UFC 215 is going to have a permanent stink around it for a couple of reasons. It lost two very high-profile contests in Junior dos Santos-Francis Ngannou and Demetrious Johnson-Ray Borg, and having the main event drop less than 48 hours before the event certainly didn’t help. The cancellation elevated Amanda Nunes’ defense of her bantamweight title against Valentina Shevchenko to the main event, offering the champion a chance at redemption after pulling out of UFC 213 on the same day. The opportunity was there, but she didn’t make good on it as the ladies put on a strategic performance that did little to satisfy the bloodlust of the “Just Bleed” fans with Nunes retaining her belt. Though the rest of the card was actually very entertaining and full of upsets, those performances are likely to be forgotten in the annals of MMA history.
Here’s my thoughts on UFC 215, 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.
Kajan Johnson defeated Adriano Martins via KO at 0:49 of RD3
- Expectations/Result: After two years out of action, Johnson returned as a heavy underdog to the heavy-handed Martins. Martins showed that power when he secured a knockdown towards the end of the first round, but didn’t do anything else in the fight besides pressure Johnson. Johnson figured out Martins’ timing and eventually landed a heavy right hand behind the ear of Martins, putting him out cold before Martins hit the mat to score a huge upset.
- Johnson: I don’t know anyone who thought Johnson was going to pull off this upset. He hardly looked like a world beater in securing wins over subpar competition in his last two contests and Martins represented a huge step up from that. I can’t say I was impressed with his performance before landing the big right hand as his output was minimal, but I can’t complain as his strategy worked to secure the win. Looks like one of the bigger thorns in Uncle Dana’s side will be sticking around for a while.
- Martins: This loss hurts a hell of a lot more than the loss to Leonardo Santos. Martins output was even lower than Johnson’s, creating a boring fight that was putting people to sleep. Then to lose in such an emphatic fashion? Ouch. Martins turns 35 later this year and this loss opens up questions about his durability. Even though the UFC hasn’t been releasing anyone, I could see them making an exception for Martins given his age and the possibility of a decline setting in.
Arjan Bhullar defeated Luis Henrique via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: Though most were picking the former Olympian wrestler Bhullar, I hadn’t seen anything out of him on the regional scene to suggest he was ready for UFC competition. I overestimated the advantage Henrique would have in the striking as well as the Brazilian’s willingness to engage in wrestling with the former Olympian. Bhullar’s advantage wasn’t massive, but he did score an impressive slam takedown in the second which was enough to secure a win in his UFC debut despite a late charge from Henrique.
- Bhullar: Bhullar’s inability to dominate the wrestling outside of short spurts doesn’t bode well for his long-term future. Then again, it takes a while to adapt to the MMA style of wrestling when coming over from wrestling. Bhullar did show some growth on the feet, getting inside of Henrique’s reach on occasion to land a few hard shots. There is reason to be optimistic about Bhullar’s future, but not optimistic enough to declare him a future title contender, though that could change.
- Henrique: This wasn’t a bad performance from Henrique, but it was slightly disappointing. He pumped his jab out there quite bit, but it wasn’t as effective as hoped. Nonetheless, I still see progress coming from the young Brazilian, even if it doesn’t jump off the screen. That he rallied to take the last round was encouraging too. The UFC shouldn’t give up on the 24-year old yet as he continues to get better. He doesn’t look like he’s going to be a contender, but I can see him being a mainstay.
Alex White defeated Mitch Clarke via TKO at 4:36 of RD2
- Expectations/Result: Clarke had lost consecutive contests, but was getting a step down in competition against an improving White. Clarke started out strong, scoring some brutal knees in the clinch as soon as the contest started. White slowly turned the tide, using his physical advantages to bully Clarke in every area the fight went from there. Clarke didn’t bother with defense, hoping his toughness would keep him standing while he tried to turn the tide, but that only worked for so long before White’s onslaught proved to be too much. Clarke announced his retirement after the contest.
- White: I was skeptical of White’s move to lightweight initially, but I’ll admit it was the right move at this point. He has a lot more energy and used it to aggressively pursue the finish, something he couldn’t do for very long when he was cutting to 145. He still relies heavily on his physical gifts as opposed to using technique, which will be a problem as he climbs the ladder as White’s physical skills aren’t as impressive as he faces better competition. Regardless, part of his lack of attention to defense was due to Clarke leaving so many openings as he was tighter against Tony Martin.
- Clarke: Clarke has always been one of the good guys in the sport with nary a bad word ever said about his character. MMA needs more guys like him. However, his physical talent has never been UFC level, picking up the UFC wins he did thanks to his heart and toughness. There was only so much success Clarke could find at the top level and perhaps it’s for the best he’s called it a career. Regardless of how you feel about his abilities, we should all be wishing him the best. He will be missed.
Rick Glenn defeated Gavin Tucker via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: Tucker clowned Sam Sicilia in his UFC debut in February, leading many to believe he is a future star. Glenn’s struggles against Phillippe Nover didn’t inspire confidence that he could be the one to hand Tucker his first career loss… but did he ever! Tucker expended a lot of energy early battling Glenn in the clinch. He held his own, but depleted his gas tank. The momentum permanently swung in favor of Glenn when he scored a knockdown late in the first with Tucker merely looking to survive over the last half of the contest. It was a hard thing to watch as there were many times the referee should have put an end to the contest rather than let it go to decision.
- Glenn: This was easily the best performance of Glenn’s career, indicating he is continuing to improve despite being 25 fights into his career. Perhaps being able to focus on training is part of it as he no longer works in a tire shop. I thought he should have done more to use his length early in the fight, but his strategy to attack the body of Tucker in the clinch proved to be far more intelligent. Even when he stayed on the outside, he was attacking the legs and body, looking to limit Tucker’s stamina and movement. Great performance that has me rethinking Glenn’s ceiling.
- Tucker: I don’t see anyone talking about Tucker as a future star after the beating he took here. Seriously, the beating Glenn slapped on him was of the life-altering variety. Four broken bones in his face, including his jaw and both orbitals. Damn! I find it hard to believe he will be the same fighter he was before this contest. It didn’t have to be this way, but the referee allowed the violence to continue long after it should have been stopped. Tucker is going to need to heal up for a while now. I hope he gives himself enough time to do so… and I’m not just talking about his physical state.
Sarah Moras defeated Ashlee Evans-Smith via submission at 2:51 of RD1
- Expectations/Result: It had been two years since Moras stepped into the cage and she started a GoFundMe for her camp. That doesn’t sound like someone who is about to win, which is why I – and pretty much everyone else – picked Evans-Smith to emerge victorious. We were all wrong. Moras nabbed an armbar from the guard and while it may have taken her a while to fully extend the submission, she eventually did and secured another upset victory on a card full of them.
- Moras: I knew Moras was still on the UFC roster, but it was in the back of my mind. Her presence is at the forefront for many now. Evans-Smith does have a reputation for getting sloppy on the ground, but credit to Moras for recognizing that and attacking from her guard, a strategy that doesn’t often pan out in today’s UFC. I don’t see that working out with too many other fighters. The upset was impressive, but I’m still not sold on Moras being a threat moving forward.
- Evans-Smith: Based purely on physical gifts, Evans-Smith should be hovering around the top five of the division. Instead, her mental gaffes continue to hold her back. Whether it’s being careless on the ground or getting inside her own head in the standup, Evans-Smith just can’t get out of her own way. The mental is more difficult to fix than the physical as there isn’t a solution that works for everyone mentally. I like Evans-Smith and would like to see her find success, but I would bet against it happening at this point.
Ketlen Vieira defeated Sara McMann via submission at 4:16 of RD2
- Expectations/Result: Riding a three-fight win streak, McMann was on the verge of thrusting herself back into title… provided she could get past Vieira. As a heavy favorite, she was expected to do so. It appeared it would through the first round as McMann secured an early takedown and worked her way into the mount position. Raining down punches, it looked like the end would be coming soon… but it didn’t as Vieira was able to cover up from most of McMann’s punches. Vieira reversed the mount, ended the round strong, and carried over her momentum into the next round. She surprised McMann with a powerful takedown of her own after stuffing McMann’s own takedown attempts, eventually working her way into a triangle-arm choke that McMann submitted to.
- Vieira: We have a new contender in women’s bantamweight. I’m not saying she is ready to fight for the title, but she is new blood near the top of the division which is badly needed. Nunes has either beaten the opponents near the top of the division or they are on a hiatus whether it be self-imposed or injury based. Vieira struggles at the beginning showed her resilience and durability, clearly good traits to have. However, it also creates worries for when she does face a legit title contender. I have no clue what direction the UFC will take with her next, but one more victory could earn her a title shot.
- McMann: I like McMann. I was ready to declare her as the next title challenger if she won this fight… then she didn’t. Even though McMann was looking her best during her winning streak heading into this contest, she does turn 37 later this month and seemed to lose steam about halfway through the second round, leading to her being taken down for the first time in her UFC career. Is it a sign of age? What’s worse, Vieira was still in half guard when McMann tapped. Remember how much crap we all gave Sage Northcutt for tapping to a similar choke. I previously didn’t see McMann making her latest run prior to it happening, making the likelihood of a similar run even less so given McMann is more than likely on the downside of her career. She can still be a sound gatekeeper for the next several years, but that’s the best I can see for her.
Jeremy Stephens defeated Gilbert Melendez via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: Expected to be a close contest, Melendez suffered an injury to his leg minutes into the contest, turning it into an affair of survival rather than something competitive. Stephens was smart in attacking the leg at every opportunity he saw, knocking Melendez to the ground a record five times in one contest as it was inevitable by midway through the first that he was going to win. While Melendez’s performance was inspiring in its own way, it was also a bit disgusting as he was going to call it quits between the second and third rounds only for his corner to talk him into going back out there for more unnecessary punishment. Yep, the third fight we had with all sorts of problems from the referee on the card.
- Stephens: It seems every time Stephens’ career is on the verge of falling into obscurity, he finds a way to make himself relevant again by securing a big win when most expected him to take a loss. He did the same thing against Dennis Bermudez and Renan Barao. All the credit in the world to Stephens for fighting smart and attacking what was a clearly an injured leg of Melendez early, but I’m very curious how different the fight would have been had the injury not happened. Then again, Stephens said leg kicks were going to be a big part of his game plan even had the injury not happened. Nonetheless, he won, adding another big name to the list of victims over the course of his career. If Stephens can take every opponent he faces seriously – unlike his performance against Renato Moicano – he may become an actual contender.
- Melendez: I was prepared to say Melendez was done if he lost this contest. Of course, he ends up getting hurt early on which makes it impossible for me to make an accurate assessment of how much he really has left in the tank or whether the move to featherweight was a good move. There weren’t many who doubted the toughness of Melendez beforehand, but it’s impossible for the few that may have questioned that beforehand to have those doubts after this performance. Despite that, Melendez was never competitive as his inability to stand on a firm base eliminated all power in his strikes. I still have my doubts whether Melendez should be fighting at featherweight, but he certainly deserves another chance to prove it’s the right move for his career.
Ilir Latifi defeated Tyson Pedro via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: In a division bereft of young, up-and-coming talent, Pedro’s two UFC wins provided hope that he could be something big. Latifi represented the biggest challenge of his short career thus far, but it was largely a toss-up whether Pedro could overcome him. Pedro had some early success, landing kicks to the legs and body in an attempt to push an overwhelming pace on Latifi. Unfortunately for him, he wore himself out in the process, leading Latifi to grind away at the youngster as he took him to the ground and kept him there for long periods of time. Not the most exciting contest, but certainly a good win for Latifi.
- Latifi: Though it is clear Latifi is not going to become a contender, this was a great victory for him. Most of his victories came against UFC washouts with only Gian Villante remaining on the roster. He fought very smart, not getting caught up in Pedro’s pace which he knew he had no chance of matching. Latifi won’t get the same push Pedro would have if he had emerged victorious, but he should get a higher profile opponent in his next contest.
- Pedro: While nobody ever wants to lose, this loss could prove to be beneficial in the long run. Pedro can now point to specific things that he needs to improve on if he hopes to become a contender. His wrestling, learning to pace himself, and standup defense were all things that cost him as Latifi had a counter ready every time Pedro landed a punch. I know I’ve said it before, but this is the type of loss a young fighter learns the most from. Look for Pedro to be the best version we’ve seen of him in his next contest.
Henry Cejudo defeated Wilson Reis via KO at 0:25 of RD2
- Expectations/Result: Though both were recent title contenders for Demetrious Johnson’s belt, Cejudo was a massive favorite as he still appeared to be improving. He sure as hell has. Reis wasn’t competitive at all. Cejudo’s boxing combinations were crisp and powerful, piecing up Reis from the moment the fight began. He even went to his wrestling a couple times, taking Reis to the ground effortlessly. It wasn’t long into the second round before Cejudo landed a brutal right hand on a pressing Reis, securing the first finish of his UFC career to cap off his best performance.
- Cejudo: While most believed a second contest with Johnson and Cejudo would happen at some point, no one was talking about it happening immediately after this fight. They are now as Cejudo looked like someone who could give DJ a run for his money. There wasn’t an aspect of his game that didn’t look at its best, pushing a pace that Reis couldn’t even begin to match while landing accurate combinations. Given he was coming off a two-fight losing streak, Cejudo probably needs to pick up one more win before securing another title shot. Sergio Pettis is the obvious choice, though I’m curious if the UFC really wants to derail their only reasonable title contenders for the future.
- Reis: I don’t know if Cejudo was so damn good that he made Reis look like a chump or if Reis was so devastated by his embarrassing loss to DJ that he just doesn’t have it anymore. Given he’s now suffered two consecutive high-profile losses in embarrassing fashion, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s done at this point. It’s difficult to recover from one loss of that caliber. Now he has to do it all over again. If he can find a way to become the same guy he was before the loss to DJ, Reis can be a worthwhile gatekeeper. Otherwise, he doesn’t have long for the UFC.
Rafael dos Anjos defeated Neil Magny via submission at 3:43 of RD1
- Expectations/Result: No one questioned who was the better wrestler and/or grappler between dos Anjos and Magny. Everyone knew it was dos Anjos. The question was whether dos Anjos could find a way to negate Magny’s 10-inch reach advantage. A single sweep leg kick was all that was needed to answer that question. Dos Anjos methodically advanced his position on Magny, eventually securing the mount. As Magny turned to attempt to escape, dos Anjos caught him in an arm-triangle choke to bring an end to the contest.
- Dos Anjos: It’s safe to say dos Anjos has found his welterweight legs. Though most believed he would eventually find a way to deal with Magny’s height, no one expected it to be so easy for him. Once he had Magny on the ground, dos Anjos’ vaunted BJJ chops took over. Given the amount of time he had to work, it seemed academic given Magny’s previous struggles with Demian Maia. With the confusing state at the top of the welterweight division, dos Anjos has as good of a claim as anyone to receive the next title shot against Tyron Woodley. There are a few contests that need to play out over the next couple of months – Jorge Masvidal-Stephen Thompson and Maia-Colby Covington -- but dos Anjos has as good of chance as anyone to get it.
- Magny: If Magny ever wanted anyone to take him serious as a title contender, he needed this win. He’s going to have a hell of a time convincing anyone that he’s more than a gatekeeper at this point. He doesn’t use his length to its full potential and his grappling has never been competent against the elite grapplers. Everything else is fine, but those two gigantic holes are gapping enough that they’re keeping him from busting out. He’s a high-level gatekeeper as it is right now and has exceeded everyone’s expectations to get to where he currently is. But until he strings together a few wins in a row, don’t look for him to get a shot at an opponent above him for a while.
Amanda Nunes defeated Valentina Shevchenko via split decision
- Expectations/Result: It was almost a consensus that if the fight ended in the first two rounds, Nunes was likely the victor. If it ended any time after that, Shevchenko was likely the new champion. While we did get the close contest most were expecting, it was nothing like anyone predicted. Nunes fought at a very measured fight, never displaying one of her signature bursts of violence where she is trying with all of her might to finish. Instead, she tried to force Shevchenko to come to her so Nunes could counter. At times it worked, at times it didn’t. What resulted was a tepid contest with neither fighter definitively pulling ahead as the crowd began expressing their dissatisfaction by booing. It wasn’t as bad as the crowd response, but it wasn’t difficult to understand their reaction. In the end, both ladies could have made an argument for every round, creating a scenario where it was a legit coin toss who won. Nunes ended up keeping the belt with Shevchenko’s response to the announcement being the most entertaining aspect of the fight.
- Nunes: Nunes must have been tired of critics saying she couldn’t win a fight that went five rounds since she seemed absolutely determined to prove otherwise. I’m not saying that I saw any openings left open by Shevchenko that Nunes could have capitalized on to end the fight, but Nunes never even tried to create them, something she has been known to do. Instead, she put on a tepid performance that isn’t going to win her any fans, something you’d think she’d desperately be trying to do after the fiasco pulling out of UFC 213 created. However, she is still the champion and that’s what the main goal was at the end of the day. She said she intends to take the rest of 2017 off, an interesting statement given she only fought once this year. Then again, she doesn’t have an obvious opponent ready to challenge her. In fact, the options available ensure Nunes won’t be headlining a PPV in her next contest. Bottom line: Nunes has a hell of a hole to crawl out of to get into the good graces of fans.
- Shevchenko: While I feel for Shevchenko and don’t necessarily disagree with her rant to Joe Rogan, she has no one to blame but herself. Everyone knows Nunes’ has a questionable gas tank and yet Shevchenko did nothing to push the pace and try to drain Nunes’ reserves. Had she done that, I think she could have emerged victorious. Granted, I think it’s safe to say she has more fans in her corner after this fight in large part thanks to that rant, but nobody wants to see a third fight between them after their highly strategic performance that offered very little excitement. As long as Nunes is champion – and it looks like she could be champion for a long time – Shevchenko is going to be nothing more than a gatekeeper at bantamweight. I don’t think the UFC brass wants her in that role. That’s why I expect Shevchenko to drop to flyweight where she’ll likely be a favorite should she get a title shot… even if it’s against Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Remember, she has multiple victories over Jedrzejczyk in Muay Thai competitions.
Well, those are my thoughts. Until next time….