UFC 172 is in the books, and it was a hell of a card from beginning to end. Without further ado, let's take a look at the real winners and losers from last night's festivities.
Danny Castillo: A guy with proven power in his hands knocking out a guy with a suspect ability to absorb shots isn't exactly a surprising outcome, but damn, there was a second there where I thought he killed poor Chuckles Brenneman and his glorious mop of hair. Castillo's never going to win a title or anything, but he's a fantastic gatekeeper to the top 20 at lightweight, and he's pretty entertaining while he does it. Moreover, he's shown real improvement over his UFC career, and it's always great to see a guy maximize his talent.
Takanori Gomi and Isaac Vallie-Flagg: That was a fantastic fight that reminded us all of what a special mixed martial artist Gomi really is, even this deep into his ridiculously long career, while demonstrating the heart and durability of his worthy opponent. Sure, Gomi's lost a step or three compared to where he was seven or eight years ago, but if that really made this fight less enjoyable for you as a viewer then I'm a little sad.
Joseph Benavidez: That slick-ass guillotine - Elliott had to tap with his feet, since Benavidez had his arms trapped and the choke was so tight that he couldn't verbally submit - moved Benavidez to 10-0 in his last ten non-title fights. Outside of Mighty Mouse, he's almost certainly the best flyweight on the planet, and beating a game, tough, and highly skilled fighter like Elliott so convincingly just cements that status. I'd be down to see Benavidez and Johnson fight a few more times, but I'm not sure whether the UFC brass is interested in putting a third fight together, especially given the rather decisive ending to their last meeting. Instead, we'll probably have to be content seeing JoeB style on the division's lesser mortals for the foreseeable future.
Max Holloway and Andre Fili: Yet another fantastic fight. Before you go criticizing some of the rawer aspects of Fili's game, remember that he's 23 and that this was only his second UFC fight, while the 22 year-old Holloway has been in there with the likes of Dustin Poirier, Dennis Bermudez, and Conor McGregor during his eight-fight UFC career. There's no shame in losing a competitive bout to a fighter with that kind of experience advantage. Both of these guys are going to be around for a long, long time, and I'd be surprised if we didn't see a rematch at some point down the line.
Jim Miller: Yes, he was supposed to beat Medeiros, but you have to admit that was impressive as hell. He beat Yancy from pillar to post, hurting him with slick, powerful combination striking before jumping on a guillotine that he tightened up with patient, technical mastery. I think Miller is ready for one more run at the division's top dogs before his prime years run out, and given the way he's sharpened his already-venomous BJJ and improved his striking over the last couple of years, I wouldn't feel confident picking against him.
Luke Rockhold: Another guy who was supposed to win did so, but I don't have enough superlatives to describe Rockhold's performance. The way he scrambled out of a deep single-leg, the use of the inverted triangle as a control position, and the kimura finish were all picture-perfect combinations of fantastic technique with great awareness and pure athleticism. I'm not sure he'll beat Chris Weidman, but he has the length, the explosiveness, the technical striking, and the defensive wrestling and grappling to give the champion (or anybody else at 185) absolute fits. That's the fight I want to see.
Anthony Johnson: That was one of the most impressive performances we've seen in the UFC this year. He dismantled Phil Davis - who, lest we forget, is a legitimate top-8 light heavyweight - from beginning to end. Actually, to be perfectly precise, Rumble beat Davis like the rented mule of a red-headed stepchild. He stuffed the D-1 national champion wrestler's shots like Davis was a freshman stepping onto the mat for the first time, brutalized him with crisp counter punches, and, unlike his first stint in the UFC, maintained a calm, methodical pace throughout the fight. I doubt Johnson will be allowed to jump the line for a title bout with the Great One, but I know that's a scrap worth seeing down the road.
Jon Jones: The UFC sets them up, Jon Jones knocks them down. In another era - 2008-9, say - Glover Teixeira might have been a champion: he has the wrestling, the boxing, the underrated submission game, the power, and the athleticism. Today, he's just another name on Jonny Bones' ledger, another warm body to be dominated. There shouldn't be any doubt at this point that he's the greatest light heavyweight of all time, and the battle for pound-for-pound best is a two-man race between Jones and Aldo. That's not to say that he's perfect - the defensive holes at boxing distance are still there, although they're getting smaller - but his ability to deliver glorious violence at every single slice of range is awe-inspiring and nearly unparalleled. Simply put, when we watch Jon Jones, we're seeing one of the greatest of all time. Hate him if you like - nobody ever said you had to like a fantastic fighter - but never forget how special he is.
Charlie Brenneman: The knockout loss to Castillo brings Brenneman's overall UFC record to 4-6, with all six of those losses coming inside the distance (4 by KO/TKO). He's also been dropped in five of those losses. It's not just that Brenneman doesn't have the greatest chin in the world: he combines that with absolutely terrible defensive technique that hasn't markedly improved despite the fact that he's been a professional for nearly seven years. There's no doubt that his UFC career is over, barring him having compromising photos of White or the Ferttitas, and he should seriously think about retiring.
Tim Elliott: The hardest of hardcore fans have known about Elliott for a while now, but a win over Benavidez or even a competitive decision would've done wonders to raise his profile in an underexposed division. He looked great early, really taking the fight to JoeB, but he eventually got caught in one of the perennial bridesmaid's signature submissions. I don't think this really hurts him as far as his position in the division is concerned, but it was a tremendous missed opportunity.
Tim Boetsch: It sure seems like a long time ago that Boetsch wandered into an improbable slot in the top ten following his vicious comeback KO over Yushin Okami and lackluster decision victory over Hector Lombard. A combination of bad luck (the injuries against Philippou) and regression to the mean (Munoz, the should've-been-a-loss against Dollaway) have left him in an unenviable spot. He's still a solid fighter, but he's peaked, and I'm not sure the UFC will see any reason to keep him around after this.
Phil Davis: Yikes. I picked Rumble to win - I was sold on his improved cardio, technical striking, and wrestling during his stint outside the UFC - but I thought it'd be a hell of a lot closer than that. He got beaten in every single phase of the fight, from wrestling to striking to gameplanning, and by the end of the first round it was clear that he had no answers for Rumble. We can point to a number of identifiable factors here, from Davis' failure to develop anything resembling power behind his strikes (for which we can partially blame his camp, Alliance, which emphasizes movement over proper weight transfer), to his inability to set up his shots with punches, to some real regression in his wrestling game. Whatever it was, however, Davis might have hit his ceiling with his current camp and training partners. With less than six years of experience under his belt, he's still young enough to drastically improve, and for the sake of a thin light heavyweight division, I hope he does.
Glover Teixeira: I'm not sure any athlete in the history of combat sports, from ancient Greek pankratists to present-day light heavyweights, could have beaten Jones tonight. With that said, it's hard to deny that this was a huge setback for Glover. At 34 and with twelve years of experience under his belt, it's unlikely that he's going to be able to make a run for the top, and even if he does, would anybody pick him to beat the champ? This was his shot, and it didn't go his way.
Williams may be one of the worst fighters to compete in the modern UFC, so while Beal's flying knee KO was about six steps beyond awesome, it's hard to tell where he's really at. Duke and Correia were fairly underwhelming, and while Correia has decent potential in the division, Duke still looks too raw to compete at this level. I have a hard time putting Medeiros in the Losers category, given the fact that he was taking a huge step up in competition on extremely late notice; he's still an intriguing and obviously talented prospect in the division.
We'll see you back here next weekend for another edition of Winners and Losers.