Stay with us tonight as I'll have coverage of the three-fight main card on Fox featuring Chris Weidman vs. Demian Maia in a middleweight bout, Chael Sonnen taking on Michael "The Count" Bisping to determine the #1 contender for Anderson Silva's title, and, in the main event, "Sugar" Rashad Evans battling "Mr. Wonderful" Phil Davis in a five round fight with light-heavyweight title implications. MMATorch Editor-in-Chief Jamie Penick and columnists Rich Hansen and Shawn Ennis are live in the United Center in Chicago tonight, so keep an eye out for their unique live perspective in our post-fight coverage. The Fox fights start at 8p.m. (EST), so don't miss a minute of the action!
-The Fox open starts our proceedings. Kurt Menefee's voice narrates shots of the crowd as well as the arrivals of tonight's main event fighters in Rashad Evans and Phil Davis before we go to a (slightly over dramatic) video package hyping the show. It still feels like I'm about to watch football when they play the Fox music. We see Menefee's lovely mug and find out he's joined by UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, and current light-heavyweight kingpin Jon "Bones" Jones hosting tonight's card. Bones gives a little breakdown of the main event. They discuss the late injury shake-up to the card, and Couture says Sonnen having to adjust to a markedly different opponent might be a problem. Jones says Weidman was already in great shape and was ready to step up and seize his opportunity. Time to pay the bills.
Time to introduce and break down the first fight. Jon Jones thinks Chris Weidman can use his wrestling and submission defense to play top control and dominate a positional battle. I happen to agree. He also says he could use a Randy Couture strategy and try to win the clinch game and turn it ugly. Good stuff from the champ so far. Couture pimps the wrestling background as the best for MMA. Its a closed debate at this point.
FIGHT ONE: DEMIAN MAIA VS. CHRIS WEIDMAN (MIDDLEWEIGHT)
ROUND ONE:Herb Dean presiding. Both guys come out pawing jabs and looking to be aggressive, but nothing significant lands in the first two minutes. This might be one of those "bad kickboxing by two badass grapplers" kinda fights. Weidman lands a nice body kick. Weidman finally pushes forward with punches, gets a hold of Maia and gets a takedown. Two seconds later Maia is back up. No real grappling yet. End round one.
PELKEY'S SCORECARD: 10-9 Weidman. He landed more and was the aggressor on the feet. The takedown didn't mean much.
ROUND TWO: Weidman comes out looking for takedowns early. He gets one and moves into side control,but Maia is back up to his feet. Maia is losing this fight by being one dimensional on the feet. Weidman is mixing things up, landing his jab effectively, and is landing some solid body kicks. It hasn't been a star making performance so far by any means, but its been effective and encouraging. Weidman throws a head kick that's partially blocked with a little over a minute left. He shoots in and presses Maia against the cage. Maia lands a kick on the separation. Weidman gets another takedown with under thirty seconds left. Maia tries to get back to his feet and Weidman almost takes his back. That would've been a statement. Round over.
PELKEY'S SCORECARD: 10-9 Weidman. More of the same and he really turned it on with about a minute left in the round.
ROUND THREE: Maia gives up a takedown early, almost seemingly just to try something different. Weidman doesn't do any damage of note, but he still spent the time on top. Back to the feet and Weidman lands a nice two punch combo. Maia shoots in for a takedown of his own, but Weidman's sprawl is too good. With two minutes left the crowd voices its disapproval at the ever slowing pace of this fight. Both guys are throwing everything they have, but they're both exhausted. By and large its been that sloppy kick-boxing fight we feared. Joe Rogan gives the unusually negative opinion that neither guy is striking fear in the heart of the rest of the 185lb. division. Round over. Fight over.
PELKEY'S SCORECARD: 10-10. Nobody asserted themselves as better in that round. Lots of sloppy, slow strikes. Weidman had the takedown, but Maia probably landed just a hair more on the feet. Still should be Weidman's fight though.
WINNER: Chris Weidman by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
STAR RATING: (**-) Not a terrible fight by any means, but certainly sloppy and underwhelming based on the talent in the cage. Not the way the UFC wanted to kick off the second go-round on Fox.
RAMIFICATIONS: Maia is still a high level middleweight, but he won't ever sniff another title shot unless he starts ripping arms off in his next six fight. Weidman took the fight on short notice and beat a higher ranked opponent. He looked gassed later in the fight, but it was a good test to see where he's at. With a full training camp dedicated towards a specific opponent, I still think he's near the top ten. Seriously, where is Alan Belcher?
-A Chael Sonnen straight-outta-pro-wrasslin' promo sends us to a commercial break.
The "studio" guys break down the fight and its time to do the damn thing. Bruce Buffer time!
FIGHT TWO: CHAEL SONNEN VS. MICHAEL BISPING (MIDDLEWEIGHT)
ROUND ONE: Big John in charge. Sonnen charges forward immediately and gets the takedown. No surprise. Bisping getting right back to his feet is though. Sonnen keeps pressing forward. Nice trip takedown by Chael finds him in half guard. He postures up and starts his assault. Bisping finds enough space to get back to his feet, but Sonnen is still on him. Bisping drops down for a takedown, but Chael chuckles to himself and shrugs it off. Now Bisping presses his foe to the cage. They finally separate and Bisping misses with a spinning wheel kick. Sonnen brings it back to the cage. Bisping reverses and spends some time doing clinch work. Separated again and Bisping lands some punches. He misses another spinning kick, but looks like the aggressor as the round ends.
PELKEY'S SCORECARD: 10-9 Sonnen. Bisping really came on towards the end, but Sonnen controlled the grappling enough to edge it. Close round though.
ROUND TWO: Bisping comes out right where he left off confident and aggressive. He's landing jabs and crosses left and right. They clinch against the cage again, but its Bisping in the advantageous position, clearly winning the clinch war. Seriously, what is happening here. Sonnen finally gets a much needed takedown, but doesn't do much damage and finds himself back in a standing position before too long. More shots from Bisping. Sonnen looks battered and tired. Bisping tries the spinning kick yet again before the bell sounds.
PELKEY'S SCORECARD: 10-9 Bisping. That first round is gonna be key if this goes to a decision. Sonnen needs to win the third for sure though.
ROUND THREE: Realizing his predicament, Sonnen shoots for a power double early and gets the takedown. Bisping has been defending beautifully all fight, but Sonnen finally seems to be wearing on him. Sonnen works around and eventually takes the back. He looks for the rear naked, but Bisping defends. He rolls over and gives up mount. Sonnen can't do much with the position and Bisping recovers half guard. He finally works back to his feet and finally gets a takedown of his own on Sonnen as the fight ends. Yeesh this is gonna be close.
PELKEY'S SCORECARD: 10-9 Sonnen. As clear a round for him as the second was for Bisping. He finally showed off his superior grappling here. Its all about that first round.
WINNER: Chael Sonnen by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
STAR RATING: (***) Not the classic I was hoping for, and not the dominant performance by either the UFC was hoping for to promote Anderson Silva's next fight, but a really good fight nonetheless. The 30-27 score was fishy to say the least as Bisping clearly took the second and had an argument for the first, but I agreed with the winner.
RAMIFICATIONS: Well Chael obviously moves on to the Anderson Silva fight now. He ignored Joe Rogan in the post fight and went right back to the pro wrestling schtick. He called himself the greatest fighter in the world. Um...not after that performance. Give Bisping tons of credit though. He just keeps getting better and better. Despite the loss on his ledger that might've been a career best performance. He validated himself as a top-5 middleweight in this fight. Before Chael came out in the final round and dominated with his wrestling, I was all ready to write about Michael Bisping's brilliant performance in pulling off a huge upset. As is, he shouldn't be more than two wins from being right back in this same position again.
A video package airs hyping the main event.
As if this show wasn't already destined to be labeled a disappointment, this just in: unless we get a finish to the main event, and this one seemed MOST likely to go to a decision in the first place, this show is gonna run long. Its not a huge deal because people should know by now that live sporting events don't always fit into the window of time they're allotted, but it ain't a positive either. We do get fighter entrances for the main event though. So we do have that going for us, which is nice. Jon Jones has the line of the night. When asked what the key to victory for Rashad Evans was, Jones replied, "Don't fight me". Such honesty from the champ.
FIGHT THREE: RASHAD EVANS VS. PHIL DAVIS (LIGHT-HEAVYWEIGHT)
ROUND ONE: Dean in charge again. Phil Davis looks fluid and comfortable on his feet early landing numerous kicks and avoiding the attacks of Evans. Davis stumbles into a takedown attempt which Rashad slowly but surely works his way out of. Davis keeps pressing forward with takedown attempts to no avail. They separate and Davis goes back to landing kicks. Rashad gets a takedown and lands in half guard. He passes to side control and gets a mounted crucifix. He lands some punches, but the round ends that way.
PELKEY'S SCORECARD 10-9 Evans. Davis looked good early, but Rashad closed strong and had both the most dominant position and did the most damage in the round.
ROUND TWO: Davis looks less fluid and less crisp in his stand-up to start round two, but it doesn't cost him in the first minute and a half. They clinch for a bit mid cage, but neither gains a real advantage. Rashad lands a couple punches and presses forward, getting Davis's back against the cage. They separate and Davis lands a body kick. Rashad is really starting to take over with his punches. He catches a Davis body kick and plants him on the mat. Rashad does a little damage from half guard and the round ends.
PELKEY'S SCORECARD: 10-9 Evans. Another good round for the veteran. He's controlling the action, getting timely takedowns, and doing damage from the top.
ROUND THREE: Davis shoots for a real, live takedown about a minute in and gets a hold of a single. He keeps working it for almost a full minute, never really completing the takedown, and eventually Rashad reverses and ends up on top. He takes Davis's back, but quickly they're back to the feet, clinched against the fence. Davis drops down desperately for a takedown, but Rashad just holds his head and delivers some big shots. Davis gets back up and catches Rashad off balance, finally scoring the takedown. He spends a little time on top, but can't do anything with it. Rashad works back to his feet before the rounds ends.
PELKEY'S SCORECARD: 10-9 Evans. Davis finally got the takedown, but couldn't do anything with it. The rest of the round was Evans in control, doing damage.
ROUND FOUR: I'd say Davis should just go balls to the wall trying for takedowns, but he hasn't shown the ability to take advantage of them when he's gotten them thus far. Barring something freaky, I don't see his path to victory here. Evans is winning the stand-up exchanges. He lands a stiff jab. Rashad gets a front headlock and presses Davis against the cage. Davis lands a couple nice knees from the clinch and they separate. Davis looks for a single leg, but Evans defends well. He ends up taking Davis' back in a scramble, but Davis stands up. Back to the cage. Rashad lands a big right hand with ten seconds left, but misses on his follow up flurry as the horn sounds.
PELKEY'S SCORECARD: 10-9 Evans. Rinse and repeat. The outcome of this fight seems inevitable.
ROUND FIVE: A minute in, Rashad catches a Phil Davis body kick and lends a right that drops Davis. Evans follows down looking to flurry to a finish but Davis survives. Evans keeps pouring on the punishment as Davis tries to work to a better position. With two minutes left, they're back to the feet. Rashad lands another big right that hurts Davis, and Davis drops down for another desperation takedown attempt. Rashad easily stuffs and they're back to the feet. Rashad tries to let his hands go to close strong, but neither guy can find the mark. Fight over.
WINNER: Rashad Evans by unanimous decision (50-45x3)
STAR RATING: (**) About as tedious of a performance as many worried, but Rashad impressed here. It wasn't exciting, but he was on another level as an MMA fighter tonight. His workrate was low as usual, but he displayed a well-rounded, complete game here.
RAMIFICATIONS: Well, everything is pretty cut and dry here. Rashad comes to MY hometown in April to finally get his hands on Jon Jones. Tonight will be seen as a disappointment in terms of fight quality, but it accomplished what the UFC needed in terms of pay-per-view business. It sets up two of the potentially three huge pay-per-view fights (with GSP-Diaz the other, provided Nick Diaz can topple Carlos Condit next week) in Rashad Evans-Jon Jones, and Chael Sonnen-Anderson Silva II. As for Phil Davis, he just wasn't ready for this fight. He's still a high-level prospect, but let tonight be proof that he's at least two years away from being ready for this opportunity again.
That's it for the fights. They send it back up to the "studio" for a quick wrap-up and the show ends over 20 minutes after the top of the hour.
Thanks for sticking with us tonight. Check back later for full post-fight coverage here on MMATorch.com.