While this card clearly had its slow points, all in all this was a pretty solid show for the Nottingham crowd. The English fighters got off to a slow start on this card but as the night wore on their performances improved. While the English MMA scene still seems to be Europe's strongest, it also seems to be struggling to produce new faces.
The UFC has cooled on England as a market, drastically reducing the number of shows there and it really seems that the UK lacks a young fighter with the right mixture of skill and charisma to become a true star. Right now the only English fighter that fills the role of star is Michael Bisping and he is going to pass his peak as fighter in coming years. This could change very quickly, the meteoric rise of Jon Jones is an excellent reminder that things happen very fast in MMA and it only takes one fighter to energize a fan base.
Lets get on to the rest of the perspectives:
- Stefan Struve is improving, ever so slightly. We, as MMA fans, are used to seeing huge leaps in ability from fight to fight, but with Struve we see baby steps. Struve is supposed to struggle with heavy handed strikers but now Struve has four wins stoppage wins over powerful strikers. Yes, Stipe Miocic hit him hard but Struve threw better kicks at range, actually threw straight punches at times and actually seemed to be trying to use his length. In the post fighter interview Struve did indicate it is something he is working on, so in the future fans and pundits should be careful falling into the old "Struve won't use length and get KOed" narrative.
- Brad Pickett scored a superb upper cut to knock Jabouin down and showed off his ever improving skill set. Pickett's nickname is "One Punch", but early in his career that was largely a smoke screen, while he certainly had knockout power Pickett was primarily a grappler. The name convinced opponents Pickett was a brawler and thus he could surprise them when he shot for a takedown and then proceeded to out grapple them. Pickett has grown into the nickname, Jabouin has been knocked out before, but only by very heavy hitters at lightweight, an encouraging sign. Look for Pickett to get right back into contention.
- Dan Hardy won, but it was a fight he was supposed to win. Hardy has plenty of charisma and is a like-able fighter, as he seems to really enjoy fighting and being in the UFC, but sadly the skill set just isn't there to make him a huge star. For all the talk of "we've never Hardy shoot for takedowns talk" during the fight, this is a known Hardy approach he used to great success against Marcus Davis. In the end this fight meant very little as neither Hardy nor Amir Sadollah are going anywhere, up or down.
- Paul Sass' loss shocked people. Not that he lost to Matt Wiman, many people predicted that but the fact that he got submitted shocked many fans. One of the facts of grappling is that if you do it long enough, no matter how good you are, someone is going to come along and submit you. And the situation with Sass is one that is often seen in grappling tournaments. While Sass is a well rounded grappler, he specializes in working from his back. Guard players use the position to submit or sweep right into a dominant position and can be actually at a disadvantage when on top in guard as it is a position with which they are not overly experienced. It is akin to a counter-striker specialist being being forced to press forward in a striking match. Sass was constantly in trouble whenever Wiman had him in full guard and his only answer seemed to be dropping for leg locks. I don't think this is a huge set back for Sass, just a hole he needs to address. The worst thing Sass could do at this point is attempt to completely change his style, he has a uniqueness about his style that works for him and becoming a more generic fighter would not help him.
- Jimi Manuwa is a grown man and he put a grown man beating on Kyle Kingsbury. He looks like an extremely exciting addition to the Light Heavyweight division, but where does he fit into the division? This is the question, he is clearly beyond Kingsbury, so lets get him a serious fight to see if Manuwa is a contender right now.
- The Akira Corassani and Andy Ogle decision was a microcosm of awfulness. Corassani did not win that fight, he was dropped multiple times in the first round and then spent the majority of the third round in a compromised grappling position. And that doesn't even account for the fact that Corassani should have lost a point for a punch that was clearly after the bell and possibly another point for a head kick that might have been landed while Ogle was still grounded. An English fighter got jobbed in England and I can't help but feel this the fight god's way of partially restoring balance to the combat sports universe after some of the Olympic boxing decisions for English fighters in London this last summer.
- Gunnar Nelson looked excellent, and the sky is the limit for this young man. That said he still has holes to fill and he best shore up that striking before it gets him in big trouble at the upper levels of the Welterweight division.
- In Bellator, aggressive Eastern European styles reigned supreme as Russians Andrey Koreshkov and Michail Tsarev, and Lithuanian Marius Zaromskis all won in impressive fashion. I'm still picking Lyman Good over any of them. Tsarev very much looks like a Russian Sambo grappler, using very aggressive and high risk moves and Koreshkov looked lost on the ground. I think Good is a match for both of them on the feet and come easily dominate both of them on the mat. Zaromskis poses the most problems but Good's clinch work against Jim Wallhead was excellent and could likely shut down a lot of Zaromksis' offense.