As amazing as this year has been for MMA as a whole, the UFC closes out 2015 with a bang as lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos took on fan-favorite Donald Cerrrone, who got his long-awaited title shot in an exciting rematch. There were some twists and turns in this event, though, as we saw some rather unexpected performances on this card.
Rafael dos Anjos - So here was Cowboy Cerrone taking on the guy nobody paid attention to as he bulldozed his way up the ranks en route to stunning and eventually dethroning an exciting champion in Anthony Pettis. Now with a dominant and successful title defense, few will be left doubting that the Rio de Janeiro native is indeed as formidable as he is legitimate. Taking advantage of Cerrone's notorious slow starts, he tagged him quick in striking exchanges and once he found his opening, he didn't let off the gas. Not sure what's next, but putting him on a free major Fox card was an excellent way to bring attention to fully-evolved champion.
Alistair Overeem - Now, when Overeem was poached from Strikeforce to come over to the UFC, many suspected it was to see a striking showdown against Junior Dos Santos. Problem is, both of them hit various snags, including Overeem's testosterone levels being similar to that of a Belgian Blue bull, as well as losing to opposition he was clearly favored to win against in the form of Rothwell, Browne and Bigfoot Silva. Or the Mexican god of death himself Cain Velasquez unseating dos Santos and somehow beating him worse in a sad exhibition that was their eventual rematch. Still, their paths were destined to cross and the fight we saw tonight was not perhaps the fight we would have expected when it was initially to take place. Still, a major win for Overeem making a statement by finishing a #2 ranked former champ known for his durability, which should move him up the ladder considerably.
Nate Diaz - Undeniably the biggest winner of the night. The Stockton native took on a very game Michael Johnson and outboxed him soundly. Once he found his rhythm he landed his jab seemingly at will and established his range landing some beautiful shots that began to accumulate damage in true Diaz style. He was fresh, motivated, more athletic than most of his recent outings and full of vigor with a killer post-fight rant. Glad to see a resurgence of this sort for him.
Charles Oliveira - Do Bronx took on a very tough Myles Jury, who is no slouch in the grappling department, to sink in a vicious guillotine choke for the win. Worst of all, he had ALL of his weight hanging to implement the necessary leverage and then some. This gets him back on track since his last fight which was stopped due to problems with his esophagus.
Nate Marquardt - Coming off a three-fight losing streak, a win over James Te Huna and then another two-fight losing streak that included one of the saddest stoppages in recent memory, many wondered if it was wise for Nate to continue fighting, especially against a very dangerous opponent in C.B. Dollaway. Nate's right hand cracked Dollaway with the quickness and showed he's still got it. Still wondering for how long, but it was good to see Nate go out and show he's still capable of amazing moments. Honorable mention to Trevor Wittman for turning things around with him, as well as getting Rose Namajunas back on track.
Tamdan McCrory - The Barncat proves once again that people from upstate New York are apparently just made different. After a long absence from the UFC and a brief stint in Bellator, he came back to take on a very tough Josh Samman to get a tremendous submission in the third round. Seriously, if you've never been triangle choked with that kind of back leg pressure, you haven't been truly miserable. Major statement made in his comeback to the big leagues, and it's gonna be great to have him back.
Francis Ngannou - Speaking of statements, massive KO from a massive Frenchman in the opening act of the Fight Pass prelims. He didn't appear to be the most active fighter in that bout, but he could be a guy to watch at heavyweight even if he doesn't crack the top ten of that division.
Conor McGregor - Dude didn't even fight and got called out by two different fighters. That's a large shadow you're casting right there. While dos Anjos issued more of a warning, it still says a lot that one of the guys that was talked about the most wasn't even fighting that night or even in the division of the guys that brought him up.
Dan Miragliotta - Despite Tan Dan's inability to distinguish groin strikes, the stoppage in the Overeem/dos Santos fight was justified. I didn't think so initially, but just rolling over slowly isn't enough. Junior didn't do much to protect himself and the ref saved him from himself in this case. Despite his flaws, he deserves props for this one.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz didn't quite put on the striking clinic we saw her put on Mizuki Inoue in the crazy upset that was her bout in Invicta, but she used her skills to defeat Randa Markos by mostly nullifying her offense as best she could and landing a few shots from the outside. she had better timing and in the end relied on submission defense. Valentina Shevchenko won big for having come in on short notice and has deceptive upper body strength, pushing the pace against veteran Sarah Kaufman. Vicente Luque slapped on a beautiful submission after surviving a striking assault from Hayder Hassan, and Nik Lentz made Danny Castillo fight his kind of fight in what was another interesting fight from a guy that's shed the "boring" label that was often tagged on him. Kamaru Usman found his footing in his bout with Leon Edwards to finally implement his grinding wrestling style and had a good performance against a precise striker like Edwards.
Donald Cerrone - Yeah, I feel terrible for the guy as well. Dude wanted to give his ailing grandmother that belt, but he did what he could. Not his fault that his opponent capitalized on his biggest flaw, yet it didn't seem like he had any gameplan to work with and to prevent any of this from getting worse. Not sure if this says more about dos Anjos than it does about Cerrone, but it's a heartbreaker regardless, and he's still going to be top ten in the lightweight division no matter what.
Junior dos Santos fought in a very strange manner. When I mentioned above that we got a different fight than expected, I figured we'd see Junior use pressure and combinations to eventually make Overeem pay for only looking to land single blows in each exchange. The most significant offense came around the second round when Junior finally attempted and landed a combination in what felt like the first time in forever, yet couldn't capitalize on that or keep the momentum. Between the losses to Cain and the punishment he took en route to winning against Miocic, I'm personally more worried than ever about the prospects of his long-term health. For all the hullaballoo about his move to ATT, we saw no wrestling, very tentative striking and what appeared to have been a possible loss in confidence.
Michael Johnson ignored the conventional method for defeating a Diaz brother and eschewed leg kicks in the second and third rounds, attempting to simply outbox Nate. Last guy that did that was Gray Maynard and before him Donald Cerrone. Johnson paid for that with a decision loss and will rebound eventually, but he brought the wrong approach on what was a fantastic day for a motivated Nate Diaz this time around.
Danny Castillo just earned his fourth straight loss in the UFC. I had a hard time processing that to type this piece and an even harder time typing it out and reading it back out loud. A true talent, but another Alpha Male product that's faltered. The whole team has had a rather rough year, and their head coach Martin Kampmann departed recently. He's almost guaranteed to be cut now.
Jorge Alonso - I'm not gonna give this cat a pass just because he looks like he could be one of my bodega-owning relatives, this ref is horrible. He was bad on TUF during the Blackzilians/ATT season and he was bad tonight in a very crucial moment. Does this guy know what it means to be unconscious? Does he understand that your eyes don't need to be closed? Nobody needed to see Hayder Hassan twitch repeatedly while he was out. That shit was insulting to watch as a combat sports fan and it should be to anyone concerned about fighter safety. Regardless of his angle, he saw his limbs fading and didn't stop it. I don't want to rag on Florida too much, but this guy is a symptom of why so many people see that commission as a joke.
Randa Markos, Myles Jury, C.B. Dollaway, Sarah Kaufman, Josh Samman, Leon Edwards, Luis Henrique and Hayder Hassan lost their respective bouts, but none of them take a major step back in doing so. Most are still divisionally relevant, the others rather new to the UFC and talent that will most likely be given another opportunity.
Finally, big ups to referee John Hosegood. With that name and that mustache, I'm sure the guy has to be moonlighting as a pornstar. I mean, not that I'd know, it's just... whatever. Stop staring at me like that.