One line of thought that keeps popping up in fan and media reaction to last night's UFC Fight for the Troops 2 event is that the fight featured very few fights that qualify as "relevant." This is thinking that I simply disagree with. It all comes down to how you choose to focus on a card like the UFC put together. In terms of top level title contender fights Mark Hominick vs. George Roop is probably the only fight that qualifies but even that had Roop, a fighter who was nowhere near the elite of the featherweight division. Even the main event featured guys who are probably a step below title contender status.
But when you look at a card like last night's you should be able to focus more on fighters establishing their current place in the UFC. Let's do a quick rundown:
- Willamy Freire was thought of by some as a decent prospect entering the UFC on an eleven fight win streak. We were quickly shown the growing that 'Chiquerim' still has to do as a fighter when he was controlled for two rounds by Waylon Lowe.
- Mike Brown jumped at the opportunity to get back in the cage and prove himself following his loss to Diego Nunes just three weeks earlier. Unfortunately for Brown, his dramatic fall from #1 in the featherweight division continued as he looked uninspired and totally lacking in any sort of gameplan. Brown played right into the hands of Rani Yahya and proved that his time as a top ten featherweight may be over, and at 35 years old it may be over for good.
- Cody McKenzie had a chance to prove the doubters wrong and lock one of his trademark guillotines in on an established and well-rounded fighter in Yves Edwards. I spent the build-up to this fight using how rarely Edwards has been submitted in his career and how rudimentary McKenzie's stand-up is as reasoning to dismiss his chances of pulling off a win. That line of thinking held up as Cody got drubbed on the feet throughout the fight. He did have a nice period in the second round where he had back control but Edwards was too savvy to get submitted and eventually worked to finish the submission himself. McKenzie is left clearly having a long road ahead of him if he wants to prove that he belongs in the sharktank that is the UFC's 155 pound division.
- Matt Wiman was being overlooked badly coming into the event. This was probably due to the fact that he was only in the cage once in 2010. Wiman put on a career-best performance in punishing the tough-as-nails Cole Miller for three rounds earning what was a clear (to everyone but one judge) 30-27 decision. Wiman now has a case to move into the top 25 at lightweight or at least start to secure some fights against fighters at that level.
- Pat Barry absolutely should have ran through Joey Beltran. Instead, he struggled to win a stand-up fight against a low-level (by UFC standards) brawler. Barry deserved the decision, but the fact that his performance was so unimpressive really should derail any thoughts of him as a top heavyweight prospect.
- Matt Mitrione entered the night 3-0 as a professional and, for the second straight fight, faced a man with much more experience in the cage. Mitrione simply blasted through Tim Hague and cemented that he has heavy hands and is growing as a fighter each time out. At 32 years old it's probably too late for Mitrione to get the ring time and grow the amount he needs to ever challenge at the title level but he is probably going to fill a necessary spot as a high level gatekeeper (and being gatekeeper is not a bad thing despite what some think).
- Finally, Melvin Guillard and Evan Dunham both had much to prove. Entering the night Evan Dunham was ranked #12 in the USA TODAY / SB Nation Consensus Rankings while Guillard checked in at #25. Melvin showed his growth as a fighter, as Jonathan Snowden pointed out:
Against Dunham he showed he could fight smartly and aggressively. It wasn't one or the other. He could combine both in a very deadly package.
It is all a matter of focus for the fans and media. We're not going to see many top title contenders fighting on Spike TV shows, but we can focus in on fighter growth and see where fighters stand in their division. Guys like Barry can sink on a show like this (even in a winning effort) while a fighter like Melvin Guillard can show tremendous growth in putting on an outstanding performance against a top 15 opponent. I'm going to choose to focus on the insight we get into fighter growth rather than the card's lack of championship level fights.