UFC on Fox is in the books and it certainly lived up to the hype. However, old school fans of MMA may not have had much reason to celebrate. FanSided’s Elton Hobson sees Saturday’s UFC on Fox as a changing of the guard moment in MMA.
It probably isn’t right to quote Bob Dylan in the title of this article. After all, old Bobby (yes, we’re on a first name basis) was singing about the social and political chaos of the 60’s. That’s a subject a little more complicated than two martial artists beating the tar out of each other in a six-sided cage – but only a little.
But after watching UFC on Fox last night, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I had just witnessed a “changing of the guard” in MMA. Indeed, every single fight had me feeling like MMA’s future had just become it’s present. And as a guy who (re-)found this sport just before it’s 2005 explosion onto the mainstream, it’s tough to see so many of that era’s greats ride into the sunset on the same night.
Luckily, the future of MMA is looking brighter than ever. Let’s take a look at the night’s fights, shall we?
Mike Swick vs. Matt Brown
It’s slightly misleading to start of the article with this fight – Matt Brown has 27 professional fights, and is no one’s definition of “new school”. But because they opened the show, they get to open my article. I’m just simple like that.
And I also remember a time when Mike Swick was one of the most touted prospects in the UFC.
Swick won his first 5 UFC bouts to put himself into title contention at middleweight. After he got out-muscled by Yushin Okami, Swick dropped to welterweight and rattled off 4 more wins. He once again found himself fighting for a title shot, dropping a close decision to Dan Hardy. And really, he’s never been the same fighter since then.
Swick has spent the better part of the last two years on the shelf with a variety of injuries, and may have missed out on his prime as a result. He looked good in his comeback fight against DeMarques Johnson, but Johnson hasn’t strung two wins together since 2010. Matt Brown was a stiffer test, and Swick just wasn’t up to it.
Brown landed more often and with more power standing up, which is at least acceptable if not exactly outstanding. But on the ground, Swick made Brown look like Shinya Aoki, as he constantly had to fight off submissions from within Brown’s guard. The lights out KO at the end was only the cherry on the sundae.
Swick is still a younger man, so he still has time to make a run at the top of the division. I hope he does – otherwise, performances like this may come to define his career.
Rory MacDonald vs. BJ Penn
If you had asked me before this fight if Rory MacDonald completely dominating BJ Penn was a possibility, I’d have said yes. I’d have said Rory could very well use his size, stifling top game, ground and pound, and endless cardio to dominate Penn over 3 rounds.
After all, that’s the route his teammate and mentor, Georges St. Pierre, took to defeat Penn a few years ago. And since even GSP has coined Rory Mac a younger version of, well, himself, I’d have said this is the most likely scenario for a Rory Macdonald blowout.
But Rory comprehensively out-striking Penn over the course of 15 minutes? Rory raising welts and bruises on Penn’s formerly invulnerable mug? Rory doubling Penn over with body shots that had the Hawaiian looking ready for a good cry? Rory absolutely handing BJ freakin’ Penn his a-double-s in the stand-up department?
I’d never have predicted that.
As if we needed any more reminder: Rory MacDonald is for real. As soon as GSP is done clowning the 170-pound division, Rory looks ready and willing to jump right into his shoes. I’d expect Canadians to be running the welterweight division for some time, but that’s just me being optimistic.
Not so optimistic is the outlook for BJ Penn. Once considered one of the finest strikers in all of MMA, Pennhas now been comprehensively out-boxed by men at both 155 and 170. His career is far from over – as one of the biggest names in all of MMA, Penn still has value in either weight class. But his days as an elite, title contending fighter are now almost certainly over.
And I don’t think Penn, given his history, is the sort of fighter to continue fighting in those circumstances.
“Shogun” Rua vs. Alexander Gustafsson
I don’t think I was alone in pulling for the “old lion” in this one.
In fact, I thought Mauricio “Shogun” Rua had a very good chance to win this fight. I thought his superior Muay Thai would negate Gustafsson’s tremendous height and reach advantages. I thought his punching power would test Gustafsson’s chin. And I thought his BJJ black belt and strong ground game would give him the advantage if the fight ever went there.
And really, I wasn’t wrong in any of my predictions. I just left out two very important ones: that Alexander Gustafsson is really good, and “Shogun” is “Shogun”.
This fight started off extremely close, and it seemed like it could go either way. Then Rua’s energy began to fade, as it has so many times in his UFC tenure. Gustaffson didn’t let up in a fight that became increasingly one-sided the longer it went. By the time the final horn sounded, there was no doubt which way the decision would go.
As cliché as it sounds, this fight really was the final nail in PRIDE’s coffin. Ok, that was pretty awful. Still, it’s hard not to think about the fact that Gustafsson was in high school when “Shogun” won the PRIDE open weight tournament that made him a legend. Now, only eight years later, he has been surpassed in the sport.
Light-heavyweight gets an exciting new title challenger. Meanwhile, who here is looking forward to “Shogun” Rua vs. Rich Franklin?
Nate Diaz vs. Benson Henderson
Of all the fights on the card, it was the main event that least epitomized the “old school vs. new school” mentality. After all, Diaz and Henderson are both still in their 20’s. This fight is only a changing of the guard fight if you consider Nate Diaz one of the “old guard”.
Luckily, I do. And since this is my article, I suppose you’ll just have to go along with it.
People often forget just how long Diaz has been at the big show. He made his professional debut in the WEC, way back in 2004. His first UFC fight was in June of 2007, prior to which he was a contestant on the “Ultimate Fighter” reality show. He has a whopping 11 UFC victories in 17 total appearances. He is about as young an “old lion” as there is in MMA.
No, this loss is not the end of Nate Diaz. Not by a long shot. If his older brother Nick has proven anything, it’s that career resurrection is a Stockton specialty. We could very well see him contend for another UFC title before it’s all said and done.
Still, this fight cemented Benson Henderson as “the man” at lightweight in a way his two highly disputed victories over Frankie Edgar never could. This fight isn’t about Nate’s demise as much as it’s about the rise of Ben Henderson as one of the most exciting, promising champions in all of MMA.
Just lose the toothpick next time, ok Ben?