Okay, maybe a few of you remember it. I'm just saying, in fight time, two days was a long time ago, especially with another event right around the corner. At times it almost seems fruitless trying to focus on an event already past. Even the recent past becomes blur as the necessities of sport and of constant promotion push us ever onward. Fortunately, although it happened with little fanfare on a midweek in July, UFC Fight Night: Cerrone vs. Miller was well worth remembering. It was a night of awesome fights, definitive finishes and a lot of great action that told us useful things about the fighters involved. So journey with me to the gates of Mord... the UFC and the one ring that destroyed a handful of fighters on Wednesday night.
Disclaimer Time: It's cards like this that make me wish I were a betting man. Reasonably predictable fights that still promise to deliver a lot of great action and, thus, keep the odds fairly short on most fights and make picking winners extra satisfying. But, I'm still feeling the shine of getting things right without the monetary gain, so I'm probably better off leaving the whole money thing out of it. And while I don't gamble, I like talking odds and picks and all that. Long story short, this isn't a gambling guide, but if it's ever useful in picking a future winner, then that makes me happy. I use Best Fight Odds for the odds on each fight and take the mode for each fighter. Now, on to the picks!
- Big props need to be given to Lahdemaki for making a competitive fight out of what was a squash match on paper. She obviously wasn't as strong as Gadelha, and her wrestling game isn't nearly as polished. But she showed off a competent technical kickboxing game, and a very active guard. I'll definitely be interested to see her fight down the road.
- Gadelha is just a monster at 115 and while the cut must be brutal, it obviously does great things for her in the cage, as she can just bull through and body smaller opponents. Given that, the fact that she's actually become a decently technical boxer and a great wrestler makes her a very dangerous opponent and likely future title challenger.
- The difference in technical ability between the rank and file of 115 and 135 for women's divisions is kind of startling. Not only are the athletes faster, but they seem much more crisp and refined in their striking and their transition offense. Their division should really be a welcome addition to the UFC.
- I was really glad to see a return to his pre-UFC form for Yosdenis Cedeno. He's a fun action fighter with a powerful, flashy style, none of which shown through in his debut loss. Getting a win here was huge for his potential to stick around long term.
- That said, it doesn't really answer any of the fundamental questions I have about Cedeno and his ability to consistently win fights. His style of fighting doesn't lend itself to long, drawn out wars and he's not technical enough consistently enough, to blow through more capable opponents. I'll need to see him win a tougher fight than this to really get excited about his potential.
- Bad start for Jerrod Sanders, but one that he can probably write off due to a bad knee injury. Nobody wants to go down like that, and he'll probably have to sit on the sidelines for a while, but if he can return to form I'll still be interested to see what he can do at 155.
- Sterling is showing all the fruits of a good camp in Serra-Longo, not to mention a wealth of natural talent and potential. He's fast, strong, and has an excellent wrestling base. And his camp has taken all that and melded it with the kick heavy offense he seems to prefer. As he continues to refine the different aspects of his game, the sky's the limit.
- Whether it's fair or not, it feels like this loss really caps Hugo Viana as a fun action fighter who's never really going to break through into the top third of his division. It's really hard to be a one dimensional fighter at the lower weight classes. His sprawl and brawl will always be fun, but well rounded, smart opponents will probably keep taking him apart.
- For the first time in a little while, it appears that the UFC really has some promising fighters coming up through their bantamweight ranks. Dillashaw surprised many (me included) by rebounding after a tough start to his UFC career to become an amazingly technical kickboxer. But fighters like Sterling, Tanaka, Holdsworth, and hopefully Almeida, appear to be really strong out of the gate, and may well be the UFC old guard 5 years down the line.
- No matter the natural talent, no matter the attention, two years and a handful of pro-fights do not a top tier fighter make. Jessamyn Duke can be good and very likely will be good. But, she's been rushed to the top and is falling hard right now.
- This is exactly what I expected to see out of Leslie Smith and shows the difference that 6-8 weeks of preparation makes over 3 days notice. Smith got a bad introduction to many fans by taking a fight that she was probably better off without. This is the introduction she deserves, and a great win.
- Even on the men's side of things, it's rare to see a finishing combo like the one Smith put together. And fortunately for her, and us as fans, 135 is full of solid action fights that will giver her a chance to repeat her performance. There are a handful of women in the sport that can really stifle Smith's game, but there's no reason to think she won't be a top ten mainstay in the UFC.
- Healy has fallen on some real hard times with his in-cage performances of late. I don't know if it's falling off the cliff of time after 13 years and 50 pro fights, but he just doesn't seem to be able to put together good rounds with consistency anymore. He was competitive for flashes against Gleison Tibau in this fight, but largely he got outstruck, out wrestled, and out worked again.
- Tibau is something of an MMA monolith. Huge, powerful, and ever unchanging in the face of time and tide. Watching Tibau fight today is pretty much the same experience as watching Tibau fight a half decade ago. Maybe his punches are a little more crisp, his shot entries a little more well placed, but generally he looks like the guy who's going to win two out of every three fights against the top half of 155.
- Which, of course, means there are still plenty of great fights out there for him. He hasn't fought Diego Sanchez yet, as ridiculously unlikely as that seems. It'd be fun to just see Tibau stay on the circuit of fighting other hulking grinders for a while, rather than letting him pick off unprepared, smaller prey.
- Martins has evolved from someone who was barely hanging with (and eventually beating) Jeremy Larsen, to a reasonably technical action fighter who will probably beat the lower half of whatever division he decides to stay in. He's still a bit too hit-able for longterm success, but he's improved a lot over a very short time and shows some promise for the future.
- Hopefully this serves as a wake-up call for Alex White, who was far too dependent on his chin to get him through tough fights in the past. He's a capable kickboxer with a lot of power, but he's a damage sponge when it comes to fighting smart. That has to change if he wants to keep fighting, especially in the highly competitive 145 lb division.
- Some people had complaints about this fight being on the main card, over some of the bigger names below it, but it was always going to be a strong curtain jerker. I'm fine with the UFC putting two high action fighters on as their first fight of the main card, as long as they pick their action fighters well. This was well chosen and ended up being a lot of fun to watch.
- Gotta say, I was really impressed with Ozkilic here, showing a much more diverse and technical striking game than ever before. He is a good, capable athlete at 125 lbs, and seems very able when it comes to picking up and adapting new skills quickly. This was probably too much too soon in terms of testing out his improved striking, but the fact that his striking did improve was a very good sign.
- That said, I still stand by my statement that wrestling doesn't really mean as much in the lower weight classes. Guys just scramble too well, and are too good at getting back to their feet, for a wrestling heavy style to be effective. Ozkilic was competitive in this fight, but little of that had to do with his ability to generate takedown offense.
- Lineker making weight is just about the best thing ever. He's such a joy to watch, and at only 24, someone I hope to be watching for many years to come. If he can keep himself in the UFC's good books, he has a long future as a fan friendly staple in the UFC.
- Proctor is developing nicely into one of those rugged souls who tend to populate the lightweight division and get quality wins without ever quite separating themselves out as elite talent; read Sam Stout, Gleison Tibau, Spencer Fisher, that general ilk. Good fighters with decent skill in all areas, who may even see top 15 status briefly at some point, but never get close to a title. Proctor's doing well to win fights. He doesn't show a wealth of future potential, but sometimes winning is enough.
- Salas, on the other hand, may not be in the UFC much longer. His win over Ben Wall, was really more indicative of Wall's status at the very bottom of the UFC's lightweight division, than a great improvement in skill on Salas' behalf. He really needed a win over Proctor here, and even hurt him enough to raise a monstrous welt, but eventually he lost, and even got TKO'd in the process. Hard to see a good next fight for him.
Hindsight: Leonardo Mafra (+270) vs. Rick Story (-340) (I picked Story, I was right)
- I honestly thought there was a good chance that Mafra would win the first round of this fight just through superior aggression. He took the lead for about a minute, just long enough for Story to realize he didn't have to stand and trade, and then got completely overwhelmed. It's worse than I expected of Mafra and doesn't bode well for his future, even at 155.
- Story has really become a crafty veteran at welterweight. Even though he's still only 29, he's turned his 7 years and 25 fights of pro experience into smarts. He did will to stick with his game against an overwhelmingly fast and powerful Kelvin Gastelum last time out (and potentially should have taken the decision) and this time, he did great to see the weakness in Mafra's all out brawling style and take him down for a crushing submission. I don't know that he'll make a title run, but I'm really excited to watch Story give it a try.
- Mafra will most likely drop to 155 after this fight (considering he weighed in at 165), and it should be noted that he took it on short notice, but he's got to do more than get in the pocket and throw down to win fights in the UFC, even if he happens to be very good at throwing down in the pocket. Either way, this shouldn't reflect too poorly on him, and hopefully will serve to adjust his focus just a little.
- Barboza's gonna Barboza. It has to be realized, at this point, that Barboza is both better and worse than he's given credit for. He's a fun action fighter, with a questionable chin, but he's also a better technical striker than 90% of his division, and given time and space will wreck just about anyone. Dunham gave him time and space, hence wreckage occurred.
- Tough loss for Dunham, he really only had one avenue to victory, and that was to press Barboza relentlessly. I think he tried, for a bit, but the speed wasn't there to make that plan a reality. At that point it just became a matter of waiting for the end to come, and the end was violent. There are obviously still fights for Dunham, 155 is really deep, but that may be the last "meaningful" fight of his career.
- I don't really care about getting Barboza closer to a title at this point. I don't care if he fights "real tests" or guys who can out-wrestle him. Honestly, I just want to see him given fights where he can mix it up and do his striking thing. I know that feeds into the narrative of MMA fans really just wanting bad, bare-knuckle kickboxing, but in this case, guilty as charged.
- Once again, at least from what I saw ( I realize it's debatable), Donald Cerrone had a terribly slow start and got hit a lot early in a fight. This time, however, he made a point of throwing a lot of step-in knees and front kicks to the body, to dissuade his opponent from bullying him inside. It worked brilliantly, as Miller was eventually forced to give him space and time to find a rhythm, at which point this fight was basically sealed for a Cerrone win.
- Miller definitely has a lot of relevant fights left in him, but this may be the end of his title hopes. He had to go out and crowd Cerrone relentlessly from the opening bell to the closing bell in this fight, and he just couldn't make that happen. Miller will be a fun test for young fighters coming up, or older vets falling off, but I don't know that he'll get another shot at a top 5 opponent.
- The opposite more or less holds true for Cerrone here. Many thought his time as a contender was done with his losses to Anthony Pettis and Rafael dos Anjos last year, but he's gone on to win four straight, all by knockout or submission, over an ever increasing level of competition and should probably be sitting one fight from a title shot right now (or 5 depending on how many months he can be made to sit out and wait). With a solid win in the interim, I would have absolutely no problem seeing Cerrone fight Pettis or Melendez for the title early next year.
Those are my collected thoughts from UFC Fight Night Cerrone vs. Miller. So many of them seem obvious now, but as always, that's the benefit of hindsight. It's a quick turnaround for the next edition as I expect to be back Monday talking about why I'm still on the McGregor hype train and why Gunnar Nelson looked good in a tough win. Until then!