As a whole, I love MMA. It’s unpredictable, capable of turning itself on it’s head in a split second. And yet, for those reasons, I hate heavyweight MMA sometimes. After coming seconds short of 25 minutes of sheer boredom between Jairzinho Rozenstuik and Alistair Overeem, Rozenstruik turned that narrative on its head as Rozenstuik delivered one of the most hellacious KO’s seen in this brutal sport. It was bad enough that Overeem’s split lip made Robbie Lawler’s from his war with Rory MacDonald seem like child’s play. I suppose the reason I hate it is knowing the I have to pay attention to what can be – and was in this case – a miserable contest for the possibility of extreme violence. While the finish was amazing, it was annoying taking in the almost five full rounds of a terrible fight to get there.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik: It was with great reluctance I put Rozenstruik here as I wanted to gouge my eyes out for most of his contest with Overeem. But I can’t deny the sheer awesomeness of his KO of Overeem, nor can I deny how ballsy it was for him to call out Francis Ngannou in his post-fight interview. I would still favor Ngannou in that contest, but Rozenstruik’s ability to absorb damage was put on display in this contest in addition to proving he can’t ever be counted out so long as he’s on his feet. Given he wasn’t even on the UFC roster at the beginning of the year, Rozenstruik’s ascent up the rankings is truly impressive. That said, the plodding performance before the finish arrived also warrants reason to worry. Nonetheless, the final result stands and will be what stands out the most.
Aspen Ladd: You can always learn a lot about a fighter depending on how they bounce back from their first loss. If Ladd’s contest with Yana Kunitskaya is any indication following her loss to Germaine de Randamie, she’s going to be something special. Ladd has always been known as an aggressive fighter. Against Kunitskaya, she was able to take her usual standard to another level. She landed a HEAVY left hand to send the Russian sprawling to her back where Ladd finished the job with ferocious GnP. Ladd is right back on track after the first stumble of her career.
Rob Font: Far and away, Font’s victory over Ricky Simon was the most impressive of his career. Not only is Simon a solid name, but Font was able to overcome some adversity to take the W. Typically, Font has shrunk back when his opponent begins to offer resistance. Not this time. Simon hurt Font in the first. Font stayed the course and kept his jab in Simon’s face after losing his aggressiveness in the past. Even though Simon took him down on several occasions, Font’s takedown defense looked improved too. After a year away, it was good to not only see Font get an opportunity to compete, but it was good to see he didn’t waste that time either.
Tim Means: There were concerns about how Means would come back from a debilitating leg injury following his loss to Niko Price. Understandably so as Means has a lot miles on his body and hadn’t suffered a KO loss since the formative years of his career. There are no concerns at this point. Means looked as aggressive as ever, putting the pressure on Thiago Alves from the start and eventually flooring the longtime veteran with a straight punch. It may not have put Alves out, but it set up a guillotine choke from the perennial action fighter. Someone tell the welterweight division to watch out; Tim Means is back.
Billy Quarantillo: I knew Quarantillo had some nice BJJ chops, but his ability to transition from submission attempt to submission attempt on Jacob Kilburn caught me a bit off-guard. It may be that I overestimated what Kilburn could do on the mat, but Quarantillo gave him no room to breathe. About the only negative I can offer isn’t much of a negative as it felt like Quarantillo should have secured the finish long before he did. Regardless, Quarantillo had one hell of a UFC debut.
Bryce Mitchell: For someone with the athletic limitations he possesses, Mitchell put on one hell of a dominating performance over Matt Sayles. Scoring a takedown right off the bat, Mitchell never allowed Sayles to stand up for the rest of the contest. After advancing from a plethora of dominant positions, Mitchell eventually worked his way to Sayles’ back and sunk in a twister submission, only the second in UFC history after Chan Sung Jung. Mitchell looks like he could find a niche as a cult favorite ala Jason Knight a few years ago. Here’s hoping Reebok makes those camo shorts for him.
Joe Solecki: Given Matt Wiman endured a hell of a beating earlier this year at the hands of Luis Pena, it’s hard to know what to take out of Solecki’s beatdown of him. Is Solecki that damn good or is Wiman that damn bad? I’m leaning towards the latter at this point, but I also don’t want to minimize Solecki doing what he should have done. The 26-year old prospect looked good and did everything he could short of finishing the fight to make himself look like a million bucks. That’s a very good night.
Virna Jandiroba: If Jandiroba possessed above average physical tools, she’d be a title challenger. As it is, she’s still a tough out. Enduring several guillotine attempts from a game Mallory Martin, Jandiroba timed a perfect takedown in the second before taking Martin’s back and choking her out. It was a crisp performance from the grappling expert, showcasing why her ground game is so respected. The win may not give her a spot in the top ten, but it should at least afford her the opportunity to face someone with that standing.
Makhmud Muradov: It could be argued it was a perfect performance for Muradov… at least from an analysts perspective. Muradov worked over Trevor Smith in every part of his body, expertly mixing his punches to the body and head. Smith was visibly wearing down from Muradov’s onslaught when Muradov caught him clean on the chin, putting Smith out cold. It’s worth noting we still haven’t seen what Muradov can do with a full camp. The more I see of him, the more I believe he could be a real difference maker in the near future.
Alistair Overeem: I’m more willing to be forgiving towards Overeem for the boring performance. He’s got a notoriously fragile chin and I can’t blame him for wanting to protect it. Nonetheless, despite being able to protect himself for almost five full rounds, his strategy to play it safe was all for naught as he ended up on the receiving end of one of the most brutal KO’s in recent memory… again. I can’t say the door is closed on Overeem entering contention as we’ve played this game with him many times before, but it’s extremely hard to see him making that climb again. Nonetheless, he showed enough in neutralizing Rozenstruik for as long as he did to prove he can remain an effective gatekeeper for a while. Despite that, the brutal loss KO is what we’ll all remember.
Cynthia Calvillo: While Calvillo deserves a lot of credit for fighting her way into a draw after clearly losing the first two rounds, she also had an unfair advantage by missing weight… by a LOT. Had Calvillo made a greater attempt to make weight, there’s a strong likelihood Calvillo doesn’t have the energy to dominate the final round the way she did. So even though Calvillo’s comeback was impressive, it was enough of a stain on it that I can’t reasonably put her anywhere else but the loser’s category. Given this was the second time she missed weight, it will be interesting to see if she is pushed to move to flyweight.
Ben Rothwell and Stefan Struve: I can’t separate these two as everything revolves around the two shots to the nuts Struve ate from Big Ben. Rothwell walked away with the win after securing a finish, but that also came on the heels of Struve being severely compromised from the second shot to the groin. Rothwell reacted the way we would expect him to in that situation – he had a point deducted and probably lost the first round -- by going for the finish, but it still feels like a tainted victory. He himself admitted he didn’t feel good about the victory. As for Struve… he ate low blows from Big Ben. That alone would be a bad night. Suffering a loss after coming out of retirement makes it even worse.
Yana Kunitskaya: Kunitskaya was the hardest fighter for me to place. She did better than many expected, arguably taking the first two rounds against Ladd, leaving open the possibility of her taking a decision going into the final round. Ladd obliterated that possibility almost as soon as the final round opened, erasing the encouraging work Kunitskaya put in over the first two rounds. In the end, I decided I had to put her in the loser’s category as she may very well have blown her best opportunity to become a title contender.
Song Yadong: Yadong should feel lucky. After two very close rounds – one of which he drew a well-deserved penalty in – Yadong was dominated by Cody Stamann in the final round. The best he could hope for in that circumstance is a draw… and that’s exactly what he got. What hurt Yadong was his inability to stuff Stamann’s takedowns and his fading stamina. Sure, he was able to get out from underneath Stamann early, but couldn’t do so late. Had one of the two judges seen either round one or two differently – I gave opening round to Stamann – he’d be looking at his first UFC loss. Regardless, it wasn’t the type of performance many expected out of the youngster.
Thiago Alves: It was no secret Alves was on the last fight on his UFC contract. It looks like it will be the last fight he partakes in the UFC, a place he’s called home since 2005. However, Alves has dropped four of his last five, no longer possessing the durability or explosiveness to make the violent fighting style he displayed in his younger days a viable option for him moving forward. If this is the last we’ve seen of Alves in the UFC, he had himself a hell of a run.
Jacob Kilburn: While I stated Quarantillo had about as good of a debut as anyone could ask for, it was the opposite for Kilburn. He showed a lot of heart fighting out of several of the submission attempts Quarantillo slapped on him, but you know it was a rough night when that’s the best thing that can be said about your fight. Kilburn deserves some leeway as he took the fight on very short notice, but his stock took a major hit.
Matt Sayles: Given that he missed weight and showed absolutely nothing against Mitchell, I can’t help but wonder what is going on in Sayles’ life. I’m not going to proclaim him as one of the division’s top prospects, but he should have at the very least given Mitchell a competitive contest. Instead, Sayles has made himself notable for being on the receiving end of one of the rarest submissions in the sport. Whatever it was that had Sayles looking as bad as he did, I hope he can overcome it.
Matt Wiman: Circa 2008-2011, Wiman was consistently one of the most entertaining combatants in the UFC’s most entertaining division. That was a long time ago. That was a long time ago and Wiman allowed the game to pass him by as he spent an extended period allowing his body to heal up. I will grant him that he’s still tough as nails, but he’s returned only to endure a couple of brutal beatings.
Trevor Smith: Smith has been fighting under the UFC brand since 2013. It looks like he’s hit the end of the road. The commentators were talking about how Smith, at his best grinding away on his opponent, doesn’t have the energy reserves to execute that strategy anymore. That’s a good indicator he might want to call it a career. That and the three-fight losing streak he’s on….
Dan Miragliotta: While I admit it was humorous to hear Miragliotta tell Struve he was probably up on the scorecards, he had no business interjecting his opinion of how a fight is going to an active participant while the fight is ongoing. And yet, that’s what he did when he told Struve he was winning and he just needed to ride out the rest of the round. Struve was unable to do that as Rothwell finished him off. Given how referees hate influencing contests, a strong argument could be made Miragliotta did in the negative.
Marina Rodriguez: She had the win in the bag. All she had to do was avoid going to the ground with Calvillo in the final round and she couldn’t do it. Despite Calvillo showing improvement on her feet, Rodriguez was still superior from there. An ill-advised attempt at a hip toss resulted in Calvillo falling on top and brutalizing her Brazilian opponent for a 10-8 round for Calvillo in the eyes of most. Nonetheless, Rodriguez’s work in the first two rounds shouldn’t be forgotten – especially her work in the clinch – nor should her toughness be discounted. Most women would have been finished by the barrage Calvillo put on her.
Cody Stamann: It’s less Stamann’s fault he’s here and more the doing of the judges. As I already said, I disagreed with the decision, but I can see where the judges got to where they did. Stamann fought a smart fight to neutralize the explosion of the uber-talented Yadong, eventually wearing him out enough to dominate the final frame. It left most believing he was going to walk out of the nation’s capital with the W. Instead, he’s leaving with a questionable draw.
Ricky Simon: Simon may now be on a two-fight losing streak, but he bounced back strong from his loss to Urijah Faber. He had a difficult task in navigating the height and reach of Font, but found some pockets of success to remain competitive throughout their highly entertaining contest. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t able to take advantage of enough of those cracks to emerge ahead on the scorecards. Nonetheless, I’m more encouraged about Simon’s future than anything following this performance.
Mallory Martin: Sure, the youngster was forced to tap in the second, but there’s no shame in falling short to someone as experienced and savvy as Jandiroba. It was also impressive to see Martin attack a ground expert with as much confidence as she did. Martin came up short, but she displayed enough to convince me that she’s going to be around the UFC for more than just a cup of coffee.
Washington DC fans: I wasn’t crazy about the crowd booing Struve when he was recovering from his groin shot. However, I found it hilarious how they exchanged cheers with jeers when it looked like Struve was either going to continue fighting or might not be able to keep going. I decided to split the difference and put the fans here.