In terms of pure fight time, UFC Sydney broke the record for the most time spent in the cage. If you watched the fights live, you noticed every single second of it. It was a very long night. That doesn’t mean all the fights were horrible, but when the card ends with six consecutive decisions, it begins to wear on you. So even though the main event between Fabricio Werdum and Marcin Tybura wasn’t a horrible fight, it got a bit of a bum rap live as fans were anxious for a finish. When they didn’t get it, they stuck their tongues out at the performance. Oh well…
Here are my thoughts on UFC Sydney, 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: After three straight losses in the first round, few had faith in Hamilton anymore, making Wieczorek the rare newcomer who is a favorite on the betting lines. Hamilton stated strong, flooring the big Pole and beating on him the first round before fading over the final two rounds, allowing Weiczorek to stuff his takedowns and pick him apart from the outside for a hum-ho victory.
- Wieczorek: Wieczorek performed very much how I expected him to, throwing strikes from the outside with little oomph on them while scoring some nice knees when the distance was closed. I was disappointed in his guard work as he showed more activity from there on the regional circuit. It’s no surprise he had issues with that upon his UFC debut. As he’s still young, Wieczorek should gradually improve.
- Hamilton: I suppose making it to a decision is a victory of sorts for Hamilton. I’ll even say he looked good in the opening frame. Unfortunately, winning one round very rarely wins a fight that goes to decision. I’ll give Hamilton credit that he never quit trying even after he was exhausted, but he didn’t have enough in the tank to do anything to hurt Wieczorek or put him in a compromising position. I have a hard time believing he’ll be in the UFC following his fourth straight loss.
- Expectations/Result: Despite two losses to open his UFC career, the uber-athletic Shelton was a heavy favorite over Lausa. Lausa surprised many when he landed a takedown to open the contest, but Shelton worked his way back to his feet and controlled the fight the rest of the way from there with his own takedowns. Even the judges couldn’t screw this one up as Lausa scored zero significant offense following his early takedown.
- Shelton: Some will say Shelton returned to his roots by going to his wrestling – which is true – though I’d say it was more a good job of scouting his opponent. Lausa is a former professional boxer who hasn’t shown the ability to threaten off his back or put together any significant offense should he get top position. Why wouldn’t Shelton look to take the fight to the ground time and again? When you’ve lost two in a row as Shelton had coming into the fight, you don’t look to test your striking. You look to secure your job by winning and that’s what he did.
- Lausa: I’m bummed that Shelton’s win came at the expense of Lausa as Lausa has some raw tools that, if refined, could make him a keeper for a long time. The problem is that he shouldn’t be trying to develop those tools in the UFC. Lausa is a perfect example of why the UFC would be wise to consider starting some sort of a farm system. I know some will say the Contender Series is a form of that – and it is a start – but it isn’t enough. In the meantime, unrefined talents like Lausa get spanked by better developed talents like Shelton and Magomed Bibulatov…
- Expectations/Result: The last time we saw Chambers, she was getting ragdolled by Paige VanZant over two years ago. How could I pick her coming off knee surgery at the age of 39? To Chambers’ credit, she looked better than ever, pressuring Kassem and securing a number of takedowns with single-legs. Kassem recovered after a rough first round, landing some hard knees and nearly finishing Chambers with a triangle and armbar combo when the fight hit the ground to swing the momentum her way. Though the final round was more competitive, Kassem was still the clear winner to secure the decision.
- Kassem: I figured if the fight hit the ground, Kassem was only going to find success if she was in top position throwing ground-and-pound. I was wrong. The youngster showed a far more advanced guard than anyone believed she possessed when she threatened Chambers in the second with the triangle. Kassem also showed she could go the distance, a concern many had considering she never had her previous fights go beyond 90 seconds. Basically, Kassem answered most of the questions analysts had about her and did so emphatically. I’ll admit her wrestling is still a question, but we couldn’t have expected her to quiet her critics about everything. Having just turned 22-years old last week, she still has a long way to go before she can be called a finished product, though we may have to see her move up to flyweight after missing the strawweight limit by a wide margin.
- Chambers: I know in terms of name value, this is the worst loss of Chambers’ career as Kassem was largely an unknown. But this was easily the best version of Chambers that I can recall seeing. Keep in mind Chambers had been bullied by Kailin Curran before securing a Hail Mary armbar. That’s the same Kailin Curran who sports a 1-5 UFC record. This time, Chambers was the bully…or at least the aggressor. Her striking was authoritative and her wrestling was far more aggressive. I wouldn’t mind seeing her fight in the UFC again despite her 1-3 record. We’ll have to see what happens.
- Expectations/Result: While Camacho has long had a reputation as a brawler, Brown only picked up that reputation since coming into the UFC. So rather than being concerned with who they thought would win the contest – it was Camacho, just sayin’ – most analysts were picking the fight to be an all-out war. They weren’t wrong. The contest started out a bit slow as the two of them exchanged early takedowns before settling down to throw leather. Brown was the one pushing the pace, often landing his punches only for Camacho to land two more in return. That didn’t stop Brown from pushing a harder pace deeper into the fight, only for Camacho to continue countering at a rapid pace. Final verdict: great fight!
- Camacho: Normally Camacho is the reckless one in the fight. Not this time. Though the volume continued to pile up, Camacho remained disciplined, landing his counters as Brown grew more frustrated at his inability to land a punch without Camacho landing cleaner. However, Camacho missed weight by four pounds. When someone misses weight that badly, the calls for them to move up in weight typically follow. However, Camacho would be a tiny welterweight. Plus, it cost him $50,000 as missing weight made him ineligible for the bonus. He needs to get his weight issues solved in a hurry.
- Brown: I’ll admit that Brown is an absolute warrior. Even though most would have grown gunshy after eating the amount of punishment Brown did through the first two rounds, Brown took it to another level in the final frame. I’m not going to say it was the best strategy, but no one can ever declare Brown a quitter. The bottom line though is Brown just doesn’t have the physical skills to compete with those on the roster who aren’t hovering near the cutting room floor. Camacho isn’t a great athlete himself and he ran circles around Brown in terms of reaction speed. Nonetheless, I’ll watch any fight Brown is involved in.
- Expectations/Result: Tuivasa has long been receiving comparisons to his mentor Mark Hunt for both his frame and his KO power. Thus, most believed he’d be able to eliminate the undersized Coulter. They were right. Tuivasa fought stupidly early, attempting takedowns when going to the ground goes against his own strengths and exercising poor technique in the process. He settled down after a while, hurt Coulter with a low kick, then launched himself into the air to place a flying knee directly on the chin of Coulter. As you can guess when a heavyweight pushing the weight limit lands a flying knee, Coulter was out cold.
- Tuivasa: Hell of a way to make a UFC debut. Tuivasa had been a forgotten man after an injury delayed his UFC debut. He’s anything but forgotten now. So long as he remembers that he is a striker with sticks of dynamite in his fists – and knees – then he’ll be good. It isn’t that I’m opposed to the idea of Tuivasa developing a wrestling game. I’m simply saying he might want to actually develop it first before trying to implement it. Regardless, I’m excited about Tuivasa’s future.
- Coulter: I’m not going to say anything negative about Coulter’s durability. That knee would have stopped Roy Nelson when Big Country was in his prime. No shame in being felled by that strike. However, Coulter has no business fighting heavyweights. Seriously, the dude should be cutting down to light heavyweight. Granted, he did stop Tuivasa from out-muscling him to the ground, but Tuivasa’s wrestling technique is nonexistent. Until Coulter is at 205, I struggle to see myself picking him to win any fights in the UFC.
- Expectations/Result: Former teammates at ATT, Brooks’ credentials as a former Bellator lightweight champion combined with Lentz’s apparent wear-and-tear made Brooks a sizeable favorite. Things started out well enough for Brooks, landing short punching combinations and scoring with low kicks. Lentz responded with his own counters and slowing down the pace in the clinch. Lentz went for a guillotine early in the fight off a Brooks takedown, but couldn’t secure it. Come the second round, he knew what he needed to do should Brooks go for the takedown again. He did and Lentz was ready, catching Brooks about two minutes into round two to get his former teammate to tap.
- Lentz: I was ready to write Lentz off as finished. He looked bad against Islam Makhachev – who beat Lentz at his own game – and didn’t look impressive against Michael McBride. I’m not saying he looked wonderful here prior to securing the finish, but he looked to have a bit more in his gas tank than he had shown recently. However, he had motivation for this contest given he is no longer at ATT and Lentz seems to thrive off of bad blood. He’s not going to have this type of motivation for every contest. He’s got to show me more before I believe he’s no longer in decline.
- Brooks: What the hell happened to Brooks? He was considered a legit threat of emerging as a title contender given the proper time to establish himself in the UFC when he arrived in the summer of 2016. Now he has lost three in a row, this loss to Lentz being the worst of them all given the massive athletic advantage Brooks possessed over him. My guess is that he’s trusting too much in his athletic abilities and he isn’t used to the caliber of athletes in the UFC. Lentz isn’t a great athlete, but he’s spent close to a decade fighting them and knows how to deal with them. Granted, Brooks was doing well before he got caught in the guillotine, picking his spots and using his reach advantage effectively. I’m sure he’ll get another chance, but I’m giving up on Brooks fulfilling his vast potential.
- Expectations/Result: Mokhtarian showed nothing to indicate he deserved to be in the UFC upon his debut against John Moraga. Not that Benoit has been much more inspiring, but he does have a win over potential title contender Sergio Pettis under his belt. Mokhtarian started strong, circling the outside while picking his spots on Benoit to frustrate the Texan. However, Benoit began to figure him out before the round was over, landing a stream of punches to close the round. Benoit broke his hand sometime in the first which slowed his momentum, though he was still in control. It all came to a halt when Benoit landed a brutal head kick to Mokhtarian’s neck to put the native Australian to sleep.
- Benoit: I’ll admit Benoit’s boxing technique looked slightly improved, but I’m still very wary about the overall progress he has made since making his UFC debut in late 2013. He rarely varies his approach, relying solely on his punching power. Leg kicks? Nope. Wrestling? Rarely, and it isn’t like he gets his opponent to the ground when he does try. The only thing that has been keeping Benoit on the roster is his unnatural power. His boxing and power make a great base to build off, but he’s never going to advance up the ladder until he adds more to that.
- Mokhtarian: Mokhtarian looked much better this time around than he did against Moraga. However, it still wasn’t enough for him to defeat a one-dimensional Benoit. Even had Benoit not landed the KO blow, Mokhtarian was on his way to losing a decision as Benoit had him figured out. Mokhtarian doesn’t have the power, wrestling ability, or submissions to secure finishes in the UFC. He may get another shot, but I think the UFC would simply be wasting their time.
- Expectations/Result: Young took the contest on very short notice, giving him little time to prepare for the up-and-coming Volkanovski. Though Young did better than expected – largely because he was able to go the distance – he was still thoroughly dominated by Volkanovski. Volkanovski pressured Young throughout the contest, landing a large amount of low kicks and mixed in some takedowns. It was a strong performance from Volkanovski.
- Volkanovski: While Volkanovski’s wrestling disappointed me a bit – either Young’s takedown defense improved substantially or Volkanovski isn’t as dominant as I thought – complaining that he wasn’t dominant enough in an already dominant performance is really splitting hairs. Then again, he admitted he played it safe. His striking did look improved, showing excellent distance management while piecing up Young against the fence for extended periods of time. Here’s hoping he doesn’t have the same issues with getting a proper opponent lined up next time as beating up newcomers on short notice doesn’t help him progress forward.
- Young: Aside from better than expected takedown defense – he was still taken down five times according to Fight Metric – and the ability to scramble back to his feet in good time, Young looked about how I expected. He kept his jab pumping, though it was largely ineffective. There are some pieces to work with if Young wants to be a mainstay on the roster, but he doesn’t possess enough skill to skate by with an average work ethic. Young will have to put his nose to the grind if he wants to hang around.
Elias Theodorou defeated Dan Kelly via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: Despite Theodorou’s far superior physical skills, this wasn’t an easy contest to call as Kelly is the ultimate overachiever. Theodorou utilized a strategy heavy on kicks from a distance to keep Kelly from developing a rhythm in the pocket or securing some takedowns from the clinch. Kelly did have some good moments such as early in the third when he caught Theodorou in a RNC, only for the younger Canadian to escape. Theodorou’s volume was too much to overcome despite his inability to hurt Kelly at any point.
- Theodorou: I don’t want to be ripping on the victory as Theodorou fought intelligently and did what he needed to do to win. But one consistent theme in Theodorou’s wins has been that he consistently beats opponents whom he has a distinct advantage in the athletic department. Considering he’s been working his way up the ranks of the middleweight division, he hasn’t been facing too many good athletes. Now that he’s knocking on the door of the official rankings, he’s gonna have to make some adjustments as there’s going to be opponents who can not only match, but exceed his physical skills. The thing that hurts Theodorou the most: his inability to secure finishes. I’m worried he’s about to hit his ceiling.
- Kelly: Kelly may have lost, but this was very much a Kelly performance. His awkward gait and determination to advance forward created some problems for his opponent, but Theodorou made good use of his speed and quickness to avoid most of Kelly’s serious attacks. There isn’t much Kelly can do about that given his limited physical gifts. Regardless, Theodorou is a more realistic ceiling for Kelly than Derek Brunson, who KO’d everyone’s favorite dad in less than 90 seconds. I don’t know how much longer Kelly intends to keep fighting as he is now 40 years old, but expect him to be a tough test for the middle of the division.
- Expectations/Result: Matthews wasn’t exactly a big lightweight, so there were a lot of questions regarding how well he’d do moving up in weight against a massive welterweight such as Velickovic. Matthews started out strong, using his speed and explosion to get the Serbian import to the ground and control him early. However, he began to fade after the first and Velickovic used his reach to piece up his smaller opponent. Matthews found a second wind in the final frame, mixing in some takedowns and scoring some heavy ground strikes to steal a close final round.
- Matthews: I thought Matthews got some home cooking upon my first viewing of the fight. Not so much the second time around, though I still thought Velickovic won. Nonetheless, I’m not crazy about Matthews’ ability to find success at welterweight if he intends to stay there for the long run. Velickovic’s lack of speed allowed Matthews to get in on the takedowns early. Most damning is the lack of progress that I’ve seen from Matthews. It’s common knowledge that he’s been working with his dad throughout his career. He needs to start receiving some new guidance as his development appears to have stalled.
- Velickovic: I’ve developed a soft spot for Velickovic due to his workmanlike attitude. About the only consistent physical advantage he owns is his size as he’s glacially slow, and lacks explosion and power. But despite those deficiencies, he’s always hanging in there. Matthews is the type of opponent he typically wears down – he was doing a great job of that in the second round – but Velickovic let the young Aussie outwork him in the final frame. Velickovic has no chance of sticking around if that continues to happen. Don’t count on it being par for the course as he knows he isn’t the most gifted of athletes.
- Expectations/Result: Means has long had a reputation as a dangerous clinch fighter, but has made great strides in his outside striking as well. Given Muhammad’s defensive struggles, Means was the pick by the majority of analysts. What occurred was a back-and-forth technical battle between them, Muhammad finding angles to land his jab and short combinations, Means using his length and scoring with low kicks. There wasn’t a much separating them as the contest genuinely could have gone either way. Muhammad ended up getting the nod this time.
- Muhammad: Easily the best performance of Muhammad’s UFC run, Muhammad has become one of the most scientific strikers on the roster. It took a little while to make the adjustment when he made it to the UFC, but his progression in a short period of time has been astonishing. His jab lost a lot of effectiveness when he came to the UFC thanks to his opponent’s being longer and more athletic, but he’s mastered the use of angles in addition to studying his opponent’s tendencies. Muhammad’s own physical limitations will limit him from climbing too high, but he’s going to be a threat to the majority of the division to secure an upset if more talented opponents take him lightly.
- Means: This loss hurts. Means had been looking to secure a breakthrough performance before his prime passes. While a win here wouldn’t have been the win he was looking for, it likely would have led to that opportunity. Means turns 34 early next year with almost 40 fights under his belt. He’s running out of time. He did show a technical side to him that he doesn’t get enough credit for possessing, but perhaps he needed to show a bit more of his primal side against Muhammad as Muhammad’s durability has been a question mark. However, that’s just a hypothesis, nothing in concrete.
- Expectations/Result: Rawlings has been progressing into a more technical fighter -- which is good -- but has also been doing so while pushing a higher pace. Given her gas tank has regularly been called into question, that’s bad. Thus, many saw Clark as a strong candidate to pull off the upset. Rawlings started out strong, securing a takedown and some ground-and-pound, but that was her best moment of the fight as Clark began landing punching combinations high and low along with a high number of low kicks, sometimes using them to punctuate her combo. Rawlings found a second wind in the third round to make a case for that round, but most would agree Clark was the appropriate winner.
- Clark: Clark has been an intriguing prospect for a while, but she never could quite put it together on the bigger stages. She had what many would consider to be her breakout performance against Carina Damm, but I liked what I saw out of her more in this contest. I already mentioned her combinations and low kicks, but the way she mixed them up – as well as hitting the occasional takedown -- kept Rawlings on her toes. I’m not saying Clark was a technical savant as she showed some of her brawling nature, but she’s looking better now that she isn’t worried about being overpowered at bantamweight.
- Rawlings: This is the third loss in a row for Rawlings. I’m not worried about her going anywhere as she has a bit of a cult following. I’d rather not see her go anywhere either as I thought she looked improved. She still hasn’t totally taken to the new style she’s trying to implement from Alliance MMA, but she is looking better. Her early takedown and armbar attempt would have been 100% against type from when she first entered the UFC. Plus, the move up to flyweight seemed to do wonders for her gas tank. Though I though Clark took the last round, Rawlings fought well enough that I wouldn’t have argued someone giving her the final round. Hell, I wouldn’t have argued if they gave her the fight! Expect Rawlings to look better in her next contest as she continues to adjust…if she gets another fight.
Fabricio Werdum defeated Marcin Tybura via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: No one will deny that Werdum looked gunshy against Alistair Overeem. However, some took it as Werdum slowing down rather than Werdum respecting Overeem’s power. I thought Werdum was still among the elite, which is why I picked him over Tybura. It proved to be a wise decision. Werdum comfortably won the first four rounds of the contest. He pushed a hard pace and expertly mixed his shots to keep Tybura guessing. He slowed a bit in the final round, allowing Tybura to land a head kick that visibly shook the former champion. However, Tybura had less in the tank than Werdum and failed to capitalize on his efforts. Werdum took an easy decision in a fight that was more entertaining than your usual five-round heavyweight contest…it just came at the end of a long evening.
- Werdum: This was not the best version of Werdum we’ve ever seen…but it was a pretty damn good version. He overwhelmed Tybura in the clinch a couple of times, delivering some knees that looked like they had potential to end Tybura’s evening early. When he realized he wasn’t going to get Tybura to the ground easily, Werdum stopped putting such a heavy emphasis on getting the fight to the ground and focused on wearing out Tybura with sheer volume. Granted, Werdum’s own defense was shaky and I’m not just talking about the kick that rocked him in the final round. According to Fight Metric, Tybura landed 127 significant strikes at a 49% clip. That’s not good. Regardless, Werdum should be the first alternative to whoever ends up scheduled to face Stipe Miocic for the title between Overeem and Francis Ngannou.
- Tybura: While this contest signified Tybura isn’t ready to be included among the elite of the heavyweight division, he also showed he isn’t very far off from earning that distinction. He has the requisite durability – the lone stoppage loss of his career was a doctor’s stoppage – to hang with the big boys. Though he slowed, I’d still say his gas tank is better than average. Even more important, he continued to throw even when he was tired, winning the final frame in my book. Hell, Tybura even showed good grappling chops by avoiding Werdum’s attempts to submit him in the fourth round. At 32, Tybura still has plenty of time to improve as many at the top of the division should be aging out sooner rather than later. I doubt he’ll ever be champion, but Tybura is going to be a name near the top before we know it.
Well, those are my thoughts. Until next time...