When you lose a fight as anticipated as Daniel Cormier vs Anthony Johnson, fans are going to be justifiably upset. Losing a marquee fight to be left with a series of fights that had potential for excitement, but not much major buzz? That’s going to lower expectations tremendously.
So in the case of UFC 206, we have a situation where a lot of fans were very let down and were not happy with the offerings. What we got instead was a tremendous main card with some excellent moments on the undercard, and one of the most memorable nights in an already unprecedented year in MMA action. Some fighters earned wins that move them ahead by a considerable amount, and the quality of the fights led to some unforgettable sequences. Card of the year? Perhaps not. Undeniably an excellent one, though. Good to see a long-suffering and deprived Canadian audience get a card that will stand out decades from now.
Max Holloway - Let’s put the belt around his waist aside for a moment. The man just finished a former lightweight champion that was once seen as the future of the sport - a man that had never been finished before. Holloway played it smart, but not necessarily safe throughout the bout. His footwork, timing and range gave him what he needed to eventually break Pettis and make his body quit. The path here is clear now. He faces Aldo next for a title unification while holding what is one of hottest win streaks ever seen (if not the hottest). Back to the belts - while you can downplay the value of either, or both, belts at 145, having Conor McGregor leave has both cleared up the logjam and made the division exciting again by allowing everyone to refocus on the talent that’s still there. This fight put a lot of shine on a division that needed it, and Max Holloway has truly developed into the star fighter he appeared destined to be.
Donald Cerrone - Welterweight Cerrone is still a nightmare. This fight was the story of two fighters that really appeared to dislike each other, had a hard but odd Muay Thai style and a propensity to be hurt by body shots. After a great first round, Brown hurt Cerrone pretty badly and refused to simply go away in the second, battering Cerrone with body shots and busting up his face a bit. After that, Brown earned Cerrone’s respect and the two put their animosity aside only to have Cerrone knock out Brown with a brutal headkick. Welterweight already has a three man dance between Woodley, Thompson and Maia, so it’s unlikely that Cerrone get a title shot next, but another win or two and he should definitely be in the conversation.
Cub Swanson - It seems that due to some recent performances, a lot of people thought Cub Swanson was shot and not a top guy at featherweight anymore. Well, Mr. Swanson is more than happy to disabuse anyone of that notion, every chance he gets. This could very well be fight of the year, with the seasoned veteran taking on the surging phenom and both of them giving each other everything. This fight was brutal and not for the faint of heart, but both of them had their stock raised exponentially. Swanson could realistically get the next crack at the winner of Aldo/Holloway. None of this is guaranteed, but a fight like that is something that’s highly rewarded, and he’s already at #4. Failing that, he’s really more likely to end up fighting #3 Ricardo Lamas. Probably the biggest winner on the card overall, coupled with the performance of a lifetime.
Doo Ho Choi - After three UFC fights that ended with him finishing his opponents in beautiful fashion, this was the big coming out party that some fighters can only dream of. Choi showed the makings of a fighter that still has a ways to go in development, but still put on a war against an opponent that’s faced a who’s who in the sport. This is going to do wonders for him and his career. With recent developments at 145, he should inch closer to or maybe even be among the ranks of Jeremy Stephens, and Charles Oliveira (or maybe even Anthony Pettis should he change his mind and stay at featherweight after all), even coming off a loss. It was still this loss, and we all know rankings are often random and not necessarily based on hard and fast rulesets. Happy to see him continue to grow, as well as what he will become as a fighter. We’re witnessing something big here, folks.
Lando Vannata - Sometimes, an MMA fighter does something that just seems unfair. It’s not that any rules are broken, just that it shouldn’t be humanly possible for someone to be so good at beating someone else up. Vannata’s odd striking stance and style make for fascinating fights, as evidenced in his UFC debut. If a losing effort to Tony Ferguson (in which he almost scored a massive upset) doesn’t tell you that this guy is special, his oblique to spinning wheel kick KO definitely should. Still unranked, but now on everyone’s radar. Plus, he’s in the most stacked and talent-rich division in the sport. Another coming out party for a guy sure to make waves.
Misha Cirkunov - Being a more accurate and damaging striker than before is one thing, having the presence of mind to not miss a beat and slap on a submission at the right moment is another. And that’s where Cirkunov really has shown himself to be a threat. It’s very pleasant to see fighters like him come up in such a chaotic division like light heavyweight recently, and this really is something to capitalize on. Cirkunov came in at #13, while Krylov was at #8. With Patrick Cummins(#12), Ilir Latifi(#11 - U.N.I.T.Y.) and Rogerio Nogueira(#10... I know, right?) all suffering recent losses, Cirkunov is a lock to blast into the top ten and get a bigger matchup here.
Kelvin Gastelum - You know how some people are looking at Cerrone’s recent welterweight success and wondering if he should have ever stayed at lightweight for as long as he did? I’m leaning towards agreeing with that when it comes to Kelvin Gastelum. To finish a fighter like Tim Kennedy the way he did? Outstanding. He looked healthy, sharp and ready to rock from the beginning. Sure, he’s likely to still be successful if he can get things under control with his weight, but middleweight might not just be a great fit for Gastelum - Gastelum might be a shot in the arm in a division that’s already got some prime players in the top five. Kennedy is not small, and Kelvin hung with him pretty much at every turn after wearing Kennedy like a backpack for most of the first round. Your opinion may differ, but I’d personally prefer to see him stay at 185.
Olivier Aubin-Mercier - Taking on a notable wrestler that’s strong as an ox and snagging a submission win like that? That’s talent. Two submission wins in a row for Aubin-Mercier, as he continues to be one of the craftiest fighters in his division. Never count him out.
Emil Meek - This wasn’t so much a matter of taking an opponent down and peppering him with shots, it was more a case of Meek really controlling the bout and busting up Mein as best he could. Mein didn’t really have any answers for any of it (more on that later), but he ends up looking dominant in his UFC debut, and that’s pretty good. This won’t raise his stock by too much, but it’s better than a loss.
Matthew Lopez had a great early fight with Mitch Gagnon in an almost nonstop wily scrap. He bounces back beautifully from his UFC debut loss to Rani Yahya, demonstrating why he was brought up from RFA in the first place. Rustam Khabilov earns his fourth straight victory by putting pressure on Jason Saggo and not letting up when it counted. Dustin Ortiz snaps a two-fight losing streak against a man that’s probably the best wrestler in his division outside of Henry Cejudo. Tons of fun scrambles throughout, but it was his positional awareness that led to advantageous moments to win the fight. Viviane Pereira makes her debut count in a big way by winning on the scorecards against a battle-tested veteran. While I don’t agree with the decision, I can see the case for it.
Anthony Pettis - It’s rough to see a fighter like Pettis go out like that. First, he misses weight (yes, this will also be addressed further), then seems like he can’t get that step ahead he needed to start winning the fight. He injures his hand and gets finished for the first time in his career. Look, he’s not done by any means. He does have some factors to assess for him to get back into to winning consistently. Moving back to lightweight won’t cover the holes in his game, and this fight doesn’t necessarily drop him out of the rankings or anything. It certainly will affect his perspective and slows down the career of a fighter that may not be around for too much longer.
Matt Brown - It wasn’t my original intent to put him here, as he put forth a valiant effort against a seemingly-unstoppable Donald Cerrone. Problem is he did get knocked out viciously, and this is his third loss in a row. He’s not getting cut, but he should take some time off after that one. Also worth noting is that welterweight is a division where one loss can drop you a few spots due to so much movement in that weight class. Still tough as ever, but this was a rough one.
Tim Kennedy - I’m going to go out on a limb and guess it was mostly the time away from fighting that led to his performance, but Kennedy didn’t look like himself in there. He did try to make Gastelum carry his weight and work to get back to a position to fight back. Once he tasted some of Kelvin’s shots to the face, he seemed snakebit from there on in. He didn’t look like the underrated MMA grappler that uses feints and level changes to set up combinations. Here’s hoping Tim can bounce back in a big way. Not to take anything away from Gastelum, but Tim’s a better fighter than what we saw tonight.
Lou Giordano - Now, I don’t have to be an explosives expert to know that you shouldn’t store gunpowder near gasoline. By that same token, I don’t have to be a nutritionist or dietician to notice that there’s a trend of fighters missing weight or needing another attempt at making weight when they previously weren’t known for having those problems at all. What little I’ve heard Giordano say makes no sense to me, because his advice seems quite contrary to what we have learned is important to cutting weight for fights in a healthy manner and allow an athlete to healthily recover. Johny Hendricks has had problems making weight for years, and didn’t fare that well under Giordano, but Pettis missed weight for the first time in his life. All after losing a ton of weight over the course of his camp, to the point that he couldn’t lose any more. Was he Jorge Masvidal’s nutritionist last year when he needed another attempt at making welterweight after being over 1.5? That’s a question that is very much worth asking here. I don’t mean to attack the man or get in the way of him getting paid, but we need to look at what exactly is going on with him and the fighters he’s advising before someone gets seriously hurt.
Valerie Létourneau - It brings me no joy to say this, but this is the end of the road for Val. This is her third loss in a row after losing to Joanna Champion and then Joanne Calderwood. While she gave the champion one of the hardest challenges of her UFC run and isn’t too far removed from that fight, the UFC isn’t shy to let a strawweight go. She’s too small for bantamweight and is depleted at strawweight. She can still fight, but it’s unlikely to be under the UFC banner.
Drew Dober drops to 3-4 in the UFC with 1 no contest (that being the phantom tap referee error against Leandro Silva). He also has the misfortune of being in a packed crowd, so he’s likely getting his walking papers here. Jordan Mein came back after a brief retirement period, but didn’t look like he was able to offer much off his back and appeared gunshy while standing. Not the triumphant return anyone was hoping for. John Makdessi got slept hard, and had already considered retirement last year. We won’t have any way of knowing where he decides on next. He’s still a talented fighter that isn’t likely to get cut, it all seems to depend on him now. Zach Makovsky might also end up getting cut, since he’s now 3-4 in the UFC with three straight losses. While my personal bias has me leaning to him getting at least one more shot based on his talent alone, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Finally, big shout out for Nikita Krylov (DA GAWD) being humble and letting Cirkunov get a much needed win, as a true gentleman does.
Jason Saggo drops to 3-2 in the UFC, one loss being a split decision and the Khabilov loss being a unanimous decision. He’s safe for now. Mitch Gagnon may have lost his second consecutive bout, but he’s also still 4-3. Besides, the UFC isn’t big on cutting fighters after a performance like that one against Lopez. He should also be safe.