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Hindsight - UFC Fight Night: Mendes vs. Lamas in retrospect

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It's always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don't really know what the truth is. I don't suppose anybody will ever really know.*

Of course, judging has to feature in this week's reflections on UFC action. Weirdly for me, however, I find myself less impassioned by judging than perhaps I used to be. I think this comes from a couple of angles. The first of those being that beyond the mystique of the "Undefeated" record or the inconceivable winning streak, records just aren't that important to most combat sports. Finding out what a kickboxer's real record looks like is a more like digging for a lost tomb than a quick fact check. Because MMA careers are generally shorter than other sports, we put more weight on a fighter's record, but we also tend to put more weight on a fighter who consistently performs well, as well.

Guys like Randy Couture and BJ Penn are constructs of a sport where context often means more than numbers. So, I tend not to put a lot of importance on who the judges gave a win or a loss to, if I can help it. The wrong man may get paid more, but I'd like to see everyone get paid. It's a tough sport. Oh, and I went 6-4 on fight picks.

Disclaimer Time: There were some easy picks on this card and some much harder ones as well. I'm really not sure how I might have done had I wagered anything. I probably would have lost some money on Abdurahimov, but I like to think I would have won some on Poirier, Guida, and Pena as well (maybe even Yakovlev). Still I don't bet becasue I don't have the money to bet, and even if I did, I don't like to lose money, and I'm pretty sure I would. Instead, I'm using odds and fight picks as a way of tracking fighter development. I'm using Odds Shark for the odds on each fight and taking the mode on each fighter. So... let's get to the bouts.

Justin Jones (-185) vs. Ron Stallings (+160) (I picked Jones, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: I really expected Jones' physicality to make a bigger difference in this fight. I thought his size and strength would give him enough clear advantages over Stallings that his lack of technical skill wouldn't cost him so much. That ended up being wrong as Stallings really solid muay thai skills created a huge advantage for him and took a lot of the potential dimension out of Jones' game.
  • Fallout for Jones: The fact that Jones stayed in the fight for all three rounds is a testament to how tough he is and it suggests that, sooner or later, he could be a good fighter at this level, just not right now. Jones is too raw everywhere to compete in the UFC. There might be a fight or two he could take and win, but the rank and file at 185 or even 205 will beat him.
  • Fallout for Stallings: After a rough debut, Stallings has a win to solidify his spot on the roster. Jones being so raw, and Stallings having him hurt and outclassed, but being unable to finish him, means that we probably shouldn't get too excited about his potential as a top talent. But, Stallings has the toughness and technical skill to be a tough mid-tier middleweight in a decidedly mid-tier division.

Shamil Abdurahimov (-270) vs. Timothy Johnson (+220) (I picked Abdurahimov, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: I was sure that Abdurahimov would be tougher, more skilled, as well as being faster and in better shape. essentially, I was sure Abdurahimov would win. I'm still a bit shocked that he lost. It suggests that Russia really isn't working on the same size dimensions as the UFC in a lot of weight classes, and that they're still developing a lot of fighters with really gaping technical flaws.
  • Fallout for Abdurahimov: I'd like to say I hope Abdurahimov is considering LHW, but he came in at 255 for this fight and at 6' 3" 255, LHW seems unlikely. That leaves him in a weird spot. This was a fight where he generally had Johnson outclassed for the majority of the round it lasted, and lost off the strength of one surprisingly slick takedown. His game off his back looked miserable, but more importantly, he just looks ill equipped to handle a guy that big. I'd like to say that there are UFC fights he can win, but this was a really bad loss and dampens any expectations I had considerably.
  • Fallout for Johnson: Props to the mustachioed man for putting together a much, much better fight than I thought he would. His game still seems really ill defined and I'm not sure how he'll match up against other HW's but if he can continue to get himself into better shape, the flash of athleticism he showed in that takedown is promising. He's got HW size and he's tough enough to take a punch, hopefully he continues to improve around that.

Gray Maynard (+128) vs. Alexander Yakovlev (-140) (I eventually picked Yakovlev, I was wishy-washy)

  • The Expectation: At first I thought, "Gray Maynard has to have enough left in the tank to beat Alexander Yakovlev. But, as fight time neared, I realized it wasn't going to happen. Yakovlev doesn't hit hard, but he hits with accuracy and consistency. These days that's all it takes to beat Maynard. I switched it up from the Vivi, and I'm glad I did, because Yakovlev did exactly what he should have.
  • Fallout for Maynard: I don't know if he has to keep fighting (I don't think he does), I don't know if he wants to keep fighting (I'm pretty sure he does), but I do know that he needs people around him to talk to him about his future in the sport. This wasn't a flash KO or a loss to a top tier guy, this was him getting beat everywhere by a fighter he would have mauled 5 years ago. There's nothing there I want to watch anymore.
  • Fallout for Yakovlev: He got a badly, badly needed win in the UFC, and he got it at the hands of a fighter with some name value still remaining. Yakovlev is far enough in his career that there's no sense in really building him, but he's not powerful enough to be a contender. Hopefully the UFC can keep feeding him longtime vets for fun scrappy performances, because that's where he'll shine.

Liz Carmouche (-105) vs. Lauren Murphy (-120) (I picked Murphy, I was sorta wrong)

  • The Expectation: Really, I thought this fight would go more or less as it happened. Carmouche has added some polish to her game, but little in the way of effective, fight ending techniques. Murphy, for her part, has been the generally more physically dominant, powerful fighter. I figured Murphy would be able to turn that into enough advantage to win. The judges disagreed.
  • Fallout for Carmouche: As I said, she has improved. Her game looks smoother and less wooden everywhere. But, she hasn't really gotten better. I don't know if that makes sense, but while her striking is more active and fluid, she doesn't have power on it and it really doesn't connect to her takedown game at all. Somehow, she's really gotten dependent on head & arm throws in the clinch, greatly limiting her effective offense. Even when she wins she's going to give opponents a lot of chances to beat her. Not many Ranked bantamweights I'd pick her over.
  • Fallout for Murphy: She's in a really tough spot. Her striking isn't improving the way it needs to (at least not yet), which leaves her as something of a big, aggressive, smothering fighter, without a lot of great offensive tools... kind of like Carmouche. She's been on the wrong end of two close decisions, and whether she gets a win next time out (assuming she stays in the UFC) is going to be very dependent on her physical advantages over her opponent.

Carlos Diego Ferreira (+126) vs. Dustin Poirier (-155) (I picked Poirier, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Barring a really lucky punch or miracle submission, I figured this was pretty safe money on Dustin Poirier as the more process oriented and proven fighter. He really showed up and proved that point with a brutal KO.
  • Fallout for Ferreira: Ferreira is experiencing the downside of entering the UFC on a real high note. After an undefeated regional record, he came into the UFC and picked up exciting back to back stoppages. Dariush derailed him, but not so much that he didn't get a big fight booked against Dustin Poirier. He wasn't ready. He's made big changes to his camp lately, hopefully he sticks with them, or he might find himself up against a real wall in his UFC career.
  • Fallout for Poirier: This was exactly the entry he needed into the UFC's lightweight division. Poirier may not be a future champ, but he's a very very skilled and powerful fighter. Ferreira didn't respect that and paid badly for it. There are some suggesting that the UFC should ease Poirier into top 15 competition with a few less difficult fights, like this one, but I don't see the point. He's a great fighter in his prime, the UFC should take advantage and get him some name opposition.

Clay Guida (-245) vs. Robbier Peralta (+205) (I picked Guida, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Guida was going to do his thing and Peralta wouldn't be skilled enough to stop it. It was practically fated.
  • Fallout for Guida: He won a fight that was really set up for him to win. He's still a gatekeeper to the top 15 and doesn't really have much business climbing the ladder. His interest in taking fights at lightweight or featherweight is smart, it might get him more interesting bookings, but otherwise I just want to see him against good rising fighters or other seasoned (un-ranked) vets.
  • Fallout for Peralta: He's made the switch to a big camp, finally, but I have to wonder if it's a little to late to make serious changes to his career. He's at the point where he should be seeing the best years of his career, but too much time spent at small camps and as a part time fighter have stunted his development pretty heavily. He's trying to turn that around with Tristar now, but I'm not sure he can.

Milana Dudieva (+325) vs. Julianna Pena (-400) (I picked Pena, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Pena was set to run over Dudieva. Dudieva's willingness to sub hunt off her back, her general lack of takedown defense, and her one handed striking, all made her a prime target to get dumped on the ground and beat up. That's pretty much what happened, although she exposed some holes in Pena's game along the way.
  • Fallout for Dudieva: She's got a lot of fixing to do before she becomes capable of competing as a ranked bantamweight. Some of the tools are there. Her judo is surprisingly slick and she has raw striking mechanics, but it all needs a lot of polishing. The women's 135 division is a bit of a mess, so she could easily stick around a compete, or she could lose next time out and be gone. Her success will be heavily dependent on the matchup.
  • Fallout for Pena: Pena likely has the raw athletic talent and base skill set to beat 75% of her division. She's big and powerful, hits takedowns well, and is ferocious in her ground and pound. However, overcoming that last 25% could be a real challenge. Dudieva showed that Pena's takedown defense is still porous and Pena didn't show much in the way of new or improved skill after her long layoff. The version of her out there right now isn't going to contend for a title, hopefully this win shakes off the rust and she can get back in the gym to hone her craft.

Michael Chiesa (-420) vs. Mitch Clarke (+330) (I picked Clarke, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: I'm a fan of Mitch Clarke, so I took him to win, all the way, knowing full well that he probably wouldn't. Chiesa is bigger and does everything Clarke does well better. That's a surefire bet for a bad matchup. Clarke showed that Chiesa is still a bit of a sitting duck on his feet, and may have been able to steal a win if he hadn't head hunted so much, but the end result was two one-sided rounds in the books for a decision for the TUF champ.
  • Fallout for Chiesa: He's still a crafty wrestler and a very slick grappler. Those skills and the way he joins them together are going to be a big advantage over much of his division. But, he doesn't have anywhere near the striking of a top 15 fighter. Clarke was able to bust him up and hurt him badly to the body at least once. Better strikers will hurt him more, especially as he continues to strike with more aggression. It'll be interesting to see if that's something that improves under Martin Kampmann down at Alpha Male.
  • Fallout for Clarke: He's a fun fighter and a tough fighter to beat, but a lot of his ability to win is really based on perfect execution on his part. He's not the best athlete out there, and so when he's not winning the technical battles or taking advantage of his opponents mistakes, he's often losing. Chiesa gave him openings, especially late, but Clarke didn't capitalize. Going forward, he's going to have to put more focus on being opportunistic to get wins in the UFC.

Al Iaquinta (-110) vs. Jorge Masvidal (-115) (I picked Iaquinta, I was right-ish)

  • The Expectation: I really thought that Al Iaquinta would be able to get more done, technically in this fight. Instead, Iaquinta's history of bad starts bit him hard against a Masvidal's skilled, dangerous striking. Iaquinta getting busted up seemed to tighten up his game throughout the rest of the fight, but it also limited his arsenal a lot. Masvidal didn't take advantage, making the last half of the fight a bit of a mess as far as winners and losers go. I didn't have much problem either way with it, unlike most.
  • Fallout for Iaquinta: He got the win. The MMA judging gods smiled on him in a moment of controversy. That's his cue to try and move onward and upwards. This fight doesn't look kindly on his potential success at the top of the division, as questions will continue to be asked of his ability to get dropped and his slow starts. Almost every fighter in the top 15 can strike as well as Masvidal. Iaquinta is going to get challenged there a lot.
  • Fallout for Masvidal: Masvidal's career at the highest levels of MMA has been one of disappointment more than anything else. I don't mean to say he's done poorly. He's had a very successful career. But, when push comes to shove, he always seems to be on the outside looking in. This loss isn't a huge setback, but it leaves him firmly in that semi-gatekeeper role of being the tough guy that nobody wants to fight but who can't get big headline match-ups.

Ricardo Lamas (+365) vs. Chad Mendes (-450) (I picked Mendes, I was right)

  • The Expectation: I didn't think Lamas would get shellacked like that. I thought he would lose, because Mendes is better everywhere and doesn't make mistakes, but I didn't think Mendes would take Lamas out like the morning trash and dump him in the street. That's a harsh, harsh reality check for Ricardo Lamas' designs on getting back to a title shot.
  • Fallout for Lamas: He's still a top 5 featherweight, without a doubt, he's just not about to jump right back into the title picture. Lamas is a dangerous fighter with a style that doesn't set him up to be a consistent top performer. He makes it work, but sometimes, showings like this are the result.
  • Fallout for Mendes: He's still a killer. It's almost too bad, because I really can't see much interest in watching him fight Jose Aldo again, but that's the only direction he's heading. If Aldo can be convinced to take on lightweight, the featherweight title is probably Mendes' for the asking. If not, he's just going to be the wounded animal lurking in the number one contender spot, looking to prove as many times as needed to the UFC, that he deserves another shot at the belt.

Those are my collected thoughts surrounding UFC Fight Night: Mendes vs. Lamas. 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 assume I'll still be talking about Gabriel Gonzaga being better than Cro-Cop (I can hardly believe I'm writing that sentence in 2015). Until then!

*This week's qoute courtesy of the movie 12 Angry Men.