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Hindsight - UFC on FOX 25: Weidman vs. Gastelum in retrospect

Take a deep look into all the in’s and out’s of UFC on FOX 25, from the yawner of a curtain jerker of Chris Wade and Frankie Perez, to the climactic main event between Chris Weidman and Kelvin Gastelum.

Hindsight

I realize most people were underwhelmed by the offerings of UFC on FOX 25 before the card took place, but I was excited by it. I know most casual fans don’t recognize the likes of Jimmie Rivera or Alex Oliveira, but they usually turn in quality performances by the standards of your typical MMA fan. Not only did they deliver by their standards, several others did as well. Sure, there were some fights that didn’t excite, but the consensus seems to be that this card delivered…even if I seemed to like Patrick Cummins and Gian Villante less than most people appeared to.

Here’s my thoughts on UFC on FOX 25, 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.

Chris Wade defeated Frankie Perez via unanimous decision

  • Expectations: A rematch from a few years ago when they were on the regional scene, most expected the result to go the same way it did the first time with Wade winning. It pretty much did. Perez had a few nice moments, such as catching Wade with a knee late in the contest, but was controlled by Wade for the majority of the contest in a competitive but uneventful contest.
  • Wade: That was what we’ve come to expect out of Wade: a grinding performance that largely puts the crowd to sleep. I’m not ripping on him; he’s doing what he needs to do to win fights. Good on him. However, good luck finding people who look forward to your fights. His inability to reliably trust his standup will keep him smack dab in the middle of the division beating those at the lower end of the totem pole while falling short against all others.
  • Perez: It didn’t take long for an uneducated viewer to realize Perez had the better standup. He just couldn’t keep the fight there. I did see some nice things in Perez’s wrestling to make me think he’s been working on it, but it wasn’t nearly enough to consistently avoid being underneath Wade. The loss drops Perez to 1-3. Given the depth in the lightweight division, I’m sure it’s the last we’ve seen of him in the Octagon.

Shane Burgos defeated Godofredo Pepey via unanimous decision

  • Expectations: After winning his first two UFC fights in impressive fashion, Burgos had built up some nice hype that was expected to continue to build with his contest against Pepey. Did he ever build up some more hype. Burgos got into Pepey’s head early and avoided letting Pepey dictate where the fight took place. Pepey had opportunities when Burgos let him throw recklessly with everything he had, but could not secure the finish. Nonetheless, entertaining contest from both competitors.
  • Burgos: Fantastic performance from Burgos. He’s had few problems in his UFC run thus far, finishing Tiago Trator and Charles Rosa and now bowling through Pepey. Pepey has been a dangerous foe, but Burgos showed no fear of what Pepey could do. Hell, he even took a few overhands without bothering to throw back to start the third. No doubt he frustrated Pepey with that approach. Regardless, the story of Burgos is his fast hands as he counters effortlessly. Very interested to see how high he can climb as he continues to raise his ceiling.
  • Pepey: It’s hard to be unprepared for Pepey’s reckless offense when you know he’s going to come out like a wild man every fight. Until he begins to throw some basic offense such as a regular jab, there isn’t anything unpredictable about what he does. Regardless of whether he makes it easy to prepare for him, he’s still a tough out with a dangerous skill set. He’s been in the UFC long enough that him becoming a contender is highly unlikely. Nonetheless, he’ll continue to be a fine gatekeeper for the next few years.

Junior Albini defeated Timothy Johnson via TKO at 2:51 of RD1

  • Expectations: Albini had shown some raw skills on the Brazilian scene, but had yet to defeat a quality opponent nor displayed much wrestling. Thus, Johnson was a sizeable favorite. Johnson had stated he wasn’t going to try to wrestle with him which proved to be a mistake. Albini found his chin with a brutal combination that dropped Johnson early with Albini not providing an opportunity to recover, pulling off the upset and avoiding much damage.
  • Albini: Granted that Johnson is no Fabricio Werdum, I see some similarities to Junior dos Santos‘ upset of Werdum almost a decade ago. Both Albini and dos Santos began training to get into shape. Both were coming in against established vets as sizeable underdogs. Both opponents were known for their preference to take the fight to the ground. Hell, they’re both named Junior! I know Albini has a VERY long way to go to make any comparison to dos Santos viable, but that was a hell of a start to his UFC career. Here’s hoping he can make himself a contender in short order as the heavyweight division is starved for young blood.
  • Johnson: As the announcers stated Johnson wasn’t planning on wrestling with Albini, I immediately was asking myself “What the hell?” That is what Johnson does! True, Albini showed respectable grappling chops in Brazil, but not much wrestling. Given Albini’s fast hands and explosiveness, striking should have been the last thing Johnson wanted to do even if he has made some progress in his own standup. Was he trying to put on an entertaining standup battle to make himself more marketable? Bad strategy from the big man. As likeable as he is, I hope Johnson can rebound.

Marlon Vera defeated Brian Kelleher via submission at 2:18 of RD1

  • Expectations: Kelleher’s recent upset victory over Iuri Alcantara turned a lot of heads, submitting one of the better BJJ practitioners in the division. Given Vera’s struggles – even in his victories – it was expected Kelleher would rip off another victory. Kelleher was the early aggressor, but got his arm tied up in a kimura attempt by Vera. Looking to break the hold by going to the ground, Kelleher tripped up Vera only for Vera to transfer over to a slick armbar Kelleher had no choice other than to tap to.
  • Vera: Vera was the fighter I had my eye on the most in terms of raw talent when the first season of TUF Latin America ended and he’s beginning to show why. His transition from kimura to an armbar was incredible. The torque he had on Kelleher’s arm was hurting my arm. There are still holes in his game, but his killer instinct and explosion have reared their head to allow him to snatch victory away from his opponent when they least expect it. Very interested to see his continued development.
  • Kelleher: I felt Kelleher’s victory over Alcantara had a flukish feel to it and this loss helps justify my thinking. I’m not saying Kelleher sucks. I’m saying his physical skills don’t translate to him winning consistently against the likes of Alcantara. Nonetheless, Dana White loves guys that are willing to throw down and take chances in hopes of getting a win. Kelleher does that. However, I think any hopes of him getting a push ended when Vera forced him to tap.

Jeremy Kennedy defeated Kyle Bochniak via unanimous decision

  • Expectations: In the minds of most, Bochniak sat at 0-2 in the UFC as most believed he didn’t deserve his win over Enrique Barzola. That – along with stylistic reasons – prompted just about everyone to pick Kennedy. Wise choice. Kennedy controlled Bochniak on the ground for the vast majority of the contest. Bochniak had moments in the third round on the feet, but that was about it as Kennedy’s relentless attack made the judge’s decision easy to make.
  • Kennedy: The youngster hasn’t made many stylistic changes, but he does look better than he did in his UFC debut. There are still holes in his striking that Bochniak exposed, but few can match Kennedy’s pace. That alone will make him difficult to beat, but he won’t be an elite fighter until he develops better standup. Fortunately for Kennedy, he has plenty of time before he’ll be expected to be fighting against the best. Calling out Gray Maynard was a smart move as it would give him a name opponent, but also an opponent he should beat.
  • Bochniak: I felt Bochniak got his call up to the UFC too soon as he had yet to beat anyone worthwhile. If you don’t count his win over Barzola, he still hasn’t. Bochniak has some alright takedowns of his own, so I can’t say he doesn’t have any wrestling. However, he hasn’t shown the ability to stop any takedowns coming from his opponents. I’m guessing he’ll get another opportunity, but I’m not expecting much out of Bochniak at this point. It’s a shame as I felt he had promise before coming to the UFC.

Chase Sherman defeated Damian Grabowski via unanimous decision

  • Expectations: Grabowski wasn’t the least bit competitive in his first two UFC contests, giving fans and media no reason to pick him even though Sherman accepted the contest on short notice. Grabowski was at least competitive in this contest, but not by a lot. Sherman kept his jab in the face of Grabowski early while keeping a steady stream of leg kicks throughout the contest. Grabowski landed some good shots of his own, but didn’t have the volume or oomph on his shots that Sherman did.
  • Sherman: While most would say it was a disappointing performance from Sherman, I’m not going there. Sherman has been trying to fight smarter and was able to do that for a full fifteen minutes. How can that not be progress? I’ll admit I would have liked to have seen Sherman turn up the aggression towards the end when Grabowski was tired, but I suppose Sherman was too tired himself to go for the finish. Sherman did score a nice flurry towards the end of the first that was impressive and may have been able to finish the Pole if he had more time. Considering experience is what he needs more than anything, this was a great fight for Sherman.
  • Grabowski: I saw someone on twitter mention Grabowski might be tossing the fight to go fight for KSW in Poland. Given Grabowski’s body language during and after the fight, I wouldn’t be surprised. He didn’t fight intelligently at all, not attempting a takedown until the final round. Given Grabowski is a submission specialist, that’s very curious. Why stand with a younger, more durable, and heavier hitter when you have the grappling prowess Grabowski possesses? With three losses in three UFC appearances, Grabowski will probably get his wish and end up fighting in Poland again.

Alex Oliveira defeated Ryan LaFlare via KO at 1:50 of RD2

  • Expectations: Oliveira had found success against smaller opposition and non-wrestlers at welterweight. He was getting his first real test here against LaFlare and expectations were split on how successful he’d be. LaFlare dominated the first round, getting Oliveira to the ground and keeping him there. Oliveira avoided the clinch the next round and had his way with LaFlare in the standup. LaFlare charged forward and Oliveira caught him perfectly on the chin with an uppercut, putting the New Yorker out cold.
  • Oliveira: I’ve been picking against Oliveira a lot lately. Because of that, I felt compelled to pick him to find a way to stop LaFlare. He did just that. Oliveira has a reputation of being a bit of a goofball, not taking fights seriously – at least that’s what Brian Stann believes -- yet Oliveira makes sound in-fight adjustments on a consistent basis just like he did here. He got a feel for what LaFlare was good at and avoided the clinch at all costs to begin the second round. That was when Oliveira began taking advantage of his speed and forced LaFlare to initiate. I don’t know how high Oliveira can continue to climb, but I won’t be surprised to see him contending for a title someday the way he continues to progress.
  • LaFlare: This contest highlighted two things: LaFlare’s brilliant positional grappling and his lack of athleticism. I never saw LaFlare as the dark horse candidate many saw him as a few years ago before the Demian Maia contest. I have continually thought he was a brilliant gatekeeper for youngsters looking to make their way up as LaFlare rarely makes mistakes. Unfortunately, he made a big one against Oliveira, but it could be argued that it wouldn’t have been a mistake against the majority of other fighters. He should remain a viable gatekeeper for quite a few more years given there isn’t going to be a steep decline in his athleticism when it begins to slide.

Eryk Anders defeated Rafael Natal via KO at 2:54 of RD1

  • Expectations: Natal has traditionally done well against opponents making their short-notice debut, thus why I expected him to walk out the winner. I should have listened to my inner-voice as he had some serious reservations. I knew Anders was a good athlete given his status as a former linebacker for the University of Alabama, but I didn’t know he was this good. He bullied Natal from the opening bell, landing hard shot after hard shot. It was a minor miracle Natal lasted as long as he did. Alas, a short combination against the fence finally did the trick with Natal going out cold.
  • Anders: Usually when a short-notice replacement picks up a win, it’s often with a finish out of nowhere or a contentious decision. Anders bucked that trend and put the entire on division on notice with a dominant victory over a proven veteran. Robert Whittaker was unable do that to Natal. That should say something about how impressive this performance was. Before anyone thinks I’m comparing Anders to Whittaker, sit back down. What I’m saying is Anders looks like he might be good to get on the fast track after an explosive debut like that. I’d like to see him matched up with someone on the fringe of the rankings…similar to where Natal was prior to this contest. If Anders loses, slow down his development from there. If not, we’ll know his win over Natal was no fluke.
  • Natal: Aside from showing a lot of toughness, I can’t think of anything positive to say about Natal’s performance. His running into the fence will be a running joke for years, likely long after he retires. That doesn’t help his reputation walking out of such a devastating loss. Even worse, that marked his third loss in a row. The UFC management has been far more forgiving of lengthy losing streaks than the previous administration. Thus, I think Natal’s job is safe…unless he starts asking for more money. Ask Gegard Mousasi how that went…

Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos defeated Lyman Good via split decision

  • Expectations: It was a bit hard to know what to guess given Good’s two-year absence from the cage, but the hometown favorite was receiving a slight majority of the picks. It was a razor thin contest from bell to bell. Good landed more volume in the first two rounds and secured a takedown in the opening round too. However, dos Santos landed the harder strikes and turned up the volume on a fading Good in the final frame. Plus, he surprised Good with a takedown of his own in the opening frame. Good’s reluctance to risk getting KO’d is probably what did him in as dos Santos looked like he wanted it more. Though most thought it would come down to the second round, but two judges inexplicably gave dos Santos a 30-27 score for the win.
  • Dos Santos: I’m not arguing whether dos Santos won or not. It was close enough that I can see the fight going either way. I just didn’t see how anyone could give either fighter a sweep of the scorecards. Regardless, dos Santos turned in a quality performance, adjusting to limit his kicks after Good scored the early takedown off a caught kick and storming back for the win. Given his reliance on kicks, I didn’t think he could win without them. Dos Santos has been exceeding expectations since making his UFC debut. We can’t be surprised anymore if he gets a step up in competition and pulls of another win.
  • Good: For the record, I thought Good won. Nonetheless, Good sits on the losing end and I’m not going to argue with that. Aside from his lack of aggression, there are things that I’d say cost him the victory. He faded down the stretch when I thought he’d be the stronger one down the stretch. Good also stopped looking for the takedown once dos Santos stopped looking for kicks. Given Good was thought to be the better wrestler, that confused me greatly. Hopefully he doesn’t slip too far down the ladder as it was a quality performance regardless of what his record indicates.

Jimmie Rivera defeated Thomas Almeida via unanimous decision

  • Expectations: Rivera was receiving the bulk of the media’s picks thanks to his consistency and durability…and Almeida’s tendency to get rocked early. Alemeida getting rocked is exactly what happened as Rivera dropped Almeida twice in the first, though Almeida recovered quickly on both occasions. Almeida rebounded with a strong second, inducing a stumble of Rivera to take the round. Rivera secured the final round with a pair of takedowns despite Almeida appearing to do more damage. One of the better fights of the night that had everyone wishing it had been a five-round affair.
  • Rivera: Textbook Rivera performance. Start strong, endure a rough second round, close strong. His boxing is so tight and technical that he doesn’t need to look for the haymaker to drop an opponent. Rather than complaining about his lack of power, perhaps we should be stating he doesn’t ever seem to sit down on his punches. With five wins in a row including wins over Urijah Faber and now Almeida, Rivera has just as much of a claim to a title fight as anyone…including Dominick Cruz. Cruz was dominated by Garbrandt and is now resting on his laurels. Rivera hasn’t been the most active fighter himself – he did turn down that fight with Marlon Vera on short notice earlier this year -- but he has been fighting. If Cruz won’t accept the fight, I expect Rivera will get Raphael Assuncao next.
  • Almeida: Despite the loss, Almeida has nothing to be ashamed of. He overcame early adversity – as he always seems to do – to come back strong and put a scare into Rivera in the last two rounds. Though the consensus is that he won the second round, I’ve heard many say he won the third round too thanks to the damage he accumulated. He’s steadily improving. However, until he can find a way to avoid getting clipped early, Almeida is going to have a hard time becoming more than a high-level action gatekeeper to the top five. Fortunately, he’s only 25, so he has plenty of time to iron out those kinks. Until then, the UFC should try to match him up with fellow action fighters with the occasional attempt to bump up his level of competition to see if he’s ready to be the star many thought he’d be.

Patrick Cummins defeated Gian Villante via split decision

  • Expectations: Given Cummins’ glass jaw, Villante was a strong favorite, though no one was making their pick without a lot of trepidation. It is Gian Villante we are talking about after all. Villante started strong – as he usually does – before slowing considerably by the time the second round started – as he usually does. Cummins kept moving forward as Villante’s punches had nothing on them after the first round outside of a brief flurry in the final frame. Cummins’ punches didn’t have a lot on them either, but he threw a lot more of them and kept the pressure on Villante to secure the upset victory.
  • Cummins: I know people will disagree with me, but this was not the best performance by Cummins. He won because he survived Villante’s early onslaught and kept moving forward. I’d have a different take if Cummins was able to get his wrestling going against an exhausted Villante, but he was too tired himself to finish off any of his takedown attempts. I know Villante is difficult to take down, but I don’t like Cummins’ ability to climb the ladder if he can’t secure more than one takedown against the Villante when Cummins allegedly owns an endless gas tank. I do like his attempts to stay busy, but there was almost nothing behind his punches. Though Cummins is making himself an easy guy to cheer for, I really think he’s hit his ceiling.
  • Villante: I’m pretty sure the few people that hadn’t given up on Villante have done so now. Someone like Cummins -- possessing a poor chin -- should be tailor-made for the hard hitter. Instead, Villante wasted his energy early and seemed to tire faster than he usually does. Maybe if he didn’t let himself balloon up to over 250 pounds in between fights he’d maintain better cardio. Just sayin’. As it is, he will remain a gatekeeper for now as he usually turns in an entertaining fight, this contest being the exception.

Darren Elkins defeated Dennis Bermudez via split decision

  • Expectations: Despite Elkins’ unlikely win over Mirsad Bektic, the thought was he couldn’t pull off the improbable two times in a row against a better athlete in Bermudez. Yet, Bermudez beat himself by taking the fight where Elkins is strongest: the wrestling department. Bermudez found success in the standup with leg kicks and his boxing early…and abandoned it. He did the same thing in the second round before finally smartening up in the final round, but it was too late by then. Bermudez had no one to blame but himself for the loss.
  • Elkins: I don’t want to take anything away from Elkins as he did what he needed to win. He effectively took the advantage time and again when Bermudez engaged in wrestling exchanges and did just enough on the feet when the fight went there. However, there was no new wrinkles in Elkins’ game to suggest he is a new fighter who is about to breakthrough among the elite. He simply didn’t make any mistakes and capitalized when Bermudez did…and barely escaped with the win. Nonetheless, five straight wins is impressive and deserves a chance against one of the elite. Here’s hoping he gets the chance…even if I don’t think he’ll find success. Then again, I didn’t think he’d win this…
  • Bermudez: This guy. The list of fighters who are a greater enemy unto themselves is exceptionally short. Perhaps even nonexistent. We learned all the way back when Elkins defeated Chas Skelly that you aren’t going to out-Elkins Darren Elkins and yet Bermudez tried doing just that. Why? What was he going to prove? Bermudez needed the win badly after losing to Chan Sung Jung earlier this year and foolishly went for a statement when there wasn’t a statement to be made. He’s a likeable dude and someone I’ve been rooting for, but he’s making hard to do so when he keeps pissing away his opportunities for success by being a bonehead.

Chris Weidman defeated Kelvin Gastelum via submission at 3:45 of RD3

  • Expectations: Coming off of three straight losses, a lot of people were ready to write off Weidman as being done as all three losses were KO/TKO stoppage losses. Could he withstand a hard shot from Gastelum? Um…I guess the answer is yes. Weidman controlled Gastelum with his wrestling for most of the three rounds the fight lasted. However, Gastelum almost finished Weidman when he landed a clean left hand that floored Weidman with ten seconds to go in the round. Weidman found a way to survive and went right back to his wrestling the rest of the way before finding an arm-triangle choke in the third for a very much needed victory.
  • Weidman: Being one of only two on the staff who picked Weidman, I breathed a huge sigh of relief to see that he’s not finished as a top middleweight. He’s not a particular favorite of mine, but all three of his losses came against opponents who either became champion or had a legitimate claim to a title shot after their wins over Weidman. That indicates he’s no longer the man to beat as opposed to being shot. Weidman called out the champion Michael Bisping. That isn’t happening, not with one win after three losses in a row. I don’t see him clawing his way back to the title, but he should be hovering around for the next few years as a gatekeeper to the top five or so.
  • Gastelum: Despite the loss, Gastelum acquitted himself well against one of the better-known fighters on the entire roster. Coming this close to finishing Weidman really showed he can compete with the best in the middleweight division. However, Gastelum stated he’s planning on seeing if he can get the go-ahead from Uncle Dana to return to welterweight. He’s missed weight three times at that weight class, once bad enough he required hospitalization and another not even bothering to try weighing in as he missed weight so badly. His testing positive for marijuana metabolites in his last contest doesn’t help his accountability either. The UFC needs to draw a hard line at some point and I believe that point has already come and gone. Unfortunately, I think Uncle Dana has a soft spot for him and will give in. If he does, I have a hard time believing it won’t be Gastelum’s last chance.

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