Whelp, that was sure...something. Without further ado, let's take a look at the real winners and losers from last night's action.
Michinori Tanaka: I think we're starting to see a new generation of Japanese fighters begin to make their mark at the highest levels of MMA. First there was Kyoji Horiguchi, a brick-fisted, brutal son of a gun, and now we have the smooth Judo and grappling stylings of Michinori Tanaka to provide some additional flavor. This was a tough matchup for him - Tanaka's a tiny bantamweight, and Delorme is both huge for the division and very good off his back - and Tanaka thoroughly dominated him. At only 23 years of age, he has incredible upside and a lot of time to grow into himself.
Ovince St. Preux: I'm not going to lie, it's hard to figure out exactly what's going on during an Ovince St. Preux fight: what he does isn't aesthetically pleasing, but it somehow works. While he's hardly a technician on the feet, there's ridiculous horsepower behind his strikes, he's a pretty underrated wrestler, and he has good instincts in top position. Combined with his excellent athleticism - seriously, the guy's been in a weight room since he was about 14 years old - it's enough to carry him to the fringes of the top 15. Can he go any higher? It's hard to tell, especially since he doesn't train with recognizable coaches or training partners, but for the sake of a paper-thin division we can hope.
Ryan Bader: That was the best all-around performance of Bader's career. He showed incredible drive on his blast doubles, worked outstanding head-body combinations with his hands, and, like his teammate C.B. Dollaway, made effective and innovative use of the ride position for both control and damage. Now seven years into his career and only 31 (young relative to the division), Bader is coming into his own as a fighter and finally maximizing his top-notch physical gifts. He's also an object lesson in being realistic with our expectations of the pace at which fighters develop, since there were plenty of people ready to completely give up on him after he was knocked out by Lyoto Machida two years ago. I'm not saying that he'll beat Jon Jones anytime soon, but he's a tough matchup for anybody in the division, and a solid gatekeeper to the top 5.
Rory MacDonald: Speaking of best all-around performances and being realistic with our expectations of development, how about that Rory Mac? If he'd been less aggressive in pushing Woodley to the fence and taken away his power, he might have gotten knocked out in the center of the cage; if he'd been content to spam jabs, he might have gotten countered with that vicious overhand; if he'd pushed less of a pace or thrown fewer body shots, he wouldn't have been able to work his takedowns on an exhausted opponent and secure the victory with his brutalizing top game. Every single piece of his game came together in a beautiful symphony of controlled, planned violence that cemented his status as a top-3 welterweight. Unless Hendricks has to wait until December, I think Rory should be the next guy to dance with the champion, and after that performance it's a fight I'd be stoked to see.
Demetrious Johnson: Look, I'm fine with calling a boring fight boring, but that wasn't a boring fight. That was one great fighter beating a very, very good fighter like the rented mule of a red-headed stepchild. Tactically, he was three steps ahead of Bagautinov from the opening bell, his gameplan was flawless, and his execution was somehow even better than perfect. He first capitalized on Bagautinov's tendency to duck down by first timing that up-and-down movement with high kicks, and then started grabbing a hard double-collar tie, pummeling the Dagestani with a barrage of knees to the body and head. The fact that he did most of his work in the place where the challenger was supposed to have an advantage, or at least a good chance, is even more impressive. In combination with a steady diet of low kicks and crisp boxing, he destroyed Bagautinov's will to fight and took him apart piece by piece. He's the most skilled fighter on the face of the planet, and the scary part is that he's getting better in every fight. Appreciate Demetrious Johnson, guys. Fighters like him don't come around very often.
The fans: Probability tells us that bad fights are going to happen at a given rate, and if we get unlucky, a bunch of them might cluster together to create a night filled with less-than-entertaining bouts. Even cards that look great on paper, like UFC 169, might not turn out as such. This card, however, was panned from the start, and it turned out exactly as poorly as many of us feared.
Mike Easton: The Lloyd Irvin protege looked absolutely terrible in getting soundly outwrestled by a guy who'd never before shown much proficiency in that area. In fact, all of his skills looked like they'd badly regressed, even his supposedly-excellent BJJ. Being shut out of Alliance and a vast array of excellent training partners and coaches in favor of staying loyal to one of MMA's legitimate bad guys has drastically impacted his game for the worse. Some people might call that karma, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't one of them.
Daniel Sarafian: He looked terrible out there, in terms of both his physical condition and his actual performance during the fight. The loss drops him to 1-3 in the UFC, with losses to C.B. Dollaway (nothing to be ashamed of), Cezar Ferreira (not a bad fighter), and Kiichi Kunimoto (a fight he was definitely supposed to win). He's clearly not going to become a top-flight or even mid-tier fighter at this point and he's definitely not going to be one of the poster boys of a new age of expansion in Brazil. I'd be shocked if they kept him around.
Ryan Jimmo: How weird has Ryan Jimmo's UFC career been? 7-second KO, exciting fight with James Te Huna, awful fight with Igor Pokrajac, freak leg injury against Jimi Manuwa, KO win over the unheralded Sean O'Connell, and now another strange injury against St. Preux. The loss drops him to 3-3, and while I have to imagine the UFC gives him another shot, he's never going to produce better results unless he gets less conservative. I mean that seriously: whenever he was throwing volume at range against St. Preux, he was scoring. When he tried to throw safe single shots or play the stalling clinch game, it didn't work, yet he kept going back to it. Asking a fighter to re-wire his style is a big task, but he's never going to be more than a low-level gatekeeper if he doesn't.
Brendan Schaub and Andrei Arlovski: That was a strong contender for worst fight of the year, and the correct score was probably 30-29 Schaub. But when there's that little action, how mad can you really get at the result? This wasn't a matter of either guy fighting a smart fight: the openings were there - Schaub's elevator routine with his hands left him open for body-head combinations, while Arlovski dropped his hands on every clinch break - and neither guy could exploit them in the slightest. It was a terrible, awful, no-good performance in which both fighters were equal participants, and I'm not going to waste any more of my time or yours talking about it.
Rafael Cavalcante: He got taken down, beaten on the feet, and outworked in every phase by Ryan Bader. On paper, this was an excellent matchup for him - he's historically been very good at stuffing takedowns, and he should've been the better striker - and in truth it was his last real shot to stake a claim in the division's top 10. He can still be an exciting fighter and he's definitely talented enough to hang around, but he's not getting any better at this point.
Tyron Woodley: This was Tyron Woodley's big chance to establish himself as a legitimate top-5 fighter, and he blew it. All credit to Rory MacDonald, who fought a near-perfect fight, but Woodley never put himself in position to win. Let me explain myself. When your back's to the cage it brings your lead foot backward, which takes away your base and prevents you from getting any real pop into your power shots. Given that fact, it was the one place where he was almost certain to lose the fight, and if his coaches had bothered to watch film, they would have known that it's Rory's favorite place to work. It's then your job as a coach to craft a gameplan that keeps your fighter away from that spot as much as possible, and it's the fighter's job to execute. I realize that all of that's easier said than done, but spending at least two-thirds of the fight in a place where you're losing and know you're losing is a bad look. Woodley's still a top-10 guy, of course, but it's a long road back to the top, and barring major skill development I doubt he'll get there.
Ali Bagautinov: I'm not going to be too harsh on Ali. He was a huge underdog on paper, and the fight went basically as everyone thought it would. Matt Hume came up with a better gameplan than Greg Jackson for the second time their proteges have met, and barring a pair of awesome suplexes and a few hard right hands, Johnson's movement, angles, diversity at range, unparalleled takedown defense, and freakish ability to fight at close range shut down any offense Bagautinov could generate. He had a few chances - Johnson dropped his hands on clinch breaks a couple of times - but the windows of opportunity were few and far between. I still think Bagautinov is the third-best flyweight out there, behind Dodson and ahead of Benavidez, and getting blown out by one of the three best fighters on the face of the planet doesn't make him a can or an unworthy challenger.
Jason Saggo absolutely dominated Josh Shockley on the ground, showing off a gorgeous top game complete with slick passes, strong control, and effective ground striking. He's a guy to keep an eye on moving forward if he can improve his striking. Delorme got soundly outwrestled and outgrappled; he had a couple of moments, but was never close to winning the fight. He might get cut, but with a record of 3-2 (1 NC) in the UFC, I think he'll get another shot.
Kajan Johnson vs. Tae Hyung Bang was a pretty entertaining fight between two guys who really aren't UFC-level, no matter how you define that. Johnson's been in the game for a long time and is frankly close to the end of a career mostly spent as a solid, exciting regional gatekeeper; the fact that he got his lights shut off that badly by a guy who isn't much of a power puncher doesn't bode well for his future. Bang will stick around for a while longer at the lowest levels of the lightweight division as fodder for debuting prospects.
Yves Jabouin showed that even at 35, he's still capable of improving his long-dormant wrestling and grappling, and that growth bought him at least one or two more fights as a mid-level gatekeeper in the UFC's bantamweight division. Philips-LeTourneau was a series of events that definitely happened, though it probably should've taken place on a regional card instead of national television. Kiichi Kunimoto won his fight against a guy who might've legitimately died at some point during the weight cut, and it's hard to put too much weight on that.
I'll see you all back here in two weeks after our second brush with a two-cards-in-a-day extravaganza. Until then, enjoy the break from the UFC.