For few fighters does that seem more true than Josh Koscheck. Not that he ever quite became a "leader" in the sense of a longtime UFC champ, but he has been an unmistakable part of the organization for a long, long time. At time of printing, he's had more welterweight fights than anyone else on the UFC roster. And he did it with a decidedly powerful style. Big, swooping takedowns, crushing right hands, an emphasis on speed and accuracy. Force created Koscheck, and now it's breaking him down. On the other side is Demain Maia. At times forceful, but more often a picture of patient control. Like Koscheck never quite a leader, but at 38, still a force to be reckoned with. And speaking of forces to be reckoned with, I went 10-2 on fight picks.
Disclaimer time: So, once again, had I been betting, I probably would have won on Serrano and (maybe) Santos, and a large bet on Francisco Trinaldo, whose pre-fight odds of -189 seem like a gift in the making. Maybe I'd have even placed a little wager on Kevin Souza at -235. It seems like there was some value on this card for the bettor willing to take a few close favorites. I also probably would have lost on Ryan LaFlare (maybe), but that's all just playing the theoretical game, hindsight for earnings rather than fight picks. Instead, I'm using odds and the "future" lens to look at what's been learned now that the fight is over and pre-fight expectations have been shattered or (as was mostly the case here) maintained. I'll be using Best Fight Odds for the odds on each fight, and taking the mode for each fighter.
- The Expectation: Between two fighters with incredibly limited experience and technical skill, the better athlete is almost always the safer pick. Watching what little of TUF LA that I did, it was pretty clear that the biggest knock against Fredy Serrano was a lack of experience and a lack of size. He was actually winning his bout against eventual finalist Alejandro Perez, but had to work too hard to get takedowns. Syler didn't have any of those tools. It wasn't a tough call to say he wasn't winning this fight.
- Fallout for Serrano: This is his introduction to the UFC. If the UFC can bring in more Latin American, south east Asian, or similarly raw fighters for him to face, he could be a decent talent down the line. If they start booking him like a fast track prospect, chances are he'll hit a wall pretty quickly, just due to his lack of experience. Hopefully the UFC brings him up slowly, even despite his age, and gives his technical tools a chance to meet his physical abilities.
- Fallout for Syler: He probably won't be in the UFC again. Given his limited athletic ability and his lack of good MMA fundamentals, that's almost certainly for the best. He can likely headline regional shows back home, but I wouldn't expect bigger things in the future.
- The Expectation: I wasn't quite sure Christos Giagos would pull this one out, for some reason. I guess I didn't have enough faith in his process, that he wouldn't chose to bang it out with Blade on the feet. I still picked Giagos to win, but I was pretty pleasantly surprised that after just a little back and forth standing (where Giagos did well) he took the fight to the ground and slapped on a quick submission. Really good showing.
- Fallout for Giagos: This is his real introduction as a potential prospect to fans. Giagos has the strength, the aggression, and the well rounded game to be a fun, dangerous fighter for the UFC. But, getting Gilbert Burns in his first bout was just too much too soon. At lightweight, there's no reason the UFC can't keep giving him tough fights without pushing him too far too fast.
- Fallout for Oliveira: He may not be done in the UFC quite yet. 0-2 isn't the death sentence it used to be. However, it's pretty clear that Oliveira isn't much more than an action striker. If he's not facing a similarly styled opponent, he'll probably lose.
Cain Carrizosa (+150) vs. Leonarod Mafra (-175) (I picked Mafra, I was right)
- The Expectation: I figured Mafra would get the job done earlier, but he still got the job done in the end. Like Giagos, Mafra is a really top notch athlete with a game in development. He has some basic, but powerful Muay Thai and a really solid top game. Carrizosa dropped him early, but didn't have the physical tools or technical consistency to compete over the course of the fight.
- Fallout for Carrizosa: Much like Blade above, Carrizosa may not be quite done in the UFC, but it's pretty clear that he's not going to be competing physically with the best in the division. He can be a fun action grappler, but only against completely one-dimensional strikers, or other action grapplers. Otherwise, he's just been fodder thus far.
- Fallout for Mafra: Mafra has fought in the UFC at 185, 170 and 155. He stall has some big problems with striking defense and chinny-ness, problems that could eventually limit his ceiling, but it looks like lightweight suits him well. He's got great power and seems to be developing his overall skill game. At only 4 years into his pro career, I expect a lot more development out of Mafra.
- The Expectation: Really don't know what to say about this fight. I expected Silva to have decent success pressing Dober against the cage, taking him down, and just generally grinding away on him. He didn't really, and was probably on his way to a decision loss before the ref decided that MMA is just too dangerous a sport for anyone to compete in and stopped the fight altogether. Never a good way to win.
- Fallout for Dober: This is the best Dober has looked to date in the Octagon. He's still not a power puncher in any sense, but his decent and consistent technical output is starting to be paired with some pretty reasonable takedown and submission defense. It's that Kind of Bisping-esque skill set that can get a fighter a lot of wins in the UFC depending. Of course, after this terrible officiating failure, Dober could be one loss away from being sent packing, so his next matchup will be key.
- Fallout for Silva: He's still a big, hulking, unassuming brute of a lightweight. Buscape needs to be able to lean on opponents, to take them down and work them over, or to get lots of time at range to pick his shots. He's neither aggressive enough, nor a skilled enough wrestler or striker to really climb the division ranks, but he's big and he's not bad anywhere. Just a tough out at 155.
Katsunori Kikuno (+208) vs. Edimilson Souza (-250) (I picked Souza, I was right)
- The Expectation: That Souza would be the perfect bad matchup for Kikuno and probably KO him in pretty short order. Nailed it.
- Fallout for Kikuno: It seems official that Kikuno has finally broken his style into something that is no longer nearly as interesting, dangerous, or reliable as it used to be. He's become a sitting target at range for any half decent boxer that can string a combination together... so, about 25% of the UFC roster. Kikuno can still be competitive because he's a great wrestler and grappler, but a certain class of striker will wreck him every time.
- Fallout for Souza: This was a big step forward for Souza. Kikuno is by far his best opponent to date, and a big name win for his resume. Hopefully he can take another solid step forward next time out and keep climbing the ladder at 145. I don't see him being a title contender, but I could easily see him getting near the top 10 of the division.
Akbarh Arreola (+170) vs. Francisco Trinaldo (-210) (I picked Trinaldo, I was right)
- The Expectation: Trinaldo was going to steamroll Arreola. Which he did, pretty thoroughly.
- Fallout for Arreola: Unfortunately for him, a 2014 win over Yves Edwards does not a UFC caliber fighter make. I realize, in this day and age, that term has less and less meaning. But, there's still a basic level of athlete that just doesn't cut it in the UFC for more than a handful of fights. Arreola is that athlete.
- Fallout for Trinaldo: He got the win he was supposed to get. So far, Trinaldo has been a surprisingly active mid-tier gatekeeper for the UFC. Big enough, strong enough, and well rounded enough to push developing fighters, but not so good that he's been able to climb above the bottom 2/3rds of 155. This doesn't really change that.
- The Expectation: I was pretty sure that, while Fili may have to weather a few tight spots and bad moments, his general well rounded skill set would see him past any of Pepey's flurries and into either a big KO or a decision win. Instead, Pepey caught him in the first crazy thing he threw at him and stopped the fight before it ever really got going. Great win for Pepey.
- Falluot for Fili: Andre Fili has a problem. It's a solvable problem, and a problem that could just be solved by time and experience, but it is a problem. Essentially, Fili is prone to getting sloppy and getting caught off guard by opponents. At times it will be because he put himself in danger, this time it was because he didn't appreciate the danger of his opponent. He's only 24, so he's not exactly running out of time, but he's also been fighting since he was a teenager. He may be stunting the best years of his career with mistake riddled losses.
- Fallout for Pepey: I still don't know that Pepey's process has improved from his Imanari-esque "do whatever, whenever" style, but he's definitely honing his skills in terms of how dangerous his attacks are. It used to be that his wild, sloppy submission and striking games were ripe to be picked off by more technical opponents. At this point it seems like he's become a fighter you have to stop before he gets started, because if you don't he can do wicked things. A bit like Erick Silva.
Gilbert Burns (-750) vs. Alex Oliveira (+550) (I picked Burns, I was right)
- The Expectation: This is one of those situations where I have to ask myself a number of questions. First of all, I expected Burns to implement his 3rd round performance much earlier in the fight. But, I'm not sure I think worse of him for not getting the job done sooner. It's clear that the Blackzilians are trying to turn him into a well rounded, strike first fighter. If he wants to be among the best in the world, that's very likely what he's going to have to become. A fighter like Alex Cowboy is a necessary bump in that. A fighter he just couldn't out strike, no matter how much he wanted to. He made an amazing comeback out of it, and as far as his record is concerned, that's what's important.
- Fallout for Burns: So, is it time to get off the Gilbert Burns hype train? Not unless you're the kind of fan that thinks that every sign of adversity is a sign that a fighter sucks. Every fighter struggles at some point, the fact that Burns didn't let that struggle become a loss, and that he did it against a pretty solid looking fighter (if unknown) is a good sign. If his striking continues to not evolve, he may have a problem, but right now, it's just a bump in the road.
- Fallout for Cowboy: This is probably one of the better examples of a loss not really being a loss. I've long held that fans should hold off before being impressed by an "attractive loser" so to speak. However, Cowboy showed some real skill in his striking, wrestling, and grappling in this bout. Not amazing skill on the ground, but not bad. He's big, he's tough, and he's powerful. I expect to see him have a great deal of success as an action fighter in the UFC.
- The Expectation: Nunes was going to pound Baszler into a fine putty in under a round. Mission accomplished.
- Fallout for Baszler: Women's bantamweight is amazingly thin on talent and shallow on bodies. Baszler still isn't cutting the mustard. She could probably be a fun fighter for Invicta for a while longer, but her UFC run has been really disappointing.
- Fallout for Nunes: She's edging toward title contention talk. Just because 135 is so thin, any woman who can bring the kind of firepower and technical ability Nunes bring with her to the cage is going to start looking like a potential challenger for the belt. A top 10 win or two (and a consistent lack of other presentable challengers) and she could find herself in a title fight sometime in the next year or so.
- The Expectation: Both men came in claiming to have fixed issues with cardio and conditioning. However, Santos sounded a lot more on point to me. Both with his talk of TUF screwing up his process, and with him saying that he's finally got a nutritionist to help him keep his diet in check. Lo-and-behold, he looked way fresher and more on point in the cage and was able to outlast Martin for the submission win.
- Fallout for Martin: Tony Martin is on the brink of Mike Rhodes level career mismanagement. His fighting life is still in its infancy, and he's taking on highly seasoned vets, some of them in the prime of their career. He's got the athletic ability and all the skill potential he needs to be a great fighter at some point in the future, but if he doesn't start taking some steps back in competition he's going to be out of the UFC in a hurry. He's still a good prospect, but the losses are racking up.
- Fallout for Santos: If Santos' condition has improved he can be a much more dangerous vet in the middle of the lightweight division. I don't know that his striking will ever evolve to the point that he'll be dangerous standing, and I doubt he's athletic enough to really climb way up the rankings, but he is crafty and dangerous. Most importantly, he knows how to steal rounds and stay in fights. A great test for other rising talent.
Josh Koscheck (+350) vs. Erick Silva (-500) (I picked Silva, I was right)
- The Expectation: Koscheck was going to get subbed out in the first. Which is what happened.
- Fallout for Koscheck: If his UFC career isn't done, there aren't any fights I can think of wanting to see him in. If it is done, a freak show fight or two in Bellator probably awaits.
- Fallout for Silva: He's still the same Erick Silva. Not a consistent striker, but a powerful one, and an incredibly venomous grappler when you give him an opportunity. This doesn't really change any of that. How well he does going forward really depends on how he's booked. Personally, I'd like to see him fight Jake Ellenberger.
Ryan LaFlare (-115) vs. Demian Maia (-105) (I picked LaFlare, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: I could taste the idea of Ryan LaFlare winning, I was that confident it was going to happen. Not for any particular skill matchup, just because it felt like the time was right. Maia has seemed like he's on the brink of fading, while LaFlare seemed like he was on the brink of blooming into a top 10-ish kind of guy. There are plenty of people saying now that they were never believers in LaFlare, and that's fine. Saying a guy is going to be top 10-ish isn't the same as saying he's going to be a champ. All told, I'm still surprised at how badly he fell short of the mark.
- Fallout for LaFlare: In something of the same way as Myles Jury's loss to Donald Cerrone, there's still time for LaFlare to come back and take another shot at the top 10, but there's not a ton of time. By all accounts, this should have been the right time, his time, to make an impact on the division, and he fall flat on his face. Could he recover and get another shot at it? Sure, but he's got a lot of improving to do in a short order if he wants to have more than a couple big fights in his career.
- Fallout for Maia: This both was and wasn't a great win for Demian Maia. On the one hand he proved the haters (me) wrong, and showed that he can still out work the young guns. On the other hand, he still faded badly late, to the point of getting a point deduction for passivity. I think that was a little bogus, I've rarely ever seen a ref take a point for that so quickly, but it put a stamp on a miserable 5th round for Maia. Against other quality top 10 guys, he can't afford to fade like that. LaFlare couldn't take advantage, but it doesn't give me a big boost on Maia, beyond the fact that I should remember just how dominant his grappling is.
Those are my collected thoughts for UFC Fight Night: Maia vs. Laflare. As always, so much of what I wrote seems obvious now, but that's the benefit of hindsight. Until next time, when I should be talking about why Chad Mendes is still one of the very best at 145. Adios!
*This week's quote courtesy of the movie Brute Force.