A huge rollout for the Fox Sports 1 launch, the most stacked card of the year under the UFC banner and a return to the fight-savvy city of Boston all combined to create the perfect environment for an entertaining night of fights at the TD Garden on Saturday night.
UFC Fight Night 26 brought the ruckus to "Beantown" as fighters from every tier of the UFC roster stepped into the Octagon to roll the dice. In the main event, former light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and former No. 1 contender Chael Sonnen squared off with their respective futures on the line, and "The Gangster from West Linn" put on a dominant performance as he submitted the former light heavyweight champion via guillotine in the opening round.
In co-main event action, Dutch wrecking machine Alistair Overeem looked to stop a nasty backslide when he mixed it up with prospect on the verge of contention Travis Browne. When two heavyweights step inside the cage, the action can end in abrupt and brutal fashion at any moment, and this particular clash of juggernauts was no exception.
"The Reem" dominated the action in the early going, but after Browne weathered the storm, Hapa unleashed a front kick that floored the former Strikeforce heavyweight champion. Once Overeem hit the deck, Browne swarmed with two heavy hammerfists and ended the affair.
While the top two fights on the billing held the highest profiles, the fighters on the rest of the card gave the top dogs a run for their money as face-punching goodness and savvy submissions abounded throughout.
There were several stellar performances as a handful of fighters solidified themselves as title contenders and one highly touted prospect took a step toward legitimacy, where another took a crucial loss. That being said, there were also those who didn't rise to the occasion on Saturday night and a few downright strange occurrences that left fight fans scratching their heads.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC Fight Night 26.
Chalk one up for the bad guy. Chael Sonnen put on a dominant performance as he defeated Mauricio Rua in their main event tilt, putting himself back into the win column for the first time since defeating Michael Bisping back in January 2012.
Since then, the 36-year-old Oregon native has challenged for titles in both the middleweight and light heavyweight division, coming up short on both attempts.
The bout against Rua came at a crucial time in Sonnen's career as a third consecutive defeat would have put a serious dent in his future title hopes and the UFC's ability to promote him as a fighter to watch inside the cage—because let's face it, outside the cage Chael P. will always be magic.
Immediately following his victory, Sonnen called out longtime nemesis Wanderlei Silva in his post-fight interview. After a solid bit of trash-talking, the former title challenger issued an official challenge to the MMA legend, and it's highly likely there will be solid pressure from the UFC for the former Pride champion to accept.
Travis Browne came into Boston as a prospect preparing to face an opponent draped in world-class striking credentials, and the 31-year-old exited the Octagon as a legitimate title contender.
The Jackson's MMA-trained fighter survived an early onslaught from Overeem where the Dutch striker appeared to be just moments away from a referee stoppage. But the Hawaiian proved to be resilient, and once he took the action back to the center of the cage, Browne began to find his range with front kicks.
Eventually one of his kicks found its mark and toppled Overeem. The victory over "The Reem" is undoubtedly the biggest of Browne's career and will launch him onto the title radar in the heavyweight division.
The bantamweight title picture isn't clearing up any time soon with two champions in the division, but Urijah Faber could care less. "The California Kid" has been rolling along impressively and picked up his third consecutive victory at UFC Fight Night 26 against Yuri Alcantara.
The Team Alpha Male leader bounced back strong after the crafty Brazilian put him on the canvas and took control for the better part of the opening round. Faber was eventually able to reverse position and never looked back as he fought on to earn a lopsided unanimous-decision victory.
With interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao set to face Eddie Wineland in September at UFC 165 and champion Dominick Cruz not expected to return until February, the Sacramento native will have no choice but to keep rolling. With former title challenger Michael McDonald also finding success on Saturday night, a potential showdown between the two bantamweight contenders would make sense.
Surging welterweight Matt Brown absolutely trucked Mike Pyle to pick up his sixth consecutive victory. While it's hard to imagine "The Immortal" jumping to the front of the line to face the winner of Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks, the Ohio native absolutely earned a seat in the divisional upper tier on Saturday night.
Michael McDonald may be only one fight removed from a title opportunity in the bantamweight division, but on Saturday night, the 22-year-old took a big step back toward contention. "Mayday" dominated Brad Pickett en route to picking up a second-round submission victory.
McDonald was all over "One Punch" from the opening bell as he dropped the Englishman on multiple occasions throughout the opening frame. The momentum appeared to swing in the second round when Pickett took the action to the mat, but McDonald remained patient and locked on a triangle choke/armbar combination the instant the opportunity presented itself.
With the victory, the talented Californian will keep himself on the title radar at 135 pounds.
Blackzilians fighter Michael Johnson was in desperate need of a win going into his fight against Joe Lauzon at UFC Fight Night 26, and the 27-year-old absolutely rose to the occasion. Johnson picked up the biggest win of his career and put on perhaps his best performance to date by drubbing the savvy veteran for three rounds.
After a great campaign in 2012 where he picked up three consecutive victories, Johnson experienced a drastic turnaround with his recent rough patch. The victory over Lauzon gives him a strong push back up the ladder and guarantees his next bout will come against a solid name in the lightweight division.
In featherweight action, rising young talent Steven Siler took another step toward shrugging off the prospect label when he dusted former WEC champion Mike Brown 50 seconds into their tilt. The American Top Team fighter came charging in and the 26-year-old caught him with an uppercut that put Brown on the canvas. Several big shots later, Brown went stiff and then came to with his arms wrapped around the referee's leg.
The win over Brown makes it back-to-back victories for Siler, making him successful in five out of six showings under the UFC banner.
Texas is known for having an expedited death penalty, and "Texecutioner" James Vick wasted no time in snuffing out Ramsey Nijem in the opening bout of the card. Injuries kept Vick on the sidelines since his time on TUF Live, but he looked impressive in his official UFC debut by choking out the John Hackleman-trained fighter inside the first minute of the opening round.
Before Alistair Overeem signed with the UFC, the Dutch striker carried a tremendous amount of mystique. Many believed it would only be a matter of time before he became a UFC champion, and when he defeated Brock Lesnar in his debut, he appeared to be on the cusp of doing just that.
But a failed drug test and a shocking upset against Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva pushed Overeem to the edge of the title picture, and his loss to Travis Browne on Saturday night will put the finishing touches on extinguishing those hopes for the foreseeable future.
With back-to-back brutal knockout losses and a hefty contract on his back, it is certainly possible the UFC parts ways with Overeem after his performance on Saturday night. Without a title to chase and other high-profile matchups to pit him against for financial purposes, there isn't a sensible place to put him.
Matt Brown may have looked impressive in his knockout victory over Mike Pyle, but his suggesting "Quicksand" is better than GSP in his post-fight interview is absurd. Then again, Brown did not specify what he believed Pyle was better than St-Pierre at, and if it were a fishing contest, the Las Vegas native would certainly have the advantage.
I'm all for mutual respect between fighters, but the "love fest" that went on during the Uriah Hall vs. John Howard bout was too much. Multiple stops to high five while the fight is razor-close is tough to digest, and apparently UFC President Dana White agrees with my thinking from his Twitter post.
While drawing the ire of the head honcho is never a good look, things are far worse where Hall is concerned.
He hasn't been able to measure up to the tremendous hype he garnered as a competitor on The Ultimate Fighter. The New York native lost to Kelvin Gastelum in the show's finale, and the setback he suffered on Saturday night will send Hall from being one of the most highly touted prospects under the UFC banner to being dangerously close to the biggest bust in recent memory.
Phillipe Nover is looking for a replacement in that category, and Hall is teetering on the verge of doing just that.
With the fight taking place in his backyard of Boston, the stage was set for Lauzon to put on a show. Unfortunately for the Bridgewater native, his skill set never had the opportunity to launch as a much quicker Michael Johnson beat him to the punch at every turn.
The first round was brutal for Lauzon as he was battered and dropped on multiple occasions. While he recovered enough to stay in the fight, "J-Lau" was never able to bring the action into a place where he was competitive.
The end result was a lopsided unanimous decision with one of the cageside judges scoring the bout 30-25 in Johnson's favor.
While a poor performance in front of his hometown crowd will certainly sting for Lauzon, the loss to Johnson will bump him out of the elite level of the division for the time being, as he now has dropped back-to-back outings.
In preliminary action, Mike Brown came out of retirement to fight Steven Siler at UFC Fight Night 26. But after getting knocked out in quick fashion by the 26-year-old, the veteran could very well be heading back.
Landing in this particular category is never a favorable thing, and Ramsey Nijem has now made two consecutive visits. In his previous outing, the 25-year-old TUF alum was starched by Myles Jury at UFC on Fox 7, and on Saturday night in Boston, Nijem suffered another crushing setback. The Pit Elevated fighter was submitted in quick fashion as James Vick forced him to tap to a guillotine choke early in the first round.
While back-to-back losses doesn't bring a guaranteed pink slip from the UFC, Nijem was on the low end of a packed lightweight roster. That scenario provides very little room for error, and getting dispatched quickly by Vick could be his last trip to the Octagon for some time.
I understand the buzz and hype surrounding Conor McGregor is crackling, but a fighter positioned on the lower end of the card getting the full "blackout" entrance is absolutely strange. "Notorious" put on a good performance against Max Holloway but didn't look phenomenal in doing so. Make no mistake about it, McGregor showed his skills are legitimate, but his showing at UFC Fight Night 26 didn't launch me over the moon about him.
That being said, a knee injury in the second round certainly had an impact on his performance and can't be held too harshly against him. It will be interesting to see what the UFC does next with the Irishman.
Staying in the 145-pound division, featherweights are known for putting on high-paced, action-packed battles where the fight spills to every corner of the cage. While Diego Brandao and Daniel Pineda started out at a furious pace, both fighters' cardio took a hard turn in the second round, and the rest of the tilt turned into a sluggish mess.
The Jackson's MMA-trained fighter earned a clear unanimous-decision victory, but if Brandao has any chances of competing in the upper level of the division, he will absolutely need to figure out how to improve his gas tank.
It's rare to see a fighter knocked out from inside the guard position, but Cody Donovan suffered the misfortune on Saturday night at the hands of Ovince St-Preux. After taking "OSP" to the canvas, Donovan lost position as he was reversed by the former Tennessee Volunteer football player. Once on top, St-Preux unloaded several heavy shots that brought an end to the fight.
Finally, big kudos go out to referee Kevin MacDonald, who officiated the bout between Michael McDonald and Brad Pickett on Saturday night.
He did a remarkable job allowing the action to continue despite Pickett being wobbled and dropped multiple times. Where the majority of officials have a tendency to jump in and stop things too early, MacDonald played the situation exactly right. Pickett was undoubtedly hurt, but the heavy-handed Brit was fighting back while attempting to regain his footing.
It certainly seems strange to write a shinning review of a MMA official not named Herb Dean, but MacDonald certainly earned it in Boston.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.