Welcome back to Championship Rounds – your home of MMA news and opinion here on Wrestling Rambles. As 2012 draws to an end, major shows from the UFC are coming thick and fast. Today I’m looking back at one of the most entertaining fight cards ever on free TV – UFC on Fox 5 from last weekend.

I’m also going to take a look forward to the finales of both current seasons of The Ultimate Fighter (Season 16 in the US and The Smashes: UK vs. Australia) which take place this weekend. I’ll be honest, I haven’t followed either show closely. So my previews of both will be pretty basic but I’m sure both cards will be entertaining.

Plus I’ve got details on Bellator’s upcoming debut on Spike TV, as well as news of a fighter retirement and the announcement of a big rematch between two of the top young fighters in the UFC. It’s been another busy week in the world of MMA, so let’s touch gloves and do this!

Round 1: UFC on Fox 5 – Henderson schools Diaz and retains Lightweight Title.

UFC on Fox 5 was a night filled with blistering fights, young fighters moving into bona-fide star status and a strong showing in the TV ratings. With four great main card fights and a career best performance by Benson Henderson in the main event, UFC officials must have been delighted with the quality of the show inside the Octagon.

It was also good news on the ratings front (thanks to some good promotion by FOX on their NFL coverage and the Title fight) as the show averaged 4.4 million viewers over the two hour broadcast, with a peak of 5.7 million viewers during the main event between Henderson and Nate Diaz.

Most importantly, for the UFC and their advertising partners, the show scored a 4.0 rating among the coveted 18-49 male demographic and a 3.5 among 18-34 males. Good news all round.

Impressively the rating trended upwards throughout the night. The opening bout between Mike Swick and Matt Brown kicked the show off at an average of 3.6 million viewers. The show peaked with the Henderson vs. Diaz main event at 5.7 million. Combine that with the viewers watching on the Spanish language Fox channel and the main event was watched by in excess of 6 million people.

All the main card fights delivered in terms of action. In the opener, Matt Brown was the comprehensive winner over a very gaunt and weak looking Mick Swick. Brown dominated the first round standing, had two close submission attempts and generally beat Swick in all facets of the fight. In the second round he connected early with a vicious combination that knocked Swick out cold before he hit the ground.

Swick has suffered from serious stomach related health problems that kept him out of the Octagon for over two years. During the fight he looked slow and lacked aggression, eerily similar to how he looked before he took his health enforced sabbatical. Here’s hoping it was just a bad night for Swick and not a return of his medical problems. Matt Brown impressed many with the manner of his victory and is now riding a four fight win streak in the UFC.

In one of the most lopsided beatings of the year, young Canadian fighting protégé (and extremely snappy dresser) Rory MacDonald took legendary former two weight World Champion BJ Penn to pieces over three rounds. This bout quickly became a showcase for MacDonald who employed crisp striking combinations and excellent kicks throughout. Looking back it’s difficult to even class this as a fight. It was more like a super intense sparring session for MacDonald against a guy two weight classes below him. Penn had no answer to anything MacDonald threw at him. MacDonald’s showboating at the end of the fight didn’t do him any favours with the crowd who were very vocal in their support of Penn (the most over guy on the card by some distance).

Penn, despite being at a significant size and strength disadvantage, did try to bring the fight to MacDonald. Every time he did the crowd went insane. However the speed and snap has long since left BJ and MacDonald was never in trouble during the fight. Penn became a walking punch bag and looked to be done in the 2nd round when MacDonald ripped another vicious left uppercut to the ribs (his main form of attack during the fight). Penn refused to buckle when many other fighters would have and was able to gut it out to take the fight the distance. But this was as one sided a beating as you will see in UFC.

After beating an icon of the sport in Penn in such a comprehensive fashion, MacDonald has now pushed himself into the star category that few fighters ever achieve in their career, never mind at the tender age of 23. If MacDonald maintains his very heelish persona, he could be a huge star for the promotion as people will pay to see him get beaten up. Although not many fighters will actually be able to do that, given how skilled he is.

Post fight MacDonald, doing his very best dead eyed, emotionless cyborg impression, called out the only man to have beaten him in his career – Carlos Condit. More on that in Round 5!

In the semi-main event Alexander Gustafsson earned a unanimous points victory over former Light Heavyweight Champion Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua. This was a typical Shogun fight of the last few years – exciting and compelling but ultimately Shogun faded and was outworked by an opponent with superior conditioning and movement. While Shogun stood in front of Gustafsson and looked for a one punch finish, the lanky Swede used kicks, knees and clinch work to take the fight away from a game and determined Shogun.

Pre fight Dana White had stated that an impressive win for either man would secure them a Light Heavyweight Title shot against Jon Jones next year. While Gustafsson did earn the win and technically looked extremely competent, I wouldn’t consider the win impressive enough to earn a Title shot. I had Shogun winning the first round and Gustafsson didn’t finish the fight when he was dominating late on. That said, there are only a select few fighters on the planet that have ever finished Shogun. Gustafsson is a great fighter, but he needs another impressive win against a top contender before he takes on someone as skilled and dynamic as Jones.

In the main event of the night Benson Henderson proved why he is the King of the UFC’s 155lbs division as he systematically dismantled a tough but ultimately out of his depth Nate Diaz over five rounds. This was the best performance of Henderson’s career to date, two judges awarded him two 10-8 rounds during the fight – which is virtually unheard of. It also served as a wake up call to any fans who doubted the man’s skills or his place as Lightweight Champion.

The main story of the fight was Henderson’s sick low leg kicks which took away Diaz’s boxing base. Alongside the traditional low kicks, Henderson also employed a technique I haven’t seen in the UFC before – straight jabs to the knee and thigh. He basically gave Diaz the mother of all dead legs and at times landed four or five straight punched in a row to the top of Diaz’s knee which eventually buckled from all the punishment towards the end of the fight. This was an expert performance of game plan execution by Henderson who simply nullified every attack of Diaz, while all the time forcing him to fight Henderson’s style of fight – one he would never be in a position to win.

While this was a masterful performance by Henderson it has transpired that he fought with a damn tooth pick in his mouth – yes, a tooth pick. Don’t ask me why. It doesn’t seem like the smartest thing to do. I doubt he’ll do it again (his coach will probably kill him if he does) because it’s ridiculously dangerous for both him (choking on the damn thing) and his opponent (getting it in his eye).

Toothpick scandal aside Henderson’ star has risen considerably as this performance came in front of over 6 million people on national TV. Despite flipping Henderson off mid fight and trash talking for the full 25 minutes, Diaz acquitted himself well. As soon as the fight was over Nate offered his hand and congratulated Henderson as the better man. Take note Nick – that’s how you handle a defeat. A classy performance by both guys and with Benson Henderson on top of the talent rich 155lbs division, 2013 is shaping up to be the biggest year of this extremely talented young fighter’s career.

UFC on Fox 5 delivered all fronts. With young fighters making their mark in front of a big national TV audience and a Lightweight Champion who has showcased his skills to the wider UFC audience, this has to be considered as one of the most successful UFC on Fox events of the year. The show was a great end to what has been a bumpy first year in the UFC/Fox partnership and the perfect launching pad into UFC stardom for both Rory MacDonald and Benson Henderson.

Round 2 – Spike TV announce first Bellator show dates and fights.

A few weeks ago someone left a comment asking if there were any other MMA promotions out there besides the UFC. Unfortunately because I’m a lazy asshole I didn’t reply. Well whoever left that comment, today’s your lucky day because I’m going to finally answer your question!

The MMA marketplace is very similar to the pro-wrestling market place – with one well established brand name promotion having 90% or more of the market share and being the name the public associates with the industry. You say MMA to someone and they might not understand what you mean, you say UFC and they immediately know what you’re talking about.

Bellator are looking to break into the market and have been quietly going about their business for a few years. They’re now making their biggest move to date as January sees Bellator shift from MTV2 to Spike TV – the original TV home of The Ultimate Fighter, as well as TNA’s Impact Wrestling. The business model Spike are following with Bellator is exactly the same as they used to launch UFC back in 2005, namely to use pro wrestling as the lead in to the MMA show. In that case Raw was the lead in show to season one of TUF, which gave TUF an instant fan base of disgruntled and disillusioned WWE fans who felt the WWE TV product was no longer for them. The rest is history.

Bellator differs from the UFC in one key area, instead of monthly fight cards, they present 12 week seasons, where fighters compete in a tournament format to earn a shot at the reigning champion. It’s an interesting approach but Bellator have found it difficult to cultivate a fan base or secure any significant brand awareness against the global juggernaught that is UFC.

This week Spike TV and Bellator announced that Bellator’s 12-week season eight launches on Spike TV on Thursday 17th January 2013 at 10 pm. The Thursday night slot will be the promotion’s home for the duration of the season and will air live directly after TNA Impact.

Bellator kicks off its run on Spike in a big way, as Bellator 85 will open with a featherweight title fight between champion Pat Curran and Patricio “Pitbull” Freire and headlining the card will be Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler as he puts his belt on the line against tournament winner Rick Hawn.

One of the biggest names in Bellator and a man you’re all going to start hearing and seeing a lot more of in TNA is former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion ‘King’ Mo Lawal. He will make his Bellator debut on 24th January. Spike are going all out with their hype for King Mo. A TV special covering his joint wrestling/MMA training will air directly after the 17th January show and will be repeated several times in prime time to build his debut fight.

There will also be other Bellator programming on Spike with taped matches, preview shows, personality specials and a reality show. This will be a real test of Bellator’s format and also a chance to see if another company can break through into the mainstream where MMA is concerned. It will be a long and slow process for Bellator to challenge UFC as the number one company in MMA. However this deal with Spike TV is a big first step towards that ultimate goal. Competition is good for any sport and Bellator seem to be the main group looking to challenge UFC’s dominance. You can expect more Bellator reviews here in 2013.

Round 3 – Mark Hominick announces retirement.

In sad news former UFC Featherweight Title contender Mark Hominick has announced his retirement. Hominick amassed a career record of 20-12 and gained huge respect when he challenged UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo at UFC 129. While Hominick lost a unanimous decision, he showed incredible guts and determination and pushed Aldo further than any fighter has before or since.

Unfortunately tragedy would strike for Hominick soon after the biggest fight of his career, when his long-time trainer and best man at his wedding, Shawn Tompkins suffered a fatal heart attack on August 14th. He was 37 years old. Hominick lost every fight after the death of his close friend and while he has never used it as an excuse, such a loss must have had a severe effect on not just his sporting career but his life in general. Hominick’s last fight was in front of his fellow countrymen in Canada at UFC 154 where he lost a very one sided decision to Pablo Garza.

Hominick, 30, made the announcement on Fuel TV this week and commented as follows:

“I truly got to live my passion and follow my dreams by competing in mixed martial arts, especially under the Zuffa banner. But UFC 154, that’s the last fight I’ll be in the Octagon, as I’m retiring and looking to move on to the next phase of my career.”

Hominick will now be able to spend more time with his wife and young daughter and hopefully he can enjoy a long and happy retirement from the sport which he has given most of his adult life to.

Round 4 – The Ultimate Fighter Finale Weekend goes global.

The Gold Coast Exhibition and Conference Centre in Queensland, Australia is the site for the finale to The Smashes – Team UK vs. Team Australia. The show will take place on Saturday 15th December and is headlined by what should be a very heated clash at 155lbs between coaches Ross Pearson and George Sotiropolous. I’ll be cheering on my fellow Brit Pearson in what should be a red hot atmosphere in Queensland. Pearson is looking to become the second Brit after Michael Bisping to win a season of TUF as a competitor and a coach.

In the completion itself, Brad Scott carries British hopes in the welterweight division against Robert Whittaker, while Northern Ireland’s Norman Parke will meet England’s Colin Fletcher at lightweight.

The four-fight main card also includes a very interesting clash between the much hyped Hector Lombard and leg submission specialist and somewhat eccentric, Rousimar Palhares. In his debut fight Lombard failed to deliver on any of the hype that preceded his arrival in the UFC. He will be looking to make a significant statement against the very dangerous Palhares and prove he can live up to the hype.

Across the Pacific on the same day, season 16 of TUF comes to a conclusion with the finale at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The main event is a heavyweight bout between Roy Nelson and Matt Mitrione. Shane Carwin was supposed to fight Nelson, but was replaced by Mitrione after he injured his knee.

As I shamefully admitted to, I haven’t been following this season of TUF at all. Nelson is one of the most annoying and boring coaches in TUF history. Carwin hardly says anything of interest and offered even less insight into fighting than Nelson. Without interesting and compelling coaches on TUF it’s critical the fights deliver. After four episodes of boring fights, I gave up on the season and from the reports I’ve read, I really didn’t miss much. Hopefully the finale (which is a great show on paper) will make up for the lacklustre season.

The welterweight series winner will be decided as Mike Ricci (training partner and best friend of Rory MacDonald) will take on Colton Smith. Pat Barry clashes with Shane El Rosario at Heavyweight (Barry is never usually in a boring fight) and one of the best comeback stories of the year continues as Jamie Varner takes on explosive striker, Melvin Guillard. That fight is my pick for fight of the night.

Round 5 – Carlos Condit vs. Rory MacDonald rematch is official.

When a big name fighter calls out another big name fighter, the UFC usually moves quickly to make the fight official. This time Rory MacDonald has been granted his wish of a rematch against Carlos Condit. After MacDonald called Condit out in the aftermath of his one sided beating of BJ Penn, the rumour mill went into over drive that Condit would indeed accept a rematch with the Canadian cyborg. For once, the rumour mill was right.

It appears the UFC is planning a huge card in March in Toronto, headlined by Canada’s two favourite sons, with Georges St-Pierre v Nick Diaz tentatively scheduled for the main event and MacDonald v Condit confirmed this week.

Condit is coming off a fight of the year performance in his loss to GSP and a rematch with MacDonald is a clash of two of the best young fighters in the UFC. Their first fight was tremendous with MacDonald dominating the first two rounds, almost finishing Condit, before he gassed and Condit came back to win the fight with seven seconds left in the third round. That win kicked off Condit’s winning streak that lead him to a Title shot against GSP.

MacDonald has made it clear that the loss to Condit is a huge black mark on his career. If his serial killer-esque promo after his win against Penn is anything to go by, this fight will be intense, technical and in front of a partisan Canadian crowd it has the potential to be one of the best fights of 2013. MacDonald isn’t guaranteed a win here, Condit is no joke and he will present a much tougher and dangerous opponent than Penn. A win for the young Canadian though and things get very interesting, as he will move into Title contention – for a title currently held by his mentor and training partner GSP.

Like I said earlier, another busy week in MMA. I think that’ll do for Championship Round this week. Be sure to join me again next week for more big news in the world of MMA.

If you’re so inclined, you can follow me on Twitter which is @MFXDuckman. You can also hear me and my partner in crime Sir Ian Trumps every week on the Marks for Xcellence podcast, where we take an alternative look at the week in WWE and TNA. You can find all the details for the show on the Wrestling Rambles podcast page or over at http://www.mfxpodcast.com. It’s funnier than Aces and Eights and more spectacular than a Dolph Ziggler bump.

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