"Rampage" Jackson, BJ Penn, Phil Davis: What's Next for UFC 123's Big Winners?
Before we get into it, I just want to mention that I learned an important life lesson this past Saturday night—if your Spicy Salmon Roll tastes like cigarettes, you probably shouldn’t keep eating it.
I did, and my digestive system paid the price. One case of food poisoning later, and what should have been a fun Saturday went right down the drain. Or the toilet, if we really want to drive home the metaphor. I didn’t even manage to stay awake for the UFC, so exhausted was I from the ordeal of my rectal exorcism (ok I’ll stop now).
I’m not the only one who had a disappointing night this past Saturday, however. Like every UFC event, UFC 123 from Auburn Hills, Michigan had it’s fair share of losers, men who came up short in a big way—and opponents who capitalized on the moment to make big moves in their careers.
All in all, it was a surprising and exciting night of fights, a good refresher after the slower Marquardt/Okami headlined UFC 122. Also unlike that card, UFC 123 featured many fights (and fight outcomes) with far reaching implications. A lot was on the line when the lights went down in Auburn Hills, Michigan this past Saturday.
So without further ado, here are the biggest winners coming off this past Saturday’s UFC, and what victory will mean for them.
Quinton “Rampage“ Jackson: Amid all the crying foul and calls for judging reform coming off the Machida/Jackson main event, an important story is being buried: Quinton Jackson looked pretty damn good Saturday night. When he‘s on, he‘s a handful for anybody.
Face it folks: “Rampage” earned this win. He pressed forward the whole fight, and threw fast, tight combinations. He caught Machida inside with several stiff shots that hurt him. He took a page out of Rashad’s book and pressured up against the fence. And when Machida had him caught in that armbar in the third round, he showed trademark “Rampage” strength and ferocity, hoisting the Karate Kid up in the air with seeming ease.
For a fighter facing all the old accusations—distracted, unmotivated, over the hill unstable, and the list goes on—his performance in the fight was a reaffirming statement of Jackson’s place atop the 205 lb. top 10, even if you don’t agree with the judges decision.
What’s Next?: Jackson is likely one fight away from a title shot still, though potential storylines emerge with either Rua or Evans winning the belt (whenever that fight actually happens). In the interim, a rematch with Forrest Griffin would be intriguing providing he gets by Rich Franklin ins February. The Jon Jones/Ryan Bader winner could also present a unique “old lion vs. young lion” setup.
Lyoto Machida: Wait, I thought Lyoto lost his fight on Saturday night?
Ok, yes he did. In the strictest, most technical sense, he lost on Saturday. I think overall, from a “big picture” perspective, the Karate expert’s stock actually went up after his performance against Jackson.
For starters, there is all the complaining about the decision—as there was bound to be in the mega-close fight no matter which fighter they gave the nod to—and that only helps provide validation for the fighter who didn’t get the judges mercy.
And after two uninspiring rounds, Machida turned it on against ‘Page in the third and showed us all the tools that once made him champion—lightning speed, unorthodox striking, surprising power, good takedowns from the clinch and underrated grappling accumen.
What’s Next?: Even in defeat Machida proved two things he desperately needed to—he’s recovered mentally from the “Shogun” loss, and he’s still capable of putting on a show. Even though an immediate rematch seemed likely, Dana White vetoed any such notions at the post-fight press conference. Now rematches with Thiago Silva or Rich Franklin beckon to Machida. Or if the UFC is feeling particularly sadistic, they could always match him up vs. Couture in a title eliminator.
BJ Penn: All these years’ I’ve waited for the epic conclusion to the Penn/Hughes trilogy and the damn thing only lasts 21 seconds? That’s like challenging your friend to an epic game of Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter, only to have him pull off the unblock able, 25-button combo and finish you instantly while you helplessly flail. Which is, essentially, exactly what happened.
The win was a nostalgic moment for Penn’s long suffering fans, made even more so by his post Cal Uno-esque sprint from the cage after knocking Hughes out. After the deflating defeats at the hands of Frankie Edgar, this is just the sort of definitive, reinvigorating win that can launch Penn back into contention at 155, by far his most competitive weight class.
What’s Next?: So of course, he decides to make a move back to 170. Of all the greats of MMA, none can squander or waste a win quite like Penn can. He crushes Caol Uno—only to disappoint against Pulver in his next fight. He crushes Dwayne Ludwig to establish himself as the world’s best 155 lb fighter—only to chase after horrendously uneven fights vs. the likes of Lyoto Machida. He becomes kingpin of the UFC’s 155 lb division—only to reduce his P4P credibility by chasing after GSP in futility.
Which seems to be exactly where he’s headed, again. Hey, if he feels like this is the better weight class for him, who am I to argue? He’s the two-division champ; I’m just the amateur journalist. But if I were on Team Penn, I’d be having nightmares about the wrestlers of the division holding Penn down and controlling him after the much smaller Frankie Edgar handily accomplished the feat.
Phil Davis: For a long time, being a muscular, shiny, well-built black man in pink hot pants with the name “Mr. Wonderful” was probably the quickest way to kill tough guy cred to be found. Credit Phil Davis for finding the formula to turn that one around.
Phase 1: become four-time All-American collegiate wrestler at Penn State University and former NCAA national champion. Phase 2: Go on an undefeated tear in MMA, including four straight wins in the UFC. Phase 3 (and this is the key phase IMO): Win a fight via one-handed kimura.
What’s Next?: In another exciting outing for the touted LHW prospect, Davis showed he has the tools to mix it up on the feet with the veteran striker Boetsch and the ground acumen to blend his phenomenal wrestling with some pretty clever submissions. When Joe Rogan is naming a submission after you, you know you’ve earned your paycheque for the evening.
Time for “Mr. Wonderful” to step it up in competition. Fights vs. Matt Hamill, or the Ortiz/Nogueria winner could make for entertaining scraps. Jason Brilz could also make for a good ground battle.
George Sotiropoulos: In just a short span of time, the rubbery “Sot” has established himself as the “Great Aussie Hope” of the Lightweight division. After steamrolling through proven vets Joe Stevenson and Kurt Pelligrino, a fight vs. Joe Lauzon was seen as a placeholder for him, a “make busy” fight until the timing for his LW title shot in Australia came about.
Geoge rose to the occasion like a pro, surviving a first round scare to tap the rubbery Lauzon with his trademark slick Jiu-Jitsu. With this win, George surely puts himself in line for a fight with the division’s best.
What’s Next?:…which is exactly why he’s facing Denis Siver at UFC 127 in Australia. Once again, the UFC has sidestepped, moving George up the line in favour of a fun, but entirely lateral fight against a mid-level fighter.
Don’t get me wrong, Denis Siver is an exciting fighter with a big future, but rankings wise, he isn’t any more of a boost than was Lauzon. The UFC is usually extremely competitive with their matchmaking—if you can’t swim, you sink sorta thing—but in Sot’s case they seem to be going a little easier.
My guess is he’s being protected for—wait for it—an eventual title shot down the line, most likely in Australia. That means until the UFC LW picture and the timing of UFC events in Australia coincide, George is destined to hover in mid-division limbo.
As a final thought, it was a low moment to watch the once legendary Matt Hughes flop to the canvass in less the 30 seconds, especially after the nice little run he was in the process of putting together.
The old cowboy of the welterweight division has earned every right to ride off into the sunset, but I think only last draw is still out there for the wizened old sheriff (enough with the old west metaphor!). Match him up with Dennis Hallman, let him exorcise his greatest career embarrassment (other then Saturday night, I suppose) then have him put those guns and that badge in the ground – he can’t shoot them, anymore (somebody stop me).
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