Would two more rounds of Junior dos Santos vs. Shane Carwin have helped decide the winner? And if so, would the judges in Vancouver have made the right call?
If you saw what transpired Saturday at Rogers Arena, I'd hope you'd answer no and probably not. Almost as surprising as the length of UFC 131's headliner -- given the heavy-hitting combatants penchant for early knockouts -- were the baffling scores that kept popping up throughout the event.
In the first fight of the night, one judge gave Darren Elkins every round versus Michihiro Omigawa, and later did the same for Kenny Florian versus Diego Nunes. Another judge gave Mark Munoz every round versus Demian Maia. There wasn't just eye-rolling after the event; there was outright anger. So incensed was UFC president Dana White that he gave Omigawa his show and win money -- a little "Overruled!" to the judge who gave Elkins all three rounds.
A representative for the Vancouver Athletic Commission on Sunday told SI.com that the score will be reviewed "in detail."
Even the most incompetent ringside arbiter, though, didn't need a manual to figure out who won Dos Santos vs. Carwin. It was a dominant performance for Dos Santos, who pitched a shutout on the scorecards after battering Carwin for three rounds. That the full-time engineer held on until the final bell was simply miraculous.
Of course, the master plan wasn't to go the distance. The two had paved their ways to the top of the division with knockout after knockout. They were supposed to collide in the center of the ring like two great titans, and someone was supposed to fall down. And someone did: a Dos Santos combination dropped Carwin late in the opening frame and nearly brought a halt to the bout as he wailed away with punches. For a moment, it looked like the universe was in order, and referee Herb Dean would step in and stop the punishment. The Brazilian literally asked him to.
But from the momoent Carwin proved what a titan he really is, any hope of a finish was lost.
Dos Santos, you see, had learned his lesson in his previous fight against Roy Nelson. He'd hurt the round-bellied heavyweight hurt early on and swarmed with punches only to find himself sucking air in later rounds. With a title shot on the line against Carwin, he wasn't going make the same mistake. Afterward, he admitted he looked to Dean amid his barrage not to bail out his bloody opponent but himself after a good 30 seconds of red-lining it.
The point, though, is that Dos Santos knew he was well ahead. So he chopped away at Carwin for the remaining rounds, staying persistent with a jab, leg kick and a few takedowns. There was no reason to be reckless. And that's part of the psychology behind a high-profile fight, whether it be three rounds or five. When a fight's rhythm is established, as it was following Carwin's survival, it's extraordinarily hard to break.
"You go for the kill when you're at 100 percent and don't get it, what's the point of going for the kill when you're now at 80 percent?" asked one-time UFC middleweight challenger Chael Sonnen. "If it didn't work when you were fresh, why should you believe it's now going to work when you're tired?
"Pretty soon, guys don't go for it. They start to back off. You start to take inventory. You start to say, 'I've got this much time left, I'm this tired, this hurts, that hurts.' You start doing these different calculations in your mind, and it becomes a game of just trying to beat the clock."
One-time Strikeforce middleweight challenger Tim Kennedy is adamant that it shouldn't be that way. If you're fighting a 15-minute fight, he said, you should be able to sprint to the finish; likewise for a title-length bout.
But even he admits that there's something that happens when pace is established. Maybe it's that you're mind sets into a rhythm, and you conserve energy where maybe you should be expending. He remembers getting to the end of his title fight against Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and cursing himself that he had energy to burn.
Sonnen calls this part of an unconscious contract that gets often written between fighters during a bout. There's an initial clash, the first flush of combat. Momentum is established. Both, however, know they can't swing nonstop for the fences. So one moves a bit, fires a few punches, and re-sets. The other follows. They dance; they keep things moving. When the audience boos, they turn it up a notch. Maybe someone gets caught, or maybe they don't. But the fight keeps on chugging, hopefully without boos, until the final bell rings.
They might not even know what happened between them until afterward. They might say, "I was trying to finish, but the guy was tough."
"I should have gone faster," Kennedy said. "Maybe I'm being hypocritical. I might have even paced myself when I shouldn't have. It wasn't a conscious decision to want to pace the fight."
But with five-round non-title fights a reality after August's UFC 133, there could be a lot more of that in store.
And now, a stock watch:
Junior dos Santos: It's custom for oddsmakers to set betting lines on future fights, and with his crushing decision over Carwin, fortunes favor Dos Santos against champ Cain Velasquez in a bout that's targeted for October or November. According to one line set almost immediately after Saturday's fight, the Brazilian stands at -125 to Velasquez's -105.
Weighing heavily on those odds is the uncertain future of Velasquez, who damaged his labrum when he took the belt from Brock Lesnar at UFC 121. Assuming he's healthy to fight in October, it will have been a full year since Velasquez stepped inside the Octagon. At 28, he's at the stage of his career where it's not wise to take long breaks, and cage rust could be a factor. Dos Santos said "no way" to waiting for a title shot and took the fight with Carwin. That wasn't an option going the other way, and it could cement Dos Santos' favorite status as the fall moves closer.
The spread is pretty thin, obviously, and that's because of the wrestling skills of Velasquez. But that's not all he brings to a fight with dos Santos. In addition to his ability to take opponents down, he has the punching power to put them out. All but one of his UFC opponents folded to strikes, and should he put Dos Santos horizontal, he not only takes the challenger's power away but multiples his own.
Then again, we now know that Dos Santos is capable of hitting a double-leg. He did so twice on Saturday night -- to the great shock of all -- and showed off defensive wrestling chops that kept him upright on two of three takedowns attempted by Carwin, a NCAA Division II champ.
"I have a ground game," dos Santos said following Saturday's fight. "I train with good guys who are good in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. "Of course, I'm not like Demian Maia, but I'm tough."
So it's pretty much a toss up at this point as to whether Dos Santos can take Velasquez's belt. Saturday's fight certainly showed us that there's a lot we didn't know about him. Are there more surprises in store? We'll find out.
Sam Stout: Prior to his blistering first-round knockout of Yves Edwards on the Spike-televised prelims, the Ontario native admitted he'd begun to worry if he'd chosen the wrong nickname. For a guy dubbed "Hands of Stone," Stout had a curious difficulty in putting opponents away in his five years with the UFC. All but one of his fights had ended in decision, and the sole finish hadn't gone his way. In fact, almost half of the decisions hadn't either, though he'd never failed to deliver excitement and had won a staggering five performance bonuses. Sure, the extra cash was nice. But he wanted a finish -- and boy did he get one.
A scary one, as it were. Edwards lay twitching on the canvas several moments after Stout's left hook sent him lifeless to the mat, his head awfully bouncing on impact. Thank heavens the Canadian had the consciousness not to inflict more punishment.
The victory nonetheless earned Stout a big sum of career capital. I think a fight against Donald Cerrone would be another barnburner (if Cerrone can be pried from his desire to silence Mac Danzig).
Chris Weidman: Another quick win in the books for the Division I wrestling standout turned MMA fighter. Weidman quickly recovered after Canadian foe Jesse Bongfeldt kicked him upside the head and evened the fight on the mat. When Bongfeldt popped up, he was waiting with a guillotine choke and got the tapout. With more work on his standup, he could present problems for a lot of middleweights.
Dustin Poirer: There's something about this kid. He's aggressive, he's game, and he has poise beyond his 22 years. His opponent, Jason Young, had brilliant technique in the standup realm of the fight. But he lacked the killer instinct of Poirer, and thus, found himself one step behind in three rounds of fighting.
Poirer is headed for big things in the featherweight division. Right now, he's a little wild and unpolished. In a year or two, though, he could be fighting for the belt. A ton of top-level wrestlers stand in his way to the top, so my advice for "The Diamond": get thee to a wrestling room, and stay there.
Michihiro Omigawa: The Japanese featherweight standout was the first victim of judging funkiness, and perhaps the worst case on UFC 131's fight card. On the scorecards of just about everyone but those in charge of the official decision, Omigawa out-struck and out-grappled Darren Elkins. But at the end of three rounds, it was the bloodied Elkins who prevailed with a unanimous decision. It would have been the once top-ranked fighter's first Octagon win. And it was -- just not officially.
Kenny Florian: We'll get a better sense of whether the two-time lightweight challenger can succeed at 145 pounds in his next fight, because Florian's performance Saturday against Diego Nunes was probably not the best indicator. He admitted as much after a unanimous-decision win, saying his first featherweight fight was the most difficult thing he'd ever done in his life. And it's no wonder -- he cut from 180 pounds after two months of couch potato-dom while recovering from knee surgery early this year. Somehow, he made it, and managed to get the judges' nod by outwrestling the tough Nunes over three rounds. But we won't know whether he possesses a significant threat to current champ Jose Aldo until next time out. Then, he won't be starting from such a deficit, and I suspect he'll be a little more spritely. If he's the next contender, which is a possibility according to White, he'll need more spring in his step to beat the champ.
Mark Munoz: A unanimous decision win Demian Maia made it three in a row for Munoz, a NCAA Divison I champion just about four years into his MMA career. And while "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" has made great strides in a short period of time, you couldn't help but notice he struggled with Maia. Like Munoz, Maia, a former ADCC champ, has intensely worked to shore up his standup skills. Like Munoz, he's suffered some pretty violent setbacks (Nate Marquardt, and Matt Hamill for Munoz). But he more than kept up on his feet on Saturday, and Munoz's wrestling was the deciding factor in the end.
Maybe Munoz had an off night. Maia clearly rocked him in the first round. But if he struggled against Maia, he has a long way to go before he's in the title picture. He hit a brick wall against current contender Yushin Okami, and against Michael Bisping or, God forbid, Anderson Silva, he's overmatched on the feet and faces a tough night in the takedown department. A fight with Brian Stann is already the talk of the Internet sewing circle, and I think it's a perfectly logical fight for both.
Dave Herman: The newcomer is a rare bird, indeed. He thinks jiu-jitsu doesn't work. He smiles when his opponent thonks him with a knee. He willfully disobeys his corner and apparently has done so his entire career. From the look of it, Herman is that classic tough guy who truly doesn't care what anyone else thinks he should do. He's a one-man army. That works against Jon Olav Einemo, a guy coming off a four-year layoff from fighting. But it won't work against somebody like Joey Beltran, whom he was originally scheduled to fight before Brock Lesnar's withdrawal prompted a shake-up on Saturday's card. He plays it a little too fast and loose, and while it's exciting to see a big guy throw caution to the wind, it's frustrating when his ego gets him beat.
I'm guessing he'll welcome Ben Rothwell back to the cage late this summer.
Donald Cerrone: His sullen post-fight expression certainly hinted that "Cowboy" thought the outcome of his fight with short-notice replacement Vagner Rocha was dubious. But surprisingly, he didn't sugarcoat his decision win, which came almost entirely through a barrage of leg kicks that tenderized the jiu-jitsu specialist's legs. He had the chance, and hardly would have drawn notice given a long-running tradition among fighters of whitewashing disappointments. Nope, Cerrone admitted that he fought not to lose and shied away from finishing his thoroughly overmatched opponent because he afraid of being taken down. Kudos go to the two-time WEC title challenger for being honest. He'll likely make up lost ground with his next opponent.
Vagner Rocha: Hobbled from leg kicks, Rocha, a jiu-jitsu blackbelt who's biggest career win was a decision in 2009 over Igor Gracie (then a modest 1-1), got so desperate to get the fight to the ground that he slid, Slip 'n Slide style, at the legs of Donald Cerrone. But like every meek attempt at a takedown, it would be stuffed, and the slow burn of punishment would continue. Rocha wasn't just overmatched -- he didn't belong in there. And he probably won't until he gets more experience under his belt.
James Head: It all went downhill for the newcomer after the first round. Head badly rocked Nick Ring with a punch, then seemed to expire as the fight went into deep waters. Ring was all over him on the ground, and with punches and elbows, Head was a bloody mess. A not-even-completed rear-naked choke was the only excuse he needed to tap.
Jesse Bongfeldt: For about 15 seconds, he looked like hell on wheels. A high kick put injury-replacement Chris Weidman on the defensive. But Bongfeldt was ill-prepared on the ground and wilted when Weidman slapped on a standing guillotine choke toward the end of the round. To tap to that choke after a draw in your debut -- well, it looks like "Water" will have to wait for the next Canadian card. But not before he goes back to the regional drawing board.
Yves Edwards: As likable and durable the guy is -- heck, he started his career five months after Randy Couture -- it may be time for the creator of "thugjitsu" to do other things. Out cold after Sam Stout caught him with a left hook in the first round, it became abundantly clear that the window of time he spoke of prior to the fight is rapidly closing. Everyone gets caught in his business -- I saw him take a kick flush to the side of his head four years ago in BodogFight that turned the lights off -- and he's still capable of schooling some of the youngsters. But to what end?
I'd rather remember him for the truly memorable fights he's delivered than Saturday night's grisly scene.