Remember when fans used to look forward to TUF Finales? Me neither. Despite some dread going into the event, it didn’t prove to be a bad card. The main event between Kamaru Usman and Rafael dos Anjos delivered as well as it could have been expected to do so. The TUF tournament finals weren’t earth-shattering, but their endings were satisfying enough. And did y’all catch Rick Glenn and Kevin Aguilar? It wasn’t quite at FOTY level, but there’s no shame in being a step below that caliber of fight. The stinkers were kept pretty low too. A great night of fights, it wasn’t. But it wasn’t disappointing either. So who improved their stock and whose dropped? I got the answers for you.
Kamaru Usman: Usman needed this fight. The former TUF winner had no problems marching through Demian Maia for five rounds last spring. Dos Anjos dragged him into the mire and severely tested him early on. Usman’s physicality eventually broke down his smaller opponent, but he didn’t break him. Dos Anjos may have been there to the end, but that had more to do with dos Anjos insane toughness than Usman being a weak finisher. Perhaps the best part: the fight was entertaining… at least early on. Usman’s grinding style has been his biggest limitation to getting a title shot. Uncle Dana appeared to be pleased and even said he wouldn’t mind seeing Usman against the winner of Tyron Woodley and Colby Covington. But Uncle Dana says a lot of things….
Juan Espino: I may have picked the big Spaniard to win, but I sure as hell didn’t expect him to dominate the way he did. He quickly got Justin Frazier off his feet, no small task considering Frazier is no small dude. Any time the fight was on the ground Espino was in control, eventually finding a straight armbar. Granted, Espino is going to have a harder time doing that to future opponents, but the 38-year old has already exceeded expectations just by winning the TUF tournament.
Macy Chiasson: Chiasson could be something special. I’m not saying this just because she won the women’s featherweight TUF tournament. Many TUF winners have gone on to do nothing in the UFC. She’s a quick learner with a huge frame that she knows how to use. Granted, she bullied a much smaller fighter in Pannie Kianzad, but most of her opponents are going to be smaller than her. What gives me pause is there aren’t enough bodies at women’s featherweight to bring Chiasson along at a gradual pace. Regardless of her future, Chiasson is on top of the world for now.
Pedro Munhoz: Name the last time Munhoz was in a boring fight. I’m waiting. The Brazilian stood in the pocket and drew Bryan Caraway into a brawl, an environment in which Munhoz thrives. A kick to the liver – I think it was the liver – was the beginning of the end. I don’t see Munhoz breaking into the elite, but I do see him remaining one of the better action fighters in the division for a long time.
Edmen Shahbazyan: Shahbazyan gets some leniency given he’s only 21. Where were most other fighters at 21? Shahbazyan was having his gas tank tested. While that didn’t necessarily pass the test, his heart sure as hell did, securing a number of desperation takedowns to keep Darren Stewart from finishing him off. The kid showed better wrestling than anyone anticipated. I do worry that he’s under the tutelage of Edmond Tarverdyan, but things are looking good for his future thus far.
Antonina Shevchenko: All that was missing was the finish. She may have taken a little while to get going, but Shevchenko was in the driver’s seat after the first two minutes passed. Given Ji Yeon Kim is stupid tough, I’m not holding the inability to finish against Shevchenko. Good official debut for the older Shevchenko sister.
Kevin Aguilar and Rick Glenn: I don’t want to separate these two as they both deserve massive props for their brutal battle. It was clear Aguilar deserved the win, but Glenn sure as hell made him earn it. Glenn hurt Aguilar in the first, then Aguilar hurt Glenn. That pretty much set the tone of the fight with Aguilar landing more power shots and flooring an off-balance Glenn in the final round. Excellent debut victory for Aguilar and Glenn proves why he’s one of the premier action fighters on the roster.
Joseph Benavidez: I don’t know if it was finally shaking off the rust from his repaired ACL or if losing to Sergio Pettis was the proper motivation he needed, but Benavidez looked better than he has in years. His in and out movement was crisp and he ended up securing not one, but two finishes when Yves Lavigne decided not to recognize his first stoppage. Somewhere in Brazil, Murilo Bustamante is giving his seal of approval.
Benavidez also offered a callout of the winner of TJ Dillashaw and Henry Cejudo. He does have history with both, but it’s still a longshot the UFC extends the life of a division on life support.
Maurice Greene: After coming across as a head case over the course of the show, Greene got it together and showed some submission skills most didn’t think he possessed. Come on, who saw a triangle choke coming? I get that he has two other wins that way, but those type of subs tend to dry up at heavyweight against tougher competition. Given he’s best known as a striker, Greene is looking like he might be a legit prospect. He may be the only one out of this TUF class.
Roosevelt Roberts: I was surprised to see how many on the staff were picking against Roberts. I’m not saying he’s a can’t-miss prospect, but his lanky frame and solid athleticism made him someone I was interested in keeping an eye on. He gave some ammunition to my assessment, scoring a guillotine from a unique angle as Darrell Horcher pushed him against the fence. More seasoning is still needed, but Roberts is on the right track.
Tim Means: While the results weren’t a surprise, it’s still nice to see Means get back to his violent ways, securing a finish of Ricky Rainey in just 78 seconds. Granted, it took a distinct step down in competition for Means to regain his footing. He may be slipping a bit as the miles pile up, but Means is still ornery and vicious enough to go in there and make someone feel the pain with the right matchup.
Raoni Barcelos: Get rid of the tedious opening round, and Barcelos couldn’t have had a better performance. Displaying his powerful striking in his first UFC appearance, Barcelos showed off his wrestling and grappling in his sophomore effort, securing a RNC over newcomer Chris Gutierrez. Dominant performance from the rising Brazilian.
Miesha Tate: I know it’s a low blow, but… Look who isn’t with Bryan Caraway anymore! I do feel bad for Caraway, but this was there for the taking.
Bryan Caraway: Unfortunately for the former beau of Tate, his professional career has gone the same direction as his personal life. Caraway didn’t take a smart approach to his fight with Munhoz and paid the price. Given the intense dislike many within the UFC community have for him, many think this is karma. I don’t think I’d go that far, but it does look like Caraway’s UFC run might soon be at an end.
Darren Stewart: This is more for his fight IQ than anything. Where the hell was the desperation to get to his feet before the third round? He gave away the second round, costing him when he couldn’t finish off a dead tired Shahbazyan in the final frame. There were other elements where Stewart showed improvement, but he gave away a very winnable fight.
Ji Yeon Kim: Had Kim made weight, I’d say she wasn’t a winner or a loser as she was expected to lose to Shevchenko. But coming in almost five pounds over the limit? Yeah, that isn’t going to look good on any resume. Is a return to bantamweight eminent?
Alex Perez: Well… I guess that’s the end of his hype. I knew Benavidez would be the toughest opponent Perez ever faced, but I liked his progression leading up to the contest. It turns out the step up was too much as Perez’s confidence wilted after a few exchanges with the former title challenger. To add insult to injury, Perez was stopped twice in the fight. Perez still has potential, but we’ll see how that translates as he’s probably heading to bantamweight.
Michel Batista: The former Olympic wrestler hasn’t added anything to his arsenal outside his base. He took Greene down… then laid in his guard until Greene threw up the triangle. Batista probably started his career a bit late to acquire the skills he needs to become a mainstay. I’ll be shocked if we ever see him in the UFC again.
Julija Stoliarenko: If she was hoping to be known for more than just being the first Lithuanian to step into the UFC, Stoliarenko is off to a horrible start. She couldn’t score takedowns on Leah Letson and was too reluctant to throw at a decent clip. Not a good combination for success.
Darrell Horcher: I said Horcher has been too passive coming back from his motorcycle accident. I turned out to be right, just not in the way I expected. Sure, Horcher wasn’t landing his counters enough, but it was pushing Roberts against the fence and doing nothing that cost him. Unless you count foot stomps as doing something….
Ricky Rainey: Even though I never expected Rainey to do very well in the UFC, it’s still painful to see him get his ass beat in such an unceremonious fashion. Rainey, now 35, entered the UFC at such a late stage in his career that it was hard to see him finding success. This loss not only does nothing to dissuade that narrative, it strengthens it.
Chris Gutierrez: I’m usually more lenient towards fighters debuting on short notice. The problem I have with Gutierrez’s performance is he didn’t do much. His best strike was probably more luck than anything, an elbow from off his back.
Yves Lavigne: Given the difficulty of refereeing, there are times I feel the media – myself included – are too hard on refs. Stopping a fighter only to let the action continue when the fighter on the receiving end of the punishment shows signs of life is inexcusable. Then he follows that up by not penalizing a blatantly illegal knee. Yves… WTF?
Valentina Shevchenko: I love Valentina. But I think I’m done watching fights that she’s cornering. HEY! HEY! HEY!
Rafael dos Anjos: A part of me believes dos Anjos should be in the loser’s column based on the amount of punishment he took. However, dos Anjos proved to have some of the biggest cojones in the sport, proudly staying in the fight to the end. Make no mistake, dos Anjos can walk out of this fight with his head held high, even if he didn’t win a single round. His days of contending for titles may very well be at an end – unless the UFC adds a 165 lb. division – but he remains an uber tough gatekeeper.
Justin Frazier: If we’re talking strictly physical talent, Frazier shouldn’t be anywhere near the UFC. However, the big hoss has loads of heart and a story – a child with medical issues -- that has many fans on his side. I can’t call him a loser as he’s probably going to get another shot and should make some better money fighting now, even if he doesn’t stick around long in the UFC. If you love an underdog, Frazier is someone you’ll be rooting for.
Pannie Kianzad: Perhaps it is surprising to see Kianzad here, but it was obvious she shouldn’t be fighting against the likes of Chiasson on a regular basis even before the contest began. Kianzad looked like she was two weight classes smaller than Chiasson. She’ll look much better when she returns to bantamweight.
Leah Letson: Keep in mind that Letson was one of the better women at 145 outside the UFC prior to her signing. She did enough to win, which should secure her a roster spot. However, that’s about the only positive she can take out of her contest with Stoliarenko. Here’s hoping she gets better as she gains experience.