UFC 196 was already a hotly anticipated event, and one could say that the loss of lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos actually improved the card in terms of interest and potential for chaos after he was substituted by Nate Diaz. What we got was an event that had some outstanding finishes and some middling fights here and there, but it was all worth it. History was made, just not how most people expected it.
Miesha Tate - Ronda Rousey losing her title was the best thing to happen to the longtime bantamweight veteran, and despite being counted out by many, she took on the seemingly-unbeatable new champion and put her to sleep to take her crown. Tate finally reached the top of the mountain with her tenacity, durability and focus under pressure. She fought like a champion, kept her composure and deserved to win with that performance. Good on her, and here's hoping we find out how the top of that division shakes out very soon.
Nate Diaz - Wow. Nate and Conor engaged in a battle of who could be more wild and reckless, and as usual when talking about the Diaz brothers, it only fuels them even more. Nate cashed out big here figuratively, and literally. Given his desire for fighting for the lightweight title - an idea seen as somewhat absurd after his back-to-back losses to then-champion Benson Henderson and Josh Thomson as well as eventual champion Rafael dos Anjos - he has a very solid case here. He beat a surging Michael Johnson that appears to be near his prime as a fighter, and just beat a resilient and tough opponent that is essentially the UFC's poster child. Plus, it was done in emphatic fashion with a finish on top. He's riding a wave that seems to lead to an inevitable shot at a belt despite the fact that this was out of his normal division. Regardless, he's very deserving of it.
Conor McGregor - What? You thought he'd be listed as a loser? You done goofed. Brother got paid thick stacks to stay in the main event and get what we can reasonably expect to be monster PPV numbers. Yes, he lost - but it was outside his division on less than two weeks' notice. It may not pass for fans like you or me as good reasoning, but it's defensible PR. No title was on the line, and we all watched anyway. Guess what? It was awesome. He's still the biggest star in the sport, still transcends the usual MMA media to end up on CNBC of all places to hype the fight. You think Max Holloway could get that kind of exposure to the sport? And that's Max Holloway we're talking about - one of the most phenomenal talents we have in the sport overall. He'll go back to featherweight and keep putting on fantastic fights while pulling down major bank. That's still a winner.
Amanda Nunes helped get ahead in the muddy waters of the middle of the women's bantamweight pack, taking on the very talented and durable newcomer Valentina Shevchenko. Amanda was entirely dominant on the ground and kept a good pace during the bout, and looking at the standings for all other divisions it seems reasonable that she at least get a shot at Tate if the UFC still wants a Holm/Rousey rematch. As mentioned above in the Tate segment, it remains to be seen how that will play out.
Diego Sanchez taking on Jim Miller was a great coup for a Fight Pass prelim, and neither fighter looked shot at all. Sanchez remained active, pushed a pace and ate some combinations, but came through with his control and beat a very tough submission grappler that got the better of some of the exchanges. Both fighters are in the win column for being that gutsy in a bout that could have conceivably been a draw or split decision.
Nordine Taleb bounced back in a big way after his submission loss to Warlley Alves in August with a brutal knockout against Erick Silva. The punch hit the top of the head and ragdoll physics collaborated with gravity for the rest. Taleb is one of those Tristar guys that comes in better almost every time, and he showed a great deal of patience to implement his counter game and blast Silva after catching that kick. Great performance from him and good to see him back on track to a successful run.
Siyar Bahadurzada shook off the cobwebs and put a beating on Brandon Thatch in a brutal dogfight after more than two years out of action. The fact that he was able to work Thatch over with strikes by closing the distance wasn't that surprising, but that he would get rocked and would show off a much-needed ground game for a submission win was a very pleasant surprise. Great to see him come back healthy and ready to do what he loves again, even if the win didn't come by the method he prefers, and even if he wasn't happy with his performance.
Vitor Miranda put a brutal beating on Marcelo Guimaraes, punishing him for remaining inactive as he was initially working on the takedown against the cage. The elbows against the cage softened him and visibly dazed Guimaraes, but Miranda used his accuracy and power to take over and break Marcelo's will until he was out on his feet. Speaking of which...
Referee Chris Tognoni - We look at terrible reffing all of the time, but we have to show respect to Chris Tognoni for recognizing how Marcelo Guimaraes was a standing punching bag after those two punches that followed that monster kick. I give the guy grief for looking like infamous MMA fraud Matt Bailey, or like "Dennis The Menace, alimony edition", but he did a great job to ensure fighter safety, and that need to be applauded.
We don't get a chance to say this very often, but how about that Darren Elkins? His fight with Chas Skelly was likely a bout that nobody was really looking forward to compared to other fights on the card, but it had some great moments in a matchup where both guys really went for damage and submission attempts every chance they got. Elkins still has some fire and his conditioning looked great.
Among the various picks I got wrong for this week, Teruto Ishihara is the one I'm second-happiest I got wrong. I figured there was no way he'd be able to deal with Erosa's pace and reach, or his submission game. That went out the window with great movement and a thundering KO that went over Erosa's shoulder and he never saw coming. Great to see him get a win under his belt after the draw in his last fight against Mizuto Hirota.
Big ups to Jason Saggo for working his ground control bit by bit to end with a beautiful submission win. A lot of fans focus on the finish, but this was an example of the journey being the real payoff for grappling fans, and he did an excellent job from one moment to the next in keeping his weight on Salas and dominating to get the tap in the end.
Finally, out of respect for the god himself, Ilir Latifi is still minotaur with his horns shaved down. The man is beautiful and I refuse to speak ill of him in any shape or form. All hail Ilir, Ilir is our light.
Holly Holm - Damn. That actually hurts to write. Holm is one of the real treasures of the sport and her work ethic and talent are truly elite. As they say, though - styles really do make fights. Miesha's style was enough to push the pace with the grappling and to be crafty with shifting phases to get control on the ground and win. Ronda Rousey's striking defense couldn't deal with Holm's offense, but this ain't Ronda. Despite the work with Izzy Martinez, Miesha's wrestling was very different than Ronda's Judo attack. If Miesha's MMA wrestling served her well to beat Sara McMann's undisputedly elite wrestling in an MMA fight, it may be something Holm wasn't 100% ready for. Even with the top-level wrestlers at Jackson/Winklejohn, MMA wrestling just isn't the same as wrestling in general. Holm did well to pull away in the fourth and fifth rounds until the last takedown by keeping her distance and landing great shots, but that's the fight game. And the fight game is cold and unforgiving. She deserves praise for handling both her title win as well as her title loss with grace and dignity, and she will undoubtedly be back soon to fight for that belt. When she does, it's gonna be great.
Conor McGregor - Wait, don't leave! Hear me out. Why would a guy that criticized a Diaz brother for being predictable play into his strengths by trading with him in the pocket like that? McGregor's over-reliance on his chin proved to be a massive flaw as he got rocked and went for the desperation takedown. Of course, a sloppy takedown against a grappler of that caliber is only going to make your day worse. And it did. I stand by everything I said above, but from purely a fight IQ standpoint, that was a terrible idea even with all the big shots he did land on Nate. I even had Conor winning the first round based on damage, but again - that's the fight game. Also, he didn't really "go up two weight classes" since he wasn't fighting a guy that usually fights at 170 like a Carlos Condit or Matt Brown. Hyperbole can be fun, but in this case it was just dumb.
Erick Silva - Look, the man is over the age of 30, he's not a prospect anymore. Outside of Jason High, he hasn't beaten a single fighter with a decent UFC record during his time with the promotion outside of a shot Koscheck that was on a sharp decline and Jason High. Put him in with a top 15 guy and he gets smoked. As mentioned in the livethread of the event, it's amazing that the best highlights of his career are the ones he's on the losing end of. Fun fighter, but totally unreliable and a lot of untapped potential.
Corey Anderson did not deserve to win that fight. This is what you get even with boxing judges that move on to judge MMA, given that Lawlor was ruining Anderson on the feet in the first round and Anderson still managed to get a 30-27. I'm starting to suspect judges don't know which fighter is which and score with no regard for silly things like that.
Gian Villante continues to have problems with his cardio and can't seem to show any fluidity between his striking and his wrestling. This didn't do him any favors as he continues to march along in light heavyweight limbo for the time being. Brandon Thatch is probably getting his walking papers after this loss, and he still hasn't shown any real growth on the ground in all of his time in his UFC run. Marcelo Guimaraes might stick around, but he got beat up hard, so he may need some extra time off. Justin Salas got dominated here, and he's got some work to do.
Valentina Shevchenko moves to 1-1 in the UFC, and is still an exciting and methodical striker that was perhaps a bit too careful tonight. She doesn't lose much here, and she's better on the ground than most people think. Unfortunately, her ground skills weren't good enough to handle Amanda Nunes, and that needs work. Her stock doesn't take much of a hit here. Chas Skelly saw a four-fight win streak get snapped with three finishes in there, so a setback like this isn't that bad, either. As for Tom Lawlor, the brother got robbed. Can't fault him for that. Julian Erosa is still young and also falls to 1-1 in the UFC, which shows he's got room to grow as he's still young and has a lot of talent and upside.