Cheick Kongo (file photo) made an early case for knockout of the year at UFC Live 4. | Photo: WENN
It was a night of chaos and surprises, but Charlie Brenneman and Cheick Kongo are smiling.
With Nate Marquardt removed from the UFC Live 4 card the day before Sunday’s event, Brenneman filled in and scored an upset decision over streaking welterweight Rick Story. Using better wrestling and setting a fast pace, Brenneman scored the biggest win of his career.
In the main event -- which replaced the original marquee bout of Marquardt vs. Story -- Kongo delivered a stunning come-from-behind knockout of Pat Barry. In what seemed to be a doomed position against the dangerous Roufusport knockout artist, Kongo landed a booming right uppercut to win the heavyweight bout in incredible fashion.
Charlie Brenneman: Originally slated to fight T.J. Grant on the card, Brenneman filled in for Marquardt with nothing to lose and everything to gain, and he fought like it. Using well-timed takedowns, he also negated Story’s blueprint, refusing to get sucked into heavy exchanges on the feet while constantly keeping Story on the defensive. Down the stretch of a tough third round, where Story was working for a kimura, Brenneman’s conditioning carried him through.
This was a huge win for “The Spaniard,” and the kind of good-soldier showing the organization appreciates.
Cheick Kongo: With a shocking rally that sprang literally from the mouth of defeat, Kongo scored perhaps the most violent win of his career in stopping Barry. Now 9-4-1, Kongo once more is in the exact middle of the heavyweight pile. Thus far, he’s proven himself too talented for the lower tier, while falling short against the better heavies. With just 2:39 of action against Barry, who was lighting him up prior to getting drilled and stopped, it’s too early to tell if Kongo has made vast technical improvements to his standup. But the win showed serious resilience and will also buy him valuable moments the next time someone has him on the brink of a KO -- call it the Scott Smith factor.
Matt Mitrione: With sharp hands and athleticism to burn, Mitrione was on-point against Christian Morecraft, delivering an impressive performance en route to a second-round KO. While big men tend to throw punches with more raw power than technique, Mitrione can slide a smooth one-two down the pipe with the best of the heavies. Though he doesn’t possess the bone-jarring, one-shot power of a Junior dos Santos, Mitrione’s ability to stay calm in the pocket and pick his spots is a great asset.
The former NFL defensive lineman still has to work on his takedown defense, as he did spend some time on his back against the hulking Morecraft, whose wrestling isn’t elite compared to the elite heavies. But this was a good win, moving him to 5-0, and a definite jump up in competition is in order. That will give Mitrione plenty of time to work on things he can learn, while refining the considerable gifts he already has. Another good sign is his chin -- he took a couple solid shots from the 261-pound Morecraft and barely blinked. You can’t teach that, either.
Matt Brown: “The Immortal” knows how to win, period; even when he’s in against a more physically talented guy. Using improved wrestling and his penchant for doing just enough striking to edge out close rounds, Brown decisioned John Howard in a tough bout that wasn’t exactly thrilling, but a win nonetheless. Brown’s killer instinct and intensity are proven commodities; if he can continue to shore up his takedown defense and refine his already-effective standup, he’ll be a threat at this level, and perhaps the next one.
Dropping from 155 to 145: Tyson Griffin and Joe Stevenson made their UFC debuts at featherweight with decidedly mixed results. With the influx of 155 pounders making the lightweights the deepest talent pool in the promotion, the exodus downward has begun.
What gave both of these guys’ drops an air of danger was the considerable risk involved. Neither Griffin nor Stevenson were small lightweights to begin with; Griffin had fought at 145 at the beginning of his career, but hadn’t fought below 155 in five years. Stevenson competed in the UFC at 170 after winning TUF 2, and then dropped to 155.
Griffin ground out a close but clear-cut decision over Manny Gamburyan, but didn’t seem to have his usual strike volume and ability to sustain a high pace; Stevenson, meanwhile, looked dog-tired in a dreary performance, losing a decision to Javier Vasquez.
The temptation to drop a weight class, particularly from 155 to 145, has created conditions to make it an exceptionally tempting one. While the UFC’s lightweight division is ridiculously stacked, 145 isn’t nearly as crowded. Griffin and Stevenson’s performances underline how impressive Kenny Florian’s decision win over Diego Nunes was. It’s a jump that many more lightweights are going to make, but it’s by no means a guarantee of instant success.
Pat Barry: Taken out in one of the most dramatic turnarounds in MMA history, the good news is that Barry was in an exciting fight. The bad news is that he lost it, via strikes, which is his proven realm. Don’t write him off; he’ll be back strong in no time.
John Howard: On paper, Howard looked like a viable favorite against fellow slugger Matt Brown. But in the fight, he was simply out-gritted and out-gutted. This loss was particularly surprising given his game showing against Thiago Alves, who outstruck and battered him a one-sided but lively affair. A definite setback here, particularly to the 14-10 Brown, whose record undersells what a tough opponent he is.
Rick Story: Armchair trainers will be in full swing debating if Story should have filled in on this card just four weeks after decisioning Alves at UFC 130. To Story’s credit, he endured a roller coaster leading into the bout -- subbing against Nate Marquardt for the injured Anthony Johnson; Marquardt’s being scratched from the fight a day beforehand and then taking on Brenneman.
Regardless, it was a flat performance by Story, who was outwrestled and outhustled by “The Spaniard.” Riding a six-fight win streak into the bout, Story’s lost some definite momentum here, as well as the opportunity to take a critical leap into elite contender status. However, Story’s faced this situation before in both his career (losing two of his first three bouts) and his UFC debut to John Hathaway. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds and how the UFC matches him in his next bout.
Christian Morecraft: Now 1-2 in the UFC and 7-2 overall, Morecraft was outclassed against Mitrione. It wasn’t as though he fell apart from one gaping hole in his game. It was more a case of coming apart in phases. He was unable to capitalize when he put Mitrione on his back.
However, Morecraft was victimized by a pointless stand-up by referee Mark Matheny just prior to the stoppage, where he was literally throwing punches while the action was restarted. The stoppage followed shortly thereafter, a fact which will probably be lost on everyone -- except Morecraft -- who was the person screwed by that lousy bit of officiating.
Jason Probst can be reached at Jason@jasonprobst.com or twitter.com/jasonprobst.