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Live blog from UFC 97

mma.inside.jpg's Josh Gross provides first-rate analysis from the UFC 97 showdowns in Montreal featuring light heavyweights Chuck Liddell and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and, in the main event, Thales Leites and Anderson Silva for the UFC middleweight title.

Judges: 49-46; 48-47; 50-46 (weird score) all for Silva, who retains his UFC middleweight belt, and is still ranked No. 3 in my pound-for-pound.

Round 5 -- Leites is going hard after a takedown. A deep single is denied, Silva unleashes a right hands, and stands.

The challenger flops to his back again, connects on few more, and stands. Rinse. Repeat.

This is embarrassing for Leites. He refuses to engage outside of weak, overextended takedown attempts. In a title fight, the fight of your life, his performance is inexcusable. Would sure like to see Silva go after Leites, but he hasn't with 90 seconds to go.

A lead left bounces Leites' head back. That was pretty much it.

Classic Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter outmatched against a great striker that can't get taken down. The final period closes to boos from the sold-out audience at the Bell Centre. 10-9 Silva; 49-46 on my card. A record-breaking win for Silva, though hardly memorable for anything more that stat.

Round 4 -- Silva pinpoints the top of Leites' lead leg with kicks. A series backs the challenger to the fence, but nothing more comes. Silva is feinting and dancing, which he did against Cote. Pretty clear this is what he does when he's bored.

Leaping left hook scores for Silva. A high kick, deflected. If the ground game won't come for Leites, he'll have to make some effort at scoring on the feet. Thus far, haven't seen much of it.

Good low kick as Thales dives in for a double-leg that gets stuffed. Silva twirls his fellow countryman with a low kick. This is target practice without much ammo. A minute to go and Silva jabs and dances. He needs Leites to come forward, and it ain't happening. For the second consecutive fight, Silva doesn't look like the best fighter on the planet. Fedor and GSP both wipe out less competition. We're heading to the fifth, with Silva virtually assured of winning the decision. Will he go for a finish or accept a meandering decision?

Round 3 -- They're engaged. Best start to a round yet.

Leites falls to the canvas, pawing at his right eye. Referee Yves Lavigne lets them continue with Leites on his back and Silva working leg kicks. Back to the feet at the request of the referee, and a failed takedown from the challenger is again on his back taking leg kicks.

Anderson is beginning to move forward. Good inside leg kick. The champion shows frustration after another standup when Leites fell to his back to avoid strikes. Silva lands a big kick to the ribs, nice strike.

Silva doesn't feel like he's facing someone who wants to fight. And he's got no respect for the challenger, as shown by a jumping scissor kick. Good jab and low kick from Silva. He can finish this fight by throwing basic combination. Leites can't take Silva down and he's standing flatfooted. I can see judges scoring it 10-8 because of Leites' timidity. But I'll post a 10-9 because Anderson never landed anything really damaging.

Heard after the round: According to the translator in Leites' corner, the advice from his trainer: "You gotta punch him out." Makes sense.

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Round 2 -- Leites needs to fight with more confidence. He gave ground during every exchange. And he needs to start jabbing. Takedowns can come behind jabs. Leites needs one. ... and he gets a beautiful double leg.

The challenger is working from half-guard. This would appear to be his best chance to win the fight. Anderson is keeping a tight lockdown on Leites left leg, and transitions to a body triangle on the bottom. This is a rare defensive position, but Silva can pull it off because of his long legs.

Good round for Leites. He hasn't passed the guard yet, but he landed some scoring shots. A mistake by the challenger and we're standing again.

Not that it seems to matter. Silva isn't attacking, and the challenger isn't pressing the issue. Thirty seconds to go and Silva continues working with his hands at his sides, not offering much offense. A friendly high-five ends Round 2.10-9 Leites.

Round 1 -- The Brazilians meet in the center of the cage, bow, and move to their corners. Very cordial. Round 1 begins with a touch of the gloves. It takes 70 seconds before either fighter moves forward with a strike. A slow start.

Silva doesn't appear to have much respect for Leites' hands. The champion stands head-forward, hands down, almost begging an attack so he can counter. A smattering of boos from the crowd in Montreal with two minutes to go in the opening round.

Lots of feinting and moving, and Silva scores with a sweet little right hook to the body.

Leites is working hard for a takedown. He pulled half-guard, fought to a single-leg and then scrambled with Silva across the cage. But the champion is a hard one to get down, and he remains standing to the closing bell. 10-9 Silva for landing the only significant strikes: the hook to the body and a short leg sweep.

12:18 a.m.: The champion enters the cage after a coat of Vaseline is slathered on his face. I'm sorry to say this, but it was pretty obvious that Silva took his hands, wiped down his face and rubbed his chest and arms. Something to remember if Silva easily, and repeatedly, slips out of Leites' grasp.

12:13 a.m.: As much as one can gain from peering at the expression on a fighter's face before he or she gets down to business, Anderson Silva looks ready to fight.

12:11 a.m.: Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" greets Leites walk to the cage. Without St. Pierre headlining, however, the crowd in Montreal isn't nearly as present as it was when the welterweight champion walked over Matt Serra this time last year.

12:08 a.m.: I can't imagine there's anyone at home all that excited about spending $55 bucks and having to sit through meaningless promo interviews and a trailer for another bad MMA movie. Maybe I'm alone here, but I doubt it.

11:48 p.m.: Now onto Silva-Leites. The reason Silva is no longer No. 1 on my pound-for-pound list has everything to do with his recent fights. After tearing through Nate Marquardt, Rich Franklin and Dan Henderson, "The Spider" stopped middle-of-the-road light heavyweight James Irvin, and danced around Patrick Cote for three rounds.

Meanwhile, Fedor pummeled Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski, and St. Pierre ran off a streak against Josh Koscheck, Matt Hughes, Matt Serra, Jon Fitch and B.J. Penn. But against Leites, Silva has an opponent that is considered a legit challenger.

If Leites can get to fight to the canvas, his jiu-jitsu and guard-passing skills should be good enough to give the long-limbed champion problems.

Still, expect Silva to stay out of Leites' range, land punches from the outside and do most of his damage in the Thai clinch. The expectation here is for "The Spider" to go into the history books with his ninth consecutive win in the UFC.

11:41 p.m.: Welcome back to the top 10 Shogun. After surgeries and setbacks, it's nice to see someone with so much talent recapture the form that made him a terror in his early 20s.

The win immediately puts Rua (18-3) in the UFC's deep light heavyweight division, without much debate the best in MMA.

In large measure, that distinction should be considered a compliment to Liddell, who ruled it for over three years starting with his win over Tito Ortiz in 2004. If this is the last time we see Liddell fight -- that was all the talk leading up to the bout -- let us remember him for being a warrior, someone who took on all comers and disposed of many of them. (My gut tells me we'll see Liddell, 21-7, at least once more, in Vegas.)

Round 1 -- Liddell comes out, his hands still down, not much different stylistically after working former Olympic boxer Howard Davis Jr. Rua is targeting Liddell's lead leg. And Chuck's power appears for the first time. Several nice right hands by the former UFC champ stammer Rua, who answered with a high kick that caught Liddell underneath his right armpit. Rua offers winging overhand rights.

Again, he counters a jab over the top. Nice takedown from Rua. Liddell, of course, stands. Leg lock from the Brazilian. But Liddell is having none of it, doing what made him such an effective striker: standing from the bottom. Wrestling exchanges are key. Unsuccessful, they can ruin Rua's breathing by changing his rhythm. Liddell lands punches that force Shogun back across the cage. A nice double-leg from Liddell is for sure, as he stands and wants to strike in the final 45 seconds.

Lunging lead left hook plasters Liddell! Rua dives in and uncorks seven hammerfists before referee Mario Yamasaki jumps in to save the Iceman.

The punch was clean. Liddell's legs gave way and Rua, as he'd done during his reign in 2005, swarmed and wailed away until the finish was undeniable. The finish comes at 4:28 of the opening round.

11:23 p.m.: A video made its way around the net highlighting Rua's camp. It's worth noting that for the first time in his career, he moved his training camp outside of his hometown, Curitiba, Brazil. As "Shogun" bounces around in his corner, moments from meeting the hard-hitting "Iceman," it looks as if Rua's in shape.

11:22 p.m.: In 2005, Rua was considered by many to be the fighter of the year in MMA. Meanwhile, Chuck Liddell was in the middle of a three-year run dominating the UFC light heavyweight division. Four years ago, this was a fight you could handicap. But now, with Liddell losing three of four, with Shogun undergoing two major knee operations, the variables are too many to call. I don't know who's going to win this fight. But the answer, I think, will be clear fairly early.

11:17 p.m.:Fedor Emelianenko. Georges St. Pierre. Anderson Silva. For some time, the champion trio has, depending on the person doing the ranking, alternated among the top three spots on mixed martial arts' pound-for-pound lists.

With a decisive win tonight in Montreal against Thales Leites, Silva -- the UFC's dominant middleweight champion looking his fifth defense and a record nine consecutive wins inside the octagon -- would continue a show that's run for nearly three years (if you were to exclude St. Pierre's short circuit against Matt Serra).

No matter how you rank 'em -- I have it Fedor and GSP in a virtual tie, with "The Spider" a hair behind -- MMA's top heavyweight, welterweight and middleweight, respectively, are without much argument the best three fighter's the sport has ever produced.

It wasn't so long ago Chuck Liddell and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua ranked as high as the aforementioned trio does today. Now, each is in serious need of a good performance if they have any hopes of getting back in the discussion.

UFC 97 Results:

Main Card:

• Anderson Silva def. Thales Leites by Unanimous Decision (49-46, 48-47, 50-46), R5

• Sam Stout def. Matt Wiman by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28), R3

• Mauricio "Shogun" Rua def. Chuck Liddell by TKO (Strikes) at 4:28, R1

• Krzysztof Soszynski def. Brian Stann by Submission (Kimura) at 3:53, R1

• Cheick Kongo def. Antoni Hardonk by TKO (Strikes) at 2:29, R2

• Luiz Cane def. Steve Cantwell by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27), R3

Preliminary Card:

• Denis Kang def. Xavier Fouka-Pokum by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27), R3

• Nate Quarry def. Jason MacDonald by TKO (Strikes) at 2:27, R1

• Ed Herman def. David Loiseau by Unanimous Decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27), R3

• Mark Bocek def. David Bielkheden by Submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 4:57, R1

• T.J. Grant def. Ryo Chonan by Split Decision (30-27, 28-29, 29-28), R3

• Eliot Marshall def. Vinny Magalhaes by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27), R3


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