The UFC closed out 2013 with its biggest event of the year in Las Vegas, and the much-hyped card lived up to expectations with two exciting title fights, legacies coming to an end and the stars that will take the UFC into 2014 front and centre.
In the most anticipated re-match in UFC history, the greatest mixed martial artist ever Anderson Silva attempted to regain his middleweight title from Chris Weidman after losing it in July. However, Weidman once again displayed a strong skill set and, crucially, an understanding of Silva’s gameplan that allowed him to breakdown the offence that was being used against him. The two stayed on the feet for most of the first round with Weidman managing one takedown, though Silva managed to get straight back up. Weidman rocked Silva and looked close to finishing the fight on the ground, but Silva managed to hold it together and see the round through. The two continued to feel each other out on the feet, until Silva started employing the leg kicks that were one of his biggest successes in the first fight. Once again Weidman had scouted the former champion well, and in checking the kick with a knee to the shin inflicted one of the most gruesome injuries ever seen in the UFC. Silva crumpled to the ground screaming in pain, and it was confirmed later that the former champion suffered a double leg break. He underwent surgery last night, and now faces a 3-6 month recovery and rehabilitation process.
For someone of his age who has accomplished so much in this sport, many believe that the daunting prospect of a long road back may lead Silva to walk away. If he does, his legacy in the MMA world is assured – the longest reigning champion of all time with a record ten title defences, and arguably the single greatest fighter to ever step into the Octagon. After years of picking apart top opposition like Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen and Forrest Griffin, it seems that Weidman and his Serra-Longo training team were able to take everything that one could learn from Silva’s previous performances and create a game plan that counters what was inevitably going to be thrown at them in both fights – not only did they counter the offence, but in both fights Weidman devastated Silva in a fashion no one had expected or seen before. With Silva gone for most of 2014 at best and George St Pierre on a longterm hiatus, Chris Weidman is someone the UFC need to build as a star in the coming year. Beating Anderson Silva twice establishes Weidman firmly among the pound for pound greatest, but the UFC will need to promote him well in order to turn that undeniable talent into drawing power. Weidman is likely to face Vitor Belfort next year on pay per view, and how that show does will go along way to showing how big a part Weidman will play in the business side of the UFC going forward.
In the co-main event of the evening women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey faced her toughest challenge to date from fellow TUF 18 coach Miesha Tate, as Rousey was taken out of the first round for the first time in her career. In their first meeting in Strikeforce Tate was the first fighter to take Rousey beyond the first minute of a fight, but last night Ronda Rousey didn’t manage to finish the fight until the third round. Tate’s gameplan was clear in the build-up to this fight – take Ronda beyond the first round, and hope that she didn’t have the cardio and endurance to be able to cope with a fight going longer than five minutes. Unfortunately for Tate this meant that while she did manage to make the fight last significantly longer than Rousey’s previous encounters, Rousey was dominant in all three of the rounds. Tate also tried to take Rousey down which was somewhat surprising, as Rousey ground game is one of the best in MMA today. In a number of these takedown attempts not only did Rousey manage to successfully defend them, she would turn them into a hip throw and end up in the top position, allowing her to cause significant damage with her very underrated ground and pound. In the end the fight may have been longer but the outcome was the same, as Tate finally succumbed to an armbar early in round 3. Despite taking more damage than she has in her career to date in this fight, Rousey was quickly scheduled for another fight – she will face fellow Olympic medallist Sara McMann at UFC 170 in February.
Also on the main card Travis Browne cemented himself as one of the elite heavyweights in the UFC with a very impressive knockout of former champion Josh Barnett. Just one minute into the fight Barnett attempted to take down the Hawaiian Browne, but after a hard knee and some devastating elbows the fight was over. After finishing Gabriel Gonzaga and Alistair Overeem, Browne’s third knockout win on the bounce sets him up for a clash with fellow top contender and jiu jitsu ace Fabricio Werdum, with the winner of that fight likely to be the next challenger for champion Cain Velasquez when he returns from injury. Ronda Rousey wasn’t the only fighter to achieve an armbar victory, as Jim Miller rebounded from his loss to Pat Healy in April (that was overturned to a No Contest after Pat Healy tested positive for marijuana) with an impressive victory over third degree BJJ black belt Fabricio Camoes, submitting the Brazilian from the bottom position. In the pay per view opener Dustin Poirier knocked out Diego Brandao in the first round in dominant fashion, seemingly motivated by some bad blood between the two and anger over Brandao missing weight by a whopping five and a half pounds.
In the featured bout on the prelim card it was a sad end for one of the last remaining active fighters from the original Ultimate Fighter, as Chris Leben decided not to come back out after the first round of his fight with TUF 17 finalist Uriah Hall. After nearly being finished right at the end of the round and saved by the bell, Leben told his corner “I’m done.” While some will criticise Leben’s heart in this decision, Leben made a smart decision to save himself from further punishment. After eight years of punishing fights and three previous losses, Leben was really outmatched in this fight – despite two lacklustre performances in his first two UFC fights Uriah Hall is a very skilled martial artist, and when Leben pushed the pace Uriah Hall was able to easily avoid whatever was thrown at him and cause significant damage. While UFC president Dana White had previously suggested the loser of this fight would be gone from the organisation, White was unsure of Leben’s future on Saturday night. It would seem that the sensible decision might be for Leben to call it a day.
Elsewhere on the prelims Michael Johnson followed up his decision win over Joe Lauzon in August with an impressive knockout of Gleison Tibau, while Robbie Peralta listened to his corner when they told him was two rounds down against Estevan Payan and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a third round knockout. William Macario and John Howard looked dominant in 30-27 decision victories over Bobby Voelker and Siyar Bahadurzada, while Dennis Siver looked every bit a top ten featherweight in his decision victory over Manny Gamburyan.