Wowy wow wow! Wow. UFC 171 was one of those cards where the idea of picking winners or losers sort of goes out the window. There are few better things than a night of fights that leaves you a bit shocked and jittery, that takes you away from whatever else might be going on in your life. As a sports fan, these are the moments we watch for. This is why you sit through countless hours of grinding, methodical, actionless competition. Because, hope beyond hope, it might just turn into the most amazing thing you've ever seen. And when it does, you'll have seen it. So for those die-hards who never miss an event, this one is for you.
Disclaimer Time: I don't gamble, but this is sort of a gambling post (kinda). For such a great card, this was a pretty bad night for me, fight picking wise. As I said above, I couldn't really give a damn this time around. I'll take a few bad beats for the amount of enjoyment I got just from watching. There were several fights that were incredibly hard to predict going in (although I'm sure more than a few of you will talk about how easy it was to get them all right) and a couple of fighters who pulled out big and unexpected upsets. As always I'm using BestFightOdds for the over/under and taking the mode for each fighter. So, here's what I learned.
- I'm not at all sure why Pineda was a fairly decent betting favorite going in to this fight. Whiteford suffered from a terrible matchup against a better Judoka in Hettes his first fight out, but he's a solid talent. Not exceptional, but solid.
- Pineda really obviously doesn't have any sort of plan when he fights. He has some skills he's developed, but he doesn't seem to have any sense of when or how to use them. As such, he often seems to be looking to react based on what his opponent does and gives up a lot of ground because of it. Whiteford knew what he was looking to do everywhere the fight went and stayed a couple steps ahead of Pineda because of it.
- He worked primarily out of ATT for this fight, apparently, but between his home base (Dinky Ninjas) and his stateside training, Whiteford has had a lot of really solid training. It makes it somewhat surprising then, that he still seems plagued by cardio issues. It's going to be the biggest hurdle he has to overcome in the UFC if he wants to keep winning fights.
- Personal bias probably played a part in this pick for me. It rarely does, but I've talked to McDaniel and he's a really good guy. I wanted him to win. Knowing what a hulking middleweight Strickland is and how good his ground and pound and top control game are, he was probably the safer bet to finish this fight.
- Strickland still needs to work on his striking a bit, but not a lot. It's getting to the point where it's functional, and Middleweight isn't filled with highly polished fighters in the lower half of the division. He could easily make do with the tools he has right now on his feet and keep mauling fighters on the ground.
- The MO on McDaniel has always been that he's not confident enough in the cage. I'd like to say that I don't see it, and that he just go outworked, but frankly it's a pretty fair assessment. Strickland was the stronger fighter, but McDaniel just seemed to freeze up when the fight stopped going his way. It also doesn't help that that long neck of his makes him really easy to catch in chokes. Sometimes genetics does you no favors.
- Scoggins may be the best young fighter below 155 lbs in the UFC right now. There are a couple of other fighters in the running (McGregor, Tanaka, Pettis, Horiguchi), but Scoggins' displays of not only excellent kickboxing but really dominant wrestling make him a must watch fighter who's flown under most people's radar.
- I wish there were a better takeaway for Campuzano after this fight, but after seven fights under the Zuffa banner he's 1-6. He's got a rock hard head and he's scrappy, but he just doesn't seem to have the pure physical tools to compete at this level. It's too bad, as he's been very good on the regional scene, but that might be his ceiling.
- This was a pretty utterly dominant performance from Scoggins. That said, Campuzano did look like he tagged him just a little in pure striking exchanges, and I'm not sure but it looked like Scoggins might have hurt his foot or knee later in the fight. His style is predicated on a lot of good footwork and dynamic movement and I just hope that his body can stay fit enough to maintain it. Although, at least we know he won't ever be lacking for energy.
- Even watching this fight, there is no reason Forte ever should have lost it. Trevino is really only competitive coming forward or standing in place. Once he's pressured he opens up huge defensive holes. The fact that Forte did lose that fight, and pretty clearly, is a huge knock on his ability to compete in the UFC.
- Trevino caught something of a lucky break in making his debut against Forte, who just doesn't seem cut out for the UFC. He's also fortunate to be entering into the lightweight division right now, when there's a glut of new talent coming in and he'll have a lot of opportunity to get his feet wet.
- Fights like this cast a pretty bright light over how wide a net the UFC is casting in their current search for new fighters. Of the 13 bouts on this card, this fight stood in stark contrast to the bouts around in in terms of both fitness and skill.
- I really expected a more dominant performance out of Garcia in this fight. He made it pretty clear in the first round that this bout should have been all one way traffic running right over Spencer, but then opened up some major holes once he couldn't get the early stoppage. High energy kick boxers aren't exactly rare in the UFC, and Garcia needs to prove he's not just a front runner.
- Tough break for Spencer. This was always going to be a bad fight for him, and he did a lot better than I expected, but it's still not a great performance. He's proved now that he's got a rock solid chin to go with his solid cardio and decent striking, but he also doesn't have any power. He hurt Garcia badly with some sharp shots, but couldn't put it on Garcia once he had him hurt. Future opponents are going to get a lot of time to work against him.
- The really good sign for Garcia in this fight is how well he used his wrestling and takedowns once he was hurt and tired. He has an excellent double leg and he times it beautifully. It keeps him in place as a bright prospect as you need to worry about more than just his ferocious power, even when he's hurt.
Hindsight: Dennis Bermudez (-280) vs. Jimmy Hettes (+210) (I picked Bermudez, I was right)
- I'd be lying if I said that I thought that Bermudez would be anywhere near as dominant as he was in this fight. He threw Hettes around like it was nothing. And while Hettes might have been able to make the final bell, he should consider it a mercy that he didn't have to try.
- This fight was the basic equivalent of getting shoved into your locker by the high school bully for Hettes. It's not time for him to drop out or anything, but he needs to take a long hard look at his training because he can't even pretend he was ready after that mauling.
- Bermudez had a brief scare at the end of the second when he attempted a terrible arm drag/throw and essentially ended up tossing Hettes into back control. He fended off RNC choke attempts just fine for the rest of the round, but it was a boneheaded move and slightly reinforces the idea that Bermudez doesn't always fight the smartest fight.
- Speaking of fighters who need to take a good look at their preparation, Raquel Pennington has the size to be one of the more physically imposing fighters at 135 lbs. Given her crisp striking, she should be bullying her opponents. Instead it's usually the other way around. Andrade is hyper aggressive and very powerful, but Pennington's tendency to back down did her no favors.
- Jessica Andrade has a serious wall in front of her in terms of size. She's really muscular, so there are reasonable questions as to whether she can go all the way to 115 when that division opens. But, as her level of competition increases it's hard not to see her getting easily out muscled, or at the very least, being far less effective due to her size disadvantage.
- Andrade needs to work on a kicking game. She has great power and throws well in combination, both of which are rare for a fighter in the women's division. However, as fights wear on she gets more and more predictable due to her limited arsenal. An improved kicking game would be the best, easiest next step to take.
- I don't know if it's blind faith in the Ultimate Fighter system, or a case of someone having a really good inside line, but I was pretty shocked to see Gastelum as the betting favorite. I wasn't all that high on him coming in to the UFC, and was pretty surprised when he completely tooled Brian Melancon. Now, after his performance against Story, I'm firmly on the bandwagon.
- Even though he lost, Rick Story really showed the value of his experience as he didn't get thrown off his game plan even as he was getting lit up early on. It's not always the best idea (see Danzig vs. Guillard), but against a still green fighter like Gastelum it served him really well as Gastelum began to lose concentration in the second.
- One of the big things Gastelum still needs to work on is creating consistent offense. It's one of those things that only comes with time and often plagues young fighters, but the value of staying active cannot be undersold to fighters. There are a rare few (the Lyoto Machidas of the world) who can make a decent career as almost a pure counter striker, and even Machida has had to become more aggressive to win consistently.
- I almost took a flyer on Krylov here, and I'm really glad I didn't. I think I needed him to lose a fight like this to really give me appropriate perspective on just how raw he is. He's a fun fighter, and no matter how much T.P. Grant wants it, the UFC wont cut him. But, he has a long, long way to go before he's ever competitive, even at light heavyweight.
- Ovince St. Preux is very quietly finally living up to some of his hype. He's a great athlete and a reasonably talented fighter. While his current win streak has come against the bottom of the LHW division, the fact that he's winning consistently makes him a fighter to watch at 205 lbs.
- It might be a little bit tough to find St. Preux a UFC fight that's a step without it being a drastic step up. It'd be interesting to see him take on Cavalacante and see if one of these former Strikeforce guys can make a real mark in the UFC.
- I might have been foolish to pick Shields here, but in my defense, he got just the kind of fight he usually wins. Unfortunately for him, when Lombard wasn't utterly stifled by the Shieldsian miasma, he was busting Jake up for everything he was worth.
- Lombard turned in a great performance here, that shouldn't be overlooked. But he asked almost as many questions as he answered. Shields is a stifling fighter, so maybe that was all it was, but Lombard basically fought not to gas for the second half of that fight. Against a more active opponent he probably wont get the opportunity.
- How often have we seen Hector Lombard use his judo with that level of consistency? Has it ever happened? Because I can't remember ever seeing it. Either way it was great to see him reach down into a bag of tricks we always knew he had, in order to make his performance that much more dominant.
- I'm not sure I'm altogether on board with the idea that Alliance MMA fighters don't try and finish fights. It's certainly a narrative that doesn't fit Jury too comfortably, as he's finished the majority of his opposition. But, I do think there could be some reasonable criticism that Alliances striking style doesn't place enough emphasis on combination striking or on jumping on finishing opportunities. Jury had Sanchez pretty thoroughly outclassed and him saying it was "easy" afterward might as well be shorthand for "I could have done a lot more, but didn't."
- Unfortunately, whether his food poisoning story really holds any water or not, it gives Diego a pretty convenient out to soldier on blindly into the next fight. He didn't look any different at UFC 171 than he has over the past couple of years, but as long as he can convince himself that he's still got it, I expect to see him out there. Sooner or later he's going to get KO'd and badly.
- Jury is very likely about to become a factor at 155. Whether a sensible function of the rankings or not, he just beat a top 15 fighter and is 5-0 in the UFC to date. That kind of record has got Khabib Nurmagomedov all the way up at no. 7 and it could mean that Jury's next fight is a huge step up.
- Unfortunately for Condit, injury or no, this fight was going exactly the way of his loss to Johny Hendricks. Even if he had survived he almost certainly would have been down two rounds going into the third. At that point he's depending on his ability to put away a very solid, durable fighter. It could happen, but I don't think it would have.
- Tyron Woodley has now affirmed his status as one of the divisional elite at 170 lbs. Condit was a big challenge and he passed it with flying colors. He was getting tagged up a bit in the second round, but turned up his wrestling to keep Condit off balance, and even got the TKO because of it. He's a smart powerful fighter with developing tools and a threat to anyone in his division.
- Even without the injury, this may be the end of Condit as a title relevant fighter. I'd like to think not, as his relative youth (he's only 29) and all action style make him a lot of fun to watch. But, 12 years in it feels a bit like he's a riddle that's been solved. If it hadn't been for Kampmann gassing hard (and the fact that the fight was 5 rounds) Condit would probably be on a 4 fight losing streak with all of his losses coming from the same formula. These are all top competition losses, but they probably represent a ceiling that's now just below no. 1 contention.
Hindsight: Johny Hendricks (-400) vs. Robbie Lawler (+325) (I picked Hendricks, I was right)
- What an insane betting line that was to start out with. Robbie Lawler proved in this fight that he is a terrible matchup for Johny Hendricks and should only ever have been treated as such. Hendricks may have great takedowns, but he's not very keen at keeping top control and that meant Lawler would get a lot of time on his feet to trade blows. He made the best of that time, even in a loss.
- Johny Hendricks is the true champ, at least in my eyes. There is a vocal faction out there crying robbery, but I can only chalk that up to an especially rabid old-school fanbase that was invested in seeing one of their classic idols hold a UFC belt. Hendricks proved everything he needed to in that bout, including the fact that he could rally back from a bad beating to win.
- Lawler is something of a minor miracle in this day and age of fighting. The time he spent away from sparring in training may have contributed to his lackluster mid-career run, but it seems to have done wonders for his longevity. Hopefully at at least a few fighters can find some wisdom in his route (and maybe just make sparring a bit safer), because the end results definitely seem worth it.
And just like that I'm drained dry of inspiration. UFC 171 was an emotionally taxing event. Some part of me still doesn't quite believe that it's really over. Much of what I've written about it seems painfully obvious now, but as always that's the benefit of hindsight. Stay tuned for next week's column when I wax poetic about Henderson vs. Rua and why it failed to live up to the original.