15 minutes to showtime... Spike is showing Diaz's fight from the semifinals against Maynard. I'm picking (and, in an unrelated note, cheering for) Manny in the final; Nate hasn't looked especially impressive in either one of his last two fights - he's consistently been on the bottom, simply capitalizing on his opponents' mistakes. Manny, on the other hand, has ground-&-pounded his opponents into defeat. I don't think that Manny has the power to knock Diaz out, but neither will he make the mistakes that Diaz's other opponents have made; therefore, my pick is Manny by decision.
10 minutes to showtime now (8:50 EST), and I'm going to go ahead and make my pick for the Penn/Pulver fight. I'm picking Pulver by tapout in the 2nd, but I kind of hope it doesn't happen. Penn just plain seems like a nicer guy; something looks "off" in Pulver's eyes - while that isn't a good thing in the so-called Real World, it very well might be an asset in the ring. The preview show was talking about Penn training harder than he ever has before, but I don't put a whole lot of faith into that; he seems like he's very athletically talented, but I don't know if he has the disposition to be truly dominant, as he would need to be against somebody of Pulver's quality.
9:00 PM, and the show is getting started. Operatic, gladiator-infused opening, complete with grainy, b&w interview footage. Then a hard-rock riff with a montage showing champions from previous seasons... pretty standard stuff. Gotta give the UFC credit, they know how to promote their events. I don't know if their actual fights are more fun than boxing (good article on that here), but their television production is a heckuva lot better.
9:09 PM, Huerta vs. Evans about to start. Who are these guys, exactly? Undercard material, filler, from what I can tell. I'm sure they're both quite talented, but it's not what we came to see. UFC's strength isn't necessarily the fighting - though that is often quite good - it's the way they draw viewers into the stories, get them to cheer for one fighter or the other without resorting to cheap tricks like pro wrestling. I don't really care about either one of these fighters - so I watch just in order to get to the more important fights.
9:18, first round of Huerta/Evans over. Definitely won by Evans, who was apparently a high school wrestler of some talent before starting MMA. An entertaining fight so far - Evans has been striking and grappling well, while Huerta hasn't been able to do very much.
9:23, fight stopped at 3:30 in 2nd round; Evans made a nice takedown, but Huerta managed to flip it, then just pound an increasingly uncoordinated Evans until the referee stopped the fight. Definitely a good stoppage; Evans was more or less lying on his stomach while Huerta straddled him and pounded his head.
9:26, official announcement of Huerta's victory; also, the first d-list celebrity cameo of the night, as the cast of "American Body Shop", apparently some new Comedy Central show, was shown sitting in the audience looking confused. Gotta give props to UFC for their product placement - it's relentless. They sneak advertisors in at every opportunity, and sometimes create opportunities solely (it seems) for the purpose of sneaking in a couple more sponsors.
9:33, and another undercard event is coming up - Leites vs. Sword. Two more guys I've never heard of, though Leites is apparently "highly touted" for his jiu jitsu.
9:40, fight over; Leites looked in better shape, stronger, and more skilled the entire fight; he took Sword down two or three times, and eventually got Sword in a triangle - Leites got his arm around Sword's neck and shoulder, then just tightened it until Sword tapped out.
9:49 - another undercard, but this time two guys I'm familiar with - Grey Maynard and Rob Emerson, two fighters who were eliminated earlier in the season. I guess the question is what these guys are doing on the show finale, since the point was that if you win the show you get into UFC, and they didn't win the show and they're fighting in the UFC... hm... I've got Maynard in this fight - when in doubt, pick the guy with tattoos.
9:57, and the first round is over... one of the more exciting UFC rounds I've seen in a while, with an absolutely electric flurry at the start. Maynard was clearly the superior fighter, working from a solid wrestling background and delivering elbows/knees after Emerson inexplicably chose to take the fight from standup - where he had a slight advantage - to the ground, where Maynard is very, very skilled.
10:00, and the fight is over; not very long into the second round, Maynard picked Emerson up and absolutely drove him into the ground - Emerson tapped out immediately, but Maynard drove his own head into the ground with the takedown and knocked himself out! So... Maynard, an unconscious guy, wins, in one of the more bizarre-yet-awesome fights I've ever seen.
In other news, this is turning into a truly monster post, so I'm going to hold off, unless something really incredible happens, until the Gamburyan-Diaz and Penn-Pulver fights later this evening.
10:04 - ohh... wow... they just called it a no contest, so a draw... Maynard is absolutely livid.
10:45, and Gamburyan is entering the ring. During the montage, Manny said something that really impressed me: "the only way anybody is going to beat me is to out-train me." That sort of encapsulated his attitude throughout the show. He's only about 5'5", but that might not be such a bad thing - he's absolutely built. Nate Diaz (the little brother of Nick Diaz) is coming in now, in a white robe over a black hoodie. He looks, if possible, even more angular since the end of the show - he looks kind of like an angry Matt Damon.
10:56 - end of a very good round 1. Gamburyan had the edge, as he was able to keep it tight and nullify Diaz's 6" reach advantage; the fight almost ended at 4:20 left in the first when Gamburyan tried a guillotine. Very exciting fight so far; Diaz keeps trying for submissions, but Gamburyan is a slippery little fellow.
10:57, early in the 2nd round, and it's all over! Manny Gamburyan dove in for a takedown and badly dislocated his shoulder or broke his collarbone or something - major pain, immediate tapout. An unsatisfying ending to what was looking like it would be a classic fight. Nate Diaz is "The Ultimate Fighter", but he doesn't look all that happy about it.
11:09 - okay, Spike has accomplished their main goal for the night... I really want to see Transformers. Not that I didn't before.
11:26, and it's showtime. After a long couple of intro videos showing BJ and Jens training and talking about how much they hate each other, they're entering the Octagon. BJ is wearing some sort of Hawaii black t-shirt with "Knowledge Unity Sovereignty" written across the front, entering to what sounds like a Gregorian chant. He looks pretty fit, like he's lost a bit of weight since the show.
11:29, and to some sort of 1980s rock/techno beat, Jens enters. He looks just as unhinged as I thought he would - a very significant contrast to BJ's centeredness and calmness. Really bad haircut, though.
11:40, end of the first. Please don't ask how Pulver managed to survive that round! Penn completely dominated the first three minutes - two big takedowns, an armbar that Pulver somehow spun out of, and a very tough triangle that had Pulver's head turning purple. Near the end of the round, though, Pulver did manage to score a few points with some boxing.
11:44, and Penn just choked out Pulver. Penn absolutely dominated the second round - after some early skirmishing, Penn took it to the ground and Pulver was struggling just to survive. Good defense from Pulver, escaping several submissions, but Penn finally got him with a rear choke. The official announcement will come in a few minutes, but the action in Las Vegas is done for the evening (or the UFC action is, at least).
Penn and Pulver was a bit of a letdown after all the buildup; Penn completely dominated the fight, significantly outclassing Pulver, especially on the ground. That said, it was still a great evening. Several good fights - especially Maynard-Emerson, which was a classic - and a lot of entertaining material.