UFC Hamburg dragged on for a very long time. At least it felt that way when a record nine fights in a row went to decision, ten total. Given there wasn’t a lot of narrative behind most of the fights, that made for a very long morning/afternoon. There were a few bright moments – as there always is – but for the most part, it felt like a card worth moving on from.
Despite that, there were some clear big winners. Anthony Smith accelerated his rise from relative obscurity to make a worth name for himself. Corey Anderson toppled Glover Teixeira to pick up the biggest win of his career. It was a good night to be a young up-and-comer.
Anthony Smith: Less than six months ago, Smith was a middling middleweight who was coming off a loss to Thiago Santos. Deciding he was done with cutting weight, Smith moved up to 205 and has now disposed of two former light heavyweight champions in the process. Even more impressive, it’s taken him less than 90 seconds in both cases. I think it’s safe to say he made the right move. To be fair, Shogun and Rashad Evans are both long past their prime, but Smith disposed of those that were placed before him. It’s all you can ask of him. His callout of Alexander Gustafsson was ballsy too, though Gustafsson removed himself from UFC 227 shortly after. Regardless, Smith has made a hell of a name for himself in a short time.
Corey Anderson: We’ve been waiting for Anderson’s breakout fight for so long that we stopped expecting it to happen. Well… it finally happened. Anderson avoided Teixeira’s power shots by pushing a fast pace with a HUGE emphasis on takedowns, similar to the same strategy Phil Davis used on the powerful Brazilian four years ago. It wasn’t pretty – in fact, it was kind of boring -- but it was smart and earned him the biggest win of his career.
Abu Azaitar: I didn’t want to put Azaitar here as his win wasn’t that impressive. However, the fight had plenty of fun moments and he was able to do so in front of his countrymen. The moment clearly meant a lot to him as his emotion poured through post-fight. I still need to see more if I’m to believe he’ll be a major player, but this was an acceptable start.
Danny Roberts and David Zawada: In a card that needed an injection of excitement, these two provided it. I hated seeing Zawada lose as both deserved to win, but that isn’t how fights work. Regardless, these two traded submission attempts and sweeps in a manner that I haven’t seen in a long time. For proof that ground based fights can be fun, this was a perfect example to show the doubters. Hats off to both competitors.
Nasrat Haqparast: You don’t expect a 22-year old to be as composed as Haqparast was in his destruction of fellow prospect Marc Diakiese. Haqparast picked apart the physical freak, working his punches to all levels and coming thisclose to securing the finish, only for the bell to save Diakiese at the end of the second. Haqparast looks like he could be a big player very soon.
Aleksandar Rakic: The Austrian looked like just another name at the light heavyweight division heading into the event. Leaving it, he looked like he could be a world beater. Rakic kicked the hell out of Justin Ledet’s legs, ragdolled him in the wrestling department, and brutalized the face of his American opponent. Could Rakic be the prospect we’ve been waiting for at 205? If he continues to perform the way he did here, the answer is a definitive yes.
Manny Bermudez: Some were disappointed Bermudez had to go into the second round in his UFC debut to pick up a win. Perhaps a bit harsh given he picked up a standing guillotine, but expectations were high for Bermudez. He made up for it in his sophomore effort, flooring Davey Grant seconds into the contest and putting him to sleep with a triangle choke in less than a minute. That’s why people had such high expectations for the submission specialist.
Darko Stosic: Stosic didn’t do much for the opening minutes, but neither did his opponent Jeremy Kimball. Once Stosic was able to get the top position on Kimball, he laid in with some fierce GnP that Kimball had no response for. There’s holes to be addressed, but Stosic is offering something for us to look forward to.
Liu Pingyuan: For someone who doesn’t deserve to be in the UFC, Pingyuan looked pretty damned good. Granted, it isn’t like Damian Stasiak is a world beater, but anytime a fighter picks up a win no one saw coming, they deserve props. I’m giving them to Pingyuan.
Short notice fighters: Smith and Anderson both stepped up on short notice and walked away with a win. Zawada may not have picked up the win, though many felt he deserved it. Plus, he did get into the UFC in the process.
Youth: It wasn’t the case in every contest, but most fights saw the younger fighter emerge victorious. The UFC has been enduring a changing of the guard of sorts. It could be said they’re always in the midst of one, but it seems to be more obvious over the last few months than it normally is. Regardless, I’m noticing it. Are you?
Shogun Rua: Shogun was being talked about as Daniel Cormier’s next possible opponent prior to this loss. Now, he’s looking like just another washed up former champion. Not that he wasn’t being seen in that light by many before the fight, but at least he had a three-fight winning streak to fall back on. I can’t help but feel he’ll never be able to make that claim again.
Glover Teixeira: I know we’ve said Teixeira was done as a major player before only for him to roar back with a convincing win. And if I’m being honest, this time doesn’t feel much different than those previous occasions. But Teixeira is also 38 now and the last time he lost in this manner was four years ago. Teixeira has never been fast, but he looked slower than ever. It appears Teixeira won’t get another crack at the belt after all.
Stefan Struve: I’m not going to say anything about his inability to use his reach. He’s been in the UFC for nearly 10 years and hasn’t figured it out. It isn’t going to happen. No, this is about him picking up his third loss in a row, falling to Marcin Tybura. Perhaps more disturbing, his last truly significant win came almost six years ago when he KO’d Stipe Miocic. The UFC usually grants more leeway to heavyweights – Andrei Arlovski got away with five losses in a row – so I don’t think Struve is on his way out. Regardless, Struve is not in a good position.
Marc Diakiese: To be fair to Diakiese, Haqparast was a lot better than anyone thought. Diakiese didn’t give this fight away due to stupidity. Nonetheless, that’s three losses in a row for the formerly hot prospect. Is he on his way out the door? I highly doubt it, but he’s gone from being the next big thing to potential washout in just over a year.
Nick Hein: I wonder if Hein likes winning. Despite having a world-class judo background, he never bothered to take his fight with Damir Hadzovic to the ground. Not once. What makes it even more curious was Hadzovic’s traditionally lousy takedown defense. Hein gave that fight away more than Hadzovic took it. Poor performance from the sergeant.
Emil Meek: It’s hard not to like the Viking from Valhalla. He’s got a feel of a personality and is always going for the kill. The problem is he doesn’t know how to put an intelligent strategy together. He didn’t even bother to make an effort to defend the takedowns of Bartosz Fabinski until Fabinski was already into his hips. Given Fabinski’s strategy has always been to blanket his opponents, Meek should have known better.
Justin Ledet: Props to the man for lasting all 15 minutes under the barrage Rakic had him under, but that’s the only positive that can be said about Ledet. He couldn’t stop the takedowns. He couldn’t check the kicks. He couldn’t land any consistent offense. Maybe Ledet will be looking to go back to heavyweight….
Davey Grant: Granted, no one really had high expectations for the Brit, but he didn’t land any significant offense against Bermudez. The loss probably knocks him out of the UFC too, having dropped three of his four appearances.
Damian Stasiak: Don’t know what was up with the Pole, but he didn’t look like himself. It cost as he lost to a youngster who few believed deserved the opportunity to fight in the UFC in the first place. It marks Stasiak’s third loss in a row, likely leaving him out of the UFC.
Alexander Gustafsson: Smith found it mighty ironic when Gustafsson’s team announced an injury required to pull out of UFC 227 mere minutes after Smith called him out. Given Gustafsson’s injury history, the last thing he wanted to do for his image was pull out of another fight. And yet, that’s exactly what he did. Mighty ironic indeed….
Light heavyweight’s old guard: Perhaps it’s unfair to label Ledet as the old guard given this was his UFC debut at 205, but he did have more appearances under his belt than Rakic. Every fighter who fell under that category in light heavyweight fell. Is there a youth movement underway in a division badly in need of fresh blood?
Marcin Tybura: To be fair to Tybura, Struve can be very difficult to look good against. It’s hard to land effective offense against a 7-footer. Regardless of that, Tybura needed to make a statement in this contest if he hoped to get people talking about him as a heavyweight to keep and eye on and he couldn’t do that. At least he won the fight….
Bartosz Fabinski: How many of you are familiar with Jon Madsen? He was a stout heavyweight who utilized a lay-and-pray style in the UFC about nine years ago. He won his first four fights before suffering his first loss. That loss was the excuse the UFC was looking for to cut him his style was so boring. Many would say Jared Rosholt is a better example, but the UFC at least gave Rosholt further opportunity after his first loss. If Fabinski keeps fighting like this, he won’t get another opportunity. He’d better keep winning….