File Photo: Sherdog.com
UFC fans had to wait a full month for their latest mixed martial arts fix from their favorite organization, a wait to which they were not accustomed after the recent glut of shows. They were looking for something into which to sink their teeth. Unfortunately, there was not much available to them, thanks, in part, to the shortcomings in the Unified Rules. The event painfully showcased the weaknesses in a set of rules drawn up 10 years ago.
Under the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, no upkicks or downward elbows to the body are legal, and those two rules caused the competitors trouble on Sunday at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colo. What’s more, a fighter playacted and appeared to intentionally put his hands or knees down to provoke illegal strikes.
Analysis follows for the four main card bouts from the UFC’s debut on the Versus network.
Alessio Sakara def. James Irvin -- TKO (Punch) 3:01 R1
What happened: There are few fighters in MMA who are as dogged by bad luck as Irvin. In the last three and a half years, he has fallen out of the cage, torn his anterior-cruciate ligament in a fight against Thiago Silva, absorbed an illegal knee from Luis Arthur Cane and now suffered an anticlimactic stoppage at the hands of Sakara. The Italian threw the better combinations, but Irvin proved he can take a punch. Referee Josh Rosenthal halted the bout when Irvin went down with what first appeared to be a finger poke but proved to be a clean knuckle to the eye.
Forecast for Sakara: Starting his career at heavyweight, the Rome legionnaire has finally found success at the highest level after dropping down not one, but two, weight classes. At middleweight, his UFC record currently stands at 3-1, with three consecutive wins. His next opponent could be recruited from the winner of the UFC 111 fight between Rousimar Palhares and Tomasz Drwal. He might also get the chance to avenge one of his recent losses to Drew McFedries or Chris Leben.
Forecast for Irvin: McFedries and Leben seem like worthwhile opponents for Irvin in his quest to break into the middleweight ranks. The heavily-tattooed Californian could also face the loser of the March 31 bout between Nate Quarry and Jorge Rivera.
Cheick Kongo def. Paul Buentello -- Submission (Elbows to the Body) 1:16 R3
What happened: Seemingly cured from engaging in wild brawls after Frank Mir’s sniper shot in December, Kongo employed a conservative gameplan that featured wrestling, takedowns and ground-and-pound. Buentello defended, but Kongo had his way with “The Headhunter” from the second round forward, punishing him with brutal knee strikes to the ribcage from the gut-wrench position. Buentello, who survived a dislocated finger, eventually succumbed to elbows to the ribs and kidney early in the third round.
Forecast for Kongo: The Frenchman has become the ideal utility player for the UFC. Menacing in stature, he looks like a world-beater against journeyman opposition but has enough holes in his game not to threaten one of the promotion’s aces. At 34, he should provide the heavyweight division with meaningful depth for at least another two years. Since he has already faced many on the UFC’s roster, only few new options exist: Todd Duffee, Gabriel Gonzaga or the winner of the Roy Nelson vs. Stefan Struve match later this month.
Forecast for Buentello: While he turned in an exciting fight against Struve, Buentello did not look well against Kongo. He was simply outmatched, overpowered and ultimately outclassed. While his offensive striking style provides the Zuffa brass with exactly what it wants to see, how long can it keep him around if he keeps losing fights? With his 40th career bout on the horizon, he could be looking at matchups with Mostapha Al-Turk, Antoni Hardonk or Gilbert Yvel.
Junior dos Santos def. Gabriel Gonzaga -- TKO (Punches) 3:53 R1
What happened: Both men sold the fight well, and the winner was guaranteed to move one step closer to a title shot. Dos Santos was the faster fighter and showed the ability to bounce back to his feet after an early takedown. Using his incredibly hard hands, the Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira understudy knocked down his compatriot with a counter left hook and finished him with a little more than a minute to go in the first round. Dos Santos has stopped four of his last five opponents inside the first round.
Forecast for dos Santos: With champion Brock Lesnar and challengers Frank Mir vs. Shane Carwin booked for UFC 111, the match fans want to see most pits two of the UFC’s top young stars -- Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez -- against one another. In addition to creating a new number one contender, it would provide an intriguing storyline, with the undefeated American Kickboxing Academy thoroughbred having taken out Nogueira, dos Santos’ idol and mentor, in February.
Forecast for Gonzaga: If Todd Duffee feels lucky, perhaps he might ask for a crack at “Napao.” Otherwise, future bouts for the Brazilian may come against Cheick Kongo or Roy Nelson, should “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 winner make it past Stefan Struve at UFC Fight Night 21.
Jon Jones def. Brandon Vera -- TKO (Elbows and Punches) 3:19 R1
What happened: It seems unfathomable that Vera still headlines events when his last meaningful win came three and a half years ago against an out-of-shape Frank Mir. Jones was similarly unimpressed by Vera’s pedigree and took him down right off the bat, using a hip toss and then a double-leg takedown. Vera, not making much of an effort off his back, had a point deducted for an illegal upkick. Just as it appeared that Jones was having trouble getting his ground-and-pound going, he exploded with a vicious elbow into Vera’s face that ended the fight.
Forecast for Jones: Jones looks like the real deal. The UFC would do well not to burn out this massive talent just yet and should feed him a couple tune-up fights before letting him off the chain to pursue top 10-caliber opposition. Strong tests for him could include Krzysztof Soszynski, former International Fight League champion Vladimir Matyushenko or the winner of Luis Arthur Cane-Cyrille Diabate.
Forecast for Vera: After two consecutive defeats, Vera might be headed for the undercard. As one of the more well-paid, non-champions on the UFC’s roster, the 32-year-old Californian still lacks that career-defining win. A loser in five of his last eight fights, Vera will need at least two convincing victories in order to justify a shot at another big-name opponent. His road back could begin against Stephan Bonnar, Eliot Marshall or the loser of Cane-Diabate.