In September 2007, Forrest Griffin’s stunning upset of then top-ranked light heavyweight Mauricio “Shogun” Rua allowed the UFC to claim that products of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series were equal in quality to fighters who had competed in Pride Fighting Championships in Japan. Griffin’s subsequent win over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson 10 months later further cemented the notion.
The results from UFC 101 on Saturday in Philadelphia, however, call into question the sporting relevance of former TUF competitors, as all five former cast members who competed on the main card were soundly beaten by opponents who came from a traditional backgrounds -- i.e. they did not receive their fame or notoriety from misbehaving on national television for a couple of weeks while locked up in a Las Vegas mansion.
Is “The Ultimate Fighter” more hype than substance after all?
Kurt Pellegrino def. Josh Neer -- Unanimous Decision
What happened: Pellegrino entered the bout as a seven-year veteran who, at age 30, sported a respectable 5-3 record in the UFC. Still, a win over a recognizable opponent had eluded him. Fired up by close to 350 friends and family members from nearby Point Pleasant, N.J., the Hermes Franca-trained black belt brought the fight to Neer early, as he took him down with a powerful slam and applied pressure from top position.
This pattern repeated itself for the full 15 minutes, as Neer showed excellent guard work and threatened with armbars and triangles from the bottom. Pellegrino continued to dominate the wrestling, executed his game plan and did not give the awkward Miletich Fighting Systems member any room to operate. Neer came to life in the final seconds, but his flurry came too late, as he dropped a unanimous decision.
Forecast for Pellegrino: With the victory over Neer, Pellegrino positioned himself higher in the UFC lightweight hierarchy, but he needs at least two more solid wins in to warrant status as a title contender. He may not be prepared to challenge a former champion like Sean Sherk right away, but bouts against experienced veterans like Spencer Fisher, Clay Guida or George Sotiropoulos appear both reasonable and intriguing.
Forecast for Neer: “The Dentist” goes back to the drawing board after dropping a fight that could have pushed him above the .500 mark in the UFC. He will likely have his back against the wall in his next outing -- which could come against an opponent like Robert Emerson, Aaron Riley or, if UFC matchmaker Joe Silva shows a sense of humor, Jason Dent. Neer could soon find himself in danger of getting cut from the promotion for a third time.
Ricardo Almeida def. Kendall Grove -- Unanimous Decision
What happened: In what was likely his final bout in the 185-pound division before he moves down to welterweight, Almeida showed improved wrestling against the luckless Grove. Overmatched on the ground by the world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu player, the lanky Hawaiian was reluctant to let his kicks and knees fly, afraid of being picked up and slammed to the floor.
Grove had his best moment in the second round when he rotated away from the cage and, in one motion, locked Almeida in a tight armbar. With 15 years of experience in ground fighting, Almeida managed to escape the hold and play his advanced positioning game. In the third and final stanza, Grove appeared to be in better physical shape, but Almeida took a no-nonsense approach, played it safe and rode out the remainder of the round inside Grove’s guard.
Forecast for Almeida: Almeida needs to be thrown in right at the deep end of the UFC’s 170-pound division, as it makes little sense to put tune-up opponents in front of a fighter who has defeated champions like Kazuo Misaki, Nate Marquardt and Ryo Chonan at a higher weight class. An opponent like Dong Hyun Kim, Carlos Condit or even Jon Fitch could await him in his welterweight debut.
Forecast for Grove: Though likeable and marketable, it does not appear Grove has what it takes to reach the top of the UFC’s middleweight division and make a run at the belt. Dropping down in weight looks impossible due to his huge frame, so it may become mutually beneficial for Zuffa to let the 26-year-old ply his trade elsewhere.
What happened: After postponing his welterweight debut twice due to various injuries, the almost-forgotten “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 7 winner Sadollah finally stepped into the Octagon on a UFC pay-per-view. A 13-month layoff had effectively killed all of his momentum from the show. That he had to fight one of the most decorated amateur wrestlers in the sport certainly did not help his cause.
Hendricks, sporting an Andrei Arlovski-esque beard, caught Sadollah with a left hook and followed up with some vintage Randy Couture dirty boxing. Having knocked Sadollah to the ground, Hendricks moved in and unleashed a flurry of punches, which prompted referee Dan Miragliotta to stop the match. Considering Miragliotta’s history of questionable stoppages and Sadollah’s popularity, the decision was received with a barrage of catcalls and whistles from the vocal Philadelphia crowd.
Forecast for Hendricks: Despite his perfect 6-0 record and extensive background in amateur wrestling, Hendricks remains a relative novice in MMA and should be treated as such. His next challenge could come in form of Matt Brown, another alum of “The Ultimate Fighter,” or two fighters who were also in action at UFC 101: John Howard and Jesse Lennox.
Forecast for Sadollah: He probably needs to be added to one of the September or October fight cards if the UFC does not want to risk him ending up on suicide watch, figuratively speaking. The American of Iranian descent probably deserves an opponent against whom he can just come into the cage and get a quick win.
Aaron Riley def. Shane Nelson -- Unanimous Decision
What happened: In a rematch of their first bout five months ago, which ended in a controversial early stoppage for Nelson, the well-traveled Riley set the record straight in their second encounter and did practically everything except stop the overmatched Hawaiian.
Riley appeared to be the much stronger fighter, which prompted PPV commentators Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan to question whether or not Nelson belonged in the WEC’s 145-pound division. Riley’s best weapons in the 15-minute beatdown were his flash high kicks.
Forecast for Riley: With 40 professional mixed martial arts bouts under his belt -- including memorable wars with Yves Edwards and Robbie Lawler -- Zuffa can put Riley into the cage with virtually anybody. Extremely durable and hard-nosed, it would be nice to see him take on somebody like the aforementioned Fisher, Guida or Neer.
Forecast for Nelson: If the Hawaiian decides to drop down to featherweight, plenty of interesting matchups await him in the WEC. American Top Team’s Rafael Dias or fellow former UFC fighter Manny Gamburyan would make for strong opponents for his debut with the UFC’s sister promotion.
Anderson Silva def. Forrest Griffin -- KO (Punch) 3:23 R1
What happened: Last time the UFC gambled and pitted Griffin against Rua, it paid off. This time, pound-for-pound king Silva obliterated the original “The Ultimate Fighter” with the kind of clarity that could lead one to conclude “The Spider” has outgrown his surroundings.
Griffin’s size was never a factor in the fight, as he was knocked down twice before eventually being knocked out with a straight right from the backpedaling Silva. In between, the 34-year-old Brazilian also did his best Roy Jones Jr. imitation by dropping his hands and taunting his hopelessly overmatched foe.
Forecast for Silva: At this stage of his career and with his stated intention to hang up his gloves once his contract with the promotion expires, only a few fights truly make sense for him, including the long-awaited showdown with Jones Jr. inside the boxing ring and a confrontation with Fedor Emelianenko in a match to decide the sport’s ultimate number one.
Forecast for Griffin: After he was sacrificed for the good of the promotion, the former light heavyweight titleholder will likely be re-inserted into the championship race quietly this fall. Being one of the longest-serving fighters in the 205-pound division, Griffin has already fought most contenders, which could result in rematches with Tito Ortiz or Keith Jardine.
B.J. Penn def. Kenny Florian -- Submission (Rear-Naked Choke) 3:54 R4
What happened: Fight fans got to see a Penn who paced himself and attacked in spurts. He outsmarted challenger Florian and Mark DellaGrotte, regarded as one of the sport’s premier game planners.
Florian lacked an effective plan, however, and was soon exposed; he was inferior to the champion in every aspect of the game. Clinching and trying to push him into the fence, Florian kept “The Prodigy” busy for three rounds, until Penn’s patience gave out. He took down Florian with his first attempt and softened him up with elbow strikes before making the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt tap out.
Forecast for Penn: The UFC has bred a stable of tough and powerful wrestlers like Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard and Diego Sanchez, all of whom are being pushed as future contenders, but Penn has already demonstrated his ability to handle those types of challenges in his big wins over Matt Hughes and Sean Sherk. Might a heavy-handed ground fighter like Hermes Franca present a bigger challenge?
Forecast for Florian: His second shot at UFC gold ended much like the first -- in disappointment. Unless Penn retires or relinquishes the belt for some reason, it seems unlikely the Boston native will make another run at the belt. This will leave Florian in much the same position as former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin.