The phrase instant classic gets battered around in MMA more often than not because there is no off season. Events seem to dovetail into each other. There are so many events in fact that many times, a good performance gets lost in the shuffle that is the MMA landscape. Diaz/Gomi, Minotoro/Rua, Henderson/Rua, Henderson/Cerrone… all can be considered classics, but all were also recognized as special not only the minute the fight concluded, but as the fight itself was playing out. Tonight, another was added to that great pantheon: Melendez/Sanchez.
FIGHT OF THE NIGHT
A lot is going to be written about the fight between Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez. There will be lots of hyperbole, lots of platitudes, and all of it will ring true. On any other fight card, the fight between JDS and Cain Velasquez would have been a fight of the night performance, but when the 155ers took to the cage, they exceeded the expectations of fans. Gilbert showed that his loss to Ben Henderson was a bump in the road. Sanchez showed that he has a heart bigger than his chest. It’s so big, it spills out of his body, literally. He sets the bar for what the fans and fighters should expect when they talk about a warrior who leaves it in the cage. It sounds like a cliche because the word “warrior” is thrown around so much, but that’s exactly what Diego is. He was clearly born in the wrong century, and had Cortez encountered Diego Sanchez in his quest for gold, God, and glory, he would have set sail back to Spain. I don’t know where this puts Diego Sanchez in the rankings. His was a gutty performance, but he’s been through so many wars, I worry about the guy’s health. I don’t know how many more of those barn burners he has left in him. As for Melendez, he clearly makes a case for anther title shot. Seeing him and Anthony Pettis go blow for blow would be a real treat. I think Melendez and TJ Grant going toe to toe for a contender eliminator match might be the best direction to go, but I’d like to see Gilbert take some time off to heal. As I write this, it’s 12:07 in the AM, and I am glad I get to watch the replay again in a half an hour. If Dana White didn’t already wire their fight night bonuses to them at 4:03 of the third round, it’s a travesty.
CAIN IS ABLE
Cain proved again why he is arguably the best heavyweight this sport has seen since Fedor. Cain took a solid shot from JDS early on and proceeded to rag doll JDS for 5 rounds. It was a fight where even in Cain’s domination, there was an added sense of suspense where every hook JDS threw while he was pushed against the cage still left the audience gasping. This was a different JDS from their second encounter. He stuffed more of Cain’s takedowns and made Cain seem desperate for the ground at times. His punches were a lot more solid, but it was a sneaky left elbow that found its home repeatedly on Cain’s jaw and cheek.
Channeling his inner Diego Sanchez, JDS ate punch after punch and clinch after clinch, and soon, his face again began to take a turn for the worse. And, like deja vu, he started to resemble the same visage he had at the end of his second fight with Cain. I’ll be honest, at times, it was hard to watch the damage JDS was taking. JDS and Cain have reputations as being really classy guys inside and outside of the cage. And all I could think about as the pummeling continued in the championship rounds was The Princess Bride. Much like Inigo Montoya and Wesley, I didn’t want either guy to lose.
The other thing that struck me about the heavyweight slugfest was the dichotomy of my appreciation for both fighters’ willingness to lay it on the line for the title, and my belief that like Wesley in The Princess Bride, JDS may have taken a few years off of his life. While I appreciate the display of heart and the competitive nature, I think as an MMA fan, I am ready to close the door on the relationship between JDS and Cain.
However, that leaves a bigger question mark for the future. What does Cain do next? Dana White has said that Fabricio Werdum makes the most sense as a contender for Cain. But “most sense” is hardly a ringing endorsement. A bird’s eye view of the heavyweight division in the UFC shows more famine than feast. Losses from Frank Mir, Bigfoot Silva, and Alistair Overeem, have taken a lot of the luster off of what once looked like a deep division. Add that to the fact that two of the heavyweights on tonight’s card are also considering a drop to light heavyweight, and suddenly, there’s a dearth of quality matchups for heavyweights. Aside from Werdum, the winner of Travis Browne/Josh Barnett is very interesting, but then what? Worse yet, who does JDS match up with in his bid to get back into title contention? I wonder if the release of Kongo was a bit premature, and I also wonder if the talk about the Mir/Overeem loser-gets-cut fight is a little extreme as well.
CARD OF THE YEAR?
Everyone who had a great fight on the UFC 166 card, take one step forward. CB Dollway, freeze.
UFC 166 had a great deal of phenomenal individual performances. Lombard’s KO of Marquardt, “El Cucuy” Tony Ferguson’s sweet D’arce choke on Mike Rio, Gonzaga’s KO of Shawn Jordan, and John Dodson’s KO of Montague all provided the winners and the UFC marketing department with some great highlight reel material for upcoming cards. And Amagov’s KO (despite the unnecessary additional blows because of an inept referee) showed that there’s another scary Russian on the UFC roster. But, what the night didn’t show was a wealth of competitive fights. All of these were great individual performances, and if you are a fan of any of these fighters, you are probably pleased as punch. However, if you are a fight fan, UFC 166 can be summed up by the main event and Melendez/Sanchez bouts. And with those fights, as MMA fans, we should have been lucky enough to get just one. So, maybe the early reaction by MMA pundits is correct. Maybe the strength of these two fights has put Card of Year stakes in the ground for this event. But there are still 2 months left in the year, and a dozens of great matchups on the horizon. Between the Gustaffson/Jones fight and the two fights of tonight’s card, I’m getting spoiled. Thank you fight Santa Claus, thank you.
- UFC 166: What We Learned from Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez (bleacherreport.com)