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Hindsight: UFC 180 & Bellator 131 in retrospect

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We're living in a shop. The world is one magnificent fucking shop. And if it hasn't got a price tag, it isn't worth having. There is no greater freedom than freedom of choice.*

Suddenly, it feels a little more like MMA has a freedom of choice again. On a day with three fight cards, each offering their fair share of high level fights, fans were left to choose. The savvy fan chose everything, DVRing fights, switching channels, serving as a slave to their desires for the maximum amount of violence possible. The UFC fans chose the UFC (or perhaps nothing) because that's what they always choose. And a lot of people channel flipped between the UFC and Bellator, me among them. I missed a fight here or there, that I won't be going over, but what I saw, most particularly from the main cards, I'll be hitting on here.

Disclaimer Time: Man I did crap for picks on these cards. I went 6-5 for the UFC event and 2-3 for Bellator. While both cards included some really mediocre talent, this is a good reminder that good match making makes for tough predictions. So, that said, I'm glad I'm not spending money on my fight picks, because there were a lot of really difficult and unpredictable bouts over the weekend. Still, I like to talk odds as a way of bookmarking fighter development, so I'll be using Best Fight Odds for the odds on each fight and taking the mode for each fighter.

Bellator 131

Nam Phan (+300) vs. Mike Richman (-400) (I picked Richman, I was right)

  • The Expectation: These odds felt, if anything, too short on Nam Phan. It seemed like destiny that he was going to get blasted out of the cage early in a matchup with a hard punching volume boxer. The days when Phan was keeping pace with volume strikers is well past, and the days when his chin can make up the difference are quickly fading as well.
  • Fallout for Phan: It'd be nice to think that this will be the last callup he gets to a main card on a big promotional platform... but, that's not how MMA works. If Bellator was willing to sign him, they may well be willing to give him another medium-profile fight. If not another, slightly smaller promotion will. He's been a fun fighter to watch, but the competitive years of his career appear to be at an end.
  • Fallout for Richman: He got the win he was supposed to get, and in the current Bellator landscape, I have to imagine that being flashy and getting good stoppages is really important. This win may mean a promotional bump for the next card, and hopefully a decent step up in competition.

I actually didn't get to watch the Schilling vs. Manhoef fight. (And yes, I'm really mad about that)

I missed Lawal vs. Vedepo as well.

Will Brooks (+160) vs. Michael Chandler (-200) (I picked Chandler, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: The odds certainly felt right to me, even on the back of Chandler's loss to Brooks. Chandler looked bad in his last fight, and it was hard to go into this one, expecting that he'd have as much trouble generating meaningful offense. It turns out that the injury talk may have been more excuse than explanation as Chandler lost even more handily the second time around.
  • Fallout for Chandler: This is a really troubling loss for Michael Chandler right now. Not only is it the first "definitive" loss of his career, but it comes at a time when he should just about be hitting his stride as a fighter. The biggest problem that appears to be plaguing him at the moment, is an inability to adjust from fight to fight, and show his opponent something new. Fighters that face him more than once have a pretty good idea of what they're getting. Otherwise, his improvements within his game, aren't outstripping those expectations.
  • Fallout for Brooks: Brooks makes his official entry into the conversation of lightweight elite with this win. His career is still young, he's improving rapidly fight to fight, and his only loss to date is a somewhat fluky KO to Saad Awad, since avenged. The only question now is, how many fights are on Brook's deal, and will Bellator try to make him one of the new flagship talents. With Bellator only Running a card every month or two, is Brooks going to be headlining anytime soon?

Stephan Bonnar (+135) vs. Tito Ortiz (-165) (I picked Bonnar, I was wrong-ish)

  • The Expectation: To say that I expected Stephan Bonnar to win is to say that I expected him to look less god-awful. Apart from his shocking (and quick) upset of Ryan Bader in 2011, Ortiz hadn't defeated a fighter with a winning record in the light heavyweight division since Forrest Griffin in 2006. His Bonnar win felt more like a strange flash of circumstance and opportunity than a display of skill. Bonnar may never have been the fighter Tito was, but he'd been plugging away with a lot more consistency toward the end of his UFC career. That was all wrong.
  • Fallout for Bonnar: Turns out that Bonnar had totally let himself go after retiring and came in 3 months out from this fight looking to get back in shape. Say what you want about Tito, but he appears to have kept himself in the gym. This feels like a one-off thing for Bonnar. Sure he likes competing and seems to have enjoyed the fight, but if he's not motivated between camps, I don't see him making a consistent return to the cage.
  • Fallout for Ortiz: Like it or not, Ortiz is still a big player in MMA. It's nothing to do with his fighting ability, or divisional dominance anymore, but rather a growing understanding on Bellator's part (not coincidental with their hiring of Scott Coker) that what fans want most is the feeling of importance, whether the quality is there or not. So, while it's hard to say who the UFC could keep matching Tito against that he'd be favored to beat, the next time he's on a card, he'll be sure to draw eyes.

UFC 180

I'm skipping the non-finale TUF Fights, as I can sum them all up with "Winner is staying in the UFC, Loser probably got cut." I also went 3-0 picking all the winners correctly.

Jessica Eye (-275) vs. Leslie Smith (+230) (I picked Smith, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Jessica Eye came into this bout having never won at bantamweight. A brief, and heavily contested win over Sara Kaufman was overturned, and otherwise she's spent most of her career at flyweight. That's to give just a little perspective as to why I was less than high on her chances here. Honestly, I thought the odds were off, and considering I'd seen both women in razor thin back and forth wars against the same fighter, I thought that Smith had the tools to push a pace that Jessica Eye couldn't maintain. I was wrong.
  • Fallout for Eye: This is a validating win for Eye. She's been hailed as a hot prospect for some time, she's got obvious physical tools, but her recent career has been totally lacking in excitement. She looked complacent in a loss to Alexis Davis and complacent in a very close win over Sarah Kaufman. For the first time, against Smith, she seemed to have found urgency to really push the fight when she had an athletic advantage. Hopefully she can keep doing that and really make a run in the top 5.
  • Fallout for Smith: There's no excuses of a bad camp for this ugly loss. Obviously the ear was a major problem and the reason the fight was stopped, but it's not a fight Smith was winning. Smith is aggressive and her striking is diverse, but she's just looking slow lately. Her win over Duke was nice, but Duke is an exceptionally limited fighter. Smith still has time to succeed, but with her physical prime fading, she may have to be more than a brawler to find regular success.

Alejandro Perez (+200) vs. Jose Quinonez (-240) (I picked Quinonez, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Quinonez had beat Perez once before, so there was little reason to think he wouldn't do so again. Eventually, had he not been deducted two points for a blatant headbutt, he probably would have beat Perez a second time. Still, that's not to say he got robbed. Perez fought smarter, stayed competitive, and made Quinonez work a lot harder than he wanted to. Eventually that paid of when Quinonez made a big, costly mistake.
  • Fallout for Quinonez: That's the kind of performance, straight up, that might get him cut from the UFC. Not only did he commit an ugly foul, but he lost in doing so. Otherwise, he's incredibly young and raw in his career. He's got good aggression, which could carry him far, if he can get it under control and pair it with some real skill, but otherwise, he's too eager to give up controlling positions for exciting finishes, and doesn't have any one particular skill to bank on.
  • Fallout for Perez: I'd like to be higher on Perez, as an Ultimate fighter winner. But, with nearly 10 years already in the books as a pro fighter, I'm not sure how much further he can be expected to develop. He's got a solid, patient striking game, and a serviceable grappling game, but he really doesn't seem to have the athletic tools to make any kind of run on the division. It will be interesting to see how the UFC matches him going forward.

Leonardo Morales (+181) vs. Yair Rodriguez (-220) (I picked Rodriguez, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Yair Rodriguez looked to be the best athlete to come out of this season of TUF. When you're dealing with fighters this raw, that's a pretty good reason to pick one fighter to win. That said, Morales was pretty competitive all the way through. More so, I think, than most expected.
  • Fallout for Rodriguez: Fans of his may have heard me being pretty hard on his performance, but frankly I think it's deserved. He's a great, elite level, athlete, but nothing about how he fights is built to find consistent success in MMA. He has a collection of dynamic, one off strikes he throws, and when that's not working, he's pretty much reduced to wall-n-stall. He's still early in his career, but he needs to get with a camp, quick, that can work on taking advantage of his athleticism while installing some kind of skill base.
  • Fallout for Morales: Morales, for his part, did well to control striking range, which meant that little of what Rodriguez was throwing landed. But, given Rodriguez's lack of effective offense, it was pretty disappointing to see Morales mount almost none of his own. He needs to work on increasing his aggression and offensive output, because there's no real, definitive reason he lost this bout, other than he just didn't generate any offense.

I missed Edgar Garcia vs. Hector Urbina

Chris Heatherly (+221) vs. Augusto Montano (-268) (I picked Montano, I was right)

  • The Expectation: The lines on this fight were just perfect coming in. And that proves an interesting point in the modern era of MMA, just being a good wrestler isn't enough anymore. Heatherly had the better takedown game, but that was the only area he was going to win. Montano was primed to pop back up and make Heatherly pay big dues for relying on a limited and predictable skill set.
  • Fallout for Montano: Honestly, with Erik Perez on a bit of an injury/losing skid lately, Montano may be the most sale-able Mexican born talent in the UFC at this moment. He's aggressive, he strikes well, and the rest of his game is well rounded enough to compete at a decent level. He doesn't have top-ranking aspirations written all over him, but it's not hard to see him in a Chris Lytle/Ben Saunders type role of fan-favorite action fighter.
  • Fallout for Heatherly: This may be the end of the UFC line for stump. If not, he's got the right skill set to build off of, with his wrestling base, and he's in a deep enough division to get easy matchups. After all, he's only 3-ish years into his pro-career. It's not worth writing him off altogether, but it is worth understanding that he may not be ready to compete above the lowest level of the UFC.

Dennis Bermudez (-166) vs. Ricardo Lamas (+140) (I picked Bermudez, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: It seems most fans and bettors were pretty close in my line of thinking on Bermudez's chances here, if perhaps for different reasons. A lot of what I saw, leading up to the bout, were people talking about going with the hot hand and how Bermudez had just been killing it lately. More to the point for me, I thought (and still think) that Bermudez has the more natural, complete MMA game. He also makes mistakes, and Ricardo Lamas is venomous when it comes to taking advantage of opponents mistakes. I knew that, and ignored it to my own detriment.
  • Fallout for Bermudez: Up until he got put down and choked out, Bermudez looked pretty good. He's a fighter just entering the peak years of his career, so I'm not sure this will represent a huge setback, concerning his ability to hang out in the top 10 at featherweight, but it may preclude him ever getting a title shot. Ricardo Lamas is a good fighter, but likely represented one of Bermudez's clearest paths to 145 contention. His striking stacks up much less well with other top fighters in his division.
  • Fallout for Lamas: Talk of him being a flash in the pan contender was probably a bit overstated. Lamas has a strange collection of skills. He's not bad at anything, but other than his top game, everything he's good at has major technical gaps as well. He's a good enough athlete to keep most fighters from taking advantage of those gaps, but against elite competition, they still exist. Eventually Lamas is a great fighter in the middle of his best years and should be a favorite to beat most guys he's going to face.

Jake Ellenberger (+140) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (-165) (I picked Ellenberger, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Unlike the betting and odds making public, I really thought that Jake Ellenberger should have been the favorite to win this bout. While he hadn't looked great lately, the caliber of opponent to which he was looking not great seemed to be a big step up from Kelvin Gastelum. I figured he'd fight with confidence and power, come out of the gate, put Gastelum on his back foot, and take a scrappy bout. Oh what a fool I was.
  • Fallout for Ellenberger: This is, very likely, the beginning of the end for him and it's not being helped by the fact that he seems to be fighting with a gameplan that really doesn't take advantage of his size, power, or wrestling ability. Slowly, GFC seems to be turning him into a techical combination kickboxer, and he's just miserable at it. Add to that that he seems a step slower and you get a series of really bad performances. I assume he'll get another UFC fight, but the matchup is going to be key if he's to be expected to win it.
  • Fallout for Gastelum: This win really solidified Gastelum's seat on the elite prospect hype train, at least in my mind. He came out of the gate looking mediocre against Hall, good against Melancon, mediocre against Story, and bad against Musoke. This was a return to that good form he showed against Melancon, and appeared to come on the back of one of his better camps. He looks like an elite physical specimen, with an evolving, well rounded game, when he's on point, so I just hope that continues when he face Tyron Woodley.

Mark Hunt (+345) vs. Fabricio Werdum (-400) (I picked Werdum, I was right)

  • The Expectation: I expected Hunt to look really good early in this fight and then fade fast. He looked a lot better than I expected, but he also faded a lot faster than I thought he would.
  • Fallout for Hunt: It's really difficult for me to imagine Mark Hunt getting another title shot right now. And, if he gets another big name elite matchup from the UFC next time out, I'm not all that sure he wins. I love Hunto and his miraculous run to an interim championship bout, but I'm getting that feeling of watching a shooting star. The streak was brilliant, but it may all end in a hurry. Then again, Hunt has the kind of power and chin that could keep carrying him for another couple years, maybe.
  • Fallout for Werdum: Werdum looked decidedly mediocre in this fight and, if anything, it probably takes off some of the luster of his chances in a bout with Cain Velasquez. His offense for the early rounds basically consisted of throwing hail mary shots at Hunt with the hope that one would land and really buzz him. It eventually worked, in large part because Hunt was really trying to conserve energy and stay inactive in the second round. The KO itself was electric, and showed the surprising athleticism that Werdum is still capable of, but the rest of his showing was... not great.

Those are my collected thoughts from last weekend's eventapalooza. So much of what I wrote seems obvious now, but as always, that's the benefit of hindsight. Stay tuned for next week's issue, which should be on time (as I hopefully won't be sick) and may involve me talking about another win for Frankie Edgar. Until then!

*This week's quote courtesy of the film How to Get Ahead in Advertising.