Returning to Denver, the city that hosted the very first Ultimate Fighting Championship, UFC 135 had a lot of potential to be historic for more reasons than that. The light heavyweight title fight had been generating a ton of media buzz for weeks, but the fights leading up to the main event were just as likely to entertain.
As usual, the fighters didn't disappoint and the action was great. The following is a full account of all the main card action.
Nate Diaz submitted Takanori Gomi by arm bar in the first round. The most obvious storyline in this fight was the fact that Gomi was beaten by Nate's brother, Nick Diaz, four years ago. But more relevant, in my opinion, was the fact that both of these guys are fighting for relevance in the UFC. Diaz has slipped down the ranks with some recent losses, while Gomi has done the same. They both have the skill sets and pride necessary to be class contenders, but they also needed to get on track and string some wins together. Obviously, that was only going to happen for one of them. Gomi's game is striking, but from the second the bell rang, Diaz showed that he was superior in that department. He dotted Gomi with pinpoint accuracy throughout the first few minutes. Gomi got wobbly a couple of times. Diaz had his back at one point, but they got back up, only to go back down with Diaz on his back. He started looking for an arm bar, then switched to a triangle attempt, then back to the arm bar and sunk it, forcing Gomi to tap. As Joe Rogan said, it would be hard to think of another victory by Diaz that was more impressive. In short, this was exactly what he needed.
Travis Browne defeated Rob Broughton by unanimous decision. This fight featured two very large human beings. Broughton is a beast and there's little doubt as to where he got his nickname, "The Bear." Browne was lithe in comparison, though, and more advanced in most techniques. He dominated the first round with more technical striking, then continued with more of the same in the second, before taking Broughton down and delivering some heavy strikes from full mount. Browne started slowly in the third, but took Broughton down and spent most of the round on top. It was three solid rounds and Browne did everything pretty well. He just needs to do more and really go for the finish if he wants to get the crowd (and match maker) behind him.
Mark Hunt defeated Ben Rothwell by unanimous decision. This was another bout between huge heavyweights, but the action was more exciting than the fight before it. Rothwell and Hunt took turns punishing each other in the first round. Both got cut, both got take downs, but the one thing I came away with was a sense of how much Hunt has improved on the ground. This guy is a former K-1 Grand Prix champ, but his time with American Top Team has obviously paid off. He dominated Rothwell in the second round, took him down and punished him from top position. He nearly had an arm bar locked up, but Rothwell was saved by the bell. Hunt was looking to finish in the third round, but they ended up on the ground again. Both of them were completely gassed out and the pace slowed significantly. Hunt carried the action, but it was kind of anticlimactic, because it seemed like he definitely would have been able to end the fight if he'd had better conditioning.
Josh Koscheck TKO'd Matt Hughes as time expired in the first round. Despite his accomplishments, I had a hard time imagining Matt Hughes winning this fight. The thing is, Koscheck really isn't that young anymore either. Since they both come from wrestling backgrounds, I thought there was a pretty good chance it would come down to striking, but you never know when you get guys this high on the food chain facing each other. While I predicted a Koscheck victory, I was excited to see how the fight went and ready for anything. Hughes actually looked great as the fight got underway. He started working the jab very effectively and Koscheck had a little bit of trouble getting through it initially. He found his range, though, and started darting inside and landing combinations that were much more visually impressive than the single jabs Hughes had been landing. Koscheck's confidence seemed to grow with each punch he landed and he got more aggressive. Late in the round, he started landing some much heavier shots and had Hughes looking wobbly. When they finally went to the ground, Koscheck got on top, landed some big strikes from the top and got the stoppage right as the round ended.
Jon Jones submitted Quinton "Rampage" Jackson with a rear naked choke in the fourth round. The moment everyone had been waiting for finally arrived and it was time to see if Jon Jones could be the first light heavyweight champ in what seems like forever to successfully defend the belt. He'd have to get through a very heavy handed Rampage to do it. Rampage seemed motivated before the fight, but he always does. You really never know what you're going to get with him until you see him in the cage. On the other hand, I was really interested to see whether or not having the belt and being in the position of defender would affect Jones at all. No matter what, I expected fireworks. Jones started the fight crouched to the ground and came out almost crawling like some kind of monkey style Kung Fu guy. He immediately went into a clinch, but then they separated and things took a more normal path. The good news was that both looked like they showed up fully ready to fight. Jones started having his way in the first round, landing strikes, tons of leg kicks and even some high kicks. Rampage was aggressive, but wasn't landing much due to Jones' reach advantage of 11.5". Rampage was hanging in there, but he just couldn't get inside in the second round either. Jones started getting loose in the third round. He took Rampage down, mounted him and got some of his famous ground-and-pound going. The result was a cut over Rampage's right eye. In the fourth, Jones continued to overwhelm with his striking, landing all kinds of crazy strikes. He got a take down, got Rampage's back and had a fore arm under his chin before he could even react. The choke was deep and it was tap or sleep for Rampage.
At this point, what do you even say about Jon Jones? The kid is still so young, so athletic, so long and so hungry to improve. It's very easy to see him going on an Anderson Silva type of run with the belt. Speaking of which, I'm going to say it right now. I think Anderson Silva may be the best fight out there for Jones right now. Since Silva has nothing left to prove at 185 pounds, let's see him go up to 205 for a while and get himself into the title mix.