Even though the buys for UFC 226 look to be a disappointment – estimated to be under 400K – that doesn’t mean the card disappointed. Sure, there was the abomination between Derrick Lewis and Francis Ngannou, but every other fight on the main card delivered. That included Daniel Cormier’s historic win over Stipe Miocic, making him the heavyweight and light heavyweight champion simultaneously. However, even more than Cormier’s historic win was the unexpected return of Brock Lesnar to UFC television. No, he didn’t fight, but his trash talk and confrontation with Cormier was full of the type of bluster the UFC has been missing since Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey went their merry way. There was a lot to take away from this card.
Here’s a breakdown of every contest on UFC 226. 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.
Emily Whitmire defeated Jamie Moyle via unanimous decision
This wasn’t a very good fight. Whitmire used her length in the first round. Moyle adjusted in the second, pressuring Whitmire and piecing her up in the pocket. Then it was Whitmire’s turn to adjust, scoring a takedown early in the third, exercising control and ground strikes to take the round. The real action came in the post-fight interview when Whitmire called out Vinny Magalhaes, an apparent teammate, for cornering Moyle.
Moyle has been unable to build on her win over Kailin Curran. There have been minor signs of improvement, but it may not be enough to stick around. After all, strawweight is the deepest women’s division by far with new talent seeming to be knocking on the door all the time. Whitmire will obviously stick around, but there is still plenty for her to work on. Since she likes operating on the outside, that would be the top priority for her in my mind.
Daniel Hooker defeated Gilbert Burns via KO at 2:28 of RD1
These two couldn’t have entered the UFC under more different circumstances. Burns was a top prospect while Hooker appeared to be filler for Australia cards. Both have had setbacks, but both were also hitting their strides, securing not just consecutive wins, but consecutive finishes. Rather than go where he knew he possessed an advantage, Burns tried trading with Hooker, only attempting to go to the ground after Hooker hurt him once. It proved unsuccessful and Hooker put an end to the fight with a brutal left hook shortly thereafter.
Nobody predicted this type of run from Hooker when he entered the UFC. It has coincided with his move up to lightweight, indicating he was dehydrating himself too much to make featherweight. He’s shown complete confidence in his ability to stand with anyone and with good reason. Hooker’s post-fight speech where he asked for better competition was done in a wise manner too, saying the UFC is getting these lower ranked opponents hurt in the process.
Burns had looked like he was finally hitting his stride prior to this loss. He was confident in his abilities, something that was missing when he first arrived. Will that confidence evaporate with this loss? Given he was developing into a fun fighter to watch, I’d hope not. However, given his previous issues with confidence, I’m expecting it may be while before he approaches how he looked heading into the fight with Hooker… if he ever looks like that again.
Curtis Millender defeated Max Griffin via unanimous decision
Griffin looked much improved in his contest with Mike Perry, his first fight since becoming a full-time fighter. However, Millender presented a bigger challenge in the literal sense. Given Griffin regularly relies on his reach, there was a lot of curiosity how well he could adjust. Early on, he mixed in a takedown with his charging attack. Millender adjusted from there, scoring with his patented kicks and a few brutal knees over the next two rounds, taking the decision.
Even though Griffin took a loss, his stock didn’t take a hit. He was the one pressing the action and showed he was still working on his takedown game. He’s established himself as a sound action fighter at this juncture and should be able to maintain that role for at least a few years. On the flip side, Millender’s ascent continues. He’s tapped into using his massive frame to his advantage and has fantastic timing on his kicks. What is frustrating is he is already 30-years old. Some fighters have shown the ability to continue to improve well into their 30’s, though that is generally the exception to the rule. Given the amount of potential there, the hope is Millender can be the rare exception.
Drakkar Klose defeated Lando Vannata via unanimous decision
In some ways, this felt like do-or-die for Vannata. The youngster showed a lot of potential in his first two UFC contests, but he has been unable to rack up a victory since due to an absolute lack of defense and an inability to make adjustments. Perhaps he deserves a bit of a pass in this contest against Klose. Vannata burst out of the gate guns blazing. Then he suffered a leg injury that visibly affected his mobility, making it an easy task for Klose to close the distance and implement his grinding brand of offense and take a decision.
I hate when fans claim a fighter would have won if they hadn’t been hurt in the course of the fight. That’s like saying Fighter A would have beat Fighter B had Fighter A not been knocked out. Klose absolutely deserved the win. However, I do believe it is difficult to gauge the progression of Vannata due to the injury. He relies so heavily on his movement, there is no doubt his game plan was completely compromised. I can’t completely give him a pass, but leniency seems appropriate. However, that leaves no excuses next time.
What impressed me most with Klose was that he stayed level-headed. There were signs of immaturity in his loss to David Teymur, which very well could have cost him a victory. None of that was apparent here. Klose stuck to his strategy, patiently wearing down Vannata, and playing to his own strengths. He doesn’t have the ceiling of Vannata, but Klose appears to be a safer bet to be a long-term fixture than his counterpart.
Raphael Assuncao defeated Rob Font via unanimous decision
Assuncao has been completely incapable of getting any sort of love. Not from the fans. Not from the UFC. Not even from fight prognosticators. I say that as there were many who were picking Font to beat him despite Assuncao’s only loss at bantamweight coming from the current bantamweight championship over 11 career contests at 135, all within the UFC. Despite that, Assuncao put on a quietly dominating performance. He put Font on his back when he wanted. He found a home for his counter hook over and over. He even won the battle in the clinch in the brief time periods the fight went there.
There isn’t anything blatantly new to take out of Assuncao’s performance. As always, he was methodical in picking apart Font, but also didn’t do anything that causes people to sit up and take notice. And thus, despite an 11-1 UFC record, Assuncao will probably be overlooked again when the UFC begins looking for challengers for the belt. Assuncao turns 36 next week, indicating he may not be able to continue fighting at a high level like this for long. He called out the UFC in his post-fight speech and may very wel have gotten to fans behind him in the process.
Font is in a weird spot. He’s been able to dispose of opponents outside the top ten with relative ease, but hasn’t been able to do anything effective against Assuncao and John Lineker. It was excusable against Lineker as he had never fought anyone at the level of the former flyweight. Not so much here as Font is now more experienced. His best chance was to take advantage of his reach, but Assuncao continued to find his way over Font’s punches. There is insult to say his likely fate is that as a fringe top ten action fighter, but there is no doubt he doesn’t want to hear that.
Paulo Costa defeated Uriah Hall via TKO at 2:36 of RD2
Costa wanted this fight with Hall. He thought he was ready for the dangerous striker and could build some name recognition in the process. Whether it was an original thought or someone in his camp telling where to go next, it worked out exceedingly well for the ripped Brazilian. He bullied Hall from one end of the cage to the other, hurting him too many times for me to keep count. The win was a bit tainted by a pair of low blows, but that won’t be what people remember about this fight should they reminisce about it a few years from now.
There is a lot to like about Costa. His body looks like it was carved out of marble and he hits like a Mack truck. His straightforward approach has been appealing to a lot of fans too. Most encouraging to me was his ability to keep calm after Hall hurt him. He did have a panicked look, but he didn’t act panicked. Costa could very well break into the top five of the division before the end of this year.
I’ll give Hall credit; he’s tougher than people give him credit for… at least physically. He had plenty of opportunities to give up long before he did. His mental toughness is still a major question mark as he froze up on multiple occasions, allowing Costa to tee off on him. He proved he can still be dangerous when he hurt Costa with a counter right in the second, but everyone knows Hall is capable of ending a fight out of nowhere. It’s hard to believe he’ll ever fulfill his vast potential at this point.
Khalil Rountree defeated Gokhan Saki via KO at 1:36 of RD1
Analysts often say they have a hard time believing when a certain contest is going to go the distance. This was one of those fights. However, most were expecting the experienced kickboxer Saki to secure the finish, knowing neither were going to take the fight to the ground at any point. Instead, Rountree found a hole in Saki’s defenses, knocking him silly with a counter right. A few hammerfists sealed the deal, though it seemed academic at that point.
Rountree has established himself as an action fighter, this win marking him as an exceptionally dangerous one. However, this contest does nothing to answer questions about his highly questionable ground game. If he can at least develop some stout takedown defense, Rountree could become a contender.
While everyone expected this to happen at some point for Saki, no one expected it to come this quickly. Nonetheless, even with this loss, he’s fulfilling what the UFC expected out of him: deliver exciting standup contests. No one realistically expected Saki to become a contender after all. I’m sure the UFC will look to match him up with someone willing to stand up and trade… even if they have to sign someone to do that.
Anthony Pettis defeated Michael Chiesa via submission at 0:52 of RD2
Some have been saying Showtime is back. I’m not saying Showtime didn’t show up. I’m just not sure if it was a cameo or if Showtime is back in a starring role. After Chiesa took him down early and threatened to take his back, Pettis was able to get back to his feet and turned up the volume. He traded low kicks with Chiesa, though Pettis’ obviously had a lot more impact to them. The second round began with Pettis firmly in control, scoring a hard straight right which marked the beginning of the end for Chiesa. Pettis couldn’t finish with a guillotine, but he did successfully transition into a slick triangle armbar.
Pettis looked like he was having fun in the cage again, like fighting wasn’t a job. For some people, operating under the same rules as everyone else – being technically sound, well-rounded, etc. – just doesn’t work for them. Pettis seems to be one of those fighters. He simply followed the flow of the fight with his innate natural feel. However, I don’t believe his time spent improving his wrestling and footwork will be time poorly spent. He simply has more tools in his chest than he previously had. If Pettis continues to find himself, there is still the possibility we have yet to see the best out of him.
Chiesa will be moving up to welterweight after missing weight for this contest. That doesn’t bode well for him. He isn’t a great athlete in the first place, relying on his strength and grappling prowess. However, it has also been his downfall at times. Chiesa has been overconfident in that department – including here as he had a chance to pull out of the triangle -- resulting in three of his four losses coming via submission. Now that he’s losing his strength advantage, Chiesa will likely struggle to find similar success at welterweight.
Mike Perry defeated Paul Felder via split decision
Thrown together on short notice, Perry and Felder promised violence… and delivered in spades. An inadvertent head butt drew blood from both of them early, but that was just a warm-up for what was to come. Felder broke his arm on the first spinning back fist he threw, limiting his offense for the rest of the fight. Despite his limitations, he performed admirably, almost well enough to win. However, Perry’s ability to make in-fight adjustments – coinciding with his switch to the Jackson-Wink camp – allowed him to bully and bloody up the natural lightweight for the win.
Perry snapped a two-fight losing streak that had been brought on due to his strategy being the same thing for every fight. Recognizing he possessed a size advantage over his opponent, Perry took the fight to the ground and in the clinch where that discrepancy could be exploited. I know that sounds obvious, but Perry’s constant strategy had been to wait patiently for a counter he could exploit and swarm once had his opponent hurt. He’s still very young in his career, meaning there is plenty Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn can teach him.
Felder may have snapped a three-fight win streak, but he gained mad respect from the organization for not only taking this fight a weight class up, but going to war in the process. Felder may have been a bloody mess by the time the contest was over – which may have contributed to his losing the contest in the eyes of the judges – but he was competing right up to the very end, even throwing punches with his broken arm at times. Few would disagree with the sentiment that Felder is one of the toughest SOB’s on the roster.
Derrick Lewis defeated Francis Ngannou via unanimous decision
I don’t want to discuss this fight whatsoever. It very well could have been the most boring contest I’ve seen in my many years of watching MMA. Some may say Dan Severn-Ken Shamrock II, but that gets some leeway for the political bull crap surrounding it. Lewis and Ngannou have no such excuse for the lack of fisticuffs between the two heavy hitters. Lewis was just barely more active, giving him a win when both deserved to lose.
Lewis stated he believes this win will actually hurt his chances for a title shot. He’s not wrong. Lewis stated after the fight he was dealing with a compromised back, but I don’t see anyone giving him a pass as he has dealt with that in the past. There are a few contests out there that could be enough to give him a title shot should he win – Miocic, Curtis Blaydes, or Alexander Volkov – but the question is how long his back might keep him on the sidelines.
Ngannou was clearly suffering the mental effects from his loss to Miocic last winter. To his credit, Ngannou has stepped up to accept responsibility for his poor performance without trying to pass the buck to someone else. The wise thing would be to get him back in the cage as soon as possible to erase the memory of this performance. Expect it to be a step down in competition – a sacrificial lamb of sorts – but Ngannou needs something to get his confidence back.
Daniel Cormier defeated Stipe Miocic via KO at 4:33 of RD1
Most expected Miocic to use his length to pick apart the stout Cormier. He was doing that very well early on. However, Cormier began to find a home for his punches as he closed the distance. Miocic still appeared to be in control while they were clinched up for the final time, but all it took from Cormier was a short counter hook to put Miocic down for the count, Cormier making history in the process.
Of course, what turned out to be the real show was when Lesnar made his way to the cage and shoved Cormier. He also called out the rest of the heavyweight division, putting the mic skills he picked up from the WWE to good use. The commentary team may have said that engagement in the ring was 100% authentic, but nobody who pays an inkling of attention to the sport actually believes that. Cormier may not have know exactly what Lesnar was going to say, but he knew he was in the crowd and he knew to call the former heavyweight champion out. Yep, it was all set up.
Cormier is now the second fighter in UFC history to hold belts in two different divisions simultaneously, Conor McGregor being the first. However, unlike the Irishman, Cormier looks like he’s willing to try and defend the belts he has earned. Given the tainted nature of Jon Jones, Cormier ensured he’s in the talks for being the greatest fighter ever. If Lesnar is next on his list, it appears he may have to wait until January at the soonest based on the reports of when Lesnar entered the USADA testing pool. Too bad for the UFC’s plans for MSG in November….
Miocic was visibly upset when he came to, belying his typical cool and calm nature. That’s understandable as he finally wrapped up a payday he was happy with and ended up dropping the fight on the biggest stage he’s been on. It isn’t like he made any particularly large errors leading to the KO. Cormier found a small opening – the type that is almost always there but not consistently exploited – and burst through it. There is no doubt Miocic will do everything he can to get back into the title picture as soon as possible and there is yet to be a reason to believe he won’t be able to get there.