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Hindsight - UFC Fight Night: Gonzaga vs. Cro Cop 2 in retrospect

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Nobody's winning. One side is just losing slower than the other.*

Sometimes it really does feel that way in MMA. The result may end on a win or a loss for one man or another, but the number of fans looking to see Cro Cop face the ghost of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, or even just retire after his latest win suggest to me that there aren't many that are looking at this as a big meaningful win as a fight. Cro Cop won; he salvaged a card (to some extent) that was mostly marked by bad fights and low level technique, with a few bright shining moments of fistic clarity. I've tried to mark it all down as best I can, and I really wasn't as hostile about the whole thing as many others, but that's all about expectations more than anything. Speaking of which, I went 6-6 for fight picks.

Disclaimer Time: If I remember correctly, I told people coming in that bets on Stevie Ray, Damian Stasiak, Sergio Moraes by decision, Calderwood by decision, Bartosz Fabinski and Sheldon Westcott, would all be decent choices. Obviously, the Calderwood, Westcott, and Stasiak info was complete bupkis. However, I will continue to feel good about the Moraes by decision pick, and I was on the money with Ray and Fabinski, so if my advice helped you break even, all's the better. I mean, I didn't take my own advice for a reason. Mostly because the purpose of fight picking and fight odds for me is to benchmark fighter development in comparison with expectation. This was a very close night of fight odds with very few clear favorites, so there was a lot to learn. I'm using Odds Shark for the odds on each fight and taking the mode for each fighter. So, on to the fights...

Taylor Lapilus (-160) vs. Rocky Lee (+130) (I picked Lapilus, I was right)

  • The Expectation: I had no real expectations for this. I knew that Lapilus was a decently sound striker and I knew next to nothing about Rocky Lee except that he was on TUF China. So, low expectations all around. Lapilus exceeded those expectations for an exceptionally one-sided decision.
  • Fallout for Lapilus: He's a legit featherweight talent for the UFC to pick. Maybe not eventual top-ranked fighter legit, but a fighter with a very real skill set and the ability to use it in the cage. His ground game is still raw, but he looks like a great athlete and he has a deep bag of technical striking tools for a fighter as young as he is. Depending on matchups, Lapilus could have a very successful UFC career ahead of him.
  • Fallout for Lee: The only real question for Lee now is, does the UFC give him a second chance. He's TUF talent, so the rope is short. If he does get another shot, he'll probably need to focus on fighting other raw TUF talent to get a potential win.

Marcin Bandel (+140) vs. Steven Ray (-155) (I picked Ray, I was right)

  • The Expectation: While some saw the potential upset in the offing, especially with Ray coming in on short notice, I was really 100% behind the Scotsman here. Stevie Ray has his flaws, mostly that no part of his technical game is truely dominant, but he's a powerful and exciting athlete. He made short work of Bandel out there, just like he should have.
  • Fallout for Bandel: Assuming he gets another shot in the UFC, it's going to have to be a serious step back. His fun leg lock game could make him an action grappler, but without more parts to his game, he doesn't seem to have the speed or unpredictability to make it work. Most good leglock grapplers are either physical freaks or really arrhythmic fighters, Bandel is neither.
  • Fallout for Ray: He needed this win badly. With the UFC's first Scotland card on the horizon, getting a win here, and coming out relatively unscathed is a big deal for getting Ray premiere booking on that card. He's been around long enough that he should be a pretty well developed talent, so at this point the UFC should probably consider just throwing him in the middle of the division and letting him survive on his skills.

Aleksandra Albu (-220) vs. Izabela Badurek (+185) (I picked Badurek, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Like the Lapilus vs. Lee fight above, there were no real expectations to have coming in. In small glimpses, Albu looked to be a great physical specimen with natural striking and power, but just how much of an overall game she really had was anyone's guess. On the other side, Badurek has been a reasonably successful, but limited controlling top-position grappler. Badurek's skills seemed like more of a guarantee of success (to me), Albu showed that she was an entire world ahead of her athletically though and pasted her in two.
  • Fallout for Albu: She's a real rough diamond find for the UFC. A great, powerful athlete with a functional striking game and a solid grinding clinch game to go with it. She should fit right in with the pack at 115, and could very easily be a contender on the rise with more seasoning. A really stellar debut from her here and exactly the impact I hope to see a fighter make when my expectations are super low.
  • Fallout for Badurek: She doesn't look ready to be in the UFC. Her clinch game is much stronger than her range striking, but that's only because her range striking couldn't be worse. I don't know if there are women in the UFC she can beat, but without significant improvement she's at the absolute bottom of the pecking order at strawweight.

Anthony Hamilton (+115) vs. Daniel Omielanczuk (-145) (I picked Omielanczuk, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: I was really hoping to see a breakout performance from Omielanczuk here. Not as a potential contender or even ranked fighter, but as a somewhat reliable action fighter (perhaps in the Pat Barry mode) that could bring some striking to the heavyweight ranks. It's a division short on action fighters right now, Anthony Hamilton made it perfectly clear that Omielanczuk isn't about to be one of them.
  • Fallout for Hamilton: He's got a second win in the UFC, and that makes him much more likely to stick around for another couple years. Hamilton's skills are still pretty raw. He's not a great grappler, or range striker, he's really only comfortable striking in the pocket for short bursts or implementing grinding ground and pound. He's got the size and relative speed to make that work for him to be a tough test for other raw heavyweights, but I'm not seeing a lot of secondary skill development to turn him into a really dangerous fighter.
  • Fallout for Omielanczuk: Maybe the UFC keeps him around as an entry test to another new signee, or for a heavyweight badly in need of a stepping stone win, but it's pretty clear that Omielanczuk isn't cut out to get wins at 265. He's a short range striker with limited power... sort of a HW Chris Cariasso, in a division where stature and power are almost everything. That's a tough row to hoe.

Yaotzin Meza (+110) vs. Damian Stasiak (-135) (I picked Stasiak, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: I had really given up on the idea of Yaotzin Meza as a successful UFC fighter heading into this fight. Stasiak's game is kind of a jumble of submission attacks and karate, but it seemed more potent than the wrestle-grappling that Meza has shown. Still Meza showed that Stasiak's athletic limitations may be a serious hurdle to future success, and that Meza himself has been improving, just maybe not by leaps and bounds.
  • Fallout for Meza: He's secured his spot on the UFC roster for another couple of fights. At this point, it seems like he finally may have improved his grappling to the point that he's a credible lower tier gatekeeper. The kind of guy who's probably not going to finish you from any position, but is tough enough and has enough control that if you can't match his skills and physicality he'll get the win. That's not a ringing endorsement, but it's a step forward.
  • Fallout for Stasiak: I had questions about Stasiak's athletic ability coming in to the UFC. He's not the fastest or most powerful fighter out there, and it appears he may not be a competitive featherweight either. A drop to bantamweight is probably the first step, but developing a more consistent range striking game and working on his takedown defense shouldn't be far behind.

Mickael Lebout (+375) vs. Sergio Moraes (-550) (I picked Moraes, I was right-ish)

  • The Expectation: I thought we might see Mickael Lebout look good in a loss, to the point that I was even telling people to put a bet on Sergio Moraes winning by decision (which closed as high as +250). Lebout doesn't have a lot of finishing power but he does have great sub defense and it was all on display in this fight.
  • Fallout for Lebout: I'm hoping that Lebout can carve out a niche for himself in the UFC as a tough action fighter, sort of in the Mike Pyle mode. But that's a fine line to walk. Guys like Jesse Ronson and Nick Ring have been here and gone before you know it. Lebout is competitive everywhere and active everywhere, but he's going to have to be somewhat more opportunistic to get big wins in his division.
  • Fallout for Moraes: Even in a fighter where he didn't look great, Moraes still won. There were some debates to the score, but throughout, I thought he landed the more damaging, powerful blows, and generally controlled the tempo of the fight. Hopefully he can stay more focused on his grappling game in the future. That's where he's most dominant and most exciting to watch. He's got the talent to be a bigger player in the welterweight division, but injuries and time have not been on his side.

Bartosz Fabinski (-135) vs. Garreth McLellan (+115) (I picked Fabinski, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Fabinski may not have been the bigger man in a fight that otherwise looked pretty close on paper, but he was the much more consistent, process oriented fighter. His approach, while predictable is also a basic recipe for MMA success. Land a hard punch, get a big takedown, stay busy with ground and pound. McLellan had a punchers chance, but that was about it.
  • Fallout for Fabinski: He got the first big win of the night for Poland, and a lot of applause for it. He'll probably be heading down to welterweight after this fight, which is a fine idea considering he'd be one of the promotion's smallest middleweights. The potential strength advantage at 170 could also be a help as he's highly dependent on being the more powerful fighter in the cage. It will be interesting to see if he can refine his game to be something more nuanced over time, if not he'll probably stay a challenging mid-tier fighter.
  • Fallout for McLellan: Much more so than Ruan Potts, Garreth McLellan is probably a good example that South African MMA just isn't ready for the global scene. In today's UFC, that's actually been okay, as both China and Mexico lag pretty far behind as well, but that hasn't stopped the UFC for finding those fighters fights they can at least compete in. That's going to have to be their road for McLellan if they want him to be more than a brief attraction.

Seth Baczynski (+115) vs. Leon Edwards (-170) (I picked Edwards, I was right)

  • The Expectation: I hoped, desired, begged for the possibility that Edwards would light Baczynski up like a Christmas tree and build a little hype for himself in the UFC. Can't say he did anything short of delivering on that hope with a quick KO.
  • Fallout for Baczynski: Baczynski may very well have reached the end of his competitive MMA career at the highest levels. He's only won one fight since late 2012, a decision over the now vastly improved Neil Magny. He's been KO'd three times in that stretch, with an overall record of 1-5. Welterweight is a big division and I'm sure the UFC will have more fights for him if they want to keep him, but at this point there aren't many match-ups I'd pick Baczynski to win.
  • Fallout for Edwards: This was an electric win in his second UFC bout and first not on short notice. Edwards has a really solid game built around accurate power shots and takedown defense that could make him very successful in the UFC. This didn't prove his problems with output and volume are over, but it was a great KO to start getting fans excited to watch him fight.

Joanne Calderwood (-600) vs. Maryna Moroz (+400) (I picked Calderwood, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: I really did not have high expectations for Maryna Moroz. In fact, I think it'd be safer to say, my expectations were rock bottom low. Her competition has been less than notable, her process looked flawed, and her best striking display was against a woman about 4' 11" who she couldn't KO. It seemed like a slam dunk for Calderwood. Sometimes, though, fighters surprise entirely. Moroz was a big surprise to me.
  • Fallout for Calderwood: I'm not sure what the personal problems she's alluded to are, but she definitely seems like she needs to take some time off to get her life in order and get her focus back. Even then, this probably puts a halt to some of the calls for Calderwood as a future title contender. She's a fun striker when she has an opponent that will let her work, but she's not a powerful one and most of the rest of her game still lags behind. She's a top 15 talent, no doubt, but It's hard to see her staying around the top 5.
  • Fallout for Moroz: This was a great introduction for Moroz. Turns out, she has a long history as a boxer and as a coach for the Ukranian Olympic team to supplement her MMA skills. She still charges forward with reckless abandon and throws herself a little too willingly into armbars for my taste, but she's going to be a tough out for a lot of fighters just with her physical size and raw aggression. In a division still finding it's feet, those traits can take her a long long way.

Pawel Pawlak (+170) vs. Sheldon Westcott (-200) (I picked Westcott, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: For the first half of this bout, this fight went exactly as I thought it would. Westcott ground away, getting the better of scrambles, and generally outclassing Pawlak with raw athleticism. Then Westcott got tired, and Pawlak's more refined game took over. Good win for Pawlak, bad loss for Westcott.
  • Fallout for Pawlak: That much needed first UFC win is now in the bag. With his lack of dynamic offense or powerful striking, I think he might be best served as sort of a measuring stick for other developing UFC talent, but he's definitely a tough fighter with something to offer. He needs the technical advantage to win, but there are enough welterweights out there that he'll have it as often as not.
  • Fallout for Westcott: He got beat at his own game, for the second time now, and that's a really bad sign. The first fight could potentially be written off as the costs of taking on a much larger, more powerful fighter, up a division (and with an injury), but this was a fighter Westcott had, dead to rights, and he wore himself out fighting his fight. That's a serious issue, and one he'll have to solve if he wants to move foreward in MMA.

Jan Blachowicz (-120) vs. Jimi Manuwa (-110) (I picked Manuwa, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Manuwa has shown himself to be the better athlete with more consistent finishing tools over the course of his career. It appears that injuries really hampered his performance here, but not so much so that he couldn't still grind out a win over Blachowicz.
  • Fallout for Blachowicz: As with Westcott above, Blachowicz essentially got beat fighting his fight. He had an injured opponent in front of him, willing to keep the fight standing, and he couldn't get any offense going at all. Blachowicz's lack of consistent striking output has been a big question mark for me moving into the UFC. I thought that may have changed with his win over Ilir Latifi, but this is much more of a return to normal.
  • Fallout for Manuwa: Given the circumstances, he did the best he could to go out and make sure he got paid before taking a long layoff. He's going to need a lot of time to recover from this one, and in that time, the division will likely re-format itself a little. Hopefully the injury hasn't done so much damage that he's lost his explosive edge, or this could be our first taste of the "new Manuwa."

Mirko Cro Cop (+175) vs. Gabriel Gonzaga (-230) (I picked Gonzaga, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: For a while I was watching the fight I thought I'd see. Then, Gonzaga faded, Cro Cop didn't and he started to land some deveastating offense that quickly had the classically fragile fighter reeling. I have trouble believing that that's how fans rooting for Cro Cop thought it would go, but in the long run he got the win, and put a much better cap on this event than a grinding 5 round decision loss would have been.
  • Fallout for Cro Cop: Right now, the UFC's heavyweight division is mind bendingly stagnant. So much so that this win has Cro Cop ranked in the top 15. It's absurd, but it's also true. And to that point, I feel like the UFC should take advantage and get him as many big fights against similarly weirdly relevant past stars as possible. Mark Hunt, Alistair Overeem, Josh Barnett (okay maybe not another Barnett fight) Andrei Arlovski... Get Cro Cop some fights that will get people excited as long as he's coming off a win.
  • Fallout for Gonzaga: Like Seth Baczynski above, things may be really coming to a close for Gonzaga. Early in his career, when he wasn't getting KO'd he was the one doing the knocking out, or cinching up a brutal submission. Gonzaga was a live by the sword, die by the sword action heavyweight. But this fight was pure die by the sword. He was grinding out the win, and for a fighter as breakable as he's been, he can't really afford to fight that way.

Those are my collected thoughts from UFC Fight Night: Gonzaga vs. Cro Cop 2. As always, so much of what I wrote seems obvious now, but that's the benefit of hindsight. stay tuned for next time, when I expect I'll be talking about a shocking Luke Rockhold upset win and about Jacare doing bad bad things to Chris Camozzi... again. Until then!

*This week's quote slightly altered from the movie Night Moves.