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Hindsight - UFC Fresno: Swanson vs. Ortega in retrospect

Get the thoughts and musings of Dayne Fox on UFC Fresno, from Tevin Giles’ impressive finish in the opener to the breakout performances from Marlon Moraes and Brian Ortega.

UFC Fresno was a mixed bag. There were a couple of incredible finishes produced by Marlon Moraes and Brian Ortega, launching both into the outskirts of title contention of their respective division. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of solid performances from some youngsters as well. However, there were also some stinkers on the main card, including the co-main which seemed guaranteed to deliver fireworks, and the usual horrible pacing on FS1 that makes watching cards nearly unbearable. Wherever the UFC ends up signing their new television deal, we can only hope and pray the pacing improves….

Here are my thoughts on UFC Fresno, 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.

Trevin Giles defeated Antonio Braga Neto via TKO at 2:27 of RD3

  • Expectations/Result: The last time Neto fought in the Octagon: June 2014. Given he wasn’t an established UFC talent at the time, very few were willing to pick him after such a long absence. He didn’t look horrible, grounding Giles in the first and controlling him for the final half. That was about the only success he found though as Giles put on a clinic with his jab, throwing it constantly and occasionally following it up with a cross. In fact, it was a cross that finished Neto in the final round, unable to stand up to the onslaught any longer.
  • Giles: If you ever want to put together an instructional video on how to consistently and effectively throw a 1-2 combination, this is the fight to show. Giles didn’t vary his attack very much, but he didn’t need to. Given Neto isn’t known for his striking, it makes sense he might be willing to throw some high-risk maneuvers. Nope. He just wanted the W and did what he needed to get it. Giles isn’t the sexiest prospect, but he’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.
  • Neto: Given how long he’s been away from the sport, Neto didn’t look bad. Take that caveat out of the perspective and he didn’t look like he should be in the UFC. He landed a few good counters off Giles’ attack, mixing in some kicks as well, but those answers came few and far between. When he got Giles to the ground, that was his time to find a finish. He didn’t, gassing after that, leading to an easy victory for Giles. Curious to see if he gets another opportunity.

Davi Ramos defeated Chris Gruetzmacher via submission at 0:50 of RD3

  • Expectations/Result: A renowned BJJ champion, Ramos’ edge in grappling and athleticism had him a heavy favorite. Ramos started out showing his striking chops, landing a flying knee and displaying fast hands. Did I mention Ramos hit a few double-legs as well? The Brazilian began to tire in the second, allowing Gruetzmacher back into the fight, though Ramos kept swinging. To begin the third, Ramos had Gruetzmacher’s back standing before dragging Gruetzmacher to the ground and getting the RNC in one smooth motion, eliciting a quick tap.
  • Ramos: A lot of people were excited when the UFC picked up Ramos, though he struggled to show why in his short notice debut against Sergio Moraes. To his credit, that was on short notice at welterweight. Everything was on display in this contest. He’s still wild with his striking, but the foundation for a brutal combination striking game is there. His wrestling only worked because of his athleticism, but he’s young enough in his career I’d expect his technique to improve. But that transition to the ground for the choke… damn! Go look that up if you haven’t seen it. It was BEAUTIFUL!
  • Gruetzmacher: I get the feeling Gruetzmacher was holding back in the second round. At times his pressure and striking was spot on, other times he was up in Ramos’ grill, but not doing anything. My guess is Ramos’ power had Gruetzmacher feeling a bit hesitant. Given that he was understandably not wanting to turn to his wrestling, he needed to do more on the feet and he wasn’t consistent enough. If the UFC released fighters the way they did two years ago, Gruetzmacher would be gone. Today? Hell if I know.

Alejandro Perez defeated Iuri Alcantara via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Though he’s ancient for the smaller classes – name another smaller fighter who has been effective at 37 or older – Alcantara has retained enough of his athleticism that most were picking him over the younger Perez. By the end of the contest, nobody cared who won as neither appeared to really want the fight, staring at each other for long periods of time. The pace picked up a bit in the third round, but not by much. Though it was likely the right decision, it felt wrong to give Perez the win after he awarded himself the nickname Turbo prior to the contest.
  • Perez: Given Perez is a counter striker, he shoulders less of the blame for the pace of the contest. Nonetheless, it wasn’t an inspiring performance from the younger fighter. To his credit, his timing was as sharp as ever, as was his takedown defense. The issue is that his strategy was designed to prevent him from losing, not a strategy designed to win. That’s fine against the type of fighters he’s been facing in recent contests. However, he hasn’t lost in his last five appearances, meaning he is due a step up in competition. He’ll need to turn up the aggression moving forward.
  • Alcantara: It looks like Alcantara has slowed down enough that he can’t be the effective gatekeeper he’s been for the last few years. There were a few bursts of offense, but they appeared to lack the same level of explosion that Alcantara is known for. He has nothing to be ashamed of at his age as he’s had a very long and effective career. Father Time is undefeated after all. I’m sure there are still some contests he can win against lower level competition and he’ll get a chance to prove it, but his days on the fringe of the UFC rankings are over.

Frankie Saenz defeated Merab Dvalishvili via split decision

  • Expectations/Result: Though nobody believed Saenz was completely finished – his wild brawl with Augusto Mendes proved that – he was slowing down enough that many believed the hyper-active newcomer Dvalishvili would emerge the victor. Dvalishvili came out like a man on fire, jumping right into the clinch, constantly on the lookout for takedowns. He did get some, but he also paid a heavy price to do so as Saenz brutalized his body with knees. What the contest came down to: did the judges value positioning or damage done? As they were supposed to do, they scored the damage and awarded the decision to Saenz.
  • Saenz: I’m not that inspired by Saenz performance, but he fought a smart fight and did what he needed to do to win. Considering he lost three in a row heading into this contest, that should have been priority #1. What has me wary for his future is that he was taken down time and again by a smaller man in Dvalishvili. Given that Saenz’s MMA base is his collegiate wrestling, that’s not a good sign. Provided he’s likely to get a step up in competition with the win, I struggle to see him winning his next fight.
  • Dvalishvili: I’m not going to rip too badly on Davlishvili. He took the Leonard Garcia approach to winning the contest – being the more active fighter, accuracy be damned – and it almost worked for him. Granted, he did utilize more takedowns than Garcia ever would have thought to attempt – which was a good strategy – but it appears judges have become more educated than they used to be. Did I really just say that? Yikes. If Dvalishvili can settle down and land some clean shots, he’s going be a mainstay as his activity level guarantees he’ll pick up some wins at some point.

Alex Perez defeated Carls John de Tomas via submission at 1:54 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: After an impressive performance on the Contender Series and fights with notable names on the regional circuit, the only logical conclusion to be drawn was that Perez would be an easy pick over the inexperienced de Tomas. De Tomas showed heart fighting off Perez’s extended attempt to choke him out in the first round, but couldn’t do so in the second as Perez finished him off with a D’arce choke. Not much else to add.
  • Perez: I would have rather seen this contest fought at 125, but I also understand that wasn’t anything Perez could control after de Tomas had weight cutting issues. More to the point though, Perez looked great. There wasn’t a single point in which de Tomas offered him any real threat. De Tomas was hanging with him on the feet, so Perez did what he was supposed to do and took the fight to the ground. Given that Perez made his MMA debut over six years ago and fights like the veteran he is, it’s easy to forget he is still just 25-years old. I won’t go so far to say he’s going to be fighting for the title someday, but I can see him becoming a top ten mainstay.
  • De Tomas: It was just as I feared: de Tomas isn’t ready for the UFC yet. All the credit in the world to the kid for refusing to tap in the first round when it appeared Perez had the choke in deep, but he’s drowning when he hasn’t even entered the deep end of the pool yet. I’d rather see him outside the UFC. If he gets some experience on the regional scene against some notable competition, he could end up back in the UFC and actually stick around. I’m not saying de Tomas has the physical skills to become a champion, but he does have the talent to become a purposeful member of the roster.

Andre Soukhamthoth defeated Luke Sanders via TKO at 1:06 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: A better wrestler, a more consistent striker, and fighting on a full camp, Sanders had everything in his favor. In fact, everything up until the final ten seconds of the contest went his way. Bullying Soukhamthoth in the clinch and outlanding him by a significant margin, Sanders was on his way to an easy decision. Then fate reared its head. Slipping a left hand from Sanders, Soukhamthoth landed a brutal right hand square on Sanders’ jaw, dropping the Tennessee native. Some follow-up shots on the ground prompted the ref to stop the proceedings, giving Soukhamthoth his first UFC win.
  • Soukhamthoth: This was a very badly needed win for Soukhamthoth. A lack of volume killed him in his first two UFC contests and it looked like it would cost him here too. Instead, he gambled that he’d eventually find an opportunity to put Sanders out and he was fortunate enough to do so. However, he can’t gamble like that in the future if he hopes to have an extended UFC career. It is called gambling after all. Soukhamthoth acknowledged as much that he statistically shouldn’t have walked out the winner given he took the fight on short notice. Here’s hoping he can develop a more consistent style not so dependent upon the finish.
  • Sanders: That’s the second consecutive fight Sanders was firmly in control of before slipping up in the second round to get finished. It creates a unique situation as he has proven he’s good enough to belong in the UFC… he’s just not producing the results that his talents warrant. That in itself should garner him another fight in the UFC, but he NEEDS to find a way to avoid being finished the next time he steps into the cage. Otherwise, it isn’t going to matter what his talent level indicates. The bottom line is the bottom line.

Alexis Davis defeated Liz Carmouche via split decision

  • Expectations/Result: These two danced four years ago with Davis emerging the victor the first time. However, age has been harsher on Davis, showing a regression in her striking since that time while Carmouche had made incremental improvements. Thus, I picked the stronger Carmouche to win and I know I wasn’t the only one. For the majority of the contest, Carmouche did what everyone expected, bullying Davis in the standup with brutal hooks and exercising some good ground-and-pound. Unfortunately for her, she also spent a lot of time in Davis’ guard, allowing the wily veteran to cinch in an armbar on multiple occasions. Aside from the armbar attempts, Davis did just enough on the feet and with her own ground-and-pound to snatch victory from Carmouche in a controversial contest.
  • Davis: It isn’t often you get outlanded more than two-to-one on significant strikes and allow four times as many takedowns and still find a way to win a decision. And yet, Davis did it. I admit that I probably would have gone in the direction of Carmouche in this decision, but I have no problem giving it to Davis as those armbars were in DEEP. Davis is about as durable as they come – the alien… I mean, hematoma growing out the side of her head by the end attests to that – which allowed her to snake in those submission attempts. So long as fighters don’t pay her the proper respect, she’ll continue to make them pay. It’s doubtful she finds her way to a title shot at flyweight, but she’s a top notch gatekeeper in a more natural home for her.
  • Carmouche: My dad doesn’t watch MMA much, though he gets the basic nuances. As he watched this fight, even he was asking why in the hell Carmouche went right back into the guard in the third round after Davis nearly submitted her in the first. You’re fighting stupid when non-fan can see the problem with you going right back to the same situation that nearly lost you the fight. Well… technically, it did end up costing her the fight. What’s depressing was how well Carmouche was doing on the feet. She bullied Davis across the cage, landing hard shots and controlling the tempo. She lost the advantage when she went to the ground. Carmouche has given us reason to question her fight IQ before, but I think this is the worst performance she has put forth.

Benito Lopez defeated Albert Morales via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: After an exciting performance on the Contender Series to earn a UFC contract, the UFC gave Lopez a nice little push which also raised the expectations for the youngster. Nonetheless, those in the know knew that Morales had just as good of a chance of winning. The contest started out quickly, both hurting the other off the bat before Morales slowed down the action and beat on Lopez against the fence to end the first. The action was a bit more measured from there with the exchanges being relatively even. Though everyone expected a split decision to be read, it was unanimous for Lopez with a bogus 30-27 score in his favor included.
  • Lopez: There was just as much to like about Lopez as there was to be worried about. The youngster’s offense was fast and furious which can be overwhelming, but it also gave Morales the opportunity to counter. When Lopez got too happy with the flying knees and Morales caught him coming in is a perfect example. However, I really liked how Lopez began concentrating on the body in the second round in hopes of slowing down Morales. Even if it didn’t work, it was a smart strategic effort. I’m sure the youngster will improve his fight IQ over time, meaning I’m not to worried about him in the long term. In the short term though….
  • Morales: For the record, I thought Morales deserved the W. He stole the first round when he slowed down the action against the cage, delivered consistent punishment to Lopez, and his strikes were more effective in the final round. Y’all noticed Lopez’s broken nose, right? It isn’t that I’m upset with Lopez winning, but yeah…. Now sporting a 1-3-1 UFC record, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to see Morales cut. Had the judges seen things the way most spectators saw things, he could very easily be 3-2. Thus, I’d like to see him stick around as he’s better than what his record shows. Given his contests are usually entertaining as hell – and he continues to improve – I expect he’ll get another opportunity.

Eryk Anders defeated Markus Perez via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: After bowling over established UFC vet Rafael Natal, Anders turned some heads. Perez, though offering some promise as a newcomer, didn’t have the resume Natal did which led many to figure Anders would perform similarly. Anders certainly bullied Perez across the cage, but Perez had a hell of a lot more fight in him than Natal did… at least when he had the energy to do so. Perez scooped Anders up in the first and attempted a choke, but his effectiveness didn’t stay. Anders continued pushing a reckless pace Perez couldn’t match, fading as the fight continued. He had enough to stay alive, but that was about it.
  • Anders: I’m not saying Anders didn’t gas after his ridiculous pace. He absolutely did. What Anders did do was continue to fight after losing steam, allowing him to dominate an opponent who was more tired than he was. Anders’ natural strength was readily apparent even late in the fight, allowing him to get the best of Perez after both faded. This strategy won’t work well for Anders when he’s facing superior athletes to Perez, but it did show a lot of willingness to dig deep when things get tough. Aside from that, I’d love to see him put in some work with a good striking coach. His power his obvious enough that it makes up for his reckless swinging ways. If he can put some craft into his striking, he’ll make a gigantic leap.
  • Perez: Given Perez looked like a weight class lighter than Anders – Perez isn’t a very big middleweight – he more than held his own early on. The scoop takedown wasn’t something anyone could have foreseen. He did some good clinch work early on as well. Unfortunately for him, Anders body work and top position began to take their toll in the second round and Perez had nothing by the time the third rolled around. What really did Perez in – aside from being an inferior athlete – was his lack of defense. Anders was hitting him with just about everything. For someone who isn’t a great athlete, he desperately needs to shore up his footwork and head movement.

Scott Holtzman defeated Darrell Horcher via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: No one could figure out why these two ended up on the main card. Neither Holtzman or Horcher had secured an actual quality win in the UFC yet, but they somehow found their way there. Regardless of whether it should have been where it was on the card, the consensus was that Holtzman should find a way to victory. Fighting intelligently, Holtzman did just that. Clinching up with Horcher as often as possible, Holtzman would eventually go for a trip takedown and usually get it. Horcher was given every opportunity by the ref who stood things up as soon as Holtzman’s ground-and-pound slowed, but it was to no avail as Holtzman would simply take him down again.
  • Holtzman: This was not a pretty performance. Holtzman gained exactly zero fans. But I can’t exactly fault him either. Horcher looked to be the superior striker when given some distance and Holtzman decided he didn’t want anything to do with that early. Getting into the sport of MMA late, Holtzman is already 34. If he has title aspirations, he needs to begin making major leaps in competition in a hurry if he hopes to achieve that goal. Holtzman still has problems with experienced counter strikers in addition to weak takedown defense, meaning he’s unlikely to climb much higher unless he quickly addresses those concerns.
  • Horcher: Even though Horcher lost – and it wasn’t even close – I feel much better about his ability to continue his MMA career with a certain level of success. Keeping in mind he’s about 18 months removed from a motorcycle accident that derailed his career, he looked sharper on the feet than he did against a far inferior opponent in Devin Powell. Horcher nailed Holtzman with a couple of HARD left hands that led the former hockey player to take the fight to the ground at every opportunity. Sure, Horcher couldn’t stop the takedowns, but there were positives to take out of his performance.

Marlon Moraes defeated Aljamain Sterling via KO at 1:07 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: Two of the most athletic bantamweights on the roster, it was expected to be a brutal war over the course of 15 minutes with the line split evenly. Instead, a poorly timed takedown attempt by Sterling resulted in him eating a BRUTAL knee from Moraes as the Brazilian attempted a kick. Sterling was out cold and remained that way for a while as he was stretchered to the back. It was almost a disappointing finish as a fun scramble ensued right before the KO indicated we might get a hell of a war over 15 minutes… almost.
  • Moraes: It wasn’t that anyone thought Moraes was incapable of producing this type of finish. He’s proven he can do this many times. No, it was that Sterling had avoided being hit cleanly, often picking his takedown attempts wisely. So even though Moraes’ deserves a lot of credit for the brutal KO, Sterling gave it to him gift wrapped with a big red bow on top. If these two were to ever do the damn thing again, I’d expect a completely different ending. The win launches Moraes into the elite of the division as Sterling and John Dodson are two legit top ten bantamweight talents. Is he getting a title shot? No, his loss to Raphael Assuncao still looms large. However, TJ Dillashaw is still pursuing a contest with Demetrious Johnson. If Moraes is lined up opposite of former champions Dominick Cruz or Cody Garbrandt, I don’t think anyone will complain.
  • Sterling: KO’s don’t get much scarier than that. In fact, KO’s like that often alter the victim’s career… and not for the better. Sterling had never been finished before in his career, often doing a great job of avoiding much serious damage in his contests. He’s already been reluctant to trade fisticuffs in the pocket – often to his own detriment – and a loss like this could lead to further hesitance to engage. Fortunately for him, he does work with Matt Serra who knows about embarrassing KO’s – see Serra’s loss to Shonie Carter – and he may be able to help him out with that. Here’s hoping his mentality isn’t affected and Sterling comes back strong.

Gabriel Benitez defeated Jason Knight via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Ever since he got his UFC debut out of the way – a loss to Tatsuya Kawajiri – Knight has turned in one exciting performance after another. His loss to Ricardo Lamas was a blast to watch, even if it was one-sided. Given Benitez is known for his scrappiness, this contest couldn’t possibly be boring… right? Wrong. It kicked off with Knight biting Benitez’s finger – yep, you read that right – and it all went downhill from there. Knight looked flat, like he would rather be anywhere else. Benitez took advantage of Knight’s flat performance, landed left hand after left hand as Knight was a shell of the formerly exciting action fighter we all thought he was.
  • Benitez: I don’t want to take away anything from Benitez. He was the more active fighter, landed the cleaner shots, and prevented Knight from taking him to the ground. His boxing, head movement, and footwork were sharper than ever before. He deserved the win. The issue is that wasn’t the Jason Knight that everyone is familiar with. Was Knight sick? Was he dealing with an injury? I hope the UFC doesn’t treat the win like a fluke and give Benitez a step down in competition as he was supposed to be fodder to get Knight back on track. What I’m expecting may be a worse fate: they’ll feed him to an up-and-comer like Zabit Magomedsharipov. Then again, if Benitez were to win that fight….
  • Knight: Knight was able to take the loss to Lamas and not hurt his marketability. He displayed a lot of toughness and doggedness in that loss. This fight? He has a lot of explaining to do. All his aggression disappeared after he was docked the point for biting. I know I’m rehashing what I just said about the quality of victory for Benitez… but what the hell!? Did the knockout from Lamas make him hesitant? That was his first career KO loss after all. Knight isn’t about to be released, but he may have killed his marketability with this performance. If he hasn’t, he’ll need to put together a decent showing in his next performance.

Brian Ortega defeated Cub Swanson via submission at 3:22 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: On the last fight of his UFC contract, Swanson had plenty of motivation to put on a good performance. In addition to the financial motivations, it was possible that Swanson could pick up a title shot if he could win with style. Swanson looked very good, piecing up Ortega was he got warmed up. Towards the end of the round, Ortega caught his neck and sunk in a standing choke before taking the fight to ground. The bell was the only thing to save Swanson as Ortega had the choke in DEEP. Swanson came out with a purpose in the third, mixing things up to the body and head… only for Ortega to latch onto his neck again! Ortega jumped into a guillotine, adjusted while hanging onto the choke, and forced Swanson to tap.
  • Ortega: Ortega was a notable prospect when he first came into the UFC, but I don’t think anyone believed he’d evolve into a potential title challenger. He’s been able to become that in the most unexpected way. He’s been losing every one of his UFC victories on the scorecards before securing a finish, effectively taking the title of premier opportunist in the division from Ricardo Lamas in the process. I’ve seen the title of specialist attached to him, which is a bit unfair. Yes, he is one of the best submission artists in the entire sport – good luck escaping from one of his chokes – but he isn’t completely useless on the feet. He said he’s willing to fight again before getting a title shot, which I’d expect the UFC to force him to live up to his word rather than let him wait around. Given his toughness and resourcefulness, he can’t ever be counted out.
  • Swanson: I feared Swanson would be overemotional in this fight as it wasn’t only pending free agency that was on his mind, but he felt spurned when Jose Aldo got the call to receive the title shot upon Frankie Edgar’s injury. That led me to believe that Swanson felt he had something to prove and would go balls-out to secure a finish. You’d think he’d have figured out that was a bad idea after the first round the first time Ortega caught him in a choke. His aggression would have worked against most of the division, so I don’t want to get too preachy on him… but whatever. Dana White expressed serious interest in keeping him around and he doesn’t express those type of words for fighters he doesn’t keep around. Given he looked fantastic aside from the moments when Ortega was locked onto his neck, expect Swanson’s next contest to be within the UFC.

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