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Hindsight - UFC 186: Johnson vs. Horiguchi in retrospect

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Punches are like bullets. If you don't make the first ones count you might just be finished.*

Obviously there's a lot more than a couple of punches thrown in a fight, but the same could be said of rounds in MMA, especially when you're faced with a champion like Demetrious Johnson, or a tough out like Michael Bisping and Rampage Jackson. On the other side, fighters like Alexis Davis and Thomas Almeida got their openings and took them with both hands. In this game, you gotta make the best of the opportunities you get, because there's no telling if they'll come around again. And of course, there's even less telling just who is going to win if the whole thing goes to a decision. All that said, I went 9-3 on fight picks. It was a good day.

Disclaimer Time: So this was a pretty great card for me in terms of fight picking, but I don't know that I would have won a dime putting money on it, had I done so... The only bets I think I would have found worthwhile were Kaufman, Bisping, and Jackson. This was a tight card full of close fights and ugly odds. What favorites I saw the betting lines saw, or the fight was so close in my head that I never would have been able to stomach putting money on one side to win it. So, no money involved, no gambling, no stakes. I'm just using odds as a way of marking fighter development in comparison to personal expectation and eventual performance. I'm getting my odds from Odds Shark for each fight and taking the mode for each fighter. Now, on to the fights...

Aisling Daly (+220) vs. Randa Markos (-300) (I picked Markos, I was right)

  • The Expectation: This was the perfect fight for Randa Markos right now, and a far better test of her skill than Jessica Penne (although she nearly passed that test). Daly is a good, experienced opponent, but not the kind of athlete that should beat a premiere physical talent like Markos. Markos went out and proved that here.
  • Fallout for Daly: Much like Felice Herrig (and several other women on the UFC roster) Daly looks like she's sliding toward a gatekeeper role in the division. She's clearly a technical enough and experienced enough fighter to compete and put forth fun performances in the cage, but she's just not the kind of athlete that's likely to move up beyond a certain level. She's a tough test that a lot of women will fail to pass, but the best rising fighters will probably beat her.
  • Fallout for Markos: This was the kind of fight Markos had to win to prove that she can be a future competitor in her division. Strawweight is snapping into place quickly and as it does so, there are major lines being drawn between premiere talent and everyone else. Even young fighters with top shelf athletic skills are finding a place among the divisional elite. If Markos failed here, her limited experience and technical tools would put her in a lot of danger of getting cut, especially at 0-2. Now, instead, she's staked a claim to being a top 10 fighter in a very young division.

Valerie Letourneau (-125) vs. Jessica Rakoczy (+100) (I picked Letourneau, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Unlike the first women's strawweight battle of the night, Letourneau vs. Rakoczy was much more about stylistic match-ups between athletic equals. Letourneau's history as much more of known and consistent quantity in MMA gave her the edge on paper, but Rakoczy put up a strong fight, even if she wasn't quite consistent enough to win it.
  • Fallout for Letourneau: It's tough to say exactly where Letourneau will shake out at strawweight. She's clearly talented enough to be there, but just what that means can only come from a step up in competition. She doesn't have a process oriented style but her striking is reasonably sharp and her game is shored up everywhere. It's time to throw her at a top 10 opponent.
  • Fallout for Rakoczy: This was a much much better showing than the eventual result of being 0-2 will reflect for Rakoczy. After more than a year on the sidelines, it really does look like she's improved her overall MMA game. Her biggest problem seems to be that she doesn't know where she wants the fight. She's not active or diverse enough at range nor skilled enough on the ground to win easily there. If she can't keep fights in the pocket or the clinch she's going to struggle, but the UFC should give her another shot to show what she's made out of.

Chris Clements (+175) vs. Nordine Taleb (-210) (I picked Clements, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: I really thought that Chris Clements had a good shot at the upset win here. He's generally been a fairly powerful and dynamic athlete, if not an inspiring looking one, and his better than advertised striking game has seen him past most fighters he's faced. Taleb didn't beat him standing up, but he did show that he was the more powerful, well rounded fighter in the cage by grinding out a decision win.
  • Fallout for Clements: I don't know if this is so much a case of age as it is just a cap on what can reasonably be expected of his style. This was sort of proof positive that similar athletic talents can work around Clements' style to get wins. His striking is powerful and diverse, but he overreaches a lot and isn't a dangerous grappler. Meaning anyone willing to pick their shots standing and time their takedowns can shut him down. Still a fun fighter, but the UFC needs to stick to action fights for him.
  • Fallout for Taleb: He had to win this fight to continue being a fighter to watch in the welterweight division. Clements is a tough fighter to beat, but he's a known quantity. If you fail to get by him, there's really not a lot of likelihood that you're going to see the higher tiers of the UFC. Will Taleb make any kind of serious run? Probably not, but he's now 3-0 in the UFC and this fight keeps him rolling forward.

Olivier Aubin-Mercier (-340) vs. David Michaud (+262) (I picked OAM, I was right)

  • The Expectation: In a battle of similarly skilled fighters, natural talent has a way of deciding things. Aubin-Mercier is the more talented athlete on the rise and he should have handled a fighter like Michaud who didn't hold any big technical advantage over him. He struggled in places, but generally got the win he was supposed to here.
  • Fallout for OAM: TUF has a way of attracting top young talent before they're quite ready for top level competition. OAM is almost the archetype of that kind of talent. Obviously a great athlete, but really raw everywhere that's not in the clinch and on the ground. Still, he's a class above the other fighters at the bottom of lightweight in the UFC. He needs to work on maintaining technique over the whole fight, but he should keep developing into a really strong talent.
  • Fallout for Michaud: Michaud has a hard path ahead of him in the UFC. He's obviously tough enough to be there (which is a really important skill) but he's a raw talent and he's not the best natural athlete. The inability to take over technically anywhere, puts him in a tough spot as a lot of upcoming fighters tend to have on real tight skill they bring with them to the cage. Michaud's gonna have to improve quickly or he'll be outside before long.

Bryan Barberena (+325) vs. Chad Laprise (-400) (I picked Laprise, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Chad Laprise is exactly the kind of single skill fighter I was talking about above that tends to populate UFC divisions. Bryan Barberena hadn't shown a really developed skill game going into this fight, or a real marked advantage in athletic ability. It made sense to pick Laprise to be the more consistent fighter for the win. Which is more or less how it played out.
  • Fallout for Barberena: Positives and negatives for Barberena here. On the plus side, he showed (like Michaud) that he is definitely tough enough to fight in the UFC. He's got the chin and the cardio to stay in fights for the full 15. On the downside, he also re-affirmed that he's going to struggle against specifically skilled fighters that he can't push around physically. Being big and tough will win him UFC bouts, but it has a ceiling and guys like Laprise are about it.
  • Fallout for Laprise: This wasn't really a step up for Chad Laprise after beating Yosdenis Cedeno, but it is another surprising softball for the TUF champ. The UFC has tended to rush these kinds of fighters (or put them in against other TUF talent) but Laprise is getting a slow build and a real chance to develop his game. It seems to be paying off and he showed much better striking early than before. It's a skill he'll really need to bank on if he wants to continue rising as he doesn't seem to have the dynamic athletic ability to take over fights when he struggles technically.

Alexis Davis (+165) vs. Sarah Kaufman (-210) (I picked Kaufman, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: I was really shocked that the odds were as close as they were here and I'll be the first to say that I didn't give Davis a great chance of winning. For a while the fight played out exactly to expectations, with Davis getting beat soundly standing. But, one bad mistake later from Kaufman and the fight was over. Not sure what the UFC does with a fighter who's now 1-2 off a win over her last opponent.
  • Fallout for Davis: I'm not sure she's any better than she's ever been, but she's still dangerous and still a top tier bantamweight in a very thin division. She was getting completely handled standing up, and I was a bit surprised to hear her say that she didn't expect that from Kaufman after the fight, but given a window of opportunity she showed some great finishing skills. In that division, that's enough to stay near the top.
  • Fallout for Kaufman: This is a really ugly loss for Kaufman, especially since it's one, by all appearances, that really shouldn't have happened. Other than basic inactivity this was something of a lose lose fight for her and she got the worst end of it by giving up a submission to a fighter she's already beat twice. It's been years since she faced Ronda Rousey and the way Rousey is running through people a couple of wins could put her in for a rematch, now she's further down the line and probably back to waiting for another big fight to come along.

Patrick Cote (-260) vs. Joe Riggs (+200) (I picked Cote, I was right)

  • The Expectation: It's really surprising (to me) how competitive Joe Riggs was in this fight. I was worried this would be something of a Tito vs. Bonnar affair, where two tired, slowing fighters would battle to see who had more left in the tank. I was betting on Cote. In some respects that still ended up being true, Cote had more to offer. But it was a scrappy fight everywhere and Riggs looked a lot better than I thought he would.
  • Fallout for Cote: Cote's UFC record is both better and worse than I'd give him credit for. Overall he's 8-9 in the UFC, but since returning to the promotion in 2012, he's 4-2. On the other hand, almost all of his wins are against vets late in their career, but it still shows that Cote is one of the better crafty veteran fighters the UFC has kept around. He may not beat good young fighters in their prime, but there are a lot of veteran showcase fights the UFC can put him in where he's guaranteed to put on a decent show.
  • Fallout for Riggs: I'm not sure the UFC keeps him around at 0-2, which is a bit of hard luck, as this fight showed that Riggs does have something to offer as a wily veteran who can still make a fun showing of things. Still after 15 years in the sport, Riggs still has holes in his game and doesn't have the physical pop he used to to cover for them. There are fun fights the UFC could put him in, but I'm not sure how many he'd win.

Thomas Almeida (-450) vs. Yves Jabouin (+325) (I picked Almeida, I was right)

  • The Expectation: This was Thomas Almeida's opportunity to go out and do work against a veteran that would stand with him and who had a crack-able chin. That's essentially exactly what we saw.
  • Fallout for Almeida: It looks like the showcase fight worked for getting Almeida a little respect. He's now a ranked bantamweight just 2 fights into his UFC career. His game is still developing and especially his counter wrestling needs work (something I'm not sure Chute Boxe is prepared to improve) but he scrambles to his feet well and hits like a truck, so I expect to see him continue to do really well at bantamweight for quite a while.
  • Fallout for Jabouin: This was never a fight Jabouin was likely to win, but just how decidedly he lost does raise some questions about whether or not he's a real gatekeeper to the top of the division or not. Jabouin has only lost to very good fighters, but Almeida rolled through him with relative ease. In a division as talent strapped as bantamweight, Jabouin can float around, but it doesn't feel like he's going to win a lot of really tough fights.

Shane Campbell (-110) vs. John Makdessi (-110) (I picked Campbell, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Stylistically, I was pretty sure this was a bad matchup for Makdessi, one that his tools were particularly ill suited to. Physically, I wasn't so sure. I picked Campbell to win, because I haven't seen him really put it on many people beyond a very mediocre (and similarly sized) Renee Forte. Campbell had the frame of exactly the fighters Makdessi has had trouble with. Turns out there was a huge athletic disparity there, and that Makdessi is sharpening his tools. Great win for him.
  • Fallout for Campbell: Obviously, this was short notice, so it's hard to take too much from this performance... except I kind of feel you have to. Campbell looked like he was fighting his fight out there for much of the first round. He was keeping Makdessi at range with kicks, clinching up and doing damage when Makdessi got inside, but before long the inside game disappeared as Makdessi just started tossing Campbell on his ass every time they clinched up. Does that physical disparity(against one of the smaller lightweights) disappear with a better training camp? Maybe, but I don't think so.
  • Fallout for Makdessi: He really needed this win badly. Even against a short notice newcomer. Makdessi has spent a lot of time on the sidelines over the past year, in which he suffered an ugly loss to the totally unheralded Alan Patrick. The big thing for him was to get a win, not a meaningful win, not a career defining win, just a win. Hopefully now he can make a quick turnaround for a bigger fight.

Quinton Jackson (-170) vs. Fabio Maldonado (+150) (I picked Jackson, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Fabio Maldonado is just not the kind of fighter Rampage Jackson loses to, or has ever lost to (well, except maybe Forrest Griffin, who knows what was going on there). But generally, fighters have either had to out wrestle him or be able to match his one punch power and/or carry a more diverse striking arsenal. Fabio Maldonado was not and is not that dude.
  • Fallout for Jackson: He's still Rampage, more or less. An older, slightly less consistent Rampage (he probably would have put Maldonado away 7 years ago). But, his boxing has gotten better than it ever was, he's actually started to integrate some semblance of a kicking game, and his sprawl and brawl style still works in a division full of guys willing to slug it out standing. I doubt he ever wins consistently enough or big enough to get to the top 5, but if he can stay in the UFC, he'll compete there.
  • Fallout for Maldonado: Unfortunately, and more than any of his other losses, this feels like the point of truth on Fabio Maldonado. Even when he gets exactly the fight he wants, there's a whole class of athlete and fighter that he's just not going to compete with at all. Rampage gave Maldonado everything he wanted, including jabbing range and tons of time clinched up against the fence, and Maldonado got nothing done. He's a fun fighter, but the gate to his talent seems to shut outside the top 10.

Michael Bisping (-160) vs. C.B. Dollaway (+125) (I picked Bisping, I was right)

  • The Expectation: I couldn't bring myself to trust CB Dollaway's striking against Bisping. That he'd be able to land the power shots consistently to put the longtime Middleweight gatekeeper to the top 5 away. Dollaway's striking actually looked reasonably okay, early, but he faded as the fight went on and Bisping's notable endurance and continued skill development really shined through.
  • Fallout for Bisping: He's not making that title run he was talking about. Let's get that out of the way right now. There's a reason Bisping is on the borderline of the top 10 and not the borderline of the top 5 anymore. And it's because there are just too many fighters he can't handle ahead of him. Still, there are a lot of fighters he can handle, and it's not like an over abundance of confidence is going to hurt his job. I look forward to seeing him keep taking on the rising talent out there and maybe a few veteran faces too.
  • Fallout for Dollaway: Coupled with his loss to Lyoto Machida, it's now abundantly clear that Dollaway was never destined to be a consistent top 10 fighter. He had his moment in the sun, where taking 4 out of 5 (and arguably 5 out of 5) fights led him to the big name match-ups that could earn him a seat at the contenders table, and he's failed to get over that final hurdle. It's clear that he's improved a hell of a lot over his career. He actually has some good punching power now, but it's just not enough to win the really big fights.

Demetrious Johnson (-800) vs. Kyoji Horiguchi (+475) (I picked Johnson, I was right)

  • The Expectation: This fight looked a lot more like I thought it would than I thought it would... if that makes sense. My hope was that Kyoji Horiguchi would look good early, maybe even take a round, before getting submitted late. I'm not sure he took a round, but Horiguchi did look pretty solid early in the fight and that submission came really really late. Solid title defense for the champ and good experience for a guy that could contend for quite a while.
  • Fallout for Johnson: He's still champion. Maybe not a champion the people love, but a dominant one with an impressive and deep technical repertoire. If there's any criticism to be leveled at him, and I'm not sure there is, it's that he seems to be so plugged into his coach that he maybe doesn't go for enough aggressive finishes until they're specifically called for. He said himself that his coach asked for that late armbar, so he took it. It wasn't his first time in that position all fight, so it says something that it maybe took his coach seeing the submission before he himself would go for it.
  • Fallout for Horiguchi: Considering the jump in competition, he did fine. In cage time, Horiguchi isn't quite as young as he's made out to be, and I like that he got this shot now, but he still has four or five more years in this sport to be a top fighter and I think taking a really hard fought loss like this can only serve him well. Horiguchi competed with the best flyweight in the world, now he has the time to go back, train and see if he can figure out how to beat Mighty Mouse.

Those are my collected thoughts from UFC 186. So much of what I wrote seems obvious now, but as always, that's the benefit of hindsight. Stay tuned for the next edition when I'll be talking all about the biggest win of Stipe Miocic's career... maybe. Until then!

*This week's quote taken from the movie Day of Anger.