UFC 118 Wrap-up: Wrestlers Rock the Garden !

Saturday, August 28th was a good day if you fancy yourself as both an amateur wrestling and mixed martial arts fan. That is because, on this day, in front of a packed house at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, four prominent former DI wrestlers turned MMA elite fighters stepped into the octagon as part of UFC 118, and all exited it having done their jobs, sweeping their bouts to demonstrate to the world why wrestling remains the greatest and most dominant martial art in the world… For some, the victories were a way for them to continue to climb the proverbial latter; for another, it was about showing the boxing world that MMA is not something you can just pick up without first dedicating yourself to becoming competent in all areas; And finally, for the final two, it was about doing what was necessary in order to set up a much anticipated rematch against other for the lightweight strap.  Regardless of the motivational factor, the one thing that these four men (Nik Lentz, Gray Maynard, Randy Couture, and Frankie Edgar all had in common is that they all did the wrestling community proud by dominating their opponents from the opening bell of each of their respective battles.

Starting the party on the right note for us wrestling enthusiasts watching from the comfort of our couches, was former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher, Nik Lentz. Lentz, undefeated in his 11 bouts (nine wins; two draws) heading into this weekend, was pitted against a former “The Ultimate Fighter” runner-up Andre Winner in what was described as a classic match-up of grappler vs. striker. However, from the opening bell, it was quickly apparent that the product of the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy (the same gym as current UFC Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar), had a game plan to neutralize the quick handed, hard hitting striker from the UK. Repeatedly demonstrating an ability to get in deep on the single-leg, Lentz, was able to immensely dominate octagon control for the full 15 minutes of the fight, including the majority of the third round where after finishing the takedown, the former Big-10 student athlete was able to keep Winner on the ground by landing steady, but not overwhelming powerful blows to the body of his seemingly fatigued opponent. For his efforts, the judges rewarded him with a unanimous decision to up his career record to 19-3-2. The loss dropped Winner’s record to a still impressive 11-4-1. While not evident at the time, this opening win would be a sign of good things to come for wrestlers fighting in the 155-pound division.

Making it two in a row for the grapplers was former 2x Ohio State Wrestling Champion (St. Edwards High School)/3x NCAA DI All-American (Michigan State), Gray “the bully” Maynard. Matched against a seasoned veteran, Kenny Florian, in a contest of fellow alumni from the aforementioned Spike TV hit show, what Maynard lacked in experience, he made up for with wrestling prowess. Entering the cage as the only wrestler with an unblemished record (which is to be expected when you consider he only had nine fights coming in) the former Spartan was conservative on his feet against the more polished kickboxer/muay Thai specialist, Florian. However, utilizing excellent footwork, Maynard made it very difficult for Florian to get much of an offensive attack going, seizing control off all three rounds by securing clutch takedowns at opportune moments to join Lentz in getting a “w” by unanimous decision. As big a win as this may have been for Maynard, it is what it sets up in the future that is most important at all. As soon as he heard his name announced as the victor, Maynard knew that he had successfully secured for himself an automatic title shot, an opportunity that he likely felt he deserved prior to the fight (with previous victories over the likes of Roger Huerta, current UFC Lightweight Champion, Edgar, and upcoming star Nate Diaz), but really solidified with the win over the former title contender. Jumping his record to 10-0-0, the question of the hour was not, is Maynard ready for the shot? it was who would his opponent be? as Edgar was looking to show the world that his victory over B.J. Penn at UFC 112 was not the fluke that the media and radical fans had been making it out to be for the past several months.

The answer to that question would be an emphatic one as the former 2x NJ State placewinner/4x national qualifier from Clarion University seemed to be the best version of himself in tonight’s much hyped rematch, using lightning quickness to stick and move against the much larger Penn.  In addition, when he was not winning the striking aspect of the title fight, Edgar was demonstrating increased dominance in the wrestling side of things, scoring a pair of TDs in the opening period (something he was unable to do until the latter part of their first meeting).  So dominant was Edgar that after three rounds, UFC commentator Joe Rogan made the comment that Penn almost looked like he had accepted his fate, a sign that Edgar might have mentally broken the fighter regarded by many as the greatest lightweight in the history of the sport.   Perhaps what was most impressive was the ease at which Edgar was able to control Penn on the ground.   Considered one of, if not the best American BJJ practioner (first American to win the BJJ world championship), Penn showed little off of his back, and did not threaten much on the few occasions he was able to get on top.  This is a true testament to the hard work that he and his coaches at the famed Ricardo Almeida Academy (a spinoff of the Renzo Gracie Academy) did in preparation for the fight.   Winning the fight 50-45 on all three scorecards, the former EWL conference wrestler definitely put to bed any further talk about flukes or bad judging.  He was the man today.  How long he remains the man will be determined at a later date as UFC President, Dana White, said that no date has been determined yet for the rematch between the two wrestling superstars, Maynard/Edgar.  

Finally, after being publicly called out and enduring weeks of trash talking from his opponent, former boxing great, James “Lights Out” Toney, UFC Hall-of-famer, Randy Couture (2x National runner-up for Oklahoma State/multiple time US Olympic alternate) did his talking in the cage, hitting a low-single (which is very infrequently utilized in an MMA fight), for the quick takedown and then immediately moving to the mount where he rained down punches while looking to secure a submission.   Looking like a fish out of water, Toney was able to fight the position for a short while, but eventually his inexperience/lack of any semblance of a ground game would be his undoing as Couture (never known for his submission game) was successful in locking up a tight arm triangle, inducing a tapout at the 3:19 mark of the opening round.  The win improved the 47-year-old fighter’s record to 19-10, including three straight wins in the organization that made him a star. 

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