Monday, December 5, 2011

TUF 14 Finale: A Great, Terrible Night Of Fights

The first thing that absolutely, positively has to be said about the TUF 14 Finale is that Michael Bisping looked ... Jesus, this is going to be tougher than I thought ...Bisping looked ... shit ... he looked, well ... good. He looked good. He looked really freaking good. I was impressed.

For those of you who don't know, I have been historically against the notion that Mikey is a top middleweight. His best career win is either Denis Kang (a frontrunner in the purest sense of the word) or Chris Leben, a man who has made it further than maybe anyone else in MMA history without having a single identifiable skill (By the way, I'm not hating on Leben when I make this remark. Chris has the potential to test anybody. But being tough isn't a skill. It's a character trait.). Not exactly setting the world on fire.

And yet, Bisping is such a polarizing figure that he creates interesting fights out of the ether. This is a man that made people genuinely care about a fight with JORGE RIVERA, for God's sake. Setting all that aside, though, Bisping has made undeniable improvements in his game since his loss in Sydney to Wanderlei Silva, and those improvements manifested themselves in spades at the Palms against Jason Miller.

Miller began the first round landing strikes. He followed this up by tripping Bisping to the floor and earning the coveted "triangle around the legs against the cage" version of the mount. He didn't do much from this position, but he did frustrate Bisping and easily took round one.

Bisping put a beatdown on Miller in rounds 2 and 3, though. It wasn't just a "Bisping beatdown", either (i.e. What I call a Bisping fight where he ground-and-pounds a fighter that either quits the first time he gets hit or wasn't very good to begin with). This was a beating. Bisping landed numerous rights and lefts to Mayhem's bleached head. He landed shots to the body. He landed tons and metric tons of blows on the floor. He showed an acute awareness of using unorthodox angles to throw his strikes from. This was a different Michael Bisping. This was a guy who set out to hurt his opponent (Granted, he says he's going to do this every time), except for this time, he actually did. Mayhem Miller looked like he was done after the second round, and in the third round, he proved it. He looked as though he had been adorned with a horrific, disgusting roach beneath his left eye. That was a different kind of shiner.

The other true highlight of the night was watching Tony Ferguson and Yves Edwards mix it up for three rounds. This fight showcased both guys and the various strengths and weaknesses they have. Ferguson has big power in his hands, a good chin, a willingness to get into toe-to-toe exchanges, and above average head movement, but he's still a little reckless. Edwards showed off his muay thai combos several times and was able to land numerous punches and head kicks against the more spry Ferguson. Edwards doesn't quite have the quickness he used to, though, and every time he'd get into an exchange, I'd reflexively think "Get out of there, Yves." He's also not known as a counter fighter; he's someone who likes to set up his shots and get off first, which Ferguson didn't allow him to do. All in all, a great fight that I really enjoyed watching.

Congrats to John Dodson and Diego Brandao for their wins, but the men they bested were not exactly top flight competition. I was befuddled as to why so many people thought TJ Dillashaw was going to look like a million bucks against a guy with way more experience, more talent, better instincts, and a wider array of skills. He's still young and very raw, so he could definitely still improve enough to stick around in the UFC. I just don't think that time has come yet.

So how does Dodson stack up against other 135ers? I think he's already a really good fighter that could potentially beat most of the other guys in the division. He might have problems against superior grapplers (like Darren Uyenoyama), and tough, technical strikers could give him fits as well. But I think he goes far. Can we get him in there against Michael McDonald? That would be fantastic.

And Diego Brandao ... my goodness. He rocked Bermudez with punches, came within one good punch of stealing the "He Walked Right Into It!" award (you can't keep wading in like that and expect not to get caught at some point), and then finished him with a grotesque armbar. Maybe this was karma. After all, Bermudez went on camera and said openly that he thought that wrestling was better than jiu-jitsu. I mean, really, Dennis? What is this, 1997? You deserved to get armbarred for making such a ridiculous statement.

I don't like Diego's chances at featherweight nearly as much as I like Dodson's chances at bantamweight. Diego is a powerhouse, a freak of nature who wades in with huge strikes and hopes that he'll be able to push other guys around. When he succeeds, he looks like a world beater. But he's not always going to be able to land bombs, and when he misses, he's wide open for counters. He'll win a few fights, but he'll run into problems if he steps in with a top ten featherweight.

This was an entertaining night of fights, to be sure. But the overall level of skill wasn't exactly soaring. That's why it was a great, terrible night.

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