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Hindsight: UFC 172 in retrospect

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A trek into forgotten realms of the unreal. Journey back into the past for a look at UFC 172... last weekend.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

UFC 172 was a pretty good card for me as a picker of fights and a prognosticator of outcomes. I went 8-2. When I was wrong, I was really wrong. But, mostly I wasn't that wrong. So I've got a few surprises to write about, and then I can talk a bit about reinforcing some previous positions and the performances that more firmly rooted me in those positions. Whether I'm right or not, there's almost always a lot to be gleaned from a good fight.

Disclaimer Time: For the good of my family, I don't indulge in many games of chance, even when my better judgement says that much of the chance has been removed. A few UFC events this year have proved that odds are made to be defied, and that even the best MMA minds (not necessarily me) can get things really really wrong. So I don't gamble, but I like it as a narrative device for fight picking, it adds a nice bit of backing to an otherwise nerdy exercise. I use BestFightOdds for the odds on each fight and take the mode for each fighter.

Hindsight: Chris Beal (-115) vs. Patrick Williams (-105) (I picked Williams, I was wrong)

  • Patrick Williams may not have won, but this fight went pretty much like I thought it would. Both guys were really hittable and threw a lot of offense out there. That said, Beal did a great job capitalizing on the fact that Williams was often putting himself in full retreat and off balance.
  • I spoke to this a little when looking at him for my Welcome to the UFC article, but Williams tends to get overly comfortable and confident of his own safety while still in range to get hit. He spent a lot of time casually backing, ducking and running away from Beal with his hands and body in no position to defend himself. In general he fought a pretty poor fight given the success he still had and the tools he displayed.
  • Beal, for his part, continues to be a fighter that looks like he fights better than he does. His hands are slick and he has some pop in them, but he still got hit hard by Williams, taken down repeatedly, and (apart from the fight ending knee) I'm not sure he threw much of anything other than punches. I'm not comfortable saying he would have won that fight if he hadn't pulled out that great knockout.

Hindsight: Charlie Brenneman (+320) vs. Danny Castillo (-400) (I picked Castillo, I was right)

  • This was a fun scrap that really only had one logical conclusion. I love Brenneman, I think he's a fun fighter and a great competitor, but competitive grappling may be more his game. Anything that doesn't involve getting punched is probably a better idea right now. At the very least, some serious time off.
  • Brenneman did show his great wrestling and turned that first round into an awesome series of scrambles, in which Castillo held his own, but obviously got outworked a bit. It still speaks well to Castillo that he was able to stay composed after very likely dropping the first round.
  • While Goldie was quick to latch onto it as a new trusty meme (one that's about to go away) I don't think we saw much of the "Bang Effect" in Castillo's faked shot to overhand right. That's been a go to staple of his for years, and one that he's always made work for him.

Hindsight: Bethe Correia (+120) vs. Jessamyn Duke (-135) (I picked Correia, I was right)

  • I get to do a little crowing here, because at least one person was pretty sure I was overlooking Jessamyn Duke's reach advantage. Physical dominance is still one of the least effective parts of WMMA. There are a few woman who can really bully opponents on the ground, but almost none with polished range striking. Duke is certainly not there.
  • Correia is one of those fighters that I could see being an underdog all the way up to a title shot. She's not flashy (although the backfists were decent), but in a division that's low on accurate, high output, strikers, she sets herself apart. If she can work just a bit more polish into her combinations I could see here get a TKO or two in the future.
  • I hope Duke gets the time and training she needs to put everything together. The actual progress of fighters is a very slow thing. At only five pro fights and two years, Duke may be a half decade from seeing her athletic prime in MMA. If she can stay in the UFC and stay with a good camp, that prime could be pretty great. But, right now, she's more parts than product as a prospect.

Hindsight: Takanori Gomi (-155) vs. Isaac Vallie-Flagg (+145) (I picked Gomi, I was right)

  • Gomi looked terrible in this fight, lets get that out of the way. Some said he looked gassed, others that he looked drunk (his proclamation that he'd stop drinking for a title shot lends credence to the latter). Steph turned me on to the notion that he'd probably end up highly jet-lagged for this fight. That seems like the most likely culprit, but it was ugly.
  • That said, Rogan and Goldberg really let appearance dictate commentary, with a never ending stream of insinuation that Gomi was close to done in a fight that he was not handily but still reasonably ahead in.  Gomi didn't look great, but to hear the commentary, you'd have thought that he wasn't also matching Vallie-Flagg strike for strike and hurting him a lot more with every blow.
  • All of which brings me to IVF. Like Brenneman, he seems like a really fun fighter, both in and out of the cage. I like watching him fight, but I'm not seeing the tools of UFC success. I doubt they cut him right off fight of the night (although they could), but he's now lost two straight to middle of the pack lightweights. His defense is absent, his offense isn't overwhelming, if he doesn't get a big step down next time out, I'm not sure he wins.

Hindsight: Joseph Benavidez (-450) vs. Timothy Elliott (+375) (I picked Benavidez, I was right)

  • I've really got to hand it to Tim Elliott here. He came out and fought the best possible fight he could against a guy who was almost guaranteed to beat the brakes off him. Rather than his ineffective staredown game he employed against Bagautinov, he actually threw strikes both on the outside and on the inside, and was aggressive in his wrestling. He may not have won, but I have a lot more faith in Elliott going forward.
  • Benavidez is still a world above 99% of flyweights. He, Dodson, and Johnson are kind of an impossible triumvirate for young fighters looking to a future 125lb title. He punches with power and accuracy, he scrambles incredibly well, and as he displayed again, he's still got a crushing submission game. Elliott pressed his size and strength to good effect, but Benavidez had the answer everywhere.
  • Unfortunately for the division, this means that order is very much restored. Benavidez has crushed another up and coming fighter, and is no closer to another crack at the belt. He could probably do that for the rest of his days if he stays focused. Sooner or later he'll get another shot, but until then I expect him to roll through the chaff at 125 lbs.

Hindsight: Andre Fili (-145) vs. Max Holloway (+125) (I picked Holloway, I was right)

  • Andre Fili looked very much improved for the first round of his bout against Max Holloway, but as Holloway found his rhythm and distance (and Fili started to tire) his technique really started to devolve. Striking takes a long time to learn. Alpha Male fighters are getting better, but they aren't just flipping a magic switch over there.
  • Holloway is still very much the same fighter that he's been, basically since his UFC debut. He's fast, he's got good basic striking technique, and a bunch of exploitable defensive flaws that stronger, faster fighters can get to. He's done a great job adding in power techniques, like the spinning back kick, to augment his lack of KO power, but in general this felt like very much the same fighter showing the same skills.
  • I'm a little awed by the fact that Holloway was an underdog in this fight. Fili has gained some respect for a nice transition grappling and striking game, but he's still incredibly raw in "pure" grappling, wrestling, and striking elements.

Hindsight: Yancy Medeiros (+170) vs. Jim Miller (-200) (I picked Miller, I was right)

  • Yancy Medeiros was only at +170 for this fight? Really, did people just forget who Jim Miller is? Did they think it was his brother out there fighting? This line makes no sense to me, for a fighter who has lived at the top end of the lightweight division for the past three years. Medeiros could still be a decent prospect but an upset here would have been ridiculous.
  • So, we may have to put a little bit of a hold on the "Jim Miller is worn out" talk. Comparatively he hasn't been fighting for that long, and he's not that old. He may not be quite in his prime anymore, but this fight was a pretty clear display that he's a big cut above the rank and file of 155lbs.
  • Hopefully the UFC can re-book the Bobby Green fight, or something similar. Maybe Jorge Masvidal if both he and Miller are ready for a quick turnaround. Essentially, there's still no reason to be feeding Miller guys outside the top 20 or so UFC lightweights. I realize this was a special situation, but the Fabricio Camoes fight wasn't.

Hindsight: Tim Boetsch (+600) vs. Luke Rockhold (-1000) (I picked Rockhold, I was right)

  • Well, this was... a thing. I'd like to say I didn't see this coming, the surprise would be a bit refreshing, but anyone who didn't see Rockhold destroying Boetsch and doing it early, wasn't looking at the right fight. Even with his loss to Belfort, Rockhold is still clearly among the very elite at 185. Boetsch had a brief moment where he was a very relevant fighter at 185, but that no longer seems to be the case.
  • That submission Rockhold hit was really gorgeous and the kind of power move that a much larger fighter can really pull out on a smaller opponent. It's good to see Rockhold taking full advantage of the big size discrepancy between him and most other middleweights.
  • This is where things get tricky for Luke. There aren't many fights at the top of middleweight that he hasn't fought before. He's already beat Kennedy and Jacare, and lost to Vitor, and there's no reason for him to fight Munhoz or Bisping. Maybe Rockhold vs. Romero? I'd appreciate that.

Hindsight: Phil Davis (-250) vs. Anthony Johnson (+200) (I picked Davis, I was wrong)

  • So, uh... Anyone see this coming? Oh, that's right, Patrick Wyman did, and he pretty much called it right down the line. That's egg on my face, but I just did not expect Johnson's striking to look that polished. His defense, counters, pacing, and combinations were pretty much all on point. He was better than I think I've ever seen him in his career and made a hell of a comeback to the UFC.
  • One thing I did think could (not would, but could) happen, was that if Davis got hit hard early, it might erode his confidence in his hands. He got cracked on a few early sloppy attempts to close the distance, and that seemed to trouble him all the rest of the night. Fortunately for Davis, there are still very few LHWs that posses the level of polish that Johnson displayed.
  • This was an almost picture perfect lesson on striking defense for MMA from Anthony Johnson. He kept his hands low for most of the fight, but his head and torso moved expertly with his strikes. He also brought his hands up quickly and efficiently to parry blows as they came in. It's incredibly difficult to master, but active hand defense in MMA is such a joy to watch and shouldn't be overlooked in a performance like this.

Hindsight: Jon Jones (-500) vs. Glover Teixeira (+200) (I picked Jones, I was right)

  • Interestingly, Jones really did spend the majority of this fight in the area that I feel like he had the least advantage. He very much won the fight in that area, but it does make me wonder just a bit about his preparation that his tools for keeping distance or taking the fight down seemed fairly inefficient.
  • Teixeira got the best fight he could hope for and still lost it. Partially, that's a testament to how limited his game can become against a fighter with a better wrestling base, but it's also a testament to Jon Jones' chin. It gets overlooked a lot, but Jones can take a hell of a lot of punishment without backing down or abandoning the fight he wants.
  • I wonder if Jones' more lackluster wrestling of late is product of his opponents scouting him better (he's had 15 UFC fights now) or of a failure to really maintain former technique. I can't think that a camp as well regarded as Jackson's would have trouble with that, but this is the second straight fight where Jones hasn't really effectively controlled range or wrestling. He got to Glover with both as the fight wore on and Glover faded, but I have to wonder if the fact that this became a clinch battle was more out of necessity than opportunity.

That's all my collected thoughts from UFC 172. The boogens and critters that inhabit my subconscious while more visceral entertainment dominates. So much of it seems obvious now, but as always, that's the benefit of hindsight. No big fights next week, so I'll be back on May 12, to talk ultra-violence from Brown vs. Silva.