After ten fights, UFC Wichita was emerging as the clear frontrunner for worst card of 2019. There were a lot of tedious decisions and fights that no one would remember. That doesn’t mean poor performances, but in an era where there are multiple notable MMA events every week, fighters have to really bring it to make a fight really count. After those first ten fights, the heat was turned up. Niko Price and Tim Means put on one of the most memorable one-round fights in recent memory. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos made an emphatic statement to the welterweight division. Last, but not least, Junior dos Santos and Derrick Lewis put on one of the most delightfully weird heavyweight contests in the history of the sport… and heavyweight is the weirdest division. Given fans tend to remember the last few contests more than the early work, UFC Wichita will go down in the history books as a decent card. Too bad not everyone could walk out with a decent feeling about their performance….
Junior dos Santos: There has been talk the last few years that JDS is shot. While he had a stretch where he took a lot of damage, I always thought the idea that he was shot was ridiculous. This performance should have put to rest all those discussions. JDS ate some heavy shots from Lewis while scoring some heavy offense of his own. He even showed some creativity with his spinning back kick to Lewis’ gut. This is the best stretch of fights we’ve seen out of JDS since he had the big gold belt around his waist. He’s likely a win away from getting another shot at the title. Usually when a fighter is more than six years removed from being a title holder, the chances of them regaining their belt are extremely remote. It doesn’t seem that way for JDS.
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos: His performance was flawless except for one thing: his post-fight interview didn’t have a name ready. Other than that, dos Santos flipped the script, proving he is more than just an action-fighting striker. Don’t get me wrong, I had him pegged as a high-level action fighter, but having the wrestling and grappling to compete with the top of the division? He proved me wrong. Now, with seven wins in a row, dos Santos had a chance to call out a name… and only asked for a top ten opponent. He could have called out Rafael dos Anjos or Santiago Ponzinibbio. Nope. I know it’s a small thing to spoil an otherwise perfect performance, but it really sticks in my craw.
Niko Price: Price has a knack for taking out established action-fighting veterans. First, it was Alan Jouban. Now, it’s Tim Means. And when I say taking them out, he does so in violent fashion as the only thing to knock out Means prior to Price was a sauna. It’s worth noting that Means was dialing him up prior to the stoppage and Means has been through a lot of wars. Not trying to take anything away from Price, but I fear his reckless style will catch up to him again soon. In the meantime, let’s enjoy Price because he could be the next welterweight turning in consistent action fights as Means fades.
Beneil Dariush: Not the best performance from Dariush, but there were two big takeaways from his win over Drew Dober. First, his chin survived some heavy artillery from Dober. Dober may not be the heaviest hitter, but he certainly tested Dariush’s chin. Secondly, Dariush went back to his grappling roots and secured a painful armbar on Dober that had me cringing long before Dober tapped. Dariush still has some kinks to work out to get back to his previous standings, but it isn’t an unclimbable hill.
Anthony Rocco Martin: It wasn’t as entertaining as some of Martin’s more recent contests, but it certainly was a smart, clear-cut victory for the man formerly known as Tony Martin. He was never in serious trouble against Sergio Moraes, impressive given he did spend some time on the ground with him. Martin is no longer plagued by a short gas tank now that he’s at welterweight and looks like a beast. He’s a fringe top 15 fighter at this point.
Yana Kunitskaya: Three fights isn’t a large body of work to choose from, but let’s give credit to the Russian. She put together her most complete performance in the Octagon to date, showing a bit of wrestling while outstriking Marion Reneau for most of the first two rounds. True, her nose did get busted up something brutal in that last round, but Kunitskaya did enough work up to that point to secure what some may see as a controversial decision.
Grant Dawson: It wasn’t always aesthetically pleasing, but a lot of credit needs to go in the direction of Dawson. He pushed an insane pace, forcing Julian Erosa to wilt under the constant pressure. He still has plenty to pick up along his climb to the top, but there are top fighters in his division that can’t handle his pace. If Dawson can pick up some new tools to go with his pressure, he’s one to keep an eye on.
Matt Schnell: I’ve had the images of Schnell’s two KO losses to open his UFC career stuck in my head as his two subsequent victories haven’t done much to erase those visions. I think I can move on from that now. Schnell put together a complete performance, showing good striking on the feet before effectively transitioning his submissions before Louis Smolka succumbed to a triangle. I’d say I’m ready to stop doubting the ATT representative.
Alex Morono: I figured Morono would beat Zak Ottow simply by being the busier fighter. While that proved to be true, securing a GnP finish is much better, securing a second finish in his UFC tenure. I wasn’t sold Morono would stick around long-term, but he’s proved me wrong as he continues to improve. Good on the Great White.
Alex White: No one will proclaim this as a momentous win for White, but White overcame a slow start to score a comeback win over a game Dan Moret. Given White’s previous UFC wins saw him winning the fight from the opening bell, it showed some heart many weren’t sure White possessed. In the process, the Missouri native kept his UFC employment. Not a bad day of work.
Derrick Lewis: It seems unlikely Lewis is ever going to get another shot at UFC gold. I won’t ever say impossible with Lewis as he may very well be the hardest hitter the organization has ever seen. But he’s becoming exposed by more technical fighters, whether it’s Daniel Cormier’s wrestling or JDS’s striking. I don’t want to complain too much as Lewis’ awkward style works for him, but it’s become obvious to even the casual observer that it has severe limitations. His personality will ensure he always has a steady following, so he still has high value to the UFC even if he doesn’t become a title challenger. Still, I hope Lewis takes an extended break as he’s been fighting at a crazy pace. Some time off would probably do him a lot of good.
Curtis Millender: Millender’s first three UFC performances went almost as well as could be expected. He beat three tough, durable vets who tend to turn away newcomers. Millender’s bout with dos Santos went horribly wrong, perhaps making up for the lack of serious adversity in his first three contests. Dos Santos got him down quickly and that was pretty much it. I’m not saying Millender has hit his ceiling, but I will say that his ceiling doesn’t appear to be quite as high as I originally believed.
Tim Boetsch: It may be time for Boetsch to hang ‘em up. He’s been in the UFC for the better part of a decade and endured some wars in that time. He’s also visibly slower than he ever was and that’s saying something given Boetsch has always been a lumbering middleweight. He just didn’t seem to have it against Omari Akhmedov. The family man has a successful business outside of MMA. Does he really need to continue to endure this punishment?
Sergio Moraes: Why in the hell does Moraes seem to insist on throwing fisticuffs in every contest? He’s a freaking BJJ expert! Moraes does have power, but the dude has zero technique. He had the most success when he took the fight to the ground as Martin immediately went into defensive mode. While Moraes has had a successful UFC career, I’ve always felt he was capable of more. This performance highlights why I believe he never reached his capabilities.
Marion Reneau: I don’t get where Reneau thought she had the fight in the bag. It was a close contest, but her tentative start lasted well into the second round. For some reason, she’s always been slow to open up on the feet. When she gets into the flow, she can do serious damage. Did you see what she did to Kunitskaya’s nose? It’s too bad this still plagues her 10 fights into her UFC career. It’s unlikely she’ll fix it at this point.
Julian Erosa: Well, at least he didn’t get trucked immediately this time. Erosa doesn’t look much different in his second go-round than he did in his first stint. That isn’t a good thing. He just doesn’t have the tools to be more than an AAAA fighter: too good to be hanging around the regional scene, but not good enough to hang around the UFC.
Jeff Hughes: His first UFC contest came against a guy he disposed of less than a year ago in Maurice Greene. He couldn’t have asked for more favorable debut. While many – myself included – believe Hughes should have been awarded the decision, I can’t call it a robbery either. Hughes didn’t put a stamp on the contest. I expected more out of Stipe Miocic’s sparring partner.
Louis Smolka: The UFC has been giving Smolka every opportunity to succeed. Some may say they released him, but they brought him back after he picked up a couple of wins on the regional scene to regain his confidence. They give him a gimme in his return and a very winnable contest with Schnell. Whatever Smolka had when he won five of his first six UFC contests, he doesn’t have it anymore.
Zak Ottow: Given Ottow’s tendency to be in snoozers, he needed to win and win impressively against Morono as this was the last fight on his contract. That didn’t happen. The roster is already overcrowded and few – if any – ever get excited about watching an Ottow contest. Yeah… there is a good chance this is the last we’ve seen of Ottow in the UFC.
Noses: If you haven’t seen pics of the noses of Boetsch and Kunitskaya, go look them up. Well… if you enjoy pictures of broken noses at least. I have trouble breathing just looking at them….
Wichita: Even if the last three fights proved to be worthwhile, there wasn’t much for the Wichita fans to enjoy over the first four or five hours. I don’t even think there was a hometown favorite for them to cheer.
Tim Means: Yes, he lost and was KO’d for the first time in his career. But Means also came in and did what few can do as well as he does: throw down and get a dead crowd going. His fight with Price was the first highlight of what had been a very disappointing event. However, despite his entertaining performance, he did get KO’d. He didn’t pick up a deserved $50K bonus either. I can’t in good consciousness call him a winner for the evening.
Blagoy Ivanov and Ben Rothwell: I had to pair them together as their contest was incredibly close and very… tedious. Rothwell pushed forward, Ivanov retreated, and they occasionally landed some hard shots. I thought Rothwell won, but didn’t argue the judges giving the decision to Ivanov as it was too close to score definitively. Nonetheless, the loss shouldn’t hurt Rothwell and adds some legitimacy to Ivanov after entering with some hype last year only to come up way short against JDS last summer. In many ways, their in a similar situation that they were prior to this contest.
Drew Dober: Dober has consistently improved for the last few years. This was his best performance thus far… at least through the first round. He let Dariush take the fight to the ground in the second round which was the beginning of the end for Dober. Given Dober was the underdog and was supposed to lose, I don’t want to punish him for the latter half of the round too badly. If nothing else, I’ll happily tune into Dober’s next contest if he continues to fight like that on the feet.
Omari Akhmedov: I don’t want to rip too badly on Akhmedov as he fought a smart fight to pick up the win over an established vet like Boetsch. But it was also painful to watch. Lots of clinching and holding against the cage followed by coasting out the final round. Yeah… you can keep your roster spot winning that way, but you’ll never get the high-profile fights you’d like either.
Maurice Greene: There’s a lot to like about Greene’s performance against Hughes. There’s also a lot to be wary about. Given I didn’t agree with the decision of Greene winning, I couldn’t find it in myself to list him as a winner. If anything, it should be taken as a compliment as I think Greene is capable of far more than he has shown. While I don’t think he’ll ever put it all together, I think he’ll continue to tease us all with flashes.
Dan Moret: I almost put Moret in the loser’s column as he let victory slip from his fingers. He wrapped up the first round only to drop the final two rounds due to fatigue. However, he also looked like he deserved to be in the UFC for the first little bit. If he can fix his stamina issues, I like Moret’s chances of becoming an action fighter for a while. That’s more than I could say going into the contest with White.