Well, ladies and gentlemen, we had ourselves one hell of a long day of fights. Twenty-two of them, to be precise, and some of them were great, others were solid, and a few were downright bad. Without further ado, strap yourselves in, and we'll discuss yesterday's real winners and losers.
Maximo Blanco: Ogle isn't a top-10 featherweight or anything, but it was nice to see Blanco finally showing the speed, diversity, and power that had everybody really excited about him a few years back. He's also ten different kinds of crazy, which he pretty clearly demonstrated with a couple of flying front kicks that landed flush and a pretty slick hip toss. A Blanco fight will always be a chancy proposition, given his propensity for doing something mind-blowingly stupid at least once per fight, but that's why we love him. This victory means he gets to stick around for a while longer and grace us with his particular brand of awesome violence.
Iuri Alcantara: Whelp, that was an absolute pasting. There was no real reason to think this would be a competitive fight, but Alcantara did exactly what he was supposed to do in blowing Lee away with a vicious overhand. With two wins in a row under his belt, Alcantara is undoubtedly ready to get back to fighting top-10 competition: he belongs in that tier of the bantamweight division, and it's time for the UFC to treat him that way.
Nick Hein: The German judoka showed why a lot of people were really high on him coming into this fight with some big takedowns and surprisingly slick in practice if not aesthetically pleasing counter combinations. I don't know what his ceiling really is - he's a little older than the average prospect - but he has outstanding physical tools, big power in his hands, and a really, really high-level takedown game. He also has a ton of swagger and charisma, and I can't wait to see him fight again.
Niklas Backstrom: Uhhhh, that was awesome. I had Backstrom as the 11th-ranked prospect on my Searching for Future Champions list, and said in my prediction that Niinimaki would be in for a surprise if he tried to mess around in the grappling with the young Swede, but I didn't expect him to pull off a disgustingly cool choke like that. Niinimaki is no joke on the ground - he soundly beat Rani Yahya there and won European grappling titles - and Backstrom manhandled him. The 24-year-old Allstars product, with his already-vicious clinch game, outstanding ground skills, and developing striking, has a bright future ahead of him.
C.B. Dollaway: No two ways about it, that was the biggest win of Dollaway's career. He ate some hard shots from the towering Frenchman, but replied with a steady stream of powerful punches and kicks and eventually began to work his stifling wrestling and scrambling games to put him away for the convincing decision. This is the best version of Clarence Byron we've ever seen, and he's earned his shot at a guy higher up in the top 10. Do I think he'd win that fight, whether it's against Jacare, Rockhold, or Romero? No, but he deserves the opportunity, and I'm stoked to see him try.
Gegard Mousasi: If you were wondering whether the difficult loss to Machida would set Mousasi back, you needn't have worried. He dominated Munoz in every phase, shut down his wrestling game, and showed off some of the sugar-sweet grappling that's always been the hallmark of his MMA game. He's a legitimate top-10 middleweight with boatloads of top-level experience who still has a lot of room to grow as a fighter, and we're only now seeing flashes of his full potential. Regardless of the exact matchup, he's going to be a handful for anybody, including the champion.
John Gooden and Dan Hardy: I'm pretty convinced that they're the UFC's best commentary duo. They do their homework and consistently add value to the product with their knowledge of both the individual fighters and the game as a whole, and they've developed a nice rapport with one another. It's always a pleasure to hear them call the fights.
Vaughn Lee: The defeat drops Lee to 3-4 in the UFC, and aside from his debut loss against an undersized flyweight in Chris Cariaso, he hasn't looked particularly competitive in any of those four defeats. He's basically the gatekeeper to the bottom tier of the division, and after getting blasted in 25 seconds, I'm not sure that's enough to justify keeping him around.
Drew Dober: He had a couple of good moments against Hein, but for the most part he was completely outmatched in every phase of the fight. He's now 0-2 in the UFC in addition to an early loss on TUF 15; while he's exciting, game, and tough, he has no finishing ability, and his ability to absorb punishment is as much a liability as an asset. He may get another shot, but I doubt he sticks around even if he does.
Tom Niinimaki: Stoneface put himself on the map by soundly outgrappling the renowned Rani Yahya in his UFC debut and living up to some of the hype he'd accumulated over his years on the regional scene. It's clear, however, that Niinimaki didn't do his homework on Backstrom, and he paid the price for it. He had the massive edge at range, and instead he chose to grapple with a guy who'd beaten a number of fighters with his exact skill sets on the regional scene. Niinimaki is really good, and he'll be around for a while, but this one hurts.
Francis Carmont: The loss to Dollaway was a huge setback for Carmont. Hardly a fan favorite, he needed an exciting and convincing win to put himself back into the conversation at 185, and Dollaway was, at least on the surface, the perfect opponent against whom to do that. He had his moments, but getting outstruck and outgrappled for all three rounds isn't going to do it, regardless of how much you grunt and roar.
Mark Munoz: If the Filipino Wrecking Machine doesn't need the money, he should seriously consider retirement. It's pretty obvious at this point that he's not growing as a fighter, his physical tools are diminishing by the day, and given his inability to absorb shots, he runs a higher-than-average risk of taking years off his life every time he steps into the cage. He's one of the good guys of MMA, and nobody wants to see him take more punishment. If he doesn't retire, and I doubt he will, it's hard to say where he goes from here.
Otherwise, Ruslan Magomedov and Viktor Pesta put on a fun scrap that demonstrated why talent evaluators have been high on them for a couple of years. They still have some (okay, a lot) of growing left to do, but as heavyweight prospects go they're a breath of fresh air. Peter Sobotta and Pawel Pawlak engaged in hand-to-hand combat for fifteen minutes, and that's all I have to say about it. Magnus Cedenblad hit some neat takedowns on Jotko before locking up a slick guillotine with a few seconds left in the second. Barnatt and Strickland put on three rounds of not particularly interesting striking that I'm not going to spend any time discussing.
Pedro Munhoz: After a brutal debut against top contender Raphael Assuncao, Munhoz desperately needed to reclaim some of his lost hype, and he did exactly that against the overwhelmed newcomer Matt Hobar. I scouted Munhoz extensively for my Searching for Future Champions series, and never got the impression that he had much in the way of power in his hands. That should change after the brutal pasting he put on Hobar. He isn't the bluest of blue chip prospects, but he's close, and he'll make some noise over the next couple of years.
Rashid Magomedov: Magomedov continued the Dagestani Invasion (tm) in convincing fashion, blasting the game and tough Rodrigo Damm with big punches and kicks for three rounds to take a dominant decision. He's already one of the better strikers at 155, and his ridiculous takedown defense and resilience against submissions allow him to make effective use of it without worrying about ending up in trouble on his back. Now that he's working with ATT, it's almost certain that we'll continue to see improvement and growth from his game. He also has a surprising amount of deadpan swagger: when asked about the Brazilian chants of uhhh vai morrer (you're going to die), he responded, "One day we're all going to die, so it didn't bother me." Watch out, 155.
Warlley Alves de Andrade: He beat ten shades of hell out of the unfortunate Marcio Alexandre, as just about everybody who'd actually watched footage of the two fighters knew would happen. Without going too far overboard, Alves has outstanding physical tools, a well rounded game, and the camp around him to develop into a real threat at welterweight. Pay Chael's absurd proclamations no mind - Alves is still really raw, and needs time - but keep a close eye on this guy, even in a stacked division.
Stipe Miocic: I know, I know, he was a 7:1 favorite over a guy who should be fighting at middleweight, but that was exactly what he was supposed to do to Maldonado. This was a high-risk, minimal-reward fight for him, and if he'd allowed Fabio into the fight for even a moment there would've been questions from the fans and media. Instead, Miocic pasted him and put an end to the fight without doing more damage than he had to.
Paulo Thiago: The loss to Umalatov pushed Thiago to 2-6 in his last eight outings and 5-7 overall, making it likely that he'll be released. The big victories over Josh Koscheck and Mike Swick back in 2009-10 seem like a very long time ago indeed. Think about that for a second: Thiago's prime belonged to a time when AKA still ruled the welterweight division. Moreover, it's hard to argue that Thiago hasn't gotten his chances to stick around. Umalatov is one of the five or ten worst welterweights in the UFC, and if you can't beat him, it's nearly impossible to justify being kept on the roster.
Rodrigo Damm: I highly doubt Damm will be cut as a result of the loss, but he had absolutely nothing for Magomedov. There was a point after his time on the Ultimate Fighter when it really looked like Damm had figured out how to apply his substantial physical gifts to his striking game, but whatever development he'd started seems to have badly stalled out now. Any hopes of Damm ascending even to the top 15 or top 20 of the division are pretty much gone.
Rony Jason: At this point, the UFC probably has to accept that Jason isn't going to be their poster boy for a new wave of Brazilian expansion. His striking is powerful and works against the relatively unskilled, but he doesn't seem to have any real sense for the finer points of distancing, setups, and strike selection, and his wrestling isn't good enough to consistently bring his venomous BJJ into play. Nor is he consistently exciting enough to be a reliable action fighter, and he's not a young prospect with a ton of time to develop his game. He'll hang around, but a future contender he is not.
Demian Maia: In case you're wondering, yes, I'm aware that he beat Yakovlev, and even knocked him down in the first round. Aside from that, however, it's clear that the 36-year-old Maia's physical decline has begun or accelerated. He was noticeably slower than he was even a year ago, and it seemed like he knew it: he took no risks, a strategy that told me that the cerebral Maia knew how little margin for error he had. It's sad to say for a consummate professional and all-around nice guy, but Maia's best days are behind him.
Matt Hobar looked bad against Munhoz, but that's not entirely unexpected for even a talented young guy making his debut against a much more polished and experienced opponent on short notice. He'll get another shot, and maybe we'll see more of his full potential. Marcos Rogerio de Lima straight-up pasted Richardson Moreira and showed why a lot of smart talent evaluators were high on him a few years back. Ricardo Abreu swung ugly right hands at Wagner Silva until, by some miracle, he ended up in mount, transitioned to the back, and sank in the rear-naked choke.
Mark Eddiva and Edmilson Souza put on a ridiculous and pretty fun brawl that ended with Souza treating Eddiva like a heavy bag against the fence, but both guys are still near the bottom at featherweight. Gasan Umalatov continued his march into the top 70 of the UFC's welterweight division. Elias Silverio pulled out a late submission against Ernest Chavez in a fight that surely had everyone who bet on him to win by decision at -115 fuming. Rony Jason-Robbie Peralta was distinctly underwhelming, and the scorecards was strange; to quote the esteemed PDL, "Those guys sure tried to punch each other and one guy did it marginally better, I guess." That's better than anything I can come up with. Yakovlev got dominated on the ground, as everybody expected, but managed to avoid the submission, which most didn't. The Antonio Carlos-Vitor Miranda bout happened, with the raw but talented Carlos taking the TUF title, and that's about all the discussion it needs.
It's hard to put Maldonado in the Losers column. Nobody expected him to win, and while he didn't look good, it could've been much worse for him against a bigger, stronger, faster, and more athletic opponent. This shouldn't hurt him at all career-wise.
Thanks for sticking with us through this gargantuan card and just-as-massive recap. We'll see you back here next week for the aftermath of Henderson-Khabilov.