This card didn't offer much of interest on paper, but it was a fun event in practice, with a whole bunch of finishes, upsets, and some action-packed fights. Andrei Arlovski (?!?!?!) staked a claim as a top heavyweight, Gleison Tibau did what Gleison Tibau does, and firing up Fight Pass turned out to be a pretty solid way to spend a Saturday evening.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the real winners and losers from the event.
George Sullivan: Nobody expected anything from Sullivan when the UFC brought him in on ten days' notice to fight hyped prospect Mike Rhodes, but his relentless pace won him a decision there. He was the underdog to Igor Araujo in his second outing as well, and this time he beasted on his hapless opponent from the opening bell. Sullivan is never going to win a title or anything, but being tireless, double-tough, and meaner than shit is a great look for a midcard gatekeeper. He might be the next Mike Pyle, in status if not style, and I'm totally fine with that.
Iuri Alcantara: It wasn't pretty, and he needed an assist from referee Jerin Valel for an unwarranted standup in the second round, but he managed to eke out a decision over Russell Doane in a highly entertaining and back-and-forth scrap. Marajo is a monster early in the fight - his preference for high-energy techniques that work best when both fighters are dry is notable - but after that, things get a bit iffy. He's a solid fighter who has earned his top-10 ranking, but he wasn't much (if at all) better than Doane last night.
Santiago Ponzinibbio: He lost pretty much all of the hype he'd accrued over a long and successful run through the Brazilian scene with a tough loss to the underrated Ryan LaFlare, but Ponzinibbio earned at least some of it back by knocking out Wendell Oliveira with a crazy-long flurry of vicious punches in the first round. There are still holes in his game, but his athleticism, power, and diverse game mean that Ponzinibbio is going to beat a whole bunch of welterweights during his time in the UFC.
Jon Anik: This is just for him introducing Escudero a journeyman, which is exactly what he is. I want my commentators giving a fight to me straight, and that's what Anik did here. Let's hope it's the beginning of a trend away from the constant presentation of every fighter and every fight as equally deserving of praise and attention.
Gleison Tibau: Water is wet, the sky is blue, and Tibau won two of three rounds to take a decision. This was his 23rd fight in the UFC and his fifteenth win in the promotion (good enough for a fourth-place tie), and it's a reasonable bet that he'll own the records in both of those categories by the time he hangs up his gloves or declines to the point of being cut. Tibau rarely does anything particularly spectacular - in fact, his game mostly consists of the precise opposite of spectacular things - but in the aggregate, his career is ridiculously impressive, and he deserves real credit for that.
Andrei Arlovski: Coming off an awful, terrible, no-good, and probably undeserved victory over Brendan Schaub in his return to the UFC, almost nobody gave Arlovski much of a shot against Bigfoot Silva. One flush right hand and a bunch of hammerfists later, Arlovski is once again a top-10 heavyweight. Wait, what? I know, I know, it's shocking. Relevant and deserved questions about his chin aside, Arlovski's skills really haven't deteriorated all that much: he's still a plus athlete relative to the division, his handspeed is still excellent, and his strikes pack a wallop. The problem is simply that any more-than-grazing shot (and sometimes grazing shots, too) is enough to put him to sleep. Last night, however, none of that mattered. He used slick lever punching with the right hand (following a punch with another from the same hand) to catch Bigfoot several times, including the sequence that led to the finish. That's high-level stuff, an example of what he can still do if he's not unconscious. A bout with the Hunt-Nelson winner would be a nice matchup for the suddenly resurgent veteran.
Russell Doane: This has less to do with his performance, which was generally excellent, than the result. Doane isn't exactly a prospect at this point; he's 28 with six years' experience under his belt, and now is his time to make a move up the ranks. Losing a close decision to Alcantara, even with referee involvement, sets him back at least a year from fights with the division's big names.
Wendell Oliveira: At 24-7 and 31 years old, Oliveira got a big opportunity in fighting someone with some name value, on a main card, in his debut. Beating Ponzinibbio is all about pressure, as both Ryan LaFlare and a number of earlier opponents had shown, and Oliveira has the skill sets to implement that game plan: he simply failed to do it. He'll get another shot, but that was a bad approach and even worse execution.
Leonardo Santos and Efrain Escudero: Santos took an easy 29-28 decision over Escudero, but the fight was dreadful and pretty much exactly what everyone expected it to be. Escudero is a journeyman who doesn't belong anywhere near UFC-level competition, and Santos is just barely passable. This fight was another living, breathing example of oversaturation and how it weighs down otherwise decent cards in the name of more content at all costs.
Piotr Hallmann: There's no real shame in losing a split decision to Gleison Tibau, as he joins fighters like Rafael dos Anjos and Jamie Varner in that seminal club. With that said, Hallmann had his chances, especially when Tibau backed up to the fence, but he had trouble pulling the trigger and unloading the steady stream of shots that has characterized his range striking in the past. He'll be back and he'll be fine, but this was a bit of a blown opportunity for him.
Antonio Silva: Whether it was due to the lack of TRT or simply the fact that he's an enormous man who's probably aging at an exaggerated pace due to his gigantism, Bigfoot looked old and much slower than his usual self against Arlovski. He's still more skilled than the vast majority of the UFC's heavyweight division, but if he comes out like he did last night, he's done as a top fighter. If it was in fact the lack of TRT that led to him looking so off, the great irony will be that Bigfoot is one of the few TRT recipients who legitimately needs it because of the removal of his pituitary gland. There aren't many places he can fight these days where he could receive a TUE for his treatment, and if he can't find some solution, retirement might be the only viable option for him.
-Rani Yahya came out like a man on fire and put it on Johnny Bedford from the opening bell. Bedford's consistent record of high-level douchebaggery continued as he grazed the Brazilian with an illegal soccer kick in the first round, but Yahya pursued him relentlessly and eventually finished the American with a slick kimura from side control in the second. Bedford is probably done in the UFC at 0-3 with a no contest in his last four, while Yahya will continue to man the gates at 135.
-It's time for Paulo Thiago to hang up his gloves. The ugly decision loss to Sean Spencer drops him to 2-7 in his last nine outings, and he's looked progressively worse in each one. Spencer looked solid if not outstanding, landing combinations and putting in work from top position, and he seems to be developing into a reliable mid-tier welterweight.
-Francisco Trinaldo took a decision from Leandro Silva in an uninspiring fight. Both guys displayed atrocious fight IQ, limited skills, and neither is more than a gatekeeper at 155. The judges probably got it wrong, but really, who cares?
-Igor Araujo was brutally KO'd. The loss to Sullivan drops him to 2-1 in the UFC, but he's dreadfully boring and has little in the way of upside in a stacked division.
-Godofredo Pepey is the definition of a boom or bust fighter. He's extremely limited - he can't wrestle a lick and his striking is way, way worse than it should be for somebody who's been around for a while - but when he's on, he's hellaciously entertaining. The triangle/armbar he hit on Dashon Johnson, combined with the slick sweep to mount, was just awesome to watch. Johnson should be cut and given some time to ply his trade in the upper regionals, and if he can string together a few wins against meaningful competition he could eventually be a solid fighter.
-Jessica Andrade demolished Larissa Pacheco. It was madness that Pacheco was the favorite given how raw she is, and it took Andrade less than a round to show just how much farther along she was than her youthful opponent before finishing with a nice arm-in guillotine. Pacheco will be a fine fighter sooner rather than later, and Andrade will get a better foil - Sarah Kaufman, maybe? - in her next outing.
-Referee Jerin Valel had himself a night. First, he stood up Russell Doane in top position while he was dropping big shots on Iuri Alcantara and leading directly to the flurry that won the second round for the Brazilian. In the main event, he let Bigfoot eat four flush punches after he was clearly out, not because Valel was mis-positioned but just because he seemed determined to send Bigfoot to Valhalla. Being the worst referee at an event that included both Mario and Wario Yamasaki is no mean feat, but Valel succeeded.
We'll see you back here next week to talk about Hunt-Nelson and what looks to be a hellaciously fun night of fights in Japan.