While some might call it blasphemy, I'd say UFC Fight Night 91 provided more entertainment in the cage than UFC 200. There were highlight KO's, last second submissions, back-and-forth slugfests, and plenty of underdogs coming out on top. It was the type of card real fight fans love as there were no major names or titles on the line. Hell, there wasn't even a clear cut title shot on the line. Just fists flying and bodies dropping!
John Lineker - The fight went exactly as planned. Lineker didn't waste any time looking for the kill shot, dropping McDonald at least three times (I don't care what Fight Metric says, I counted at least three) before finally sealing the deal by leaving McDonald face-first in the canvas in less than three minutes. He ate a few shots from the hard hitting McDonald without issue as well to prove his chin can hold up against the harder hitters of the division. Though TJ Dillashaw seems to be firmly in line to get the next crack at Dominick Cruz, Lineker has as good of a case as anyone else calling for their shot once Dillashaw and Cruz take care of business. That said, he needs a fight with someone like Cody Garbrandt (already scheduled against Takeya Mizugaki), John Dodson, or Bryan Caraway. I can't say whether or not he'd be the favorite in those matchups, but his power gives him a great chance against anyone, including Cruz.
Lando Vannata - I don't want to call him Lando, but he earned the right to be called whatever the hell he wants after that performance! He gave Ferguson the biggest scare yet during the title contender's eight-fight win streak by rocking him twice, first with a spinning back fist and then with a head kick Ferguson walked into. Unfortunately he couldn't finish the job to score one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport. Nonetheless, he made a name for himself and will undoubtedly have innumerable amounts of eyes on him now as a fighter to watch going forward regardless of whether he drops to featherweight or stays at lightweight.
Tim Boetsch - I'm not putting him here based on his performance. It wasn't a bad showing by any means as holding down and stopping an athlete like Samman is a notable accomplishment. No, the Barbarian is on here as the win saved his job in the UFC, halting a 2-6 skid. Good showing for Boetsch.
Keita Nakamura - Rocked in the opening seconds, Nakamura bit down on his mouth piece and persevered. He started finding a home for his right hand midway through the second round before dropping a rocked Noke with a knee. Mounting Noke, he continued to pour on the strikes before Noke gave up his back. Nakamura then snaked his arm around the Aussie's neck and elicited a tap with a single second left before the round expired. This dude takes a beating and just keeps on coming!
Louis Smolka and Ben Nguyen - This was fairly one-sided, but Nguyen gained mad respect from even his biggest detractors with this performance. Nguyen started out strong in the first two minutes taking Smolka's back and few times and achieving mount. It was all downhill for him from there as Smolka took over from there, coming thisclose to finishing the fight with both strikes and subs. Nguyen never gave up, escaping from Smolka's mount in the first and trying to do so again when Herb Dean stopped the fight at the end of the second round. Nguyen gained some serious credibility and fans with this performance.
Smolka was the biggest winner of the night though as he was absolutely dominant after weathering Nguyen's early storm. His striking looked more technical, his wrestling was stronger, and his grappling and scrambles were phenomenal. The youngster is getting better with every appearance. He called out Wilson Reis in his post-fight interview and if he is medically cleared to fight just 17 days after this appearance, he could end up earning a title shot if he can beat Reis. I pray the UFC doesn't follow through on its idea to award a title shot to the next TUF winner. Can you imagine a dude fresh off of the regional scene getting a shot over a killer like Smolka? It would be an outright travesty.
Sam Alvey - We all knew Alvey was an interesting guy. He amped up the weird level in his post-fight interview declaring his teammate Dan Henderson will wrest the belt from Michael Bisping whenever that fight takes place. Let's get one thing clear about his predictions: he has a better chance of becoming vice president than he does of winning the title. Post-fight antics aside, the Smilin' one needed a win to stay employed and he got it in the most unexpected way possible by scoring a guillotine choke on a submission expert in Eric Spicely.
Cortney Casey - Casey already had a reputation as an exciting fighter. Now she might be able to add dangerous to her resume as she absolutely tore through Cristina Stanciu without issue. She still has quite a way to go before she can be in title talks, but runs to the top usually start with an emphatic statement. She just made a HUGE statement.
Rani Yahya - I was hesitant to put him here as it was his usual smoothering display of BJJ that does nothing for casual fans. Then I remembered it was on Fight Pass which means he wasn't seen by casual fans. Plus, he got a late submission. With those in mind, how could this have been a bad night for Yahya?
Michael McDonald - It's been three years since I've been impressed with a McDonald performance. He was brutalized by Urijah Faber in December 2013. Masanori Kanehara, who isn't even on the UFC roster now, manhandled him before McDonald scored a Hail Mary submission. And now he has fallen short in a slugfest to Lineker. No shame in that as most people on the planet would and that was his best avenue to victory. But for someone with the physical gifts that he has you'd think that he'd have multiple routes. I'd say training at a smaller camp is starting to catch up with him as he seems stuck in 2012. Hopefully he makes the changes necessary to start fulfilling his potential whether that means moving to a bigger camp or not as what he's doing right now isn't working for him.
Aleksey Oleinik - A boring performance + a mutilated face + a loss = a horrible night. The well-traveled vet didn't look good in his return from a 20-month absence. He appeared to have a couple of opportunities to score a submission too and he just couldn't cinch one in. I don't see him being cut, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it happen either.
Josh Samman - There may not have been a more disappointing performance than Samman's. He inexplicably clinched up with Boetsch in the first round, which plays right into Boetsch's strengths. After being berated by his corner in between rounds, Samman did try to get his vaunted kicks going only for Boetsch to catch one and take him down to the ground and keep him there until the ref stopped the fight. Samman's face looked bad and his formerly rising star is looking quite dim. Here's hoping he can get back on track as he is one of the good guys of the sport.
Kyle Noke - He couldn't hold on for one more second. That's all that was left on the clock when he tapped out. One lousy second! It's no guarantee, but he could end up being cut with this loss. Fun fact time! With one exception, he has lost every fight he was favored in and won every fight he was the underdog in going back through his last eight appearances. The lone exception? A pick ‘em fight he won over Jonavin Webb that most feel he lost. Maybe he's better off as the underdog...
Ben Nguyen - I know, I know. I already put him in the winners docket. But did you see the beating he took? I couldn't not put him here after that! He's going to have nightmares about Smolka's elbows.
Lauren Murphy - Murphy is one of my favorites at 135 as she pushes the action. Unfortunately she has mostly been pushing the action against the cage in her UFC stint and was upset by newcomer Katlyn Chookagian. Murphy just couldn't cut the angles she needed to catch the natural flyweight and is now 1-3. She isn't going to be cut, but she is on thin ice.
Eric Spicely - When you're considered a submission expert and you lose by submission to a striker, that's anything but a good night. The UFC hasn't been as forgiving to its TUF alumni making their debut as of late. He could very well be one-and-done for his UFC run.
Cristina Stanciu - She was absolutely steamrolled by Casey which could end up in her release. That may not be a bad thing as she is only 22 and could easily end up back in the organization before too long, but she wasn't even competitive. She has potential and is a blast to watch when she gets going. I hope we see her again if this is the end of the line... for now.
Cody Pfister - Pfortunately he doesn't have to watch his twitter timeline during his pfights as I'm sure he wouldn't pfind the jokes about his name pfunny. The loss to Scott Holtzman likely leaves the try-hard on the outside looking in despite showing some noticeable improvementsas the loss sets him back to 1-3 in his UFC run. Expect to see him on the regional scene for his next outing. Catch ya on the pflip side Cody.
Lookin' for a Fight - Dana White's hand-picked signees haven't been doing so well lately as both Devin Clark and Matthew Lopez were finished in their UFC debuts to open up the card. Aside from the much maligned Sage Northcutt's disappointing performances, Randy Brown and Cody East were recently finished as well. Should we change the name to Lookin' for a Winner?
Tony Ferguson - Yes, he was on the winning end of one of the better fights we've seen this year. He needed to blow through Vannata if he wanted to be next in line to challenge for the title. He couldn't do that and now I can't see a scenario barring injury in which he's Eddie Alvarez's next opponent. He maintains his reputation as an exciting fighter, but that is the best thing he has going for him as he walks out of South Dakota as he slips into Max Holloway territory which is winning fight after fight without getting a deserved title shot. To be clear, he didn't move backwards with this performance. He just didn't move forward.
Daniel Omielanczuk - He walked out with a win, easily the most notable of his career. He made Oleinik's face look like hamburger. He showed sound technique to escape Oleinik's submission attempts too. So what's the problem? The problem is when no one is awake at the end of your fight to see you get the win, they can't be impressed. Remember when Jared Roshalt got cut despite his 6-2 UFC record? Omielanczuk isn't in Roshalt territory, but that fight was a step in that direction.
Katlyn Chookagian - Chookagian's performance was actually very impressive, pulling off the upset over the always-tough Murphy in her UFC debut. In my book, she was a winner. However, to the untrained eye it might appear that she was running and though she landed her jab time after time, it didn't seem to be doing much damage. I was impressed as hell by her, I just fear others -- i.e. Uncle Dana -- aren't going to be as high on her as I was. I pray that I'm wrong as White's opinion is far more valuable to her than mine.
Scott Holtzman - Fair or not, Holtzman needed to finish Pfister for people to look at this as a positve performance. After all, Sage Northcutt was able to finish Pfister. Holtzman's place on this list isn't necessarily his fault, it's perception. Most fans don't think Pfister is UFC material which means they think Holtzman should have been able to easily dispose of him. Nevermind that he cruised to a comfortable decision, Holtzman couldn't finish the guy Northcutt finished. The MMA universe can be cruel sometimes....
Alex Nicholson - Lucky for him he can eat a shot - apparently from a baseball bat too. What's unlucky for him is he seems to run right into them. While he walked out with a win over Devin Clark, he looked more lucky than skilled as Clark was winning the fight with ease until Nicholson's out-of-nowhere punch landed before the first round ended. I don't see him having a long UFC career if he continues to fight like this. But hey, he got a win.