While innumerable sports fans were preparing for the Super Bowl, fight fans were busy packing the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ on Saturday night, as a pair of championship fights headlined UFC 169.
Even on a night that featured a UFC-record 10 fights that went to a decision, there were still a slew of noteworthy performances and highlight reel moments that deserve to be discussed.
This is The Hit List.
Knockout Of The Year
We’ll get to the two championship fights momentarily, but no dissection or discussion of UFC 169 can begin with anything other than Abel Trujillo’s monstrous second-round right hand that stopped Jamie Varner dead in his tracks.
Boom went the dynamite.
And before you say, “It’s February 1 — there’s bound to be more great knockouts over the next 11 months,” understand that this blow not only ended what was an incredibly entertaining brawl, but injected life back into an event that had flat-lined somewhere between the fourth and seventh consecutive decision.
Plus it was just a perfect punch.
Varner and Trujillo started throwing smoke right out of the gate, with Varner getting the better of the exchanges. While Trujillo hung tough, the former WEC champ was beating him to the punch and slipping more shots than his opponent. Early in the second, Varner had Trujillo in trouble, swarmed for the finish, and as he pursued the backpedaling member of The Blackzilians — BLAMMO — Trujillo uncorked a perfect right hand that landed square on the jaw.
Varner dropped like a sack of rocks tossed of the top of a building, crashing face-first into the canvas, and Trujillo secured himself a hefty bonus check and the biggest win of his UFC career.
While there will be complaints about the stoppage from the legions of Faber followers out there, the reality of the situation is that for as great as “The California Kid” had been over the preceding four fights, Barao has elevated his game to a whole different level since their first encounter at UFC 149, and it showed on Saturday night.
The energetic Nova Uniao product came out firing and clipped Faber with a big shot early, putting the challenger on roller skates and pushing forward in search of the finish. Though Faber recovered, it was only temporary, as Barao continued the onslaught, eventually earning the stoppage with Faber clinging to a leg and covering up on all fours.
Barao is a beast — a fast, creative, violent monster that has now run his unbeaten streak to 33 consecutive fights. He’s earned stoppages in three straight championship fights and has effectively cleaned out the bantamweight division.
If the UFC is looking for superstar talents to replace the departed Georges St-Pierre and currently sidelined Anderson Silva, they need look no further than the dominant force that stands atop the 135-pound ranks.
Anthony Pettis In His Sights
Last year when Anthony Pettis successfully lobbied to forgo his quest to claim lightweight gold in order to move to featherweight and challenge Jose Aldo, it didn’t make sense — Pettis was next in line at 155 pounds and Aldo had a number of challengers available to him in the 145-pound ranks.
It’s time for Aldo to flee the Featherweight division
After Saturday night, the Brazilian has officially exhausted all of his options at featherweight, earning a unanimous decision win over Ricardo Lamas for his sixth-consecutive successful title defense. He’s currently the longest reigning champion in the UFC and the time is right for Aldo to move up in weight and challenge for the lightweight title.
Without a clear contender waiting in the wings at lightweight, the time is right for Aldo to move to the head of the line and attempt to become just the third fighter in UFC history to hold championship gold in two different weight classes.
And oh by the way — how awesome is that fight going to be? Guaranteed fireworks.
Return Of The ‘Reem
After earning an impressive first-round stoppage win over Brock Lesnar in his UFC debut, Alistair Overeem suffered consecutive knockout losses at the hands of Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Travis Browne. Like his opponent Frank Mir, “The Reem” was backed into a corner in dire need of a win.
Overeem may have fought "crappily" against Mir (Dana White’s words), but he still dominated every second of it.
This was an improved version of Overeem, one that exhibited new patience and improved conditioning to go along with the massive power and clean striking game that made him a threat for a number of years. While some may want to diminish the performance by citing Mir’s current struggles, Overeem was in clear control from start to finish and looked like the force of nature that first blew into the UFC on a tremendous unbeaten streak.
Just when it seemed like “The Reem” might go down as one of the biggest busts in UFC history, the massive heavyweight is back in the win column and sitting on the fringes of title contention once again.
Great Debut Nobody Will Remember: Rashid Magomedov
Because it was the second fight of the night and eight of the 10 bouts that came after it went the distance, chances are Rashid Magomedov’s debut win is going to float off into the ether without much discussion.
If a fighter falls on Fight Pass and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
And that’s a shame because it was awesome.
First, the 29-year-old Dagestani lightweight survived a nasty string of submission attempts from Tony Martin, noticeably wincing in pain as the unbeaten newcomer extended his arm in a tight armbar in the first round.
After escaping the hold and surviving the round, Magomedov started to find his rhythm midway through the second frame, and turned up the intensity and offensive output over the final five minutes en route to securing the unanimous decision win.
With the abundance of talent migrating to the UFC from in and around Russia, it can be challenging to keep all the names straight and not confuse Rustam Khabilov with Khabib Nurmagomedov (as UFC lightweight Rafael dos Anjos did when offered a fight against the former), but Magomedov definitely looks like one to remember, even if his debut win was buried at the start of a long night of fights.