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UFC on Fox 22: VanZant vs Waterson - Winners and Losers

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The final UFC on Fox event of the year delivered on a good amount of fun.

Sixth Annual Fighters Only World Mixed Martial Arts Awards Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Events held on Fox are usually affairs that are designed with the expectations of action over everything else, usually with a main event that leads to title contention or a spot close to it. And that’s basically what we got here in Sacramento at this event.

While the expected line of events was largely in the vein of a legend having his final fight at home, while the two most visible and prized UFC prospects were expected to at least perform well enough to gain a bit of luster. As we saw, it didn’t exactly happen that way, yet this may not be as big a blow to the UFC’s marketing plans as some might think.

Aside from that, it was an ever so slightly disappointing card considering that some of these fights may not have lived up to the action potential they could have had on paper. While not that many major names were on the card, some of the talents are pretty reliable to push the pace and have fun fights. Not that it was a bad night of fights, but perhaps expectations were a bit higher considering how surprisingly good UFC 206 ended up with lesser big names as well.

Moving forward, we cap off a whirlwind year in the sport with UFC 207 two weeks from now. We get a Christmas break next week before resuming the frenetic pace of multiple events spaced together. But don’t worry kids, we do what we do out of love.

On to the fights

  • Winners

Michelle Waterson - Big, big, big win for the former Invicta Atomweight champion. I figured that she would perhaps be a bit undersized here and that Paige’s wrestling and pace would give her fits, and all of that got turned on it’s head. While I had previously envisioned that the fight would hit the ground on Paige’s terms with Michelle ending up on her back, Waterson initiated the takedown and applied constant pressure while maintaining back control to have ample time to work on that finish. This gives Waterson two consecutive wins since arriving in the UFC, both of the wins being rear naked chokes. Coming in ranked at #11, she defeated the #7 ranked fighter in her division, with Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Rose Namajunas and Tecia Torres all previously ranked ahead of her and all suffering losses in their last bouts. This win should bump her up a few spots and possibly put her a win away from fighting for the title. Bonus points for doing it with a wider audience on a free Fox show.

Mickey Gall - Let’s state the most important and obvious point item first - Gall is still very, very raw. Despite that fact, he looked better than he probably should have in various exchanges here. His first two UFC fights were against people that should not have been in the UFC (sorry, Mike), but to take on a fighter that is known primarily for being a lifelong striker and to drop him the way he did? That’s either a testament to the work he’s putting in at Tristar or a show of how Gall may not be the one-trick pony some people thought he was. Look, a lot of it was very ugly - Gall was more than content to take ten shots to land one. That’s going to get him seriously hurt against better fighters, but the UFC isn’t going to rush him against guys that much better than him. Whether or not he ends up dropping to lightweight, he’s not going to be fighting guys past the lower-mid tier for some time, and that’s a great thing. For all the criticism directed at the UFC for bringing in someone so unpolished to fight CM Punk, the UFC rolled the dice and won big here. They got a fighter that’s hungry, learning, not afraid to be brash, and legitimately talented to hang with UFC caliber talent. And again, he beat a heavily-marketed fighter on free TV in a pretty crazy fight.

Urijah Faber - We don’t get too many stories like this, where a fighter leaves on his own terms with a big win in his hometown. He got a fight against a great opponent for the occasion, a scrambly fighter that can box and not afraid to engage in a brawl. Faber gets a nice sendoff while still healthy and young, all while looking dominant for most of his final bout. He might not have ever won UFC gold, but he’s been a champion almost everywhere he’s fought and was a major reason for the lighter weight classes to be incorporated into the UFC via the WEC purchase. Much success and happiness to him wherever he goes from here on in.

Alan Jouban - If there’s one thing you can’t say about Jouban, it’s that he’s just a pretty boy trying to play fighter. This was a tough bout against a deceptively capable striker, and Jouban ran into some trouble early but forged ahead. The biggest takeaway from this fight for me was Jouban’s ability to change things up and fight smarter as the fight progressed. He mixed things up going high and low while flustering Perry with his movement and timing. He now improves to 15-4 overall and 6-2 in the UFC while rolling on a three fight win streak. He’s likely to get a big step up after this, and he’s coming along quite nicely.

Leslie Smith - Great way to end the year for Smith, showing off some veteran savvy with solid pressure and timing against Irene Aldana. She goes 2-1 in 2016, improves to 9-7 overall (don’t let that record fool you), protested with Standing Rock activists and advocated for better fighter pay and conditions while sticking her neck out and being vocal about her interest in unionizing or joining a fighter’s association. She’s been fighting since 2008, and this win should really net her a lot of the respect she’s due.

Eddie Wineland - Still one of the most dangerous strikers in the division after all this time. Wineland caught Mizugaki dead behind the ear on that first shot that crumbled him, and it was all his from there. For a fighter that had a degree of self-doubt not that long ago, he’s rebounded beautifully to string two consecutive wins together in impressive fashion. He could very well just now be entering his prime.

Colby Covington - Now at 6-1 in the UFC, he took on a solid submission grappler and made him carry weight. He kept changing things up so effectively, and Barberena didn’t have many answers to what Covington had for him. Good to see him continue to grow as a fighter and make great progress, especially against someone this tough. This win should move him up considerably.

Paul Craig gets a great submission win to make a great first impression in the UFC. Mizuto Hirota was able to overcome the reach and height disadvantage to get a good win over Cole Miller in his second UFC fight, after ending up with a draw in his debut back in September of last year. Josh Emmett continues his winning ways to end up 2-0 in the UFC and perfect overall at 11-0. Alex Morono frustrated James Moontasri with his movement and striking style, punishing him against the cage and keeping a steady pace. He improves to 2-0 in the UFC and is riding a seven fight win streak. Sultan Aliev won an ugly fight to get his first UFC win, because that’s what a Sultan Aliev fight looks like. That said, it’s his forte, and it takes two for a fight to be exciting. This puts him at 1-1 in the UFC.

  • Losers

Paige VanZant - A longtime complaint from MMA fans is that the UFC doesn’t do enough to put their promotional machine behind fighters, but when they do - as is the case with VanZant and Northcutt - fans turn on them and hate them with a passion. A lot of the reactions are about how “the hype trains have been derailed!!” Now, that’s kind of funny, because both have lost before. I bring this up because the desire to see these fighters fail on the part of some seems to cloud where these fighters really are. In VanZant’s case, she lost to a ten-year veteran known for her slick ground game and tenacity, who finally made it to the UFC in a division where she’s not as depleted due to weight cuts. Paige is still just 22-years-old, 4-2 in the UFC, training with a major team and developing as a fighter. She just won her previous fight and is alternating wins and losses, which raises the question: did she really lose that much here? She’s still got a lot of upside and is still seen as a reliable action fighter in a division that isn’t very populated. Go ahead, when was her last boring fight? Anyone cheering for her demise or anything resembling that is well within their right to their opinion, but this fight doesn’t change anything dramatically. Hate all you want, she’s not going anywhere.

Sage Northcutt - This is a stranger one to parse, but here’s another question: what weight division is Northcutt in? Give his overall career a cursory look and you’ll find he’s been bouncing back and forth between welterweight and lightweight for his entire career. It’s hard to draw a line on what this all means when he’s not consistently in a division long enough to definitively determine if he’s capable of improvements in one weight class over another, but his two UFC losses are only at welterweight against hard-nosed wrestlers. Things were fine when it seemed like he was going to be cleaning out the lower tier of the lightweight division for a while, but he’s probably in need of some consistency and a major camp to shore up his grappling as well. His use of rubber guard without adequate placement of his opposite leg was a bit of a tell that he needs some work. Whether it’s time at Cordeiro and/or Eddie Bravo in Los Angeles or sitting in on a kids’ class with Nate Diaz on Sunday mornings, he needs help. Sage is talented, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to improve and be the best he can be. As far as hype train derailment talk? He’s only 20(!!) years old and 3-2 in the UFC. He’s not even ranked. This does not a derailment make. Give him time, he’ll be fine.

Brad Pickett - In the grand scheme of things, this loss is a bigger blow than the previous two we’ve covered above combined. While he may not get cut due to being part of the retirement bout, he’s probably dangerously close. Pickett was underrated for a good portion of his career, but it’s probably an understatement to say that he’s lost a step. He probably gets to stick around and face other fighters that are unranked in his division for a bit, but he’s taken a lot of damage in recent years and is getting up there in age.

Mike Perry - As I may have mentioned before, I really don’t think that on paper Perry should have won his first two UFC fights. He still did, and is tougher and more clever than I gave him credit for, but seemed absolutely lost in some of the moments of this fight, including a stretch of inactivity where he either went on autopilot or was waiting exclusively for a counter. He doesn’t fall that far back down (he is also unranked coming into this bout), but if his wins didn’t show how raw his game was, this loss should obviously do just that.

Cole Miller - Recent displeasure with the UFC and fighting overall have probably contributed to Miller not doing as well as he could have tonight. It’s his third straight loss, and the last on his current contract. Miller recently stated that he wasn’t likely to re-sign with the UFC after this fight either way, so this could very well be the end. And this is truly a shame, considering he got lost in the shuffle after the Manila card fell apart earlier this year (Sorry, Anton). Instead of being postponed for a few weeks, he was postponed for a few weeks, leading to him paying for two camps instead of just one and only getting a third of his show money for the cancelled event. A longtime UFC veteran that had some great moments and exciting fights, it’s sad to see things end like this. Makes you wonder how things would have been if that fight against Conor McGregor in Ireland actually took place...

Takeya Mizugaki - Now at 8-6 since coming over to the UFC from the WEC, he’s 1-4 in his last five bouts dating to September of 2014. If he doesn’t get cut, he’s absolutely blown out of the top 15 with this loss (he came in ranked at #14). He’s clearly in the mid to lower-mid tier of the division after this.

Bryan Barberena - Barberena is now at 3-2 in the UFC, and usually this doesn’t hurt a fighter’s standing overall, but he looked absolutely helpless for stretches of this fight. Not a good look overall, especially when we’ve seen how good he can be when he’s on point. Credit goes to Covington for being so dominant, but Barberena’s stock takes a notable hit here.

Hector Sandoval and Fredy Serrano - It brings me no pleasure to do this, but both of them fought in an awful manner. The problem isn’t that the fight wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, but that neither fighter looked that willing to engage, and when they did it didn’t exactly resemble high-level MMA. Sandoval gets his first UFC win to go 1-1 while Serrano is 2-2 in what was undoubtedly a very uneventful affair.

James Moontasri falls to 2-4 in the UFC, and is likely to get cut after this. A real shame, because he showed a lot of promise in RFA as well as second UFC fight against Cody Pfister. Bojan Velickovic did what he could, but ultimately fell to the grinding and heavy style of Sultan Aliev. It is what it is. Scott Holtzman doesn’t lose much here in the big picture, as he drops to 2-2 in a fight where both fighters turned up the heat and were very willing to engage. This was his third fight this year, and he’ll probably take some time off before coming back to the middle of the pack.

  • Neither

Irene Aldana - Losing your UFC debut isn’t good, but losing it in what is fight of the night and showing the kind of tenacity and grit that fans and management love? That makes things quite different. She’s still a work in progress, though.That really showed here due to her inability to deal with the forward pressure in a consistent manner, somewhat similar to her loss to Tonya Evinger. Aldana made waves in Invicta, and despite not winning the title there showed she has the tools to hang with fighters more experienced than her. For now, she has some work to do.

Luis Henrique Da Silva - Frankenstein gets his first professional loss and is now 2-1. He got beat by a fighter that has a reputation for being a slick submission specialist, so there’s no major surprise there. His spot is safe.