Crowd Knows Best:
Crowd Knows Best:
Fans Cheer Sylvia Upset & Lindland-Baroni Classic
Jeer Thomas-Serra Mix-up and Bouts A-Lacking
By Loretta Hunt
11,707 spectators proved they knew the sport of MMA tonight, as they filled the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey to catch UFC 41: Onslaught. The audience didn’t miss a beat when it came to the action–and the lack of it at times. They applauded "fight of the night" participants Matt Lindland and Phil Baroni for portraying the sport at its action-packed best and showed their disapproval at the bouts that deserved to be so. They cheered as young heavyweight stud Frank Mir handed it to flashback fighter David "Tank" Abbott in under a minute. They even knew that something was wrong when lightweight Matt Serra was awarded the victory over Floridian Din Thomas, despite Serra being the local favorite. (The decision was reversed due to a scoring discrepancy, the first time in UFC history such an occurrence has taken place.) Truly, this East Coast group of fans knew where it was at and as the UFC promotion begins to show sure signs of progression, they are surely along for the ride.
Here’s a brief breakdown of tonight’s fights:
The main event spelled upset tonight as 5 to 1 underdog Tim Sylvia quickly dismantled heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez in his first title defense. Sylvia was taking a gamble with this being only his second UFC fight to date, and honestly, few thought he could pull off the win against the well-rounded Rodriguez. But in the few seconds following the bell, Rodriguez was feeling the counter-puncher’s power, when he ran into a looping right hook from the 6’8" Sylvia. Rodriguez shot in for the takedown, but quickly changed tactics, pivoting Sylvia into his guard. Almost securing the arm bar, Sylvia muscled his way out and Ricco had no choice but to stand. Sylvia counterpunched every blow Rodriguez fired off, catching the champ with a beautiful right cross that floored his opponent. Sylvia jumped into Rodriguez’s guard to follow up with two more punches and a superfluous third. Although the official ruling was a TKO at 3:09 into round one, make no mistake. Rodriguez was knocked out cold. Miletich Martial Arts adds another belt to its mantle.
This reporter wrote last night that both BJ Penn and Caol Uno had the tools to take the lightweight crown, so it would come down to who wanted it more.
This reporter was evidently wrong, for the battle for the title came and went, and neither fighter left with the belt. With the scores of 28-27 (Uno), 28-27 (Penn), and 28-28, the UFC announced its first-ever draw for a championship bout. As predicted, both fighters played out a technical game of stand-up, takedowns, and countless rear naked choke escapes (how does Uno do it?). Penn led early on, landing choice shots and taking down Uno at will. Uno turned up the heat to take round two and three with takedowns of his own and a back triangle choke attempt, but Penn stayed calm and worked free. Uno started to show some wear and tear with a cut above his left eye that Penn had inflicted from some shots while in the Japanese escape artist’s guard. On their feet, Penn continued to throw the combos, but chose to follow up with takedowns instead of more shots. With round four going to Penn, it all came down to the fifth and final round, which was indeed a close one. With no victor named, the road to the title took a strange turn, leaving both the competitors and their audience perplexed. The big question is now what will happen next? At the post-fight conference, Lorenzo Fertitta addressed these concerns as best he could, but admitted that he wasn’t sure exactly what the next course of action will be for the weight class. Through an interpreter, Uno seemed willing to match again with Penn, but Penn himself was a bit more ambiguous. Officially, the UFC lightweight title remains vacant for a while longer.
It took Frank Mir forty-six seconds to legitimize this sport (once again). Dodging an early barrage of wild, furious and fast strikes a la Tank Abbott, the Las Vegas native shot in for the takedown, but settled for Abbott in his guard. With a quick omaplata to tie up Abbott’s arm, Mir violently flowed to a figure-four toe hold till Tank tapped out. Tank was more successful with the realm where he still reigns king– the post-fight interview. After Mir was rejected by the fans for his comments, Tank left the Octagon to thunderous applause when he said he’d meet everyone at the bar later. Oh Tank!
Baroni-Lindland 2 was even better the second time around. Probably the closest a professional fight could look like to a street brawl, while still being orchestrated by two extremely skilled technicians, Matt Lindland and Phil Baroni delivered the goods in spades. A play-by-play analysis might not do this masterpiece of a fight justice, because it wasn’t just the moves that made this fight so good. With little love between them, this match was pure grudge, felt by every punch, kick, and takedown these two superior athletes executed. One could almost feel the heat coming off the Octagon as Lindland and Baroni locked up. Lindland was methodical in his efforts to neutralize Baroni’s frenetic power and made crucial strides in the opening moments to ensure he could control the pace of the fight.
Shutting down any freakish knockouts, a savvy takedown allowed Lindland to pin his opponent against the fence, but amazingly, Baroni kept swinging the whole way down. This sequence spoke volumes for how the rest of the battle would go. Round one was a show-stopper alone, and fans were lenient when the men hit a slight lull in round two to gather their strength back. Round three was shades of their very first third round together over a year ago, Baroni landing bombs that would leave any normal man senseless. With three unanimous scores of 29-28, Matt Lindland successfully closed the "Baroni" chapter in his life. But if these guys want to go at it one more time, we’ll surely tune in again.
In a disappointing match-up, veterans Vladmir Matyushenko and Pedro Rizzo should have delivered a more rousing match-up, but both fell short. Matushenko started strong, taking down the Brazilian with his sharp Greco-Roman skills and working elbows from side control. Rizzo warmed up into some strikes in the second round, but Matyushenko continued to get Rizzo to the mat and slowly chipped away at him. Rizzo was caught in the turtled position more than once in his constant struggle to get to his feet, but thwarted danger each time when Vladdy did not take advantage. Rizzo was too little to late in the third when he finally fired off something substantial and wholly deserved his fourth loss in five outings. The real losers were the fans though. With all its potential, this match-up simply did not cut it. Zuffa is now legitimately under the gun to convince UFC audiences why Rizzo still deserves to walk among its elite.
In the third preliminary bout of the evening, Matt Serra’s hand was the one raised in victory, while opponent Din Thomas stood in absolute shock. Serra had been awarded the majority decision, but again the crowd new best. They booed till their faces turned blue, as American Top Team led Thomas from the arena backstage Judge Doc Hamilton immediately went to the commission’s table, sure that something was off after hearing the announced scores. Further inspection revealed that he had transposed his scoring in the final round, accidentally giving Serra’s column the winning score of ten instead of its intended slot to Thomas. Setting a precedent for the sport, the New Jersey State Athletic Commission deemed the decision be reversed, and UFC president Dana White personally reported the change to Thomas and his team. As for the fight itself, Sera continues to strengthen his standup efforts and displayed a relentless spirit in his pursuit to get his opponent to the ground. (To his credit, he did not stop.) Thomas simply would not budge, and although he played a relatively cautious game, he had his moments–dominating the second round with close-range hooks and eking out the third using punches with his formidable reach. Of special note, both fighters remained consummate professionals, even when a fireworks display atop the entrance ramp accidentally went off amidst their fight. Thomas wins via split decision.
Gentle Giant Gan McGee had the upperhand in this bout from the get-go. With his unconventional stand-up (at 6’10", he doesn’t have to block his chin or face as readily as others), Dantas had nothing on his feet and immediately shot in for his first single-leg takedown attempt. He backed McGee to the fence, but with the crowd pleading for more action, the referee quickly separated the two fighters. McGee hunted Dantas on his feet, and two more attempts to go down to the mat were futile. Entwined against the fence again, Dantas jumped to guard and went for the heelhook, but couldn’t get McGee off balance to finish the hold. McGee quickly unlocked the puzzle though, closing enough space to reign down a slew of strikes. Dantas was knocked unconscious almost immediately at 4:51 of round one.
With his walkman blasting, Rich Clementi made his way down the fighter’s ramp, flanked by the Miletich team. Opponent Yves Edwards, cornered by heavyweight champ Rodriguez, was ready to go. Both these two up-and-comers went to work right away, landing decent exchanges whenever they got close enough. Edwards had the upper hand though, landing hard knees everytime they clinched and displaying an air of hard-earned experience to Clementi’s first time jitters. Clementi held his own on his feet, but eventually wanted to get the action to the ground, as Edwards began to gain some rhythm standing with a couple of his patented high kicks and quick punching combos. He did ground Edwards briefly in the second, pinning the Texan’s arm behind him along the fence, before Edwards reversed and rode out the bell. Edwards worked his way to full mount in the third, and Clementi replied by giving his back. Hooks in, Edwards laid down the punishment before switching to the rear naked choke that ended it all at 4:06. After a rocky start with the organization, Edwards evens his UFC record to 2-2.