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Hindsight - UFC Singapore: Cowboy vs. Edwards in retrospect

Look back on the action from UFC Singapore, from Ji Yeon Kim’s lackluster victory in the opener to Leon Edwards ripping the torch out of the hand of Donald Cerrone in the main event.

Though there wasn’t a lot of hype for the card, UFC Singapore proved to be a pleasant viewing experience. Several young prospects – most of whom many fans haven’t heard of – delivered promising performances, offering hope for the UFC’s fortunes in the Far East. The main even may not have seen a prospect win, but it did signal a changing of the guard of sorts as Leon Edwards secured a comfortable decision over longtime UFC stalwart Donald Cerrone. Few recent events have signaled the changing of the times as much as this one. Though unassociated, the retirement of Rashad Evans earlier this week is further proof of that.

Here’s a breakdown of every contest on UFC Singapore. 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.

Ji Yeon Kim defeated Melinda Fabian via split decision

As half of the MMA websites didn’t have this contest listed on the card heading into the week of the event, there wasn’t much interest. Kim and Fabian engaged in a kickboxing contest in which Kim stalked Fabian around the cage. The exchanges were about as even as it gets, Fabian placing a greater emphasis on low kicks while Kim looked to work over the body more. The judges noticed Kim’s work more, giving her the decision.

Though Kim deserved the win, it wasn’t the type of performance that does much to promote excitement about Kim’s future. Even though she found a home for her overhand right on multiple occasions, she never seemed to hurt Fabian. Kim’s lack of power and assertiveness makes it hard to see her developing into a contender.

Fabian’s future is even more grim, a bit of a bummer given she showed some solid kickboxing chops. Like Kim, she appears to be short on power and didn’t throw enough volume to supplement that. I can see the UFC giving her one more opportunity, but I’m not going to be shocked if they let her go either.

Ulka Sasaki defeated Jenel Lausa via submission at 4:04 of RD2

Though Sasaki had experience against some of the most experienced members of the flyweight roster – Wilson Reis and Jussier Formiga – he got this contest against the inexperienced Lausa thanks to his willingness to step in on short notice. It resulted in a dominant performance from the native of Japan. Though Sasaki’s wrestling still needs a lot of technical work, his relentlessness in the chaining together of his attempts ultimately gave him what he needed to find Lausa’s back and sink in an RNC.

Though the win doesn’t do a lot on paper for Sasaki, the ability to get the fight to the ground he displayed was impressive. Granted, nobody will call Lausa a great takedown stopper, but let’s not get too picky. What is disconcerting is the lack of output on the feet from Sasaki, appearing too exhausted to properly defend himself and return fire after his initial attack to go to the ground. In other words, he probably won’t find much success operating in this manner in the future against better competition.

Lausa showed a little more willingness to bomb away in this contest than he previously had shown, putting some heavy leather on Sasaki. Sure, he ended up giving up the takedown that he usually was more conscious of defending against previous opponents. However, I like that he was going for broke. Lausa’s biggest strength is his power and boxing chops. He should always be looking to exploit that. Nonetheless, losing three in a row could put him on the outside looking in.

Matt Schnell defeated Naoki Inoue via split decision

It appears the resurgence of Schnell continues. Having recently snapped a two-fight losing skid in which he lost both contests by first-round KO, Schnell fought a safe fight, staying on the outside, and outpointing the hyped youngster Inoue. It wasn’t the exciting contest fans of Inoue are used to, but it was smart and effective. You can’t ask for more out of Inoue… even if it may have stalled the Inoue hype train a bit.

Though Schnell’s newfound counter punching style negates much of what people love about the flyweight division, it’s also proven far more effective than anyone anticipated. Schnell’s reputation was that of an exciting grappler prior to the two losses. He’s barely made any attempts to go to the ground in his last two contests. Instead, he’s perfected his timing on the counter while mixing in a steady diet of low kicks. Though he has some decent power at 125, this is still the flyweight division, meaning there won’t be many finishes for him with this style.

Though I did expect Inoue to find a way to win, this shouldn’t be too disappointing for the 21-year-old. He hadn’t faced much in terms of savvy vets up to this point and he wasn’t completely sure how to respond to Schnell. It was surprising to see the lack of urgency to get the fight to the ground from Inoue, attempting only a single takedown. The ground is supposed to be his wheelhouse. I suppose he won all his previous fights by being the better athlete, taking what was given to him. Hopefully he learns from this contest he has to take what’s his at times, especially at this level.

Yan Xiaonan defeated Viviane Pereira via unanimous decision

Though the referee may have been confused – raising Pereira’s hand despite Bruce Buffer reading Xiaonan’s name – there wasn’t much mystery as to who won this contest. Xiaonan was the aggressor from the opening seconds, forcing the shorter Pereira to eventually leave her comfort zone from the outside and throw down in the pocket. Pereira did land some hard shots, but the volume was clearly in favor of Xiaonan.

Xiaonan’s willingness to do more than just throw punches made the biggest difference. Pereira didn’t attempt to do anything about Xiaonan’s low kicks, not even attempting to counter with kicks of her own. Xiaonan was also clearly far better at distance management, bursting in on Pereira and often leaving before Pereira could respond. It was the most disciplined performance from Xianonan we’ve seen thus far. Along with a few others on the card, Xiaonan represents a possible wave of Chinese talent that could prove to be more than just token fighters on the roster.

Pereira was far too content to try and counter Xiaonan’s offense. There was some success, but those hard counters came too far and few between. What’s confusing is the success Pereira has had in the past from the clinch. She never made a serious effort to go there much less to the ground. Pereira let Xiaonan have the fight she wanted. Pereira has talent, but like Inoue, she needs to learn to dictate where the fight takes place if she wants to get on the right path.

Jake Matthews defeated Shinsho Anzai via submission at 3:44 of RD1

This was Matthews’ opportunity to make a statement as Anzai is a tough out, but no match athletically for the young Aussie. That was apparent from the get-go. Anzai tried to get in the face of Matthews and take him down, all to no avail. Instead, he ate a pair of brutal knees from Matthews for his trouble, leading to an easy takedown from Matthews and Anzai going to sleep in the RNC slapped on by Matthews.

Matthews has had performances before where he looked like he was ready to take on bigger names only to stumble when given that opportunity. This time feels different. Anzai was supposed to be a stylistic challenge for him. Instead, Matthews was prepared and disposed of Anzai with disgusting ease. Matthews also continues to grow physically, looking much larger than he did even just from February. It’s scary to think how much better Matthews can still get at the age of 23.

Even though this loss was embarrassing for Anzai, it isn’t going to hurt him in the least. The UFC doesn’t see Anzai as anything more than filler for a card in the Far East who is useful due to his toughness and durability. There is nothing special about him from a physical perspective. He’ll be back to fulfill the same role he did here against Matthews… though he may not face someone quite as talented Matthews.

Song Kenan defeated Hector Aldana via TKO at 4:45 of RD2

Make no mistake, the UFC was looking to prop up Kenan in this contest. Aldana had not fought in three years and never appeared to be that hot of a prospect in the first place. Kenan on the other hand disposed of Bobby Nash in just 15 seconds in his UFC debut. It took Kenan a while to get going, allowing Aldana to outwork him by a sizeable margin in the first round. Kenan finally began letting loose in the next round, hurting Aldana on several occasions. However, it was the final right hand he landed to the temple of Aldana that brought an end to the night for the Mexican.

Kenan has made some excellent strides since coming into the UFC. There are still plenty of holes in his defense as Aldana had no business landing as much offense as he did against a UFC caliber fighter. Kenan may not be that yet, but he is progressing quickly enough into that. He’ll need at least one more fight against low level competition before the UFC can start feeding him real opposition.

Aldana did perform above expectations, showing growth since his time on TUF. He mixed in takedowns well while landing some hard shots. However, much like the criticism of Kenan, Aldana’s success came against someone who isn’t UFC caliber. The likelihood of Aldana becoming a fixture on the roster appears to be low, but it won’t seem to be as big of a surprise as it would have prior to this contest.

Shane Young defeated Rolando Dy via TKO at 4:40 of RD2

Though it was expected Young and Dy would put on a hell of a show, they exceeded expectations by a wide margin. Young pressured Dy from beginning to end, keeping Dy against the fence for large portions of the contest. Dy landed some powerful shots to keep things competitive, but he was also starting to tire, his jaw agape by the time the second round rolled around. Young found what he was looking for when he landed a hard shot that sent Dy sprawling to the canvas.

Expectations for Young were never high as he was a late-notice replacement against Alexander Volkanovski last fall, but he’s already exceeded them by a wide margin with these two performances. He may have lost to Volkanovski, but he also put up a hell of a fight in going the distance with the Australian bulldozer. This time, he maintained an impossible pace, landing over 50 significant strikes in each round. Young may not have a lot of power, but that type of volume will wear down anyone. There are still plenty of holes in his defense, but Young looks like he’ll be a fun action fighter at the very least for a while.

Dy hasn’t made any significant progress since coming to the UFC. There was some minor progression in his wrestling up to this point, but he never made an effort to mix things up on the ground even when he was clearly losing the striking battle. If nothing else, it would have provided an opportunity for a respite if he could get top position. I don’t want to fault his conditioning either as it hadn’t previously been a problem, but Dy was seriously dragging by the end.

Song Yadong defeated Felipe Arantes via KO at 4:59 of RD2

A longtime veteran of the UFC, Arantes has seen just about everything in his career. Couple his experience with the 20-year old Yadong’s inexperience, I was in the camp believing Arantes would find a way to outwit the young specimen. I couldn’t have been more wrong. At no point in the contest was Arantes in control. Yadong, gave the Brazilian no room to breathe, bullying in the clinch and on the ground. Arantes tried pulling guard, throwing kicks, takedowns… nothing he did worked for him. Yadong finished him off with a massive elbow in the clinch after working him over for about 10 minutes.

Yadong appears to be the most physically gifted talent to come out of China since the world’s most populous country began exporting talent to the UFC. He’s immensely strong and with amazing burst. He’s been working with Team Alpha Male too, showing progress in his top control and overall clinch work. His distance striking is still stiff, but it isn’t like the youngster doesn’t have time to work that aspect out. The hope is the UFC can be patient with him, though the dominance of his victory here over an established veteran could push him into the spotlight sooner than I would hope.

Not trying to take anything away from Yadong, but Arantes never looked right. He was unable to come close to a serious attempt at a sub from off his back – one of his signatures – and looked completely devoid of energy to attempt anything aside from basic survival. The weight cut to bantamweight looks like it is too much for him. It appears he knows that himself, which is why he returned to featherweight for his previous contest. However, he was bullied by Josh Emmett in that contest, prompting him to return to bantamweight. Regardless of what it was, Arantes no longer looks like he belongs in the UFC, a bit of a surprise given he only turned 30 earlier this year. Evidently we’ve seen the last of him inside the Octagon, as he has since announced his retirement.

Petr Yan defeated Teruto Ishihara via KO at 3:28 of RD1

Though most casual fans had never heard of Yan, those in the know were excited about the Russian prospect’s debut. Ishihara attempted his usual keep away strategy, darting in with the occasional power shot in hopes of securing an early finish. With less wasted motion than usual, Ishihara looked good at times. However, Yan was keen to Ishihara’s strategy and eventually cornered the native of Japan and began unloading. Ishihara popped up quickly after hitting the deck once, but the ref wasn’t letting him get back up after being dropped a second time.

Yan’s willingness to take the fight to the ground was a bit of an unexpected development, but hardly an unwelcome one. He’s preferred to use his overhand right and array of kicks and though he put those on display, the finishing sequence emerged as Ishihara was attempting to climb back to his feet. If Yan can incorporate that into his arsenal on a regular basis, he could become a major player faster than most of us believed he could. All fans need to keep an eye on him as he’s going to be a name to remember.

I can’t help but feel bad for Ishihara. His movement was more fluid than it has ever been and landed some solid shots on Yan early. However, the UFC has been patient with him thus far, his UFC debut coming almost three years ago. It’s about time that he begins paying dividends. Yes, he has emerged victorious against less-than-stellar competition, but he has fallen short against those who’ve had a lengthy tenure. That now marks four losses in his last five appearances. Not good for the fan favorite. He may get one more opportunity, but patience is wearing thin.

Li Jingliang defeated Daichi Abe via unanimous decision

Though Jingliang was by far the more proven commodity, his wins have all come over fighters dancing with the cutting room floor. Thus, I wasn’t sold on his ability to pull out a win here. I wrong on many levels. Jingliang didn’t take long to figure out Abe’s ticks and tells, increasing the amount of damage as the fight went further along. Between Jingliang’s right hand finding a home and the consistency of his low kicks, it’s a wonder Abe was able to make it to the final bell.

Though Jingliang has become one of the most consistent action fighters on the UFC roster, many people still falsely view him as a brawler, including the announcers Dan Hardy and John Gooden. Jingliang can get wild at times, but that isn’t what makes his fights fun to watch. It’s his constant offense while hardly being foolproof to the offense coming back at him. Granted, he has never looked sharper than he did here against Abe, especially on the defensive side of things. He’s still getting better after 10 fights in the Octagon.

Abe faded badly down the stretch once again, proving his shallow gas tank wasn’t a one-time occurrence against Luke Jumeau. Granted, Jingliang did push a hard pace, but Abe had to know it was coming if he did any sort of film study on his opponent. Plus, he was unable to make any adjustments against Jingliang. Abe is young, so some of his shortcomings can be attributed to youth. However, two losses in a row means he needs to address those in a hurry if he hopes to hang around for a while.

Jessica Eye defeated Jessica-Rose Clark via unanimous decision

Though just about anybody who has seen Eye fight acknowledges she has talent, few beat themselves with mental blocks more consistently than Eye. Clark was aware of this, attempting to load up and land a big right hand on many occasions. While it did land from time to time, it didn’t have the intended effect as Eye never crumpled, outworking the Aussie over the course of the contest. It was the most complete performance we’ve seen out of Eye in years.

Given all the criticism Eye has taken over the last few years from the MMA media, she deserves a lot of credit. There were opportunities for her to get inside her own head and she prevented that from happening. Instead, she maintained the hard pace she set from the beginning, throwing 86 more significant strikes than Clark over the course of the contest. I don’t know if it’s the different weight class resulting in less power coming from her opponents, but the drop to flyweight has been the best thing to happen to Eye.

Clark seemed to be stuck on the idea of landing something heavy on Eye. While that wasn’t a bad idea, it was confusing to see Clark make no attempt to take the fight to the ground, nor did she make much effort to work over Eye in the clinch. Clark may or may not have had an advantage on the ground, but we’ll never know now. If nothing else, it could have opened up her striking a bit simply by attempting a takedown. Regardless, Clark’s momentum has come to a crashing halt.

Ovince Saint Preux defeated Tyson Pedro via submission at 2:54 of RD1

It may not have lasted long, but Saint Preux and Pedro packing in enough excitement for a 15-minute contest. Pedro hurt Saint Preux with a head kick and brutal right hand before looking to finish off the bigger man with a guillotine. When Saint Preux escaped, that was the end for Pedro. The Aussie inexplicably looked to go to the ground when he had already had success on the feet and it resulted in Saint Preux falling on top of him. Saint Preux patiently worked for the straight armbar from there, forcing Pedro to tap once it was locked in.

There is a lot to take out of this for Pedro, good and bad. The kid showed he’s not far away from competing with the best of the division, coming extremely close to finishing Saint Preux. However, letting the contest slip away in the manner he did also shows his inexperience, though that will be remedied with more fights. He’s also used to being the better athlete. Though that will still be the case most of the time even now, he needs to adapt for the rare times when he isn’t… like against Saint Preux.

Though the comeback was impressive, it really doesn’t tell us much about Saint Preux we didn’t already know. He’s tough as nails, though not impossible to put away. His natural size and strength proved problematic for Pedro and he displayed some creativity on the ground. All of those were things we knew about Saint Preux. However, it does show that he is still amongst the top of the light heavyweight division. That’s more a statement on the sad state of 205 more than anything, but it wouldn’t be impossible for Saint Preux to work his way into another title shot. After all, Daniel Cormier is one of the few top fighters in the division Saint Preux has yet to face.

Leon Edwards defeated Donald Cerrone via unanimous decision

There had been a war of words between Edwards and Cerrone prior to the fight, Edwards calling Cerrone washed up. While that may not have proven to be the case, it couldn’t be denied that Cerrone isn’t what he once was by the time the contest was over. Edwards beat Cerrone in the style of fight Cerrone has typically thrived in, a kickboxing contest with plenty of kicks being thrown. Edwards seemed to specifically target Cerrone’s body. Cerrone seemed to find himself over the latter half of the contest, though his charge was hardly a definitive swing in the fight. Nonetheless, it was enough to make the fight a competitive contest.

While Edwards’ statement was impressive, it needs to be remembered Cerrone’s glory days came a weight class down at lightweight. Thus, Edwards winning the battles in the clinch doesn’t carry too much weight, even if Cerrone has always been proficient in close quarters. Where Edwards does deserve credit is going after Cerrone’s weakness to the body. It may not have stopped Cerrone as Anthony Pettis and Rafael dos Anjos had previously done, but it certainly had an effect. Edwards didn’t prove he is ready for primetime with the win, but he is close if he isn’t there.

I am ready to declare the door slammed shut on Cerrone as a title contender, but I’m not ready to say he’s done as an action fighter. He took some hard shots from Edwards and never went away. Even more encouraging was Cerrone was able to do this despite being quite ill for the fight. That doesn’t excuse four losses in his last five contests, but it does help to explain his slower than usual start. Most worrisome was Cerrone visibly being a step slower than he was in his prime. At this stage of his career, Cerrone isn’t going to fix his defensive deficiencies. We’ll just have to accept him for what he is. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I’m fine seeing Cerrone in an action fighting role.