Despite a somewhat underwhelming main event, UFC 122 turned out to be a pretty decent show. Although there was only one finish on the main card -- a rear-naked choke by hometown favorite Dennis Siver – the duration of the bouts were very entertaining slugfests. Even with a potential Fight of the Night bout between Alessio Sakara and Jorge Rivera being scrapped due to a last-minute illness by Sakara, there was more than enough leather being traded to fill that void. So what are the next steps for the winners and losers from UFC 122?
Yushin Okami: Okami’s opponent, Nate Marquardt indicated pre-fight that he wanted to set the pace, forcing the Japanese fighter to succumb to his own game plan. Instead, it was Okami that pressed the action and controlled the center of the Octagon for much of the fight. Although the bout was close, it was clear that Okami earned the decision win. With the victory, "Thunder" gets the next shot at the middleweight title and will face either Vitor Belfort or Anderson Silva, who will fight for that 185-pound belt at UFC 126 in February. If Silva ends up being his opponent, it will be a rematch from their 2006 non-UFC fight for the now-defunct Hawaiian promotion, Rumble on the Rock. Okami won that fight via disqualification when Silva landed an illegal up-kick.
Nate Marquardt: The effort given by Marquardt on Saturday night was disappointing to say the least. Dana White, UFC president, pointed out immediately after the fight that part of the blame should go to his coaching staff. Apparently, Marquardt was led to believe that he was winning the fight, which kept him from pressing the action in the last round. Of course that’s White’s take on the matter, but it certainly did seem strange for Marquardt not to get engage Okami in round three, when a career-boosting title shot was on the line. Although Marquardt has had championship success in his King of Pancrase days, titles have eluded the perennially top-five middleweight while in the UFC. Marquardt lost to Anderson Silva in a championship fight in 2007, was dominated by Chael Sonnen in a title-contender bout last February, and has now lost yet another opportunity for a title shot after failing to defeat Okami. Marquardt has officially earned his place alongside Kenny Florian in the "always a bride’s maid" category. As for the Marquardt’s future? It’s back to the drawing board. Until he has a solution for Sonnen’s wrestling, Okami’s pace, or Silva’s striking, it’s likely that Marquardt will never break through. The former contender will need to address all of these critical issues in 2011. If, and only if, the UFC brass feels he’s made some significant changes to his game, perhaps he'll get one final opportunity for the belt in a year or two.
Dennis Siver: Just call Siver the comeback kid. After going just 1-3 in his first go-around with the UFC, Siver has now won five of six in the Octagon since January 2009. And more importantly, he’s creeping into lightweight title contention. The UFC indicated that for his Submission of the Night efforts against Andre Winner, the German native will be getting the opportunity to face some top contenders in the 155-pound division over the next year. For a guy who had been previously pigeon-holed as a one-dimensional kickboxer, Siver’s rear-naked choke finish over Winner demonstrates that he’s quickly evolving into a dangerous, well-rounded lightweight.
Andre Winner: It’s been a mixed bag for Winner, who started off his UFC career on a high note by getting to the finals of TUF 9. Now 2-3 in the UFC and on a two-fight losing streak, his abilities on the ground are being questioned. Although his opponent at UFC 122 isn’t known for his wrestling prowess, Siver was able to out-grapple Winner; taking his back and ending the fight via rear-naked choke. This is just the latest loss that identifies a gaping hole in Winner’s ground game. Wrestling standouts like Ross Pearson and Nik Lentz have both erased his stand-up abilities by putting the Englishman squarely on his back. If given another shot inside the Octagon, Winner will need to strengthen his skill set while on the ground.
Amir Sadollah: Peter Sobotta was the perfect rebound fighter for Sadollah. After getting schooled on the ground for three rounds by Dong Hyun Kim earlier this year, Sadollah was able to erase that memory with an outstanding performance against Sobotta. In what was one of his best outings on the feet, his win still did not address his questionable takedown defense, exposed by Kim. Look for the UFC to test Sadollah’s ground game with a more worthy opponent for his next matchup.
Peter Sobotta: Unfortunately for Sobotta, it’s three and out for the welterweight fighter. In three UFC bouts, the German fighter has dropped all of them and will in all likelihood get his UFC walking papers. To withstand the punishment that Sadollah delivered demonstrates that he’s a tough dude, but that’s not quite enough to keep your job in the best mixed martial arts organization in the world.
Krzysztof Soszynski: The Polish fighter gutted out a three-round war with Goran Reljic, earning a decision victory. With the win, Soszynski rebounds from his loss to Stephan Bonnar back in February. Although Soszynski is on the right track, he’s yet to put together a win streak since May of 2009. He’ll need to string three or four victories together if he is to earn his way into the upper echelon of the light heavyweight division. I’m not sure he deserves it yet, but I sure would like to see him up against a top-ten 205 pounder for his next bout. Facing Rich Franklin if he loses to Forrest Griffin or a rematch versus Brandon Vera would be a couple good options.
Goran Reljic: Reljic is another European UFC fighter on the chopping block after his third loss in a row in the UFC. The Croation has yet to get a win in his three-fight stint for the organization. Now that the contract is up, it makes sense to cut him lose.
Duane Ludwig: Ludwig overcame a rough first round, which saw him on his back getting punished from the mount position, to eventually win the bout via a razor-thin split decision. This was a much needed victory for the Denver native who would have gone 0-3 in his second stint with the UFC. Now that Ludwig’s back on track, the lightweight can regroup and attempt his ascent up the 155-pound divisional ladder.
Nick Osipsczak: It was a bad weekend for a handful of European fighters. Just like Sobotta, and Reljic, Osipsczak lost his third UFC fight in a row. Unlike the other two, the British fighter went on a two-fight win streak as he started his UFC career. But now 2-3 in the organization, he’s certainly on the bubble. His fight against Duane Ludwig was a tough split-decision loss that I thought could have easily gone the other way. Knowing how close this fight was, perhaps the UFC will give him one more chance to demonstrate his value.