Normalcy returns, or at least my version of normalcy. Essentially, I'm back eating bagels in my underwear and watching fights live (more or less). And watching fights live means Monday Hindsight articles. It's been a long month to get back here and my fight picking has suffered appropriately. New Zealand was a bit of a tough card for me, I hoped for some things that didn't happen, I expected some things that didn't come together. The San Antonio card was much, much kinder, although I'm not convinced that all the decisions were quite the correct ones. But, at this point, I'll take winning picks wherever I get them. So, let's take a look at all the fights from last weekend and what they how they reflected on the fighters involved going forward.
Disclaimer Time: Successful fight picking like the San Antonio card is all too often offset by the totally crap fight picking of the New Zealand card. For as often as I feel confident that I'm going to get things right, I end up being totally wrong. It's a big reason I still love watching the sport (it'd be pretty boring if I always knew the result ahead of time) and it's a big reason I don't actually gamble on sports. But I still like talking odds and picks as a frame of reference for analysis. I'll be using BestFightOdds for the odds and taking the mode for each fighter.
Hindsight: Sean O'Connell (+250) vs. Gian Villante (-300) (I picked Villante, I was right-ish)
- I really expected less out of O'Connell's UFC run. Honestly, I didn't really expect him to have the athletic ability or technique to compete. But, he impressed me in this fight with his dogged offense and work ethic, and by generally being a tough bastard. And by staying on an opponent who has shown repeated problems with low output.
- Speaking of which, I'm not at all convinced that Villante won this fight. He landed some hard shots throughout the fight, that stunned O'Connell a bit. But I really feel like he got outworked pretty badly in the first two rounds. And while it's no great determiner of success, FightMetric's stats back up that feeling, with O'Connell landing more offense in the first two rounds by a reasonably significant margin.
- So, what now for Villante then? After a really bad loss to Fabio Maldonado, he needed a strong performance over a fighter like O'Connell to show that he still had a strong future at light heavyweight. Now, it just feels like he's waiting for the next slightly more skilled fighter to rough him up for a loss.
Hindsight: Ian Entswistle (+100) vs. Daniel Hooker (-120) (I picked Entwistle, I was wrong)
- Given the youth of both fighters in this matchup, I really didn't expect Hooker to deal well with the kind of adversity that I knew Entwistle could provide. A lot of fighters would have panicked in the kind of position he found himself in, with a leg lock specialist on his ankle, but Hooker stayed solid and landed shots for the win.
- Entwistle is a live by the sword, die by the sword fighter. Leglocks and armbars are his bread and butter, but they're high risk, high reward moves. He may need to start planning and diversifying just a little to survive in the UFC. I wouldn't suggest changing his core game, but just finding striking opportunities in transition, and knowing when to leave on submission for another would help.
- It's really hard to know where the rest of Hooker's game is from this performance. He seems to have good head on his shoulders, and some solid ground and pound, given the opportunity. I know he's spent quite a bit of time kickboxing as well, but it'll take a more back and forth fight to really get a bead on him.
- Monstro is not to be played with on the ground. The rest of his game may be distinctly lacking in polish and technique, but his ground game looks fantastic. Hopefully he can put together enough other skills to make that work fro him in the UFC, because it's a definitive skill.
- Magny is lucky that Monstro doesn't have much of a takedown game. Magny created the first takedown that lead to him getting swept and spent the whole round grounded because of it. But, it was good to see him adjust and realize he needed to stay at range, where he could torch Monstro at will.
- Despite not being a world beating grappler, Magny is really showing himself as a talented middleweight. He'll need to gameplan for better opponents, mostly focusing on his drastically improved range kickboxing. But as he showed here, that skill alone is enough to totally outclass lesser welterweights.
- This wasn't a pretty fight, it wasn't a good fight, but at least it provided some entertainment and Grujic looks like the kind of guy who can get in some fun scraps with other low end guys at 170.
- Indich just doesn't have the physical tools for the UFC. He looked like the slightly more technical fighter out there in this fight, but he couldn't match Grujic for speed or power, and got wrecked because of it.
- Sangcha-an gave away a fight he could have won, with sloppy grappling. Time and again he went for low percentage submissions only to give up 50/50 or even dominant positions. It does bode fairly well for him as a correctable mistake, but it is a hole in his game to fix.
- That said, Vaculik continues to underwhelm at flyweight and this win didn't give me much hope for his longevity in the division. He's a capable top control fighter when he's given the opportunity, but he doesn't seem to have much of the exceptional speed and agility needed to compete at 125 lbs.
- Despite his relative inexperience in MMA, Sangcha-an does look like an interesting addition to the division with his Wushu base. Between him and Eddiva, it's a skill set that I look forward to seeing more of.
- I suggested before this fight, that Johnson might be in for a bad wakeup call against Matthews, given his poor regional competition level. And this was more or less that fight. While the second round was generally competitive, it was helped by some illegal blows (and a cage grab). Beyond that Matthews pretty well dominated Johnson pillar to post.
- Speaking of illegal blows, immediately after the fight, Matthews appeared to claim that Johnson had bit him during one of his rear naked choke attempts. Given the elbows and the cage grab, Johnson has to watch out that he doesn't build a reputation for less than sportsmanlike behavior. It's certainly something I'll be watching for in his next fight.
- Matthews looks like a very solid prospect given his youth and obvious technical ability. He needs to work a bit on inside striking defense and outside striking volume, but his ground game looks really solid, his transitions are good, and his striking is reasonably smooth.
- I said that I would blame Patrick Wyaman if Rhodes lost this fight, and damnit Pat, how could you lead me astray like this? But seriously, Rhodes may be an abject lesson in signing with the UFC too soon. For all the guys who get two or three easy fights coming in, and a good chance to build, there are guys like Rhodes who end up fighting a pretty solid Robert Whittaker in their second UFC fight.
- Rhodes did look improved however, but still lacks in confidence in his strikes, and at times in volume. He fought competitively with Whittaker for the first two rounds, losing them, but still in the fight. That third round was bad, however. If Rhodes gets another UFC fight (and he probably will) it will hopefully be against a slightly lesser opponent.
- But, credit where credit is due. Whittaker looked much better than I've seen him recently. It appears that his time at Tristar has driven two big changes to his game. First is an increase in volume striking. The second, the addition of a kicking game to his already solid boxing. Even just those two elements could be enough to push him up into the top 20-30 fighters in his division. Whittaker is tough, has good takedown defense, and if he can mix up and increase his striking the way he did against Rhodes, he's a formidable opponent for anyone.
- This was really a hell of a good scrap between two very fun grapplers to watch. Oliveira may have gotten the better of the fight, but it was a solid performance from Hioki as well, who really seems to improve under pressure.
- Many people were doubting Oliveira due to his inconsistency, but it's really an inconsistency born of fighting much better strikers, or in the case of Jim Miller, an equally aggressive grappler. Against most of the featherweight division, Oliveira should still be very much a favorite.
- And while this was a more exciting performance for Hioki, I think it really displayed that it's down to his opponent to get the best out of him. I'm still not really excited to see him fight right now, as unfair as that might be after a good fight, but his past UFC performances have been so mediocre, I'll need to see more than one fun loss.
- Knowing that Palelei has some legit wrestling credentials, it all makes a lot more sense, but I'm still not at all sure what Palelei was doing thinking he could outwrestle Jared Rosholt. His early takedown attempts and scrambles seemed to suck all the energy out of Palelei after the first round, and from there on out it was just up to Rosholt to takedown and grind.
- This was a good personal reminder as well, that as much as I want him to be, Palelei isn't really a big fisted brawler. Most of his wins are predicated on him being able to immediately take his opponent down and the pound them out. When he can't do that (against better opponents) he's going to potentially struggle badly.
- For Rosholt this was exactly the kind of badly gameplanned opponent he needed to pick up a really strong UFC win. He looks like he's rounding out his transition game well and the boost of confidence from these kind of fights could be exactly what he needs to put together a solid UFC streak as a really controlling heavyweight.
- Why does Te Huna have to seem like such a great guy out of the cage. It makes watching his limitations get exposed that much more difficult. As a fan, it's time to face the music, that when Te Huna can't brawl in the phonebox, his technical skills are sorely lacking in almost all areas.
- I don't know that he really has a lot more left in him, when he got his bell rung by Te Huna midway through the round, Marquardt still looked fragile, but he's certainly showing himself to be a better fighter at middleweight right now than he was at welterweight. The commentary suggested that he was always looking to conserve energy at 170 lbs, and given this fight, there may be some truth in that.
- So, now it's time to find another fun fight for Marquardt at Middleweight, perhaps the winner of Bisping vs. Le or something else with an established vet, no longer quite at the top of the division.
- Oliynyk is an incredibly dangerous fighter at heavyweight. He's not a great striker, but he's surprisingly fast and has a ton of pop in his strikes. That was the big difference early in this fight, where Hamilton probably thought he'd have the advantage and ended up eating a lot of leather.
- It's also really great to see a strong submission artist int he heavyweight division. It seems rare that the division gets real "skill" players, and even rarer that that skill is submission grappling. Oliynyk, for however long the wheels stay on, is a welcome addition.
- Hopefully Hamilton can pick up the pieces and go back to his camp and get better, but there's no two ways about it, this was a bad loss and he got outclassed in every facet of the fight. He still has a home at heavyweight, which, like I said, is low on skill players, but designs on the top 15 are currently on hold.
- Borg is a special talent. He has the kind of athletic gifts and technical polish that have him clearly marked as a future title contender. It's really hard not to look forward eagerly to his next fight out.
- Howell, unfortunately looked exactly how I thought he would. Game, tough as nails, and completely noncompetitive against a great athlete. There are a few matchups at 125 right now that he might win, but only a few. Flyweight is very much an athletes division.
- Between Borg, Horiguchi, and Scoggins, the future contenders of flyweight seem to already be in front of us. It will be interesting to see which of them falter on the way, or if 3 to 5 years from now, we're treated to another Johnson/Dodson/Benavidez-esque triangle of elite fighters.
Hindsight: Andy Enz (-200) vs. Marcelo Guimaraes (+165) (I picked Guimaraes, I was right)
- I'm really not sure what's going on with Andy Enz's game in the UFC. He looks like he's been working hard on his striking, but it's utterly disconnected from his formerly dominant BJJ. Given that he also isn't working in enough volume, or with nearly enough eye to defense to be dominant as a striker, he has some major hurdles to clear to pick up a win in the UFC.
- Guimaraes got the win I expected here. His ability to be a tough grinder won't get him a lot of big wins in the UFC, but it's been just enough to get him by the lower tier of competition. Despite not having a lot of fight experience, he has been active since 2006, so I'm not sure if he has a corner left to turn in terms of skill, but he could win a couple more UFC fights depending on matchups.
- Right up until Bedford throws any and everyone under the bus for losing, it's hard not to feel bad for the guy. His last two fight results aren't terribly illegitimate, he did headbutt Rani Yahya for a no-contest, and he did get melted by Gibson here, but referee determined losses are always hard to take.
- That said, it's still fun to watch Bedford fight, especially given that against larger, stronger fighters like Gibson, his style puts himself in extreme danger. Bedford fights with reckless abandon, so his wins and losses tend to be exciting.
- This was a very solid win for Gibson, as he was getting lit up pretty badly before finding the space to land a big hook that sent Bedford reeling to the mat. Future opponents would be wise to really pressure Gibson in the same way, but he showed an answer for it this time out.
- So, uhh... Colton Smith is pretty clearly the worst TUF winner to date. That's a tough moniker to be saddled with, but three straight highly definitive losses have put a big stamp on his career thus far. Getting insta tapped by a UFC newcomer was an especially bad look this time around.
- That said, Ferreira looks like a really solid talent. He's shown the ability to brawl on the regional circuit before, but taking down Smith and subbing him with a quickness showed that he's not leaving his submission game behind to just throw down. That was a real concern going in, but one Ferreira answered nicely.
- The UFC may not actually cut Smith after this loss. They seem to be back on a cycle of keeping guys for as long as possible, and he's under contract for 10 fights. But, if they do keep him around, it seems like it'll be really tough to find matchups for him. Maybe they could send him to their developing south pacific circuit to face some of their regional talent there.
- I'm not at all feeling like Joe Ellenberger really won this fight. But, Moontasri made some bad mistakes with wrestling as he gassed late. I can't blame him for gassing (he took this fight on about a week's notice) but i'd just about say he deserved the win either way.
- Ellenberger showed that his as tough as boiled owl poop (as my grandfather would say) but that he is really limited in his game outside of a solid takedown game. E's a fun fighter to watch, but I was hoping to see a big skill improvement given two years on the sidelines, but instead he just looked rusty.
- Moontasri has a real future in the division. When he wasn't gasping for air, his takedown defense looked really solid and he's shown takedown offense on the regionals. Given his really solid striking game and command of distance and timing, he could be a great action fighter for the UFC.
- That BJJ cardio, tho... Braga Neto is a great, fun grappler, but he's got to figure out how to do more or grapple longer and harder. He was great for a round, then gassed and couldn't get anything done even when he got great position to do it.
- Hester really stepped up his striking output when given the chance, and that was great to see, and he survived with Neto on the ground. But he still looked a little to ready to put himself in bad positions over and over. Solid performance over all, if still problematic.
- And unfortunately, it just feels a bit like the shine is off two more middlweight prospects. Neither Neto nore Hester looked great in this fight. Some felt Neto may have won it (even I may have scored it for him) but he didn't distinguish himself at all. And it's hard to be excited for a fighter like Hester, who still shows so much liability on the ground.
- Yet another fight, that I felt may have been seriously misscored. I saw a lot of people, mid fight scoring the first round for Lamas, and it was a close round, but I thought Dias pretty definitively controlled the range and outlanded Lamas. Once again, available fight stats support that, for what it's worth. Either way, scores of 30-27 for Lamas are pretty entirely indefensible.
- Hacran Dias looks like a much better fighter than he was last time he stepped into the cage. His range striking has improved by leaps and bounds with a solid boxing game to go with his ever hard kicks. The fact that he's a quality wrestler and grappler on top of it means he could still have a good run at the top ten in him.
- Lamas honestly looked regressed from his fight with Aldo. That may be a product of Aldo giving him a lot more space and time to work with, with his patient outside game. But in this fight, Lamas just looked like he was too willing to get in sloppy exchanges, and when he really wanted to get something specific done, he couldn't.
- Speaking of middleweight prospects free of shine, Craig and Ferreira just seem to typify the division's ongoing struggle to develop talent from the bottom up. They don't have any really discernable skills and haven't shown much improvement since they came in to the UFC. At the moment both men just seem to be treading water.
- For brief flashes of this fight, Ferreira showed the continuing flashes of technical talent that have made a lot of people excited about the idea of him making a run at the top 15, but he also showed a general ability to fight at a very slow pace, and late, when he really turned it up, Craig was able to outbrawl him handily.
- For Craig, this is a continued step back from a strong start to his UFC career. He hits hard, and can mix it up okay, but he just doesn't seem to be fighting better than the first time he fought in the UFC.
Hindsight: Kelvin Gastelum (-300) vs. Nicholas Musoke (+250) (I picked Gastelum, I was right)
- What happened to Kelvin Gastelum between his last fight and this one. Most likely it was his insistence at not traveling for his fight camp, but he looked notably regressed against a good, but lesser opponent than he fought last time around. Hopefully this drives Gastelum to make a more permanent home at one of the bigger gyms.
- Nicholas Musoke has proven himself to be a really reliable action fighter for the UFC. He still got beat up in the last two rounds of this fight, but he came out of the gate fast and took it to Gastelum when Gastelum was fighting flat. Even in a loss, I feel pretty interested in watching Musoke get out there again.
- It has to be said, that while Gastelum didn't look great in this fight, his natural talent was still enough to pummel Musoke for two full rounds. Gastelum is a really special talent and a young fighter. He has a lot of time to improve and nothing two deep should be taken from this fight beyond him getting the win.
- Stephens is really a top tier featherweight at this stage of his career. He may still not be good enough to get by Swanson, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that there are a very small handful of fighters at 145 who can compete with him.
- It really sucks that Stephens apparently broke his left hand early in this fight. Cub can claim that he really turned up his offense, and certainly his increased kicking game helped a lot as the fight went on, but Stephens noticeably took his foot off the gas and it was probably due to his injured hand.
- And now, Swanson is primed for a title shot. With his variety, skill, and power, he makes a great challenge for Aldo the second time around. It's doubtful lightening will strike twice, especially given that Aldo is a more conservative version of himself these days. And if Cub gets the same time to work that Lamas did, I expect him to make a better fight out of it.
Those are my collected thoughts from a weekend with a lot of UFC action. As always a lot of it feels pretty obvious now, but that's the benefit of hindsight. Until next time, when Chris Weidman will very likely still be champion, and Ronda Rousey will probably have a new arm in her collection. Still, MMA never ceases to amaze, so look out for more perspective gained from more ill conceived fight picking.