Crowd favorite Lytle bids farewell on winning note at UFC on Versus 5
Chris Lytle never held a major title in his career, but was always a fan favorite
Lytle bid farewell to the sport on Sunday with a submission win over Dan Hardy
Others whose stocks are rising include Donald Cerrone, Ed Herman, Cole Miller
UFC on Versus 5 had plenty of snapshot moments: Chris Lytle's barnburner with Dan Hardy, his heartfelt retirement speech with his kids alongside, Ben Henderson's scary good control of Jim Miller.
It was a card worth much more than its portion of the cable bill.
But the event was also shadowed by loss. Seven fights into the card, I got a call from John Gunderson, a lightweight from Bend, Ore., who now makes his home in Las Vegas. Gunderson told me that Shawn Tompkins, a trainer whom he'd worked with for years and a guy who'd ushered into the big time Sam Stout, Mark Hominick and Chris Horodecki, had not woken up on Sunday morning. It was hard to focus after that.
The UFC honorably gave mention of Tompkins during the event's broadcast, and the outpouring of support online was fitting for a talented, if sometimes troubled man who helped a great number of fighters in more than a decade in the sport.
Tompkins will be greatly missed in the fight community.
Chris Lytle: He didn't fight for money, at least when he started in 1999. He didn't hail from the traditional power centers of MMA; he lived in Indiana and built from the ground up. He wasn't an exceptional physical specimen, but a regular guy who worked really hard. Even in that, there were those far more technical than him, or played the points game a little better, or caught him injured.
In 12 years of fighting in MMA, Lytle never held a major title, and he frequently lost to top-tier competition in his 20 appearances in the Octagon. But he always brought the fight to his opponents, particularly in the last five years of his career, and the result was almost always an exciting affair. In his final fight Sunday against Dan Hardy, he delivered yet another crowd-pleaser that led to a third-round submission victory -- cementing his UFC win percentage at an even .500 -- and a record 10th performance bonus earned for "Fight of the Night" and "Submission of the Night" honors.
Lytle has more of those awards than Anderson Silva, the pound-for-pound great. It's not only a cool footnote in the history books, but it probably paved the way for him to leave on his own terms. He netted over half a million dollars with those extra payouts, to say nothing of the discretionary bonuses he received. Not many fighters get the chance to do it their way. So he didn't get a title -- what he accomplished wasn't peanuts.
Lytle is now on to the next phase of his life, that of a full-time firefighter and a full-time family man. He's played those roles since forever, but without an MMA career to keep afloat, he now has time to give the latter more attention. It's sad to see him go, but a wonderful reminder that happy endings do exist in this unforgiving sport.
Ben Henderson: Two lightweight title hopefuls have now seen their dreams dashed at the final hurdle. In the latest upset, a fiery, inspired performance from "Bendo" gave a strong case for putting him next in line for the belt. Henderson pounded on the New Jersey native with vicious elbows and punches and controlled the grappling game, as well, turning Miller's eight-fight win streak on its head with a unanimous decision.
Although talk immediately turned to Clay Guida, who earned the first big upset of lightweight title season by outpointing former WEC champ Anthony Pettis, it's a better idea to put Henderson in a title eliminator match with Melvin Guillard at the end of the year. No other two fighters have looked as devastating and impressive as of late. I say put the winner of that bout against that of Edgar-Maynard III in the second quarter of 2012.
Donald Cerrone: There are many reasons to sing the praises of "Cowboy." He dismantled the heavily hyped Charles Oliveira in one round. He's 3-0 in the UFC. He's rangy and aggressive and can seemingly take any sort of punch. But is he a contender? Not even close.
He has at least two or three more fights before he's close to a true test. For now, there are several fan-friendly matchups to be made, most of which he stands a good chance of winning. I'm thinking Dennis Siver, Sam Stout and Cole Miller (more on him below).
Jared Hamman: After an uneven stint at light heavyweight, Hamman was almost steamrolled by C.B. Dollaway in his debut at middleweight. Dollaway locked in an arm triangle, and that seemed to be that. But Hamman was game, and rebounded by cracking the reality-show product's defenses with rapid one-twos. Eventually, Dollaway folded, and Hamman had the signature win of his UFC career.
Ed Herman: "Short Fuse" is now officially back. Once a question mark due to a long injury layoff, he's put away two consecutive opponents. First, he knocked out Tim Credeur, and Sunday, he stopped Kyle Noke with a nasty inverted heel hook. He'll get a few more fights to build his momentum. Rafael Natal and Hamman are good options, for now.
Cole Miller: He's been on and he's been off, but against T.J. O'Brien, it was Miller time. Even though he didn't get the sternest challenge, it was a needed confidence builder following a loss to Matt Wiman eight months ago. Had Lytle not retired, a submission bonus would have been headed Cole's way for an amazing body triangle and one-arm guillotine that got the tapout.
What's next? Miller loves to fight an enemy, and he's been salivating for a chance to fight nemesis Donald Cerrone. Seems like a recipe for fireworks, if Cerrone agrees.
Jim Miller: With a decision loss to Ben Henderson, Miller sees an eight-fight win streak and a possible title shot go down the drain. He's still one of the best lightweights in the game today. But he had an off night where he couldn't afford one, and some of the choices he made were downright baffling.
Case in point: time and time again, Miller exposed himself to danger with high-risk submission attempts. That, of course, put him on the receiving end of punching barrages that clouded his mind and left streaks of crimson for judges to consider. Sure, he got close to a submission, once, with a kneebar. But you have to wonder ... was it worth it? By the time he figured out he couldn't pull off a finish, he was too far down on the cards. Tough, tough break for a talented guy.
Duane Ludwig: Faced with an opponent of limited ground abilities and inferior striking credentials, this fight was Ludwig's to win. He dominated Amir Sadollah for two solid rounds with an impressive array of strikes, though he flagged in the third. I tend to think Ludwig's competitive days are coming to a close sooner than later as a 33-year-old with almost 100 fights to his name, but matchups against Sean Pierson and Brian Foster sound fun.
Jacob Volkmann: Now enjoying a four-fight win streak, Volkmann is slowly gaining steam. But he's soon going to take a step up against a significant striker, and that's where his true improvement will be measured. Fights against Paulo Thiago and Martin Kampmann didn't go so well, and once he meets someone with a good sprawl, things will get difficult.
Dan Hardy: There's hardly a more damning stat than 0-4, which is where Hardy finds himself following a rousing but ultimately unsuccessful go at the retiring Lytle. He's gotten a reprieve from UFC co-owner Lorenzo Ferttita, who tweeted after the fight: "I like guys that WAR!!!" So he'll get yet another chance to turn things around, a luxury very few fighters in his position have enjoyed.
Will he do so? He'll likely get a charitable matchup in his next outing, which will rebuild some confidence. It still won't change the fundamental problem of his limited ground game, and sooner than later, the glow from Sunday's fight will wear off. But in the near term, it's an understandable decision. As Hardy's counterpart showed time and time again, you don't need to have the greatest record. Deliver excitement and you'll be rewarded.
Amir Sadollah: Another glimpse of a reckoning on the horizon for the homegrown UFC fighter and The Ultimate Fighter 7 winner. Sadollah was battered for two rounds by Duane Ludwig, a fighter far more seasoned than he in Muay Thai, and ran out of time before he could turn the fight around. It was, at best, a flawed game plan in playing to Ludwig's strengths, and again raised questions about whether the 30-year-old Sadollah will ever be more than a popular sideman to the serious fighters of the welterweight division. It was a long shot in the first place that he'd distinguish himself from the pack, but now, reality is setting in.
C.B. Dollaway: It's an impressive thing when a collegiate wrestler adds a submission arsenal to his game, and Dollaway is responsible for some seriously slick grappling in his performances since TUF 7. He just seems to falter at critical moments. He was all over Jared Hamman in the first round and nearly finished the fight with an arm triangle. But he seemed to wilt in the second when Hamman turned up the heat, and he couldn't escape a barrage of punches that preceded his second consecutive loss.
Is he a first-round threat? Not necessarily. He's gone the distance before and availed himself well, even if it was against lesser competition. It just looks like there's a mental yip that perhaps causes him to let his guard down, or overestimate his position in the fight, or make careless mistakes. Maybe he's just unlucky. Whatever it is, he seems stuck in neutral, and there's not a whole lot of upside in that at middleweight.
Karlos Vemola: Touted as a standout wrestler in his home country of Czech Republic, Vemola scarcely looked like more than a grappling dummy for Brazilian newcomer Ronny Markes en route to a decision loss. On the feet, he looked entirely like a bar brawler, charging with a windmill of punches before getting put on his back. Not the recipe for a long career in the octagon.
Alex Caceres: In winning a post-TUF contact, Caceres leapfrogged candidates more qualified than he on the merits of a marketing gimmick that struck the fancy of Dana White. His skills obviously lagged behind his flash inside the ring. But he was likable, and that went a long way in keeping him around. By the time he met serious competition, though, it was clear he wasn't ready to compete at a high level. The hot and cold Mackens Semerizer took him to school in his debut, and some questioned whether he'd be a one-and-done.
Caceres showed far better against newcomer Jim Hettes in what was an insanely action-packed fight. But once again, he showed a serious deficit in grappling and submitted in the second. Likeability could earn him a last-chance shot, but he should probably go back to the minors.
Jason Reinhardt: The veteran talks a good game, but his skills just aren't up to par for the UFC -- not at lightweight, featherweight, or bantamweight, where he's made a trio of appearances in which he's been vastly overmatched. His showing Sunday against the 135-pound Edwin Figueroa was perhaps the most caustic yet.
He ran away after baiting the fighter to come forward. He collapsed into a heap when cornered. He had little ability to do anything other than shoot, badly, for a takedown.
Figueroa exploited that weakness to end the fight in the second. But it should have been over in the first, and Reinhardt probably should never have gotten a shot in the big show.