I don't think anyone would've complained if UFC 177 was a Fox Sports 1 card. Some good scraps, with some more meaningful than others, and a main event that turned out much more interesting than you would've thought it could be on paper.
But who were the real winners and losers after it was all said and done?
Joe Soto: Soto was very competitive in the first two rounds, and showed very impressive defense and counter punching ability. He probably was too patient and safety first to do enough to win either of those rounds, but let's put things into perspective; Soto was not ranked in the top 20 by any sane ranking system. He was going up against a phenomenal fighter who had him beat in every department, and who was coming off a win of such quality that it saw many consider Dillashaw to be one of the top ten pound-for-pound fighters in the World. And the most telling factor to take into account, is that this was Soto's first fight in the Octagon, and he had to battle the 'Octagon jitters' against the most formidable fighter in his weight class. He succumbed to a brutal head kick in the final round, and had already tapered off in the third and fourth stanza. The context of this loss means that his performance last night is much more impressive than if he'd destroyed original opponent Anthony Birchak within ten seconds of the opening round.
In many ways, Soto's showing against the champ' reminded me of Joesph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson's competitive bouts with former UFC bantamweight kingpin Dominic Cruz, and although this weekend more than ever has shown us the perils of excessive weight cuts (something I've been against for many years) Soto is slight enough that I would like to see him take a stab at cutting to the flyweight division, where he would likely be outgunned against the very best but will be able to make the most of his talent.
T.J Dillashaw: What a champ'! Taking on a short notice fight where even a victory could be put in the category of 'well he should've won anyway' set T.J Dillashaw up for a lose-lose situation. Still, he won every round, and scored his second fifth round knockout victory in succession, which shows he is a formidable fighter in championship situations. The one negative I have to take away from this is that Dillashaw got marked up and cut again. Jose Napoles, one of the all-time greats of boxing, was as smooth and defensively aware in the ring as any fighter in history, but his skin marked up badly regardless of who he was fighting. I'd need to see Dillashaw in more tear ups to see if this will be a consistent problem, but going forward this could be a potential banana skin if he is going to get marked up even when he's winning in dominant fashion.
Bethe Correia: The pocket-sized Brazilian has quickly established herself as one of the more well-rounded fighters in WMMA. She can grind and she can scrap, and has now won three fights in a row in the UFC, taking her record to perfect 9-0. She has no chance of beating Rousey, but she is now one of the few fighters that can be marketed to challenge the most dominant champion on the UFC roster having now beaten two of her team mates in 'The Four Horsewomen'.
Carlos Diego Ferreira: Another good showing from Ferreira, who is making a point of smashing TUF finalists. Some denied him much kudos after disposing of Colton Smith on the basis that Smith wasn't a UFC-calibre fighter. But Ramsey Nijim, despite showing a lack of top-level durability, was coming off a good win over a similarly-touted and sized opponent to Ferreira, and the Brazilian did the business regardless, scoring an emphatic second-round stoppage victory. Undersized for 155lbs perhaps, but with a few more heavyweight performances like this and Ferreira will prove himself a very good fighter in a division chockablock with quality fighters.
Yancy Medeiros: Short notice fight and a brutal choke over a fighter who had him beat in the grappling department on paper gave Medeiros his first official win in the UFC. The submission seemed pretty unique, but regardless of the technique he displayed, the aesthetic quality of it was pure nastiness.
Chris Wade: Another brutal choke that put the opponent out cold, and Wade secured victory in a little over a minute into the bout, demonstrating solid Judo and a canny submission game. Cage fighting connoisseurs will surely keep their eye out for Wade when it comes to his next outing in the Octagon.
Danny Castillo: His moaning post-fight that he should've got the decision win based on control reeked of sour grapes. Sure, Tony Ferguson wasn't able to get up off the mat, but you could level the criticism Castillo's way as well as he rarely tried to advance his position and on the rare occasion he did, such in the third round when he got mount, Ferguson managed to regain position quickly and not allow Castillo to hold him there. Castillo did reasonably well in the stand-up, particularly in the first minute or so of the second round, but barring a last-ditch arm-triangle choke that seemed a cynical way to secure the round knowing full well he wasn't where he needed to be in the cage to finish, as well as there being hardly any time left, it was Ferguson creating the offence, the scrambles, and trying to finish the fight.
Shayna Baszler: I believe Zane Simon (EDIT: No it wasn't, it was Fraser Coffeen) said before the current WMMA scene has passed Baszler by and I believe that is as accurate a statement as possible. She looked completely outgunned against Bethe Correia, and whilst she showed toughness to hang in there, there is little upside to take from her performance and it looks like she will be treated as the opponent for all her future fights in the UFC, if she even gets another fight at all (which is a possibility given how thin the women's 135lb division is and the need to build other fighters)
Ramsey Nijem: I think it's clear to see that Nijem has neither the chin to break through to the next tier, or the ring I.Q to limit the bad situations he puts himself in. He always bring it, and is undoubtedly a fun fighter to watch, but I think he hit his ceiling a while ago and isn't going to break through it anytime soon.
Lorenz Larkin: See above. When King Mo pounded Larkin out, a failed post-fight drugs test for Mo and a move down to 185lbs for Larkin saw renewed faith in the former Strikeforce prospect. With a poor decision rendered against him against (then streaking) Francis Carmont the setback wasn't seen as a bad one. When he was outworked by Brad Tavares, it only showed which aspects of Larkin's game he had to work on. Knocked out in the first round by Costas Phillipou might've been a case of Larkin being caught cold. But now, thoroughly beaten by Derek Brunson over three rounds has showed that it isn't just a case of Larkin needing to work on aspects of his game. He just isn't the blue chip prospect some thought he was. A move down to 170lbs will do little for his career in my opinion. Robbie Lawler, who Larkin beat at 185lbs back in Strikeforce, was revitalised by cutting down to welterweight and showed a lot of improvements to executing game plans in the cage. After this, I have pretty much closed the book on the prospect of Larkin being able to do the same.
Ruan Potts: Even in the abyss that is the UFC heavyweight division, Potts has no place in it, unless you wish to see a fighter matched purely as cannon fodder. Which I don't. Show him his marching papers please.
Renan Barao: What a horrible weekend for the once untouchable Brazilian. Not only did he miss out on his rematch with Dillashaw and his chance to make amends and reclaim the championship, he blacked out and had a trip to the hospital, missed out on earning any money whatsoever, and to add insult to injury was marched out on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast and branded 'an embarrassment' by Joe Rogan. Admittedly, we shouldn't be too fair to Barao, and he had questions to answer. Joe Rogan was pretty fair in his questioning, but perhaps it could've waited a bit longer. I.e not as soon as you hear he's been medically cleared. Talk about kicking a man while he's down.
Derek Brunson showed he is putting it all together. Not a future title contender perhaps, but with more than serviceable striking and great MMA wrestling, as well as an improved sense of cage awareness and pacing is making Brunson out to be about as tough a gatekeeper as you'll find i the current 185lb landscape.
Tony Ferguson is a dangerman, but while Danny Castillo is a very good MMA wrestler and Ferguson showed perseverance in trying to better his position and finish the fight and worked very hard to do damage from the bottom, it's an aspect of his game he'll have to work on in order to break out of the pack and put himself in the top cluster of dangerous lightweights currently plying their trade.
I'm not sure whether Anthony Hamilton showed improved cardio, or whether Ruan Potts was so bad he made Hamilton look much better than he actually was, but this was definitely an improvement from Hamilton's UFC debut.
All in all, a better card than was expected. But UFC PPV's should provide much more potential excitement and high-stakes match-ups than this. What was essentially an exhibition for the headlining champion on short notice would've been a perfectly reasonable main event if the supporting cast featured a few high-level fighters in meaningful contests. UFC 178, despite having an underwhelming main event, will hold the interests of fans, and more importantly paying fans, because of the depth of the card. I would not be surprised if UFC 177 does less buys than the most maligned UFC 174.
When you have to shell out for an event should your thought process really be 'this might end up better than it looks?'