— LAS VEGAS - In some ways, the UFC and mixed martial arts need Brock Lesnar to win the UFC heavyweight title. Americans, and fight fans in general, prize the division of goliaths above all others. Just as in boxing, when the weight-class is riding high, interest follows.
And let's face it: Lesnar visually looks like everyone's ideal of a champion. He's huge (6-4, 280), isn't afraid to say exactly what's on his mind, and has already captivated a large part of the public. The world is watching tonight; celebrities like 50 Cent and World Series champion Ryan Howard are in the house; ESPN has a broadcast booth in the building, and the UFC is expecting a record 1.2 million households to pony up upwards of $45 to watch Randy Couture's return.
But the wily veteran isn't quite ready to ride off into the sunset yet. After sitting out 15 months, Couture will return to the MGM Grand Garden Arena at around 9 pm Pacific to the strains of Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle," the crowd will go wild, and then we get to find out if age has finally caught up with him.
But while the fans are rooting for Couture with their hearts, their cash is going Lesnar's way. At last check, he was a solid betting favorite at -160 despite the fact that Couture opened as the favorite with the same number two months ago.
Either the MMA world gets its next superstar tonight, or Couture adds another chapter to his remarkable legacy.
One quick note: Ultimate Fighter champ Amir Sadollah, who was originally scheduled for tonight's card before having to pull out last week with a leg infection, was released from the hospital today and is in attendance.
Round one: Maia goes for the takedown early. Quarry stops the first try, but the aggressive Maia gets the trip takedown. Bad spot for Quarry, who needs to stay out of Maia's world. Maia gets his back and the body triangle. Maia works methodically, sinks his arm under Quarry's chin and gets the tapout with the rear naked choke.
Maia is now unbeaten at 9-0.
Winner: Maia by rear naked choke
Round one: Wow. One-punch power for the former No. 1 contender Gonzaga. Out of a clinch, Gonzaga wound up and found the sweet spot. Hendricks was done before he hit the mat, but Gonzaga landed one more soht before referee Steve Mazzagatti stepped in to wave off the match. It took all of 61 seconds.
Here's your early stat of the night: the combined ages of Hazelett and McCrory (44) make them collectively younger than heavyweight champ Randy Couture (45).
Jorge Gurgel, after a rough fight in the prelims, is out and working Hazelett's corner.
Round one: McCrory out early with some good striking. Great back-and-forth grappling with Hazelett almost trapping him with an omaplata (shoulder lock). Hazelett kept working for the arm and finally hyperextended it, transitioning into a slick arm bar submission finish.
Winner: Hazelett via armbar submission.
Round one: Florian wants distance early, dancing along the perimeter of the cage, occasionally landing a punch and getting back outside, while Stevenson wants to close the distance. Stevenson initiates a clinch against the cage. Stevenson slams him down, but Florian stands right back up. They break and go back to the center of the cage midway through the round. Florian gets a trip takedown with two minutes left. He mounts with 1:25 to go. Florian gets the body triangle, cinches in the rear naked choke and finishes. Huge and convincing win for the ESPN MMA Live co-host in front of his crew.
Winner: Florian by rear naked choke
It must be noted that Florian finished Stevenson faster than B.J. Penn did, and Florian called Penn out after the fight saying, "I consider you a master. It’s time to kill that master."
Four-for-four in first-round finishes. Can Brock or Randy come through with the fifth?
Lesnar walks out to "Enter Sandman." The crowd is captivated by him, but there's no explosion for his entrance. They're saving it for Randy. Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle" fires up for him. Couture has the same placid look on his face we're used to as he walks the aisle and fans reach out to touch the legend. No extra energy wasted, just waiting to uncoil. As Michael Buffer announces the champ, the crowd lets loose the cheer they've been waiting to unleash for 15 months.
Round one: Couture clinches him agianst the cage early and looks for separation to throw offense. Lesnar bulls his way into a reversal and puts Couture against the cage. Coming off the fence, Couture lands an overhand right that stuns Lesnar momentarily. Lesnar tries the steamroll takedown, but Couture reads it and they work against the cage before Lesnar puts him down. Couture works his way out, grabs Lesnar's legs, tries to take ihis back. Lesnar muscles him off and takes Couture down again. The crowd reacts to everything and chant's "Randy, Randy." With 1:30 left, Lesnar works to half-guard and lands a couple hard lefts. Couture stands back up again. They both work the clinch as the round winds down. Close round, slight edge to Lesnar.
Round two: Lesnar rocked Couture with a punch. Couture wobbled but was able to stop the takedown as they clinched against the fence again. Great exchange, Lesnar knee followed by a Couture combo. Lesnar's cut, but responds with a left hook. Both men expending a lot of energy, one trying for the takedown, the other defending. Lesnar hurt Couture with a short right cross right behind the ear. Couture went down and Lesnar pounced, taking side control and landing a decisive series of shots as Couture tried to defend. Referee Mario Yamasaki gave Couture every chance to defend himself, but with the champ taking a beating, finally stopped the fight at 3:07 of the round, making Lesnar the UFC champion in only his fourth pro fight.
Winner: Lesnar by TKO
Round one: Thomas scores the early takedown and falls into side control. Thomas lands some shots from the top, before Brown gets to his feet. Thomas uses his superior wrestling to take Brown down, but Brown tries a triangle, then an arm bar. Thomas manages to escape. From his back, Brown manages to get up and score a trip-takedown almost simultaneously. Thomas gets up and goes for a takedowns, but Brown slaps on a guillotine. Thomas has enough energy to escape as the round winds down.
Round two: After another Thomas takedown, Brown snatches an arm and sinks in the armbar for the tapout.
Winner: Brown by armbar submission
Round one: The first half of the round was a grappling match, which favors Bocek, but as he tried to pass, Robinson was able to explode up and score a takedown of his own. He didn't do much with it and Bocek soon regained top position into side control. Bocek landed a couple of nasty elbows from the top. Bocek had a north-south choke on his opponent as the round ended.
Round two: Robinson got the better of the standup early, but it didn't last long as Bocek took him down again. He tried the north-side choke again, but Robinson defended. Bocek then got mount, took Robinson's back and looked for the rear naked choke. Bocek is a great grappler, but Robinson defended well and survived. Another round for Bocek, so Robinson will need a finish to win.
Round three: Bocek slammed Robinson down, controlling the location again. Bocek got full mount midway through and landed hard strikes. Robinson gave up his back and Bocek finally sunk in the elusive choke for the finish in a bout he dominated from start to finish.
Winner: Bocek via rear naked choke submission
Round one: After a minute of standup exchanges, Dos Anjos decided to take the fight to the ground, and after some resistance, slammed Stephens down. Dos Anjos worked to side control and then north-south position. As he tried to mount, Stephens spun him into top position, but Dos Anjos had an omaplata so still had control. Dos Anjos showed a good ground game and that likely won him the round.
Round two: Dos Anjos scored another big slam takedown and worked for Stephens' back. He transitioned to an armbar try, but Stephens pulled out and ended up in Dos Anjos' guard. Stephens had some explosiveness in the position, landing strikes and elbows in making the round a tight one.
Round three: With the uppercut of his life, Stephens changed the course of the fight. Dos Anjos was in big trouble, and Stephens followed up with a few shots on his grounded opponent, putting an end to the action and electrifying the crowd. The shot was so big it was still drawing oohs and ahhs from the crowd after five or six replays.
Winner: Stephens via TKO
Round one: These two are here to put on a show. Lots of exchanges in the early action as the two utilized every weapon in their striking arsenals. Leg kicks, body kicks, head kicks, jabs, crosses, hooks. It had a little bit of everything and both men made it through, leaving the rounds with fresh welts.
Round two: The headhunting lasted for the first two minutes, until Gurgel slipped in a corner and Riley followed him down. Gurgel ate a few punches but got back to his feet. The back-and-forth action continued. Riley landed a couple head-snappers as the round wore down but Gurgel tried to negate it with a late takedown.
Round three: Riley scored with a big headkick a minute in, and followed with a flurry of offense that had Gurgel hurt. No one should doubt Gurgel's ability to take a punch, though, as he ate everything Riley had to offer and stayed upright. Gurgel slipped on a kick with 1:45 to go and Riley pounced but wasn't able to mount much before Gurgel got upright. Gurgel tried another late takedown but was stuffed, and the crowd showed their appreciation, urging them on with 30 seconds left. The fight closed with more back-and-forth fireworks as the horn sounded.
Winner: Riley by unanimous decision