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Hindsight - UFC Utica: Rivera vs. Moraes in retrospect

Look back on UFC Utica, from Jarred Brooks knocking himself out in the opening contest to Marlon Moraes starching Jimmie Rivera a little over a half a minute into the main event.

UFC Utica wasn’t a very heavily hyped event. In fact, many were unaware it was even taking place given its unique timeslot on a Saturday. What we got was a bit of everything. The good was the highlight reel KO in the main event. The weird was covered when a fighter knocked himself out. The bad was…well, there wasn’t really anything bad. I suppose you could replace that with the blasé. Nonetheless, an event took place which means tectonic plates were shifted within the confines of the UFC. As always, Bloody Elbow has you covered.

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

Jose Torres defeated Jarred Brooks via TKO at 2:55 of RD2

Often times, fighters and fans respond to criticism like it’s hate speech as opposed to pointing out an area that could be improved. Brooks heard the talk that his striking was holding him back and rather than lash out, he did something about it. His hands were much sharper than they had been in his two previous contests, piecing up Torres with shots to the head and body while doing an excellent job of mixing in takedown attempts. In fact, on his last takedown, he scooped up Torres…and proceeded to knock himself out when the back of his head hit the mat HARD on the subsequent slam. It was an unfortunate ending to what was by far Brooks’ best showing in the UFC thus far.

Though Torres walked out of an event with a win after being hyped considerably going into it, this win isn’t fully satisfying. He looked slow next to Brooks, struggling to put together consistent offense. Even if Brooks’ speed may rival that of Mighty Mouse, it’s still a bit of a concern for Torres moving forward. Perhaps taking the contest on late notice affected his cut and we’ll see a refreshed Shorty Torres in his next fight. He does have the power to become a major difference maker in a division badly in need of one.

Nathaniel Wood defeated Johnny Eduardo via submission at 2:18 of RD2

Tough appears to be the definitive word used to describe Wood. The young Brit took a hell of a beating from the Brazilian veteran in the first round, eating heavy punch after heavy punch with about a minute to go in the opening frame. I know he had been knocked for a loop, but Wood’s lack of defense damn near cost him. Instead, Eduardo’s fear of gassing caused him to back off and reset, allowing Wood to survive the round. Perhaps Eduardo’s fears were correct as he put forth a half-assed takedown attempt in the next round. Wood stuffed it and turned it into a D’Arce choke for the win.

Either Eduardo still hits really hard and Wood is simply made of granite or there wasn’t as much behind those punches as it looked like there was. Regardless, Eduardo has been fighting for a very long time and it appears the end is very near for the Brazilian. In my opinion, he should make the transition into coaching full time, but that isn’t my call.

Wood still has a lot to learn. His defense was atrocious, largely relying on keeping his forearms in front of his face. He chased more than cutting angles too. However, at 24 years old, Wood is still young enough that he has plenty of time to smooth out the rough edges. I wouldn’t say Wood looks like a future contender, but he does look like he could become a mainstay as an action fighter.

Desmond Green defeated Gleison Tibau via unanimous decision

For better or worse, Tibau looked more like his old self in this contest. For the most part, that was a good thing as he was able to absorb some heavy shots from Green over the course of the contest, surviving a couple of moments where Green appeared to have him on the ropes. What Tibau couldn’t get going: his takedowns. Then again, it isn’t like he tried all that hard, attempting only three of them. It was a curious strategy by Tibau as he’s never been known for his standup. My guess – and it is just a guess – is that Tibau felt he had something to prove after being finished by Islam Makhachev with a single punch in his last contest. Not smart. One other note: just because he went the distance with Green doesn’t prove he’s still durable. Green isn’t known to be a finisher.

Perhaps it was because Tibau couldn’t get past Green’s jab. I don’t know if Tibau’s defense was exceptionally poor or if Green had just perfected it. Nonetheless, this was easily Green’s best performance in the Octagon as the jab not only created a centerpiece for his offense, it also created a centerpiece for his defense. If it’s as effective in his next contest, there won’t be much of a need for him to develop much follow up offense.

Belal Muhammad defeated Chance Rencountre via unanimous decision

Rencountre is a huge welterweight. Seriously, he looked like he was a full weight class above Muhammad. It didn’t matter as Muhammad looked like he was in a different league than his much larger opponent. He continually found his way within Rencountre’s range, scoring with his jab and short counters while Rencountre was barely able to secure any notable offense. It was by far Muhammad’s most complete performance, mixing his takedowns with his striking seamlessly. Keep in mind Muhammad did this while fasting for Ramadan. I hope the next time we see him is outside of Ramadan as it’s intriguing to know what he can do when he isn’t restricting himself.

Rencountre never looked like a serious prospect even after he was signed on late notice to replace Niko Price. He does have size and a bit of power, but he’s also 31. Plus, he doesn’t have the agility to pull off the style Alliance MMA teaches…at least not at the highest levels. Remember Luke Barnatt? Once he switched over to the camp, his UFC career went downhill. Muhammad isn’t a great athlete himself, but he had zero issues overcoming Rencountre. If I can find something positive, it would be Rencountre was able to get back to his feet quickly when taken down in addition to being tough as nails. Though positive traits, those alone don’t make for a successful UFC career.

David Teymur defeated Nik Lentz via unanimous decision

The transformation of Lentz into a brawler appears to be complete…and that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Granted, Lentz’s striking has come a long way from where it was even just a few years ago, let alone when he first entered the UFC. He’s more technical and has a bit of power in his fists now. However, he has largely abandoned what brought him to the dance in the first place: his wrestling. Perhaps that’s due to Lentz not having as much in the tank as Teymur once the fight entered it’s later stages, but is worth remembering Lentz has had as many as 21 takedown attempts in the past. He only went for five in this bout.

For as sharp as Teymur looked on the feet – his strikes were snappy as ever, offering a lot more oomph than Lentz – he engendered some ill-will when he continually grabbed the fence in the opening frame and even raked Lentz’s eyes in a grappling exchange. One fence grab can be attributed to reaction. Three of them in the span of 20 seconds or so with repeated ref warnings is blatant. Here’s hoping it isn’t a habit.

I don’t want to crap all over Teymur for that though as five straight wins in the UFC is impressive regardless of the level of competition. His distance management was fantastic and it wouldn’t be surprising if he were able to secure a finish via leg kicks against a lower level opponent. The problem is he appears to have advanced past those types of opponents. Though I don’t think I’d pick him, it wouldn’t be out of the question to match him against a ranked opponent. Regardless of who he fights next, Teymur has already exceeded the expectations most had for him for his UFC career.

Sijara Eubanks defeated Lauren Murphy via unanimous decision

There is no doubt Eubanks won this fight. She landed more strikes. She secured more takedowns. She exercised more control. There isn’t an area of the fight in which she didn’t win. However…was it more of a case of Murphy giving her the fight as opposed to Eubanks taking the win? Murphy had some early success with her outside striking, but that changed in a hurry as Eubanks started to let her fists fly, landing harder and more frequently. It got to the point Murphy would wade into the pocket, either eat or dodge a few punches, back out, reset, and repeat. Kudos to Eubanks for figuring out Murphy, but the lack of adjustments from Murphy was startling. Another questionable decision from Murphy was her choosing to attack with submissions off her back rather than look for a way back to her feet. Eubanks, a skilled grappler, had little trouble avoiding Murphy’s attack, and ended up riding out control for a while.

Eubanks believes she deserves a title shot with this win. It isn’t like she doesn’t have any ground to stand on. She was scheduled to fight for the title back in December before a poor weight cut caused her kidneys to malfunction, forcing her out of the fight. However, she also had problems making weight in the TUF tournament. Making weight one time after a series misses/close calls hardly proves someone can make weight every time. My bet is she is forced to take one more fight. Besides, we still have no clue when Nicco Montano and Valentina Shevchenko will sort out their business.

Murphy moved backwards after her spirited performance against Barb Honchak. It appears that she overthinks her way out of the contest when she has a set strategy. Murphy subbed in against Honchak when Eubanks missing weight in December forced a lineup shuffle and Murphy’s other UFC win – Kelly Faszholz – was also a late notice opponent. If nothing else, it’s something to think about for observers.

Sam Alvey defeated Gian Villante via split decision

There are usually one of two conclusions to a Sam Alvey contest. Either Alvey secures a violent KO – usually early – or it goes to a boring decision. This turned out to be a case of “not quite” by most accounts. It did go to decision, but it wasn’t a boring fight like most Alvey contests. It wasn’t a barnburner by any means, but it was a palatable contest. Plus, Alvey came this close to finishing Villante in the first round.

Overall, it appears the move to light heavyweight agrees with Alvey. True, he isn’t very big for 205, but light heavyweight isn’t exactly littered with notable wrestlers. Besides, Alvey has proven to have good takedown defense. Then again, it isn’t like he needed it against Villante. Alvey also deserves credit for taking a slightly more aggressive role in this contest, extending beyond his typical countering strategy. Some may take his inability to finish off Villante as a sign his power is deteriorating, but Villante has always been tough to put away.

Despite being blessed with plenty of physical talents, Villante is what he is and it isn’t going to change at this point. Sure, he’s young for the division at 32, but he’s also been fighting for close to a decade with 13 of those contests coming in the UFC. He did show a bit more patience in this contest, but it might have worked against him in the end. Villante is never going to be the contender many believed he could be. And that’s just fine for everyone else. If nothing else, his fights are usually worth watching.

Julio Arce defeated Daniel Teymur via submission at 2:55 of RD3

Teymur isn’t the disciplined striker his older brother David is. That has been seen prior to his fight with Arce, but it had never been seen more before either. If you look at FightMetric, Teymur landed a total of 5 shots to the head…out of 47 attempts. I get that that head shots are usually the hardest to land, but that’s ridiculous. Teymur tried to supplement his volume with a very heavy dose of low kicks, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Arce’s well-rounded attack.

It is early in his UFC career, but Arce looks like something special in his first two UFC contests. His timing has been impeccable, landing counter after counter on each of his opponents. He hasn’t taken any serious damage in either contest either. What he did get to show in this contest was his opportunism, capitalizing when Teymur slipped on a kick by jumping on top of the Swede and finding his way to a RNC. It’s good to see Arce finally getting his opportunity in the Octagon.

Teymur isn’t going to be released yet, but it could be do-or-die in his next appearance. He’s got a lot of snap in his strikes, enough that he can change the direction of a fight with one punch or kick. The problem is he wasn’t landing many punches. His low kicks are great, but he needs to do more than just that. It’s rare when fighters win fights off those alone. Tightening up his technique would help too.

Ben Saunders defeated Jake Ellenberger via TKO at 1:56 of RD1

Ellenberger looked good. He was aggressive and looked like it would be a matter of time before he put away his opponent. In fact, it wasn’t that much different from his last two losses to Jorge Masvidal and Mike Perry. He just ended up being finished before he could do it to Saunders.

Ellenberger had no hesitation to pull the trigger, fighting aggressively and with confidence. All it took was one knee from Saunders placed directly into the liver of Ellenberger and Ellenberger crumpled to the mat. It’s a shame to see him fall from being near the top of the welterweight mountain to where he is now as this loss dropped him to 2-8 in his last ten contests. I like Ellenberger, but I don’t see how the UFC can justify keeping him on the roster any longer. It’s too bad Ellenberger was unable to sign up for the PFL’s million dollar tournament in time. Then again, what are the odds the PFL management has the million dollars to give away?

Saunders was in a similar position to Ellenberger in that there was a strong chance he needed a win to remain on the roster. He has been engaging in brawls in his last few contests and his chin was never been able to withstand that type of brutality. While there was a certain degree of luck involved in landing that knee when and where he did, it’s also a testament to how good his clinch work is. Here’s hoping he can withstand the punishment that comes with fighting this way.

Walt Harris defeated Daniel Spitz via TKO at 4:59 of RD2

Heading into this contest, Spitz had shown power and durability. Something he hadn’t shown was agility or athleticism. Those are two things Harris has in spades. That was the story of this contest. The only thing Spitz had was his low kicks – and a few to the body -- as Harris continued to find a way past the lanky Spitz’s reach, connecting time after time as he patiently picked his spots to attack. He eventually found a home for his left hand on Spitz’s dome late in the second, hurting him, and then dropping the big man with more punches. The GnP landed by Harris was brutal enough that Spitz couldn’t hang around for the official decision as his cut needed to be attended to immediately.

Harris is in a weird spot. He’s too good for those near the bottom of the division – like Spitz – but he isn’t ready for prime time yet. Here’s hoping that a bit more patience will pay off as his fists are incredible weapons when he gets the time to find openings. We still need to see progress on the ground before I can feel great about Harris’ progress, but his a legit threat on the feet at this point.

Spitz is not a good athlete. If he were in any other division, he’d be in serious trouble. Fortunately for him, heavyweight doesn’t set a high bar. He needs to find a way to increase his speed as he’s far too easy to counter and avoid. Perhaps once he’s gained experience, he’ll be able to use cunning to make up for that. As it currently is, he’s still one of the most inexperienced big men on the roster. He’ll probably learn something from this loss and build on it.

Gregor Gillespie defeated Vinc Pichel via submission at 4:06 of RD2

Few believed this fight would prove to be competitive and those critics were correct. Needing to keep the fight on the feet in order to have a chance to win, Pichel didn’t stand a chance under the continued onslaught of Gillespie’s constant takedown attempts. According to FightMetric, Gillespie secured seven in under two rounds, though it seemed like more. Exhausted from Gillespie’s continued onslaught, Pichel was unable to fight off Gillespie’s arm-triangle choke despite Gillespie being in half-guard when he sunk in the choke.

I criticized Gillespie’s decision not to issue any sort of callout and some perceived me to be hating on him. Criticizing is far from hating. I criticized as I want his career to advance quickly - he appears capable of fighting a far higher level of competition than what he has been facing. He hasn’t been challenged by any of his recent opponents. Without a callout, he’s more likely to continue facing opponents that don’t challenge him. Nobody ranked ahead of him is going to call out Gillespie. Gillespie may believe he’ll get to the top of the division eventually and he may be right. By not attempting to expedite the process, he’s lessening his chances. So am I hating on Gillespie? Not at all. I want him to do well.

It could be argued Pichel benefited from favorable matchmaking in his four-fight winning streak he had coming into this contest as he faced a severe lack of wrestlers in that time. It isn’t like he was the only one who was overwhelmed by Gillespie’s incredible wrestling prowess. Pichel is no spring chicken at 35, but he should have a few more competitive appearances left in him before his career is up.

Marlon Moraes defeated Jimmie Rivera via TKO at 0:33 of RD1

Everyone expected a drawn out affair between a pair of competitors that hadn’t been finished since 2011 (or at all). We didn’t get much action, but what we did get was pretty damn awesome. As the two danced around one another, looking to get a feel for their range, Moraes faked a jab and landed a brutal kick upside the temple of Rivera. It didn’t put Rivera out cold, but it did knock him silly. A few follow up punches from Moraes finished the job and the fight was over in just over half a minute.

That’s back-to-back flashy finishes in the first round for Moraes, the other coming over Aljamain Sterling. Given the UFC is more a spectacle and less a sport, he’s probably jumped ahead in the title picture of the man who beat him in his UFC debut, Raphael Assuncao. Though many may find that to be unfair – I think it’s a load of crap myself – it is what it is at this point. If nothing else, it can be said Moraes’ loss to Assuncao was controversial. Nonetheless, Moraes has delivered the excitement that was promised when the UFC signed him from the WSOF. He’s most likely to be sitting on the sidelines until T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt take care of their business.

There isn’t a lot to take out of this loss for Rivera. He never got a chance to do his thing. If anything, it just proves he isn’t invulnerable. Rivera will have a harder time bouncing back from this loss than Moraes would have. Rivera doesn’t have the creativity or flash of Moraes needed to catch the attention of fans. Without that, it’s harder for him to climb back into the title picture. At 28, it isn’t like Rivera is on his last legs. He should just be entering his prime. Look for Rivera to try to return as quick as possible to get the taste of this loss out of his mouth quickly.