Strange week in MMA ends in historic fashion

Strange week in MMA ends in historic fashion
February 25, 2013, 5:00 pm
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Nitesh Dutt

Few weeks in the short history of mixed martial arts have been filled with so many jaw-dropping moments as the past seven days. There was news outside of the cage and history inside of it.

The week started off with news that shook fans and media alike. The UFC announced a round of cuts, starting off with 16 fighters. Most surprisingly on the list was Welterweight Jon Fitch, who fights out of San Jose’s American Kickboxing Academy. Fitch was 24-5 as a professional with one draw and one no-contest.

Widely considered a top-10 welterweight, Fitch was 14-3 with a draw in the UFC and his release caused widespread debate on the promotion’s “code of conduct” and general “skill demand." Although his fighting style was not too popular with some fans, there was a consensus that Fitch was a high-level fighter who belonged in the UFC.

Fitch was not the only surprise cut from the promotion. Also included in the 16 were Vladimir Matyushenko, Paul Sass, Che Mills and Wagner Prado. Some were coming off losses while others had just not performed well in the octagon. Whatever the case may be, the UFC put their fighters on notice and President Dana White announced there could be more cuts coming.

There was more than just bad news all week; there were also tons of fights taking place in Bellator and the UFC. Thursday’s Bellator event had one of the more surprising knockouts in recent memory, aside from Antonio Silva’s dismantling of Alistair Overeem on February 2.

In the semifinals of their light-heavyweight tournament, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal met up with Emanuel "The Hardcore Kid" Newton. Many considered Newton the underdog, present company not excluded. King Mo had a 9-1 record heading into the semifinal bout, seven of which came via KO/TKO, and that is what many expected to happen against Newton.

Fans got a highlight reel knockout, but not the one they expected. The two kept the fight standing, exchanging plenty of punches with some kicks sprinkled in. Newton was able to dodge anything Lawal threw his way and kept pushing forward. Mo, who has been training in Las Vegas with Jeff Mayweather, showed off a more relaxed version of himself. He kept his hands low for a majority of the fight and seemed to be baiting Newton. It ended up backfiring as Newton landed a spinning backfist about halfway thru the first-round that sent Mo crashing to the mat.

Newton advanced to the tournament finals while Lawal, the favorite in the weight class, proved that keeping your hands low is never a great idea in a fight. On a Thursday night where there were six fights with five ending with KO finishes, Newton’s knockout will be one that lives in Bellator folklore for a very long time.

While Bellator still tries to build its history, the UFC was making some of its own on Saturday night. After months of publicity and hype, UFC 157 took place in Anaheim and exceeded all expectations.

The night was a slow build in anticipation towards the main event, which featured UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey defending her title against Liz Carmouche. Before the two women were to make MMA history, 22 other fighters took to the octagon.

After the round of cuts earlier in the week, there seemed to be a sense of urgency for most fighters. Even the fights that went to decision were hard fought and were too close to call.

In what was likely the night’s most exciting fight, featherweights Dennis Bermudez and Matt Grice put on a great show. The two had a stellar third-round that almost saw Bermudez finishing Grice on several occasions, but the fight would go to the judges. In a fight that there seemed to be no loser, Bermudez won via split decision.

Fighters like Urijah Faber and Robbie Lawler, who were either coming off a loss or dropping weight, could have been in danger of being in the next round of cuts. But, wins and great performances might’ve saved some jobs this past weekend. Faber’s submission of Ivan Menjivar not only saved his place near the top of the UFC’s bantamweight division, but also could’ve placed him next in line for a title shot.

On the other hand, Lawler reminded UFC fans just how dangerous he is. His first-round TKO of Josh Koscheck let it be known that his nine-year absence from the octagon was a memory and he should be considered a top-10 fighter at 170. Matches were building momentum to the night’s main event, but the anticipated light-heavyweight co-main event between Lyoto Machida and Dan Henderson stalled the energy.

Hendo and Machida fought…well, they circled mostly. Machida, who was well aware of Hendo’s vicious right hand, fought like the point fighter he is. It was a technical bout that drew the ire of the sold out Honda Center crowd and Dana White. Any momentum that the card had built to that point was almost lost.

With history about to take place a sense of excitement overtook the arena; even a distant spectator could feel it. The UFC had taken a leap of faith by holding its first-ever women’s bout as the main event on a Pay-Per-View. Rousey and Carmouche delivered efforts that proved the UFC was right in doing so.

In just one round of action the two fighters put on a fight that exceeded any expectations or hype that had been built. It was a great omen for the promotion, the sport and female fighters everywhere. The outcome was familiar, as Rousey won via an armbar submission, but it wasn’t as easy as some believed it would be.

Carmouche had the champ nearing defeat as she fought for a rear-naked choke, but the challenger was not able to sink it completely in. Rousey managed to escape and rolled into an armbar attempt that ended the bout with just ten seconds remaining in the first-round.

With that single moment, the UFC ushered a new era into MMA. One of a historic significance for the sport that is yet to be seen and likely won’t be for a few years. In what was a whirlwind of a week in mixed martial arts, the culmination of it all shined a bright light on the future for a sport that is considered far from mainstream.

Nitesh Dutt is a Production Assistant Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @NiteshDutt.