Okay so, I've tried to keep picking winners for all the recent events, whether I was able to watch them or not. Life has been a bit hectic, availability has been low, free time has been at an absolute premium. So, now I'm catching up. Unfortunately I still haven't seen everything from the past month. In fact, I've entirely missed Fight Night: Henderson vs. Khabilov, so don't expect me to talk much about it here, but for the fights I did see, I'll give a brief overview of my thoughts based on my pre-fight expectations and picks.
Disclaimer time: I don't gamble except in the game of life, much as we all do. So most of my talk is all theoretical picking of outcomes without the investment of real money. Basically I enjoy testing my eyes and my memory much more than my wallet. The fact that I often lose with only my pride at stake, suggests that I'm probably better off not raising those stakes. The huge number of long odds upsets we've seen this year reinforces that belief.
- Magomedov one again showed that while he's a very strong technical striker for the heavyweight division, he really lacks the power of his counterparts. He was able to stun Pesta at least once, but couldn't generate the kind of consistent punching power to put him away. That may just be the price of good footwork and a long gas tank.
- Pesta showed more or less what he had regionally, as well. Mostly that he needs a ton of work on his outside game, but in the times he was able to get his hands on Magomedov he did a lot of damage, even dropping he Dagestani with a huge clipping knee. Parts of Pesta's game are powerful and dynamic, but as a whole he's still very raw.
- One thing not getting nearly enough credit in this fight was that it was a solid three rounds from new heavyweights, in which neither fighter gassed. We make fun of the big guys so often for their limited gas tank, that we really ought to be more impressed when they actually have the ability to fight for all 15 minutes.
- Blanco tried hard to give this fight away, just as I predicted he might, but he just couldn't. Ogle had a strong second round in which he soundly outworked and outwrestled Blanco, but either he faded heavily or Blanco adjusted, because the third round stayed on the feet where Blanco had a big speed and power advantage.
- So, while Blanco gets a very badly needed win, he really hasn't shown any better fight IQ, or greater consistency. It's likely that those are just going to remain consistent problems for him in is career that his ridiculous physical gifts will sometimes let him overcome.
- And, of course, it's just the opposite for Ogle. He fights hard, he fights consistently, and generally he fights well in his strengths. But, Ogle may not have the raw physical tools necessary to compete against the level of competition the UFC is throwing at him. He could get another win here and there on heart and determination, but it's hard to see him ever going on a run.
- Sobotta remains very much the same fighter he was in his first UFC run, at least in style. He kicks a lot from the outside, has some decent wrestling, and a very tricky ground game. The big change has just been the polish that time and experience brings, and a few years back on the regionals have rounded out his skills nicely.
- Pawlak feels like he's very much where Sobotta was in his first UFC run. He has a diverse skill set and is capable in all areas of the fight, but is just so raw in experience. If he doesn't get just the right matchups, he may find himself in a similar position of Sobotta, in getting bounced from the organization quickly.
- Much like lightweight, welterweight has been picking up young fighters at a shocking clip. It will be interesting going forward to see if the UFC gives Sobotta a challenging, veteran matchup, or if they throw another one of their green prospects at him. Sobotta's in a position where he can be competitive with much of the division, and guys like Pawlak will probably be pretty easy wins.
- Going into this fight, I said that I was picking Lee more on hope and fandom than any realistic expectation that he was going to win. I was hoping that his performance against Phan was indicative of a real jump in skill for Lee. Long story short, it now says a lot more about Phan and where he is right now.
- Iuri Alcantara is one of the very best bantamweights in the UFC. He may not be able to beat the fighters ahead of him, and I'm not sure he ever challenges for a title, but he deserves recognition as one of the few elite at 135.
- Lee has developed a really nice in and out striking game, which he was able to show off nicely against Phan, but his former dominance may have given him an over-abundance of confidence. Lee basically leapt in on Alcantara with his hands down and chin up. Alcantara was more than happy to serve him with a KO.
Magnus Cedenblad (-115) vs. Krzystof Jotko (-115) (I picked Cedenblad, I was right)
- I was really surprised that the odds on this fight were even. Jotko may be a young, decent prospect with a win over the tough as nails Bruno Santos, but it was hardly a convincing win and there wasn't a great show of offensive skill with it. Jotko is young and has plenty of time to improve, but he needs to develop some dominant offensive skills to find longterm success.
- Cedenblad maybe something of a darkhorse talent. Considering that his only recent loss was a more competitive than remembered battle with Francis Carmont, Cedenblad's combination of powerful wrestling and grappling could make him primed for a big upset if he gets a shot at top competition.
- Hein will have to work on his defensive striking, a lot. He has a lot of power in his hands, and a good chin to depend on, but he can't be that defensively porous against harder hitting competition. Most importantly he can't keep letting himself get backed into the cage over and over.
- Dober is unfortunately at a bit of a crossroads with two losses in the UFC. Essentially, he's not unskilled, but he doesn't punch with any power and his defense is sorely lacking. It's one thing to take one to give one when you have the ability to crush anyone foolish enough to trade with you. But when you're a decent combination puncher without much pop in your hands, going strike for strike doesn't really serve you all that well. So far it's served him two losses to decent, but not incredible fighters and it's hard to see a matchup that he'd be really favored to win right now.
- Hein's judo really is great to watch. He's got the kind of compact muscular frame to really toss people around, and the obvious technical skill to make it happen with regularity. There is some worry about his gas tank, however, as the kind of muscle he carries needs a lot of oxygen, and his ability to get Dober down late in the fight seemed to suffer because of it.
Nicklas Backstrom (+205) vs. Tom Niinimaki (-245) (I picked Niinimaki, I was wrong)
- Welp, when you're wrong you're wrong. I didn't think that Backstrom would have such a clear skill advantage over Niinimaki on the mat that he could win on points, let alone submit Niinimaki. But, Backstrom showed that he's a scary talent in the cage and a major step up from the standard rank and file at 145.
- Ultimately, like the Guida loss for Kawajiri, this loss was something of a wakeup call for Niiniamki fans. He's a skilled fighter with a lot of genuine and well rounded talents, but he may not have what it takes to really make a run in the division. And unfortunately for him, the top of 145 if pretty talent rich, so he may have to really claw to even get in the top 15.
- Backstrom has a scary kicking game and a scary grappling game. He still needs to work on his hands and on his wrestling, but his predilection for deadly transition offense is going to make him dangerous to anyone he fights. It will be interesting to see if the UFC gives him a step down for his next fight, in terms of challenges, or if they try and rush him to the top.
- I'm not even a little bit convinced that Barnatt lost this fight. It wasn't highway robbery, the fight mostly just had a lot of circling and one off strikes, so there was very little to score, but I thought that Barnatt did more with his strikes than Strickland did,a nd did so more consistently. I think a big difference was that Strickland appeared to hurt Barnatt with his punches and successfully "no-sold" Barnatt's own landed shots. It's the classic Bendo gameplan in action.
- Strickland really needs to work on his range offense. He was incredibly calm and confident in this fight, but the truth is he got almost nothing done and has yet to show any real consistency in his striking. Most likely his output and striking will improve in time, but if he faces a fighter with just a little more consistent output than Barnatt and similarly decent takedown defense, Strickland may get a somewhat ugly loss. Someone like Brad Tavares could cause him a lot of problems.
- This is definitely a problematic loss for Barnatt as well. By his own admission, he's not the most athletic fighter in the world (the nickname bigslow, is a pretty decent self-indictment), which means he's got to be a lot more productive with the tools he had. In Strickland he had a fighter content to wait on him at range, and Barnatt couldn't get nearly enough done with the time or the space.
Francis Carmont (-180) vs. C.B. Dollaway (+130) (I picked Dollaway, I was right)
- It's something of a strange experience when a fighter that's been in the UFC for a few years suddenly hits their athletic peak and really puts on a string of great performances. This is Dollaway's time right now, and he's making the best of it.
- That said, where has this Francis Carmont been for the past few fights. He looked like he was ready to pour it on Dollaway at every opportunity, and it's really well done by Dollaway that he didn't give Carmont many chances. If Carmont had fought like this against Jacare, he may have come a lot closer to winning that fight. He got hit hard in exchanging with Dollaway, however, so it will be interesting to see if he comes out as fearlessly next time.
- Dollaway probably needs a shot at a top 5ish opponent right now if he can get one. With a log jam at the top of the division, giving Dollaway a fight with someone like Vitor Belfort or Luke Rockhold may be the right fight to keep everyone busy while Machida Weidman sorts itself out.
- Mark Munoz has quickly entered Gray Maynard territory. For a former top 5 talent, his fall has been hard and fast. He's only lost to very good fighters, so it's not to say that he's done, but his complete lack of competitive ability in those fights is a major mark against him being given more shots at the top of the division right now.
- In a way, I think we were very lucky that Gegard Mousasi got to take all of 2012 off, and in fact, if he wanted to take another year or two off soon, I wouldn't be opposed. He's only 28, and he has 41 pro fights stretching back 11 years. He looks better than ever right now, and fortunately for him, usually takes very little damage, but it feels like luck that we're seeing him better than every this far into his career.
- They've already lined up a rematch against Jacare for Mousasi, and it makes sense, as their last fight was 8 years ago now. But there is a bit of a logjam developing at the top of 185. The winner of the Jacare/Mousasi fight has a legit claim for a shot at the belt, but if the UFC has more interest in giving Belfort another shot they may have to wait.
- Pedro Munhoz was always going to win this fight, but the fact that he did so with much improved power striking is great to see. Hobar isn't much on his feet, but in the past he's been competitive and, more importantly, defensively solid. Munhoz just picked him apart and broke him down.
- In reality, Hobar got a bit of the same treatment Munhoz did in being thrown into the UFC against a much more well rounded, skilled opponent. Hobar has only been fighting for three years, but he's going to have to round out his game from the solid top control that it's predicated on right now.
- Fortunately for Munhoz, next steps are pretty clear for him. Bantamweight is full of fighters drifting around between the bottom and top of the division. Fights against Yves Jabouin, Mitch Gagnon, Bryan Caraway are all solid contests that would be a decnet but not huge step up for a fighter like Munhoz.
- Abreu is going to be an interesting fighter to watch going forward in his UFC career. He's got the BJJ skill to make life tough on anyone willing to give him control on the mats, but at the moment he seems much, much more interested in brawling it out on his feet at every opportunity. He's got heavy hands, but a real lack of footwork and potentially of cardio. So, he may be fighting against his skill if he doesn't round out his game and get more aggressive about pursuing grappling opportunities.
- Wagner Silva looked like a reasonably technical fighter in this bout, or at least more technical than Abreu. But, it's hard to understate just how inexperienced he is, and how unready he seemed to get hit hard. He's only two years into his career, so he has a lot of time to improve, but at the moment figuring out how to keep from getting hit hard in exchanges may be the his first point of interest. MW isn't full of powerful brawlers if he decides to stay there, so he could be well served by matchmaking along the way.
- Well, that fight was certainly something. Moriera was a bit of a can crusher in his regional fights in Brazil, so I can't say it was terribly surprising that his grappling heavy game didn't translate well with someone who'd already fought a lot of strong opposition. Rogerio crushing him right out of the gate was about how this fight should have gone. Unfortunately with LHW being LHW, the UFC needs fighters like Moreira and will be keeping him around for future filler.
- Rogerio de Lima may never be the super prospect he was once hoped to be, but he's still a UFC level fighter and has been for quite some time. The extra big bonus here is that at only 28 years old and just 5 years into his pro career, he can do quite a lot to improve his skills beyond their already decent level and be very competitive at either light heavyweight, or middleweight if he decides to drop all the way down to 185.
- Edimilson Souza is a violent sonuvagun and in a way that's really fun to watch. Eddiva showed that Souza's gunslinging in-n-out boxing style does leave him open to getting hit, but you really have to be able to take the shots Souza will be dishing out if that's the route you want to go.
- Eddiva has already shown himself to be a much better fighter in the UFC than I thought he'd be, and there's no shame in losing to Souza, but it does expose a point of weakness in Eddiva's game. For a fighter who's really at his best on his feet at range, Eddiva doesn't pack enough power to make opponents really respect his striking. He's technical and diverse, but Souza just marched him down and beat him up.
- Souza works well to the head and body and has a great chin, but unless he can really add another dimension to his offense, he'll eventually hit a wall against top ten fighters at 145. He doesn't quite have the freakish natural speed that Eddie Wineland was able to live on for so long, but even Wineland eventually has found himself limited by a lack of offensive options.
- The wheels have officially fallen off Paulo Thiago, and frankly I'm a bit shocked the UFC is sticking with him. He seems to be one of the clearest examples of the idea that you really can't have two fulltime jobs and fight at the highest levels. At some point the time you can invest and that your opponents can invest is just too different. Thiago looks like he's seriously regressed and this was a bad loss because of it.
- This fight does offer some hope for Umalatov, however, who I was pretty low on going into his first UFC bout. His boxing isn't special, but his hands are reasonably fast and he throws in combination at least, but he is showing a heretofore unseen talent for grinding cage control and takedown defense. If he can continue to refine that game, he could end up in something of a Mike Pierce type role.
- As I said above, apparently the UFC have decided to keep Thiago around. Re-upping his contract even after three two loss series in his last 8 fights, each set of losses to a lower level of competition. Where he goes and who he beats from hear is anyone's guess and I have no idea how they'll match him going forward.
- Much in the same way Umalatov has impressed me for a fighter I had very little interest in, Chavez has done surprisingly well as someone I thought would be swept out of the UFC in short order. Instead, Chavez showed a decent outside-in boxing game predicated on high energy movement. As his energy faded, so did his technique, but it's a decent sign for his future.
- Silverio needs to figure out his striking from distance. He likes to use his hands and feet to close on opponents and get them into the clinch, but he gets way out in front of his legs and reaches with his strikes, leaving him open to getting countered hard, and taking a lot of pop off of them. He needs to fix that going forward, even if he's finding good success now.
- Chavez is apparently dropping to featherweight, which is a pretty good idea as he looked very undersized against Silverio, who's pretty huge even for 155, but his big focus has to be on his cardio and maintaining what could be a fairly effective style over three rounds. A matchup with Mirsad Bektic won't be doing him any favors.
Rordrigo Damm (+270) vs. Rashid Magomedov (-330) (I picked Magomedov, I was right)
- If you're not appreciating Magomedov's game yet, start doing so. He was a bit wrongly labeled as an "aggressive striker" by Anik and Florian for this fight, but in reality he's one of the best counter punchers in the game. The fact that he's got a fantastic kicking arsenal and great takedown defense to go with it makes him a really special fighter to watch.
- Tough loss for Damm, but one that was almost certainly coming. Damm's been getting some good matchups lately, with fighters like Mizuot Hirota and Ivan Jorge who, despite their quality really didn't have the striking or wrestling to threaten Damm. Magomedov is just a level above the rank and file at lightweight and Damm had to go all out with his submission offense in this fight if he was going to win it.
- I'm not sure how the UFC handles Magomedov going forward. Lightweight is full of guys he can beat up at the bottom end, and a lot of dangerous matchups in the middle. The UFC very rarely protects fighters, so I expect his next fight will be against a dangerous fighter, either on the rise or another seasoned vet.
- Even with a broken hand, I'm not altogether sure Jason lost this fight. It was competitive, but I'd have pretty easily given him the first two rounds. It's a very tough loss for the TUF winner considering that he should be in his prime right now, and Peralta is exactly the kind of fighter he's supposed to be beating.
- That said, Peralta is getting severely overlooked as one of his divisions very best athletes. His skills are so raw, very likely due to not only holding down a second full time job, but also training out of the somewhat infamous Xplode Fight Team. However, Peralta is exceptionally physically gifted. He's fast, strong, and has a great chin to go with it. the combination has been enough to get him 5 wins under various Zuffa banners and against an improving level of competition.
- Whether it was the broken hand (which is likely) or a general shift in tactics (which was also apparent in his loss to Stephens) Jason may have taken something off his overall game in the hopes of developing a more "technical style". He's lost his aggressive edge with it and it's yet to be seen if his technical skills are really enough to make up for the lowered output.
- While I'd say that I ultimately saw what I'd hoped for out of Yakovlev in this loss, it did open a very big question for him. Maia has excellent takedowns. In fact he's taken down almost everyone he's fought, but Yakovlev just got run over by them and didn't have many answers once he was down. Maia isn't quite a litmus test, but for a guy who has been a very good wrestler, getting dumped over and over isn't a great look.
- And yet, Yakovlev did have his moments, especially late in the fight. He does have nice, technical striking, and showed decent skill just in surviving with Maia in mount for so long. I look forward to seeing what he can do against someone just a little lower down the ladder at 170.
- For Maia, as well, he got a win he was supposed to get, but Anik (I believe) mentioned that he was experiencing some confidence problems, and if that's the case, this fight probably didn't improve those. Maia was able to control an over matched opponent, but was never close to finishing. Not sure just getting the W will make him feel a lot better.
Warrely Alves (-200) vs. Marcio Alexandre Jr. (+175) (I picked Alves, I was right)
- I'll give Alexandre credit here, he looked much better at range in the very brief windows he was given in this game. I expected him to take a lot longer to pick his shots and set up his kicks, but he did will to challenge Alves on the outside when the fight took place there.
- Ultimately, his static footwork and lack of output were the expected massive gaps that Alves could cut through though and Alexandre's style was badly exposed because of it. If he really wants to model himself off Lyoto Machida he's going to have to take more cues than stance and strikes. The evolution of Machida's game has involved a ton of improved footwork and defensive movement and lately a focus on increasing his offensive production. Alexandre will need to work on the same skills.
- For Alves, he executed a solid gameplan pretty much flawlessly. He closed Alexandre down quickly with combinations, stifled him against the cage, and eventually took advantage of his lack of movement to hit him hard and jump on the submission. At only 23, the ability to really plan for an opponent suggests a lot of good things for Alves' future.
Antonio Carlos Jr. (-200) vs. Vitor Miranda (+170) ( I picked Carlos Jr., I was right)
- Really not many surprises in this fight, other than, perhaps, how easily Miranda was not just out grappled, but out struck as well. Carlos Jr. looks like he wants to make an impact at LHW and his first step to doing so is having a decent enough boxing game to get his opponents to respect him and plan for more than getting taken down.
- Miranda is a hard sell for me at 35 and with as many miles as he already has on his tread. He has some skill, but he got outworked in his best areas in this fight and if he can't be a dominating striker, it's hard to imagine him beating anyone but the lowest end at light heavyweight.
- Eventually, It seems like the UFC really did well to produce two new, young prospects. Especially getting Carlos Jr. at light heavyweight is a nice boost for a division that badly lacks young skilled fighters.
- I get why it happened, I don't even really have a problem with it in the end, but let's face it, this fight was stupid, so I'm not going to talk about it.
- Shockley has a bad habit of being entirely two willing to dive in to bad positions and try and scramble out for advantage. It's worked well for him against less technical opposition, but at the higher levels that's going to be a major problem and something that may be hard for him to stop doing.
- Saggo really is a very nicely technical fighter. He's spent time all over the world working on rounding out his training and it shows. His hands are probably the biggest missing element, but his kicking game is solid and his wrestling and submission games look very polished and technical. He'll be a tough fight for a lot of guys at 155.
- With the huge amount of lightweight signings that the UFC has made lately, it's increasingly easy for newcomers to get lost in the chaff and forgotten. Fighters who want to make a name for themselves are going to have to give distinguishing performances again and again and again. Nice start from Saggo, but he'll need to do a lot more to stand out.
- I'm rarely happy to be wrong, but I'll admit to being pretty pleased to see Tanaka win this fight as thoroughly as he did. He's a prospect with a lot more upside than Delorme and with the ability to bring a lot more excitement down the line. I was worried that he'd get derailed by a larger and similarly skilled (and more experienced fighter). The fact that he didn't is a great sign.
- It was great to see Tanaka adjust his grappling after a rough first round. He obviously had trouble dealing with Delorme's size and strength early, but figured out how to work around it and made the fight his for the next two rounds. That said, he was unable to really distinguish himself on the feet, and against a pretty poor striker, that's not a great sign.
- For Delorme, it's back to floating around in the middle of a pretty weak division at 135. There are a lot of fights for him to take and do well in, as there are a lot of fighters in a similar position to himself. It might even be worthwhile to see him take on someone like Mike Easton following Easton's bad loss to Jabouin.
- I didn't exactly have high hopes for Johnson, but I expected that he could replicate Marbek Taisumov's fairly lackluster effort that was enough to outwork Tae Hyun in his debut. The fact that he couldn't and the he eventually got KO'd by Tae Hyun, suggests that Johnson really doesn't have much to offer the UFC. It's a shame, he seems skilled, but the chin just may not be there.
- For Tae Hyun, this was a huge showing for him. Johnson did implement a movement heavy striking game reasonably well, but Bang was able to bite down and bull through with good timing on his counterstrikes. A more well rounded skill set would take him a lot further, but as a powerful brawler with a decent chin he can at least make some exciting fights.
Mike Easton (-215) vs. Yves Jabouin (+180) (I picked Easton, I was wrong)
- This is the kind of fight that, deep down, I really dislike. Both Easton and Jabouin showed massive let downs in competitive edge for significant periods of time. Easton just showed a few more a bit more often, but it wasn't a good performance from either fighter.
- I guess some people needed to see this kind of fight from Easton to finally drop him from the rankings, but it basically just reaffirmed what his UFC career thus far has shown, that he just can't fight with the kind of consistency needed to beat anything other than the lowest end of competition. It was pretty shocking that he lost this fight, but the way he lost it was in line with past problems.
- It's very hard to say what this means for Jabouin right now. He's gone win loss for a couple years now, dropping fights to Wineland and Pickett, with wins over Pague and Easton. Is Jabouin ready for another crack at a top 15 fighter? Maybe, but it's hard to say that I've seen anything that would make me think he'd win that fight.
- It's really hard to know what to take from a short notice fight, especially when both fighters are coming in on short notice. A full camp changes a fighter, changes what they're able to do and how well they're able to do it, so I'd take everything from this fight with a grain of salt.
- That said, I was surprised at how much trouble Phillips had getting her grappling and wrestling game going. Eventually, she looked very raw and not at all ready for the step up in competition that Letourneau provided.
- And for Letourneau, considering her huge advantage in striking skill, she didn't get nearly as much done as I'd have liked to see. She got caught a lot with ugly overhand rights. And, while she countered nicely, she got hurt badly early and had to fight back from it for the next two rounds.
- I only caught a little of this fight, later in the evening. But suffice to say, Woodley fought the fight of a man without any sort of plan going into the cage. At some point the idea of gameplanning has to exist for fighters. The very best fighters work to set up their offense and to nullify their opponents known strenghts. Woodley was a deer in the headlights when MacDonald wouldn't just give him opportunities.
- I'd still really like to see MacDonald work on finding ways to finish fights. He's skilled, but Lawler showed that a determined fighter who can march him down fearlessly will be able to hurt him. And MacDonald, honestly doesn't give a lot for opponents to fear in terms of KO power or submission offense. He's very skilled offensively and defensively and will beat 95% of the fighters he faces, but it'd be nice to see him turn easy decision wins into finishes.
Those are my collected thoughts from the last month of fights. I apologize for being behind on everything, and had I planned I would probably have set myself up to get this all done a little easier and with more regularity throughout. But, that's the benefit of hindsight. See you next week for a huge double header as Swanson very likely beats up Jeremy Stephens and Te Huna fights Marquardt in an event that almost nobody can be forced to care about.