One of the most amazing aspects of this sport is how quickly certain elements of the game change, seemingly overnight. Sometimes we get situations like in the welterweight division, where after the departure of longtime rightful king Georges St Pierre, the entire landscape of the division was blown up. Let's dive right in.
Stephen Thompson - I doubted he could do it, and I'm sure many others did as well. Wonderboy continued to live up to his name and eliminated in one round a man that lasted ten with the current champion, who is one of the most terrifying men the sport has ever seen. He controlled the pace, the distance and the exchanges, stuffed takedowns and poured it on thick with his counter game and his accuracy. Exceptional performance that blasts him out from number 8 to the very top, and he's knocking on the door of a title shot really soon, especially if Condit doesn't get his rematch and things don't get ironed out with Woodley. These are the finishes that Zuffa loves to see for making a case to give a title shot, and he's got as hot a hand as it gets with his current win streak.
As much as it pains me to admit it, Ovince St Preux was never a guy I was impressed with in Strikeforce. He's won me over in a big way despite dispatching my beloved Shogun in Brazil a while back. He's still very raw, but he puts on a hell of a fight every time. Granted, his opponent didn't put up much resistance in this outing (best believe we'll address that below), but OSP continues to dish out violence and have a better understanding of his own limitations in the sport, while working with his strengths. Good to see a guy like him continue to find success.
Joseph Benavidez fought a very game Zach Makovsky and got a good win against a strong name, but this may not be enough to get another crack at the guy that beat him twice already, especially with the second loss being a devastating knockout. His stock doesn't rise by much, just slightly above what it was.
Mike Pyle is just remarkably fun. The man has had a crazy career and keeps pulling rabbits out of his hat. Never count the man out, because even against a tough guy like Spencer, he can find an opening and turn on the extra violence. He seems to get slicker as the fight gets more intense, too. Those of us that aren't there yet should hope to be that spry at 40.
Fans: After the loss of a heavyweight title fight at the top of the card, some people were really down on this event overall even after it was announced that it would be on FS1. It wasn't the most action packed, and it doesn't make sense to complain about the pacing anymore since it doesn't seem to be getting better anytime soon. Most of these fights ended up fulfilling the purpose of B show cards - moving divisions along for PPVs to have any real impact or relevance with top contenders. With some healthy speculation, it seems like the UFC got lucky that Fox didn't have college football or any other major event that could pull in big ratings already slotted for this night, which facilitated the move to FS1. Fans don't have to shell out money for a card they aren't excited about, and the UFC doesn't end up taking a bath on low-selling PPV.
Mickey Gall with yet another unlikely story in MMA. From the amateur ranks to a random local show that Dana & co. were at for their reality series where he called out a former professional wrestler, he made quick work of his opponent and is now going to face one of the most confusing signings in recent MMA history, CM Punk. His profile has been raised considerably before even stepping in the cage with Punk, and he's brought enough attention to himself that one can hope will be parlayed into some profitability down the line.
Derrick Lewis was a guy I was never impressed much by, but he keeps winning fights against heavyweight grapplers and putting them away hard. While to me his ceiling was well-established in the Mitrione fight, he continues to do surprisingly well for a guy that mostly has a boxing base in MMA. That motion where he drops to the ground like Randy Orton stalking his prey with the mean face? That's kind of dope, too. He's got the look and style of a 90s Japanese fighting game, and I'm very excited to see him fight again.
Josh Burkman got a much-needed win against a surprisingly less active than usual KJ Noons. He fought smart, and didn't look as lethargic as he had in recent welterweight outings, and looked healthy and strong for lightweight. Misha Circunov dominated in his fight and made it look almost effortless for most of it. Justin Scoggins wins with yet another scrappy performance against a guy that's almost as scrappy as he is. The less we talk about Roy Nelson's win over Jared Rosholt the better, and holy hell, did Diego Rivas surprise everyone with that beautiful flying knee. Despite being controlled for what seemed like the entire first round, he got a good shot and made it count in a fight he probably shouldn't have even won on paper. Given that now he's training in Los Angeles at 10th Planet and Kings MMA, we should be seeing bigger and better things for him soon enough. Also, Alex White fought very smart against a heavy hitter in Artem Lobov, which is a great way to come back from a long layoff.
Johny Hendricks went from the beloved underdog that should have unseated GSP, to the eventual champion, to the guy that fans turned on with his various complaints and perceived excuses, among other statements. That and the fact that he appeared undisciplined with his conditioning and seemed to be just cruising in his performances made a lot of people sour on him. He left Team Takedown to assemble his own crew, hired a nutritionist, gets into the shape of his life to work his way to the title and got absolutely demolished by a young and hungry talent that wasn't giving him any daylight. None of this is to say that he's washed up, because he lost to a still-evolving and undeniable phenom that finally came into his own. Yet the hard fact here is that he's the one fighter at welterweight whose stock has recently both plummeted the most and the fastest in such short time. A controversial loss (a rightful one at that) to Robbie Lawler, a lackluster win against Matt Brown, and then a failed weight cut that saw him drop out of a fight against Tyron Woodley certainly put you on the backburner, but this is rubbing vinegar in the wound and sealing it with salt. Still a tremendous talent, but he's got some things to evaluate.
Rafael Cavalcante looked absolutely terrible out there. At one point Brian Stann said something to the effect of "you can't win a fight if you don't actually throw strikes or engage". He stood there waiting for St Preux to get tired or something, then did absolutely nothing off his back aside from hugging his opponent to stop him from doing any more damage. I'd think of it like the Richard Pryor bit where he was punched in his chest by his father and clenched his chest tight so his father would stop beating him up. It's up to the fighters to decide when to retire, but that was dreadful, and he should at least have someone in his life tell him to stop now before he accumulates even more damage. Three bad losses in a row means he should be getting his walking papers from Zuffa, so there's that.
Another fighter that appeared mired in a funk of inactivity was Strikeforce staple and former champion KJ Noons. He didn't even seem to be hunting for counters most of the time and ate a bunch of leg kicks in the first round, then by the end was eating punches on the ground and appeared helpless. It's a shame, because he has put on some exciting performances in the past. He's currently 2-3-1NC in the UFC due to losing his debut against former title challenger Donald Cerrone, winning two straight before a no-contest before dropping a submission loss to Alex Oliveira and this decision loss to Burkman. He may get cut as well as a result.
Artem Lobov can be fun to watch, but he really showed his limitations in this bout. He didn't manage distance, was off on his timing and appeared content to be a headhunter against an opponent that was willing to use all of his weapons. By the time the third round came around he stalked Alex White with his hands down and got nothing out of it except a few shots that left him exhausted. His record is now under .500, and he may not stay with the organization either despite his impressive performances on TUF.
Mike Jackson didn't get the golden ticket, but much respect to him for at least giving it a shot and making his pro debut in the prelims. Noad Lahat took a tough one, and here's hoping that he's able to recover well from that nasty knockout. He has potential, and should be able to bounce back. Sean Spencer looked like his body quit on him from that beating, and this is his second straight loss in a rather stacked welterweight division. Damian Grabowski was a guy that many had some high hopes to see given his impressive list of wins and anticipation to see where his game was, but it wasn't enough. Lewis shucked him off like a sack of rice and put on a violent beating. That's just the fight game. Cruel and unforgiving.
Ray Borg had a three-win fight streak snapped, and given how shallow flyweight is he'll be fine. He's still young and a great athlete, but he's got some gaps to fill in his game. Zack Makovsky may have lost, but he did so to a former title challenger that's the clear #2 in his division that's comprised of perhaps the best pure athletes of any division in the UFC. Not only that, but he remained competitive throughout. This puts him at 3-3 in the UFC, but he's not an easy out at all. His stock doesn't take a hit.