Well, maybe 31 instead of 30. That's how old Jim Miller, Takeya Mizugaki, and Cub Swanson are (Felice Herrig is actually 30) and still, somehow looking at the wrong side of their MMA careers, potentially (Herrig not so much). That was the major narrative of UFC on Fox 15. Out with the old, in with the new. We have new ranked fighters in two divisions and new potential contenders in two more, all from UFC on Fox 15. And that sets aside Luke Rockhold's big win over Lyoto Machida entirely. It's a rare event that offers both narrative importance and great fights. A big win for viewers. Oh, and I went' 7-4 on fight picks.
Disclaimer Time: That 7-4 is a little out of whack as it came with an exceptionally rocky start. I picked wrong on four of the first five fights (meaning, of course, that I got the rest of the card perfect). Given the fight day odds, that might have meant taking a hit on Takeya Mizugaki as an underdog bet, but most of the bouts weren't worth much. And while I like to think that I would have won big on the excellent odds being offered for Darish, OSP, VanZant, and Holloway I still feel better off knowing that I didn't take the plunge. The ego boost of getting seeing some very tough fights right is doing more for me than I feel like the potential of risking money and winning would have (I may in fact be crazy). Still I'm using fight picks and odds here not to gamble, but to help create a narrative about fight results and pre-fight expectations. I'm using Odds Shark for the odds on each fight and taking the mode for each fighter. Now, on to the fights...
- The Expectation: This was supposed to be a giant step back and a softball win for Eddie Gordon. After getting clocked by a much more experienced vet in Josh Samman, Gordon was getting a too green MW with few finishing tools off a short notice loss at LHW. What seemed like a layup became a big problem when Gordon appeared gassed by the end of the first round. Arguments about poor scoring are there to be made, but Gordon was expected to dominate and floundered.
- Fallout for Dempsey: This was a "stay in the UFC" win for Dempsey. A loss here and he could have seen an immediate end to his brief UFC career. He's still too raw for the general rank and file of opponents, but if his manager can work to keep him fighting other raw talents he could build into a reasonable mid-tier kind of talent. He's certainly got the size and the grit to be a tough middleweight.
- Fallout for Gordon: Maybe he didn't lose this fight, philosophically... But technically, he lost and put his UFC career in serious jeopardy. I figure he'll get another shot, what with being a TUF winner and all, but it may be a win or get out kind of situation. Gordon is still a promising talent, but there appear to be some real problems with his conditioning that are currently a major detriment to his career.
Diego Brandao (-135) vs. Jimy Hettes (+115) (I picked Brandao, I was right)
- The Expectation: The first round of this fight looked a lot like what I thought the whole fight might be. Hettes finding small gaps to take advantage of with his technical game, and then just being overwhelmed by Brandao's physicality over and over again. It didn't help either, that Hettes' strength just happens to be one of the few areas that Brandao is really technically proficient and capable. The ending was somewhat fluky, but I'm not sure that Hettes would have found more success later.
- Fallout for Brandao: He's still a very very fun action fighter at 145 lbs. His raw aggression, powerful striking, and aggressive grappling make him a tough fighter to beat if you don't have the technical tools to out strike him or the physical tools to out wrestle him. He'll still probably be an inconsistent talent in the UFC, since he always seems to be a hairsbreadth from melting down, but he'll be fun to watch as long as he's around.
- Fallout for Hettes: I know Hettes said that his first round against Brandao was all part of the gameplan, and I don't necessarily doubt that. But, I do wonder if the physical disparity between him and most of the division just isn't too wide. I know his injury was somewhat fluky, but it also strikes me as the kind of injury you might get when someone a lot stronger than you is tossing you around the cage. The featherweight division is getting more athletic by the day, and it may push Hettes out before long.
- The Expectation: I was really expecting something of a barn-burner, slobber-knocking, all out slug fest in this fight. A fight in which the winner was as likely to be found by the flip of a coin as by any real masterful, singular performance. Instead, Tim Means reinforced the idea that his game is really clicking together finally and he put a pretty one-sided beating on George Sullivan.
- Fallout for Means: It's time for the UFC to give Tim Means a major step up in competition. Right now, it's really hard to gauge just where he is in the division. He's certainly a step above the rank and file at 170, but whether that means he's part of the top 15, or a gatekeeper to that elite group is very hard to gauge. A win over Sullivan reinforces the need for the UFC to test Means against a top guy, but beyond that it doesn't tell us how he'll fare in that test.
- Fallout for Sullivan: If Means is destined to be a gatekeeper of sorts, the Sullivan fell well short. Sullivan is one of those fighters whose process is better than his technique. He strikes at a high rate, with power, and stays busy even when he's tired, but he's not a clean striker and his wrestling game isn't exactly dominating. When he's the physical edge or his opponent isn't process oriented, Sullivan should be good odds to win, but against athletic, experienced fighters he's going to struggle.
Aljamain Sterling (-360) vs. Takeya Mizugaki (+290) (I picked both, I was hedging)
- The Expectation: I really waffled a lot on this fight. I picked Sterling in the Vivisection, but when I saw that none of the staff were picking Mizugaki in our Staff Picks, I had to argue the case. There were just too many unknowns. Sterling's inconsistent style, Mizugaki's toughness and experience, I didn't want to get too carried away by youth and hype. Consider me carried, questions answered, satisfaction guaranteed. Sterling looked like the legit article in a really dominant win over Mizguaki.
- Fallout for Sterling: He's a top 10 bantamweight now, in a division desperate for new and fresh talent. Whatever the reasons, bantamweight has been a nearly dead division for the UFC, with far too many old guard and inconsistent mid tier fighters clogging up it's upper ranks. Sterling is a badly needed infusion of youth and potential. That said, I'd give him some chances to clear out some of that old guard next and fight one of the lower ranked guys in the top 15.
- Fallout for Mizugaki: Mizugaki may very well still be a top 10 bantamweight, but he's no longer anywhere near the title hunt. Over time his game has become much more consistent and refined, his boxing sharper, his wrestling and counter wrestling more dependable. But, he's never really changed much either. He's still a boxer first and foremost, who needs command of the pocket to win fights. Take that from him and he's beatable.
- The Expectation: On a night defined by young rising prospects overcoming more seasoned vets, this seemed like one of the easier fight picks in the lineup. Villante has hardly been a picture of consistent performance in the UFC not even showing much of the KO power his early career was known for. He was supposed to be a safe stepping stone for Anderson to get in with a solid vet who probably wouldn't hurt him too badly win or lose... at least that seemed to be the plan. Villante wrecked it.
- Fallout for Anderson: I may be among the few, but I actually really liked what I saw from Anderson through most of the fight. Sure, he couldn't check a kick to save his life, but that suggest a problem he could fix in future fights (this is just his 6th pro fight, two years into his career). On the flip side, his boxing looked improved far beyond anything he'd ever shown before and he remains a true LHW in terms of size and athleticism. Unfortunately, he also ended up getting KO'd. That doesn't derail his prospects at all, but it suggests he's not going to be a phenom talent for the UFC anytime soon.
- Fallout for Villante: I doubt his job was in danger, after all, Villante was coming into this fight off a win, but he's now in much better position to creep into the top 15 at LHW. I still don't see much in the way of dominant skills out of Villante, but a better reliance on a well set up and executed kicking game is a nice new wrinkle. It might help slow his output and preserve his power later into fights. There are lots of bouts for him, and depending on the match-ups it's not out of the realm of possibility that he could steal a slot in the rankings before long.
- The Expectation: I was really shocked to see how many people were picking Cummins to take this fight, and just as shocked to find him a favorite in the odds. Eventually the odds ended up just about even, but I wasn't giving Cummins much of a chance. To his credit, Cummins looked great early, getting takedowns, but he couldn't capitalize on them at all and with his striking entries as inconsistent as they are, he couldn't really afford to give OSP the opportunities he did.
- Fallout for Cummins: He's a wrestler, or more to the point, Cummins is a takedown artist. He's great at hitting high octane slams, at getting the power double, or just at dragging a guy to the ground. What he's not great at is maintaining control so that he can find strikes or submissions. That can (and probably will) change over time, but at the moment, big LHWs in their prime are going to give him serious problems.
- Fallout for OSP: He's still not a technical marvel, despite his years in the sport, but with time comes a certain level of mastery. OSP has timing and accuracy now that he didn't necessarily before. He stays relatively consistent compared to the version of him we saw back in Strikeforce. For a fighter as big and powerful as he is and in a division as weak as light heavyweight that can easily carry him to the top 5.
Beneil Dariush (-170) vs. Jim Miller (+145) (I picked Dariush, I was right)
- The Expectation: Of all the upset picks on this card, this one, to me seemed like the simplest. Not because Jim Miller has fallen off especially badly, or because Dariush is a world destroyer (although he is very good) but just because, technique-for-technique, this was a bad matchup for Miller. Miller is at his best when he can use the threat of his aggressive submission offense to keep opponents wary of his striking and off balance all fight. Dariush was the more technical, consistent grappler, at which point Miller would have to out strike him. At that point, it's not too hard to see Dariush getting the win.
- Fallout for Dariush: This win propels him right into the top 15 at lightweight and does so a lot faster than most of his peers. He's fought six times in the last year and a half and it's that kind of activity that's led hem straight to the top of his division. Whether he's ready to thrive there? I'm not 100% sure. One of the biggest necessities for consistent success at the top of 155 is a consistent striking game.
- Fallout for Miller: He wasn't in line for a title shot or anything dramatic like that, but more and more he's getting pushed into a gatekeeper role and not an elite fighter role. This loss saw an official end to his spot in the UFC rankings and it may have been an end to his overall time there, in general.
Felice Herrig (+100) vs. Paige VanZant (-120) (I picked VanZant, I was right)
- The Expectation: For a fight as close as the odds on this were, I felt like this was a pretty safe pick to make on Paige VanZant. Herrig has had a long history of struggling with elite athletic talents, even when she might be the more well rounded, skilled fighter. VanZant was a pretty extreme case of that as Herrig is really in the prime of her career now, and PVZ is exceptionally raw, but the result was the same and Herrig just couldn't match PVZ's strength and scrambling ability.
- Fallout for Herrig: She's still a good fighter and still a good test for the majority of her division, but she's probably not a future title contender or event op 5 fighter. For a longtime kickboxer, she's most comfortable in the clinch or on the ground with opponents. It makes up for a lack of dynamism, but it can also be problematic when she's at a disadvantage there as she'll keep returning to the same fight over and over. I think she'll win as often as she loses, but it's tough to see her putting a run together.
- Fallout for VanZant: For those that needed convincing this was the fight to tell people that PVZ is a serious talent in the strawweight division. She's still a raw one, and I'm not sure she beats the top 3 or 4 (although it's really unclear just who those fighters are), but just her athleticism alone could be enough to get her past the majority of her opposition. A lack of challengers could push her up the ladder quickly, but if not, I expect to see her improve steadily over the next few years.
Max Holloway (+100) vs. Cub Swanson (-150) (I picked Holloway, I was right)
- The Expectation: Holloway got my vote with the unsteadiest of hands for this event. I thought Swanson might be too crafty, too diverse, to get beat by the younger fighter on the rise, even if I could see how Holloway might do it. Damn if Holloway didn't do the thing and make me look foolish for harboring even the smallest doubt.
- Fallout for Holloway: Losses and all, Holloway has still managed to rise to the cream of the 145 lb division. He's done it by keeping a punishing schedule of constant fights and showing constant improvement in each one of them. While the focus of his game is still his boxing, The rest of his skills support it perfectly and should make him competitive with just about anyone at featherweight.
- Fallout for Swanson: On the flip side, Swanson got beat and beat bad here. And it wasn't because he got out-wrestled, like Frankie Edgar did to him. Swanson got beat at his own game, in what was essentially almost a boxing match. While he's always been lauded as one of the most technical fighters in the division, he's just no longer dominant, even in his strengths and his time as a potential challenger is probably over.
- The Expectation: Camozzi was going to get smoked. He did.
- Fallout for Camozzi: Chris Camozzi is still not a fighter that can compete with Jacare Souza, or really with the elite at 185.
- Fallout for Souza: Jacare Souza is still a guy who eats Chris Camozzi for breakfast.
Lyoto Machida (+120) vs. Luke Rockhold (-150) (I picked Rockhold, I was right)
- The Expectation: Picking Rockhold to win here was like pulling my own teeth. I could feel it in the air, but I had a lot of trouble trusting that instinct. Even having seen the fight it's hard to explain what part of the matchup (aside from grappling) is bad for Lyoto Machida, but the raw physicality at play and the dynamic offense Rockhold initiates is something very few fighters can overcome.
- Fallout for Machida: It's not as bad as Cub Swanson, Machida didn't get beat at his own game here, but he still got absolutely crushed by Luke Rockhold. Given his shots at the various UFC titles, that probably stops his chances at one more bout of contention, but it certainly doesn't push him out of the MW elite. There are good, fun top shelf fights left more Machida at 185, hopefully we get to see them.
- Fallout for Rockhold: He fought the perfect fight to create buzz around his potential as a title challenger. Rockhold his a fighter in his prime right now and everything about him seems to be clicking for winning fights. His combination striking isn't amazing, but his timing and accuracy are there, and his grappling and scrambling abilities are just as good as can be. Whether that means he beats the champ or not, I'm not sure, but I am really excited to watch him take a shot at the UFC title.
Those are my collected thoughts on UFC on Fox 15. 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 be talking about Kyoji Horiguchi getting too much too soon and the return of Thomas Almeida. Until then!
*This week's quote from the movie Logan's Run.