UFC 161: What does a fight prove?


Every fight tells us something, even if that something is what we already know. While last night may have been short on entertainment, it provided a few real moments of clarity.

Mid UFC 161 my thoughts trended towards what a poor event this was, but, as is so often the case, by the end I found myself taking a more cautious approach to criticism. UFC 161 may not have been the pinnacle of sports entertainment, but it wasn't terrible. Many of the fights did a very real job of separating the competitors within their respective divisional echelons, sometimes that's all you can ask.

The divisional movement of UFC 161:

Obviously the big one here is the heavyweight division. Dana White suggested that Miocic should be up for Mark Hunt's 10 spot in the next set of UFC rankings (for the record Hunt is currently at 9), I don't know how I feel about Hunt being dropped just for losing to JDS, but ranking Miocic in the lower half of the top ten feels right. For Nelson's part, it would appear that he didn't just show Cheick Kongo the door at UFC 159, but took his job as well. Nelson seems to be falling into the roll of top 15 gatekeeper, the guy a fighter has to beat if he wants to be a part of the Heavyweight ruling class. Of course, all that assumes that Roy still has a job after last night.

In the night's other heavyweight bout, Pat Barry got destroyed by rising prospect Shawn Jordan. It's the second time in the last year (or so) that Barry has gotten knocked out by a heavyweight he really should have beaten and it may signal an end to Barry's main card saleability. Barry hasn't appeared on an undercard since UFC 104 in 2009, don't be surprised if this is the end of that streak. For Jordan it's his most impressive performance to date, he still has a lot to prove, but I expect him to be a main card fixture for some time.

It wasn't exactly earth shattering change, but the lightweight division saw a bit of a shakeup as well. While Sam Stout won another fight of the night, he failed to see the end of the third round for the first time since 2011, and the first time in a losing effort since 2006. lightweight has seen something of an old-guard stagnation with a number of veteran fighters who continually go win loss win loss. Of course Stout losing tonight doesn't change his predeliction, but the dynamic finish from Krause provides a greater sense of finality than many of Stout's decision heavy performances.

I'll add to this the heartfelt performance of Mitch Clarke, even though it was really a battle not to be the last of the lightweights. I don't know how much Clarke has evolved as a fighter (that seems to get thrown around for every guy who wins), but he has a high volume, dirty style that I kind of like. He's a much more welcome addition to lightweight than Maguire, who I have to assume is done with the promotion.

Last but not least in the category of divisional changes, women's bantamweight saw a reasonably decisive fight to establish Alexis Davis as a strong challenger in the division. Is she ready to fight for the belt? No. But much like Sara McMann she's showed herself to be a good upper divisional mainstay. Sexton impressed with her gameness, but I have the feeling that her size will be a problem for as long as she's fighting at 135.

The divisional stagnation of UFC 161:

There were high hopes for light heavyweight at this event. Many thought that Rashad Evans would show a return to form for a dominant decision over the aging Henderson. Others thought that Henderson would catch the notoriously catchable Evans and put him away. Unfortunately we got neither. Henderson and Evans fought well for a good three rounds, but the eventual result was a split decision that did little to dissuade Henderson from continuing to fight, or to bill Evans as a rejuvianted fighter. White said he's still waiting for "the old Rashad to come back" but I can't help but think that fighter was laid to rest at the feet of Lyoto Machida.

Ryan Jimmo vs. Igor Pokrajac happened.

Welterweights fought to similar results as their light heavyweight counterparts. The best thing that could be said of Jake Shields vs. Tyron Woodley is that we learned that Woodley has the ability to seriously check out of a fight. There was no good reason for him to lose to Shields, who couldn't take him down, and couldn't outstrike a match, but lose he did with a thoroughly lackluster performance. The win does little for Shields, but he'll keep getting tough fights until someone realizes he's beatable.

Pierson vs. Robertson continued to show that Sean Pierson is both a little better and a little worse than he seems, and that Robertson could be a better fighter, but needs to spend serious time developing more submission skills. Eventually much of my enthusiasm for both guys has been drained.

To wrap things up we really need to get a better idea of what submission grappling means to judges. The only thing I can think that was different between Pague/Jabouin and Delorme/Figueroa is that Delorme got hit harder and somehow won. I wasn't especially distraught by the decision for Jabouin, but the fact that he got less done than Figueroa to different results is troubling. Unfortunately for Pague it is almost certainly the end of his UFC run, and his loss was the only really definite thing to come out of the division last night.

All told it was a mixed event, not great, not terrible. I am always intrigued by divisional movement, and even a few of the fights that provided little clarity were fun to watch. If nothing else the heavyweight division suddenly looks quite different. The top of the division is molding itself into a world without 1-dimensional talents or un-athletic sideshows. A heavyweight division in which the top fighters can all be counted as serious athletes is a welcome sight and UFC 161 went a long way to getting us there.

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