I try not to label everyone who wins a fight a winner and everyone who losses a loser. However, there are some times when it is so damn hard not to do so. After all of the violent finishes at UFC 228, it’s hard not to label most of the combatants based on what is sitting next to their fight result. In case you missed it, I’m sure you can guess that the card was brilliantly awesome based on that last sentence. I’d go far enough to say it was the card of the year thus far, even if it lacked a whole lot of name value. Hell, it even lost some when Nicco Montano was pulled from the card the day before. Wait… am I saying Montano had name value? Good hell, I must be tired. Onward to the list.
Tyron Woodley: Woodley has said and done a few things that have made it hard for fans to get behind him. He had three successful title defenses, but he also went to decision in each of them and spoke loudly about being disrespected before those fights. This time? Woodley kept his mouth shut and delivered an impressive d’arce choke over an undefeated Darren Till, earning mounds of praise from social media in the process. I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of crap for putting it that way, but I’m calling it as I see it. Regardless of whether you believe I’m hating on him – and I don’t believe I am – we can all agree he’s made the list of all-time welterweight greats a triad with Matt Hughes and GSP. He still has time to add to his legacy too.
Jessica Andrade: If you can recall the last one-punch KO in the women’s strawweight division, please list it in the comments below. Andrade absolutely pasted Karolina Kowalkiewicz, putting her out cold with a hard right hand. It isn’t like she was losing the fight up to that point either, storming out of the gate to put her Polish opponent on her heels from the get-go. As impressive as Tatiana Suarez’s performance was – more on that further below – Andrade is the clear cut top challenger for Rose Namajunas’ belt. Now if only the UFC could figure out how to promote a woman from Brazil...
Zabit Magomedsharipov: I think we can officially say Magomedsharipov has replaced Anthony Pettis as the most creative fighter in this sport. His leaping trips. His WIDE variety of spinning attacks. His use of the fence. His submissions. Yeah, there’s a reason so many have been excited about the Russian’s future. His kneebar/Suloev stretch was a thing of beauty. Let’s hope his next scheduled opponent stays healthy as we all want to see what he can do against better competition.
Abdul Razak Alhassan: There has yet to be a fight Alhassan has won that has left the first round. This may have been the most impressive finish. Alhassan landed two more punches to a still standing Niko Price after he already KO’d him. If you’re willing to stand and trade punches with Alhassan, you may want to reconsider your approach as this guy continues to improve. Keep in mind Alhassan is less than five years into his professional career.
Tatiana Suarez: For some reason, there were still some people who weren’t on the Suarez train, claiming her standup still leaves a lot to be desired. That isn’t untrue, but it doesn’t matter when Suarez’s opponents can’t keep her from taking them down. Suarez took Esparza down time and again, no small feat given Esparza was once considered to be the best wrestler in the division. Given how Suarez dominated her, those who don’t believe she’s legit can only be labeled haters.
Aljamain Sterling: It’s been a little while since we’ve seen the creative grappling Sterling brings to the table as opponents have preferred trading fisticuffs with the Serra-Longo product. Well… Sterling showed why people avoid going to the ground with him as he blew out Cody Stamann’s knee with one of the most creative kneebar’s we’ve seen in the sport. I know many want to call it a Suloev stretch, but that puts pressure on the hamstring, not the knee joint. Regardless, Sterling should get another chance to prove he belongs with the divisional elite.
Geoff Neal: Joe Rogan went a little too far when he declared Neal is a contender, but he could not have made a louder statement. His head kick KO was one of the most violent KO’s we’ve seen in a long time… perhaps since Francis Ngannou decapitated Alistair Overeem. It wasn’t just the finish either as Neal completely dominated Frank Camacho over the course of the fight. Neal isn’t a contender yet, though I would completely agree with Rogan if he amended himself to say he’s well on his way down that path.
Darren Stewart: I was reluctant to put the Dentist here as the only part of his performance that appeared worthwhile was the finishing sequence when he had Charles Byrd on the ropes. Then again, that was the part of the fight that really mattered. It also makes two wins in a row for a guy who couldn’t pick up a win in his first four UFC appearances. Stewart may be here to stay.
Diego Sanchez: Sanchez has no business winning fights 13 years into his UFC career. And yet, here he is looking like the man who created a stir upon his UFC entrance all those years ago. There is no doubt the UFC was looking to give Sanchez the most favorable contest it possibly could by giving him someone with zero takedown defense, but Sanchez held up his end of the bargain and turned in his first non-controversial win since UFC 200. Even if he emerged as one of the evening’s biggest winners, I still don’t want to see him fight anymore.
Jim Miller: 30 fights into his UFC career and Miller showed he is still capable of putting away his opposition. 89 seconds was all it took for Miller to eliminate a younger and more athletic opponent in Alex White. I really have to stop making predictions on how much longer Miller has left in his career as he turned back the clock again. Maybe it’s dependent on how the UFC’s all-time leader in appearances is handling his Lyme disease. Whatever it is, everyone loves this version of Miller.
Irene Aldana: If I’m being brutally honest, Aldana has not lived up to the expectations that were placed upon her when she entered the UFC. Even her win against Lucie Pudilova doesn’t make everything right. Regardless, it was a fun contest in which she put on display her toughness in abundance to pick up her second win in a row. Perhaps I’m early in saying she isn’t going to be the contender many expected her to be, but she is without a shadow of a doubt a great action fighter.
Jarred Brooks: It may not have been an ideal performance for Brooks, but he did take a fight on short notice and walk away with a win. I don’t care who you are, that’s a pretty damn good night. Perhaps it will take some of the sting off his loss to Jose Torres.
Dallas: The next time I attend a live UFC event, I pray for even just half of the badass finishes UFC 228 featured. The fans in Dallas were given a major treat. There were eight highlight reel finishes and another finish on the heels of absolute domination. My guess: many fans left the arena with a hoarse throat from all the screaming.
Darren Till: Given the class Till displayed in his defeat, I resisted putting him here. He looks like he has his head on straight and will learn from this experience. However, I can’t recall a single significant strike of his that landed. Sorry, but I’m going to be lazy and not bother looking it up. You can do that if it means that much to you. Regardless, Till needs to make some serious adjustments to his game as his controversial win over Stephen Thompson featured a similar amount of low output. Given his issues making weight and the amount of time it could take him to work his way back into a title shot at welterweight, look for him a middleweight moving forward.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz: Kowalkiewicz is tough. She got blitzed immediately by Andrade, found her footing to somewhat get back in the fight… and then it was nap time. Despite a strong showing against Jedrzejczyk a few years ago, it appears to be crystal clear she isn’t at the elite level. What’s that you say? She beat Namajunas a few years ago? True, but Namajunas had yet to bloom at that point. Perhaps I should have said Rose had yet to bloom….
John Dodson: After watching his fight with Rivera, I feel I spoke too soon in saying Dodson had been doing a better job in staying active in his fights. He cruised through most of the fight looking for openings that didn’t appear. Against disciplined athletes, Dodson seems unable to produce enough offense to secure a win. I don’t want to say it’s too late in his career for him to change – many fighters have reinvented themselves late in their career – but Dodson seems unwilling to do so.
Niko Price: MMA is a fickle sport. Price goes from one of the most improbable KO’s in the history of the sport – if you haven’t seen his hammerfist KO from the ground against Randy Brown, it’s worth a look – to being finished in less than a minute. Price has shown unshakeable confidence though, so I don’t foresee him having a significant setback.
Carla Esparza: I feel for Esparza. She worked her way back from a rough career stretch after Joanna Jedrzejczyk carved her up for the title to look like she might be a contender again only to hit a wall against Suarez. Esparza scored zero meaningful offense and may very well had her confidence shattered – again -- in the process. Here’s hoping that isn’t the case, even if she is never looked at as a contender again.
Cody Stamann: It could be argued no one had a worse night than Stamann as the knee injury he suffered appeared to be pretty severe. He may not be the same fighter he was prior to this contest. Let’s hope that isn’t the case as the Michigan product had some bright moments against Sterling, hanging tough against a superior athlete. It could even be argued Stamann won the opening round. For now though, it appears he’ll be on the rehab trail.
Frank Camacho: I believe this is the first time I’ve put Camacho in this category. It isn’t that Camacho doesn’t ever lose as his record in the UFC now stands at 1-3. It’s that he’s always a game fighter who can take a lot of damage and put on one of the more entertaining battles of the event. Wait… that did happen. Well… let’s just say the KO that put down Camacho was one of the most brutal I can recall.
Charles Byrd: Byrd had his second UFC win in his grasp. He had Stewart on the ropes before letting up the gas just enough for Stewart to reverse the course of the fight. It doesn’t appear we can attribute it to a lack of killer instinct as Byrd had finished his last four fighters in a row, but there appeared to be some sort of a disconnect as his drop was sudden. Very interested in seeing how Byrd’s next fight plays out.
Craig White: I will never deny that White is a game fighter. However, he was unable to put away one of the most shopworn fighters still performing on the big stage. What’s worse, he had no answer for Sanchez’s wrestling, an aspect of his that hasn’t been consistently effective in years. Keep in mind Sanchez is a small welterweight. Yeah… it doesn’t look like White has any business being in the UFC.
Alex White: I want to like White as a fighter. But every time I expect him to break out, he falters and forces me back to square one in terms of my expectations out of him. This time, it was to a fighter many believed was at the end of the line. Granted, Miller looked far better than anyone expected, I still expected more out of White. He’s going to have a hard time turning me into a believer at this point as his 3-5 record against less-than-stellar competition is hardly inspiring.
Roberto Sanchez: Sanchez may have exceeded the expectations on him heading into this contest as most people expected him to be finished quickly. However, it was a fight Sanchez needed to win if he wanted to convince anyone that he has a future with the organization long term. Instead, he couldn’t overcome an opponent who was taking the fight with very little notice. Not a good sign for the submission specialist.
Nicco Montano: Montano is the first UFC champion to be stripped of their belt after a botched weight cut. Not the type of thing a fighter wants their legacy to be. I don’t want to trash too much on her as I don’t know the circumstances behind her hospitalization, but no one wants to lose their title without the opportunity to defend it. Even worse, he opponent Valentina Shevchenko had long ago predicted Montano wouldn’t defend her title. Those words sound prophetic now.
The UFC’s Bonus System: How the hell Sterling, Neal, Magomedsharipov, and Alhassan all missed out on performance bonuses is a load of crap. I get that there were too many amazing performances to justly give out four bonuses – and all those who received them deserved them – but the UFC can’t tell these fighters they need to impress and then not provide them with a reward when they do exactly as they were asked. Something needs to change.
Brandon Davis: Given the amount of notice Davis had for this contest, he made a strong showing for himself. Sure, he lost, but everyone expected him to. There was a strong argument he took the first round though and there isn’t a fan that doesn’t appreciate a fighter who lives up to the idea of anytime, anywhere. Davis did that. If anything, he probably did more to boost his stock than hurting it.
Jimmie Rivera: Rivera recovered nicely from his KO loss to Marlon Moraes from a few months ago in picking up a well-deserved win over John Dodson. However, the low level of excitement associated with this contest will do little to help him climb the ladder at bantamweight. Look at how many wins Raphael Assuncao has and how much that has done for him for getting a shot at the belt. Rivera needed to make a statement. In a night full of finishes, he was one of the few winners who didn’t.
Lucie Pudilova: It wasn’t hard to see the decision going in favor of the Czech representative. Unfortunately for her, it didn’t play out that way. Regardless of how you want to look at it, Pudilova put on a spirited performance, just as she always does. Pudilova isn’t a great athlete which will limit her ceiling, but fight fans will always be willing to tune in to watch her fight as she always brings it.
Valentina Shevchenko: I have no doubt Shevchenko would have relished taking the belt from Montano. Unfortunately for her, it doesn’t appear that will ever happen. However, Shevchenko has been promised by Dana White she will be apart of the next title fight for the now vacant women’s flyweight title. Who her opponent will be we don’t know, but Shevchenko will assuredly be the favorite. Now if only she could have had the opportunity to strap the gold around her waist this weekend….