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Hindsight - UFC on Fox 14: Gustafsson vs. Johnson in retrospect

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He's no salesman, that's for sure... unless he's peddlin' dynamite!*

If Anthony Johnson is selling anything, it's a guarantee of action. And, at this moment, a guarantee of change. Fans went in to UFC on Fox 14 knowing (for the most part) that the world was going to remain just as they knew it. Alexander Gustafsson was the world's second best light heavyweight, and as fun as Anthony Johnson was, he was just a stepping stone back to a second shot at the champion for Sweden's homegrown star. It didn't go that way, and the MMA world is a much much different place for it. As far as picks went, I went 7-5.

Disclaimer Time: I don't gamble. And if I had, I would have won big and lost big here. There were some valuable underdogs that I picked to win, but there were some definite favorites that I was pretty sure of too. If I'd bet smart, I still would have lost on Aliev and Erokhin, but I like to think I would have put some clever bets on Seery, Bader, Johnson, and Tumenov. Eventually, I'm still penniless because I worry about the ability to lose what little money I have. I'm talking about odds and picks as a way to mark fighter development, not as a guarantee of any gambling savvy. I'll be using Best Fight Odds for the odds on each fight and taking the mode on each fighter.

Chris Beal (-210) vs. Neil Seery (+175) (I picked Seery, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Beal is a fighter who built a little surprising momentum for himself, with a flying KO in his debut win over Patrick Williams. That gave him some hype that I'm not sure his style and performances generally would have gotten him otherwise. I have to think that that, and his relative career youth, are what marked him as the favorite here, in what was otherwise not a great matchup.
  • Fallout for Beal: This is a fall to earth that's been in the making since that flying knee. Beal is primarily a boxer with some decent wrestling and submission ability, but he's not excellent at any of those things. The UFC was pushing him as a power striker, but his lack of accuracy leaves him with 3 KOs in 11 fights, and only one off the end of his fists. He needs to make big improvements in his hands for how much he likes to strike, if he doesn't he's going to hit a wall every time he takes a step up.
  • Fallout for Seery: The Irishman continues his improbable UFC roll. He's a fighter at the tail end of his prime, but changes in weight and training may be keeping him fighting better longer. He's a very easy fighter to root for and has a very fan friendly style. Even if an extended stay in the top 10 probably isn't in the cards, he should be the kind of action fighter everyone is happy to see booked for an event.

Mirsad Bektic (-900) vs. Paul Redmond (+600) (I picked Bektic, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Barring a miracle submission, Bektic was supposed to stomp Redmond. The fact that Redmond appeared to have a really poor weight cut only compounded that feeling.
  • Fallout for Bektic: Unfortunately, while he did beat Redomond to a pulp, he didn't do so in a way that's going to spark highlight reel hype. And that's coming from someone who got pretty tired pretty quick of hearing Joe Rogan say as much on the broadcast. It is what it is. This was a "cage time" fight for Bektic. He got rounds in, did work, took no damage, and can move forward easily.
  • Fallout for Redmond: He's in the door of the UFC, and that's certainly important for a fighter looking to take the next step in his career. But now, his next fight will put him in a position where he has everything to prove. It's not a major setback that he lost here, even badly, but it's a wake-up call. Redmond responded by quitting his other job and training full time, hopefully that helps make his next camp better.

Konstantin Erokhin (-400) vs. Viktor Pesta (+325) (I picked Erokhin, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Oh, tragedy! Oh, pure and unconditional disappointment!... I'm not happy about this. But, past the wallowing, obviously I expected Erokhin to win and win big. Instead he lost, and lost ugly. If he'd gotten the KO in 30 seconds, like it looked like he would, I wouldn't be despairing right now. But he didn't and, for me, that sucks.
  • Fallout for Erokhin: He's been shown he needs to make a change. There's a possibility that his bad performance was just down to "octagon jitters" and the accompanying adrenaline dump. But, more than that, he needs to really work hard on his defensive wrestling. With his power and boxing skill, he doesn't need much to be a very very good heavyweight, but he has to be able to keep fighters off him and that means not gassing, and not giving up easy takedowns.
  • Fallout for Pesta: He's now proven that he has one of the biggest things he'll need to succeed at HW over the long term: A chin. Fighting at heavyweight is all about power and resiliency. Pesta has one of those in order, and the youth and camp to work on developing the other. It will be interesting to see how far he goes, but just being the tougher man should get him past much of the lowest rung at heavyweight.

Anthony Christodoulou (+700) vs. Mairbek Taisumov (-1200) (I picked Taisumov, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Christodoulou was coming in to get beat up. Taisumov has shown a tendency to let less technical fighters hang around with him in the past, but unless he just didn't want to fight Christodoulou at all, there wasn't any reason to expect anything other than a beating here.
  • Fallout for Christodoulou: I assume he's dropping to featherweight after this, where he'll be huge. That may be some help, as he's got a bullying style and some reasonably fast hands. But most of his game is so underdeveloped that it's hard to see a clear path for him to make big strides. His next fight out, on a full camp, at a lower weight class should tell us a lot about his future potential.
  • Fallout for Taisumov: He got the win he was supposed to get and he did it the way he was supposed to do it. Unfortunately for Roger Huerta, I'm not at all convinced that Taisumov is "the next GSP," but he's a reasonably technical action fighter and should be a tough matchup for most of the lightweight division.

Nikita Krylov (-125) vs. Stanislav Nedkov (+110) (I picked Nedkov, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Really and truly, there wasn't one. I picked Nedkov to win, because his style has been basic, but stable and much easier to bank on than Karate kicks and fast hands, which is about all that Krylov has shown, apart from an ungodly toughness. Still reports of training improvements for the Ukrainian, and a long injury layoff for Stucky made this an impossible fight to judge going in.
  • Fallout for Krylov: He looked way, way better. He said pre-fight, that he'd spent time in Lithuania, working with the wrestling team, and he looked like a dramatically different fighter in this bout. He's been a bit of a punchline for much of his UFC career, but he has the youth, toughness, and athletic ability to be much better than he has been and it looks like his camp change is a big shift in the right direction. Given how thin 205 is, he could be a ranked fighter by next year.
  • Fallout for Nedkov: That's a rough way to come back after two years on the sidelines, and the fact that his knee was still bandaged doesn't leave me a lot of hope for his future. He's been a decent, workmanlike fighter in the past, but if he's lost a step he may not have much to offer, even in a division where "not much to offer" is practically a motto.

Makwan Amirkhani (+145) vs. Andy Ogle (-175) (I picked Ogle, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: I picked Ogle here, and if I had it to do all over again, I might pick him all over again.... Well, maybe not. But still, Amirkhani has rarely looked as good as he made himself look in 8 seconds in the UFC, so it was a major shock when he hit that flying knee that put Ogle on rubber legs. It wasn't a huge upset, but it was a pretty remarkable UFC debut.
  • Fallout for Amirkhani: On the back of that debut my opinion of Amirkhani is pretty divided. On the one hand, he's shown flashes of high athletic potential, and he's moving to a camp that could really hone that potential into something beyond brief flashes. On the other, it has that feeling of the Chris Beal KO of Patrick Williams that I mentioned earlier. It's a great highlight, but is he setting a standard he can't meet? It's not something I've seen in him before, so I'll be watching for that kind of ability next time out, no question.
  • Fallout for Ogle: He's almost certainly gone, and the unfortunate truth is that, more and more, FW has become no place for a less than sterling athlete that works really hard. It's a division that seems to be bringing on more top talent by the day, and prospects like Amirkhani are feeling like more the norm than an extreme outlier. I like watching Ogle fight, but at this point he may find better career success outside the UFC.

Sultan Aliev (-180) vs. Kenny Robertson (+150) (I picked Aliev, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: I really thought Aliev had this in the bag, to the point that I would probably have bet on him, as at as good odds as -172. His level of physicality and general wrestling and scrambling skill seemed like they'd make him a bad matchup for Robertson over three rounds. I really didn't bank on Robertson improving the way he has, but he showed some better striking, and made Aliev pay for his more smoke than fire offense.
  • Fallout for Aliev: In terms of personal hype, that derails quite a bit of my interest in Aliev. In terms of broader public perception, he most likely didn't lose much, but now finds himself in the territory of having to win his next fight, (especially if he got a better than entry level deal to the UFC). He's still young enough and talented enough to improve, but he's not going to fast track to the top levels of 170.
  • Fallout for Robertson: Quietly, Robertson has become a fighter that delivers in almost every fight. His technical wrestling, along with his improved striking and strength and conditioning are inching him into a new status, maybe not as an action fighter, but as a reliable gatekeeper who not only tests prospects on their way up, but does so in a way fans tend to enjoy. Top 15 still feels out of reach, but suddenly being in the top 25-30 doesn't.

Nicholas Musoke (+135) vs. Albert Tumenov (-155) (I picked Tumenov, I was right)

  • The Expectation: I feel like I was more hoping that Tumenov would win than I was sure that he would. The first round gave grounding to my fears, as Musoke showed his ability to use tenacity and aggression to great effect. He beat Tumenov to the punch regularly, and kept on his bike just enough to not get cornered and countered. But, eventually Tumenov found his timing and his range, and really put on a show.
  • Fallout for Musoke: He was something of a darkhorse fighter in the tight run to be ranked at 170lbs, even after his loss to Kelvin Gastelum. This puts a much more definitive ceiling on him right now. Signs point to the idea that he should be hitting the prime of his career, and against more technical or more athletic fighters, he's falling just short. He's still a fun action fighter, but he may not be able to turn that into being an elite fighter.
  • Fallout for Tumenov: This was a must win fight for Tumenov if he wants to climb the rankings fast. He's an undeniable talent, and I don't doubt that he could get to the top 15, even if it takes him a while, but a win like this will expedite that rise. It's puts a lot more faith in his ability to overcome tough pressure fighters, and win even when he can't get exactly the fight he wants. Hopefully that continues as I'm sure he wont get an easy fight next time out.

Akira Corassani (-130) vs. Sam Sicilia (+105) (I picked Corassani, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: I really waffled a lot on this. I took Corassani because I've just seen so little I like from Sicilia over his time in the UFC. But, that was obviously a mistake. I could even sense it going in, that it would really only take one good shot for Corassani to go down, and that ended up being the truth.
  • Fallout for Corassani: He's retired, or at least intimated as much. That's a great decision if he follows through on it, as it's almost always a great decision to stop fighting people in a cage for money.
  • Fallout for Sicilia: He stays alive as an action fighter of interest. Sicilia has yet to show any of the consistency necessary to make a run at 145, but he has enough physical tools and raw toughness to make fights fun consistently. As long as he's winning, the UFC will be happy to keep throwing interesting fights at him.

Ryan Bader (+170) vs. Phil Davis (-200) (I picked Bader, I was right-ish)

  • The Expectation: I'm not saying I thought Bader winning was a sure thing, but I thought his path to victory was a lot clearer. For Davis to win it, he'd have to make this fight really ugly and boring. And he did, and by my scorecards he still didn't win it. He may have outlanded Ryan Bader, but most of the big moments of offense belonged to his opponent. At that point, I'm happy to see the fighter landing the more meaningful shots win.
  • Fallout for Bader: He's now in that group, alongside Davis and OSP, and maybe Teixeira and Evans, drifting in and out of the 4 and 5 spots in the UFC rankings. He's in the prime of his career, and that prime has put him near the very peak of his division. It may not win him a title, but in a division extremely thin on challengers, he's made himself a fighter of interest.
  • Fallout for Davis: Rumor has it that Davis' UFC deal may have run out on this loss and that a re-signing is questionable. I don't know that that rumor is true, but if so it's a hell of a fallout for a top tier fighter. LHW is incredibly thin on guys that can compete at a high level, let alone contend for a belt. Phil Davis is still a fighter competing at a high level.

Dan Henderson (+325) vs. Gegard Mousasi (-500) (I picked Mousasi, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Ugly bad things in a fight nobody really needed.
  • Fallout for Henderson: He still wants to fight, so his grim, determined march to more ugly fights continues. Who he faces from here on out, I have no idea. Mark Munoz might be fun, or the loser of Nick Diaz vs Anderson Silva if they want to keep promoting his name. I'm not terribly interested to be honest.
  • Fallout for Mousasi: He got a "stay busy" win. That's good. He's a top tier fighter and he should be staying busy right now. Hopefully they can figure out another top tier fighter to face him soon, maybe Costas Philippou when he returns. Either way, this win didn't really say anything big for Mousasi, beyond that he should be fighting opponents closer to his level.

Alexander Gustafsson (-300) vs. Anthony Johnson (+215) (I picked Johnson, I was right)

  • The Expectation: I picked Anthony Johnson, so I get to pretend now, that that's what I saw coming all along. No lies, it was a flight of fancy. I knew the cards were stacked against him, but the way he's been fighting lately inspires a certain kind of blind faith in me. Lucky for my ego he kept on that roll and totally demolished Gustafsson in the first.
  • Fallout for Gustafsson: What a setback. What a soul crushing loss, at home, in front of a nation there to watch him win. He's still one fight away from a title shot. There's no question that a win over DC, or maybe even Bader or OSP would put him at the top of the list for another crack at Jones, but this loss may have rattled his faith in his own abilities a bit. It certainly looked that way post fight. If that's the case, who knows what the fallout could be?
  • Fallout for Johnson: A shot at the title. After long years of competing, and some time out in the MMA wastelands, Johnson has ascended to the peak of the mountain and will get his chance at UFC gold. He's earned the shot, he's got the talent. I wont bet on him to win, because I can't bet against Jones, but I'm damned excited to watch him try.

Those are my collected thoughts from UFC on Fox 14. As always, so much of what I wrote seems obvious now. But, that's the benefit of hindsight. Stay tuned for next week, when I'll be talking about why Anderson Silva is still better than Nick Diaz. Until then!

*This week's quote courtesy of the movie Bad Day at Black Rock