It was a night that featured three battles between former champions as Dan Henderson faced Shogun Rua in the main event of UFC 139, shown live in the early hours of this past Sunday morning on ESPN here in Britain.
The broadcast began in the light heavyweight division as Stephan Bonnar took on Kyle Kingsbury.
Bonnar is one of those balls to the walls kind of fighters you can’t help but like, his never say die attitude having won over countless fans when trading heavy blows with his opponents.
The Bonnar we saw here was a completely different animal. Although he managed to bloody Kingsbury’s nose and stagger him with a few good shots it was on the ground that Bonnar dominated.
The American Psycho seemed able to take his opponent down at will, and once they were down there Kingsbury seemed unable to do anything against his man.
Bonnar worked extremely well as he transitioned from position to position, looking for various submission attempts. Sadly those attempts just weren’t viable, but he was able to make Kingsbury look quite ordinary.
So with the fight going the distance it was down to the judges, and no surprises there as Bonnar took the unanimous decision. It was just a shame that those in attendance didn’t realise just how good his work was.
It was down to welterweight for the next fight as Martin Kampmann went up against Rick Story.
The second three rounder of the show proved to be an entertaining affair. Both men began by swinging for the proverbial fences, both sustaining cuts over their right eyes.
As the action progressed Kampmann began to impose his will on the fight, his more technical striking game causing problems with Story before the Dane took the fight to the ground.
This was more or less how the rest of the fight played out. There were some more brief stand up battles, but when the fight went back down to the ground Kampmann took control again, going for a rear naked choke as the fight came to an end.
So once again the judges came into play, and surprisingly they only gave the fight to Kampmann by split decision.
The first battle of former champions saw Urijah Faber taking on Brian Bowles in the bantamweight division.
This one promised much, and delivered in spades.
Both guys looked good early on as they engaged in a striking battle, but when Faber scored with the take down he took control, delivering some heavy blows while Bowles countered with a big up kick.
The end came in the second round. Faber staggered Bowles with an uppercut, and from there it was all over bar the shouting. Faber went to work with the ground and pound, and it wasn’t long before he locked in a guillotine for the impressive submission win.
The second battle of former champions saw Wanderlei Silva taking on the debuting Cung Le in the middleweight division.
This was the fight I was looking forward to the most. The opening round saw Le bring out the full array of kicks, looking like the action move star he is, and although some of them connected it was actually a spinning left back fist that staggered Silva.
Silva soon began to get his distance though, and as the fight moved into the second round he began to judge his punches more, causing more trouble for Le.
As the round neared it’s final minute Silva connected with a series of knees in the muay thai clinch that rocked Le. Silva went in for the kill as Le began to stagger, following him down and going for the ground and pound, with the referee stepping in to give Silva the TKO win.
The main event, the third and final battle of former champions, saw Shogun Rua facing Dan Henderson in the light heavyweight division.
When Dana White announced that certain non-title fights would be contested over five rounds I have to admit that I didn’t think it was a good idea. This fight changed that decision.
For five rounds two of the best in the world put on a tremendous back and forth battle, a war of attrition in which both men gave it their all.
Henderson looked great early on with his striking, putting Shogun on the back foot on more than one occasion and looking like he could take the win at any moment.
As time went on Shogun’s face turned into a mess, and Henderson looked in top form, even though he just couldn’t put the Brazilian away.
As the old saying goes they really were leaving everything in the cage, with both men looking exhausted as they came out for the final round, but with Shogun finding the energy to take Henderson down so he could control him on the ground.
After all of that they still couldn’t finish the fight as they left the decision up to the judges, with Henderson taking the close unanimous decision.
In conclusion - long-time readers will know that I spend quite a few column inches telling you how enjoyable these UFC shows are. It’s not hyperbole, it’s the truth.
Well, UFC 139 may turn up to be the best show they’ve put on this year. From top to bottom every fight delivered, with the final three fights going that step further to make this show that much more special, and as the old saying goes they left the best for last.
For me the battle between Dan Henderson and Shogun Rua was not just the fight of the night but perhaps the fight of the year. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t a title on the line, and the UFC’s decision to put on non-title five rounders has now been justified.
So in all UFC 139 gets the big thumbs up from this particular writer, and that’s all I can really say about that.