Hello and welcome once again to Championship Rounds.  It’s Friday, the end of the working week (for most of us), which means it’s time once again to join me as I take a look at five big stories from the past week in MMA.

It’s been a week of disappointment for UK fight fans, Bellator on Spike TV have hit the ground running, a legend of the sport has retired and the UFC returns to Fox this weekend.  Plus this week saw the return to TV of The Ultimate Fighter.  Another busy week, another jam packed Championship Rounds.  Let’s touch gloves and do this.

Round 1 – Belfort beats Bisping by 2nd round TKO.

Last weekend was a tough night for UK MMA fans as Michael Bisping was beaten by Vitor Belfort following a 2nd round TKO in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  A win for Bisping would have seen the UK’s biggest name MMA fighter secure his Title shot against Middleweight Champion, Anderson Silva.  Unfortunately for Bisping his dream of a world title fight in the UFC continues to allude him.

Belfort sent his fellow countrymen home happy after landing a fantastic left high kick to the head of Bisping early in the second round, before finishing him with rapid strikes on the ground.  While some fans complained it was an early stoppage (it wasn’t), Bisping had no complaints following the fight,

“It was a beautiful kick. He was the better man than me tonight,” Bisping said.

“You win some, you lose some. Trust me, I’ll be back at the top of this pile before you know it.”

The fight did not play out as many had predicited.  The general consensus from fans and media alike was for Belfort to blitz Bisping early with strikes, before he would eventually tire and Bisping’s superior conditioning and game plan execution would take over in the later rounds.

Instead Belfort came out very calm and measured.  He didn’t charge Bisping and instead seemed to size his opponent up over the course of the first round and landed a left high kick towards the end of the first round that appeared to wobble Bisping.

That would be a precursor to the eventual finish of the fight.  The Brazilian fans were in raptures as Belfort secured the 15th KO victory of his storied career.  While his win was impressive and a reminder that Belfort is still a dangerous opponent at either middleweight or light heavy, it was his bizarre post fight interview that gained most of the headlines.

Belfort called for Chael Sonnen to be pulled from his upcoming Light Heavyweight Title fight with Jon Jones and for Belfort to get the Title shot instead.  Considering Belfort was beaten handily by Jones in September and the fact the current season of The Ultimate Fighter hangs on Jones vs. Sonnen as the climax to the season, Belfort’s demands were a little odd to say the least.

“I want to get the belt,” Belfort said.

“Take that punk Chael Sonnen out, I don’t even know your name. Get out. Let me fight Jon Jones. I need that rematch. Take that clown away.”

Of course that isn’t going to happen.  Although Sonnen did accept the challenge and a fight between the two could happen later this year.  Belfort’s stock has risen considerably as he has now won three of his last four fights.  Expect many of the up and coming middleweight fighters to have to get past Belfort before they can reach the upper echelons of the division in the future.

The rest of the UFC on FX 7 card was decent and saw impressive wins for Khabib Nurmagomedov (1st round TKO over local favourite Thiago Tavares), Gabriel Gonzaga (2nd round submission over a gassed, soft and very disappointing Ben Rothwell) and CB Dollaway (a brilliant come from behind decision victory over the extremely promising Daniel Sarafian).

Unfortunately for UK MMA fans the night will be remembered for Bisping’s loss and, for the time being at least, the end of his pursuit of a world title fight in the UFC.  There’s no doubt Bisping will be back but this is now the second time in recent years he’s lost a fight where a win would have guaranteed him a world title fight.  Those opportunities don’t come around very often in the UFC and at his age, Bisping is going to have to string together an impressive and dominant win streak to get back to the top of the division again.

Round 2 – Bellator on Spike TV debut provides entertaining fights and good early ratings.

Bellator 85 on Spike TV got the promotion and their new TV partner off to a solid start.  The show was entertaining throughout, with good production levels and commentary throughout.  They also did a much better job of micing the arena and the cage than UFC does.  This gave the show a great atmosphere and brought the viewer into the action more.

In the top two fights on the show Pat Curran had to work extremely hard to successfully defend his featherweight title over the tough and durable Patricio “Pitbull” Freire.  In the end Curran took a split decision victory as he and Freire battled back and forth over the course of five closely contested rounds.

In the end Curran was able to claim the victory with some excellent head and body combinations, as well as excellent footwork and defence.  Curran had superior conditioning and was able to push the pace of the fight in the later rounds.

While this wasn’t the blow away victory that some predicited from Curran and the fight was slow to get going (both fighters have been out of action for a considerable time) it did catch fire in the final three rounds and proved to be an absorbing contest.

In the main event of the show Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler made short work of his opponent Rick Hawn and secured a second round submission win.  It was a great performance by Chandler who dealt with Hawk’s offense in the first round before clamping on a palm to palm rear naked choke in the second round.

Chandler has long been considered one of the top lightweight fighters in the world.  However as he competes outside the UFC a question mark still remains over how he would cope against the true elite lightweight fighters (Benson Henderson, Gilbert Melendez etc).  This fight proved that Chandler has the skills to compete against the best in the world and he will continue to improve and evolve as a fighter as he career progresses.

The show scored a 0.7 rating and 938,000 viewers thanks in no small part to strong lead in from TNA’s IMPACT, as the final quarter of Impact with the Brooke Hogan wedding had 1.82 million viewers.

This was a good opening rating and viewing figures for Bellator but the real measure of their success will be in the weeks and months that follow.  If Bellator can maintain numbers anywhere close to the first week, they will be a success.  But MMA television history would indicate that probably won’t happen.  As the UFC have seen, drawing good numbers on TV is not easy and it will take some time for Bellator to build their audience.

They won’t have the big lead in from IMPACT every week (the wedding angle this week being THE big angle TNA have been building for weeks). But Spike does own Bellator so at least they are not in any danger of being cancelled if the ratings do fall over the next couple of months.

That said it was a fun show and it’s always great to have more variety in the MMA promotions you can see regularly.  I’ll have a look at Bellator 86 (which aired last night in the States) in next week’s Championship Rounds.

Rounds 3 – UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes announces his retirement.

Former UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes announced his retirement from MMA on Thursday at a special press conference in Chicago (site of this weekend’s UFC on Fox show).

UFC president Dana White announced that the Hall of Fame member will join the promotion as its vice president of athletic development and government relations.

“Matt is one of those guys that was there from the early days and helped grow MMA into the modern, professional sport it is today,” White said. “He has been in the sport since the late 1990s and really seen it all.

“Matt is a two-time world champion in the UFC, he’s coached ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality series twice, has fought all over the world and has been in every situation a fighter can be in. Matt’s expertise makes him highly qualified for this.”

Hughes is renowned within MMA as one of the most dominant UFC Welterweight Champions in history.  He first claimed the welterweight title in November 2001 with a second-round knockout of Carlos Newton at UFC 34.

After five defences, Hughes lost the title to BJ Penn by first-round submission at UFC 46 in January 2004. But he reclaimed the title nine months later with a first-round submission of Georges St-Pierre.

Hughes also coached on The Ultimate Fighter TV show where his back and forth verbal battles with Matt Serra resulted in some great TV and one of the most heated and anticipated fights in the UFC at that time.

“I’ve experienced ups and downs in my career and found that the UFC has supported me every step of the way,” said Hughes. “I understand the pressures and responsibilities that go along with being a professional athlete.

“I look forward to using my knowledge and experience to provide insight and perspective on behalf of athletes and the organization.”

Hughes concludes his MMA career with a professional record of 45-9 and will now look to help guide the careers of younger fighters in the UFC and help them to achieve the level of professional respect Hughes gained, both inside and outside the octagon, during his hall of fame career.

Round 4 – UFC on Fox 6 takes place this Saturday 26th January 2013 in Chicago.

UFC on Fox 6 from Chicago is the first real test of the drawing power of the recently formed Flyweight division.  If you have never seen the Flyweights in action, you are in for a real treat.  While these men may be the smallest in the UFC, their unbelievable speed, stamina, technique and ability to change the course of a fight in the blink of an eye, more than makes up for their lack of stature.  I have yet to see a boring fight in the division and I always come away from a flyweight fight worrying that my TV is broken because everything is moving so fast.

The main event of the show sees Demetrious Johnson defend his Title against John Dodson.  It’s true to say that some casual fans may not be interested in fights that don’t involve big name stars from the heavier weight divisions.  However, for the rest of us, this is a fight we’ve all wanted to see ever since the division was created last year.  This will be a clinic of crisp striking, movement and with Dodson there is always the possibility of a KO finish as he showed in his previous fight.

This is a gamble as a main event, neither man is well known to casual audience and the division itself is still in its infancy.  That said, the hope of the UFC must be that this fight, on free TV, will open the eyes of a lot of UFC fans to show how technically brilliant and ridiculously fast these two fighters are.

Given the untested main event fight the UFC have staked the under card with fights that have the potential to steal the show.  In particular the clash between Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis (my pick for fight of the night).  This battle between two of the best Lightweight fighters in the world should steal the show.  Both guys always come to fight.  Both guys have excellent striking and both guys are desperate for a win to get back into Title contention at 155lbs.  Expect fireworks from these two from the opening bell.

The show also sees the final fight (on his current contract) in the UFC for the legendary and hugely popular Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson as he takes on the dangerous Brazilian wrecking machine Glover Teixeira.  This is Rampage’s swan song from the UFC and while his attitude in the build up to the fight has been the usual whacky Rampage, he is in for a serious test against Teixeira.  Just ask Fabio Maldonado what kind of punishment Glover can dish out.

Rampage has long complained that the UFC don’t match him up with the kind of fighters he can put on exciting fights with.  Rampage wants to stand and bang (mainly because once he’s on his back, he normally stays there for the rest of the round) and he is sure to get a stand up war from Teixeira.

This is the end of an era in the UFC with Rampage looking to head to pastures new, but first he has to get past one of a group of hungry, powerful fighters who like nothing more than to make their name by defeating a legend.  It could be a long night for Rampage in Chicago.  Or it could be a spectacular KO send off for the former Light Heavyweight Champion.

The card will open with a fight at Featherweight the outcome of which, along with another fight on the undercard, will hopefully finally confirm the pecking order of challengers at Featherweight.

Ricardo Lamas will fight Erik Koch. Koch was scheduled to fight Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo twice in 2012, but both fell through (once because he was injured, once because Aldo was). A win for Koch and he should be right back into Title contention.

That said, a win for the impression Lamas and he could also earn a shot against the winner of Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar, which takes place on PPV next month.

At the very least, the winner of this fight will fight Chan Sung Jungto determine who gets the next Title shot.  Either Koch of Lamas against the ‘Korean Zombie’ would be a must see fight.

On the undercard former Lightweight contender Clay Guida is making the cut to 145 lbs.  A solid performance in his featherweight debut against the former No. 1 contender Hioki would help his Title shot aspirations in 2013. If Hioki beats Guida, he’ll have beaten one of the UFC’s more familiar names and his recent loss to Lamas will be firmly in the history books.

Two very interesting fights, with big ramifications for the Featherweight division which does feel like it’s been on hold recently with injuries and Jose Aldo not defending the Title for some time.  Once UFC on Fox 6 is in the bag, the order of contenders for the Title will be much clearer and that’s something that can only benefit the division and the UFC as a whole.

Round 5 – The Ultimate Fighter Season 17 begins.

It’s no secret that the UFC’s Ultimate Fighter reality show has been flagging in recent years.  A repetitive formula, boring fights, boring coaches and a terrible time slot on Friday night on FX, have all contributed to the decline of the show.  The last season was so dull I stopped watching half way through – something I have never done in all the years I’ve watched the show.

The all time low viewing numbers of 624,000 for a show during the last season was enough to set the UFC in motion to try and regain some of the popularity the show has lost in recent times.  Their solution?  Firstly get in two of the most well known, charismatic and money drawing fighters in the company as the coaches, enter stage right – Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen.  Secondly, get the show off the kiss of death slot on Friday on FX and move the show to a Tuesday evening, when many more people are at home and watching TV – especially those in TUF’s target demographic and thirdly, revamp the production and look of the show.

The goal was to draw viewers and the premiere of The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones vs. Team Sonnen did just that.  The show did 1.51 million viewers in the overnight fast nationals which is up a staggering 59% from what the premiere of Season 16.

The show itself was a lot of fun.  It was the usual parade of unknown fighters, most of whom appeared to be completely broke and relying on their success in the show to continue their lives and careers.  However the show did a good job of giving a lot more background and some of the fighters characters to the viewing audience.

TUF needs more than a face lift (the whole concept is getting very stale) but the upped production values did add a nice touch to the show.  Everything looked really glossy and expensive.  The addition of having the fighters friends and family watching the fight from bleachers set up inside the training facility was also a much needed improvement.  The previous season where fights take place in an empty gym with no commentary always felt alien to me as a viewer.

It’s too early to see much of the dynamic between Sonnen and Jones but this opening episode was fun.  Sonnen is constantly working Jones and uses a lot of irony and sarcasm towards the Light Heavyweight Champ, a lot of which Jones didn’t seem to readily pick up on.  I’m not expecting big drama between the two, just a lot of simmering tension from Jones and Sonnen in control of a lot of the verbal back and forth moments that the show will have.  They will both coach in a different style but they also both seem really suited to the role of coach.

It’s also too early to judge any of the fighters but they do appear to be a couple of levels above the guys who took part in the last couple of seasons.  The majority of the fights to get into the house were fun and they did have a few finishes too.  The next couple of weeks will be the chance for the fighters personalities to come across and hopefully there’s a few interesting characters in there to carry the season.  That said, I do expect Jones and Sonnen to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to interesting personalities.

A solid enough start to this season of TUF and the early viewing figures are encouraging for the UFC.  Just like Bellator it’s early days and the real judgement on the success, or otherwise, of the show will be in the ratings moving forward and the PPV buy rate that Sonnen and Jones pull when they fight in the Spring.

That’s all the MMA news, views and opinions for another week here on Wrestling Rambles.  I’ll be back next week with a review of UFC on Fox 6 and a look at four other big stories that catch my eye in the world of MMA.  As always thanks for reading and thanks to everyone who comments, shares and likes Championship Rounds.  It’s really appreciated.

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If you’re so inclined, you can follow me on Twitter which is @MFXDuckman.  You can also hear me and my partner in crime Sir Ian Trumps every week on the Marks for Xcellence podcast, where we take an alternative look at the week in WWE and TNA.  You can find all the details for the show on the Wrestling Rambles podcast page or over at http://www.mfxpodcast.com.

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Until next time…

Peace

Duckman

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