Nobody seems to embody "pure and direct and strong" like Rory MacDonald. At times he seems to be MMA distilled, not to some brute force essence, but to simple effective techniques that he uses to cut through flashier fighters. He tears people down, not because he's overwhelming, but because what he does seems so simple and effective. Of course, making fighting seem that way is hardly an easy feat. Anything really athletic that looks simple is usually the result of someone who is extremely gifted and has done it a thousand times. Of course, with all that MacDonald has officially joined the trinity atop the "new" (read post-GSP) welterweight division. Alongside Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler, he has planted his flag as a member of the elite. Over two cards and 23 fights, he also dropped my picks down to 16-7.
Disclaimer Time: Not a gambler, still talking about fight picks and odds, using Best Fight Odds, taking the mean, yada yada yada.
- While Tukhugov hasn't gained nearly the hype of some of the other Eastern European prospects in the UFC, that didn't stop bookmakers from realizing he was an obvious favorite here. He has all the tools he needs to rise through the featherweight ranks, it's just on him to put them all together.
- Ernest Chavez scored an upset in his debut over the increasingly under-performing Yosdenis Cedeno. Since then the limitations of his boxing and movement heavy stile have really started to show themselves. Considering he's not a big KO threat, his current style gives opponents too much time and space to work.
- Bandel Was a bit of a mystery product coming into this fight, which is why I imagine the lines ended up being as close as they were. Unfortunately for him, mystery solved! He's a fun grappler without a lot of secondary skills. That's been a tough row to hoe for years now and is only getting more difficult as time passes.
- This was exactly the kind of bounce back fight Taisumov needed. He's a fun action fighter with a nice array of strikes, but his output has been dismal so far in the UFC. He needed that chance to fight someone he could really overwhelm in order to get his confidence back. Hopefully, he can maintain that aggression. If he does, there's a solid role for him in the UFC.
- Okay, so I've finally learned my lesson on Tor Troeng. He seemed like a mediocre athlete with a lot of fun aggression coming off TUF, but since then he's only regressed. His style is too clinch focused, considering that he's usually giving away strength and wrestling to his opponents. He's still an alright distance striker, but he's unwilling to stay there.
- I thought aggression would be the key to this fight, and it was. It just came from a source I didn't expect. Jotko looked much, much more aggressive in his striking and control than I'd seen from him before, and he totally overwhelmed Troeng because of it. He still needs a lot of work to rough out his edges, but this win announced him as a decent prospect to watch next time around.
- The odds had this about even, and for all intents and purposes it was even. There was a bit of controversy from those that felt Umalatov had won it, but I can't really see getting excited enough about the result to care. Eventaully, Umalatov is a decent enough dirty boxer and clinch fighter on the inside, but he doesn't have the physicality to take on most opponents there. Unfortunately for him, it's hard to see that changing or improving.
- For Pendred, he continues to look like a really decent athlete that has very few technical tools at his disposal. Right now he's getting wins off of guts and strength, but it wouldn't require much of a step up in competition for him to hit his ceiling. Unless he makes major improvements, he's not going to rise far from the bottom of 170.
Hindsight: Charles Rosa (+250) vs. Dennis Siver (-290) (I picked Siver; I was right)
- I was a little shocked that the odds on this fight were even as close as they were, but maybe others knew something I didn't, because it ended up being a really surprisingly competitive bout. The big reason behind that? Dennis Siver's slow decline. If he'd finished that arm-triangle in the first, we wouldn't be talking about Rosa as a future prospect, we'd just be talking about how Siver can still crush dudes. It's starting to appear that he can't.
- As for Rosa as a future prospect, I feel like the rare person that still really needs to be sold on him after that. He's young enough in his career to have a chin, and scrappy enough to work on the ground, but he has zero wrestling game to speak of and not much power in his kickboxing. That's not a great recipe for success, and I'll need to see him beat some decent prospects before I start feeling like he's one himself.
Hindsight: Nicholas Musoke (-201) vs. Alexander Yakovlev (+180) (I picked Yakovlev; I was wrong)
- This was definitely a fight where I would have swung the "favorite" tag the other way, had I been setting odds. I was pretty high on Alexander Yakovlev, and it's hard to fault him for a loss to Demian Maia. That said, this was a much better measuring stick, and it showed that he really doesn't have the athleticism (or more particularly, strength) to implement is game in the UFC. He's a pretty gaunt WW, so I can't see going to LW, but if he can't add power to his game he may be gone quickly.
- I'll admit, I'm pretty surprised at Musoke's development. Through trials and tribulations he's worked himself into a physically imposing three dimensional fighter. He's still sort of a jack of all trades, master of none, but considering that he's also a pretty good athlete to go with that, that makes him a dangerous opponent for anyone outside the top 15-20.
- Askham is a legit enough prospect to have driven these odds close to even, but the eventual showcase here was of Magnus Cedenblad. He's slowly inching himself into the bottom 15 of the middleweight division and proving himself to be a tough/powerful wrestler grappler on the way. He'll probably end up being capped by his lackluster striking, but he's the kind of fighter who could hang out as a solid divisional gatekeeper.
- Given that, for his first UFC bout, Askham acquitted himself well and is still a very legit prospect. He needs a ton of work on his wrestling, but there aren't a lot of amazing wrestlers at 185 to take advantage of that skill gap. In the meantime, his cardio and striking diversity will win him a lot of fights.
- Man, these odds really drive home how massive an upset this loss was for Backstrom. I can't think of anyone outside Wilkinson's friends and family that had him winning this fight. And for the first 45 seconds or so, the fight went exactly as planned. Heck, right up until the KO, Backstrom seemed in complete control. And then he got put out. The short story is that he's still an amazing prospect. The long story is that he is far too confident in his striking, considering his lack of basic boxing offense and defense.
- For Wilkinson, the hope has to be that this is more than a momentary high point in his career. His only career loss is to Rony Jason, so he's still a prospect on the way up, but this win seriously outstripped expectations. Hopefully next time out he'll be able to back up the hype this win should gain him. Otherwise, it's hard to take a lot else away from his win, as he was getting beat up for most of it.
- The basic knowledge here ran along two lines. One, Latifi is a pretty strong dude who wrestles a bit. Two, Blachowicz has typically been terrible defending takedowns, to the effect of pulling guard and having a decent submission game.. which isn't something that usually works at a high level. Of course, all that went out the window, when Blachowicz came in with a lower base and Latifi couldn't get in on his legs. This could represent a serious limitation for Latifi against all but the lowest end of UFC competition.
- For Blachowicz, the adjustment in his stance and striking output was a pretty big deal for him and could represent good things for his future in the UFC. He's definitely a better-than-average kickboxer for his division, but his takedown defense and lack of output has often made him fight down to the level of his opposition. If he's fixed those problems, he could potentially work his way into the top 10.
- Even picking out ways that Corassani could be competitive in this bout, it was hard to see any way he was going to win it. Corassani is a fun fighter and a decent boxer, but he's really one dimensional and it's not a dominant dimension. Against fighters with more complete striking games and/or better athletic ability, he's going to continue to struggle a lot.
- Holloway continues to prove himself as a fighter on his way into the top ten. He's had a few setbacks on that road, and Corassani probably represents his biggest win to date, but where he used to win competitive bouts with lower-tier featherweights, he's now dominating. He's just about at the point that he could actually pick off a featherweight in the top 15.
- Nelson really crept way too high in the odds for this bout, and that has less to do with assumptions that he'd dominate, than a general expectation that he'd win one way or another. Everyone seemed to know he wasn't going to out-strike Story, and that he'd probably get beat up a bit standing, but sooner or later, he'd break through and get there. He didn't, and it's time to face the fact, that with his style, against top tier WWs, he may have hit a very real wall.
- Rick Story is not going to drift quietly into the rest of the pack at WW. He's firmly planted his flag as the guy you have to beat to be considered an elite 170 lb fighter. He's crafty enough now to stay with what's working for him in a fight (something I was still unsure I could do). He doesn't seem to have lost much in terms of skill and strength. After all, at 8 years in he's still only 30. The version of him that fights smart is going to challenge practically any fighter from the top of the division to the bottom.
- Not much of a test for Munhoz, and the betting lines reflected that. Sanders' best hope was that he could out-physical Munhoz, but he never gave himself the chance to do that. Instead, he hopped right into a submission and was tapping in seconds. That probably spells the end of the UFC road for him, as he's been finished early in the first round in both his two UFC fights.
- For Munhoz, this win is little more than a footnote on his already strong resume. A nice reminder that the best talent usually beats run-of-the-mill opposition. It actually could be a half-decent way to build him if it wasn't a FP prelim that nobody but the diehard fans sat through, but it's a nice highlight either way.
- Speaking of nice highlights, Tumenov got a nice chance to show his skills again. He really is one of the most technical up-and-coming strikers in the sport, and he got the perfect chance to show that... on the Fight Pass prelims. Still, it's good to see a young talent being booked against decent, but unpolished fighters that they should easily beat.
- Of course, on the other side of that is Matt Dwyer. He made his mark on the regionals by being big, aggressive, and tough. Those skills will still get him wins in the UFC, but this is the kind of introduction to the big leagues that should leave him looking to sharpen the technical side of his game, because right now, that part of it seems non-existant.
- Massive upset loss for Holohan here. The odds felt right on going into this fight and it was a complete shock to see Holohan look so overmatched against fairly limited opposition. Unfortunately, it may speak to the home town advantage he received facing Josh Sampo. He's still fast and he's still aggressive, but even at 125 lbs, he seems somewhat physically unimposing. Once he couldn't hurt Kelades, he got worn down by the superior pressure fighter pretty easily.
- Kelades' toughness and willingness to engage got him a huge win here. He's not a bad boxer when he sits on his strikes and looks to fight in the phone booth, and while he still lacks wrestling, his ground game is very solid. I'm not sure he can be much more than a middling fighter at 125 lbs with that skill set, but he at least proved he can be a tough fight for young fighters.
- Some things just don't come through well on film. At least that's what I'm telling myself after assuming that Jason Saggo would be able to use his superior technical skills to get past Paul Fedler. Felder is just a better, stronger athlete than Saggo, and at times like that, Saggo's lack of a long history as a wrestler, grappler or striker really comes to bear. He's a good enough finesse fighter to beat the bottom rung of guys in the UFC, but if he can't become more technically dominant standing, he's going to struggle down the road.
- For Felder, this was a great debut and he looked pretty strong against someone he was expected to lose to. He's definitely a powerful, dynamic fighter, and while he may not be the most technically polished guy in the world, he's got the kind of style that should be able to develop with time. It will be interesting to see if he looks more polished in his wrestling and striking next time out.
- These odds were pretty shockingly long on Jake Lindsey here. Not because he's particularly talented, but to this point Aubin-Mercier has shown himself to be a very rough prospect. It's obvious he's got athletic skills, and it's obvious he's got clinch grappling, but the rest was all a question mark. At least a few of those have been answered by this bout, where Aubin-Mercier still looked his dominant self inside, but showed more patience and better defensive striking at range than he had in the past.
- It's a rough loss for Jake Lindsey. This was a big chance for him to "get over" and beat a promising fighter who doesn't have a lot more tools at his disposal than Lindsey himself. And while he was able to make it to the second round, eventually he ended up on his back, tapping to a strange shoulder lock variation. This is Lindsey's second shot at a winnable upset, and if he's going to get a win in the UFC at this point, it will probably have to be at the very lowest level of the lightweight division.
- It's time to knock Njokuani down several notches on the pecking order. The only reason the odds here could really have been as close as they were is a misunderstanding of what exactly made Roger Bowling a terrible match-up against the Muay Thai stylist. Njokuani can still beat the straight-ahead brawlers of his division in a pure striking contest, but his ability to handle diverse strikers has always been poor, and it seems to be getting poorer. At this point, he should probably be at long odds against the division's more competitive fighters.
- While I'd say that Cruickshank probably could have beat Njokuani at range, the way Njokuani was fighting in this bout, he really did the smart and surprising thing by going back to his wrestling and making sure he got a win. Coming off a loss in the UFC, nothing is more important than getting your hand raised. It didn't make for an exciting, fan friendly fight, but it ensures Cruickshank will be around for another exciting fight down the road.
- Much like the Tumenov and Munhoz fights from earlier, this amounted to little more than giving a top-tier prospect a great chance to show off. Gagnon is a powerhouse of a striker and a grappler, and once he settled into the fight, he needed no time to sub Salazar out of his debut. The fact that it was on the main card should have gained him at least a little interest, but in the climate of a billion fights on half a billion cards, it appears to have been quickly forgotten.
- The commentary team tried to highlight Salazar's secondary work as a "cable guy" as a fun and interesting fact for his UFC debut. Unfortunately the result was that it looked a lot like the UFC had thrown your local cable guy into the cage with one of their better talents. I hope Salazar can get an easier second fight and drop the second job, otherwise he's not going to be long for a rapidly improving bantamweight division.
- I picked Nordine Taleb to win this fight, and by my account he certainly did, but Jingliang is acquitting himself well as a genuinely competitive talent of the Chinese regional scene. He never should have been as big an underdog as he was here. Taleb is neither skilled nor consistent enough to be a massive favorite over decent competition. Unfortunately, the increasing theme of Jingliang's UFC career is that the strength he relied on so heavily to out-grapple and out-wrestle opponents in China just isn't carrying him. He's learning to strike to buffer that, and he's still tougher than dirt, but he may be limited in the UFC if he can't become much more technical.
- Taleb is a somewhat sneaky prospect out of Tristar. His only relevant recent loss is to "The Whitemare" over in Bellator back in 2012, in Taleb's 10th pro fight. He's a better-than-average athlete and doesn't seem to be lost anywhere in the fight, but at 33, his time to put all his skills together is a bit limited.
- Theodorou backed up the odds on him here by pretty thoroughly putting it on Bruno Santos. He's a big, athletic, grinding middleweight with great natural size and athleticism for the division. And unlike Santos, he's fairly active in his grinding cage and ground work. His range striking is still very much a mixed bag, and will need quite a lot of sorting as he moves up the ranks. But there are a lot of middleweights Theodorou can beat right now.
- For Santos, he's officially hit a wall in the UFC, and it's very much the result of his positional control heavy offense. Against other good athletes in the division, the fact that he doesn't generate much damage makes him pretty easy to outwork, especially as he seems to fade as fights go on, due to his massive musculature. I don't know if he could drop some of that and go to WW, much like Hector Lombard, or if he's just stuck as a grinder in a division without a lot of guys he can grind.
Hindsight: Yosdenis Cedeno (+265) vs. Chad Laprise (-325) (I picked Laprise; I was right)
- Chad Laprise as the heavy favorite in this bout is right, but it's not really indicative of Chad Laprise as a fighter. He has to start finding some dependable finishing tools, as he's not an elite athlete for the division and his boxing, while decent isn't showing the signs of fight ending power against decent competition. His improved wrestling is a nice touch, but he seemingly had Cedeno dominated all fight and couldn't get very close to finishing him.
- For Cedeno's part, I hope he can stick with the Blackzilians, because he looked bad bad bad in his first fight under their coaching. That may sound odd, but he honestly looked like a fighter who'd been stripped down of all his fun, crazy, and not very technical behaviors and was in the midst of being rebuilt. His footwork was all over the place, his striking was nonexistent. But, he's still a great athlete, and given more time under Henri Hooft and Jorge Santiago, they might be able to make a good fighter out of him.
- Good tune-up performance in a good tune-up fight for Raphael Assuncao. He showed why there's still a big gap between the top 5-ish bantamweight fighters and the rest of that division by basically gliding his way past an ineffective Bryan Caraway. There are those that were calling for him to knock Caraway out, but Caraway has always been a super durable fighter. Assuncao fought the smart fight and took a good win that was there for the taking.
- For Bryan Caraway, he's once again hit that wall at the top of the division. He's a solid gatekeeper in the 135 lb division, but it seems like his striking is never going to be more than passable, and he can't will himself to be a more powerful athlete. He's better than 80% of his division, but that last 20% is going to cause him real problems.
Hindsight: Rory MacDonald (-430) vs. Tarec Saffiedine (+350) (I picked Saffiedine; I was wrong)
- I'll take being wrong about a fight pick every time if it comes with results like this. For the first two rounds, this bout looked about like what I expected when I picked Saffiedine to win it. He was landing a few strikes here and there, trying to find his timing and distance. MacDonald looked good, better than I expected, but it was a tight, technical range striking battle that I (and even many of those who picked MacDonald) expected him not to get the better of over 5 rounds... MacDonald proved that he continues to evolve and get more out of the tools he already has. He's ready for a shot at the title, and I'll be happy to see it.
- This loss doesn't send Saffiedine packing from the divisional elite, or anything, but it's still a crushing, crushing loss. He's a very good striker, and he was given an opponent with good, but classically limited, striking who was willing to stand and kickbox with him for round after round. And he lost. he was challenged in his best element and beaten there. It takes some the mystique off his striking style and may be a cap to his ability to get into the top 5 at 170.
That's all for this week. There were a ton of fights to cover and a bevvy of other projects kept me from getting this out in the timely way to which I'm accustomed. So, perhaps more so than ever, so much of what I wrote seems obvious now. But, as always, that's the benefit of hindsight. Next on the docket is UFC 179, where I'll be talking about the return of Jose Aldo, from which I'm not certain he'll still be champ. Until then!
*This week's quote is courtesy of Videodrome.