The UFC rolled out a big show to celebrate their 20th anniversary.
After a week-long circus that featured former legends and current superstars of the sport, everything finally culminated on Saturday night with UFC 167 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Headlining a stacked card was the highly anticipated welterweight title tilt between long-reigning 170-pound king Georges St-Pierre, who sought to derail the surge of brick-handed contender Johny "Bigg Rigg" Hendricks. Many media members and fighters alike believed Bigg Rigg had the perfect set of weapons to finally dethrone St-Pierre.
For the most part, that assessment proved to be true as Hendricks' power and wrestling in the early goings threw St-Pierre off of his game plan. The Oklahoma native landed a big shot in the second round that wobbled the champion and forced him to do the one thing we hardly ever see the French-Canadian do: fight on instinct.
It was a back-and-forth affair, and upon the final bell, it appeared as if the No. 1 contender did enough to claim the title. But when the judge's scorecards were read, it was St-Pierre taking the split-decision victory.
In addition to the welterweight title action atop the card, the co-main event featured a crucial bout in the light heavy weight division between Rashad "Suga" Evans and Chael Sonnen.
Coming into the bout, the former strap holder was one win removed from a two-fight skid and desperately needed a victory over "The Gangster from West Linn." The same rang true for Sonnen as the Oregon native recently broke out of a rough patch of his own, and a victory over Evans was going to be necessary for him to remain in the title hunt in the 205-pound division.
When the cage door closed, it was all Evans as he pounded out the first-round stoppage. It took a few minutes for Evans to get top position, but once the former title holder got in the driver's seat, it was just a matter of time before the referee stepped in to end the fight.
With the victory, Suga has now found success in back-to-back showings and will keep his place at the contender's table in the light heavyweight division.
Outside of the two biggest fights on the card there was plenty of action to be had, as a mixture of prospects and veterans battled for positioning in divisional hierarchies across the UFC roster. The leather was flying around the MGM on Saturday night as a stacked lineup delivered the action-packed goodness.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC 167.
While the top slot in this category is typically reserved for the winner of the biggest fight on the card, Hendricks has absolutely nothing to hang his head about. Every strength in his game held up throughout the 25-minute affair as he used his wrestling to keep the fight standing and his power to keep the champion on his heels.
When the judge's scorecards were read, and the fight went to St-Pierre, Hendricks dropped to the mat in disbelief. He believed without a doubt (and my personal scorecards agreed) that he had won. Watching the champion retain his title had to be nothing short of gutting for Bigg Rigg.
With GSP announcing his retirement in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, I would love to see the former two-time NCAA Division I national champion wrestler square off with the winner of the upcoming tilt between Carlos Condit and Matt Brown at UFC on Fox 9 next month in Sacramento.
Controversial as it is, the fact remains St-Pierre exited the cage at UFC 167 with his Welterweight Championship belt, and in defeating Hendricks, he broke the record for all-time wins inside the Octagon.
While this fight will ultimately be remembered for how the split-decision weighed out, one interesting note was the rare "fighting on instinct" mode the champion shifted into. After Hendricks rung his bell with a big uppercut in the second round, St-Pierre did the most "non-typical St-Pierre" thing to do. He abandoned his game plan, dug his heels in and fought Hendricks for the remaining three rounds.
The outcome of this fight is going to be debated for the rest of the year; so let's move on.
The fight between Evans and Sonnen may not have held a ton of importance in the immediate picture for the 205-pound strap, but it was a bout the former champion definitely needed to win.
Since coming up short in his bid to dethrone former friend and training partner Jon Jones at UFC 145 in 2012, Evans has had some difficulty re-establishing his traction in the divisional ranks.
A shocking upset loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156 led others to question whether the former Michigan State University wrestling standout's heart was no longer in it, but he's found a way to buck the trend and fire back in an impressive fashion.
A victory over MMA legend Dan Henderson at UFC 161 in June put Evans back into the win column, and pounding out The Gangster from West Linn on Saturday night kept his place at the table of potential title contenders in the light heavyweight division.
While defeating Sonnen won't catapult Evans to the front of the line at 205, it will guarantee his next challenge will come against another one of the division's best.
Robbie Lawler picked up about as big of a win as can be had (outside of a belt being on the line) when he scored the upset victory over Rory MacDonald. The historically ultra-aggressive veteran got off to a slow start in the fight against MacDonald, but he poured it on late and nearly put the rising young star away with a flurry of his trademark power.
While the end result was a split-decision in Lawler's favor, the bigger push is that it puts a huge feather in his cap on what has been an amazing resurgence.
Where the Iowa native was once one of the feared knockout artists inside the Octagon, a rough patch lead to him being released by the promotion in 2004. The years outside of the UFC saw mixed results for Lawler, but his return has been amazing.
The 31-year-old has collected three consecutive victories with his win over MacDonald being his most touted win of the bunch. Now, the American Top Team product is in a great position to earn a shot at the welterweight title, and if that isn't his next step, a title-eliminator bout would certainly make sense.
Another 170-pound fighter who jumped back into the back of potential title contenders was Tyron Woodley, as he scored a knockout victory over Josh Koscheck at UFC 167.
"The Chosen One" had the savvy veteran wounded on two occasions in the early goings of their tilt before he flushed Kos with a beautifully timed right hook toward the end of the round.
With the victory, Woodley has now found success in two of his three showings inside the Octagon. His only loss came in a sleeper of a bout against Jake Shields at UFC 161 in June, but his drubbing of Koscheck should go a long way to erase the memory of that fight.
When there is nothing but a fight purse on the line, Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone is lights out inside the cage. On Saturday night, the former WEC title challenger put on one of the best showings of his career as he steamrolled scrappy Evan Dunham en route to a second round submission victory.
Since joining the UFC in 2011, Cowboy has found victory in eight of his 11 showings inside the Octagon. Of those three losses, all have come when the 30-year-old is on the verge of becoming a title contender.
Against Dunham at UFC 167, the only thing Cerrone had to fight for was a win bonus and he did so with brilliant precision. The Jackson's MMA fighter ripped Dunham apart on the feet and then closed out the fight with a triangle choke when the action hit the mat.
A very impressive showing for Cerrone and the victory should catapult him back into the hunt in the lightweight division. That said, Cerrone has been hinting about a potential drop into featherweight waters and it will be interesting to see which direction he chooses to go.
*** Rick Story put on one of the best performances of his UFC career in a unanimous decision victory over veteran Brian Ebersole. After having a six-fight winning streak snapped in 2011, the Brave Legion fighter has experienced mixed results inside the cage. The victory over Ebersole not only puts Story back in the win column, but makes him successful in two of his last three showings.
*** Erik "El Goyito" Perez bounced back after suffering the first loss in the UFC by defeating Edwin Figueroa on Saturday night. El Goyito looked strong on his feet and was able to control the action when the fight hit the canvas. While setbacks are always difficult to shake-off, the 23-year-old has a bright future ahead of him, and he showed things are back on track with his victory at UFC 167.
*** 20-year-old Sergio Pettis turned a highly anticipated debut into a successful one as he out worked Will Capuzano to pick up the victory on Saturday night. The younger Pettis did solid damage when the fight was standing and showed the ability to overcome adversity when the action hit the ground. The Duke Roufus-trained fighter earned the unanimous decision victory and made a proper introduction to the UFC fanbase in the process.
There was no fighter on the card at UFC 167 who needed a win more than Koscheck. While the TUF 1 alum was once a title challenger and a perennial threat to the welterweight crown, his recent run has been less than favorable. He entered the bout with Woodley on Saturday night with back-to-back losses against Hendricks and Lawler, and he desperately a win to turn things around.
Unfortunately for Kos, he ran into a younger, stronger version of himself in the former Missouri University wrestling standout. Woodley had him in trouble on two occasions in the first round before landing a devastating right hand that brought an end to the fight in highlight-reel fashion.
With the loss, Koscheck will now be staring down a stark reality. At 35 years old, the best years of his career could very well be behind him, and three consecutive losses—two of which were brutal knockouts—certainly serve to validate that notion.
While it would be difficult to imagine Koscheck being released by the UFC, his loss to Woodley will certainly have him close to the chopping block. The promotion has always handled the fighters who competed on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter with special attention, and if Chris Leben has kept his place on the roster, it would seem logical Koscheck could do the same.
It's difficult to say which was worse between Tim Elliot's beard or the cornrows he was rocking, but the Grindhouse MMA ability to scrap certainly outshines both. Unfortunately for Elliot, his run toward a flyweight title opportunity was stopped by Ali Bagautinov, as the Russian picked up the unanimous decision victory after their dust up to kick off the pay-per-view card.
Ebersole's face must be made of rubber. The Indiana native ate a buffet of shots from Story during their tilt on the preliminary portion of the card, but looked no worse for wear at fight's end. Better still was the tenacity TWAS showed as he continued to scrap toe-to-toe despite taking a drubbing from Story.
For the better part of the 15-minute affair, the well-traveled veteran was on the receiving end of a beating Story was dishing out, but that didn't stop Ebersole from firing back at every turn. While this is his second consecutive loss, the Tiger Muay Thai representative should live to fight another day under the UFC banner.
The final note in this category comes with the retirement of St-Pierre immediately following his controversial split-decision victory over Hendricks. When it looked as if he wasn't going to pull the trigger on his announcement, Joe Rogan pushed forward, and the long-time champion announced he "needed to go away for a little bit."
While the Tri-Star product can't be expected to deliver a concise message after 25 minutes of face-punching, the details he provided seemed downright strange. Nevertheless, it appears the welterweight king will be hanging up his gloves and his strap for the time being, and the division he's reigned over for the past five years will be forced to move on without him. And with the current depth of the 170-pound collective, I don't imagine it will be all too difficult a task.
There really is no point to using this space to complain about the decision in the main event and how I had it scored 3-2 in favor of Hendricks. The fight was super close, folks. And the worst part is that we may be robbed of what would be a fantastic rematch.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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