Another long day of UFC action is in the books. Michael Bisping looked like his old self, Tyron Woodley blasted Dong Hyun Kim out of contention, Jordan Mein stole Mike Pyle's soul with a crushing knockout, and Rafael dos Anjos became the first man to knock out former champion Benson Henderson in a shocking upset. Without further ado, let's take a look at the real winners and losers from both cards.
UFC Fight Night: Bisping vs. Le
The touted prospects: Colby Covington absolutely hammered Anying Wang with double-legs and vicious ground strikes, Yuta Sasaki pulled off a slick transition from chained takedown attempts to a back-take and then a rear-naked choke, and while Alberto Mina didn't look outstanding, exactly, he came out on top in a ridiculous slugfest against Shinsho Anzai. All three of these fighters are going places in their respective divisions, and three first-round finishes are a good way to get started.
UFC matchmaking: Aside from Covington vs. Wang Anying, which was a brutal and lopsided matchup both on paper and in actuality, Joe Silva and Sean Shelby did a fantastic job of making fights that gave the local fighters a chance to develop their skills and progress at a reasonable rate. That they did so without booking egregiously one-sided matchups for the sake of getting the Chinese prospects a win is even more impressive, since that hasn't necessarily been the case in the past for the entirety of the UFC's international expansion efforts. Not all of their Chinese fighters are going to stick around, and the UFC appears to be fine with that as long as they get a fair shake at growing and improving. Wang Sai in particular looked outstanding, and seems to be developing the skills necessary to stick around the promotion.
Tyron Woodley: It's hard to overstate how badly the loss to Rory MacDonald hurt Woodley's stock. It wasn't so much that he lost to Rory MacDonald as how badly he was outworked and how thoroughly Firas Zahabi and the Tristar gang laid bare and exploited his weaknesses. As a result, Woodley desperately needed not just to beat Dong Hyun Kim, but to look impressive doing so. Mission accomplished: the Missourian absolutely flattened Kim mid-spinning-elbow with a brutal right hand and some follow-up ground and pound to put the Korean down. An impressive victory like this should keep Woodley's name in the discussion at the top of the division.
Michael Bisping: Prior to this fight, I was pretty vocal about thinking that Bisping was past his prime as a fighter based on his utterly lackluster performance against Tim Kennedy. It appears I spoke too soon. Bisping showed not only his old volume at range, which was strangely lacking back in April, but also new wrinkles to his striking game. He looked quick, he was obviously in outstanding shape, and his skills were crisp. This was a great performance against a dangerous opponent, and probably his best all-around showing since beating Brian Stann almost two years ago.
Dong Hyun Kim: There were no positives to take from that performance. Kim badly overreached on his initial rush, got controlled in the clinch, and when he tried an ill-advised spinning elbow, a big right hand separated him from consciousness. It was an emphatic end to Kim's run toward the top 5 of the welterweight division, and showcased the limitations of the aggressive style he's adopted in the recent past. He'll go back to hanging around the top 10-15, and there's nothing wrong with that, but a potential contender he is not.
Cung Le: While Le had his moments, landing a few hard kicks to the body and slick counter right hooks, that fight was all Bisping. Putting on a respectable performance against a resurgent opponent isn't a particularly devastating occurrence, but at Le's age and with his other interests, one has to wonder how much more he has left in the tank. He can certainly win fights at 185 in the UFC: even at 42, he's still a plus athlete and a high-level striker. Le would be especially dangerous in three round-bouts where his cardio isn't as much of an issue, but the real question is whether a guy with his other opportunities will still be willing to put himself through brutal camps to prepare. I hope he is, because he's an exciting and unique fighter.
UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. dos Anjos
Ben Saunders: Finishing the first omoplata in UFC history (GIF via Caposa) would be enough by itself to place Killa B in the "Winners" column, but doing it in his return to the UFC after four years wandering in the wilderness of second-tier promotions makes it even better for the longtime Bloody Elbow community member. Saunders is in his absolute prime, owns dangerous finishing abilities in every phase, and is consistently exciting in any kind of scrap. There's nobody I'd rather see manning the gates to the welterweight elite.
Chas Skelly: The Team Takedown product didn't exactly look bad in his debut loss to uber-prospect Mirsad Bektic, but he was a bit underwhelming compared to what we'd seen from him on the regional scene. The fact that he followed in Niklas Backstrom's footsteps by choking a skilled grappler in Niinimaki silly shouldn't blind us to the magnitude of that accomplishment, as the Finn remains a worthwhile opponent. This was a big statement win from a talented fighter with a lot of upside and great coaches.
Max Holloway: Holloway is one of the UFC's most reliable action fighters, with absurd output and an entertaining style. The 22-year-old and nine-fight UFC vet is also quietly improving into a quality fighter and fringe top-10er at 145. He has added to his game in every outing since his debut, slowly showcasing greater volume, more diverse strikes, better takedown defense, sneaky takedowns, and much-improved grappling. While it's great to see Holloway do work against debutantes, and soon he'll be capable of doing it against the cream of the division, too.
Thales Leites: If anybody says they picked Leites by second-round KO, kindly call them a horrible liar. He has drastically improved since his first run in the UFC, and while I doubt he'll be a reliable knockout puncher against the cream of the division, it's certainly a new wrinkle to his game. Most of us haven't forgotten the string of awful, bad, horrendous performances that led to his first release, and it's almost impossible to believe that this is the same guy. Is it? Is it really? I'm not convinced, especially with that new beard and near-monastic bald spot.
Jordan Mein: The welterweight division has two distinct categories: fighters who can beat Mike Pyle, and fighters who can't. Ascending to that first category is a massive step forward for Mein, as the kinds of fighters who can beat Mike Pyle - Matt Brown, Jake Ellenberger, Jake Shields, and Rory MacDonald notable among them - have gone on to have pretty excellent careers in the UFC. Mein is still only 24, but with 38 fights under his belt, now is the time for him to make a run to the top of the division. He certainly has the crisp striking ability and ancillary skills to be competitive with the elite.
Rafael dos Anjos: That was certainly unexpected. Dos Anjos capped his long evolution from one-dimensional grappler to elite striker and well-rounded mixed martial artist by becoming the first man to separate former champion Benson Henderson from consciousness. That accomplishment shouldn't be undersold: Gilbert Melendez couldn't do it, Nate Diaz couldn't do it, Donald Cerrone couldn't do it, and Anthony Pettis couldn't do it despite jumping off the fence and kicking Henderson flush in the freakin' face. It took Rafael dos Anjos' flying knee and left hook in transition to put "Smooth" down for good, an outcome almost nobody saw coming. In hindsight, though, perhaps we should have. Dos Anjos' current proficiency is what happens when you take a talented athlete and give him top-notch coaches like Rafael Cordeiro and the crew at Evolve to instruct him for thousands of hours over a period of years. Whatever you thought about the stoppage, no matter what you predict about his future as a contender, let's take a moment to appreciate how good Rafael dos Anjos has become.
Tom Niinimaki: If you're a relatively decorated grappler who can scramble with a ground specialist of Rani Yahya's caliber and not only avoid submissions but win the fight in that phase, getting choked out once by a Swedish grappling champion is surprising but not terrible. Getting choked out in your next outing by a talented but unheralded wrestler, on the other hand, is much harder to explain away. There's a certain openness in Niinimaki's style that can make him competitive with anybody on the ground, but also leaves him open to having his momentary lapses exploited by technically sound competition. He can still be a solid gatekeeper, but this one really hurts, and it's worth asking whether his best days are past.
Neil Magny and Alex Garcia: I'm not going to say that Alex Garcia got robbed, but two 30-27 scorecards for Neil Magny was a puzzling take from our esteemed judges. Regardless of the outcome, however, it was a pretty dreadful fight. Garcia apparently suffered a knee injury that limited his output, and he wasn't capable of doing much; even given that opportunity on a silver platter, Magny did less than nothing. I'm confident that Garcia will bounce back - he's still ridiculously talented, and he won't hurt his knee in every fight - but talk of Magny's development needs to be tempered.
Francis Carmont: Going from a six-fight winning streak to losing three in a row is a pretty remarkable fall. 2014 hasn't been good to Carmont, and with ten years and 32 fights under his belt, it's entirely possible that he's past his prime. Even if it's not, Carmont has built up very little goodwill with the UFC brass due to his stifling, controlling style, and it wouldn't be surprising in the slightest if he received his pink slip after getting knocked out by a guy with very little history of knocking people out. This was essentially the worst possible outcome for Carmont, and there aren't many positives to take from that performance.
Mike Pyle: Mein was favored to win, and I thought he'd win by knockout, but getting melted less than two minutes into the first round was still a pretty unfortunate outcome for Pyle. Only a few fighters in the sport can match Pyle's technical command of every phase of MMA, and that will probably keep him competitive with all but the top 15 or so of the welterweight division for the foreseeable future. When Pyle loses, however, he tends to do so in dramatically concussed fashion, and that can't be good for his long-term health. At 38, one has to wonder how much longer he can safely stick around.
Benson Henderson: Before getting into all the reasons that was horrible for Henderson's future as a contender, let's first talk about the fact that his striking looked greatly improved, featuring quick, technical, and powerful combinations combined with his dynamic-as-ever kicking game. With that out of the way, he needed a long string of wins, and not his usual fare of razor-thin decisions, to make a strong case for another shot against Anthony Pettis. Getting blasted in the first round as a 5:1 favorite is going to put a serious dent in those aspirations, and Henderson is going to have a hell of a time working his way back to the top. Can he do it? Absolutely, especially if he continues to improve his striking game, but he made it a lot harder for himself in a shark tank of a division that's constantly importing new and thrilling talent.
-Wilson Reis survived a rough minute or so when Joby Sanchez dropped him twice, but other than that, he looked outstanding in his flyweight debut. Sanchez has shown awesome takedown defense in the regionals, and Reis blew his doors off in the wrestling while maintaining a smooth, measured pace. Reis is one to watch at 125, and Sanchez is definitely worth your time as a prospect.
-Not that there's any shame in losing to a polished prospect like Pedro Munhoz on short notice in your debut, but Matt Hobar came through with a dominant win over Aaron Phillips in his second UFC outing. Hobar has a fair bit of upside at bantamweight, but it's probably back to the regionals for Phillips, who is talented but needs at least another year to develop before he's ready to compete at this level.
-Beneil Dariush won back some of his hype with a slick second-round arm triangle choke over Tony Martin after a rough first couple of minutes, wearing down his larger opponent with a quick pace, repeated body shots, and a healthy dose of clinch grappling. Martin is obviously talented, and while gassing in his short-notice debut against Rashid Magomedov (with a torn LCL, apparently) is understandable, being utterly spent six minutes into a fight for which he had a full camp is less forgivable. Martin should seriously consider a move to welterweight, which might solve at least some of his cardio issues.
-I didn't enjoy Vick-Lazaro at all, not because it was a terrible fight, but because both fighters are capable of so much more than they showed. The UFC shouldn't be putting guys that raw into main card bouts if they don't have the experience to know how to regulate their adrenaline and maintain something resembling a consistent pace. The circumstances took a smooth combination striker (Vick) and a really talented counter fighter (Lazaro) and turned their fight into a sloppy, winging brawl. If that's your thing, go ahead and enjoy it, but I'd rather see the full range of fighters' abilities.
We'll see you back here next week to discuss the smoking remnants of UFC 177.