UFC on Fox 11 is in the books. This was a fantastic card on paper that fully delivered in practice, and it was one hell of a lot of fun from top to bottom. Without further ado, let's take a look at the real winners and losers.
Jordan Mein: Mein looked fantastic after a year-long layoff, and clearly used that time off to grow as a fighter and round out his skill sets. Prior to yesterday's fight, he'd never completed a single takedown in his UFC/Strikeforce career; not only did he get Perpetuo down repeatedly, he looked damn fine doing it. His striking is still potent and dangerous from kicking range all the way into the clinch, and the ability to reduce the amount of damage his style entails through some top control will serve him well as he attempts to work his way into the upper echelon of the division. At the worst, he's an awesome action fighter, and best-case scenario, he can make his way into the top 10. A bout with Erick Silva or Mike Pyle would be guaranteed fireworks.
Alex White: Well, that's one way for a debuting fighter to introduce himself. White flew completely under the radar as a prospect, and I wouldn't have known about him but for the fact that his aggrieved manager sent me an angry email demanding to know why I hadn't included him in my prospect list. I think MMA fans should have a better idea about Alex White after that performance.
Jorge Masvidal: He beat ten kinds of hell out of Pat Healy, and dominated him thoroughly in every phase. While he's always been praised for his range striking, I've long thought that the best facet of his game is actually his deadly infighting, where his length and high level of technical skill give him vicious leverage and power on his knees and elbows. That ability at close range, combined with his other excellent skill sets, makes him competitive with just about anybody at 155. Moreover, he guarantees action every time he steps into the cage: give him Donald Cerrone and be quick about it, Joe Silva.
Thiago Alves: It's hard to believe that it had been two years since we'd seen Alves in the cage. He started a little slow against Baczynski, but by the end of the first round it was clear that Thiago was back and looking nearly as good as ever. I'm not sure he'll ever be a top-5 welterweight again given the way that the division has evolved around him over the last couple of years, but he's a stern test for anybody, a fantastic action fighter, and he still has the kind of name value that allows the UFC to use him as a headliner for smaller cards or as a great co-main for PPVs.
Khabib Nurmagomedov: Biggest win of his career? Check. Never find himself in anything approaching a bad spot? Check. Show off even better striking than he did in his last bout? Check. This guy is the real deal, and he's my personal pick as the fighter who's going to either take Pettis's title or at the very least give him one hell of a trilogy. It's impossible to say enough good things about the maturity and skill he showed in this performance. If somebody asked me to scout Khabib, I'm honestly not sure what I'd tell them: he doesn't seem to have any weaknesses in his game, and he's shown real, discernible improvement every time he steps into the cage. That's scary.
Yoel Romero: Speaking of scary - more like utterly and completely terrifying, actually - how about that Yoel Romero? Tavares is a plus athlete by MMA standards, and so are Derek Brunson, Clifford Starks, and Ronny Markes, and Romero made all of them look like they were moving through jello. I'm just going to say it: he has the most freakish physical tools in the history of MMA, and that includes Brock Lesnar. What he's doing as a 36 year-old is without precedent in modern MMA, and we should enjoy the hell out of this ultra-violent run while it happens.
Donald Cerrone: After pulling a classic Cowboy and giving away the first three minutes of the fight on a platter, a hard jab, back-take, and quick RNC took care of Edson Barboza. At this point, I think we just have to accept Donald Cerrone for what he is: limited by his questionable fight IQ, but all the more fun to watch because of it. I know I'd watch Cowboy fight any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
Fabricio Werdum: At last, we come to the biggest winner of all. Werdum looked outstanding in every phase of the fight, and he executed the gameplan (I did the scouting report on Browne) to absolute perfection. He was calm, methodical, and explosive when he wanted to be, while his wrestling and striking looked better than ever: the drive and finishing ability he showed on those single- and double-legs, for example, was really next-level stuff. This was, quite simply, the best version of Fabricio Werdum we've ever seen. Whether he has a real chance against Cain Velasquez or not, he earned that appointment for the heavyweight strap, and I know I'm excited to see him try.
Referee Jorge Ortiz: Where to start with the esteemed officiant in the Bektic-Skelly disaster? Well, he first waved off the fight after Skelly delivered two illegal knees, which should've made it a DQ loss for him. Next, he gave Bektic time to recover from the illegal blows, which is nowhere to be found in the unified rules of MMA. Finally, he failed to call in the doctor to examine a clearly-concussed fighter both during that five-minute period and between rounds shortly thereafter. Bektic showed a lot of heart in wanting to continue, and obviously he went on to win the fight, but he shouldn't have been put in a position to make that call. As Bektic put it in his postfight interview, "I was seeing two of him." That's not a guy who should be taking more shots, and Jorge Ortiz is to blame for it.
Hernani Perpetuo: Leaving aside the fact that one of the judges was apparently in the midst of a bath salt/face-eating binge and inexplicably gave Perpetuo two rounds, that was an atrocious performance. He failed to defend a single takedown from Mein, while the lack of volume striking that had been somewhat noticeable in the regionals came back to haunt him in a big way. Mein is a really good fighter, but for a prospect with some hype behind him, this was a bad debut: there weren't many flashes of potential to point to as bright spots in a losing effort.
Pat Healy: Look, I like Pat Healy. I think most MMA fans respect his aggression, pressure, and heart, and if you don't, we're not going to be friends. With that said, he's run into a hard wall in the UFC's lightweight division: if he can't get a fight to the ground or utterly dominate in the clinch, he's simply not going to win barring gross judging malfeasance. He's perfectly capable of serving as a gatekeeper to the top 15, and there's nothing wrong with that, but I have a hard time seeing him go any further.
Rafael dos Anjos: It wasn't a blowout or anything - RDA didn't really look bad, just completely outmatched - but it's hard to see this as anything other than a massive setback for dos Anjos. Given Nurmagomedov's ability to stuff takedowns and dominate in the clinch, it was always hard to see this as anything other than a brutal matchup, though dos Anjos had a few chances to do work at striking range. In any case, he looks like another fighter who's hit his ceiling in a woodchipper of a division, and while I'm certain he'll stick around at a reasonably high level, I doubt he ever gets this close to a title shot again.
Brad Tavares: The only word I can think of to describe Tavares' shocked expression at the end of that fight is "stupefied," as in, "how in the world is there a human being who's capable of doing those things?" We know, Brad. We're all asking ourselves the same question. Seriously, though, Tavares had his opportunities, especially when he backed Romero up against the fence, but he couldn't get his strikes off quickly enough to capitalize. Additionally, his wrestling - unlike Ronny Markes and Derek Brunson - simply wasn't good enough to threaten the 2000 Olympic silver medalist. I still think Tavares can be a top-10 caliber middleweight when he reaches his peak, but there's no denying that this is a real setback.
Edson Barboza: That's now three times that Barboza's been dropped in his last five fights, on this occasion by a jab, and it's time to start wondering whether he has the durability necessary to compete against the lightweight division's best fighters. Otherwise, he's a facepunching enthusiast's wet dream, with incredible explosiveness, hand speed, and a kicking game that's the envy of everyone in the division not named Anthony Pettis. Barboza will always be a fantastic action fighter, but you're never going to become a top-5 fighter, or even top-10, without the ability to take a punch and keep going.
Travis Browne: Werdum looked great, but I still came into this prepared to criticize Browne for some of the holes in his game. After some reflection, however, I want to focus on the things he actually did well, namely the twin facts that he defended two thirds of Werdum's takedowns and managed to survive on the ground with one of the world's best BJJ practitioners. He also gutted it out through a rib broken by one of Werdum's body kicks early in the fight. Those are real accomplishments, and he deserves credit for them. On the other hand, when you don't get into MMA until you're 28 and you rely heavily on your athleticism, there are simply going to be things that you don't have time to learn. While he has incredible athleticism and power, his basic process - the variety of strikes he throws, the rate at which he works, etc. - is deeply flawed, and I don't know if he'll ever fix that enough to compete with the very cream of the division. That doesn't mean he can't get better, but it does put a ceiling on him: he has to improve his skills while his athleticism diminishes over time, and hope that the progress in the one facet happens faster than the decline in the other. That's a tough spot to occupy.
Otherwise, Bektic and Skelly put on a fun, back-and-forth fight, though it's unfortunate that it was marred by the incompetence of the aforementioned Mr. Jorge Ortiz. Derrick Lewis showed some ridiculous power in putting away fellow debutante Jack May, but given the fact that May blew out his knee, it's hard to put too much weight on it. Dustin Ortiz and Ray Borg put on a fun, back-and-forth scrap that should give us some hope for the future depth of the flyweight division. Caio Magalhaes beat the crap out of Luke Zachrich, which was pretty entertaining if not existentially meaningful. I couldn't put Baczynski in the losers' column: he looked as good as he ever has against a really quality opponent. I was totally uninspired by the Tate-Carmouche fight, and I don't think the result does much to change either fighter's position in the women's bantamweight division.