Out of twelve fights at UFC 169, judges were called in to give the verdict on ten of them. As anyone who has watched MMA for more than a few events can attest, that is far too large a sample to take place without calamity occurring. However, judges weren’t the only ones responsible for some questionable decision-making, as referee Herb Dean got in the act to cap off the night. Renan Barao (32-1, 1 NC) was clearly getting the better of the striking early on in his bantamweight title defense. Having hurt Urijah Faber (30-7), the champ stayed aggressive and put his challenger down with a hard straight right. Faber grabbed a single and Barao started landing repeated — but by no means devstating — hammerfists to the side of the head. Faber attempted to show Dean that he was okay by giving the thumbs up, but the fight was stopped regardless.
It was a contentious end to a card that would have benefited from the old structure of UFC pay-per-view events. This card would have been much better received had we only witnessed the top five fights, rather than the torrent of decisions that preceeded. In his post-fight interview, Faber called for his teammate TJ Dillshaw to step up as the next challenger for Barao. While that match would garner far more interest, Raphael Assuncao would make more sense logically as he holds a recent win over Dillashaw. For Faber, it’s hard to imagine him working his way back up to another title shot, so he’ll either settle in to a Jon Fitch-like role of just being content to beat up fighters aimlessly, or perhaps step away from the sport. Jose Aldo’s 14th consecutive Zuffa victory, and eighth consecutive featherweight title defense moved him to 24-1 and provided no such controversy. It will do nothing to dispel the narrative that the champion tires late, and if an opponent can just “hang around” long enough with him, they have a shot. I find that notion to be ludicrous, but that’s a topic for another time. What should be taken away from this fight is that Jose Aldo, from a technical perspective, is about as good as a mixed martial artist could hope to be. He showed off every facet of his game against Ricardo Lamas (13-3) before mailing in the fifth round of a fight that was never in doubt. Lamas, for his part, showed an incredible toughness that most assumed he lacked. Unfortunately, when “toughness” is the first thing associated with a performance, it’s probably because you got your ass kicked. The only moderately interesting challenge for Aldo at featherweight is a rematch with Chad Mendes, but the most popular option seems to be a move up to lightweight to challenge Anthony Pettis for that belt. 2013 didn’t work out so well as the “year of the superfight” but maybe 2014 will have more luck in that regard. Lamas is going to have to climb the featherweight ladder rung-by-rung again, given his relative anonymity despite being in this featured position. Beyond the two title fights, Alistair Overeem (37-13, 1 NC) plodded his way to a unanimous decision in a fight that started off fun and – aside from a brief takedown from Frank Mir (16-9) in the second round – quickly turned into a bit of a crowd killer after his opening salvo didn’t finish Mir. Overeem did what he needed to get the victory, but not much else. It didn’t help that Mir’s output slowed to a snail’s pace in round three either. The former UFC heavyweight champ through three strikes in the final five minutes, as Overeem coasted to the decision. With the money invested in Overeem it seems the UFC would want to make a big name fight with him, but coming off of the type of performance he just had, who knows how much interest he’ll garner. Still, a fight that fans had been looking forward to before it fell off the rails was Overeem and Junior dos Santos, so I expect to see the organization go in that direction as long as Junior’s brain still works following the Velasquez beatings. Ali Bagautinov (13-2) and John Lineker (23-7) had what was perhaps the most anticipated flyweight fight in UFC history, and from my viewpoint it delivered. Bagautinov showcased his wrestling a bit in the first round, and at that point everyone thought that given his struggles to make weight, Lineker was out of the fight. The Brazilian came back in the second however and looked the fresher man, backing his Russian counterpart up and landing hard shots. The tide turned once again in the third, as Lineker was beginning to fade and Bagautinov piled up takedowns and ground and pound to secure the nod. With the dearth of challengers at 125lbs, you would have to think Bagautinov will be the next man in line to face Demetrious Johnson for the title. It was also nice to see some personality out of Bagautinov in the waning seconds of the bout, playing to the crowd as Lineker desperately tried to find a heel hook. Even though Lineker made weight, I would like to see him at least toy with the idea of moving up to bantamweight just so I can see him take on George Roop. 5’2” vs. 6’1”. I feel bad about not leading this recap with the following fight, as I have no doubt it will stand up 11 months from now as 2014’s fight of the year. Abel Trujillo (12-5, 1 NC) and Jamie Varner (21-9-1, 1 NC) opened the PPV card as you can only dream two fighters will. Showing zero regard for both their own and their opponent’s well-being, this was something special to watch. Trujillo has always struck me as a fighter who would be willing to strike with anyone, regardless of how things are progressing. It didn’t take too many Varner haymakers to change that up though. Trujillo tried taking this bout to the ground in the first round, and another couple times in the second in order to avoid Varner’s mounting barrage. The big problem is that Varner – while superior on the feet – had an even greater advantage on the ground, coming close to submitting Trujillo with a north-south choke. With nowhere to escape, Trujillo returned to his feet and resumed getting blasted by Varner (all the while returning fire, mind you) in some of the wildest exchanges we’ve seen in recent memory. The fight moved into the second round with Varner continuing to dominate, until one Trujillo right hook landed perfectly and Varner – who had never before been knocked out – was out cold from a single shot. An incredible fight, an incredible comeback, an incredible KO. Just turn off your TVs and come back in January folks, because there’s no doubt in my mind that last night we witnessed 2014’s fight of the year.
There were many ideas being thrown around for Trujillo’s next opponent, but the only one that I can think of who might be able to put on a fight matching the excitement of this one is Donald Cerrone. I don’t have a fight to make for Jamie Varner, but this man is an MMA action hero of the highest order and that is commendable in its own right. Following that fight, I’m not even going to talk about the undercard in a great deal of detail, since the most notable occurrence on it was a horrible decision in the John Makdessi/Alan Patrick fight. The 30-27 scorecard for Patrick in that fight was as wretched as Trujillo/Varner was spectacular. MMA truly is a Jekyll and Hyde sport, and on this night we saw both sides from fighters, and truly the worst side of the officials.