Pramit Mohapatra
Monday February 4th, 2008

Over the years, the lexicon of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has become entrenched in the language of mixed martial arts. Royce Gracie introduced the masses to the potency of the discipline in the earliest Ultimate Fighting Championships, and since then, fighters hoping to make a dent in the sport have had to incorporate a significant amount of BJJ knowledge into their own repertoire. Understanding how to use BJJ as an offensive weapon, and simply learning how to defend against its various joint locks and chokes is a must in today's MMA.

And just in case BJJ's importance had been forgotten, UFC 81 served as a stark reminder of its continued presence, and need. The technique ultimately decided four of the five main card fights and both main event fights. Height, strength, and hype proved sadly ineffective when confronted by BJJ.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is certainly making a habit of staring straight into the eyes of defeat in the first round before gathering himself to eventually emerge victorious. For the second-straight UFC fight, the former PRIDE heavyweight champion (aka "Big Nog") was rocked in the first round after taking a left hook followed by a right hand from Tim Sylvia. Big Nog crumpled to the canvas but somehow managed to neutralize Sylvia on the ground as he recovered.

Nogueira gained steam in the second round, scoring with his own fists, including a nice left hook. However, most of his takedown attempts were stuffed by a confident Sylvia. In the decisive third round, the Brazilian finally scored a takedown, swept to top position and ended up in side control. As Sylvia scrambled to his feet, Nogueira locked in a guillotine choke to capture the win.

Nogueira is an MMA legend and UFC fans are now learning why. With Saturday's victory, he became the first fighter ever to win both the PRIDE heavyweight title as well as the UFC title. But his UFC 81 win was only for an interim title. To complete the legend, Big Nog needs a win over current UFC champ Randy Couture.

While it's admirable that Couture is gunning for Fedor Emelianenko, there is no reason why the heavyweight champion and the UFC can't make a fight against Nogueira happen. The build-up to this clash would be tremendous, and the bout itself would feature two of the sport's true warriors and craftiest veterans in a quest to unify the UFC belt. Fans may eventually want to see Couture take on Emelianenko, but right now the fight that needs to take place is Couture-Nogueira. UFC President Dana White and Couture must make this bout happen.

For Sylvia, his UFC 81 performance represents a strange rebirth of sorts. Although Sylvia lost, there is no shame in the way he lost. He was aggressive like the Sylvia of old and he looked sharp with his striking in the first round. He was also classy in defeat and even basked in the newfound love the fans have started giving him. Sylvia is still a top heavyweight fighter. After all, his two losses in the last year have come to two of the division's, and the sport's, best. Appearing healthy and hungry again, Sylvia should be a fixture for a long time to come.

In the end, Brock Lesnar's loss to Frank Mir may have been the best thing for the UFC, even though Lesnar benefited from the pre-bout hype. The fight not only earned Mir a victory, but also legitimized UFC's talent AND the very essence of competing in the sport.

Natural ability, or raw physical skills, are no longer enough to win at the highest levels. While Lesnar brought a strong amateur wrestling background to the table, he has only been training in MMA for a couple of years, starting at the age of 28. Mir is currently 28 and already has 12 UFC fights under his belt. So by the time Lesnar was just getting started in the sport, Mir was already a champion veteran.

To expect Lesnar to make up that experience deficit would have been unreasonable. But, it would have been worse for the UFC and the sport if he had actually somehow pulled it off. Now, fans who followed Lesnar to the UFC based on his popularity as a pro wrestler have found out what it takes to be one of the best in the sport.

Sure, Lesnar overwhelmed Mir with power, easily took him down and worked his ground-and-pound. But, like a true veteran, Mir weathered the storm (with a little help from the ref, who gave Lesnar a questionable one-point deduction for two strikes to the back of Mir's head) and began working submission attempts before taking down his prey with the kneebar. Mir countered Lesnar's athletic talent with tricks of the trade that only experience could have taught him. And that's how it should be.

This high-profile victory catapulted Mir back into title contention. It was his second-straight victory by submission and he appears to be back to full-strength after his motorcycle accident.

If the UFC can't make Couture-Nogueira happen, then why not set up Mir-Nogueira instead? That title fight would be a matchup of the UFC's top two BJJ heavyweights. Both are also very competent on their feet, making such a matchup a perfect blend for entertainment.

For Lesnar, it's back to training and learning the all-around MMA game. He didn't disappoint with his strength and power, but we still don't know much about his stand-up striking and he needs to keep working on his BJJ defense. In time, Lesnar could be a contender, but for the next year or so, he needs to be pitted against lower-tier fighters as he builds up his MMA resume. There are no easy outs in the UFC, even in its weaker divisions. And at UFC 81, Lesnar learned that lesson.

Tim Boetsch took his first UFC fight against light heavyweight veteran David Heath on just 10 days' notice. Boetsch's supposed strength was his wrestling, while Heath fancied himself the stronger striker. Boetsch flipped conventional wisdom, as well as Heath, on their heads en route to a very convincing first-round TKO victory at UFC 81.

Boetsch never had to unleash his wrestling skill as he dominated standing up. He peppered Heath throughout the first round with back-leg front kicks, added knees to the head later in the round, and finally threw Heath head first into the cage and canvas before finally winning with undefended ground strikes.

Boetsch looked confident and poised in his Octagon debut. If his wrestling is anywhere close to where his stand-up game is, "The Barbarian," who is only 27, will undoubtedly be a force in the division. One can only imagine the entertaining matchups between Boetsch and established fighters such as Houston Alexander or Keith Jardine.

While Boetsch has the makings of a future contender, a couple of other UFC newcomers didn't fare so well. Rob Yundt made his UFC debut on three days notice and was simply overwhelmed by Ricardo Almeida's BJJ prowess. Yundt lost after Almeida served him an arm-inside guillotine choke.

But at least Yundt's night didn't end the way fellow debutant Kyle Bradley's did. The 25-year-old ended his performance against Chris Lytle by pulling guard and grabbing the nearest person's head to keep him close. Unfortunately, the nearest person was the referee and the real fight had ended many moments earlier. Lytle had pounded him with so many rights (and a few well-placed lefts thrown in for good measure) during the mere 33-second bout that Bradley didn't have a clue what or who had hit him. When a middle-tier welterweight like Lytle can do that to an opponent, it's yet another example of how deep that division is.

For the second straight pay-per-view event, the UFC managed to squeeze in eight of the card's nine fights onto its pay-per-view telecast. With UFC's recent pay-per-view price increase, the bulked-up content is a very promising trend. When fans shell out hard-earned cash to watch a UFC event, it makes sense to give them what they paid for. By toning down the filler material and packing the telecast with as many fights as possible, the UFC appears to understand this and deserves to be commended.

So, am I being greedy if I ask for that ninth fight as well?

Reach Pramit Mohapatra at pramit.mohapatra@gmail.com

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