Two events down, one more to go for 2016 International Fight Week. The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale is done and dusted, and after a mostly miserable preliminary card, the main card was highly entertaining and produced some great finishes, as well as that epic -- and I do mean epic -- battle between Joanna Jedzrejczyk and Claudia Gadelha. The champion was in serious jeopardy of losing her title after dropping the first two rounds, but Gadelha slowed and Jedrzejczyk's outrageous cardio and insane striking output just left Gadelha with blood all over her face from rounds 3-5. It was one of the best fights of 2016 and both women should be applauded for their efforts from last night. Gadelha for a valiant push to unseat her rival atop the strawweight division, and Jedrzejczyk for overcoming a rough start to maintain her title. It was a world class title fight that had all of the thrills and spills and drama that combat sports fans love to see.
Victor Rodriguez is away for the next few events, so for today, I will be running Winners and Losers, something I don't think I've done in over a year. Time to dust off the cobwebs and get to it.
Biggest winner: Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Well I already said what I needed to say in the opening paragraph. That was a phenomenal comeback in a phenomenal fight from a phenomenal fighter. It is a joy to watch her compete, and with just 4 years as a pro under her belt, she could get even better! That's a terrifying thought for the other 115ers (and maybe 125ers?) out there.
Judges. The 10-8s in the Andrew Sanchez vs. Khalil Rountree fight were justified, as were the 10-8s for Jedrzejczyk's round 4 against Gadelha. Don't really agree with round 5 being a 10-8 but round 4 was seriously lopsided in Joanna's favor. Use your 10-8s more often, MMA judges! And also kudos to the JJ-Gadelha judging trio for deciding that the elbow that wobbled and caught Joanna off balance didn't automatically win Gadelha the round. This is not boxing judging.
Tatiana Suarez. The top pick on TUF 23 won the strawweight final with a sweet d'arce choke of Amanda Cooper and looked the part of a potential contender in this still developing division. Suarez is a cancer survivor with a very fascinating backstory, which you should definitely check out.
Will Brooks. He took his UFC debut on short notice and beat an unranked but credible opponent. I don't think that was the best Will Brooks we saw in the Octagon, but he showed flashes of what made him Bellator's lightweight champion, and I'm sure it's a personal thrill for him to have gotten this opportunity to prove himself in the UFC.
Ross Pearson. It's no secret that Pearson has struggled with consistency, but in a losing effort, this was one of his finest performances against a highly touted opponent. He really had Brooks reeling with his combinations in round 3, and he was well prepared to deal with Brooks' takedowns. The Real Deal may not be a contender, but he is tough, durable, and keeps an active schedule.
Doo Ho Choi. The Korean Superboy has super powerful hands. Thiago Tavares was content to try and exploit Choi's takedown defense and make it a close quarters, ugly sort of contest. Choi got a little bit of space to fire away his fists, and Tavares was in a seated position in an instant. A perfect 3-0 with 3 KOs, and only 25 years old. I love the featherweight division so much. And yes, I'd love to see him fight the Cub Swanson vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri winner, as he suggested in his interview.
Joaquim Silva. After a bad set of FS1 prelims, the card needed a boost, and "Netto BJJ" used the famous BJJ technique of "punch the other guy hard and keep punching until he stops moving" to put away Andrew Holbrook in just 34 seconds. That was well executed, and we're assured that at least one victorious Silva in the UFC this weekend.
Matheus Nicolau. He's only barely a winner. John Moraga was ranked #6, Nicolau beat him, so Nicolau will surely be ranked in the top 10. Since flyweight is in need of contenders, it won't take but maybe 1 or 2 wins for Nicolau to get a title shot, such is the case with a division lacking depth. Otherwise, Nicolau vs. Moraga was dull dull dull.
Gray Maynard. A win is a win is a win for someone like Gray, whose last win came in 2012. His featherweight debut was a successful one against Fernando Bruno, and while the fight was sloppy, Maynard's chin held up in the wild opening exchange, and even a very declined Maynard is more skilled than someone like Bruno. Good for Gray to get back in the win column.
Kevin Lee. "The Motown Phenom" picked up a short-notice win against Jake Matthews, in what was really a Prospect vs. Prospect fight. He really needed a good performance after the shock loss to Leo Santos and the uninspiring win over Efrain Escudero, and he got the 1st round stoppage (however debatable it may have been) against the favorite. Hopefully he's not thrown into the deep end for his next fight, because lightweight is loaded with talent, and the UFC continues to build him up against guys on the outskirts of the top 15 and top 20.
Jingliang Li. I looked away from my monitor for about 3 seconds and then the fight ended. Chinese fighters haven't found their footing in the UFC, but Li is proving to be an exception, and his destruction of Anton Zafir gets him back on track after the dramatic loss to Keita Nakamura.
Claudia Gadelha. This is a regrettable decision to put her here, as she fought brilliantly through 2 rounds and did well to absorb so much Joanna Champion punishment without wilting and getting finished, but she fought better in the rematch than she did in her first fight against Jedrzejczyk, and the outcome was the same. Her cardio was a question mark coming into the bout, and the fast, grueling tone she set was one she could not maintain. One would assume she can get a trilogy bout, but you can't really ever bank on these things. Next step for Gadelha is a more active schedule, as she's fought far too infrequently since joining the promotion in 2014.
Biggest loser: FS1 pacing. We had three main card fights end in under 3.5 minutes and the main event didn't start until well after 12:46AM ET. More Fight Pass-exclusive shows, ban 10 PM ET start times on FS1, or at least cut out six fights on the main card. That was inexcusable. I don't need to see the same damn promo 6 times in a broadcast. Enough is enough already. I'm typing this at 2:03 AM ET.
Will Brooks. Yep, he's in both columns. This is, however, if you were of the opinion that Brooks should've been thrust into the top 5 immediately. If so, this fight really is a knock against him, even on short notice. At a minimum, he'll need more fights than expected to really contend for UFC gold.
Andrew Holbrook. That's certainly not the best way to return from a 1 year layoff. Gone is Holbrook's undefeated record, and it was a total wipeout in his first UFC main card appearance.
Fernando Bruno. He's got that unique combination of Karlos Vemola's punching technique, Leonard Garcia's striking accuracy, and Dada 5000's footwork and balance. TUF Brazil is mercifully cancelled now, by the way.
John Moraga. What the hell was that? I swear he was quite competitive against Joseph Benavidez the last time I saw him. He's not the #6 ranked flyweight contender anymore, and with that dreadful fight against Matheus Nicolau, the road back to title contention may as well stretch from Los Angeles to New York City.
Let's work! WORK TO IMPROVE! This is a combination of tonight and yesterday. Chris Tognoni won't stop with WORK TO IMPROVE! WORK TO IMPROVE! WORK TO IMPROVE! He's got an itchy trigger finger to stand fighters up at any moment, even when fighters are active and throwing strikes or advancing position. Meanwhile, Herb Dean kept imploring Andrew Sanchez and Khalil Rountree "to work" even as Sanchez was punching Rountree and shutting him down.
Anthony Smith. Zero answers for Cezar Ferreira's takedowns. While he can be fun to watch just based on his willingness to scrap he's at the bottom rung in the UFC's middleweight division, and he really lacks cardio, athleticism, and the technical skills to compete against higher quality opposition.
Anton Zafir. Two fights, two knockout losses in the 1st round. That's the end of his UFC run.
Harley Davidson. Do all TUF fighters ride motorcycles or what? When does this stop being a prize? I want to know how many of these bikes end up getting sold.
Amanda Cooper and Khalil Rountree. They lost their TUF 23 finals, and the UFC is a lot more swift with cutting loose TUF talent these days when they slip up. Rountree looked beyond helpless any time he got taken down.
Thiago Tavares. This really doesn't change anything about Tavares. He's a veteran gatekeeper who will win a few and lose a few, and he certainly lost this one.
Josh Stansbury and Cory Hendricks. These two TUF 23 competitors had an unremarkable contest, with Stansbury getting the majority decision win. Stansbury is guaranteed at least another UFC fight, Hendricks is probably gone, although at least this Hendricks can make weight.
Jake Matthews. This was a tough loss for Matthews to take, but he's only been competing professionally for 4 years and is still in his developmental phase of his fighting career, so it's not a massive setback by any means.
Post-Publish edits (things I wrote in after my tired self forgot to write it in the original article)
Andrew Sanchez. He didn't win the crowd over with his TUF 23 LHW final victory over Khalil Rountree, but it was a thoroughly dominant performance that eliminated any threat of Rountree's knockout power. I know this was a LHW final but we'll surely be seeing him compete at middleweight.
Cezar Ferreira. Mutante is rightly targeted for his repeated problem with getting KO'd or close to KO'd, but this is the first time in a couple of years that I can recall him winning a fight without having his brain scrambled. Smith tagged him, but he didn't fall to pieces, and that's arguably the most important aspect of his victory.