Tuesday, January 12, 2010

UFC / WEC Doubleheader: 10 Things We Learned

1. Ben Henderson, WEC Lightweight Champion

If anyone ever questioned why the newly unified WEC Lightweight Champion rocks the nickname "Smooth," all you need to do is look at this fight.

While Jamie Varner was being Jamie Varner - coming out guns blazing, locking in a guillotine, talking smack - Henderson took everything in stride, popping his head of the submission attempt, shaking off the onslaughts and fixing his hair.

The second Varner offered up his neck... game over.

In one year, Ben Henderson has beaten the very best the WEC Lightweight division has to offer. As the newly unified champion, it's time to start all over again, including a probable rematch with "Cowboy" Donald Cerrone.

2. God Bless the Media...

Josh Gross of Sports Illustrated raised the question of how the WEC lightweights stack up against the remaining 155-pounders in the world.

It pains me that the immediate response from one of the best in the business is to raise such a question. No one is putting Ben Henderson in the Top 10 of the lightweight division worldwide, and it is universally accepted that the WEC 155-pound division is a notch below that of their Zuffa sibling.

So what's the point of instigating such a debate? Obviously, it's the responsibility of the media to ask these kinds of questions, and I get that, but less than 24-hours after Henderson put on a quality performance, we're already looking to hyper-qualify things and detract from his accomplishment.

Yes, the WEC Lightweight division isn't populated with the best in the world. That said, they've put on some great fights and offered up some great finishes in the last year, so why not just be happy with the returns and leave it at that?

3. Maynard Earns Title Shot

Yes, you read that correctly.

I'm getting more in-depth on the subject at Heavy.com (and I'll link the article once complete and posted), but the gist of it is that you can't tell a guy who is unbeaten that a fighter he threw around the cage for 15 minutes is a more worthy contender.

Now, that doesn't mean Maynard won't get bumped in favor of Frankie Edgar, because the UFC is as much about marketing as it is about merit, if not more so at times, it just means that if we're going on results and results only, Gray Maynard should be the next man to have his ass handed to him by BJ Penn.

4. Introducing Evan Dunham

What an outstanding performance for the young, undefeated Oregon native.

Efrain Escudero is a tough kid and was the clear favorite heading into the fight, and all Dunham did was make it through a tough first round to dominate the remaining six minutes and change of the fight, en route to his tenth straight win.

He's now won three fights by three different methods, and showed unexpectedly strong jiu jitsu last night in Virginia.

My colleague Zak Woods asked the question, "How excited are you to see Evan Dunham fight again?" earlier today at Watch Kalib Run.

Answer: Extremely.

5. The Tapping Dichotomy

Today, Efrain Escudero is being questioned for his decision not to tap sooner in his bout with Evan Dunham.

However, you can't blame the kid for trying to gut it out. After all, that's the message we often send.

Jonathan Snowden at Heavy.com recounts the night Renzo Gracie became a hero in his eyes, refusing to submit to a brutal kimura applied by "The Gracie Killer" himself, Kazushi Sakuraba. In the very next line, he says Escudero looked stupid for doing the same thing.

I agree that the TUF 8 lightweight winner needed to tap far sooner than he did, but when the media and fans put Gracie's refusal on a pedestal - or rip on Jamie Varner for his quick tap against Ben Henderson - you can see where the message is mixed, can't you?

Tapping isn't a sign of weakness, and refusing to do so isn't a sign a valor. That needs to be the message we're spreading.

6. "The California Kid" is Back and as Good as Ever

Great performance for Urijah Faber in front of his hometown crowd on Sunday night, earning Submisson of the Night honors for his rear naked choke win over Raphael Assuncao.

While I was skeptical of the performance we would see from the returning former champion, Faber left no doubt in my mind that he is still the dynamic force who ruled the Featherweight division, and a legitimate threat to Jose Aldo's title.

Whether he should be the first to challenge the new champ is up for debate, but that's a whole different article altogether.

7. If Jamie Varner Wants to Box, Give Him Kamal Shalorus

The former lightweight champ has caught some flak for his post-fight comments about Henderson wanting to grapple, not fight. Well, if Varner wants someone to stand-and-bang with, let him go 15 minutes with Kamal Shalorus.

His boxing is thoroughly unrefined, but the former Olympic wrestler hits like a sledgehammer and apparently has a chin make of granite. There wasn't a single minute in his decisive win over Dave Jansen where "The Prince of Persia" stopped coming forward.

Shalorus would hold an edge in the wrestling department, but Varner's more technical boxing and experience would make him the favorite.

The villain of the WEC lightweight division gets an opponent who will give him the fight he apparently craves, while the 32-year-old Shalorus would get a serious step up in competition.

8. Sadollah Continues to Improve and Impress

While the TUF 7 winner looked good in battering Phil Baroni at UFC 106, he was basically fighting a human punching bag after the first three minutes. Last night, Sadollah showed that his hard work and determination are paying off, as he took a unanimous decision from a very game Brad Blackburn.

As in the Baroni fight, Sadollah showed his strong Muay Thai skills and the stamina to offer up 15 minutes of action without a problem. That said, he also took a few shots along the way and needs to tighten up the defense a little, but it was a good performance nonetheless.

It will be interesting to see where the UFC goes next with Sadollah. The welterweight division is stacked with talent, and while two wins means a step up in competition is in order, the company should be careful with their charismatic fan favorite.

May I suggest someone in the Dong Hyun Kim / Yoshiyuki Yoshida range?

9. Mike Brown Deserves Better

I know I said this is an entirely different article waiting to happen - and it will be, I promise - but watching Faber talk up an all-but-certain title fight with Jose Aldo made it impossible not to address the double standard former champion Mike Brown is now forced to deal with.

Yes, Faber vs. Aldo makes sense on a number of levels, but in terms of "How's that right?" one has to wonder how Brown isn't given an opportunity to reclaim the belt he held for a year - and took from Faber - when "The California Kid" gets the same opportunity every other fight?

Life most certainly isn't fair, and Faber is the wise business decision, but still...

10. Great Job by The Score Sunday Night

Canada's Home for the Hardcore began their partnership with the WEC on Sunday and did a tremendous job.

Before picking up the Versus feed of the fights, Mauro Ranallo hosted an hour-long preview show that introduced a number of the fighters on the card to the Canadian viewers, as well as showed portion of some of fights that setup the night's bouts.

They also ran through a segment outlining the major players in the WEC divisions, something essential for future events. Knowing who to watch for in coming WEC events is what will help grow the brand, and make household names out of stars like Brian Bowles, Miguel Torres and Mike Brown.

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