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UFC 116: What we learned

After defeating Shane Carwin at UFC 116, Brock Lesnar is now the undisputed heavyweight champion.
After defeating Shane Carwin at UFC 116, Brock Lesnar is now the undisputed heavyweight champion.
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UFC 116: Lesnar vs. Carwin” delivered an exciting slate of fights from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. last night. Though a heavyweight showdown to determine the undisputed champ headlined the event, many other bouts had important implications and dramatic finishes, making it one of the most entertaining cards in recent memory. Read on to discover the answer to the only question that matters when it comes to UFC 116: What did we learn?

George Sotiropoulos has inched closer to a title shot

George Sotiropoulos notched another important win Saturday night against a game Kurt Pellegrino. The first round of their bout saw the Aussie hurt Pellegrino on the feet, first using straight rights to keep Pellegrino off-balance, then landing powerful shots that seemed to stun the New Jersey native. Aside from a couple of Pellegrino takedowns, Sotiropoulos easily controlled the round.

The second stanza saw the battle shift to the ground. Sotiropoulos grabbed a single-leg, and after some hopping and punching from his opponent, he ultimately put Pellegrino on his back. To Pellegrino’s credit, he continued to scramble and keep Sotiropoulos in his half-guard after multiple pass attempts, but the Aussie doled out punishment on top in the form of punches and elbows. It was obvious Sotiropoulos won the first two frames, and Pellegrino’s coach Kenny Florian admitted as much before the third round, informing his fighter than he needed a finish to win the fight.

But Pellegrino ate another right-left combo in the third that stunned him, and as he had done previously, he notched an immediate takedown to change where the fight was taking place. After another foray into Sotiropoulos’ full guard that saw Pellegrino avoid numerous 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu attacks, the fighters returned to their feet for the final minute of the bout. As the fight drew to a close, Pellegrino grew aggressive, throwing a flurry of punches and landing a knee that dropped Sotiropoulos. Unfortunately Pellegrino ran out of time; the bell sounded to end the bout and Sotiropoulos was awarded the unanimous decision by the judges.

Sotiropoulos remained undefeated in the UFC at 6-0 and upped his overall record to 13-2-0. Another win over a top-notch contender might just put the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt into a lightweight title match.

In a must-win situation, Stephan Bonnar delivered

Stephan Bonnar’s career trajectory has been the opposite of star and former light heavyweight champ Forrest Griffin’s since the two waged their now-legendary war in the finale of the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Though UFC President Dana White has been quoted as saying both fighters would always have a place in the promotion after all they did for the UFC with that bout, one could wonder if White might have to eat his words after another Bonnar loss.

The Team Sityodtong fighter had lost three straight fights coming into his rematch with Krzysztof Soszynski. The last of those three was the controversial loss to Soszynski at UFC 110, which came via TKO after a doctor stoppage for a huge gash in Bonnar’s forehead that was leaking blood. The injustice was that the cut came from an accidental head butt.

In the first round of their rematch, things again looked bleak for Bonnar; Soszynski was the aggressor, and a few flurries left Bonnar battered, with cuts on his face yet again at the end of the round. In the second frame, Bonnar had his knees buckled by a Soszynski right hook.

But a well-timed strike turned the tide for Bonnar. After he notched a double-leg takedown on Soszynski and landed in side control, a scramble ensued and both fighters ultimately rose to their feet, with Bonnar controlling his opponent’s head with the Muay Thai plum. A lightning-quick knee landed flush on Soszynski’s chin, dropping him.

From there, Bonnar attacked, refusing to let Soszynski off the hook. Soszynski turtled up against the cage, and Bonnar repeatedly landed lefts to the side of his head. As Soszynski covered up, Bonnar shifted to his back, sunk in his left hook, and continued to pound away. Referee Mario Yamasaki had no choice but to step in at the 3:08 mark of the second round, giving Bonnar a much-needed win.

Bonnar improved his record to 12-7-0. He will now hope to string together a few victories so that he does not find his back against the wall again anytime soon.

Chris Lytle might want to change his nickname

Chris “Lights Out” Lytle, just one fighter on the UFC 116 card that is vastly underrated, brought his ridiculously impressive 29-17-5 record into his battle with Matt Brown. He showed, once again, that putting people’s lights out is only one way for him to win.

Lytle almost found himself on the losing side of the ledger in a competitive first round. Brown tripped Lytle to the mat and after avoiding an omoplata attempt, sunk in a deep Brabo choke. Lytle fought off the submission to fight another round, which is never a good sign for his opponent.

In the second frame, Lytle’s submission savvy began after he hurt Brown with an uppercut. When the fight dropped to the canvas, Lytle used a one-arm guillotine to move into mount. But he did not hold the position for long; he slid into side control and then stepped over into a reverse-mounted triangle. This allowed him to work exclusively on Brown’s right appendage, to which he ultimately applied a straight armbar. Brown’s grimace was a prelude to a verbal tap-out at 2:02 of the second stanza.

Lytle’s thirtieth triumph was also his third straight victory inside the Octagon. The well-rounded fighter is a threat to whomever he faces, and it is becoming clearer that his adversaries might not simply need to worry about him putting their lights out, but also forcing them to tap out.

Chris Leben can make a living without contending

Chris Leben made headlines leading up to UFC 116 by taking the fight against Yoshihiro Akiyama on only two weeks’ rest after Wanderlei Silva withdrew from the bout with an injury. The morning after UFC 116, he is making headlines because he has won two fights in two weeks—and he was an underdog in both instances.

Akiyama easily won the first round by employing a solid mix of judo throws and strikes. But in the second stanza it looked as if Leben had baited yet another fighter into a brawl. The two fighters traded clean shots repeatedly, each looking to land a finishing blow at different points during the round. MMA fans know this is Leben’s modus operandi, and that normally pulling fighters into his free-for-all web means his hand will be raised when everything is said and done. That is why the third round was such a surprise.

Though Akiyama spent the bulk of round three on top, Leben was the busier fighter on the bottom, attempting submissions and landing unorthodox shots. Probably behind on the judges’ score cards, Leben had to find a way to finish from his back. After earlier armbar attempts had failed, with less than a minute remaining he locked on a textbook triangle choke. After a brief struggle, Akiyama was forced to tap out at the 4:40 mark of the round, and Leben added another Houdini effort to his resume.

It is time to appreciate Leben (21-6-0), who has now put together a three-fight winning streak. Though he may not have the chops to compete for the middleweight title, by stepping up on short notice—and winning—he has created a niche within the division that places him above the title of mere gatekeeper. Fans respond to him. And it is hard to think of a fight he has been involved in that was not entertaining. Without contending, that is how you make a living as a mixed martial artist.

Brock Lesnar’s evolution continues

The clash of heavyweight titans that fans had been waiting for delivered in full Saturday night. Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin waged a back-and-forth battle that has already sparked talk of an immediate rematch.

The first frame belonged solely to Carwin, and he now stands alone as the only fighter to hurt Lesnar. After landing a left uppercut that stunned the champ, he swarmed, throwing bombs in the form of punches and elbows, as Lesnar collapsed and covered up. It looked as if Carwin was close to notching another first-round TKO as referee Josh Rosenthal hovered nearby.

Instead, Lesnar survived the round; more importantly, Carwin had punched himself out. As the second round started Carwin gasped for breath as the heavyweights measured each other up. The fight turned dramatically in Lesnar’s favor as he scored a takedown and ended up on top in half-guard. In the past when Lesnar has found himself on top once a fight hits the canvas, he has pounded opponents relentlessly. On this night, fans (and Carwin) were delivered a different kind of finish.

Instead of employing ground-and-pound, Lesnar showed excellent Brazilian jiu-jitsu technique. He cross-faced Carwin, then trapped his arm high with his head as he slid into mount. From there he slid to the opposite side, securing a perfect head-and-arm choke as he sprawled his legs out. Carwin momentarily looked like he might survive, but Lesnar ratcheted up the pressure and Carwin was forced to tap at 2:19 of round two.

Lesnar proved two things with this bout. First and foremost, he proved he knows how to survive a serious onslaught. The scarier part for other heavyweights? Lesnar continues to evolve, now adding submissions to his repertoire. Going forward, the undisputed champ will step into the Octagon with a complete game to complement his speed, size, and power—and he is still learning.

That said, other title challengers can find hope in the fact that Carwin proved Lesnar is mortal. He hurt the champ badly, and the image of Lesnar’s battered face between rounds was a first for fans and future foes. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the Internet is already abuzz with claims that the fight should have been stopped in the first round with Lesnar covering up and barely defending. That is perfect fodder for the UFC’s marketing machine to hype and then stage a Lesnar vs. Carwin rematch in the near future. Here’s to hoping they do.

This article initially appeared on MMA Spot.


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