The third quarter of the calendar year is officially underway as the UFC touched down for the sixth time in 2013 on for Fight Night 29.
The biggest promotion in MMA closed out their summer run with a bang as light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson put on a Fight of the Year-caliber performance in Toronto. The first event to kick off what is set to be a chaotic run for the UFC to close out the year came when the Octagon returned to Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Wednesday.
The main event on the card featured a highly anticipated welterweight clash between two of the premier submission fighters in the sport when Demian Maia squared off with Jake Shields. The Brazilian had racked up three consecutive victories since dropping down to 170 pounds and the former Strikeforce middleweight champion was determined to bring that run to a grinding halt and re-establish himself as a title contender in the process.
With both fighters having such deep grappling credentials, the action playing out on the canvas was expected. Each had their moments throughout the five-round affair, but it was the Team Cesar Gracie fighter who earned the win via split decision on the judge's scorecards.
While the top bout on the bill featured two fighters battling for a spot on the title radar in the welterweight division, the co-main event showcased two who were looking to break through into the elite level of the weight class. Highly touted prospect Erick Silva locked up with Dong Hyun Kim in a matchup that promised to send the winner up the ladder and the loser to be reshuffled in the divisional deck.
Despite taking a beating at the end of Silva's striking, it was Kim who landed the shot that mattered as he scored a vicious knockout over the 29-year-old Brazilian in the second round.
In addition to the bigger names on the card, there was plenty of face-punching goodness to be found up and down the card.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from Fight Night 29.
For the past decade Jake Shields has been one of the top-ranked fighters on the planet. The 34-year-old has championed multiple organizations throughout his career, but since joining the UFC in 2010, the San Francisco-based fighter has struggled to find stability.
Following a rare stretch of back-to-back losses in 2011, Shields appeared to have drifted out of title contention for the foreseeable future. Yet, if there is one attribute the savvy veteran has in large supply, it's resilience and he's been making strong moves back to the top with his recent performances.
The former Strikeforce middleweight champion picked up a crucial win on Wednesday against surging contender Demian Maia. The Brazilian submission ace had been storming through the division and Shields derailing that train will certainly serve to boost his stock in the bigger picture. With the victory over Maia, he is now 3-0-1 in his last four showings and has solidified his position as a title contender at 170 pounds.
Dong Hyun Kim
Staying in the welterweight division, Kim took a strong step to solidify himself as a potential threat to the 170-pound throne as well at Fight Night 29. The 31-year old picked up his third consecutive victory by knocking out power striker Erick Silva in the second round of their tilt. The win makes him successful in four of his last five showings and will guarantee his next challenge will come against one of the division's best.
The bantamweight title picture is slowly crawling out of stasis as interim champion Renan Barao and champion Dominick Cruz head toward a unification showdown in early 2014. Yet, just below the title tier, the action as been in full swing for the past several months, and things took an interesting turn at Fight Night 29.
Raphael Assuncao and T.J. Dillashaw
He took a big step toward title contention when he edged out rising prospect T.J. Dillashaw via split decision to kick off the main card in Barueri. The Atlanta-based veteran rebounded from a slow start and was able to pick apart the Team Alpha Male fighter in the second round. For the most part, the final round was largely uneventful, but Assuncao still took the round on two of the judge's cards.
Assuncao has looked impressive since dropping down to bantamweight and his victory over Dillashaw was the Brazilian's fifth consecutive since joining the weight class in late 2011. In his post-fight interview with Jon Anik, the surging contender said he would like to fight the winner of the bout between Urijah Faber and Michael McDonald which is slated to go down at UFC on Fox 9 in December.
While he didn't get the victory, Dillashaw's efforts also need to be recognized here. The The Ultimate Fighter alum is still very early in his development as a mixed martial artist, and his battle with Assuncao will only help him improve as his career goes forward. The fight was close and could have gone either way, but a loss in this fashion won't hurt Dillashaw's stock in the bantamweight picture.
He picked up a much needed win on Wednesday night. Despite finding success in the bantamweight fold, the scrappy Tuscon-based fighter had yet to find his footing at 125 pounds. That changed at Fight Night 29 as Kamikaze earned a second-round stoppage victory over Iliarde Santos.
The 32-year-old bounced back from a sluggish opening round to pick apart the Brazilian with his striking in the second frame, and with the win, Cariaso remains relevant as the flyweight division continues to take shape.
The highly touted submission ace made his official UFC debut against David Mitchell at Fight Night 29. After having to bow out of the second installment of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil with a broken hand, the Nova Uniao product returned to action with force. He dominated Mitchell every step of the way throughout the 15-minute affair to pick up the unanimous decision victory.
With all the talent involved in the pairing, his matchup with Matt Hamill should have been filled with positives. Unfortunately it was exactly the opposite.
Despite the heavy-handed Brazilian being one of the most dynamic finishers in the light heavyweight division, Silva has had issues outside of the cage that have continuously stunted his progress. While he appeared to be back on track after knocking out Rafael Calvacante at UFC on Fuel TV 10 back in June, the Team Blackzilians fighter came in heavy for this bout and missed weight by two pounds.
The Ohio native returned from his second hiatus/retirement in two years to face Silva at Fight Night 29. While the early stages of the fight featured some solid exchanges between the two fighters, the bout turned into a kickboxing match between two exhausted fighters.
Silva earned the unanimous decision victory on the judge's scorecards, but the win will not do much for his stock. The Florida-based fighter has shown all the necessary to become a legitimate title contender at 205-pounds, but until he gets out of his own way, those opportunities will never materialize.
Despite having a solid amount of success in the welterweight division, Pierce has been fighting uphill the entire way. Lack of name recognition and a grinding style that has drawn more scorn than praise have kept the Oregon-based fighter from truly breaking through with the UFC fanbase.
Coming into his bout with Rousimar Palhares at Fight Night 29, Pierce had an opportunity to take a solid step in the right direction. Unfortunately for Pierce, he wasn't able to capitalize on the situation as he suffered a first-round submission defeat at the hands of the Brazilian leg-lock specialist.
While Pierce is hardly the only fighter to fall victim to Toquinho's specialty, the loss at this juncture of his career is crucial. He had collected four consecutive victories coming into the bout, but the loss against Palhares will kick the legs out from under the table in that regard. Losing a fight is never a plus in MMA, but the circumstances surrounding some fighters make losses carry more weight than others.
This was a fight Pierce could ill afford to lose and it will certainly push the 33-year-old back down the hill.
The days of single disciplined fighters are long gone in MMA, but Palhares isn't concerned with all that "well-rounded" business. The muscled Brazilian has made a career out of using leg-based submissions and on Wednesday night added Mike Pierce to his list of victims with a heel hook.
While Palhares has suffered knockouts and been finished in punishing fashion for his insistence on going for his opponent's legs, it isn't a trend he's willing to break. The 33-year-old was looking for a fresh start by dropping to 170 pounds and earning a quick first-round submission over Pierce at Fight Night 29 will put some momentum behind those efforts.
Staying on the them of doing one thing and doing it well, the bout between Fabio Maldonado and Joey Beltran was figured to bring the ruckus. Both fighters are notorious for absorbing and dishing out large amounts of punishment and have made careers slinging leather inside the cage.
With those elements in place, a barn burner was all but guaranteed, but in the ever-unpredictable world of MMA, somehow something else transpired inside the cage. A technical battle was far from being expected, but rather than three rounds of "rock 'em, sock 'em" dustup, it turned into a sloppy fight filled with Beltran clinching and Maldonado posturing.
The Brazilian, Maldonado, took the victory via split decision on the judge's scorecards and picked up his second consecutive win inside the Octagon.
Finally—and this is always a subject when UFC cards take place in Brazil—the host country's fighters once again found victory at a high percentage when facing foreign opposition at Fight Night 29. Brazilian fighters won six out of the nine matchups when Brazilians were pitted against foreigners and tacked on more statistics to an already staggering number.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.
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