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UFC Shanghai: Bisping vs Gastelum - Winners and Losers

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The UFC’s maiden voyage to mainland China got off to a bumpy start.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Bisping vs Gastelum David G. McIntyre-USA TODAY Sports

The UFC has had a very open level of ambition when it comes to penetrating the Chinese market. Previous events have been held in Macau, but that’s not the same as holding an event in China proper. Macau is more of a hub in Asia, but not exactly where the UFC needed nor wanted to be for success in China proper.

So after previous efforts, they finally pierce the veil to stage an event in a market they deem to have massive profit potential. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like they intended to have their best foot forward. The card was essentially China vs The World, which is conceptually fine. Unfortunately, no amount of patriotic fervor can disguise bad fights and less-than-stellar talents in the earlier portion of the event.

Perhaps I should confess this up front — I was under the impression this card started at 7:00-ish in the morning. Turns out the prelims were scheduled for 3:45 am. To be fair, whomever planned this event for the UFC is either magnificently lucky or a low-key genius. Think about it - if you had a handful a fights that had the potential to be that god-awful, wouldn’t you put them on the other side of the planet at an ungodly hour for American viewers, and off television? I understand and even applaud efforts at catering to local markets by using fighters from the region/country where the event is staged. Unfortunately, this also led to certain fighters that aren’t exactly ready for prime time taking up roster spots and putting on odd performances.

Now, I take no glee whatsoever in this. This isn’t a matter of savaging the event for kicks and giggles, but more of an indictment of the UFC’s decisions in this new era of maximizing their earnings in as quick a manner as possible. Maybe the fact that it was the #1 elite MMA brand putting on a show in China was enough to sell tickets and garner generous ratings in the local market — maybe was good enough for them. Yet for all the talk of how significant this all was, it certainly didn’t really feel all that special.

Previous efforts like the return to Japan or even UFC Fight Night 79, headlined by Benson Henderson vs Jorge Masvidal in Korea had a greater degree of gravitas and importance. Then there’s the the initially scheduled main event, which was loudly derided for being something akin to an execution as opposed to a young rising star taking on the old guard. Instead we got the young rising star brutalizing a former champion right off the heels of his title loss where he was clearly dropped and concussed. We’ll address more of that later on, but it didn’t make the state of affairs that much better, at least not in retrospect. Not much about this event really made much sense.

So, that’s the bad news.

The good news? A lot of what was in between it all. We got some sensational finishes, breakout performances, and serious action in some of these fights. While some of the fighters lack polish — and some should theoretically not even be in the UFC — there were some praiseworthy efforts here. I just worry these laudable elements will be forgotten or just not noticed at all by most fans, and these fighters deserve far better than that.

So, yeah. Let’s... (sigh) carve this turkey.

Winners

Kelvin Gastelum - The stocky kid from Yuma left his hometown gym for Alliance and now makes his home at Kings in Los Angeles. And it shows. Cordeiro’s influence - coupled with Kelvin’s maturity and patience - have led to major improvements in his game. A win against a striker known for having a smart boxing game? Kelvin can handle that. The brutality of the knockout will probably get some people to forget he’s coming off a submission loss to Chris Weidman, too. Sure, Bisping probably shouldn’t have taken this fight to begin with, but another major notch you can add to a highlight reel is always great. Kelvin looks like a threat again, and should easily move up a spot or two in the division from #9. Not quite the guy that should be fighting for a title next, but another win and an injury or two, and he might be closer than we think.

Zabit Magomedsharipov - Perhaps the most technically impressive performance of the night, here. Magomedsharipov isn’t just one of the tallest featherweights alive (Will Chope is 6’4), but he’s excellent at using his reach, his striking defense looks good, and his grappling is both aggressive and intelligent. Following up from the German suplex to the rear bodylock leaping into both hooks to back control was just dumb fun. Zabit just does many small things right, and it leads to bigger things down the road. Kicking out his opponent’s base to control them and drag them to the mat was great, and his risk-taking really obfuscates other elements of his offense. The guy took on a very talented striker that is probably stronger than him and isn’t a slouch on the ground, and made it look easy. He’s looking unstoppable right now, and it’s only a matter of time before he faces someone in the top 10-15, and he seems like he’s ready to dive into deep water.

Li Jingliang - I’ve come around big time on Jangleleg (hi, Steph!!) considering his initial fights in the UFC didn’t impress me much. His chain wrestling has improved exponentially, and his ability to land nuclear-level shots right on the button make him must-watch MMA at this point. Most of his UFC wins have been finishes, and he’s evolved to become a more complete fighter with better defensive work. He does have a bit of a steeper hill to climb in an already packed welterweight division, but they’ve brought him along nicely so far. Perhaps this will be the performance where they’ll pull the trigger on him and give him a bigger bump.

Shamil Abdurahimov - First off, there’s no way that dude and I are the same age. He looks like he saw the original Led Zeppelin lineup at least twice. After that horrible fight against Derrick Lewis, Shamil nets himself a big finish, even if it was kind of ugly and off-angle. I can live with it, though. He improves to 18-4 and shows shades of what he did on the Russian and international/regional circuit, where the majority of his wins are KO/TKOs. His UFC record improves to 3-2 as a result.

Yan Xiaonan - This one had me worried. Xiaonan fought a series of debuting fighters for most of her career, which is never a good sign. Then again, she beat experienced Chinese talent Jin Tang in her debut, then went on to defeat hard-nosed PXC standout Gina Iniong and Japanese veteran Emi Fujino. Her striking was mostly on point and she did a great job of keeping her opponent guessing the whole time. Not sure what her ceiling is, nor what will happen when she faces a higher-level opponent. Either way, she’s a fun action fighter, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Alex Garcia - Aside from moving his UFC record to 5-3, Garcia showed off a much more measured game here. Dan Hardy was absolutely right. He didn’t force his takedowns and he kept his striking crisp and technical. It took a while for him to land a takedown, but that’s something that should be a credit to his opponent and not a knock on Garcia. A very good performance with an excellent finish, and we can only hope that it doesn’t buried.

Gina Mazany - Mazany landed two good shots early, then was content to run forward throwing punches. It didn’t look good nor effective. Once she started focusing on takedowns against the cage, she clearly pulled ahead. Mazany even did a great job of regaining top control after losing it, and continued pouring on the punishment. She’s tough and has some serious work to do with her standup and patience, but she’s looked better on the ground than in previous bouts.

Wang Guan - That nickname alone makes him a winner. Dongbei Tiger? That sounds great no matter who you are. Wang was more than ready for Caceres and his quirky style, and managed to do major damage. Another big featherweight, he appears to have the tools to progress and move up the ranks in due time if he plays his cards right.

Kenan Song got signed of two straight losses, but all of his wins are finishes. He continues that tradition here, but may face major challenges at welterweight very soon. Song Yadong is another fighter with a strange record, he’s fought a mixed bag of opponents of different experience levels. At 19, he’s got a lot of potential already.

Losers

Michael Bisping - The man just lost his title a few weeks ago and was game enough to take this fight. It’s bold and nets you a ton of brownie points with fans, but a horrible idea when it comes to long-term effects on a fighter. He’s expressed his desire to fight on the next U.K. card, but after getting slept like this, he should probably sit that one out.

He’s done enough. He was the best fighter to never win the title, until he did so in spectacular fashion, against an opponent he had lost to and he was never supposed to beat. From hated pariah to loveable heel and occasional goof, his career has been a strange but ultimately great ride. He says he wants to fight for fun and paydays, but getting starched like that can’t be fun, and the payday may not be worth it. He doesn’t owe us a damn thing at this point, and he should call it quits already for his own good.

Alex Caceres - Not sure what to make of him, really. His pro record now stands at 13-11, and he’s clearly well past his peak. His ceiling was established ages ago, and he’s still a fun action fighter. Even considering all of these things, it’s unfortunate that he’s taken so much damage. Maybe he wasn’t himself after being walked back to his stool. He had a similar incident of fighting on autopilot after getting rocked early, so it could have been the case here again. He’s talked about making plans for leaving the sport for some time, so maybe he needs to examine those ideas further for his own benefit and health.

Chase Sherman - This loss puts Sherman’s UFC run at 2-3, and he may get another shot. It’s just far from guaranteed. Even though it was a quick fight, Sherman’s deficiencies as a fighters remain a constant factor. Whatever good will his win over Rashad Coulter earned him goes up in smoke here.

Bobby Nash - Nash is getting his walking papers. 0-3 under the UFC banner, and all three losses have been KO/TKO stoppages. Shame it hasn’t panned out for him, but them’s the breaks.

Kailin Curran - I’m surprised she was still on the roster. 4-6 overall, 1-6 in the UFC with what now adds up to four straight losses. I’d imagine she’s getting cut. Then again, I thought that two fights ago. I dunno. She came into the UFC with a lot of potential and praise from her then-coach Ryan Parsons. Maybe a change in training or a foray in Invicta’s waters could be to her benefit.

Cyril Asker and Yaozong Hu- This isn’t entirely about him, but rather management and what the thought process was here. Hu is a talent that came into this fight with a 3-0 record and whose past opponents were 2-3, 0-0 and 0-1 when he beat them. He didn’t look ready here, was gunshy on the feet, appeared to have gassed out quick and spent most of his fight being big brothered by Asker. Sure, Asker won the fight. Let me ask you this - what did he really gain here? He struggled to finish a fighter that clearly wasn’t ready for primetime, and didn’t look too good doing it, either. Asker evens his UFC record out to 2-2 on paper, but this win was so bad it sets him back.

Neither

Sheymon Moraes - Moraes had some respectable wins on the Brazilian circuit and good performances in World Series of Fighting. Despite his talent, his ceiling was already well-established coming into the UFC. Losing to a fighter that could soon be a major threat to the top of the division is going to look great in retrospect, really. That and the fact that this was his UFC debut means I’m not going to hold it against him.

Muslim Salikhov - Another UFC debutante, and he’s got seriously impressive skills. He’ll be a tough out for anyone in the middle of the pack, so he ends up here.

Rolando Dy and Wuliji Buren - Rolando Dy desperately needed a win to stay in the UFC, and he got one. Unfortunately it was similar to the Asker/Hu fight. Clearly, it wasn’t anywhere near as terrible. It also didn’t have the problem of a more experienced fighter taking on a total can-crusher, despite Buren’s record being a bit on the weak side. But this one does deserve a bit of a dinging for frustrating portions of inactivity. Dy had some early success with some good leg kicks and all, but didn’t seem like he was 100% in the game, especially when in top of side control. The win doesn’t do much for him other than keep him in the UFC with a 1-2 record. As for Buren, he scored some takedowns and snuck some good strikes in. But losing your UFC debut doesn’t mean the end of it all, so he ends up here.

Bharat Kandare - Kandare is the only other fighter aside from Kenan Song I can think of in recent memory that got signed to the UFC off a loss, since Ron Stallings got called up as a replacement to fight Uriah Hall. It’s got to be hard to step up from the Indian regional scene to the international circuit with the lack of reliable MMA infrastructure, but Kandare did well enough there to get a shot here (Supa Fite Leeg 4lyfe, fam). This loss doesn’t really tell us too much about him as a fighter other than the fact that he has some clear defensive lapses. Still, he lost to a more dynamic striker. That’s just the fight game. We’ll have to see his next outing to get a clearer read on him.

Yanan Wu - She’s only 21 and shows a fair amount of promise, but has only beaten one opponent with a winning record, and that opponent was 0-1 at the time. Don’t want to be too harsh, but I’m not holding my breath on her moving up the ranks.