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Hindsight - UFC Fight Night: Boetsch vs. Henderson in retrospect

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You knew he was dynamite. He has to explode sometimes.*

I could be talking about Dan Henderson in the statement above, but really I'm talking about the UFC. They've become known for their marathon drudgery cards that take hours and hours to get through a series of grinding decisions featuring a lot of talent most people have never heard of in some place most people could pick out on a well labeled map. I love MMA, I love sports, but the great majority of them are boring. It's something of a tag of its legitimacy that the UFC has made itself often boring as well. This card was a reminder that MMA isn't boring and that given the right match-ups on the right night, you can still get a hell of a lot of fun out of those fighters you haven't paid much attention to. Oh, and you can go 7-5 picking fights, like I did.

Disclaimer Time: Most of that 7-5 came from the undercard as the main card proved to be mostly a string of underdog upsets and a demolishing of my expectations. I can tell you that I would have definitely lost money on Tim Boetsch. I probably would have won on Poirier and Rivera, but lost big on Boetsch. Those odds were just too good. And that's why I don't gamble, because as often as I'm sure I'll be right, I'm dead wrong. Instead, odds are just a way to track fighter development alongside expectations. As always, I'm using Odds Shark for the odds on each fight and taking the mode for each fighter. So, let's get to the fights...

Leonardo Morales (-175) vs. Jose Quinonez (+150) (I picked Quinonez, I was right)

  • The Expectation: I picked Quinonez to win this in the sense that I had to pick someone and Quinonez was in the fight, so it made more sense than picking Anderson Silva, or Brock Lesnar. That and, frankly, the TUF Mexico team came out of the Latin America show much much better prepared for the UFC. So, when TUF LA guy is fighting TUF LA guy, you're probably best off picking the Mexican fighter to win it.
  • Fallout for Morales: His time in the UFC is probably done. Very few TUF fighters survive starting their UFC career 0-2, international TUF fighters especially tend to get the ax quick. And that's probably best for Morales, whose game is way too dependent on sitting at kicking range for the UFC right now.
  • Fallout for Quinonez: He gets to live another day. This fight didn't really show any real development for him, other than that he can out grapple a range striker with no other offensive tools. That's a good place to start, but the rest of his game still looks really raw.

Ricardo Abreu (-175) vs. Jake Collier (+155) (I picked Collier, I was right)

  • The Expectation: If Ricardo Abreu didn't get an early finish, common wisdom was that he was going to lose the fight. And while Abreu has shown some pop in his hands and some physical tools (to go with his sub grappling) steps up in competition (especially on TUF) seemed to take a lot of the steam out of his finishing ability. This was his first test against a big, strong, and well rounded middleweight who wasn't going to wilt in front of him and Abreu didn't pass that test.
  • Fallout for Abreu: He's either going to have to learn how to wrestle or learn how to strike. It'd probably be a lot easier for him to learn the wrestling side of things, but that doesn't seem to be where he's going. He's got the physical tools to be a good prospect, but I wouldn't blame the UFC if they cut him loose after a loss like this.
  • Fallout for Collier: Collier checks a lot of boxes for MMA success. He's aggressive, he's in shape, and he's tough enough to take a few shots (usually). That combination of skills can make him very dangerous against other rising competition. He's got a lot of improving to do to make a serious run, but I expect him to win a few fights to start his UFC career.

Justin Edwards (+175) vs. Joe Proctor (-205) (I picked Proctor, I was right)

  • The Expectation: This was an easy fight to peg as the dark horse FOTN. Both guys are scrappy, both guys are similarly athletic, neither is likely to finish the fight on one shot. Still, to date Joe Proctor has been a much more consistent fighter with a reasonably technical skill set. It made sense that this would be his fight to win.
  • Fallout for Edwards: He's gotten better. Quite a bit better over his time in the UFC. But, he's just not catching up fast enough to be successful and at this point I think he has to be gone. He could continue improving regionally and come back, but he's at the stage in his career where he should be at his best, and he's probably going to spend a lot of it outside Zuffa.
  • Fallout for Proctor: The ceiling may not be that high for Proctor, but he seems right in that Chris Lytle, Joe Lauzon sweet spot of being a dependable, well rounded action fighter who wins more than he loses. That's a very good place to be in the UFC, even if it never gets you a title shot.

Christos Giagos (+150) vs. Chris Wade (-170) (I picked Giagos, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Giagos looked a lot like the fighters that have given Chris Wade trouble in the past. It seemed reasonable, based on that standard, to expect Wade to have trouble again. The difference is, Wade appears to be improving continuously over the course of his career. Giagos still looked like the same fighter he has in his previous two UFC appearances.
  • Fallout for Giagos: The athleticism is there, but it's just not get molded into any one technical skill. And the unfortunate thing for Giagos is that he's at the point where that should at least be starting to happen. He was the bigger puncher, in the clinch he was the more powerful grappler. But he wasn't technical enough to maintain anything. When he had the advantage at range he walked himself into the clinch. When he had the advantage wrestling or grappling, he got swept and taken down. Other prospects are beating him because of it and if he can't catch up he'll be gone in short order.
  • Fallout for Wade: He's gotten a lot lot better in his short time in the UFC. That's  a great thing to see for a fighter that came in as a reasonable athlete and technician. I'm not sure the athletic side is improving (after all he gassed hard in the 3rd), but the technical side of his game is growing a lot. He's figuring out how to really use his wrestling to outwork better athletes. If that continues he could be a really solid top tier gatekeeper type of fighter.

Omari Akhmedov (-140) vs. Brian Ebersole (+115) (I picked Akhmedov, I was right)

  • The Expectation: I was hoping to see Omari Akhmedov get a huge KO here. It seemed like there was a good chance Ebersole would just stifle all the effective offense in the fight, but Akhmedov's willingness to throw bombs and Ebersole's declining game gave me hope. It turns out that that was the right choice, but more because Ebersole has parts falling off him than Akhmedov busting him up.
  • Fallout for Akhmedov: Much like Christos Giagos above, Akhmedov has the physical tools, he just needs to develop the rest of his game to meet those tools. In that vein, this was a great fight to keep him on the track of a developing athlete. More wins mean more money, which means better training and more potential development. I don't think Jackson-Winklejohn will make him a star, but he could eventually become a solid action welterweight.
  • Fallout for Ebersole: After 70 fights he's done. I don't blame him. Hell, I wouldn't have blamed him if he'd hung 'em up 20 fights ago. The amount of time he's spent recovering from injuries lately, only to get hurt again here, suggests someone whose body is on the decline. He made the smart choice calling it a career after this loss.

Shawn Jordan (-125) vs. Derrick Lewis (-105) (I picked Jordan, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Derrick Lewis was going to be dangerous early, possibly even hurt Jordan, before getting taken down and ground and pounded for a TKO in round 2. Essentially, exactly how the fight played out, with the added bonus of some sweet chin music.
  • Fallout for Jordan: As seems to be the way with quite a few Jackson-Winklejohn fighters, Jordan's improvements have come slowly and steadily over a long time. He's not a way better striker than he used to be (although he's got some flashier strikes to make use of his athleticism), he's not a way better wrestler than he used to be, but he is a better fighter than he used to be. His timing, defense, and control of the fight have all improved. That makes him more dangerous than ever, if still not an elite HW.
  • Fallout for Lewis: If there's an archetype for the big punching heavyweight in MMA who never finds consistent success at the highest levels, Lewis seems to be it. He's still a first round fighter with limited wrestling and ground skills. He's maybe gotten a little more patient setting up his big shots, but he's not hard to draw into a fire fight, and once there it's just a matter of waiting him out. Easier said than done, but most successful UFC fighters are tough enough to take on power shot, that means most successful UFC heavyweights will beat Derrick Lewis.

Alex Caceres (+120) vs. Francisco Rivera (-140) (I picked Rivera, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Not saying "I called it." But, I totally called it. Rivera has developed himself into a truly technical striker with KO power. Caceres leaves himself open to be hit and starts slow. That's a recipe for a first round KO if ever there was one.
  • Fallout for Caceres: He just hasn't improved. Early in his career, over aggression in his submission game was his biggest problem. But as one skill gap has closed, a much bigger one has opened. Caceres' striking is a mess. He may not have beat guys like Faber or Rivera on his best day, but that loss to Kanehara was especially telling. There's no reason that a fighter at the point he's at in his development should be getting tooled by Masenori Kanehara like he was in that fight. Now, on a three loss skid, his UFC days are probably over. And unless he makes some serious changes, he may not make it back.
  • Fallout for Rivera: Slowly but surely the pieces have been falling into place for Rivera. It seemed like things really started clicking in his fight against Urijah Faber, right before a Faber eye poke set in motion a quick submission loss. But, Rivera never even gave Caceres that chance. If he can keep calm and strike the way he has been lately, there's no reason that Rivera couldn't be a title challenger in the next year or two.

Anthony Birchak (+155) vs. Joe Soto (-200) (I picked Soto, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: I figured Joe Soto would be able to weather enough of the storms standing from Anthony Brichack to start grinding him against the fence and eventually on the ground, for a potentially ugly, but consistent decision. It turns out he couldn't even withstand the first barrage and never really got an opportunity to take part in the fight.
  • Fallout for Birchak: To his credit, this was a do or die fight for him. He's been in MMA long enough that most of his big development has probably already happened, and he walked straight into a disappointing loss in his UFC debut. If he'd lost here, Birchak would find himself at a major career crossroads. Instead, he's got a decent name win to propel him up the division and another opportunity to prove the can be a top 15 fighter.
  • Fallout for Soto: Joe is lucky in that his competitive loss to champion T.J. Dillashaw should (operative on should) buy him a 3rd fight in the UFC. Otherwise, he's in almost the exact same place as Birchak. Soto should basically be the fighter he's going to be in the UFC. Birchak dusting him in a minute and a half suggests that that's probably not a fighter who's staying near the top of the bantamweight division.

Brian Ortega (+125) vs. Thiago Tavares (-145) (I picked Tavares, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: It's not that I trust Tavares' game so heavily that I thought he'd walk through Ortega, but rather that Ortega's skills played right into what Tavares does well. And for a while, the fight kind of went that way. The action was back and forth, Ortega was getting his licks in, but Tavares was spending time in dominant positions and landing way, way more strikes. Thing is, durability has never been Tavares' strong suit, and Ortega's willingness to be aggressive at all times lead to a matter-of-time situation where Tavares got hurt and put away.
  • Fallout for Ortega: He's made himself something of an instant start. Not in a big money, Conor McGregor sort of way, but fans are talking about him after that win. Tavares is a UFC name and beating him means something. For Ortega it might mean that things get more difficult in a hurry. Still, it's a great way to come back after a PED suspension and a great way to rehab your image.
  • Fallout for Tavares: It may be a little much to make too many inferences off of this fight. On paper, it's a fight that Tavares should have won. But, he's never been durable, and the fact that he couldn't submit Tavares meant that he had to be durable. Is that a sign that he's losing a step? It could be, Tavares has been around for a long time. At the moment however, I'd say it's more of a storm cloud than a downpour. Something to watch for in his next fight.

Yancy Medeiros (+210) vs. Dustin Poirier (-260) (I picked Poirier, I was right)

  • The Expectation: This fight was set up for Poirier to show off. Medeiros is big and tough and likes to stand in front of people and trade leather. But, he's not fast, he's not hard to hit, and no matter how good your chin is, most fighters can't just trade with "The Diamond." Medeiros gave it a shot, but Poirier stuck to the script and bombed him early.
  • Fallout for Medeiros: For those looking at Medeiros as a potential fighter on the rise at lightweight, I'd say this fight was a crash back to reality. He's big, he's tough, and he's got some technique in flashes, but for the time he already has under his belt, he should be closing in on the peak of his game. Poirier gave him exactly the fight he wanted and crushed him at it. That's a bad sign for Yancy going forward.
  • Fallout for Poirier: He's building a serious case for himself as a potential future lightweight contender. As I said, this was set up for him to look good, but Poirier is still showing that he's way above the rank and file at 155 in the UFC. That's an important first step to establishing himself as a top 15 talent. Now he needs to get some name wins under his belt.

Matt Mitrione (-165) vs. Ben Rothwell (+140) (I picked Mitrione, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Matt Mitrione was supposed to move well at range, land his shots, stay on the outside, and make Rothwell chase him into big counters. That plan seemed to be working reasonably well for about 45 seconds, until Mitrione decided that he was better off depending on his grappling skill... Yeah, that grappling skill. In less than 10 seconds after he shot for the takedown it seemed like Mitrione was tapping for his life. Bad decision, bad result.
  • Fallout for Mitrione: At this point I feel pretty comfortable saying that there's a level beyond which Mitrione will not ascend. HW is weird, so he could go on a tear 5 years from now, in his 40s and I wouldn't be that shocked. But, as someone who has stuck up for his steady improvement for a while now, this was a total let down. Mitrione can beat the bottom rung of HW any day of the week. But anyone who can fluster him even a little can crack him wide open.
  • Fallout for Rothwell: Big Ben's UFC career has gone in fits and starts, but he has some serious forward momentum going as he's started to knock off the fighters at the bottom of the heavyweight rankings. Since his ugly loss to Gonzaga a couple years ago, he's looked better and better. It's not a huge improvement, but it's enough to take real advantage of his power and durability. In a division like this, that's the sort of combination of talents that could inch him to the top 5. Especially as some former contenders start to flounder.

Tim Boetsch (-190) vs. Dan Henderson (+167) (I picked Boetsch, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Boetsch was supposed to go out there and get his glory by becoming the latest man to drub a shopworn Dan Henderson. Instead he walked straight into a bevy of right hands and ended up as just another victim. I'm glad for fans of Henderson, I'm glad because it's a much much less sad thing than watching Henderson lose again. Long story short, I'm glad I was wrong.
  • Fallout for Boetsch: somewhat like Medeiros above, this is that final wake-up call (especially for me) on Tim Boetsch. Yes, he's slowly gotten better over the years and understands what the best parts of his game are. No, that still doesn't make him good enough to be a dangerous upper level fighter in the UFC. He couldn't figure out how to make his game work while limiting Henderson's and paid dearly because of it. That could be an end to his run as a top 15 MW.
  • Fallout for Henderson: HENDO IS BACK! Or not. I mean, he got the win and did it while taking hardly any damage. But, Boetsch was always going to walk right into his wheel house and try and beat him to the punch. It turns out Boetsch doesn't have the skill to do that. Does that make Henderson "back"? No, but it'll keep him fighting and there are enough mediocre MWs out there to make that prospect interesting.

Those are my collected thoughts from UFC Fight Night: Boetsch vs. Henderson. As always, so much of what I wrote seems obvious now, but that's the benefit of hindsight. Stay tuned for next week, when I'll be talking about why Cain Velasquez is still the undisputed HW champ. Until then!

*This week's quote from the movie In a Lonely Place.