Airports and airplanes with crappy wi-fi really suck. I was hoping to be one of those warriors that sat down and could claim that they powered through the first time the UFC held two events on the same day (I know, I'm a nerd without a life. I don't get paid to write this stuff but do anyway. What would you expect?). Traveling interrupted that plan and thus the reason I'm submitting this later than usual. So I apologize to both of my loyal readers.
UFC Fight Night 41 had to be considered a success overall. There were some quick and dominant performances as well as others that showed blood and guts (take that how you will). What will be taken mostly from here is that the middleweight division's landscape has changed significantly and a potential contender has emerged from the pack. Snoozers you ask? Some fights were a bit below average entertainment-wise, but nothing that you would prescribe to an insomniac.
Here be the details:
* indicates I was right in my pick
Mousasi had headlined both events he had been apart of in the UFC, but hadn't made a statement. He changed that against Munoz. Finally delivering on the promise that he had shown before and the UFC believed was there (why else would they continue to have him headline?) Mousasi dominated Mark Munoz in every aspect of the fight. He didn't throw a lot from a distance, but controlled the fight from range. He stuffed the takedowns of Munoz with apparent ease. He was able to pass his guard and escape potentially bad situations. And he ended it with getting the back of a turtled Munoz and sinking in a RNC. Any questions about his abilities now?
Many thought that Munoz was stylistically a bad match up for Mousasi as he had struggled against the takedowns of King Mo and Keith Jardine and Munoz is a former college wrestling champ. Mousasi had to have heard all the talk and rather than finding a way around the weakness, he wanted to make a statement and in doing so established that he should be in contender talk. I've mentioned before how easy it is to forget that he is only 28 due to the mileage on his tread, but I'm saying it again. He is still young enough that improvement isn't just a possibility (it is at any age), but it should be expected. What to do with him now is the question. There has developed a logjam just under Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort to be the top contender at middleweight with Mousasi, Jacare Souza, Tim Kennedy, and Luke Rockhold. I really don't care which one he faces so long as the other two face one another. My guess is he will face Kennedy next.
Munoz has now lost 2 in a row and 3 of his last 4. None of those losses were close in any way. Munoz is not a contender and in reality never really was in retrospect. He shouldn't be discarded though as he is very likeable and is capable of sending away those that shouldn't be fighting against the contenders. My inner voice is calling me a dumbass and telling me those are called gatekeepers... something I already know. Oh well. The clock could be ticking on his career as he is now 36. He was dominated, but he didn't appear to take too much damage so combine that with his age, I'd imagine he wants to get back in the Octagon relatively soon. Brad Tavares is one of the young guns in the division who has made some good noise, but is also coming off of a dominating loss to Yoel Romero. Munoz should determine if that loss was merely a setback or a sign of things to come for Tavares.
Dana White might rip on Dollaway's post-fight speech, but he can't argue with what Dollaway did in the Octagon. Carmont has traditionally been a difficult opponent to get to the ground, but Dollaway did so in two of the rounds and scored an impressive reverse in the other to maintain control on the ground throughout the fight. Recently it has been Dollaway's improved boxing that has received the most attention and he put that on display as well with a knockdown in the first round that was the most memorable moment of the fight. Carmont had some moments with a powerful takedown in the first of his own and showed good kicks to the legs and body, but it was clear that Dollaway was the victor as the judges had little trouble with this one.
Dollaway claimed he is in the top 10 in his post-fight speech. I'm going to disagree with that, but I do believe he deserves another shot at someone in the top 10 as he is now about as close as you can get to breaking in. He is 4-1 in his last five and most will argue he should be 5-0 with the lone blemish being a controversial decision to Tim Boetsch. That's a hell of a run for anybody. What stood out most to me was how comfortable Dollaway looked in the Octagon. He didn't look anxious, he didn't look overly focused, and he didn't look too relaxed. His demeanor seemed to say it all in there. He knew what he wanted to do, knew how to do it, and then he did it. Simple enough. Costas Philippou should end up staying in the top 10 after all of the divisional shifting is complete and a fight between him and Dollaway would likely be a fun affair.
Carmont was... disappointing. He looked good against Jacare Souza when he turned on the aggression and started stalking the grappling expert... and decided he didn't want to be aggressive against Dollaway at all. He looked at his best early in the fight before Dollaway landed the punch that knocked him down. His caution really cost him this time as his stipend to the judges must have run out and they decided to call it the way it was. Carmont doesn't suck as a lot of people want to believe due to his safe nature and tendency to be awarded undeserved decisions. He is extremely talented, he just hasn't fully put it together. At 32, he is still young enough he could put it together. But the clock is ticking. Derek Brunson is a similar framed and styled fighter. Having had his jaw broken in January by Yoel Romero, Brunson should be ready to have a match made soon. He'd be a good choice to prove if Carmont is truly a pretender.
Technically, I got this pick right as the judges announced Strickland the winner. But Strickland did not win this fight. And the judge that gave the fight to Strickland 30-27 should never be allowed to judge another fight again. I can see the 29-28 as the first round was very close as the fighters exchanged shots with neither taking a clear advantage (which is why I'm a proponent of scoring rounds 10-10 rather than shooting in the dark to pick a round winner) and then the second round when he scored the powerful takedown to open the round and score some GNP. But he spent the rest of the fight running from Barnatt trying to score with counter shots. I will grant him that he likely broke his hand and kept going... but no way he won that last round!
I don't want to punish Strickland for the judges ineptitude. It isn't his fault that the judging commissions have optical insurance with a snake oil salesman. I know I shouldn't hold it against him, but it is hard not to. Here are the facts though. He is an undefeated 23-year old that is still getting better and even if he shouldn't have gotten the victory over Barnatt, he landed some solid shots, showed his wrestling potential with the takedown, and hung tough with the lanky Englishman. So there are definitely positives to take away from the fight. Before a jump in competition though, it would be wise to pit him against a veteran in a similar position as Barnatt. Chris Camozzi and Bruno Santos fight at the beginning of July and the winner represents the type of challenge Strickland could use.
Barnatt had a look when the decision was read that said he knows he was robbed. But he handled himself well and should have his head up high. He tried to go for the kill, but Strickland kept circling away which makes it difficult to finish your opponent when they make it difficult to engage. It looked as though Barnatt landed more clean shots and pressed the action. I'm of the opinion that he wouldn't be in over his head with a step up in competition at this point and would benefit from it in his development at this point. Rafael Natal is on wobbly legs in the organization at this point having lost two straight with the majority of his victories in the organization coming against undersized short notice injury replacements. He would still make a good test for Barnatt.
I could not have been more wrong about Backstrom. Not that I didn't think he wouldn't make a good impression. I just didn't think he'd be the one taking the fight to Niinimaki after Niinimaki did the exact same thing to submission expert Rani Yahya. But that is exactly what he did and it couldn't have paid off for him in a better way. Niinimaki had the match going his way most of the time as he opened with a takedown, but Backstrom was just as dogged in getting back to his feet, attempting submissions, and scoring a flying knee that ended up being the beginning of the end for the longtime fight veteran.
I thought that Backstom had a good ground game that would allow him to hang with decorated grappler, but I wasn't expecting him to get the best of him in that manner as Niinimaki hadn't been submitted in over 7 years and had improved his game since that time. Didn't matter to the youngster. Outside of the knee, he didn't get to show much of his impressive striking, but he has the look of a special prospect on the rise and I wouldn't feel bad about feeding him to some of the experienced dogs in the division. Hell, I would say Niinimaki runs with those dogs. But look for the UFC to take it a bit slower with him and give him one more fight he would be expected to win before throwing him in the deep end again. Rob Whiteford surprised many when he walked away with a victory over Robbie Peralta. I'd be interested to see if he could do it to Backstrom.
Niinimaki suffered an unexpected loss, but his status as a tough scrappy veteran who can give anyone a solid fight shouldn't be affected. Everyone who knew anything about Backstrom knew the kid was talented and some thought he'd pull out the upset. Those of us that didn't figured he just didn't have the proper seasoning quite yet. And it isn't like Backstrom dominated Niinimaki. If anything, Niinimaki was in control for the majority of the bout. He hasn't lost anything with this loss. In about a month, Charles Oliveira and Hatsu Hioki will throwdown. The loser of that bout would be perfect to line up across from Niinimaki for their next test.
Everyone loves a bulldog mentality. Too bad you often need more than that to pull out a victory. Yes, Hein looked impressive in victory and showed a lot of power in his left hand. But the fact that Dober kept pushing forward and eating the shots that Hein threw at him is what made this fight fun to watch. Dober dictated the pace and the more active fighter. I'm not saying he deserved the win as Hein easily stuffed the majority of takedowns and often had a counter for Dober's strikes in addition to scoring more damage. But Dober proved to be the type of fighter I like to watch. Can I get some backup from the 'Just Bleed' peanut gallery?
Hein relied very heavily on his judo background as he showed great balance and ability to keep the fight on his feet in addition to showing a highly impressive trip in the first round. And that left hand... I expect it so put someone to sleep in the Octagon before too long. While his frame was impressive, I think he'd be best suited to cutting a bit of the muscle mass. Dober had the much deeper tank and Hein's sturdy base is what allowed him to hold on to the victory as Dober tried takedown after takedown. I'd expect he gets the majority of his fights in Europe, so I expect he'll get a debutant in his next bout.
Many were thinking that Dober was being fed to Hein and they ended up being right in the end. Why wouldn't the UFC want the hometown boy Hein to succeed. But I felt Dober had it in him to pull off the upset and even though he didn't do it, I still feel as though he validated me in a way. He is far from the most talented fighter and will never be a contender, but I see a lot of similarities to Andy Ogle in him, who is a management favorite. He throws solid combinations too, but they don't have a lot of power behind them, his most glaring weakness. The chopping block could very well come down on him, but I very much hope otherwise.
Magnus Cedenblad defeated Krzystof Jotko via Submission 2nd Round
One of the most frustrating things in this sport has to be when you tap out with just one second left until you are saved by the bell. Jotko experienced that firsthand as Cedenblad sunk in a deep guillotine at the end of the second round and Jotko felt no other choice than to tap. The first round was all Cedenblad as he maintained top control for the majority of the round trying to advance position and throwing the occasional punch and elbow. The second round was back and forth between the two both on the feet and the ground as they reversed one another looking to get the dominant position with Cedenblad clearly coming out on top.
I will admit that I underestimated Cedenblad, largely because a victory over Jared Hamman doesn't seem to strike me as very impressive. His wrestling and grappling skills ended up being superior to Jotko's which I wasn't expecting and has me admitting that Cedenblad is a better fighter than I gave him credit for. I still don't see him entering the rankings, but he could end up being a staple in the division for quite a while. If Josh Samman can get healthy enough to enter the Octagon again, I'd like to see him face Cedenblad. Samman is clearly talented, but he is still very much a wild card.
Jotko is probably beating himself up quite a bit right now. I'm not saying that he should (it happens), but its hard for a fighter to know he just had to hold on one more second. He shouldn't be too hard though. He was competitive, had Cedenblad in some compromising situations, and he showed improved striking. He's 24 people. He is going to get better. Mats Nilsson seems more like a European that the UFC took a flyer on rather than an actual prospect. He has submission ability though. He makes a good option for Jotko next. Or a debutant.
*Iuri Alcantara defeated Vaughan Lee via KO 1st Round
Well that didn't last long. Alcantara scored a powerful overhand left as Lee ran in for a kick and floored the tough Brit. Alcantara followed up with 3 or 4 follow up punches which disconnected Lee from his conscious state and earned the victory just 25 seconds into the fight. What else needs to be said other than: Damn! I guess Wow! would be acceptable.
The announcers were screaming that Alcantara should be advancing up the rankings with that performance, but that may be hard to justify. Lee is tough and hadn't lost by strikes is 7 years, but it was thought to be a mismatch as soon as the fight was announced despite Lee coming off of the best performance of his career. It would be hard to justify moving him ahead of those ranked about him. Still, Alcantara did make a statement and should get a big leap in level of competition for his next bout. Michael McDonald hasn't fought since December and not even any rumors have been floating around about a potential fight for him. How about Alcantara? Sounds like a competitive fight to me.
Lee had the look of a confident man if not a smart one. He landed a nice combination before jumping in for the kick that decided his fate, showing that he was trying to pick up right where he left off against Nam Phan. It might have helped if he had been Lee is a tough bastard and his fights have been entertaining, but he seems to be physically overwhelmed competing in the bantamweight division. There were rumors after the Phan fight that he would be dropping to flyweight, but that clearly didn't materialize. I hope it does this time. I don't think he'd contend, but he could break the top 15. I think a fight with Darren Uyenoyama would be a good start there. If he stays at bantamweight, Rani Yahya seems like a good choice.
There was little doubt who the winner was in this one and it only took 4 tries and almost 4 years since his last attempt for Sobotta to pull out a UFC victory. A nice combination of kickboxing and grappling showed Sobotta really has been working on every aspect of his game since he was let go in 2010 to cruise to an entertaining, but overall uneventful fight as the moment that stands out the most was an illegal headbutt from Sobotta to the body of Pawlak that evoked memories of Mark Coleman. Can't help but miss those days.
It was always know Sobotta had some nice kicks, but he never threw them with enough volume to make proper use of them. Showing improved boxing, he was able to mix in some punches with the kicks and it made it that much easier for him to get the takedown as his opponent actually had to pay attention to all the facets of his striking game and not just worry about the takedown. Sobotta should be able to hang around for a while and should pick up a few more victories this time around.
Pawlak looked tentative throughout the match. He created a fun exchange at the end of the first round that made for the best part of the fight, but it seemed Sobotta even got the best of that. I see a lot of similarities to Sobotta in him.... well, Sobotta's first run. You can see the talent, but something isn't connecting to allow him to put it all together. He'll get another shot to prove himself though and by no means should be written off. It was just one fight after all.
*Maximo Blanco defeated Andy Ogle via Decision
Few matches have started out with more of a bang and Blanco damn near took hold of the record for fastest KO in the organization as a result of a running flying kick square to the face of Ogle. While the kick was impressive, the fact the Ogle survived that in addition to the onslaught that followed for the next 30 seconds or so. Ogle made it back to his feet though and even ended up having his moments in the first round. The second round opened with another Blanco kick (this one standing and not as flush), but Ogle eventually got back control for the majority of the round to score that one for himself. The final round was a back and forth stand up battle that saw Blanco utilize his jab to score more points in the eyes of the judges to take it.
Blanco continues to frustrate as is his M.O. Few if any matches have opened with such a jaw-dropping moment, but he damn near gave the fight away to Ogle as he couldn't maintain a good pace and put himself in some bad situations. Plus, he eventually found his range with his jab in the last round, but I couldn't believe how inaccurate he was with it early. He is explosive and as talented as anyone physically in the weight class, but he needs to learn how to fight more technically so he doesn't wear himself out so fast.
Ogle once again proved he was just as much heart if not more than anyone else in the fight game. I liked the kid before the fight and my respect for him rocketed after he not only survived the early flying kick, but made a fight of it too. But that is his third loss in a row and makes him 1-4 overall in the Octagon. He might be able to get the Leonard Garcia treatment since he is a fan favorite and brings it every time out, but its hard to say. Personally, I'd let him go and pick up a few wins on the regional circuit and hopefully develop his game a bit more. He is 25, so it isn't like him coming back to the organization would be a long shot. Otherwise, I see him fighting a debutant or recent debutant such as Chas Skelly.
This wasn't a bad fight and I may be overstepping my bounds, but I feel as though these two offered a little bit of hope for the future prospects of the heavyweight division. Magomedov showed off his extensive kickboxing and landed a number of good solid kicks on Pesta. Pesta showed a lot of power in his striking, particularly with a knee that dropped Magomedov, but was also very raw which is ultimately what cost him. He couldn't get past Magomedov's kicks and punches or score takedowns at the end of the fight.
Magomedov came into the bout as the more hyped of the two and while he didn't do anything to hurt himself by any means, I wouldn't say he did anything that added to the hype either. His kickboxing is very technical, but it doesn't have the oomph behind it that an Alistair Overeem produces. As a result, his ceiling is going to be limited as he goes up against the best the UFC has to offer. Still, he has the potential he could end up breaking the top 15 in time. If Todd Duffee can get his health issues behind him, a fight between these two would seem appropriate. If not, how about the winner of Anthony Hamilton and Oleksiy Oliynyk?
Pesta may have lost, but I think the UFC has found a keeper that may have a higher ceiling than Magomedov. His grappling isn't world class, but it is strong and he clearly had the advantage over Magomedov in that area. And he has a lot of raw power that could be tapped with a good striking coach. And maybe I'm looking too deep, but his frame is what you look for in a heavyweight. He has room to grow into it more as he isn't too big, but he isn't small for the division by any means either. Remember people, the kid is just 23 and he put up a good fight. Ruan Potts is fresh off of a loss in his debut as well. A fight with him and Pesta is the right idea for the both of them.
Record for this Card: 6-4
Record for Year: 113-73-1