Pramit Mohapatra
Monday January 21st, 2008

Ultimate Fighting Championship 80 featured six fights that ended by TKO or KO, one that ended by submission, and only two that went the distance. With a plethora of early stoppages, viewers were treated to an unheard-of eight fights during the UFC 80's pay-per-view telecast (with apologies to Sam Stout, whose unanimous decision victory over Per Eklund was deemed unworthy by the show's producers.)

Fans and Newcastle, England, attendees also got to witness the crowning of a new lightweight champ, a reshuffling of the heavyweight ranks, another dominant victory by a rapidly ascending welterweight, and a former up-and-coming middleweight beaten down for the second-straight time.

"Sean Sherk, you're dead."

Those words that left BJ Penn's lips in the post-fight interview just moments after he thoroughly dominated Joe Stevenson to win his second UFC title in a second weight class. (Penn defeated Matt Hughes to win the UFC welterweight title in 2004.) Looking gassed and sounding out of breath, Penn had already set his sights on the former UFC lightweight title holder and current No. 1 contender.

To set up that bout, and the escalation in the war of words that is certain to occur in the months to come, Penn had to first overcome Stevenson in what was Penn's third attempt at winning the UFC lightweight title (he fought Caol Uno to a draw in 2003 and lost to Jens Pulver in 2002.)

The apparently rededicated Penn looked quite fit as he stepped into the Octagon and as he proudly drew attention to his abs in the post-fight interview. He looked even better once the Octagon doors were locked. Penn staggered Stevenson early in the first round with combinations, took control as the fight went to the ground, and spent most of the round fighting from the top. The tide turned dramatically in Penn's favor when he opened up a big gash in the middle of Stevenson's forehead with a right elbow and the first round came to an end.

In the second round, Penn used another combination to once again stagger Stevenson. This time, Penn pounced when the two went to the ground, achieved full mount, locked his legs as he gained Stevenson's back and forced Stevenson to tap with a deep rear naked choke.

While Penn's desire to compete at a level commensurate to his vast talents often has been questioned, he has said all the right things recently about his legacy as a fighter. On paper, Penn was the superior fighter against Stevenson both standing and on the ground and it was nice to see the Hawaiian live up to his potential.

While Penn is now the undisputed titleholder, a victory over Sherk is necessary to legitimize his title reign. Penn hasn't been shy about calling out Sherk for his positive steroid test in 2007 -- doing so even during the buildup for the Stevenson fight -- and there is bad blood between the two. The lead-up to the Penn-Sherk fight should be just as entertaining as the fight itself.

The other featured bout of the night was a rematch between heavyweights Fabricio Werdum and Gabriel Gonzaga. Werdum defeated Gonzaga in 2003, but recent history appeared to favor Gonzaga. Werdum lost his debut fight at UFC 70 last April, while Gonzaga was a fast-rising contender who had already fought for the title in his last fight at UFC 74 in August.

Gonzaga controlled this fight early on, first by working from half-guard when the fight went to the ground and then by utilizing right leg kicks that knocked down Werdum twice. But Gonzaga missed with a head kick late in the first round and Werdum took advantage to control him on the ground and land elbows from half-guard as the first round ended.

Werdum continued to roll in the second round with knees that seemed to drain the energy out of a tiring Gonzaga. Werdum ended the fight by pinning Gonzaga against the cage on the ground and raining down undefended right hands to Gonzaga's head, forcing the ref to stop the fight.

With a second straight loss, Gonzaga must reassess his strategy going forward. Werdum was his equal when standing up, even though that was presumably Gonzaga's major advantage. While many fans remember Gonzaga's head kick against Mirko Crocop, he seems to have hit a ceiling against the heavyweight division's other top fighters including Randy Couture, and now Werdum. He clearly has the skills to stay in the top five, but now Gonzaga has to figure out a way to break through against the other contenders.

Werdum, on the other hand, overcame his lackluster showing against Andrei Arlovski in his UFC debut, and more than lived up to the billing that earned him the opportunity to fight in the UFC. While he is renowned as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master and has won a number of fights by submission when he was in PRIDE, Werdum showed very good striking and a nice all-around game against Gonzaga that should push him up the division ranks. Another solid performance against a top contender and Werdum could soon find himself fighting for a title.

Marcus Davis' rise up the welterweight ranks continued with a quick victory against Jess Liaudin. Before the fight, Davis said he would put a hole in Liaudin's head and he almost fulfilled that promise with a left hand that stiffened his French-born opponent.

Davis, aka "The Irish Hand Grenade", who continues to dominate opponents having now won six straight UFC fights, has shown that his hands truly do have grenade-caliber explosiveness. He has to be considered ready to fight the likes of top five welterweights Karo Parisyan and Jon Fitch. Beating one, or both, of them should set him up for fights down the road against the division's upper echelon, including champ Matt Serra, interim champ Georges St. Pierre, and former champ Matt Hughes.

After winning the The Ultimate Fighter 3 middleweight crown and starting out 3-0 in the UFC, the sky was the limit for Team Punishment middleweight Kendall Grove. But Grove's rapid ascent up the ranks has now come to a screeching halt with two straight losses against fighters who are, at best, middle-of-the-road in the UFC middleweight division.

Grove's TKO loss to Jorge Rivera at UFC 80 followed a quick KO loss to Patrick Cote at UFC 74. Rivera entered this fight 3-4 in the UFC, while Cote went into UFC 74 with a 1-4 UFC record. But Grove made both opponents look like world beaters. He proved incapable of keeping either fighter at bay with his length and was, instead, susceptible to punches in close. Grove still has potential because of his physical attributes and because of his name recognition due to his TUF success. However, another loss and he could be irrelevant in the middleweight picture.

While neither Wilson Gouveia nor Jason Lambert is a light heavyweight contender, their UFC 80 fight was remarkable because of the dramatic turnaround that earned Gouveia the victory. Lambert was in total control in the first round, grounding and pounding Gouveia from guard with elbows and punches. But in a true illustration of how quickly things can change in MMA, Gouveia caught Lambert in the jaw with a left hook early in the second round to end the fight.

Gouveia has won four in a row in the UFC -- all by stoppage -- and should be facing a top 10 fighter in his next bout. His all-around skills make him someone to look out for in a couple of years.

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