UFC 187 was just as good as an MMA event can get. The PPV card, especially, was just a non-stop thriller of great fights from start to finish. Andrei Arlovski took Travis Browne to the gates of Valhalla in one of the best fights I've seen in a long time and it was immediately followed by 3 classics, including two huge comebacks for the middleweight and light heavyweight titles. The UFC couldn't have scripted that event better if they'd tried. It's one of the underrated things about booking a card like this, where so many fights seem one-sided in the odds, is that when upsets happen, they're huge upsets and otherwise, great fighters get the chance to look great against real quality opponents and not just cans. Oh... and UFC Fight Night Manila happened. That was good too. Between the two of them I went 14-9, not exactly great, but there was a lot of judging weirdness.
Disclaimer Time: I rarely disagree that heavily with the way judges score fights (and tend to think that fans rant about bad scores far more than they have a right to), but there were 4 fights over the last two events that I think were legitimately mis-scored. It's just one more reason that I don't gamble. In 3 out of those 4 fights, the guy I picked to win it got robbed. I don't know that any were fights I'd have actually bet on, but that's a hell of a way to go down if you did. Still, I like using odds as a way to mark fighter development against public expectation and my personal fight picks. As always, I'm getting the odds from Odds Shark and taking the mode for each fighter. Now, on to the fights!
UFC Fight Night Manila
Nolan Ticman (-275) vs. Yao Zhikui (+240) (I picked Ticman, I was sorta wrong)
- The Expectation: This was supposed to be Nolan Ticman's chance to really show off and make himself look like a real future top tier fighter. He trains out of King's MMA alongside a pair of UFC champs, his coaches rave about his athletic potential, and he's just not showing up on fight night. I scored this fight as a win for him, but was absolutely unsurprised when he didn't get the decision. Never let himself get into the fight at all.
- Fallout for Ticman: He may not get cut, but he may need to be. Ticman seems to be suffering from a case of Uriah Hall syndrome. He's far too content to fight off his back foot (something he's not very good at) and land single counters from the outside. He has the power and athleticism to be a commanding wrestler and grappler, but only uses it to stay away from his opponent. Most UFC fighters are aggressive enough to beat him fighting that style.
- Fallout for Yao: This is sort of karma coming home to roost for Yao. He was robbed of a pretty clear decision win in his debut against Royston Wee and this time around, he's the one getting the benefit of bad judging. That said, I'm not sure flyweight is a great division for him. He's extremely footslow in a division where everyone is incredibly fast, and not the kind of powerful/technical striker to make himself too dangerous to be exchanged with. Good on him getting the win, but he didn't look ready for better competition.
Jon Delos Reyes (-150) vs. Roldan Sangcha-An (+130) (I picked JDR, I was right)
- The Expectation: Delos Reyes hadn't had many opportunities to show it leading into this fight, but he's a real top shelf athlete with power in his hands. That's what I expected to make all the difference against an exciting, but physically underwhelming Roldan Sangcha-An, and it's exactly how the fight played out.
- Fallout for Delos Reyes: As I said above, he's very definitely a UFC caliber athlete with some real physical tools at his disposal. He may never be top 15 material, but he should be able to build himself into a reliable action fighter with bookings like this. Of course that means getting at least a few wins under his belt, so beating Sangcha-An was extremely important for his career going forward.
- Fallout for Sangcha-An: Maybe he gets another shot in the UFC, maybe not. Sangcha-An is in that tough spot of having some reasonable technical skills, but not the physicality to make them count consistently. He's also really overly aggressive in control positions, meaning he doesn't take good advantage of winning rounds when he has the opportunity. He's a fun fighter, but probably not one cut out for the UFC.
Ning Guangyou (-147) vs. Royston Wee (+127) (I picked Ning, I was right)
- The Expectation: While the UFC may not be expanding into that China market anytime soon, their initial foray did yield a few half decent fighters. Ning Guangyou isn't destined for greatness, but he has a very judging friendly style and against guys like Royston Wee, he's going to win every day. He put on a good show here, and proved what we've already seen, which is that Royston Wee is not ready for even okay competition.
- Fallout for Ning: Most importantly, he's showing that he's got the toughness and athleticism to be a big step above the bottom of the barrel for what the UFC is picking up now days. That doesn't make him a future contender, but it could make him the fighter that Tuerxun and Tiequan weren't. Someone who could go win loss for the UFC and put on some good fights for a while.
- Fallout for Wee: Royston Wee is a fighter that it really felt like the UFC was slow playing. And even then he was the recipient of a pretty big gift decision in his last fight. Ning exposed the fact that Wee just can't strike a lick. So, when he doesn't have the physical/wrestling advantage, he has almost no hope of winning. He landed 18 strikes over two full stand-up rounds, in the BW division, against Ning... that's bad.
- The Expectation: Really quite surprised that Lima was a favorite in this fight. I can only think that that's leftover shine from his TUF performances, because there was just about zero reason to trust him to beat Li after how easily Eddie Gordon beat him and how badly he struggled against Jorge Oliveira. Li isn't a jump-off-the-page talent, but he's consistent as hell and super tough... Lima is pretty much the exact opposite.
- Fallout for Li: Right now, he's already potentially the best Chinese fighter in UFC history. That's a weird thing to say just two fights into his UFC career, but the footage bears out that he's a fighter that's improving rapidly. The most remarkable improvement has been in his hands. Li came in as a suffocating regional grappler, but has had to adjust against bigger/stronger competition. The adjustment has been to develop a really decent inside boxing game. It helps too that he's got a fantastic chin to depend on and ride out problems. It will be interesting to see how much further he goes.
- Fallout for Lima: It's not just that his UFC career hasn't worked out for him, but at this point, MMA itself seems like something of a mistake. At some point there's a fight between him and TJ Waldburger that has to happen, just for cosmic alignment. But, on the real, someone needs to talk to him about what his career is getting him, because he's being KO'd hard, a lot.
Kajan Johnson (-110) vs. Lipeng Zhang (-110) (I picked Lipeng, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: It's not so much that I was a really strong believer in Lipeng, but more that I had a ton of trouble putting any faith in Johnson to perform for 3 whole rounds. He's always been a fighter that looked great right up until the moment he was getting blasted. Full credit goes to him here, for taking the safe, smart route and grinding out a win.
- Fallout for Johnson: This new version of him may not be half as exciting to watch as the Kajan Johnson that was a mainstay attraction on regional shows, but it's a fighter that's much more likely to stay in the UFC for at least a couple years and pick up a few wins along the way.
- Fallout for Lipeng: Lipeng is in a bit of tough spot in his UFC career. He's 2-2 in terms of record, but could arguably be 1-3. Most notably, as someone who really made his name being bigger and stronger than everyone on the regional circuit, he's having a very hard time transitioning to fights where that's no longer the case. He has to find an area where he can show some real technical consistency, or he may be back on the China circuit in short order.
Tae Hyun Bang (+179) vs. Jon Tuck (-230) (I picked Tae Hyun, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: As much as I've enjoyed Jon Tuck's technical skills in the past, he's always seemed a bit physically outgunned in the UFC. That's really not been the case for Tae Hyun at all. So, despite Tuck being the odds on favorite and the more technical fighter, I didn't think he'd win this fight. But, he looked stronger than ever and, for the first time, like he had the power to make his skills effective. Great win for him.
- Fallout for Tae Hyun: Unfortunately for Tae Hyun, being powerful and tough really hasn't been good enough for the UFC. He's not really an exceptional fighter in any one facet of the game, and perhaps his worst area, range striking, is where he ends up spending significant portions of ever fight. In this case, hanging out on the edge of striking range was absolutely deadly for him. He's had a long enough career under his belt that he's probably not getting better, which mean's he's probably not winning UFC bouts consistently.
- Fallout for Tuck: This was a huge fight for his development as a talent in the sport. Jon Tuck has always seemed like a fighter that has the athletic gifts and technical tools to be a really good talent. But, he's also gotten pushed around with relative ease by the hulking lightweights in the division. Even guys like Jake Lindsey and Tiequan Zhang really made him work for a win. This time out he looked bigger and stronger while still being fast and accurate. That could make him a real fighter to watch over the next couple years.
- The Expectation: As Makashvili's first UFC bout, I can't say I expected a dominant performance from him, but the ability to be the more powerful and well rounded fighter in the cage over 15 minutes should have been (and was) enough to deal with a guy like Mark Eddiva.
- Fallout for Eddiva: Somewhat like Sangcha-An above, Mark Eddiva is a fighter with some real technical upside, who may just not have the physical tools to match. On the regional circuit he had a nice blend of strong striking and grappling, especially as a better than average wrestler for his scene. In the UFC, he no longer has the wrestling and grappling, meaning he has to depend entirely on his range striking, which while fluid is not powerful enough to make him a real threat.
- Fallout for Makashvili: It wasn't a dominant performance, or the kind of thing that's going to get fans singing his praises, but Makashvili went out and got rounds in his UFC debut and came away with a win. That's a big first step for any prospect in the UFC. From here on out it's all about building momentum.
- The Expectation: I really had not good expectations from Phillipe Nover in this fight. Yui Chul isn't exactly a picture of fighting consistency, but he's usually been strong and aggressive enough to overcome his lack of having a solid approach in the cage. I honestly thought he did enough to win this fight, albeit he gave up the first round fairly easily, but neither man really impressed.
- Fallout for Nover: Every time in his career Nover has taken a step up in competition, he's failed to get the win. Yui Chul wasn't a big step up in competition, but Nover's classic inconsistencies still reared up and almost delivered him defeat from the jaws of victory. He got a win to start his UFC career, but he just doesn't seem to have the cardio to fight the fight he wants and that's a tough row to hoe, especially at 145.
- Fallout for Yui Chul: "The Korean Bulldozer" really needs to bulldoze more and get put on his back less. Once he actually settled down a little, he showed some half decent takedown defense to go with his power brawling. But, he needs to make that the major focus of every fight, otherwise anyone with a half decent wrestling game is going to beat him just like this.
- The Expectation: Hyun Gyu is a physical freak, but Magny has proven at this point that unless you come correct, he's going to beat you. "Ace" is just too one dimensional to beat a fighter like Magny, although he gave it a hell of a good try before getting TKO'd.
- Fallout for Hyun Gyu: While it was already somewhat obvious, from his loss to Tarec Saffiedine, Hyun Gyu is probably not going to be a top contender for the UFC. He's a textbook case of a great athlete who has never quite learned all the tricks of the craft and instead tries to depend on his athleticism. For as long as he's been fighting, he probably isn't going to get a lot better. On the flip side, he'll be a hell of a lot of fun for as long as he sticks around.
- Fallout for Magny: It wasn't a win over a top ten talent that he needs at this point, to solidify his place in the division, but this still felt like an establishing fight for Magny. He's now shown, definitively, that he's just not going to lose fights to guys he should be beating. He was the more well rounded, skilled fighter in the cage, and he fought like it to get the win. Hopefully a big fight is on the horizon.
- The Expectation: Before entering this fight, Mark Munoz looked like he had absolutely nothing left for fighting. It's fair to say that his recent losses were to top contenders, but they were also instant/totally non-competitive losses. He just looked like he wasn't ready to take shots. For that reason, it was really hard to pick him here. But, he proved me (and the odds) wrong by putting on the performance of a lifetime.
- Fallout for Barnatt: Something is broken with Luke Barnatt. Things that used to work don't anymore, and things that never worked haven't gotten fixed. At this point he's gone from being a functional, if limited fighter to a guy who just can't seem to fight at all. Munoz unloaded on him at will from range, and Barnatt was unwilling or able to find the clinch. Where he goes from here is anyone's guess.
- Fallout for Munoz: He's retired. And on a hell of a high note. Good on him.
- The Expectation: I can't say I expected it to quite go down like this, just that I figured Mousasi would be the better more complete fighter. I gave Philippou a puncher's chance to get Mousasi exchanging and maybe land something that hurt him, but it turned out that he didn't even have that. Easy win for Mousasi.
- Fallout for Mousasi: These are the kind of stay busy fights he has to win if he wants to be in the conversation as a title contender for a while longer. The wins don't have to be pretty, but they have to be wins. Mousasi got the job done and is still a guy who the UFC could put into a title shot if the circumstances demanded it.
- Fallout for Philippou: On the flip side, just when Philippou should be hitting his stride, his star seems to be fading. His hands have gotten crisper and he's as dangerous a puncher as ever, but the rest of his game seems to have evaporated. That's not to say he was ever a grappling/wrestling wizard, but there was a time when it at least looked like he had some takedown defense and knew how to get up. He's still a top 15 MW, but just by the skin of his teeth.
- The Expectation: This was the time to Frankie Edgar to come out and really work Urijah Faber over for 5 rounds. I'm not sure he exactly did it, especially considering how little he wrestled, but he got a very straightforward win with superior speed, movement, and a more complicated striking game.
- Fallout for Edgar: Like Mousasi, this is one of those fights Edgar had to win to stay in the title hunt at 145. Faber is a big name, but he's obviously not quite the fighter he used to be. Whereas Edgar still seems very much in his prime. It's just too bad that the utter dominance of his Swanson fight was lacking here, as this didn't paint him as a successful contender for Aldo.
- Fallout for Faber: It's official, he's lost a step... or 3. Faber just doesn't seem to quite have the foot speed that he once did, and it's especially telling at range, where his single big strikes are just a little more obvious and easy to read. In the clinch and on the ground he's still a tough, dynamic fighter, but guys he can't out-wrestle seem to have a pretty easy time potshotting him. He probably has a few more big fights in him before he hangs them up, but hopefully he's taking a long view of his future.
Josh Sampo (+400) vs. Justin Scoggins (-500) (I picked Scoggins, I was right)
- The Expectation: Josh Sampo's UFC career has been a bit revealing and disappointing when it comes to his ability to compete at the UFC level. Scoggins has had his struggles, but those seem to be more growing pains than limits. As such, it didn't seem tough to pick Scoggins here and he won with relative ease.
- Fallout for Sampo: I think we're going to see this a lot with the flyweight division. There are a lot of guys who are just a bit undersized for bantamweight, but aren't nearly dynamic or quick enough for flyweight. Sampo appears to be one of those guys and he was just a step slower than Scoggins all night. Not sure how he fixes that problem.
- Fallout for Scoggins: This was exactly the fight he needed. A tough opponent who would hang in there for 3 rounds and make him pay if he made mistakes, but wasn't otherwise dangerous. Scoggins got to show his stuff for 3 rounds, comfortably, and regain some composure after back to back losses. A good step to get him back on the prospect track.
- The Expectation: I had no idea whatsoever of what to expect from Kuntz. I never scouted him, his record looked okay, but not great. So, I was going into this fight with the knowledge that Makhachev was super legit and should win, but I wasn't sure how it would look. Kuntz accounted for himself well, but wasn't ready for the complicated wrestle-grappling of Makhachev or the pace Makhachev pushed.
- Fallout for Kuntz: If nothing else, he went out and proved that he's tough enough to be here. Makhachev hit him with some big shots, took him down and roughed him up, and Kuntz didn't stop coming after him. He also looks like he has a pretty decent striking game. It's not the kind of thing he can depend on all by itself (as we just saw) but it's enough that he should get some wins in the UFC.
- Fallout for Makhachev: Can't ask more from a debuting prospect than a dominant submission win. Much like his training partner Khabib, Makhachev has the look of a true physical force with a dominating singular skill. He'll have to keep improving to win over the long run, but I expect him to tear through the lower levels of the UFC.
- The Expectation: I was really unsure of Covington in this fight. Technically, he had the style to beat Pyle, but the experience difference was just massive. Pyle came out with just the right gameplan to win too, but he couldn't match Covington's athleticism and thus couldn't stay off his back.
- Fallout for Covington: I've already seen a few people turning their nose up at Covington's win here, but I think that ignores just how huge a victory over Mike Pyle was for a fighter with as little experience as Covington has. Pyle is a legit upper-level welterweight in the UFC and Covington went out, established his game, and got the win. It may not have been pretty, but he doesn't have the polish to win pretty yet. This was all raw potential and athleticism at work here.
- Fallout for Pyle: His days as a gatekeeper to the top 15-20 may be slipping. Covington is a great young fighter, but he has far far less experience than Pyle and a totally predictable game. Pyle just wasn't able to match his speed or cardio, despite being ready for Covington's skills. That's a sign that the wear of the sport may be starting to show on him.
Uriah Hall (-400) vs. Rafael Natal (+325) (I picked Hall, I was sorta wrong)
- The Expectation: I thought Hall won this fight. That needs to be said before I admit how little I care that he lost it. He just doesn't fight in a way that's likely to win him decisions, ever. And that doesn't seem to be changing. It doesn't matter how much more technical or well rounded he gets, he can't fight off his back foot throwing one strike at a time. Nobody wins that way consistently.
- Fallout for Hall: The UFC has stopped booking him like a feature fighter, and that's great, because he's not going to fight like one. He was on a big win streak heading into this fight, so I doubt the cut him, but at this point he's a known quantity and that quantity is disappointing.
- Fallout for Natal: There had to be one mediocre middleweight to rise above the rest. One guy who was going to get the split decisions most of the time in a division hell bent on creating ugly fights. It looks like Natal is that guy. He's practically knocking on the door of a top 15 ranking, but I can't see him ever winning a fight against a top 15 fighter, A top tier gatekeeper if ever there was one.
- The Expectation: I really thought that the bulk of this fight would look a lot more like the first minute + of the third round, and thus I thought Burkman would win it. I can't trust DHK to win a game of Russian roulette with an automatic pistol with the way he's been fighting lately, but if an opponent is going to literally hand him the win, then he's still good enough to take it.
- Fallout for Burkman: Burkman's UFC run has been a harsh lesson for those carrying the torch for WSOF talent. Burkman is a good fighter and a good athlete, but he's just not great anywhere, and the very best athletes in the division can push him around. This was a fight where he really needed to show consistent striking skill and stay outside and he couldn't do it at all. He's still a solid fighter, but it looks like he'll never be a top 15 guy.
- Fallout for Dong Hyun: New Kim is just not a very good fighter, unless he's forced to be. He's obviously still a physical force and a powerhouse grappler, but he only uses those skills if his opponent does what Burkman did and just presses him into the clinch over and over. Otherwise he still eats punches to the face like Pac-Man pellets. A more consistent fighter than Burkman will probably wreck him.
- The Expectation: John Dodson is one of the most physically talented flyweights on the planet. A fact I really thought would come to bear at UFC 187. But while his physical tools are still prime, his technical skills just don't seem to be evolving. Makovsky on the other hand, may not be quite the elite athlete that Dodson is, but he's obviously working hard to get better. I thought Makovsky won this fight behind is jab and his striking output. But, the judges were more taken with Dodson's small flashes of power.
- Fallout for Dodson: He won this fight, but he didn't look anything like a man that could really challenge Demetrious Johnson for the title. Makovsky was able to stop the bulk of Dodson's offense behind a jab, and while Dodson had some great slams and some big strikes, he didn't produce any of the consistency I think most were expecting.
- Fallout for Makovsky: His time in the UFC has been a bit strange. He's very definitely getting better, but it seems like there have been a lot of small improvements he needed to make. The big one here was a jab. I'm not quite sure that Makovsky will ever quite put everything together just right to make a title run, but I thought he looked good in this fight and seems to be making the right steps going forward.
- The Expectation: Much like Dodson above, this was a fight that Joe-B was expected to dominate, but really didn't. Unlike Dodson, he clearly won the bout, but he got hit a lot in doing so and really made Moraga look like the top 5 fighter he's managed to style himself as.
- Fallout for Benavidez: Like Urijah Faber, it may be that Joe-B is starting to lose a step. Not to the same degree as Faber has, but while he was the stronger, more well rounded fighter in the cage, he wasn't the faster fighter here. If Moraga's game were more complete, Benavidez could have taken a major upset loss. As is, he just doesn't look any closer to being a contender again.
- Fallout for Moraga: Much like Ricardo Lamas, Moraga continues to improve his skills, while still hanging on to the same holes in his game. Despite his fast hands, he's footslow, and while he's got a nice submission game, he's really not a complicated grappler or even a better-than-mediocre wrestler. He could easily be a top 5-10 fighter for quite a while longer, but he still looks like essentially the same fighter that got shut out in his title shot.
Andrei Arlovski (+400) vs. Travis Browne (-500) (I picked Browne, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: Finally proof that Andrei Arlovski's return to the UFC, while fun, was nothing more than a fluky series of wins over some shot fighters... right? RIGHT!? Nope. Travis Browne seems to have hit a serious skid and Arlovski is on the kind of rise that would seem more supernatural if Mark Hunt hadn't done it a few years ago.
- Fallout for Arlovski: He is now literally a hairsbreadth from a shot at the UFC heavyweight title. That's how stagnant, weird, and old the HW division has gotten. Browne was a legit top 5 fighter, and Arlovski just pasted him in front of a huge crowd on PPV. Werdum is fighting Velasquez and Miocic has to be first in line, but after that, Arlovski has as good a claim as anyone to a chance at the belt.
- Fallout for Browne: I'd still argue that moving from Jackson's was a good idea, but it looks like GFC has done a lot of work tearing down the problems in Browne's game and still have a lot of rebuilding to do. As such, I'd have to guess that he's in kind of a rebuilding phase and may need another couple fights before things really start clicking for him at his new camp. Either that, or like Barnatt, things are just going south in a hurry. But, I don't think that's the case, yet.
- The Expectation: I figured Makdessi would probably do better than most expected, on his way to a decision loss. I'd still say he did better than most expected, but Cerrone exceeded my expectation by landing the kind of brutal headkick that has Makdessi thinking about doing something other than fighting. That's one hell of a kick.
- Fallout for Cerrone: He's a legit top contender at this point. Even without beating Khabib, it's hard to deny that Cerrone doesn't deserve a chance at UFC gold. He stays active and while not everyone he fights is a top ranked guy, they are pretty much all upper tier talents. Right now everything seems to be clicking for him and it would be hard to count Cerrone out of any fight, even against guys who have beaten him before.
- Fallout for Makdessi: He might retire... I don't think he will, but I wouldn't be sad if he did. He's been a very fun talent in the UFC, but fighting is not an easy way to make a living and Makdessi seems like he's got other stuff going on (even if some of that is pretty sketchy too). Either way, his immediate future revolves around getting his jaw healed up and dreaming of solid foods.
- The Expectation: It would have been utterly shocking if Weidman had lost to Vitor Belfort. At the relative stages in their careers, with the well rounded, powerful game Weidman possesses, there just didn't seem any natural way he'd lose. But, he almost did, and damn if it wasn't thrilling.
- Fallout for Weidman: Chris Weidman is quickly becoming the UFC's most exciting champion. His only decision since early 2012 was an amazing fight against Lyoto Machida. His willingness to engage and his desire to win definitely drive this style. He's never looking to coast to a decision, never trying to take the easy way out. It almost cost him against Belfort, but rather than being seen as a flaw it's a trait that should be celebrated as the most fan friendly style a dominant champ could have.
- Fallout for Belfort: There's really nothing meaningful left for Belfort's career in MMA. He can hang around and take some showcase fights, get paid, headline cards, but I can't imagine him getting another title shot. At this point he's been at the top of the mountain so often and for so long, this felt like the last hurrah for him as a meaningful fighter, even if he will probably still be a fun one for a while longer.
- The Expectation: I really thought that Anthony Johnson would be more careful against Daniel Cormier and that while he might flatten him like he did early, he would be respectful of the power and skill in Cormier's wrestling ability. He wasn't at all. Johnson came out looking to KO Cormier early and seemed to have no backup plan in mind when it failed. Not surprised he didn't win that kind of fight.
- Fallout for Cormier: He's now that UFC champion and while he may not have "beat the man" he definitely deserves the belt. I imagine the UFC will do whatever they can to keep Cormier in the spotlight while Jones is away and even after that. He seems like a fighter that the UFC has been hoping to make one of their feature stars and a title just gives them the perfect reason to do so.
- Fallout for Johnson: This definitely felt like Johnson's moment, his time to shine. His game has improved dramatically over the past few years, and now he got a title shot against an opponent who just couldn't match him standing, at all. And he blew it. Frankly, it seemed a bit like he blew it against Gustafsson as well, but was able to land the power shots early to put Gustafsson away. He has the technique to fight clean, long fights, where he's winning the exchanges and the rounds, but he's not fighting like that right now, and going for broke in the first minute every time is not how you win big fights.
Those are my collected thoughts from UFC 187 and UFC Fight Night Manila. 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'll be talking about the victorious return of Carlos Condit. Until then!
*This week's quote courtesy of the movie Mad Max: Fury Road