Crowd favorite Lytle bids farewell on winning note at UFC on Versus 5
UFC on Versus 5 had plenty of snapshot moments: Chris Lytle's barnburner with Dan Hardy, his heartfelt retirement speech with his kids alongside, Ben Henderson's scary good control of Jim Miller.
It was a card worth much more than its portion of the cable bill.
But the event was also shadowed by loss. Seven fights into the card, I got a call from John Gunderson, a lightweight from Bend, Ore., who now makes his home in Las Vegas. Gunderson told me that Shawn Tompkins, a trainer whom he'd worked with for years and a guy who'd ushered into the big time Sam Stout, Mark Hominick and Chris Horodecki, had not woken up on Sunday morning. It was hard to focus after that.
The UFC honorably gave mention of Tompkins during the event's broadcast, and the outpouring of support online was fitting for a talented, if sometimes troubled man who helped a great number of fighters in more than a decade in the sport.
Tompkins will be greatly missed in the fight community.
In 12 years of fighting in MMA, Lytle never held a major title, and he frequently lost to top-tier competition in his 20 appearances in the Octagon. But he always brought the fight to his opponents, particularly in the last five years of his career, and the result was almost always an exciting affair. In his final fight Sunday against Dan Hardy, he delivered yet another crowd-pleaser that led to a third-round submission victory -- cementing his UFC win percentage at an even .500 -- and a record 10th performance bonus earned for "Fight of the Night" and "Submission of the Night" honors.
Lytle has more of those awards than Anderson Silva, the pound-for-pound great. It's not only a cool footnote in the history books, but it probably paved the way for him to leave on his own terms. He netted over half a million dollars with those extra payouts, to say nothing of the discretionary bonuses he received. Not many fighters get the chance to do it their way. So he didn't get a title -- what he accomplished wasn't peanuts.
Lytle is now on to the next phase of his life, that of a full-time firefighter and a full-time family man. He's played those roles since forever, but without an MMA career to keep afloat, he now has time to give the latter more attention. It's sad to see him go, but a wonderful reminder that happy endings do exist in this unforgiving sport.
Although talk immediately turned to Clay Guida, who earned the first big upset of lightweight title season by outpointing former WEC champ Anthony Pettis, it's a better idea to put Henderson in a title eliminator match with Melvin Guillard at the end of the year. No other two fighters have looked as devastating and impressive as of late. I say put the winner of that bout against that of Edgar-Maynard III in the second quarter of 2012.
He has at least two or three more fights before he's close to a true test. For now, there are several fan-friendly matchups to be made, most of which he stands a good chance of winning. I'm thinking Dennis Siver, Sam Stout and Cole Miller (more on him below).
What's next? Miller loves to fight an enemy, and he's been salivating for a chance to fight nemesis Donald Cerrone. Seems like a recipe for fireworks, if Cerrone agrees.
Case in point: time and time again, Miller exposed himself to danger with high-risk submission attempts. That, of course, put him on the receiving end of punching barrages that clouded his mind and left streaks of crimson for judges to consider. Sure, he got close to a submission, once, with a kneebar. But you have to wonder ... was it worth it? By the time he figured out he couldn't pull off a finish, he was too far down on the cards. Tough, tough break for a talented guy.
Will he do so? He'll likely get a charitable matchup in his next outing, which will rebuild some confidence. It still won't change the fundamental problem of his limited ground game, and sooner than later, the glow from Sunday's fight will wear off. But in the near term, it's an understandable decision. As Hardy's counterpart showed time and time again, you don't need to have the greatest record. Deliver excitement and you'll be rewarded.
Is he a first-round threat? Not necessarily. He's gone the distance before and availed himself well, even if it was against lesser competition. It just looks like there's a mental yip that perhaps causes him to let his guard down, or overestimate his position in the fight, or make careless mistakes. Maybe he's just unlucky. Whatever it is, he seems stuck in neutral, and there's not a whole lot of upside in that at middleweight.
Caceres showed far better against newcomer Jim Hettes in what was an insanely action-packed fight. But once again, he showed a serious deficit in grappling and submitted in the second. Likeability could earn him a last-chance shot, but he should probably go back to the minors.
He ran away after baiting the fighter to come forward. He collapsed into a heap when cornered. He had little ability to do anything other than shoot, badly, for a takedown.
Figueroa exploited that weakness to end the fight in the second. But it should have been over in the first, and Reinhardt probably should never have gotten a shot in the big show.