Another Fight Night event, another series of fights designed to move divisions along and separate the wheat from the chaff. As expected, this card came with low fan expectation since the cancellation of a very anticipated main event between Jacare Souza and Luke Rockhold, yet the event had some bright spots even if it missed the star power at the top.
Cards held outside of the U.S. are a curious thing, though. This card served multiple purposes as discussed in the late Vivisection this week. Various fighters got their contracted fights, FS1 gets some contractually obligated content, the UFC ends up generating some gate revenue and you don’t get burned with a low PPV buyrate because the event ends up on basic cable.
That said, this card didn’t look that good on paper. Still, there was some great potential for action and some minor moves up and down the proverbial ladder that doesn’t affect too many divisions in a big manner. Despite these facts, there were some rather nice upsets and some uninspiring but surprising ones as well. The biggest takeaway here is the next guy to join the middleweight division’s top ranks, and that delivered in a big way.
Robert Whittaker - Never should have doubted him. At all. Whittaker survived eating some big shots, shut down some takedown attempts, ran out of the way to establish distance and was able to shine brightly once he did. Part of this was Brunson’s commitment to overextending with his strikes and getting punished, but once Whittaker began to establish the pace, the fight was his. A crazy and fun battle that was ugly until close to the end, as Whittaker stunned Brunson with some strikes including a beautiful jab down the middle. From there it was the finishing sequence with the headkick and punches. While this win doesn’t exactly make him elite, it puts him in some excellent company snuggled comfortably with the top 5 in his division. All it takes is a freak injury or some unforeseen circumstances for him to get a title shot, but he may simply just earn one with one more win. Regardless, this was a star-making performance with a highlight reel-worthy finish, and nobody was a bigger winner tonight than The Reaper.
Alexander Volkanovski - While we can’t blame anyone that had never heard of him before, this is another fighter we sort of gushed over in the preview to the event. Alex is a crafty wrestler that has a good understanding of submission defense and a mean boxing game. He hits hard, and is a fighter you need to keep your eye on from here on in.
Daniel Kelly - While I picked him for the upset (and my picks were absolutely dreadful for this event), I didn’t see Kelly getting such good shots off Camozzi while standing. Kelly threatened submissions, dominated on top and made the fight as ugly as he needed to make it while being a bloody mess after having the Eye of Thundera opened on his forehead. That, and he did it on his son’s birthday. Big ups to him and much respect for representing dad strength everywhere.
Jason Knight - While it’s tempting to think of what kind of sitcom a Mississippi native in Australia would make, Knight was all business busting out the slick standup game right out of the gate. Knight looked great for so many of those exchanges and it almost seemed like Hooker didn’t have any answers. He moves to 2-1 in the UFC and gained a ton of respect in the process.
Tyson Pedro - Khalil Rountree is a tough and scary opponent for anyone, and Pedro came in, ate a monster left hand that dropped him and stayed in the game. Not only that but to outwork Rountree and get the submission win in front of the home crowd makes it bigger. His talent on the regional scene may not have shown anything earth-shattering, but this was a great performance. Great way to introduce yourself to the UFC.
Ben Nguyen - I really, really thought Nguyen would have a harder time with Herrera’s wrestling, but it turns out that it wasn’t even really a factor. Nguyen looked like he was playing on practice mode for most of the fight, and seemed to have been taking it a little easier as the fight went on. He fought smart and didn’t overcommit to anything that would lead to him losing his advantage, and moves up to 3-1 in the UFC. Great way to keep rolling in a division like flyweight.
Jenel Lausa - Another fighter most fans had never heard of, but he had done some fun things out in URCC in the Philippines as well as fighting pretty well-rounded and athletic talents in PXC. Personally, I figured he’d finish Yao. He almost did, but ended up shining in a good decision win. Another debuting fighter to keep your eye on. He’s really good, and can make some waves in a division that’s still in an odd state of flux and adding talent.
Marlon Vera - Third time’s the charm, I guess? OK, that requires some explanation. Vera and Ning were supposed to fight at UFC 202, had the fight rescheduled for a week later at UFC on Fox 21, and eventually fought now. Probably not the fight the streets were clamoring for, but here we are. Vera showed a great deal of improvement standing, and gained a ton of confidence after dropping Ning. This is a very reassuring sign, and shows he still has a ways to go but is willing to make the necessary changes to improve.
Andrew Holbrook got a nice upset win against a young prospect, even if the fight got a bit ugly in some spots. He improves to 2-1 in the UFC and 12-1 overall. Damien Brown moves up to 2-1 in the UFC as well, making the fight with Jon Tuck a not-so-pretty affair that gives him a bit of job security in the meantime. Danielle Taylor was able to get some good shots off on Seo Hee Ham and chipped away en route to a decision win that puts her at 1-1 in the UFC. Omari Akhmedov improves to 4-3, and avoided the likelihood of being cut from the UFC in the process. Wasn’t pretty, but that’s the fight game. Jonathan Meunier rebounds nicely from his submission loss in June to Colby Covington by defeating Rich Walsh in a tough scrap.
Derek Brunson - Despite putting on a wild performance, it was the kind of performance that was destined to lead to a loss. Brunson was too content to run after Whittaker much like Werdum did in his KO loss to Miocic earlier this year. After tasting Whittaker’s power from some solid shots, it started to go downhill from there. Brunson’s recent run wasn’t just admirable, it was sort of terrifying. The way he was finishing people was just brutal, but the streak ends here. Not all is lost, and he’s not in a division where a single loss has you tumble down the rankings. This also isn’t a division where people from outside the top ten can sneaking in with a big win or two given the unpredictability of it as well as depth of talent (e.g. lightweight or welterweight). He probably won’t even fall out of the top ten, but the aura of being the unstoppable force on the come-up takes a big hit here.
Chris Camozzi - An unfortunate side effect of being a more well-recognized name on a card like this is that a loss to a fighter lots of fans aren’t very familiar with does more damage than initially thought. This time it was a loss to a former Olympian that’s pushing 40 and looked to be a step or two behind in the striking exchanges until something just clicked and both parties were battered. This is Camozzi’s second consecutive loss, and he may stick around (please, no more Jacare fights) after this. That still means he’s fallen considerably in the middle of the pack.
Jake Matthews - The biggest problem with this loss is that it really kills a lot of the momentum Matthews had accumulated. A 22-year-old phenom that now ends up being 4-3 in the UFC after a very promising start? That raises some questions as to what he needs to do to get out of that rut he’s in. Those aren’t questions that have easy answers, either. With this loss he stays firmly in the middle of the lightweight pack.
Geane Herrera - Here is a UFC-caliber athlete that hasn’t been fighting at the potential that was expected of him. Now standing at 1-3 in the UFC, He’s likely to get cut as well, even in a small division like flyweight. There’s too much great talent coming in at once right now, and the days of the UFC treating the few flyweights under contract as indispensable are over. A true shame, because he’s good. He’s still 26, and don’t be surprised if he racks up some regional wins and is back in the UFC soon.
Khalil Rountree - Rountree looked like he had that one in the bag, but the fight game is unforgiving and random. Still 4-2 as a professional, he’s got some serious adjustments to do. Perhaps a drop to middleweight might benefit him, but even if he can make the weight it won’t make up for his current deficiencies as a fighter.
Richard Walsh - Walsh drops back to back fights again and is now 2-4 in the UFC. Shame, because he seemed like he could have done better when he came in. Still, it’s a rough sport and he’s likely to get his walking papers here. He’s also still 27 (I know, right? Wow) and may not call it a career yet.
Dan Hooker - Hooker drops to 3-3 in the UFC, and really took a lot of damage from Jason Knight. Totally didn’t see that coming, but he’s not going to be making any progress in the division with a performance like this. Perhaps it was a bad matchup for him stylistically, but that wasn’t the fighter we saw against Mark Eddiva and Hatsu Hioki. He continues to alternate wins and losses, but may get another chance.
Seo Hee Ham - This one saddens me, because Ham is a talented fighter that could have done better. Losses to Joanne Calderwood and Bec Rawlings had me wondering if perhaps it was that she was just too small, but it seems that complacency and an odd pace in her fights are the biggest obstacles for UFC success. She drops to 1-3, and will probably be back on the Korean regional scene with the quickness.
Yusuke Kasuya ends up with his second straight loss, leaving him at 0-2 in the UFC. That smells like he’s going to get cut. Guangyou Ning drops to 2-2, but doesn’t show much improvement since his win over the immortal Royston Wee (ROYSTON WEE). He’s another fighter that will likely stick around for another go at it. However, Zhikui Yao totally isn’t. 2-4 overall, 1-3 in the UFC. He was a day late and a dollar short on almost all of his standing exchanges and probably has gotten regional Chinese offers by the time this post goes live.
Big ups to Kyle Noke, who put forth a valiant effort but ended up losing to Omari Akhmedov. Noke announced his retirement afterwards on Twitter. Another fighter calling it quits and looking to find happiness outside of fighting, and good for him. After a long career with some tough fights, we can only wish him the best and hope he still stays healthy after the grind of a demanding sport.