Hate to be Junior Dos Santos on Sunday. He got his block knocked clean off by "The Reem" and got sucked down even deeper into what Eugene S. Robinson likes to call the "Lost Battalion." Hell of a note to end the year on, but there you are. And on that note, that's it. The last event of 2015 and with it a great year of fights fading into memory only. Fittingly, to match some of the big losses on this card I went an abysmal 5-7-1 with fight picks.
Disclaimer Time: You see that 5-7 mark? That's all the disclaimer you should need about why I don't gamble. There were some serious upsets on this card, not the most we've ever seen, but no doubt some serious parlays went in the trash. Still, rather than losing money, I just gained some knowledge. And based on everything I got wrong, I had a lot to learn. I'm using odds and my own personal picks to try and gauge pre-fight expectations and then match them with their post fight realities. The odds come from Odds Shark, where I'm taking the mode for each fighter. So, let's get to the fights...
Francis Ngannou (-140) vs. Luis Henrique (+120) (I picked Ngannou, I was right)
- The Expectation: This fight was all about hope for me. I knew Henrique had a few wrestling chops and that he was a little (but not a lot) better seasoned than Ngannou, and that he could potentially take him down and grind him out. And that almost happened. But, my hope was that Henrique would spend enough time on his feet early to be on the receiving end of a flash KO. I really didn't think Henrique would be the first to gas out if the fight went deep. Still, glad that Ngannou got the win.
- Fallout for Ngannou: I say I'm happy he won, because as was pretty obvious to anyone watching that fight, Ngannou has the raw potential to be the future of the heavyweight division. He's massive in a way that just about nobody that chooses MMA as a profession is, which is to say that he appears to be a legit NFL sized athlete with top flight athletic ability to go with it. How he got here, who knows? But, it can only be hopped that the UFC slow plays him and lets him develop as best he can, because the potential is sky high.
- Fallout for Henrique: A few bad stand-ups and fence breaks aside, Henrique did a pretty damn decent job against a fighter who was much much larger and more powerful than himself. I'm not sure if he'll stay at heavyweight, as he's fought at 205 before, but he did look big enough in this bout. He needs to round out his game and improve his actual fight ending offense, but It's not hard to see him getting a couple wins at the bottom of either division.
Vicente Luque (-140) vs. Hayder Hassan (+110) (I picked Hassan, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: I picked Hassan because my feeling was that if Luque couldn't out-strike Hassan he wouldn't be able to submit him. Luque's offense is very much based around him being a competitive, if not purely better striker. Even his submission offense is built around it. And, it turns out he was able to hit Hassan often and hard enough to force Hassan into a sloppy takedown and get the submission.
- Fallout for Luque: Great win for him, and he has the makings of a good talent down the road. He's young, athletic, and well rounded. The only question is going to be how well he does against better strikers, but Leo Santos is currently doing very well with a very similar skill set, so this might take him further than it seems.
- Fallout for Hassan: If he was expected to lose the Usman fight (at least by me), this was must win territory. He may just be released from the UFC after this. He had an opponent who probably wouldn't be able to get him down easily and who would trade shots openly with him. That's as good a fight as he could have asked for, and he still got beat in pretty short order.
Kamaru Usman (-225) vs. Leon Edwards (+190) (I picked Usman, I was right)
- The Expectation: This runs in similar lines to the Ngannou fight above in that my pick was more hope than foresight. I knew Usman was a big enough, powerful enough, and technical enough wrestler to beat Edwards, but I also knew that Edwards was a good enough counter-wrestler to shut down a lot of Usman's shots and a powerful enough striker to make him pay for not getting them. Still, Usman showed better power striking than ever before to take away a lot of Edwards' advantages at range, and as Edwards started to tire, Usman was right there to pour it on.
- Fallout for Usman: This is a big, meaningful win for him in that I really think Edwards is a cut above the norm at welterweight. For Usman to weather a bad first round and take over the fight down the stretch shows the kind of fortitude and skill that he can carry throughout a fight and the kind of long term potential that has me picking him as a future title contender. This was ant flashy, exciting win, but it was a decisive showing over a very good opponent.
- Fallout for Edwards: And on the other side, I thought this was a good showing for Edwards, if perhaps (along with his Carlos Henrique da Silva loss) one that shows his potential as more in the "action fighter" range than the "future top contender range". Essentially, Edwards did great work in this bout until he started to get tired. Once he did, his takedown defense broke down and as that started to break he started eating punches and losing focus. There are enough big powerful grinders at welterweight that that may always present a bit of a ceiling to him, or this could just be another learning experience that drives him to improve everywhere.
Jim Alers (-110) vs. Cole Miller (-110) (I picked Miller, it didn't matter)
- The Expectation: I figured Cole Miller would be too dangerous for Alers to just outwork for a decision. To his credit, Alers looked better than ever, but Miller seemed to be getting the better of him leading up to the foul.
- Fallout for Alers: Assuming he doesn't get cut and that he still got paid and that this fight doesn't just immediately get re-booked (although it might), I honestly think this isn't a bad result for Alers. He looked improved, but Miller is an experienced aggressive fighter and seemed to be landing the better, harder shots. Another round of that and Alers might have been on the wrong end of a TKO loss. At that point, a No Contest is definitely the better result.
- Fallout for Miller: I don't want to say that this fits something of a pattern for Miller, but it kind of does. Basically, he looks good in fights until something goes wrong, whether it's a headbutt, an eye poke, a groin kick or some other bit of weirdness (like that non-TKO against Gamburyan), and once that happens his focus just seems to go out the window. That's not to say he wasn't perfectly justified in stepping out of this fight after a bad eye poke, and considering past experiences maybe that's a show of maturity from him. Just take the no contest off a foul, rather than toughing it out for a loss. Either way, its another weirdly maligned fight in a career that's seen a few of them.
Nik Lentz (-140) vs. Danny Castillo (+120) (I picked Lentz, I was right-ish)
- The Expectation: The news of Nik Lentz moving up to lightweight made me somewhat too happy all things considered. I mean, I'm not a dyed in the wool Lentz supporter, but I've always found his fights reasonably entertaining. His propensity to gas late, however made the idea of him moving back up feel like the absolutely right move. And while Danny Castillo is a tough out, he just didn't strike me as the kind of fighter capable of the consistent offense needed to beat Lentz.
- Fallout for Lentz: He really did look phenomenal at 155. He sets such an amazingly ridiculous pace, it's no surprise he still got completely exhausted, but its a pace lightweights will have more trouble matching than featherweights. He's still strong as an ox, a complete damage sponge and constantly aggressive. He may not be an amazing finisher, but he should be an enjoyable top tier gatekeeper in the lightweight division.
- Fallout for Castillo: Unless he's just rocking an unbelievable wave of Team Alpha Male karma, I expect this was Castillo's last fight in the UFC. Considering he's got his own business already and he's at the age where MMA starts looking less and less like a realistic long-term future, I kind of hope he moves on to better things.
Tamdan McCrory (+175) vs. Josh Samman (-210) (I picked Samman, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: How was I not supposed to expect Samman to win this. He's BE's own... But, if I'm going to be real for a second, I did have some doubts. Mostly about Samman's past as something of a slow starter and McCrory's past as a very fast starter. Those weren't well founded and instead I was left somewhat awed by McCrory's ability to maintain aggression over multiple rounds.
- Fallout for McCrory: He's probably deserving of a spot in the top 15 at middleweight right now. That was an entirely comprehensive performance against one of the division's best rising talents and in a division where C.B. Dollaway, Dan Henderson, and Roan Carneiro are all ranked, there's no reason McCrory shouldn't be counted among those few. He's big, powerful, aggressive, and seems to have great cardio. He's even shored up a lot of technique over the years. He's a great dark horse threat at 185.
- Fallout for Samman: This is something of the danger of the skilled generalist in MMA. Samman is a fighter that really likes to do everything in the cage. He strikes and then closes people down to the clinch, hits takedowns, and then tries to outwork them on the ground. You can't always be the guy that does everything, you can't out-wrestle, out-grapple, or out-strike everyone. In the second round, he rushed right back in on McCrory who had been getting the best of their scrambles on the ground and that spelled the end for him. Hopefully this is a good learning experience for the future in a division that still has a ton of room for new talent at the top.
Valentina Shevchenko (-105) vs. Sarah Kaufman (-115) (I picked Kaufman, I was wrong-ish)
- The Expectation: My biggest hesitation about picking Shevchenko here was the lack of a full camp to prepare for Kaufman. Add in that Kaufman looked like she was in terrific shape at the weigh-ins and sounded motivated and I figured she'd edge out a competitive three round decision predicated on control and a more well rounded, active attack. Instead, Kaufman got outworked everywhere and couldn't find her stride until the third round when she had to finish the fight or lose.
- Fallout for Shevchenko: You can't ask for a better debut than this. Beating a top ranked bantamweight on short notice is a great way to introduce yourself to a division which is more up in the air than it has ever been. Unlike flyweight, which has slowly resolved itself into a pretty clear elite class over the past couple years, women's bantamweight still seems to be struggling hard with the idea of just what a good fighter in that division looks like. If Shevchenko can win a couple more big fights (and with her striking talent and athleticism that's not unlikely) then she could be in line for a crack at the belt within the next year or two.
- Fallout for Kaufman: On the flip side, Kaufman has been seemingly wandering the wastes for her entire UFC career. With just four bouts in the past two and a half years, she's now 1-2 (1 NC) in her current Zuffa run. She has wins over several of the top fighters in her division still, but it feels like she's just not a part of the picture at 135 at all. Hopefully she gets another fight booked as soon as possible, but it's not hard to see this loss as justification for putting her back on ice.
Nate Marquardt (+340) vs. C.B. Dollaway (-420) (I picked Dollaway, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: This seemed like a layup fight for Dollaway (although others would remind me after the loss that Dollaway's fight IQ is always a liability). Still, his quick KO beating to Machida notwithstanding, Dollaway seems like he's slowly gotten better over time and while he'll never be as good as Marquardt was at his best, Marquardt's own fading durability just seemed setup for a slightly competitive fight that turns into a brutal KO... you know just like what happened, sort of.
- Fallout for Marquardt: He sounds like he thinks he's back, and that's not exactly great. He still got wobbled hard in this fight on the first solid shot he took. He just didn't go down from it. Does that mean he's back? Maybe, but it feels unlikely. He's a great fighter in decline and sometimes that means everything just clicks back into form. I'd still have trouble picking him going forward.
- Fallout for Dollaway: It looks like his own defensive liabilities and lack of durability will always be a gate to extended bouts of success in the cage for Dollaway. Give him a tough fighter he can't just out-wrestle and his game seems to devolve pretty quickly. At this point he's too far along to expect much to change. I think he'll still be a good gatekeeper-ish challenge at 185, but he's not a top 15 kind of fighter.
Charles Oliveira (+145) vs. Myles Jury (-165) (I picked Jury, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: A bounce back for Myles? That's certainly what I had in mind. I figured he's strong pressure fighting, reasonably well timed striking, and good crushing top control would get him a solid win over a Charles Oliveira, especially a Charles Oliveira who came in overweight and maybe not in stellar shape. Maybe? Instead his takedowns left him open for an insta-guillotine and a crushing loss.
- Fallout for Oliveira: Welcome to Lineker-ville, population 7.5**. Charles Oliveira is in that exceptional position of both being extremely gifted and extremely unreliable on a professional level. He's missed weight often enough now to expect he'll do it again, especially given how long he's been in the UFC at this point. He's better than ever, an incredibly dangerous finisher and a great top ten featherweight. He's just not really a featherweight and until he is, he's not a contender either.
- Fallout for Jury: I don't want to say I told you so when I said I didn't understand his dropping to 145, but... this kinda makes that decision look like a less than great move. It could still pan out long term, Jury isn't a fighter short on ability. But we should be seeing him hitting his stride in the cage right now, as a 27 year old with over six years of fighting under his belt. And to date, in his biggest toughest fights he hasn't been even a little competitive. Hopefully for his sake that changes his next time out, otherwise he's just going to be another gatekeeper at 145 and that division has plenty.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz (+140) vs. Randa Markos (-170) (I picked Kowalkiewicz, I was right)
- The Expectation: Kowalkiewicz has the kind of style that is made to take rounds consistently and get decisions. Randa Markos, at the moment, doesn't. It seemed like a pretty clear pick to assume that Kowalkiewcz would be able to use her superior volume striking and movement to out-work Markos.
- Fallout for Kowalkiewicz: As expected she's inserted herself into strawweight as an immediate borderline top 10 fighter. 12th ranked at the moment, but somehow behind Markos, so... whatever. Still she's a solid, consistent athlete with a good striking game and an otherwise well rounded approach. I'm still not sure she's headed for title contention, but she should make a talented, tough out in a division that is still in the building process.
- Fallout for Markos: There are just a lot of women at 115 right now who have a lot of potential and a few decent tools and haven't had the time to develop into actually talented fighters yet. Markos is a good offensive wrestler and has some punching power, but her striking game is still too shallow and her defensive skills are lacking. She doesn't have a style made to win rounds and there are other fighters, even less athletic ones who do. Down the road, with more seasoning she could be very good, but it might take a few UFC losses (and even a trip down to the regionals) to get there.
Nate Diaz (+315) vs. Michael Johnson (-375) (I picked Johnson, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: This is the second of three bouts where the prevailing knowledge of the past overruled the possibilities of the present, in terms of predicting and outcome. I mean, it's not like people didn't know that Nate Diaz could potentially outbox Michael Johnson, it's just that you'd have to be a hell of a believer to think he'd do it after his string of recent performances. Diaz hasn't just looked unmotivated, he's looked totally overwhelmed by top talent lately. Maybe his win here is just down to motivation, or maybe it's a sign that a few top lightweights (Johnson included) aren't all that elite.
- Fallout for Diaz: He's right back in the thick of the lightweight top 15 with this win, and it's a division that needs some serious sorting out at the top. Diaz is at the point in years of experience that a long term revitalization of his career seems unlikely. But, he's only fought six times since 2011, so it may be that the slow pace has allowed him to really get healthy and get things back on track. His only recent losses are to the champ and two guys no longer in the division, so the top 15 is full of potential fights for him.
- Fallout for Johnson: This loss wasn't half as bad as the Diaz ride-or-die fan base would have you believe. Johnson looked exhausted and beaten, but he was competitive with Diaz throughout the bout... Still, putting that behind us, this loss casts some real doubt on the top ten positioning of a few fighters. Johnson's best recent win is Barboza, whose best recent win is Bobby Green, whose best recent win is Josh Thomson, and while he beat Nate Diaz he would also be the first to tell you that he under-performed over his second UFC run. That's not to say there's an army of guys waiting to take the mantle and be ranked fighters right now. Guys like Adriano Martins, Leonardo Santos, and Mairbek Taisumov still have a lot to prove... But it does make me wonder whether this is about Nate Diaz's return or about a lightweight class that's a bit overrated.
Alistair Overeem (+200) vs. Junior dos Santos (-250) (I picked dos Santos, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: Honestly, I expected this fight. I changed my last Hindsight closing remarks (since I published it after this event) because I had said that I'd be talking about how, even after a win, I don't think this means JDS is back. My expectations were for a weird, ugly fight that wouldn't look great for either guy. I expected JDS to win that fight, but I'm not that shocked that he didn't.
- Fallout for Overeem: Jackson-Wink is going to have him knocking on the door of a title shot soon, even with losses to Ben Rothwell and Travis Browne hanging over him. He's just more interesting, more marketable, and when everything is firing right, more dangerous than most of the other heavyweights out there. His new in-and out safety first striking style seems to fit him to a T and with a win over the current champ already under his belt, I don't see it being a big stretch to assume Werdum vs. Overeem 2 is coming if Werdum beats Velasquez again.
- Fallout for Dos Santos: Things are not good for JDS these days. What was once a glorious pin-point accurate, power-punching, movement-heavy sniper has become a guy who just isn't comfortable anywhere. It no longer looks like he's looking to counter out of the confidence that he'll land the bigger better punches in an exchange, instead it looks like he's just trying not to get hit hard because he doesn't trust what will happen if he does. Sad to see from a heavyweight whose prime seems like it was far too short.
Rafael dos Anjos (-195) vs. Donald Cerrone (+155) (I picked Dos Anjos, I was right)
- The Expectation: I can't say I picked this, even if I picked RDA to win it. My thought was that he would start fast and overwhelm Cerrone a bit and then just keep pressuring him (in a reasonably competitive fight) such that Cerrone never found the consistency to win rounds. Instead he drilled him to the body early and then beat him until he went away. Masterful performance from RDA.
- Fallout for RDA: He's the amazing, violent champion that nobody seems to give a rat's ass about. After the event the only things that fans could talk about was how Conor McGregor should fight Frankie Edgar or, if he wanted to move to lightweight Nate Diaz, because that would be money. I don't know that I see Nate that way, but RDA just seems to be a guy best avoided. Apparently he's fighting Khabib next, I'd rather he fought Ferguson, but this will tell us if Khabib is still a guy everyone should avoid too.
- Fallout for Cerrone: He's just not championship material and what's more, he seems to know it. He's never been the guy that wanted the belt, never been the guy comfortable waiting on opponents, and trying to make him that guy seems like it was an abject failure. Maybe now he can go back to fighting every other week and being entertaining as hell.
Those are my collected thoughts from UFC on Fox 17. As always, so much of what I wrote seems obvious now. But, that's the benefit of hindsight. Next time around I expect I'll be talking about Bob Lawler, still the extreme outlier of UFC champions and just maybe about how Stipe Miocic has finally made himself a legit heavyweight contender. Until then!
*This week's quote from the movie Near Dark.
**Rounded up from 2.