The Hit List: The Top 5 UFC Moments From This Weekend
We've had an action-packed weekend of MMA, with not one but two stellar UFC cards. A new world champion was crowned, and two heavyweights took part in an epic clash.
One old favorite got a new lease on his career's life, and another retired from the sport. And we saw a shockingly good debut from an exciting Olympic gold medalist prospect.
It was hard to choose, but read on below for our five favorite moments from this weekend's UFC events!
Miocic shows he's a world-class heavyweight
After Stipe Miocic beat the likes of Gabriel Gonzaga and Roy Nelson, it was time for him to step up a level and fight an all-time great like Junior Dos Santos last night. From where this writer was standing, however, it didn't seem as though Miocic had a great shot at beating the former champ.
How wrong I was. Miocic may have fallen victim to a strange decision from the judges, but he most certainly proved that he belonged in the same cage as "Cigano," over five, violent rounds. What made Dos Santos' own performance so impressive is that he managed to survive and stay effective despite the horrible beating he took from the Cleveland heavyweight.
At fight's end, the entire right side of Dos Santos' face was swollen and bleeding from Miocic's heavy punches. Hopefully, Miocic himself can recover, come back and continue to fight as well as he did in the main event of Saturday's UFC Fight Night in Phoenix.
If he can, it's only a matter of time before he gets a title shot.
The UFC gets another queen
Carla Esparza didn't just become the newest UFC champion when she beat Rose Namajunas by submission Friday night in Las Vegas, at the TUF Finale, but she also did so in such a way that would lead us to believe that there isn't anyone in the promotion who is likely to be able to beat her in the near future. The first UFC strawweight champion didn't take long to finish Namajunas, who stormed through the TUF 20 with three submission wins.
Esparza has already put a good deal of distance between her and the rest of the division. She's got good punch combinations, hits hard and combines that with excellent wrestling and ground control.
We're having trouble thinking of any 115-pound woman in the UFC whom we'd pick to beat Esparza at this point.
Overeem gets smart
It seems that Alistair Overeem may have finally gotten the erroneous idea that he's one of the better strikers in MMA out of his head, and it may have saved his job with the UFC Saturday night. For fight after fight, Overeem seemed to think that he'd be able to out-strike the UFC's heavyweights by simply showing up and looking big.
After all, as we've been told ad nauseam, he'd won a K-1 Grand Prix kickboxing tournament. As big as an accomplishment as that was in the limited world of kickboxing, those same winning K-1 winning skills didn't help Overeem in the more complete fighting world of the UFC, as smaller gloves, longer rounds and more varied possible attacks from opponents exposed his many striking flaws.
Ben Rothwell, Travis Browne, and Antonio Silva all got the better of Overeem with stand-up striking and knocked him out. Heading into his fight Saturday against Stefan Struve, we picked Overeem to win, but only if he chose to grapple and take his fellow Dutchman to the mat.
He did, and he won easily because of it. It was a quicker version of Overeem's last win, against Frank Mir, where he also relied on his grappling to win the fight in dominant way.
Make no mistake about it -- Overeem has striking power. However, he also leads with his chin and seems to forget that he's not wearing big kickboxing gloves to protect his face in the UFC.
The 34-year-old has fought over 50 times in his pro MMA career alone and has been knocked out 16 times. If he continues to insist on striking with UFC heavyweights, more are surely to come.
If, however, he continues to fight smart and rely on his excellent takedowns and ground game, he could string together some more wins. We felt bad for Struve, who has had a rough last couple of years, but we also felt happy for a much more smart Overeem.
The big man has taken enough damage in his career. If he wants it to continue, he'd better continue to play it safe with his solid grappling.
Varner retires on his own terms
As Brian Stann said afterward, it isn't often that we get to see fighters retire in the cage and leave according to their own plan. Saturday night, Jamie Varner lost a tough fight to Drew Dober in his hometown after accidentally hurting himself on an attempted takedown.
After the loss, Varner announced that he had planned to make this his last fight, one way or another. The loss may have stung, but the lightweight got to announce his retirement in front of a loving crowd and got his moment of poetry as he left his UFC gloves in the cage and walked out with his arm raised.
The 30-year-old has fought professionally since he was a teenager and had huge highs in his career, including a WEC championship. He's long been one of the most well-rounded fighters at 155 pounds and always fought with guts and a fast pace.
Varner will be missed, but we're glad he got to leave the sport he loves on his own terms, after accomplishing a lot and taking something from it and not just having had it take and take from him.
"It's been an absolute dream, guys," Varner said.
"I've been fighting a long time. It's been a dream. I own a gym, I've gotten to do things I never thought I could do."
Cejudo shows he's ready
It may have been on the preliminary card of Saturday's Phoenix card, but Olympic wrestling gold medalist Henry Cejudo's UFC debut was one of the most anticipated bouts of the weekend for us. We knew the kid could wrestle and was a great athlete, but were curious if he was ready to make an impact in the UFC.
Boy, is he. Cejudo dominated the very good Dustin Kimura for three rounds and did it with his striking.
Simply put, the Arizona wrestler put on one of the most one-sided striking beatings we've seen in the UFC all year. Cejudo used his wrestling to keep things on the feet, a la Chuck Liddell, and boxed up Kimura with speedy punches, good angles and nice combinations.
The Olympian only shot in for a takedown once, late in the third round. Ironically, after such a performance, the only question we still have about Cejudo's game, is how well his takedowns will translate to MMA from wrestling.