B.J. Penn file photo: Sherdog.com
Sandwiched between two blockbuster matchups -- Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez at UFC 121 and Georges St. Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck at UFC 124 -- was the showdown between former light heavyweight champions Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Lyoto Machida at UFC 123 on Saturday at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich.
The event, buoyed by a strong co-main event, figures to exceed 500,000 pay-per-view buys. However the bout pitting Jackson and Machida was overshadowed to a certain extent. George Sotiropoulos moved one step closer to a lightweight title shot; Phil Davis continued his transition from prospect to contender; and hall of famer Matt Hughes made what may have been his final appearance inside the Octagon.
Analysis follows for the five main card bouts at UFC 123.
George Sotiropoulos def. Joe Lauzon -- Submission (Kimura) 2:43 R2
What happened: Lauzon came out of the gates quickly, displaying good boxing and takedown defense, as he sprawled and brawled his way to an early advantage. After squandering much of the opening stanza, Sotiropoulos found his rhythm in the second. Lauzon had lost his momentum after setting a frantic pace in the first five minutes, which allowed the Australian to score with a takedown with three minutes to go in round two.
Lauzon had earned the reputation as an above-average ground fighter in the UFC lightweight division, but it was clear he was in trouble once an elite-level black belt like Sotiropoulos put him on the mat. The 33-year-old Aussie transitioned from side control to the North-South position, ending the “Fight of the Night” with a painful Kimura on Lauzon’s left arm.
Forecast for Sotiropoulos: UFC President Dana White revealed he will take on Russian-born German Dennis Siver at UFC 127 on Feb. 27 in Sydney, Australia. The classic striker-versus- grappler confrontation could put Sotiropoulos in position to challenge for the UFC lightweight crown.
Forecast for Lauzon: He remains popular with fans and the UFC brass, but he lacks the polished skills necessary to beat the upper-tier fighters in the lightweight division. At 26, time is on his side. Possible future opponents for Lauzon include Kurt Pellegrino, Terry Etim or Rafael Dos Anjos.
Phil Davis def. Tim Boetsch -- Submission (Kimura) 2:55 R2
What happened: After going the distance twice in his first three Octagon appearances, Davis delivered a performance that could elevate his status from prospect to contender. The amateur wrestling standout was never in trouble in the bout. A Lloyd Irvin protégé, he dominated the stand-up portion of the fight with crisp kicks to the legs and body and naturally capitalized on his advantage in the wrestling and grappling departments.
The end for Boetsch came when Davis took him down with a double-leg, shook off his half-hearted guillotine choke attempt and passed to side control. From there, he controlled one of Boetsch’s arms, looking more like a police officer than a martial artist. After twisting it behind Boetsch’s back with one hand, Davis reached around his opponent’s waist with his free arm and connected his hands for a unique kimura setup that forced the tapout 2:55 into the second round.
Forecast for Davis: “Mr. Wonderful” has improved each time he has stepped into the Octagon, a testament to his skills and shrewd matchmaking from UFC matchmaker Joe Silva. After fighting on a main card for the first time in his career, Davis’ stock seems certain to rise. Reasonable challenges at this stage could come from Luis Arthur Cane, Stanislav Nedkov or Ricardo Romero.
Forecast for Boetsch: Now 3-3 in the UFC during his two stints with the promotion, “The Barbarian” has developed a habit of alternating wins and losses inside the Octagon.
If he avoids the chopping block, matchups against Cyrille Diabate, Jared Hamman or former WEC light heavyweight champion Steve Cantwell could prove competitive and fun.
Maiquel Jose Falcao Goncalves def. Gerald Harris -- Decision (Unanimous)
What happened: Goncalves needed just two short spurts late in the first round and early in the second to end Harris’ 10-fight winning streak. An excellent flurry of punches and knees dropped Harris in the opening stanza, and only the bell saved the “Hurricane” from what likely would have been a fight-ending rear-naked choke from Goncalves. The scenario repeated itself in the second round, with Harris surviving on pure fortitude.
Instead of going for the kill -- something he had achieved in 24 of his previous 25 victories -- Goncalves switched gears and coasted through the third round of the fight. The Chute Boxe Academy product looked calm and collected, while Harris appeared flustered and frustrated. Neither man did much in the third, and the Detroit crowd, having grown restless, booed mercilessly.
Forecast for Goncalves: Despite dominating when he engaged, “Big Rig” seems certain to have angered UFC brass by playing it far too safe when he had Harris on the ropes in the second round. He figures to receive an even sterner test in his sophomore appearance, perhaps from a returning Alan Belcher, American Top Team’s Alessio Sakara or “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 11 alum Chris Camozzi.
Forecast for Harris: After seven straight finishes, three of them in the UFC, he had quietly put together a nice run that could have led to some marquee matchups. Unfortunately for Harris, he failed in his pay-per-view debut. Now, the 31-year-old Oklahoman returns to the drawing board and likely the undercard, perhaps against Ryan Jensen, Rob Kimmons or Tom Lawlor.
B.J. Penn def. Matt Hughes -- KO (Punches) 0:21 R1
What happened: From the opening bell, Penn went after Hughes. He landed a couple of punches, caught a kick and dropped him with a straight right hand, knocking the hall of famer silly on the ground.
Forecast for Penn: UFC President revealed post-fight that Penn will face former welterweight title contender Jon Fitch at UFC 127 on Feb. 27 in Sydney, Australia. It will mark Penn’s sixth UFC appearance at 170 pounds.
Forecast for Hughes: Anything is possible for the former welterweight king, ranging from retirement to a third fight with Dennis Hallman.
Quinton Jackson def. Lyoto Machida -- Split Decision
What happened: “Rampage” did not, as many believed he would, stand flat-footed in front of Machida and provide an easy target. Instead, he moved well on his feet and changed angles with regularity. After eating a few low kicks, Jackson came in swinging, clinched Machida against the cage and belted the Brazilian with an uppercut as he exited. Machida landed more shots, but Rampage controlled the cage.
In the second round, the former Pride Fighting Championships superstar did an even better job at bridging the distance into the clinch, where he seemed most comfortable fighting the Brazilian. Midway through the round, Jackson took down Machida, but the karateka popped right back up to his feet. Overall, Rampage controlled where the fight took place and landed a couple of solid uppercuts and knees from the clinch.
Machida dominated Jackson in the final stanza. After a wild exchange of punches, the Brazilian delivered his own takedown, advanced position from side control to full mount and threatened with an armbar attempt. The decision, a split nod for Jackson, was greeted by visible surprise from the victor.
Forecast for Jackson: To stay busy until light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Rashad Evans square off in March, Rampage needs another fight. He suggested an immediate rematch with Machida. Other possible foes include the winners from the Forrest Griffin-Rich Franklin and Ryan Bader-Jon Jones bouts in February.
Forecast for Machida: After two consecutive defeats, Machida will have to rebuild his image if he plans on competing in high-profile bouts. Intriguing challenges for the Shotokan karate and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt could come from the ageless Randy Couture, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira or Brandon Vera.
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