TUF Finale Thoughts: Appreciating Urijah & Other Musings

I never look forward to Ultimate Fighter finale cards. This is due in large part to the fact that I don’t watch the Ultimate Fighter. Oh sure, I’ve dabbled with the show in the past, like with the Kimbo season (#10) and the “Junie Browning drunkenly throwing tumblers at guys with fights coming up” season (#8). This does not take away from the fact that these cards are largely comprised of guys who will be regaling their grandchildren with stories of “the time grandpa fought in the UFC”. They end up looking kind of like a UFC card, but not really. One and done is the name of the game here.

(That’s two clichés in the same sentence. Don’t act like I’m not capable of more.)

A few thoughts on the big boy (and girl) fights …

- Maximo Blanco showed that he is yet another entertaining roster guy.

It seemed like it had been forever since we’d seen ol’ Maxi stomp some poor overmatched Korean through the canvas, or brutalize some guy with his Tasmanian devil-esque striking game. Not only that, but it had been a fortnight since he had fought, period. And his last performance was certainly nothing to write home about, save for the postfight tumbling contest he had with Marcus Brimage.

It was nice to see him fight again. His tilt with Sam Sicilia had everything you’d ever want in a Maximo Blanco fight; balls-to-the-wall striking, outlandish strikes, multiple fouls, a little wrestling … the only thing that was missing was a nice shot to the groin.

Speaking of the fouls, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy grab the fence while he was pressing his opponent up against it. Usually it’s an instinctive reaction to hopefully stop a takedown, but not with Mr. Maximo. No reason to do it, no possible way it could help … but look at who we’re dealing with here. Rousimar Palhares must be his hero.

In all seriousness, I thought he did a great job of mixing up his striking attack. When he would flurry on Sicilia, both men were dangerous. He won this fight from the outside with jabs and low kicks. I know it’s only Sam Sicilia, but I thought Maximo showed clear improvement, and that he can definitely stick around in the UFC. Excited for his next fight.

- Gabriel Gonzaga … ooof.

Have we ever seen a guy completely knocked out by such innocuous looking strikes? Actually, that’s a stupid question. Of course we have. There’s this place called Japan, where things like this happen to washed up pro wrestlers on a semi-regular basis. But that didn’t make this KO any less crazy. Sure, Rafael Feijao KO’d King Mo with those elbows to the side of the head while defending a takedown, and I also remember Jake Hecht doing something similar to Rich Attonito. But these knocked Gonzaga out immediately. Mo and Attonito had already been fighting for a couple of rounds, and Mo in particular took a bevy of them before finally collapsing. This was one two three, OUT. Gabe Gonzaga has been hit very hard, a great number of times. I suppose this is what can happen. Heavyweights, folks! Heavyweights.

(Since I started writing this, I read that Gonzaga’s camp plans to appeal the loss. What they’re saying is that the last few elbows that Travis Browne threw were illegal, and that the result should be changed because of this. However, the replay clearly shows that the third elbow, which landed cleanly on the side of Gabe’s head, was the one that knocked him out.)

- Miesha Tate fights like she’s triple parked.

Good God. Look, I get that Tate has wrestling and submission chops. But she is an excruciatingly sloppy fighter. She just runs in with no regard for technique or energy conservation. And she really paid for it last Saturday.

Cat Zingano weathered everything Tate threw at her, slowly shifted the momentum of the fight in her favor, and by the time the third round started, Tate was ripe for the picking.

Two more thoughts here. The first is that it was difficult for me to ignore what a physical specimen Cat Zingano is. She’s one of those people who you can judge semi-accurately just by appearance. She’s a big, strong-looking chick that wasn’t going to let some pouty face run her over. The second is that, geez, that finish was brutal. Four knees to the dome that were dead on, followed by a big elbow. No more Miesha Tate. And really, that’s fine. I’d rather see a sturdy, likable woman like Zingano tangle with Ronda Rousey next over a reckless Miesha Tate.

- Urijah Faber should be appreciated, because he can’t do this forever.

I’ve been going back and forth on my overall opinion of Urijah Faber as a fighter ever since his WEC days, when he was making his bones beating the Chance Farrar’s and Jeff Curran’s of the world. Don’t get me wrong; I would never call Faber a below average fighter. But just how good is he? I couldn’t figure out if he was like Rich Franklin (a solid, unspectacular veteran with name recognition that could headline a card and put on a good fight, win or lose) or a more famous Yushin Okami (the cream of the crop in his weight class who will likely beat everyone except the champ).

I’ve never been a huge fan of his game. The striking has lots of holes, he doesn’t go to the wrestling sometimes when he’s losing on the feet, and his great chokes only seem to pop up from time to time.

But on Saturday night, Urijah Faber won me over. Above everything else, the guy is just a hustler. He hustles his freaking ass off. It’s not that he’s quicker or more limber (though he is quick … he’s such an experienced grappler that he just dives into positions because he knows exactly what his opponent is going to do). He just wants it more. I know that’s a tired cliché, but watch him grapple with Scott Jorgensen and tell me you don’t see the desire. And once he gets his opponent’s back, they might as well just stop the fight right there and award it to Faber. You have to appreciate what this guy does in the grappling department.

And yet, I don’t see him beating Dominick Cruz or Renan Barao. He has a better shot to beat Cruz, who has a tendency to zig when he should have zagged (copyright: Matt Serra) from time to time and get caught with power strikes. But Barao is just too strong of a tactician on the feet for Faber to get inside and wrestle him.

He’s going to keep beating these types of guys, and I suspect that he’ll always be in the title picture. I wonder if he’s a Buffalo Bills fan.

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