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UFC 236: Holloway vs. Poirier 2 - Winners and Losers

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In an epic night of fights, we had two new champions crowned in Dustin Poirier and Israel Adesanya. But were Max Holloway and Kelvin Gastelum really losers?

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Heading into the co-main event, UFC 236 had largely been a disappointment. Some of the contests that appeared to be barnburners on paper ended up being duds. By the end of the evening, the book on the entire card had been rewritten on the strength of those last two contests. In any other card, the main event between Dustin Poirier and Max Holloway would have been the easy choice for FOTN. Poirier and Holloway did receive a performance bonus for their bout, but most would agree Israel Adesanya and Kelvin Gastelum put on a contest for the ages, easily the frontrunner for FOTY. If we’re fortunate to have a contest that rivals what Adesanya and Gastelum gave us, this will be the most plentiful bounty the MMA Gods have given us… perhaps ever.

Winners

Dustin Poirier: I remember watching Poirier’s UFC debut against Josh Grispi back in 2011 and thinking this guy is fun. That I wanted to follow his career. I never saw him becoming a champion, but I’m not the only one in that boat. While I’m still not completely cool with the slew of interim titles we’ve seen since the end of the Zuffa era, I’m happy to see Poirier proved me wrong by securing the interim gold. He used his power to hurt Holloway several times, particularly over the first two rounds. After the first round, I worried Poirier’s energy levels would flag after the intense effort he made to put away the featherweight champion. Poirier did slow some, but not to the levels I feared he would. That’s just one indication of Poirier’s improvement over the course of his career. I’m happy to see this crowning moment of his career. I’ll be even more happy if this isn’t the crowning moment.

Max Holloway: It’s rare that a fighter can have a 13-fight win streak snapped in a definitive loss and not have his stock hurt. I’m not saying it went up, but I don’ look at Holloway any less than I did before. I understand that’s an argument to put Holloway in the neither category, but I can’t do that given the high level of performance Holloway put forth. He took a brutal beating over the first two rounds at the hands of Poirier, only for Holloway to continue to come forward, coming close to taking the final three rounds. Holloway may have fallen short, but he fought like a champion and still has the belt to prove he is, even if it isn’t at 155.

Israel Adesanya: Many people were saying Adesanya’s push was too much, too soon. I don’t hear a single person making such a ludicrous statement at this point. The performance he put on with Gastelum was the most intense contest I’ve seen since Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald threw down. Whether Adesanya won it or not, everyone was in agreeance that it was a legendary performance from both competitors. That Adesanya won – and deservedly so – is just the tip of the iceberg. The scary thing about Adesanya is that he is still getting better. We could be looking at a future GOAT.

Kelvin Gastelum: I wasn’t sold on Gastelum heading into this contest. His wins over Vitor Belfort, Tim Kennedy, and Michael Bisping all came when they were washed. It’s not like he beat a peak Jacare Souza either… and even that was debatable. His loss to Adesanya sold me. Gastelum took a vicious beating and kept coming forward, looking for the win every step of the way. He came close to it too, hurting Adesanya on several occasions. It could be Gastelum will never come closer to gold than he came here, but I’m not as sure in that belief as I was before. Mr. Gastelum, I tip my hat to you.

Khalil Rountree: Rountree’s destruction of Eryk Anders was the type of performance I expected to see out of Rountree when he was a scorching prospect a few years ago. He’s always been a hard hitter and that was easily the most apparent aspect of the contest. But the improved stamina and sprawl were aspects that had previously been lacking. I’m still anxious to see him do this against a decent wrestler as Anders isn’t the most technical wrestler. Aside from that, Rountree is on the right track.

Nikita Krylov: No matter what, Nicky Thrills is always fun to watch. He’s fortunate that Ovince Saint Preux always – and I mean always – gasses when he wrestles for an extended period of time as OSP had nothing left after three takedowns in the first round. It made it easy for Krylov to get a takedown and secure a RNC and get back on track. Krylov will probably never be an actual contender – he’s too wild – but he will always be one of my favorites to watch.

Matt Frevola: It took three tries for the Contender Series alum to pick up a win in the UFC, but he may have succeded against the most talented of his opponents in Jalin Turner. Then again, Turner has a lot of kinks to iron out. Nonetheless, Frevola navigated Turner’s reach to grind out a hard-fought decision. While it wasn’t the prettiest performance, it required a lot of grit.

Alexandre Pantoja: Being a human backpack and his low kicks: the two things Pantoja is known for. And yet, it was a straight punch from the Brazilian that floored Wilson Reis. Was it a fluke or has Pantoja developed some power? Regardless of what it was, Pantoja keeps his job and has an outside opportunity to get into the title picture. Granted, that will require the UFC keeping the division around longer than most of us expect, but a man can hope.

Khalid Taha: I’ve liked Taha. I just thought the UFC called him up too soon. The German prospect may have proven me wrong, securing a hard right hook that knocked Boston Salmon silly. Some ground strikes finished things off, all in the span of 25 seconds. I’m still concerned it could have been a flash-in-the-pan KO, but knowing Taha has that type of power is a positive in itself.

Belal Muhammad: I underestimated Muhammad. I’ve known he’s a smart fighter who knows how to make adjustments throughout the course of the contest. I just worried about his ability to handle far superior athletes. I should have known when the athlete is as one-dimensional as Millender, Muhammad would find a way. Not only did he do that, he found a way to get Millender on his back and keep him there in two separate rounds. Muhammad will hit his ceiling soon, but I’m happy to say he hasn’t yet.

Montel Jackson: Another prospect from the Contender Series I thought the UFC called up too soon, Jackson has made continual progress since his debut loss to Ricky Simon. His contest with Andre Soukhamthath was ALL Jackson. Soukhamthath isn’t an elite fighter, but he’s tough as nails with major power and Jackson had no problems with him. Jackson looks like he’s going to be a major player before we know it.

Brandon Davis: I still have concerns about Davis’ cut to 135, but he walked out of his debut at bantamweight with a decisive victory, scoring a RNC over a debuting Randy Costa. However, Davis also represented Costa’s first real competition. In other words, the impact of this victory for Davis is minimal. Nonetheless, it was a good night for him.

George Allen: I usually have at least one referee in one of these columns somewhere and the little known Allen is getting the spotlight this time. He immediately deducted a point from Zalim Imadaev after a blatant fence grab… and fence grabbing was a minimal part of the contest after that. Throw in Daniel Cormier continually singing his praises enthusiastically and there are a number of us who wouldn’t mind seeing him in the cage again.

Losers

Eryk Anders: I will say this for the former Alabama linebacker: he’s one of the toughest SOB’s on the UFC roster. Given the roster is a list of people who are paid to get punched in the face, that’s a hell of a compliment. However, he’s a long way away from fulfilling the potential many saw in him after he blasted through Rafael Natal, having dropped four of his last five. This was the worst performance over that stretch. Is Anders regressing?

Dwight Grant and Alan Jouban: Grant needs a KO in order to have a good performance. He didn’t get it, resulting in a tedious 15 minutes with scant brief flurries of violence. Without the payoff of a KO, it wasn’t worth our time. Grant has a W on his record which is the only positive that can come out of this contest. Jouban can’t even say that. In fact, what the hell was Jouban so upset about when the decision was announced? It’s not like he put a stamp on the contest at any point.

Ovince Saint Preux: It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Saint Preux was fighting Jon Jones for interim gold. Then I realize it was three years ago and Saint Preux began his professional career over a decade ago. At the age of 36, OSP has plateaued and is probably on the downslide at this point. Even worse, he’s never done anything to address some of his most pressing concerns. I was never really on the OSP bandwagon, but I can’t believe those who were are still on there at this point.

Jalin Turner: I was torn whether to put him in this column or in the neither column as I didn’t hate Turner’s performance. He’s a young kid who still has a lot to figure out. He had some good moments too, making it hard for Frevola to find his way into striking range. It just wasn’t enough. Given this was a winnable fight that didn’t blow the doors off on the entertainment spectrum means I had to put him in this column.

Wilson Reis: Whether it is a loss in confidence or the high mileage he’s put on his body, Reis hasn’t been the same since getting dominated by Demetrious Johnson. To be fair, Reis hasn’t been given any softballs in that time, but that doesn’t change the fact that Reis has been a shell of himself. Getting finished by Pantoja represents the cherry on top of the sundae. Reis is done.

Max Griffin: I know that Griffin emerged with a win over Zelim Imadaev. I know there is no conceivable way for the fight to be scored as a loss against him. However, it can be scored a draw, which I did. And if you were paying attention, Griffin fought a stupid fight. Obviously emotional after alleged shenanigans from Imadaev before the fight, Griffin went for an immediate finish against an inexperienced opponent. He didn’t get it and ended up gassing himself, leaving him in survival mode over the last two rounds. I had credited Griffin as a smart fighter after his performance against Mike Perry. I’m going to have to rewrite that narrative.

Boston Salmon: I don’t want to say Salmon’s bubble is burst… but it very well could be. In his first contest in 21 months, the formerly hyped prospect only lasted 25 seconds. There wasn’t enough action to take any concrete takes from this contest, but Salmon needs to change something up. Fighting every two years isn’t going to cut it.

Curtis Millender: Aside from TJ Dillashaw, there isn’t a fighter whose stock has taken as big of a hit in the last two months. Dillashaw’s damage was done on the outside of a cage. Millender’s came as a result of a major weakness being exposed. He’s like a turtle when put on his back, unable to get back to his feet. At the very least, Millender needs to get a new grappling coach. A new camp might be better. Until then, Millender is going to be stuck in neutral.

Andre Soukhamthath: There was nothing positive to take out of this contest for the Asian Sensation. Normally, Soukhamthath gets at least one good shot in on his opponents in a contest. He didn’t even get that. Yeah… I don’t need to say anything else.

Lauren Mueller: Mueller produced most of the excitement in a contest devoid of it in her loss to Polyana Botelho, but that’s not a recipe to get you over with the MMA audience. All hope isn’t lost as Mueller can put on a fun performance and hasn’t come close to reaching her potential, but she’s now riding a two fight-losing streak. She needs to put it together in a hurry.

ESPN-UFC PPV Marriage: It wasn’t as rampant as the McGregor-Mayweather debacle, but I saw plenty of people on Twitter who were unable to purchase the PPV. Not the way you want to start a new era of PPV sales, even though I’m sure the kinks will be ironed out.

Neither

Zelim Imadaev: While the alleged crap Imadaev pulled prior to the fight is low, I’m wondering if it wasn’t just mind games. It worked. Griffin, a far more experienced and technical fighter, came dangerously close to giving the fight away to the young Russian. Imadaev couldn’t find the finish, though he did come close. I’m interested to see how the wild striker progresses.

Polyana Botelho: While there are certainly more positives than negatives to take out of Botelho’s win over Mueller, it was also an incredibly boring performance as she spent the majority of the contest clinched against the cage. In an organization that is becoming more of an entertainment enterprise than a sport, that’s not good news for Botelho. Regardless, she proved she solidly

Randy Costa: Given there were very few who believed Costa stood a chance against a tested Davis, he acquitted himself well to the UFC audience. He hurt Davis on several occasions and arguably won the opening frame. However, he gassed hard and end up being submitted easily. Nonetheless, Costa looks like a real talent if he’s given the time to develop. The worry is that the UFC may have come calling too early.