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Hindsight - UFC on Fox 28: Emmett vs. Stephens in retrospect

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Take a deep look at every contest of UFC on Fox 28, from Manny Bermudez’s debut submission win to Jeremy Stephen’s explosive -- and controversial -- KO of Josh Emmett.

For all the flack UFC on FOX 28 received, it ended up being a hell of an event. While the criticism delivered prior to the event was warranted, it will be perfectly acceptable if this event set the standard of action for the future cards on big Fox. Not every contest was a barnburner, but none of them could be considered to be a cure for insomnia either.

Here’s a breakdown of every contest on UFC on Fox 28. I’ll cover the important parts of the fight, some of the techniques I noticed that were either effective or ineffective, and where the fighters appear to be going.

Manny Bermudez defeated Albert Morales via submission at 2:33 of RD2

There were some heavy expectations for Bermudez and he lived up to them. Don’t get me wrong; he showed plenty of holes in his attack as well. Witness his standup. But by the end of the night he put his exquisite BJJ skills on display, chaining attempt after attempt together throughout the first round before eventually securing a guillotine choke from a standing clinch. Bermudez still has a long way to go to become a competent striker and he needs to figure out how to conserve energy and/or deepen his gas tank, but this was an excellent start to a promising career.

Morales looked very good too, winning the striking battle with ease. Up until Bermudez caught him in the finishing choke, it looked like Morales would either secure a finish via strikes or take a decision as Bermudez was fading fast. Perhaps more impressive was the grappling defense he showed in the opening frame. Expect Morales to be released as he is now 1-4-1 in the UFC. However, he’s only 26 with a mere three years of professional experience. It might do him some good to pick up some experience on the regional circuit. Mark my words, if he is released following this loss, Morales WILL be back.

Alex Perez defeated Eric Shelton via unanimous decision

There haven’t been many young flyweights who look as though they deserve a push. The winner of this contest would set themselves up to potentially be a young stud worthy of a push. I won’t make any promises that Perez will get that push – I’m saying push a lot -- but I wouldn’t be opposed if he did. The young veteran – he’s fought 24 times despite being only 25 years old – has consistently shown his experience in the cage, nailing well-timed takedowns and keeping Shelton down for long periods of time. Shelton’s standup was arguably more effective than Perez’s, so it was the perfect strategy for him to utilize. It isn’t that his standup was ineffective either. His low kicks were on point. It was simply more intelligent for him to go to the mat.

Shelton is in a precarious position. He’s clearly talented enough to develop into a standout in the division. However, the shallow nature of the division makes it difficult for him to find the type of contests that would help him in his development without potentially setting him back. I doubt he’ll be cut yet, but his 1-3 UFC record isn’t very encouraging. I still feel good about him as I got the indication it was more of a great performance from Perez than it was a poor one from Shelton. Hopefully the experience from this match does him some good.

Rani Yahya defeated Russell Doane via submission at 2:32 of RD3

I’ve long believed Yahya is one of the more underrated members of the UFC roster. No, he’s not a title contender, but he’s a very stern test that many continually overlook - including the UFC brass. He put on what may have been the most dominant performance of his career, limiting Doane to two measly significant strikes over the course of the entire contest. Given Doane is a far superior athlete, that’s a hell of an accomplishment. Doing this less than two weeks after his mother passed made this a special moment for him, a true feel-good story. I’d like to see the UFC up his level of competition as the only fighter currently in the rankings he has faced since coming into the UFC is Matthew Lopez. Given Yahya’s 10-3, 1 NC record in the UFC, he’s proven that he deserves stronger competition.

This may be the end of the line for Doane. He snapped his four-fight losing streak against Kwan Ho Kwak only to look as terrible as he did here against Yahya. That means he’s dropped five of his last six. Hardly an inspiring record. After four years in the UFC, it’s safe to say Doane is what he is, which probably isn’t a UFC-caliber fighter.

Sam Alvey defeated Marcin Prachnio via KO at 4:23 of RD1

The rule with Alvey is simple: don’t give him anything to counter. That way his power – possibly his lone plus attribute – becomes negated. Prachnio one-upped that idea. Instead of giving Alvey something to counter, he walked with his hands down into the pocket, negating any need for Alvey to even avoid or dodge any oncoming fire. While this was an impressive win for Alvey – he did knock the Pole to the ground on two separate occasions with his punching prowess – Prachnio handed the win to Alvey on a silver platter. So rather than feeling giddy about Alvey’s move to light heavyweight, I’m worried about the future of Prachnio instead.

Prachnio isn’t a large 205er in the first place, so him looking to fight in the pocket or close quarters in general when his karate background indicates he’d be better off staying on the outside is questionable. Prachnio’s complete lack of attention to defense – or is it respect for his opponent? – was going to catch up to him soon enough if it wasn’t this contest. If he hasn’t changed anything in his next contest, I’d be willing to let the UFC move on from him as evolution is central to finding success in MMA.

I still don’t know if light heavyweight is the best home for Alvey. The only time he seemed drained at middleweight was in his last contest when he took the contest on very short notice and was unable to make the weight. His power seemed to transfer over well enough, but will his defensive wrestling hold up against larger opponents? I don’t know. It was a nice rebound win for Alvey, but it doesn’t seem to answer any questions given Prachnio handed him the win on a silver platter.

Alan Jouban defeated Ben Saunders via KO at 2:38 of RD2

In terms of fandom, nothing negative can be said about the performance of Jouban and Saunders. They laid everything out on the line and went to war. Though Jouban emerged as the winner, Saunders earned a large degree of respect from anyone who saw the contest as well, meaning both walked away with their stock raised about as much as it possibly could have been. Saunders struggled to establish his range as Jouban continually found his way past Saunders’ long reach to score some devastating punching combinations. Aside from that, Jouban attacked Saunders’ legs with low kicks, knocking out his base from underneath. In fact, it was a low kick that stumbled Saunders that set up Jouban’s highlight reel left hand that put Saunders out cold.

The win does a lot to quiet the assertions that Jouban’s chin is fading. He ate some hard shots from Saunders without looking shaken too badly. His willingness to push forward showed the determination and heart that Jouban has long been associated with. It’s doubtful he’ll be able to become more than an action fighter on the fringes of the official UFC rankings, but given many figured the end was nigh in terms of career relevance, that isn’t a horrible fate.

In Saunders’ case, it’s hard to believe the end of his UFC career isn’t far away. Sure, he absorbed a lot of punishment before officially being KO’d, but he was rocked and/or wobbled on multiple occasions before the finishing sequence. His inability to establish range or tie Jouban up in the clinch is very worrisome as those are the two areas he’s most comfortable operating at. While it’s true Saunders’ grappling skills are some of the best in the division, his lack of wrestling to get the fight to the ground spells doom for him too. Add it all up and it isn’t a rosy outlook.

Angela Hill defeated Maryna Moroz via unanimous decision

In many ways, this contest played out exactly as expected. Moroz threw a lot of volume, most of it coming up just short of connecting with Hill. On the flip side, Hill was extremely accurate, mixing things up with combinations, low kicks, and work in the clinch. Most encouraging was her throwing – and landing – her most strikes in the final frame after she slowed down considerably in her last contest against Nina Ansaroff. I’m not saying Hill didn’t slow a bit, but she fought through the fatigue to fight effectively. While Hill may not become the dark horse many believed she could be when she returned to the UFC, her continued development is encouraging. If nothing else, expect her to break into the top ten before the end of the year…provided her development continues at the rate that it has.

Moroz appears to be regressing. Her volume is cosmetic as it usually has no chance of connecting due to her refusal to commit to her strikes. It’s understood that part of winning a fight is avoiding damage and staying out of the pocket is generally an effective way of doing that. However, Moroz’s overall defense has actually been poor despite her reluctance to stay in that range. Given her poor wrestling and inability to avoid eating too much damage even when she’s attempting to, she might be better off returning to her aggressive style she displayed when she first came into the UFC. As it is now, she’s now lost two in a row with very few interested in seeing her again. If nothing else, she was fun to watch when she was aggressive.

Marion Reneau defeated Sara McMann via submission at 3:40 of RD2

I don’t know what’s the bigger story: McMann again being submitted when she could have escaped or Reneau thrusting her name into title contention. There are logical arguments against both. We already knew McMann was her own worst enemy going into the contest while Reneau’s name being bandied around in title talks reflects more on the sad shape of women’s bantamweight more than anything. Regardless, Reneau deserves full credit for the win as she overcame a first round in which McMann absolutely DOMINATED her.

In many ways, this contest was stereotypical McMann. Her dominant wrestling was on display in the opening frame, trapping Reneau in a crucifix position and delivering a stream of punches that the referee had to watch closely to see if the contest should be stopped. Then she ate a hard right hand early in the second and never recovered, leading her to panic when Reneau eventually worked her way into a triangle choke. It took Reneau a long time to get that choke cinched in tight and McMann couldn’t capitalize on the openings that were available. After a lifetime in athletics, the 37-year old McMann may not have long for her career.

Though Reneau is 40, it isn’t a ludicrous idea to suggest she is in peak form. She hasn’t been competing consistently for the last two decades, meaning she hasn’t suffered the same wear and tear as many of women in the division – including McMann – and keeps herself in great shape. I don’t know how much she has been working on her striking, but I’m hoping Reneau’s ability to drop McMann will provide her with more confidence in her striking as she has been reluctant to trade fisticuffs. Then again, the knockdown could have been a complete fluke. Regardless, I’d like to see Reneau in a title eliminator next.

Brian Kelleher defeated Renan Barao via unanimous decision

Four years ago, I would have laughed hysterically if you told me Barao would be relegated to fighting on undercards while losing to anything less than someone recognized as a title contender by this time. He was a 27-year-old champion who had a legit case for being the pound-for-pound greatest fighter in the sport. Despite an obvious decline since that point, it was believed Barao would have enough in the tank to beat the likes of Brian Kelleher. The former champion was doing well enough through the first round…until he took a hard overhand right from Kelleher that dropped him. Barao was a deer in the headlights from that point, losing the confident approach he had up until then. Things unraveled to the point that he was battling for survival by the end of the contest, only being saved by the final bell from the ref stopping the action.

While Kelleher did put on a solid performance, this is more about Barao being a shell of his old self. Barao used to operate without fear in the cage, aggressively pursuing the finish of his opponent regardless of their skill set. Now, there is no sign of that aggression, replaced by a cautious, point fighting style. Without the aggression, he can’t take advantage of his athletic gifts. As soon as he is hit hard for the first time, he’s done as he can’t reset himself mentally to put himself back into a good place. He’s still tough as nails, but toughness alone won’t win fights. It’s a sad development as Barao was truly a treat to watch in his prime. If the UFC doesn’t take a big hit in letting him out of his contract, I’d expect them to do so.

While this is easily the biggest win of Kelleher’s career, it doesn’t launch him into discussions of being a name to keep an eye on as this win wasn’t all that unexpected. Nonetheless, he deserves credit for working through Barao’s workmanlike first round to turn the momentum in his favor and keeping it that way. He did that by making his activity count as Barao outlanded him in total significant strikes by 22 strikes. However, Barao never hurt him at any point. What it really boiled down to was Kelleher showed no fear of what Barao could do to him whereas he put fear into Barao early. I doubt Kelleher gets his wish of fighting John Lineker, but he did enough to up his profile that I can’t just laugh at the idea of that contest potentially being made.

Max Griffin defeated Mike Perry via unanimous decision

Due to his aggressive nature – all of his wins have been KO finishes – the UFC continues to push Perry into the spotlight. Who doesn’t enjoy viewing a vicious KO? Unfortunately for the youngster, the narrative on how to beat him has been established: stay on the outside, pick him apart, and let him exhaust himself in pursuit of a finishing sequence. Griffin executed the strategy to perfection, with Perry not making any adjustments until he was down two rounds. Kudos to Perry for changing things up in the final round, turning up the aggression in search of the kill. However, Perry also showed he still has a way to go to develop into a complete fighter, going for an ill-advised takedown with about 30 seconds left that ate away at the clock and Perry’s opportunity to win.

A polarizing figure, Perry’s detractors are gleefully declaring his hype train is derailed. Not so. Many forget Perry’s professional debut came less than three-and-a-half years ago. He still has a LOT to learn. The first thing I’d do if I were him: get some real coaches in his corner who can provide tactical and/or strategic advice. Perry’s girlfriend became a target on Twitter when footage of her was shown screaming from his corner to “break his leg!” Not the best advice. Better use of a jab would help too. Perry is going to be fine. He just needs some better coaching and more experience…though I’d recommend taking a break too. He’s pushed a hard pace for the entirety of his career.

Though I knew Griffin had recently quit his job to concentrate on training full-time, his brawling style led me to believe he’d give Perry the type of fight the youngster excels in. Instead, Griffin used his length and improved footwork to pick apart Perry, frustrating his younger opponent to no end. His defensive wrestling was surprisingly stout too. I’m not sure how high Griffin can climb now that he’s giving the sport his full attention, but it’s surely higher than I originally thought.

Ilir Latifi defeated Ovince Saint Preux via submission at 3:48 of RD1

After defeating Corey Anderson at UFC 217, Saint Preux called out Latifi despite the stout Swede being ranked lower than Saint Preux. Many were scratching their heads, but knowing that Saint Preux had fought most of the top ten in the division outside of Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson, he would be best served eliminating as many names on the list as possible. Things were going as planned at the outset, Saint Preux using his length with kicks to keep Latifi at bay. Once Latifi found an opening, he capitalized and refused to let go. When Saint Preux proved too stubborn to go down from punches, Latifi’s tight standing guillotine literally put the former collegiate football player to sleep.

Latifi may not have the typical look of a fighter the UFC wants to push, but his win is a good thing for them. Light heavyweight desperately needs new blood to emerge into contention. Latifi may not be that young, but he is a fresh face with a cult following. Well…he has Mookie pushing him as the most unstoppable force on the planet. Nonetheless, he’s making better use of his selective striking and Daniel Cormier is the only 205er that is likely to outwrestle him.

Saint Preux’s loss shouldn’t be surprising. As the reigning king of inconsistency at light heavyweight, putting together a four-fight win streak just didn’t seem plausible for the lanky big man. I know that isn’t very analytical, but think about it for a bit. Now, tell me I’m wrong. I know I’ve said it before, but I believe he’d be best off if he were to go to a different camp as the same problems that plagued him four years ago plague him today. Unless he ever makes that move, I don’t see him climbing beyond his role as the modern-day Ryan Bader of the division

Jessica Andrade defeated Tecia Torres via unanimous decision

With all due respect to Mark Kerr, can we start referring to Andrade as the Wrecking Machine? For my money, there isn’t anyone as physically dominant in their division as the stout Brazilian. Enduring some early tribulations from Torres’ in-and-out offense, Andrade soon got the timing down of Torres’ strikes and was able to begin catching the American with her own punches. Of course, Andrade’s punches had a lot more power to them. Combine that with Andrade’s multiple slams and Torres saw the upset slip through her fingers.

Despite the loss, Torres’ stock should actually go up. She fought an intelligent fight, making the most of her limited reach to piece up Andrade early. However, given Torres would be better off fighting at atomweight, she had no chance of staving off Andrade’s takedown attempts once Andrade got her mitts on her. Her lack of size and power will ensure that she is unable to break through into the divisional elite…at least until the UFC institutes an atomweight division. Knowing the UFC wants to turn Michelle Waterson into a star, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility. We’ll have to see…

As for Andrade, she cemented her status as the next in line for a shot at the strawweight title…after Rose Namajunas and Joanna Jedrzejczyk take care of business. The only problem is we don’t know if business will be taken care of after one fight or two as most believe a trilogy is in line if Jedrzejczyk wins back the title. Nonetheless, Andrade’s chances greatly increase if Namajunas retains as Namajunas’ pressuring style plays right into the hands of Andrade. We’ve seen that Jedrzejczyk has the length and discipline to pull off what Torres couldn’t accomplish, but maybe Andrade can pull something new out of her bag of tricks should a rematch come to play.

Jeremy Stephens defeated Josh Emmett via KO at 1:35 of RD2

No one really saw Stephens or Emmett competing for a title when this contest was announced as the main event of this card, leading to some backlash. However, everyone who knew anything about these two fighters also were excited about the possibility of someone meeting the canvas face first. They didn’t disappoint. The first round was largely even up to the point when Emmett landed a hard hook on Stephens, putting the iron-jawed slugger on his ass. Stephens popped back up to re-engage, but couldn’t do anything in the short amount of time left in the round to take it back.

Stephens did figure out Emmett’s timing at that point as the Team Alpha Male representative tends to throw everything at full velocity. It didn’t take much more than a minute for Stephens to score on a counter left that floored Emmett. Stephens could have punched Emmett on the ground until he went out – which he did – but he also decided to throw an illegal knee that grazed Emmett and created some controversy. While it’s unlikely the knee affected the outcome, it was thrown and it did land, even if it didn’t cause any damage. There were several elbows to the back of the head that landed as Emmett was moving around, though those don’t seem as egregious given Stephens appeared to be trying to land those shots in a legal fashion. Emmett has said he will petition for the result of the contest to be overthrown, but don’t count on it happening.

Stephens isn’t in line for a title shot quite yet, which is why many were sour on this contest as the main event. Remember, big Fox held a title fight in the main event of a card less than a year ago. Nonetheless, the longtime UFC veteran is closer than he has ever been to getting a shot at championship gold, riding a three-fight win streak over notable opposition, the last two wins coming via brutal KO’s. When the stakes are high for Stephens, he’s able to remember to stay disciplined rather than chase his opponent. That helps explain his loss to Renato Moicano last year as nobody knew who Moicano was at the time of the fight and Stephens assumed he could overwhelm him. Given Stephens is assured of a high-profile fight in his next appearance – perhaps Jose Aldo – expect the best version of Stephens to show up.

It isn’t a surprise that Emmett ended up getting caught by Stephens. He doesn’t vary the speed of his strikes and doesn’t throw enough variety, making it easy for opponents to figure out his timing. Facing a lower level of competition, that isn’t as much of a worry. But now that he fought himself into the top of the division, he’s learned he needs to make some changes. However, he also showed enough to prove he belongs in the top ten of the division. He did come this close to beating Stephens in the first round after all. Not too bad for a guy whose debut came less than two years ago.