UFC Norfolk was a lauded card… for a Fight Night. In the end, it ended up living up to its hype, particularly the main event between Dustin Poirier and Anthony Pettis. Though Poirier was in control from the beginning, it was still competitive, bloody, and extremely entertaining. There were a couple of other memorable moments – the KO’s of Matt Brown and Raphael Assuncao come to mind – to fill in the blanks created by the few low points… which weren’t even that low to begin with. After a horrible week of news leading into the event, the UFC could at least say they ended the week well.
Here are my thoughts on UFC Norfolk, 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: It was surprising to see how many were siding with Roberson, even if I was amongst those that did. Stewart was more experienced and allegedly the better wrestler. It didn’t play out that way as Roberson was calm and collected. Stewart? Not so much. Roberson’s striking advantage was expected, but wrestling, guard passing, and submission abilities? A nice little bonus as he executed a lateral drop, took Stewart’s back, and finished with an RNC.
- Roberson: Roberson’s raw physical skills and kickboxing experience alone make him a prospect worth keeping an eye on. Now that he has shown some ground skills, I’m very intrigued by what he might become. His composure was probably what impressed me the most as he appeared to know how to handle every situation he was put in. While Roberson is still far away from being a finished product, he couldn’t have asked for a better start to his UFC career.
- Stewart: Given Roberson is a bigger and stronger middleweight, I didn’t expect Stewart to be able to bully him upon his drop to a new weight class. However, I didn’t expect him to find so little success. There isn’t enough diversity in his approach as opponents know what he’s going to do and he isn’t strong or athletic enough to impose his will upon them whether they like it or not. I expect he’ll get another fight in the UFC, but Stewart needs to deepen his skill set if he is to stick around.
- Expectations/Result: Given Collier’s volume and lack of durability, he was either going to win a decision or get finished by Fortuna before 15 minutes was up. Fortuna had his opportunities to finish Collier, landing some hard shots and opportunities to snag a submission, but Collier’s chin held up in addition to scrambling away in time when Fortuna got him to the ground. Fortuna’s energy level doomed him in the end as he was unable to keep up with Collier’s output.
- Collier: While I didn’t see anything new out of Collier’s skill set I haven’t seen before, I’m still encouraged by his performance. He threw his usual steady amount of volume, putting together solid combinations to keep Fortuna off balance, but also did so without getting too reckless, an issue he’s had in the past. Plus, he survived some vicious shots from Fortuna. Either Collier’s chin is better than I thought or Fortuna’s power is overrated. Time will tell.
- Fortuna: Fortuna lost and deservedly so… but he didn’t have a terrible performance. He was particularly competitive early, landing his selective strikes at a high clip while having far more oomph to them than anything Collier threw. However, he gassed, which affected his accuracy more than his output as he lost all crispness in his punches. What is disappointing is his inability to score takedowns and keep Collier down when he did. Fortuna has the skills to find success in the UFC. He just needs to sharpen those skills.
- Expectations/Result: Strickland has a bad habit of inactivity, leading to me believing McGee would be able to outwork the bigger, stronger, and younger favorite. There were times where that was the case as McGee continued to move forward throwing an overwhelming mix of punches and kicks. Strickland kept his jab out there in response, but it was his ability to ragdoll McGee when he decided to wrestle in addition to stuffing all of McGee’s attempts. Well-deserved win for the youngster.
- Strickland: I said the win was well-deserved and I meant it. But I was still discouraged by a chunk of Strickland’s performance. Why wasn’t he attempting to wrestle McGee sooner? It was clear he was stronger than McGee and McGee’s constant forward motion likely would have made it difficult to stop the youngster from completing the takedowns. After all, he completed every takedown he attempted. On the positive side, his jab looked great and he threw a lot of volume. However, I would like to see him incorporate low kicks into his arsenal. Nonetheless, he’s steadily progressing.
- McGee: An overachiever since his time on TUF, McGee has always faced an uphill battle. However, he appears to be losing some of his already limited physical skills, making the climb even tougher. He struggles to disguise his shots as he doesn’t have a lot of burst which ended up stalling his attack completely when he went for the takedowns. Nonetheless, this was the best performance from McGee in quite some time. His attack never wavered when he concentrated on the striking and he never looked tired. Though he’s known for his gas tank, that’s something that has shown signs of fading in recent contests. It was back in full effect. He’s not done yet, but he’s getting near the end of the line.
- Expectation/Result: Given Hill has been the busier fighter, we’ve seen her progression more often which is why she was the favorite. The fight started as expected, both trading strikes with reckless abandon, though Hill was ahead ever so slightly. Ansaroff seemed to concentrate a large chunk of her attack on Hill’s legs, which seemed to take an adverse effect on Hill’s mobility the deeper the contest went. It allowed Ansaroff to slowly pull ahead in her volume over the final two rounds to take the decision.
- Ansaroff: Brilliant performance from Ansaroff. She played to her own strengths -- which happened to be Hill’s own strengths -- but was able to find a way to weaken Hill to pull ahead in the end. The risky part of the plan was her need to rely on her own toughness to weather the storm, but it worked. Plus, the amount of volume Ansaroff threw was completely ridiculous. Hill threw a lot, but Ansaroff still found a way to throw almost 80 more strikes according to Fight Metric. Her time with ATT is paying off. Ansaroff continues to improve, making her a dark horse in the strawweight division.
- Hill: Hill has nothing to be ashamed of. She fought her fight and she fought hard. She just found someone who knew what to target to slow her down… and a deeper gas tank. Hill’s biggest advantage was in the clinch, but she struggled to get the fight there in part because of the barrage Ansaroff landed on her legs. Though the loss is disappointing, it is likely just a hiccup for Hill. Her professional debut was less than four years ago. She should continue to improve.
- Expectations/Result: Even though the young Northcutt continues to receive heavy criticism from fans, he was still the favorite over the one-dimensional Quinones. Northcutt’s victory wasn’t a surprise, but his dominance was. Northcutt displayed mastery of a jab that he had never displayed before. Quinones tried answering with his low kicks, but they didn’t have nearly the impact of Northcutt’s steady stream of punches, giving Northcutt his most impressive victory.
- Northcutt: Though much of the criticism towards Northcutt has been deserved, he may be starting to turn the tide. Given it has been 11 months since we last saw Northcutt, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise Northcutt showed vast improvement. It isn’t just his jab – and range management – that had Northcutt looking improved. He timed his power doubles beautifully at the end of every round, showing the beginnings of a wrestling game that would be a welcome change of pace. Then again, Quinones is a horrible wrestler himself. I’m sure things will be different once Northcutt faces a decent wrestle-grappler. I question whether a long-term association with Team Alpha Male is good for him, but it seems to be doing well for him for now.
- Quinones: After the way Quinones was manhandled by Jared Gordon, I questioned whether he’s a UFC caliber talent. Thus, I understood why the UFC matched him opposite Northcutt. Now there is no doubt Quinones doesn’t belong. His varied kicking game isn’t enough, especially when he has shown no wrestling ability.
- Expectations/Result: The winner of TUF 23, Suarez hadn’t been seen since that victory due to injury. Despite that, the former Olympian hopeful was a heavy favorite as Pereira hadn’t shown much in the wrestling department. The fight went exactly as expected. Suarez took Pereira down at will and maintained top control for about 80% of the contest. It wasn’t the most entertaining contest, but it was encouraging for the prospects of Suarez.
- Suarez: Suarez may not have displayed any skills we didn’t know she already had, but the ease in which she enforced her will on Pereira was impressive. She passed through Pereira’s guard like it was butter on multiple attempts. She may not have been able to get the submissions she was seeking, but that is more a credit to Pereira’s submission defense than a knock against Suarez. The one thing I worry about is her striking. She hasn’t shown any progress with her fists. Regardless, given the lack of wrestling in women’s strawweight, Suarez is seen by many as a future title contender by many. I’m firmly in that camp.
- Pereira: Maybe someday Pereira will learn that a guillotine is a poor defense to stop a takedown. I can’t count the amount of times she went for that. Pereira was so concerned about Suarez’s takedowns that she never let her fists fly at the beginning of every round, the only time she had to fight on her feet. I’ll give her that she showed a good fighting spirit as she never allowed herself to be finished, but that’s about the only positive that can be stated. Regardless, Pereira is still going to be a long-term fixture in the division. Who else is going to expose her weakness to wrestling?
- Expectations/Result: Though there was hardly a consensus on the contest, there seemed to be a slight majority leaning towards Dodson after Moraes allowed Raphael Assuncao to dictate the pace upon Moraes’ UFC debut. Instead, Moraes learned his lesson from that contest, pushing a faster pace on Dodson with an emphasis on kicks. Dodson had his typical explosive moments, including a sudden knockdown in the first round, but also appeared to fight a bit more tentatively after a bad low blow towards the end of the opening frame. That gave Moraes just enough of an edge, securing the final round in the eyes of most – and the victory -- with a guillotine attempt that saw Dodson tap after the bell rung at the end of the fight.
- Moraes: Had Moraes lost, the narrative would have firmly become that he was a massive free agent bust. It should be remembered Eddie Alvarez’s UFC career started in a similar fashion. Alvarez’s first UFC victory? A controversial split decision over Gilbert Melendez. Just saying. Aside from the kicks, Moraes became the first man outside of Demetrious Johnson to take Dodson to the ground, showing more wrestling than most give him credit for. However, his heel hook attempts in the second were foolish. Here’s hoping he can eliminate the stupid risks from his repertoire. If he can, he can be the title contender he was advertised upon his entry. He did call for a fight with Jimmie Rivera. If he gets that contest and wins it – a plausible outcome -- Moraes is immediately in title contention.
- Dodson: Dodson fought well enough that a case could easily be made that he should have won. It could also be argued Moraes should have had a point deducted after the first round. Unfortunately, much like his contest with John Lineker, Dodson came out on the short end of the stick. A lack of volume once again appeared to do him in as Dodson is very reliant on his power to end fights in an instant. That didn’t happen and Dodson didn’t have the same explosion towards the end of the contest that he possessed earlier, allowing Moraes to hang around and ultimately steal the decision. That strategy works against less athletic fighters such as Manny Gamburyan and Eddie Wineland, not so well against better athletes with some durability… such as Moraes.
- Expectations/Result: Lauzon is known as a fast starter while Guida’s durability is declining. Plus, Guida has always had a weakness to strong submission artists. How could Lauzon not be the favorite? Well… Guida was the one who started out fast, catching Lauzon with an uppercut in the midst of a combo to floor the lightweight mainstay. A series of hammerfists and elbows later and the referee called a stop to the action -- a bit late in my opinion -- giving Guida his first stoppage since 2011.
- Guida: It’s safe to say no one saw that coming from Guida. He’s never been known as a striker, usually grinding out his opponent with his wrestling. I don’t know if the knockdown can be attributed to Guida making improvements in his striking or if he simply got lucky, but it was about the best performance he could have hoped for given he’s a free agent now. The UFC brass has been notoriously cheap since the sale last summer, so I don’t know if he’s going to be back in the UFC despite the support from the fans in the arena.
- Lauzon: Given his fast fade against Marcin Held, it could be argued Lauzon has lost four in a row. Not to mention, he was finished by Guida. Unless Guida ends up finishing off his next opponent in a similar fashion, that’s going to look really bad for Lauzon… not that it doesn’t look bad anyway. Every passing fight makes it look more and more like Lauzon is long past his prime and on a fast decline. I’m sure the longtime fan favorite will get another opportunity to prove he’s still got something in the tank, but the UFC will have to be scraping the bottom of the barrel to find someone whom I’d favor Lauzon against.
Raphael Assuncao defeated Matthew Lopez via KO at 1:50 of RD3
- Expectations/Result: Most believed Lopez was in over his head against the steady Assuncao. That very much proved to be the case. Lopez started out competitive enough, but Assuncao let loose a barrage of kicks to the thigh of Lopez that began affecting the youngsters mobility. In the final round, Assuncao began stalking Lopez rather than waiting for the counter. He nailed Lopez with a brutal right hand shortly after missing on a missed flying knee for his first stoppage win since 2013.
- Assuncao: It was a textbook performance from Assuncao. Though I acknowledge it’s still a longshot that Assuncao will get the next title shot, he’s at least in the conversation now. He has the track record with ten wins in his last eleven contests, his lone loss coming to the current champion TJ Dillashaw. What he doesn’t have is the personality or fight style to attract fans. Securing this knockout helps change that narrative, even if it only helps a little. Despite the impressive resume and now a highlight reel finish, it likely isn’t going to be enough for Assuncao. If he can get the fight against Rivera that Moraes called for – and get a win – there won’t be an argument against Assuncao that anyone can legitimately make.
- Lopez: Not a good evening for Lopez. He did look competitive in the first round, but he also didn’t do anything to check the leg kicks coming from Assuncao. There’s a good chance he’ll look into doing something about that in his next contest. The kicks not only limited his mobility on the feet, it killed his burst to shoot for takedowns as he never threatened to get the fight to the ground after the first. Not all was bad though. He did look better on the feet, mixing up his strikes to all levels. Still, this was a case of too much, too soon for Lopez. Look for him to meet someone more on his level next such as Brian Kelleher or Marlon Vera.
- Expectations/Result: Anyone who knew anything about these two were dreading this contest. Possibly the two chinniest middleweights on the roster, it was anyone’s guess whose chin would last longer. The first half of the contest saw them largely staring at one another as they circled one another, intermittently throwing a punch or a kick. The action got better after that, Marquardt ending round two with a flurry while Ferreira dominated the third with his wrestling. The deciding round was the first with two siding with Ferreira.
- Ferreira: While Ferreira deserves credit for protecting his chin, this wasn’t the type of performance he needed to inspire anyone to believe he’s going to continue to climb the ranks. He did everything he could to avoid engaging in any prolonged exchanges and came out on the wrong end whenever they did. Nonetheless, I don’t disagree with the decision as Ferreira attacked Marquardt’s legs with a steady stream of kicks the opening round, making it fair to assume he took a largely uneventful first round. However, I don’t think it was wise for him to call out Paulo Costa given Ferreira’s history of KO losses. I suppose the fight makes sense on paper as Ferreira has won four of his last five and if you have beef you want to squash it.
- Marquardt: Does anyone know how many more fights Marquardt has left on his UFC contract? I’d imagine he’s near the end of the road given he is 3-9 in his last 12 contests. Granted, he has faced some solid competition in that run, but he’s only around because the UFC is simply letting contracts run out rather than cutting anyone loose. Marquardt can still win some fights as he still has enough power in his fists to put someone out cold, but he’s also slower and far more chinny than he used to be. I’d say the UFC should be moving on.
- Expectations/Result: Most were picking the younger Albini to find Arlovski’s chin and build up his resume off the former champion. Going against the grain, I picked Arlovski as his recent losses came against established talent… something Albini isn’t. Albini started out strong enough, landing his fair share of strikes and slowing down the action in the clinch. However, Arlovski remained more active, throwing kicks and picking his spots to engage. The deeper the fight went, the better Arlovski looked as Albini’s gas tank faded quickly.
- Arlovski: The chic thing to do was pick against Arlovski no matter who he was fighting while forgetting he was competitive in most of his losses during his recent five-fight losing streak. Plus, all the names he lost to were top ten talents when he fought them. Albini? Not so much. Arlovski is still a superior athlete against the majority of the division, even at 38-years old, showing that against a much younger Albini with his movement around the cage. He appears to have lost some of his power as he hit Albini with some clean shots, but the Brazilian wasn’t going anywhere. Nonetheless, Arlovski established he still has something to offer as a gatekeeper whom up-and-coming youngsters will look to make a name off of.
- Albini: Albini needed the win in the worst way. Not because he needs to move up the ladder in a hurry. He’s only 26-years old, he has plenty of time to improve. No, it’s because he fought with his shorts rolled up so it looked like he was wearing a diaper. Seriously, if you’re going to pull off a gimmick that ridiculous, you need to be! Really good!!! Aside from that, Albini showed several areas he could improve. He needs to be more active in the clinch as he spent more time resting from there than he did trying to do damage to Arlovski. Had he made a greater effort from there, he may have been able to swing the judges over to his side. His shallow gas tank exacerbated that issue and also saw him roaming around the cage with his hands low for long periods of time. He’d do well to mix in some body shots too. Albini is going to be fine, he just needs more seasoning.
Matt Brown defeated Diego Sanchez via KO at 3:44 of RD1
- Expectations/Result: You’d expect the fighter who announced the fight to be their last one to be the fighter fans and media are worried about suffering a brutal KO. Not in this case. Brown has taken his share of damage over the years, but had shown he still has a reasonable threshold for damage. Sanchez hadn’t. Thus, Brown was heavily favored. Sanchez was the aggressor, attempting to clinch up and wrest Brown to the ground. Brown wasn’t having any of it, but was struggling to get his own offense going. Brown finally caught a kick from Sanchez, backed him up against the fence, dropped the leg and unleashed a single elbow that put Sanchez out cold.
- Brown: The longtime mainstay couldn’t have asked for a better way to end his career… if this is indeed the end. Many time’s fighters have declared a contest to be their last only to back off those words in a short matter of time. Remember Vitor Belfort declaring that his bout with Marquardt in June was going to be his last fight? He’s now scheduled to face Uriah Hall. That’s just one example. Brown was noncommittal when directly asked if it was his last fight, indicating there is a strong chance we see him in the cage again. There are certainly fights he can still win, but here’s hoping the UFC takes care to not be sending him off to the slaughterhouse.
- Sanchez: I have no right to tell Sanchez when to retire. It’s his career, his job, his livelihood. It’s his choice how he makes a living and his choice what he may potentially sacrifice. But I can state that I no longer take pleasure in watching Sanchez fight inside of a cage. When the man was able to take a seemingly impossible amount of damage, it could induce cringing. It’s even worse now as he can’t take a fraction of the punishment anymore. To his credit, he recognizes this, refusing to engage in the brawls that were once his trademark and returning to his original wrestle-grapple roots. Given he’s looking to physically overwhelm his opponents, can someone tell me why in the hell he went back up to welterweight?
Dustin Poirier defeated Anthony Pettis via submission at 2:08 of RD3
- Expectations/Result: There were numerous reasons to pick either Poirier or Pettis. Pettis represented the superior athlete with a penchant for the explosive. Poirier thrived in chaos and was a superior wrestler. When the action began, Poirier took Pettis down after eating a few kicks and immediately began looking to deal out punishment. It didn’t take Pettis long to get back to his feet where they exchanged evenly until the end of the round when Poirier began laying on the punishment on thick, rocking Pettis before the round ended. The second round was mostly spent on the ground, Poirier dealing out punishment, opening up a cut above Pettis’ eye early while Pettis tried continually to cinch in a submission, almost securing a tap from the triangle choke near the end of the round. Poirier picked up where he left off in the second, taking Pettis to the ground. Unable to secure a RNC, Poirier maintained the triangle on the body as he transitioned to the front, injuring Pettis’ ribs in the process and eliciting the tap, creating an anti-climactic end to an excellent fight.
- Poirier: Poirier utilized a smart strategy, keeping Pettis on his back where his kicks couldn’t possibly turn out his lights. Poirier has always had solid ground-and-pound, but his onslaught here was on a completely different level than anything he’d displayed before. His ability to escape from Pettis’ submission attempts was impressive too. The former featherweight had a reputation for falling when the lights were brightest, having lost every other co-main or main event he had appeared in. It could be said this is his coming out party as an official contender. Poirier stated he was facing the winner of Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje as if it was a matter of fact rather than a call out. Given the controversial ending to his contest with Alvarez earlier this year, the UFC brass may grant him that wish.
- Pettis: Though there weren’t many who believed he’d make the climb back into contention, it’s safe to say the idea of Pettis once again becoming a contender has been smashed. He simply doesn’t have the jaw-dropping athleticism he once possessed, making it far more difficult for him to snag the highlight reel that were the staples of his arsenal. Without that, he has to rely on his toughness. That’s enough to win quite a few fights, but not against the elite. Not everything from this contest was negative. Aside from the display of toughness – becoming his new trademark – Pettis’ submissions came close to stealing the victory from Poirier. He’s still a tough test for most, but he’s not the transcendent talent many predicted he would be when he held the title.
Well, those are my thoughts. Until next time....