By Damon Martin, MMAWeekly
Ultimate Letdown? Stevenson and Evans Struggle in Debuts; Jardine Loses Controversial Decision
By Damon Martin, MMAWeekly

The latest edition of Ultimate Fight Night saw some fairly lackluster performances from the winners of season 2 of the Ultimate Fighter, while the main event drew a fairly controversial decision from the judges.

The main event of the evening saw season 1 light heavyweight runner-up Stephan Bonnar take on Keith Jardine in a battle of 205lb contenders. Bonnar had shown a very well rounded game in all of his previous fights, while Jardine had proven that he had dangerous striking and a solid takedown defense at his disposal.

It seemed in the beginning of the fight that Jardine was determined to work over Bonnar’s lead leg with kicks, softening him up throughout the round. The remainder of the first round saw both fighters in a feeling out process, with neither one showing much dominance, but Jardine did seem to land the crisper shots when the two engaged. In the second round, Jardine continued to work on Bonnar’s leg, forcing him at one point to try and adjust his stance, and avoid the kicks. Bonnar’s best offense during the round came when he was able to secure a takedown and almost lock in a rear naked choke but he couldn’t get his hooks around Jardine, and lost the move before any real damage could occur.

The third round saw the most action during the fight. Bonnar landed one very solid punch that floored Jardine, but as he went into Jardine’s guard, Bonnar wasn’t able to inflict much more punishment and Jardine escaped and worked back to his feet. Repeated leg kicks seemed to really bother Bonnar throughout the fight who never really attempted to block them at any point. Jardine was able to land the more effective shots in the third round and towards the end, landed a very good head kick that caught Bonnar off guard and rocked him. Jardine moved in and opened up a flurry of punches that staggered Bonnar back to end the fight. As the two fighters separated, Bonnar had two large gashes on each side of his face with blood streaming from both.

The judges score came in and in a very controversial decision, Stephan Bonnar won unanimously. If anything the fight should have been a draw because both fighters had good moments throughout the fight but Jardine’s constant leg kicks that really seem to limit Bonnar’s ability to move around the octagon, combined with the damage he inflicted in the third round, seemed like it would be enough to get him the win, but somehow the judges saw it differently, and the crowd reigned in with their boos of disapproval for the decision.

In other action, Rashad Evans made his official debut for the UFC and the commentators were quick to point out that he has yet to finish a fight, and unfortunately his battle with Sam Hoger would turn out no differently. Evans looked good with his takedowns throughout the fight and despite an almost 5 inch height disadvantage, he did land some good punches during each round.
Hoger came the closest to finishing the fight when he secured a kimura from his guard position at the end of the second round. He had the move locked out and even rolled Rashad to give him the mount position but the horn sounded giving Rashad new life in the fight. The fight had to be stood up virtually every time that Evans took Hoger to the mat, but to his credit he was able to consistently take his opponent down and control him but at no point did he inflict any real damage. Hoger did land some good kicks and punches and in the third round, and Evans’ had a mouse over his eye that seemed to start restricting his vision but again Hoger couldn’t capitalize and finish the fight. In the end the judges gave a split decision victory to Rashad Evans, but Sam Hoger deserves a lot of credit for the performance he gave and should definitely get another shot at the UFC. Evans has started training recently at Greg Jackson’s school and hopefully he’ll begin to pick up some finishing techniques because everyone knows the UFC wants finishers, not those going for a decision.

In the biggest upset of the night, Joe Stevenson lost a unanimous decision to a very hungry and ready Josh Neer. Stevenson got his best chance at winning when he secured a very good kneebar in the first round, stretching and pulling at Neer’s knee but the Miletich trained student eventually escaped and gained the upper hand, landing in Stevenson’s guard and began to reign down punches and elbows. It was virtually this set up for the remainder of the fight as well. Stevenson didn’t secure his first actual takedown until the last part of the third round and this was after Neer almost finished the fight with a jumping knee that landed flush on Stevenson’s head as he shot in. Neer hesitated for a brief second when Stevenson fell backwards from the strike, or he may have been able to finish the fight. Neer got the win and Stevenson looked much worse for the wear after he was punished for three rounds. Afterwards, Stevenson and Neer both divulged they wanted to move down to the lightweight division to compete.

Chris Leben kept his winning streak alive with a somewhat disappointing performance against newcomer Luigi Fioravanti. While Leben was never in any real trouble during the fight, he also never really came close to finishing either. It seemed more like Fioravanti tired in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, giving up easy takedowns, and just being content to hold Leben on top of him. The killer instinct that drove Leben to prove himself in his last fight against Jorge Rivera seemed to dissipate, and he looked unexcited to face this particular opponent. Hopefully, someone like Mike Swick will get his wish and a rematch with Leben will happen and that will light the fire that seems to have dimmed since his last fight out. Also a fight with Joe Riggs could be just what the doctor ordered for an energized Chris Leben.

Overall, the card had potential but the main fights definitely didn’t live up to the hype. If the UFC hopes to really start building the Ultimate Fight Night cards they need to feature a title bout, or give the Spike TV fan base more fights like when they featured Evan Tanner vs. David Loiseau a couple of cards ago, but until then they run the risk of four bouts going to decision with somewhat disappointing results in the end.