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Hindsight - UFC Boise: Dos Santos vs. Ivanov in retrospect

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Look back on the events from UFC Boise, from the helicopter spin from Mark De La Rosa to the unique KO from the back of Niko Price, overshadowing the dull main event between Junior dos Santos and Blagoy Ivanov.

Most people who viewed UFC Boise from beginning to end walked away from the event feeling like the judges turned in one of the worst evenings in recent memories. There were at least three decisions that were deemed as robberies — were they really or were they simply controversial decisions? Plus, there were a couple of unique maneuvers on the card. A helicopter spin, though incredibly rare, has been seen before. But a finish from hammer fists off the back? Can’t recall that. Oh yeah, Junior dos Santos also won a fight that was completely unmemorable in the main event. Probably why I didn’t mention until just now.

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

Jessica Aguilar defeated Jodie Esquibel via unanimous decision

A veteran of MMA since 2006, Aguilar has been a pioneer of women’s MMA. She’s also dealt with a series of injuries over the last few years, coinciding with a decline in her performance. Even if it was a case of being as good once as she ever was, Aguilar turned in the best performance of her UFC career. Her hands were sharp. She threw out just enough leg kicks to keep Esquibel guessing. Most obvious, she dominated Esquibel in the clinch to secure the decision. Aguilar may not have much time left in the sport, but she still has something to offer.

Esquibel had her chance to win this. It isn’t like Aguilar wrested victory away from her with a sudden finish or complete domination. In fact, Esquibel’s takedown defense looked fantastic. However, Esquibel’s punches continually came up short, her lack of reach hurting her as she looked to land her offense. She was too content to let Aguilar outmuscle her in the clinch as well. Esquibel has what it takes to be a mainstay in the division, but she was too tentative here.

Mark De La Rosa defeated Elias Garcia via submission at 2:00 of RD2

This was a bit of an odd flyweight contest. De La Rosa, used to fighting at bantamweight, has fought more like a lightweight than the smaller man that he is. Normally that can be problematic as opponents tend to be faster and quicker at the lower divisions. Garcia was faster, but De La Rosa was very methodical in his approach, securing takedowns and working his way into position before securing the finish with an RNC, channeling his wife’s method of victory from last week.

I don’t know how many opponents De La Rosa will be able to beat in this manner at flyweight, but he looked much improved here than he did in his debut against Tim Elliott. He was patient in waiting for his openings and – more importantly – capitalized on them when they presented themselves. I still have my concerns, but he did assuage some of them.

Garcia needs to settle down. He was all over the place which made it difficult for him to land consistent offense. What all you do is look for the home run, your opponent knows to look for it. I’m not surprised to say he needs to work on his footwork as his cousin, Anthony Pettis, was notorious for his shoddy footwork a few years ago. At this point, I’m not liking what I’m seeing out of Garcia.

Liz Carmouche defeated Jennifer Maia via unanimous decision

The biggest concern with Carmouche has long been her fight IQ. It has cost her several times, including her previous appearance against Alexis Davis. Against Maia, Carmouche had a plan and stuck to it from bell to bell. She bullied the UFC debutant in the clinch and secured some well-timed takedowns, including a particularly persistent trip in the opening round. Is anyone going to declare Carmouche a contender at flyweight now? No, but if she can continue to fight smart and improve her standup, Carmouche could very well end up there.

This was a disappointing showing for Maia. She was the Invicta champion before transitioning over to the UFC – including owning a victory over Roxanne Modafferi – so she was expected to be an instant contender. Instead, she appeared to be overwhelmed with the strength of Carmouche, failing to stuff her takedowns. What may have been most concerning was her inability to get a steady stream of offense going from the outside, the area where she was supposed to have her biggest strength. I would guess it was due to her concern over being taken down. Maia will need to make an emphatic statement in her next contest if she hopes to reestablish herself as a contender at 125.

Raoni Barcelos defeated Kurt Holobaugh via KO at 1:29 of RD3

This contest wasn’t receiving much attention. Holobaugh, despite an impressive showing in the inaugural Contender Series, had already washed out of the UFC once before and the hype around Barcelos as a formerly hot prospect had long passed. These two grabbed the attention of everyone watching, slugging things out with little to no feeling out process. They traded bombs, rocking the head back of the other on multiple occasions. Barcelos rocked Holobaugh badly early in the final frame with an uppercut, finishing off Holobaugh with three more uppercuts to secure a KO.

Barcelos reminded everyone why he was once thought to be a future title contender as a prospect. The holes in his striking defense are still as big as ever, but that concern can be a bit assuaged in knowing he showed a granite chin. His takedowns were not only more effective than ever, they were diverse as well. He was quick to jump on submissions when they presented themselves as well. And the power he showed… I don’t want to say we didn’t know he didn’t have it, but it translated over better than expected. At 31, he’s debuting a bit late, but he’s not so old that he can’t make a run.

Holobaugh shouldn’t hang his head after this performance. After all, he did take home an extra $50,000. He did what brought him success on the regional scene, pressuring and throwing with serious power. He even deserved a lot of credit for his ability to get back to his feet in good time when Barcelos did take him down and fighting out of Barcelos’ submission attempts. The bottom line is his style is going to open him up to receiving a lot of damage… just as he did here. Nonetheless, the fight went as well as it could for ending in a KO loss.

Said Nurmagomedov defeated Justin Scoggins via split decision

Prior to the commencement of the fight, the announce team let it be known Nurmagomedov was not blood cousins with the lightweight champion Khabib. That would have been the biggest surprise of the night, only for the judges to award a controversial decision to Nurmagomedov. To be fair, it was a close contest with the second round being the only clear round, going in favor of Scoggins on all the judges’ scorecards. But there were many people upset with the decision, going as far to call it a robbery.

The controversial round was the first. Nurmagomedov landed more volume, outlanding Scoggins 21 to 8, according to Fight Metric. However, Scoggins landed a punch that wobbled Nurmagomedov bad enough to have his knees drop to the canvas ever so briefly. Was that enough to sway the entire round in his favor? I would say yes, but I also understand where others would say no.

The contest reveals holes for both fighters. Scoggins looked very good for most of the contest, but also coasted in the final round to award the fight to Nurmagomedov. Had he remained active over the final round as opposed to playing keep away, there’s a strong chance he wouldn’t have lost. It appears he was determined not to put himself at risk to being finished as he had been in each of his previous three losses. Whoops. Nurmagomedov appeared to be tentative on the feet, unwilling to commit to his strikes. Plus, his wrestling wasn’t very effective, securing only a single takedown in the final round. Perhaps it can be attributed to Octagon jitters, but he needs to show more moving forward.

Alexander Volkanovski defeated Darren Elkins via unanimous decision

Prior to this contest, I stated nobody can out-Elkins Elkins. Volkanovski proved me right. Volkanovski proved incapable of securing a takedown against the noted grinder despite plenty of attempts. However, it didn’t prove necessary as Volkanovski delivered more than enough offense with his striking. He knocked Elkins to the ground twice in the opening round, coming thisclose to finishing the longtime veteran. Elkins found a way to survive and continued to move forward with his herky-jerky assault, though he was never able to hurt Volkanovski the same way the Aussie did to him.

The win is huge for Volkanovski. Though he was unable to put away Elkins, it shouldn’t be held against him as Elkins is well-renowned for his incredible durability and toughness. That he was able to outstrike him wasn’t a big surprise despite Elkins’ recent improvements in his own striking, but his ability to translate his power was much improved. He should end up getting a high-profile contest next, though just who it might be is up in the air.

It’s a bummer to see Elkins’ six-fight win streak come to an end against an up-and-comer as opposed to duking it out with an established member of the hierarchy. How much fun would it have been to see him trying to do his thing to Jose Aldo? I’m sure it wouldn’t have ended well for Elkins, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile to give him the opportunity. Regardless, Elkins fulfilled his role, even in losing. He pushed Volkanovski in a way the prospect has never been pushed before. Elkins will continue to serve as a gatekeeper, though it appears a similar run to the one he just completed is unlikely.

Alejandro Perez defeated Eddie Wineland via unanimous decision

Despite several underwhelming contests in his last six fights, Perez remained undefeated over that stretch. Could he continue his run of success against the wily Wineland? Even though he turned in another underwhelming contest… yes. Despite Wineland’s constant pressure and a brief knockdown in the first, the judges appreciated the counters and low kicks of Perez more.

I don’t know how Perez continues to avoid the loss column. Fights are about damage. I might buy Perez did just as much damage with his counters, but more? I don’t think so. Perez did catch Wineland early in the third with a straight right that looks like it hurt Wineland, but very few objected to giving Perez the final round. With a 6-0-1 record over his last seven, he deserves a shot at a top ten opponent… regardless of whether four of those contests were controversial.

Wineland showed he can still win fights, even if he has been forced to scale down the amount of movement in his standup. He landed the bigger shots, showing he can still put away opponents if he needs to. Despite his ability to adjust, his lack of movement is a sign of decline as there were few who could match his energy level. Nonetheless, he still has a few fights left in him where he can test the readiness of a younger fighter to see if they are ready to take the next step.

Cat Zingano defeated Marion Reneau via unanimous decision

After three losses in a row, it looked like Zingano’s career as a top-flight bantamweight was over. Sure, she lost to some high-quality opponents, but she was looking worse with each successive fight. Given Reneau probably needed just one more win for an opportunity at the belt, it felt academic. Given the narrative, many seemed to forget that Zingano was a stylistic nightmare for Reneau. Zingano took Reneau down at will and landed some nasty kicks to the legs and mid-section when the fight was standing. In the process, Zingano reestablished herself as a force to be reckoned with.

This was by far the smartest performance of Zingano’s career. However, I wouldn’t say it was her most impressive as her comeback wins over Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes were both epic. Regardless, she knew what she wanted to do when she clinched up, taking Reneau down and controlling her for long periods of time. Part of that has to do with Reneau being content to operate from the guard, but I’m sure Zingano knew she could count on that too. She’s back in the hunt… even if just on the outskirts.

Reneau is 41-years old. She doesn’t have a lot of time left as a high-level competitor. Then again, no one expected her to get this far when she signed at the age of 37. Perhaps she can continue to defy the odds. However, she won’t be able to do so as long as she continues to believe she can effectively operate out of the guard. Reneau struggled with Zingano’s reach too, unsuccessfully operating from the outside. Those wrinkles will need to be ironed out.

Chad Mendes defeated Myles Jury via TKO at 2:52 of RD1

Given Mendes’ long absence, no one knew how good he’d look after more than 30 months away from the Octagon. Initially, it looked like he was gun shy, reluctant to pull the trigger, allowing Jury to land more offense. It turns out he was simply getting down the timing of Jury. Once Mendes had it, he launched a brutal left hand – set up beautifully with a right feint – and proceeded to finish off Jury with ground strikes.

Mendes may not be right back to where he was when he was suspended, but he’s incredibly close. The former title contender showed he still has an innate ability to develop a sense of timing for his opponent and his power hasn’t deteriorated in the least. His wrestling wasn’t put on display, but I have a hard time believing the former collegiate All-American lost anything there. Mendes says he wants a top five opponent and he may get that, but he shouldn’t be so brash as to turn down a contest with the likes of Volkanovski. Wouldn’t it be wise to face the up-and-comer before he hits his peak?

This loss was a firm reminder of Jury’s limitations. He isn’t anything special as an athlete and he doesn’t have a lot of power. He is a sound technical striker, but he has also developed some rote tendencies from his time at Alliance. Mendes keyed in on that. Nonetheless, Jury is a sound gatekeeper on the fringe of the rankings.

Niko Price defeated Randy Brown via KO at 1:09 of RD2

It appeared Brown was getting the better of this contest of two unrefined athletes, closing out the first round strong and opening the second with an immediate takedown. He scored some nice ground punches from there too, only to run into some trouble when attempting to readjust his positioning. Using a maneuver I’ve never seen before, Price hooked Brown’s head with his foot and proceeded to slam hammer fists into Brown, using his foot to brace his head.

Throughout Price’s UFC run, he’s shown an incredible amount of creativity. It has put him in some bad situations at times as he tends to get reckless, but overall it’s been a big positive. This was easily the best proof of that. However, his performance wasn’t turning up all roses. He couldn’t get much offense going while standing and most expected Price to be the better wrestler and grappler. Nonetheless, Price showed he’s still improving.

Brown looked like he was on his way to an impressive victory. His GnP was looking stronger than ever and he was winning the standup. He can’t be blamed for not preparing for Price’s assault on the ground – it’s hard to prepare for something nobody has seen before – but there is probably some concern about how well he’ll come back from his first KO loss. I still have high hopes for him, but this loss could seriously mess with his head.

Rick Glenn defeated Dennis Bermudez via split decision

Another controversial decision, the question in this contest was whether you favored control over damage. Bermudez took Glenn down time and again, but never did anything significant with his takedowns. In fact, Glenn scored more offense from off his back with elbows than Bermudez did from his top position. Given Glenn was more effective in the standup over the shorter Bermudez in the opening round in addition to the more effective ground work in the second, was this really a robbery of Bermudez? I’d say no.

Admittedly, it feels weird to say someone outworked Bermudez. Normally he losses by his opponent fighting smarter than him, but Glenn managed to beat him in a way no one else has. Not that it was necessarily a surprise as that’s about the only way Glenn can win against a superior athlete such as Bermudez. His kicks to the body of Bermudez in particular proved to be effective. I struggle to see him climbing much higher up the ladder given his athletic limitations, but Glenn is always good to throw down in a slugfest.

This loss could prove to be extremely costly for Bermudez. It was his fourth loss in a row. More often that not, that results in a fighter being given his pink slip. However, Bermudez has never backed down from a fight and has a better argument for being robbed in his last contest against Andre Fili than he does against Glenn. Those factors could very well prove to be enough for him to get one last chance, but he needs to develop better strategies than swinging wildly to close the distance on his takedown attempts. Opponents have keyed in on that.

Sage Northcutt defeated Zak Ottow via KO at 3:13 of RD2

Things looked bad for Super Sage early. Ottow scored a knockdown less than ten seconds into the contest, going on to hold down the youngster for the next four minutes. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t do much damage from there, allowing Northcutt to get back to his feet and do some serious damage over the last 30 or so seconds of the round. The momentum firmly in his favor, Northcutt continued his onslaught, quickly getting back to his feet after an opening takedown and picking apart a flagging Ottow. The end came after Ottow was rocked and beaten down on the mat.

Northcutt is coming along well since escaping the watchful eye of his father. For the first time in a while, Northcutt let loose on his feet and finally began to look like the explosive finishing machine we all thought we were getting upon his debut. The move to welterweight looks like a wise one for him too as he had no issues hanging with the physicality of Ottow. Though they will still handle him with care, the UFC can ratchet up the level of competition for Northcutt a bit more at this point.

Ottow was unable to build on the success of his KO of Mike Pyle, making it likely he’s hit the high point of his UFC run already. He’s not a good athlete and though he’s become a better power puncher than anyone expected, he’s still nothing special in that department. What hurts the most is he had his opportunity to win this fight and couldn’t finish the job. For now, Ottow is just a guy.

Junior dos Santos defeated Blagoy Ivanov via unanimous decision

Given dos Santos’ long layoff following a lengthy suspension – and yet another KO loss prior to the suspension -- no one was sure how he’d come back. He looked much the same as he did prior to the suspension. Dos Santos exercised caution early on, getting a feel for his range with jabs and kicks. Ivanov struggled to land his own offense thanks to his short reach, but didn’t pick up his aggression until about midway through the contest. Though he did land a few good shots – including one that rocked back the head of dos Santos – it didn’t come close to being enough as dos Santos upped his aggression to match the output of Ivanov.

Is dos Santos still a title contender? His last two wins are Ivanov and Ben Rothwell. Sure, his last one prior to that was Stipe Miocic… but that was almost four years ago. Yes, he looked methodical in picking apart Ivanov here, but what the hell happened to the guy who secured finishes from strikes in seven of his first nine UFC contests? He hasn’t finished anyone since finishing Mark Hunt over five years ago. Dos Santos needed a finish of Ivanov to inspire confidence he can regain the title. He has lost the confidence he possessed prior to his one-sided losses to Cain Velasquez. He still appears to be an ideal gatekeeper to the top five of the division, but I think his days as a title contender are in the past.

Nobody ever doubted the toughness of Ivanov. What we didn’t know was if he could put forth a competitive contest with dos Santos. Ivanov had some nice moments, but most would agree that he proved he isn’t a top flight heavyweight. Nonetheless, it isn’t like he looks like a complete flop. Few expected him to beat dos Santos in the first place. Against less athletic opponents, expect Ivanov to have more success closing the distance and landing some power shots. In short, we’ll learn more about Ivanov in his next appearance than we did here.

Well, those are my thoughts. Until next time....