Chris Leben claimed the biggest win of his career in violent fashion. | Photo: Sherdog.com
For 25 enthralling minutes, Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber reminded everyone about what is right and good and noble about mixed martial arts. It was the sport in its purest form.
Two of the world’s premier bantamweights scrambled, wrestled, jockeyed and fought for the top prize in the 135-pound division. Cruz ultimately defended his title by unanimous decision in the UFC 132 main event on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The champion’s victory -- while undoubtedly satisfying on a personal level, as he avenged the only defeat of his career -- was not decisive enough in nature to leave a third bout with Faber out of the realm of possibility. With the bantamweight division still developing and the next No. 1 contender not yet ready for harvest, perhaps UFC matchmakers will go in that direction.
A closer look at the matches we want to see after UFC 132 “Cruz vs. Faber 2” follows:
Dominick Cruz-Urijah Faber: Every good rivalry needs a rubber match, and with these two remarkable fighters still in their respective primes, there can be no better time than now to make it happen. No one in their right mind would complain about five more rounds of combat between them.
Carlos Condit vs. Georges St. Pierre-Nick Diaz winner: Condit made a rousing statement with his brilliant performance against Dong Hyun Kim. He swept the South Korean from the bottom following a takedown, established his superiority on the feet and finished it with a magnificent flying knee and follow-up punches. In a blink, Kim was undefeated no more. Condit, the former WEC champion, may be the most complete fighter among the current crop of welterweight contenders. Takedown defense remains a concern, but his bottom game has proven so potent and reliable that he has the ability to mask that perceived weakness. St. Pierre will be heavily favored over Diaz when they meet in October. Condit deserves first crack at the winner.
Tito Ortiz vs. Rich Franklin-Antonio Rogerio Nogueira winner: The UFC had all but signed off on Ortiz’s retirement papers. However, the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” had at least one more surprise up his sleeve. The 36-year-old former champion cracked “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner Ryan Bader with a right hand, trailed him to the mat and locked in a guillotine choke for his first submission victory in more than a decade. His recent drought notwithstanding, Ortiz still pushes the needle of public interest and probably always will. He desires another rematch with Forrest Griffin, but perhaps he looms for the winner of the forthcoming match between Franklin and Nogueira, two accomplished middle-tier light heavyweights who will lock horns at UFC 133 on Aug. 6 in Philadelphia.
Chris Leben vs. Demian Maia: Leben put himself back on the right track by flattening Wanderlei Silva in 27 seconds, as he rebounded nicely from the New Year’s Day shellacking he took from Brian Stann and showed again that there are few better brawlers anywhere in MMA. Leben absorbed an early flurry from “The Axe Murderer,” clipped him with a left hook and chopped through him with uppercuts as the former Pride Fighting Championships titleholder tried in vain to clinch and recover. Silva is far from the force he was in his heyday, but it was a signature win for Leben. The middleweight division remains relatively wide open behind its longstanding champion, a fact which gives the UFC plenty of options when it comes to “The Crippler.” Chael Sonnen, Mark Munoz and Vitor Belfort would all provide stout and entertaining opposition, but Maia poses a different threat altogether. Leben has shown a vulnerability to high-level grapplers in the past. Has he closed those holes? A showdown with Maia, who lost a close, hotly contested decision to Munoz at UFC 131 in June, might go a long way towards answering that question.
Wanderlei Silva vs. Jorge Santiago: Silva’s future has never been cloudier. Clearly on the backside of his brilliant career, retirement appears to be a very real possibility for the 35-year-old Brazilian. He lasted less than 30 seconds at UFC 132 -- after a 16-month layoff -- and has lost six of his last eight fights. Silva’s style, though it has made him one of MMA’s most revered and influential figures, does not lend itself to longevity. Should he decide to continue, maybe a matchup with countrymen Santiago can find its way onto the UFC menu. Neither man has enjoyed the kind of success inside the Octagon that he has on the global stage. Silva and Santiago have combined for a 4-9 mark in the UFC.
Dennis Siver vs. Charles Oliveira: Siver won his fourth straight bout at UFC 132, but may have put doubt in the minds of those who had him higher up on the promotion’s lightweight pecking order. Matt Wiman gave the Russian-born German kickboxer all he could handle in a three-round scrap, opening cuts on Siver’s forehead with a series of second-round elbows. Siver’s takedown defense and ground game remain question marks, as does his ability to handle opponents with superior speed and athleticism. Guillard exposed him, and Oliveira was cut from the same kind of athletic cloth. The Brazilian prospect’s victory over Nik Lentz at UFC Live 4 -- which featured an illegal knee -- was overturned to a no contest by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, but he was in complete control of the fight up until the foul. The once-beaten Oliveira appears poised for a step up in competition.
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Joe Lauzon: A counter right hand put Australian grappler George Sotiropoulos on the mat and Dos Anjos back on the map in the lightweight division. The Brazilian -- perhaps best known for being on the wrong end of Jeremy Stephens’ highlight-reel knockout at UFC 91 three years ago -- has quietly pieced together a string of four wins in five bouts. Lauzon, though not the danger Sotiropoulos was on the ground, has the kind of well-rounded game that could give Dos Anjos problems. Plus, few can match his consistent level of aggression at 155 pounds.