Hindsight: UFC Fight Night 35 in retrospect

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Travel back into the furthest reaches of the minds eye, deep into the distant past of two days ago. There we shall find my pre fight picks, the wreckage of knowledge past, and sift through them for what treasure remains.

What a mess. This card had mess written all over it from the outset, and boy did it deliver. Not in terms of action, the action was great. There wasn't one bad fight all night (well perhaps a couple were mediocre), but as far as results and expectations go, it was a mess. Betting favorites went 8-4 on the card, which seems much better on paper than it felt like live. This is partially due to a rough decision for Dustin Ortiz, but also because there were a lot of close lines and tossup fights. "Why are you talking about odds though? You don't gamble." you might be heard to say... well...

Disclaimer time: If this were truly an update post on how well I gamble, each one would get more disillusioned, desperate, and drunkenly debased. As I don't gamble I get to keep my sense of verve and pluck and use the occasional gambling tools like odds and whatnot (I'm a bit at sea beyond odds) as a frame of reference for how masterful or masterless I really am. Now, on to the fights.

One last note: Our own T.P. Grant has asked, nay demanded, to be a part of this weeks hindsight article. He will be joining along with a thought or two per fight, plus his own pre-fight picks and how much worse they were than mine. (spoiler, they weren't)

Hindsight: Charlie Brenneman vs. Beneil Dariush (I picked Brenneman, as did T.P., we were both wrong)

  • Occasionally I'm my own worst enemy. I've said time and again that a weight class change doesn't change the fighter and Brenneman proved just that in his UFC return.
  • Dariush has the feel of a special talent. The UFC picked him up as an unbeaten prospect who had yet to face one bit of serious competition. Often that doesn't pay off, but here it looks like they got a top flight lightweight.
  • This loss does leave me asking what's left for Brenneman in the UFC. I don't think he gets cut right now, but it now feels like he's just filler on the roster. This was a must win fight for him, and he didn't just lose, but he lost badly.
  • T.P. - In hindsight, which is the whole point of this I suppose, this fight makes sense. Dariush had budding power, and Brenneman is pretty easy to hit, and when he gets hit he gets hurt.

Hindsight: Vinc Pichel vs. Garett Whiteley (I picked Pichel, as did T.P., we were both right)

  • Garett Whiteley is the more skilled fighter, no doubt about it. His one skill, striking, is better than Pichel's one skill wrestling.
  • That said, Whiteley is also the much lesser athlete. Pichel was able to use his far superior strength and dynamic movement to get Whiteley down, beat him in scrambles and keep him on the mat for extended periods of time.
  • The big question, going forward, will be Pichel's striking. He got hit a lot in this fight, and did very little to distinguish himself against an opponent that he had the necessary tools to dominate on the mat. He comes in on straight lines, tries to muscle too many things, and is utterly predictable in his attempts to close distance on the feet. If he can't shore that up he's not much longer for the division than Whiteley.

Hindsight: Alptekin Ozkilic vs. Louis Smolka (I picked Ozkilic, as did T.P., we were both wrong)

  • It was with a lot of reservation that I picked Ozkilic in this fight. His boxing against Uyenoyama was bad, bad, bad. He focused on punching to the body, as it's been a weakness for Smolka in the past, but his lack of accuracy to the head meant that he rarely was able to close distance effectively.
  • Smolka's range striking improved by leaps and bounds coming in to this fight. Most particularly his kicking game. If he can keep creating distance with his legs, he'll be a tough out for anyone at 125.
  • I am shocked by how well Smolka moves at 5' 9". I expected him to be a slighly less drawn out Marcus Vinicius, basically a very hittable zombie. But he showed every bit of the necessary fleetness of foot to compete at flyweight.
  • T.P. - This fight was a perfect example of how important scrambling is at Flyweight. Smolka was able to win most every scramble and as a result escape the grasp of the superior wrestler in Ozkilic.

Hindsight: Brian Houston vs. Trevor Smith (I picked Smith, as did T.P., we were both right)

  • This fight was all about seasoning. Houston had all the raw skills that he needed to beat Smith on that night, but he doesn't have the experience to put everything together and keep going for the full 15 minutes.
  • There was a time, not long ago, when every new-ish middleweight had to be considered as a potential prospect (basically where we are right now with light heavyweight). The division is deep enough now that guys like Smith and Houston can be a lot of fun to watch, while still being utterly removed from any talk of long term potential.
  • In Strikeforce, Smith was something of a predictable clinch grinder. He had good dirty boxing, good takedowns and a strong top game. It seems like he's traded a lot of that for a more brawling, fan friendly, style and I can't say it's doing him any favors.
  • T.P. - Smith was able to make use of his superior grappling, but it was concerning how clearly the cut he received in the second round of the fight panicked him.

Hindsight: Elias Silverio vs. Isaac Vallie-Flagg (I picked Silverio, T.P. picked IVF, I was right, T.P. was wrong)

  • All credit to Patrick Wyman, for pointing this out, but my read on Silverio was that he's quite strong but doesn't have much power on his strikes. Wyman pointed out that he leaves his feet behind when he punches and it takes a lot of steam off of them. He's young and it's fixable, but at the moment it's a notable flaw.
  • I wasn't glad to see Vallie-Flagg lose, he seems like a nice enough guy, but the way Silverio put it on him really did a lot to distinguish himself from the chaff at lightweight. He's skilled in all areas of the fight, he just needs to figure out how to finish with authority.
  • That knee Silverio threw was interesting. Knees to the upper torso of kneeling opponents have become more and more common, but it's an incredibly dangerous game to play. I didn't like the point deduction as I felt it hit his chest and it was IVF's own arm that snapped up into his head, but I can't really argue with the ref punishing a fighter for toying with illegal strikes.
  • T.P. - A skill I look for in strikers when gauging if they are going to succeed in MMA is how well they control distance. Silverio showed true generalship over the distance in this fight and I left very impressed with him.

Hindsight: Justin Edwards vs. Ramsey Nijem (I picked Nijem, T.P. picked Edwards, I was right, T.P. was wrong)

  • There is essentially no way that Nijem becomes a top 10 lightweight with his current style, but he has the raw athleticism and the steady improvement to become a long term divisional mainstay.
  • Edwards doesn't create a lot of his own opportunities as a fighter. The longer fights go and the more of a rhythm they fall into, they harder time he has of breaking out of patterns and making things happen.
  • Nijem is clearly working on his striking defense and technique, but he still has a habit of waiting at the end of his punches after he throws a big strike. That's where he most often gets hit and Edwards cracked him several times because of it.
  • T.P. - Nijem is improving on the feet, his work with Tareq Azim seems to be paying off. Azim is the striking coach for Gilbert Melendez and focuses heavily on fundamental boxing skills.

Hindsight: Cole Miller vs. Sam Sicilia (I picked Sicilia, T.P. picked Miller, I was wrong, he was right)

  • I was really hoping to see a decidedly bullish and violent Sam Sicilia in this fight. Instead I got a predictable brawler without any good tools to close distance. Sicilia can be fun, but he needs opponents who are willing to play his game.
  • One of the biggest developments I saw out of Miller in this fight was the use of his elbows to block strikes. As we've seen with many tall fighters, the forearm guard is often ineffective for the holes it leaves. Miller was able to deflect almost all of Sicilia's hooks by catching Sicilia's forearms with his elbows. It confounded Sicilia all fight.
  • I hope that these improvements in Miller's striking live beyond this fight. If he can use range more effectively he can stay off his back and off the cage where he's most likely to get ground down and beat.

Hindsight: John Moraga vs. Dustin Ortiz (I picked Ortiz, T.P. Picked Moraga, I was wrong-ish, he was right, sorta...)

  • To my credit I feel like I had this fight dead to rights. Ortiz used his much superior in cage wrestling and scrambling to put Moraga on his back and keep him there. He just didn't get a whole lot done when that happened.
  • Moraga is many things, but I doubt that a top ten flyweight is one of them. I'd be surprised if he ever gets another shot at the title, even in a thin division.
  • Ortiz seems much more dedicated to his strengths in the UFC than he did on the regional circuit. He still spends a bit too much time dancing around with his hands low, getting popped. But he's making the most of his wrestling advantage when he has it.
  • T.P. - Moraga's grappling looked like hot garbage. His wrestling is ok, but once on the ground he is not a natural scrambler, and has some gaps in very basic knowledge. I assumed that Moraga's struggled on the ground in his last fight were due to Mighty Mouse's excellent grappling, but this fight showed the problem goes much deeper.

Hindsight: Derek Brunson vs. Yoel Romero (I picked Romero, as did T.P., we were both right)

  • I got a hot tip (I talked to Iain Kidd) that Derek Brunson had spent his training camp at home rather than at a larger, more professional camp and that it would probably wreck his cardio. I was laughing after two rounds, and reflecting somberly after three.
  • Romero is going to remain something of an enigma over his UFC career. A wrestler who doesn't wrestle, and a mercurial striker who often flits between lackadaisical inactivity and highlight reel violence. He can't be counted out of any fight, but it's hard to trust him against strong opposition.
  • One thing I've noticed repeatedly in Romero's takedown defense game, is that he seems totally unfazed getting taken down, because he has, to this point, found it incredibly easy to make his way back to his feet relatively unscathed. It may be that he just doesn't consider takedowns a real threat, even if they land.
  • T.P. - Romero had devastating ground striking to end the fight, but he still looks a little stiff in the stand up and is very hittable. He is putting together wins but he is going to hit a hard wall at some point with his current skill set.

Hindsight: T.J. Dillashaw vs. Mike Easton (I picked Dillashaw, as did T.P., we were both right)

  • This is the version of Dillashaw I hoped to see against Assuncao. That version of him ended up looking much more like the guy who fought Hugo Viana. This version looks like a kickboxing monster who can wrestle and grapple.
  • I don't know that there is any fighter in the UFC right now who transitions his kicking game in and out of his boxing as well as Dillashaw looks to. Maybe Cub Swanson or Carlos Condit, but Dillashaw is in rarefied air when it comes to transitional kickboxing.
  • Easton has got to be one of the most clearly "ceilinged" mid level fighters I've seen. He can certainly beat lower tier bantamweights, but he seems to lack any single skill that would make him competitive against the upper half of his division.
  • T.P. - Dillashaw was worlds ahead of Easton on the feet. He was putting strikes together while cutting angles, something MMA fighters don't often do separately, much less together. It was a big step forward for him and makes him a very dangerous striker and a challenging match up for just about anyone.
  • T.P. - Easton continues to struggle with putting his very good skills together into a formula that wins MMA fights. Those struggles continued as he was overwhelmed. Easton is a talented guy but doesn't seem to be growing as a fighter and he seemed a little too okay with being on the wrong end of an utter beating to make me think he is on the verge of a big stride.

Hindsight: Lorenz Larkin vs. Brad Tavares (I picked Larkin, as did T.P., we were both wrong)

  • I really felt that the book had been written on Tavares going in to this fight. He just doesn't fight with enough urgency and, honestly, it seemed like a problem he'd never fix. Which leaves me totally shocked that he managed to kick his very solid offense up a gear and keep Larkin off Balance for two clear rounds.
  • Now the question becomes, did this fight write the book on Larkin. He spends way too much time, in every bout, looking for perfect power strike opportunities. His footwork often lets him get away with that kind of passivity, but it's routinely kept fights he should win very close. Here it handed him a clear loss. Against any high level opposition it's always going to be a question.
  • What does the UFC do with Tavares from this point forward. It seems like the next fights available to him are a huge step up in competition. But giving him another lower to mid-level fighter just seems wrong when you're on his kind of run. I say give him the shot and see how he fairs.
  • T.P. - Tavares is 7-1 in the UFC and I don't think I can remember one memorable thing about any individual fight. He works a simple 1-2, flicks out a leg kick, stops takedowns, and does just enough to win. He is a solid fighter, but his total lack of power and killer instinct are holding him back.

Hindsight: Constantinos Philippou vs. Luke Rockhold (I picked Rockhold, as did T.P., we were both right)

  • This fight made a ton of sense for both men, who badly needed a boost after poor showings in their previous fight. Rockhold really made the most of his opportunity and can consider himself right back in the hunt with this win.
  • Does any camp change look worse than Philippou leaving Serra/Longo in the hopes of an eventual title shot. What was previously a dangerous and improving power punching middleweight now appears to be a one dimensional fighter who is at a loss against multifaceted opponents.
  • I'd never really paid attention to Rockhold's kicking game in the past. It will now be a point of interest for me in every fight he has going forward.
  • T.P. - Rockhold remains one of MMA's committed and powerful body kickers, something many MMA fighters are hesitant to do. He beat Jesse Taylor up to the body, hurt Jacare to the body, and now finished Philippou with a liver kick. It is a serious weapon in his arsenal he is able to use because has no fear of the takedown due to his scrambling skills.

There you have it, all the thoughts that I could muster, and a few musings from our own Mr. Grant to fill in wherever I was found lacking. So much of what we wrote seems perfectly obvious now, but, as always, that's the benefit of hindsight. Be sure to stick around on Bloody Elbow for all the other post fight news, notes, breakdowns, and results.

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