Joe Soto looked terrific in the opening round of his first Bellator featherweight championship defense in San Antonio. Then the kid got cocky, allowing Joe Warren, the ultimate competitor, back into the fight.
Thursday night's classic -- a contender for fight, comeback and knockout of the year -- kicked off September's MMA action following an intense 31-day stretch in August, and helped put the finishing touches on SI.com's monthly divisional rankings.
Soto, 23, plastered Warren, 33, with a left hand in the first 30 seconds that forced the challenger to fight on instinct. Based on the rest of the round, it wasn't a fluke. Soto's lead hand was his best weapon. Heavy jabs and compact hooks to the head found a home, allowing Soto to setup popping uppercuts on the inside.
But then the kid acted as if the fight was wrapped. And against Warren, it never really is.
By the fourth minute Soto began taunting the 2006 Greco-Roman wrestling world champion. At the close of the first Soto had so thoroughly dominated Warren, well worth a 10-8 tally on SI.com's scorecard, he smiled and appeared to console the challenger, as if to say, "Sorry, buddy, better luck next time."
As it were, Warren, who began fighting professionally just 18 months ago, didn't wait to take advantage. Ten seconds into Round 2, Warren tossed out a straight right that connected behind Soto's left ear. The champion, who walked into the bout heralded as one of the sport's top prospects with a record of 9-0, fell back-first to the canvas. Warren pounced, unloading hammerfists to the front and back of Soto's head. Seconds later the pair of wrestlers stood, Warren waded in and slammed a knee into Soto's face that snapped his head up and back. A short left to the mouth followed and Soto (9-1) was finished.
"It was all about refocusing," Warren (6-1) said. "Focus my intensity. I had a bad first round. I took a deep breath, got my focus back and pushed hard. You can't stop me, I'm the baddest man on the planet."
A wide gap remains between Warren and No. 1 ranked featherweight Jose Aldo when it comes to skill and fighting acumen, but the win-at-all-costs American certainly ranks among the planet's fiercest competitors -- and it's that attitude that carried him to victory Thursday.
Warren (ranked No. 9) returns to action Sept. 25 in Japan against Michihiro Omigawa (ranked eighth) in what should be a meaningful clash in Dream at 145 pounds -- part of Warren's quest to get in as much MMA as he can before committing to a wrestling-only schedule for 2011 aimed at getting him on the following year's U.S. Olympic squad.
"I'm used to being on top and staying on top," Warren said before defeating Soto. "It's a comfortable feeling for me. I would much rather be there than someone trying to come up the ladder and get to that point."
Warren plans on training at his gym in Denver, Colo., the Rhino Sports Gallery, for Omigawa, and, he hopes, another bout on New Year's Eve under the terms of his promotional contract with Sotaro Shinoda and Real Entertainment.
A week after the featherweights meet in Japan, Aldo is set to defend his WEC title against Manvel Gamburyan. The young Brazilian stands as the lone top-ranked mixed martial artist scheduled to fight in September.
Despite an incredible amount of high-level action in August -- punctuated by a trio of 1 vs. 2 matchups in which the top-ranked fighter went 3-0 -- there were surprisingly few changes to SI.com's divisional rankings.
After losing his Strikeforce light heavyweight belt to Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante, Muhammed Lawal dropped out and Gegard Mousasi, whom Lawal defeated in April to win the belt, joined him. Cavalcante moves into the No. 10 spot and Rich Franklin fills the gap at 9.
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, the new Strikeforce middleweight champion following a points win against Tim Kennedy, moves into the rankings for the first time, replacing an inconsistent Robbie Lawler. And Jorge Santiago, fresh off an excellent victory over Kazuo Misaki in Tokyo, moves up one spot to No. 9.
The most movement came in the lightweight division. Frankie Edgar solidified his spot atop the 155-pound division with a dominant shutout over B.J. Penn, sending the second-ranked Hawaiian down to No. 4. (The loss also knocked Penn off SI's pound-for-pound list.) Gilbert Melendez (now No. 2) and Gray Maynard (No. 3 up from 7) were big beneficiaries. Kenny Florian, who lost a lopsided decision to Maynard, also fell three spots.
And though it didn't happen in August, Warren's classic win against Soto sneaks in under the radar, prompting a swap of spots with Josh Grispi in the featherweight rankings.
Heavyweight, welterweight, bantamweight and flyweight did not see any changes.
Heavyweight1. Brock Lesnar (5-1)2. Fabricio Werdum (14-4-1)3. Fedor Emelianenko (31-2, 1 NC)4. Cain Velasquez (8-0)5. Junior dos Santos (12-1)6. Shane Carwin (12-1)7. Frank Mir (13-5)8. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (32-6-1, 1 NC)9. Alistair Overeem (33-11, 1 NC)10. Antonio Silva (14-2)
Others receiving consideration: Cheick Kongo, Brett Rogers, Andrei Arlovski, Josh Barnett, Roy Nelson
Light Heavyweight1. Mauricio Rua (19-4)2. Lyoto Machida (16-1)3. Rashad Evans (15-1-1)4. Quinton Jackson (30-8)5. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (19-3)6. Forrest Griffin (17-6)7. Jon Jones (11-1)8. Thiago Silva (14-2)9. Rich Franklin (28-5)10. Rafael Cavalcante (10-2)
Others receiving consideration: Muhammed Lawal, Gegard Mousasi, Randy Couture, Ryan Bader, Renato Sobral
Middleweight1. Anderson Silva (27-4)2. Chael Sonnen (25-11-1)3. Jake Shields (25-4-1)4. Nate Marquardt (29-9-2)5. Dan Henderson (25-8)6. Vitor Belfort (19-8)7. Yushin Okami (25-5)8. Demian Maia (13-2)9. Jorge Santiago (23-8)10. Ronaldo Souza (13-2, 1 NC)
Others receiving consideration: Robbie Lawler, Wanderlei Silva, Hector Lombard, Chris Leben, Michael Bisping
Welterweight1. Georges St. Pierre (20-2)2. Jon Fitch (23-3, 1 NC)3. Thiago Alves (16-7)4. Martin Kampmann (17-3)5. Paulo Thiago (13-2)6. Josh Koscheck (15-4)7. Matt Hughes (45-7)8. Nick Diaz (23-7, 1 ND)9. Dan Hardy (23-7, 1 NC)10. Paul Daley (24-9-2)
Others receiving consideration: Carlos Condit, Jay Hieron, Matt Serra, Ben Askren, John Hathaway
Lightweight1. Frankie Edgar (13-1)2. Gilbert Melendez (18-2)3. Gray Maynard (10-0, 1 NC)4. B.J. Penn (15-7-1)5. Shinya Aoki (24-5, 1 NC)6. Eddie Alvarez (20-2)7. Kenny Florian (13-5)8. Evan Dunham (11-0)9. Tatsuya Kawajiri (26-6-2)10. Josh Thomson (17-3)
Others receiving consideration:Jim Miller, Takanori Gomi, Ben Henderson, George Sotiropoulous, Antonio McKee
Featherweight1. Jose Aldo (17-1)2. Bibiano Fernandes (8-2)3. Manny Gamburyan (11-4)4. Mike Thomas Brown (23-6)5. Urijah Faber (23-4)6. Hatsu Hioki (22-4-2)7. Marlon Sandro (17-1)8. Michihiro Omigawa (11-8-1)9. Joe Warren (6-1)10. Josh Grispi (14-1)
Others receiving consideration: L.C. Davis, Diego Nunes, Raphael Assuncao, Joe Soto, Masanori Kanehara
Bantamweight 1. Dominick Cruz (15-1)2. Joseph Benavidez (12-1) 3. Brian Bowles (8-1)4. Miguel Torres (37-3) 5. Scott Jorgensen (10-3) 6. Takeya Mizugaki (13-4-2) 7. Damacio Page (15-4)8. Rani Yahya (15-6)9. Shuichiro Katsumura (11-7-3)10. Masakatsu Ueda (11-1-2)
Others receiving consideration: Eddie Wineland, Charlie Valencia, Wagnney Fabiano, Antonio Banuelos, Michael McDonald
Flyweight1. Jussier da Silva (7-0) 2. Mamoru Yamaguchi (23-5-3) 3. Yuki Shojo (10-5-2) 4. Yasuhiro Urushitani (17-4-6) 5. Ryuichi Miki (10-4-3) 6. Kiyotaka Shimizu (6-3-1) 7. Pat Runez (4-0) 8. Mitsuhisa Sunabe (12-6-3) 9. Alexis Vila (8-0) 10. Fumihiro Kitahara (8-1-1)
Others receiving consideration: John Dodson, Alexandre Pantajo, Isao Hirose, Jessie Riggleman, Ulysses Gomez
Pound-for-pound1. Georges St. Pierre (Canada) 2. Anderson Silva (Brazil) 3. Jose Aldo (Brazil) 4. Mauricio Rua (Brazil) 5. Dominick Cruz (U.S.)6. Frankie Edgar (U.S.)7. Jake Shields (U.S.)8. Lyoto Machida (Brazil)9. Gilbert Melendez (U.S.)10. Jon Fitch (U.S.)