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Hindsight - UFC 192: Cormier vs. Gustafsson in retrospect

All I know is, you've got to get mad. You've got to say, "I'm a human being, goddamn it. My life has value."*

I'm not saying it was anger that drove Daniel Cormier through that fight. By the end of it he seemed to have nothing but gratitude for Gustafsson for pushing him to the limits of his physical potential. But, it does feel like Cormier is making a statement as to his value in the light heavyweight division. While Jon Jones has been away, most of the talk about the belt itself has been centered around, how long before Jones gets it back? But, lurking behind all that talk is the fact that Cormier has undeniably ensconced himself as the division's champion. He may still lose to Jones in the future. But, until he does, he's beat the two other best light heavyweights in the sport and built value that sets him apart in his own right.

Disclaimer Time: So, I didn't do great on this card. In part because it was really well booked, and with a well booked card with a lot of close fights, I tend to get a little more whimsical. That too is one of the great reasons I don't gamble, because I enjoy picking things and getting them wrong. It allows me to learn more, grants me more enjoyment from surprise outcomes. I don't think I'd have that enjoyment if money was on the line. So, I use odds as a way of recording general expectations, which along with my own, create the narrative of a fighter's career from one bout to the next. I'm using Odds Shark for the odds on each fight and taking the mode for each fighter. Now, on to the fights:

Derrick Lewis (+150) vs. Viktor Pesta (-175) (I picked Pesta, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: We all knew how this fight was going to go. Derrick Lewis was going to throw a few left high kicks and then wade into the pocket behind several thunderous right hands. If he didn't KO Pesta early (and it seemed a bit unlikely that he would), he'd get dragged to the ground, roughed up a bit, and either TKO'd via exhaustion, or submitted. This seemed like a reasonable thing to know.
  • Fallout for Lewis: Maybe it's too much to say that this was a career rejuvenating moment for Lewis, but it feels that way. All of his wins were over fighters now outside the UFC and the one time he couldn't get that early KO, he lost and lost badly. Pesta didn't go down easy and outworked him early, but Lewis rallied and showed a more patient, cleaner style than ever before to get the win. He's only 30, and his career is relatively young, if he can keep advancing his game he could be a much more interesting talent for the division.
  • Fallout for Pesta: As big a win as this was for Lewis, it was a terrible loss for Pesta. He had this fight going exactly the way he wanted early and got nothing done with it. He's showing himself to be a solid positional fighter who can wrestle a bit and clinch pretty well, but his actual damaging offense is near anemic. He needs to figure out better ways to hurt people, because heavyweight is a tough division to try and outpoint them, especially when you're not a technical standout anywhere. He has lots of time, but lots of work to do too.

Chris Cariaso (+170) vs. Sergio Pettis (-200) (I picked Cariaso, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: So, why did I pick Chris Cariaso? He's not a notably better grappler, or striker. He's smaller, he's getting older, he doesn't hit as hard. Mostly my thinking revolved around a complete distrust for all the core elements of Pettis' game, and a feeling that Cariaso could find enough problem areas often enough to win. He took the third round, but I don't know if I feel vindicated for it.
  • Fallout for Cariaso: He's always been a slow starter, but lately it seems like he's slowed to a crawl. Cariaso was something of a fringe top fighter, depending on toughness, a well rounded game, and consistency to out point opposition. But at a division like flyweight, there's very little physical margin for error. If he's starting to slow down, he's going to find himself getting beat more and more by fighters he could previously handle.
  • Fallout for Pettis: A must win fight  got a must win result for Sergio. And when you consider how much his back may have been up against the wall, Cariaso was a tough draw. Unfortunately the third round took away what shine this might have built toward making Pettis a real evolving threat in the division (although it did get him ranked), but getting the win keeps him in the conversation of improving talent whose ceiling is yet to be determined.

Sage Northcutt (-450) vs. Francisco Trevino (+350) (I picked Northcutt, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Fully expected Northcutt to blitz Trevino out of the building here. Northcutt fights with a young man's confidence and Trevino looked out of shape and set up to fall.
  • Fallout for Northcutt: He did the job that was put in front of him. Most notably to build hype. This was a showcase fight to get him in front of fans and to start getting fans talking about him. The UFC looks like they're really investing in his future. So, I'd expect to see a lot more of him, and maybe a few more fights like this. As for what it means? He's a great athlete, with great aggression, and some great basic tools. Where that takes him is too early to say yet.
  • Fallout for Trevino: I assume he's getting cut. If not, the UFC will probably feed him to another really promising talent next time, then cut him. He's just not made for this level of competition and it appears he's being booked for showcase losses.

Angela Hill (+211) vs. Rose Namajunas (-250) (I picked Namajunas, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Namajunas may not be a complete, champion caliber fighter yet, but she's still on the trajectory of a hot prospect. Most notably her aggression and her grappling, coupled with her athletic ability, make her a real danger to most of her division. Because Angela Hill hadn't shown herself to be a savvy enough grappler or wrestler, and hadn't shown the consistent output to keep an opponent at bay, it seemed like a pretty easy pick to take Namajunas by early sub. Even the standing RNC seemed likely, as Rose's back take game is better than her wrestling.
  • Fallout for Hill: She needs time, and training, and lots of both. She's a good athlete. She has a reasonable skill base to build on, but she's being rushed into fights against much better, more developed fighters. She can and likely will be good sometime in the future, but it may take years to get there. If the UFC isn't careful booking her, she'll have to get there in the regionals.
  • Fallout for Namajunas: I don't want to say this doesn't do good things for her, but it may not do "great" things for "Thug Rose." Mostly, because getting a highlight reel win like this didn't prove a lot for the technical side of her game, but it continues the hype behind her that could easily see her pushed into a top contenders fight in the next year. That may inevitably need to happen, just to send the ranking panel down to earth a bit. Namajunas is very good, but when she's fought top competition, she's lost. She's not a true contender yet.

Islam Makhachev (-130) vs. Adriano Martins (+110) (I picked Makhachev, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Because Martins is typically not a high output striker and doesn't have a history of KOing good competition it seemed reasonable to think that Makhachev's aggression, southpaw stance, and complex wrestling game would give Martins enough problems to shut down most of his already low output offense... Or, you know, not that.
  • Fallout for Makhachev: Well, he's a great prospect, he's just not Khabib Nurmagomedov. And that's fine. Khabib has a rare set of athletic gifts of speed, power, and toughness that few fighters are going to rival. Even saying that, it took Khabib six years to angle himself for a title shot. Makhachev has to improve his striking, but he's got the right environment to do it. He just needs more time.
  • Fallout for Martins: Since we're all about hindsight and seeing the error of our ways here, there's no reason Martins should ever have been booked for this fight. After Khabilov he needed to be fighting top 15 level opponents, people who were already extremely proven in the UFC. If the UFC isn't doing that going forward, then they are wasting a late blooming talent fighting at his best right now.

Alan Jouban (+230) vs. Albert Tumenov (-275) (I picked Tumenov, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Jouban is a really decent, fun fighter, but he has no problem with getting hit on the regular. Taking a couple punches to give one back isn't the worst idea when you're faster, more technical, and hit harder than your opponent. But, when that guy is Albert Tumenov? I just couldn't bring myself to see any way that Jouban was going to be able to attack Tumenov without eating a lot of leather in return. Considering he'd been hurt in three of his four UFC fights already, it also seemed very likely that Tumenov would knock him out.
  • Fallout for Jouban: It's not like Jouban's spot on the roster is in danger. He's still 3-2 in the UFC and won two in a row coming into this fight. But, this feels like a really meaningful crossroads loss for him. The fighters he's losing to are guys with his same amount of experience, these are fighters that can and should progress right along with him. The Tumenov that has his number right now could just as easily have his number 3 years from now. Hopefully he can make changes to give himself a better competitive edge, otherwise he may be relegated to the role of fun action fighter.
  • Fallout for Tumenov: On the flip side, Tumenov has now got to the point of his career where he's not just beating good fighters, he's dominating them completely. That's the mark of an elite talent in the sport. Hopefully the UFC is willing to give him a push and get him a top 15 opponent to face that he matches well with, if not, we might just have to see him KO a couple more guys quick.

Daniel Hooker (+225) vs. Yair Rodriguez (-270) (I picked Rodriguez, I was right)

  • The Expectation: There were some reasonable voices out there saying that Hooker would give Rodriguez some real trouble, and I can understand why they thought that. Hooker is more technical and consistent just about everywhere, and is tough as an old boot. But, he's also way at the low end of athleticism in the UFC, where Rodriguez is way at the high end. That's such a huge hurdle to overcome, that I couldn't really picture Hooker doing it.
  • Fallout for Hooker: He's not a bad fighter and his toughness and well-rounded-ness will get him through a lot of hard fights, but I'd be pretty surprised if he's ever much more than a win one, lose one kind of fighter in the UFC. There are just too many guys who are faster, have more power, or are more singularly talented.
  • Fallout for Rodriguez: He's continuing to improve his technical game, slowly. His kicks looked better than ever, his use of range more deliberate, his scrambling ability more practiced. He's got the raw talents to make up for a lot of the holes in his game. I wouldn't be surprised if he hits a setback or two on his way to a spot in the rankings, but it feels like just a matter of time before he's fighting at the highest level.

Jessica Eye (+215) vs. Julianna Pena (-260) (I picked Eye, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Well, in some ways I was right. I really doubted that Pena could blitz Eye out of this fight in the first round as she has with past opponents. At that point, I figured she'd gas hard (she didn't really), and that Eye would be able to do at least some meaningful damage at range (she couldn't really). This fight answered some questions for me on Pena, but asked a lot more of Eye.
  • Fallout for Eye: She said as much after the fight, that she needs to re-evaluate her career, and she's right. Things aren't working for her to a surprising extent, considering she was a hair's breadth from a title shot not long ago. She can't seem to get a consistent handle on takedown defense, and her footwork and striking aren't deep enough to maintain range against pressuring opponents.
  • Fallout for Pena: She got a badly needed legitimizing win in beating Eye. She's a fighter a lot of people have had high hopes of for a while, and while she'd won her UFC fights to date, none of them said a lot about her ability against top level opposition. Eye may never be a title challenger, but she's better than the bottom end of the UFC's bantamweight talent. And as such, Pena struggled a lot. She won, she got a bump up the rankings, and she showed solid cardio and a decent chin to do it. Now it just remains to be seen whether she can get by other top 5 fighters (or if the UFC just pushes her straight to the title).

Ali Bagautinov (+280) vs. Joseph Benavidez (-340) (I picked Benavidez, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Safe to say, Joseph Benavidez was probably going to win this fight. The fact that it ended up being something of a non-starter as an actual full on fight, and stayed at more of a low simmer the whole way through, only further favored Benavidez's advantage in striking output. Bagautinov did well when he took the opportunities and when he could land counters, but he didn't create nearly enough offense.
  • Fallout for Bagautinov: This is a setback, no question, but not a huge one. Benavidez has no obvious path to the title, Dodson just left the division. Losing this fight means that Bagautinov isn't right back in the hunt, but if he can rattle off two or three wins in a row he probably will be. Flyweight, like all thin divisions needs contenders. Top talents, even inconsistent ones, are going to get a lot of opportunities to make a run.
  • Fallout for Benavidez: You certainly can't call this a no-win fight for Benavidez, Bagautinov is a legit top talent. Beating him means something. But, this win really doesn't mean enough. Benavidez is at that point where all his motivations have to be about money, because he probably doesn't have a lot of opportunities for greater fame and recognition from the UFC. This wasn't the kind of dominating win to make people stand up and take notice, and it's more than likely that he's hitting the downside of his career. Hopefully he has a good exit plan including a few money weight fights, because that's most likely his next step.

Shawn Jordan (+165) vs. Ruslan Magomedov (-190) (I picked Magomedov, I was right)

  • The Expectation: It's heavyweight. "Expectation" is a meaningless dirty word in a division like this. For what it's worth, I thought Magomedov would have a rough start early on and then pick up steam late to get the win on points. That was more or less the way it went, but without the rough start.
  • Fallout for Jordan: Jordan, meet Jouban. Jouban, Jordan. Two fighters suffering a similar fate. Both aggressive, both talented, both evolving, both getting beat by their more talented contemporaries. Heavyweight is a bit less kind in serving up easy fights, so Jordan has a few more tough losses, but he's still sitting in that position where you have to wonder if he'll ever be more than a fun action fighter.
  • Fallout for Magomedov: This was a better performance in that we saw more consistent output across all rounds and better (if still not great) defensive skills in terms of not getting badly rocked by blows. Magomedov is one of a very few heavyweight strikers that never seems to falter in his approach. Until he finds some power he'll likely never be champ, but he's developing the type of consistency that could get him into contention.

Ryan Bader (+120) vs. Rashad Evans (-140) (I picked Evans, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: I was flat out wrong in my thinking heading into this fight. I figured, if Rashad didn't look diminished then Bader's more upright, less threatening new striking style would make him easy pickings for Rashad's more dynamic punches and reactive takedowns. Rashad didn't look terribly diminished (to my eyes), but Bader looked cleaner and crisper in his striking than ever. He'd lowered his base, developed a great, constant jab, and found some solid speed changing punches. He dismantled Rashad.
  • Fallout for Bader: In a truly "sporting" context, he probably deserves the next title shot. He won't get it. Jon Jones is the fighter people want to see competing for the belt, but Bader deserves it. If he won't wait for that fight, I honestly hope he beats whoever they put in front of him and gets his shot. MMA careers are short and brutal, a guy like Bader probably only climbs the mountain once. It'd be a shame if he never even got to try for the title.
  • Fallout for Evans: Maybe he was a little rusty. It's potentially true. I think he mostly had no real plan to beat a good jab. There aren't many in MMA. I'm still interested in seeing him fight, his career isn't actually notably long. And I think there are fun, winnable bouts in the division for him. But, he has other options, if he chooses to do something other than step in the cage, that's not a bad idea either.

Daniel Cormier (-260) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (+220) (I picked Gustafsson, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: I didn't score this fight for Alexander Gustafsson, but I'm basically going to score this a win for good analysis. The big thing being that Daniel Cormier, for all his great wrestling, isn't out-wrestling the very elite at 205 (meaning Gus & Jones). The sport has evolved past that dynamic, for the most part, at the highest levels. Except for an early high crotch (and a lot of control following it) and Gus hitting a few takedowns of his own here and there, this was a fight contested on the feet. Gustfasson lost that fight because he wasn't prepared for Cormier's clinch game, but it was a near run thing.
  • Fallout for Cormier: He's still champ. That's the key goal of any champion, to still be champion when the day is over. He has Jones out ahead of him, whenever he returns, but for the immediate future the belt is still around Cormier's waist and hopefully he's putting his time at the top to good use to plan for and prepare for his future, because it doesn't get better than it is right now.
  • Fallout for Gustafsson: He has a lot of options, strangely. While he's been beat back from the title twice now, the fact that it was against two different opponents gives him opportunity for rematches, as does Anthony Johnson's failure to beat Cormier. And as Phil expounded in his excellent article, the heavyweight division is right there waiting for Gustafsson if he wants to give it a go. There are money fights, title shots, and interesting match-ups for Gus and it's just on him to make sure he angles for the biggest opportunities he can get.

Those are my collected thoughts from UFC 192. As always, much of what I wrote seems obvious now, but that's the benefit of hindsight. Stay tuned for the next issue (in a couple weeks), when I'll be talking about why Dustin Poirier is still on a roll. Until then!

*This week's quote from the movie "Network."