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It seems fitting that the first UFC show of the year may be the biggest. UFC 57 brings us the third and final match between the companies two most high profile stars: Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell. This match, along with the return of the former heavyweight champion Frank Mir, set the stage for a series of matches with far reaching effects. The outcomes of tonight?s fights may well shape the direction of the Light Heavyweight, and Heavyweight titles for the rest of the year. This show is definitely important, lets hope it is entertaining as well.
Match 1 Nick Diaz vs. Joe Riggs
The first bout pits the Gracie Jujitsu skills of Diaz against the free style fighting skills of Riggs. I expected this fight to play out in the familiar pattern of the Jujitsu expert shooting in and looking for takedowns, while the striker attempts to stay on his feet and throw punches and kicks. Had the fight followed this pattern, it think it would have had a different outcome, however Diaz choose to stand and match boxing skills against Riggs instead. Although Diaz did knock Riggs down with a well timed uppercut, he was unable to get the upper hand in the striking contest. Even when Riggs seemed to tire very early in the bout, he still demonstrated superior punching skills throughout the fight, and as a result won the bout by unanimous decision. I don?t understand why after years of Jujitsu training, Diaz choose to go toe to toe with Riggs, but his decision to do so lost him this fight. This match up was very entertaining and competitive through all three rounds, and as such the PPV was off to a great start.
Match 2 Mike Van Arsdale vs. Renato ?Babaloo? Sobral
The second fight on the card features the highly decorated wrestler Mike Van Arsdale against the wrestling and Jujitsu practitioner Renato Sobral. Sobral comes into this fight with an 9 fight winning streak, and Arsdale was in no way equipped to stop it. Babaloo controlled this fight on the ground and on the mat, using his striking to drive Arsdale to the fence, his wrestling to take Arsdale down to the mat, and his Jujitsu to finish the match with a rear naked choke. This bout was a showcase for the skills of Sobral, and he will most likely find himself with a shot at the Light Heavyweight championship very soon. Though not as completive as the first fight, this was still a very entertaining match. I enjoy watching a fighter put on an MMA clinic, and Sobral did that tonight. This fight left a big smile on my face, and I can?t wait to see Sobral in the cage again.
Match 3 Frank Mir vs. Marcio Cruz
This fight marks the return of the submission machine Frank Mir to the UFC. He was striped of his heavyweight title after suffering a broken leg in a motorcycle accident. A win tonight would put him back on the road to the title, an impressive win might vault him over some of the others standing in that line. Marcio Cruz, his opposition for the night has had only had 1 MMA fight and as such, the stage seemed to be set for Mir to make a big statement in his return to the cage, but it was not to be. The fight quickly found it?s way to the ground where a combination of Mir?s lack of recent activity and the solid Jujitsu skills of Cruz were to much for Mir to overcome. Mir quickly found himself on his back with a busy Cruz striking well out of the half guard. Cruz landed an elbow that opened a nasty cut over Mir?s left eye, and left Mir unable to see clearly for the rest of the fight. Cruz continued to work out of the half guard, repeatedly landing punches and elbows to the head of Mir. Fifty-four seconds remained in the first round when the match was mercifully stopped by the referee. Though a relative newcomer to the UFC Cruz showed that his Jujitsu training has been blended well with the ?ground and pound? style used in the UFC. Had Mir not be cut perhaps this fight would have been different, but I doubt it. Mir never showed that he had the technique or timing to escape or reverse out of the half guard that he spent the vast majority of the fight in. Sadly, it looks like he came back to soon. This fight was a little difficult to watch as towards the end Mir was beaten severely, and was unable to defend himself very well, but none the less it was a good match.
Match 4 Brandon Vera vs. Justin Eilers
This contest finds Eilers putting his wrestling and boxing skills against the MMA skills of Vera. This fight began with some striking as a ?feeling out? process, which eventually found both men locked together against the cage. A restart in the center of the ring was quickly followed by Vera, first landing a shin kick and then a knee to Eilers head, knocking him out. This one was over very quickly, with the kick and knee from Vera being the only real highlights. Though not as immersive as some of the other fights on the card, the finish was certainly exciting, and Vera may very well find himself on the next Ultimate Knockouts DVDs, and deservedly so.
Match 5 Jeff Monson vs. Branden Lee Hinkle
This fight features the scariest looking man I?ve ever seen in MMA the Jujitsu trained Jeff Monson vs. the wrestler Branden Hinkle. This fight show us that perhaps the only thing worse than going to the mat with a Jujitsu expert, is going to the mat with a Jujitsu expert who weights 239 pounds of solid muscle. Though Hinkle was able to position himself well on the mat, he was never able to maintain a dominate position or score well when he was in one. By contrast Monson, with a combination of raw strength and Jujitsu technique was able to gain a dominate position on the ground and maintain it, eventfully sinking in one of the nastiest north-south choke outs you will ever see. This was a good match, and I look forward to seeing Monson against an opponent a little better versed in the submission game.
Match 6 Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture
Don?t make mistakes. Those words must have been ringing in the ears of both men when the bell sounded to start the fight. I don?t think I?ve ever seen either of these men more tentative and hesitant than they were tonight. This trepidation was surely born out of mutual respect, (they have each been beaten by the other), and the recognition of the importance of this fight. Couture is expected to retire if he does not win, and Liddell will not likely get another title shot anytime soon, should he lose. Couture is a phenomenal wrestler, and his ability to take down, and then beat down opponents has lead him to four UFC titles in two different weight classes, while Liddell is regarded as the best puncher in the sport, bar none. With these two dynamics in play, it surprised me that once again Couture choose to stand up and box with Liddell. Couture tried this strategy in his last fight with Liddell and lost. This time around he seemed to think that if he ?boxed? instead of ?brawled? with Liddell he could gain the upper hand. Although Couture did much better on his feet using this strategy, it was clear that Liddell had superior hand speed and accuracy, landing better combinations in the few times the two came into close quarters. The second round seemed to be more of the same until an age old boxing adage reared it?s head: ?Don?t follow a puncher around the ring.? Couture stalked Liddell and then came forward with an attempted 1-2 combination. Liddell who had been constantly moving away from Couture to draw him in, simply countered the left jab with is famous right hook and instantly put Couture on his back. A few follow up right hands to a prone Couture rendered him unconscious and gave Liddell the win. This was a good match, and it?s significance made it even better. Couture announced his retirement in a post fight interview, and Liddell cemented himself as the king of the Lightweight division. This fight saw two of the best go at it, winner take all, and you can?t ask for more that that.
Match 6 Paul Buentello vs. Gilbert Aldanna
Bulls in a china shop, or a UFC cage to be exact. Sometimes the world of MMA brings dazzling displays of martial arts techniques that require years of training and practice to perfect. Other times what takes place in the ring looks like a scene from Tyson?s Punch Out on the NES, and that?s just what Buentello and Aldanna did in this fight. Despite Buentello?s boxing and Jujitsu background and Aldanna?s MMA training, the two seemed to decide to forget the years spent in the gym and instead throw full power hooks, and upper cuts until one of them ran out of gas. Unfortunately for Aldanna, he was the one left with an empty tank after the fireworks had subsided. Though Aldanna was able to make it to the second round, it was clearly a matter of time before he would be knocked out, or just collapsed from exhaustion. The end of the fight saw Buentello take Aldanna to the mat where he pounded him with punches until the referee stopped the fight. Though the fight slowed down considerably after the first few minutes of craziness, it was certainly a sight to see while it lasted.
The first PPV of the year was a very good outing for the UFC. Though I?m sad to see Randy Couture step off of the MMA stage, I?m anxiously awaiting Sobral?s entry into the spotlight. Though Frank Mir?s return did not bring the results many had hoped for, we may have found a champion in the making in Jeff Monson. I don?t know how the rest of the year will play out in the UFC, but the doors of opportunity are wide open, and I can?t wait to see who will walk through them.
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