UFC 171 is in the books, and it delivered fully from the Fight Pass bouts into the televised prelims and all the way up through the main card. Hendricks and Lawler put on a fight for the ages in the main event, a performance that was backed up by crazy action between Alex Garcia and Sean Spencer, Jessica Andrade and Raquel Pennington, and Rick Story and Kelvin Gastelum. There were only a couple of bouts that didn't deliver fireworks, and they're easily forgotten in the midst of the fantastic action. Let's take a look at the real winners and losers.
New-School Prospects: Sean Strickland, Justin Scoggins, Alex Garcia, Kelvin Gastelum, and Myles Jury all won their bouts in convincing fashion. Garcia got dragged into one hell of a slobberknocker/donnybrook/ridiculous brawl with Sean Spencer, but he still showcased the skills that have marked him out as a guy to watch for several years now. Scoggins utterly dismantled the solid Will Campuzano in every single phase, who not so long ago gave Sergio Pettis a tough debut fight in the UFC. Strickland made Bubba McDaniel, another solid test for a young fighter, look as if he didn't belong in the same cage. Gastelum's decision over Story was controversial, but still an impressive and rather polished performance from such a young and relatively inexperienced young fighter. Jury utterly outclassed the overmatched and rapidly declining Diego Sanchez. In each case, we should note that top-notch wrestling is an absolutely essential part of the toolkit for a young fighter. It used to be that a young guy could get away with sub-par takedowns and takedown defense while he adjusted to a higher level of competition, but it's become a prerequisite for UFC success. Additionally, we saw the importance of athleticism: each of these five utterly outclassed his opponent in speed and explosiveness. In short, we saw an excellent demonstration of the characteristics that the next generation of bright young up-and-comers brings to the table.
Dennis Bermudez: Nobody expected much from Bermudez coming into his Ultimate Fighter final with Diego Brandao, and it's easy to forget that his follow-up with Pablo Garza was an even-money fight. Now riding a six-fight winning streak after beating Hettes in a fashion that had red-headed stepchildren and rented mules everywhere wincing in sympathy, Bermudez has developed into one hell of a fighter, with vicious power in his hands, a surprisingly technical offensive striking game, and a brutal takedown arsenal. Bermudez still has some more-or-less serious holes in his game - his defensive striking needs work, and his top game could be heavier - but he's a really promising guy in a stacked division, and he delivers action in just about every matchup.
Ovince St. Preux: Say what you will about Krylov, but OSP did exactly what he was supposed to do as a 4:1 favorite. Hitting the second Von Flue choke in UFC history, and putting Krylov to sleep with it, ain't half bad either. I'm not sure what OSP's ceiling really is - it's hard to tell in a division filled with that many Social Security recipients - but hitting a sick submission on a main card certainly isn't a step backward. Moreover, that high kick to double-leg sequence was amazing, and there aren't many guys in any division who can pull that off. It's time for a step up in competition to see where he's really at.
Hector Lombard: There are two lines of thought abut Lombard's performance. The first emphasizes his long periods of inactivity in top position, while the other focuses on the viciously potent strikes he landed and the slick trips and throws he hit on Shields. Both are perfectly viable, but I'm choosing to emphasize the second, because I think it was a deliberate strategy to maintain his shallow gas tank as long as possible, and that's a mature strategy against a guy who's nearly impossible to put away. I doubt Lombard will get the next shot at Johny Hendricks, though he's as deserving as anybody in the division, but I know I'm excited to see him in action again.
Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler: That was one of the greatest fights of all time regardless of combat sport. Both guys spent almost the entirety of the fight in the pocket, showcasing remarkably technical striking, incredible power, and nearly undentable chins. It was crazy, wonderful, beautiful, disturbing, utterly insane, and a privilege to have seen it. The rate at which Hendricks continues to improve is remarkable, and Lawler's pace (up until the final three minutes) was eye-opening, and a good sign if he wants to continue headlining major events. All in all, that was as good as MMA gets, and it cemented both fighters in the pantheon of the all-time greats.
Texas judges: 29-28 Lombard, 29-28 Spencer, 29-28 Pennington, and 30-27 Gastelum were all actual scorecards turned in by the judges yesterday, and all of them were bad. The judge who gave it 30-27 to Gastelum, Daniel Mathisen, also inexplicably scored round 1 of Jury-Sanchez, a round in which Diego produced zero meaningful offense, for Sanchez. In the main event, Douglas Crosby gave the second round to Hendricks 10-8 while giving Lawler a 10-9 third with a drawn fifth. That was an indefensibly bad display of judging, even by the terrible standards to which we've become accustomed.
Jimy Hettes: Hettes was utterly outclassed by Dennis Bermudez. He's young and talented, with excellent Judo-style takedowns and a strong submission game, but he hasn't grown much, if at all, as a striker since getting viciously pummeled on the feet by Marcus Brimage 18 months ago. More worrisome still is the fact that he's been clearly outclassed in speed, explosiveness, and power by two of his last three opponents. If we look at the featherweight top 10, there isn't a single fighter who wouldn't hold a substantial physical edge over Hettes, with the possible exception of Nik Lentz. There's nothing wrong with being a fringe top-10 fighter in a tough division, and perhaps he can surprise, but we saw Hettes' limitations on full display once again.
Jake Shields: Yikes. The less said about Shields' performance the better. For a 35-year old with a distinctly unpopular style and an expensive contract, failing to produce any meaningful offense either on the feet or on the ground was pretty bad. Given their recent decisions with fighters like Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami, I wouldn't even be surprised if the UFC cut Shields outright. While that'd be a sad ending to the UFC career of one of the all-time greats - in all seriousness, look at the guys he's beaten at both 170 and 185 over the years - there's no way they're ever going to put him in another title fight, and he doesn't have enough prime years left to work his way back to the top of the division.
Diego Sanchez: With the loss to Jury, Sanchez drops to 3-4 since losing his lightweight title bid to BJ Penn. If the fights with Gomi and Kampmann had been scored correctly, he'd be 1-6. That's a really serious decline, and it should be clear that Diego's best years are probably behind him, especially given the fact that he's not just lost in most of those, but been outclassed and soundly beaten. Maybe he'll go on a late-career run and revitalize his career, but that seems distinctly unlikely. This was a fight he had to win to remain in the fringe top-10 conversation, and he didn't look like he belonged there.
I'm not really comfortable putting Woodley and Condit in either column. Woodley looked fantastic early, landing clean and powerful right hands, but Condit was starting to turn it up a bit when the knee injury happened, and it's hard to tell what would've happened had that fight continued. Hopefully the injury isn't particularly severe, because Condit's been around a long time and has a lot of wear on the tires, and I hope this doesn't bode poorly for his future health and career longevity. Woodley, on the other hand, looks like a fighter just beginning his prime, and I think we can expect good things from him going forward.
Let's give some profound thanks to the MMA gods for the card we watched last night, because it was fantastic. We're all winners on that count.