Most of the attention heading into UFC 162 was focused on the main card, and primarily the main event, where middleweight champion Anderson Silva put his belt on the line against unbeaten challenger Chris Weidman.
Knowing they were starting out overshadowed, the fighters on the preliminary portion of the card fought with a purpose, and the six fights yielded four finishes and two solid 15-minute scraps, including one of the fastest knockouts in UFC heavyweight history.
Stuck in the opening bout of the evening despite sporting a three-fight winning streak, welterweight Mike Pierce came away with a fourth consecutive victory and the impressive finish he needed to elevate his standing in the deep 170-pound ranks.
After a first round that featured the typical heavy amounts of grinding Pierce is known for, the Portland, Ore., native started the second in a similar fashion, pushing David Mitchell against the cage. This time, however, as the two separated, Pierce fired off a short, crisp left hand that dropped Mitchell to the canvas. He quickly followed up with a collection of hammerfists, prompting referee Steve Mazzagatti to step in.
The UFC seemed to be sending a message to Pierce by having him open the show, and that message appears to have been received. With the win, Pierce should find himself facing stiffer competition -- and off Facebook -- next time out.
Newcomer Brian Melancon made sure people would be talking about his UFC debut at the end of the night when he put away Seth Baczynski with thunderous ground-and-pound in the waning seconds of the opening round. The 31-year-old Texan landed a heavy left early in the frame that tightened Baczynski up and after dropping him again late in the frame, Melancon channeled his favourite fighter, Fedor Emelianenko, for the finish.
As the 10-second warning rang through the venue, Melancon tossed Baczynski’s legs aside and threw smoke, landing flush. He continued to pound away right to the bell, at which point Yves Lavigne called a stop to the bout. There have been a lot of strong debuts in the last two years, and you can now add Melancon’s to that list.
Lightweight Edson Barboza showed just how dangerous leg kicks can be in the opening bout of the televised preliminary card, stopping fellow Brazilian Rafaello Oliveira early in the second round after feeding his left leg a steady diet of crashing kicks. This was the second time Barboza ended a fight with leg kicks, having done the same to Mike Lullo in his UFC debut.
From the outset, it was clear that Barboza had a serious edge in the speed department, and Oliveira had no answers for the quick, constant kicks that crashed into his left knee. Barboza had a misstep last spring against Jamie Varner, but has looked very good since, with Saturday’s victory pushing his winning streak to two and moving him back to the fringes of contention in the deep and talented lightweight division.
Gabriel Gonzaga needed just 17 seconds to dispatch Dave Herman, connecting on a counter-right over the top to drop the enigmatic -- and likely soon-to-be-released -- heavyweight. Herman opened with a pair of front kicks to the body and then followed with an inside leg kick. But as he threw the kick, he dropped his hands and Napao fired back and landed on the button, dropping Herman in a heap, following him to the canvas and landing a couple additional shots as referee Kim Winslow charged in to stop the bout.
TUF “The Smashes” winner Norman Parke and Kazuki Tokudome followed up in lightweight action.
After a close opening round, Parke tied off on his Japanese opponent in the second, repeatedly landing left hands, which Tokudome seemed content to eat. Despite the onslaught, Tokudome stayed upright and came out hard in the third, offering his most consistent offense of the fight, taking the round in the eyes of many observers. It turned out to be too little, too late however, as all three judges scored the fight in favour of the Parke, giving the Northern Ireland native his 18th professional victory.
In the final bout of the preliminary card, veteran Chris Leben returned to take on athletic Texan Andrew Craig.
Though Leben was the aggressor early, Craig was the one landing the better strikes, countering as The Crippler crashed in to close the distance and circling out before getting into too much trouble. As the fight wore on, Craig continued to get the better of the exchanges and Leben’s gas tank started to run empty. The third was all Craig, as the 8-1 middleweight dropped Leben with a solid combination along the cage.
Leben survived a wild attempt by to finish, but Craig never let off the gas. Because every event has to have a fight with at least one “Are you serious?” scorecard, one judge saw the bout 29-28 for Leben. Thankfully, the other two were scoring the bout much more effectively, awarding Craig the split decision victory.