Well, this is awkward. Because most of the fights on the UFC 146 main card on Saturday were so quick or lopsided, there were not many momentum swings to speak of, much less attempt to break down.
Antonio Silva was done in early when Cain Velasquez’s elbow produced a nasty gash and a river of vision-impairing blood. Frank Mir’s fate looked to have been sealed even earlier, say, around mid-April, when he agreed to replace Alistair Overeem and face the punishment dealt out by heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos.
As it turned out, the least-heralded matchup on the all-big-man pay-per-view proved the most competitive. While Stipe Miocic did not have to mount any sort of dramatic comeback, he still had to change up a few things in order to keep his perfect record intact against fellow unbeaten Shane del Rosario.
To be sure, Miocic was forced to endure some damage in the opening round. Onetime WBC muay Thai champion del Rosario wasted no time in rattling off whipping left kicks to the Ohioan’s legs and midsection, landing a trio of particularly sound shots to the liver in the first 90 seconds alone. Miocic, a former collegiate wrestler and amateur boxer, was not without an answer. Rather than being baited into a muay Thai match, Miocic walked straight into the pocket with punching combinations, finding a home for his heavy right hand on more than one occasion.
When Miocic came forward to throw a right hook, del Rosario was ready, stepping off to the left and firing back with a right uppercut-left hook combo. Miocic spun around and sprinted away from his attacker in a moment he later said appeared much worse than it was.
“I slipped,” Miocic told Fuel TV in a post-fight interview. “That looked terrible on TV probably, the way I was stumbling around, but I was fine.”
Late in the round, del Rosario scored with perhaps his best right hook and followed up with a blocked left high kick. However, in a portent of things to come, Miocic hit an easy trip takedown in the last 20 seconds. Del Rosario had won the round -- he out-landed Miocic 29-18 in significant strikes, per FightMetric.com -- but when the horn sounded, it was Miocic with a smile on his face and del Rosario with his hands on his hips.
“Listen, you gotta move your angles more,” Miocic’s corner told him between rounds. “The exact techniques we said he was gonna use, he’s going to, OK? Stay to your left and work hard.”
“I was going with my game plan, but a couple times, I faltered, and that’s when caught me with the good body kicks and the head kick,” Miocic told Fuel TV, noting that his strategy was not to take down del Rosario but simply avoid his left-handed strikes. “I wasn’t really devastated by it; I was just being an idiot and not doing what I was supposed to do.”
Del Rosario emerged for the second round looking slightly fatigued -- perhaps the sign of a 15-month layoff between fights stemming from an April 2011 car accident -- but he nonetheless snapped off some heavy leg kicks to open the frame. After 45 seconds, though, Miocic spun him to the ground with a single-leg in what would prove to be a game-changing takedown.
Despite his standup background, del Rosario is no slouch on the ground, having nabbed three of his 11 MMA wins by submission and training under the tutelage of Giva Santana at Team Oyama. That said, Miocic never gave his opponent a chance to work his guard, landing in side control and subsequently working from del Rosario’s half-guard. Miocic was in his zone, staying heavy on top and making sure things were unpleasant for del Rosario by laying a forearm across his throat between punches and elbows.
Bleeding from his nose and face after some severe short elbows, del Rosario attempted to turn over and free himself but only gave Miocic the space he needed to advance to full mount. More vicious elbows and forearms followed, and referee Yves Lavigne had seen enough. Boos could be heard from the Las Vegas crowd for what some might have considered a premature stoppage, but there was no argument from del Rosario as he wobbled to his feet and staggered back to his corner.
Miocic’s victory was not as flashy as Roy Nelson’s one-punch knockout or Stefan Struve’s armbar, but, in a way, it was just as impressive. As former UFC champion Rashad Evans opined during post-fight coverage, Miocic “figured out the puzzle,” then made adjustments and got the win. What more could you ask of an undefeated prospect on his way up?