Naturally, the main talking points coming out of UFC 154 is the return of Georges St-Pierre, his subsequent victory, and the looming possibility of a super-fight with Anderson Silva. It’s perfectly understandable given that St-Pierre delivered an awesome performance, especially if you factor in that it was his first fight in more than 18 months, and he had his knee rebuilt a year ago.
He deserves to be the top story, but he’s not the only story. Saturday night’s return to Montreal featured a number of additional strong performances, and those athletes deserve some recognition too.
Here are the breakthrough performers from UFC 154.
Some people might have thought Johny Hendricks starching Jon Fitch in December was a fluke — a lucky punch, a one-time thing. No one can think that now, as Hendricks walked into the Octagon on Saturday night and delivered a performance that was — to quote Mike Goldberg — “virtually identical” to his win over Fitch against Martin Kampmann.
“Bigg Rigg” blasted Kampmann with a thunderous left hand that sent the Dutchman crashing to the canvas in a heap, and earned Hendricks his third Knockout of the Night bonus in five fights. If there were any doubts about his power or his candidacy as a contender in the welterweight division, his fifth straight victory and second blistering finish of a top-10 welterweight in three fights should erase them.
Hendricks should stick around the top tier of the division for the foreseeable future, and this should be the bout that convinces people he’s a viable threat in the division.
Rafael dos Anjos
Mark Bocek has lost a handful of fights in the UFC before, but no one had manhandled him the way Rafael dos Anjos did in Montreal, and that’s saying something considering Bocek has been in there with lightweight champion Benson Henderson.
The 28-year-old Brazilian dominated his Canadian counterpart from start to finish, stuffing takedowns at every attempt, countering with strong grappling of his own, and picking Bocek apart on the feet in spurts. It was a thoroughly one-sided contest, and the best dos Anjos has looked to date.
Fighting in the lightweight division is akin to swimming in shark-infested waters, but dos Anjos seems to be getting more comfortable sharing space with dangerous opposition. He keeps improving, and looked outstanding Saturday night. Now he needs to follow up on this effort with another sterling performance next time out.
Pablo Garza had his back against the wall heading into his battle with Mark Hominick, and while the Thamesford, Ont., native was able to hang tough throughout, “The Scarecrow” delivered a strong enough performance to not only escape the chopping block, but also establish himself as an intriguing prospect in the division.
After getting stung midway through the first, Garza took the fight to the ground and controlled the action. His length makes him especially dangerous because he’s able to posture up and connect without ever being in too much danger, and that’s just what he did against Hominick.
He’s hinted at a drop to bantamweight, which would make him even more intriguing moving forward, as he’d be an even bigger, lankier problem to deal for the opposition. Should be interesting to see what happens with him in 2013, and after his performance on Saturday, more people will surely be paying attention.
Coming off a tepid performance against Mike Easton, Ivan Menjivar got thrown in with a dangerous up-and-comer on the online prelims, a potentially rough assignment for an under-appreciated veteran. It turned out to be a breakthrough performance for Menjivar, who used great hips to secure a belly-down armbar on Azamat Gashimov in the opening round of the second fight of the night.
“The Pride of El Salvador” was active from the second Gashimov put him on his back to start the fight, threatening with submissions the whole time. After missing the first attempt, Menjivar was quick to connect on the second attempt, earning his fourth win in five appearances since shifting to the UFC.
He remains a dangerous member of the bantamweight division, and has the all-around game to be a tough out for anyone he steps in with in the future. This was a very good win for one of Canada’s most seasoned MMA vets.
Don’t look now, but Darren Elkins is a contender in the featherweight division. “The Damage” has won four straight since moving down to the 145-pound weight class, earning the most recent of those victories Saturday night in Montreal by halting the three-fight winning streak of Steven Siler.
Elkins was dominant throughout, controlling the action on the ground with his wrestling, threatening with submissions in the second, and outworking the former Ultimate Fighter contestant from start to finish.
Talent keeps arriving in the featherweight division, and Elkins is now very much in the mix near the top of the class. After this win, he should definitely earn a step up in competition — and a promotion from Facebook.
E. Spencer Kyte is a regular contributor to ufc.com, UFC Magazine, and Fight Magazine, and writes the MMA blog Keyboard Kimura. Follow him on Twitter @spencerkyte.