Monday, October 31, 2011

UFC 137 : Diaz beats Penn; 2 retirements

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LAS VEGAS, October 29 – 15 compelling minutes with BJ Penn made it clear - it’s been too long since we’ve seen Nick Diaz in the Octagon. But in defeating “The Prodigy” via unanimous decision in the UFC 137 main event Saturday night, Diaz’ first UFC bout since 2006 sent shockwaves through not only the Mandalay Bay Events Center, but through the MMA world, as he apparently retired Penn and put himself squarely in line for a shot at Georges St-Pierre’s welterweight title.

“I don’t think Georges is hurt, I think he’s scared,” said Diaz, who was originally scheduled to face St-Pierre on this card before he was pulled from the bout after no-showing two press conferences to promote the fight. St-Pierre was then slated to face Carlos Condit before injuring his knee and withdrawing, pushing Diaz-Penn into the main event slot.

And while seeing the surging Diaz score the win over Penn wasn’t a shocker, Penn’s sudden retirement in the Octagon after the bout was. See post-fight interview with BJ Penn

“Hats off to Nick Diaz,” said Penn. “This is the last time you’ll see me in here. I want to perform at the top level.  I’ve got a daughter and another one on the way. I don’t want to go home looking like this.”

Scores were 29-28 twice and 29-27 for the former Strikeforce welterweight champion, who shook off Penn’s strong first round to dominate the next two frames. The bout earned Fight of the Night honors and both men took home an extra $75,000.

The in-arena anticipation for the bout was like that for a world title fight, and Penn came out firing to start the bout, landing a couple good shots before Diaz wrapped him up against the fence. Penn broke loose fairly quickly, again working his striking game and reddening Diaz’ face. After a miss by Diaz, Penn scored a takedown, taking Diaz’ back in an ensuing scramble before settling in the top position. Diaz stayed busy with strikes from his back, and with a little over two minutes left he found his way back to his feet.  Pinning Penn to the fence, Diaz’ tried to get his offense in gear, but Penn got away with a quick elbow and continued to impress with his standup. Diaz fired back with his usual busy attack, as well as some taunts, but Penn kept his cool.

A fired up Diaz slapped away Penn’s punches and stuck his chin out as round two began, but again, Penn’s cool served him well as he got in some quick shots before the two tied up. After breaking, the two exchanged at close quarters, but after stuffing a takedown attempt, Diaz was able to mark up Penn’s face with some knees. After that sequence, Diaz began to open up as Penn stood with his back to the fence, and the Stockton native’s body attack appeared to do the most damage.  With 1:40 left, Diaz hurt Penn with a left to the head and he opened up with both hands, putting the former two division UFC champ in serious trouble. With less than 20 seconds remaining, Penn finally got a brief respite as the two locked up, but as the bell sounded, Diaz was clearly in control of the fight.

Barely able to contain themselves at the bell to start the final round, Penn tried to lock up with Diaz to get the fight to the ground, but the tireless Diaz wasn’t having it. Penn did use the time to get back to the middle of the Octagon for a moment, a key to him getting back in the fight. Diaz’ relentless attack wasn’t allowing for too many moments of daylight, but Penn did get his shots in, with the evidence showing on Diaz’ face. Diaz was doing the lion’s share of the scoring though, with Penn’s amazing chin on display for all to see. With under two minutes left, Penn surged with a series of hard shots, not ready to give in. A brief tie-up against the fence wasn’t a break, it was just an opportunity for the two to recharge for one last assault, and that’s just what they gave each other, drawing an appreciative roar from the crowd for a final blast of toe-to-toe slugging.

With the win, Diaz improves to 27-7 with 1 NC; Penn falls to 16-8-2.

Matt Mitrione had made quite the impression in just five professional fights, all in the UFC, but the Ultimate Fighter alum’s step up fight against veteran contender Cheick Kongo proved to be too much of a leap at the moment, as Kongo scored a three round unanimous decision win over Mitrione in the UFC 137 co-main event Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. See post-fight interview

The judges saw it 30-27, 30-28, and 29-28 for Kongo, who improves to 27-6-2; Mitrione falls to 5-1.

Mitrione tried to baffle Kongo with his unorthodox movement and some early fight chatter, but the Frenchman wouldn’t take the bait, instead choosing to wait for Mitrione to make the first move so he could counter. A couple sloppy exchanges eventually followed before the two locked up against the fence. After a stalemate, referee Herb Dean broke the two, and Kongo tried to lead with two rights, but he came up short. Mitrione proceeded to pressure Kongo, but he wasn’t throwing any punches, drawing the ire of the crowd. In the final 30 seconds, Kongo opened up a bit more, but there was no significant scoring.

Apparently the fighters were sufficiently warmed up from the first round, as both began getting their offenses in gear in the second, Kongo landed with some hard leg kicks and threw in punches to the head and body as well. Mitrione started throwing more himself, but he wasn’t having the success his opponent was, even though he was the unquestioned aggressor.

Mitrione came out fast to begin the final round, but Kongo responded with a furious attack of strikes capped off by a slam of the former NFL lineman. Mitrione calmly worked his way back to his feet, but Kongo kept him tied up against the fence, landing with knees to the leg the whole way. Kongo went on to score another takedown on Mitrione, who was unable to escape from under the ground attack of the veteran heavyweight.


It was the end of a heavyweight era, as former PRIDE superstar Mirko Cro Cop called an end to his storied career after getting stopped in the third round by Roy Nelson, who resurrected his own after back-to-back losses to Junior dos Santos and Frank Mir with an impressive effort from start to finish. See post-fight interview with Cro Cop

After testing his standup with Cro Cop for the first minute of the fight, Nelson quickly shot in for the takedown and got it, freeing him up to work his ground strikes. Midway through the round, Cro Cop sprang to his feet and was able to land a left kick to the body and a left punch to the head, reddening Nelson’s face. Nelson fired back with a hard right hand, but after the two circled each other for a bit, Cro Cop delivered a hard uppercut that got the crown chanting his name. Nelson kept moving forward though, and his pressure appeared to bother Cro Cop. See post-fight interview with Cro Cop

In the second, Nelson briefly rocked Cro Cop, but the Croatian returned the favor a second later. Cro Cop proceeded to empty his clip on “Big Country,” but the iron-chinned Las Vegas refused to go down. With a little over two minutes left, Cro Cop drew a roar as he threw his trademark left kick to the head, but Nelson avoided any danger as he moved in and then took Cro Cop to the mat. Moving into side control, Nelson smothered Cro Cop and locked his arms up in the crucifix position, opening him up to a barrage of punches and evening the score for the series of shots he took earlier in the round.

A minute into the final round, Nelson’s right hand staggered Cro Cop, and seconds later, he got his exhausted opponent to the mat with a right-left-right. Nelson proceeded to take Cro Cop’s back and finish him with strikes, with referee Steve Mazzagatti calling a stop to the fight at the 1:30 mark.

With the win, Nelson improves to 17-6; Cro Cop, one of the most feared strikers to ever compete in the sport, falls to 29-10-2 with 1 NC. He was never to match his success in Japan in the UFC, only managing a 4-6 record in the organization, but the standing ovation he received from the crowd following the bout was evidence of the impact he had on MMA.


Bantamweight contender Scott Jorgensen put in a full night’s work in his bout with returning vet Jeff Curran, winning a close unanimous decision over “The Big Frog” in a competitive three rounder. See post-fight interview

Scores were 29-28 twice and 30-27 for Jorgensen, who ups his record to 13-4; Curran falls to 35-14-1.

Jorgensen ate a steady diet of jabs as the bout opened, forcing him to seek – and get – a takedown. Both fighters stayed busy on the ground, with Curran not content to stay idle on his back as Jorgensen worked his strikes. After a restart by referee Kim Winslow with less than 40 seconds left, Curran landed a couple hard punches before Jorgensen ended the frame with a second takedown.

There were some solid standup exchanges to start the second round, but a missed Curran takedown attempt allowed Jorgensen to lock his foe up and land with a series of knees before scoring with his own takedown. A second takedown would follow later in the round, but a late surge by Curran reminded his foe that he was not done yet.

The third round was a closely-contested battle, with both fighters giving and taking their best shots. The slightly busier Jorgensen looked to have the edge though, with his solid defense keeping Curran from scoring the takedown and landing his haymakers.


Japanese featherweight star Hatsu Hioki made his long-awaited UFC debut in the opener, but he got more than a stiff challenge from George Roop before eking out an unpopular three round split decision win. See post-fight interview

Scores were 29-28 twice and 28-29 for Hioki, who improves to 25-4-2; Roop falls to 12-9-1.

Roop’s busy striking attack kept Hioki from getting into any sort of offensive rhythm as the bout started, and the Arizonan continued to score until Hioki was able to pin his foe to the fence and eventually get him to the mat with a little over a minute left. But Hioki was still unable to capitalize, allowing Roop to get back to his feet before the bell.

Hioki was more effective in closing the distance on his lanky foe in round two, and this time, he was able to gain a dominant side control position quickly before moving into the mount. And while Hioki pinned Roop to the canvas for much of the round, Roop got loose late and finished with a flourish, chasing Hioki around the Octagon until the bell.

Roop got his own takedown in the third, smothering Hioki in the subsequent exchange on the mat. Hioki tried to work for submissions from the bottom, but Roop was resolute in his attack, and while he wasn’t spectacular, his workmanlike performance appeared to earn him the victory, but the judges disagreed.

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