Last night's card from Atlantic City looked like it could be a fun card on paper, but it exceeded expectations with a night of fun scraps and vicious knockouts.
With Patrick Wyman away on his honeymoon, this feature is being shared among the Bloody Elbow staff. So without further ado, let's see who won and lost in Atlantic City.
Donald Cerrone: 'Cowboy' claimed his fourth victory in eight months, which in today's combat climate is very prolific indeed. Beating a divisional mainstay like Miller as impressively as he did will only further his claim to being on the cusp of contender ship, and the brutally efficient manner in which Cerrone dispatched Miller will only add to his highlight reel.
Edson Barboza: Barboza was back to his brutal best bouncing back from his devastating loss to Cerrone, blasting Evan Dunham with a scuffing body kick in the first round. Barboza seems to go on a run of impressive kicking displays, loses to someone who can stand up to him, then goes on another run, so at least as fans we can hopefully look forward to Barboza getting back on the horse and providing us with more excitement, even if beating Dunham doesn't make him a future title contender.
Rick Story: Story has been up-and-down as of late, and Leonardo Mafra, a dangerous striker, could've been a potential banana skin for him. An efficient and criticism-free performance from Story has solidified him as the main gatekeeper in the welterweight division. Judging by last nights second round submission win, more fighters than Mafra will fail to break into the top bracket of the division whilst Story is around.
John Lineker: Half a pound off the championship limit, improved takedown defence and carrying his power into the home stretch, there are many reasons this was an impressive performance by the Brazilian warmonger. Lineker is short on technique, but his want to load up on bombs and press forward means he'll always be exciting. By beating Ozkilic, Lineker hasn't pushed himself right into the title picture, but has shown he can learn from his mistakes whilst still delivering on balls-to-the-wall violence. With the little damage he seemed to take, he'll probably be ruing the UFC's decision to give Chris Cariaso the next shot at Demetrious Johnson, but if Lineker can prove he can make weight in his next fight and pick up a win he'll be a shoo-in for a title shot before long.
Lucas Martins: Hopefully Martins has found a permanent home at 145lbs. Alex White could match him for size, youth and tenacity, but Martins kept chipping away and eventually felled him with a shot that was reminiscent of Cub Swanson's stoppage of Charles Oliveira. It's Martins who takes White's shine and has a chance to advance up the ranks.
Aljamain Sterling: The Serra-Longo prospect picked up arguably the most impressive win of his career, not letting tough Brazilian brawler Hugo Viana get a foothold in the fight and dominating him on the ground. Sterling looks well-rounded, comes from a great camp, and with this win should put him on every MMA fans radar.
Jim Miller: This was likely Miller's last chance to break into title contention. Dismissing Pat Healy's subsequent failed drug test (for marijuana) Miller has lost three times in the last two years, and has been finished in all of those bouts (and arguably was finished twice in this fight after being folded with a body kick that Dan Miragliotta wrongly ruled a low blow before being taken out with a savage head kick). Given his interview with Bloody Elbow's own Steph Daniels this week, I'm not sure whether Miller can make the cut to 145lbs, and I'm not sure whether he'd be quick enough that it'd make much of a difference to his prospects going forward. At lightweight, there are still lots of fun fights against other veterans to make, and he'll be a tough out for any prospects hoping to make the leap to the top five he hasn't yet managed himself. Miller always brings it, he just can't seem to get past that test that will push him into the upper echelon of arguably the most stacked division in MMA.
Evan Dunham: See, Jim Miller, only this is the final nail in the coffin for Dunham's chances of ever being a top ten mainstay. He's gritty, he works hard, but he simply isn't great at any facets of the game, and doesn't have enough pop to keep confident fighters honest. No shame in losing to Barboza, but he also didn't have anywhere near the success Ross Pearson or Danny Castillo had in losing efforts, let alone a Jamie Varner or Donald Cerrone-esque performance necessary to beat Barboza. In short, judged against his peers, Dunham is at the back of the pack.
Alex White: I thought against Estevan Payan in his UFC debut that White was trading on his superior size in his disregarding of defense and stiff, straight up style. Against Martins, he showed that in fact it's a major flaw in his game. White is game and strong, and a big 145lber, but he'll need to go back to the drawing board if he's going to make much out of his raw talent.
Pat Healy: If there was only room for one massive 155lb grinder in the UFC roster, the improbably muscled Gleison Tibau might well have taken that spot himself after resigning Healy to his fourth straight loss. As impressive as his last win was, over Jim Miller in April, 2013, that was later overturned to a no contest for a positive test for weed. Healy gave Tibau a good fight, especially in a close third round that was very entertaining, but he doesn't have much upside and I'd be surprised if Zuffa top brass kept him around.
Jessamyn Duke: Undefeated as a professional upon joining the UFC, and a member of Ronda Rousey's 'Four Horsewomen' team after The Ultimate Fighter Season 18, Duke has now lost two on the bounce, and came out of her first round stoppage defeat to Leslie Smith with a broken hand. Rough deal.
- Leonardo Mafra has likely been bounced down to the 155lb division by Rick Story, and going forward he looks to be an action fighter to look out for.
- Joe Proctor fought through a horrible looking hematoma to stop Justin Salas in the second round. Proctor is on a two-fight winning streak now, and 3-1 in the UFC overall. Salas dropped to 3-3 in the UFC now and I'm not sure whether he'll get another shot.
- Gleison Tibau won, in what was for him a fairly entertaining fight. Healy had the physicality to make him work, and Tibau responded, landing some sweet looking punches. Secures his job for a while longer at least, even if he isn't going far in the division long term. He is a perennial fixture of the lightweight division and will likely be used to test up-and-comers for a few more years yet.
- Alptekin Ozkillic looked to have improved on the feet, but couldn't impose his wrestling on John Lineker much. No shame in his performance, he is still a work-in-progress. He fought well, and landed some good shots of his own, but didn't have the firepower to keep the fiery Brazilian off of him.
- Speaking of fiery Brazilians, Hugo Viana couldn't get much done against Aljamain Sterling, but there's no shame in that. He gritted his teeth, but just got dominated on the mat in the end and had no answer to the ground and pound he was taking. He can come again.
- Cuban karateka Yosdenis Cedeno dropped strong wrestler Jerrod Sanders, who was hurt in the aftermath and had to be pulled out before the second round. I'd be interested to see both again, and Sanders using his wrestling to avoid follow-up strikes despite being injured was impressive.
- I didn't see Claudia Gadelha's victory over Tina Lahdemaki in the first ever UFC women's 115lb (strawweight) fight. It was on Fight Pass, and I was asleep until the prelims started. My bad.
- As I stated at the beginning of this look at the card, this was pretty much exciting from start to finish. Well-matched bout, a good mix of prospects, veterans, World class operators, action fighters, it really had it all. At the risk of sounding schmaltzy, the biggest winners of the evening were us, the fans.