It’s Friday on Wrestling Rambles, which means it’s time to look at five news stories from the week in MMA in a collection I like to call – Championship Rounds.  It’s been a historic week in MMA with the first ever female fight in the UFC taking place at UFC157.  This week CR has a full review of that history making fight between Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche, as well as a look at the other main card fights at UFC157.

This week saw Dana White working overtime with Jose Aldo, Anthony Pettis with confusing promises of future Title shots.  It’s not all UFC news this week.  Bellator 90 proved to be one of the best shows in company history, with King Mo Lawal the highest profile casualty on a night of crazy knock outs and finishes.  Of course it wouldn’t be an edition of CR without a look at a fight announcement and cancellation from this week .  This week CR wraps things up with a preview of UFC on Fuel 8 which takes place this weekend in Japan.   So what are you waiting for?  Let’s touch gloves and do this.

Round 1 – UFC157 – Rousey and Carmouche make history.

As fans of the fight game we all eventually become jaded by the hyperbole and relentless promotion that surrounds big fights.  We’re routinely told that the next fight is the biggest of all time.  Or that it’s a monumental happening that we can’t afford to miss.  How many times have you heard that a fight is history making or a once in a lifetime event, only for it to turn out not to be?  On Saturday 23rd February, for once, those bold promotional statements were true.

In front of a sold out crowd of 13,161 (for a $1.3 million gate) at the Honda Centre in Anaheim, California, MMA history was made as Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche clashed for Rousey’s UFC Bantamweight Title, in the first ever female fight in the UFC.  Not content with having Rousey and Carmouche appear lower down the card or even on free TV to test their drawing power, the UFC made the bold decision to have the fight headline a Pay Per View event.

This was completely uncharted waters for the UFC and the gamble of headlining a PPV with their first female fight drew criticism and plenty of predictions of failure.  Whether it be hardcore UFC fans who didn’t believe woman should even fight in the company, let alone headline a PPV.  Or those who simply question every single decision the UFC makes.  A vocal minority continually made the point that the Rousey/Carmouche battle should not headline a PPV.  Of course those who complained the loudest are now virtually silent in the face of an event that was a resounding success.

In the build up to the fight the UFC’s promotional machine went into overdrive and the results were there for all to see.  The number of tickets sold for the event after the first weekend on sale was the most since 2007.  Meaning as the promotional machine built speed, the number of tickets sold increased after a sluggish start when they first went on sale.  The building was legitimately sold out, with a bigger crowd than the last fight in that building; the Heavyweight Title fight between Junior Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez.

The star power of Ronda Rousey was evident for all to see in the mainstream media coverage of the fight (the kind of mainstream media coverage Vince McMahon would kill for in the build up to Wrestlemania).  She appeared on the cover of the New York and LA Times, she was featured on ESPN, on CNN, Forbes Magazine and in Time Magazine.  She made countless appearances on TV and radio as well as the UFC’s own special Primetime and Countdown shows (both of which were some of the best TV the UFC has ever produced).  The most surprising aspect of all the mainstream media coverage was how positive it all was about Rousey and about female MMA in general.

While all the credit for the success of the show will go to Rousey and her undeniable star power, the role that Liz Carmouche played in this fight and the build up to it should not be underestimated.  Carmouche, with her smiling and positive personality, combined with her toughness from five years in the US Marine Corps (including three tours of Iraq) was able to become a star in her own right in the build up to the fight.

Her standing as the first openly gay fighter in the UFC was something the promotion pushed hard and it was that open, honest and inclusive attitude that was one of the most interesting selling points of the fight.  While Carmouche being gay shouldn’t matter to anyone, the fact the UFC didn’t shy away from it and promoted and highlighted her sexuality is something that many critics of the promotion never saw coming.

Carmouche played a huge role in the success of the promotion of this fight but there can be no doubt that the night belonged to Rousey.  The reaction to her in the arena on the night was at a true superstar level.  Dana White has said himself that there would be no female division in the UFC if it wasn’t for a star like Rousey.  Her unique blend of good looks, toughness, legitimate fighting skills and charismatic interviews have shone through in recent months and the UFC now have a truly bankable star on their hands.

How bankable?  Early numbers indicate that UFC157 was a huge success on PPV.  While the numbers are only preliminary and could change as more data comes in, early indications are the event is on course for PPV buys between 500,000 and 525,000.  The baseline number looks to be around 400,000 buys.  That number of buys would put UFC157 ahead of every single UFC PPV in 2012 that wasn’t headlined by a title match.  It is also ahead of every show in 2012 headlined by a title match in the 155, 145, 135 or 125 pound divisions.

To put the number into perspective, the previous PPV – UFC156, headlined by the super fight between Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar and with proven PPV draws Rashad Evans and Alistair Overeem on the undercard, drew around 330,000 buys on PPV.

So with a promotional homerun, two female stars who connected with the general public and a significant return at the gate and on PPV, all that was left was for the fight between Rousey and Carmouche to live up to expectations.  Thankfully it did.

The fight was four minutes and forty nine seconds of MMA at its thrilling best.  Rousey came out strong, looking to land strikes before taking the fight to the ground early.  She was able to do so but Carmouche was able to take Rousey’s back as she tried to stand back up.  With Carmouche on Rousey’s back the Champion looked in real trouble and when Carmouche clamped on a face lock/neck crank for the submission attempt, it looked like the biggest upset of the year was about to become a reality.

This was where Rousey’s championship credentials and toughness came into play.  Many other fighters would have tapped out to that face lock.  It was in so tight that Rousey lost her mouth piece and her teeth imbedded in Carmouche’s arm, leaving the challenger with an impressive dental cast of Rousey’s top teeth on her forearm!  Rousey was fighting on two fronts, to stop Carmouche from forcing her to submit and also to keep her small top on and avoid flashing the whole world!  As she said post fight, “next fight, bigger bra!”

She was able to do both and with the crowd in the Hondo Centre going crazy she shook Carmouche off her back, took control with a side headlock and began landing punches with Carmouche trapped.  This was all to soften Carmouche up for the much anticipated armbar and Rousey was able to capture Carmouche’s arm and despite some strong defence, it was only a matter of time before Rousey extended her arm and forced Carmouche to tap out with eleven seconds left in the opening round.

The pop from the crowd when Carmouche tapped out has been reported from many in the arena as being one of the loudest ever heard for a UFC fight.  The win moves Rousey to 7-0, with seven arm bar finishes, all coming inside the first round.  If you aren’t impressed by that, you are a certified moron.

The fight was the perfect way to end what had been a history making night.  Carmouche pushed Rousey further than any of  her previous opponents and made herself a star in the process.  Rousey showed her true toughness and champion spirit by refusing to tap to the face lock and fighting her way out of it.  The fight ended with the Rousey armbar, which everyone watching was waiting for as soon as the fight started.  The historical significance of this fight will be talked about for years to come and rightfully so.  The UFC, with Ronda Rousey as their shining star, couldn’t have wished for a better build up or fight for their first ever female fight.

In hindsight those who argued that Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida should have been the main event of this show now look pretty foolish.  For fifteen minutes Henderson and Machida stunk the joint out with one of the most boring top contender fights in recent memory.  In the end Machida took the split decision victory which enraged the fans in attendance who thought Henderson, who did land more strikes during the fight, should have been awarded the win.

I had Machida winning by his usual style – evasion.  Henderson spent far too long stalking Machida and not doing anything, especially in the final round where both guys seemed content to stare at each other, without engaging.  Henderson needed takedowns but after Machida caught him with knees to the body after some early attempts, he seemed to give up on that strategy.

Machida wins fights by not fighting and he’s incredibly effective at doing so.  He’s also incredibly boring and frustrates the crowd almost as much as he frustrates his opponent.  Some will call him smart but the reaction to his post match interview (relentless, angry booing) should alert him to the fact that winning in this style isn’t going to win him any fans.  I’d be surprised if it earned him a Title shot either.  That’s not smart, not by any definition.

With the win Machida is apparently next in line for a shot at the 205lbs Title.  If he fights Jon Jones (who should beat Chael Sonnen when they fight in April) it’s going to be a tough sell for the UFC.  Jones has already beaten Machida in three rounds with a standing guillotine choke, in a fight which drew the lowest PPV number ever for a Jon Jones fight.  After Machida’s performance against Henderson and his earlier loss to Jones, the UFC will struggle to convince people that Machida vs. Jones 2 is worth spending money on.

Elsewhere on the card Court McGee was impressive (and not just because of his awesome beard) as he earned a decision victory over tough veteran Josh Neer.  McGee looks very good at 170lbs (he dropped from 185) and it was his accurate and high volume striking that earned him the win over Neer.

One of the highlights of the show was Urijah Faber defeating Ivan Menjivar by submission in the first round of what was predicted by many to be a close fight.  Faber looked phenomenal and was able to take Menjivar’s back, hook on a body triangle and then finished him with a standing rear naked choke.  It was exactly the same situation that Liz Carmouche would find herself in during the main event.  Faber was able to sink the choke in deep and forced the highly skilled veteran to tap out.  In a highlight reel moment Faber celebrated by raising his arms in the air, while still clamped onto his opponent’s back with the body triangle.  A great finish and an interesting win for Faber who continues to dominate in non-title fights, only to lose when the Title is on the line.

In the show opening fight ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler made a winning return to the UFC after nine years away from the promotion.  At one point, in the early days of UFC, Lawler was hyped as Mike Tyson-esqe first round knockout specialist.  He lost his way following early success and left the promotion to pursue a MMA journeyman career across various weight classes in different promotions across the world.

On this night Lawler looked great at 170lbs and battered a very lacklustre (for the 2nd fight in a row) Josh Koscheck.  When the fight hit the ground Lawler was able to gain top position and landed some heavy shots to Koscheck, before referee Herb Dean stepped in and stopped the fight.  Some felt the stoppage was too early but on the replay it’s obvious Koscheck was stunned, staring into space and not defending himself from some big punches from Lawler.  To have let the fight go on any longer would have only resulted in Koscheck taking unnecessary punishment.

UFC157 will go down in the history books as one of the most important events in UFC history thanks to the main event.  The big test for woman’s MMA will come when Rousey is not fighting and the UFC don’t put their entire promotional machine behind a female fight.  That said, this was one of those nights where everything that could go right did.

What happens next for Rousey is up in the air but her UFC career (and the career of Liz Carmouche) is off to a money  drawing, arena packing, crowd pleasing start that Dana White must have only dreamed about.  Female MMA has arrived on the biggest stage of them all and the next few years are going to be very interesting as the division, headlined by Rousey’s star power, continues to grow.

Round 2 – The curious case of Jose Aldo and the future Title shot.

A few weeks ago CR brought you the news that Jose Aldo’s next opponent for the 145lbs UFC Featherweight Title would be former top contender at 155lbs, ‘Showtime’ Anthony Pettis.  Following Aldo’s win over Frankie Edgar, Pettis convinced Dana White that he should drop to 145lbs and fight Aldo for the Title.  White almost immediately confirmed the fight would take place in August.  The Aldo vs. Pettis fight seemed like a done deal and a match up between two of the most dynamic and inventive strikers in the UFC was something fans could really get excited about.

When Dana White broke the news that Aldo was refusing to fight Pettis, it was met with an almost stunned silence from the gathered media during the post fight scrum following UFC157.  As White explained, Aldo’s manager had met with White in London and confirmed that Aldo did not want to fight Pettis next as he felt Pettis hadn’t earned a Title shot at 145lbs.  Never mind the fact that Frankie Edgar had walked straight into a Title shot despite coming off two losses in a row to Benson Henderson at 155lbs.  Or the fact that Pettis was the number one contender at 155lbs following his destruction of Donald Cerrone.

As you would imagine, White was furious and read the riot act to Aldo’s manager before confirming to the media that the fight would happen and if Aldo refused he would not like the consequences.  However over the last few days it appears White has sweetened the deal for the Featherweight Champion.

This is where things get confusing.  If Aldo defeats Pettis, Aldo will immediately move up to 155lbs and fight the Champion at that time, even though he would be effectively unranked at 155lbs (in other words he’d be doing the same thing he’s complaining about Pettis doing).  If Aldo wins the 155lbs Title he will have to remain in that division and not drop back to 145lbs.  It appears the same deal is in place with Pettis, although he would be expected to defend the 145lb Title on a couple of occasions before moving back up to 155lbs for a Title shot.  So in essence Pettis is dropping to 145lbs to win a shot at the 155lbs Title.

And people wonder why White is so opposed to people moving around the weight divisions!  Just don’t mention this arrangement to any of the other Title contenders at 145 or 155 pounds, who do have legitimate cause for complaint that two divisions are now being tied up for the foreseeable future.  At least we know for certain that Aldo vs. Pettis will happen this summer and even with the confusing Title shot picture in the background, it’s sure to be a fantastic fight.

Round 3 – Bellator 90 – King Mo gets KTFO and he’s not the only one.

Speaking of fantastic fights, Bellator 90 proved to be the best night of action in the promotion’s history.  All six televised fights ended in spectacular finishes, with five of those finishes coming in the first round.  It was one of the most exciting MMA shows I’ve ever seen and reminded me of the heyday of PRIDE where awesome finishes and shock victories happened on a regular basis.

The biggest shock of the night saw Bellator and TNA superstar in the making ‘King Mo’ Lawal knocked out cold by 12-1 underdog Emmanuel Newton.  The fight was supposed to be a given for King Mo, who Bellator have been hyping as their major star.  TNA had also signed him with a view to him becoming a two sport star with mainstream cross over appeal.  As my fellow Scot Robert Burns so famously said, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]”

King Mo came into the fight over confident and looking to box with Newton.  Mo has been training with Floyd Mayweather and seemed to be under the impression he could box in Mayweather’s famous style – hands down, avoid any shots via head and foot movement.  That works for Mayweather because he’s been training in that style his entire life and has incredibly fast reflexes.  At Bellator 90 it certainly didn’t work for King Mo.

Newton threw a big right hand and was off balance but was able to spin around and throw a big left hand spinning backfist (without looking) that King Mo didn’t see coming.  I wouldn’t argue with you if you called it a lucky punch.  Lucky or not, it connected flush on King Mo’s chin and dropped him to the mat in spectacular fashion.  The moral to this story is – always keep your hands up.  The shock win advances Newton in the light heavyweight tournament.  As for King Mo, it’s back to the drawing board and no doubt he will soon be appearing in a TNA ring as the work begins to rehab his career and star power.

In other newsworthy results from the show Mikhail Zayats beat Jason Noe to advance to the final of the light heavyweight tournament thanks to a first round arm bar.  Ben Saunders is in the welterweight final after knocking out Raul Amaya with a spectacular first round head kick.  Saunders will face Douglas Lima in the final after he knocked out Bryan Baker with a vicious over hand right.  In the final fight Shahbulat Shamhalaev beat local favourite Rad Martinez to win last season’s featherweight tournament and a shot at Pat Curran and his Title.  Shamhalaev won with a big right hand that knocked Martinez out in the second round.

If you’re a fan of spectacular finishes, upsets and some damn exciting MMA fights, then you owe it to yourself to check out Bellator 90.  The shock loss by King Mo will grab all the headlines but the other fights on the show are worth going out of your way to see.

Round 4 – Fight cancellation/announcement/Fighter cut.

Demetrious Johnson was due to put his Flyweight Title on the line against John Moraga in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter Finale on 17th April.  An undisclosed injury has forced Johnson to withdraw from the 125lbs title fight.

The replacement main event will see Urijah Faber and Scott Jorgensen face off in what should be an exciting fight.  Faber actually got Jorgensen into MMA during their time together in college, so this will be a battle of good friends who are both top level fighters.  It’s a quick return to the octagon for Faber but he sustained little to no damage at UFC157 and Faber always looks to be in fighting shape.  This one should be an excellent scrap at 135lbs.

Following on from the mass cuts of last week, another UFC fighter finds himself out of work this week, although this time it’s for a drug test failure.  Matthew Riddle has been cut from the UFC following his second positive test for marijuana.  He tested positive following his win over Che Mills at UFC London two weeks ago.  Riddle is a medicinal marijuana user and has a medical exemption to use the drug.

However the use is not permitted while fighting in the UFC and he has to stop smoking a few weeks prior to his fights in order to test clean.  For the second time Riddle has miscalculated when he needed to stop smoking and has tested positive again.  The result of the fight will now be ruled a no contest and Riddle is the latest in a long line of fighters who are looking for a roster spot outside the UFC.

Round 5 – UFC on Fuel 8 Preview – Wanderlei Silva returns to Japan.

This weekend the UFC returns to Japan for UFC on Fuel TV 8 from the former home of PRIDE, the Saitama Super Arena.  This will be the UFC’s second show at the arena as they continue their efforts to revive a flagging MMA scene in Japan.  The show is headlined by a fight at 205lbs between former Marine and all round awesome American, Brian Stann and the man who earned the nickname ‘The Axe Murderer’ during his five year reign as PRIDE Middleweight Champion, Wanderlei Silva.

Silva had been reluctant to fight Stann as he was concerned about being booed when in the octagon with the American war hero.  With the fight taking place in Silva’s old PRIDE stomping ground, the chance of him being booed against Stann is minimal.  Silva is a legend in Japan and given the strong ticket sales for the event, his name is still a draw with Japanese MMA fans.  Of course he’s not the Wanderlei of old and Stann will present a tough test.  That said, Wanderlei is still a dangerous striker and with the crowd behind him and his legacy as a star in Japan at the forefront of his mind, I’m expecting fireworks before Wanderlei secures the win by late T/KO.

The co-main event is an interesting battle at heavyweight as dangerous striker Mark Hunt takes on Dutch giant Stefan Struve.  Hunt was a star in Japan back in the day, with ridiculous knock out power and he’s one of the most popular fighters in the UFC.  Hunt has battled personal demons for years but his latest run in the UFC has seen the career of the big New Zealander revived.

Struve is on the cusp of the Top 5 in the heavyweight division and is now making great use of his incredible height and reach advantage to win fights.  Struve has been highly thought of for the last few years and appears to be maturing into a Title contender.  I’m predicting a win for Struve here but don’t be surprised if Hunt catches him early and puts the big Dutchman away in a crowd pleasing moment.

Takanori Gomi against Diego Sanchez stands out as a potential fight of the night.  Gomi was a star in PRIDE, their Lightweight Champion and at one time one of the most explosive and successful fighters on the planet.  He has struggled since coming to the UFC but his name value, especially in Japan, has kept him off the cut list.  I expect to see a much better Gomi when he fights in his home country this weekend.

Sanchez won the original season of The Ultimate Fighter and is one of those guys that always comes to fight, at least he does when he’s healthy and motivated.  All you wrestling fans out there who love Daniel Bryan’s ‘yes’ gimmick should note he ‘borrowed’ it from Sanchez.  Sanchez has been attempting to get his career back on track (at one point he fought BJ Penn for the 155lb title) and a win against Gomi would be the start of that process.  Sanchez will no doubt want to stand and trade with Gomi, but I think the key to success is his wrestling.  If he takes Gomi down he can control him on the ground and utilise the vicious ground and pound that made him famous.  I see this one going the distance with Sanchez picking up the all important win.

Yushin Okami vs. Hector Lombard is another interesting battle.  Okami will be fighting in front of his fellow countrymen and will hope to look more impressive than he did in his last outing where he dry humped a very disappointing Alan Belcher for 15 minutes to earn a decision victory.

Lombard is desperate to move up the card and secure a shot at Anderson Silva, by way of a fight with ‘that crybaby’ Michael Bisping.  Before Lombard’s disappointing UFC debut he was expected to blast through the competition and earn a fight with Silva given his amazing record outside the UFC.  That didn’t happen and many questioned the huge contract UFC had given the former Bellator star.  Lombard looked back to his old self in his last fight when he knocked out Rouismar Palhares in quick time.  Expect Lombard to come out swinging in this fight, with Okami looking to utilise his wrestling.  Lombard by KO is my prediction but if anyone can act as a spoiler it’s Okami.

So there you have it folks, that is Championship Rounds in the bag for another week.  It’s been one of the most important weeks in MMA history and we finish things off with a stacked card from Japan.  Hopefully you all enjoy UFC on Fuel 8 and you can relive some of your favourite ‘Wanderlei in Japan’ moments this weekend.

CR will be back next week with a preview of the massive Welterweight Title fight between GSP and Nick Diaz in Montreal.  Many are predicting this fight will top 800,000 buys on PPV and do better business in North America than Wrestlemania (which drew around 744,000 buys in North America last year).  That’s the star power of GSP in full effect and it’s only increased by the fact he’s fighting Nick Diaz in a clash fans have been waiting a couple of years to see.  Plus there’s the small matter of Condit vs. Hendrix and Ellenberger vs. Marquardt elsewhere on the card.  Another big money weekend is on the cards for the UFC.

As always thanks for stopping by for another week of my ramblings on MMA here on Wrestling Rambles.  If you’d like to talk MMA, wrestling or anything else with me you can always follow me on Twitter which is @MFXDuckman.

If you’d like to hear me and my partner in crime Sir Ian Trumps discuss the week in WWE and TNA in a NSFW and high entertaining fashion then be sure to check out the Marks for Xcellence Podcast.  MFX now has a new home on the Universal Takeover Sports Network and our first show on the network will be next week.  You can still find all the details on MFX here on the ‘audio’ page or over at www.mfxpodcast.com

Until next time…

Peace

Duckman

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