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Hindsight - UFC OKC: Chiesa vs. Lee in retrospect

Take a closer look at the strange happenings of UFC OKC, from the tainted ending of the main event between Kevin Lee and Mike Chiesa, to the stellar debut of Dominick Reyes.

UFC Oklahoma City had a few nice moments. Dominick Reyes felt like a special moment. Felice Herrig and Kevin Lee looked good too. For the most part though, it was a pretty crappy night. Just ask Justine Kish. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. I swear, that’ll be the last I mention of it.

The tainted finish to the main event was just a cherry on top of a lackluster evening. There were three former champions on the card. Two of them, BJ Penn and Johny Hendricks were shells of their former selves. Even dependable action fighter Tim Means had an off night. Nonetheless, there were happenings good and bad that deserve a closer look at what took place and where we go from here.

Here’s my thoughts on the UFC Oklahoma City, 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.

Jeremy Kimball defeated Josh Stansbury via TKO at 1:21 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: Stansbury was a moderate favorite over the doughy Kimball, though I had a hunch that physical appearances may have had something to do with that. They were exchanging on an equal level for the first minute before Kimball caught Stansbury with a wicked straight right that stunned him. Kimball followed with a hammerfist behind the ear that sent Stansbury to the ground. A few ground strikes later and the referee was calling the contest.
  • Kimball: Credit to Kimball’s unique use of the hammerfist. I’ve never quite seen it used like that before. Considering the spare tire Kimball carries around, I’m not sure if light heavyweight is the best home for Kimball. He has made the 185-pound limit for middleweight before and looks like he could easily make it again. Nonetheless, given the shallow nature of 205, he could develop into a lower level action fighter ala Sean O’Connell thanks to his underrated athleticism and aggressive nature. Some may not see that as a compliment, but it is meant to be.
  • Stansbury: I was hoping Stansbury could find success as he is very likeable. The more I saw him, the more I felt he would inevitably be doomed by his lack of speed. He did land some good punches of his own, but even at that point I figured it was only a matter of time before Kimball caught him unawares. Despite his impressive physique, Stansbury’s lack of athleticism limits his ceiling. This loss probably puts him on the chopping block.

Tony Martin defeated Johnny Case via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: A pick ‘em contest, I picked Case due to Martin’s tendency to fade as his fights progress. It ended up being the opposite of what I expected. Case started strong behind a steady jab, landing far more significant strikes than Martin. However, Martin was able to get his timing down and make the necessary adjustments, securing some heavy counters that had a lot more sting to them than Case’s jabs and leg kicks. Case continued to land more volume to make things interesting, but it was clear Martin’s harder strikes won the judges over.
  • Martin: It’s safe to say that Martin has turned a corner. His shallow gas tank has long been a part of his narrative, but that’s no longer the case. He appeared to be more energetic down the stretch, landing heavier shots throughout the contest. I’m encouraged he picked up the win without needing to rely on his grappling, indicating his standup game can’t be viewed as a liability either. There was no reason to think his grappling has declined either, meaning he can beat a quality opponent in multiple stages. I’m very interested to see how much higher Martin can climb.
  • Case: This wasn’t a bad performance from Case. Martin simply looked better as he begins to fulfill his potential. Perhaps Case should have tried mixing in some takedowns to mix things up, get Martin thinking. Instead, I didn’t see any adjustments from Case and he started wearing the damage clearly before the second round was over. Expect Case to get another chance to prove he belongs as he is still young enough that we shouldn’t have seen the best of him yet.

Jared Gordon defeated Michel Quinones via TKO at 4:24 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: Given the questions surrounding Quinones wrestling, Gordon was a slight favorite despite missing weight by three pounds. Quinones had some success sticking and moving early, but it wasn’t long before Gordon was able to get the lanky striker to the ground. However, Quinones avoided a lot of damage in the first round. The same couldn’t be said in the second as Gordon grounded Quinones again and found the openings he was looking for, resulting some devastating ground-and-pound. By the end, Quinones was covering up from Gordon’s onslaught before the referee finally ended the brutality.
  • Gordon: Though the win is tainted by Gordon missing weight, it was still a very impressive performance from the prospect. The way he anchored Quinones down in half guard was impressive and the ferocity in which he unloaded his ground strikes was a sight to behold. I still have concern about his standup abilities as I don’t see his wrestling being good enough to take down anyone at will. Though Gordon is only 28, he’s been in the fight game for a decade, beginning his amateur career in 2007 before turning pro six years ago. How much more room does he have for improvement? My guess is there is still room to grow, but I don’t think it’ll be enough for him to become a contender.
  • Quinones: I feared Quinones’ wrestling wouldn’t be able to hold up at the UFC level and those fears weren’t allayed at all. He did show heart by fighting back to his feet a couple of times despite all the damage he was taking, but that may be the best thing that can be said about his ground abilities in this contest. He did land a couple of nasty kicks early on, but it’s going to be hard to find any sustained success when kicks from range are your primary attack. I’m not expecting a long UFC stint from Quinones.

Darrell Horcher defeated Devin Powell via split decision

  • Expectations/Result: Despite returning from a nasty motorcycle accident, most were favoring Horcher to pick up a win over Lookin’ for a Fight find Powell. Powell started strong, showing improvements in his striking. Horcher eventually got the takedown he was looking for about halfway through the first round and in the opening half of the second, scoring a bit of damage from the top position. Horcher began to find his range in the third, only to be reversed when he took the fight to the ground as Powell threatened with multiple choke attempts. Horcher survived, ultimately swaying enough of the judges to see things his way.
  • Horcher: Regardless of what you think about Horcher’s long term prospects, it was inspiring to see him pick up a victory following his motorcycle accident. As for my thoughts on his long-term prospects… um, not so good. Horcher wasn’t able to do much when he did get the top position other than maintain dominance. It could even be argued Powell did more damage from his bottom position when the fight hit the ground. He did look good early in the third, landing counters, but it was also against Powell. Powell hasn’t exactly impressed anyone on the feet, even if he showed improvement in that area. We could see an improved Horcher in his next contest as he gets further removed from the accident. We’ll see.
  • Powell: Kudos to Powell for the boxing improvements he made since his UFC debut. His striking is still janky as hell, but it needs to be noted nonetheless. I love Powell’s heart too, simply refusing to give in to the status quo, throwing strikes from off his back when unable to get back to his feet. Though most were confused when a split decision was announced, Powell’s activity did present a logical case for the victory. However, Powell’s lack of physical ability – athleticism and physical strength in his wrestling – doomed him to be a bust the moment Dana White gave him a UFC contract.

Carla Esparza defeated Maryna Moroz via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Coming off a controversial loss to Randa Markos, Esparza was expected to get back to her winning ways thanks to Moroz’s lack of wrestling ability. Moroz did struggle to stop Esparza’s takedown attempts, but that was only part of the story. The majority of Moroz’s punches came up just short, allowing Esparza to win the standup battle as well. Shooting underneath Moroz’s long range for both her own punches and takedowns, Esparza secured a clear if uneventful decision over Moroz.
  • Esparza: Even if it wasn’t the most entertaining affair, this was easily the best performance from Esparza since she won the strawweight belt over Rose Namajunas. She got her striking going long before she established her takedowns, something she has struggled to do recently. Once her fists were landing, she landed the takedown almost at will as Moroz began to tire and look for Esparza’s punches. Overall, Esparza showed a level of confidence that has been absent since losing the belt. Here’s hoping she can maintain that. She needs a win against one of the elite of the division as neither Moroz nor Juliana Lima – her last victory prior to this one – fulfills that. Twice Esparza has been booked to face Claudia Gadelha and twice it has fallen through. Third time the charm?
  • Moroz: For someone whose boxing has been as lauded as Moroz’s, her boxing looks bad. Much like her last appearance against Danielle Taylor, Moroz was unwilling to commit to her punches, coming short just an inch or two of Esparza’s face. Whatever camp Moroz is working her boxing, she needs to leave as her striking is regressing. I’m also wondering what happened to her active guard as she spent more time trying to tie up Esparza than looking for a submission or escaping. Moroz is still young enough at 25-years old that there is plenty of time to right her ship. Here’s hoping she does it sooner rather than later.

Marvin Vettori defeated Vitor Miranda via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Even though I picked Vettori, I couldn’t figure out why he was nearly a 4-to-1 favorite on some lines over the veteran kickboxer Miranda. Though the scorecards were likely deceiving to the naked eye, it was a close contest. Vettori came out aggressive, expending a lot of energy on short and powerful striking combinations, keeping Miranda’s back against the fence. Vettori began to fade the second round, but it wasn’t until the third round that Miranda established himself as the aggressor, stalking Vettori around the cage with hard kicks. Vettori closed out the final frame in control after securing a takedown, ensuring Miranda couldn’t secure the finish he needed for the win.
  • Vettori: Though this was Vettori’s best win of his career, it’s also a perfect example of his youthful exuberance as he depleted his gas tank quickly. I’ll grant him that his striking did look improved as his early combinations were landing with authority, but they still weren’t very technical either which played a big part of him tiring as quickly as he did. His wrestling technique needs some work too as he didn’t time his shots very well early on. Basically, Vettori got this win based almost solely on his physical talents. If his coaches can help him with his efficiency levels, Vettori will be a scary dude.
  • Miranda: Much like Case’s performance, this wasn’t a bad performance from Miranda. I could see an argument being made that he was trying to exhaust Vettori early on as Miranda’s return offense came very sporadically. He did try to pick up the pace in the final two rounds only for takedowns to stall his momentum. Miranda did pull the trigger, landing a few nice shots that could have ended the contest had they landed with just a hair more accuracy. However, he didn’t pull the trigger enough. At 38, Miranda is near the end of the line. Don’t be surprised if the UFC decides they’d rather let the Brazilian veteran go on his way, but I expect he gets one more opportunity.

Clay Guida defeated Erik Koch via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Given the declining durability of Guida’s formerly iron chin, Koch was a very heavy favorite as Guida returned to his old stomping grounds of lightweight. A competitive first round in which Koch stuffed Guida’s takedown attempts and landed more offense was what we all expected. The last two rounds… not so much. Guida scored early takedowns in each round and maintained control until time expired from there. Guida even got the full mount at the end of the second and began landing some heavy punches from there, doing something to dispel the notion of him being a lay-and-prey fighter. It was the best performance from Guida in years.
  • Guida: I wasn’t sure how well Guida would look returning to lightweight as he’s always been small. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been questioning that against Koch as Koch is a former featherweight himself. While I wasn’t encouraged by what Guida showed on the feet, I have to give the longtime vet credit for avoiding getting sucked into a brawl as would have been the case early in Guida’s UFC career. He doesn’t have the chin to survive those situations anymore and he seems to recognize that. Throw in the improved ground-and-pound and this was about as good of a performance as we could have expected out of Guida.
  • Koch: While I’m giving Guida all sorts of praise, I’m curious how difficult it is to escape from his top control as Koch was unable to do so. Is it really that difficult to escape from? I’m even more shocked considering teammate Anthony Pettis lost to Guida in much the same fashion six years ago. While Koch deserves his share of the blame, there hasn’t been a whole lot of success coming out of Roufusport in quite a while. I can’t help but think Koch would be best served finding a new camp as wrestling has long been the Achilles heel of that camp. I also wonder if the injuries that have plagued Koch’s career could be slowing him down. He didn’t show any of his former explosion at all.

Dennis Siver defeated BJ Penn via majority decision

  • Expectations/Result: Given the string of unimpressive performances turned in by the UFC Hall of Famer, few in the MMA circle had hope for Penn turning back the clock. To his credit, Penn looked better than he has since 2011, finding some success with his jab and even knocking Siver down with an uppercut near the end of the second round. However, that was the end of his offense as Penn was completely spent. He couldn’t deliver any offense on a grounded Siver and allow Siver to dominate the final frame by picking him apart. Given that Siver had outlanded Penn in the first, it was enough to secure a judges’ decision.
  • Siver: While Penn is the biggest name on Siver’s resume, everyone knows it doesn’t mean much at this stage of Penn’s career. In other words, barely being able to squeeze by Penn isn’t a very encouraging sign for Siver’s future endeavors. He showed a lot of the same movement, but there wasn’t much power in his strikes and he was unable to finish his takedown attempts. Being knocked down by Penn also raises questions about his durability. Siver does still have a deep gas tank, which allowed him to secure this win, but that appears to be the only thing he still has intact. Siver’s UFC career isn’t for long.
  • Penn: By the standards of any other fighter, this was a very poor performance. By the low standards that Penn has set based on his recent performances, this was very encouraging. If he can get a knockdown, why can’t he pick up a win!? I don’t want to find out. Siver is about as low of a quality of an opponent as the UFC could have given Penn and he had nothing left to offer after securing the knockdown. Much like I said with Takanori Gomi last week, somebody needs to let Penn know he shouldn’t be doing this anymore. Not just because I get depressed watching him in the cage, but because there is no need for him to take any more potential long-term damage when he has nothing left to prove.

Tim Means defeated Alex Garcia via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: I was expecting a potential FOTN contest. It didn’t come close to delivering that. The expectation that was fulfilled was that Means walked out with a victory. Keeping his jab in Garcia’s face the entirety of the contest, Garcia struggled to land any offense outside of an early flurry that included a haymaker that rattled Means’ head. When Means wasn’t landing his jab, he scored with a counter left time and again, getting Garcia’s timing down with ease. Overall though, very timid contest that disappointed.
  • Means: I can’t fault Means. He fought a smart fight, keeping Garcia at range after that bomb landed early, and avoiding all of Garcia’s takedown attempts. Isn’t part of a fight avoiding the damage that your opponent throws at you? Means did that effectively following the close opening round. The thing that impressed me the most was how easily Means avoided Garcia’s takedown attempts after he was manhandled by Alex Oliveira. Means has a tendency of addressing areas that are considered weaknesses, one of his best qualities. Here’s hoping Means will look more like his old self in his next contest.
  • Garcia: It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say this was a make-or-break contest for Garcia. He needed to prove he can pick up a win over a tough test who isn’t well past their prime. Sorry Mike Swift. Sorry Mike Pyle. He couldn’t do it. He got deep on a few of the takedown attempts, but was unable to finish them. At this point, it appears safe to say Garcia will never fulfill his potential. That doesn’t mean he can’t be fun in the right matchup. His power hasn’t gone anywhere. And he deserves props for showing improved stamina. Still, he hasn’t done enough to make himself more than a middling welterweight.

Dominick Reyes defeated Joachim Christensen via TKO at 0:29 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: Even though there was very little footage of Reyes, what was available was enough for most to favor him against the experienced Christensen. Reyes didn’t disappoint. Rocking Christensen with a straight left, a brief flurry sent Christensen to the ground. Allowing him back up, another straight left from Reyes dropped Christensen again. A few follow-up punches later and the fight was over.
  • Reyes: What a way to make a debut! Reyes wasn’t on the radar of most fans before his head kick KO earlier this month on the regional scene. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a nice highlight reel before that. It was that he hadn’t fought anyone worthwhile. While it can still be debated whether he has – sorry Joachim -- Reyes did everything in his power to convince us all that he’s going to be the real deal. It’s clear at this point that Reyes possesses unnatural power in both his punches and kicks. He did telegraph some of his punches, but I’m just nitpicking at this point. Keep a close eye on the youngster.
  • Christensen: It’s hard not to appreciate Christensen’s willingness to climb into the cage as he did so for the fourth time in nine months, but he didn’t do anything positive in this fight. That drops him to 1-3 in the UFC with his lone win coming against an opponent whom I’ve heard many refer to as the worst fighter on the UFC roster this side of CM Punk in Bojan Mihajlovic. Christensen has served his purpose in providing a durable test for some youngsters. It’s time for someone else to fill that role.

Felice Herrig defeated Justine Kish via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: A pick ‘em contest, I went with Kish as she pushes a hard pace, something Herrig has traditionally struggled with. I ultimately underestimated Herrig’s newfound confidence and stamina as she dominated the athletic youngster from bell to bell. Winning scramble after scramble, getting Kish’s back, obtaining mount… it’s hard not to find an area in the grappling department that Herrig didn’t dominate. Kish showed incredible resilience, escaping from some VERY deep submission attempts as well as escaping mount multiple times too. Unfortunately for her, very little offense was produced as she spent the majority of the fight warding off Herrig’s grappling attack. Great performance from the veteran Herrig, perhaps the best of her career.
  • Herrig: There aren’t enough good things I can say about Herrig. Her transitions were slick, her positioning was about as technically sound as it gets, and she held her own in the standup where Kish is at her best. The only thing missing was a finish and no one can debate that Herrig try to obtain one. The constant in every one of Herrig’s performances during the three-fight winning streak has been an excellent fight IQ as her strategy has been impeccable. If she continues to improve and fight as wisely as she has, Herrig could become a legit dark horse, something nobody could have predicted. Make no mistake, Herrig will get a ranked opponent next. Cortney Casey seems appropriate to me.
  • Kish: It was inevitable that for all of her physical gifts, Kish’s lack of technique and defense would eventually catch up to her. Even though she escaped numerous bad situations, she relied so heavily on her natural strength and athleticism that she not only expended a lot of energy in the process, but also found herself moving into another bad situation that Herrig capilatized on. I don’t know if she simply doesn’t listen to coaching or if her camp is that bad, but maybe this is the trigger Kish needs to start doing things the right way. Imagine the beast she could become if she had/listened to proper coaching….

Tim Boetsch defeated Johny Hendricks via TKO at 0:46 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: After appearing reinvigorated following his debut at 185 against Hector Lombard, most expected Hendricks to continue his resurgence in his home state. Instead, Hendricks missed weight to give the public an idea of where his head was, leading to many late bets going in for Boetsch. Hendricks didn’t look like he was very interested in being in the cage, continually waiting for the opportunity to hit a single big shot. On the other side, Boetsch used his reach advantage, picking Hendricks apart with front kicks and jabs. Shortly into the second round, Boetsch landed a head kick to Hendricks that clearly rocked him. Hendricks stumbled back to the fence where Boetsch finished him with a series of uppercuts.
  • Boetsch: Showing great movement and use of angles, Boetsch went after Hendrick’s body aggressively. Considering Hendricks’ conditioning was questionable, can’t argue with the strategy. It eventually opened up the head kick, setting up the finish. This is arguably the most impressive stretch of Boetsch’s career. He’s won three of his last four, with finishes of Rafael Natal and Josh Samman in that stretch. Who would have thought following Boetsch’s stretch of six losses in eight contests? It hasn’t merely been a matter of luck or a come-from-behind victory that Boetsch has been noted for either. These have been strong performances from bell to bell. It’s hard to believe at 36, but this could be the best version of Boetsch we’ve ever seen.
  • Hendricks: Anyone else get the feeling Hendricks doesn’t even want to fight anymore? Ever since he climbed the top of the welterweight mountain, Hendricks has lost all his motivation and it has been on display for everyone to see. He had zero initiative to try and wear down Boetsch whether it be with strikes or takedowns and that was the strategy he would have been wise to use given his lack of reach and size. Instead, Hendricks clearly didn’t put the proper preparation into the contest and it showed. I was once one of Hendricks’ biggest supporters. Now I could care less to see him step in the cage again.

Kevin Lee defeated Mike Chiesa via submission at 4:37 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: I was a bit surprised to see Lee as a slight favorite on so many betting sites. Yes, I recognize that he’s a fantastic athlete, but Chiesa is the type to make an opponent pay for a mistake and Lee is prone to mistakes. Well… normally he is. After some brief-but-competitive standup, Lee hit a takedown that Chiesa tried to counter with submissions off his back. Lee had none of it, working into a series of favorable positions and punishing Chiesa with some devastating ground-and-pound that appeared to make Chiesa woozy. Lee soon got Chiesa’s back and eventually sank in a RNC. Chiesa initially fought it, though it wasn’t long before his movement slowed down. Either thinking Chiesa tapped or was out, Mario Yamasaki stopped the contest prematurely to give Lee a controversial victory.
  • Lee: It’s a real shame that Lee’s best performance to date is tainted by an early stoppage. It can be said that he likely would have earned the victory had Yamasaki waited just a few more seconds, but Chiesa was not yet out nor did he give up. Regardless, Lee escaped some potentially bad situations to put Chiesa at a disadvantage for almost the entirety of the fight. Perhaps most impressive though was the ground strikes Lee landed as they were heavy as hell. Now the scary part: Lee is only 24-years old. He could be at or near the top of the division for the next decade. He did say immediately after the fight that he was willing to give Chiesa a rematch given the controversial ending, but later got into a beef with Tony Ferguson. Given Lee’s braggadocios nature, I’m sure he’d be perfectly content to square off with the man many consider the uncrowned lightweight champion. If it gets Ferguson back into the cage, I’m cool with it. However, I’d say Edson Barboza is likely next.
  • Chiesa: While I absolutely disagree with the stoppage, there is about a 99% chance that Chiesa was either tapping or going to sleep from that hold. He didn’t look good at all. I don’t know if it’s simply his lack of athleticism catching up to him as he faces elite competition or if the 14-month layoff had him rusty, but Chiesa’s performance is not indicative of the title challenger he likes to fashion himself as. People tend to forget that Beneil Dariush was having his way with Chiesa before getting lazy with his wrestling. I have no problem with calling Chiesa a top ten lightweight. But a title contender? I don’t think so. If he gets his rematch with Lee, I don’t see a lot changing from what went down here as Lee appears to have corrected some mental deficiencies. If he doesn’t get that, I’d be game to see him in the cage with Gilbert Melendez. Anyone else like that idea?

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