A promise of fun action fights delivered in style at the UFC's recent Dublin return. It'd been more than five years since the UFC was last in Dublin, where Rich Franklin fought Dan Henderson at 205, and Mauricio Rua took a second crack at Mark Coleman, fresh off three years of retirement. All told, UFC 93 was an exciting event, but UFC Fight Night Dublin was something greater. Devoid of much in the way big stars, UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs. Brandao was none the less made to draw eyes and fill seats, just at a much more local level. Headlined by top prospect and Dubliner Conor McGregor and loaded with Irish talent, this ended up being a special night of MMA action. The crowd was electric, the production on point, and the fighters responded with a night filled with action finishes, I even picked well. It was a good show.
Disclaimer Time: I'm joined (briefly this time) by our own T.P. Grant with a few thoughts on the night's action. And while neither of us had any money down on the fights, we both have a lot to talk about in terms of expectations, odds, and the results we got out of our own picks. As always, I'll be using Best Fight Odds for each fight and taking the mode for each fighter. So, now onto the fights!
- There were three fights on this card I felt were a real, total lock. This was one of them. From what I'd seen of Holohan, I just didn't see him winning. Of course, part of the problem was that what I'd seen of Holohan was years old. Without any fights in the past two years, it was almost impossible to know where he was at just now, and it turns out that he's a lot further along than I would have believed.
- Of course, there are some questions about style and atmosphere for Holohan going forward. There's no doubt that he was spurred on in his aggression by the hometown crowed, and perhaps that Sampo was slightly overwhelmed by it. Very few fighters will ever fight in an environment as hostile as the non-Irish fighters did in this event (against their Irish counterparts of course). Next time up, the fact that Holohan often rushes headlong into hard strikes and is somewhat absurdly thin for the division may become real problems. Right now however, he looks fast and powerful, and more fluid than I expected.
- This is a huge setback for Sampo. I realize that he was fighting a much larger, somewhat unknown opponent in front of their home crowd, but he was looking to be a top tier guy in the 125 lb division. To get chocked out in the first round by a complete unknown is a big hit to his stock and he'll need a really impressive win next time out to regain his footing.
- I expected this to be a stupid fun fight with very little technical aspect to it, and boy did it ever deliver. Krylov makes a mess out of almost ever fight he's in, but by that logic, also makes every fight he's in something of a spectacle. i'm glad he picked up a win here, as it means more future weirdness.
- This has got to be the end of the road for Donovan unless he can convince the UFC to give him a shot at 185. Not that I think he'd find more success there, but it might buy him another fight. He just doesn't seem to have the chin to support his brawling style, or well enough defined secondary skills to win when he's not striking.
- Krylov's best asset is almost always going to be his toughness. He's got a nice kicking game, his hands are terrible, and his grappling is as often a mess as anything else. But he's tough and he's willing to take a lot of shots to get out of a bad spot. The fact that he's not a terrible athlete and has a good chin means that the'll stay dangerous if beatable.
- Dissapointment abounds for Tor Troeng here. Not long ago he was something of a well regarded prospect as a middleweight (and this was even before Gustafsson cued people into the idea that there might be a hotbed of talent coming out of Sweden. His loss to Natal wasn't great, but it was fun. Troeng looked like a quality fighter who got outworked by a veteran grappler. That wasn't the case against Smith. Here he looked like the better fighter who couldn't stop himself from making poor decisions. It really feels like he lost this fight.
- I'm not sure, given that it feels like Troeng gave this fight away, that this really says a lot of good things for Smith that he was able to win it. It's a nice reminder of his toughness and consistency that he was able to work out of bad situations and keep busy when in top control, but he still got beat up standing, taken down often, and put in bad positions. He's got a lot to prove at middleweight still.
- Andt he eventual result is that yet another promising middleweight (Troeng) enters the general slurry that is the 185 lb talent pool. There are a lot of decent, but not amazing fighters in the division right now and it feels like very few of them are seperating themselves as future top talents.
- Damn if Pendred didn't give me a hell of a scare in picking him to win this fight. I was absolutely sure that he was done after the first round, and frankly I'm still a little stunned that he came back to fight another round, let alone win the fight. The fact that he's willing to put himself through that kind of fight to get a win makes him a dangerous opponent, even if he doesn't improve.
- And that is kind of the next step. Pendred has got to get better, as does King. In a lot of ways this fight looked like Krylov vs. Donovan pt. II. It was exciting, the fight took place in all areas of combat (striking/grappling/wrestling) but it was also just about the sloppiest thing possible. Pendred is going down to 170, and it'll be even more important there that he refine his technical skills if he wants to win.
- King looked better, and less raw than I thought he would, especially in his unrelenting aggression, that was good to see. But, he also gassed badly after the first round, most likely a product of his inexperience. He's definitely too big to cut to 170, but it will be interesting to see if he can develop into a better prospect at 185.
- I'm not a big proponent of weight cutting as a solution to problems, but it's undeniable that some fighter's style and body type is suited more particularly to a single weight class than others. That seems to be where Seery finds himself. At 125 lbs he can stuff takedowns, he's fast, he hits hard, and he has the cardio to go three high output rounds with ease. He may not be a better fighter than ever before, but his drop to 125 lbs has made him more competitive than ever.
- This may have signaled the end of a short return for Phil Harris. Cut after his loss to Gaudinot and resigned after the fight was turned to a no contest, I wouldn't be surprised if he was let go right away again. If so, he may have a home right back in cage warriors, but he may consider how long he wants to stay in the sport as he looked much worse against an opponent he outclassed just a few years ago.
- Seery doesn't have title contender written all over him, but he's the kind of action fighter the UFC loves to promote, so I expect to see him on cards as often as they can get him fights. He'll be a fun fighter to follow as far as his skill carries him, and has a solid chance to go strike for strike with most of his division.
- Latifi is a wrecking ball. Perhaps not the most technical wrecking ball in the world, but strong enough that that doesn't usually matter. His fight against Gegard Mousasi made him something of a joke, but currently he's one of the very best up and coming fighters at 205 lbs. The fact that he's 30 just goes to show how bad 205 is in terms of prospects.
- The UFC's picking up of promising middleweights as short notice light heavyweight replacements is getting to be ridiculous. None of them has won a fight, none of them have looked good losing. At this point they need to look for more solutions to this problem than they've found, because right now you can pretty much guarantee that every short notice fighter at 205 is going to lose.
- Hopefully Dempsey gets some time to have a better camp for his next fight. He looks like he might have some promise, but Latifi didn't give him many chances to show it, and most importantly Dempsey didn't look like he was in great fighting shape. That may just mean he needs to get down to 185 asap, or just work into better form at 205. Both divisions have opportunities for young fighters.
- Okay, so Kotani was never going to win this fight, but I hoped he'd look better than he did. Mostly, against Parke, he just looked small and overwhelmed. Japan has produced some very good new school prospects, but Kotani seems like he's straight out of 2006 in that he's undersized and overly patient. Hard to see him getting a lot of UFC wins.
- Norman Parke continues to be an underratedly good fighter. And more importantly, this time around, he was able to finish an opponent he was clearly outclassing. He's strong and has a good skill set made for winning rounds, but if he can get more finishes he'll vault up in terms of public perception and, similarly, ranking.
- After this fight, Parke called for a top ranked opponent. Eventually he called for Cerrone, which is a terrible idea, but he's earned a crack at someone ranked or close to it. Hopefully the UFC doesn't keep him on the TUF path fighting other TUF vets or random mid-tier fighters. Finishing an opponent is definitely a good way to get better matchups.
- I'm still amazed that the odds were this short on this fight. Pickett is a slow (at flyweight) scrappy fighter without a lot of power and with a good, but not consistently overwhelming wrestling and grappling game. McCall is one of the genuine great athletes at 125 lbs, but since his second fight with Demetrious Johnson, just doesn't seem to be getting that respect. This was always McCall's fight to win and he had no trouble winning it.
- The drop to 125 lbs hasn't really done anything to revitalize Pickett's career. There was brief talk of him as a title challenger, with his outstanding victory over the current champion back in 2010 still bolstering his record, but that potential fight is pretty much dead in the water now. He didn't look great against Seery and looked worse against a bump up in competition. He might stick around the edges of the top ten at 125 for a little while longer, but I doubt he gets a bigger fight than this one.
- McCall showed great poise in not letting this turn into a firefight on the inside. He used his superior footwork and handspeed to stay two and three punches ahead of Pickett all fight. I'd like to see him do that once or twice more before getting another shot at DJ, but now that he's on the shelf and the division is short on challengers, I'm not sure he'll get that chance.
- I was amazed at some of the pre-fight talk about this matchup between Zak Cummings and Gunnar Nelson. Some people were going so far as to call it one of the biggest mismatches in UFC history. It was almost impossible hyperbole, and shows the amazing amount of hype that Nelson has generated fighting a decent but not great level of competition. The first round itself had many backpedaling on their initial feelings, but by the end of the fight it was right back to outlandish levels.
- And with that it needs to be recognized that Cummings did pretty well in a fight most expected him to get totally destroyed in. Personally I expected him to do even better than he did, maybe even see the final bell, but Nelson really is something special on the ground, and just doesn't let fighter recover from mistakes and bad positions. Still, Cummings was competitive, and as a big, tough, grinding welterweight he probably has a fairly long UFC future.
- T.P. Grant: Gunnar Nelson had a very strong performance. While I still don't love his striking, his command of distance was quite good, and while he has pretty much no power in his left hand and very little stopping power in his right, he is able to control the distance well enough to not take a great deal of damage. Nelson struggled a bit with Zak Cummings, but was able to end the fight when he chose.
- T.P. Grant: While Nelson is a really skilled fighter, I would preach a little break pumping on the Nelson is the most skilled guy in MMA. He has fantastic grappling, but he lacks a physicality to his game, both on the feet and on the ground that is something of a necessity to consistently beat elite MMA fighters. Nelson is going to win a lot of fights in his career and he can beat anyone if he can drag them into a technical grappling match, but without that physicality, I see him assuming a role similar to the one Demian Maia held in the division.
Hindsight: Diego Brandao (+425) vs. Conor McGregor (-575) (I picked McGregor, I was right)
- This whole, "McGregor isn't as good as people think he is" or that "McGregor doesn't justify his hype" thing needs to die quickly. It's fine if you don't like McGregor as a personality. Often his personality seems gimmick heavy and outlandish. He's basically tacky. But he's also a very very good fighter and everything we've seen from him in the cage supports that fact.
- Poor Diego Brandao. He kept his composure much better than I thought he would, and didn't even get too unsettled when McGregor whent from hand shake to heel kick in the opening seconds. But, the atmosphere was huge there, and McGregor's personality inside the cage and outside of it is unrelenting. It's hard to imagine what a fighter like Brandao, who seems to live and die off his emotions was going through in there. A tough fight for a decent fighter, but in that atmosphere, probably one he would lose 100 times out of 100.
- T.P. Grant: Conor McGregor has some serious star potential. He has a big personality, he is a very skilled fighter, a great athlete, and MMA fans already hate him, he really is the whole package. I'm already hearing discrediting of this win for McGregor, but in all honesty the only guy who has treated Diego Brando like that in recent years is Dustin Poirier. Brandao is a guy who is dangerous everywhere and fights with reckless abandon and McGregor pretty much flawlessly took him apart. That is how a top flight prospect should deal with a fighter like that. McGregor has a great feel for the different phases of the game and has a real mean streak in the cage that could make him a special fighter and the only guys I can picture giving him a real test in the cage are already Top 10 fighters.
Those are my collected thoughts (and a couple of T.P.'s) from another great, exciting card of UFC fights. So many of them seem obvious now, but as always, that's the benefit of hindsight. I'll be back next week to talk about UFC on Fox 12 and what my eyes can't seem to believe, Robbie Lawler is still better than ever before, or maybe not. I'm still not sure, but I'm damned excited. Until then.