If you sat down on Sunday night for UFC on Versus 4, you couldn't help watching with just a little bit of skepticism and maybe consider a couple of alternative selections using picture-in-picture.
Heavyweights Pat Barry and Cheick Kongo as headliners? Rick Story vs. Charlie Brenna-who? What on earth happened to Nate Marquardt?
Dude, where's my card?
Finding the silver lining, though, is the duty of the fight fan. After all, a card shuffle could bring a more intriguing matchup. It can provide a guilty pleasure. And if nothing else, it's still two guys fighting in a cage. It's entertaining, and there's no reason to rip a card to shreds because fate and the chaos of matchmaking had something else in store.
Then again, UFC on Versus 4 tested one's patience. Perhaps the most relevant bout of the card -- Marquardt vs. Story -- was scrapped, leaving a replacement with a fraction of the importance: Story vs. Brenneman. The headliner? Kongo, a guy coming off a draw and eight-month injury layoff, against Barry, who has been hopscotching between wins and losses in his UFC career. The rest of the card was some interesting prospects and veterans trying to get back on the right foot. Not exactly the hottest ticket.
Sometimes, though, it seems like the competitors on these cards can hear the complaints, and they collectively resolve to rub our faces in the dirt by putting on adrenaline-injected displays of heart and cajones. Suddenly, you're forgetting what everything means and just enjoying good fights.
The fight between headliners Kongo and Barry went off like a bottle rocket, and while the co-main, Story vs. Brenneman, didn't, the meaning behind it had an equal impact. By that time, there had been some great fights and some good ones to satiate the combat appetite.
The lesson? Sometimes, it's good to put your inner critic on mute.
Now, a stockwatch:
Cheick Kongo: Taken as a whole, Kongo's UFC career had been long on promise and short on delivery when it came to top-tier opposition. Despite an imposing figure and the packed dynamite in his hands, knees and kicks, he consistently lost to superior wrestlers. Back-to-back losses to Cain Velasquez and Frank Mir and a draw to the then-unknown Travis Browne meant Kongo was facing a long road back to title contention. Then came back and shoulder injuries that sacked a possible bout with Roy Nelson in April.
A bad performance or loss against Barry could have put Kongo's career into a serious nose dive. He badly needed a win. You'd understand, then, why Barry predicted the Frenchman would try to grind him out against the cage rather than take his chances in a firefight, as was the case with Browne, and before that, against Paul Buentello. Instead, it was Barry who was shooting for a takedown with Kongo shrugging it off in a fight that crept along before it combusted near the midway point of the first frame.
Here's the thing: The punches that hit Kongo weren't of the chin-rattling, synapse-splitting, time lost kind. Two of Barry's big shots caught Kongo on the side of the head and robbed him of his equilibrium, much as Matt Serra did at UFC 69 when he took Georges St-Pierre's belt in the then-MMA upset of the decade. Kongo was wobbly, to be sure, and another shot might have made him a goner. It was his improbable luck, though, to catch Barry coming in with the same balance-taking shot, which set up the uppercut to the jaw that put Barry out cold.
Regardless of the circumstances around it, the knockout was still an amazing feat and bought Kongo more in career capital than he ever could have imagined. I've heard some suggest that the 5-0 Matt Mitrione is a good charge for his next outing, and while that's a winnable fight, it's not one that moves Kongo much up the ladder. I think the winner of the Brendan Schaub vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira match is a more sensible next step.
Charlie Brenneman: Some have called Brenneman's decision win Rocky-esque, but Rick Story is no Apollo Creed, and Brenneman is no Rocky. But Brenneman's upset definitely had the makings of made-for-TV. His octagon career hadn't been much up until that point, and his scheduled bout with T.J. Grant -- who withdrew days before the event due to illness -- wouldn't have put him anywhere near a belt. But by outwrestling the heavily hyped and, as it turned out, overtaxed Story, he just took a big leap forward.
How big a leap? Well, Brenneman still isn't anywhere near a belt, and I can't imagine the he would disagree. His methodical control of Story on the mat, while effective, isn't the type of style that makes promoters gush with glee. At the very least, though, he earned a fight against a decent name, an opportunity to showcase more of his skills and make his case for meeting someone in the division's top 15. The winner of Carlos Condit vs. Dong Hyun Kim? The winner of Rory MacDonald vs. Mike Pyle? John Hathaway? All sound good to me.
Matt Brown: He's not necessarily more dangerous. He doesn't possess insane technical skill in any area, but he fights like a dog and gets the job done. John Howard leg kicked him and he kicked Howard in the head twice. Howard wrestled him and Brown made himself dead weight. Howard swung for the fences, and Brown jabbed and jabbed and scored points. And with a unanimous decision, he saved himself from a certain pink slip after three consecutive losses and put himself back on the map.
Joe Lauzon: When he's on, he's really on. If he could be on when he meets top-tier competition, he would be an undeniable force in the division. He's beaten an overmatched Curt Warburton and pretty much everyone he was supposed to defeat since he stormed onto the scene with an upset of Jens Pulver. But he's hit the ceiling in the division on several occasions and remains an exciting, talented fighter stuck in the middle of the pack. Lauzon has got at least another good run up the ladder in him. It would be tough, but a win over Gleison Tibau is one possible starting point.
Charles Oliveira: Take away for a moment the illegal knee that marred his performance and could eventually cost him a win over Nik Lentz. Oliveira is one of the most exciting prospects out there. I have no doubt that he would have at the least won a decision if not a stoppage victory against Lentz, who was fading fast when the infraction occurred. Unfortunately, the Brazilian made a mistake. But if he sharpens his defensive wrestling game and striking defense, two years down the line you could be looking at a champion.
Rick Story: The grind of back-to-back camps clearly took its toll on the 26-year-old Story, who saw gains from a victory this past month over Thiago Alves erased with a decision loss to Brenneman. Not only that, he appeared ill-prepared for Brenneman's constant pressure on the mat and was too far behind in the scorecards to reverse momentum. He'll go back to the drawing board. Fortunately, he's got plenty of time to make another go.
Matt Mitrione: The former footballer and veteran of "The Ultimate Fighter 10" looked like a killer against Christian Morecraft. But even with five consecutive wins under his UFC belt, there's potential trouble on his horizon. He looked tough knocking out Morecraft because it wasn't much of a fight in the first place. Morecraft didn't have the reach or ability to land significant punches and he provided a nice stationary target to hit, but he still managed to take the fight to the mat.
Mitrione never got bogged down on the mat, but it begs the question: if he can be taken down by a guy like Morecraft, how is he going to do against the heavyweight divison's top-level grapplers? The answer, of course, is: not so hot. So it's a matter of timing. How soon will we know whether he can really hang on the mat? Put him against a guy such as Mike Russow and we may find out.
Tyson Griffin: He's always been a talented fighter at lightweight, and he didn't appear to suffer any ill effects from moving to the featherweight division. He struggled, though, to get past Manny Gamburyan, and while I think he'll make some noise at 145 pounds, I'm not so rosy on his prospects as a future title contender.
Javier Vasquez: A brilliant display of grappling put an early lead in his corner and then Joe Stevenson's indecisiveness did the rest. As Stevenson bobbed and weaved, Vasquez kept control of the bout with a persistent jab. I'm concerned about his ability to stay healthy -- he's 35 and has been repeatedly stalled by injuries. But there's no denying his great talent.
Christian Morecraft: In a KO loss to Mitrione, he looked exactly like the overmatched and outwitted Sean McCorkle, to whom he handed a defeat in his previous appearance. Now 1-2 in the UFC, it's hard to imagine he'll stick around, even in the least populous division.
Curt Warburton: The U.K.-based lightweight has gotten a raw deal when it comes to the matches he's been handed during his three-fight UFC stint. First, he took on Spencer Fisher, a fighter who has triple his experience. Then after an unspectacular decision over the untested Maciej Jewtuszko, he'll fight Sunday against Lauzon, who could probably beat half the division on any day. That sequence screams bad management, or maybe just a package deal given the UFC's relationship with Warburton's gym, Wolfslair Academy. Either way, he's probably on his way out.
Daniel Roberts: After a rocky start, he built a three-fight win streak that included a nifty anaconda submission of Mike Guymon. But he seemed to fall apart against Claude Patrick at UFC 129, and on Sunday he again looked woefully underprepared to fight for three rounds. After UFC 129, he said he was ill. What's his excuse this time?