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High Fives: UFC on FUEL TV 3

Written by Spencer Lazara. Posted in Top News

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Published on May 19, 2012 with No Comments

Tuesday evening at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia was a night dedicated to the loyal, diehard fans of the “Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung. In total, roughly 178,000 fight fans (those attending and watching on television) were treated to multiple “Fight of the Year” contenders, the return of Donald Cerrone and some big wins from former “Ultimate Fighter” alums. Not too shabby for a mid-week event.

But the icing on the cake was the main event where no one could have predicted the outcome would be fueled by a wave of pre-fight evolution from Chan Sung Jung. Far gone is the warrior that traded blows with Leonard Garcia in April of 2010 and in his place is a calculated, technical fighter whose takedowns and submission skills are proving to be as much of a force as his iron chin, “never-quit” mentality and aggression.

Whether you watched the UFC event from a bar or your own couch, you got a glimpse one of the better non-PPV fight cards in recent memory. Maybe Fox will take note – the best fights happen when you least expect them, when they don’t feel forced and when both combatants feel they don’t have anything to lose. With that, I give you the “High Fives” of UFC on FUEL TV 3 – the five most positive and promising storylines to take away from the event.

5. Eyes on the “Tiger.”

Fans of the now-defunct WEC remember Yves “Tiger” Jabouin for his memorable 2010 scrap with Mark Hominick. Though he came out of the fight with a TKO loss, it was clear that Jabouin (18-7) had an array of striking that would give most fighters fits and keep even the most relaxed of opponents on their toes.

Flash forward nearly two years and Jabouin is now riding a three-fight winning streak after defeating Jeff Hougland on Tuesday night. And while all three of the victories have come in the decision variety, Jabouin’s style, size and ability to pace himself puts him in an interesting position at 135 pounds.

The liver kick that landed flush on Hougland would have stopped most foes but the Enumclaw, Washington-based fighter was able to survive. Jabouin can’t be at fault for another man’s enormous heart. Instead, with three UFC wins in a row, he should be due for a showdown with one of the division’s elite strikers such as Brad Pickett. If the “Tiger” can mount enough offense to win wild exchanges and stay off the mat, he has the style to compete with any striker at bantamweight.

4. Rafael do Anjos stepping up his game.

One look at the resume of Brazilian fighter Rafael Dos Anjos (18-6) and it’s rather hard to remember him competing in the UFC four years ago. His back-and-forth nature is not conducive to earning big opportunities but as long as he wins, he seems to have kept his place as a middle-tier lightweight.

However, over the past year, the 27-year old Gordo-Evolve Team product has begun to show finishing skills on par with the division’s elite. First, it was the knockout of George Sotiropoulos at UFC 132 and recently a very nice rear-naked choke over Kamal Shalorus. Of course, in typical dos Anjos fashion – there’s a loss sandwiched in the middle of those big wins.

Nevertheless, at 27 and with wins over the aforementioned Shalorus and Sotiropoulos as well as a win over Terry Etim, dos Anjos is closing in on making a leap up the 155-pound ladder in a big way. For his sake, let us hope he doesn’t run back into Clay Guida when he is planning that trip.

3. Return of the “Cowboy.”

Leave it to Nate Diaz to spoil a good thing and ruin a six-fight winning streak that dates back to September of 2010.

Aside from one blemish, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (18-4) has been relatively perfect during his UFC tenure. He’s taken five fights in 2011, finished up-and-comers like Charles Oliveira and Dennis Siver and has proven to be one of the best, most durable and exciting WEC fighters of old.

So it comes as little shock to most that the war of words between Cerrone and his UFC on FUEL TV 3 opponent Jeremy Stephens would lead to fireworks. However, it was no guarantee that Cerrone would return to the form that saw him rattle off an impressive winning streak in the MMA’s deepest division. Yet after a feeling out process, Cerrone found his rhythm, employed his divide-and-conquer Muay Thai approach and beat up Stephens for three full rounds. Pretty status quo for the former WEC champion.

On the horizon could be a sublime showdown with another former WEC kingpin in Anthony Pettis. If that fight should happen, not only will it be a “Fight of the Night” in the making but the winner may have the honor of waiting in the wings for a title shot.

2. A Tale of Poor Judging – Igor and Fabio

It’s hard to know what is more shocking – the entertaining evolution of Igor Pokrajac at the right time or seeing Fabio Maldonado robbed of a decision on back-to-back occasions. Even at the time of print, I vacillate between both answers.

What we do know, matter-of-factly, is that Maldonado v. Pokrajac was, for a few minutes, “Fight of the Year” and though the wrong fighter won, ultimately it was the fans who tuned in to this underrated fight that have plenty to talk about.

I can’t separate these two men as much as I’d like to. I could easily put Pokrajac (25-8) in this spot alone but I’d feel bad knowing that Fabio Maldonado (18-5) actually earned this spot with his crisp body punching, solid chin, pressure and wildly underrated boxing. So here they are – together.

Though most of America thought Maldonado won, Pokrajac’s rise to the ranks has been interesting (and dare I say “fun”) to watch. Stephan Bonnar was able to defeat him in 2010 and since then, Pokrajac has strung together three very impressive fights against his fellow light heavyweights. His knees and clinch-game looked outstanding on Tuesday and his ability to eat Maldonado’s punches say a lot about his heart and chin.

The future may, in fact, be bright for the Croatian fighter whereas Maldonado seems headed in the opposition direction following back-to-back losses. Regardless of who you thought won, it’s extremely rewarding to tune into a UFC fight card and be randomly treated to a slug-fest like the one these two put on.

Cheers to them both.

1. The title-bound Zombie.

I’ll try and keep the hyperbole in check but it’s hard to do that these days when you get to watch an amazingly gifted and evolved fighter headline a UFC card on a Tuesday night. But that is the reality of what fight fans were given with Chan Sung Jung’s fight against Top 10 featherweight Dustin Poirier. Riding the power of his seven-second knockout of Mark Hominick into the cage, Jung showed off skills for the first time that it didn’t look like he had prior. He was also headlining a card in which he was the underdog, thought to be too one-dimensional to compete with the well-rounded skills of Poirier. Watch the video or the fight replay and watch Jung prove you wrong yet again.

The UFC on FUEL 3 card also marked the first time in 11 years that UFC president Dana White was not able to attend one of his own events for medical reasons. And while one can assume White felt a little lost without his ringside attire and seat, it probably turned out to be a good thing for the UFC in some small way. Because for the first time, White saw Jung how we, the fans, see him – walking to the cage with the Cranberries intro-music blaring, full aura in effect. He got to see what makes Jung magical on television and why so many fans adore his style and persona.

Jung is a WWE-caliber personality. He’s easy to romanticize because of his highlight videos, intro-music and slug-fest with Garcia previously. And with a big statement win over Poirier, for the first time ever, it’s not so ridiculous to think the 25-year old Korean could wrap a UFC featherweight title around his waist at some point.

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