That card was everything it was cracked up to be. The prelims were solid if not outstanding, and the main card absolutely delivered on its considerable potential for entertaining violence. It featured several "changing of the guard" fights: Josh Thomson and Bobby Green battled back and forth for three rounds, Dennis Bermudez violently vanquished Clay Guida, and Anthony Johnson murder-death-killed Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. In the highly anticipated main event, Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown put on a fantastic five-round scrap.
Let's take a look at the real winners and losers from last night's card.
Gilbert Burns: Burns was a hyped prospect, a world BJJ champion with outstanding athleticism and a great training situation under the experienced tutelage of Henri Hooft. While his opponent Andreas Stahl showed off well-rounded skills and made it a close, competitive decision (which is why I won't put him in the Losers column), the fact that Burns has evolved into a surprisingly technical striker so quickly into his career bodes incredibly well for his future. He's a guy to keep an eye on at welterweight, but at 155 - his preferred weight, though he has yet to make it consistently - Burns could be a contender.
Brian Ortega: A slick first-round submission finish is a good way to introduce yourself to the world's biggest promotion. Ortega, a former RFA champion, is a 23-year-old with a legitimate BJJ black belt and a top-notch team behind him. While he has substantial holes in his game - his striking and wrestling both need a lot of work - Ortega has a ton of time to grow into a top-notch fighter at either featherweight or bantamweight.
Patrick Cummins: That's two absolutely dominant victories following his short-notice debut against one of the best light heavyweights on the planet. He's not a submission grappler, he's not a striker, and at 33, he's probably never going to become a particularly well-rounded mixed martial artist. He is, however, one hell of a wrestler with outstanding physical tools and big power in his ground and pound. In a thin division like light heavyweight, that's enough to come close to the top 10.
Jorge Masvidal: That went basically as predicted. Masvidal, a slow starter, dropped the first round (and was dropped himself) but took the second and third by pinning Cruickshank up against the cage, working combinations, and capitalizing on mistakes in the wrestling and scrambling phases to work his underrated grappling and top control for a decision. He's one of my very favorite action fighters, and this victory solidified him as the gatekeeper to the top 10 in an absolutely loaded division. A matchup with Donald Cerrone would be one hell of a main event for a Fox Sports 1 card.
Bobby Green: Whatever you thought of the decision itself, there's no denying that this was a huge, massive, enormous win for Green. His quirky, high-output boxing gave him just enough to scrape out a close decision against a busier-than-usual Thomson, but let's look at the big picture. Green came in on two weeks' notice; his brother was killed in a drive-by shooting less than two months ago; and he's been moving from house to house with anonymous death threats hanging over his head ever since. Now he's a legitimate top-10 lightweight who's still growing and evolving and coming into his own as a fighter, and big things loom on the horizon if he continues to improve. This was a heart-warming and impressive win for him.
Dennis Bermudez: The New Yorker beat the living crap out of Clay Guida in the first round, ate a few worrisome shots when he got overaggressive early in the second, and then remembered that he knows how to grapple pretty well when he took Guida's back and locked in a tight rear-naked choke. In addition to those grappling chops and the always-present athleticism and power, Bermudez continued to display the clean, technical combination work and fantastic wrestling that have carried him into the featherweight top 10. He deserves a shot at a top guy, perhaps Frankie Edgar, Chan Sung Jung, or Ricardo Lamas, and I wouldn't be surprised if he won that matchup.
Anthony Johnson: I and just about everybody else in the MMA media picked Rumble to win, the vast majority of us by first-round KO. With that said, it's one thing to predict the outcome and another to watch it unfold with such ominous, terrifying certainty. Rumble damn near killed Lil' Nog in the cage with a brutal flurry of hooks and uppercuts close to the cage, cut a good promo afterward, and cemented his place at the very top of the light heavyweight division. Matchups with Bones, Gustafsson, Cormier, and the Bader-OSP winner are all compelling in a weight class that drastically needed some new blood. Anthony Johnson is a much-needed transfusion.
Robbie Lawler: Lawler was rightfully proclaimed the second-best welterweight in the world after going five close rounds with Johny Hendricks in March and shellacking Jake Ellenberger back in May. He retained that crown tonight by beating the hell out of Matt Brown in one of the most complete and impressive performances of his career. Lawler deserves to be recognized as one of the finest technical strikers, at least offensively, in the UFC: his timing, sense of the range, ability to change speeds (touch-touch-touch-BOOM), and the savvy way he moves his opponent's hands around to land the strikes he wants are all outstanding. At 32 and with more than 13 years of experience under his belt, he's still improving, still sharpening his game, and that in and of itself is an incredible accomplishment. He's the best he's ever been, he's earned another shot at the champ, and I can't wait to see the rematch.
Kyle Kingsbury: Coming out of a two-year absence from the sport in order to get beaten 30-27, 30-25, and 30-24 is hard to spin in a positive fashion. In fact, it's more than a little bit sad. Kingsbury was never a world-beater, but he had absolutely nothing to offer Cummins in any phase of the fight, and I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a light heavyweight in the UFC that I think he could beat right now. It's time to call it a career and go back to watching movies on the couch with Natasha Wicks, and it sounds like that's what he plans to do after officially announcing his retirement.
Daron Cruickshank: Consider this a soft placement of Cruickshank in the Losers column. He had his moments, most notably with the "he dead" knockdown in the first round, but as the fire wore on Cruickshank had no answers for Masvidal's considerable skills on the ground and in the scrambles. He can be a fun action fighter and gatekeeper to the top 15 or 20 in a stacked division, but I question whether he'll ever develop the necessary grappling chops to supplement his venomous striking and serviceable wrestling at home in Michigan. Lightweight is too competitive to hang around the top as a one- or two-dimensional fighter.
Josh Thomson: This has very little to do with Thomson's actual performance, which displayed his usual well-roundedness and more output than his methodical norm, and more to do with what a loss does to his future at this stage of his career. Before the fight, Thomson mentioned several times that he thought he had only a fight or two left in him, and after losing a controversial decision to Benson Henderson back in January, he badly needed to get back on track here for another shot at the big-money fights against the division's top five. That probably won't happen now, and at 35, with 13 years of professional experience under his belt, he doesn't have much time (if any) left in his prime.
Clay Guida: Now 2-4 in his last six, with a controversial decision over Hatsu Hioki as one of those two wins, Guida is clearly on the downside of his career. In addition to the obvious physical decline - he just can't eat shots the way he used to, and his always-underrated speed is largely gone - Bermudez's slick, technical striking and powerful wrestling made it clear that the game has passed Guida by, too. There was a time when a fighter could get by at the top of the sport with two good skill sets (wrestling and grappling in this case) and endless cardio, but those days are long gone, and Bermudez represents the new breed of three-dimensional, wildly athletic fighters. I doubt the UFC will cut Guida, given that he still has some name value and a fanbase, but it's almost certain that he'll never again challenge for a spot in the top 10.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira: What can you really say here? There were no positives to take from that fight. He's 38 and has repeatedly suffered more-or-less serious injuries that have kept him out of action. Moreover, he clearly lacks the physical tools and complete skills sets necessary to compete with younger, new-school light heavyweights hanging around at the top of the division. I'm sure the UFC would give him another fight if he asked for it - a matchup with Shogun has some value and appeal - but he's straying into permanent damage territory after thirteen years as a professional and tens of thousands of hours in the gym.
Matt Brown: I was totally prepared to put Brown in the Winners column after the gutsy performance he put on against a guy who was clearly a level above him in Lawler. Brown fought to the very edge of his abilities and beyond, putting in good knees and elbows at close range, hitting a couple of takedowns, and consistently doing enough at range to make Lawler respect his game. The more I think about it, however, the more I'm convinced that this was a huge setback for Brown. I have two distinct reasons. First, Brown's winning streak is over without having beaten a top-10 opponent, so he slides back down into the wrestler-heavy 10-20 range, where it'll be difficult for him to put this kind of run together again. On top of that, he's 33 with a lot of mileage on his body, and fights like this aren't going to do good things for him in the long term. Second, and more important, over the course of five rounds Lawler laid bare the cracks in Brown's pressure game that Erick Silva and Jordan Mein had previously identified and exploited. Brown doesn't have much to offer moving backward, and he almost always backs off and resets after getting hit, which leaves space for his opponents to create significant, round-winning bursts of offense. This is endemic to Brown's style, not something that a little work in the gym can fix, and the blueprint for beating him is now clear and achievable for anyone with good footwork and solid technical striking. The Immortal will surely put on more fun, violent fights before his career is in the books, but the second round against Lawler last night was his high-water mark as a potential contender.
-Noad Lahat took a clear but close decision from Steven Siler in an entertaining, back-and-forth fight. His takedowns, control, and a close triangle attempt in the second round won out over Siler's hard, flush punches. Better, perhaps, was the fact that Joe Rogan avoided stepping on any particular notable political landmines during his post-fight interview with Lahat, which focused on the Israeli's service in the IDF and the ongoing conflict in the region. Siler might be cut after dropping three in a row, but at 5-4 overall, I think he should get another shot.
-Juliana Lima and Joanna Jedrzejczyk fought an entertaining but mostly unremarkable contest in which the Pole won a convincing decision. Jedrzejczyk is definitely going to be one to watch as the women's strawweight division develops; her pairing of great takedown defense along with slick, technical combination striking makes her a strong contender for the top five.
-Akbarh Arreola and Tiago Trator didn't exactly set the world on fire as the Brazilian took a clear decision from his overmatched Mexican counterpart. Arreola will get another opportunity, likely at UFC 180 in Mexico City, while Trator seemed solid enough to stick around for a while.
-Mike de la Torre will probably be cut after losing to Ortega so quickly and dropping his debut to a past-his-prime Mark Bocek.
-Tim Means, the Dirty Bird himself, turned it up after a rough first round and exploited an apparent Hernani Perpetuo arm injury to take a clear 29-28 decision and earn himself another couple of fights in the UFC. While my longstanding hopes for Means to turn into a poor man's Carlos Condit don't seem to be coming true, he can still be an exciting action fighter if he overcomes his propensity for inactivity. It'd be nice if Perpetuo got another chance, too, given that he fought a top-20 welterweight in his first outing and suffered an injury this time.
We'll see you back here in three weeks for another edition of Winners and Losers. Until then, enjoy the time off.