There wasn’t a bad fight to come out of UFC Sao Paulo. There were some that were better than others – as is the case with every card – including a hell of a war between Elizeu dos Santos and Max Griffin that I fear will be overlooked in short order due to the lower position on the card for the two of them. And of course, there were the antics by Colby Covington that stole the thunder for the evening and may have even launched him into a title fight. It’s too early to tell it that is the case, but no one can deny that he hasn’t made a name for himself.
Here’s my thoughts on UFC Sao Paulo, 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.
- Expectations/Result: Golm’s inexperience didn’t produce a whole lot of pause for analysts to pick him for two reasons. 1. His physical talents were obvious. 2. Colombo is probably the worst heavyweight on the roster. Both of those came into play as Golm immediately pressured Colombo against the fence and teed off on the lumbering big man. A takedown followed soon and Golm immediately went looking for a RNC, Colombo tapping as soon as it sunk it.
- Golm: There have been many questions about Golm’s level of competition, but the UFC broadcast team stated he’s had many opponents pull out of fights out of fear, ala a young Cain Velasquez. I can see that being true. Golm’s striking was measured with accuracy, a bit of a surprise given how many strikes he was throwing at Colombo. I like how he didn’t panic when Colombo initially fought off the RNC. He just stuck with it before finally sticking it. I like his future, but I also hope he isn’t rushed too quickly by the UFC. He’s still exceptionally raw.
- Colombo: Colombo stated he was retiring after this contest, then back out. If he wants to continue fighting, that’s fine. He doesn’t look like he’s as shopworn as many other fighters have appeared to be – including one in particular we’ll get to at the end of this – but I’d rather not see him plying his trade at the UFC level. He simply doesn’t have the physical skills to compete at this level. Then again, the UFC has proven it won’t cut anyone either.
- Expectations/Result: I picked Figueiredo to win as damage is the number one component to score in a fight as opposed to control. That proved to be key. Brooks secured multiple takedowns in the first two rounds, controlling Figueiredo. With that control came little damaging offense while Figueiredo mixed in a couple of guillotine attempts in the second with his strikes. The third consisted of Figueiredo stalking Brooks as both combatants were exhausted. It was a close call, but Figueiredo scored the decision win.
- Figueiredo: A lot more holes were exposed in this contest than in his UFC debut, but this was a solid win for the flyweight prospect. His striking was accurate and his power abundant. But his stance was very square, making it easy for Brooks to lift him for multiple takedown slams. There were times where Figueiredo was too content to stay on his back too rather than trying to get back to his feet. He has a lot of talent, he just needs to show better energy management.
- Brooks: Brooks would have won this fight if it occurred 10 years ago. Hell, maybe even just 5 years ago. Instead, the judges have been told to emphasize damage over control, ensuring Brooks wasn’t going to win given his lack of offense outside the wrestling. Brooks landed almost zero offense on the feet, very similar to his performance against Eric Shelton. Brooks is a great wrestler and good grappler, but I have yet to be impressed with his striking during his UFC run. At 24, he’s still young, so I expect he’ll improve in that aspect. Then again, I feel he can only go up from what he’s displayed thus far….
Elizeu dos Santos defeated Max Griffin via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: Given his track record against stronger competition, dos Santos was the favorite over fellow striker Griffin. Regardless of who won, we all expected a great contest. It sure as hell was! It was a back-and-forth striking affair, dos Santos nearly finishing Griffin at the end of the first round only for Griffin to fight back and stumble dos Santos in the second. The final round started out even before dos Santos began to pull away, hitting Griffin with slick punching combinations as Griffin faded to ensure the decision went in his favor.
- Dos Santos: First of all, all the credit in the world for winning that epic battle. Now to breaking down his performance. While I was encouraged by dos Santos’ willingness to go for takedowns, I’m discouraged that he was unable to secure any of them. My guess is that was what he was hoping to do to help avoid Griffin’s return fire as dos Santos’ defense was nonexistent. However, dos Santos also showed his signature heart, battling back from a poor second round and laying on the punishment nice and thick on Griffin. With four straight wins, it’s about time dos Santos received a definitive step up in competition.
- Griffin: Though I don’t believe Griffin will ever be the same after that contest – dos Santos won’t be either for that matter – my opinion of him went up exponentially. His sprawl was much improved, he showed just as much heart -- if not more -- than dos Santos, and came back from being thisclose to being finished to almost finishing dos Santos. Like dos Santos, his defense was horrible too, but I also know I wouldn’t have enjoyed the fight nearly as much. So long as the UFC avoids giving Griffin wrestlers and grapplers, he’s a hell of an action fighter.
- Expectations/Result: Dias was making a leap up to lightweight in hopes of deepening his gas tank. It was a risky proposition, but one that made sense. Still, it was a 50/50 contest. Dias started out strong, pushing a hard pace with leg kicks and slick combinations. He began slipping a bit in the second and Gordon capitalized, putting non-stop pressure on the Brazilian that had him faltering by the end of the round. Though Dias couldn’t make it to his corner without help in between rounds, he showed signs of life early in the third before gassing once again. Gordon capitalized with more of the same, though without the same fervor as his gas tank began running low too.
- Gordon: I’m still not completely sold on Gordon, but he’s inching more and more into my good graces… for what it’s worth. The pace he pushed was insane enough that he can be forgiven for gassing in the final round. Seriously, his pace was inhuman. However, despite gassing, he kept working and found a way to get Dias to the ground and keep him there. I was also impressed that he took Dias down as often as he did as Dias typically has rock solid takedown defense. Lightweight should be an appropriate home for Gordon.
- Dias: Early on, the move up looked good for Dias. He opened with some hard low kicks and some crisp boxing combinations. Then the second round came and everything went to hell. Not right away, but Dias was clearly slowing and was offering nothing, not throwing a single one of his vaunted leg kicks after the first round, ending the round completely spent. I’ll give him credit that he made a credible effort in the final round, but taking ten pounds off his weight cut didn’t seem to give him any extra energy. I’m fine not seeing Dias in a UFC cage anymore as he feels like one of the biggest underachievers in recent UFC history.
- Expectations/Result: It has seemed every time Carlos received a step up in competition, he would find a way to fall short. Thus, there was hesitance to pick him against Marshman even though he was the logical pick. This time, Carlos far exceeded the expectations. Getting Marshman to the ground after hurting him on the feet, Carlos methodically worked to get the mount, then transitioned to the back with his slick grappling chops. It wasn’t long before Marshman tapped out for the first time in his career.
- Carlos Junior: Considering Marshman has yet to establish himself, I don’t want to say that Carlos has arrived quite yet… but it sure as hell looked like he has! Given his inexperience on the feet, Carlos seemed to recognize a less-is-more approach was the best route, sticking to countering the Welshman with basic single shots. He eventually hurt Marshman with a right counter, leading Carlos to snag a takedown. The ground-and-pound he delivered forced Marshman to expose his back, giving Carlos the victory. The pieces of his game are beginning to come together beautifully. It’ll be curious to see who the UFC gives him next.
- Marshman: I can’t say the result was surprising as Marshman is best known as a brawler. The route there was unexpected. Marshman was expected to have a significant edge on the feet as Carlos has struggled with his striking defense. Instead, Marshman was the one who was hurt on the feet. Then again, Marshman’s defense has never been a strength either. I never believed he was more than an action-fighter and this contest does nothing to change my mind.
- Expectations/Result: Price’s aggressive pressure had created some waves as few expected him to find much success when he entered the UFC as an injury replacement. His opponent, Luque, was a brighter prospect in the eyes of many, but was also taking the contest on short notice. It didn’t matter. Luque’s own pressure proved to be too much for Price, stringing together punching combination after punching combination, keeping Price on his back foot. Luque eventually found the right combination of punches that hurt Price, stumbling the American. Luque capitalized with an anaconda choke after some ground strikes, securing the most impressive win of his career.
- Luque: I remember hearing talks about Luque developing into a serious player during his appearance on TUF and thinking those people were full of it. I can now see what they see. Well… I’d seen it during Luque’s winning streak he accumulated throughout 2016, but Price has shown more than any of those he beat during that streak. Luque lost his previous contest when he tired late in the fight. He showed no sign of doing so this time despite pushing a fast pace. Keep in mind he took this on short notice. He’s starting to put all his pieces together. I’m excited to see his continued development.
- Price: This loss could be good for Price. He’s fought like he’s impervious to his opponent’s offense and it was only a matter of time before his lack of defense would lead to him paying a very stiff price. He’ll need to work on his ability to fight off his back foot, even if just for short bursts. He had nothing to offer Luque almost from the jump, not having an answer to Luque pressing and pushing the pace. I still think Price has a bright future. He just needs to learn to vary his attack when necessary. Putting a bit of an emphasis on defense would help too.
- Expectations/Result: There was some question to how Lineker would respond coming off a broken jaw. Thus, his first fight back was a clear step down from TJ DIllashaw, marking Lineker a heavy favorite over the young Vera. The contest went exactly as expected. Lineker stalked the raw talent around the cage, landing a series of hard shots to the head and body. Vera hung in there, trying to turn up his own offense in the final frame after dropping the first two rounds, but to no avail. The judges had little problem making their decision.
- Lineker: A broken jaw can cause some psychological issues as a fighter attempts to come back from such an injury. Lineker didn’t seem to be suffering from any of those effects, showing the same willingness to stay in the pocket and accept damage to deal out his own brand of violence. Perhaps Vera isn’t the best person to test his ability to fight in the pocket as Vera’s best weapon is his kicks, but wouldn’t we rather see Lineker eased back into his comfort level rather than rushed into it? Some have been concerned Lineker was unable to finish Vera, but Vera has also proven to be very durable. I’m encouraged by Lineker’s performance.
- Vera: I was worried Vera would be far to content to sit back and let Lineker push the pace and that is exactly what happened. I’ll give him credit as he was willing to push the pace in the final round and had some success, but why is it that he always waits until the final round to start working? Opponents consistently outland Vera as he relies too heavily on his low kicks to make up for his lack of punching volume. Vera did land quite a few of those kicks, but Lineker’s consistent pressure limited their volume and effectiveness. I liked his clinch work and step-in knees in the final frame, though I wish they’d appeared earlier. I’m still encouraged about Vera’s future, but there are still plenty of things he needs to address to continue climbing the ladder.
- Expectations/Result: Though Hermansson’s improved wrestling certainly made him a middleweight worth keeping an eye on, most were predicting it wouldn’t be enough to overthrow Santos. It wasn’t even close. After a feeling out process, Santos attacked first. Hermansson responed with a failed takedown attempt, though it looked as though he might be able to weather the early storm Santos always produces. Santos had enough energy for a final flurry before the first round ended, landing a body kick with about 10 seconds left to begin the ending sequence. Hermansson collapsed to the ground just before time expired, the referee calling the fight.
- Santos: Santos has looked good ever since his loss to Eric Spicely, but this was by far his best showing since that time. His takedown defense was on point, he was poised, and he mixed his strikes beautifully. There was a lot of talk about Santos being a dark horse in the division before he was demolished by Gegard Mousasi this year. I wasn’t on board with those thoughts at that time, but I’m all in this time. He has enough power to be a threat to anyone and also a better understanding of what he’s going to face as he climbs the ladder this time around.
- Hermansson: This couldn’t have been a worse showing for Hermansson. He scored zero effective offense and didn’t come anywhere close to finishing off a single takedown, imperative for him to find success against Santos. However, Hermansson learned a lot from his first UFC loss and came back stronger than ever. He should be able to do the same thing here. He’s young enough that he can improve enough to break out of the doldrums of the middle of the division. Keep a close eye on what Hermansson’s adjustments for his next contest will be.
- Expectations/Result: Though Trinaldo was only a single loss removed from a seven-fight win streak, I worried age might be catching up to the 39-year old soon. Thus, I went with the younger Miller in what was largely a 50/50 contest. It took a while before I regretted my pick, but I sure as hell did. Miller started strong, securing a takedown after an equal exchange on the feet to take the first round. Miller was unable to keep up with Trinaldo’s pace, wilting under the Brazilian’s pressure as Trinaldo threw heavy and accurate strikes throughout the rest of the fight. It appeared Miller would drop from the onslaught, but he made it to the final bell only for the judges to award Trinaldo the victory.
- Trinaldo: Aside from a shaky first round, Trinaldo’s performance was about all that anyone could have hoped for. His punching combinations were deliberate and powerful, perhaps the best they’ve ever looked. While I admit it isn’t much of a jump from how he has looked in his recent contests, it amazes me he’s able to continue doing so at his age. I don’t believe he has enough time to make a run up to the top of the division, but Trinaldo deserves a chance to move up just as anyone else would. Perhaps he’ll finally get a chance at a ranked opponent… something he clearly deserves after winning eight of his last nine.
- Miller: Like everyone else, I’ve been singing Miller’s praises since his diagnosis of Lyme disease. He’s managed the disease and looked revitalized ever since. Well… at least until this contest. Miller looked lifeless from the second round on. He struggled to answer any of Trinaldo’s attack with any meaningful offense of his own. In fact, he resembled the version of himself before he received the Lyme disease diagnosis. Did he slack on his treatment of the disease or is he simply nearing the end of the road? Perhaps just an off-night? Miller has been fighting for a long time with 40 career contests under his belt. Perhaps more telling, 28 of those have come under the UFC banner. I’m sure he’ll be back, but he shouldn’t be fighting opponents on the fringe of the rankings again until he can put forth another winning streak.
- Expectations/Result: Though Munhoz was ranked higher, Font was an overwhelming favorite due to his seven-inch reach advantage. Font used it effectively from the beginning, keeping a jab in Munhoz’s face with the occasional left straight following up. Munhoz responded with a barrage of leg kicks and using angles to land his own punches with limited success. He eventually found a combination that landed clean, hurting Font bad enough that Font went for a desperation takedown attempt… the last thing you ever want to do against Munhoz. Munhoz sunk in a guillotine as they fell to the ground and Font promptly tapped.
- Munhoz: I’ve been as big of a fanboy of Munhoz as anyone else, but I didn’t think he’d be able to overcome the reach disparity. He proved me wrong. Though I don’t think his strategy would have been enough to pick up the victory had the fight gone the distance, he stuck to it knowing he just needed an opportunity to hurt Font and he’d be able to get a finish. I’m not saying his striking looked bad either; he simply couldn’t land more on Font than what Font was landing on him. Given his miniscule 64" reach, that’s likely to be a consistent problem as he continues to move up the ladder. Nonetheless, Munhoz has shown he deserves his opportunity against the top of the division.
- Font: This loss won’t hurt Font too badly. He looked great on the feet, outlanding Munhoz at a 3-to-2 clip. It was clear the punches had some sting on them too as Munhoz’s face was red just moments into the contest. What cost him was he panicked when he got hurt. He knew he didn’t want to go to the ground with Munhoz, but shot for the takedown anyway when Munhoz landed the combination that hurt him. Don’t expect it to be long before we see Font fighting a ranked opponent again. His aggressive style is just the type the UFC brass loves to promote.
Colby Covington defeated Demian Maia via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: Given Maia only recently had his seven-fight win streak snapped by champion Tyron Woodley, many – myself included – had a hard time picking against the Brazilian. After all, Covington has been unable to win without getting a fight to the ground at some point. Against Maia, he didn’t need to. Covington had said some inciteful things to Maia in the build-up to the fight, leading Maia to come out guns blazing. Covington responded with some good counters of his own, but none of his punches had the same oomph behind them as Maia’s punches, leading to Covington bleeding from right above his right eye. The problem was that was all Maia had in his tank. Maia attempted to get the fight to the ground with more regularity in the second and third, but his shots had nothing on them, allowing Covington to easily stuff them. Maia’s punches grew weak too, leading Covington to outland him with a bunch of pitter-patter punches. It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough for Covington to win the fight. Aside from calling out Tyron Woodley, Covington proceeded to insult the Brazilian audience, leading to him being led out by security as the fans peppered him with trash.
- Covington: While I don’t agree with Covington’s method of getting attention – stating everyone in the world except him sucks – I get what he’s doing. Many will say it’s similar to what Chael Sonnen did, but he also lacks the charm and wit Sonnen possessed, not to mention Sonnen maintained some friendships. Given that Covington’s own team doesn’t approve of his comments, he may find himself without a camp if he isn’t careful. His performance in the cage was strategically smart, but also lacking in execution. Goading Maia into a striking match was the smart part, but only because Maia gassed. Covington was losing the striking until that point as his punches had nothing on them. Notice how Covington had little to no step-through in his strikes? If he gets Tyron Woodley as he called for, those arm punches won’t do anything to the champ. Kind of a shame as I had liked the progress of Covington’s striking coming into this contest. How his wrestling would interact with Woodley’s would no doubt be intriguing, but I think the champ would demolish him if he doesn’t do something with his boxing.
- Maia: Maia is a favorite of most hardcore fans as no one else is the threat on the ground that he is in today’s sport. Royce Gracie may have been in the early days, but that was also before everyone knew what the hell was going on. Maia has done so when his opponents have had proper training. So admittedly, it hurts a bit to see him beaten down so soundly. Nonetheless, I think he still has a few good fights left in him. He showed he can do a bit of damage on the feet, but that he should limit the amount of kickboxing he should be doing too. His gas tank has always been shallow and there is no reason to expect it to improve as he approaches 40. His being unable to secure a takedown in his last two fights is worrisome, but Woodley and Covington – along with Kamaru Usman – represent the best wrestlers in the division. Given Maia’s dependency on getting the fight to the ground, it’s no surprise they were ready and able to stop his takedowns. Maia should be a gatekeeper for another year or two before riding off into the sunset.
- Expectations/Result: It had been 28 months since we last saw Machida in a UFC cage. Even worse, he’d been demolished in that appearance as well as the previous one. What did the former champion have left? No one knew, but most picks appeared to be going the route of Brunson as he felt to be the safer choice. He was. Machida looked to be in good form with his movement and attack early on, looking light on his feet. Then Brunson threw his first serious attempt at offense and it was over. A counter left from Brunson clipped Machida enough to stumble him, leading to Brunson swarming him, putting him out cold with one of the hammerfists he landed with Machida on his back.
- Brunson: The UFC has been making a push to put Brunson amongst the elite of the division. This win may have done just that. Brunson found the proper balance of aggression and patience, something he struggled to do in his bouts against Robert Whittaker and Anderson Silva. With his wrestling in his back pocket, he has all the tools to hang with the big names of the division. Keep in mind he almost finished Whittaker despite having a horrendous strategy against him. Brunson may be one of the beneficiaries of the division being clogged due to Michael Bisping’s reluctance to defend against anyone who has earned a title shot – though I understand what he’s doing, that can’t be denied – as he’ll get a crack at someone like Luke Rockhold or Jacare Souza next. If he can stay composed, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see him beat them.
- Machida: I remember not wanting to see Machida fight again after he was separated from reality by Yoel Romero. That was 28 months ago. I really don’t want to see him back in the cage now. His chin just seems to have deteriorated. You’d think if he was even going to get it back, 28 months was long enough to find it. Obviously not. Joe Rogan may have spoke too soon when he ushered in the Machida Era, but that doesn’t mean Machida isn’t a legend of the sport. However, only Machida can decide if his career is over or not. If it isn’t I hope he can accept being far less than a top contender as his days as a contender are long gone.