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UFC 114: What we learned

With his win over Quinton Jackson at UFC 114, Rashad Evans now gets a shot at Mauricio Rua's title.
With his win over Quinton Jackson at UFC 114, Rashad Evans now gets a shot at Mauricio Rua's title.
(Photo by Dave Mandel, Sherdog.com)

UFC 114: Rampage vs. Evans” is in the books after an exciting night of fights from The MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The main event was a battle that seesawed back and forth, while a score of upsets took place on one of the most memorable cards in recent history. Now, on this Memorial Day holiday weekend, let’s get to the bottom of the most important question: What did we learn?

There is a reason they fight the fights

A rash of upsets struck at UFC 114, proving once again that any fighter can win on any given night.

The biggest shock of the event came when Mike Russow, who was dominated from the opening bell by Todd Duffee, turned the tables and leveled Duffee in the third round with a single punch. Though Russow pounced on his fallen opponent to land one final blow, Duffee was already out and referee Josh Rosenthal stopped the bout at 2:35 of the round.

John Hathaway also notched the biggest win of his young career with a commanding unanimous decision over a battle-tested warrior in Diego Sanchez. In fact, the 22-year-old Brit came close to finishing Sanchez in the first round with a well-timed knee that caught Sanchez mid-shot.

Throw in Cyrille Diabate’s first round TKO of Luis Cane, and the fact that many pundits and fans felt like Jason Brilz should have received the judges’ nod over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, and UFC 114 proved once again that once the Octagon door closes, anything can happen.

Sometimes we coronate “The Next Big Thing” too quickly

Sticking with the theme of upsets, sometimes they happen because we crown the next up-and-comers before they have truly proven themselves. Based on their performances at UFC 114, Duffee and Nogueira fall into that category, at least for now.

Duffee’s cresting wave of hype came after last year’s seven second decimation of Tim Hague at UFC 102. Then Duffee looked good early against Russow as he seemed to land shots at will. But going into the third round all we knew was that Russow had a phenomenal chin and that Duffee, though effective, looked to have a waning gas tank. His fatigue definitely opened the door for Russow’s lightning right, and the loss drops Duffee further down the heavyweight ladder, impressive physique and all.

Nogueira was also coming off a first round TKO of Cane at UFC 106 and his stock spiked afterward as he was immediately called a light heavyweight title contender. He was supposed to face Forrest Griffin at UFC 114 but Brilz filled in last-minute and gave the Brazilian all he could handle. The back-and-forth battle saw both fighters land shots on the feet, sweep from the bottom, and attempt submissions. Nogueira squeaked out a split decision, but the announcement was met with a hail of boos from the crowd.

Though Duffee and Nogueira both have the tools, and the time, to live up to the hype hefted on them too soon, this past Saturday neither looked deserving of it quite yet.

Sanchez may want to consider dropping back down to lightweight

During the pay-per-view telecast, announcer Joe Rogan seemed to question why Sanchez decided to pop back up to the welterweight division. Now Sanchez, after being dismantled by Hathaway, may be asking himself the same question.

The loss to Hathaway represents a career low for Sanchez, who was on the losing end of the stick when it came to the boxing exchanges. He also struggled to take Hathaway to the ground, where he would have had a chance to turn the tide in his favor. Right now he just does not seem to have the size to compete with the elite in the welterweight division. He has already lost to American Kickboxing Academy brethren Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch (and there is nothing at all to be ashamed about there), so after Saturday night's loss the weight class just does not seem to make much sense for him.

No one can question the pedigree of Sanchez. The only other loss for him aside from the men listed above was to B.J. Penn, whom many fighters have succumbed to. And even though Hathaway was a relative unknown to many, insiders knew he was a tall task for Sanchez. The heart of Sanchez cannot be questioned either. The knee and subsequent swarm he was subjected to Saturday night would have wilted most fighters. But it does not change the fact that a return to lightweight, where he was enjoying success until running into Penn, makes the most sense.

Michael Bisping is improving — and possibly mellowing out too

Bisping looked crisp in his outing against Dan Miller last night, earning a unanimous decision victory over the unyielding fighter. Miller absorbed hard shots during the bout, but was still advancing in the third, and even scored a takedown on the Brit. But Bisping, as in his win over Denis Kang, used a solid defensive guard to ward off any submissions or advancements, and ultimately returned to his feet where he was comfortable to keep landing his right hand.

Bisping has bounced back strongly after being flattened by Dan Henderson at UFC 100. Since then he has recorded impressive wins over quality opponents in Miller and Kang, which are sandwiched around a unanimous decision loss to MMA legend Wanderlei Silva at UFC 110. Bisping has never been a fan favorite. His blunt tongue, combined with a controversial split decision win over Matt Hamill at UFC 75 that outraged many fans, gave him the label of heel early in his career. But he seems to be relinquishing the villain role, as evidenced by his humbler approach in post-fight interviews and press conferences. The British fighter has come a long way, not only in skill but in how he approaches the media, since his stint as a competitor on “The Ultimate Fighter.”

Rashad Evans will get the next shot at Mauricio Rua’s title

Evans defeated Quinton Jackson via unanimous decision Saturday night with a solid game plan (even though he claimed not to have a game plan in the post-fight press conference). He used his speed, from the outset, to bounce in and out on Jackson, landing blows but escaping before taking any damage. He looked to end the fight early as he landed an immediate right that sent Jackson staggering backwards, but the Wolfslair Academy fighter was able to recover. Evans also used his wrestling to push Jackson against the fence, where he wore him down repeatedly. Though separated by referee Herb Dean multiple times, and largely booed by the audience, the strategy was sound, wearing down Jackson, who had not seen the inside of the Octagon in over a year.

The fight grew more dramatic in the third as Evans, who owned an obvious lead on the judges’ score cards, was dropped against the cage and then almost finished by Jackson punches on the ground. Evans was able to recover, and salvaged the round by ending up on top and delivering some ground-and-pound of his own. Now Evans will attempt to regain the light heavyweight title from current champ Rua.

In post-fight interviews both fighters seemed to set aside their differences, and even mentioned the possibility of a rematch. This, of course, would spark a whole new round of trash-talking and promoting. So while UFC 114 taught us a lot, it did leave us with one additional unanswerable question: are we prepared to deal with the Rashad vs. Rampage hype again?

This article originally appeared on MMA Spot.

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