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Hindsight - UFC Fight Night: Bigfoot vs. Arlovski and Bellator 124 in retrospect

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The world keeps going around and around. So you always end up in the same place.

Chris Hyde

Sometimes heavyweight really, truly feels that way. When Silva, the man on the rise, knocked off a faded Arlovski in 2010, it felt like a meaningful statement for both men's future. And for a time it was. Arlovski went on to lose to Kharitonov by KO and wander in the wastelands of regional heavyweight MMA, until he was picked up by WSOF, where he would lose to Anthony Johnson. For Antonio Silva, he would go on to defeat Fedor Emilianenko and (following losses to Cormier and Velasquez) Travis Browne and Alistair Overeem on his way to a UFC heavyweight title shot. Silva would lose that title shot, but came back with a barn burner of a performance in a draw against Mark Hunt. When Silva got the call to face Andrei Arlovski again in 2014 it seemed almost certain that Silva would dominate. Nevermind that Arlovski had lost only one fight since 2011, or that Silva had only won two out of his last seven. The tale was meant to be told in their performances and their level of competition. But, here we are, it's 2014, six years after Arlovski was a top UFC heavyweight, and the world has kept turning.

Disclaimer Time: Not a bad night for fight picking; I went 7-4 and had serious reservations in all four fights I got wrong. But man if I didn't think Silva would win that main event. I knew there was a chance he'd come back looking worse than ever, but I figured that was more my own paranoia than any reasonable doubt. And that's why I don't gamble. Because there's always that chance that the sure thing flops miserably. Instead I just like to talk fight picks and pre-fight odds as a narrative for fighter development. As ever, I'll be using Best Fight Odds on the odds for each fight, and taking the mode for each fighter. Now, on to the fights...

Bellator 124:

Hindsight: Ryan Couture (N/A) vs. Tom Bagnasco (N/A) (I picked Couture, I was right)

  • Ugly fight which served little purpose beyond getting Couture a win in his first outing. Bagnasco was totally unprepared and no better than the guy Couture was originally slated to face. But, he wasn't any worse either, just to prove that Bellator was all in on Couture from the start. Either way, Couture did his job and hopefully will get a better opponent next time.

Hindsight: L.C. Davis (-205) vs. Zeilton Rodrigues (+165) (I picked Davis, I was right)

  • Davis was a deserved favorite here with the bigger name and more high end experience, but Rodrigues had cut his chops as a Shooto Champion and I was disappointed to see him not do better. He got a lot of chances to work Davis over on his feet and on the ground and got nothing done.
  • Unfortunately, the biggest hoped progression ended up being a regression for Davis. He'd showed nice, crisp boxing in his bouts leading up to this one, and following his WEC release. But, Rodrigues was swinging wild and had more power in his hands and was able to scare Davis off his striking all night. Davis is still a quality wrestling and top control fighter, but hopes that he'd improved a lot should be tempered.

Hindsight: Kelly Anundson (+260) vs. Liam McGeary (-315) (I picked Anundson, I was wrong)

  • Really honestly a bit surprised to see that McGeary was the heavy favorite here. Both men came in on the rise against decent, but not exceptional competition, both men possessed skills that were dead set to nullify the other's strength. I had this much more dead even and gave Anundson the push for his more stereotypically successful game as a wrestler with good top control. His loss, and the way he lost are a major step back for him.
  • McGeary is definitely something special for Bellator. As an organization they've periodically done a better job scouting areas the UFC has ignored. Most typically this has meant getting a lot of Russian fighters, before the UFC broke into that market. Recently it's meant grabbing some of the more exciting LHW and HW prospects. McGeary still has terrible takedown defense, but he's officially a must watch action fighter.

Hindsight: Emanuel Newton (-800) vs. Joey Beltran (+560) (I picked Newton, I was right)

  • Emmanuel Newton made these odds look foolishly optimistic when he did everything to give Beltran the momentum over the first three rounds of this fight. After a back and forth first, Newton looked spent for ideas and started to rely on hail mary shots, delivered one at a time, while moving backward to get the win. The fact that it worked, just made the whole thing a ridiculous spectacle.
  • All the way through I was trying to convince people that this fight wasn't quite the joke it felt like when it was announced. Bellator is at a warm body stage with its light heavyweight title. They just need guys to get in front of the champion and give him fights, so that they aren't shelving their belt for 8 months at a time. The fact that Beltran nearly won the thing is purely a bonus.

UFC Fight Night: Bigfoot vs. Arlovski 2

Hindsight: Johnny Bedford (-130) vs. Rani Yahya (+110) (I picked Bedford, I was wrong)

  • Bedford was the sensible favorite in a very close fight going in, as the classically more aggressive, active fighter against an opponent known for his less than stellar output. Nonetheless, it's also easy to see in the way the fight played out, that Yahya is far, far more skilled in his strengths than Bedford is in his.  Aggression will win a lot of fights, but there is a certain point at which skill should play the larger roll.
  • That said, Bedford very nearly took this fight for the reasons I thought he would. He came out hard and looked like he was overwhelming Yahya early. But, he's got to be one of the most checked out, tunnel vision fighters in the UFC as he kicked Yahya square in the head when Yahya was on his knees. The foul gave Yahya time to recover and seemed to light a fire under him. Bedford may not fight in the UFC again, but if he does, it's under the reputation that he's a known liability.
  • It's hard to say that Yahya looked better this fight. He exhibited both those talents which have caused him to lose in the past and those talents that make him an exciting fighter to pull for. He started slow, and seemed lethargic. When he came out swinging he got easily stuck on his back. But then he hit a beautiful sweep and cranked Bedford's shoulder apart. Who knows what part of that we'll see next time.

Hindsight: Sean Spencer (-235) vs. Paulo Thiago (+200) (I picked Spencer, I was right)

  • Honestly, these odds could have been a lot higher in Spencer's favor. He gave Thiago a lot of time to work, and even made some crucial tactical mistakes, but the Paulo Thiago of today just doesn't have the tools to take advantage of an opponent he can't hold down and blanket.
  • For Spencer, this fight was all about getting him good rounds and good experience. He's doesn't have the smell of a future title challenger about him, but he's got a nice sprawl and brawl game going, based on high output, low power, decently technical kickboxing. If he can continue to build his confidence and get good fights he could make himself a tough gatekeeper to the WW elite.

Hindsight: Leandro Silva (+160) vs. Francisco Trinaldo (-190) (I picked Trinaldo, I was right-ish)

  • Very sensible odds here on Trinaldo as the favorite. He's been more proven across his career against a better class of competition and has shown flashes of both a competent kickboxing and top control game. Silva's only UFC Fight coming in was an ugly grinding loss, exactly the kind of thing Trinaldo was built to replicate. It actually ended up being a much closer fight than that, but I'm not sure Silva came out looking better for it.
  • This was definitely on the cold side for a Francisco Trinaldo fight, and leads me to believe that he may just be falling off in general. He sort of blitzed his way into the UFC with a big KO at middleweight a grinding loss to the ever grinding Gleison Tibau, and then dominant wins over C.J. Keith and Mike Rio. But for those hoping that dominance would continue, he's seriously struggled to create meaningful offense lately. This is the fourth straight fight that he's either lost or been a hairsbreadth from losing. A step up may mean a big step back.
  • For Silva, he has got to find a way to be more aggressive while still conserving energy. He's massive at 155, bigger maybe even than Tibau, but that just seems to mean that he's relegated to throwing about 5 strikes a minute. He's got a nice transitional wrestling grappling game, but very little positional control. For a fighter with his physical gifts he has to find more advantages than his ability to take the fight to the ground.

Hindsight: Igor Araujo (-140) vs. George Sullivan (+120) (I picked Sullivan, I was right)

  • This is exactly what people mean when they say "Styles make fights." Araujo was a reasonable favorite. He had more experience against a generally better level of competition. He'd done well to date in the UFC. He even beat a big strong grinder in Ildemar Alcantara. But, he had zero chance against Sullivan, who isn't just big and strong, but consistent, aggressive, and much more polished in his strikes.
  • Unfortunately for Araujo, on the heels of his win over Mitchell (and the slapfight that ended it) this loss ends up looking much much more telling. He has some decent technical BJJ, when he can find the space and physical advantage to use it, but he's pretty worn for fight milage, and has some other major technical gaps. Add that he had to be taken to the hospital after being KO'd in this bout, and the end of the line may be near.
  • Sullivan is a guy who came in with zero fanfare or expectations of success. He seemed like the fall guy for raw Roufusport talent Mike Rhodes. Instead he's proving to be a tough, powerful vet who fights smart and dangerously. Definitely an action fighter to keep an eye on.

Hindsight: Dashon Johnson (+120) vs. Godofredo Pepey (-135) (I picked Pepey, I was right)

  • This was Johnson's big chance at redemption. Solid odds on another struggling featherweight with a limited technical arsenal. For a guy that got overwhelmed in his debut, you can't say fairer than that. It was still Pepey's fight all the way, and he proved that he deserved to be a bigger favorite than he was, over a fighter that green.
  • It's official, excepting that it got some potentially popular regional fighters a couple wins, the UFC really shouldn't have signed Johnson off that Xploded record. They may keep him around for another fight. He's changed camps, and the UFC isn't cutting many guys right now, but unless they pit him against the TUF China runner up it's hard to imagine him not being a big underdog.
  • Pepey lives to fight another day, yet still hasn't answered any of the questions asked of his skill set. He still throws wild and open on the feet and still is aggressive to a fault on the ground. He's fun to watch, but if he's not getting better, it's hard to see him rising far above the lowest end of 145.

Hindsight: Jessica Andrade (-120) vs. Larissa Pacheco (-110) (I picked Andrade, I was right)

  • It's kind of amazing that, at least on a couple of books, Pacheco was a favorite in this bout. I realize she came in the much larger fighter and on an undefeated 10-0 record. But she is still an incredibly raw fighter and Andrade represented a huge step up in competition from what she'd faced previously. Not a huge setback, but definitely seems like there was some Wiki-based analysis going on here.
  • Andrade is a legit top 10 bantamweight right now. She still probably needs one more solid win to clear herself of her debut loss to Liz Carmouche, but she's one of the very few bantamweight women who's shown herself capable of going on a streak in the division. She's still only 22 and if she can keep developing her skills she could have a solid run at the title in her.
  • This is a pretty meaningless loss for Pacheco. Some may have picked her to get the win, and they may be disappointed in her showing, but that's on them. She's 20, and she came in on short notice to fight the best opponent of her career. That she got blown out means basically nothing.

Hindsight: Iuri Alcantara (-315) vs. Russell Doane (250) (I picked Alcantara, I was right)

  • I really thought Alcantara would be much more thoroughly dominant than he was here. Given the odds in his favor and his past performances, this fight is definitely more a step back than forward, even with a win. He may be a top ten bantamweight, but this put a major kibosh on his chances of being a darkhorse contender.
  • For Doane, he took a step up against a level of competition that he was not expected to beat, and true to form came up short. He looked very good doing it, and there's reason to believe that he got stripped of his win by a terrible standup. But, for a fighter six years into his professional career, this was his big opportunity to show off, and he fell short. It may be a little while until he gets his next shot.
  • Alcantara showed some surprising lack in his wrestling defense. He's a good scrambler and a powerful grappler, his hands are solid and he can hit like a truck, but he couldn't stop Doane's takedown game to save his life. Doane basically wrote the book on how to beat Alcantara, other top bantamweights should be able to follow it.

Hindsight: Wendell Oliveira (-105) vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio (-110) (I picked Oliveira, I was wrong)

  • It somewhat amazes me that the odds on this fight were as even as they were. I picked Oliveira, but Ponzinibbio was the more name fighter. Surprised to see the betting lines basically in a dead heat for what was, truly a pick 'em fight.
  • That said, it saddens me that Oliveira's defensive liabilities ended up being bigger than Ponzinibbio's. Ponzinibbio still isn't a very technical fighter in any area, but he's getting by on being fast and strong and possessing clubbing power. Sooner or later that train probably runs off the tracks, but at the bottom end of welterweight, it's getting him wins.
  • Tough break for Oliveira. He looked shattered by the loss, but given his history of showing less than stellar defense against poor competition, he has no one but himself to blame for getting caught. Hopefully this causes him to take a better look at his footwork and head movement, but at 8 years and 32 fights into his career, change feels doubtful. That said, he should still be able to beat a few less powerful welterweight brawlers.

Hindsight: Efrain Escudero (+180) vs. Leonardo Santos (-220) (I Picked Santos, I was right)

  • I guess Santos proved the oddsmakers right when they put reasonably close lines on this fight. Bets for him moved him to a little more sizable favorite, but after this fight, it's hard to imagine many people putting serious money on him against a decent veteran fighter. He got the win, but it was ugly and he looked regressed as the fight wore on.
  • Efrain Escudero was a nice story when the UFC brought him back. A testament to the idea that if you keep grinding on the regionals and keep getting wins, the UFC will keep an eye out for you when they need you. That said, his actual in cage performances were the same sort that got him cut in the first place. It's hard to see him contending at a reasonable level in the UFC, for a fighter with his experience.
  • Santos' kickboxing looked much better early in the fight. It's an area he's obviously been working on. But, as he started to wear down, much of his technical improvement went out the window, leaving him a pretty one dimensional takedown and grappling artist. He has to work to keep his striking crisp, or better lightweights wont let him off the hook.

Hindsight: Gleison Tibau (-235) vs. Piotr Hallman (+195) (I picked Hallman, I was wrong)

  • Tibau is a deserved odds on favorite for any lightweight who hasn't already seen the division's top 15 rankings at least once. That said, I can't really see him ever stretching far beyond his -250ish numbers. He's always going to put himself in danger against everyone, and it's up to his opponent to prove they can capitalize.
  • And I really thought Hallman could capitalize. He's shown the ability to come back late in fights before. But, he just doesn't have the trust and polish in his striking tools yet. He's big, he's strong, he's got some diverse skills, but he hasn't gotten enough experience yet to press his advantages when he needs to. Hopefully he can make that happen soon, because lightweight will swallow him up if he doesn't.
  • Gleison Tibau is still Gleison Tibau. Pick him to beat any unranked lightweight 29-28 and nine times out of ten he'll come through for you. Who knows when he stops hulking people, but he's shown no signs of stopping yet.

Hindsight: Andrei Arlovski (+350) vs. Antonio Silva (-450) (I picked Silva, I was wrong)

  • Everything about these odds and the expectations of the fight going in made sense. Arlovski has looked bad against mediocre fighters lately, even in wins. Silva has looked good against some very good fighters and bad against some very good fighters, but seemed to have a very real ceiling at the edges of the top 5. And yet, whether it's a body lacking in testosterone or just general heavyweight weirdness, Arlovski broke expectations completely.
  • Following the banning of TRT and an apparently improved drug screening process, Antonio Silva had the tumor on his pituitary gland removed. All of these facts are circumstantial to his lethargic performance against Andrei Arlovski, but they're all things that shouldn't be forgotten as they're changes for him, leading up to this fight, a performance that may be the worst of his career when not fighting someone named Cain Velasquez or Daniel Cormier (or Eric Pele if you want to go all 2006 on me). When Silva fights again, if Silva fights again, fans should be on notice that he may not be the same fighter anymore.
  • Given that, what does this win say about Andrei Arlovski? It's great for the UFC that he's a top 10 heavyweight again. Alongside Fedor, Overeem, and Barnett, he's still one of the most classically sale-able names in heavyweight MMA. The UFC may have lost some luster to Alistair's star, but Arlovski is filling the void. Whether or not he can beat another guy hovering around the top 5 still remains to be seen.

Those are my collected thoughts on UFC Fight Night: Bigfoot vs. Arlovski 2 and Bellator 124. So much of what I had to say seems obvious now, but as always, that's the benefit of hindsight. So, until next week when I expect that Mark Hunt will be looking for another no. 1 contenders slot and Melvin Manhoef and Doug Marshall will do something bloody and memorable. Until then!