This card opened up really badly with fights that no one was interested in. Eddie Wineland ended the prelims with a bang and that momentum carried over into the main card to salvage a card that fans were getting restless with. Before that point I was considering putting the fans as the biggest losers of the night. The main event may not have been scintillating, but it wasn't a stinker and was actually better than what many anticipated. Overall the card was an average card with your fair mix of fun fights and blah fights.
Valentina Shevchenko: I doubt she gets a title shot off of this win as she already fell short against current champion Amanda Nunes in March, but she is officially in the proverbial mix after picking up a win over former champion Holly Holm. After taking the first round to figure out Holm's timing and combinations, Shevchenko fell into the driver's seat from there and dominated the rest of the fight. I can't recall Holm landing a clean strike that went unanswered following the first round as Shevchenko's countering offense was in full effect. And has anyone seen spinning back fists used so fluidly as a counter?
The funny thing is that I would actually favor Shevchenko if she were to fight Nunes for the belt as Nunes isn't a distance fighter. We'll have to wait and see when Ronda Rousey decides she wants to come back before we know what's happening with the title, but my guess is Shevchenko gets a fight with Sara McMann moving forward. Either way, I expect Shevchenko to be in the title picture for a while.
Edson Barboza: He's officially in the title discussion. Granted that he won't accept that fight while teammate Eddie Alvarez holds the belt, but Barboza is amongst the elite at this point. His leg kicks were the key point of the match as Melendez was stumbling with every kick by the final round after the beating Barboza had put on them. Pressure has been his Achilles heel, but he was able to fend off Melendez's takedown attempts with ease. There really aren't any easily exposed chinks in his armor anymore. He's going to be floating near the top of the division for a number of years to come.
Francis Ngannou: Three UFC fights, three knockouts. The big man is still incredibly raw, but he is showing that he could be a serious player in the heavyweight division in the very near-future. Granted, this was a fight designed to be a showcase bout for him, but you can't knock him for the UFC giving him a softball. He did what he was supposed to do and knocked it out of the park. Keep an eye on this dude if you haven't been already.
Felice Herrig: It's hard to get an accurate reading on body language after a mere two minutes, but Herrig looked like a completely different fighter from when she last fought in April of last year. The time off did her wonders. The transition from side control to Kailin Curran's back was a thing of beauty, one of the smoothest I've seen in a very long time to sink in a choke. Good to have her back on the scene and good to see her doing well.
Eddie Wineland: Ending the underwhelming prelims with a bang, Wineland proved he still has a little bit left in the tank. His performance wasn't flawless by any means, but he did knock Frankie Saenz down in the first and last round to show his power hasn't gone anywhere to pick up his first win in two-and-a-half years. At 32-years old with a lot of mileage on his tires, don't expect a title run. But he can still be an effective gatekeeper and proved the occasional highlight reel knockout in a division that isn't known for producing too many of them.
Darren Elkins: I almost didn't put him here as the third round ended up being your typical Elkins performance. But the first two rounds had enough excitement in them to justify him being a winner as that was the most excitement seen in a Darren Elkins fight. He survived a few early scares from Pepey and showed some improved striking on his end. Good win for the gatekeeper.
Jason Knight: Let the Diaz comparisons begin. From the staredown before the fight began to him calling Alers a bitch throughout the fight, Knight was pure entertainment in the same vein as the famed brothers from Stockton. Showing massive improvements in his striking, flicking a jab and mixing in an ungodly amount of leg kicks while pushing a difficult pace, Knight established that he is probably going to be around for a while.
Luis Henrique: He showed great improvements in his striking ability to prove me completely wrong about him. While I don't want to sell short his improvements, a lot of it can be attributed to Smolyakov's horrible conditioning. Regardless, Henrique looked good and showed that he has potential to become a fixture for a very long time as he is only 22.
Holly Holm: We can kiss the idea of a rematch with Rousey goodbye. Rousey will be getting a title shot whenever she decides to return and this loss effectively knocks Holm out of the title picture for at least a year. That's a huge bummer for the majority of the MMA world as that's the fight that everyone wants to see. Now the idea of Rousey redeeming her loss seems to be a lost cause.
Holm ate a hard shot early in the second round and became scared to commit to her strikes after that. The majority of her punches she threw at that point fell short while Shevchenko had an answer for whatever Holm threw at her whether Holm landed or not. Holm would do herself wonders if she could develop a threat of a takedown, but that would be difficult for her to do at this stage in her fighting career. Here's hoping she can rebound strongly as she is one of the true nice ‘girls' in the sport.
Bojan Mihajlovic: Yes, he was supposed to lose. All he needed to do was provide any sort of offense and he wouldn't have made this list. But he didn't do anything. You've got to show something!
Kailin Curran: Hard to find anything good in her performance. What makes this even worse is that she was favored by most pundits to win this one and drops her to 1-3 in the UFC. I don't think she'll be cut as the UFC is very high on her potential, but she is doing a balancing act on the chopping block at this point.
Frankie Saenz: It wasn't a horrible performance from Saenz as he had a sound argument for taking the first two rounds. Had he survived to the end of the fight and taken a close decision loss, he could have saved face. Getting pummeled on his feet by Wineland landed him here. He's not going to be cut despite being on a two-fight losing streak as Wineland and Urijah Faber are quality opponents. He'll need to win his next one to remain employed as he is guaranteed to get a sizeable step down in competition.
Alexander Yakovlev: I believe - I can't confirm it -- that he was on the losing end of the most lopsided three round decision in UFC history according to the scorecards. Hard to find any positives in that. He offered no offense whatsoever and couldn't get back to his feet. Consider the momentum he had accumulated in his two-fight win streak dead.
James Moontasri's testicles: That was one of the worst reactions to a groin shot I've ever seen. Only Alessio Sakara and Chris Tuchscherer come to mind right away and I've seen A LOT of fights. No doubt played a part in his decision loss.
Jim Alers: I wanted to say neither for Alers as his performance was pretty good. However, he's probably going to be cut following this loss. Expectations were once high for the former Cage Warriors champion and he didn't come close to matching them. He could make his way back, but I'm not counting on it.
Dmitry Smolyakov: Absolutely terrible showing. Didn't have the conditioning to even last the first round before gassing. He did absolutely nothing in the second which allowed Henrique to beat on him. I'm usually a major fan of the general UFC policy of giving fighters two fights to pick up their first win. I'd be fine with them cutting him loose after that.
Gilbert Melendez: This could cause some argument, but Melendez looked pretty good considering he was fighting one of the elite in the division after being away for a year. He came close to taking the first and second round before some late offense from Barboza. Had he been able to sustain his attack in those rounds we could be talking about Melendez as a title contender once again. He has lost four of his last five now, but keep in mind two of those were controversial losses (Benson Henderson and Eddie Alvarez) and two were title fights (Henderson and Anthony Pettis). Keep in mind that Alvarez is now the champion. He's been losing, but only to the elite. He isn't elite anymore and this fight proves it. But he's still a tough out for anyone in the division and he still has a lot of value.
Kamaru Usman: This is another placement that could stir some argument. I really wanted to put him in the winners column. One of the most dominating performances of the night which reinforced the hype around him. And three 30-25 scorecards? That's incredible! Problem is that it reinforced the idea that no one wants to see him fight as all he did was smother Yakovlev for 15 minutes. Great for his progression, horrible for his marketability. You can't win if no one wants to see you fight.
Michel Prazeres and JC Cottrell: Prazeres needed to win in an entertaining fashion and he didn't do that. Cottrell appeared to make an effort to entertain with submissions from the bottom that had no chance of working, but didn't do nearly enough on the feet either. He did take the fight on short notice and is probably better suited for featherweight, so he staves off being called a loser.
Alex Oliveira: While I was impressed with his fight IQ as he gave the out-fighter zero room to operate, his win is tainted by the groin shot in the first round to Moontasri. We know he can be exciting. Seeing him win dirty is a good indicator for his future. But that groin shot....
James Moontasri: He didn't look like the Moonwalker we all know after eating the shot to the balls. It can't be said he would have won the fight before the shot to the balls, but he was fighting competitively before it happened while offering almost no significant offense after that. Don't want to label a dude a loser when unfortunate circumstances like that play such a significant role in the fight's result.