Hindsight: TUF China Finale in retrospect

Paolo Tabuena via MMA Fighting

Come on over and sit down for the vacation photo slideshow that is my memory as I travel back in time to Saturday, March 1st and the Ultimate Fighter China Finale.

For the first time I can remember, I didn't watch a UFC event live*. As a man of discerning tastes**, I am the proud owner of a Fight Pass subscription. Which means that, after a little bit of waiting for UFC.tv to get the main card up and running, I was able to watch the Ultimate Fighter Finale only a couple hours after it had finished its regularly scheduled broadcast. "But, what are you doing with your life that you have to watch TUF China?" Some of you might be heard to say***. Well, I'm writing about it, for one. We can't all be Kid Nate, pantomiming our way through Pride event coverage ̊. If I'm going to give post fight thoughts on pre-fight picks, I'm probably best off watching the fights somewhere in-between.

Disclaimer time ̊̊: I ate it hard on fight picks for this card. And, as a result I wholeheartedly endorse Anton Tabuena who tried to show me the error of my ways before the event and who I shunned for obvious reasons ̊̊̊. So, this isn't a betting guide; because I can handle looking like a fool, but I can't handle losing money. However, I'll still be talking about odds and all that good stuff, in reference to why I did so poorly. With that in mind, read, learn, and take solace in the fact that I'm probably a bit worse at this than you are.

Hindsight: Mark Eddiva (+265) vs. Jumabieke Tuerxun (-450) (I picked Tuerxun, I was wrong)

  • It turns out that one of the things one should be most dubious of when scouting prospects out of China is wrestling credentials. Tuerxun looked like the better grappler on the regional circuit, but his grappling wasn't nearly strong enough to take down a much better athlete with a practiced sprawl. If he can't change that, his time in the UFC will be exceptionally short and brutal.
  • Eddiva really impressed me. Not just with his striking fluidity, but with his well rounded style. He wasn't afraid to grind it out and keep Tuerxun tired and worn down and he was more than capable of pot shotting him on the feet. Eddiva fights smart and that bodes well for his long term prospects.
  • Eddiva threw a lot of knees to the body while on the ground, and vertical elbows while striking. He didn't get many warnings for illegal techniques, but he clipped Tuerxun in the face with a knee while he was down at least once, and threw at least one elbow that looked 12-6. It's worth noting for the future that he seems more than willing to skirt the rules.

Hindsight: Albert Cheng (+100) vs. Wang Anying (-125) (I picked Cheng, I was wrong)

  • This is a fight where I really probably should have payed better attention to the odds, as close as they were. I didn't know much about Cheng and Wang going in to this fight, but it ended up being all one way traffic in the cage.
  • Wang didn't look overly impressive outside of his kicking game, but he was aggressive and at 22 years old he has time and room to grow.
  • It's fights like this that do make me wonder if the skill pendulum has swung so far in the strikers direction that they should be given the baseline advantage in fights between poor competition. Is this just a reflection of the poor quality of grapplers on this card, or are strikers getting enough basic grappling training these days to give them the edge more often than not? I know it's becoming the case at the higher levels, interesting to see it at the bottom as well.

Hindsight: Vaughan Lee (+130) vs. Nam Phan (-160) (I picked Phan, I was wrong)

  • Pre-fight I talked about being unsure of which Vaughan Lee would show up, I can't say I ever imagined it would be this one. He looked absolutely electric in the cage and glided past Nam Phan as though Phan wasn't even there.
  • Phan has been a slow starter lately. It took him two rounds to get going against Mizugaki, and he never got going in this fight. I'd say it's the worst performance of his career, but I watched him fight Dennis Siver live. He wasn't with Alpha Male for this fight, though I doubt it would have made a difference. After 13 years and 31 fights it may be time to look at other options.
  • I really hope we continue to see this version of Lee in the cage. It's only been one fight since a pretty definitive loss to Raphael Assuncao, so I'm not ready to jump on a Vaughan-piloted hype train. But I will eagerly await his next fight to see what he brings with him.

Hindsight: Kazuki Tokudome (+145) vs. Yui Chul Nam (-200) (I picked Tokudome, I was wrong)

  • Well, at least I knew what I was talking about when I said these two would stand toe to toe and clubber each other until one of them fell. But, I didn't count on Nam's superior athleticism. He has a ton of fast twitch muscle and power and was worlds faster than Tokudome. He also burned all his reserves though, and almost gave the fight away because of it.
  • Tokudome is about as tough as a fighter can be, in fact he may be too tough for the sport. I feel like I have a much better bead on him after this fight, however. And unless he's fighting bottom rung opposition I should pick him to see the final bell, but probably not to win.
  • This fight is practically an argument for a knockdown rule in MMA. Classically this has been a sport that prides itself on a sense of safety because it doesn't let fighters take the same kind of prolonged punishment as boxing and kickboxing. I realize a lot of that has always been "pillow talk," but I wouldn't have complained if this fight had been stopped in the first round.

Hindsight: Hatsu Hioki (-600) vs. Ivan Menjivar (+350) (I picked Hioki, I was right-ish)

  • I'm not arguing that Hatsu Hioki lost this fight, but last week I issued something of an ultimatum: Hioki has to win to keep me interested in him as a fighter. He fulfilled his half of the bargain, but I'm not fulfilling mine. Menjivar is a good fighter and a crafty vet, but this was Hioki's chance to shine and he didn't. If this had been a five round fight I'm almost certain he would have lost it.
  • Menjivar definitely looks better at Featherweight, and I hope he stays there. He may have gotten outgrappled by Hioki for two rounds, but Hioki's a great grappler. I don't think that had much to do with size. He'll be small at 145, but he seems like he could be a lot more effective than he has the past few years.
  • For a while it looked like Hioki had really turned a corner with his kickboxing. He talked about spending more time wrestling and working on his strength and conditioning for this fight, and I'm not sure if it was that, his opponent, or something else but his striking looked regressed. This reminded me a lot more of his George Roop performance.

Hindsight: Shawn Jordan (-115) vs. Matt Mitrione (-115) (I picked Mitrione I was right)

  • Overlooked in his performance against Brendan Schaub is that Schaub is generally a better striker as well as wrestler and grappler than Mitrione. He has less of a chin, but he's otherwise just better. That doesn't mean that Mitrione didn't have all the necessary tools to dismantle Shawn Jordan, however, and he did so pretty easily.
  • Jordan needs to figure out what he is, quickly, because he's running into the Pat Barry wall head on. He's short, he's powerful, and he's athletic, but he has to do more than just box with fighters. He has the ability to take the fight down, and he has great ground and pound, but he can't afford to stand-n-bang with his striking.
  • Mitrione will almost assuredly never develop into a more potent MMA fighter, but what he is is really pretty solid considering he's fought his entire career in the UFC. He's big, athletic, active, doesn't gas, and apart from one KO loss to Roy Nelson when that was what Roy Nelson was doing, he's been tough to wobble. I wouldn't be surprised to see him stick around as a mid division gatekeeper for quite a while, and maybe even slip into the top ten given enough favorable matchups.

Hindsight: Wang Sai (-300) vs. Zhang Lipeng (+230) (I picked Sai, I was sorta wrong)

  • Did anyone actually score this fight for Zhang outside of the two judges? I know Florian and Anik didn't, and none of the audience seemed to either. Hell, even Zhang looked totally shocked. Either way, both these guys will stick around for a bit, so it's not going to break Sai's career, but it's a bad ending to the first season of TUF China, no question.
  • I was surprised a bit by Wang Sai's ground game. Not a ton, because it wasn't great, but a bit in that he was largely able to escape Lipeng's control and reversed him often enough to show that he'd put at least a little time in.
  • Welterweight and lightweight, as thick with potential matchups as they are, are a terrible place for a raw fighter to cut their teeth in the UFC. Fighters are going to have to be very carefully picked to face these two, or those 10-fight contracts won't be worth the paper they're printed on.

Hindsight: Dong Hyun Kim (-350) vs. John Hathaway (+260) (I picked Kim, I was right)

  • It's a weird way to pick fights, but I really do think this was a matter of momentum. Dong Hyun Kim appears to be on a mission at the moment, a mission that will not be denied, or at least not until he meets a much better striker again.
  • Hathaway fought to his usual strengths in this fight, but after such a long layoff I'm not sure he was prepared to deal with the level of confidence and aggression that Kim brought with him to the cage. That fight ending spinning back elbow was a thing of beauty and could knock out any fighter on any night.
  • That said, what has happened to the Kim of old? He's always been cocky, in a fun way, but now it feels like he's throwing away his old tools in the belief that he can do anything he wants out there. His striking does look better, but I'm not all that convinced that a second fight with Carlos Condit wouldn't look a lot like the first.

That's everything for the TUF China Finale, and quite frankly it was a little bit of a chore to even put that much coherent thought together for this card. More so than ever these insights feel terribly obvious, but as always that's the benefit of hindsight. Until next week, when I can talk about how Alexander Gustafsson wrecked his leg by daring to let it touch Jimi Manuwa.

*That probably doesn't say anything good about me.
**A sucker.
***I have a rich inner dialogue.
̊ I'm not totally convinced Nate has ever actually watched an MMA fight.
̊ ̊ This is accompanied by the disclaimer time dance.
̊̊̊ The man takes pictures of his food for crying out loud.

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