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Hindsight - UFC Sao Paulo: Belfort vs. Henderson 3 in retrospect

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The first one to make a mistake gets to buryin' some people.*

Or in this case, buryin' themselves. That's what Dan Henderson ended up doing when he made the first mistake against Vitor Belfort, namely waiting at the edge of kicking range to see what the former light heavyweight champion would do. Belfort's answer was to kick him in the head, and from there the fight was pretty much over. You can argue it if you want; if you're a big Hendo fan, or you just can't bear to see Vitor win, but that fight was over. While the top of this card was entirely predictable, the prelims were a mess of close bouts between winning fighters with a lot on the line in terms of future relevance. As such, they were pretty tough to pick. I went 7-6.

Disclaimer Time: This isn't a betting post, I'm not a gambling man. As you can see by my terrible numbers for this event it's probably best off that I'm not. Rashid Magomedov and Chas Skelly were probably the only fighters on this card I felt certain of winning who were on short enough odds to make themselves worthwhile. But, my purpose here of giving odds and fight picks isn't to keep track of wins and losses, but to create narrative for fighters out of events. To see expectations and results as a method of tracking fight careers. I'm getting my odds for each fight from OddsShark.com and taking the mode for each fighter. Now, on to the fights!

Matheus Nicolau (-200) vs. Bruno Rodrigues (+165) (I picked Nicolau, I was right)

  • The Expectation: I honestly had to go off my months old scouting of these fighters that I did in prep for TUF Brazil before the season started, for my pick here. I'm not really about to spend my spare time researching a fight where the loser is almost certainly going to be cut immediately. Everyone has to have a limit. That said, general consensus seemed to be that Nicolau was the more technical, capable fighter.
  • Fallout for Nicolau: Simply put, he's still in the UFC and he has the look of a nicely technical newcomer that can cause some real problems for other prospects at the bottom of the bantamweight division.
  • Fallout for Rodrigues: He is most likely not in the UFC and didn't look particularly ready to be there.

Pedro Munhoz (-170) vs. Jimmie Rivera (+150) (I picked Munhoz, I was wrong-ish)

  • The Expectation: I probably let myself get a little hyped on Munhoz here. He's a good fighter, but he's never been at the pinnacle of MMA wrestling and while Rivera's offensive wrestling game lacks pop, his defensive game has never looked weak. I just kind of figured that Munhoz would be able to mix things up better and find ways to drag Rivera to the ground. And one he did that I assumed he'd tire the Schulmann fighter enough to take a decision from him. That was wrong. Munhoz's wrestling game never materialized and while his greater variety of strike selection pushed Rivera's limits, ultimately Rivera's greater power and consistency in the pocket were enough to get him the win.
  • Fallout for Munhoz: In part I feel like this was, or should have been a bout between top 15 fighters, which I would basically consider both Rivera and Munhoz to be; if not by wins then just by skill. So, to that extent, Munhoz losing a split decision to another top tier level fighter shouldn't say too much bad about where he is right now. But, it does suggest that he's not on the fast route to being a contender. He's a top 20-ish fighter at the moment, but it remains to be seen if he can turn that into a real run.
  • Fallout for Rivera: I underrated Rivera here just a little. I thought he'd flag more than he did and look more over-matched outside of his boxing than he did, but he seems to have really polished the modern sprawl-n-brawl style. He's got the power to be a little one dimensional, and the cardio to make it work round after round. I still think that at the very top his lack of offensive diversity will be his undoing, but I could see him fighting for a title at some point.

Viscardi Andrade (+110) vs. Gasan Umalatov (-130) (I picked Umalatov, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Umalatov's patient consistency was my pick to let him outpoint Andrade, even if the Dagestani's offense has been a bit anemic. Andrade struck me as the kind of fighter who has a big first round and then goes into survival mode the rest of the way. That might have been true if Umalatov's offense had even existed at all. Anemic isn't the word. Umalatov had no way to create offense at all and lost a pretty sad decision for it.
  • Fallout for Andrade: He got a win in a situation where he had to get a win. Especially with a long injury layoff in a division as deep as welterweight, he really couldn't afford a loss here. He's only fought once a year for the UFC since signing back in 2013. He's 2-1 now, so the focus has to be on staying healthy.
  • Fallout for Umalatov: He doesn't seem to have any of the necessary physical tools, apart from a dogged toughness, to be in the UFC. If they don't release him, he's pretty much going to be pulling duty as the guy young prospects get to face to prove they can make it in the bigs.

Chas Skelly (-182) vs. Kevin Souza (+150) (I picked Skelly, I was right)

  • The Expectation: I mean, I picked Skelly by second round RNC and even went as far on the Vivi as to suggest he'd get it off a standing back take. Still, he went the hard route to get there. But his grappling game is just too persistent and he's just too tough to be beat easily by a rangy boxer like Souza.
  • Fallout for Skelly: This puts him at the very edges of the top 15 for the UFC featherweight division. There are a lot of gatekeepers who haven't been able to make the jump from early success to being a ranked fighter, but Skelly's combination of chin, aggression, and positionally solid chain grappling make him a real threat to make the jump. One more win solid win should have in in consideration, especially considering the lack of fresh faces near the top. I don't know that he'll ever make a serious run to contendership, but I could see him staying in the 10-15 range for quite a while.
  • Fallout for Souza: This isn't some kind of definitive book closing moment for Souza, especially considering how close he came to finishing Skelly, but it does reinforce the idea that he's an action talent first and foremost. Souza's boxing is great but everything else just isn't good enough for a run yet. He's getting to the point where things should really be solidifying into a complete game, so it's very much on him right now to show he can shore up his wrestling and grappling quickly.

Clay Guida (-175) vs. Thiago Tavares (+145) (I picked Guida, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: You know that moment where Guida scooped Tavares up and prepared to slam him to the mat? That moment before it all went wrong? That's pretty much what I expected the fight to look like... Only without Guida getting subbed. Yeah, I know he's been subbed before, but usually after getting rocked. Hell of a loss.
  • Fallout for Guida: I really don't know what to make of this loss. It's one of the rare times that Guida has been the betting favorite and ended up on the losing side and unlike his recent losses to Maynard, Lamas, or Mendes, there's not much sign that he felt he was physically over-matched, or seemed threatened by Tavares... But maybe that's just it. He didn't feel threatened, he looked supremely confident and he walked into an insta-sub for his trouble. It could be a sign that he's sliding in earnest, or it could just be an unusual bump in the road. I assume his next bout will say a lot more.
  • Fallout for Tavares: Suddenly he's a ranked featherweight. I'm not really sure he's earned the honor, especially coming off a loss to the still totally unheralded Brian Ortega, but the ranking panel had to do something to account for Guida's position at the fringes of the top 10, and moving Tavares to 15 was their answer. It may be a sign that neither man should be ranked, but given that no other featherweights seem ready to replace them as of yet, it's hard to argue the point too deeply.

Yan Cabral (+175) vs. Johnny Case (-215) (I picked Cabral, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Cabral seemed primed for the upset here, and not because I dislike Johnny Case, I think his game is superb. But, I just couldn't see Case keeping this standing and if he didn't I figured he'd get tapped out eventually. To my credit, he didn't keep it standing, and he almost lost a decision. To his credit, he showed that his grappling defense is pretty excellent.
  • Fallout for Cabral: I don't want to sound overly reactive, but I'm not sure Cabral could really afford this loss in terms of career momentum. Even though he hasn't fought much since starting his run in MMA, he's far enough into his career that he should more or less be a complete fighter. And that complete fighter just got outworked to a nondescript loss after spending a year on the sidelines. If something doesn't start clicking for him soon he seems destined to be mid-card filler for the rest of his time in the UFC.
  • Fallout for Case: There's a definitive good and bad side to this fight for Case. Mostly there's the big upside that Cabral was an absolute trap fight for him, and he came away with the win. That's more important than anything in a bout that could have halted his momentum. On the other side, it exposed his inability to keep the fight exactly where he needed it to have the best chance of winning. Against more dangerous, well rounded opponents, that could be a real problem. The big question now is, can he be a top 15 fighter, or is he just an upper tier action talent at lightweight?

Gleison Tibau (-130) vs. Abel Trujillo (+105) (I picked Trujillo, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: This felt like a get over moment for Trujillo. One of those times where the deck is stacked just right for a fighter to upset the odds against a seasoned veteran who may be hitting a decline. Given his KO power and what seems to be some fading durability for Tibau, it just seemed like a golden opportunity. Of course, Tibau could also just run him out of the building with a stifling wrestle-grappling attack. Bad stoppage aside, this fight looked like it was going in a terrible way for Trujillo.
  • Fallout for Tibau: It seems like he's still got his own special brand of "it," as "Tibau the Ever Living." There's just something about Gelison Tibau that seems destined to be the no. 16 guy at lightweight for all eternity. He took Trujillo down with ease and was outworking him to a first round sub that, even if he didn't get, seemed like it would prime him to outwork his opponent to a decision. Someday he won't be that guy, but for now he's still Gleison Tibau.
  • Fallout for Trujillo: This isn't as big a setback for Trujillo as it could have been. The ref screwing up the fight ending will get him off the hook with a lot of fans and, more importantly, probably with his own psyche. But, it still feels like a very firm reestablishment of what we already know. Trujillo is a fun action fighter with some real power, but he's not a guy who's going to go on a run. The ease with which Tibau got him down and got his back suggests that there's a certain class of fighter that will probably always have his number.

Corey Anderson (-502) vs. Fabio Maldonado (+425) (I picked Anderson, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Credit where credit is due. Maldonado did better than he was expected to. He got to his feet regularly. But, even with the time and opportunities he gave himself, he got very little done against Anderson. The young LHW outworked him in the clinch and took him down often enough to swallow large portions of each round. Anderson fought the fight he needed to to beat a tough dude with a very limited game.
  • Fallout for Anderson: He's quickly turning himself into a top 10 LHW, in much the same fashion that Patrick Cummins was able to do so. But, as we've already seen, becoming a top 10 fighter in the division is a lot easier than getting booked as a top 10 fighter in the division. Wins like this limit the UFC's options and it may not be long before we see Anderson getting a loss to someone in or near the top 5.
  • Fallout for Maldonado: He's getting older, and as he's aging the things he does well are becoming less defined. Even with chances to open up his boxing in this fight, he never really got going at all. If Maldonado isn't outpacing opponents when he's standing up, he's really just there to take a beating from better athletes.

Gilbert Burns (+160) vs. Rashid Magomedov (-190) (I picked Magomedov, I was right)

  • The Expectation: It's weird when a fight between two good rising fighters seems very very predictable. Magomedov was going to beat Burns by decision off his great takedown defense and his superior technical kickboxing. He almost KO'd him, but taking chances isn't really Magomedov's game, so he just cruised out the fight for a clear win.
  • Fallout for Burns: He looked pretty crushed at the end of it all, picking up his first career loss. But, as can often be the case for a fighter still relatively young in his career, this will probably be good for him. He got outworked by a fighter with a more developed, well crafted game than him. Hopefully that lights a fire for Burns to keep pushing harder and realize he has a lot to do before he's an elite competitor. The potential is still out there in front of him, this was just a reminder that he hasn't achieved it yet.
  • Fallout for Magomedov: It's weird to think that a striker could get the Fitch treatment, but I could see Magomedov being that guy. In a division as deep as lightweight, the UFC wouldn't have any trouble keeping him in tough match-ups that almost, but never quite, lead to a title shot. They've been doing it to Tibau forever, for largely the same reasons. Magomedov is great, I love watching him fight, but unless something changes, he's probably going to have a lot of trouble breaking through.

Piotr Hallmann (+235) vs. Alex Oliveira (-280) (I picked Hallmann, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Hallmann wasn't exactly "winning" but he was doing pretty well to hold his own by the time he got KO'd. I really thought that he'd be able to bully Oliveira more on the ground and in the clinch, a bit like he did in the second round. But he was just so over-matched standing in ways that I really didn't expect.
  • Fallout for Hallmann: The fact that he seems to have regressed since his debut has to be taken part and parcel with him failing a drug test. It should also be said that Hallmann has only faced very good, tough UFC caliber opposition, so it may also be that his confidence is slowly being broken. Either way, he seems more limited and less competitive than when he started out with a great win over Francisco Trinaldo and it's coming at a time when he should be hitting his prime.
  • Fallout for Oliveira: This was a huge win for him. Not only did he look more confident and aggressive in his striking than he has in his last couple bouts, but he battled back from adversity for a late stoppage victory and a highlight KO. He still needs a ton of polish on his skills, but getting big wins like this should give him more room to breath and set him up for more big fights down the line.

Thomas Almeida (-500) vs. Anthony Birchak (+350) (I picked Almeida, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Really thought it would take longer for Almeida to break Birchak.
  • Fallout for Almeida: Fans and Analysts who complain about Almeida's lack of defense seem to forget that he should still be improving rapidly form fight to fight. And really, I didn't see him take much, if any meaningful damage in this bout at all. Birchak only landed 29% of his strikes and Almeida seemed to roll with all of them. His willingness to eat two to land 5 may still cost him down the road, but I'd be surprised if he doesn't end up in contention for the belt.
  • Fallout for Birchak: I still think he's the toughest fighter Almeida's beat to date, but he got beat bad. Bouncing back from this is going to be a major test of Birchak's resolve as it wasn't just a case of "getting caught" or fighting out of your comfort zone, Birchak got beat fighting the way he normally fights. His style was exposed by someone with more technical tools than him. It's a major back-to-the-drawing-board moment in his career.

Patrick Cummins (+415) vs. Glover Teixeira (-525) (I picked Teixeira, I was right)

  • The Expectation: A few people out there picked Cummins as an upset winner, but it looks like most of them weren't gamblers. Cummins hasn't shown the top control to just keep people on their back for long stretches. And given his hittability it seemed like only a matter of time before Glover would KO him.
  • Fallout for Cummins: He's still on track to be a solid, continuous top 10 light heavyweight for the next few years, but as I said with Anderson above, being top 10 and competing with the top 5 are two very different things in this division. Hopefully the UFC can find a better fight for him next time out rather than throwing him at another top talent.
  • Fallout for Teixeira: It's looking more and more like his performance against Phil Davis was the product of a very bad camp and a very particular matchup that few other fighters can replicate. Teixeira may be slowly moving away from the prime of his career, but it's gradual and at the moment he's still very much an elite 205er.

Vitor Belfort (-340) vs. Dan Henderson (+275) (I picked Belfort, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Vitor Belfort was going to KO Henderson in Round 1.
  • Fallout for Belfort: He's still a guy who can KO a 45 year old Dan Henderson in Round 1.
  • Fallout for Henderson: He's still a 45 year old guy who is going to be on the receiving end of more first round KOs if he keeps fighting.

Those are my collected thoughts from UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Henderson 3. 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 will be talking about Ronda Rousey, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and Mark Hunt, who I expect to all be walking away with big wins.

*This week's quote from the movie Ulzana's Raid.