It's pretty obvious now, coming out of UFC 193, that the reality we as MMA fans knew, was wrong. There really aren't any two ways about it, at least not for me. I knew that Ronda Rousey was going to beat everyone put in front of her. She had a skill others couldn't replicate, a level of athleticism that most couldn't match, and the inheren't aggression and force of will to turn the whole package into a very functional fighting style. She was the queen of the bantamweight division, and long may she reign... And yet, where there were strengths there were also flaws. Massive flaws, inexcusable flaws, and it just took the right fighter to expose them to the world. And of course, to be a down note in a generally successful fight picking run that saw me go 18-8 through two events.
Disclaimer Time: I'm not a gambler, this isn't reflective of gambling advice. This is just a way to build narrative off odds and picks. Odds Shark/fights, mode/fighters, blah blah blah... You know the rest.
- The Expectation: Even though I picked Nguyen to win, I expected it to be a much closer, more back and forth affair. Nguyen has always, previously shown himself to be a strong fighter and a good finisher, so maybe I shouldn't have been as surprised. But he's also been chinny and Benoit is tough as hell, as we saw against Sergio Pettis. That gave me the feeling that this would be a close battle where both men had moments, but Nguyen just had more of them. Instead it was a complete wash.
- Fallout for Nguyen: I had him pegged as a mid-card action fighter for the UFC, or since he's a flyweight, Fight Pass filler. But, his blazing start out of the gate may have set the bar quite a bit higher. Putting a decisive beating on Benoit pegs Nguyen as more of a top 15 kind of guy. Bigger tests will show if he can go even further than that.
- Fallout for Benoit: Unfortunately, at the same time as Nguyen is being pegged as a potential top tier fighter for the UFC, it looks like Benoit is stuck in that role as a pure mid-card action fighter. He's got power and the basic athletic gifts of a good talent, but he's seems so tracked in on a limited striking style that he becomes a bit of a predictable opponent. He's good enough to beat a lot of guys in a straight firefight, but I don't know that this version of him wins often enough to make any kind of run.
- The Expectation: My particular hope for this fight was that we would really see Moontasri "click." He was fighting a short notice guy with a lack of high level experience and training, this was his opportunity to look like a complete badass. The end result was nice, but him getting heavily out-wrestled on the way there mitigates a lot of potential excitement.
- Fallout for Moontasri: This fight, fairly or unfairly, kind of has me tagging him as the Uriah Hall of welterweight. And unfortunately for him, welterweight is a much different place to be Uriah Hall than middleweight is. He's got the athletic gifts and some of the raw skills, but his style is so predicated on big single moments of brilliance that it's hard to see him being more than a Cruickshank-esque fun talent. When he wins, it'll be awesome, when he loses it'll be like that Joe Ellenberger fight.
- Fallout for Zafir: It's his short notice UFC debut. Not a lot to take away. He looked big enough, strong enough, and for the most part tough enough to be there, but his technical skill is going to be a real question. Hopefully being in the UFC leads to improved training for him, otherwise it seems very likely that he'll just get lost in the masses at the bottom of 170.
Richard Walsh (-425) def. Steve Kennedy (+335) (I picked Walsh, I was right)
- The Expectation: A chance for Walsh to show off a bit. It's not that I thought Steve Kennedy was as bad as the odds had him (or maybe Walsh as good), but Kennedy didn't seem like he'd have a lot of the tools to hurt Walsh and give Walsh a guy who can't hurt them and he tends to hurt them (Kiichi Kunimoto notwithstanding). And indeed, Kennedy fell right into Walsh's power dirty boxing game... and then Walsh fell all over himself to make the fight harder than it needed to be.
- Fallout for Walsh: At this point, he's sitting super comfrotably in that role of prelim action fighter. He showed big issues with his cardio, takedown defense, and fight IQ in this bout, but when he had it right where he wanted it, put on a fun show as a pocket slugger. He's got time to make changes, but at the moment he's got a lot of changes to make if he's going to climb into main card status.
- Fallout for Kennedy: Kennedy is sort of the prototypical AAAA fighter. Good enough at everything to compete, but not good enough at anything to beat better athletes or more singularly skilled fighters. Walsh is sort of the baseline of guys that stick around in the UFC. He's big, tough, punches hard, and has one decent skill set he can rely on. Seeing as how he gave Kennedy fits, it's hard to see a lot of UFC welterweights I'd pick him to beat.
- The Expectation: I figured Kelly would get some early licks in (everyone does against Montgomery) before he faded, and the "Creepy Weasel" started to pick his game up to take the later rounds and the fight with it. That kind of happened, except that when it came time for the 3rd round Kelly had more in the tank and was able to grind out the decision win.
- Fallout for Kelly: As unlikely as it seems, he's getting better. The 38-year old Judoka turned MMA fighter is more or less progressing like your typical MMA prospect. Big leaps in ability early in his pro career. It's probably more likely that he retires than that he hits a significant decline during his time in the UFC. That said, he was starting from a really basic game, even with steady improvement I'd be surprised if he's goes beyond the role of lower tier gatekeeper.
- Fallout for Montgomery: He's got problems to fix and the UFC may be the wrong place to fix them. He starts slow, doesn't take punches particularly well, and got outworked in the clinch in this fight, which is where Montgomery typically does his best work. Kelly is a big tough dude with a judo background, but he's not any kind of standout at MW. Montgomery probably needs more regional seasoning.
Danny Martinez (+105) def. Richie Vaculik (-125) (I picked Vaculik, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: Danny Martinez's UFC career so far hasn't been noncompetitive, but it has had a certain air of futility about it. He just seems to lean so heavily on his wrestling in a division that does no favors to good wrestlers. It seemed only right then to assume that Vaculik would be able to derail him as others have and outwork him for a points win, via sheer variety. Instead Vaculik was defensively flat and Martinez put on his best performance to date.
- Fallout for Martinez: He gets to stay in the UFC. It's hard to call this fight a career mover beyond the fact that it saved him a spot on the roster that I was surprised he still held down. It was a must win fight to get more work on the big stage, but it still remains to be seen if he can win with any consistency at this level.
- Fallout for Vaculik: Just because he's fighting in a thin division and from a market the UFC routinely courts, Richie Vas may get another UFC fight, but unless he's facing the very bottom of the flyweight division I have trouble thinking he'd get a win. He's just not fast enough or dynamic enough for a division that relies entirely on being fast and dynamic.
- The Expectation: In this fight, Gian Villante was supposed to KO Anthony Perosh in Round 1.
- Fallout for Villante: He can KO Perosh in Round 1, but we already knew that. After his loss to Tom Lawlor, this doesn't mean much.
- Fallout for Perosh: He's still super capable of being KO'd in round 1 by guys who hit hard and can't be taken down easily. At some point he'll stop fighting, but LHW gives him more options if he wants them.
- The Expectation: It seemed like Noke would be too slow and too wooden to chase down Sobotta at range and would eventually get worn down and maybe even out worked on the ground if it got there. Sobotta has been on a roll and Noke didn't seem primed to challenge him. But, when they actually got in the cage, Sobotta looked like he had no path to victory against a bigger, tougher, and more powerful opponent.
- Fallout for Noke: Noke occupies a strange place in the UFC. He's been with the promotion for half a decade now and it just feels like he's never gotten notably better or worse. He's as capable of pulling off the shocking finish as he is getting dragged into an ugly, sloppy dog fight. A lot of it seems to be based around the physical toughness and power of his opposition.
- Fallout for Sobotta: This is a major momentum stopper for the Polish-born German fighter. He had some decent momentum going against new and somewhat underwhelming UFC talent, and Noke seemed like the perfect step up. A veteran who is crafty, but inconsistent, and not known as a physical powerhouse. But, Sobotta looked overwhelmed. He seemed absolutely stuck facing a fighter who could out kick him at range and was too tough to be hurt easily. Sobotta is better than the bottom of 170, but this loss suggests he'll struggle with the upper half of the division.
Jake Matthews (-1000) def. Akbarh Arreola (+650) (I picked Matthews, I was right)
- The Expectation: This was Matthews' golden opportunity to really beast on another fighter at lightweight and build his star. He had a huge physical advantage over Arreola and major technical advantages in his wrestling and ground and pound. Instead, he spent the first round getting beat from bell to bell, before remembering he was a 10-1 favorite and then working Arreola over.
- Fallout for Matthews: This was a bad win for him. I want to put it nicer, because no win is truly bad, but Arreola showed that Matthews' problems against Vick go deeper than Vick's toughness and size. Matthews has very little idea of what to do when striking and tends to wait in range to see what his opponent is going to do. It turns out they're going to hit him. He's a great athlete a good wrestler and a decent grappler, but if he doesn't figure his striking out, he's going to start getting beat bad.
- Fallout for Arreola: Outside of his early and surprising success, he still got dominated. The stoppage was weird, and almost certainly wouldn't have happened in the US, but by the time the doctor pulled the trigger on it, he was totally devoid of momentum. At the very bottom of 155 he might be able to get another win or two in the UFC, but there are too many fighters that can just out muscle him.
- The Expectation: I pegged Rosholt to take Struve down and outwork him round after round. And he did it, even on a busted leg. So few HWs are able to wrestle like he can that it's an ace up his sleeve in most match-ups.
- Fallout for Rosholt: He's still not a guy that's going to be winning against the very select elite, but that's such a small number of fighters at heavyweight. He has skills other heavyweights can't replicate, even if he has very few other skills that put him in a position to win. At some point, I expect he'll be a top 5 fighter, just on top control grinding alone.
- Fallout for Struve: He'll keep being himself for a few more years. Scrappy, lanky, maybe even somewhat improved as a technical striker, but probably never going to be a great heavyweight, unless he has one of those weird 20 year careers that HWs have where he just magically gets better in seven years. Still, a dude that gets KO'd as much as he does probably doesn't have that luxury and at this point, he's just another guy at 265.
Robert Whitaker (+140) def. Uriah Hall (-155) (I picked Whitaker, I was right)
- The Expectation: Robert Whitaker was going to beat Uriah Hall, just by working harder from one round to the next to get points and do the little things that win fights. To his credit, Hall got more done than I thought he would and showed that he's a real top 15 guy, but that's still more or less how the fight went down.
- Fallout for Whitaker: He's got a real home in the top ten of 185. He's tough, he's aggressive, he's a good technical striker with fight ending power, and he's got great takedown defense. Those are all the ingredients you need to be successful at 185. The only real question now is, does that all turn into a title shot. Because he's a bit undersized and because he's not the fastest gun my guess is no, but he'll be a really interesting matchup for a lot of guys.
- Fallout for Hall: I've been saying since the moment that kick connected on Gegard Mousasi's face that Hall now had a new high water mark that he would find it difficult to live up to. And that seems to still be true. To his credit, he's getting better. He basically took every opportunity Whitaker gave him, to hurt Whitaker. That's not something he used to do. But it's still all about what his opponent gives him, rather than what he takes and top fighters don't give a whole lot of ground. He's top 15, but still a long way from being a consistent performer.
- The Expectation: Mark Hunt would KO Silva in Round 1.
- Fallout for Hunt: He KO'd Silva in Round 1, and is probably still on the downside of his MMA career.
- Fallout for Silva: He got KO'd in Round 1 and really needs to think about doing other things, considering how he keeps going down with the first hard shot he's hit with.
- The Expectation: It's safe to say that most people figured Jedrzejczyk would get more done in this fight with Letourneau. I figured she would pick up the pace from one round to the next and eventually be able to hurt the Canadian badly enough to force a stoppage. It turns out that Letourneau's focus on counter-punching and staying relatively simple in her offense made this a much tougher bout on the champion, even if it's one she clearly won.
- Fallout for Jedrzejczyk: Fans looking at this as sowing the seeds of doubt should probably remember how even the most dominant champs have ended up in random, tougher than expected fights over their careers. I personally look at it as a greater mark of dominance if a champion can take a clear decision against an opponent that is better than expected. We've seen Jose Aldo do it in his run, GSP do it in his, and even Jon Jones and Anderson Silva. Having the tools to win tough fights even when they aren't going just the way they were supposed to isn't a bad sign. That's not to say Jedrzejczyk is an all time great at this point, just that this fight didn't do a lot to dissuade me that she's over-hyped.
- Fallout for Letourneau: On the flip side, Letourneau is definitely better than she's been getting credit for. It seems like she's finally got her cardio working better (although it may never be elite) and she's really put polish on her power punching counter striking game. She needs to fight a couple of the division's better wrestlers before we know exactly how far she's gone, but she can compete with the best in her best skills.
Holly Holm (+550) def. Ronda Rousey (-900) (I picked Rousey, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: Rousey, armbar, round 1... So, you know... totally wrong in every sense.
- Fallout for Holm: This is going to sound like I'm trying to back track, but understand I didn't expect this at all... I've been saying Holly Holm will continue to get better just like a normal MMA prospect all the way through her time in the UFC. I did not expect that to mean that she would make a massive leap in skill right now, for this fight, but it looks like things just suddenly clicked for her and her game went from tentative point kicker to full force range kickboxer. Couldn't have come at a better time.
- Fallout for Rousey: It's also strange for me to admit this, but I always felt that Rousey losing wouldn't be that big a deal to her career, in the long run... I may have been dead wrong on that. This feels like a very big deal. She got torn apart in this fight in a way that suggests she needs more than a second chance to figure Holm out. Coaching changes, training changes, whatever. And with her current media schedule, it feels unlikely that she'll get it. IF she doesn't we may either see Rousey lose again and walk away from MMA, or enter into a rebuilding stretch where she takes a couple years to tear down her game and rebuild it. I still think she'll never be less than #2 at 135, but Holm looks like a puzzle she's not equipped to solve in a hurry.
TUF Latin America 2 Finale
- The Expectation: First, straight off the top: This wasn't a robbery. I scored it for Lazaro, but with the full expectation that the second round could easily go either way and that Lazaro couldn't count on getting it. I thought, going in, that Prazeres' power striking and takedown heavy style would overwhelm Lazaro. It didn't really, but the threat of it froze him from any really effective offense.
- Fallout for Prazeres: The win keeps him afloat, but not moving up the ladder. Even with a 3-2 record he has yet to get a win that really is going to make anyone take notice. He's got a solid enough game to get regular UFC wins, but not a dangerous enough one to move him up the division. If he moves up the ladder I expect him to lose more often.
- Fallout for Lazaro: I'm not saying I had high hopes for Lazaro, after all I picked against him here, but this does expose a problem for him. It doesn't look like he can generate offense with good defense. Whenever Prazeres pressured him, Lazaro basically shut down and ended up giving away rounds just through a lack of activity. Coupled with a less than awesome wrestling game, that puts a huge ceiling on his future at 155.
- The Expectation: Literally zero, beyond that people in the know seemed to be picking Reyes to win.
- Fallout for Reyes: He's still in the UFC, and looks like he might have some makings of an action brawler.
- Fallout for Arzamendia: He's most likely not in the UFC anymore.
- The Expectation: Much like the Arzamendia/Reyes bout, absolutely no expectations. And I based my pick on the advice that other analysts gave.
- Fallout for Herrera: Like Reyes, he looks like he could be a fun action brawler in the division.
- Fallout for Ramos: He looked woefully under-prepared. Letting him go back to regional competition is probably the best thing the UFC can do.
- The Expectation: Fili seemed like the clear favorite to me here, but I still picked him by decision, just because Benitez had never been KO'd and even with Fili's history as a finisher my biggest memory of him was his rough-n-tumble scrap with Arantes where he routinely gave up advantages to initiate scrambles. To that extent, Fili exceeded my expectations with a pretty dominating striking performance.
- Fallout for Fili: Hindsight suggests this matchup didn't need to be made and didn't show a whole lot for Fili. It gave him an opportunity to show off a bit, and he did. It's a bit of extra shine he needed after a rough upset against Godofredo Castro, but it doesn't say a lot about whether or not he can make a break for the top 15.
- Fallout for Benitez: Unfortunately losing like this to Fili removes a lot of the shine Benitez picked up in his win over Clay Collard. Not that Collard isn't a huge step down from Fili anyway, but in that Benitez had the look of someone that would hang tough in the UFC and make fights difficult for most opponents. Fili just kind of walked through him. And unfortunately for Benitez he's not exactly in the early stages of his career.
- The Expectation: I picked Perez by depressing as hell submission in Round 2. I guess since Jorgensen technically tapped out, I was 100% right. Honestly I didn't know what to expect, except that I figured Jorgensen would be on the wrong end of an ugly ugly loss after getting outworked by a guy most people were pretty sure he could beat.
- Fallout for Perez: Hopefully this doesn't skyrocket him up to the borderlines of the top 15, because he's just not ready for that. Jorgensen is worn out and Perez isn't. They clashed a few times and Jorgensen broke. Perez needs to keep getting booked with fighters who have a relatively similar amount of UFC experience, even if he is a very seasoned vet at this point.
- Fallout for Jorgensen: I'm not going to tell him to stop fighting. I don't have the right and I don't know what he needs, but I hope he's got other options going outside of MMA, because I can't see his UFC career continuing.
- The Expectation: Fabinski was going to run over Urbina for a grinding decision win. This was a pretty simple one.
- Fallout for Fabinski: He's got that style that the UFC and fans just can't stand. He's a powerhouse grinder. He hits the takedowns because he's almost always stronger than his opponent, and then he's got the patient, practiced and methodical ground and pound that suggests he'll just be there, plugging away at his opponent until the round bell goes. Wins a lot of fights, not a lot of favors.
- Fallout for Urbina: I was honestly a little surprised he got his first UFC win when he beat Edgar Garcia. Urbina's a guy that's been around forever (even if he's only 28) and seems like he's still the same brawler. Really doesn't have a style cut out for UFC success, especially not in a division filled with strong wrestlers like welterweight is.
- The Expectation: It was more hope than anything that had me picking Lapilus. Perez was a huge step up for him, and an equivalent level of athlete who would be able to push him everywhere, something that Lapilus had never faced before. I threw my weight behind Lapilus because I have yet to see real improvement out of Perez and Lapilus has the striking to beat him, but that lack of experience played a major role as Perez took over the later rounds.
- Fallout for Perez: Even off this win, I haven't really seen any major changes in his game in years. He entered the sport as a bright, top prospect but he still feels a lot like that same guy, just older. Beating Lapilus was solid, Lapilus is a good young fighter, but it isn't the kind of win to push Perez back to the top 15 and a lot of it seemed based Lapilus' own faults. He has a lot of time, but at the moment, it doesn't feel like he has a lot of momentum.
- Fallout for Lapilus: On the flip side, the fact that Lapilus did well early in the fight suggests a lot of good things. His fight IQ needs work, as does his conditioning, but those can both be the product of more experience. This was a bump in the road, but the UFC threw him in over his head to see if he could exceed expectations. He couldn't, but that's pretty normal, even for fighters who end up being very good.
- The Expectation: This fight was going to suck and be ugly, but I thought that Escudero would win it just because Silva would spend so much of his time not fighting. Instead, Silva stayed active and Escudero just seemed totally unable to generate meaningful offense.
- Fallout for Silva: He's better than he first seemed in the UFC, but still probably never going to meet the potential of his physical gifts. He has the raw tools of a top 10 fighter, but the fighting style of a guy who is very willing to hang out on the fringes of the top 30. The fact that he's become more aggressive keeps him from being a guy who would struggle entirely against the top half of the division.
- Fallout for Escudero: Just when it looked like he had turned a corner, he puts on a fight like this. It seemed like Escudero was suddenly meeting some portion of his potential to be that top 30ish guy that Silva now seems to be, instead, this puts him fundamentally, back in the meat of the division where picking him against anyone is going to be a matter of skill match-ups and physical tools.
- The Expectation: I picked Barzola just for his janky fighting style and because he seemed like a guy that would be fun to root for. He's small, aggressive, tough, and active everywhere. I still thought that Gutierrez would probably school him just for his raw physical gifts, size advantage, and cleaner striking. I was really happy Barzola won, for no particular reason.
- Fallout for Barzola: Honestly, the road ahead is probably going to be really hard for him. He's not big enough to be a real lightweight, and I'm not sure that he's fast enough or skilled enough to be a competitive featherweight or bantamweight. He might be, but it feels like he's using toughness and a skill advantage to beat lightweights in a way that might not translate to longterm UFC success against smaller fighters.
- Fallout for Gutierrez: He got shown everything he needs to work on in this fight. He's got the raw tools to be a good fighter in the UFC, but it's going to be all about whether he can get the right training and improve quick enough to make use of those tools. I wouldn't be surprised if he improved rapidly, I also wouldn't be surprised if he's out of the UFC by mid 2016.
- The Expectation: This was going to be a bad, ugly fight. I didn't really know who would win, so I just went with the popular choice.
- Fallout for Montano: He didn't gas, and he stayed consistent in his striking and takedown defense. Whether that translates to other welterweight or lightweight bouts remains to be seen.
- Fallout for Marin: He did seem to gas, and couldn't find offensive consistency anywhere. He seemed a bit lost and as he got tired that just seemed to increase. He still only lost by a nose, but it's not a great sign for his chances going forward.
- The Expectation: It seemed reasonable to assume that Cejudo would eek out a close decision over a fighter in Formiga that was criminally overrated coming into the UFC and has since become criminally underrated as he seems to have made big leaps in his technical ability. Formiga is still a ferocious grappler, but he's become a solid muay thai striker as well. He just doesn't have the same aggressive pressure that Cejudo does, nor the workrate to find strikes in every position at all times. He got edged out, but consistently so.
- Fallout for Cejudo: He's the logical title challenger, and I have no argument against it. He shouldn't win that title shot, but I think even a hard loss would be good for his ego and good for keeping him hungry. He has a lot of potential to improve and looked better than ever against Formiga. Give him a major obstacle in his path and I think it will drive him to be the best fighter he can be.
- Fallout for Formiga: This was a tough loss, but one that reinforces the idea that he is absolutely a top five flyweight right now. He was entirely competitive throughout, never got hurt, and looked technically on point. At some point he may still get a title shot, which he'll probably lose, but this loss doesn't say anything too bad about Formiga, beyond that he's not destined to be champion, which we already knew.
- The Expectation: Reason dictated that Lamas was going to beat the hell out of Diego Sanchez. Lamas, for all his faults is a top fight featherweight in his prime. Sanchez is a tough and tested top 30 lightweight making the drop to a new division. He got a fun fight against a current name fighter, but it wasn't something he was about to win. Credit to Diego for doing better than even I expected, but he still took most of a beating for 15 minutes.
- Fallout for Lamas: He's still a top 5 featherweight. Sanchez didn't give Lamas many clear opportunities to win, so Lamas fought something of an ugly fight. That's his way: fight ugly, jump on an opportunity, get the finish. No opportunity? Then just fight ugly.
- Fallout for Sanchez: Despite any feeling he may have had to the contrary, he's not going to jump down to featherweight and make a run. He looked better than he had in a while, but still took a beating and got injured to boot. He probably won't quit and there are fun fights for him, but the UFC should probably keep him away from contenders.
- The Expectation: There's an argument to be made that Gastelum won, but not an amazing one. There's a slightly better argument that the fight was a draw. Either way, my feeling that Gastelum would probably hurt Magny early and then go on to finish him later in the fight. Magny's development and ability to use his size has thrown ideas of most fighters just out-muscling him out the window. Without any clear physical advantage early, he most had to wait until Magny's defense began to break down late, and that just wasn't enough.
- Fallout for Magny: He's slowly but surely molded himself into a fighter that very few people thought he could be, a potential title contender. he's worked himself into the top 10 and at that point, he could be one good matchup on one good day away from a shot at the belt. The biggest thing for him is his workrate, even if he doesn't beat anyone ranked above him, he could become the no. 1 guy by rattling off another 6 fight win streak against all comers. He's put himself in the best position for success, even if he never wins a belt.
- Fallout for Gastelum: This is definitely another bump in the road on his path to a title. Gastelum seems to have all the physical tools to contend, but it may be that he's spent so much time working on just getting in shape, that the rest of his game hasn't developed the way it should. He still looks a lot like the fighter he came into the UFC as. That's good enough to make him a top 15 guy, but he needs to show more technical craft to make a run for the belt.
Those are my collected thoughts from the last two weeks of UFC cards. As always, so much of what I wrote seems obvious now, but that' s the benefit of hindsight. Until next time, when I expect to be talking about Benson Henderson, top welterweight fighter. See you then.
*This week's quote from the movie In the Mouth of Madness.