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UFC Fight Night 81 - Dillashaw vs Cruz Winners and Losers

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The rightful champ took on the unlikely kingslayer, and boy howdy, did we ever get a show.

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There are certain cities where combat sports fans are more rabid than others. Any time the UFC goes to Boston lately, they make sure to set up their cards in a manner that something memorable has to happen, and tonight's event was definitely in that vein.

Sure, not everything was champagne and roses. That's the fight game. We roll the dice any time we watch any fight card, and while some fights didn't deliver as we thought they would, we got one of the closest and most exciting displays of mixed martial arts in a dynamic and fast-paced bout that is undoubtedly an instant classic. And no, we should be used to the dreadful pacing of FS1 cards by now. No use in griping about something that is part and parcel of not having to pay PPV fees to watch events like this on basic cable at this point.

Winners

Dominick Cruz - My goodness. The man came back after less than two minutes in the last few however years, emboldened by his setbacks to reclaim his rightful crown. Cruz looked fantastic in various exchanges and seemed like he was teleporting around the cage out of harm's way. He looked better than he had in a long time and hurt Dillashaw with strikes, accomplishing what no one else in the UFC had done thus far in taking him down almost at will. He's hungrier than ever and more complete and exciting than ever. I'm glad I was wrong when I picked against him.

Francisco Trinaldo took on the always tough and very savvy Ross Pearson with a surprising performance that showed him with consistent cardio he had never exhibited before and great timing and pressure on the durable Brit. Perhaps he wasn't expected to get this far, but he very well goes up in the shuffle of the packed lightweight division with this win.

Patrick Cote - The Predator really showed a lot of shine taking on BE's own Ben Saunders and didn't slow down at any point of the fight. He beat him up while Saunders went for knees in the clinch with crazy uppercuts and silenced the few that thought he was done by taking out an opponent with much-deserved hype.

Ed Herman sold his school and went back to his old gym, moving up to light heavyweight in the process to take on one of the men that's gotten the furthest on grit and determination in Tim Boetsch. A major knee KO after displaying a good amount of composure keeps him in Zuffa's good graces, cornrows notwithstanding.

Paul Felder also weathered a good amount of punishment to come back solid and notch himself a solid win against the Detroit Superstar in a phenomenal finish. I noted earlier how clever it was to push the head down and capitalize on Cruickshank's resistance by sliding that arm under the neck immediately with the pushback. Felder remains one of the most exciting fighters in the lightweight division, and that's a major statement in a group that's so stacked.

Ilir Latifi spent some time at ATT for this camp and landed two of the most beautifully violent strikes of the night, cracking Sean O'Connell standing - but most importantly as he was going down. It's frightening to see a guy that burly explode with his legs and push all of his body weight for the kill shot. He's validated himself from the days of being the last minute replacement for Gustafsson against Gegard Mousasi and established himself as a fighter that keeps evolving and putting on great performances.

Chris Wade keeps repping Long Island harder than Busta Rhymes while absolutely smothering another late replacement in Medhi Baghdad. Another young fighter showing a lot of growth and maturity as he continues his career. Luke Sanders made an instant impression in a frantic bout against Maximo Blanco; because really, what other kind of bout is Blanco capable of having. Sanders is hoping to get paid thick, and after that fight he absolutely should. Charles Rosa continues to be a reliable action fighter that goes from one intense performance to another, and Rob Font had an amazing back and forth with former training partner Joey Gomez, finishing the fight with an exciting series of attacks. The whole event was largely anchored by some younger talents going after it, and the crowd ate it up.

Losers

Anthony Pettis went from being the handsome and explosive champion on the Wheaties box to the guy that lost two straight and looking like he's taking multiple steps back in the process. While his current slump isn't the precipitous drop that some want to think it is, it's amazing how a fighter once seen as invincible struggled greatly against Eddie Alvarez. It seems like most elements of his game have been figured out once and for all, and he's got some more reinventing to do. The former WEC and UFC champion has a lot of work ahead of him.

Travis Browne - Yeah, he won the fight. Sure. Ask yourself this - at what cost? He was a day late and a dollar short in a lot of the boxing exchanges, had some success with the front teeps and ended up exhausted in the end. His eventual top position appeared to be more a result of him falling on Mitrione than actually taking him down and even then he was sluggish with his punches, which didn't seem to do much damage, either. While I have no doubt a lot of the hate he gets these days is Ronda-hate that's rubbed off on him, acting like that was a legit win when you had two massive eyepokes that went unpunished and unquestionably changed the complexion of the fight as well as the complexion of Mitrione's maxilofacial structure in the process - that's a problem. He did not look good and his next fight may really show where he stands in terms of his fighting career.

Ross Pearson had a rough break in this one. Trinaldo seemed determined to break the mold of what we had seen before and looked more composed, precise and dynamic when he needed to be. Not the biggest setback for Pearson, but he's back to alternating wins and losses again.

Ben Saunders - This... Well, it hurts to write. We love Ben here and want the best for him. Tonight wasn't his night. He's gonna do what he does best: regroup and come back with something amazing. How do we know? Because Killa B is about that life.

Tim Boetsch now stands at 7-7 in his UFC career with three straight losses. For a veteran like him it seems like nothing that extraordinary, but consider that those last two have been pretty brutal KOs (and the Hendo one should probably count for three, really). Perhaps he may want to retire, but he very well could be getting his walking papers from the Zuffa brass.

Medhi Baghdad simply couldn't deal with the strong wrestling approach and heavy top control game that Wade brought. Again, that's the fight game. It is what it is.

Maximo Blanco is essentially the perfect archetype of the kind of fighter that frustrates Zane Simon - his body acts so far ahead of his mind, you never know what he's going to do. Massively talented, but even more erratic and full of questionable choices during a fight. He now stands at 4-4 in the UFC, and his three-fight win streak has been snapped.

Life comes at you fast, as it did for Sean O'Connell. It happens to great fighters all the time, but this was a rough one. Elvis Mutapcic had waited a long time to get to the UFC, but possibly ended up with Octagon jitters leading to an uncharacteristic performance against Francimar Barroso.

Neither

TJ Dillashaw lost the battle of words, but you could make the argument that he won this hotly contested fight. He still deserves massive respect for taking on a formidable fighter such as Cruz, and this is really not something that should be considered as a major detriment to his record. He's still the only guy that can compete on Cruz's level and actually beat him, and best believe they'll fight again.

Despite Eddie Alvarez beating the consensus #1 lightweight, his stock didn't go up as much as one would expect. He absorbed a lot of damage to the body instead of to the head, but closed the distance and applied constant pressure throughout most of the fight. Not as impressive to a lot of people, but this is a case of a win being a win. It takes two - and Pettis had to know what kind of fighter he was up against as well. Had the fight been five rounds it could very possibly ended with the former Bellator champion getting a finish after putting on that pace from the beginning of the third round. Alvarez continues to quietly move up in his UFC run.

Matt Mitrione lost, but as mentioned above, this fight could have been markedly different when you consider that first eyepoke was after he started landing some stiff shots on Browne. That he continued to soldier on with his eye like that is admirable, and he faces free agency off a loss that is understandable. Not that it helps much in terms of his upcoming negotiations, but it can't hurt much, either.

Francimar Barroso won, but probably doesn't do himself too many favors aside from pocketing his fight purse, staying active and hopefully having his fiancée say yes after a strange proposal. Kyle Bochniak comes in on short notice and puts on an exciting bout that gains him a lot of good will with fans and management alike, so this loss doesn't hurt him much. Joey Gomez looked impressive as well and had some great moments, and he deserves another opportunity.

Finally, I was tempted to include Daron Cruickshank in the Losers column, but I can't honestly bring myself to that when he was winning that bout and looked so good in many of those striking exchanges. A tough submission loss to Felder drops him to three in a row, but there's no way in the current competitive climate that they can't find fun action fights for him to shine in.