Jones next up for lackluster Rampage?
In what was hardly his most memorable performance, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson proved he belongs in a different league than Matt Hamill, as he utilized sharp counter punching and sensational takedown defense over three rounds to notch a one-sided unanimous-decision victory.
Many pundits had actually picked Hamill going into this fight, which is reflective of how often Jackson is both overlooked and underestimated. Now 10-2 since his last decisive loss at the hands of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in Pride, Jackson is one of the top-three light heavyweights in the sport.
The Memphis native has repeatedly stated he wants his belt back, the same title he lost via controversial unanimous decision against Forrest Griffin back in July 2008. However, close decision losses coupled with Jackson's inability to finish seemingly overmatched foes such as Hamill and Keith Jardine are not making his case for a title shot particularly convincing. With that being said, Jackson's UFC wins over Chuck Liddell, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva and Lyoto Machida are proof of his elite status.
In assessing the top contenders at 205 pounds, Jackson is probably most deserving of the next crack at champion Jon Jones, regardless of his uninspired win at UFC 130. However, his chances of an upset are low unless he drastically steps up his conditioning in the coming months.
Though he was able to handle Hamill with ease, Jones is a different type of beast. Physically, Jackson looked to be in poor shape as he was already breathing heavy after the first round. “Rampage” must also be more willing to take chances if he hopes to catch the blossoming star with one of his signature knockout fists.
Having already hinted at retirement once he turns 35, the UFC should try to make the most of Jackson's time in the octagon by finding him intriguing matchups against top-ranked fighters. Once he nurses his fractured hand, Jones would be the most suitable opponent. Down the road, however, rematches with Rua, Griffin, Evans and Machida are always possible, and other compelling opponents for the Lance Gibson-trained legend include Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Thiago Silva, Phil Davis and Rich Franklin.
Hamill, meanwhile, must return to the drawing board as he was positively outmatched in every area of the game. The 34-year-old wrestling standout still has plenty of fights left in the UFC and he would stack up well against some other fighters in the 205-pound division, including Stephan Bonnar, Brandon Vera, Kyle Kingsbury and Krzysztof Soszynski.
Hamill's heart and chin should not be questioned after his performance, but he must continue to polish his striking if he hopes to hang with the cream of the crop in the UFC.
Mir outclasses Nelson, but fails to impress UFC
In what was thought to be an evenly matched heavyweight contest on paper turned out to be a one-sided affair as former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir pummeled and outgrappled former IFL kingpin Roy Nelson over three rounds.
Mir, who appeared physically massive and strong, utilized his improved knees and kicks to wobble Nelson on multiple occasions, while securing numerous takedowns and outworking him on the mat.
At the post-fight press conference, Nelson insisted he was merely outwrestled, but UFC president Dana White has not been shy about voicing his displeasure with Nelson's performance. While he stopped short of saying Nelson needs to drop to light heavyweight, he was adamant that the fat-bellied BJJ black belt needed to target a weight cut to at least 240 pounds.
The move would be a logical one for the 34 year old, as he was clearly exhausted as his fight with Mir progressed and he could barely breathe by the time the final bell sounded. Nelson's physique has worked for him in the past, but it is hardly an asset if he plans to re-establish himself as a title contender. Unless Burger King is offering him some big-time sponsorship dollars, he should adopt a strict diet plan as soon as possible. His chin and durability are unquestionable, which would make him even more dangerous if he was as strong in the third round as he is in the first.
Nelson knocked out rising heavyweight Brendan Schaub to win the 10th season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” proof that he is still dangerous regardless of his weight. A fight against undefeated Hawaiian Travis Browne, who knocked out Stefan Struve at UFC 130, would be a fitting selection.
White was not quick to let Mir off the hook, either, as he once again expressed frustration with his triumphant performance. In the final round, Mir seemed content to outwrestle Nelson and ride out a decision win as opposed to doing everything he could to finish the fight. A win is a win, however, and Mir was nonetheless impressive. The outspoken Mir continues to demonstrate improvements in every area, while also gaining strength and mass. With another marquee win, he could re-enter the title mix.
Mir suffered a possible fractured jaw and rib in the win, so he will probably take some time off to nurse those injuries before returning. At this point, he'll probably wait to fight the loser of Junior dos Santos' title eliminator against Shane Carwin in June or the winner of Brendan Schaub's bout with Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera this August in Brazil.
Browne puts heavyweight divison on notice
A training camp at Golden Glory in the Netherlands with Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem and top-ranked kickboxer Daniel Ghita was not enough to help Stefan Struve at UFC 130, as he succumbed to a vicious first-round knockout at the hands of unbeaten slugger Travis Browne.
Coming off a disappointing draw in a dull UFC debut against Cheick Kongo, Browne needed a solid outing to continue his ascent up the heavyweight ladder. He turned in just that, overcoming Struve's rangy strikes before blasting him with a fight-ending superman punch, precisely timed the moment the lanky Dutchman left his feet for a knee attempt.
Browne has the tools and size to become a force in the heavyweight division. The fact that he also hits like a freight train is not hurting his cause. The UFC's roster is deeper than ever, which leaves a huge field of opponents to choose from. Some possibilities include Roy Nelson, Ben Rothwell, Mike Russow, Jon Madsen, Matt Mitrione and Christian Morecraft.
For Struve, this knockout loss marks an important checking point in his career. At 23, "The Skyscraper" has all the physical gifts to be a successful fighter. However, he's suffered three devastating knockout losses since joining the UFC, albeit against quality opponents.
Struve's chin is now an obvious target, and, given his age, he should seriously consider stepping away from the UFC for one or two years in order to improve his skills, while building up his record against regional heavyweights. It would be sad to witness a premature end to Struve's career as a result of excessive head trauma.
Still, Struve can undoubtedly be competitive with some UFC heavyweights. If he sticks around, Roy Broughton, Joey Beltran or perhaps Mark Hunt would make for suitable opponents.
Story establishes himself as top-10 welterweight
Out of all the competitors at UFC 130, Rick "The Horror" Story left the most emphatic impression, outworking former No. 1 contender Thiago Alves throughout two rounds and showcasing a chin of steel in the third en route to a hard-fought unanimous decision win.
The mentally strong 26-year-old American is improving every time he fights and must now be considered a top title contender following his performance against the Brazilian "Pitbull."
Story already had wins over Johny Hendricks, Brian Foster and Jake Ellenberger, but Alves is the highest profile victim on his record. At this point, a significant step down in competition does not make very much sense. Story has already expressed his desire to fight top-three welterweight Jon Fitch, but Josh Koscheck would be another ideal test if he is ready to return to action. Other possibilities include a rematch with John Hathaway, his only conqueror in the UFC, or the winners of Carlos Condit vs. Dong Hyun Kim, Mike Pyle vs. Rory MacDonald, Anthony Johnson vs. Nate Marquardt and Martin Kampmann vs. John Howard.
Conversely, Alves has come to a crossroads in his career after being outwrestled with ease in three of his last four performances. It has been a steady decline for the American Top Team product since his impressive 2008 campaign, which saw him defeat Karo Parisyan, Matt Hughes and Koscheck.
Alves is still one of the welterweight division's most dangerous strikers and finally seems to be comfortable making the 170-pound cut, an issue that has plagued him in the past.
But it will be a while before Alves regains the top status he once enjoyed in the division. His primary focus for improvement should be wrestling, takedown defense in particular, if he hopes to punish aggressive grinders such as Fitch, Ellenberger, Johnson and Jake Shields.
Perhaps Alves would benefit from a step down in competition for his next bout. A brawl with Nate Diaz or pairing with the winner of Chris Lytle vs. Dan Hardy could be just what he needs to revive his career. If UFC matchmaker Joe Silva wants to continue to test his suspect wrestling, Johny Hendricks is a sensible option.
Stann spoils Santiago's UFC return
Fueled with motivation on Memorial Day weekend, a period close to the heart of the former U.S. Marine Corps Captain, Brian Stann put his heavy hands on display against the last-reigning Sengoku middleweight champion Jorge Santiago.
Stann was simply too powerful, dropping the Brazilian with a left hook in the first round. He continued to pick Santiago apart in the second, dropping him with a sharp right hand before unloading with violent punches to force the stoppage.
Fresh off dominant wins over Santiago and Chris Leben, the 30-year-old Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn student is making a statement at 185 pounds.
The marketable patriot is proving to be an emerging contender who may earn a title shot with two more prominent wins. Stann's next challenge will depend on the outcome of numerous upcoming middleweight bouts, including Vitor Belfort vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama, Demian Maia vs. Mark Munoz and Anderson Silva vs. Yushin Okami.
For years, Santiago has been ranked in the top 10. Though unsuccessful in his second UFC bid, his streak of accomplishments abroad are the product of marked improvements in his game since his release in 2006. Stann may have been one step ahead, but the 30-year-old BJJ blackbelt remains a viable contender in the middleweight division.