A reported 10,313 filled the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Saturday night for a fight card that featured many storylines including the possible departure of two legends from the sport. And while B.J. Penn and Mirko Cro Cop potentially riding off into the sunset is, of course, a main topic of discussion, I present the "High Fives" from UFC 137 - the five most positive things to take away from a brilliant fight card.
5. The "Limitless" ceiling of Francis Carmont.
Few middleweights can enter the Octagon more impressively that Carmont did on Saturday night against the durable Chris Camozzi. The 29-year old Frenchman battered Camozzi for three rounds en route to earning a unanimous decision and a solid 30-26 scorecard from one judge.
Carmont, now 17-7 and riding a six-fight winning streak, hasn't seen the kind of competition outside the UFC emblematic of a future title contender and he's had losses to perhaps his two toughest opponents in Vitor Vianna and Evangelista Santos. Nevertheless, training out of the Tristar Gym alongside UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre can only help him improve. His six-foot, three-inch frame carries some similarities to that of middleweight champ Anderson Silva. Only time will tell if the skills can ever reach that level but for a UFC debut, Carmont looked the part.
4. WEC fighters impressing yet again.
For a defunct promotion that featured fighters too small for the big show, the crop of talented lightweight, featherweight and bantamweight athletes making waves in the UFC is quite impressive. Saturday night was yet another solid showing by former World Extreme Cagefighting products. Donald Cerrone (17-3) made quick work of lightweight contender Dennis Siver and landed himself in title contention. Bart Palaszewski (36-14) made a successful UFC debut and turned the lights out on Tyson Griffin's featherweight comeback story. Scott Jorgensen (13-4) proved that he's still one of the very best bantamweights on the planet when he defeated Jeff Curran in a fast-paced fight. Even Curran (33-14-1), a former WEC title contender, looked rock solid in defeat.
Each and every fight card, WEC fighters rise to the occasion and give fight fans the quality fights they were accustomed to during the WEC's heydey. With Dominick Cruz and Jose Aldo holding UFC belts and Benson Henderson, Cerrone and others on the fringe of title contention, it's quite easy to see the writing on the wall - the WEC talent is here to stay for a very long time.
3. Hatsu Hioki proping up Japanese MMA.
It might have been an ugly win but it was a win all the same. And for a country producing fighters that haven't succeeded in the UFC as of late, Hioki's victory over featherweight George Roop is a huge boon for Japan and it's mixed martial arts. Hioki (25-4) might have alluded to as much in his post-fight comments and his victory is perhaps the first stone laid for more Japanese fighters to make their way into the UFC.
It's also worth noting that no matter how unimpressive Hioki may have looked in taking the split decision, he's not as likely to face another six-foot, one-inch featherweight that can bully him and use lightweight strength any time soon. Over the past two years, Hioki has beaten Ronnie Mann, Masanori Kanehara, "Lion" Takeshi Inoue and Marlon Sandro - four men with exceedingly better resumes than Roop. None of the four had size on Hioki. Of his four career losses, three have have been split decisions. The one unanimous decision loss came to DREAM standout Hiroyuki Takaya in 2003. It would be only the fourth fight of Hioki's career.
The point is this - Hatsu Hioki's body of work speaks, much like Jake Shields, for itself. He's always in the fight and one average victory against a goliath of a featherweight shouldn't be enough to write him off with casual fans.
2. Cheick Kongo avoiding the role of "gatekeeper."
Don't look now but Cheick Kongo (17-6-2) is quietly putting together one of the best heavyweight resumes in UFC history. His 10-4-1 record inside the Octagon is littered with quality opponents. His 10 wins as a heavyweight rank second on the all-time UFC list, tied with former champion Andrei Arlovski and trailing only Frank Mir (13). And while he has proven vulnerable to grapplers who can take his punch in the past, it was Kongo that was able to take down Matt Mitrione in the third round of their bout on Saturday when it mattered most.
The chiseled Frenchman, 36 years of age, has developed some solid wrestling skills over the past few years and has vicious ground and pound to go with it. Mitrione was a victim of that in the third round of their fight. While Kongo might not have enough tricks in his bag to get the wins necessary for a title shot, he's become an entertaining staple of a division marred with overweight brawlers.
Between his amazing comeback against Pat Barry at UFC Live 4 and being the first true test for current UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez at UFC 99, Cheick Kongo has spent a career making heavyweight fights in the UFC fun. And it helps that he's also really, really good too.
1. Nick Diaz silences the critics.
150. That's the number of total strikes by which Nick Diaz (26-7) outlanded B.J. Penn in their action-packed three-round title eliminator. While Penn, the former two-division champion was making his 21st appearance inside the Octagon, Diaz would be making his first Octagon appearance in five years.
The result was a little shocking. While it was Penn that won the opening frame of the contest, eventually the size and length of Diaz wore Penn down and it showed on the face of the former lightweight champion. In the second round alone, Penn ate 125 punches from the former Strikeforce welterweight champion. When the final bell would sound, it was Diaz with his hand raised - with new opportunities and bigger fish on the horizon.
On a night where B.J. Penn was outmanned by a much larger opponent that had four inches of height and six inches of reach advantage, Diaz used his strengths, his size and his cardio to prove he belongs with the UFC welterweight elite. The performance was so defining that a showdown with champion Georges St. Pierre is all the more intriguing. The Nick Diaz that walked down B.J. Penn is going to be an issue for a large percentage of welterweight fighters. It's one thing to see Diaz outstrike Paul Daley and Evangelista Santos, it's quite another to see him dismantle B.J. Penn - one of the best boxers in MMA.
Nick Diaz is for real. And though his mantra has been "Don't be scared, homie" for the last few years, his future opponents need to approach him with the utmost caution.