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Hindsight - UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs. Nelson & Bellator 125 in retrospect

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Cassandra in Greek legend, you recall, was condemned to know the future but to be disbelieved when she foretold it. Hence the agony of foreknowledge combined with the impotence to do anything about it.*

Hannah Peters

I'm pretty sure that accurately represents me and my fight picking prowess, right? Burdened with visions of future fights, unwilling to gamble on their outcomes. Nevermind that I usually hover somewhere in the 60% range on fight picks, after all, foresight can change right up until the moment it's hindsight. Right now, I'm foreseeing that I'm going to eat a sandwich for lunch, but by the time I get to lunch time, that vision may have become a hotdog... Where was I? Yes, fight picks. UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs. Nelson was solid spectacle from start to finish, even in the Rin/Tate fight, which was more surrounded by spectacle than spectacle in and of itself. There were lots of flashy knockouts, a couple of gaudy submissions, and some of the most ostentatious reffing and judging this side of an Olympic boxing ring. I went 9-3 on the evening. Oh, and T.P. Grant is here.

Disclaimer Time: I don't gamble, and often I feel like I have only a passing idea of what good odds and smart picks actually are. However, I find odds and fight picking a great way to talk about fighter development, so I use both liberally. The source of all knowledge is, as always, Best Fight Odds from which I'll be using the mode (or most common odds) on each fighter. Now, on to the fights.

Bellator 125

Hindsight: Javy Ayala (+285) vs. Raphael Butler (-350) (Dallas picked Ayala, he was right)

  • I don't remember picking this fight either way, but I do remember feeling that the odds on Butler were kind of crazy. He's had the look of a decent rising heavyweight, with all his 9 wins coming by finish and 8 in the first round, but any time you get two prospective, winning heavyweights together they should never be too far apart on the books. There are too many weird things that can happen between dudes over 205.
  • As though to prove that point, Ayala smoked Butler in the cage, to the tune of a one minute submission stoppage, a real rarity in heavyweight MMA. Ayala is the definition of a Bellator prospect; maybe ill suited for his division, has had a few losses, but given a chance to fight consistently for one organization, is showing some real talent and promise. Interesting to see how far they can take him.

Hindsight: I honestly can't remember watching Goiti Yamauchi vs. Martin Stapleton. I picked Yamauchi, he won, but all visions of it escape me.

Hindsight: Rafael Carvalho (-110) vs. Brian Rogers (-105) (I picked Carvalho, I was right)

  • I'm surprised to see that the odds actually moved to Carvalho's favor before the fight, as he started a slight underdog. But I said before that this had the makings of a trap fight for Rogers, and that's what it proved to be. He's never won two in a row since going into Bellator, and of all his losses this is probably the most unknown opponent he's faced. He may not get another fight in the Coker era.
  • This was a perfect matchup for Carvalho to come in and make an immediate name for himself in a new organization. He'd plied his trade well on the Brazilian regional circuit as a Muay Thai-come-MMA fighter and Rogers athletic but unpolished brawling style fight right into his striking game. I'm not sure he'll get past more well rounded opposition, but the right matchmaking could make him a great action fighter.

Hindsight: Doug Marshall (+170) vs. Melvin Manhoef (-200) (I picked Marshall, kinda, I was sorta wrong)

  • Doug Marshall probably climbed a lot higher in profile than he would have otherwise, on the back of a string of matchups made to make him look great (and Sultan Aliev). Against unpolished and less athletic brawlers, Marshall was able to command the cage with his accurate, fight ending power. Against two more technical strikers, he looked utterly lost and at a lack for effective skills. It's a lesson on matchmaking that shouldn't be forgotten, and the close-ish lines ended up having little reflection in the outcome.
  • Melvin Manhoef is still very much Melvin Manhoef in MMA. He still possesses a level of technical skill that dwarfs 90% of his competition and when fed just the right competition looks like an absolute monster. Hopefully Bellator continues to make good use of him. Their plan of having him fight Shlemenko is just right, and Manhoef: Bellator middleweight champion, would be beyond surreal.

UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs. Nelson (Now with 30% more T.P. Grant)

Hindsight: Maximo Blanco (-155) vs. Daniel Hooker (+125) (I picked Blanco, I was right)

  • Blanco really should never be much higher than this in the odds to beat anyone. He can make you forget that fact in the cage, when he's dominating his opponents with an almost unreal ease. But then, with an inevitability that is as sure as it is surprising he'll completely let the fight slip away from him. True to form he beat Hooker for 13 of 15 minutes while almost getting KO'd at the end of the first and third rounds.
  • Hooker has two really exceptional skills in the cage. His submission game is pretty slick (in fact his general ground game is solid) and he's very diverse in his clinch offense. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't look to have any of the surrounding skills to make either of these things happen for him. He's not strong enough to hold a clinch against a better athlete, and he doesn't have the wrestling to get the fight to the ground. If he can't improve his surrounding skills, he's not going to get many chances to use his dominant ones.
  • T.P.: I see why the UFC wanted a look at Hooker in this spot, the kid does has some skills and gave Blanco a run for his money. Jokes aside about Blanco and his ability to fight to his own advantage, he is a tough test for a young fighter and Hooker gave him real trouble for stretches. But Hooker has a noticeable lack of defensive skills and relies too heavily on his toughness. This will have to be addressed if Hooker wishes to move forward in the division.

Hindsight: Johnny Case (+110) vs. Kazuki Tokudome (-133) (I picked Kazuki, I was wrong)

  • Kazuki deserved to be the slight favorite here. He was the fighter people had seen, he was known for being tough as nails, and Johnny Case was just one of the litany of dudes brought in to face Joe Ellenberger that immediately had to pull out due to injury. In that climate, and at home overseas, taking Kazuki to win makes sense.
  • That said, Kazuki was never going far in the UFC. He fought with a willful abandon for defense and a windmill-my-way-into-the-clinch and then grind, style. He's gotten cracked hard in every fight, so it was really on Case just to prove that he could technically outwork a tough, reasonably decent athlete with few other skills. The fact that Case just utterly dominated Kazuki and then choked him half to death makes him a definite fighter to watch next time around.
  • T.P.: Hard not to impressed with Case in his UFC debut as he dominated this fight and choked Tokudome out cold. While Tokudome isn't a impressive fighter by any means, he has not been treated with such disdain by an opponent since joining the UFC. It will be interesting to what the UFC does Case with moving forward. He is a prospect to keep an eye on.

Hindsight: Kyung Ho Kang (+140) vs. Michinori Tanaka (-160) (I picked Michinori, I was wrong-ish)

  • Close odds for what ended up being a close fight that I would say more closely represented the outcome than the scores did. But, this wasn't highway robbery. The second round was very, very close and it could easily be argued that Kyung Ho's kimura attempt was the single biggest piece of offense in that round, and thus should take it for him. Either way, it's a great fight for Michinori as he needed to be shown that he has serious deficiencies in his takedown and striking game. And it's still a fight he can argue he won, just for the sake of confidence.
  • Kyung Ho is a strange case of a fighter. If Stann is to be believed (and he usually is) Kyung Ho Kang came into MMA with few ancillary skills. That shows in his fights where he often looks like an excellent athlete with very hit and miss technique. That said, he is a skilled fighter in every area of the fight. He just has big gaps in every skill as well. It's hard to say how far that will carry him, but it makes him a great action fighter at the moment.
  • T.P.: This was a great fight between two exciting talents. Kang has flashes of pure brilliance on the ground, specifically when it comes to positional grappling but he has yet to bring that dynamism to his submission game. Both are high motor grapplers and they kept pace with each other very well and Tanaka showed some grit and outstanding cardio to come back late. Both fighters can take big positives away from this fight and both will likely find themselves in the Top 15 of Bantamweight at some point in their careers.

Hindsight: Hyun Gyu Lim (-660) vs. Takenori Sato (+500) (I picked Hyun Gyu, I couldn't be wrong)

  • Even these odds feel like they're doing Takenori a favor. He was never going to win this fight ever. Against a scrappy grappler or grinding wrestler he might have half a shot, but against big, powerful strikers he's a lost cause. I hoped he'd show some fun catch-as-catch-can skills in the UFC and be an interesting oddity, but that looks like a complete and utter pipe dream in hindsight.
  • Hyun Gyu is the ultimate in action fighters for the UFC. He relies almost utterly on his great athletic ability and mind altering power to win fights, and considering that he's 8 years into his career, it's probably a bit too much to hope that he develops beyond that. Fortunately the UFC has more welterweights than you can shake a stick at and fun possibilities abound for a guy that is guaranteed to go for the finish and fight through adversity. He'll crush a lot of dudes outside the top 20.
  • T.P.: At this point South Korea is the talent hot bed in Asia for MMA. It has strong Judo, Wrestling, and obviously Taekwondo programs to draw athletic and coaching talent, a strong fight community and is starting to produce excellent fight athletes.

Hindsight: Katsunori Kikuno (-150) vs. Sam Sicilia (+125) (I picked Katsunori, I was right)

  • I can understand why these odds were short. Katsunori has major defensive holes in his striking (ones that seem larger than they are) and Sicilia hits hard. That said, this was a really predictable win for Katsunori. Fighters that strike excellently at range and in combination can find his chin with ease, but Katsunori has very good head movement and foot movement against one-off striker/brawlers and the kind of physical power inside that only the best athletes can really handle.
  • The announcers were touting Sicilia's improved skills from the outside, and while he was certainly working in more volume than ever before, he still had many of the same problems dictating range. He ended up throwing a lot of strikes from too far out to land, and getting countered behind them. When he finally realized that that game wasn't going to work, he went inside and found out just what a beast Katsunori can be. Sicilia may be improving in skill, but he needs to stay closer to the bottom of the division to get wins right now.
  • I would love, love to see Katsunori fight Diego Brandao at some point in the future (Brandao would probably need to win a fight first). It's a great stylistic matchup for Katsunori, but Brandao has shown the kind of electric speed and athletic ability to stop more technical fighters. It's exactly the kind of fight that could build Katsunori if he wins.

Hindsight: Kiichi Kunimoto (-230) vs. Richard Walsh (+195) (I picked Kiichi, I was right-esque)

  • Kiichi should never be a sizeable favorite over any of the opposition he faces. His strong wrestling and grappling skill is completely matched by his terrible kickboxing. He honestly looks fearful throwing his hands, with his head back and chin up, trying to avoid the imagined counter that he's unlikely to see coming from his compromised position. I think Walsh got horribly robbed here, as bad as any I've seen lately (even with his fouling) and Kiichi remains a terribly unsafe bet in any fight.
  • Walsh sits at 1-1 in the UFC with this loss, but it really shouldn't do him any harm going forward. Hopefully the UFC paid him like a winner, and they should match him like one. He looked much improved in his overall game for this fight and has a lot of opportunity to be a fun action fighter for the UFC with his distinctive look and high output high power infighting style.

Hindsight: Jon Delos Reyes (+450) vs. Kyoji Horiguchi (-650) (I picked Kyoji, I was right)

  • Tough break for Delos Reyes as a fill in to give a rising prospect a showcase win. The odds were right on and Kyoji put on an amazing highlight performance, just as he was set up to do. In a night in which several fighters looked utterly dominant, I would argue that no one fought better against someone putting up as good a fight as Kyoji did against Delos Reyes. If you weren't sold on his skill before, you should be now.
  • Hopefully the UFC doesn't do anything rash like cutting Delos Reyes after this fight. He's obviously got the athletic talent to compete, but after missing all of 2013 has had his rough technical edges exposed in the UFC. He could still improve into a very fun action fighter, given a year or two and some softer matchups, and he seems like a fighter worth investing that time in for the UFC.
  • I've heard a lot of people (Mookie) suggest top matchups for Horiguchi going forward, fighters like Moraga and Formiga. Neither man is terribly well rounded, but both are very specifically dangerous. Personally I'd rather see him face Wilson Reis, or the winner of Holohan/Gaudinot. Someone who will give him another solid-ish challenge while continuing to develop. Either way, he's definitely going to be ready for a top 5ish matchup within the next year or two.

Hindsight: Alex Caceres (-300) vs. Masanori Kanehara (+250) (I picked Caceres, I was wrong)

  • These odds and this result were probably a harsh lesson for those betting on Alex Caceres in the future. He is a talented fighter and a fun athlete, however he has a very, very solid history of making fights hard on himself. He tends to fight at a very uneven pace and doesn't posses a wealth of finishing tools outside of his ability to capitalize on his opponents grappling mistakes. Masanori was a reminder that a solid technical fighter, with at least one plus physical tool (in this case power) can give Caceres a very tough fight.
  • That said, I don't want to go all conspiracy theory, but I wouldn't be surprised if Caceres was fighting some sort of illness along with his opponent. He looked notably wan early in the fight and seemed not so much exhausted by his exchanges with Masanori as he did just physically weak and unsteady. That's not a knock on Masanori, who looked much smoother in transition and more complete than ever before, but something to consider for Caceres' next bout.
  • T.P.: Cacaeres really has cemented himself as the American version of Godofredo Pepey. He is athletic, skilled, and aggressive to a fault. Cacaeres is good for a surprising upset win every so often and can overwhelm some fighters, but solid veterans can weather the storm and make him pay for his mistakes.

Hindsight: Rin Nakai (+240) vs. Miesha Tate (-320) (I picked Tate, I was right)

  • Chances that Tate was going to lose this fight were slim, but her terrible third round was pretty much a spot on reason that she wasn't a larger favorite in this fight. She has all the base tools she needs to be a dominant bantamweight fighter, but the consistency with which she applies her offense will always be a big question. It seems like, all too often, she gets caught taking rounds off or failing to press her obvious advantages throughout the fight.
  • Those who had higher expectations of Rin than this, I don't know what to tell you. I feel like I'm all alone as one of the few people that was actually more impressed with Rin than I expected to be. She got tooled in the first round, but stuck with her game, got more aggressive and eventually, I thought, pretty convincingly outworked Tate in the third. There are certainly women she can beat at 135 and if the UFC lets her promote herself, she can stay a cult favorite.
  • T.P.: Tate managed to demonstrate that she is one of the elite fighters while looking rather unimpressive. Nakai is clearly physically strong, but just as clearly is at a major size disadvantage in the Bantamweigth division. Tate was able to get a one sided win but didn't really show an advancement in her game that makes me think she is going to be a threat for a title.

Hindsight: Amir Sadollah (+135) vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama (-160) (I picked Akiyama, I was right)

  • This is exactly why analysis can feel so useless at times. There was no good tape to watch or fights to examine going into this card. When two guys have been out as long as Sadollah and Yoshihiro have, you can't assume much will be the same from their last fights (even if it is). Yet, the general vibe from their time out was that Yoshihiro was in better fight shape, that he was hungrier. That ended up being exactly the case, as Sadollah looked really rusty and off rhythm as Yoshihiro peppered him from the outside and took him down with ease inside. Sometimes the gut is just as accurate as the mind.
  • I'll be interested to see if Sadollah takes another fight after this loss. He didn't look great, but that could just be the jitters and rust of returning from a long layoff. Much like Bisping against Kennedy, Sadollah could come back in 2-3 months and be a much better fighter than he showed in Japan. I wouldn't necessarily bet on it, but I'll be watching for his next matchup.
  • T.P.: Akiyama and Sadollah in a clash of guys inactive since 2012. Akiyama's ability to enter into trips from outside striking is nothing short of brilliant, but outside of that nothing about his game is really remarkable. Sadollah looked equally unremarkable, but in all aspects of his game. I don't expect much of either fighter moving towards 2015.

Hindsight: Myles Jury (-600) vs. Takanori Gomi (+464) (I picked Jury, I was right)

  • I scoffed somewhat at the odds against Gomi in this fight. Not because I thougth Gomi had any particular chance of winning, but because I thought he had a better shot than being in the +450 range of putting on an exciting three round fight against a fighter who's output hasn't always been high. I was totally wrong in that and Jury proved, more than ever before, that he belongs in the conversation over top 10 lightweights.
  • This is probably the note Gomi should go out on for his career. His first career stoppage loss after an improbable 4 fight win streak (c'mon, we all know that Sanchez fight was a win). He got the glory of coming back and showing fans what he was capable of in the UFC, and it was a lot of fun. But, lately he's looked less in shape, more beatable, and worst of all, chinny. Jury dismantled him and it's hard to see him climbing that high up the lightweight ladder again.
  • T.P.: Jury is one of the casualties of the completely stagnated Lightweight division. He is a very talented, up and coming fighter who has really been unable to move up the ranks as Lightweight has just become a utter logjam. Jury clearly has work to do before getting a title shot, but with this win he needs to start facing Top 10 fighters.

Hindsight: Mark Hunt (-126) vs. Roy Nelson (+106) (I picked Hunt, I was right)

  • I got some flack for going heavy in Mark Hunt's favor in what many seem to have thought was a pick 'em fight. The betting lines basically moved to even, with one site having Nelson at -140 over Hunt. However, what we saw in the cage was exactly what should have been expected. Nelson has very few striking tools and a lot of defensive holes. Hunt has a wealth of striking tools and only a few defensive holes (he's worked a lot to close past weaknesses).
  • Hunt and Nelson actually landed at a similar rate, but Hunt rarely got hit with anything beyond a glancing blow, while Nelson ducked into uppercut after uppercut. It's a remarkable display of skill beyond numbers and why numbers based analysis can often be limiting.
  • I should say that it was very very good to see Nelson attempt so many takedowns, I really didn't think he'd go for more than one or two. He only got one of them and it didn't get him anywhere, but it was a better plan than trying to go strike for strike, which is where he ended up getting stuck.
  • T.P.: I've been very critical of Hunt in the past, but this was a brilliant fight on his part. Hunt has really found his MMA game, he has shored up his grappling ability and has polished his striking into a very good counter striking game. He clearly isn't in the upper crust of the division, but he can certainly put on great fights with other Top 10 Heavyweights.
  • T.P.: Roy Nelson is done as a relevant Heavyweight. His physical skills are in freefall, his grappling ability, which appears to has regressed, is largely a non-factor due to his horrific ability to fight in the clinch. His brief resurgence as a striker was a bit overstated to begin with and now that he has lost 3 of his last 4 it is safe to say it is over.

Those are my collected thoughts (and a few that aren't mine) from another full weekend of MMA action. As always, so much of what I wrote seems obvious now, but that's just the benefit of hindsight. Stay tuned for next week, when I expect to be talking about what  a beast Demetrious Johnson is and how it's nice to see Alexander Shlemenko keeping busy. Until then!

*This week's movie quote provided by 12 Monkeys