Greetings from the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
UFC 128 is tonight, and Metro is out in force in the Garden State. I'm here from Boston, and MMA/sports-in-general expert Denis Gorman is working things from New York. I'll be providing updates here; hopefully in this very post. He's tweeting @denisgorman.
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(F5 early and often.)
The UFC can make a lot of hay with the average sports fan tonight, with two stars in the making on the card. Jon Jones -- one of the most popular young fighters in the promotion -- is taking on Shogun Rua for the light heavyweight title in the main event, and Urijah Faber is fighting Eddie Wineland in his UFC debut on the main card.
Frankly, wins for Jones and Faber would be great for the sport. They're both smart guys who know their way around in front of the camera, make exciting fights (moreso in Jones' case) and have the kind of looks that make your girlfriend love them.
Will they win?
Faber will. It's easy to root for Wineland, who's one of the nicest guys in MMA. But Faber's recent big-fight experience should prove the edge in a pressure-packed situation. It's the UFC debut for both, after all.
Jones, meanwhile, is uber-talented. But it's not his time. He's fighting Rua on short notice without a ton of octagon time under his belt. He'll fall by decision, but have the belt around his waist by the end of 2012.
Editor's note: Look, I nailed Faber. Just ignore that Jones prediction. Though he technically does have the belt around his waist by the end of 2012 ...
Featherweight: Erik Koch def. Raphael Assuncao (KO)
Koch brought the (quarter-full) house down in the opening bout of the evening, KOing Assuncao with a brutal right counter midway through the first round. A lot of stand-up in this one; neither fighter tried for a takedown, by our count. Koch kept Assuncao honest with leg kicks, and finished when he had the opening.
Catchweight: Nick Catone def. Constantinos Philippou (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
The boos showered early here, as the first few minutes were -- generously -- a feeling-out period. But Catone soon gained the upper hand, controlling from the top for most of the second and third rounds. The final few minutes were an absolute rout, with Philippou trying to escape and Catone stuffing each attempt. The crowd found nothing wrong with a big decision win for "The Jersey Devil."
Bantamweight: Joseph Benavidez def. Ian Loveland (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
For the second time in three bouts, neither fighter seemed at all interested in going to the ground early. Benavidez pushed the first-round action, with Loveland countering -- effectively, for the most part.
The second round started with more of the same. Benavidez -- who looks about 12 years old, by the way -- pushed, but was consistently pushed back. Loveland narrowly missed an ending blow about 1:30 in, when his hammerfish landed on the mat a quarter inch from the forehead of a rolling Benavidez. Loveland ended up in a bad spot with 2 minutes left, flinging himself at the little guy but getting tossed aside like a wide receiver going over the middle. But Loveland held a bloodied Benavidez in guard for the bulk of the remainder of the round. A head kick from Benavidez served as a parting shot just before the horn.
Both fighters looked angry as the third round opened. Loveland tossed a few wild hooks and Benavidez tried twice for the Anderson Silva-style soccer-kick-to-the-chin. Benavidez scored a takedown with 3:30 remaining, but couldn't make anything of it. But he was far from finished attacking, cracking Loveland with a hard right hand, tossing him to the ground and pounding with elbows from side control. The taller man escaped, but was clearly shaken. After an attempted head kick, Benavidez shot for -- and completed -- his third takedown of the round. He gained side control before Loveland broke out. Loveland got Benavidez' back late, but couldn't take him down by the finish.
(As an aside, Loveland might have the best tattoos in MMA. He sports a half-sleeve on his right arm -- classy, not overbearing -- along with a massive leaping fish on his back. I think it might be a trout.)
Gleison Tibau def. Kurt Pellegrino (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Fighting near his hometown, Pellegrino immediately provided some competition in the best-tattoos category. He rocks sleeves on both arms and both legs, as well as art on his midsection, left shoulder, neck and upper back. He provided Tibau some early competition, too, ducking for a number of veteran jabs to the liver. But he caught a wild hook to the head about 1:30 in, and was soon pinned against the cage. The pair circled each other after Pellegrino's escape, and Tibau scored an impressive -- but short-lived -- takedown with 1 minute left.
The second round opened as a boxing exhibition, with neither fighter able to break through in the first 2 minutes. But Pellegrino took the advantage at the 3-minute mark, scoring with a punch and sending Tibau to the canvas with a toss takedown. He went right back to the liver on the ground, throwing elbows from the half-guard. Ever the veteran, he compressed Tibau's windpipe while trying for passes, but was soon back in guard. After showing little but desperate defense on the ground, Tibau made it back to his feet as Pellegrino tried for his back. Pellegrino pumped his fists to the partial crowd as the horn sounded, a clear round win under his belt.
Pellegrino again saluted the crowd as the third round dawned. After an even first few minutes, the pair alternated takedown attempts around the 1:45 mark. Pellegrino walked away with a bloody nose for his efforts. Tibau took the hometown boy to the ground in half-guard with 45 seconds left, and rained blows from the top. He gained Pellegrino's back in the last 10 seconds, but was reversed to the tune of a submission attempt by Pellegrino.
The crowd heartily booed the decision, but it was fair on the judges' part. A very close fight all around. We gave Tibau the edge in a tight first round, and that made all the difference.
Mike Pyle def. Ricardo Almeida (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
The first round here played out the way you'd expect from a matchup of big, strong older grapplers: Some awkward striking, followed by stuffed takedown tries against the cage. Pyle landed the round's biggest blow late with a knee out of the Muay Thai clinch.
Almeida scored a clean takedown 45 seconds in, but Pyle was able to scramble to his feet against the cage soon after. Almeida -- a dead ringer for Maine's Marcus Davis from this seat -- held control against the cage for the better part of 1:30, but was pushed off at the 3-minute mark. Posturing from stand-up drew boos around 1:50 remaining. Almeida scored a clean takedown near the cage in the closing minute, but was unable to advance his position. The crowd didn't seem pleased with the way this was unfolding.
More boos rained early in the third round, punctuated by a long "YOU GUYS SUUUUCK!" from a blonde in the first row behind the media section. More awkward stand-up followed, and then more boos. Almeida shot with 2:35 left, but was denied. Pyle was successful with a takedown soon after. The pair stood against the cage for the better part of a minute, before returning to the middle of the octagon for more awkward stand-up. Almeida threw Pyle to the ground with 25 seconds left in the bout, but couldn't capitalize. Pyle celebrated as the horn blew. Fans booed. Nobody cared much. From the same blonde: "You both lost!"
Edson Barboza def. Anthony Njokuani (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Good stuff in the early going here, with Barboza getting the better of the striking exchanges. A solid right hook-left jab combination slipped in for Njokuani 3 minutes in, but he was soon complaining to the ref about an eye injury. Able to see or not, he cracked Barboza with a left kick to the head 4 minutes in. He remained the aggressor in the closing minutes, but Barboza got his shots in, too.
More good Muay Thai kicked off the second round. Neither seemed interested in going to the ground, and Njokuani seemed to get the better of most of the early exchanges. Njokuani caught a Barboza kick 2 minutes in, tossing him to the ground. Both soon returned to their feet. Both dodged and weaved consistently, with Barboza barely missing on a highlight-reel spinning head kick attempt. Barboza scored a big takedown in the closing 30 seconds, but couldn't advance past the guard.
The fighters touched gloves to kick off the third round, then promptly traded soccer kicks to the head. More even trading punctuated the middle minutes. Njokuani went for the volume; Barboza seemed more interested in the knockout blow. He nearly got it, too, landing two left hooks and a right in quick succession. Njokuani seemed gassed by the final 2 minutes, backing against the cage with Barboza picking his shots. He managed to throw a knee, but was taken down against the cage. Barboza blasted him with an unbelievable spinning head kick seconds before the horn, but Njokuani somehow stayed on his feet. How, we're not sure. Even though it wasn't a KO, it ensured Barboza's win, anyway.
Luiz Cane def. Eliot Marshall (TKO)
The first big men of the night closed the prelims. Cane made sure they ended quickly, blasting Marshall with a straight left and an uppercut. Once Marshall went to the ground, it was as good as over. Cane rained blows on his head, and a first-round stoppage resulted. Simple, clean, easy.
Brendan Schaub def. Mirko Cro Cop (TKO)
Schaub started the main card off walking out to Eminem; Cro Cop channeled Metallica and entered the octagon to The Ecstasy of Gold. Croatian flags dotted the crowd, and the former Pride champion was clearly the fan favorite.
Schaub was more active in the early going, pinning Cro Cop against the cage. Cro Cop looked ineffective, getting pushed around the octagon. Schaub threw a takedown into guard, and looked dominant on the ground, landing five big rights in a row. Cro Cop made it to his feet after reversing a pass, then stuffed a late takedown try.
Cro Cop landed one to start the second, but immediately ended up on his back after a takedown. Schaub unloaded again with rights. Cro Crop hit him with a pair of illegal upkicks, but was not docked a point. A clinch near the cage followed, with both fighters getting in knees. A Cro Cop elbow busted Schaub open above his eye, and the American was docked a point for a punch to the back of the head. Schaub came out from the stoppage aggressive, but could not finish.
A Cro Cop leg kick hit Schaub low, causing a short stoppage. The Croatian superstar showed plenty of aggressiveness, but was soon the victim of a tackle takedown -- think a big hit on a punt return. Cro Cop made it to to his feet, but was soon tackled again. Schaub punched his way to half-guard, but let Cro Cop up. After a clinch, Cro Cop landed a partially blocked head kick heavy -- one that would prove to be his final highlight. Schaub connected on a vicious counter right, sending Cro Cop to the mat face-first. Schaub took no prisoners, punching straight down at his woozy foe's head as the referee rushed in to stop him.
Nate Marquardt def. Dan Miller (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
New Jersey resident Miller -- stepping in for Yoshihiro Akiyama -- was cheered heavily by the hometown crowd. He immediately had Marquardt fighting takedown tries. Marquardt ended up on top on the ground, but Miller tried to sink in a guillotine. Marquardt escaped, and began throwing elbows from the guard. The fighters were brought to the ground after the stalemate, and Marquardt landed a big right hand. Miller was soon tossed to the ground, where he tried consistently for submissions. Marquardt landed a big right on the ground just as the horn blew.
A head kick staggered Miller in the opening seconds of Round 2. Marquardt soon suffered a cut on the lip, but landed two right hands and another head kick. The exchange ended on the ground. After the fighters returned to their feet, Marquardt hit with a hard right hand. A takedown by Marquardt ended with Miller shooting for another guillotine. The submission try was lengthy, but never terribly close. Marquardt returned to the guard and finished the round with a flurry of punches.
The third round began with punches from both, then yet another head kick from Marquardt. "Nate the Great" kept throwing, hitting with punches and a leg kick. A Superman punch hit especially hard, but was followed with a sharp counter jab. Miller's eye was soon busted open. Marquardt kept hitting with rights, and stuffed a takedown try. After going to the ground, Marquardt threw repeatedly from the guard. Miller was punished as the horn blew, ending the bout.
Jim Miller def. Kamal Shalorus (TKO)
Whippany, N.J.'s other Miller was cheered, too. He hit with a high kick early, and both began swinging wildly. The first few minutes were a hockey fight with skill. Miller was taken down after trying for a flying knee, but immediately got up. Shalorus was winding up for big shots. Miller hit with a Muay Thai knee, then staggered Shalorus wihit a front kick to the head. Miller pulled for a guillotine choke, but ended up in guard. He tried for a second guillotine as the round ended.
Miller began the second round the way he ended the first: looking for submissions. Shalorus continued swinging for the one-punch KO. Two minutes into the round, Miller landed a textbook single-leg takedown, then switched into back control. The remaining time was a war of attrition, with Miller looking for a rear naked choke and Shalorus keeping his chin down. Miller maintained the body triangle throughout, but could not end it. Shalorus was beaten up, but earned fans with his resiliency.
Both swung for the fences as the third round started, and a minute passed on their feet with no real advantage. But after Miller staggered Shalorus with a left uppercut, he quickly finished the job with a left jab and a big knee. Hammerfists from the top ended it.
Commentator Joe Rogan asked Miller if he was "looking for a title shot" at lightweight.
"I'm ready," Miller responded. "I'm ready for it."
Urijah Faber def. Eddie Wineland (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Faber, "The California Kid," walked out to "California Love" sporting his typical braids and headband. Wineland was much more low-key coming into the octagon, but took the upper hand early in the fight, pushing Faber back against the cage. Faber looked overpowered early, and went down to a big slam near the cage. When the fighters separated, Faber was every big Wineland's equal. But when they came together, the lesser-known former champ did damage.
The second round was a different story. After the pair traded quick blows, Faber shot, and earned the sweep takedown. He ended up in guard, hitting hard -- and stayed there for the final three minutes of the round. Faber punctuated his control with a pair of slams out of the guard and a number of elbows. This was his round, no contest.
After 2 minutes of equal striking, Faber's boxing took over in the third round. A half-dozen clean shots in a row opened the hole for a clean takendown, and he ended up in guard for the close of the fight. After another slam, Faber teed off from top to clinch the decision.
Jon Jones def. Mauricio Rua (TKO)
Challenger Jones entered the octagon to "Empire State of Mind." He crawled up the steps to the canvas on his hands and knees, paused at the door to meditate and cartwheeled across the ring. The champion, meanwhile, came out to trance music and flashing lights.
Jones opened the striking with a flying knee and two headkicks. He immediately slammed Rua to the ground. The champ looked for an armbar, but missed. Jones escaped in half-guard, then back to guard. He threw elbows to the head and body. Rua was staggered after the fight went back to the feet. He hit back, then missed a takedown.
Jones kicked from all angles at the start of the second round. He hit on a spinning back fist against the cage, then threw a Superman punch from close range. Rua looked totally outmatched, but Jones was seemingly gassed. Rua connected on a 1-2 punch, but was soon staggered by a left. A pair of kicks hurt Rua, who was soon pushed to the canvas by Jones. The challenger controlled the champ's breathing by holding his windpipe and mouth. After 2 minutes in guard, Jones spun, grabbed Rua's knee and hit him with a backfist at the horn.
Jones missed with a kick to open the third but spun into a takedown. Rua went for a submission but missed, and Jones pushed into guard. Ground and pound turned into a big left, then an elbow. The elbows continued to the head, then to the body after Rua tried for an escape. Rua was out on his feet as soon as he was able to stand. A left jab to the head and a knee ended things.