Stock watch: surprises to be found in UFC on Versus 4 card shuffle
UFC on Versus 4 tested one's patience when the most relevant bout was scrapped
Cheick Kongo avoided a career nose-dive with his lucky knockout of Pat Barry
Back-to-back camps took a toll on Rick Story, who saw his recent gains erased
If you sat down on Sunday night for UFC on Versus 4, you couldn't help watching with just a little bit of skepticism and maybe consider a couple of alternative selections using picture-in-picture.
Heavyweights Pat Barry and Cheick Kongo as headliners? Rick Story vs. Charlie Brenna-who? What on earth happened to Nate Marquardt?
Dude, where's my card?
Finding the silver lining, though, is the duty of the fight fan. After all, a card shuffle could bring a more intriguing matchup. It can provide a guilty pleasure. And if nothing else, it's still two guys fighting in a cage. It's entertaining, and there's no reason to rip a card to shreds because fate and the chaos of matchmaking had something else in store.
Then again, UFC on Versus 4 tested one's patience. Perhaps the most relevant bout of the card -- Marquardt vs. Story -- was scrapped, leaving a replacement with a fraction of the importance: Story vs. Brenneman. The headliner? Kongo, a guy coming off a draw and eight-month injury layoff, against Barry, who has been hopscotching between wins and losses in his UFC career. The rest of the card was some interesting prospects and veterans trying to get back on the right foot. Not exactly the hottest ticket.
Sometimes, though, it seems like the competitors on these cards can hear the complaints, and they collectively resolve to rub our faces in the dirt by putting on adrenaline-injected displays of heart and cajones. Suddenly, you're forgetting what everything means and just enjoying good fights.
The fight between headliners Kongo and Barry went off like a bottle rocket, and while the co-main, Story vs. Brenneman, didn't, the meaning behind it had an equal impact. By that time, there had been some great fights and some good ones to satiate the combat appetite.
The lesson? Sometimes, it's good to put your inner critic on mute.
Now, a stockwatch:
Cheick Kongo: Taken as a whole, Kongo's UFC career had been long on promise and short on delivery when it came to top-tier opposition. Despite an imposing figure and the packed dynamite in his hands, knees and kicks, he consistently lost to superior wrestlers. Back-to-back losses to Cain Velasquez and Frank Mir and a draw to the then-unknown Travis Browne meant Kongo was facing a long road back to title contention. Then came back and shoulder injuries that sacked a possible bout with Roy Nelson in April.
A bad performance or loss against Barry could have put Kongo's career into a serious nose dive. He badly needed a win. You'd understand, then, why Barry predicted the Frenchman would try to grind him out against the cage rather than take his chances in a firefight, as was the case with Browne, and before that, against Paul Buentello. Instead, it was Barry who was shooting for a takedown with Kongo shrugging it off in a fight that crept along before it combusted near the midway point of the first frame.
Here's the thing: The punches that hit Kongo weren't of the chin-rattling, synapse-splitting, time lost kind. Two of Barry's big shots caught Kongo on the side of the head and robbed him of his equilibrium, much as Matt Serra did at UFC 69 when he took Georges St-Pierre's belt in the then-MMA upset of the decade. Kongo was wobbly, to be sure, and another shot might have made him a goner. It was his improbable luck, though, to catch Barry coming in with the same balance-taking shot, which set up the uppercut to the jaw that put Barry out cold.
Regardless of the circumstances around it, the knockout was still an amazing feat and bought Kongo more in career capital than he ever could have imagined. I've heard some suggest that the 5-0 Matt Mitrione is a good charge for his next outing, and while that's a winnable fight, it's not one that moves Kongo much up the ladder. I think the winner of the Brendan Schaub vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira match is a more sensible next step.
Charlie Brenneman: Some have called Brenneman's decision win Rocky-esque, but Rick Story is no Apollo Creed, and Brenneman is no Rocky. But Brenneman's upset definitely had the makings of made-for-TV. His octagon career hadn't been much up until that point, and his scheduled bout with T.J. Grant -- who withdrew days before the event due to illness -- wouldn't have put him anywhere near a belt. But by outwrestling the heavily hyped and, as it turned out, overtaxed Story, he just took a big leap forward.
How big a leap? Well, Brenneman still isn't anywhere near a belt, and I can't imagine the he would disagree. His methodical control of Story on the mat, while effective, isn't the type of style that makes promoters gush with glee. At the very least, though, he earned a fight against a decent name, an opportunity to showcase more of his skills and make his case for meeting someone in the division's top 15. The winner of Carlos Condit vs. Dong Hyun Kim? The winner of Rory MacDonald vs. Mike Pyle? John Hathaway? All sound good to me.
Matt Brown: He's not necessarily more dangerous. He doesn't possess insane technical skill in any area, but he fights like a dog and gets the job done. John Howard leg kicked him and he kicked Howard in the head twice. Howard wrestled him and Brown made himself dead weight. Howard swung for the fences, and Brown jabbed and jabbed and scored points. And with a unanimous decision, he saved himself from a certain pink slip after three consecutive losses and put himself back on the map.
Joe Lauzon: When he's on, he's really on. If he could be on when he meets top-tier competition, he would be an undeniable force in the division. He's beaten an overmatched Curt Warburton and pretty much everyone he was supposed to defeat since he stormed onto the scene with an upset of Jens Pulver. But he's hit the ceiling in the division on several occasions and remains an exciting, talented fighter stuck in the middle of the pack. Lauzon has got at least another good run up the ladder in him. It would be tough, but a win over Gleison Tibau is one possible starting point.
Charles Oliveira: Take away for a moment the illegal knee that marred his performance and could eventually cost him a win over Nik Lentz. Oliveira is one of the most exciting prospects out there. I have no doubt that he would have at the least won a decision if not a stoppage victory against Lentz, who was fading fast when the infraction occurred. Unfortunately, the Brazilian made a mistake. But if he sharpens his defensive wrestling game and striking defense, two years down the line you could be looking at a champion.
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