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Hindsight: UFC 181 in retrospect

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Oh please, if everyone around here is going to start telling the truth, I'm going to bed.*

No, seriously. If the fallout of this event is a bunch of honest hard takes on UFC business, prospect potential, and MMA judging, I don't really want any of it. That's not to say I don't care in the long run. Sure I do. How we judge fights is important, how the UFC treats its talent and its fans is important, and quite frankly CM Punk isn't a prospect with realistic potential... But, lets all just bask for a collective day or two in the glory of a really fantastic fight event. That's what's important. As fans we don't get that many opportunities to do this, maybe a handful a year. Personally, I'm going to take that opportunity and enjoy it... and also talk fight fallout.

Disclaimer Time: Hey, I went 9-2. A braver or more foolish man would be sitting on a fat pile of cash right now. Unfortunately for me, I'm a bit of a pragmatist, and a pragmatist is rarely so sure of anything that he feels comfortable banking on it's outcome. I also don't like losing money. Winning it is nice and all, but losing is beyond horrible. So, I just don't play, or at least not with money. That doesn't mean that I won't talk odds and spreads and betting line movement. It's a helpful tool for bookmarking fighter development. I'll be using Best Fight Odds for the odds on each fight, and taking the mode for each fighter. So, let's get to the fights...

Clay Collard (-125) vs. Alex White (-105) (I picked Collard, I was right)

  • The Expectation: The odds on this fight swung a lot. White opened as the slight favorite, but by fight time, he was just barely the underdog in a dead even contest. That's right where I had him too. White is a powerful volume striker, but he doesn't have any natural range or rhythm or output. Collard may have drawn a short straw against Max Holloway, but his high volume infighting style works for him in close fights.
  • Fallout for Collard: This is a reputation making fight for Collard. It won't establish him as any sort of hot talent or top prospect, but he's earning a reputation as a fun action fighter that fans are going to want to watch. The UFC generally loves those kinds of fighters, and gives them lots of opportunities to climb onto bigger stages and stick around even after the point of success. Collard still has a lot of work to do if he wants to find long term success, but providing this kind of excitement helps ensure he'll get the time to put that work in.
  • Fallout for White: It's tough to tell, honestly, where White's future is. Like Collard, he's a fun action fighter, the sort the UFC loves to promote. Given that, and the fact that he does have a win in his first three, I'm not sure the UFC will cut him. That said, he's got to be on thin ice, and his lack of technical development is a bad sign for a fighter that depends on aggression and volume. He can't take much in the way of a competitive step down in the UFC, so he'll just have to hope for the right matchup next time out.

Matt Hobar (+185) vs. Sergio Pettis (-235) (I picked Pettis, I was right)

  • The Expectation: It's strange to think that in their own way, Sergio Pettis and Anthony Pettis got very similar fights for their respective points in their careers. And, to that end, the fights went very similarly. Pettis was the favorite here, not because he should destroy Matt Hobar, who has generally been a tough out, but because Hobar, to the point of this fight, hasn't ever really shown many tools to win a fight against someone like Pettis the Younger.
  • Fallout for Hobar: To that end, Hobar looked much improved. In fact, I'd say he's generally gotten better fight to fight in the UFC: starting with an ugly loss to Pedro Munhoz, and improving with a strong, technical wrestling performance over Aaron Phillips, and now with a back and forth fight with Sergio Pettis, in which he took round 1 before fading. He's improved both his striking and his wrestling, now he just needs to work on his consistency of application.
  • Fallout for Pettis: Hobar wasn't expected to be a walk in the park for Sergio, but I don't think many expected Pettis to struggle as much as he did early in the fight. He seemed set on proving that he was just a much much better athlete than Hobar (reflected by his brother as well) and got beat up a bit because of it. Once he actually started paying attention to his footwork and the technical aspects of his game, he put on a pretty one sided performance over the rest of the fight. Sergio is still on the prospect track, and this was just another step along the path.

Ashlee Evans-Smith (-200) vs. Raquel Pennington (+170) (I picked Evans-Smith, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: I'm a little surprised that the odds ended up swinging so heavily in Evans-Smith's favor here. I thought she would win, but I also thought this was a coin-flip fight. Fighters coming in on short notice rarely do well. For her part, Evans-Smith was doing quite well, right up until she wasn't. This bout very much ended up being a display of the dangers of trying to handicap a short notice fight between relatively inexperienced fighters.
  • Fallout for Pennington: It's impossible to overstate how badly Pennington needed this win. She may have gotten a decision over Modafferi to earn her spot in the UFC, but it was an ugly fight and was followed by an ugly performance against Jessica Andrade. Pennington is big and strong and athletic, but so often she seems to fight like the smaller, weaker fighter. This bout didn't change that terribly, but it gave her a nice highlight win which should earn her a few more shots in the UFC.
  • Fallout for Evans-Smith: Tough loss on a decent performance for Evans-Smith. She came in on short notice, but generally displayed that she can be a competitive fighter in the future, with her blend of kickboxing and grinding wrestling offense. I don't know that she's dangerous enough anywhere (outside of mount, perhaps) to consistently win fights at a high level, but she has enough technique and athleticism to be a very tough test for most of the bantamweight division.

Corey Anderson (-500) vs. Justin Jones (+350) (I picked Anderson, I was right)

  • The Expectation: I think a lot of people, perhaps myself included, expected Anderson to beat Justin Jones pretty handily. However, I think it's a little shortsighted to be surprised that Anderson didn't quite get there. He still dominated this fight pretty completely, but the nature of a short notice bout often turns a contest into something of a glorified sparring session, where neither fighter is quite able to depend on their training camp, and instead has to default to how they'd fight in the gym. That's what this fight looked like.
  • Fallout for Anderson: The point I'm trying to make above is really... don't take anything away from this fight for Anderson except: A) He looked way, way more comfortable striking than he did on TUF. B) It's really good for a fighter with as little experience as he has to get rounds in and just do some work. Anderson is still the brightest LHW prospect in the UFC, this fight shouldn't skew that one way or another.
  • Fallout for Jones: He looked better than I expected him to, and may have some serious physicality down at middleweight... or even welterweight if that's what he can cut to. Still, it's really hard to take a promising read off a young fighter on a short notice loss. Jones looked okay in a fight he was supposed to lose, but if he gets a bad matchup next time out, he could be out of the UFC in six months. TLDR: Be optimistic, but not very optimistic.

Eddie Gordon (-145) vs. Josh Samman (+115) (I picked Samman, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Honestly, I had no expectation going in, and I think the betting lines accurately reflected that most of the analysis/betting community didn't either. Eddie Gordon has shown himself to be a strong athlete, but very much a developing talent. Josh Samman was returning under a heavy burden of loss. I knew I wanted Josh to win. I thought, reasonably, that he could win if the fight stayed at range, so I picked him to win.
  • Fallout for Gordon: I don't know if Gordon had a lot of hype coming off his TUF winning season, but if he did, this should be a bit of a pump-the-brakes moment. Physically, he's a beast, but technically, he's raw. Fortunately for him, this shouldn't be a derailing loss. He was winning the fight clearly until the KO, and at only 3.5 years into his career, he has a lot of time. Not getting into the UFC until he was already in his 30s is a concern, but with his physical tools, I could easily see him being competitive for another 5 or 6 years.
  • Fallout for Samman: No overstatement here. This was a career shaping win for Josh Samman. With more than 7 years as a pro fighter already under his belt, the time for Josh to be putting everything together is now. If he lost this fight, that could have halted his rise in the middleweight division significantly enough that he might never get off the prelims. His game has limitations, but everything seems to be clicking for him right now, so hopefully he can stay healthy and keep getting fights as often as possible.

Urijah Faber (-1000) vs. Francisco Rivera (+600) (I picked Faber, I was right)

  • The Expectation: While the fall of the Faber Empire may be inevitable, neither I nor the betting public expected it to happen here. Faber has, over his career, been a more explosive, powerful, and well rounded fighter than Rivera. I couldn't see picking against him until I actually saw the wheels fall off... After this fight, however?
  • Fallout for Faber: I find it just a little shocking that all three judges gave Faber the first round of this fight, because nothing about his body language (or what I saw with my lying eyes) suggested that he'd won it clearly. Faber looks like he may finally be losing a step. The hints were there in the Caceres fight, but here this time the contrast was stark. Rivera looked faster & more powerful, and generally shucked Faber's takedowns with ease while cracking him in exchanges. As Faber goes forward, picking him to win will be more matchup dependent than ever before.
  • Fallout for Rivera: Francisco Rivera's career seems to be marked by tough breaks. Just as he's hitting his stride as a figher (and he looked better than ever here) he's hitting some bad luck. To be fair, his fight with Mizugaki wasn't bad luck, just a bad matchup against a prime volume striker with a brick chin. But, this was clearly Rivera's "get over" fight, and he didn't. Whether an intentional foul, or a further sign of slowing skills through sloppier fighting, Faber eye poked him just as Rivera was building momentum, and jumped in for the RNC. Hopefully Rivera can get another good fight quick, because this is his time and he's missing out on it.

Tony Ferguson (-300) vs. Abel Trujillo (+245) (I picked Ferguson, I was right)

  • The Expectation: I'm a little surprised that Ferguson went as high as he did in the odds. Not because I didn't pick him to win, but because Abel Trujillo is so, so dangerous. A fighter like that always has a shot, always. In the long run, this fight played out exactly to script, once Ferguson survived round 1, he was able to piece up Trujillo with ease and eventually lock up the submission. The book on athletic "barn-burner" fighters has been written and re-written at this point.
  • Fallout Ferguson: He got the win he was supposed to get and is building the kind of winning record that can't be ignored. He's in line for a top tier fight. But, is it a fight he wins? I'm not sold. To date, Ferguson has been a fighter summed up as "less than the sum of his parts." He strikes well, grapples well, and wrestles well, but he often takes a while to find his range and rhythm and occasionally makes mind bendingly poor mid-fight decisions. He barely got by Castillo and I wouldn't pick him to consistently win more fights at that level.
  • Fallout Trujillo: This is the fate of the action fighter prospect that fulfills expectations. Trujillo is best known as a fighter who can set the world on fire with his power and athletic ability. But, with that comes the knowledge that "he who burns twice as bright, burns half as long." And Abel Trujillo burns very very brightly. He should still be a favorite to beat most mid-card lightweights, but it's hard to see him moving further up the ladder towards the top third of the division.

Todd Duffee (-360) vs. Anthony Hamilton (+300) (I picked Duffee, I was right)

  • The Expectation: DUFF MAN KO, ROUND 1. The odds reflected it, but were just close enough for those remembering this fight was at heavyweight.
  • Fallout for Duffee: He's back once again. A new, thinner, version of him, back from years on the sidelines. He's still a powerhouse, still more athletic than 90% of the other HWs in the world, but he's also 13 lbs smaller than he used to be. I'm not sure if he can go down to LHW, but that's something of a concern going forward. Otherwise, he's an easy man to pick to beat almost anyone unranked, and a coin flip for most guys outside the top 6 or so.
  • Fallout for Hamilton: I don't know if the UFC will cut him, after all he won his last fight before this loss, but this kinda puts a halt on the idea that he might rise to the fringes of the top 10. He's big, he doesn't do anything really poorly, and he's got some decent athletic tools. But, he doesn't do anything well either, and more skilled fighters have been able to finish him with shocking quickness. There just aren't that many low power, low output heavyweights that he can go against, and even then, he'd be even odds to win.

Travis Browne (-450) vs. Brendan Schaub (+400) (I picked Browne, I was right)

  • The Expectation: I think I'm a little surprised, once again, that the odds were this long on Schaub winning here. It seemed unlikely, but heavyweight is a place that promotes unlikely things. Still, it was reasonable to expect that Schaub would struggle keeping or getting Browne to the floor, and from that point on, this was just a countdown to him getting badly rocked.
  • Fallout for Browne: He's still in top contention as a HW. That's the plain and simple answer. His time with GFC seems to have removed some of the flashier/less effective tendencies from his game, but he didn't look notably improved in any one area in this fight. Mostly, with his size, athleticism, chin, and decent takedown defense and clinch striking, he's going to be a really tough fight for practically everyone, and probably a top five fighter for quite a while.
  • Fallout for Schaub: Schaub is back to the drawing board. I really do think he's slowly and steadily improved his game, overall. But, how do you improve chin? Suddenly becoming a much more technical wrestler/grappler is basically impossible. He's working on it, and continuing to work on it will keep him winning fights and hanging out in the UFC. But against equally as athletic and skilled opponents, he's always going to have a lurking disadvantage.

Gilbert Melendez (+240) vs. Anthony Pettis (-305) (I picked Pettis, I was right)

  • The Expectation: This was such a tough fight to get a bead on and I'm a little shocked that the odds were so high on Anthony Pettis, given his long layoff and notable past deficiencies to a gameplan that many felt Melendez could implement. Honestly though, Pettis has improved so much over the past couple years, and really come into his own athletically. Everything he's doing is clicking for him, and even when it's not working, his natural talents turn the tide in his favor.
  • Fallout for Melendez: Melendez just isn't at quite that peak, that level, anymore. If he ever was. He's always been a great competitive fighter against the very best, but he's never really been a dominant force at that level either. This fight wasn't a big step back from his great performances, but it was the fist time he'd ever been stopped, the first time his ability to compete with, but not put away great opponents has really decisively come back to bite him. He may be able to climb back up to the top of 155 for another shot, but it doesn't feel likely.
  • Fallout for Pettis: Good things and bad things. For one, Pettis looks practically unbeatable out there. Gilbert Melendez came in with a perfect plan and perfect execution, and Pettis just marched through it and put him away. That's a scary thing. But, it did still show that the plan is viable, it still exists. Pettis got hit a lot early in this bout, before he found his timing and his rhythm. A fighter like Nurmagomedov could hit those same openings, and Nurmy is a scary guy to give opportunities to. I'd take Pettis between them, but it's a fight I want to see, badly.

Johny Hendricks (-225) vs. Robbie Lawler (+190) (I picked Hendricks, I was wrong-ish)

  • The Expectation: I really thought that Hendricks would do what he did last time, but better. The odds were set, he was supposed to be healthy, I really thought he'd fire on all cylinders for this bout. And he just didn't, quite. He himself even admits that he didn't do the things he wanted to in the fourth and fifth rounds. Lawler, on the other hand, established himself early, but man did he make winning hard on himself with a bad middle two rounds. All in all, just as close a fight as the first one, if not quite as exciting.
  • Fallout for Lawler: He's welterweight champion. And, it needs to be said, that makes zero sense. In any rational world, there is no way Robbie Lawler ever becomes UFC Welterweight champion. Lawler is 14 years into a career fought at or near the highest level. Guys that far in don't win titles in divisions as deep as 170. That he's managed to do so (or if you don't think he did, at least come close to doing so) is absolutely amazing. It's an achievement that we, collectively should all be in awe of.
  • Fallout for Hendricks: Hendricks established something strange in his first fight with Lawler. That was a sudden reputation as a guy capable of taking over a fight late. I got caught up in that narrative and I think a lot of others did too. The truth is, that's never really been the case for him. And most times he's had to fight even three rounds, he's dropped the last one. This fight reminds us that for all his ability, all his improvements, and all his skill, Hendricks still has major gaps to take care of to ensure he wins convincingly against the world's best.

Those are my collected thoughts from a really amazing night of fights. As always, so many of them seem obvious now, but that's the benefit of hindsight. Until next time, when I plan on talking about a new strawweight champion, and why Junior Dos Santos is still very much a fighter in his prime. Until then!

*This week's quote courtesy of the film The House of Yes.