Consider this: still in the wake of the Mayweather-McGregor chaos, the UFC goes to a minor market for an FS1 card, armed with lesser-known fighters on the same night as the most competitive boxing match in recent memory. All of the attention was on the fight that represented not only legacy, but the true king at the elite level in a banner year for boxing.
Surely, the MMA event will take a major hit. Then Thiago Alves got stranded in Florida and a second bout was cancelled altogether. You couldn’t blame anyone conflicted about which event to stick to. But the MMA gods came through and this fight delivered on the action front. Not only that, but it happened in a big way and some participants made impressive strides that will either boost them up in the rankings or put them on an almost inevitable path out of the middle of the pack. For a lower echelon event, the UFC couldn’t have asked for much more. We got a competent event with good performances and additions to highlight reels.
Luke Rockhold - After such a long layoff, Rockhold needed to make a major statement. Winning wouldn’t be enough, it had to be impressive to make a case for being back in the title picture. He took a few lumps, but never looked like the fight was slipping far from his control. He used his outstanding top game to control a very legitimate BJJ black belt and made him quit with strikes. It’s the kind of performance you need to have after a stunning knockout loss and interview after interview of talking a big game. The biggest problem here is that he’s probably going to have to wait to fight Robert Whittaker (a.k.a. Bobby Knuckles, you know it) due to Whittaker rehabbing from injuries or wait for the winner of the Michael Bisping vs Georges St Pierre. Despite not taking much damage, he’s going to have to wait a bit for a title fight - and that’s if he’s next in line. It’s hard to think who else could be it, but the fight game is strange enough. We’ll all have to give it time.
Mike Perry - There are plenty of reasons a lot of fans dislike Perry, but his fighting skill is undeniable. This guy can crack, and has a habit of winning fights that he should realistically lose (e.g. Hyun Gu Lim, Danny Roberts), at least on paper. 4-1 in the UFC, all wins being KOs or TKOs. While this fight was supposed to be another step up against Thiago Alves, he got a UFC newcomer instead. That said, it keeps him in his winning ways and should net him another fighter just outside the top 15, or maybe between 10-15. His ceiling seemed to have been established in the Jouban fight, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make improvements to change this between now and his next fight. This game is crazy enough that we might see Mike Perry in the top ten by early next year. I’m not even sure I’m ready for that.
Anthony Smith - Smith picks up his biggest name win so far, winning three in a row to put him at 4-1 under the UFC banner. Smith struggled with leg kicks and allowed Lombard to negate the distance advantage early with a few shots. Anthony still had the composure to rally and blast Lombard into a fetal position. He’s finishing guys viciously, and could easily be facing top ten opposition next.
Olivier Aubin-Mercier - Hard-nosed grappling pays off to get Aubin-Mercier his third straight win. He does so against a very tough grappler with a dogged submission game. Now his UFC run is at 6-2. Another fighter that might be facing ranked opposition soon, if not next.
Uriah Hall - Man, if he had gotten submitted in the first, things would have been dire. Hall snaps a three-fight losing skid in a big way by weathering a storm in the first to blast Jotko with the one-hitter quitter. Big tings for team Jamaica. Hall’s had some brutal ups and downs in the UFC, but it’s good to see he’s not done and is capable of pulling off big finishes like this. Even if it means taking a while to find that opening and pull the trigger.
Gregor Gillespie put on a hell of a fight, keeping up an intense pace and beautiful transitions while pressuring Gonzalez and getting the finish. The Long Islander racked up three UFC wins, is still undefeated as a professional overall. Kamaru Usman earned his sixth consecutive win since the Ultimate Fighter, and keeps looking more and more like a world-class fighter with even more improvements. Gilbert Burns keeps rightfully being lauded for being a BJJ phenom, but his striking power is brutal. This win puts his UFC record at 5-2. Justin Ledet did enough for the judges to win on scorecards in what was essentially a boxing match, and Daniel Spitz got the referee benefit in a quick bout.
Hector Lombard - Perhaps the Shango/Lighting/Showeather experiment may be over. Four straight losses, three of them KOs/TKOs. Did I mention that was preceded by a bodying of Josh Burkman that was overturned due to PED use? Too heavy to cut weight consistently at welterweight and too small for middleweight, what can he do? What does the UFC do from here? Looks to me like he might have run out of chances here after getting knocked out in a fight he was probably winning. His reputation with fans isn’t what it used to be, and his performances haven’t been up to snuff. I’ve personally loved watching Lombard fight in the past, but he’s taking a lot of unnecessary punishment here.
Anthony Hamilton - I can see why the ref thought he was out, but this was an early stoppage. He was clearly hurt, but didn’t seem to be out. Couldn’t happen at a worse time for Hamilton, as this is now his third straight loss. The two previous losses were a submission and a knockout. That leaves him at 3-6 in the UFC, and he may end up getting cut. I’m hoping he gets another shot due to bad reffing, but I’m not holding my breath.
Krzysztof Jotko - Well, he was winning that fight until he wasn’t, getting sent to the land of wind and ghosts by one of the hardest hitters at middleweight. That’s two straight losses for a fighter that keeps looking like he’s about to hit his stride.
Jason Saggo - Saggo also got knocked to lead to his second straight loss. Saggo falls to 3-3 after this, and may get another shot. Even so, this is lightweight. That means he may not get another shot.
Sergio Moraes is an evil genius grappler with a ton of personality and charisma that the UFC hasn’t marketed, and he got slept badly here. No shame in losing to a tremendous talent like Usman, but it’s a rough one for a fighter that’s been stagnating in the middle of the pack.
David Branch - Branch has some good moments early, but ended up losing to a former champion known for having an exceptional top game and diverse, dynamic striking. This still puts his UFC record at 1-1 in a division that’s already got a logjam at the top. There’s no way he can’t get a rematch with Rockhold with another win, because this division’s an ugly mess at this point.
Alex Reyes - Coming in as a late replacement, it’s hard for some fans to understand how good Reyes actually is. All 13 wins are finishes, and there’s a great deal of upside for him. He might have lost, but the UFC has a great get here by picking up a legitimately good talent that deserves a shot. It’s just unfortunate that these were the circumstances. I’m very certain that next time we’ll see what he’s really capable of.
Azunna Anyanwu - Perhaps I may need to rewatch it, but it didn’t seem to me that Ledet did more over the course of this fight to win it. Anyanwu landed more shots in my eyes, and had more control over the bout overall. Still, losing your UFC debut lands you here. After the impact he made on the Contender series and the good moments he had here, Anyanwu still has upside and a good amount for the UFC to work with.
Tony Martin - Martin falls to 4-4, but is either in crazy fun fights or fights guys that are easy to look bad against. Also, this was a split decision against another tough grappler. His spot should be safe.
Jason Gonzalez - Gonzalez now falls to 1-2 in the UFC, but it’s not the worst place to be. He put forth a great effort in an exciting fight. He should be fine.