I’m not sure what was the definitive theme for the night: fast finishes or poor performances by the referees. The optimist in me wants to focus on Michael Johnson, Derek Brunson, and – to a lesser extent – Chas Skelly. Each of them were able to finish their opponents in under two minutes, yet there was even some controversy with the referees within one of their performances, plus a number of other contests plagued by poor decisions.
Even with the controversy with the referees, the night has to be considered a success for the UFC’s debut in Hidalgo. Most of the fights were entertaining even if we won’t be talking about any a year from now. The fans went home happy as a majority of the crowd favorites pulled out the W. And fast finishes are always a lot of fun.
Now that I’ve had a few days to reflect on the fallout of the event, here’s my thoughts on UFC Fight Night: Hidalgo, with every fight and fighter involved broken down. The format is simple. The first bullet covers what was expected to happen and an attempt at a brief summary of what did happen. The next two bullets cover my thoughts on each fighter, how they did, and where they might be headed from here with the winner being covered first.
Alejandro Perez fought Albert Morales to a majority draw
- Expectations/Results: One hell of an opening fight that was marred by horrible reffing and questionable judging. Morales pushed the pace the first two rounds, chewing up Perez’s legs with kicks and flashing a jab in his face. However, after both threw strikes at one another after the bell of both the first and second rounds, Kerry Hatley only deducted points from Perez right before the beginning of the third. Perez turned up the heat and nearly finished Morales, which was good enough to take the last round and earn a draw.
- Perez: While Perez did get progressively better throughout the fight, I thought he should have lost the contest whether he had a point deducted or not. He spent most of the first two rounds backing up under the pressure of Morales’ jab and leg kicks. He did land some good counters in the second, but not enough to take the round. Even with the solid performance in the third, I don’t see the TUF Latin America winner being more than middle of the pack gatekeeper.
- Morales: I can’t help but feel Morales has the brighter future. He did gas in the last round, but he also kept fighting and landed a few good shots of his own in the last round. At 5'9" with a 71", he has some rare physical skills to be developed and a mean streak to go with it. At 25 and with less than two year’s professional experience, Morales can only improve from here. Hopefully the UFC doesn’t stunt his development by giving him opponents he isn’t ready for.
Randy Brown defeated Erick Montano via submission at 0:18 of RD3
- Expectations/Results: Despite being heavily favored, Brown was struggling mightily with Montano. The first was a stalemate as they clinched against the fence the whole time before Montano wrested Brown to the ground and maintained top control for the second. None of that mattered when Brown fired off some quick strikes, causing Montano to drop his head and Brown seized the opportunity to grab his neck and elicit a tap from a choke.
- Brown: Sure, he walked out with a victory. But I think this fight pretty clearly illustrated that Brown isn’t quite ready for primetime. He called out Bryan Barberena in his post-fight interview, but he is nowhere near ready for that. He needs to continue to feast on the bottom-feeders of the division until he is polished enough to hang with a higher level of competition. Even then, there may not be another fighter on the roster I’d confidently pick Brown to beat.
- Montano: To Montano’s credit, he showed a lot of grit by grounding Brown despite owning the lesser physical gifts. Now for the cruel and harsh truth: He just lost to the guy that I wouldn’t confidently pick to win over anyone else on the roster. He just doesn’t have the skills to be a long-term fixture on the roster. I don’t know if the UFC is looking to protect their TUF Latin America 2 winner, but it will be hard to do that moving forward.
Jose Quinones defeated Joey Gomez via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Results: Most – including myself – were picking Gomez to win based on his better striking while Quinones would look to use his wrestling. Quinones did use wrestling, but it could be argued that he was the better striker as well, butting Gomez on his ass multiple times in the fight. Granted, Gomez did the same to him in the second and fought valiantly, but Quinones picked up a well-deserved unanimous decision.
- Quinones: Someway, somehow, the cast of the first season of TUF Latin America continues to surprise. Quinones striking had been poor up to this point and while it still isn’t elite, it’s at least functional now. He’ll stick around a lot longer than expected if he continues to improve on that as his wrestling was already at a functional level. He’ll never be a contender, but he could become an awesome mid-tier action fighter.
- Gomez: It may be the end of the line, which is a shame considering Gomez showed a lot of heart in making the fight competitive and fun to watch. At 30-years old, his ceiling is limited despite being relatively inexperienced. The issue is he has horrible striking defense and limited ability to stop a takedown. He’ll have fun fights, but he won’t win many, if any. I won’t complain if he gets another shot, but I’m not counting on it.
Antonio Carlos Junior defeated Leonardo Augusto Leleco via submission at 4:46 of RD3
- Expectations/Results: Even though his back was against the wall, ACJ was heavily favored to take this fight handily. He did just that, outstriking Leleco the first round and blanketing him the final two rounds and getting a sub right before the bell. The fight wasn’t without controversy as ACJ landed a knee right before Leleco lifted his hand from the ground and was deducted a point. Can’t wait until the beginning of next year to have that rule eliminated.
- Carlos Junior: Aside from the point deduction, things couldn’t have gone better for ACJ. Now he just needs to do it against a someone legit. Then again, it isn’t his fault that he was matched up against a horrible opponent. Any type of experience should be good for him, so hopefully this is a learning experience for him and he can actually begin to fulfill his potential. The UFC needs to continue to spoon feed him, so other youngsters like Alessio Di Chirico or Marvin Vettori are ideal opponents moving forward.
- Leleco: In two fights, Leleco has done pretty much nothing in five of the six rounds he has competed. I can’t think of a recent fighter who has looked worse. There is no chance in hell he gets another fight in the UFC. Ever.
Belal Muhammad defeated Augusto Montano via TKO at 4:19 of RD3
- Expectations/Results: This was expected to be a pretty easy decision win for Muhammad and it almost played out that way before Muhammad scored a late stoppage with ground and pound, becoming the first to finish Montano. Montano did have a strong first round, but succumbed to Muhammad’s volume and takedowns late.
- Muhammad: He didn’t look like the heavy favorite he was in the first round, but Muhammad is usually a slow starter anyway. Once he did find his range, he began getting better contact on shots that were simply glancing earlier to wear down the Mexican. He got the takedowns working in the last two rounds as well. His toughness and technique will likely keep him on the roster for years to come, but his lack of athleticism and power will limit how far he goes. Someone like Court McGee or Siyar Bahadurzada are ideal opponents for him next.
- Montano: It’s likely Montano is going to be released as that is two losses in a row. That’s too bad as Muhammad was the best opponent he faced thus far in the UFC and this was also the best performance that Montano has put on thus far. He’ll soon be 32 which hurts his odds of not only sticking around, but any possibility of him coming back as well. The one thing that may save him is the Mexico card, but that is less than two months away. Not likely.
Gabriel Benitez defeated Sam Sicilia via submission at 1:20 of RD2
- Expectations/Results: This was a pick ‘em going into the contest. I figured Sicilia would use his wrestling to grind out a decision. True to his own self-destructive nature, he fought to his opponent’s strengths and was rocked shortly before Benitez got a hold of Sicilia’s neck and literally put the Washingtonian to sleep early in the second round.
- Benitez: I was really wondering how much Benitez’s wrestling had improved as that is the biggest hole in his arsenal. We didn’t find out. Everything else of his was sharp as ever. Hard leg kicks, short boxing combinations, transitional submissions… he’s got a deeper arsenal than most would believe. I still want to see where his wrestling is at in order to get a grasp of his ceiling, which is why I favor a contest with Makwan Amirkhani going forward.
- Sicilia: Until Sicilia starts fighting smarter, he’s never going to be more than a middling gatekeeper. Well… that is if he can keep his job. That makes two losses in a row for Sicilia. Will Dana White step in again to save his job? I would actually like to see him get one more fight as I think a contest between him and Jimy Hettes would be ideal… if Hettes can ever get healthy enough to return to the cage. There is one other option….
Chas Skelly defeated Maximo Blanco via submission at 0:19 of RD1
- Expectations/Results: You never know what to expect with a Maximo Blanco fight. This really was no exception. Skelly beat Blanco at his own game, rushing out and landing a jumping front kick to open the fight. With Blanco trying to scramble off of his butt, Skelly grabbed a hold of his neck and sank in a deep anaconda choke and put the maddeningly talented Blanco to sleep when he refused to tap.
- Skelly: There is nothing more Skelly could have done better to get people talking about him. He set the record for quickest submission in UFC featherweight history and even displayed some funky ninja skills to open the contest. What is hurting him is he still doesn’t have a win over a quality opponent. Blanco is the only fighter on the roster he has a victory over and he may not be around much longer. Skelly called out Darren Elkins after the fight, but no one wants to see that rematch. The winner of Andre Fili and Hacran Dias makes a lot more sense for him to get a signature win.
- Blanco: I totally see why the UFC has been reluctant to cut Blanco. He really is one of the most talented featherweights on the planet. He’s just never put it all together. He has now lost two in a row to first round submission which drops his overall UFC record to 4-5 and he turns 33 later this year. Does anyone believe he’s going to start fulfilling his potential at that age? I didn’t think so either. He’s probably on his way out the door.
Islam Makhachev defeated Chris Wade via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Results: Most figured Makhachev would find a way to pull this one out and Khabib Nurmagomedov’s teammate didn’t disappoint. In fact, this may have been the most enjoyable fight of the evening. It certainly was for grappling aficionados. Reversals, sweeps, submission attempts… this had everything but an actual submission. Makhachev was the one hitting takedowns in addition to exercising more overall control over the course of the contest to tilt the judges in his favor and give him a hard-earned victory.
- Makhachev: I really don’t want to be too critical of Makhachev’s performance since I enjoyed it so much, but that’s kind of the point of this article. His aggressiveness was often the root cause of Wade’s reversals as he gave up position going for a pass or submission. To be fair, Wade is a better than average grappler and Makhachev is unlikely to face many more opponents with the same grappling chops as Wade. More pressing though is the progress of his striking and we really didn’t get a feel for that. I still think he has a bright future, but I don’t want to set a ceiling quite yet until I see more. I just hope the UFC has learned better than to rush him against top competition. Remember what happened when he faced Adriano Martins?
- Wade: While this marked Wade’s second consecutive loss after opening his UFC stint with four straight wins, I actually have never felt better about Wade’s abilities than now. He was manhandled against Rustam Khabilov in his previous outing, but held his own against a similar styled grappler in Makhachev. Though he didn’t get to use it this time around, his striking has been progressing too. I don’t expect he’ll be cut, but he damn sure will need to win his next contest. Though I have no idea who it’ll be against, I can’t help but think he’ll probably pull it off.
Roan Carneiro defeated Kenny Robertson via split decision
- Expectations/Results: This was another crapshoot going into the contest. Crap ended up being the definitive word. Carneiro was gassed after the first round and suffered a foot injury at some point while it wasn’t long after that Robertson was sapped of his energy either. So after a first round with some boring grappling exchanges, the last two rounds consisted of Robertson putting half-hearted pressure on Carneiro while Carneiro tried to counter. No one cared who got the decision in the end as it could have gone either way.
- Carneiro: The definitive moment of the contest – for me anyway – was fairly early in the second round when Carneiro timed a takedown perfectly on an advancing Robertson. Robertson never seemed to commit to his pressure after that point. That’s about the only positive I can take out of his performance as his counters were largely ineffective and he didn’t control the grappling as he was expected to. I can’t say when his foot injury occurred, so I’m going to avoid criticizing any further. Still, I have a hard time believing Carneiro will be able to pick up another win in the UFC as he is already 38-years old and this was a performance that didn’t deserve a win.
- Robertson: Robertson’s performance didn’t deserve a win either and the performance was poor enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if the UFC cuts him loose when I wouldn’t have thought so beforehand. I thought he would be able to survive on the ground with the BJJ expert and he did. But I also thought we’d see a more confident striker like we saw against Ben Saunders. That guy was nowhere to be seen. He refused to commit to his strikes and that was what the judges saw as opposed to his “pressure.” If he does get another chance to stick around, don’t expect a favorable matchup.
Evan Dunham defeated Rick Glenn via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Results: Rare is the time where you walk away impressed in any way with the loser of a one-sided fight, but you can’t help but admire Glenn’s toughness. Dunham laid the punishment on thick and came thisclose to finishing him off with a RNC in the first round that should have earned him a 10-8 score from the judges. Yet, Glenn was still there in the end calling for more. The result wasn’t surprising as few are better at pouring on the volume than Dunham which only solidified his status as a top 15 lightweight based on how he dominated rather than the quality of opposition.
- Dunham: Dunham couldn’t have done more to make the best of a bad situation. He had little to gain in fighting Glenn and everything to lose. He put on a vintage performance, become only the second fighter in UFC history with four fights with more than 100 significant strikes landed. The other, TJ Dillashaw, had the benefit of championship rounds to accomplish that in his contests. Dunham has done it in three-round contests every time. He needs a ranked opponent or one just outside the top 15 moving forward. I’ve seen Rustam Khabilov’s name thrown around, but Will Brooks – once he disposes of Alex Oliveira – and Michael Chiesa are other names that make sense. There is one other name that jumps out at me, but more on that in a bit.
- Glenn: Glenn’s opportunistic nature was the only thing that I felt gave him a chance and Dunham didn’t give him many opportunities. You can’t help but admire the toughness he showed as he was still there in the third round throwing fists. He’ll have more success at 145 where he can better utilize his length in addition to not having to deal with larger opponents. If the UFC brass decides to give Sicilia one more chance, Glenn is a great option. I think that one would be a hell of a lot of fun.
Derek Brunson defeated Uriah Hall via TKO at 1:41 of RD1
- Expectations/Results: There was bad blood between these two, so it was expected to be a war. Despite that, most favored Brunson due to his massive wrestling advantage. He didn’t need it. He landed a hard left hook on the jaw of Hall to drop the striker and followed up with some ground strikes. None of the strikes on the ground appeared to land cleanly, but Hall did nothing to get out of the situation which gave Herb Dean enough reason to end the fight despite Hall’s protests after the stoppage.
- Brunson: It’s time we start looking at Brunson as a legit dark horse in the division. He was known as a wrestler upon his UFC entry, but he’s scored four straight KO/TKO’s using his standup abilities to get the job done. His quality of opposition has slowly improved and now is the right time to give him a sudden jump. Two options make perfect sense. The UFC is going to Australia in late November and its likely Robert Whittaker will be on the card. It’s a fairly quick turnaround, but Brunson didn’t take much if any damage so he should be able to get ready for that if needed. Otherwise, Gegard Mousasi and Vitor Belfort square off in a few weeks. The winner is the ideal high profile opponent Brunson has earned a chance to fight.
- Hall: Are we done talking about Uriah Hall’s hype yet? We all know that he has elite physical skills and they were on display when he scored his upset over Mousasi last year. The problem is that he can’t put it together consistently enough to cash in on his potential. Let’s accept him as a physically gifted gatekeeper who can score the occasional upset against a superior opponent. It is a disappointing fate, but it isn’t as bad as many would like to make it. The UFC should give his confidence a boost and give him a favorable opponent. Chris Camozzi has fallen short every time he faces a ranked opponent, but has been on a roll against all others as of late. I think he’d bring out the best in Hall.
Michael Johnson defeated Dustin Poirier via KO at 1:35 of RD1
- Expectations/Results: The narrative appeared to be the same for everyone: Johnson could win the fight, but Poirier had been on such a roll that no one could see him losing this one. We should have known better. Johnson has won every UFC fight in which he has been the underdog since his debut and result here continued that trend. Johnson’s speed was on another level and anyone without a bias or ego could see that right away. It was only a matter of time before he landed something and boy did he ever. Johnson leveled with a counter right to send him down, landed a clean left as Poirier was going down, and a couple of ground shots before Poirier was out of his misery and the fight was called.
- Johnson: Let’s be honest: we all forgot just how good Johnson was. His loss to Beneil Dariush really could have gone either way, thought the majority of opinions favored Johnson. Then he was a major favorite going into his contest with Nate Diaz and handily took the first round only for a rededicated Diaz to find his rhythm and get into Johnson’s head. All we saw were the two L’s in a row. How nice of him to remind us he is still supremely gifted. At 30-years old, he could still be improving too. So who’s next? I don’t think he’s going to be a contender, but he has earned the right to prove whether he is or isn’t. Nurmagomedov has been the name I’ve seen everyone associating with Johnson and considering it doesn’t seem likely Nurmagomedov is getting a title shot with Conor McGregor and Eddie Alvarez circling one another, I see no good reason not to do it. Nurmagomedov hasn’t beat a quality opponent since April 2014 thanks to injury. Chiesa is about the only other option that makes sense, though I wouldn’t say no to Brooks either as the ATT representative called out Johnson on Twitter following the fight.
- Poirier: Amazing how fast momentum can come to a halt. Poirier looked unstoppable in his first four fights since returning to the lightweight division. Less than two minutes into the fight and we’re all second-guessing ourselves. In reality, the loss reminds us of what we really knew, but didn’t want to admit since we were enjoying Poirier’s run so much: Poirier isn’t a title contender. He’s a high level 155er no doubt, but his athletic limitations ensure that he’ll never get the belt. Doesn’t mean he can’t put on quality performances and score his share of victories. The only fight I’ve seen suggested moving forward is the loser of Beneil Dariush and Rashid Magomedov. That makes a lot of sense and I like it a lot, but if we break the Joe Silva tradition of winner vs. winner and loser vs. loser, Dunham is a fantastic option too. In fact, that is my preferred option.