UFC 93 saw far too many decisions and poor performances for fans to remember it as anything other than a clunker, but there were a few diamonds in the rough. One unresolved question is why did the fight of the night awards (apparently the scraps were so bomb that two awards had to be given) go to the exciting but unspectacular Davis/Lytle fight and (even more questionably) the geriatric tilt between Rua and Coleman, which would make a retirement home fight over the last bowl of jello seem like a showdown between flyweights on speed.
The most compelling match of the evening, Henderson vs. Franklin, unfortunately ended with a whimper, with the eye poke setting up a more tentative finish than one would desire from such a closely contested bout.
In the end, UFC 93 answered a lot of the questions we had, but none of the answers are anything to get excited about. Henderson still gas, Rua is not ready for a return to primetime, Kang hasn’t gotten it together, and Palhares still needs time in the lab. Even more unfortunately, we missed almost all the undercard fights, so I will restrict these notes to the main card until the undercard is widely available.
Dan Henderson defeated Rich Franklin via split decision
Declaring that this should have been a 5-round contest is certainly easier and safer than taking a position on the correctness of the decision. It was a hard-fought, unsurprisingly even affair between two tried-and-true warhorses. Henderson fought as hard as he could, but Rich often seemed distracted, perhaps frustrated by the head butts and takedowns. Dan caused cranial collisions on a couple of occasions, a byproduct of his head-down, fist-up style and insistence on charging sideways into his opponents rather than boxing from any range.
While Franklin’s superior technical savvy was on display even in the first round, the period was dominated by Dan’s strengths: his battering power put Franklin on the back foot, and he was able to use his wrestling and control to shut Rich down early and land some very punishing ground and pound. While Rich weathered this early storm, and Henderson fell over every time he threw a head-kick (why was he throwing them anyway?) Henderson clearly took the round.
As for the second round, according to the official rules this bout was contested under, the guard should be scored as a neutral position, with the fighter that is more effective in that position given priority over the one in top position. By those standards, Franklin should have clearly won this very even round (and thus the bout). In exchanges, Henderson would windmill and look like he was going to screw himself into the ground, whereas Franklin moved in and out and tagged Dan a couple times, especially with high-impact kicks to the body. Even on the ground, Henderson had very feeble ground-and-pound attempts, with Rich landing higher-quality strikes off his back in a virtual stalemate. While two judges saw this round for Henderson, Rich should have gotten the nod, due to his effective and damaging standup, which should have outweighed Dan’s late-round control in a neutral position.
Franklin clearly won the third by landing lots more and even outwrestling Henderson, who was clearly wearing down. Henderson’s work rate fell right off, and Franklin was hitting him coming and going. In fact, things were going very very badly for Henderson immediately before the eye poke and Dan Miragliotta’s apparently bizarre but justifiable reaction. He wasn’t hurt, but he was too tired to do much besides run, and it looked like Rich was just going to unload on him for the next 40 seconds.
To be honest, this is a good matchup and I would not mind seeing a rematch of this fight, except for the fact that we can’t expect to get too many more fights out of either of these guys.
Well, this bout has answered many questions, and raised one big new one—how much of the old Shogun will ever come back? Shogun’s weaknesses, in the form of sloppy standup and wearing himself out due to being overly aggressive, looked even worse in this fight, as Coleman converted to a punching bag halfway through the first round, but Shogun couldn’t manage to string together three consecutive punches to topple him over.
Out of respect for his status in the sport, I am not going to comment on Coleman’s performance, but there’s really no excuse whatsoever for Shogun being unable to topple a fighter that was clearly ready to go at any moment. I don’t know if Shogun’s defense is truly that bad, or if he just had no respect whatsoever for Coleman’s punching power, but the younger Rua walked straight into punches over and over again in a very sad sight.
It’s possible that Shogun took the fight lightly, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he had quite a bit of ring rust, fighting so actively for years and then taking such a long layoff. If he can re-dedicate himself to the sport, perhaps he won’t be embarrassed quite as badly as looks likely in his upcoming match with Chuck Liddell, who, despite his age and losses, was a very dangerous man last time he stepped into the Octagon, and a perfect foil for someone that can’t avoid getting punched in the face.
Horn turtled the entire fight, which makes it very difficult to get a submission, so Palhares can perhaps be forgiven for such an uninspiring performance. Palhares also broke his hand halfway through the first round, further ameliorating the forgettable fight.
The most worrying factor in this fight is that Palhares did not look improved whatsoever over his performance against Henderson. Hot young prospects like this must improve drastically fight-to-fight if they’re going to continue to run with the big dogs on the sport’s largest stage. Palhares still gassed out after doing his beastman routine, and still throws kicks and punches like a power ranger. He’s going to need to improve quite a bit in both respects if he wants to matter in this division a year from now. My worry is that he won’t learn this lesson since he still ended up with a W on his ledger. Maybe he can avenge teammate Paulo Filho and boot Chael Sonnen back out of the UFC after Demian Maia euthanizes Sonnen.
Surprisingly Belcher’s wrestling looked way worse in this fight than in his last fight against a more respected wrestler in Ed Herman. On the plus side for Alan, if you’re a good enough kickboxer to force people to shoot in on you, it’s good to have a dangerous enough guillotine to make them think twice about shooting as well. Belcher’s standup was enough to hang with Kang while losing, as he rolled with the punches and walked through several of Kang’s big shots. Belcher’s body kicks especially looked good, and it’s always good to have unending confidence that you can win a fight, even if you’re clearly losing.
That confidence could really have helped Kang, who seemed very worried and harried in a fight he was clearly winning. It’s possible he got an injury during the fight that started worrying him, or that he was running out of gas but we didn’t get a chance to see it, but with what we actually saw, it just looked like Kang was worried about the punches he was taking on the feet, even though he seemed to be landing more clean and more powerful shots in the exchanges.
As Kang showed, he has a varied and highly skilled offensive arsenal in all three phases of the game, however his tendency to have brain farts with his grappling and (possibly deserved) lack of confidence in his chin mean that he is much weaker defensively, so he has trouble against opponents he cannot overwhelm from the get-go. Belcher continues to have a fairly immature style, welcoming bad situations because he’s so confident that he can overcome them. For him to be a top-level fighter he’s going to need to clean that up a bit.
Davis fought a smarter fight with a cleaner style, as expected, although he was never able to really unload on Lytle as I had expected. Undoubtedly that early knockdown made Davis a bit more conservative than one would expect. Neither guy will ever crack the top ten of anything aside from a “most exciting fighters” list, but I think both fighters are well-suited for their roles as gatekeepers and curtain-jerkers, and I look forward to more fights from them.