There wasn’t a lot of hype around UFC Fortaleza. Raphael Assuncao and Marlon Moraes aren’t exactly known to the casual fans and Jose Aldo specifically asked not to be in the main event so he could avoid a five-round fight. However, everything came together beautifully and all those who tuned in walked away satisfied. Of the six main card fights, five of them saw a finish, none beyond the second round. Moraes made it hard to ignore his calls for a title shot with his win over Assuncao and Aldo reminded us he’s still one of the best featherweights in the world. Add in the victories for Demian Maia, Charles Oliveira, and Thiago Alves, it was a hell of a good night for the UFC’s old guard.
Marlon Moraes: All the diarrhea jokes aside, Moraes put on a masterful performance. A pair of right hooks sent Assuncao sprawling to the mat and Moraes capitalized by snatching a guillotine. While most people were picking Moraes to win, a very scant few were picking him to do so by submission in the first round. Moraes made the loudest statement that he could for a title shot both in the cage and out of it. His callout of TJ Dillashaw – proclaiming he’s “chasing little boys” – could be enough to light a fire under the current bantamweight king to defend his belt against him. Given no one outside of Dillashaw or Cody Garbrandt has had anything to do with the bantamweight title picture for over two years, it’s about damn time we get some clarity of the picture.
Jose Aldo: After years of fans complaining that we’d never see the explosive version of Aldo who ruled the WEC ever again, Aldo has turned back the clock and delivered two straight finishes that overloaded the violence scale. All it took was a clean left hook to get the cogs churning against Renato Moicano before the barrage left the youngster reeling against the fence. In the process, Aldo may have gotten fans excited to watch him again. Unfortunately for us, Aldo has openly been talking about retiring when his contract is up. Hopefully the UFC can find some way to appease him. As long as he can continue to turn in performances like this, I want to watch the all-time great continue to do his thing.
Demian Maia: You’re not a good human being if you actively root against Maia. The ultimate good guy of the sport went vintage for all of us when he backpacked Lyman Good and eventually squeezed out a victory in the first round. Not bad for a 41-year old. The ease of the victory proved he still has something in the tank after losing three straight entering the contest, though it should be noted it was the three best fighters in the division. Also, did I mention Maia joined the UFC’s 20-win club? One of only 4 members with GSP, Michael Bisping, and Donald Cerrone.
Charles Oliveira: Who knew Chuckie Olives could overcome adversity? In fact, it appears the adversity of being poked in the eye – twice – fired up the Brazilian as he became the aggressor against David Teymur. It sounds like I’m setting you up to say the submission specialist secured his first KO/TKO in his long UFC career… but Oliveira switched things up for an anaconda choke at the last minute to extend his record of submission victories inside the Octagon to 13. One fight doesn’t change Oliveira’s track record of wilting under pressure, but it does make me interested in seeing how he does with a significant step up.
Johnny Walker: I know I’m not the first to say it, but it needs to be said again: Walker has the “it” factor. He’s a major goofball outside of the cage with his dancing and devil-may-care attitude, but is an assassin in the cage. All he needed was 15 seconds to brutalize Justin Ledet, a fighter who had never previously been finished in his career. Walker will need to sharpen up his fight IQ moving forward as he damn near ruined a flawless performance with a soccer kick to a downed opponent, though he was lucky enough to miss. Walker is the first Brazilian light heavyweight prospect I’ve been excited about in a very long time.
Livinha Souza: It wasn’t a great performance from the former Invicta champion, but fighting an opponent who missed weight by seven pounds and emerging victorious rates as a good night in my book. If you want to see a great performance from Souza, pit her against an evenly sized opponent.
Markus Perez: Perez is never going to be anything special, but he is always going to be a tough out. It proved to be enough this time around as Anthony Hernandez was incapable of putting together a sustained attack outside of his brief flurries, leaving Perez the opening he needed to catch Hernandez with a shot to the liver. Perez is looking like he could carve out a nice niche as a gatekeeper.
Thiago Alves: Whether you agreed with the decision or not – and most seemed to believe Alves didn’t deserve the decision – Alves’ performance was the best we’ve seen out of the longtime veteran in years. It looked like he was going to be finished in the first round only to fight back and definitively take the second round. While the third was close, it looked like it was Griffin’s round. Regardless, few were upset to see the former title challenger walk away with a win as he came into the contest having dropped four of his last five. If Alves can continue to turn in performances like this, no one will be disappointed to see him continue fighting for the next little while.
Jairzinho Rozenstuik: It was a tale of two rounds for Rozenstruik. He looked miserable in the first round, landing nothing significant until the final 20 seconds were left. When Junior Albini didn’t opt to take the fight to the ground in the second round, Rozenstruik was given the space he needed to land a brutal combination, flooring the big Brazilian. Rozenstruik is a beast if he’s allowed to strike. He definitively proved that.
Said Nurmagomedov: What a difference 10 pounds makes. Upon his UFC debut at flyweight, Nurmagomedov looked dehydrated and reluctant to engage. At bantamweight, he took the fight right to Ricardo Ramos and crumpled him with a spinning back kick to the liver. Quality win for Khabib’s “cousin.”
Rogerio Bontorin: Whether you agree with the decision or not, Bontorin was wise with his energy use, capitalizing on a few takedowns to get Bibulatov’s back. Without those sequences, the Brazilian wouldn’t have been able to pull off the biggest upset on the card. It’s easy to pick out the holes in Bontorin’s game, but why would I want to crap all over that when he emerged victorious in one of the most exciting contests of the night? Keep an eye on him.
Jerin Valel: I’m sure some people will disagree with me putting Valel here for punishing Teymur by taking a point for his eye poke. But why wouldn’t fighters intentionally break the rules if there isn’t any sort of punishment? Though I doubt this starts a trend, it’s nice to see someone punishing fighters for violating the rules.
Joseph Benavidez: Perhaps you’re asking what in the hell a flyweight who wasn’t on this card is doing in the winner’s column. Fair question. Keep reading in the loser’s column and you’ll get your answer.
Television audience: Did we really just see a UFC card end before it’s scheduled time? Halleluiah! For years, we’ve suffered through the brutal pacing brought to us from FOX. After a rocky start with the first ESPN card a few weeks ago, we were blessed to see this card end well before it was scheduled to. If things continue to go this way, we’ll be singing the praises of the move to ESPN.
Raphael Assuncao: Assuncao’s loss breaks my heart more than anyone else. Quietly one of the best fighters on the planet, Assuncao has never received a title shot despite having won eleven of his past twelve contests, including owning a win over the current champion. This loss assures he’ll never get one as Assuncao is already 36. One of the ultimate nice guys in the sport, the message we’re getting is that it doesn’t pay to be a good guy. I know I’m going overboard, but he might as well retire if the title is his goal.
Renato Moicano: While the loss to Jose Aldo doesn’t mean Moicano isn’t one of the best featherweights in the world, it does mean he isn’t going to be getting a shot at the title any time soon. The outcome is no doubt disappointing for Moicano, though I don’t believe he should be disappointed at all in losing to the greatest featherweight champion the sport has seen. In fact, Moicano was having no problem hanging in the opening round, arguably taking it over Aldo. Nonetheless, Moicano was on the losing end of a fight he had a strong chance of winning with no moral victory to take out of it. He’s undoubtedly in the loser’s column.
Lyman Good: Normally, I’d call someone in their athletic prime who losses to a 41-year old a loser. While I am putting Good in the loser column, it isn’t because of that. Demian Maia is a stud. No, it’s because the former Bellator champion was finished for the first time in his career and blew what may have been his best chance for a breakout moment. Tough break.
David Teymur: Many believed this was supposed to be the breakout performance for the Swede as he rode a five-fight win streak against increasingly difficult competition into his fight with Oliveira. He did knock Oliveira on his ass… but that was about where the positives ended. Oliveira was fired up after being poked in the eye by Teymur – a reputation he’s slowly acquiring – and took his anger out on Teymur. In fact, it looked like Teymur’s swollen eye gave him more problems by then end than Oliveira’s eye. Karma? Regardless, Teymur’s breakthrough moment will have to wait… if it ever comes.
Justin Ledet: Maybe Ledet wants to go back to heavyweight. Ledet is only an average athlete, but that’s enough for him to run circles around the lower levels of the big boys. He’s been outclassed in his two fights at 205, this one lasting a mere 15 seconds.
Sarah Frota: No matter the outcome, Frota was walking away from the event a loser. That’s what happens when you miss weight as egregiously as she did. Even though there was a case to be made that she deserved the win, everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the fight went in favor of Souza. Frota needs to be fighting at flyweight and stay there if she hopes to get any crowd support on her side.
Anthony Hernandez: While Hernandez still has plenty of time to right his UFC career, he didn’t kick it off the right way. When Perez didn’t crumble from Hernandez’s onslaught, the youngster didn’t have a Plan B. It usually takes a loss like this for an up-and-coming talent to take the next step in their development. Hopefully Hernandez can do that.
Junior Albini: I picked against Albini as I assumed he’d be foolish enough to stand and trade with the former kickboxer. He opens up the fight with a takedown and I’m thinking the Brazilian has figured things out. The fight goes back to the feet… and Albini never tries to go back to the mat and my prediction comes true. Not a good indication of a good fight IQ.
Felipe Colares: I haven’t seen more miserable takedown defense in a very long time. Geraldo de Freitas is hardly a wrestling machine, but he had little problem getting Colares to the ground. Even when Colares was standing early on, he didn’t show any urgency. He is a youngster, so there is plenty of room for him to grow, but early returns are anything but promising.
Ricardo Ramos: Well that immediately halts his momentum. Ramos had previously been unbeaten in three UFC appearances, but didn’t even have an opportunity to get going as Nurmagomedov attacked early and often. Perhaps Ramos should have looked to take the fight to the ground, but I’m not the one who eat kick after kick to the bread basket.
Magomed Bibulatov: I don’t think Bibulatov is a complete bust. In fact, I scored his contest with Bontorin in his favor. But given all the hype that was around the vaunted Russian upon his UFC debut, he shouldn’t be having a close contest with the likes of Bontorin, much less losing to him. With the flyweight future very much in doubt, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the UFC cut him loose. I probably wouldn’t, but the UFC does a lot of things I wouldn’t do.
Henry Cejudo: While there is no proof that Dillashaw is definitively defending his title against Moraes, it looks to be more likely that’s the case… at least in my eyes. Even coming off his major win over Dillashaw a few weeks ago, few people seemed excited about seeing Cejudo challenge for the bantamweight title. Even fewer people are interested in seeing that now that Moraes not only put a beatdown on Assuncao, but he also effectively called out Dillashaw in a way that makes people want to see them throwdown even more. Hopefully Cejudo is fine with avenging his loss to Joseph Benavidez….
Mara Romero Borella: It was a solid win for the Italian, but it was also the most blah win on a card chuck full of impressive wins. There were things to like walking away from the fight such as heavy top control and cage control… but nobody gets excited about control. Good win, but no one is talking about her win over Taila Santos.
Taila Santos: Speaking of Santos, she had nothing to be ashamed of in her performance either. She spent almost her entire career crushing cans before punching her ticket to the UFC. While she struggled with Borella’s strength over the first two rounds, Santos was the one with gas left in the tank to put a scare into the veteran. It was too little, too late, though Santos looks like a solid addition to the flyweight division.
Max Griffin: I won’t go so far to say his loss to Alves was an outright robbery, but Griffin appeared to be the more deserving fighter. He clearly took the first round when he hurt Alves on several occasions. The second round went against him – Alves hurting him on several occasions, though most thought Griffin took the final round when he utilized more control in a round fairly even in terms of damage. Regardless of the official outcome, Griffin should be applauded for his effort.
Geraldo de Freitas: De Freitas can partially blame Michael Bisping for this one as the former UFC champion repeatedly hated on his strategy on commentary as the debutant looked to take Colares to the ground rather than look for the late finish. My Twitter feed saw plenty of people agreeing with Bisping. Kind of takes the fluff out of a solid debut against a guy many believe didn’t belong in the UFC in the first place.