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UFC on FOX 29: Poirier vs. Gaethje - Winners and Losers

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Dustin Poirier emerged victorious over Justin Gaethje in the front runner for FOTY in 2018. But was Gaethje really a loser on the night? Was Poirier the biggest winner of the evening?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

UFC on FOX 29 was everything fans hoped it would be. Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje put on the FOTY war everyone expected it to be, producing the rare fight with high expectations that live up to those expectations. Poirier scored a minor upset when he put away Gaethje in the fourth round, but it was hardly the only awesome performance of the night. Alex Oliveira stopped one of the all-time great action fighters in the history of the sport when he disposed of Carlos Condit. Michelle Waterson and Cortney Casey put on a performance that would have been FOTN on any other card. Did I mention there was an omoplata on the card too?

As with any card, there were winners and there were losers. There were also those who don’t really fall into either category. Let’s delve into who fell into those categories.

Winners

Dustin Poirier: Easily the biggest winner of the event, Poirier appeared to be falling right into Gaethje’s long game. Instead, Poirier caught the seemingly indestructible Gaethje with a brutal left hand that sent the Colorado native stumbling and launched Poirier into title contention. The thought has long been that Poirier isn’t athletic enough to challenge the top of the division. This victory appears to have debunked that theory. Gaethje doesn’t always use all of his physical gifts to the best of his abilities, but he is a plus athlete. I got my doubts Poirier gets a title shot next, but the fact he’s in the conversation is more than anyone would have expected out of him.

Alex Oliveira: Coming off a loss to Yancy Medeiros, Oliveira needed a rebound if he wanted to maintain his reputation as an up-and-comer in the welterweight division. Sure, this contest was against Carlos Condit, but Condit hasn’t been the Natural Born Killer we all knew and loved. Well… he hadn’t been in his previous two contests. Oliveira not only got the best version of Condit we’ve seen in years, he submitted him. Only Demian Maia has been able to do that in the last decade. I would point out he made a bloody mess of Condit, but plenty of people have done that over the years. Nonetheless, Oliveira is back on track.

Antonio Carlos Junior: There has been high expectations for the man known as Shoeface ever since his appearance on TUF Brazil. He appears to finally be living up to what was expected of him. Granted, Tim Boetsch was a stylistically favorable contest for him, but ACJ did what he was supposed to do. Remember, he was supposed to do the same thing to Dan Kelly a few years ago. Dominating Boetsch the way he did may be more impressive than a win over Kelly would have been at that time.

John Moraga: There were many who weren’t sold on Moraga’s resurgence after his KO of Magomed Bibulatov. Understandable, given Moraga had never displayed that type of power. He didn’t show that power here, but his offense was as consistent as it has ever been against Wilson Reis, coming close to cinching in guillotines on the submission expert and surviving Reis’ own attempts to submit him. Moraga is unlikely to challenge for the title again, but he has reestablished himself as a top-notch gatekeeper at the least.

Brad Tavares: I know Twitter exploded with this revelation, but I’ll say one more time for everyone anyway: Tavares secured his first stoppage victory since 2011 when he stopped Phil Baroni at UFC 125. Doing so against Krzysztof Jotko – as opposed to someone like Bubba McDaniel – makes it that much sweeter. It’s hard to believe Tavares can climb much higher than he he’s currently at, but he certainly earned his shot to prove otherwise.

Gilbert Burns: For someone who has a reputation as a deadly ground game, Burns has been operating on his feet an awful lot as of late. Then again, his striking has appeared to be just as deadly, securing KO’s in his last two contests. Granted, nobody is going to call this a breakout performance given Dan Moret was making his UFC debut, but it was about as aesthetically pleasing as it gets. Here’s hoping Burns gets a step up in competition to prove his worth in his next contest.

Lauren Mueller: This is one tough chick. She took some heavy shots from Dobson, but refused to back down, continuing to march forward to deliver her nonstop brand of offense. Like with most young and inexperienced fighters, there are plenty of holes that could be exposed, but Mueller looks like she could have a real future in a division short on much name value.

Adam Wieczorek: I saw it tweeted the odds for Wieczorek securing a submission win was at +800. I can only imagine what a bookie would have given had anyone been willing to say specifically it would be an omoplata. Amazingly enough, that’s what happened as the young Pole secured just the second in UFC history. As much as I love Ben Saunders, Wieczorek’s looked a lot more painful too. It should be noted though, that was about the only positives in the fight for Wieczorek. Nonetheless, it was badass enough he ended up in this column.

Alejandro Perez: Perez dug himself a hell of a hole after the first round. Matthew Lopez took him down a couple of times and came pretty damn close to sinking in an RNC. Perez stormed back in the second with a steady stream of offense, being the aggressor rather than looking for the counter. It worked well enough he stopped Lopez on his feet, extending Perez’s unbeaten streak to six wins. Don’t think too many saw that coming….

Luke Sanders: It wasn’t a flawless performance by any means as Sanders nearly gave away the contest with inactivity, but he got the job done. In all likelihood, the performance saved his job, which is why he ends up in the winner’s column. He’ll likely need a better performance to win his next contest.

Losers

Carlos Condit: I didn’t want to put Condit here. He looked good. In fact, he looked very good up until he ate that upkick. The issue is he has now lost four in a row and is 2-7 since winning the interim title over Nick Diaz. There is no good way to spin that. In fact, we can’t spin Condit’s losses as him continually facing elite competition anymore. Oliveira is good, but he isn’t that good. Given Condit looked good enough that he can still produce some fun contests – and actually win them – I have no clue if he’ll come back for another fight. If he doesn’t, I might be fine with that.

Tim Boetsch: This wasn’t a majorly damaging loss to Boetsch. Most were expecting it. But it could be a sign that Boetsch is on a steep backslide for his career. I could be jumping the gun on that as ACJ may be a certifiable contender at this point, but it’s just as likely Boetsch is no longer the powerhouse he once was. I would have put him in the neither column, but he wasn’t competitive either.

Wilson Reis: Reis is in this column less because of his performance and more because of the final result. Reis was competitive with Moraga, even coming close to submitting the Arizona native before the bell sounded. What puts him here was this was his third consecutive loss. Granted, each of his opponents were either champions or former title contenders, but three losses is still three losses. He’ll probably come back as the man he lost to suffered a similar losing streak and was able to snap that streak. Still….

Krzysztof Jotko: Entering 2017, Jotko looked like he was a rising star in the middleweight division. He had won five straight, including a decisive win over longtime middleweight stalwart Thales Leites. Since then, he’s lost three straight. Even worse, he didn’t look like he wanted to be in the cage at all. It’s hard to find a single minute where he was winning the contest with Tavares. I don’t think he’ll be released quite yet, but it wouldn’t be a shock if he was either.

Dan Moret: Let’s be fair, Moret was thrown into the deep end. He could very well be a quality UFC competitor. The problem is Burns is a plus athlete whose striking has come into its own. Moret stood little chance coming in on short notice. By the end of the night, he was on the receiving end of a walk off KO. Nobody wants to be on the end of that.

Dhiego Lima: Somebody in the UFC front office doesn’t like Lima. His one big weakness is wrestling. Who do they match him up with? A man who only knows how to wrestle. Yushin Okami took him down in the first round and the next two rounds were wash, rinse, repeat. This is his second chance on the roster. It might be coming to an end. If I’m a betting man, the chances of getting a third chance don’t look good.

Arjan Bhullar: While I gave Wieczorek credit for his omoplata victory, Bhullar deserves as much credit – if not more – for walking into it and cinching it as tight as he could when he continued to drive forward. Sure, it was stupid – hence, Bhullar in this column – but Bhullar dominated the contest up to that point. I’d still bet he’ll be a longtime fixture in the division, but it’s clear he still needs a lot of experience.

Matthew Lopez: This loss hurts a lot. Lopez was in firm control of Perez in the first only for the narrative to completely flip in the second round. To think, Lopez was fighting Raphael Assuncao last year and could potentially be looking at a pink slip. And some of us had such high hopes for the fun scrambler….

Patrick Williams: Tough loss for Williams as his loss to Sanders was probably the best all-around performance of his UFC career. He hurt Sanders and was the more active fighter over the second half of the contest. Wasn’t enough and he’ll likely end up on the unemployment line.

Neither

Justin Gaethje: It’s impossible to ever put Gaethje in any loser’s column… at least in terms of opinion. The way he puts his health on the line is maddingly entertaining to the point MMA fans will scream “take my money!” anytime he’s on the card. But he did lose to Poirier and lost any chance of getting fast tracked back into title contention. He’s still going to be must-see-TV for the UFC as he has yet to put on a boring fight in his career. Hell, he’s likely to headline whatever card he’s put on next despite having lost his last two fights. But he did lose his last two fights and his fighting style isn’t conducive to a long career. He may not be able to get back into title contention before his body begins breaking down. Here’s hoping he can.

Israel Adesanya: There was a lot to like about Adesanya’s performance. His strikes were pinpoint once he figured out what Marvin Vettori was trying to do and showed his usual varied arsenal. However, he struggled to stop takedowns when he wasn’t against the cage… again. He came close to giving away the fight thanks to that. Plus, it was the second consecutive contest in which he started slow. That could cost him as he climbs the competitive ladder.

Marvin Vettori: I know I’m in the minority that scored in favor of Vettori – leave your nasty comments below if you wish – but I have no problem with Adesanya being scored the winner. What cost Vettori in the end was his willingness to remain on his feet with the former professional kickboxer. Given Vettori’s track record as a grappler… why? The Rafael Cordeiro protégé has progressed on the feet to the point he held his own at times – which is why he isn’t in the loser’s column -- but that wasn’t smart.

Michelle Waterson: Don’t get me wrong, I love the Karate Hottie. I don’t know anyone who has a grudge against the former Invicta champion. But she didn’t deserve that victory over Cortney Casey. She got lucky the judges favored her top position as opposed to Casey’s submission attempts from the bottom. To be fair, Waterson was competitive in a contest that would have been a viable FOTN on just about any other card. I know I’ve said that, but it is an important factoid. Still, I wish the UFC would stop trying to make a star out of her. Then again, what would you expect when she’s represented by the WME-IMG agency….

Cortney Casey: It was the second fight in a row that Casey came out on the wrong end of a close contest. Unlike her contest with Felice Herrig, I thought she deserved the win this time around. She came far closer to ending the contest about four or five times than Waterson ever did. Given her exciting style, Casey isn’t in any danger of losing her job despite her 3-5 record. But her inability to take a clear cut decision over the likes of Waterson and Herrig indicates she isn’t likely to become a breakout contender in the division.

Muslim Salikhov: Sure, Salikhov ended up getting an impressive KO victory. But everything leading up to that was subpar. He was on his way to losing a decision to a short notice opponent who was once fodder for Michael Page. Not a good sign. The King of Kung Fu is an unorthodox competitor, but he may be too unorthodox for his own good.

Ricky Rainey: Rainey was competitive with Salikhov – if not winning – right up until Salikhov put him out cold. That may not sound that great, but very few were expecting the Bellator retread to be more than a body for Salikhov. Plus, he was short notice. I still don’t expect Rainey to pick up a win in his UFC run, but it doesn’t appear like it would be the shocking development most would expect it to be heading into this contest.

Shana Dobson: Dobson came out on the short end of the stick in this contest, but it wasn’t due to a lack of improvement. She put together a hell of a performance against Mueller. She just couldn’t match the nonstop offense from Mueller and there is little if any shame in that. Then again, the win was there for the taking…. Like Mueller, Dobson could end up being a mainstay in the flyweight division

Yushin Okami: I admit Okami was absolutely dominating in his performance over Lima. But he’s suffering from the same issue that got him released from the UFC in the first place: nobody enjoys watching Okami doing his thing. I get that he does what he needs to do to win and that’s a smart thing. But don’t be surprised to see Okami released after his first loss if he continues to perform in this manner.