In the wake of a few very weak cards, the UFC put on a very strong UFC Fight Night in Connecticut. It was a demonstration in what a little competition can do for a show, as the UFC and Bellator held cards on the same night in the same state. Comparison of the ratings and gates are sure to come, but in terms of quality of product there was no comparison as the UFC put on the vastly superior show. It was a strong reminder in how the UFC got on top of the MMA world, and the kind of cards they used to be able to put on regularly.
It was a great night of fights overall and let's get right into thoughts on the fights:
- Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza put a one sided beating on Gegard Mousasi, as the Brazilian dominated every phase of MMA. Souza has always had strong grappling and powerful takedowns, but he has cleaned up his wrestling technique, added solid boxing, and a deeper gas tank to become a truly elite Middleweight since his last clash with Mosuasi in 2008. Stylistically a match with UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman seems to favor the Champion, as he strikes and wrestles better than Jacare, but it is a fight that should happen in the very near future.
- For Mousasi, he has fallen quite a ways from being one of the brightest prospect at Middleweight back in 2008. Long layoffs between fights and even longer stints between fighting well matched competition seems to have blunted Mosuasi's potential and stagnated his growth. Mousasi has stopped evolving as a fighter and the signs of his faliure to progress have been there for some time, his very weak showing against King Mo and Keith Jardine now stand as clear warning signs that perhaps Mousasi was not as an elite prospect as it seemed. In retrospect his competitive match with Lyoto Machida is more likely a result of a favorable style match up than sign of Mousasi being ready to contend with elite fighters.
- In the biggest upset of the evening, Ben Rothwell knocked out K-1 Champion and former Strikeforce Champion Alistair Overeem. This is the first time Rothwell has won back to back fights in seven years, so while it is by far the best win of his career, I don't buy into Ben Rothwell title contender quite yet. Still it was a stunning result and should allow Rothwell a chance at another elite Heavyweight.
- For Overeem this loss is a big setback. Previous to this Overeem's only two losses in the last six years both came in 2013 and both elite Heavyweights. But this loss really highlights that Overeem's ability to take a punch, which was never strong, is almost completely gone as both of the strikes Rothwell connected with on the feet clearly rocked Overeem. Saying Overeem must retire at this point is a bit of stretch, but if he wished to continue fighting he is going to see a significant drop in the quality of opponent he is matched with. The term "bust" is going to be applied to Overeem's UFC career and it is difficult to argue against, but a better term may be overvalued as he faced a lesser schedule of fighters during his 2007 - 2010 run and really his best wins came at the tail end with his wins over Fabricio Werdum and Brock Lesnar, and Werdum was never over-matched in that fight and Lesnar was in the midst of his sudden decline.
- Matt Mitrione made lighting quick work of Derrick Lewis and showed off his continually improving striking. Duane Ludwig gets a lot, and very deserved, credit for being a fantastic striking coach for his results with Team Alpha Male, but the Blackzilians coach Henri Hooft deserves just as much credit as Ludwig as he is getting just as impressive results to much less acclaim. Mitirione made an appeal for a spot in the Top 15 of the Heavyweight division and while he isn't quite there he is getting close to deserving that sort of recognition.
- Joe Lauzon and Michael Chiesa put one hell of fight that featured great back and forth action. Chiesa clearly had a size and strength advantage which he used very well in the clinch takedown game and was able to use his reach pretty effectively in the striking. Lauzon clearly had the advantage on the ground and in the clinch striking. Lauzon managed to open a huge cut over Chiesa's right eye that ended the fight, and while cuts are by the least exciting way to end a fight it is still a legitimate way to win a fight. It was a fantastic fight, and while the finish wasn't the best and rematch would be excellent, still a great piece of sporting combat.
- Justin Scoggins seemed to be in control on his fight with John Moraga, as pretty much the only offense Moraga had was a string of seemingly hopeless guillotine attempts. And the least threatening looking of Moraga's choke attempts actually finished the fight, it was as anti-climactic as a fight ending submission as you could find. It was a serious set back for Scoggins, who was a serious rising talent, and for Moraga it will keep him in the Top 10 has he had struggled badly in his last three fights. It was the kind of fight that left fans scratching their heads and the kind of win that got Moraga overvalued as a title contender.
- Al Iaquinta, for once, fought his fight from bell to bell and looked fantastic doing it. Against Rodrigo Damm, Iqauinta found his range for his hands, started landing volume and then slowly dialed up the violence until he had Damm hurt. He dropped Damm in the third round as he refused to get up until Dean threatened to stop the fight. And for a second it looked like Damm was going to rally but Iqauinta put him down for good in short order. Throw UFC Middleweight champion Chris Weidman freaking out in the front row in full view of the camera for his teammate, it was a solid fight and really shows that when Iaquinta sticks to his strengths he is a very good fighter.
- Rafael Natal earned a rather surprising decision over Chris Camozzi, as it appeared Camozzi had come on strong in the final two rounds to claim the fight. A poor decision that could have very well saved Natal's UFC career as he dodged a third straight loss.
- Chris Beal beat Tateki Matsuda in a clash of guys that I hesitate to call prospects as both are still fairly raw. Matsuda looked to have somewhat effective striking and despite getting a few takedowns he never actually controlled Beal for a solitary second of the fight on the ground. Beal is a physical grappler with serious room for improvement in his stand up. Neither fighter would get the label of "guy to watch" moving forward, but of the two Beal clearly has more upside.
- Chas Skelly left it all in the cage on the first fight of the evening, taking his second fight inside of two weeks. He got the win over Sean Soriano, but needed to be carried out of the cage by his team as he was so completely out of energy. Skelly was able to out grapple Soriano soundly, and there was a good deal of criticism of Soriano for his ability to disengage. To be fair to the young Brazilian, Skelly's pace was so relentless he had scant few chances to escape and by the third round the fight was already lost. Soriano's chances were not helped by Herb Dean, who is an excellent referee, but made a bad mistake by awarding Skelly a takedown despite a groin shot that lead to the takedown.
- Skelly's success, much like Cheisa's career success, really shows that in current MMA fighters who are really good at taking, the back, keeping the back, and attacking from the back can have a great deal of success. Cheisa has more of grinding, top game way of getting the back, while Skelly was transitioning to the back off leg lock attempts, both have some really nice transitional moves to that position. The fact of the matter is the majority of MMA fights not heavily brought up in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which preaches not surrendering the back, give up the back regularly in their attempts to stand up or avoid punishment as the rules limit striking from the back position. Fighters like Skelly and Cheisa have games ideally suited to take advantage of that blind spot in the current MMA metagame.
Bonus Bellator 123 Perspective
On the whole this card was a hot mess despite having a great main event and ended up being a very shaky start to the Scott Coker era of Bellator. The main card featured some star power in Muhammed Lawal, Bobby Lashley, and Cheick Kongo, but it lacked a great deal in actual martial skill. The match ups, beyond Kong vs Johnson, were huge mismatches, even by Coker Strikerforce standards, and the cherry on top was the horrid announcement of the Tito Ortiz and Stephan Bonnar fight.
The "announcement" played out like a poorly written TNA Pro Wrestling skit with a terrible reveal of Justin McCully and capped with a clearly pre-planned brawl in the cage. It was laughably bad promotion of a totally uninspired match up and dragged down the level of the entire promotion. It was a stark reminder that for all the problems the UFC are having with promoting their product, it could get worse.
That said the main event was really good, it was band aid on a gunshot wound. On to the thoughts on the fights:
- Patricio Freire finally won the Bellator Featherweight Championship with a pretty resounding decision win over Pat Curran in their much hyped rematch. It was a very solid fight that nicely demonstrated how much Pittbull Freire has grown as a fighter and how much Curran has stagnated, much like Mousasi. Curran was an out of nowhere kind of star and for a time he was reckoned a Top 5 Featherweight, and while neither Freire or Curran will be cast in that light after this fight, they are still quality top of the division guys for Bellator to work with.
- Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal got a TKO win over Dustin Jacoby, mixing up his striking and wrestling to get the finish. In the end it is a less than impressive fight as Jacoby is primarily a kickboxer who had fought his entire career at Middleweight until last night. While Lawal was able to take Jacoby down with ease he was unable to keep Jacoby down until after he hurt the kickboxer on the feet.
- Bobby Lashley got his first Bellator win against Burns. A win is a win, but Burns is 0-5 in Bellator and has never made it out of the second round, so not really anything close to quality win.
- Cheick Kongo sunk a rear naked choke against Lavar Johnson in his first submission win since he armbarred Hans Nijman in Amsterdamn back in 2003. The win moved Kongo to 4-1 in Bellator, tying him for 4th all-time for wins in Bellator Heavyweight division, and that says pretty much all you need to know.