You’ve got to nitpick to find a reason not to like how UFC Fortaleza went down. There wasn’t a FOTY candidate… but there was an all-time great KO. There was a dull standup fight… but it was a contest no one cared about. Plus, there were plenty of other contests that more than made up for it in the entertainment category. There were even legendary fighters on the card… even if Vitor Belfort and Shogun Rua are well passed their primes.
Here’s my thoughts on the UFC Fortaleza, 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.
Paulo Borrachinha defeated Garreth McLellan via TKO at 1:25 of RD1
- Expectations/Results: An athletic powerhouse, the expectation was that Borrachinha would bowl over McLellan with little problem. McLellan’s only hope was to draw the fight out and hopefully tire the youngster. Instead, Borrachinha bowled over McLellan, keeping the South African at the end of his hard punches and kicks. It didn’t take long before McLellan couldn’t stand up to the assault anymore and Borrachinha finished him off with strikes on the ground.
- Borrachinha: His debut could not have gone better. He showed better distance management than he has on the regional scene, minimizing the damage that McLellan was able to return. It wasn’t flawless defense for Borrachinha, but it was progress and I’ll take that. If the UFC handles Borrachinha correctly – and he does his part to develop -- they could have a future top ten fighter on their hands; his physical skills are that impressive. Here’s hoping they don’t give him too much, too soon and drown his confidence.
- McLellan: I was having a hard time believing that McLellan was getting another shot at the UFC before this contest as I thought it was clear he shouldn’t be fighting at this level. This contest only reaffirmed my thoughts. Seriously, how can they let talent like Albert Tumenov and Nikita Krylov walk away and let McLellan come back time and again? I don’t dislike the guy, but I want to see the world’s best in the preeminent MMA organization. That isn’t McLellan.
- Expectations/Results: Even though Kennedy was the favorite – ever so slightly -- most pundits were picking Jason to use his athletic ability to surprise Kennedy with an explosive strike or submission out of nowhere. Jason had a few impressive strikes – a hard overhand followed by a flying knee in the second – and attempted an omaplata in the third, but it was Kennedy’s wrestling and control that made the difference. An easy fight to judge, Kennedy got the first and third with the third being taken in dominant fashion.
- Kennedy: Very good win for the youngster. I may have picked Jason, but that doesn’t mean I was surprised to see Kennedy grind his way to a decision. Kennedy showed some toughness, surviving the flurry that Jason landed early in the second to come back and take the deciding third round. Despite that, I’m still not crazy about Kennedy’s future. While he did score a bunch of takedowns, he has yet to face anyone with merely average takedown defense in addition to possessing average athletic ability at best. I’m not saying he’s a bad fighter. I’m saying he isn’t going to be a major player.
- Jason: Jason hasn’t won a fight since 2014 with four opportunities to do so. I have a hard time believing the UFC is going to give him another chance with a track record like that. He never developed the wrestling needed to advance past merely beating those at the bottom of the division and this was a perfect example of why he never fulfilled his potential. For someone who relies so heavily on his athletic ability, it will probably be fading sooner rather than later anyway as Jason turns 33 before the end of the month.
Michel Prazeres defeated Joshua Burkman via submission at 1:42 of RD1
- Expectations/Results: While Burkman has traditionally been a durable test, he has shown signs of fading in recent fights, leading most to pick against him in this contest against perennial gatekeeper Prazeres. That was the right call. Prazeres displayed improved hands, piecing up Burkman with a flurry of punches that put Burkman on the ground. Burkman was able to survive – just barely – only for Prazeres to transition from top control into a north-south choke Burkman was unable to escape from.
- Prazeres: Easily the best performance out of Prazeres and exactly what he needed to get a definitive step up in competition. I’ll admit that I sold Prazeres’ improvements in his standup short, thinking Burkman would be able to outclass him in that area. Instead of waiting for Burkman to attack him, Prazeres caught him off-guard with his attack that would have put him in deep trouble had the fight extended into later rounds. The north-south choke was a thing of beauty too. Prazeres needed a finish as the new ownership has clearly emphasized entertainment over performance. That performance was very entertaining.
- Burkman: Burkman indicated retirement immediately after the fight only to retract shortly thereafter. He’s acknowledging that his UFC run is over at least, so if he wants to finish his career on the regional scene in Utah, I suppose I can support that. His second run in the UFC was one of the worst in recent memory with a single victory in seven tries. Not good at all. Here’s hoping he can leave his fighting career on an upswing… and do it fast before he takes any more unnecessary damage.
- Expectations/Results: Someway, somehow, Yahya has been able to get the fight to the ground and do what he does best. Thus, I went with Yahya. Yahya wasn’t able to get the fight to the ground in his favor, but he sure as hell made it a lot more competitive than anyone believed he would be able to for a fight that was spent mainly on the feet. Yahya put together combinations, kicks, counters, and even threw in spinning strikes, arguably taking the first round. A clash of heads that opened a faucet on the head of Soto appeared to be the turning point as Soto picked up the aggression from there and controlled an exhausted Yahya in the final round to take the decision in an entertaining scrap.
- Soto: Even when Soto lost three in a row upon his UFC entry, we all knew he was better than that. Now that he has won three in a row, we have some proof to back that up. Soto stated it wasn’t his best performance and he was right. The thought was that he should have pushed the pace in the first rather than letting Yahya dictate the fight, but I can see Yahya wanting Soto to move forward early when Yahya was freshest to get the takedown. Good – though not great – win for the former Bellator champion.
- Yahya: For someone who just had a four-fight win streak snapped, Yahya may have just upped his stock. Yahya has always been thought of as an all submission, no standup fighter. Though no one is going to say his standup is as good as his grappling, it can be said that he has gotten it to respectable levels. There wasn’t a lot of pop in his strikes, but he arguably outpointed a respectable striker in Soto in round one, a statement nobody expected to hear heading into this contest. He still doesn’t have a very deep gas tank, though he showed some heart by continuing to go for it deep in the third after he had been controlled for the majority of the round. About as good a showing as Yahya can have in a loss.
- Expectations/Results: Moraes had the favor of most pundits due to having a full camp to prepare for this fight. When it was over, nobody cared who won. They were just glad it was over. Despite both Moraes and Ramos being BJJ experts, the fight never hit the ground and we never saw an exchange that we hoped to see. Instead, they kickboxed with Ramos showing more aggression as Moraes fought very conservatively as he tried to counter the UFC newcomer. The judges liked the approach of the latter, though in reality it could have gone either way.
- Moraes: It’s performances like this that keep Moraes from fighting a ranked opponent despite being unbeaten in his last seven appearances. He last looked good when he KO’d Omari Akhmedov and has apparently fallen in love with his striking since then as he has made minimal attempts to get subsequent fights to the ground. There is speculation that knee issues have sapped his confidence in his ability to get the fight to the ground, but I’d at least like to see him attempt to do so. His last submission: August of 2013. Not a good sign for someone with a reputation as a submission expert. I know many of my colleagues love watching him, but I’d rather see Moraes go away… or at least this version of him.
- Ramos: I feel better about Ramos’ future than I do Moraes. Ramos was the one trying to be creative, pushing the pace and even trying the occasional spinning strike. What cost him the fight was Moraes’ counters as Ramos’ pressed the action. Ramos’ strikes appeared to have more mustard on them, but Moraes appeared to land just a few more thanks to his reach advantage. He held his own with Moraes too physically in the few times they locked up. Ramos should be an impressive addition to the lightweight division. Hopefully he’ll be able to use his grappling abilities there.
- Expectations/Results: Despite Trinaldo’s seven-fight win streak, I picked Lee as Trinaldo hadn’t faced a decent wrestler over that time. Lee got the job done, but it wasn’t with the wrestling. Trinaldo pieced up Lee in the first, landing punches and kicks to the head and body to rock the Detroit native at various times. Lee came out in the second round more patient, forcing Trinaldo to come at him. Eventually Lee landed a beautiful head kick as Trinaldo came in, resulting in Trinaldo go for a desperation takedown. Lee eventually got Trinaldo’s back and sunk in a rear-naked choke to elicit a tap.
- Lee: It wasn’t pretty and it illustrated Lee’s deficiencies on the feet, but he got the win. I like the adjustment he made to let Trinaldo come after him rather than being the one to press the action and it allowed him to catch Trinaldo with a brutal head kick. But I’m still trying to figure out why Lee hasn’t been able to get beyond relying on that one big moment on the feet to find success in the standup. With a 77" reach, you’d think he’d at least have a decent jab to control distance. Nope. Then again, he is still just 24-years old. Lee’s inability to get Trinaldo to the ground worries me too as he looks to fight tougher opposition. His wrestling is his wheelhouse and he couldn’t get Trinaldo down. My prediction: Lee will suffer another loss before we begin to see the best out of him.
- Trinaldo: This is a difficult pill to swallow. Trinaldo looked like the better fighter for over 80% of the contest, putting together nice combinations, mixing his strikes, and stuffing Lee’s takedown attempts. And yet, it wasn’t enough for him to extend his winning streak. The simplest explanation I can come up with: he got caught. I would hope the UFC doesn’t kick him too far down the line as he showed he is still a viable ranked lightweight even if he was unable to walk out with the W. Perhaps a fight with Beneil Dariush – who was also looking good before being finished – would make a lot of sense.
- Expectations/Results: I picked Oliveira going into their first contest, but went with Means this time around after the first fight was fought at a pace more accommodating to him. While this fight was fought at a fast pace, Oliveira was the one dictating the pace. He took Means down time and again while bullying him in the clinch as well. Means also had his moments, getting top control briefly in the first round and landing a few hard shots. Aside from that, it was all Oliveira, picking up a dominant win.
- Oliveira: This was the type of performance that I expected out of Oliveira heading into their first fight. He had dominated Will Brooks -- his last fight against a 155er – with takedowns and Means has never been a great wrestler. What impressed me was Oliveira was able to dominate while pushing a fast pace as he usually favors a more measured approach. The best fighters can win their fights in more than one way. I’m not saying Oliveira is among the best yet, but he’s making progress. If nothing else, credit to him for taking the fight where he knew Means was weakest.
- Means: This is a more damaging loss for Means than the loss to Matt Brown in the summer of 2015. Oliveira doesn’t have the status Brown had at the time, even if Oliveira might be able to reach or exceed how far Brown was able to climb. Still, the loss shouldn’t hurt Means too badly. We all knew Means wasn’t a great wrestler – sorry Tim, but this type of performance is what we in the MMA media refer to when we say that – and Oliveira was smart to avoid trying to stand up with Means. Means is still one of the best action fighters on the roster and will continue to be that so long as the UFC matches him up accordingly. For example, I’d love to see him and Alan Jouban slug it out… provided Jouban is unable to get past Gunnar Nelson.
- Expectations/Results: Given Correia’s combination punching and tendency to keep the fight standing – not to mention Brazilian judging – I had to pick her going into the contest. Correia started a bit slow before putting together her combinations about midway through the first. She continued to do so in the second, but nearly cost herself the fight by allowing Reneau to outstrike her off of her back when Correia refused to stand up off of a takedown. Reneau opened the third with a head kick that staggered Correia, resulting in a desperation takedown from the Brazilian. Reneau promptly reversed the takedown attempt and dominated the round from there, coming thisclose to finishing the contest. Under Pride rules, Reneau easily wins. Given the traditional MMA scoring, a draw was a perfectly acceptable result.
- Correia: We all thought Correia was tough. This provided the best proof we have to date. Correia took a BEATING in the final round and refused to give in. It’s hard not to gain respect for someone after they take that type of a beating. I was also impressed with the takedowns Correia landed as they were timed perfectly as Reneau moved forward. I wasn’t impressed with what she did with the takedowns, but baby steps. It could be said that this was the best version of Correia that we’ve seen despite the brutal last round given the competition and Correia’s well-rounded showing. I think it is safe to say Correia is the definitive gatekeeper to the top ten in at bantamweight.
- Reneau: This should be treated as a win for Reneau. She dominated the last round after it being arguable over who won the first and second rounds. Her kicks flowed better than they ever have, landing with a degree of consistency. She also dominated Correia in the clinch the short time that the fight went there. Her activity off of her back was impressive too. Where Reneau is struggling to close the gap is in her wrestling and putting together punching combinations. That means she struggles to take the fight where she wants as well as outpointing her opponent with volume. At 39-years old, it feels doubtful she’ll be able to address those areas proficiently enough to make a run at the title.
- Expectations/Results: Though the betting lines indicated a much closer contest, most in the MMA world were picking longtime flyweight stalwart Formiga to emerge victorious. With high stakes on the line – with the expectation being the winner could be next in line behind Wilson Reis to face the champ – it was hard to say who the better fighter was walking away. The first round opened with a very close standup battle between the two noted grapplers. The ground game started to come into play in the second round and totally dominated the third, with both winning their share of scrambles. Borg landing a series of hard elbows from mount in the final round appeared to deliver the only definitive round in his favor, but it was enough for the American to walk out of Brazil victorious.
- Borg: While I will admit that Borg looked awesome, I didn’t score the fight in his favor. Nonetheless, the contest was close enough that I’m not going to argue with the outcome. The UFC has to be excited about the outcome as Borg is someone that they have long believed would be able to challenge for the title. The biggest obstacle to that was his lack of an effective standup game. He has now developed a decent boxing game while making good use of leg kicks as well. Borg’s improvements there probably made the difference as he would have been unable to take the first or second round without those and he had to have been given at least one of those rounds by the judges. Perhaps I should point out that he was able to hang with a BJJ ace on the ground too, beating Formiga to most spots. I hope Borg gets one more fight before he challenges for the title as he still needs some seasoning. I’d love if he could fight Kyoji Horiguchi, but the UFC muffed that up. They wouldn’t put him in there with Joseph Benavidez… would they?
- Formiga: Every time it feels like Formiga is on the verge of getting a title shot, he pisses it away at the worst possible moment. It isn’t that this was a bad performance by Formiga. I thought he had the advantage in the standup as he put together the more effective combinations and harder shots. What he didn’t do was dominate his opponent on the ground for the first time in his UFC run. Is it a sign that Formiga is slipping, or is Borg really that good? That’s a question that will require further hindsight in order to get the answer. In the meantime, it appears Formiga will never advance beyond being the gatekeeper to Demetrious Johnson as everyone who has beaten Formiga has soon gone on to fight the champ.
Edson Barboza defeated Beneil Dariush via KO at 3:35 of RD2
- Expectations/Results: I saw this contest referred to as the people’s main event on Twitter and that title felt appropriate. Barboza was the favorite with his explosive ability to end the match at any time coupled with his recent improvements in point fighting. Instead, Dariush was the one scoring points, keeping the pressure on Barboza while landing something in every exchange. Barboza scored a few shots that snapped back Dariush’s head, but it was clear the first eight-and-a-half minutes were all Dariush. Then it happened. Barboza timed a Dariush takedown attempt perfectly, nailing the Iranian transplant with a flying knee that had Dariush out cold before he hit the ground for an all-time great KO to add to Barboza’s already extensive highlight reel.
- Barboza: There were times I was yelling at my television trying to figure out what Barboza was doing. He would reset, Dariush would throw a combination that scored something, and Barboza would reset again without letting his hands fly or throwing a kick. Now I get it. He was getting Dariush’s timing down. Though it paid off in the end, it was a risky move as he had only given up a single round and started the second round out pretty strong. Then again, to be the best, you have to take risks at some point. Barboza said he is ready for the belt, though we all know Conor McGregor isn’t coming back any time soon if at all. He’s gonna have to settle for continuing to knock off names in the top ten. Mike Chiesa is one he hasn’t met yet. Maybe the UFC pits him against Khabib as I don’t see them trying to book him against Tony Ferguson for a fourth time.
- Dariush: This was about as tough of a loss as it gets. Dariush was doing all the right things to a guy who was a sizeable favorite as one of the bigger names in the division. The only place people expected Dariush to have the advantage was on the ground, a place the fight never went. Instead, Dariush made excellent use of angles to put together combinations and outland Barboza on leg kicks over 2-to-1. It was an awesome performance… until it wasn’t. That knee was BRUTAL. I hope that doesn’t have any psychological effect on Dariush as KO’s like that have been known to sidetrack careers. Remember what happened to Terry Etim after he took Barboza’s spinning wheel kick? If you don’t, that’s my point. Here’s hoping Dariush comes back strong as I enjoy watching him.
Shogun Rua defeated Gian Villante via TKO at 0:55 of RD3
- Expectations/Results: I was shocked at how many people were picking Villante to win. I know Shogun isn’t the same guy that he was in his prime, but he put on solid performances in his previous two contests regardless of whether or not you believe he beat either Lil’ Nog or Corey Anderson. Villante is the same guy who barely squeaked by Saparbek Safarov in December. He’s going to beat Shogun? It played out as I thought it would. Villante had his moments for sure, landing some hard punches on Shogun that hurt the legend. Throughout the course of the contest, it was Shogun who landed the more consistent offense that put Villante on wobbly legs more than once. Shogun finished the job with a beautiful punching combination to score his first finish in over three years.
- Shogun: This was easily the best Shogun has looked for an entire fight since his first contest with Lyoto Machida… that is if you don’t count his first round victories. Sure, his defense was still lacking, but that has never been an area where Shogun thrives. If anything, it’s part of the reason we’ve loved him. But everything else was on point. Crisp and accurate combinations, leg kicks, well-timed takedowns, stuffing Villante’s lone takedown attempt… Shogun was sharp. Believe it or not, this is the first time Shogun has won three fights in a row since 2007. He isn’t a candidate to challenge for the title by any means, but he’s in position to make a run if the UFC wants to put him in that position. I hope they don’t. Who wants to see Rumble Johnson demolish Shogun? How about Daniel Cormier ragdoll him? I sure don’t.
- Villante: Most people have already accepted that Villante is what he is: a talented light heavyweight who is an awesome action fighter and will never fulfill his potential due to mental gaffes. I don’t say that to be callous as I enjoy watching Villante as much as anyone. In fact, I think he had a strong showing here… aside from the complete lack of defense. Why he didn’t try harder to utilize his wrestling and take the fight to the ground is anyone’s guess, but that’s part of the mental side that seems to elude him. Regardless, Villante is always fun to watch, so he’ll hang around for a while longer.
Kelvin Gastelum defeated Vitor Belfort via TKO at 3:52 of RD1
- Expectations/Results: Belfort has not looked good since getting off of TRT with his lone victory since that time being a victory over a then 45-year old Dan Henderson. Not hard to figure out why the legend was an underdog to the youngster Gastelum. Gastelum did finish Belfort with a flurry of strikes early as expected, though Belfort deserves credit for showing more signs of life than he did in losses to Jacare Souza and Gegard Mousasi. Gastelum floored Belfort about midway through the round only for Belfort to get back to his feet and score with a flurry of his own. Even if the result was what was predicted, how we got there was better than expected.
- Gastelum: Gastelum looked sharp as hell. He picked his spots to attack and avoided Belfort’s attempts to explode and end the evening early. He used his jab effectively to neutralize Belfort’s offense and put together slick combinations. Great performance. We all know the UFC threw this contest at Gastelum to convince him to stay at middleweight after he had continually flubbed his weight cut to welterweight. It looks like it worked. I still worry about how high he can climb when he faces beasts like Yoel Romero or Jacare Souza, but he’s had enough opportunities at welterweight that I’m tired of the drama there. Regardless, Gastelum’s future looks bright.
- Belfort: Belfort can still win fights. He still has some fire in him and his hand speed hasn’t gone anywhere. He also did a bit more to show initiative too, something he promised to do. Unfortunately, he doesn’t appear to have a lot of durability left which is why he has stated his next fight will be his last. He’s targeting UFC 212 in Rio, which would make a lot of sense. Unless he wants to assure that he’s going out on a win, Belfort will probably want a high-profile opponent. One fight that fans have asked for quite a bit the last few years is a rematch between him and Anderson Silva. That would certainly help sell PPV’s, but nobody knows if Silva wants to fight again that soon after stating he wanted some time off after his last appearance. I don’t know how many people would agree with me, but I like the idea of Uriah Hall. We’ll see what the brass does.
Well, those are my collective thoughts. Until next time....