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Hindsight - UFC Shanghai: Bisping vs. Gastelum in retrospect

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Get the thoughts and musings of Dayne Fox on UFC Shanghai, from the multitude of debuting fighters to the attempt to bounce back from recent middleweight kingpin Michael Bisping against Kelvin Gastelum.

Admittedly, there isn’t a whole lot to take from UFC Shanghai. There were an inordinate amount of fighters making their UFC debut and quite a few of them weren’t properly qualified to be making their debut. Nonetheless, the main event featured a man who was a UFC champion less than a mere month ago. And yet… it still didn’t feel like an important contest given its status as a main event. Thus, these are the days of the UFC under WME-IMG.

Here are my thoughts on UFC Shanghai, 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.

Cyril Asker defeated Hu Yaozong via submission at 2:33 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: On the short end of the experience stick and taking the contest on short notice, nobody realistically expected anything out of Yaozong. Outside of a standing guillotine attempt in the first round, Yaozong landed zero offense as Asker scored easy takedowns against the fence and landed steady ground-and-pound before the fight was stopped in an unimpressive victory.
  • Asker: While I don’t think Asker necessarily looked bad, he needed to get Yaozong out of there in a hurry if he wanted to convince anyone he was someone who could develop into a name worth keeping an eye on. He couldn’t do that fast enough. That doesn’t mean Asker is going to go winless over the rest of his UFC stint, but it’s hard to see him securing wins over anyone who doesn’t reside near the bottom of the division. I get he was playing it safe as a potential loss here would have been devastating, but I still believe it’s fair to have expected more out of him.
  • Yaozong: I really hope Yaozong is a one-and-done fighter for the UFC, but I doubt that will be the case as he did the UFC a favor on short notice. He’s far too green to be fighting in the UFC, even if he has been receiving training at Jackson-Wink. His standing guillotine does offer promise, but that’s about the only thing I liked and that isn’t nearly enough to make for a successful career.

Rolando Dy defeated Wuliji Buren via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: In a modern striker vs. grappler contest, Dy had shown more ability in his opponent’s area of strength – the wrestling aspect -- giving him the edge in the eyes of most analysts. Buren found some success, getting Dy to the ground in every round, but did little once he got the fight where he wanted; even let Dy take control on the ground at times. Dy’s aggression faded as Buren secured more takedowns, though Buren’s limited offense on the feet was the only significant offense that did damage in the contest, making the judges’ decision fairly easy.
  • Dy: Dy finally secured a UFC win on his third attempt, but it may have been his least impressive performance. His early knockdown was nice, but his assertiveness faded as Buren found more success than Dy anticipated he would and Dy’s output faded as he looked to defend Buren’s takedowns. Dy deserved the win, but I’m giving up hope he might be able to develop into a staple of the roster. He simply doesn’t seem to transition from one phase to another efficiently enough.
  • Buren: I don’t know who it is that Buren is learning under, but there appears to be better wrestling training in China than I anticipated. Unfortunately, Buren was unable to do anything with his takedowns once he got them and it ended up costing him the fight. He showed some flashes of a developing standup game, landing a few big shots on Dy. Buren has some skill to work with, but I don’t think there is enough time for him to become a keeper.

Gina Mazany defeated Wu Yanan via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Not an easy contest to call. Mazany represented the obvious choice to many as the American with more exposure to high-level training and opponents, but the younger Yanan showed promise on the Chinese scene. It opened up as a straight brawl, neither really pulling ahead of the other as fisticuffs flew before Mazany began looking for takedowns. Utilizing that strategy for the rest of the fight, Yanan struggled to stay vertical and ended up giving away a hard-fought decision.
  • Mazany: I know I’ve been a bit rough on the winners so far – and there are some obvious areas to criticize Mazany in – but Mazany showed more than I anticipated. She pushed a very hard pace that Yanan ultimately couldn’t keep up with, showing a very deep gas tank, something nobody knew she possessed. Given the lack of depth in women’s bantamweight – about to be further depleted with flyweight emerging – her aggression and wrestling could be enough to make her a mainstay. Her striking – offensive and defensive – still has a lot wrinkles to be ironed out. Until she progresses further in that, I’m not going beyond calling her a mainstay.
  • Yanan: Despite losing a clear decision, Yanan showed potential to be worthy of a roster spot. It’s a matter of whether she fulfills that potential. She showed a lot of toughness and heart, appearing to injure her shoulder at the end of the second round only to finish out the fight. Like Mazany, Yanan’s striking technique is very sloppy, but she does have some natural power that could be a game changer. Her wrestling is lacking, but at the young age of 21, she has a lot time to develop her skills.

Shamil Abdurakhimov defeated Chase Sherman via TKO at 1:24 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: Despite Sherman’s two consecutive wins, I felt Abdurakhimov was too big of a step up for the youngster at this point despite the betting lines being relatively close. It didn’t take long for the Russian to prove me right. Sherman took the early lead thanks to his aggression, but Abdurakhimov got his distance down in a hurry, danced around Sherman and landed a pair of precise punches that sent Sherman to the ground before the referee waved off the contest.
  • Abdurakhimov: Abdurakhimov isn’t known for his power, making this conclusion a hell of a surprise. I thought he’d mix in some wrestling and outpoint his younger opponent. Instead, Abdurakhimov’s precision boxing led to an early finish which could bring back a bit of excitement for him. At 36, Abdurakhimov may be too old to develop into a contender – even heavyweights ultimately lose to Father Time – but he can still serve a valuable role as a gatekeeper, something the division is badly in need of.
  • Sherman: Major setback for Sherman, but not an impossible one to overcome. The big man has been very reliant on his toughness to outslug his opponents, paying little attention to defense. He paid the price for it here. I will acknowledge he has made some progress in his footwork to help him find angles to attack, but very little progress has been made in terms of his defense. Throw in a bit of head movement and Sherman could end up becoming a top contender. Given Sherman’s mindset, that could end up being difficult to overcome.

Song Yadong defeated Bharat Khandare via submission at 4:16 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: Despite taking the contest with less than 10 days’ notice, Yadong was being picked heavily by analysts as Khandare’s one-dimensional style didn’t seem functional in today’s MMA scene. It ended up being a standup affair, Khandare pumping a jab without any real commitment while Yadong threatened with power shots from the get-go. Khandare grew more tentative as the contest progressed, standing in front of the cage when Yadong launched a powerful overhand right that sent Khandare crashing to the canvas. Yadong caught Khandare in a front choke as he scrambled to his feet, getting the tap shortly after.
  • Yadong: I cringed at times watching Yadong do his thing. Yes, his spinning attacks were pretty and he showed his power when he floored Khandare. But would anyone else on the roster have stood there and eaten that overhand the way Khandare did? Yadong is incredibly raw, but what would you expect from a 19-year old? Everything he threw was telegraphed and would be easy to counter. I’d rather see the UFC let him take some fights regionally and promise him a fight when they return to China because the youngster needs a lot more experience. The kid has potential, but I fear being thrown to the wolves will stunt his growth.
  • Khandare: Like I said in my preview, Khandare’s signing was a publicity stunt as the first Indian fighter. Khandare only had one piss-poor takedown attempt before abandoning his wrestling and letting Yadong do whatever he wanted. There was nothing in Khandare’s showing that led me to believe he can become a UFC fighter. The UFC should cut him loose.

Yan Xiaonan defeated Kailin Curran via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Xiaonan has been a beast on the Chinese regional scene, but had yet to defeat a single notable opponent. Thus, I went with Curran despite Curran’s horrible UFC record. Experience counts for something… right? Xiaonan came out aggressive, throwing fisticuffs right off the bat and hurting Curran multiple times, including a stumble that damn near turned into a knockdown. Curran survived and made a fight of things, including controlling Xiaonan on the ground for about half of the final frame. Curran never did threaten to finish at any point, giving Xiaonan a debut decision victory.
  • Xiaonan: Damn. Seriously, that was my thoughts as the fight opened. Xiaonan came out on fire, showing power rarely seen at strawweight. Throw in that many fighters wouldn’t know how to respond to her aggression and Xiaonan could become a dark horse in the division. Realistically, I don’t see her becoming more than an action fighter who wins about as many as she losses, but she is an absolute blast to watch. Out of all of the Chinese fighters debuting tonight, she’s the one I’m going to be watching closest.
  • Curran: 1-6. That’s Curran’s UFC record. Only the human punching bag that was Elvis Sinosic sported a similar record in the UFC. That’s not good. Granted, Curran has been more competitive in her contests than Sinosic was, but can we declare enough is enough?! No one is denying Curran has some talent, but she hasn’t been able to develop any further due to her continued lack of defense and inability to transition into different phases of a fight. Let her go and if she wins some fights on the regional scene, she can come back.

Song Kenan defeated Bobby Nash via TKO at 0:15 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: Nash looked good in each of his first two UFC contests before having his lights turned out. Given Kenan’s lack of quality competition, most were picking Nash to be the likely victor. The contest opened with a low blow from Kenan. As soon as the action resumed, he floored Nash with a hard right. Kenan quickly followed up with punches to the head as Nash tried to get to his feet, prompting Herb Dean to jump in and save the American from further damage.
  • Kenan: I don’t think anyone saw that coming, but it shouldn’t have been as surprising as it was. Kenan has always been known for his striking and rarely lets a fight go the distance. We didn’t learn much here as Nash’s chin was known to be questionable, but Kenan certainly raised expectations for him moving forward. Despite the impressive performance here, the UFC still needs to keep the kid gloves on him. They’re making a huge mistake if they don’t.
  • Nash: It’s too bad Nash’s chin is as fragile as it is. The former collegiate wrestler has some power in his fists and has displayed enough of his wrestling that he’s certainly skilled enough to hang around on the roster. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have the durability. Oftentimes, durability is what separates contenders from pretenders. Nash is an extreme case in that it’s likely cost him a roster spot rather than a higher step on the ladder. It’s a shame.

Zabit Magomedsharipov defeated Sheymon Moraes via submission at 4:33 of RD3

  • Expectations/Result: Magomedsharipov was a sizeable favorite – and rightly so – but analysts knew he couldn’t sleep on Moraes. Moraes showed why in the first round, scoring some hard kicks despite Magomedsharipov clearly winning the round with his volume and takedowns. Moraes abandoned the kicks in the later rounds in hopes of remaining standing, but it didn’t work. Magomedsharipov took him down at will and grounded the Brazilian into the ground in the second. Magomedsharipov began actively searching for a finish in the final frame, finally finding a d’arce choke with less than 30 seconds remaining.
  • Magomedsharipov: Given that Magomedsharipov impressed many with his striking in his UFC debut, this performance should be disturbing for potential opponents moving forward. He took Moraes down at will and showed a deep array of ground skills. He passed guard at will, delivered some punishing ground-and-pound, and was very technical in his application of the choke. Magomedsharipov displayed his striking skills too, his length causing all sorts of problems for Moraes. Look for Magomedsharipov to be a contender by the end of next year… provided the UFC schedules him frequently enough.
  • Moraes: This was a tough matchup for Moraes from the beginning. Few anticipated he’d be dominated so thoroughly. No one expected his wrestling to match that of Magomedsharipov’s, but I thought he’d be able to avoid more of Magomedsharipov’s trips than he did. Nope. I should have realized Moraes came up the rankings fighting as a bantamweight and had never fought anyone in the same zip code in terms of Magomedsharipov’s size. Moraes had no clue how to respond to the Russian’s length. Expect Moraes to have a better showing in his next contest as it’s virtually a guarantee he won’t fight someone as large as Magomedsharipov.

Alex Garcia defeated Muslim Salikhov via submission at 3:22 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: Salikhov had been a human highlight machine in China, securing spinning kick stoppages in four of his previous five contests. Given Garcia’s tendency to gas following the first, most expected Salikhov to find a way to finish him before the time limit elapsed. Instead, Garcia showed an improved gas tank, fighting at a measured pace and taking down the Russian at will. Salikhov never got his offense going, eventually succumbing to a RNC from Garcia.
  • Garcia: The announce team was declaring this the biggest victory of Garcia’s career. While I think it was his most complete performance, I don’t think Salikhov has established himself enough to represent the biggest notch on Garcia’s belt. Regardless, I like Garcia’s emphasis on wrestling. Even when he didn’t have Salikhov on the ground, Garcia effectively pressed Salikhov against the fence, keeping his weight on him and wearing down the Russian. Garcia will never be a contender, but he’s got the look of a hell of a gatekeeper.
  • Salikhov: This fight couldn’t have gone much worse for Salikhov. Garcia didn’t give him any space in which to operate, something Salikhov needed to find success. Against actual UFC-sized welterweights – his previous wins over UFC talents came against bloated lightweights Melvin Guillard and Ivan Jorge – it appears Salikhov doesn’t have the wrestling ability to keep his opponent off him and execute his explosive offense. Not everything was bad for Salikhov as he had a nice escape from underneath Garcia. Still, if the UFC wants to get good use out of Salikhov, they need to match him up against a fellow striker.

Wang Guan defeated Alex Caceres via split decision

  • Expectations/Result: Caceres is quite possibly the most inconsistent fighter on the roster, so picking his contests are almost always the most difficult predictions on whatever card he’s fighting on. Thus, this contest was a complete coin flip. From the very beginning, Guan was in control, landing hard shots that rocked Caceres’ head back multiple times. Caceres barely survived being dropped at the end of the first, being saved by the bell. It took him most of the second round to recover. Guan’s hard-charging style caused his output to drop in the final round, but it was too late by then for Caceres to sway the judges with half a brain. Seriously, the one judge that scored it in favor of Caceres needs to be fired.
  • Guan: Given this was the second time Guan faced any real competition – the first time came against Bekbulat Magomedov, Guan’s only career loss – I wasn’t sure his aggression would translate well against a high-level opponent. While there are clearly some limitations to it, the issues attached to it are certainly easy enough to iron out. Bottom line: he’s the real deal. He mixed up his strikes expertly, battering Caceres’ legs with kicks and snapping back his head multiple times. Sharpening his wrestling technique would be the first thing I’d like to see.
  • Caceres: Is anyone really surprised to see Caceres lose in such spectacular fashion? Not everything about this contest was negative. Caceres has unfairly been labeled as soft by some, but it was a minor miracle he was able to make it to the final bell and even win the final round. Nonetheless, Caceres’ defense left a lot to be desired. He’s never fully utilized his long reach very well either, something he’d be well served to do. Anybody who believed Caceres could become a contender should give up on those hopes at this point. 29 isn’t that old, but he is who he is after 18 UFC contests.

Li Jingliang defeated Zak Ottow via TKO at 2:57 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: Though most were picking Jingliang, I have a feeling part of that was due to Jingliang being the far more exciting fighter. Who doesn’t enjoy watching China’s top MMA fighter? It wasn’t necessarily a surprise he finished the normally durable Ottow, but that he was able to do so in such a quick manner caught many off-guard. Jingliang threw a lot of leg kicks to start things off as Ottow tried to counter. Jingliang eventually caught him with a hard left counter, dropping Ottow. Jingliang aggressively pursued the finish as Ottow tried to cover up and get back to his feet. As Ottow couldn’t regain verticality, the ref soon called it.
  • Jingliang: I’ve seen some say that Li can’t be ignored after this victory, his fourth in a row. As much as I like Jingliang, this win streak has only proven that he deserves to be in the UFC. The combined UFC records of those he beat in that streak: 3-8. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve a step up in competition. I’m saying he’s proven to be a superior gatekeeper on the lower level of the welterweight division, nothing more. His action style has worked out well for him thus far as the fighters he has faced thus far have been inferior athletes. I fear he’s going to soon be hitting some roadblocks, but I’ll be rooting for him as he’s one of the more entertaining fighters on the roster.
  • Ottow: Not for any personal reasons, but I’ve never been very high on Ottow. He doesn’t have a lot of power, very little athleticism, and can’t get the fight to the ground where he can utilize his grappling skills. He’s been able to skate by using his savvy and guile, but it isn’t a surprise Jingliang figured him out as someone was bound to. Given his play-it-safe style, I fear the UFC’s incentive to keep him around is lower than it would be for most fighters of his stature. I don’t think he’s about to be released immediately, but I fear Ottow isn’t going to be on the roster for long.

Kelvin Gastelum defeated Michael Bisping via KO at 2:30 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: You’d think a former champion who lost his title in his previous contest would be favored against a fringe top ten talent in the division he ruled. Nope. Bisping was a sizeable underdog – proving just how meaningless the official UFC rankings are – and only a few would attribute Bisping’s short notice status and/or having fought just three weeks ago to his status. As they began feeling each other out, Gastelum’s strikes contained more oomph to them than Bisping’s, making it feel like it was a matter of time before the former welterweight brought down the hammer. On the second punch of a combination, he did just that, snapping Bisping’s head back in violent fashion. Bisping collapsed to the mat and it wasn’t long before the referee saved Bisping from eating anymore unnecessary damage.
  • Gastelum: While this was a nice win for Gastelum, it shouldn’t launch him into title contention as he believes it does. Yes, Bisping was very recently the champion. He also never bothered to defend his belt against anyone who truly deserved a title shot, disposing of a 46-year-old man in his only successful title defense – and only just barely doing so – before losing to a true welterweight who hadn’t fought in four years. Nobody debated whether Bisping earned that belt, but no one believed he was truly the best middleweight in the world. Gastelum is working his way up the ladder, nobody is denying that. He just isn’t as high up as he would like to believe. There is a logjam to determine who gets next once GSP and Robert Whittaker get things sorted out… or if they get things sorted out. Luke Rockhold. Yoel Romero. Derek Brunson. Jacare Souza. Any of those seem like fine opponents for Gastelum. Notice he wasn’t harping about returning to welterweight following this contest? I guess just barely making the middleweight cut-off made him realize he’s going to have to make his bread at 185.
  • Bisping: No one is denying Bisping has carved out an illustrious career. No one is saying he isn’t a future UFC Hall of Famer. What they are saying is he was a paper champion and this loss only helps to solidify that claim. While I agree with those who say he shouldn’t even have been in this contest – credit to the NYSAC for changing the length of Bisping’s medical suspension to the UFC’s liking -- you’d think a former champion would put forth a better effort against a borderline top ten talent of the division you only recently ruled. Nope. Bisping has declared he wants a final fight in his home country and he’ll likely get it. However, I question whether that is a good idea given how chinny he has become. He set the record for being knocked down over a career with this loss with the rate of those knockdowns coming at an accelerated rate over the last few years. I know it’s a ridiculous idea for me to put the fighter’s safety first – who does that? -- but does that sound like the type of guy we want to put out there again, even if for just one more fight? Just saying….

Well, those are my thoughts. Until next time....