After a layoff of nearly a month, the UFC returned to the airwaves with a largely successful night of fights. A few minor things cast a cloud on the event such as Charles Oliveira’s continued weight cutting issues and the seemingly eternal pacing problems of FS1. But putting those aside, the main event between Tony Ferguson and Rafael dos Anjos was entertaining with the outcome muddling the lightweight title picture. While that may sound bad, we all know MMA fans love to argue over who is deserving of a title shot, so at least we have a hot conversation topic as we head into UFC 205.
Now that I’ve had a few days to reflect on the fallout of the event, here’s my thoughts on UFC Fight Night 98 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.
I will also reference Zane Simon’s article from a few days ago (featuring a guest match maker), which gives a great breakdown of his thoughts on the future of a number of fighters as well.
Enrique Barzola defeated Chris Avila via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Results: The consensus was that while both Barzola and Avila were green, Avila was easily the more inexperienced of the two. It sure as hell manifested that way. Barzola attacked Avila’s leg with kicks to the point the protégé of the Diaz brothers couldn’t remain standing from those kicks. Barzola also mixed in a bunch of takedowns while mixing his punches to the head and body for a dominant performance.
- Barzola: The Peruvian claimed that he wasn’t going to let the fight go to the judges. Outside of failing in that endeavor, he couldn’t have asked for a better performance as he held the advantage in every area of the fight. While he did look a bit tired down the stretch, his stamina looked better than most others on the card. Barzola looks better with every subsequent appearance in the Octagon, which provides hope – though not a guarantee – that he can hang around for an extended period of time.
- Avila: I can’t recall seeing a single MMA journalist or analyst who felt the kid was ready for the big time. Yes, he is tough as nails and has all sorts of potential. But he is far too green to be fighting in the UFC at this point in his career. I’ll be happy when he has officially been released so he can continue his development against more appropriate opposition on the regional circuit. I do believe he stands a great chance of returning to the UFC, but I also wouldn’t expect to see him come back for a number of years.
Marco Polo Reyes defeated Jason Novelli via split decision
- Expectations/Results: After being half of one of the best action contests of the year, many expected Reyes to be in another fire fight. Unfortunately for fans – though probably good for Reyes’ long-term health – that didn’t happen. The fight probably could have gone either way. Novelli controlled the distance in the first round only for Reyes to find his range in the second round and effectively counter everything the American threw at him. Reyes began to show some exhaustion in the third, though he landed the harder shots and withstood a late rally by Novelli to earn the nod from enough of the judges for the win.
- Reyes: While I do enjoy the knockdown, drag out brawls, I like the discipline that Reyes showed in this contest. He continues to improve and could become a fixture if the UFC doesn’t already look at him that way. Even more promising was the reversal on Novelli’s takedown in the first round along with his counter work in the second before he got tired. He’s one of those that I fear could end up paying the price for the UFC looking to cut costs as I’m not sure he is ready for the jump up in competition that could follow up. Translation: he’s progressing, but I don’t know if he is progressing fast enough to survive this evolution of the UFC.
- Novelli: I never liked Novelli’s chances of sticking around long-term. He’s a veteran who doesn’t have a major weakness, but doesn’t have a major strength either aside from his natural length. Novelli did look better than I expected him to as he made better use of his wrestling than I’ve seen from him, but it wasn’t enough in the end. Better fighters than him have already been cut. He isn’t going to survive the next round of cuts.
Sam Alvey defeated Alex Nicholson via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Results: Everyone saw this as two hard hitters, so there was no way in hell this fight could end up going to decision. We all forgot to take into account that they were also two of the more durable middleweights in the division which lead to both surviving the onslaught from one another. Alvey woke up just after the halfway point of the second round as he stopped waiting for the perfect counter and began to occasionally take the lead. His uptick in volume paid dividends as Nicholson then abandoned his more disciplined approach which lead to a clear decision victory for the Smilin’ one.
- Alvey: I guess Alvey can be aggressive when he needs to be. The fan favorite ate a lot of damage the first half of the fight and seemed likely to piss away another fight due to his lack of offense. He woke up just in time to be the one to push the pace with simple 1-2 combinations that rocked Nicholson to end the second to steal the round. His offense was similar in the third round, though he also had the benefit of Nicholson tiring in his back pocket. Alvey may get a chance to fight a ranked opponent next, though I believe that represents his ceiling. Nate Marquardt or Brad Tavares seem to be the most appropriate choices moving forward.
- Nicholson: Despite the loss, I like what I saw out of the brawler. He stayed on the outside early on, flicking kicks at Alvey that he was unable to counter to give Nicholson the early lead. As the fight dragged on, Nicholson’s stamina and discipline began to flag which allowed Alvey to come back. Given Nicholson’s tendency to entertain, expect him to return for at least one more appearance.
Douglas Silva de Andrade defeated Henry Briones via TKO at 2:33 of RD3
- Expectations/Results: Though both de Andrade and Briones had reputations as action fighters, they had also both suffered from long layoffs. Would rust play a factor? The answer was an emphatic no. Briones ate heavy shot after heavy shot from the Brazilian without seemingly having any ill-effects early on. Briones got his shots too and even had de Andrade on the rocks before a counter elbow wobbled him. De Andrade finished the job by following up with a spinning backfist which saw the referee jump in to stop the fight right away.
- De Andrade: While de Andrade’s athleticism and talent has never been questioned, his level of competition and ability to stay healthy has been. In his first fight in 21 months, he looked better than ever. Alternating between leading and countering, de Andrade kept Briones guessing how he was going to attack which allowed him to land not just the greater volume, but the harder shots too. Now if he can just stay healthy, he may be able to live up to the potential that he has shown….
- Briones: Even though he lost, many walked out of this contest more impressed with Briones than they were with de Andrade. I’m not one of those, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t impressed. I was beginning to question whether or not Briones was a cyborg as his chin appeared to be bionic. It isn’t like he spent the entire fight just taking damage either. Most believed he took the first round and he landed a fair share of hard punches himself. His toughness may have earned him another opportunity, a hell of a feat with jobs being less secure. Only time will tell.
Max Griffin defeated Erick Montano via TKO at 0:54 of RD1
- Expectations/Results: Largely a coin flip of a fight, I gave Montano a slight edge for the intangible of fighting in his home country of Mexico. Bad idea on my part. Griffin landed an early punch behind the ear which staggered the Mexican. A series of punches put Montano on the ground and more on the ground followed which led to the referee to step in shortly thereafter, giving Griffin his first UFC win.
- Griffin: I knew Griffin was the better striker going into the fight. I just didn’t think Montano would give him the opportunity to get it going. But every round of every fight starts on the feet and Griffin capitalized on that. It wasn’t an especially hard punch. It was just in the right spot. I still have major reservations about Griffin becoming a major player in the division as Montano was/is among the worst fighters on the roster. If nothing else, the win should give Griffin some confidence moving forward after being ragdolled by Colby Covington in his UFC debut.
- Montano: Normally I’d say that a TUF tournament victory provides fighters with a bit more leeway than normal. After seeing Glaico Franca released after two losses, I don’t believe that to be the case under the current management. Given that Montano offers less promise than Franca, I’m certain that he’ll be on the chopping block.
Joe Soto defeated Marco Beltran via submission at 1:37 of RD1
- Expectations/Results: Many pointed to the success Soto had in his title fight against TJ Dillashaw on a day’s notice as a reason for why he’d be successful here. I didn’t buy it as he was at least preparing for a fight when he fought Dillashaw and was coming into the altitude of Mexico City. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Soto saw major holes in Beltran’s wrestling and grappling, believing he could expose that. A takedown and some leg entanglement later, Soto got a hold of Beltran’s foot and leaned back on a heel hook to get a quick tap.
- Soto: The dude didn’t even have a fight before this event. Now he has his second UFC win in a row. I always felt Soto’s poor start to his UFC career was largely attributable to bad fortune and I believe this win helps to vindicate that. He knew what he wanted to do and did just that in executing the takedown. Even more credit to him for finishing with the heel hook. Who in the hell does that in today’s UFC? He’s an ideal gatekeeper and the win here only solidifies that thought.
- Beltran: This has to be frustrating for the Mexican. Beltran had worked hard to shore up his wrestling and grappling, even submitting Reginaldo Vieira in his last appearance. Then he comes into this fight and allows an opponent who didn’t even have a training camp to do whatever he wanted. Ouch. I expect Beltran will get another chance to prove he belongs, though I also fear Soto has exposed a weakness others will be quick to try and exploit.
Erik Perez defeated Felipe Arantes via split decision
- Expectations/Results: Earlier comments from Arantes where he said he doesn’t prepare at all for his opponents made me definitively favor Perez. Hearing Arantes didn’t show up in Mexico City until the previous Tuesday solidified my stance even more. And yet, it was Perez who was injured and tired at the end of the contest. Perez did more in the first two rounds before a knee injury caused a falloff in his performance in the last round, but Arantes threatened with to finish in every round as the two put on one of the more entertaining contests of the evening.
- Perez: Given that Perez injured his knee at some point in the second half of the contest, I’m not going to criticize his performance too badly. I do believe he should have been more effective in the striking department early in the contest. I’m not saying he didn’t get the better of Arantes, I just had higher expectations based on what I’ve seen out of him in his last few contests. Keeping in mind that he is turning 27 later this month, it’s more than plausible we still haven’t seen the best out of the young Mexico native… provided the knee injury isn’t too serious. I don’t see him fulfilling the high expectations the UFC brass placed on him at one point, but he should hover in or around the rankings for a number of years and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
- Arantes: Though my opinion of Arantes went up in this losing effort, I’m more frustrated by him as well. He’s fun to watch thanks to his aggressive submission attempts and ability to reverse. I also like the improvements on the feet as he performed better there than I expected. But how much better could he be if he strategized? While I don’t believe his conditioning proved to be an issue, it worries me that he doesn’t appear to do everything he can to prepare for his fights. A fight that I think would be fun while appropriate in terms of divisional standings is Frankie Saenz and I was pleased to see Zane was in agreeance with me.
Alexa Grasso defeated Heather Jo Clark via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Results: Believing that Grasso has the makings of a future champion, the UFC wanted to give her a tough and durable challenge. Clark fit that bill perfectly as she refused to go away despite Grasso laying the punishment on nice and thick. After the first round, Clark was claiming to have a difficult time seeing which led to the contest almost being stopped right there. Though Clark continued on and had a few small victories, it was an easy decision for the judges to make in awarding the W to Grasso.
- Grasso: About the only disappointing thing that can be said is that she didn’t get the finish. Everything else went beautifully. She pieced up Clark with punching combinations against the cage. She kept Clark at a distance with her jab. She bullied her in the clinch at times as well, the area where Clark was supposed to have the advantage. Many view the 23-year old as a future title challenger and though she is still a way away from getting to that point, she didn’t give any reason for us to believe that isn’t a strong possibility moving forward. Maryna Moroz would be a logical opponent moving forward.
· Clark: Few gave Clark a chance, so this wasn’t exactly a disappointing performance in the eyes of pundits. In fact, fighting with major vision problems while being able to avoid being finished should be a nice feather in her cap. The question now is whether or not the loss will cost Clark her UFC employment as it was her second loss in a row. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that the brass wants to keep her around thanks to her toughness and ability to test up-and-comers, but it’s hard to believe they’ll do so given her age and lack of a ceiling. My guess? She’s on her way out.
Beneil Dariush defeated Rashid Magomedov via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Results: This may have been the most difficult contest to predict heading into the event. Dariush was a very slight favorite given his experience against higher level opposition, though many felt Magomedov simply hadn’t received the opportunity to fight similar opponents due to injury. The contest ended up being very close, closer than what the scorecards would have indicated. What gave Dariush the judges’ favor was his aggression and control in the clinch. Though many perceived it to be a lackluster contest, I found a nice bit of enjoyment out of it. Maybe I’m sick in the head….
- Dariush: Considering how controversial Dariush’s win over Michael Johnson last year was, this could very well be the best win of his UFC career. Dariush seems to have learned from his mental gaffe against Mike Chiesa as he stayed committed to his game plane, not wavering in the slightest. Youngsters often panic things don’t go exactly as planned. Impressive to see Dariush stay the course, continuing to go to the clinch even when Magomedov beat on him with the dirty boxing. Dariush is in a bit of an awkward position moving forward. Does he continue to play gatekeeper or does he get an opportunity to move up? If he maintains his current role, look for a contest with Francisco Trinaldo. If he gets an opportunity to move up, I like the possibility to face Edson Barboza as Barboza needs to stay busy to remain relevant.
- Magomedov: This loss isn’t going to hurt Magomedov… much. He acquitted himself well against an established top 15 opponent, proving he can hold his own against the upper portion of the division who could have earned the win had an aspect or two of the contest gone in his favor. What seemed to be the difference was Dariush’s ability to land kicks before Magomedov could react with one of his patented counters early in the fight which forced the Russian out of his favored style. He’ll need to pick up a couple more wins before he gets another opportunity to move up the ranks, but he should still be getting some difficult opponents moving forward. A fight with Paul Felder would be a potential FOTN candidate I’d like to see.
Martin Bravo defeated Claudio Puelles via TKO at 1:55 of RD2
- Expectations/Results: Two young, raw prospects who’ve yet to face any real competition? Not an easy fight to call. Most picked Bravo due to his aggressive nature, though Puelles larger size and more technical approach made it hard to discount him. Puelles couldn’t turn Bravo’s aggression against him and you could see Puelles slow ever so slightly as the contest progressed. Bravo eventually landed a liver shot against the fence, causing Puelles to wilt and give the Mexico native the win and the TUF title.
- Bravo: Bravo won’t be staying at lightweight. He’s fought as low as bantamweight and I’d expect him to go as low as he can in weight. The 23-year old has some athletic ability to make his aggressive style work, but he needs a bit of time to progress before he can be considered UFC caliber. However, with new ownership looking for immediate dividends, Bravo may not get the time he needs to develop. TUF Brazil 4 winner Glaico Franca has already been cut loose and he had physical skills that were worth giving time to develop. Don’t be surprised if Bravo is the last winner of a foreign version of TUF as WME looks to cut costs.
- Puelles: While I’ve been questioning Bravo’s opportunity to develop into a keeper, Puelles’ loss puts him in an even worse situation. He appears to have more natural size – he’s a featherweight -- and skill than Bravo while being even younger at 20-years old. The problem is that I don’t even know if he will get another opportunity to fight in the UFC with this loss much less be afforded the chance to develop into a mainstay. I hope he gets at least one fight, but I’m not betting on it. Hopefully he gets into a good camp where the UFC can keep tabs on him and possibly bring him back so long as he continues to develop.
Ricardo Lamas defeated Charles Oliveira via submission at 2:13 of RD2
- Expectations/Results: Another disastrous weight cut put Oliveira in an unfavorable light, his fourth time missing the featherweight limit. Did I mention that he missed weight by nine pounds? Most pundits were picking Lamas even before the botched weight cut was reported and now they had further reason to root for Lamas. Oliveira came out aggressive, looking to take the fight to the ground and came thisclose to submitting Lamas before the first round ended, Lamas being saved by the bell. Oliveira had little left to offer and Lamas was able to cinch in a guillotine choke a few minutes into the next round and get a tap out of the Brazilian.
- Lamas: Fun fact: Lamas last three wins have all come in Mexico. I’m sure he’s hoping they don’t stop holding events there. Even though no one outside of his family and friends believes Lamas will ever be able to insert himself into the title picture again, he couldn’t have done more to boost his profile in the public eye. He didn’t have to take the fight, but he did so anyway and earned the respect of a lot of fans for doing that. I do believe there is cause for concern as he required a bit of luck to survive the early storm from Oliveira, but that has always been part of the Lamas mystique. You get the feel he shouldn’t win half of the fights he does, but he pulls out the win anyway thanks to his opportunistic nature. He needs a big name in order to stand any chance of getting back into the title picture and fortunately for him, the opportunity to do so should be just on the horizon. Frankie Edgar and Jeremy Stephens do battle later this week at UFC 205 and Edgar is a sizeable favorite. Lamas has lost to all of the elite featherweights he has faced thus far. If he were to lose to Edgar (or Stephens), he could kiss any chance of getting another title shot goodbye.
- Oliveira: I have no idea what to make of the talented submission artist. He’s comfortably made the featherweight limit before, coming in as low as 143 pounds. But missing weight by 9 pounds!? That calls for a move back up to lightweight in my book and I firmly expect that to happen. A lack of discipline seems to be the root of the problem, though a lack of remorse is compounding the problem as indicated by the continued missing of weight and stream of excuses. Sure, you took the fight on three weeks notice… but you don’t take the fight if you know you can’t make weight! And you’re really going to eat at McDonald’s on fight week when you’re struggling with your weight cut? Please. At one point I wanted to see him do well as his style was fun and exciting to watch. Now I’d be okay to see him wash out of the UFC. I don’t think the brass cuts him yet, but there needs to be a point of no return as this is getting ridiculous.
Diego Sanchez defeated Marcin Held via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Results: The submission specialist Held was pretty much a universal choice to walk out of Mexico with a win. However, Sanchez’s submission defense, aggression, and endless cardio remained in the back of my mind. If Held couldn’t get an early finish, I could see the madman from New Mexico pulling off an upset. Held easily took the first round, but didn’t have the energy to maintain the early pace and faded. Sanchez stuffed his takedown attempts and controlled the Pole on the ground while landing enough ground strikes to make the judges job simple.
- Sanchez: Though I’d rather see Sanchez retire as he has taken about as much abuse as anyone has taken in the sport, he continues to find ways to pull out wins which gives him reason to continue his career. To be fair, he has made a greater effort on defense to avoid taking the type of damage that people became accustomed to seeing him accumulate. While no one believed his grappling ability had evaporated, it hadn’t been seen in a very long time since Sanchez no longer has the ability to get the fight to the ground. Fortunately he didn’t need to as he would stuff Held’s takedowns and take the top position on the grappling expert as Held was comfortable fighting off of his back. Sanchez can continue to win given the right matchups as this contest proved. I’m not sure there is an obvious matchup that makes sense right now, so I’d wait to see how the division plays out.
- Held: It’s rare that the UFC gives a former Bellator fighter a high profile contest in their debut as they did Held, especially given he never won a title in the organization. He blew the golden opportunity the UFC gave him. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the loss was he seemed to be getting the better of the striking exchanges – a positive thing – but Held continued to look for the takedown which led to Sanchez getting advantageous positions. Not only is Held’s conditioning worth questioning, so is his fight IQ. What’s good about that is Held’s issues can all be corrected by the time he gets his next contest. The question is whether or not he’ll do that.
Tony Ferguson defeated Rafael dos Anjos via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Results: Nobody could make a confident prediction going into this fight. Both offered plenty of reason to believe they’d be the one walking out with a claim for a title shot very soon. Early on it appeared that dos Anjos would be the man as he landed counter after counter on Ferguson to compliment his hard kicks to Ferguson’s legs and body. It turned out that Ferguson was just finding his rhythm. Maintaining the low leg kicks that were working in the first round, Ferguson finally got his jab working. Once the jab was working, he was able to start putting together combinations. Dos Anjos put together a nice stretch in the last half of the third round, but everything else following the first round was clearly in favor of Ferguson. With nine wins in row with a win over the former champion included in the streak, it is going to be hard to deny Ferguson a title shot.
- Ferguson: Even though he didn’t get the finish, this was Ferguson’s most impressive win. He went five rounds in the altitude of Mexico City and didn’t slow down whatsoever. He dominated dos Anjos in a way no one else has, beating the Brazilian on the feet while denying him the takedown. With a former champion now included in his winning streak, it is going to be hard to deny Ferguson a title shot. Despite that, it won’t be impossible to do so either. Khabib Nurmagomedov competes against Michael Johnson later this week at the historic UFC 205 card and he has a sound case himself. He is undefeated in his MMA career, including seven of those wins in the Octagon. So how to choose between them should Nurmagomedov beat Johnson? Looking at their opponents during their streak and how they beat them, I’d probably pick Ferguson, though we’ll need to wait and see just how Nurmagomedov does this weekend. Either way, it will be a hot talking point for weeks to come.
- Dos Anjos: Dos Anjos isn’t done as an elite lightweight. He had his moments and was never completely overwhelmed by Ferguson’s offensive output. The problem is that as deep and talented as the lightweight division is, I struggle to see dos Anjos ever getting another chance at the belt ever again. While I know it isn’t impossible, there isn’t another division with the amount of viable challengers that 155 possesses. It took a bit of luck for dos Anjos to get his title shot in the first place as Nurmagomedov was set to get the title shot ahead of him only for the Russian to be on the sideline with injury for two years. Dos Anjos is still one of the top 155ers in the world and should still be involved in a number of high profile contests. It’s just that he’ll be in a gatekeeping role instead of pushing to receive his own title shot at this juncture. The idea of him facing Gilbert Melendez next has been bantered around a lot and I have to agree that it is a fantastic idea. Johnson won’t be a bad option should he lose to Nurmagomedov, though I admit that I still favor Melendez.