The lightweight contender drew some heat from Chad Mendes and his training team recently after questioning whether the 2008 NCAA Division I wrestling championships runner-up was seasoned enough as a mixed martial artist to step in the octagon with indomitable UFC featherweight champion José Aldo. "Since when are the two best guys in the weight class not ready to fight each other?" said Mendes' friend and training partner, Urijah Faber. "That's an absurd thing to say."
Not really. Having been in with Aldo himself, Faber should have recognized what Maynard, who helped Aldo train for this fight, most assuredly knew.
Mendes put up the best fight he could Saturday night in Rio de Janeiro, but as the champion stuffed takedown attempt after takedown attempt, his options dwindled. So when Aldo escaped from his body lock against the cage in the final seconds of the first round, Mendes did what he does best: He went for another takedown.
"I knew he was going to try to go for my legs, and I knew how to throw that knee," said Aldo afterward. "Thankfully I was able to put it right in the right spot."
That he did, as his knee caught Mendes square in the face, stiffening him and sending him to his back. Aldo then pounced with a nasty right hand that eliminated any doubt before referee Mario Yamasaki jumped in to put an end to the main event of UFC 142.
The finish -- Aldo's first in a year and a half -- came with just 1 second left in the first round.
In some ways, though, the finish was just the beginning. No sooner had he jumped off of Mendes when Aldo (21-1) charged out of the octagon into the crowd, which swarmed him in a sea of adoration. UFC security raced into the stands to protect the champ, but he didn't want protection. Instead, Aldo was carried back to the cage on the shoulders of his fans -- his chanting, cheering, fist-pumping, photo-snapping countrymen -- in a scene that Hollywood couldn't script without a melodramatic score.
"This is the spirit I wanted to come out with tonight," Aldo said. "The fans here gave me so much energy." Of his postfight victory party with those fans, he added, "I was so overcome with emotion that I wanted to celebrate with my people."
Aldo stalked his challenger for the better part of a round, fending off the explosive wrestler's takedown tries and slowing him with leg kicks. When Mendes finally trapped him along the fence and grabbed a body lock from behind, Aldo was patient, working to free himself before finally exploding away. But not all the way away. As soon as he was free, he turned toward Mendes, who instinctively went low for Aldo's legs -- and ate a knee flush.
"José's tough," said Mendes, who suffered the first loss of his career (11-1). "He's got great takedown defense." That was not at all unexpected. "Watching a lot of his fights, I knew it was going to be very touch to take him down," said Mendes. "He's very athletic, he's very fast, he has great footwork."
Those are the things that made Gray Maynard right about this fight. It had nothing to do with a lacking in Mendes' game. It's just that he was not prepared for what he got himself into.
Mendes was indeed the No. 1 contender, but he reached that status without facing the same level of competition that other title challengers tend to. His last fight was against Rani Yahya, who'd lost two of his previous three fights. Prior to that, he fought Michihiro Omigawa, who was just 12-8-1 when he stepped in with Mendes and, with a loss in Saturday night's prelims, has dropped three of this last four bouts.
Contrast that to the route to a title shot taken by, say, Maynard. "The Bully" fought -- and beat -- future champion Frankie Edgar, top challenger Jim Miller, possible future title challenger Nate Diaz and two-time lightweight title challenger Kenny Florian in order to earn a shot at Edgar, who had become champion by the time of their rematch. That's testing the mettle.
Mendes didn't have what it takes to beat a champion Saturday night, but if he has what it takes to be one someday, he'll learn from the defeat and come back stronger. He'd better. The featherweight division is wanting for challengers, and at age 25, José Aldo has a lot of fight left in him.
What a choke artist: It had been 10 years, nine months since Vitor Belfort had finished an opponent with anything other than his fists. And when the fists were flying in Saturday's co-main event, Anthony Johnson was outlanded (34-5 in total strikes, according to CompuStrike statistics) but actually got in the more damaging shots, as evidenced by the swollen-closed right eye that Belfort was sporting when he was interviewed afterward. That was a victory interview, by the way, as the Brazilian took the fight to the ground and ended it with a rear naked choke at 4:49 of the first.
Yes, a Belfort sub. Why not? This bout was destined for the unexpected from the moment on Friday when Johnson stepped on the weigh-in scale, which tilted like a pinball machine as it registered 197 pounds. Apparently "Rumble" thought he was training for a sumo bout instead of a 185-pound MMA fight. And apparently Johnson was too busy eating to bother watching tape of Belfort's fight with Bobby Southworth at Pride 13 back in March 2001, which also ended with a rear-naked choke . . . and was the last time Vitor submitted an opponent.
Spectacular in 'defeat': Erick Silva has fought in the UFC for barely a minute, but he's made quite the impression. After knocking out Luis Ramos in 40 seconds at UFC 134, the promotion's last trip to Brazil back in August, the 27-year-old outdid himself in his homeland this time, flooring and then finishing Carlo Prater in 29 seconds. The problem was, his finishing blows on the ground were to the back of Prater's head, prompting Mario Yamasaki to disqualify Silva.
The referee should also have disqualified telecast announcer Joe Rogan, who treated PPV fans to a warped call of the replay -- with each shot to the back of Prater's head followed by Rogan saying, "That's legal ... that's legal" -- and then chastised Yamasaki ("Are you happy with this call?") and fell all over himself to apologize to Silva.
Perhaps this will be Silva's Jon Jones moment. "Bones" has but a single loss on his record, a DQ earned in a similar manner, when he finished Matt Hamill with illegal elbows. Silva (13-2, 1 no contest) can take heart in noticing where Jones is now. As for Prater, he is handed a victory that's about as valuable as Rogan's eyewear prescription.
A leg up: Rousimar Palhares is known by the nickname "Toquinho," which in Portuguese means "Little Tree Stump," and one look at the short, stocky Brazilian with massiveness throughout his musculature tells you why. But in the cage the stumps this guy is most interested in are the ones that opponents stand on. It took him just 1:03 to submit middleweight Mike Massenzio with a heel hook -- the fourth lower-limb submission (two other heel hooks, one knee bar) in his last five UFC wins.
The wheels on the bus go round and round: It was lights out and bedtime for Terry Etim when Edson Barboza, a onetime professional Muay Thai knockout specialist, hit the British lightweight flush on the jaw with a spinning wheel kick at 2:02 of the third round. By spectacularly stiffening Etim, the native of Rio moves to 10-0 in MMA, 4-0 in the UFC, with seven KOs. He had 22 KOs among his 25 pro kickboxing victories.
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