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Hindsight - UFC on Fox: Dillashaw vs. Barao 2 in retrospect

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Now we don't know what lies ahead of us. The unknown has always been man's greatest demoralizer. Now maybe we can cope with this by maintaining our sense of values, by carrying out our daily routine, the same as we always have. These concessions to civilization are important. They are our links to reality, and because of them we might be... less afraid.*

That's what Renan Barao is going to have to cope with in the face of his new post-apocalypse UFC on Fox 16 reality. He got blown up and has now been sent out into the radioactive wasteland to fight off the oncoming hordes. If he tears everything down and tries to rebuild from the ground up it may be more likely that he loses more than he gains. Barao's basic style of fighting, his skill set, his abilities are solid, they work. They beat most guys, just not the one in front of him on Saturday. Where he goes after this loss will be an interesting sight to see. On the other hand, Barao's loss took me to 8-4 on the night (7-5 if you want to be a jerk about it).

Disclaimer Time: I don't gamble, this isn't a gambling guide, I don't put that much faith in my fight picks. No matter how much work I put into picking fights, my goal is always to create narrative out of sporting contests and to weigh expectation against results. In that sense, odds are a great way of measuring public expectation and fight picks are a great way of measuring my own. I'm using Odds Shark for the odds on each fight and taking the mode for each fighter. So, on to the fights:

Zak Cummings (-400) vs. Dominique Steele (+325) (I picked Cummings, I was right)

  • The Expectation: I feel bad for Steele, because not only doesn't Zak Cummings have a name for him to get over on with a win, but this wasn't a fight he was ever likely to win. Cummings is a no nonsense fighter hitting his stride in MMA. Steele just isn't ready for someone with Cummings' skill, especially not on short notice.
  • Fallout for Cummings: If I sound bullish on Cummings right now, I'd say I am... a bit. There's nothing that he does so well that I'm screaming "future title challenger" to myself at home watching him. But, there are enough parts of his game clicking in just the right way that I don't see why he can't be a borderline top 15 talent right now. He's a powerful wrestler, capable grappler, and it looks like he's finally putting some technique behind what was better than advertised striking. That makes him a tough out for just about anyone.
  • Fallout for Steele: On the plus side, getting beat by a really solid fighter like Cummings doesn't mean Steele is done. On the down side, he wasn't even competitive for a second of this fight. He's got time to improve, he's not old, but he's got a lot of improving to do to be competitive at this level. Hard punchers are going to trouble him a lot in the near future.
  • Jessamyn Duke (+130) vs. Elizabeth Phillips (-150) (I picked Phillips, I was right)

  • The Expectation: Phillips has the better training situation under her. And while she may not be otherwise any more promising a physical specimen, the fact that fighters in her camp have generally done a decent job getting fight ready made me a lot more confident that she'd be improved enough to beat Duke here. She was, barely, but it was enough.
  • Fallout for Duke: Post fight I've heard that she and Baszler and even Schneider aren't actually full time CSW fighters. Whether that's true or not, Duke especially needs to be taking a hard look at just where her career is going. She doesn't look like she's improved a bit over the past three years, where she should be getting better by leaps and bounds. And while it's safe to say that Bethe Correia and Leslie Smith were a step above her, Phillips wasn't, and she still lost.
  • Fallout for Phillips: She's got her first UFC win under her belt, which will at least keep her around as a warm body in a division that really needs warm bodies. She's been competitive, win or lose, in every bout, and even if she gassed, her game looked technically much improved here. So hopefully she can keep winning enough fights to not get cut.
  • Andrew Holbrook (+135) vs. Ramsey Nijem (-155) (I picked Nijem, I shoulda been right)

  • The Expectation: It's not to say that Holbrook is a bad fighter to say that I was going to be and still am surprised that Andrew Holbrook beat Ramsey Nijem. Nijem has shown himself to be a generally competent lower tier gatekeeper. You have to hurt him standing to beat him, and for the most part Holbrook couldn't/didn't. Nijem still gave up a lot of close subs and bad positions, but he generally won the fight.
  • Fallout for Holbrook: Honestly, considering that he hadn't faced much competition regionally, Holbrook looked good in his UFC debut, especially on short notice. He's got some problems with his striking to work on, but he doesn't look physically outmatched and his grappling is smooth and dangerous. Given enough of the right match-ups and the right camp behind him, he could develop into a fun action talent in the UFC.
  • Fallout for Nijem: He got robbed, but let's not pretend that this loss isn't symptomatic of a fighter who is just not progressing in the right ways over the course of his career. Holbrook has been fighting for four years fewer than Nijem, has never faced legit competition, and had never been past round 2. And he was coming in on short notice. That's supposed to be a slam dunk, instead it was a close ugly fight and Nijem didn't get the nod. That's rough.
  • Daron Cruickshank (-196) vs. James Krause (+165) (I picked Cruickshank, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: The read on James Krause winning this fight was all about whether or not he could submit Daron Cruickshank, and frankly I doubted it. Krause has shown that he doesn't have the power to put most guys away in the UFC and he's not a freak wrestler, so he was going to have to catch Daron in something and tap him out. All credit to him for a nifty foot sweep to back mount setup that had Cruickshank tapping in moments.
  • Fallout for Cruickshank: Right around the point he beat Anthony Njokuani and was competing with KJ Noons, it seemed like Cruickshank had locked up a slot as an action gatekeeper. Someone that would challenge most of his division, losing to the upper tier fighters but beating the lower tier guys. You know, what Joe Lauzon does. But this was a bad loss. Krause isn't a bad fighter, but even in most of his wins opponents are competitive. Cruickshank seems to have made changes in his game lately, and I'm not sure they aren't making him less the fighter he was and less successful because of it.
  • Fallout for Krause: It looked like he was about to get cut, and I'm honestly a little surprised he got the chance he did against Cruickshank, being on the 0-2 skid that he was. But, Krause made the best of it and stayed alive, now the question is: Was this the right opponent on the right day, or is this something he can replicate?
  • Bryan Caraway (+120) vs. Eddie Wineland (-140) (I picked Caraway, I was right)

  • The Expectation: While I thought Caraway would win, I didn't think it would be like this. And frankly, I understood going in, why Wineland was the favorite. At one point in his career, this was his kind of fight to dominate. But, he didn't even get out-grappled by the more prepared fighter here, he got out-struck by a career wrestle-grappler. Sad day for Eddie.
  • Fallout for Caraway: He's not exactly young and his career isn't exactly fresh, but some how, it seems like Caraway has really been fighting at his peak lately. Going all the way back to 2011, Caraway has only lost two fights, a split decision to Takeya Mizugak and a decision to Raphael Assuncao. That's pretty good company. I don't know how much longer this peak will last, but this was Caraway's best striking performance to date and suggests that he will be a consistent match for top 10 talent.
  • Fallout for Wineland: And of course, on the flip side of that, Wineland isn't way older has only been fighting for a couple years longer, but it looks like he's honestly done as a top 10 talent. He seems to be on that slide where he's losing to an increasingly lower level of fighter, no longer Joseph Benavidez, Urijah Faber, or Renan Barao, but now Johnny Eduardo and Bryan Caraway. And they're not close losses. Caraway beat him, standing up, straight forward, no controversy. Wineland can still win a few fights at bantamweight, I'm sure, but they're probably not going to mean much.
  • Kenny Robertson (-130) vs. Ben Saunders (+110) (I picked Saunders, IT WAS TRUTH)

  • The Expectation: I expected that Ben Saunders, calling on the powers of the old gods, would open a portal in time and space and bring down unnameable horrors on Kenny Robertson... But really, I hoped Saunders would win. Robertson had the tools to beat him and this was a tough close fight going in. Did Saunders get a definitive win? No. Am I happy as hell with the result? Yes, yes I am.
  • Fallout for Robertson: I'm glad he was coming into this bout on a 3 fight win streak, because I like Robertson's game a lot and think he's a really fun fighter to watch. This wasn't a great decision for him but it's not a huge setback to his momentum either. He showed surprising power, and improved boxing (if not amazing) to go with his funky wrestle/grappling. His cardio fading isn't a great sign, but I'll definitely be watching him next time out.
  • Fallout for Saunders: Unlike Robertson who is just entering the prime of his career, Saunders (even at just a year older) has a lot more wear and tear on him. The time for him to get his name out there and make any sort of run in his division is right now. To that extent, he's got a three fight win streak going at just the right time. Hopefully he can keep that momentum rolling as far as possible.
  • Danny Castillo (+120) vs. Jim Miller (-140) (I picked Miller, I was right-ish)

  • The Expectation: Looking back now, I'm not sure what I really expected when I picked Jim Miller on this one. I think I expected that Castillo wouldn't be able to out scramble him, even when he got him down and wouldn't produce enough consistent offense standing to get the points win. How exactly that played out, however was a bit surprising, as Castillo came out with a much more high energy stand up game that it looked like he didn't know how to use effectively and that was a major reason why he lost.
  • Fallout for Castillo: I'm really not sure what to make of Castillo's career at the moment. He's very likely going to get cut after this loss and that's a very odd thing for a good athlete from a good camp in the prime of his career. It could be that age has caught him before cage wear could, or that constant attempts to re-tune his game have left him, essentially without one, but whatever the reason, Castillo isn't winning the fights he should and will probably be fighting regionally from here on out.
  • Fallout for Miller: He's not done yet. At the point of this win, Miller is basically still a borderline top 15 talent for the UFC and a top tier gatekeeper. It's possible (if not probable) that he's lost a step from his heyday, but he's a well rounded, aggressive, and tough enough fighter that it seems like he could probably be a strong competitor for quite a while longer if he wants to. I don't expect him to go on another big run, but there are a lot of good fights out there for him.
  • Tom Lawlor (+185) vs. Gian Villante (-210) (I picked Villante, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: This was supposed to be the fight that really showed fans that Gian Villante could be a consistent top 15 level light heavyweight fighter. He's been slowly improving, he's a good athlete, and he's powerful and big enough to be a tough out in the division... But there are just too many parts missing, too many holes still left in his game. In the midst of a career best performance, fight IQ and chin failed him and he got laid out cold.
  • Fallout for Lawlor: The flip side of this is, that as a tough guy with a good chin and some wrestling and punching skills, Tom Lawlor can hang out and take a few fights at 205 and hopefully create a little movement in a division that needs all it can get.
  • Fallout for Villante: Unfortunately this is a massive setback for Villante and a fight, frankly, that he never should have lost. For a long time, fans have forgotten just how raw Villante has been as a prospect. Since coming to the UFC in 2012, he's lost to OSP and Maldonado, both in weird performances, the latter in a fight he was winning early. But he was at least winning the fights he was supposed to win. Lawlor is a small LHW coming off a long injury, Villante has been around for six years now, this was a fight he was supposed to win, and he lost. That may make him a career stepping stone at 205 if he can't rebound with a big run.
  • Takanori Gomi (+255) vs. Joe Lauzon (-300) (I picked Lauzon, I was right)

  • The Expectation: You love Gomi, I love Gomi. Hell, we all love Takanori Gomi. That didn't mean he had a snowball's chance in hell of winning this fight. Even with a good start, things fell apart in a hurry and Gomi looked totally overwhelmed.
  • Fallout for Gomi: If he wants to keep fighting, who am I to tell him no? He shouldn't be fighting in the UFC at this point, but I don't know if his value is so shot that they'd just cut him loose. Either way, this was a bad loss and he needs to be taking big steps back in competition.
  • Fallout for Lauzon: Much like Miller, Lauzon is still a top 20-ish gatekeeper for the UFC. Give him fights like this and he'll knock 'em dead, give him a big step up and he'll probably lose. Still, he's a hell of a lot of fun to watch when he's got a fight he can win in front of him.
  • Edson Barboza (-160) vs. Paul Felder (+140) (I eventually picked Barboza, I cheated)

  • The Expectation: I went back and forth on this a bunch. On the Vivi, I picked Felder and I felt good about that. But after the show, I started to think more about the kind of fighters that beat Barboza, and the improvements that he'd made, and I realized that Felder wasn't that guy. As the fight neared, I became more set in that realization that Barboza would take a decision. It was still a damn close fight, and a great one, but Braboza pulled it out.
  • Fallout for Barboza: He's a legit top 10 talent in the UFC. He may be almost entirely focused on one aspect of the sport, but he does it well enough that you have to be a real legit talent to beat him. It used to be that anyone who blitzed Barboza had a legit chance at beating him, but as his footwork and work-rate have improved that is less and less the case. Michael Johnson got the job done, but that was a tough fight and Barboza made it difficult every step of the way. Expect more of the same from the Brazilian in the immediate future.
  • Fallout for Felder: He lost, but he shouldn't be discouraged. Paul Felder isn't a top 10 fighter yet. And with only two and a half years as a pro under his belt, there's no real way he should be. This was his first crack at the top of the mountain and he almost succeeded. Frankly, that makes him still a blue chip lightweight prospect, it'll just take another year or two for him to make good on that.
  • Jessica Eye (+170) vs. Miesha Tate (-200) (I picked Eye, I was wrong)

  • The Expectation: Hope is a dangerous thing in the analysis business. I hoped Jessica Eye would win, even as I knew Tate probably would. Even as I saw the odds in Tate's favor, I fooled myself into thinking we'd see something different, something great, a new challenger emerge. And for a moment (and to my total shock) we almost did. Eye looked good for most of a round... Right up until she got dropped by the first hard shot she ate. Then she looked bad, really bad.
  • Fallout for Eye: She's not a challenger, plain and simple. In a division desperate for anyone that can string a few wins together, she can't. In part, that's because she's been fighting the best on the way to the title, but if she was going to be a legit threat, then that was the best way to show it. She's still got time to improve and make another run, and a division that will give her every opportunity, but this was supposed to be her big moment and it just didn't happen at all.
  • Fallout for Tate: She's getting a third shot at the belt that nobody is really all that interested in, but Tate honestly deserves all the credit in the world for her recent run of form. I didn't think she'd beat Liz Carmouche and she did, I didn't think she'd beat Sara McMann and she did, and I hoped she wouldn't beat Jessica Eye and she did all while looking better every time out. Tate is improving a lot late in her career. Not enough to slay the dragon, but enough that she deserves legit credit.
  • Renan Barao (+170) vs. T.J. Dillashaw (-200) (I picked Dillashaw, I was right)

  • The Expectation: If you're like me, you expected this fight to go exactly like the first one and for a number of reasons. The biggest among them being footwork. It's not the outside sweeping jumps that set Dillashaw apart. Barao actually looked like he had a plan for those this time, using a higher output kicking game to corral Dillashaw into smaller avenues of attack. The problem is on the inside, where Dillashaw cuts tight angles as Barao attempts straight line counters to Dillashaw's entries. Barao still had no answer for that and ended up losing much the same as the first fight because of it.
  • Fallout for Barao: It's insanely tough to say right now. A shift in the title picture at 135 (as unlikely as that looks right now) and he's right back in line for a shot at the belt. If Cruz were to beat Dillashaw, Barao would be the fight to make. The question is, is the long active career catching up with him, or does Dillashaw just have him pegged. Could be a bit of both. He could be like Machida and be great for years after losing the belt, or like Penn and basically fall off a cliff. Tough to know.
  • Fallout for Dillashaw: To a greater extent, his status as champion has now been affirmed. He still has the long shadow of Cruz hanging over him, but four years removed from his title reign and already almost a year out from his last bout, fans expecting Cruz to come back and beat Dillashaw are probably delusional. Dillashaw is the champ, beating Cruz would be great for him, but that belt is his and it's time to move on.
  • Those are my collected thoughts from this week's UFC card. 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 take on Ronda Rousey and why she should find better things to do than cage fighting.

    *This week's quote from the movie Panic in Year Zero!