Emotional investment in sport is a fickle thing. There are very few times in my life when I willingly put my hopes for a fighter's success at the forefront of my viewing experience. Usually, I do so only with the extreme expectation of being let down. After all, if I don't expect my favorite athletes to lose, then I don't need to worry about whether or not they'll win. So, when I sat down for UFC 168, it was in the full knowledge that I was almost certainly going to break a little bit of my heart in doing so...
Disclaimer time: as always, for those looking for prescient gambling advice, I continue to be a crotchety old man (hell I'm practically 30) who thinks kids today don't know the value of a dollar. That said, I won two of said dollars off the backs of Jim Miller and Travis Browne over the weekend, so there may be some hope for me yet. Now that you've entertained my vanity by reading this far (or skimmed all this for the words "Anderson Silva" and moved on) let's get to the fights.
- If you want to see what it looks like when a fighter is getting by on physical tools alone, look no further than Robbie Peralta. It's obvious he doesn't put in as much time at the gym as other fighters, but his raw athleticism closes the gaps for the bottom of the featherweight division.
- I can't help but feel sorry for a guy like Payan, it looks like he works hard on the technical aspects of his game, but he probably doesn't have the tools to compete in the UFC.
- For all the reasonable derision Peralta's corner should get for their bad advice, I have to give a ton of credit to Peralta here for realizing that he had to finish the fight to win it. He took some serious chances in the third to make that knockout happen and it's a decision that many fighters lack the ability to make, even when they're losing badly.
- After his loss to Leonardo Santos I thought Macario would be a quick UFC washout, but he showed that he's improving dramatically and at only 22 has a ton of potential.
- Perhaps it was my personal soft spot for Voelker, but I really didn't expect him to look that lost just because his opponent had good footwork. If all Voelker is going to do is strike, he shouldn't have that kind of trouble tracking someone down in the cage, especially not after 8 years and 35 fights.
- Macario's hand parry defense is a wondrous thing to watch. He's really showing the results of an amateur boxing and Muay Thai career in ways that few MMA strikers are able to replicate (even those with a similar background).
- Siyar is ridiculously accurate with his punches, it's the kind of innate ability that will always make him a dangerous opponent even as a one dimensional talent.
- I know it wasn't reflected by the judges, but I honestly think that that fireman's carry slam won the fight for Howard. I had him losing the first round as he got hit harder and generated little to no offense from his one takedown and I thought the second was almost dead even until he hit that slam. Essentially his shortness won him that fight.
- Howard's mix of controlled striking and basic wrestling make him a fun puzzle at welterweight. He has something to offer everyone he fights, even if he doesn't quite have the tools to be a top tier fighter.
Bout 4 - Featherweights: Manvel Gamburyan vs. Dennis Siver (I picked Siver, I was right)
- It was said (by Brent Brookhosue) about Jim Miller, but I think it fits for Siver too: that they are the kind of fighter who find a way to get in trouble in their best area and win in their opponent's best area. Siver is a great featherweight gatekeeper. He plays things too close to the bone to win all the time, but he is always competitive.
- That said, I'm not sure why he wanted to spend so much time grappling Gamburyan, he made a fairly one sided affair really close with his inability to stay at range and kickbox.
- Saying this fight was close, I still don't like what I see out of Manny lately. He won two straight before this, so obviously he's competitive, but I see a very bad loss coming for him soon if he keeps fighting upper tier talent.
- I have a soft spot for Gleison Tibau (mostly I think he gets a lot of undeserved flack for being workmanlike), but he is exactly the sort of fighter that top tier guys should handle without a lot of trouble. Johnson made a great announcement of his place at 155 with this win.
- That being said, I'm a bit troubled by the fact that Johnson doesn't seem to have much of a kicking game going. If he wants to take a shot at the belt sometime down the road he's going to need a more varied offense.
- Win or lose, Tibau's place in the UFC doesn't really change. He's still perfectly aligned to fight another guy who isn't quite living up to his potential in the moment. In fact, this would be a great time for a Pat Healy fight, as both men are poised to keep watch on the top 20 of 155.
- That was every bit as depressing as I expected. I was glad to see Leben call it a day and glad to see the more promising fighter get the win, but the whole fight stank of career death and spoke of something that didn't belong on this kind of stage.
- Hall may never like hurting people, and I know T.P. Grant is worried that he may never be all that great at it, but it does look like he's starting to figure out how to maintain aggression (if even only for 5 minutes at a time). Just that little improvement makes him a much better fighter.
- There are serious questions here about how the UFC handles Hall going forward. There's obviously a desire from the UFC to push him in premiere, marketable fights, so I'm not sure if he'll have the opportunity to work his way up from the bottom, even if that's where he should be right now. Another big win might see him on the main card.
Bout 7 - Catchweight (151.5 lbs): Diego Brandao vs. Dustin Poirier (I picked Poirier, I was right)
- Dustin Poirier may be the most underrated fighter in the UFC right now. Since giving Cub Swanson fits in a loss back in February he's put a beating on two very good fighters. He strikes with a huge amount of power and accuracy and has shown himself to be strong in all areas of the sport. If he's fighting for the title a year or two from now I won't be surprised.
- Much like Uriah Hall, I worry that Diego Brandao's head is an insurmountable cap to his skill. He's obviously talented and athletic, but he seems to have way too much trouble controlling the rhythm of the fight. I realize there were some extenuating circumstances here, but still, it's a trend.
- With Shaun Al-Shatti's recent travelogue on Jonothan Brookins (it's fantastic, read it), Poirier is developing something of a reputation for pre-fight trash talk. I hope some reporter is on the ball for his next weigh-in because it definitely adds to the atmosphere of his fights.
Bout 8 - Lightweights: Fabricio Camoes vs. Jim Miller (I picked Miller, I was right)
- One of the more interesting evolutions of this sport is the loss of the upset victory. It's becoming increasingly the case that when two fighters step into the cage, the superior athlete is almost immediately apparent. That's not to say it doesn't still exist (of course it does), but this fight was a microcosm of an upset in the making that was snuffed by the better fighter.
- Fabricio Camoes' career is something to be marveled at. He fought Anderson Silva for 25 minutes in 1997, and every single other loss on his record is to strong UFC level competition. He really deserved a better bounceback fight than this one, but I'm not sure he'll get another chance for it.
- As much as it pains me to say it, lightweight really has too many gatekeepers, between Miller, Tibau, Healy, Guillard, Lauzon, and Dunham there are a whole pile of fighters who are better than 80% of their division and a country mile away from fighting for a title.
Bout 9 - Heavyweights: Josh Barnett vs. Travis Browne (I picked Browne, I was right)
- Going in to this fight I felt that Josh Barnett was primed to be knocked out badly. Wins over Frank Mir, Nandor Guelmino, and Sergei Kharitonov having given him a false sense of physical dominance. That said, I was still surprised by the ferocity with which he was dispatched.
- Travis Browne really has no stain on his MMA record. Kongo put the grind on him for an ugly draw, because that's what Kongo does, and Antonio Silva took advantage of a leg injury to catch him out for a TKO. His athleticism and resiliency make him an interesting challenger for the title as he continues to hone his still developing skill set.
- I know there were a lot of people rooting for Barnett to wreak havoc on his way to a shot at Cain Velasquez, but I'm glad it's not to be. Barnett is an interesting personality best served rounding out a main card, not headlining it.
Bout 10 - Women Bantamweights: Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate (I picked Rousey, I was right)
- It's become a fascinating exercise to see Ronda's growth as opponents become more attuned to her style. She may never have to search for a takedown in her life, but developing striking shows that she can beat opponents who are only looking to stop the armbar.
- It's always been a minor peeve, but I'm starting to believe that fighters who predicate their style on punching their way into the clinch in order to grind opponents are developing the worst skill set for MMA. After the first round it became obvious that Miesha couldn't stop herself from throwing two strikes and clinching even if she wanted to, it's just ingrained into her style.
- Everything about Ronda Rousey's attitude as a fighter in the cage appeals to me. The playing field, whatever the surface, is a place for competition, not for pleasantries. It's one of the things I love about Mark Hunt, and BJ Penn, and even GSP (it's one of the only things I love about the Diaz brothers' personalities). A hug and a handshake shouldn't be necessary to make fans like an athlete.
Bout 11 - Middleweights: Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva (I picked Silva, I was wrong)
- I can't say I was disappointed, because I expected Silva to lose, but I'm still a bit put out that I don't ever really feel like I got to see enough of this fight to satisfy me. It's happened twice now and each time I've been left asking myself if that's really all.
- That said, there's no better time for Anderson Silva to walk away. He could come back in a year or two, and he might even win a few fights, but it wouldn't be the same. I can't tell him to stop, even if I could it's not my place, but as a fan I'm 100% satisfied with what he's given me.
- I hope Weidman's next fight (most likely against Belfort) really lets him shine as champion. While I now wholeheartedly believe he's the best middleweight in the world, I have seen nothing from him to spark my interest. His wins previous to Silva were very nice (especially the one over Mark Munoz) but they don't captivate me. It's a lot to ask, and very nitpicky, but I need something more to get him beyond the banal description of "really quite good" in my mind.
That wraps up my thoughts for UFC 168. It's not my neatest package, I'll admit that a lot of what I wrote seems blindingly obvious, but, as always, that's the benefit of hindsight. Be sure to check back next week when I'll be talking about UFC Fight Night 34 and how poorly I'm affected by sleep deprivation.