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Hindsight - UFC Melbourne: Whittaker vs. Brunson in retrospect

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Take a closer look at UFC: Melbourne, from the exciting opening flyweight contest to the fantastic main event between Robert Whittaker and Derek Brunson... and everything in between.

Hindsight

What a slog. It wasn’t until the ninth fight of the card that we finally got a finish. That means eight fights came and went the entire 15 minute distance, a total of two hours of cage time. If you can’t tell, I wasn’t too pleased with the way the card played out.

Yes, the main event between Robert Whittaker and Derek Brunson was awesome, packing as much action as you can into a single round. But an awesome main event can’t completely salvage a lackluster card no matter how awesome it is. Then again, perhaps I should simply shut up and focus on the good. It would probably make this more enjoyable…

Now that I’ve had a few days to reflect on the fallout of the event, here’s my thoughts on UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Brunson, with every fight and fighter involved broken down. The format is simple. The first bullet covers what was expected to happen and an attempt at a brief summary of what did happen. The next two bullets cover my thoughts on each fighter, how they did, and where they might be headed from here with the winner being covered first.

Jenel Lausa defeated Yao Zhikui via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Results: Even though it was Zhikui who had the advantage in terms of UFC experience, he was by far the more green fighter. Lausa’s professional boxing experience was expected to come into play and did it ever. Though it took him a bit to get going, Lausa picked apart the young Chinaman with his boxing, dropping him with punches in the first. A head kick in the second that also dropped Zhikui reaffirmed Lausa’s control of the fight, cruising his way to an easy win from there.
  • Lausa: Though I expected to see a few more combinations out of him, Lausa’s hands were fast and on point. His boxing shined and the head kick proved that he’s more than just a one-trick pony. His takedown defense is worrisome as well as his overall experience in the sport moving forward, but there are some skills for the UFC to work with. I fear he may be too green to stick around for a long while, but I’ve been proven wrong before by fighters of similar ilk.
  • Zhikui: The youngster looked much improved from his last few appearances. Measured in his striking early on, he surprised Lausa with a few combinations and landed some good leg kicks. Unfortunately, Lausa eventually found his range and Zhikui’s toughness was the skill most on display from that point. At 1-3 in the UFC, I don’t see Zhikui coming back. He has plenty of talent to work with at the age of 23, but the UFC has already put in a few years worth of investment into him. Time to move on.

Marlon Vera defeated Ning Guangyou via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Results: A bit of a pick ‘em, I picked Vera due to his youth and potential for improvement. I damn near regretted it. Vera was tentative with his attack, though he was able to score a first round takedown to steal that round. Later he rocked an aggressive Guangyou in the final round after giving away the second. A game performance from Guangyou, but it was a deserved decision for Vera.
  • Vera: There were a lot of parts I liked to his development and just as many that I was frustrated with. Vera’s hands looked sharp with good timing on his counters. I just wish he would have let them fly more. There were plenty of times a jab was there for the taking and he didn’t let it go. Same with his kicks. Perhaps more frustrating was his willingness to stay on the ground when he had opportunities to scramble to his feet in the second. A good win with some progress, but he’ll never fulfill his potential as long as he is tentative on his feet and/or he improves his fight IQ.
  • Guangyou: I got a feeling this is the last that we’ll see out of the TUF: China winner. He turns 35 in December with his lone win aside from the TUF tournament win was Roysten Wee. Ouch. Kind of a shame as Guangyou was the smarter fighter, attacking Vera’s legs when it was apparent the kicks were bothering him. Unfortunately, luck plays a big part in this sport and it wasn’t on Guangyou’s side.

Jason Knight defeated Daniel Hooker via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Results: Another pick ‘em. I went with Knight as he showed an incredible amount of heart in his win over Jim Alers. It paid off. His striking defense was horrible, but his willingness to shoot for takedowns gave him the advantage as it opened up his striking in addition gave him a couple of submission opportunities. He may not have gotten a sub, but he exercised enough control the first two rounds that it didn’t matter if he lost a competitive final round or not.
  • Knight: I don’t know if Knight’s wrestling improved that much or if Hooker’s takedown defense is that horrible. I will admit Knight did set up his level changes when he was able to complete them, indicating a big part of it has to be his improvement. His boxing approach heavy on one-twos could use some diversifying as Hooker countered that combination plenty of times. As much as I enjoy watching Knight, I don’t see him getting very far unless he addresses his defensive deficiencies.
  • Hooker: The win-loss-win-loss pattern continues. Hooker’s lack of takedown defense proved to be his downfall in addition to his inability to get back to his feet once Knight got him to the ground. Perhaps inability is the right word as he seemed content to stay on the ground with Knight attached to his back. Hooker’s striking did look good, getting the better of most of the exchanges with Knight. But the improvements in his outside striking seem to be a moot point with his apparent regression in his grappling.

Ben Nguyen defeated Geane Herrera via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Results: I was surprised to see Herrera was the betting favorite even though I picked him. Nguyen’s UFC wins came against a better competition than Herrera’s lone win. I suppose Herrera’s grappling background and natural athleticism were expected to be the difference. While both shined for moments, the moments were very brief. Nguyen dominated the standup with his slick combination punching and stuffed most of the takedowns to cruise to an easy victory.
  • Nguyen: Part of my concern was that Ngueyn would react negatively to the beating he took at the hands of Louis Smolka, but there were no residual effects. His boxing was sharper than ever while he did a fantastic job of avoiding most of the hard hitting attacks of Herrera. Nguyen isn’t ever going to become a title contender, but he can help separate contenders from pretenders and do so in an entertaining manner. He’s going to be around for a while yet.
  • Herrera: Unfortunately, I don’t believe Herrera is not going to be around for very long. The 26-year old has a lot of talent, but has been thrown into the fire too quickly in the UFC. His losses have all come against ranked opponents: Ray Borg, Ali Bagautinov, and now Nguyen. He doesn’t transition from one phase to another very well which is what rendered his wrestling ineffective in this contest, the one thing I thought would give him an edge over Nguyen. I’m sure he’s about to be cut, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make his way back in short order.

Jonathan Meunier defeated Richard Walsh via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Results: We saw very little out of Meunier in his UFC debut against Colby Covington, which led to most – myself included – to go with the familiar pick in Walsh. Bad idea. Meunier showed off his professional kickboxing skills, accentuated by his 6'3" frame to pick apart the tough Aussie from the outside. Walsh’s moments were few and far between, usually unable to make his way past Meunier’s kicks and jabs, which made the judges job easy to do.
  • Meunier: I had heard he had kickboxing skills and now I finally got to see them! Even on the regional scene, Meunier had been using his hulking frame to wear down opponents in the clinch and with wrestling. To his credit, his range attack and it looked sharp. He still needs to work a bit on his ground game, but I’m nitpicking at this point. Great performance from the Canadian who offers a rare prospect from the Great White North to keep an eye on moving forward.
  • Walsh: This has to be the end of the line for Walsh. Now 2-4 in the UFC, he’s received contests that were very winnable and has largely fallen flat, even coming close to giving away the one win in his last five fights against Steven Kennedy. He hasn’t grown beyond his offense in the clinch and is limited athletically. His Australian blood has been the only thing keeping him on the roster recently. It shouldn’t be able to do that anymore.

Damien Brown defeated Jon Tuck via split decision

  • Expectations/Results: I don’t recall seeing a single person believing Brown was going to have enough in him to pull the upset over Tuck. I don’t know how much of that talk Brown heard, but he sure didn’t care what everyone else thought as he put a tough first round behind him to fire back in the final two rounds and pull out the upset. Tuck executed a takedown early in the first, delivering a lot of damage on the ground from there in addition to a late knockdown to take that round. Brown stumbled Tuck a time or two in the second with the third being very close. I gave it to Tuck which would have given him the victory, but I have no problem with Brown being awarded that last round and the victory.
  • Brown: His UFC run has already run much longer than most anticipated. He’s not very athletic, he’s not a great wrestler, and his defense is pretty shoddy. And yet, here he is with a 2-1 record in the UFC. While tough and gritty is often used to describe UFC fighters, it should be applied specifically to fighters like Brown who don’t have a lot of other positive adjectives to describe them. I don’t see a lot of winnable contests for him on the roster, but I was also among the believers that he had a slim chance of pulling this one out. Kudos to him for proving me and the other doubters wrong.
  • Tuck: Given the UFC is looking to trim fat, Tuck has likely fought his last fight in the Octagon. His previous contest against Josh Emmett was fought in favorable circumstances as Emmett took the fight on a week’s notice and needed to fly across the ocean while making a weight cut. Now he has fallen to Brown whom most would agree is on the bottom tier as far as athletes in the lightweight division. Tuck did look good at times, but let off the gas in the last two rounds. A lack of aggression has cost him in the past and it doesn’t look like he has addressed that concern. Now he’s probably out of a job.

Dan Kelly defeated Chris Camozzi via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Results: Kelly’s run has been improbable. Glacially slow with below average striking, he couldn’t possibly continue to win as he has against a well-traveled Camozzi who has looked better than ever… right? Wrong. Camozzi started strong with an attack heavy on leg kicks and jabs, bloodying the former Olympian with an elbow when Kelly tried to close the distance. Despite the blood, Kelly found a way to grind out Camozzi in both the second and third round, securing both rounds and taking an unexpected decision victory.
  • Kelly: Who saw Kelly winning five of his six UFC contests? I sure as hell didn’t. Neither have oddsmakers as Kelly has been the underdog in every one of his contests. Yet here he is, 5-1. He’s brutally strong when he closes the distance with a nearly immovable base either in the clinch or from the top position. He wasn’t deterred when Camozzi started strong and cut him up good. It’s those type of intangible qualities that make him so damned difficult to beat. Another fighter with a surprising three fight win streak in Cezar Ferreira appears to be the most logical next step in my mind.
  • Camozzi: This had to be a tough pill for Camozzi to swallow. He had a good game plan and executed it brilliantly at the beginning. Then Kelly grew wise to the strategy and found a way to close the distance for takedowns which seemed to disrupt Camozzi’s timing from that point on. It was a bit of a surprise how easy Kelly got him to the ground as Camozzi’s takedown defense has traditionally been sound. It was nonexistent against Kelly. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the UFC let him go after his second consecutive loss, but given his willingness to throw down, expect Camozzi to get one more opportunity.

Danielle Taylor defeated Seo Hee Ham via split decision

  • Expectations/Results: In a contest between two true atomweights, Ham’s experience and volume was expected to override Taylor’s power and wrestling. It looked like that was the case early on. Ham peppered Taylor the first round as Taylor looked to land her powerful right hand, finding little success. More of the same came in the first part of the second round, though Taylor began to find more success in latter part of the round. An eye poke that the ref didn’t provide Ham a timeout for in the third – after doing so in the first -- was the opening Taylor needed to lay on the punishment nice and thick. The weird thing: Taylor didn’t need the round as two judges inexplicably gave her all three rounds and the decision victory.
  • Taylor: I always hate seeing fighters pick up their first UFC win in a controversial manner like this. It isn’t their fault the judges have poor vision or that the ref was inconsistent in his application of the rules. To Taylor’s credit, she did get stronger the deeper the fight went and can’t be faulted for fighting on when the ref never asked for a stoppage so Ham could recover her vision. Now the question is who can you put Taylor in that won’t overwhelm her based on her size. Taylor’s 5'0" frame severely limits her ceiling. If Alexandra Albu ever steps into a UFC cage again, she is one of the few who is of similar size.
  • Ham: If this loss ends up costing Ham her job, that’s a real shame as most – including me – don’t believe she lost the fight. Yes, her brain fart in the third in which she assumed the ref would give her time to recover – just as he did in the first – certainly cost her the final round, but the scores indicated she was inexplicably down on the cards anyway. She’s tough as nails and continually puts on entertaining contests. That doesn’t guarantee the UFC will bring her back, but it makes the likelihood that much stronger. If not, I’d like to see her go to Invicta where she would be an immediate challenger for the 105 belt.

Tyson Pedro defeated Khalil Rountree via submission at 4:07 of RD1

  • Expectations/Results: Only nine fights into the card before we finally got our first finish. Many were picking Rountree due to his explosive striking and lack of a proven track record for Pedro. Rountree almost ended things early, dropping Pedro with a straight left in the opening moments. Pedro somehow recovered, taking the fight to the ground, getting Rountree’s back, and snaking in a RNC for the tap to give him a W in his UFC debut.
  • Pedro: First, thanks to Pedro for giving the judges a fight off. Things were getting ridiculous. Second, his development is further along than I previously thought. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still extremely green. But showing the ability to weather an early storm and come back is a huge deal as there are some veterans in the UFC who haven’t shown the ability to do that. At 25-years old with a big frame and natural athleticism, I hope the UFC takes their time with Pedro as he looks like he could develop into something special down the line.
  • Rountree: This is exactly why I was bummed when I heard Rountree was taking the TUF route. He wasn’t ready for the UFC, but was good enough to beat TUF level talent. Now he’s had two official UFC contests and come up short in both contests. Rountree still has a lot of talent to work with, but it will be difficult for him to make his way back to the UFC should he be cut here. Considering it looks like the UFC did everything it could to give him a winnable contest, I’d say it’s likely he ends up on the chopping block. Here’s hoping this doesn’t end up setting him back mentally.

Alex Volkanovski defeated Yusuke Kasuya via TKO at 2:06 of RD2

  • Expectations/Results: In a contest between two largely unknown quantities, Volkanovski had been receiving most of the picks simply because his grinding style seemed to match him up well against Kasuya. The contest seemed to play out exactly the way everyone seemed to believe it would as Volkanovski drove Kasuya to the ground as he pleased while unleashing a vicious supply of ground and pound. Eventually trapping Kasuya’s arms and rendering him helpless, the ref finally stepped in to provide a late stoppage.
  • Volkanovski: Despite being incredibly small for a lightweight, Volkanovski looked like an absolute powerhouse. Kasuya was unable to stop any of his takedown attempts and had difficulty in getting back to his feet when Volkanovski floored him. In no way shape or form was this a competitive contest. Despite that, the question is when Volkanovski will look to move down to featherweight or even lower as he is far too small to find himself finding continual success at 155. Yes, he manhandled Kasuya, but Kasuya is noted as a poor wrestler. Volkanovski would be hard-pressed to find a lightweight matchup tilted more in his favor.
  • Kasuya: The loss for Kasuya provides more questions about Nick Hein than anything else for me. For some reason, Hein refused to take Kasuya down in their contest over a year ago, choosing to stand and bang with him. Why does Hein insist on keeping all of his fights on the feet when he has an outstanding judo background? I digress. I like Kasuya’s ability to entertain, but not to have any long-term success at the highest level. His greatest strength, his grappling abilities – which were on display at various times -- are limited by his lack of wrestling to take the fight to the ground, which pretty much ensures his success will be limited. Expect him to be cut.

Omari Akhmedov defeated Kyle Noke via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Results: With both Akhmedov and Noke dropping their previous two contests, a win was desperately needed by both to remain employed. Though it was seen as an even contest, Noke’s ability to diversify his approach made him my pick to win the contest. I was way off. Noke didn’t look like he wanted to be there, doing little to combat Akhmedov’s takedowns and even less to get back to his feet. Noke was at least competitive in the second round after doing nothing in the first, but couldn’t offer nearly enough offense in the third – despite a tired Akhmedov -- to provide a chance of taking a judge’s decision. Noke announced his retirement after the contest after a long career.
  • Akhmedov: This was a very encouraging victory by Akhmedov. He maximized his strengths and while he did tire somewhat down the stretch, he didn’t completely deplete his gas tank as he has been wont to do. He also did a better job of timing his strikes, catching Noke with a few counters and providing different angles for his overhands and hooks. There is still plenty of work for Akhmedov to do in order to climb the welterweight ladder such as deepen his gas tank, but this is a good start for him in order to right his ship which had recently gone astray.
  • Noke: Noke’s retirement appears to be the right move. He’s only had two victories in his last six contests and one of those wins was highly controversial. He doesn’t have the speed to keep pace with his opposition anymore and he was never a skilled enough wrestler to exclusively utilize a grinding approach. I don’t feel too badly for Noke as he had a largely successful career over a 14-year period. Here’s hoping he can find success in whatever he does for his new career following his long career.

Andrew Holbrook defeated Jake Matthews via split decision

  • Expectations/Results: The largest betting favorite on the card, Matthews was expected to roll over the less athletic Holbrook with relative ease. Unfortunately for Matthews, it didn’t play out like that at all. Holbrook was aggressive from the beginning, looking to fight in the clinch while aggressively searching for submissions when the fight hit the ground. That isn’t to say he dominated the young Aussie as Matthews landed some good strikes when he had the space and used his strength to get out of some bad situations. In fact, he had an argument for the victory himself. Unfortunately for Matthews, it was a close enough contest that no one argued when Holbrook got the decision.
  • Holbrook: The Chris Lytle protégé showed plenty of shades from his mentor. Few have shown to be more aggressive in looking for low percentage submissions such as leg locks and kimuras than Holbrook, but he chains his submissions together so well that the style works for him. He doesn’t offer a lot from the outside – thus why Matthews was able to win the standup battle – though his aggression ensures the fight doesn’t stay at that range for long. Unfortunately, his lack of athleticism and outside striking ensure that he won’t climb very high up the lightweight ladder. Despite that, his style makes him an extremely tough test for youngsters looking to move up themselves. I’d like to see him stay in that role.
  • Matthews: Yes, this loss hurts as it is the second in a row for Matthews. It’s hardly the end of the world for the 22-year old Aussie. Being rushed to the UFC when he was still a teenager ensured that he would suffer growing pains that would customarily occur on the regional scene. Despite being a large 155er with incredible strength, he didn’t know how to react to Holbrook’s pressure and it cost him. He didn’t look like his usual energetic self. Perhaps he had an unreported injury or was over trained. Hard to say. He does need to win his next contest or he’ll likely be cut. I expect he’ll keep calm, go back to the gym, work on the areas he is weak, and come back stronger.

Robert Whittaker defeated Derek Brunson via TKO at 4:07 of RD1

  • Expectations/Results: There wasn’t a definitive favorite in this contest which is what made it such a highly anticipated contest. Oh right… the fact that Whittaker and Brunson have been two of the better action fighters at middleweight doesn’t hurt either. Brunson opened up aggressively as was his modus operandi during his five-fight win streak. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t get the finish he had been getting recently despite having Whittaker on the ropes. Unable to land any of his desperation takedowns, it wasn’t long before Whittaker countered Brunson’s lunging punches which stopped Brunson’s attack. It wasn’t much longer before Whittaker landed a head kick to Brunson which was the beginning of the end as some follow up punches gave Whittaker the victory.
  • Whittaker: Hard to take a lot of positives out of this performance for Whittaker. Sure, his durability was impressive, but he spent a lot of time on the ropes as an undisciplined opponent got the better of him. I recognize I’m being a bit hard on him considering Brunson does hit hard and nailed him a bunch of times, but I would think an elite level fighter would have caught him earlier. Just saying. Regardless of how I feel about the victory – and no matter how much fun the fight was to watch – Whittaker did earn a chance to fight a top five middleweight. Gegard Mousasi has been the popular pick by most pundits. I don’t hate the fight, but I’d much rather see Mousasi go up against Luke Rockhold. If that happens, I’d hope Jacare Souza could be talked into a contest with Whittaker, though I have my doubts.
  • Brunson: Brunson has been able to get away with fighting recklessly thanks to his athleticism and power. He almost got away with it again. Perhaps it is a good thing he lost this contest as there is no way in hell he would have been able to beat the likes of Mousasi, Souza, Rockhold, or Weidman with that reckless style. Brunson has admitted himself that he fought stupidly, so I’d expect that he’ll be much more disciplined in his next appearance. He is a solid wrestler, though you’d never know from this fight. Despite the loss, he’s probably going to end up getting the highest profile fight of his career. Weidman appears to be the most likely opponent as the former champion has lost two in a row. He needs a step down in competition and Brunson makes perfect sense as he is coming off of this loss.

Those are my collective thoughts. Until next time....