Recently, it appears that Benson Henderson has run just a little bit off the rails. At one point, champion of the world, he was facing something of a round robin of no. 1 contenders to get back to a 3rd shot at Anthony Pettis, and a chance to regain his belt. But, after back to back losses, the chances that that shot would emerge have grown slimmer and slimmer. To fix that, Henderson went out and did something foolish and crazy, and the fact that it worked is somewhat amazing. Oh, and I went 7-3 for fight picks, all tossups, so nothing I feel too bad about.
Disclaimer time: I've tried, a few times, to delve deeper into how I might theoretically gamble on cards as the come, but the use of "units" often adds a further barrier that I'm not really willing to crack. I think I could honestly say, in hindsight, if I had been betting on this card, I would have bet on Moontasri, Makovsky and Holloway, maybe if I'd been feeling extra silly I'd have placed some sort of bet on Prazeres, de Lima, or Skelly, but probably not. There weren't a lot of fights I felt very secure about, even with nothing at stake. So, while I obviously can't give jack for gambling advice, I can talk about fighter progression, especially in light of odds and expectations. I'll be using Best Fight Odds for the odds on each fight and taking the mode for each fighter. Now, on to the fights!
James Moontasri (-250) vs. Cody Pfister (+200) (I picked Moontasri, I was right)
- The Expectation: This was a fight that I was really looking for Moontasri to dominate in. I'd seen brief clips of Cody Pfister and they all suggested that he didn't have the athletic ability to compete with a fighter as gifted as Moontasri. So, the question was, how dominant would Moontasri be. Fortunately he was very dominant and made this fight a fun showcase on his way to a second round stoppage.
Fallout for Moontasri: This was a much better introduction to Moontasri as a lightweight prospect than his debut against Joe Ellenberger. He looked athletically dominant and flashy enough to grab people's attention. Unfortunately, he also showed some of the same problems that haunted him in that Ellenberger fight, most notably a tendency to gas, in part due to a lack of consistent striking fundamentals. Moontasri is a lot of fun to watch when he's winning, but he'll probably have to narrow his approach a bit as his career moves forward.
- Fallout for Pfister: In an Anecdotal sense, it feels like, when an obvious effort is made to keep videos of someone's fights from being seen, the reason behind it is that the fighter isn't very good. And the management or camp behind that fighter is trying to hide that fact, while still getting bigger and better fights. Maybe that's not the case, maybe it's just observational bias, but Cody Pfister's UFC debut certainly seems to back that idea up. Despite 5 years as a pro already under his belt, he seems incredibly raw and physically non-competitive. Hard to see where he goes from here.
- The Expectation: I'm really not sure at all why Tim Elliott was a betting favorite going into this bout. I couldn't see a clear path to victory for him, even if I thought he'd be competitive. He hasn't shown the submission game to tap Makovsky out, nor the striking to catch him consistently. The fight itself was even more onesided than I might have predicted, with Makovsky dominating most of it with much cleaner technique.
- Fallout for Elliott: It's hard to say that Elliott has necessarily been pushed past his point of development, or pushed past his point of skill. Either way, he's been thrown a series of fights that he hasn't been all that ready for and seems to be regressing as a result. Elliott is just not competing with other top 10 fighters. If the UFC keeps him (and I imagine they will) they need to give him a step back.
- Fallout for Makovsky: This was the bounce-back fight he needed after that ugly loss to Jussier Formiga. It's not a super pretty win, but it was a win and a reasonably fun fight. Makovsky is technical everywhere and a great athlete, he can be a consistent top 10 performer. This fight was a good reminder of that fact, and if he can get a couple of stellar performances in the next fight or two, he could be in the running for a title shot, especially in a division as thin as flyweight.
- The Expectation: I picked Skelly, and I expected him to out-wrestle Alers, but I don't think I'd ever have picked him to win the striking battle. In part the result of this fight was a testament to just how far Skelly's toughness and stick-to-itiveness can take him in almost any bout, but still Skelly by TKO was a big win for him and pushes him a lot further than the decision would have.
- Fallout for Alers: Alers has a problem. I'm not sure if it's a camp problem, or something else, but his development as a prospect seems to have stalled. Most particularly, his striking development has not come along at all. He's a great wrestler and grappler, a great physical specimen, but hes combination boxing and defensive striking is just not there. At this point in his career, that's the kind of problem that could seriously stunt his future in the division. Alers still has promise, but this was a big setback, and one I hope leads to changes.
- Fallout for Skelly: His stock is suddenly soaring in the featherweight division, and it should cast a strong light at the quality of Mirsad Bektic, the only man able to stop Skelly's roll so far. Skelly and Alers both spent at least some time training at Duane Ludwig's gym prior to this fight, but it looks like that training took a lot more with Skelly. A lot of his striking is still ugly, but he's caught some defensive basics and his mechanics are improving. Hopefully that's a trend that continues, because it won't be long before he's fighting for a slot in the top 15.
Efrain Escudero (+133) vs. Rodrigo de Lima (-167) (I picked de Lima, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: Much like the odds, I was predicting a win for Rodrigo Monstro. That's not really because I've been particularly high on Monstro's skill set, but instead that I just couldn't bring myself to pick Escudero to win against a young, developing fighter in the UFC. So, to that extent, Escudero really exceeded expectations in getting the win here. For a while he even put on an exciting fight. A solid showing from a guy who should still have a few left in the tank.
- Fallout for Escudero: He had to win here. He'd already lost a terrible re-debut fight against Leonardo Santos, if he dropped this bout against Monstro, his UFC career would likely be over and done for the last time. So, this win is really just about staying afloat in the UFC. It doesn't move him way up the ranks, but it gets him another fight, and if the UFC is on the ball, perhaps a name booking against another un-ranked vet.
- Fallout for de Lima: He may get another UFC fight, but unless things change a lot, he's heading back to the Brazilian regional circuit before long. He's obviously been working on his strength and conditioning and obviously been working on his striking, but there's just so much work to do on the latter. And it appears that there are a lot of long ingrained bad habits (from years of fighting already in the books), it may be too much for him to learn while fighting in the UFC. He's young enough that a step back to the regionals might be best.
- The Expectation: The odds on Ray Borg winning were pretty damn remarkable, but all that said, the chances of him losing this bout felt exceptionally slim. Borg is one of those rare talents who really needs to be matched physically, first and foremost before an opponent can start thinking about breaking him down technically at all. Kelades couldn't match him physically and the rest of the fight was kind of moot from there.
- Fallout for Borg: He's definitely one of the hottest rising talents at 125. It's too bad that Dustin Ortiz has already taken a little of the shine off him (albeit not much) because Borg deserves a lot of hype. He's still not really a striker at all, but with his skills, that won't matter for a little while... I hope. Hopefully the UFC isn't forced to rush him to a title shot, due to a lack of contenders. If they can get him a few more fights and another year or more of development, he could be a legit title contender.
- Fallout for Kelades: This is a bit of a harsh reality check after his huge win at home over Patrick Holohan. Kelades has some decent top control grappling skills, and a serviceable striking game, but especially in a division so built on speed and agility, he can't keep pace with the top tier athletes. That means he has to be a lot better technically than his opposition (or in the case of Holohan, a lot stronger). There are a lot of fun fights for Kelades at 125, but this was a bout against a raw elite athlete, and he got schooled.
- The Expectation: Even as the underdog, I felt at least a little bit confident picking Prazeres to win this. His better than advertised striking, powerful wrestling, and solid top control grappling seemed tailor made to test a young fighter like Lee who had been winning more on athletic talents than well thought out strategy and technique. I was wrong, not only has Lee continued to improve, but his size and strength negated much of Prazeres' wrestling game making this a battle of cardio and power, where Lee held the advantage.
- Fallout for Lee: His development continues. He still has some holes in his striking (Prazeres touched him up a lot), but he's got a great chin, and has enough power of his own to keep opponents honest. Coupled with that, he has a solid power wrestling game and good, developing ground and pound and ground control.This was a big win for him, as it really solidifies that he's going to be at an advantage over the bottom half of 155.
- Fallout for Prazeres: These are the kind of test fights that a veteran like Prazeres has to pass if he ever wants to make any kind of run in the division. I don't think I'd have picked him out as a fighter on his way to a ranking slot, but I thought he could be a gatekeeper to the top 15-20. A loss like this, to a raw, developing fighter, readjusts that somewhat. Prazeres is still a solid mid-division vet, but it's hard to see him rising past that.
- The Expectation: A terrible ugly fight that everyone loses, except Kelly, I expected him to win, and he did.
- Fallout for Kelly: He's still "a guy" in a middleweight division full of guys, but he's won his first two fights and that sort of ensures a level of career longevity that means we could easily see him at least 5 more times. For his part, his ungodly toughness and decent strength and consistency means he could be a win loss kind of fighter, if never a particularly interesting one.
- Fallout for Walsh: Really hard to say where Walsh goes from here. Does the UFC cut him on his first loss? They tend to put TUF talent on a very short leash, and missing weight big can't have helped that. If they keep him, he needs to make major changes in training and fight prep. He fights with a level of confidence that suggests he's not being pushed a lot in training given his level of development. If his skills don't improve there aren't many MWs he's going to beat.
- The Expectation: This was all set to be a showcase fight for Magny and an easy 6th win on the end of his streak. That's how it played out.
- Fallout for Kiichi: For fans waiting for the other shoe to drop on Kiichi this was the time. His 3-0 unbeaten UFC record involved a lot of weirdly improbably judging and circumstance, the kind of thing that was bound to catch up with him eventually. Magny is exactly the kind of well rounded, consistent performer that was going to put a halt to Kunimoto's rise at WW. As for what's next, his three wins have probably bought him a lot of matchability, so I expect him to get another strong test in his next bout. Whether he wins that will depend a lot on the matchup.
- Fallout for Magny: 6-0 is 6-0, so fans trying to detract from that are really missing the forest for the trees. Even if it hasn't bought Magny a ranking slot yet, it should by him a ranked opponent, or at least someone knocking on that door. His tendency to take himself out of range in bouts still gives me a lot of pause when thinking of him reaching (or staying in) the top 15, but he's the kind of guy who will likely hang out in the top 3rd of the division causing fighters problems for a while.
- The Expectation: I was looking for Holloway to finish this fight, because I was pretty sure he'd have a distinct advantage throughout. In general, that means that Miller somewhat exceeded my expectations and it's a testament to his improved striking and toughness that he stuck out the full 15 minutes. Still, this was a decisive win for Holloway, and a statement that he really deserves to be a top 10 fighter.
- Fallout for Holloway: Of course, being a true top 10 fighter means getting top 10 match-ups, and the UFC had one waiting for Holloway the moment the final bell rung. He's set to face Cub Swanson, and while Swanson is the much bigger name, it's a fight I actually expect Holloway to win, if not take to a very competitive decision. That's no knock on Swanson, just a recognition that Holloway could be a future contender.
- Fallout for Miller: He hasn't been ranked for a while, so it's hard to say that this loss is any determinant on his place in the division. Mostly this is just a re-affirmation that Miller is a fun action fighter, but there's a level of competition that he's just not going to beat. Holloway now represents that level. Still fights with Maximo Blano or Diego Brandao would be fun.
Benson Henderson (+136) vs. Brandon Thatch (-162) (I picked Thatch, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: I picked Thatch. I thought his early power and aggression would be too much and that he'd be able to physically dominate Henderson to the point that Henderson's wrestle/grappling would be fairly useless. For a while that was the case, but Henderson is a cardio machine and Thatch, at least in his first real test against elite competition, isn't. Great win for Henderson, can't say I'm sorry to be wrong.
- Fallout for Henderson: Performances like this put real steam behind the idea that Henderson could be a moneyweight fighter alongside Donald Cerrone. Cerrone has a long list of remarkable performances under his belt that have cemented his legacy as the man to call when the UFC needs a fun fight at 155 lbs. Henderson has been a technical fighter and a gifted fighter, but rarely a "remarkable" one. This win alone makes me much more interested in his next bout. Hopefully Henderson continues this run and turns what may be a lack of title shots into a series of exciting high profile bouts.
- Fallout for Thatch: This was Thatch's first shot at a top tier fighter, and he didn't win it. Not a lot more to it than that. It doesn't mean he's done as a future ranked welterweight, if anything (considering most of his problems were cardio related) it makes me feel better about his chances. Thatch has most of what he needs to compete at an elite level already. This bout showed him what was missing, and I expect to see him comeback in his next bout against a top 15 guy and get a win.
Those are my collected thoughts for last week's event. So much of what I wrote seems obvious now, but as always, that's the benefit of hindsight. Stay tuned for next week, when I expect to talk about my latest Bigfoot sighting (hey, I'm in the Northwest after all). Until then!
*This week's quote taken from the move The Hit.