The soldiers at Fort Hood got a pretty good show in chilly Killeen, Tex. at Saturday's UFC Fight Night 23: Fight for the Troops 2. After some initial snoozers, the action picked up and concluded with a bang when the event's final three fights ended in first-round finishes. Mark Hominick earned a title shot against featherweight champion Jose Aldo and Melvin Guillard inched closer to Frankie Edgar's lightweight belt. But, far and away, the biggest winner of the night was the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which by early estimates raised more than $600,000 during the Spike TV broadcast of the event. That money will provide badly needed funds for the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, a research and treatment center that's committed to helping soldiers who suffer traumatic brain injuries.
You can still donate at https://www.fightforthetroops.com/. And with that ...
Melvin Guillard (27-8-2): Talk about cutting in line. Guillard had bounced up and down the lightweight ladder in a four-year UFC career filled with more ups and downs than an oil futures index. Talented kid, people would say. Could be a great fighter if he got it together outside the cage. Well, he got a perfect opportunity in Dunham, a talented fighter on the cusp of title consideration, and now he's butted his way onto the foothills of Mt. Olympus.
Moving forward, here's the issue: The Dunhams and Lowes and the Torres' of the world -- all victims of Guillard's takedown defense and kinetic striking -- are a football field away from the seasoned grappling of the current Olympians. Guys like George Sotiropoulos and Kenny Florian have the submission acumen to tap him out, and guys like Gray Maynard and champ Frankie Edgar could neuter "The Young Assassin" with wrestling. The mat has not been friendly to Guillard in 13 octagon appearances -- all of his losses come by way of submission -- and good training and revitalized outlook aside, the opponent that takes away those deadly knees and punches is likely to send him back down the mountain.
Coach Greg Jackson: Yes, he is a coach -- has the tough task of getting Guillard to engage standout grapplers for three rounds without running a track meet. In his previous fight with Jeremy Stephens, a dangerous striker, Guillard did little more run than hit. That conservative style raised the ire of UFC fans, which is never a good strategy for earning a title shot. This time around, he melded the two together perfectly. Can he do that against the division's best?
Matt Mitrione (4-0): Apparently, this guy feeds off negative reinforcement. He had just learned that the whole cast of The Ultimate Fighter 10 were calling for his head because of his erratic and self-centered behavior in the practice room. He fired his agent on-air after outscoring Joey Beltran in his third post-reality show fight at UFC 119. His teammates relish the chance to razz him any chance they get -- Pat Barry used his post-fight victory speech to fire him (he was kidding).
Whatever it is that's fueling the former NFL defensive tackle, it's working. With a fourth consecutive win inside the octagon, this time against Tim Hague, he looks like a serious prospect in the heavyweight division. He throws straight punches. His hips hang loose for nasty kicks. (That's really an accomplishment in itself for a guy with less than two years experience, and yet another testimonial for the wizardry of coach Duke Roufus.) Best of all, he's not afraid to get in there and let his hands go.
You could say his courage stems from a few screws jarred loose from years of charging headlong at the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line. But hey, whatever works.
Missing from Mitrione's picture, though, is a fight against a guy with a semblance of a wrestling pedigree. Sure, he can bang with guys who are willing to stand in front of him. But what happens when he gets put on his back? He's still in the dark about that himself.
"I need to test my ground game," he told UFC.com after Saturday's fight. "I still don't know how well I do in a fight versus how well I do in practice. I need to get into a fight where I have to test my ground game, to see how good it is and how well I can handle myself."
Quite clearly, he's on his way to a reckoning in that department. It's a short leap these days from the middle of the pack to the top of the heavyweight division, and he doesn't have too many more fights before he gets in there with a guy who's just as big and has a lot more experience on the ground. Even up-and-comers such as Jon Madsen, Mike Russow and Christian Morecroft could give him big trouble, to say nothing of top-tier guys such as Roy Nelson, Frank Mir, and, god forbid, Cain Velasquez.
Mark Hominick (20-8): Big ups go to the Canadian featherweight for knowing that talk is cheap when it comes to title promises. Yes, UFC president Dana White had promised him a shot at 145-pound terror Aldo if he beat George Roop. But Hominick knew it wasn't just about winning the fight -- it was about HOW he won the fight. So he came out and did what a fighter should do to inspire opportunity: He showed bell-to-bell dominance. Less than 90 seconds into the fight, the referee was pulling him off Roop, who wanted to continue fighting but was betrayed by chicken legs that sent him stumbling into Hominick's waiting arms. (Good on UFC commentator Joe Rogan for calling out the absence of the referee, who should have kept an eye on Roop until cageside doctors arrived.)
Hominick, truly one of the nice guys in a business full of lugs, has been fighting professionally for 10 years and has all the career ups and downs of a veteran. But he appears to have turned a corner in the way he approaches fights, and that could be the difference in matching the fearsome striking of Aldo.
"It's never been training," Hominick told MMAjunkie.com after the fight. "I've always trained hard, and I'm improving everywhere. I think it's the mental state. When I kind of had that rough patch of win, loss, win, loss, I was going into the fight so concerned about what my opponent was doing and what they were going to do to me as opposed to what I was going to do to them.
"I haven't lost for two-and-a-half years. I'm more confident in what I can do and what I'm capable of."
Assuming both are healthy to fight, Hominick is now targeted to meet Aldo at UFC 129.
Matt Wiman (13-5): You never know how fighters will come back from injury layoffs. Sometimes they just don't have the same spring in their step, or cage rust leaves them uncertain of their best weapons. Wiman, who relentlessly hammered Cole Miller for three rounds en route to a win-by-decision, isn't one of those fighters. Why? He's been injured most of his career, he told me prior to the fight. A bum knee, a separated shoulder and a broken ankle couldn't keep him down. As it turned out, neither could a broken arm that forced him to bow out of a Sept. rematch with Mac Danzig. (Their first fight ended in a controversial submission win for Wiman.)
Wiman now enjoys a three-fight win streak inside the octagon and is due for a big fight. Does Danzig want to dance a second time?
Rogan kept calling Wiman's double-fisted chops to the downed Miller an ode to Kazushi Sakuraba, but I saw faint shades of Fedor Emelianenko, as well, in the hammerfists and looping punches he used to hurt the American Top Team fighter. Great stuff.
As my astute colleague Jeff Wagenheim also noted, Wiman left the TV on at home so his pets could watch the fight. How nice. He's probably one of those who have Facebook pages for each of them. Here's hoping they stopped chewing on his shoes long enough to catch the great performance and check out the social network's free webcast of four preliminary card fights. It could happen. There are a few MMA fans out there with a similar attention span.
Cody McKenzie (12-1): He was overmatched both on paper and in person against Yves Edwards, but damn the torpedoes, he charged forward and gave the veteran all he could handle before going out on his sword by refusing to tap to a rear naked choke in the second. Although McKenzie lacks experience at the this point, his go-for-broke attitude won him new fans, and with some more seasoning in the striking department, he could make things interesting in the lightweight division.
Evan Dunham (11-2): The Eugene, Ore., native had a lot less to gain in fighting Melvin Guillard instead of two-time contender Kenny Florian, though he didn't exactly have the type of career capital to wait it out and force the UFC to find a new main event. So he took a gamble against a fighter that was perhaps a tougher stylistic matchup and he lost big-time to Guillard's striking fury. Although he caught a bum decision in his previous fight against Sean Sherk, the cruel logic of matchmaking dictates he'll get a lower-tier veteran or a untested prospect in a must-win situation. Not a great place to be either way.
Mike Brown (24-8): The former WEC featherweight champion jumped back into the pond a bit too soon after a split decision loss to Diego Nunes earlier this month at UFC 125, and it came back to bite him in a big way. He quickly tired against the relentless ground assault of submission ace Rani Yahya and couldn't mount much of an offense. With back-to-back losses dotting his post-merger resume, he now faces a trip back to the minor leagues.
Mike Guymon (12-5-1): Another nice guy, but unfortunately, the longtime veteran looks overmatched inside the octagon, and a first-round loss to DaMarques Johnson by body triangle means his days in the world's premier fighting league are likely at an end.
Pat Barry (6-2): I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Barry is suffering from a moderate case of the yips. He's well-loved by fans and is always good copy for the media. It feels, though, like he's struggling under the weight of expectations. I don't fault him for being gun shy in his previous appearance against Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic at UFC 115. He broke his hand and foot on the Croatian. That will bring doubts to any mortal, let alone a striker. But against Joey Beltran on Saturday, I saw him wait for that perfect moment; a head kick, for example, or a Tyson-like uppercut to guarantee a highlight reel. Meanwhile, he let a whole heap of scoring opportunities pass him by. Technique won the day in the end; he still kicks and punches like a mule and broke Beltran late in the third round. But for him to emerge from this malaise, he needs to up the numbers on strikes thrown and stop looking for that perfect moment. It's never going to happen that way.