Maybe Daniel Cormier was better off not knowing he couldn't beat Jon Jones. Maybe fans were better off not knowing. Playing over the hypothetical pitched battle in our minds, made it a much more close run thing than the actual event. That's not to say that Jones vs. Cormier was all one way traffic or a bad fight, but it was decisive. To the point that Cormier is going to have to put some serious work in to get a rematch, because right now, nobody is asking for one. Otherwise, this was not a great PPV and an otherwise alright card with some decent, interesting fights scattered across it. In the long run, however, whether you were entertained or not, there was a lot to be learned. I went 6-5 overall, with a couple poor picks, a couple surprise performances, and a couple coin flips.
Disclaimer Time: I don't bet, so this isn't a real betting guide. I can tell you, (as several have asked) that Hector Lombard being at -900 made him essentially a 1:9 favorite, meaning that for every nine dollars you put on him, he'd pay you one back. Likewise, Damm being at +500 made him a 5:1 underdog, so for every one dollar you put on Damm, you'd have gotten five back. Beyond that kind of simple math, my analysis is best left to the theoretical. I like using odds and fight picking as a way of measuring expectation and that expectation as a way of measuring development, nothing more. I'll be using BestFightOdds for the odds on each fight, and taking the mode for each fighter. With all that out of the way, lets get to the fights.
- The Expectation: I honestly feel hoodwinked here. At one time, I thought Dufresne could be a rising star at bantamweight, now I'm wondering if she's not the worst active fighter on the UFC roster. It's rare for any fighter to swing that much in public opinion, and I like to think that I'm a fairly levelheaded person when it comes to expectation. I kept waiting to see Dufresne round into form with more money and a bigger stage at stake, but that doesn't seem to have happened.
- Fallout for Dufresne: If anything, it appears that her time in the UFC has made Alexis Dufresne a worse fighter. Unless the UFC just doesn't think it can afford to give up women bantamweights right now, she's almost certainly going to be cut. You can't miss weight and lose, you just can't. Fortunately for her, the regional MMA scene is still very much a scene in development, and if she moves back to featherweight and wins a few fights, she could be in Bellator or Invicta in short order. Hopefully, the weight cut is one of her big problems. If not, she's got a long way to go before she's beating anyone but the worst fighters.
- Fallout for Reneau: Solid debut from a solid athlete with a reasonably successful blend of skills. It looks like Reneau has improved quite a bit since her time on the regionals and it seems that she's not just more technical, but in better shape as well. Her striking has gone from ugly to serviceable, and she still packs some power. Her gas tank has gone from severe liability, to fine. It's just too bad that she's not a decade younger or we might be talking about a future title threat, now it's all about how far she can get and how fast can she do it.
- The Expectation: My expectation (though not that of the betting populace) was that Akhmedov was going to start strong, fade quickly, and eventually get submitted. In a basic fight structure sort of way, I was exactly right... except for the whole getting submitted thing. I still kind of thought Nilsson might have won this fight, but not to the point that I'd complain about the score. So, in the end Akhmedov did better than I thought, but some of that may be on his opponent.
- Fallout for Akhmedov: Akhmedov is a really good athlete with some decent power striking. The thing worth noting is that he really is a very, very good athlete, a strong step above the average welterweight. It's just too bad he doesn't have more tools to make that really work for him. He hits hard and he stays aggressive, but he's heading for Tibau territory, in that if he can't get a KO early he's just going to go into grinder mode, to the point that he starts losing late. He should still be a couple years from the prime of his career, so he'll likely improve and stay a strong gatekeeper-ish type challenge at 170, but it's hard to look at him as a future top 15 talent.
- Fallout for Nilsson: He may not have the raw physical tools to make his style effective in the UFC. Nilsson is a good grappler and a decent wrestler, and a passable striker, but Akhmedov just tossed him around for much of that bout. Nilsson's frame is big enough that I don't really see him being able to drop down any further, and I'm not sure it'd give him any greater advantage, but Akhmedov gave him the opportunities he needed and Nilsson couldn't take advantage, that's a bad sign for his prospects in the UFC.
- The Expectation: Okay, I picked Damm to win this, that was stupid. But I just couldn't see myself picking Evan Dunham to really do well in a fight in the UFC right now. That was probably shortsighted, due to him facing a lot of top competition lately. So, I'll just have to live on in the knowledge that I took a very foolish line on an underdog that I thought should be closer to even money. It wasn't a blowout, really, but it wasn't all that close a fight either.
- Fallout for Damm: This is probably the end of the line for his UFC career. Damm's UFC tenure in general has been more about under-achievement than great fights. Even bouts he's won have been largely unexciting and what used to be an aggressive, submission focused game has turned more and more into a lackluster brawling style. He's lost each of his last three, and even in a division like lightweight it's hard to think of many fights he could win.
- Fallout for Dunham: This was the proof Dunham needed to the world at large, that he wasn't so much a shot fighter as an over-matched one. Dunham should be in the prime years of his career, but he's spent those years losing fights. That's a tough spot for a fighter, but a clear decision over Damm shows that, given the right match-ups, Dunham can still deliver some entertaining and competitive bouts. Hopefully this doesn't prompt a quick return for him to the top 15, but rather more of a gatekeeper role, that would suit him better.
- The Expectation: Somebody would get KO'd in the first round, or nearabouts. Probably Cannonier. This ended up being correct.
- Fallout for Cannonier: He's small for a heavyweight and he's not exceptionally skilled. I realize there have been other heavyweights, successful heavyweights, around Cannonier's size (5' 11" 235lbs). Hell I even think one such fighter is going to be the next big thing in the division. But, in general, those men have been exceptionally skilled fighters (or at least much bulkier ones). Most guys built like Cannonier are fighting at 205 or even 185 these days, and I'm wondering if that won't be his home too.
- Fallout for Jordan: He got another right-the-ship sort of win, enough to get him on a streak and start building him toward another fight with a top 15 fighter. Jordan still has talent and still has his best years ahead of him, but he needs to start showing some real development in his game. This was a good win, but didn't tell us anything new, except that he's not leaving.
- The Expectation: I expected this to be a razor close fight that Garbrandt would win. That ended up being the betting line as well, marking a pretty massive last minute shift in the odds. Eventually, Garbrandt looked even better than I thought he would, and really put together a strong showing against Brimage before eventually knocking him out.
- Fallout for Brimage: Unfortunately this puts a pretty firm cap on Brimage as a "just outside the top 15" kind of gatekeeper talent. He developed his aggression and his mechanics to the point that he's a pretty good test, and he still has the chin of a fighter in his prime, but he's just not a natural talent anywhere. Be it as a striker, grappler, or wrestler, there's nowhere Brimage can really take over a fight. Against the kind of talent that fighters like Garbrandt have, that's always going to hold him back.
- Fallout for Garbrandt: If he wasn't before, Garbrandt is now firmly pegged as a rising star. Beating a fighter like Brimage is a really big deal just two years into your pro career and it shows that fans should firmly expect to see him fighting at the top of the division, most likely within the next two years. The real interest, of course, will be seeing what he does about the wealth of Team Alpha Male fighters populating 135. Not just Faber and Dillashaw, but Caraway and Holdsworth as well. that's a lot of guys out of his gym in his way.
- The Expectation: I really, truly expected Castillo to get an ugly, grinding win here. I didn't think Felder would work in the kind of volume, or with the kind of technical ability and smoothness of delivery, that would let him get past a seasoned vet like Castillo. Instead, Felder looked more monster than man, and just stomped a mud-hole in his opponent, on the way to a second round KO.
- Fallout for Castillo: Castillo may be feeling the effects of age on his career, because I can't think of many other reasons that he'd be looking so lackluster of late. Not only has he lost his last two straight fights, but he was losing to Brenneman before he got the second round KO. I'm honestly having a little trouble remembering the last time he looked really great win or lose. At 35, and with a long amateur wrestling career already under his belt, the end of Castillio's competitive career may be knocking sooner than he'd like.
- Fallout for Felder: In counterpoint to my somewhat bleak outlook above, Felder looked amazing in this fight. I felt going in, that this was Castillo's fight to lose, and Felder would have to really show something new to win. And boy did he ever. To go from a squeaker of a split decision over Jason Saggo, to a KO of Danny Castillo is a really big deal. Felder's footwork, defensive movement and combination striking all looked great. He's a big, powerful athlete and seems to be putting those natural tools to great work.
Josh Burkman (+550) vs. Hector Lombard (-900) (I picked Lombard, I was right)
- The Expectation: I honestly figured this would be an ugly grinding decision for Hector Lombard, who tends toward ugly grinding decisions when he can't just KO his opponent. To his credit, Lombard was a bit more dominant than I might have expected, and kept things from becoming too clinch-and-grind, but it was still not a terribly thrilling performance.
- Fallout for Burkman: Not that most didn't know it already, but Burkman isn't going to be a top 15 fighter in the UFC. That's fine, and I'd argue that it was even worth finding out in a fight like this one. Now they can book him against other vets that have slipped out of contention, or the occasional hot prospect on the rise. Burkman is still a fun action fighter, he's just not an elite athlete. Lombard reinforced that fact.
- Fallout for Lombard: All wins are good wins for Lombard right now, even if they're a bit ugly like this one was. While the UFC works to keep Robbie Lawler and Johny Hendricks fighting for the rest of infinity, potential title challengers need to keep treading water. Lombard got the win here, and kept his name in that hat of guys that might fight for the belt sometime soon-ish.
- The Expectation: I had some slight reservations as to whether or not Horiguchi deserved to be this heavy a favorite going in. Mostly due to Gaudinot's tendency to strike in volume and Horiguchi, at times, suffering from a lack of constant output. Those fears were laid completely to rest, however, as Horiguchi kept Gaudinot off balance and frozen with his unpredictable movement, and lit Gaudinot up pretty much any time he chose to strike. He still didn't get close to finishing Gaudinot, but it was an easy win.
- Fallout for Gaudinot: The idea of him as any kind of ranked flyweight is definitely gone now. Gaudinot's biggest assets are his opportunistic aggression, and just his aggression in general. Against opponents that don't merely try and sit in the pocket and trade with him, he gets pretty lost pretty quick. He can still be a dangerous opponent for young rising fighters and skill focused journeymen, but he's got a lot to work on if he's going to beat any of the really talented fighters in his division.
- Fallout for Horiguchi: This was, hopefully, his real "get over" fight with fans. That bout that really tells people who haven't been paying close attention, that they should start. Horiguchi made this fight look easy, like he and Gaudinot weren't even playing the same sport. That's the kind of performance that separates the elite from the merely very good. He still has things to work on; it'd be nice if his wrestling was as dynamic as his striking, but he's got a lot of time to improve among the top of the division.
- The Expectation: A boring fight that Brad Tavares would win, because he's not 1000 in fight years... Expectation met.
- Fallout for Marquardt: Much like Damm above, things are just not working for Marquardt anymore. And when you have been fighting since 1999, like he has, the chances that they're going to start working again are slim. His win over James Te Huna (who has also been fighting a lot longer than you'd think) was nice, but it's more of a brief blip in a pretty decisive series of losses. I'm not sure that he gets cut here, since he did win last time out, and the truth is that middleweight has a enough chaff that he can still compete, but it's hard to be excited at the prospect of watching him stick around.
- Fallout for Tavares: This was a big win for Tavares, in that it maintained his status as a relevant fighter in the division. A loss here, and he'd be looking firmly at the prospect not just of falling out of the top 15, but maybe even getting released from the UFC. He's a fighter in his prime, both in age and in experience. If he's ever going to find success at the highest level, it's most likely going to be right now. This win ensured that he'd get another chance to make that happen.
- The Expectation: I honestly don't know what I expected. I picked Jury to win this, but I couldn't really imagine how (other than him fighting something unlike himself). But, I couldn't really imagine him losing either. As his movement heavy, opportunistic style made him a tough target for Cerrone's stand-n-bang offense. The end results was, that we didn't exactly get a fight. Cerrone worked him over on the ground in the first, and most of the rest was spent with very little happening, and Cerrone generally winning, because somebody had to.
- Fallout for Cerrone: Cerrone continues his slow steady march through sheer bloody-mindedness toward the UFC title. This wasn't a bout or a win that made me especially more excited to see him face Anthony Pettis (or RDA) again, but at some point his position as a challenger may become undeniable. If he gets matched up with Khabib, I can't see him winning, and it'd send him right back into the waves of fighters he can probably beat. But, in the mean time he's one injury away from a shot at the belt.
- Fallout for Jury: This was Jury's first chance at a seat at the table among the elite, and he failed. He should be just coming into the best years of his career, so no doubt he'll get another shot, but this fight showed he has a ton to work on, maybe even too much to be a true title contender. Jury's movement heavy, countering style is effective to a point, but he lacks a lot of the fine tuned skills in any one area to compete with top flight lightweights. He's a good grappler, but Cerrone showed that he's not a great one, he's a good wrestler, but not an unstoppable one, and he's an effective striker, right up until he's in against someone who really strikes well. Cerrone may have been his easiest matchup in the top 5 and Jury fell way, way short of the mark.
Jon Jones (-200) vs. Daniel Cormier (+170) (I picked Jones, I was right)
- The Expectation: This is the point where I almost wish I'd been more wrong, because I had this pretty much down to a T. My expectation was that this fight would be won and lost in the clinch, and that given Jones' size, leverage, takedown defense, and variety of offensive tools, that was a fight he'd win. I didn't factor Cormier getting tired into that, which obviously played a huge part, but it was a tiredness born of Jones' effective clinch offense.
- Fallout for Jones: Jones is now at that kind of Anderson Silva greatness, where it's no longer a question of "Is he talented?" or "Is he a great champion?" but rather, "How can anyone beat this guy?" It's incredibly hard to imagine the variety of skills that a fighter would need at this point in time to beat Jon Jones. I said it right after the fight, and I'll stick with it, I think I'd even pick him over Cain Velasquez. Jones is doing so many things right and so consistently, that it's impossible for me to imagine a fight he doesn't win.
- Fallout for Cormier: Now Cormier is firmly with "the rest" in terms of title challengers. Interestingly, because he took a pretty short path to the title, there are a lot of good fights for him. This was the first time fans had ever gotten to see Cormier fighting someone of championship caliber. Johnson, Gustafsson, even Rashad Evans and Phil Davis would all be steps up from the competition he'd faced pre-Jones, and it will be interesting to see how well he can do against the other great fighters of his division.
Those are my collected thoughts from UFC 182. As is so often the case, much of what I wrote seems terribly obvious now. But as always, that's the benefit of hindsight. Stay tuned for my next article, following UFC Boston, when I try and get a bead on just how well Conor McGregor will do against Jose Aldo. Until then!
*This week's quote courtesy of the movie Chinatown.