Those were especially big shoes to fill for a former emergency room nurse with all of six professional fights under his belt. Count Efrain Escudero among those who did not buy into all the hype.
“I wish him the best, but I knew stepping in [Saturday] he wasn’t going to be the next Anderson Silva,” Escudero said. “I knew it was going to be Phillipe Nover and me in the cage. I strapped [the gloves] on and went out there and did exactly what I had to do.”
Escudero (11-0), himself an unbeaten 155-pound prospect, controlled Nover with textbook wrestling en route to a unanimous decision in the main event. His game sharpened by time spent in the Rage in the Cage promotion, the 22-year-old scored with repeated takedowns and effectively nullified Nover’s powerful strikes.
“I knew my wrestling was superior, and I knew that he had great stand-up,” Escudero said. “As soon as he tried to stand with me and I felt uncomfortable, I just took him down.”
Nover, who finished the bout with a strong third round, admits he felt the added pressure of being compared to two of the sport’s greatest fighters.
“This sport is all about pressure,” he said. “Anyone could have said anything negative or positive, and I just have to take it. I commented before [the fight] that I’m not the next Anderson Silva.”
UFC President Dana White lauded Nover’s skills throughout season eight, trumpeting him as one of the most talented fighters ever produced by the Spike TV reality series after he submitted three opponents -- Joe Duarte, David Kaplan and George Roop -- en route to the final.
“Dana White just liked my style because I had some good ground skills and good stand-up skills,” Nover said. “I’m just going to take that compliment. I’m not going to say it’s negative or positive or anything.”
Escudero, who trains alongside UFC veteran Drew Fickett, liked fighting in Nover’s shadow. He fit perfectly into the underdog role.
“I knew that I was the underdog, big time,” he said. “That kind of gives me motivation, because I always like to be the underdog. When you’re the underdog, you have nothing to prove. You’re expected to lose.”
Bader not one-dimensional
Ryan Bader -- a two-time All-American and three-time Pac-10 Conference champion when he wrestled at Arizona State University -- showed he was no one-trick pony at “The Ultimate Fighter 8” Finale.
Bader (8-0) dispatched four-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Vinicius Magalhaes, not with his wrestling but with his stand-up, as he scored a technical knockout over the decorated grappler in their light heavyweight final. Bader dropped Magalhaes (2-3) with an overhand right to the side of the head and then finished him with strikes on the ground.
Though it was partially deflected, the blow that sent Magalhaes to the canvas served its purpose as far as Bader was concerned.
“I felt a good part of it land,” he said. “It was deflected a little bit, but I do have a heavy right hand. I felt it hit him pretty much just square in the temple. It doesn’t really take much if you’re going to hit a person right there. It connected and went through. Right at that moment, I knew that I had hit him pretty good, and then I just followed up with it.”
UFC awards $100,000 in bonuses
Revenge came with some added cash for Anthony Johnson.
Johnson (6-2) was awarded a $25,000 “Knockout of the Night” bonus after his third-round head kick turned out Kevin Burns’ lights in their rematch at “The Ultimate Fighter 8” Finale, UFC officials announced.
The 24-year-old avenged a July loss to Burns (7-2) that resulted from an inadvertent eye poke that occurred away from the referee’s view. Johnson later underwent surgery to repair the damage to his eye and vowed to set the record straight when he met Burns again. He kept his promise.
The UFC also issued a $25,000 “Fight of the Night” bonus to Junie Allen Browning and Kaplan (2-2) and raised many an eyebrow in the process. Few saw the match between the two as competitive, as the controversial Browning (3-0) outstruck Kaplan in the first round and submitted him with an armbar in the second. Nevertheless, the two lightweights left the Palms Casino Resort a little heavier in the wallet.
Finally, International Fight League veteran Krzysztof Soszynski banked a $25,000 “Submission of the Night” bonus after he wrenched Shane Primm’s arm with a second-round kimura. Primm (1-1) winced in pain as he tapped out to the arm lock and became the Canadian’s second straight submission victim. Soszynski (16-8-1) has rattled off four wins in a row since his TKO loss to Ben Rothwell in August 2007.
This & That
Season eight fighters coached by Frank Mir went a combined 5-3 at the finale against those who trained under UFC interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. However, three of the four finalists -- Bader, Escudero and Nover -- and both winners were from Nogueira’s camp. The Brazilian will defend his interim title against Mir at UFC 92 on Dec. 27 … Since opening his professional career with an abysmal 1-3 mark, Roli Delgado has gone undefeated in his last six fights … Of the cast members who failed to reach their respective final, Eliot Marshall might be one worth keeping an eye on. The 28-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and former Ring of Fire champion has delivered five of his six victories by submission, including his first-round win over Jules Bruchez at “The Ultimate Fighter 8” Finale … American Top Team’s Wilson Gouveia became the first man in more than three years to finish Canadian veteran Jason MacDonald inside one round. His performance was overshadowed, however, by his inability to make weight for the fight … Shane Nelson, a protégé of reigning UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn, extended his winning streak to seven fights with his split decision victory over George Roop. Only Escudero (11) and Bader (8), both of whom are undefeated, have longer streaks among season eight cast members … Only 44 of the 112 fighters (39 percent) who participated on the first seven seasons of “The Ultimate Fighter” remain on the UFC roster. Where have you gone Danny Abbadi?