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Since: 17.2.03
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#1 Posted on 4.4.05 0445.42
Reposted on: 4.4.12 0452.48
This week's episode of "The Ultimate Fighter"
featured the showdown of the top two fighters
in the middleweight division as Diego Sanchez
defeated Josh Koscheck to advance to a match
with Kenny Florian in the middleweight finals.

Last week Kenny Florian defeated Chris Leben
in the second round when he opened a bad cut
over Leben's eye with a forearm. Florian hit
Leben with several stiff punches and forearms
which were shown in post-fight highlights.

This week's highlights of the same fight only
showed Florian landing two blows in what was
portrayed as a major upset. Apparently Dana
White and the producers are trying to protect
what little value Leben has left after losing
twice to smaller fighters. In fact Leben was
booked to face Jason Thacker in a dark match
on the final show on April 9 to try to build
him back up for a rematch with Josh Koscheck.

After his loss to Florian, Leben again began
crying outside the gym. Leben came into the
show as a bully, but after two humbling losses
he found God, at least in UFC terms. He went
back into the gym to congratulate Kenny and to
thank everyone. He even went out of his way
to emphasize that Kenny had beaten him fairly
and gained a decisive victory. One hopes that
some of Chris Leben's newfound sportsmanship
will rub off on his internet fanbase.

With this week's matchup already set, there
was no need for an insipid team challenge,
so the producer focused on prefight mental
preparation and strategy with a few brief
snippets related to the recovery of the cut
over Forest Griffin's eye and Dana White's
preparations for the upcoming final which
was basically a product placement segment
for the Hard Rock Casino Hotel in Las Vegas.

Bobby Southworth, who Forrest tabbed as his
potential replacement, said that he was not
happy that his shot at achieving his dream
depended on "my boy" Forrest losing his shot.
The fighters apparently still haven't fully
realized that the team concept was a work to
pit them against each other, like a contract
proposal from NBA commissioner David Stern.

Koscheck talked about being able to dominate
Sanchez with takedowns and added that he had
never shown Diego a hundred percent of his
ability. Diego talked about having God on
his side and going for the neck. Dana White
pointed out that while Koscheck had been able
to take Chris Leben down, Josh hadn't been
able to do much to Leben after the takedowns.
White suggested the fight would show what
Koscheck had learned since that fight.

The first round opened slowly with both men
content to fight standing. Koscheck tried
to connect from long range with punches and
kicks, apparently trying to capitalize on
his superior reach. Diego rushed at Josh
and flurried a couple of times, but Koscheck
danced away to a safe distance.

Around 2:15, Koscheck took Diego down, but
he was unable to establish control on the
mat as Diego quickly scrambled to his feet.
Around 3:00, Koscheck lunged in and scored
another takedown, but as he struggled for
control, Diego caught him in a guillotine
facelock for several seconds, but Koscheck
powered out. Koscheck stood up, but did
was slow to attack Diego while he was on
the mat, throwing only a kick to the leg.

The final minute turned into a slugfest
as both fighters brawled at close range.
Diego threw several knee lifts that did
not connect, but he got the best of the
punches and caught Koscheck in another
guillotine facelock. This time Diego
got the hold fully locked in. Koscheck
would have been knocked out or forced
to submit if he hadn't been saved by
the horn at the end of the first round.

Koscheck had dictated much of the action
in the first round with his takedowns,
but Diego had scored the best chances
with counter submissions from the bottom,
particularly the facelock guillotine at
the end of the round, so on balance I
thought Diego clearly won this round.

The second round also openly slowly as
they resumed fighting from a distance.
Koscheck scored with several nice kicks
to Diego's arms and legs while Diego
caught Koscheck with a couple of good
punches during a rare charge. Koscheck
tried to go low for a takedown, but
Diego again countered with knee lifts.

Midway through the round, Diego caught
Koscheck with a knee to the face that
briefly stunned him. Koscheck recovered
and took Diego down, but again he was not
able to establish control or do damage.
Diego tried several submission counters,
but didn't come close to hooking them.
Koscheck eventually stood up with Diego
still on his back, but Josh seemed to
have few ideas how to attack from there,
throwing another belated kick to the leg.

Diego tried for a takedown from the mat,
but again ended up on the bottom in the
guard. With about 24 seconds left, the
referee called for a restart, but he was
caught out of position and couldn't get
between the fighters. Diego turned and
dropped his hands and Koscheck punched
Diego in the side of the head, drawing
catcalls from the fighters at ringside
including fighters from his own team.

Koscheck tried to come in for another
takedown, but Diego countered with more
knees. At the end of the round they
showed a closeup of a huge welt and a
small cut under Koscheck's right eye
caused by the knee Diego threw in the
middle of the round. This round was
closer than the first round. Koscheck
scored with several kicks and another
takedown, but Diego's knee was the most
devastating strike of the round. Again
I gave the round to Diego, but mainly
based on that one outstanding strike.

The third round opened with Diego landing
several stiff punches to Koscheck's head.
Diego threw another knee, but Koscheck
caught Diego's leg and slammed him into
the cage with a ferocious takedown that
left Diego bleeding from his mouth. At
this point Koscheck figured to be well
behind in the fight, but he still had
enough time left to take Diego out.

Koscheck tried to find an opening with
Diego pinned on his back against the
cage, but Diego kept shifting his legs
and looking for submissions. Koscheck
eventually ended up standing with one
of Diego's feet in his hands, but again
he was unable to strike and actually
ended up taking some axe kicks from
the bottom. Koscheck dove back into
Diego's guard, but he was unable to
do anything positive and the referee
called for a restart at about 2:30.

This time the referee got in position
between the two fighters after being
inadvertently cut off by Diego on the
restart in the previous round. Many
fans and fighters blamed Koscheck for
throwing a cheap shot, but it was the
referee who was out of position and
it was Diego who got in his way.

Diego had lost his mouthpiece, so there
was a brief time out to retrieve it and
clean it up. During that pause, Koscheck
was doubled over gasping for air, but
when the fight resumed Koscheck landed
a looping right hand and another short,
chopping right, one of which appeared to
break Diego's nose. Diego was bleeding
from both his mouth and his nose with
about two minutes to go in the match.

Koscheck took Diego down into the cage
again, but was unable to break through
his defenses and made no attempt at
striking. At one point Diego appeared
to be wide open for a facelock, but
Koscheck seemed more concerned
with traditional wrestling strategies.
Koscheck's future in MMA depends on
his ability to get beyond thinking like
a collegiate wrestler and incorporating
more ground striking and submissions.

Koscheck tried to grab Diego's ankles,
but he ended up on the canvas on his
face with Diego sitting on his head
with his arms wrapped around Diego's
legs as Diego elbowed and punched his
ribs. After the round Koscheck was a
mess with purple spots all over his
face, though much of that damage may
have come from grappling rather than
strikes as the knee in the middle of
the second round was the only knee
that appeared to connect cleanly.

I thought Diego won the first round
with near submissions that meant more
than Koscheck's takedowns. I thought
Diego won the second round because of
the big knee strike. Koscheck made
Diego bleed from the mouth and from
the nose in the final round, but the
strongest impression I got was from
Diego's punches in the opening moments
and his dominance in the final moments,
so I scored the fight 30-27 for Diego.

Dana White announced a split decision.
One judge had given Koscheck all three
rounds, apparently based on dictating
the fight despite clearly getting the
worst of it. The other two judges
scored it 29-28 for Diego, the winner,
apparently giving Koscheck round two.

Mike Coughlin of the Wrestling Observer
website wrote last week, "If he can't
tap a novice like Koscheck then Sanchez
doesn't belong in the UFC." It wasn't
fair to claim that Diego needed to tap
out a former national champion to prove
he deserved a UFC contract, especially
a fighter who normally outweighs him
by fifteen to twenty pounds. Coughlin
probably regrets making that comment.

Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian will
meet in the middleweight final, but
their wins were even more impressive
because neither is a true middleweight.
In fact the "middleweight" final could be
the last time that either man fights in
UFC as a middleweight.

One can understand the decision to stick
all the fighters into two weight classes.
With sixteen fighters divided into two
teams, the limited classes made it easier
to create rivalries and follow matchups,
but it isn't necessarily a fair way to
measure the true talent of the fighters.
Sanchez and Florian proved themselves
worthy, but they had to overcome unfair
size disadvantages to get to the final.

The team concept fell apart when fighters
were forced to fight teammates, something
that rarely happens in UFC, despite claims
to the contrary by Dana White. Both that
and the unfair weight classifications could
be solved by instead using four teams and
four weight classes with each team having
one fighter in each class.

Rather than having stupid team challenges,
they could fight in round robins by weight
class with the winner in each class getting
a contract and teams splitting cash prizes
based on team points standings. A system
like that would engender team spirit and
rivalries while preserving the credibility
of the weight classifications.

A great fight like Sanchez versus Koscheck
demonstrates the potential of "The Ultimate
Fighter", but there is room for improvement
and the team concept and weight classes are
two areas that should be improved if the
show is going to return for another season.

Next week's show will feature the two light
heavyweight semifinals. Stephan Bonnar will
take on natural middleweight Mike Swick in
another unfair fight while Sam Hoger will
fight for the first time, facing either Forrest
Griffin or Bobby Southworth, depending on
whether the doctor clears Griffin to fight.

Frank
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