Josh Gross
Monday May 11th, 2009

It was the kind of weekend fight fans look forward to for weeks: multiple events showcasing a high-quality fill of mixed martial arts.

On Friday, in Lemoore, Calif., Palace Fighting Championship 13 featured the return of Cole Escovedo after a 21-month absence. In Texas, Bellator held its sixth event; in Tokyo, Shooto celebrated its 20th anniversary with a top-notch card; and, in Brazil, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira won in his home country for the first time in his eight-year career.

In short, there was plenty of talent-rich MMA to go around. Here were a few of the highlights:

• I had a nice chat with Chuck Liddell while waiting for Escovedo's first effort at 135 pounds. The sense I got from "The Iceman" is he feels something is off -- he mentioned getting hurt by shots that he withstood earlier in his career -- yet the desire to compete hasn't disappeared.

About the brewing war of words between his trainer John Hackleman and his promoter Dana White, Liddell made a face and shrugged. They're big boys, he said, they can do what they want. The decision remains his and it won't come for at least another month. Liddell hopes some distance from the loss to "Shogun" will entice clarity of thought.

When I asked him whether he was leaning towards coming back or hanging up his gloves (knowing a source close to the former Liddell told me last week he was eyeing retirement), the former UFC light heavyweight champ sighed and couldn't, or wouldn't, say what he was thinking.

He needs to be honest with himself about what's left to accomplish. Liddell always said he fought with the UFC belt on his mind. After decisive losses to three of the best in the division, he can't be sure winning a championship is realistic. And if it's not, why risk stepping back into the Octagon?

• PFC matchmaker Richard Goodman was proud to tout Joe Soto's win over the previously unbeaten Wilson Reis, one of two semifinal Bellator Fighting Championship 145-pound tournament bouts Friday in Robstown, Texas.

Reis stood as the odds-on favorite to advance, but Soto, a PFC veteran who hadn't needed more than four minutes to win any of his five fights coming in, stifled the crafty Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. A unanimous decision earned Soto $50,000 and a chance in the finals against Yahir Reyes, who caught Estevan Payan with a stunning knockout in the semis.

(That makes consecutive weeks Bellator has promoted award-worthy fights. If you haven't seen it, check out this come-from-behind gem from Toby Imada. It will take an epic submission to trump his standing reverse triangle in '09.

With Soto-Reyes determining the featherweight title, and Imada meeting highly regarded Eddie Alvarez at 155, that leaves entry into the welterweight finals up for grabs this Friday, and the middleweight bracket soon to follow. Early predictions: Soto finishes the job again Reyes, and Alvarez ends Imada's impressive run.

• It really is great to watch a motivated Takanori Gomi fight. The formerly No. 1-ranked lightweight returned to his roots Saturday, entering a Shooto-sanctioned ring for the first time since losing to Joachim Hansen in 2003.

When he's not enjoying a few too many beers, Gomi can be downright sizzling. In his time away from Shooto, much of which was spent anchoring Pride's 160-pound division, Gomi veered from a safe, grappling-first approach to one that relied on a sturdy chin, heavy hands and aggression.

He put those skills on display against Takashi Nakakura -- current owner of the belt Gomi (30-5, 1 ND) vacated after leaving Shooto for bigger paydays and a higher profile -- en route to a second-round knockout off a slick hands-only combination.

This was an important effort from Gomi, who seemed more excited by the win than usual judging by his attitude after the fight. At the age of 30, "The Fireball Kid" appears to be in no rush to get anywhere in particular. Buy if he can rekindle the magic that put him neck and neck with Mauricio Rua for "Fighter of the Year" honors in 2005, he could reignite the interest of casual Japanese fight fans. No pressure though.

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