garcia the win on their scorecards. While a case can be made for the “Bad Boy” winning the opening stanza, he was just too tired in the third round to land anything significant. This was another case of judges thinking, “oh, he has bloodied his opponent up, so he must have won the standup.” The decision earned a chorus of boos and “bulls--t” chants from the crowd. In a rare case of honesty, even Garcia agreed that he lost the fight.
Forecast for Garcia: The 31-year-old Texan proposed an immediate rematch, but that’s not for him to decide. Fights against Raphael Assuncao or Yves Jabouin could be in his immediate future. Garcia would also be the perfect welcoming committee for Michihiro Omigawa once he signs with Zuffa.
Forecast for Phan: The unjustified decision loss was very unfortunate for Phan, who deserved to open his UFC run with a win. The tough loss already puts his back against the wall in a super-competitive 145-pound division. Opponents like L.C. Davis, Cub Swanson or Fredson Paixao could be next for him.
Rick Story def. Johny Hendricks -- Decision (Unanimous)
What happened: Washington native Rick Story dealt college wrestling star Johny Hendricks his first UFC defeat by preventing the fight from becoming a wrestling match. Story used aggressive striking from the opening bell and landed some heavy punches on the feet. Once the pair of welterweights did clinch up, the difference in skill was not as apparent as one would have expected it to be with a two-time national champion fighting a much less renowned opponent.
In the middle round, Story was able to display his complete skill set: He managed to take Hendricks down repeatedly and went bananas with his trademark body-blow frenzy. Story also briefly had Hendricks’ back, but was shaken off the top after riding too high. A big takedown with one minute left clinched the round for the “Horror Story.” The 26-year-old all-rounder also did a great job of staying on his opponent, no matter the distance.
In the final five minutes, Hendricks eventually came to life by turning the fight into a wrestling match after all. Hendricks took Story down, but got caught in a guillotine for his efforts. Hendricks also spent a lot of energy by just holding Story down, or hanging on to a front headlock and dragging his opponent around. Both fighters generated very little offense in the final round, but Story had done more than enough in the first ten minutes to earn the unanimous decision.
Forecast for Story: Now a winner in his last five fights, Story has earned a shot at a top-15 opponent. Martin Kampmann, Mike Pyle or a rematch against John Hathaway would make sense for him at this point in his career.
Forecast for Hendricks: As good as his wrestling is, Team Takedown’s Hendricks has showed glaring weaknesses when he cannot force his opponent to fight his fight. To maximize his strength and size advantage, he may even consider dropping down to 155 pounds. If he does stay at welterweight, expect Johny to face the likes of Marc Scanlon or the winners of January’s Guymon-Johnson or Roberts-Soto bouts next.
Demian Maia def. Kendall Grove -- Decision (Unanimous)
What happened: Jiu-jitsu virtuoso Demian Maia did everything but finish Kendall Grove in their fight. Much to Rickson Gracie’s chagrin, the world-class grappler once again spent half of the fight showing off his newly-acquired boxing skills instead of working chokes, locks and grips on the ground. In every round except for the third, Maia took Grove down at will and put him in trouble with mount and back-mount positions.
While you have to give Grove credit for defending multiple Maia rear-naked choke attempts -- something even accomplished grapplers like Jason MacDonald and Chael Sonnen have failed to do in the past -- the lanky Hawaiian did very little to threaten offensively during the brief portions of the fight which were contested standing up. Instead, one got the impression that Grove was thinking “sprawl” and “defend the takedown” instead of “attack” and “knock out.”
The win over the “Ultimate Fighter 3” winner affirms Maia’s spot among the top five middleweights in the world. Maia’s recent development is alarming, however, as he has not managed to submit his opponents in any of his last five fights, going the distance four times. Is Demian, in his quest to become a more complete mixed martial artist, turning into the Jon Fitch of the middleweight division?
Forecast for Maia: A rematch against Nate Marquardt is the best fight out there for Maia at the moment.
Forecast for Grove: With his UFC record dropping to 7-5, the likable Hawaiian continues his trend of alternating wins with losses. The Team Punishment member, who turns 28 next Saturday, has not won consecutive fights in almost two years. Having graced the Octagon a dozen times, there are few opponents left for him to fight. Those who are left include Yoshihiro Akiyama, Aaron Simpson and Tom Lawlor.
Stephan Bonnar def. Igor Pokrajac -- Decision (Unanimous)
What happened: Original “Ultimate Fighter” finalist Bonnar used his superior grappling -- a skill he has hidden well in the last three years -- to beat Croatia’s Pokrajac. In the first round, Bonnar was close to ending things with a very tight guillotine. He also scored a lot of points from the gut-wrench position, a situation he would look for multiple times during the fight -- and one which Pokrajac, despite his wrestling background, had a lot of trouble defending.
In the second round, it became apparent that Bonnar was much more powerful than his opponent, landing some nice knees from the clinch and using a judo throw to get the fight back to the mat. Pokrajac continued to get worked over on the ground, but landed a couple of good shots of his own late in the round. Between rounds, referee Steve Mazzagatti took a point away from the Croatian for illegal knee strikes to the head of Bonnar, who was in his guard.
The final five minutes did not offer anything new, with Bonnar again taking Pokrajac down, ground-and-pounding him, mounting, passing to side control and eventually landing more punches. The “American Psycho” finished the fight on top, but had a point taken away as well, as a watchful Steve Mazzagatti spotted repeated blows to the back of Pokrajac’s head. Breaking the rules, accidentally or not, needs to be punished much more often.
Forecast for Bonnar: The “American Psycho” is looking as good as he hasn’t been in years. From fighting Lyoto Machida to taking on the winner of the fight between Thiago Silva and Brandon Vera, or even testing Phil Davis, everything seems possible for Bonnar at this point.
Forecast for Pokrajac: Coming out on the losing end of three of his four performances in the UFC, it is doubtful whether the Croatian will receive a contract extension. If he is kept around, he is likely going to face another European opponent like Stanislav Nedkov, Cyrille Diabate or Tom Blackledge at a show in the Old World.
Jonathan Brookins def. Michael Johnson -- Decision (Unanimous)
What happened: In a high-class fight that bordered on the dramatic, Brookins had to come from behind to grind out a hard-fought decision. The start of the bout could not have been any worse for Brookins, who had only his solid chin to thank for not being knocked out on numerous occasions. When you are holding your hands at waist level, you have to expect to be tagged. Credit Brookins for staying in the fight, though, despite getting wrecked early.
The second round could not have been any more different from the first. Brookins realized that he could not stand up with Johnson, whose hands were sharp, and instead wrestled his “TUF 12” teammate to the mat with an unorthodox takedown. Brookins proceeded to score with solid elbow strikes from top position as he pinned his opponent against the fence. With a little less than a minute to go, another takedown clinched the round for Brookins.
With the fight tied entering the final five minutes, experience simply prevailed. Brookins -- who saw the third round with UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo in 2008 -- showed greater tactical maturity by sticking to his game plan and taking down Johnson repeatedly. Once on the ground, Brookins used his wrestling base and grappling prowess to make sure Johnson went nowhere. Brookins did enough damage to win the round and the fight.
Forecast for Brookins: As likable and refreshing as Brookins is, his hands need some serious work. He managed to pull off the win against Johnson because he was the more seasoned and mature wrestler and grappler. That will not be the case against the majority of opponents in the UFC lightweight division, however. It will be interesting to see who the curly-haired 25-year-old will be matched up with next. Pairing him up with a fellow grappler like Paul Sass, Paul Kelly or Terry Etim could be a good move.
Forecast for Johnson: The “Menace” desperately needs to get some more experience under his belt. Throw him in there with another “TUF” alum, like Cody McKenzie or Kyle Watson, or somebody of similar experience, such as Curt Warburton or Mike Lullo.
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