UFC 235 turned out to be one of the weirdest cards in quite a while. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some awesome moments – the slugfest between Pedro Munhoz and Cody Garbrandt, Johnny Walker’s flying knee – but there was far more head scratching than cheering. What the hell was Jon Jones thinking when he kneed a downed Anthony Smith in the head? What happened to Tyron Woodley and who was that imposter in the cage? How the hell could Herb Dean botch two calls so badly in a single fight? Perhaps the most defining moment from the event will be the crowning of Kamaru Usman as the welterweight kingpin. As for the biggest loser of the night, that’s not quite so clear….
Kamaru Usman: I picked Usman to win, but I never dreamed he would dominate the champion in the manner that he did. His pressure broke Woodley in the second round, allowing him to dominate the rest of the way in a noncompetitive contest. Keep in mind, Usman maintained top control over half of the contest against a man who has been considered one of the best wrestlers in the history of the division. Usman isn’t as young as many people think – he’s 31 – but he still has a realistic chance of matching GSP’s legacy of dominance. Given Usman’s performance against Woodley, it feels like a very strong possibility.
Weili Zhang: I thought Zhang would be competitive. I was wrong. She was better than that, just short of dominant. Granted, it helps when you’re facing the smallest member of the roster in Tecia Torres and you’re best known for your size and strength. While I underestimated how favorable a matchup Torres was for Zhang, I’m even more convinced Zhang is a physical force to deal with. I thought it was about five years away, but we may be just a year or two away from a Chinese title challenger.
Pedro Munhoz: I may have picked against Munhoz, but I wasn’t necessarily surprised to see him put Cody Garbrandt to sleep. Munhoz is more than willing to throw down and Garbrandt is chinny as hell. He risked being KO’d himself – and he was wobbly after a few heavy punches from Garbrandt – and the chance paid off, awarding Munhoz a win over a recent champion. Given people are aware of the lack of quality wins for Garbrandt aside from Dominick Cruz, I don’t know if it will launch Munhoz into title talks. Despite that, Munhoz’s stock has never been higher.
Zabit Magomedsharipov: Some may disagree with me placing Zabit here as opposed to the neither category as it didn’t feel like the breakout performance many expected out of him. However, he secured a comfortable win over a tough vet in Jeremy Stephens. It never felt like he was in any danger and even made a few high-risk maneuvers that didn’t pay off. However, they didn’t cost him either. It wasn’t like the fight was boring either. Zabit still doesn’t have the wow moment against a proven opponent, but he’s still winning. There’s nothing to be disappointed about here.
Johnny Walker: I saw people clamoring to see Walker fight the likes of Jon Jones and Thiago Santos following his 36 second destruction of Misha Cirkunov. That alone says all you need to know about the excitement Walker has generated in his three UFC contests. This time, it was a stunning flying knee that dropped Cirkunov immediately. Cirkunov isn’t a chump either. I’ll go out on a limb and say Walker is the real deal.
Diego Sanchez: I’m going to get this out of the way right now: I still have no desire to see Sanchez fight anymore. That said, it was fun to see Sanchez put on the second vintage performance in a row in his win over Mickey Gall, this time picking up his first stoppage win since 2008 over Luigi Fiorvanti. For everything that has declined for Sanchez, it doesn’t look like his gas tank will ever fade.
Edmen Shahbazyan: As much as we like to trash on Edmund Tarverdyan, he has a real talent in Shahbazyan. Taking a cue from (retired?) teammate Travis Browne, Shahbazyan scored some brutal 9-to-3 elbows on Charles Byrd, knocking the veteran welterweight silly before finishing him off with punches. At 21, it’s too early to predict Shahdabyan’s ceiling at this point, but it looks quite high at this point.
Macy Chiasson: The biggest concern with Chiasson was how she would look cutting an extra ten pounds to 135. Though this contest was short, she looked great at her new home. Her pressure looked as consistent as ever, eventually dropping Gina Mazany under a barrage of punches. As much as the UFC wanted Chiasson to become a difference maker at featherweight, she could end up doing the same at bantamweight if she continues to progress at this point.
Hannah Cifers: Whether you agreed with the decision for Cifers, it was a solid performance from the youngster in her victory over Polyana Viana. Perhaps more importantly – so long as Uncle Dana is running the organization – she put on an entertaining contest. Cifers is a long way from becoming a player in the strawweight division, but she’s taking steps in that direction.
Dana White: We all know how much Uncle Dana didn’t care for Woodley as champion. He finally got his wish for someone to dethrone the longtime champion. I question how much he’ll enjoy having Usman as the champion, but for now, the UFC president is happy.
Anthony Smith: While few – if any of us – expected Smith to win, I think it’s safe to say we expected him to go gangbusters at some point going for a finish. Not seeing Smith just go for it after being down on the scorecards so badly turned me off to his honorable manner of rejecting a DQ victory. Seriously, Smith was thisclose to being declared the new light heavyweight champion. Given how often you hear fighters declare they’ll do anything to get the belt – and no one is going to stop them – I’m disappointed Smith didn’t live up to that creed. In the process, Smith has negated at least one more major payday for himself. Yeah, he lost big.
Tyron Woodley: Woodley handled his loss with class. That’s about the best thing that can be said about the ex-champions night. There was nothing positive to take out of his performance. He gassed earlier than usual. He looked listless. He couldn’t stop Usman’s takedowns. There was NOTHING positive. There have been title fights where the reigning champion dominated in such a fashion – for some reason, Rich Franklin beating down David Loiseau comes to mind – but I can’t recall where the champion was decimated over the course of five rounds so thoroughly.
Tecia Torres: While Torres has been facing a lot of top competition, three losses in row effectively eliminates her from any talks of being amongst the divisional elite. The fact that many are still reluctant to recognize Zhang belongs up there – understandably at this point – only makes Torres descent even worse. I don’t think it’s impossible for Torres to improve – though it is unlikely – but I question if any improvements she were to make would be enough.
Cody Garbrandt: I don’t know if Garbrandt is the biggest loser of the night – I feel confident in awarding Woodley that title -- but nobody’s stock has taken a bigger hit. The former champion refuses to alter what worked for him before his rumored fragile chin became a confirmed problem. Munhoz looked to turn the fight into a brawl and Garbrandt acquiesced. Whoops. Now, despite being only 27-years old, many are already looking at Garbrandt as a has-been. It isn’t too late to change things up, but Garbrandt needs to do so as quick as possible.
Misha Cirkunov: I was high on Walker heading into his contest with Cirkunov. Because of that, Cirkunov’s stock didn’t take a big hit in my eyes. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t walk out of UFC 235 as one of the biggest losers on the night as he should have been a big favorite stylistically. The loss appears to solidify that Cirkunov won’t ever be a contender. While there is nothing wrong with being a gatekeeper, most had higher expectations for Cirkunov.
Alejandro Perez: I know it isn’t completely the fault of Perez that his bout with Cody Stamann was a stinker, but the fight was contested at the pace he favored as opposed to the pace of Stamann. Even worse, Perez was unable to secure the victory despite securing the slower paced fight. The loss snaps a seven-fight undefeated streak and may have ended the best chance Perez will ever have to mark himself as a top ten bantamweight. It’d be surprising to see him reel off another undefeated streak like that.
Mickey Gall: It doesn’t look good when you call out a guy who is well past his prime only to get stopped by him. Gall had made a career out of callouts up to now. Getting stopped by Sanchez is about as embarrassing as it gets at this point. We all knew Gall was raw when he was tabbed to drub CM Punk into the ground. Should we really be all that surprised less than three years later that he can’t beat Sanchez.
Charles Byrd: After a pair of impressive wins on the Contender Series followed by a dominant UFC debut, the bloom is off the rose for Byrd. He dropped is second consecutive contest and he wasn’t even competitive against Shahbazyan. At 35, he’s not going to get the same leeway some of the younger fighters in a similar standing possess.
Gina Mazany: The hope was that Mazany would at least push Chiasson by dragging her into deep waters. That didn’t happen and Mazany looks like she’s going to be a mere footnote in the history of the UFC roster. I can’t say positively she’ll get one last chance to change that.
Herb Dean: While I liked Dean taking two points from Jones for his blatant illegal knee without issuing a warning, it was overshadowed by his terrible performance in the Askren-Lawler contest. First, he allows Ben Askren to continue despite being KO’d in the opening moments. Then, he calls the fight prematurely, believing Lawler went to sleep when that clearly wasn’t the case. It seems Dean has had more bad nights than good as of late and this one is probably the worst of those.
Jon Jones: One of the most overquoted sayings is “With great power comes great responsibility” from Spiderman. Jones may have easily won every round against Smith – if you don’t count the round with the point deduction in round four -- but it never felt like he was trying to finish him. It looked more like a predator toying with its prey without going for the kill once. To Jones’ credit, he acknowledged he looked flat, though it doesn’t excuse the performance. It would probably be a winning performance for anyone else, but we expect more out of Jones.
Ben Askren and Robbie Lawler: Given the controversial nature of the decision of their contest, I can’t separate these two. Lawler arguably won the contest in the opening seconds when he KO’d Askren only for the funky one to be awoken by Lawler’s continual punches. Despite the controversial choice to allow the fight to continue, it wasn’t the most egregious mistake of the contest as referee Herb Dean stopped the contest early when he thought Lawler went to sleep from a bulldog choke. Lawler proved otherwise when he popped up immediately following the decision. Askren is lucky as he gets a win in his UFC debut, though it feels like he lost. Lawler may have taken the loss, but he feels like he is walking away in higher regard. Hopefully, the rematch between these two materializes.
Jeremy Stephens: After two round, I was convinced I was going to put Stephens in the loser column. Then he woke up and put together a solid round in the final frame, winning the round in the mind of most and making things exciting. Until Stephens is no longer putting up a stern test for youngsters – while still securing the occasional brutal KO – he’s going to be in this role for quite a while yet. Keep in mind, he’s still only 32 despite being on the UFC roster for over a decade.
Cody Stamann: I expected more out of Stamann. A stout wrestler-boxer, he was lulled into a slow pace by Perez and turned out a ho-hum performance. When activity is one of your hallmarks, you can’t turn in a performance like Stamann did. Stamann did walk out with a victory, but the dullness of the performance largely puts his forward progress on hold.
Polyana Viana: I will concede I thought Viana deserved the decision over Cifers. Despite that, I’m not going to bitch as it was a razor thin decision. That said, Viana looked far improved from her disappointing contest with JJ Aldrich. Yes, it is two losses in a row for the Brazilian prospect. But she’s making progress and I’m sure she’ll get another chance.