A long fight week ends with two massive booms that have changed the landscape of the sport, at least for the time being. Two title bouts took place at UFC 194 and the year of the championship upsets continues onward with new and even more dynamic champions claiming their crowns. Let's take a look at the winners and losers from the UFC's huge show in Vegas.
Conor McGregor made good on his talk about being the best in the world and knocking out a man that hadn't lost in a decade and hadn't ever been KO'd. A legend in Jose Aldo that was known for his superb shift between offense and defense, as well as his ability to take massive damage and keep coming forward. In this light, the accomplishment truly becomes monumental. Every time he won, more doubts were cast. Sure, Conor's beating strikers. But they're not that sharp, or they had an off-day. Sure, he's fought guys that can grapple, but he's never fought a world-class wrestler. He's defied all of these odds in spectacular fashion. He's finished everyone he's fought aside from , racked up a tremendous amount of attention for the company and the sport and is likely to make Scrooge McDuck levels of money at this point.
Zuffa LLC - Come on. This was a hotly anticipated event that is expected to make a ton of money, and now they have the charismatic and polarizing European champion they've wanted. That's basically a license to print money if marketed correctly. One of McGregor's greatest assets is his willingness to work hand in hand with the brass when it comes to promotion, and good on them. They've closed out the year with two straight PPVs that made money hand over fist.
Luke Rockhold decimated Chris Weidman after a bit of an even start between the two. Rockhold appeared to sap Weidman's much-lauded cardio with body kick after body kick, and started tiring himself later on as he was hit with some body kicks from Weidman himself. To come back, gain superior position and unleash an Ultra Combo on Weidman from top position was something I never expected to see. From there, Weidman was wobbled and was taken down, outgrappled and outstruck. Winning made Rockhold a Strikeforce and UFC champion, expanding an already impressive resumé.
Yoel Romero had some moments of sheer brutality in his bout against Ronaldo Souza, starting with a tremendous backfist. He followed a man that is a grappling demigod to the ground and punished him from top position. He then sputtered out and became more tentative, ate some serious shots later on and didn't look as impressive as some may have expected, but he moved ahead in the line to fight for the belt if Weidman doesn't get an immediate rematch (which we'll address later).
Demian Maia worked his wrestling takedowns and kept his positional dominance to batter and bloody up Gunnar Nelson in a grappling exhibition that was far more one-sided than expected. Maia attempted various submissions but was cautious to not lose his position, and seemed to have improved his cardio as well as his striking options when on the ground. He may not get that title shot he wants, but he certainly put on a championship-level performance tonight.
Max Holloway put on a more measured performance than usual against the ever-dangerous Jeremy Stephens, using his range and timing while surviving a few rough spots. We didn't see as many crazy attacks as before, and that's a good thing. His fight IQ continues to expand and his confidence is bolstered with each outing. This will be valuable as he takes another clear step up in the ranks.
Urijah Faber won a unanimous decision against the super-tough Frankie Saenz, who gave Faber a tremendous challenge. He got the better of Faber in some striking exchanges and looked good in his grappling as well, but Faber was just a step ahead the whole time. Personally, I'd love a rematch between them down the line. It should be noted that Saenz didn't make the loser list either. He should get massive respect for this showing and most likely won't lose as much shine as previous opponents that have lost to Faber and mysteriously fell off the radar.
Tecia Torres used striking diversity, speed and better use of angles to win a decision against a relentless Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger. Jones-Lybarger was losing the bout but refused to believe it, continuing to come forward and fight her heart out. Torres continues to be technically undefeated in her professional career (TUF fights not being considered in this case) and gets another solid notch in her belt.
Warlley Alves got the fourth guillotine choke win of his career, and this is the third one in the UFC alone. Leonardo Santos capitalized on his standup advantage and won with a spectacular knockout. Magomed Mustafaev got his Anton Chigurh on by blitzing Joe Proctor against the cage and making sure he couldn't get back up. Yancy Medeiros won a close decision against veteran John Makdessi in a tense affair that was certainly worth analyzing in terms of technique, even if it wasn't the prettiest performance either fighter has had thus far. Court McGee outworked his opponent to a very clear and decisive decision win against Marcio Alexandre, Jr.
Jose Aldo, one of the greatest fighters of all time, didn't look like the legend we'd hope to see tonight. There could be myriad reasons for this - inactivity, injuries adding up, lack of desire, distractions from McGregor's banter, etc. The result remained the same. It took 13 seconds and one punch to slay the legend, He may not get an immediate rematch, barring some contractual clause or some other reason most likely to be in Zuffa's financial interest. This is only his second loss ever, and he'll be back. Also, there's no shame in crying after that loss. That's his right, and he's putting more on the line than anyone that points and laughs at something so basically human. Personally, I already pity the next guy he fights.
(And well, at least he can look forward to red panty night. Holla at'cha boy.)
Chris Weidman got beat from pillar to post, saved by the bell and Herb Dean just let him take his lumps for more than what was necessary (oh, we're gonna get to him as well). During the Embedded series Weidman appeared healthy, fit and ready to put on the kind of performance we're used to from the elite fighter that he is. But he couldn't bully Rockhold, and he got outstruck and eventually outgrappled en route to a vicious TKO loss. He's another fighter that could possibly get another inexplicable immediate rematch, so don't be surprised if that happens.
Ronaldo Souza took a step back, but not a big one. He weathered the storm and could have won this fight if it were a five round fight, as Romero seemed to be fading a bit. Similarly, Gunnar Nelson had no answers for Maia's superior grappling which is (and you'd think this goes without saying) absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. It wasn't anywhere near as close as we as fans hoped it would be, but Gunnar won't and should not be penalized too harshly for it.
Jeremy Stephens is in a curious situation, having lost to Cub Swanson and Charles Oliveira by decision, beating Dennis Bermudez by strikes and losing now to Holloway. He certainly won't be cut, but returns to the middle of the pack for the time being.
Colby Covington got caught in a tight submission by a guy that's very good at that specific move. No shame there, and his stock won't take a big hit. Kevin Lee, however, has some items to reconsider in his approach to fighting. He dismissed Leonardo Santos' striking and paid the price in a heavy way, without really implementing his bread-and-butter wrestling.
(Dis)honorable mention - No disrespect to Herb Dean - the man does a difficult job and does it so well he could be considered the best in the business. He's done it for a long time and is considered a standard-bearer in terms of officiating by many promoters, fighters, fans and regulators as well. That said, allowing Chris Weidman to eat that many uncontested shots just because he's turtling up and possibly just because he's the champion is unacceptable. Weidman's body quit. He wasn't actively fighting back or looking for a way to improve position or escape in any way whatsoever. As I said earlier on social media - I'm in favor of giving fighters a shot to fight back, but not at the cost of irreparable and unnecessary brain damage.