UFC 112 (cont.)
New No. 1 Lightweight
As if the fistic honor of your country wasn't enough to think about, Shinya Aoki now knows he could validate himself as the No. 1 lightweight in MMA if he beats Gilbert Melendez April 17 in Nashville.
Showing the inter-connectedness of MMA as a global sport, Penn's loss is a large tremor in a division that features talent well outside the confines of the UFC.
I'll wait until Aoki (23-4) and Melendez (17-2) engage, one of three title fights set for the Strikeforce card set to air on CBS, before thinking about the new No. 1 at 155. But think about the potential here for Aoki, Melendez, Strikeforce, Dream and the rest of the MMA world. The UFC, until Penn's loss, promoted top-ranked fighters in four of five weight divisions, with the lone holdout -- no pun intended -- being Emelianenko. Now Aoki, or possibly Melendez, could emerge.
There is power to owning that top spot, creating additional interest in a fight that has already hooked both the media and fans.
Five more things just because ...
Say it ain't so, Renzo. The 43-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu ambassador to the U.A.E. looked terrible against former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes (44-7). After a three-year layoff, at his age, based on previous performances, the loss wasn't any kind of surprise. But the UFC has something to answer for here. There's no doubt that Gracie (13-7-1), a legend and not just for his last name, received a contract from the UFC only based on the involvement of Flash Entertainment, the U.A.E subsidiary that purchased 10 percent of the UFC earlier this year. He should not have been in the cage with Hughes, who finished the Brazilian with 30 seconds remaining in the third round.
Middleweights will need to reckon with Mark Munoz. The powerful and aptly named "Filipino Wrecking Machine" willed his way past early trouble against 6' 6" Kendall Grove (11-7, 1 NC) to score a second round technical knockout. "You gotta have will to survive in the cage," said Munoz, 8-1, after he was pulled off Grove in the second round. "That's what I have. I want to make it to the top."
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu influenced U.A.E. crowd, bolstered by an initiative from the Royal Family that makes the grappling sport required curriculum throughout the country's schools, seemed to appreciate lightweight Rafael dos Anjos (14-4), whose performance against England's Terry Etim (14-3) culminated with a slick second-round armbar.
NCAA champion wrestler Phil Davis (6-0) continued his evolution as a mixed martial artist, scoring a first round anaconda choke against previously undefeated Swede Alexander Gustafsson (9-1). Everyone's talking about Jon Jones as the future of the light heavyweight division. Davis isn't far behind.
There was so much handwringing about the negative aspects about an outdoor event in the desert -- rain, sand, bugs -- but thankfully none of that materialized. The UFC is tentatively planning on returning to the neighborhood in August with an event for American troops in Afghanistan, though who knows what the situation on the ground will be as military and political pressure is ramped up in the final months before weather turns cold.