Although it took a while for the ball to get rolling on Saturday, by the end of the day the marathon of MMA almost seemed worth it. UFC Fight Night 49 in Tulsa finished with four consecutive TKOs, as the fighters must have sensed the restlessness growing amongst their audience to have 10 hours of fights wrapped up, even if the promotion itself was in no hurry for the event to end. Tulsa main-eventer Rafael dos Anjos and co-main-eventer Jordan Mein certainly did their part to speed things along, as each notched first-round knockout victories in their respective bouts. The striking was relatively even early on, as both mixed things up to the legs, body and head of their opponent. However, dos Anjos started finding a home for his left hand on Henderson’s chin more regularly forcing Henderson to shoot. The Brazilian was ready, as a flying knee landed flush on the former champion and marked the beginning of the end. As Henderson tried to rise after the knee, dos Anjos landed a short left hook which dropped him again and John McCarthy jumped in to stop the bout.
This was by far the biggest win of dos Anjos’ career — and a huge setback for Henderson, whose only losses since 2007 had come in championship bouts to Anthony Pettis. Gilbert Melendez has the next crack at Pettis for the UFC lightweight title, but dos Anjos has an excellent claim to the next spot in line, as he already holds a win over Donald Cerrone, and the only man to defeat him, Khabib Nurmagomedov, is out with a knee injury at the moment. The striking improvement dos Anjos has shown in the past couple of years has been extremely impressive, and becoming the first man to stop Henderson with strikes in his pro career is definitely a statement to the rest of the division. Jordan Mein also had quite the performance in his bout with Mike Pyle. Just over a minute into the bout, he set up a combination with a beautiful level change and then decked Pyle with a left hand that sent the veteran down to the canvas. Pyle’s reaction to the strike made it clear the bout was over, but Dan Miragliotta waited for Mein to land some follow up shots before stepping in to wave things off. This is what was expected of Mein after coming into the UFC and becoming the first fighter to stop Dan Miller. His recent performances have shown some inconsistency, but the ceiling is very high for the talented 24-year-old. Pyle was a ranked, veteran fighter, and if the UFC wants to continue moving Mein up the ladder, Jake Ellenberger would provide an excellent foe.
If asked three of four years ago who would be a more relevant UFC title contender between Michael Bisping and Thales Leites, the answer would have been a no-brainer. In the twilight zone that is 2014 however, Leites has been the more impressive fighter. Yes, Bisping scored a win over Cung Le early on Saturday, but Francis Carmont may be a bigger win than any Bisping has scored in his career. The book on Leites used to be that if you could shut down his grappling, you would shut his offense down completely. Not the case anymore, as the Brazilian has scored consecutive TKO victories (his first since all the way back in 2005) in his most recent UFC appearances. While Bisping is off calling out fighters he has no hope of beating (Luke Rockhold), Leites would be best served facing either Costas Phillipou or fellow Carmont conqueror C.B. Dollaway.
Max Holloway’s resume continues to look better and better. The 22-year-old has now competed in the UFC nine time already, posting a 6-3 record. Winning two fights in the UFC for every loss is impressive in its own right, but when you take into account that Holloway’s losses have only come against the fifth, seventh and ninth ranked featherweights in the world, it looks even better. Once you factor in Holloway’s exciting fighting style, you have a recipe for someone who will be sticking around in the Octagon for a long, long time. He put on another performance that was worthy of a ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus against Clay Collard (although there was no FOTN named for the Tulsa card). The Hawaiian wore down the late replacement by landing over 60% of his strikes, including numerous body shots, and eventually earned the TKO in the third round. Holloway asked for a bout with either Dennis Bermudez or Dennis Siver following this victory. While the Siver match is possible, he could also end up going against someone like Darren Elkins so the UFC can gauge how much his takedown defense has improved. Earlier in the day, the UFC’s trip to Macau was a little bit less noteworthy in terms of action, but the top two fights delivered. The aforementioned Michael Bisping battered Cung Le around for the majority of their bout before scoring the TKO early in the fourth round. Le was able to stay competitive early, but as most expected he faded and the Brit took over. Bisping looked better than he did in April against Tim Kennedy, but he was also facing a much more limited fighter, which has been the story of his career. Bisping has always cleaned up against lower- and mid-tier UFC competition, but struggles once he gets to the upper echelon, and there’s no reason to think we’re seeing anything different in him this time around. Bisping called out Rockhold after this fight, a move I think is most unwise, and the former Strikeforce champion was quick to accept, as it should provide a big fight payday and exposure without the risk involved in a fight with a top contender. Perhaps the second-most impressive performance of the day belonged to Tyron Woodley. The former Missouri Tiger was on a mission to make everyone forget about his dud of a performance against Rory MacDonald, and did so in very quick fashion. He took advantage of the reckless disregard for defense that the “new” Dong Hyun Kim has displayed, landing a right hand as Kim attempted a spinning back fist, and that was basically it. Watching live it was strange to see Kim drop, but the replays showed Woodley landing just behind the South Korean’s right ear. A few perfunctory shots on the ground later and Woodley was getting his hand raised once again. At this point, Woodley should keep fighting top ten opposition, so taking out of the equation teammates and those he has already fought, Matt Brown or Jake Ellenberger seem like his only options (who knows how long Demian Maia is out of commission with his staph infection). The Brown fight would be preferable, so the UFC can make the Ellenberger/Mein fight I suggested earlier, and it would also be a great test of Woodley’s conditioning against a fighter who won’t stop coming after him. This coming week will be a slow one for UFC fans as they only have one event, and it’s one of the poorer pay-per-view offerings they’ve made in a quite a while (at least the dismal-selling UFC 174 had Rory MacDonald and Woodley in the co-main event). The last of the betting lines for UFC 177 were released yesterday at MMAOddsBreaker.com, and we’ll have full coverage of the event in the coming days.