One of the benefits of being a truly elite talent in combat sports, is that you get to re-write the game. Conor McGregor does some things the right way, some things the wrong way, but more to the point, he does them his own way. And his own way is very successful. Will it be "championship" successful... Who can say? The dividing line between champion and contender in most title fights is razor thin, and Jose Aldo is one hell of a champion. Still, I think it's a fight almost everyone wants to see at this point, and McGregor's win over Siver was the perfect appetizer to that main course. It also saved a UFC card that was otherwise not all that much fun (not bad, just not that fun). I went 8-4 on fight picks for the night, with a couple of bad decisions and a couple of surprising performances.
Disclaimer Time: Gambling is a really big part of fight sports, but it's also not really my thing. I don't like to lose money and one of the main standbys of gambling is that you always lose money. I realize that there are those out there skilled enough to still come out ahead in the long run, but I don't have a ton of faith that I'd be one of them. Long story short, I don't gamble, I just use odds as a way of talking about fighter development and expectations, especially in the wake of a fight. I'll be using Best Fight Odds for the numbers and taking the mode on each fighter. Now... on to the fights.
- The Expectation: Zaromskis had reached the higher highs in his career, but he's been reaching the lower depths lately. Even in his wins, the fire hasn't seemed to be there for the "Whitemare" and without that fire, and with a body clearly breaking down, the expectation was that Gonzalez, as inauspicious an opponent as he is, would work him over. Zaromskis kept it close for a bit, but eventually wilted under the barrage of a more consistent striker.
- The Fallout: I don't know that Zaromskis is quite done in Bellator. At the moment, they seem to be a promotion looking for names, and for what it's worth, Zaromskis still has some name value, is still known for putting on exciting fights. He may be banished back to a more regional circuit, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him get booked again either. For Gonzalez, he's getting that late career push that an org like Bellator can provide. He's been around a long time, but by virtue of longevity and a high output striking style, he's found a home late in the game. Now it's just how far he can go, and how much Bellator can reasonably build him.
- The Expectation: That we'd see a bout just as close and ugly as the first time around, which is more or less what we got.
- The Fallout: Much like Zaromskis, I don't know that a loss is necessarily the death of Houston Alexander. But, an ugly takedown-dependent fighting style is definitely not why they brought him on board. On the other side, Virgil Zwicker lives to ride another day. He said, before the fight, that he wanted to finish out his career in Bellator, but I think the longevity of that career is very dependent on him winning fights. A win here probably means another booking down the road.
- The Expectation: I realize that Jenkins was the betting favorite, almost certainly built on name value alone, but if he'd won this fight it would have been a pretty huge upset to me. Karakhanyan is a very skilled fighter in the prime of his career. Jenkins is a young prospect, and he's coming along nicely, but he hasn't yet advanced to the point where picking him to win a fight like this seemed reasonable.
- The Fallout: Karakhanyan's move to Bellator is doing him wonders. One win over a too-green fighter and he's booked for a title shot. While there are other men looking out for that shot too, I don't really have any problems with Karakhanyan getting it. Bellator has a lot of fighters looking to stay busy. And with them only running 16 events a year, keeping the champions busy is hugely important. As for Jenkins, this was a predictable loss, born of his own aggression. Nothing to derail him in the long term, just an expectable bump in the road.
Patricio Freire (-230) vs. Daniel Straus (+190) (I picked Straus I was wrong)
- The Expectation: I really, honestly thought that Straus was going to take this fight. And, through the first couple rounds, it looked like those expectations might be justified. While he wasn't the more skilled man in the cage, his combination of size, aggression, and consistent output really caused Freire a lot of trouble. It didn't hurt either that both men made it a really dirty fight, keeping the pace and tension high throughout. Eventually, Straus' problems with fading late came back to bite him again, and Freire picked up a decent, if not awe inspiring win.
- The Fallout: Freire's time as champion continues and while I'm interested in seeing Karakhanyan fight him for the title, I have to say that I think it's a better matchup for Freire than Straus was. Karakhanyan is a more technical fighter, but can't quite push around and bully Freire the way Straus could. For Straus, this isn't quite his moment of reckoning. He's 2-3 in Bellator when a title (tournament or otherwise) is on the line, but he's still early enough in his career to learn, adjust, and win enough fights to get back to the belt. With the consistency at which he stays busy, I'd expect to see him back out there again soon.
- The Expectation: Joby Sanchez was definitely the talent to watch in what was expected to be a "learning curve" bout for him. That was essentially what we got out of it. Sanchez wasn't dominant, but he got the job done and kept himself on track to be an interesting fighter in the future of the flyweight division.
- Fallout for Matsuda: Unfortunately, this does kind of establish a very low ceiling for Matsuda. This was his second bout against a promising, but very beatable opponent and while he's put forth valiant efforts, losing to the low end of flyweight and bantamweight isn't likely to get you a lot of call-backs. Eventually a lack of dynamic offense or consistent wrestling may leave him doomed to Fight Pass fodder, if not back to the regional scene.
- Fallout for Sanchez: Another notch in the belt for a developing fighter. He's obviously got the athletic ability to work his way up the division, but his game isn't refined enough, especially in the basic technical aspects of striking, where Matsuda gave him hell (when both men were fresh). These are problems he'll have to solve on his way up the ladder, and fights like this should help show him what those problems are.
Sean O'Connell (-240) vs. Matt Van Buren (+175) (I picked O'Connell, I was right)
- The Expectation: I was expecting an ugly back and forth brawl, with the better chin and more consistent offensive output taking it. To that extent, I was pretty shocked by what a heavy favorite O'Connell was coming in. I think that was more to do with people not being able to find a good reason to pick Van Buren.
- Fallout for Van Buren: This is the kind of ugly loss that may lead to him being shown the door by the UFC. Well, perhaps not... The LHW division is thin enough that even warm bodies have value, but Van Buren's stock is at rock bottom after a loss like this. It's almost too bad, too, as Van Buren did look better in this fight. His kicks were more crisp, his hands faster, his footwork more consistent. But he hasn't stopped leaving his head way up on a pole where anyone can catch it and his lapses in defense are large enough to make not tucking his chin a major failing. Hard to get an easier opponent lined up for him, hard to pick him to win a fight in the UFC.
- Fallout for O'Connell: This felt very much like a "must win" fight for O'Connell. Thus far he's gone 0-2 in the UFC and while those bouts haven't necessarily been boring they haven't been great either. O'Connell has the ability to be a fun, brawling gatekeeper for young fighters on the rise. But, a big part of being a gatekeeper is winning fights and this was his first under Zuffa.
- The Expectation: I was pretty willing to chalk up Rosa being the betting favorite to challenger bias, leftover from his last bout against Dennis Siver. Frankly, I didn't think he would match up all that well with Soriano. And perhaps, in a more perfect world, he wouldn't have. Instead, Soriano was content to engage with Rosa for long periods of time on the ground, especially as he became more tired, and Rosa eventually made him pay with a submission.
- Fallout for Rosa: Personally, I think this was a pretty big win for Rosa, as it really puts him in a good place to improve over the long term. Now 1-1 with a submission under his belt and two exciting fights, he has some room to really work on expanding and improving his game. He's an amazingly inexperienced fighter, which means there's a lot of room to round out his skills. He's with a good camp to do it, so now I'm just hoping to see a little improvement each time out.
- Fallout for Soriano: While I generally love his skills and athleticism, Soriano is at the point where getting cut from the UFC may be what's best. he's now 0-3 and mental errors and grappling deficiencies are becoming a big problem. The best thing may be to get back to the regional scene and work on rebuilding his confidence while he works out the kinks in his grappling and cardio.
- The Expectation: If I'm being truthful, I wasn't as impressed with Case's UFC debut as perhaps I should have been. His TKO victory over Kazuki Tokudome showed a nice inside boxing game, but it also showed some problems with takedown defense, problems I thought would haunt him against Frankie Perez. While Perez did get a takedown right out of the gate, it was his only one of the fight, and Case dominated from there on out.
- Fallout for Case: Consider me sold. Johnny Case may only be 25, but at 6 years in as a pro he's looking like a very complete fighter. He strikes well, with speed, accuracy and power, and in this bout he showed that he can consistently out wrestle and outwork an opponent on the mat. Given his experience, he's a fighter I'd like to see the UFC fast track a little, maybe matching him up with someone like Chad Laprise, or Alan Patrick when he returns.
- Fallout for Perez: This was a really rough loss in his UFC debut. While I expected that Perez wouldn't have the advantage standing, I didn't think he'd look quite so lost on his feet. And then when he got the fight to the canvas, where he tends to do his best work, he was thoroughly out hustled and out maneuvered. That's a bad sign, and pumps the brakes hard on any interest I have in Perez as a potential rising talent.
- The Expectation: The betting lines and pundits were in agreement that Holohan was most likely getting a setup fight to look good in front of a partisan Boston crowd. That ended up being the result, as Howell was thoroughly outclassed, but not quite in the dominating fashion that may have been hoped for.
- Fallout for Holohan: After suffering a bad loss to Chris Kelades last time out, winning had to be the first and most important thing for Holohan here. His debut win put him on the map for a lot of fans, and his last fight was a major reality check on his potential as an elite level flyweight. He got the win he was expected to here, but the feeling can't be helped that an opportunity to really show that elite talent again went by the wayside. Not the kind of performance that separates him from the rest of the pack.
- Fallout for Howell: It's an unfortunate thing to say, but Howell just doesn't seem to have the physical ability to compete in the UFC. He seems out-muscled and slow even at 125 lbs and got thoroughly worked over by a beatable opponent in Holohan. Much like LHW, Howell may stay around as a sounding board for other young fighters due to the small size of his division, but that looks like about the end of it.
- The Expectation: Given the odds, and Wade's UFC debut, I think it's not unreasonable to say that Wade was expected to really show off against Zhang in this bout. Instead it served more as a reminder that against big, physical lightweights, Wade doesn't have the dynamic tools to really take over a fight. Eventually, as Zhang got tired the fight got more one-sided, but it wasn't the showcase it maybe should have been.
- Fallout for Wade: So while some of the hype may be slowed down, it's still a win. And in a division like lightweight, staying on the winning path is more important than anything. There will be time to impress later, just win today. Still, he's got to work on getting more comfortable with his hands. Zhang is kind of a lumbering beast, tangling up with him over and over seemed like the hardest path to victory.
- Fallout for Zhang: TUF China fighters are going to carry something of an unfortunate burden, that of being put in a place to prove their worth, every time out. He's the product of a Zuffa experiment that already seems kind of dead in the water, at which point the UFC may not be that interested in keeping him on if he's not winning. This fight won't get him cut, but it may have put him in a less tenable position.
- The Expectation: While the betting lines were close, and Howard has a lot of the tools that have troubled Larkin before, I really expected Larkin to get a solid win here. That he was able to do so in such quick and stunning fashion was still shocking, even if I was picking him to win. After all, it wasn't that long ago, that Howard won a narrow decision over a not dissimilar MW talent in Uriah Hall.
- Fallout for Howard: This may be the first big sign that he's starting to slow down a bit. Howard has been around a pretty long time, and been through some hard fights along the way. This is the first time since 2007 that he's been KO'd and now puts him on a 3 fight losing streak. That may be the end to his UFC tenure (although it's hard to tell these days), but more importantly it could be a sign that he's not keeping up with elite competition anymore.
- Fallout for Larkin: He had to win this fight. Larkin is younger, is in the middle of his prime, and has shown athletic gifts that few other fighters have. If he'd lost to Howard, the UFC would almost certainly have cut him, leaving him looking for another organization that would support a potentially elite talent on a 4 fight losing streak. Such things aren't always easy to come by. He looked good in his new division. And while I don't know that he'll ever fight with the consistency to be a top ranked welterweight, he should hopefully be able to put forth consistently entertaining fights.
- The Expectation: I was really looking for a big performance out of Spencer in this fight. And I almost got one in the first, when he had Pendred rocked and in trouble, but Pendred has shown himself to be tough as hell to put away, and Spencer's style looked... ugly. So ugly in fact, that judges decided to give Pendred an ugly decision that he probably didn't deserve.
- Fallout for Spencer: He's not going to get cut off this loss, so it's hard to feel as sorry as perhaps I should for him. Mostly its because, if anything, he looked worse in this bout (and in his last one) than he had early in his UFC career. Spencer seems to be trying to plant his feet and throw with more power, and it's giving him something of a wading, off-balance style. I'll be watching his next bout with interest, because if he can't right the ship technically, he may end up sinking.
- Fallout for Pendred: Pendred is one of those rare fighters in MMA (and they do pop up) that win purely by virtue of being tough as hell. Nothing he does is pretty, but he does it consistently and he always makes his opponent look as bad or worse than he is. And while it's not a joy to watch, it's winning him fights. Eventually, he'll take a step up and face someone who can really hurt him, and some of that aura will go away, but in the meantime, he's going to be a guy nobody wants to fight.
- The Expectation: As is obvious above, I took Parke even as the underdog, just with the expectation that he'd have the style to beat Tibau at his own game. In retrospect, that was a stupid thing to do and Tibau did as he always does, starting strong and fading late, en-route to a split decision win.
- Fallout for Parke: His first loss in the UFC may end up being something of a wakeup, that Parke needs more than technical infighting and takedown defense to ascend in the rankings. He's got a good basic tool set for MMA, but very little power or finishing ability. And when it came to who pushes who around in the clinch, he couldn't move Tibau at all. It's Parke's first shot at becoming a ranked fighter, and he'll get more, but this laid bare his lack of power.
- Fallout for Tibau: There really isn't any. He's been around longer than dirt and is twice as tough. He's that "level boss," forever waiting on the same platform, right before the game gets really hard. This fight doesn't move him up to a new platform, but it certainly doesn't knock him off either.
Uriah Hall (-1000) vs. Ron Stallings (+600) (I picked Hall, I was right)
- The Expectation: Stallings was brought in on short notice to keep Hall on the card. The odds were ridiculously high for as fraught as Hall's UFC career has been, and Stalling briefly made that a point of interest by tagging Hall a few times. Eventually though, probability evened out, and the guy coming in on short notice against a better athlete, with a difficult style to prepare for, got hit with a hard shot forcing the cut stoppage.
- Fallout for Hall: This was just what he needed, and made doubly so by his smart call out of Costas Philippou. Hall winning is good for UFC business and of course good for Uriah Hall business. The Philippou fight makes a lot of sense, in that it's a very legit bout against a top 15 opponent, but one that he can potentially beat. Getting a win like this may not mean much on paper, but it's a good way to keep his confidence high and rebuild his image as an exciting fighter.
- Fallout for Stallings: He played his part and lost in a bout that nobody expected him to win. On a week's notice, that doesn't mean much. He's got a good technical style for a middleweight division lacking a lot of technique, so it'll be interesting to see what he can do next time out with a better camp.
Donald Cerrone (+115) vs. Benson Henderson (-135) (I picked Cerrone, I was kinda right)
- The Expectation: I don't know what I expected. I picked Cerrone to win. His momentum just seemed undeniable going into the bout. But that's not to say that he's looked unbeatable lately, just winning. Always winning. It was just easier to see a path for Cerrone to pick up another win, than for Henderson to beat him. I scored the bout for Cerrone, so I'm comfortable he deserved the win. But, I realize I'm pretty alone in that feeling.
- Fallout for Henderson: It seems that he has hit the eventual rough patch of always facing elite competition, always. Guys are starting to figure him out a little, and he's not getting many chances to regain composure going from Pettis to Thomson to Khabilov to Dos Anjos to Cerrone. I'd still put him in the thick of it at the top of 155, but a step back, a chance to showcase a little might be good for him.
- Fallout for Cerrone: He's said that he wants to take a break before his next big fight, and that may be best after an incredibly short turnaround. Cerrone tried to play it off that his fight with Myles Jury left him in fine condition to beat Henderson, but after the fight he was quick to bring up that there were things he just couldn't do, because his body was getting beat up. Henderson put a lot of leather on him, and with Pettis booked and Nurmagomedov injured, spending some time waiting may be a good idea, lest he fight himself out of title contention.
Conor McGregor (-1000) vs. Dennis Siver (+650) (I picked McGregor, I was right)
- The Expectation: A brutal beating, to which the odds were perfectly in tune.
- Fallout for Siver: I like Dennis Siver. I think he's a good fighter. But, I don't think he got hard done by here. One of the amazing things about combat sports is that they really lay bare the ability to be a very good competitor and still nowhere near the truly elite of your field. Siver is a very good fighter... but he's just nowhere near where McGregor is right now. This shouldn't knock him out of the rankings, perhaps, but it's hard to see him as a top ten fighter in the division right now.
- Fallout for McGregor: Nothing we didn't already know. Mostly that McGregor is much much better than the rank and file at 145. So is Chad Mendes, so is Frankie Edgar, so is Jose Aldo. Can McGregor beat any of them? That remains to be seen. But, he certainly deserves to be in their company.
*This week's quote courtesy of the film Casino.