Hindsight: Fight Night Nogueira vs. Nelson in retrospect

Maxx Wolfson

I look back dimly into the past for my memories of Fight Night 39 and those moments of brilliance that were my pre-fight picks.

Following the wholesale bloodletting that was Fight Night: Shogun vs. Henderson 2, I needed a card like this to get back on track. Something that didn't rip out my sense of self confidence and grind it into the mud. So, this card raised my vicarious spirits and made for a genuinely pleasurable experience. Although I was disheartened to see Noguiera go out the way he did, I had pretty well prepared myself for it emotionally before hand. So, the personal blow wasn't so heavily delivered.

Disclaimer time: In my own small way I did actually do a bit of gambling this card, in a pick-off with SevereMMA.com's Sean Sheehan. Unfortunately for both of us, being the excellent analysts we are, we both made the exact same picks for every fight on the card. Eventually, I won on points when Jared Rosholt won by decision. It's really only a moral victory, but as I said above, I need every win I can get these days.Otherwise, as always, I offer only the barest modicum of gambling advice and really only for the unforeseen future when last card's fighters will fight again. I'm using BestFightOdds for the odds for each fight and taking the mode for each fighter.

Hindsight: Johnny Bedford (+145) vs. Rani Yahya (-170) (I picked Yahya, I was wrong-ish)

  • I really wish that there was something to draw from the action itself in this fight. But neither man did anything effective before the accidental headbutt that ended it.
  • Bedford's behaviour all around was a bit troubling however. Not for his post fight feelings. I get that, that's fine, if a bit hard luck. But, his complete lack of awareness of the referee who was clearly between the two fighters as Bedford threw his final blows. It was an obliviousness that continued all the way up until the official no contest reading. It's good to be dialed in for a fight, but it's also the kind of lack of awareness that can get someone DQ'd in the future.
  • Bedford's calling for a rematch in this fight, and if he gets it I might honestly pick him to win it. I'm not sure why. There was nothing to read from that fight, but I like what I see from Yahya less and less of late.

Hindsight: Jim Alers (-235) vs. Alan Omer (+200) (I picked Alers, I was right)

  • The big swing moment in this fight was when Alers clipped Omer coming in and dropped him momentarily. I've seen a few people retroactively calling it a possible slip, but in the moment it looked like Omer's legs went out from under him, almost certainly sealing the second for Alers. It was a very small turning point in a very good fight.
  • Both these fighters have a very bright future, and something to work on. Alers has to keep working on his striking. He has great power and timing, but too many defensive holes to stand and trade for long periods. For Omer, he has to continue to drill wrestling fundamentals. He did great early, but the later the fight went, the more easily he got taken down.
  • For all that I said about where these two need to improve, I see very few bad fights at the bottom of the featherweight divisions. Neither man should have any trouble rising up the ranks with a few more wins against the lower end of 145.

Hindsight: Thales Leites (-650) vs. Trevor Smith (+400) (I picked Leites, I was right)

  • I wasn't half as surprised at Thales Leites apparent punching power as I was at how quickly Trevor Smith went down. I probably should have paid more attention to Smith's history as this is the third time now that he's gone down to strikes early in the first, although the first time since 2012.
  • Leites really has improved quite a lot as a striker. He throws his punches with speed and power and does so fairly consistently. It's a skill that he's been flashing in each of his past two performances and this fight felt like a real culmination of his skill development. It will be interesting to see if this causes a tactical shift in future fights.
  • Trevor Smith is between a rock and a hard place in a packed 185 lb division. There are plenty of fights for him if the UFC wants to give them to him, but his complete lack of defense and lack of any finishing offense don't bode well for his long term future at this level.

Hindsight: Daniel Omielanczuk (+220) vs. Jared Rosholt (-300) (I picked Rosholt, I was right)

  • There's been a mournful thought picking it's way through my brain recently. It may be entirely possible for Jared Rosholt to fight his way into the top ten of the heavyweight division on his wrestling alone. In the current field, only Cain Velasquez stands beside him in terms of pure technique, so there's no reason that Rosholt couldn't beat anyone at the lower end of heavyweight and build his way up the rankings.
  • That said, he needs to spend some serious time working on striking defense. I don't know if he can ever unlearn what appears to be a deeply ingrained reaction, but his predictable tendency to turn his head and body away from strikes as they land is going to get him destroyed some day if he doesn't correct it.
  • One of the best learned things for any heavyweight has to be takedown defense, and that the rules are different for it at 265 lbs. Lighter fighters can get away with knee counters (although I'll never be sold on the guillotine as a set counter), but at the top of the weight divisions, where getting back to your feet is often a monumental task, stepping knees are rarely if ever a good idea to counter a shot. Omielanczuk loves them, and got taken down at least twice off that counter alone.

Hindsight: Beneil Dariush (-270) vs. Ramsey Nijem (+215) (I picked Dariush, I was wrong)

  • I feel like I should apologize to Ramsey or something. I did think it was possible he could win here, but even then assumed it would be off something wild like a spinning backfist or jumping knee or something unexpected. I didn't expect him to just look like the more technical, stronger fighter, but boy did he ever.
  • Dariush might have to consider cutting weight, although I'm not altogether sure that that was his problem in this fight. Nijem looked bigger and I'm sure he was stronger, but he won because he was able to find Dariush's chin repeatedly in exchanges. That's got nothing to do with size and everything to do with Dariush still being a raw talent.
  • I'd love to say that I totally trust Nijem now and will be picking him whomever his next opponent, but given his history, that simply can't be the case. There's no shame in losing to Myles Jury, but that loss to James Vick is a really bad one and he'll need to prove himself in at least one or two more fights before that loss is gone from my memory.

Hindsight: John Howard (+325) vs. Ryan LaFlare (-400) (I picked LaFlare, I was right)

  • John Howard is a great competitive fighter, but he punches himself into the clinch far too often, and once he's there he doesn't have nearly enough fight ending tools. He had this fight won in the second round, but his insistence on trying to out wrestle and out grapple LaFlare totally sapped his offensive momentum.
  • LaFlare continues to be a nearly perfect three dimensional fighter, and continues to have two major flaws. The first is pretty obvious, his striking defense is predicated mostly on high energy movement. That's a good thing, but as he slows down, better strikers have been able to crack him hard. It hasn't cost him yet, but it feels like an inevitability. The second is that he's still not a finisher. His grappling, wrestling, and striking are all rock solid, but they don't lead to fight ending moments. I'm not sure how you fix that.
  • Howard is still lingering on the edges of the welterweight top 20. I don't know that he's ever going to be a better fighter than he is right now, but the fighter he is right now should be able to beat a large portion of the welterweight division. And this loss shouldn't be a major setback.

Hindsight: Clay Guida (-145) vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri (+130) (I picked Kawajiri, I was wrong)

  • Perhaps odds makers knew something I didn't when they set the line for this fight, because I thought Kawajiri was the clear favorite. And, that said, Guida's performance came as a complete surprise. He looked more comfortable than he has at any time in the past three years and while I hate to see Kawajiri lose, I welcome seeing Guida return to some sort of competitive form.
  • Unfortunately for Kawajiri, barring a sudden run of exciting finishes, this is probably the end of the line for him as a potential top ten fighter. It was a nice dream while it lasted, but his striking is far too basic for the upper end of 145 and while his wrestling and submission game are still deadly it's hard to win consistently on those two things alone.
  • Of course, the next step for Guida is going to be a very tough one. He called out Conor McGregor, which makes no sense to me, since Guida is the much more storied fighter at this point in his career, but a battle between him and Jeremy Stephens seems like it should be in the cards, considering how surprising it is that they haven't already fought.

Hindsight: Roy Nelson (-165) vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (+140) (I picked Nelson, I was right)

  • For hardcore fans of Big Nog, this fight had all the hallmarks of being a hard pill to swallow, even from the outset. In a division still rapidly increasing in skill and athleticism, heavyweight bouts are decided by chin 9 times out of 10. And when it came to a battle of chins, that was a battle Roy Nelson was destined to win.
  • Unfortunately, the newer, slimmer version of Roy Nelson that had been teased over the past couple of years, seems to have been substituted for "Classic Roy" as he looked as out of place as ever in the cage, winging overhand rights and slowly but surely degrading in pace. He's become much better at doing some Hendo-like things in terms of luring opponents into his right hand, but it'd be hard to pick him against the division's elite.
  • I'm not going to say Nogueira has to retire, because he's an adult and that's not my place, but I would like to think that those people that know him best are in his ear right now talking to him about his future and what that could look like if he stays in the sport. This was a foreseeable loss, and the kind of fight he shouldn't be taking down the line.

That's all for hindsight today, but of course I'll be right back for the TUF Nations Finale in the middle of next week. There, I'll no doubt be talking about how Michael Bisping isn't any closer to a middleweight title shot after beating Tim Kennedy and how Patrick Cote still has a weird kind of relevance with his shirt off. Anyhow, so much of what I wrote seems pretty obvious now, but as always, that's the benefit of hindsight.

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