The UFC’s approach towards packing the free Fox cards with matchups geared towards excitement was always a great idea. Having title eliminator fights or just fights that are of direct consequence in a title picture also helped, but putting a title fight on should feel like a treat. But while I say it should, it kind of brings with it the sense that this wasn’t as big as it could have been. Mighty Mouse was the perfect fighter to put on free TV for the world to see with his personality and style, and it seems to work out better than having him on PPV and taking the blame when a subpar event isn’t successful because he’s the headliner.
For the greater part, it did feel like a done deal that Johnson would retain. It’s not his fault that he’s just that good, but it’s similar to the malaise felt when Anderson Silva tore through middleweight opponents and eventually took novelty fights at light heavyweight. As special as those performances were, some of the novelty and the feeling of witnessing history took a backseat when you realized how far beyond everyone else the guy at the top was. But the event felt like a good night of fights with stylistic matchups that were pleasing to the fans in attendance and at home. Not only that, but it sorted out some standings and kept other action fighters busy. All in all, this event ticked off all the boxes of what a Fox card is supposed to do and quite a bit more.
Demetrious Johnson - You really can’t complain about this one. Put the man in there against an opponent that’s essentially a little grappling tank that can give anyone fits with his striking, and he’s still gonna look like a million bucks. Johnson used a bit of everything in his arsenal to shut down Reis in the grappling department and penetrate his defenses standing. He combined his striking and takedowns to initiate the final frame in a beautiful manner. In the end it was a matter of just battering Reis and slapping on a gorgeous armbar, his third armbar finish since winning the title. You can’t knock the guy for lack of finishing ability, because he’s certainly trying and succeeding at it even when he doesn’t have to. He tied Silva’s record and gave us a clinic in the process, and he continues to show what a special talent he is. Appreciate him now, because guys like him don’t pop up often.
Rose Namajunas - Easily the biggest win of her career. Namajunas has a claim for being next for the title against the winner of Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Jessica Andrade. She hung tough with one of the craftiest grapplers in her division and kept applying pressure for most of the fight. That monster headkick was a golden opportunity and she didn’t look back after that. This was a massive bounceback from that loss back in July of last year, and it seems like it’s finally her time to get a crack at the belt.
Robert Whittaker - The argument could be made that Whittaker was the biggest winner of the night. Taking on a longtime legend in Jacaré is one thing, shucking off takedowns, reversing position and avoiding his threats is another. Styling on him on the feet and picking him apart? Instant classic. Much like his performance against Brunson, he wasn’t going down without a hell of a fight, and that’s what we got from him. Once he figured out Jacaré’s timing and kept working through his defense, it was only a matter of time before he cracked him. I do think the stoppage was premature, but it’s not like things were looking good for Souza after that. Big ups to Robbie, but he’s going to have to wait for the rest of the logjam at 185 to get sorted out.
Tom Duquesnoy - That had to feel great, huh? Tom weathered the early storm from a surprisingly precise and always agile Patrick Williams, but took over once Williams emptied his gas tank and became increasingly relentless. Making your UFC debut with a finish is always great, but a guy that already hype like Duquesnoy finishing a fight in a manner as brutal as this almost guarantees he’ll get some extra promotional push.
Anthony Smith - Never count this guy out. Not saying he’s going to be a champion soon or anything, but he’s got a penchant for pulling things out on opponents. Smith now has only won two fights by decision since 2012. That’s out of 13 fights. He keeps finding ways to pull rabbits out of his hat and is bound to give a lot of guys trouble in a division as chaotic as middleweight. He’s also quietly gone 3-1 in the UFC so far, so let’s see what comes up for him next.
Tim Elliott - After blazing through three straight wins, winning his Ultimate Fighter run and losing to the current champion, this was another great bounceback fight. It was a true scramblefest with lots of fun grappling and funky reversals, escapes and submission threats. It doesn’t get him too much closer to a title rematch, but it shows Elliott still is a rare talent and can do amazing things.
Alexander Volkov - Currently on a four-fight win streak and now 2-0 in the UFC, this was a very good win for Volkov. He wins against an established veteran that is still a big name in the division, and a clearer path further up in the most bizarre division out there.
Zak Cummings - Quietly amassing a 6-2 UFC record, Cummings has always shown himself to be a capable fighter with functional skills and an ability to control the fight for stretches. This fight was far less complicated than that, submitting durable veteran Nathan Coy by putting him to sleep.
Aljamain Sterling - Now standing at 5-2 in the UFC, Sterling is back on track after two tough split decision losses. He notches a win against a relatively unheralded but very tough opponent, yet it gives him a much-needed win and the ability to show where he’s at as a fighter.
Devin Clark improves to 2-1 in the UFC, and the Jackson/Winklejohn product took on another hard-nosed wrestleboxer to keep things moving along. Rashid Magomedov improves to 5-1 after dealing with slick striker Bobby Green, while Renato Carneiro remains undefeated pulling a surprising win against Jeremy Stephens. Ketlen Vieira improves to 2-0 in a division that could use a shot in the arm, which means she may be making her way up pretty quickly at women’s bantamweight if she keeps winning like this.
Ronaldo Souza - For a while it seemed like Souza was on his way to an inevitable title shot. That idea went down in flames after Whittaker started to dismantle Souza. The upside to this is that at least he and his management used the momentum prior to the fight to negotiate a new contract, which we should hope treats him very generously. He’s also at middleweight, which is an absolute mess outside of the top five. It’s entirely possible that he can work his way back to the top of the division in little time, but this dashes his title hopes for now after coming so close.
Jeremy Stephens - Maybe the bigger problem here was that this was just a bad matchup in terms of style, and maybe a lot of us looked past Carneiro’s talent level. Stephens is a mainstay at this point, having fought for the UFC since around 2008. He’s a fighter that came into this fight ranked at #5, but lost to a previously unranked fighter for his second consecutive loss. On the other hand, he recently beat Renan Barao and then lost to Frankie Edgar. If his ceiling wasn’t established before, it’s solidified now. That’s not to say he’s done, but it’s an odd setback.
Bobby Green - Now 4-3 in his run, but all three of those losses have been consecutive. As mentioned in the staff predictions, he’s erratic and frustrating to watch sometimes. He fought smart by working the clinch when he could, but didn’t seem to find his pace striking at range. He’s here mostly because one loss at lightweight can set you back a lot, and one has to wonder what’s next for him.
Ashlee Evans-Smith - Barely made it in this list, but despite only having a 2-2 record in her run, I can’t help but shake the notion that she’s lost a step. Perhaps it was a also a stylistic matchup problem, but she didn’t seem to be able to take the lead as she has before, nor was her striking where it has been in previous bouts.
Nathan Coy - Hoo, boy. It’s one thing to be 1-2 in the UFC, but it’s another to have both losses come as a result of being choked to sleep. With all the scaling back going on, it seems to me he may not get another shot.
Patrick Williams - Williams is a phenomenal athlete and a crafty fighter, but he ran out of options when he ran out of gas. He’s 1-2 in his current run and may get another shot, but don’t be surprised if he gets cut with an outing that showed him fade like that.
Augusto Mendes - While I personally hope he gets another shot, Mendes is also now 1-2 in the UFC. Then again, he beat Frankie Saenz by decision and lost to a top ten fighter this time around. Perhaps he’ll stick around, but that’s not guaranteed.
Jake Collier - Ever since arriving in the UFC in 2014, Collier’s alternated wins and losses to now end up at 2-3 in his run. He’s another fighter on the bubble that may get cut as well, and much like Mendes, I hope he also gets another chance.
Michelle Waterson - This loss puts her at 2-1 in the UFC, and she lost to one of the best talents in the division on a great night for her. It happens, and she doesn’t get set back too much, especially a talent that bright in a division that small.
Louis Smolka - In a close fight like this one with a lot of back and forth action, this loss doesn’t hurt him that bad. He’s also currently 5-4 in the UFC, so his overall stock doesn’t get hurt badly here.
Roy Nelson - He’s getting up there in age, and is almost .500 in his UFC run. Despite these factors, he’s in the least predictable division and is still capable of putting on fun performances. The problem is whether or not he should, because he’s got a ton of damage accumulated already. I’m compelled to put him in the losing category, but the big picture here is more mixed than that. The fight had some good moments and wasn’t great overall, but his spot is still safe in the UFC regardless. It’s not as good a thing as it sounds, but at least he’s not in any danger of going anywhere.
Wilson Reis - What did he really lose here? Not many had the expectation he’d beat one of the best fighters to grace the sport, and that’s not a knock on Reis. In fact, I can easily see them having a rematch at some point. He’s a great fighter that lost to a man that’s virtually untouchable, so his stock doesn’t take a hit here. He’ll be more than fine.
Andrew Sanchez - Brutal loss in a fight that wasn’t exactly a barnburner, but he’s still 2-1 in the UFC. With his first loss there, he still has room to grow and improve.