Aside from the opening fight, all of the prelims had a good amount of re-watchability to them. Yes, I realize that I just made up a new word. There were a good amount of upsets on the card (and my picks surely reflect that) and the largest one involved a TUF winner emerging over a longtime staple in the welterweight division. I'm not going to dawdle any longer though. Dig in!
* indicates I was right in my pick
This was one of those fights that could have gone either way and I would not have bitched with either result (I did personally have it for Gastelum though). Both fighters were able to rock the other (Gastelum in the first, Story in the second) and neither were able to establish a true dominance in any one aspect of the fight. If this were fought 100 times with these guys at their current levels, I think they would each win 50 times. The difference maker here: Gastelum showed a lot more versatility in his striking and mixed things up better to keep Story guessing where the next shot was going. I'm sure Gastelum is fine with everyone underestimating him... he does very well in that role.
I admit I wasn't sure Gastelum was quite ready for someone of Story's level (I know I wasn't the only one) and Gastelum did what he does best: prove everyone wrong. He had an excellent game plan and not only mixed up his strikes, but was able to use his wrestling to score points and even threatened with a submission at one point. I'm not in favor of throwing him into the next level quite yet. The fight was very close and feel Gastelum should prove himself against someone in a similar position. Mike Pyle just barely beat Story himself less than a year ago and recently beat down TJ Waldburger. Pyle is very savvy as well and provides a different sort of test for young Gastelum.
Its safe to say that Story will never be thought of as a contender again at this point. His 6-fight win streak was ages ago at this point and he'll have to settle down into a not-so-glorious position as a gatekeeper. While he threw more kicks than usual, his striking is still very predictable (left and right hooks to the body). I'm surprised he hasn't developed a more efficient jab at this point considering he spent time at the TriStar Gym. The best way for him to maintain exposure is to beat an established veteran... which would be someone in decline. Josh Koscheck and Nate Marquardt (whom he has been scheduled to face before) are excellent candidates. I'm sure neither vet would feel insulted to be matched with Story either.
I was really hoping that Andrade would be able to bring out the best in Pennington as Pennington has looked to tentative in the cage at times and it drives me insane because she is capable of developing into a contender. I'd have to say Andrade pretty much did that. Both women went at it hard and deserve props for their performance. Lots of punches were thrown and landed and the best way to describe it was a brawl. Who doesn't like those? Andrade was the aggressor and controlled the Octagon which is what likely mad the biggest difference in the score cards. Pennington threw just as many punches as Andrade and even had a close submission attempt. Even though she lost, that was the best Pennington that I've seen thus far and feel that was one of those fights where both competitors walked out a winner.
Andrade reaffirmed the many comparisons of her being a female version of Wanderlei Silva as it seems like it is physically impossible for her to move backwards. It seems to be working for her at this point though. Its a shame that there still aren't a lot of options available in the women's division quite yet (Julianna Pena's injury doesn't help either) as I wouldn't want to throw Andrade in the ring with someone like Liz Carmouche again quite yet. The only fight I really like for her at this juncture is fellow Brazilian Amanda Nunes. Both a bite-your-lip-and-give-'em-hell type fighters, own two UFC victories, and aren't quite ready to jump into the short list of contenders. The winner of those two would likely be ready at that juncture.
I don't care that Pennington lost, she looked great. Better than I've seen before. While she may be older than Andrade, she doesn't have the same amount of experience as her. Battles like these will only help her confidence grow and should result in a more exciting and competitive fighter. Germaine de Randamie has a similar amount of fights (though a lot more kickboxing experience) and coming of a loss to the aforementioned Nunes. I would expect Pennington to look even better her next time around and de Randamie is a winnable fight... but not a gimme either.
*Dennis Bermudez defeated Jimy Hettes via TKO 3rd Round
It went about how I expected it: largely back and forth with Bermudez swinging some wild shots (and landing some) and Hettes throwing the more technical shots. Bermudez took the fight to the ground a couple of times and was able to utilize his wrestling to control the savvy Hettes down there and landed some nice GNP. Bermudez was in control for most of the fight and would have taken a decision baring some Hail Mary from Hettes before the stoppage. Neither fighter should be disappointed in their performance and know that they left the crowd pleased.
Bermudez is on one hell of a streak having pulled out 6 in a row at this point. And all of them have been pretty damn entertaining too. There are still holes in his game (his wild punches will leave him wide open to a skilled counter puncher) and he isn't ready for the divisions elite yet, but he isn't far off. Dennis Siver would have been perfect to line him up with next, but Siver's recent positive steroid test puts his future plans in doubt. So we'll look at Nik Lentz. Sure, Lentz lost to Chad Mendes in December, but everyone not named Aldo has lost to Mendes and Lentz was able to go the distance with him... something no one has done recently.
Hettes is either gonna have to get stronger to avoid the stronger wrestlers like Bermudez or improve his standup and takedown defense. My guess is he'll focus on the latter. Maybe even both. He didn't have enough pop in his punches to really keep Bermudez honest. It isn't that he is bad, he just needs a little more oomph to make himself a real threat. He is still young enough that I expect that he'll be able to improve and come back stronger. If Hacran Dias can ever get healthy enough to make an appearance in the Octagon, he'd make an ideal test for Hettes in his next time around. Dias has a number of similar features to Bermudez.
*Alex Garcia defeated Sean Spencer via Decision
This fight was the early FOTN candidate, largely for the action in the second round (not to take anything away from the other rounds, but the second was by far the best). Both fighters rocked one another and almost finished the fight. Both fighters looked better than they had up to this point and even though Spencer lost, his stock was certainly raised as a result of his showing. But in the end Garcia utilized takedowns to his advantage to make sure that the decision went his way.
Garcia showed a lot of maturity in this fight. Yes, he threw some haymakers, but they were overall well-timed and didn't often put him at a disadvantage. In addition to swinging for the fences, I was worried that he would gas himself out and allow Spencer to take the advantage. But he paced himself and was able to keep up with the cadio sound Spencer. I'd love to see him face Adlan Amagov next, but don't know when Amagov will be available next. So his next test should come from the winner of the Jordan Mein-Hernani Perpetuo winner from UFC on FOX 11. I expect Mein to win and it would be an intriguing battle of young Canadian guns.
Spencer showed more power than he had in any of his previous fights and also showed a hell of a chin. I figured that he wouldn't be able to develop in a mainstay in the organization, but now I'm not so sure that thought was correct. He is still young enough that he hasn't come close to reaching his ceiling. A match with Omari Akhmedov would seem appropriate. Both entered the UFC at middleweight and prefer to have a standup war. Why not?
Francisco Trevino defeated Renee Forte via Decision
In what had to be considered an upset, Trevino was able to come back from losing the first round to Forte to outstrike the Brazilian the final two rounds to take an entertaining decision. Forte was able to establish himself as the better grappler in the first round and was able to take Trevino down quite a few times, but made the mistake of letting Trevino find his rhythm and get loose. I guess he didn't interrupt it enough with the takedowns. I admit that I figured Trevino was more of a novelty due to his Mexican heritage and the fact the UFC intends to take a card to Mexico soon. It seems I could be wrong.
I said that I didn't see anything particularly special about Trevino before he made his debut and even though he emerged the victor, I still largely feel the same. He did a solid job of mixing up punches and kicks and good technique in his punches. But he looked to be at his best after Forte "blew his wad" (thanks Joe Rogan). Trevino did show good heart and cardio though and those will keep anyone in a fight. I'm sure the UFC would love to set him up for victory on a card in Mexico for his next fight. Ernest Chavez actually reminds me a lot of Trevino in the fact that neither has a true standout quality. Even better though, it'd be anyone's fight.
Forte can't seem to put together his talent on a consistent basis and has likely cost himself his spot on the UFC roster as a result with a 1-3 record. Throw in the fact that he missed weight and it seems to be a foregone conclusion in my book. It is conceivable that he could pick up some wins on the Brazilian circuit and make his way back... but it isn't something that I would hold my breath on.
Scoggins had a severe size disadvantage to Campuzano, but sure as hell didn't let that get in the way of overwhelming Campuzano in every aspect of the fight. He outboxed him, landed some nice kicks to the head, and took him down multiple times. Campuzano may only have one WEC/UFC victory, but he isn't a joke and threatened with a serious guillotine in the second round. In the end though, Scoggins' talent was far too much to overcome.
Scoggins fights with an enthusiasm that is fun to watch and he tempers it by showing a well-rounded game and fighting smart. His kicks are pure joy to witness when they connect and his wrestling has been better than anyone expected. He shows good elusiveness too. He is only 21, but it is safe to say at this point that he will likely be challenging for the title in a few years. I don't think its wise to throw him to the wolves quite yet though. Dustin Ortiz and Alptekin Ozkilic square off in Abu Dahbi in April. Whoever wins that would be a good opponent for Scoggins.
Campuzano could be leaving the Zuffa brand for the third time. He has lost to solid opponents and could still pose as a good test for a newcomer, but its hard to look at his 1-6 record in the WEC/UFC and think that fans can take him serious. I like Campuzano and think that he deserves to be in the UFC... but don't see it happening at this point. You never know... he could get a fourth shot with the company if he can go and pick up some wins outside of the organization. I wouldn't hold my breath though.
The first minute of the fight went about how I expected it to with McDaniel showing solid and well-rounded striking. But once the fight got against the cage and Strickland was able to use his strength advantage, he muscled McDaniel to the ground and stayed heavy on top of him before being able to get McDaniel's back and secure a RNC. I'm not so much surprised that Strickland won, but how easily he won.
I haven't been impressed with Strickland's striking and he really didn't showcase them much tonight either, but he is going to have to at some point. If he can address that issue, he is going to be a serious prospect to watch because his wrestling is good and his GNP is simply outstanding. Sure, he won the fight by submission, but the GNP is what set up the W. The key thing to remember is that he is still just 23. I would want to see some standup from him before a serious step up in competition. Caio Magalhaes has won two in a row, but hasn't done so in particularly impressive manner. A bout with Strickland is a fantastic measuring stick for both fighters.
McDaniel is in a tough spot. He is 1-2 now in the UFC and his one UFC victory was over a clearly outmatched Gilbert Smith and though he hung tough with Brad Tavares, Tavares is far from a finishing machine. I could very easily see him going by the wayside. Throw in the fact that his antics on TUF haven't exactly made him a fan favorite... see what I mean? If he hangs around I'd line him up against Tom Watson who loves to scrap and would allow McDaniel to showcase his standup.
Rob Whiteford defeated Daniel Pineda via Decision
When Whiteford was able to close the distance, he controlled the fight with ease, largely doing so by pressing against the cage and scoring some takedowns. Early on Pineda controlled the fight from a distance, but Whiteford landed a few kicks to the head to rock Pineda and establish his range and made sure that he was in control of the fight. The takedowns were the biggest difference though and allowed Whiteford to walk away with a win. It wasn't a horrible fight and Pineda slapped on some knee-locks that had Whiteford in pain, but I it should have been more than it was.
Whiteford may or may not have had his back against the wall (seeing as how the UFC only believes in releasing fighters for legal issues), but responded well regardless of what the reality of his situation was. Seeing how badly he tired shows that he still has a long way to go before he becomes a mainstay in the division. Zubaira Tukhugov won his UFC debut about a month ago over short notice opponent Douglas da Silva. Seeing as how Whiteford's potential seems to be limited, he makes the perfect test for the young Russian. If he wins, it shows he has more potential than I thought.
Pineda may be saying bye-bye to the UFC. He has now lost 4 of his last 5 and none of his victories are over opponents that are on the roster. He is capable of fun fights, but didn't really live up to that in his fight with Whiteford. If he can be lucky enough to hang around a little longer, he would be the perfect opponent for Andy Ogle. Ogle has a less than impressive 1-3 record himself, but shows great heart every time he steps into the Octagon. Plus, I see Ogle bringing the best out of Pineda.