Josh Gross
Tuesday June 9th, 2009

Though it happens from time to time, it's rare -- too rare probably -- that I'll thank a fighter for his or her effort.

The occasion I best remember came in the immediate wake of a brutal clash between Ken Shamrock and Don Frye in Japan. They hated each other, fought like it and produced one amazing bout to watch. The following morning, when cameras were off and arena lights had long dimmed, the brutal results were impossible to miss. Shamrock's well-known face was lumped up and all sorts of shades of purple; Frye, victim of multiple leg submissions throughout the brawl, could barely carry his own weight.

Mike Thomas Brown and Urijah Faber don't dislike each other. They mutually respect each other, in fact. Yet, their performances Sunday -- based more on competitive spirit than raw emotion -- weren't any less intense, especially after it became clear that Faber's right hand had been rendered useless four minutes into a 25-minute fight.

While Brown and Faber didn't have a prayer of emerging out of the shadows cast by the best golfer and tennis player this past weekend, their labor delivered one of the grittiest, guttiest fights in a long while. And they both deserve our appreciation.

Actually, a bunch of guys do after an impressive docket of fights.

In St. Louis, for instance, welterweight Joe Riggs busted both hands against Phil Baroni, not that it stopped him. And Scott Smith took a record-breaking beating (more on this in a bit), one that apparently resulted in a broken jaw.

So on and so forth, just another violent, passion-filled weekend in MMA.

• Defending his WEC belt for the second time, Brown came into his fight against Faber a clear favorite among pundits, fellow fighters and fans. Though odds makers hedged some, it was expected in most quarters that Brown would find a way to retain his title.

It helped that Faber was injured, but I wouldn't chalk up Brown's latest win to the deficiencies of his challenger. The 33-year-old Brown, originally from Maine and the kind of fighter who's gone great lengths to avoid taking a nickname, possessed the tools and size to wear down "The California Kid." My sense is he would have regardless of Faber's health.

"The guy is mentally tough," Faber said Monday. "He's well-rounded and put in a lot of time. I have a lot of respect for him. I hit him with a lot of big shots and he shook it off and kept coming. He's a good champion."

Surely, he's a champion who will be tested. Featherweight has quickly emerged as one of the deepest and most competitive divisions in MMA, and competing in the WEC won't provide Brown an opportunity to relax as he goes about defending the title.

• Young Brazilian sniper Jose Aldo seems to be next in line. Because Aldo and Wagnney Fabiano share roots in the same camp, the WEC has been forced to pick one over the other when it comes to grooming for title contention. The organization clearly prefers Aldo. More explosive and exciting than his higher-ranked Nova Uniao teammate, Aldo's style is one that has fans giddy over just how good he can become.

One thing Aldo has over Brown is speed, which the 15-1 Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt displayed Sunday with an eight-second double-flying-knee stoppage over Cub Swanson. That may be it, though. Brown is more experienced. His record, an impressive 22-4, has been built against better opposition. He's also determined and tremendously strong for the weight.

WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner should let his promoter know this week if he's able to fight Donald Cerrone in September. If so, expect Brown to meet Aldo in October or November.

Meanwhile, Faber said he will take time to heal up and let other featherweights get their shot at the belt. Part of him hopes Brown can hold onto the title.

"I know for a fact I can beat him," Faber said. "I don't feel like I got beat up in that fight. I'm fine all the way around except for damage on my hands, knees and elbows, and I've got a little black eye. Other than that, I took a lot of good solid punches from him, and I had to take punches because I needed to get close to him. Obviously he's a tough fighter, but I think I have the tools to beat him and style-wise, I think I have the style to beat him, not vice-versa."

• Another fighter who walked away from his bout over the weekend with swollen hands was the irrepressible Nick Diaz. That'll happen when you crush a record for strikes thrown and landed in a single round, which Diaz did for the second time Saturday on Strikeforce's live debut in St. Louis.

According to CompuStrike, Diaz's striking stats in the second round against Scott Smith were astounding.

Michael Bisping's 141 strikes thrown in the first round against Elvis Sinosic held up for two years until Diaz tossed out 181 versus Frank Shamrock in April. He followed that up by unfurling 221 strikes against Smith, whom Diaz met at a catchweight of 180 pounds.

In two fights, Diaz managed to best Bisping's tally by 40 percent. More important, of course, is strikes landed. And Diaz impressed, scoring with 57 percent of his shots while connecting 125 times.

Thomas Denny, who took 72 strikes from Diaz in the first round last year before getting put away in the second, described fighting the young veteran from Stockton, Calif., as "annoying" and "frustrating." You think?

• Watch out for former University of Missouri wrestler Tyron Woodley, who fought on Strikeforce's undercard at welterweight. He's a powerful grappler who moves very well on his feet. The 27-year-old showed some deficiencies in terms of passing the guard, but give Woodley (3-0) a few fights, a chance to get used to the lights, and this is a fighter that could find himself in or near the top 10 at 170 pounds fairly soon.

• Also, people inside the WEC love Anthony Pettis, and for good reason. The way he fired submission after submission at Mike Campbell was wonderful to watch. Outside of Jamie Varner and Donald Cerrone, the WEC lacks significant talent at lightweight. Pettis, though, has all the makings of an exciting prospect. Expect the WEC to showcase the 22-year-old on future cards.

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