It would appear that someone forgot to tell Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown about making peace. Then again, age is such a relative thing, and outside the world of sport, they still carry the sheen of youth. It's a funny trick that our minds play on us as fans, quickly dubbing a 30 year old man a "grizzled veteran." Of course, what's worse is that the taxation of athletics often makes honest men of us, but a fight like Lawler vs. Brown is a good reminder that correlation isn't causation and expectation isn't necessarily reality. After nine and thirteen years in the game respectively, Matt Brown and Robbie Lawler are better than ever. The two of them recently capped off a good, if not exceptional night of fights and a strong night of fight picking from yours truly.
Disclaimer time: A run of good luck is really putting my "I don't gamble" dogma to the test. Getting things right is a great way to convince yourself that you're smarter than you really are. And since I already know I'm a genius, we're talking some truly dangerous ego boosting here. That said, I don't have much money to burn, and all my Bloody Elbow cash goes to feed my movie addiction, so I'm not risking another one on top of it. Nonetheless, I like talking odds and picks and all the trappings therein, so even though this isn't a gambling guide, I hope it makes itself useful for future fights. I'll be using Best Fight Odds for the odds on each fight, and taking the mode for each fighter.
- JJ (as I am only ever going to call her, but I believe it's pronounced Ye-dre-chik) looks like she has top 5 potential for the woman's strawweight division. It's tough to label her early, as the top of that division is stacked, but once you get past Torres, Gadelha, Calderwood, and Esparza, the field is open for promising young talent.
- JJ does need to work a bit more on her distance control in fights. As an excellent range striker, she can be a bit static with her footwork, and while Lima couldn't take her down, fighters like Gadelha and Esparza may have less trouble once they get in on her legs. We're about to find out as apparently a battle with Claudia Gadelha is already lined up for November.
- Lima's striking looked a little better than I thought it would for this fight, and she at the very least had the chops to hang out for 15 minutes and not get knocked out, or even down, but she got out-struck and unlike bantamweight, there are a lot of other women at 115lbs who can do the same. She'll need more than wrestling going forward.
- Stahl is really fast. Much faster than he looks. And as such, he was able to have a great deal of success in scrambles against Burns, and keep the more technical striker (and fighter all around) a little bit off balance and troubled for all of the fight. If he can just put a little more polish in his kickboxing (especially defensively) he could have a lot of good fights at 170.
- Burns has officially announced his drop to lightweight, so there's no point in looking at him going forward at 170. But, at lightweight he could be a real force. He needs to work on finding his rhythm a little quicker, and mixing in his grappling a lot more, but he has all the tools to be a future contender.
- They were seen as a joke camp with a lot of rough edges early on, but the Blackzilians have turned into a pretty damn fine camp. Finally their coaching situation seems to have settled a bit (although I think they're officially without a "head coach" right now), and Henri Hooft appears to be doing wonders with their striking. Burns is a BJJ champ but it's obvious his getting a solid dose of kickboxing mechanics from the ground up.
- Steven Siler appears to have found one of those strange niches in the UFC in which a relatively unknown fighter wins a string of fights because he is being chronically underestimated and is, well, unknown. As he's settled in to a more veteran UFC status (with 9 UFC fights under his belt) opponents have gotten a pretty good bead on how he fights, and are beating him. The fact that he's not a great finishing threat (his submission skills just haven't been as deadly at the UFC level) may make this a hard trend to break.
- Noad Lahat needed this fight like few fighters have needed to win a fight before. As an active duty soldier he's the kind of fighter that the UFC loves to promote, but back to back losses to Godofredo Pepey and Steven Siler would have put a pretty serious halt to any talk of Lahat as a prospect. This was a good solid win over a fighter that was supposed to beat him. It was a win he could build on.
- It looks like Lahat got the memo from his Pepey loss, box less wrestle more. He's got the kind of wrestling and grappling chops to be a long term talent, but his desire to show his striking last time out cost him badly. He didn't make those kinds of mistakes for long enough here, and benefited a ton from the large skill advantage he held on the mat.
Hindsight: Akbarh Arreola (+220) vs. Tiago Trator (-300) (I picked Trator, I was right)
- I get what the UFC is doing with its push for Mexican fighters, but this was a waste of a fight for one of them. Arreola is a sensible signing, a longtime vet with a lot of experience in tough fights... but he's lost most of those fights. They needed to match him like they've been matching their southeast Asian prospects, softballs all the way. This was just a bad way to kill off what little interest there might be in a fighter from a developing market.
- Trator is a legit talent pickup for the UFC. Arreola isn't great, but he's a savvy vet and did enough to stay alive throughout this fight. Don't let that fool you into thinking Trator doesn't have promise though. At 27 years of age and 5 years into his pro career, he's primed to turn the corner technically. It may not happen, but his aggressive Muay Thai game will make him fun to watch no matter what.
- If he's not injured, and not cut, I assume that the UFC will still put Arreola on their Mexico card in November, they've signed enough random lightweights in the past year to get him a competitive fight, but it's not going to be an exciting one.
- This was a really rough loss for De La Torre, and unfortunately more the product of an extremely bad style matchup rather than an indictment of his skill. Aggressive grapplers are the anathema of aggressive strikers (see Guillard, Melvin) and De La Torre rushed in head on and got met with a nifty choke for his trouble.
- Brian Ortega is yet another example of the constant influx of talent at the bottom of 145. For a division that only houses about 60 fighters it's one of the UFC's deepest from top to bottom. It's getting to the point that the UFC may have trouble building one prospect without doing it at the expense of another. Fights with Jim Alers or Niklas Backstrom would be bananas.
- Hopefully the UFC keeps De La Torre and gets him into a fight with someone like Alex White or Alan Omer, another fun, strike heavy fighter who he can get into a good scrap with. De La Torre has it in him to be a good action fighter for the UFC, but Bocek and Ortega are not action fights.
- This is one of those times I have to really credit Dallas (and the injury bug), because while we were both picking Means, he had the nice point of insight that Means tends to be inconsistent from fight to fight, where as with Perpetuo it's round to round. A broken arm didn't help him here, but Means was able to get ahead and stay there.
- And with that broken arm, this has become an exceptionally tough run for Perpetuo. Jordan Mein was a hellacious first fight into the UFC and while Means was a step down, he wasn't a big one. I think Perpetuo gets another shot here, because he's exciting when he's on and the UFC's not really cutting many guys, but he either needs a big step back, or to really step up his game.
- Means delivered in the way he often has of late, which is to say that when he's not facing a terrible striker he tends to keep things pretty close for the decision. Honestly this doesn't make me way higher on his long term potential, but it was nice to see him get a win as I've always had a soft spot for him. If he takes a step up after this fight, I don't know if I'd pick him to win it.
- I felt this fight was pretty dead even (at least in terms of what could be expected) going into it, thus I was pleasantly surprised that Cummins was utterly dominant with his wrestling. Kingsbury is the only fighter of any note he's beaten thus far in his career, really the announcement of his potential. If he can do that to a couple more lower tier LHWs he can start knocking on doors for top ten fights.
- That was one of the most ill advised returns to competition for a fighter in some time. Kyle Kingsbury has seemed like a decent enough dude (outside of his treatment of fine edibles), so I was a little disheartened to hear he was making his return from semi-retirement for another fight in the UFC. I hoped that he'd be competitive against a guy whose biggest fight involved getting stomped for two minutes, but he wasn't and now he's back out of the game.
- Cummins looks like he's put some time in his hands. He still doesn't have the best responses to getting hit, but he has power and he times his strikes well and that gives him a lot of opportunities to be dangerous, even if he never becomes a striking savant.
- I wish this fight told me more. Quality inside boxers with good grappling chops and some ability to wrestle are kryptonite to Daron Cruickshank. His style requires space and time to force his opponents off rhythm, to make them guess at what comes next. He got a little of that early, because Masvidal's gonna do his thing, but once Masvidal came to his senses this was all his fight.
- And, similarly to Cruickshank, this didn't tell me anything new for Jorge Masvidal. He still started slow, he still almost lost a fight he was favored to win, and he still showed enough skill and grit to be considered a top ten guy at 155. I wouldn't pick him against the division's elite after a fight like this, but he's earned the right to stay at the table.
- For those calling for Cruickshank to "develop new skills" I don't know that that's really a possible, or even a sensible option. He's had a ton of success fighting with the style he came in with, and that style leaves holes. Plugging those holes would probably mean changing that style so much it wouldn't be effective, and that doesn't serve anyone.
- I'm really not sure Bobby Green got this victory. I thought Thomson landed the better, cleaner shots all night. But, much like Bendo, Green is very good at shaking blows off and pretending that he didn't get hurt. I've heard enough talk from judges to know that that kind of thing matters and it may have just cost Josh Thomson another win.
- Not that that grates overly hard on me. Thomson's a great fighter, but I'm not at all invested in his success, and few fighters needed a win right now more than Green, who is charged with the task of looking after his brother's kids. This may not have been the clearest victory, but he showed up in impossible circumstances against terrible odds and fought a very solid fight against a great fighter. There's no shame in that.
- I've said it on video, but I think one of Thomson's biggest current problems (outside the judges) is that he's not the greatest independent threat to finish. He's great at capitalizing on the mistakes of his opponents and fights in all areas to great effect. But when his opponents aren't giving a lot of openings, he's not really excellent at creating his own. Top lightweights tend not to have a lot of holes, thus Josh Thomson is having a rough time on the score cards.
- I don't know what else people want from Bermudez. I saw grumblings even after this fight that people still just aren't sold on him. Does he need to eat someone in the cage? Would that do it? He's beating his recent opponents handily. Guys that many thought he would have trouble with. Just because he may not beat fighters in the top 5 doesn't mean he's not a legitimate entry into the top 10 of his division.
- I like having the aggressive, reckless Clay Guida back, but in the modern era, that also means he loses a lot more definitively than he used to. Cardio and wrestling aren't enough for the current 145 lb division and it's only getting deeper around him. They could slide him down into up and comer fights, but at some point it's diminished returns for a popular fighter.
- Bermudez still gets hit a bit, a problem that will definitely put him in trouble against the really strong strikers ahead of him, but he just seems so ridiculously strong that at times I've felt like it's really unfair for him to fight dudes his size. He's not always the most technical fighter in the world but it's a competition between him and Chad Mendes for the strongest guy at 145.
- Anthony Johnson is probably the best kickboxer at 205. If not it's a close race between him and Gustafsson, but I'd say Johnson is probably better just on his feet. Hooft has done wonders with his striking and it's now totally irrelevant to go on about how powerful or fast he is. He's a technician and he took Lil Nog apart in seconds.
- It was sad to see just how overmatched Lil Nog was in this fight. Given the halt he put on Rashad Evans' offense, there was reason to hope that he could use his crafty veteran skills to make this an ugly long fight, even if it was one he was going to lose. Instead he just got melted, like a sno-cone in hell.
- With Gustafsson only on the shelf for a short time and Jones booked with DC (and probably not ready for a quick turnaround) now is the time for a possible Gustafsson vs. Rumble matchup. Honestly, if that fight doesn't get made, I can't see who else they have Rumble fight. Teixeira off a loss is possible, but it feels like he needs to be in a no. 1 contender bout and I don't think he'll ever fight Rashad.
Hindsight: Matt Brown (+295) vs. Robbie Lawler (-360) (I picked both, I was a wuss)
- I picked Lawler in the Vivi with Dallas and I picked Brown in the Staff Picks. I don't like to do that often as I want to be known for sticking to my guns, but I did think there was a way for Brown to win this one and nobody seemed to be taking him. The fact that he did much better than most picking against him thought he would, was a nice bonus for taking him to win, even if he didn't.
- Brown almost did get something going, in just the way I thought he might. He dominated the second round, working out of the clinch, because of Lawler's complete willingness to stand in and get hit. Lawler got trapped working willingly in the clinch and gave Brown a chance to show off just how far ahead his inside game is over just about everyone else in MMA.
- Eventually though, the favorite won out and for the reasons it was expected he would. Modern day Lawler's footwork and counterstriking are just too picture perfect to let Brown inside when he didn't want him there. It took a bad round to figure out that he didn't want Brown inside, but once that decision was made, the rest of the fight happened in Lawler's range.
Those are my collected thoughts from a very good (if not quite great) UFC event in a month of great UFC events. No part of it disappointed, although picking a lot of winners made this series feel a bit pointless at times. But, as always, that's the benefit of hindsight. I'll still soldier on ahead, even if it's just to talk about how right I was, and hope to be back next time when Ryan Bader should still be better than Ovince St. Preux, even if not by a wide margin. Until then.