There wasn’t a lot of hype around the UFC Rochester card, but damn it if it didn’t turn out to be one of the better cards of 2019… at least thus far. It featured one of the all-time great – no hyperbole – debuts as Michel Pereira demolished a respected Danny Roberts. Aspen Ladd and Sijara Eubanks threw down in one of the best back-and-forth contests in recent memory. Felicia Spencer announced her own arrival in the promotion with a dominant win over Megan Anderson and Rafael dos Anjos reestablished himself as a top-flight welterweight with a victory over Kevin Lee in another back-and-forth contest. Hell, even submission specialist Charles Oliveira got in on the act, scoring the first finish via strikes of his UFC career. 2019 has been kind to the UFC overall. UFC Rochester made the year even sweeter.
Rafael dos Anjos: 2018 was not a good year for dos Anjos. He was unable to secure a win, falling to Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman in five-round decisions. Many were questioning if his previous success at welterweight was a fluke or if he was on the backside of a long, albeit successful, career. Though many will still question whether he is a legit welterweight contender as Lee is a former lightweight himself, it’s obviously premature to say dos Anjos is past his prime. He weathered the early storm from Lee, allowing the younger fighter to exhaust himself in the process. Dos Anjos capitalized, securing a submission when he recognized Lee was mentally done. The former lightweight champion isn’t going to be in any title shots any time soon, but he’s set up to be in pivotal divisional contests for a while yet.
Ian Heinisch: For the second fight in a row, most of the MMA media – myself included – doubted Heinisch’s ability to survive on the ground with a noted BJJ grappler. We should have learned our lesson after his fight with Cezar Ferreira. Instead, we all believed that Antonio Carlos Junior was superior to Ferreira. Whoops. Heinisch proved his cardio – and heart -- know no limits. He wore down ACJ with his constant effort to the point where ACJ was exhausted by the second round. I still have my doubts about Heinisch’s ability to outwit someone else with good cardio, but let’s worry about that when we get to it. For now, let’s celebrate Heinisch’s victory.
Felicia Spencer: Spencer had no problem with her fellow former Invicta champion Megan Anderson. Given this was a development few saw coming, it’s a major win for the Canadian. Not only did Spencer wrest her to the ground, Spencer displayed some excellent grappling and scrambling in the process. I don’t want to throw her into the fire against Amanda Nunes yet – Spencer isn’t ready for that – but Spencer could very well get to that point given time to develop her striking. Her grappling may very well already be the best in the shallow division.
Vicente Luque: Sure, the Brazilian had a rough start. He got hurt by last-minute replacement Derrick Krantz seconds into their contest, but who ultimately won the match? Luque in a violent and definitive manner. The win doesn’t give him the boost a win over Neil Magny would have, but it doesn’t hurt either. Here’s hoping Luque gets another high profile contest and it actually goes through.
Derrick Krantz: Many people didn’t know who Krantz was prior to this week despite his years of solid work on the regional scene. When he finally receives his opportunity in the UFC, it proves to be against one of the most violent welterweights on the roster. Krantz wasn’t intimidated and came very close to securing an early stoppage. From not being on the roster to earning the respect of fans who previously didn’t know who you are, I’d say Krantz had a damn good week on the whole.
Charles Oliveira: Did Oliveira even make an attempt to get Nik Lentz to the ground? Any attempts to get the contest to the ground that I recall came from Lentz. Oliveira appeared determined to showcase his improved striking chops. He succeeded, landing a brutal straight shot that put the notoriously tough Lentz on the ground. A few ground shots later and Oliveira had his first UFC stoppage due to strikes. It’s crazy to think nine years after his UFC debut that Oliveira is still improving. The dude deserves a high-profile contest next as he’s now sitting at five wins in a row. We should all hope he gets it.
Aspen Ladd: Usually, the first fight back from a fighter’s first loss is when we find out how they bounce back from adversity. After coming thisclose to being finished in the opening frame, Ladd maintained her composure to dominate the second and put on a competitive third round. In the process she scored her second victory over Sijara Eubanks, launching herself into top of the division. I can understand many being reluctant to say Ladd is ready to face the elite of the division – this was just her third UFC fight after all – but we are talking about women’s bantamweight. That division is even more shallow than light heavyweight. Ladd is ready to test herself at the top.
Des Green: Though I don’t believe Green put forth his best foot forward – not to mention his contest being the first to go to decision for the evening – there is no doubt that he’ll remember this night for the rest of his career. He had the home crowd fully behind him and took a decision over a game Charles Jourdain. With three wins in his last four appearances, he’s back on solid footing for his UFC career. He’ll need to step things up if he gets a step up in competition, but I could also see the excitement of fighting in his home freezing him a bit.
Michel Prazeres: Full disclosure: I was very low on Prazeres coming into the event. Yes, I acknowledged he’s exciting. I acknowledged he’s explosive. But I also thought he was beating up on cans with little chance of making the step up in competition he’d be receiving against Danny Roberts. I was dead wrong. Prazeres had one of the most explosive debuts in UFC history, nailing Roberts with a flying knee before putting an end to Roberts’ evening with a straight punch. If this doesn’t prove to be Prazeres best UFC performance of his career, I’m salivating at his future.
Grant Dawson: I was a bit surprised at the lack of love for Dawson coming into his contest with Mike Trizano. I’m not saying he is a blue-chipper, but he’s got the look of someone whose going to be around for a long time at the very least. After a competitive first, Dawson put the screws onto Trizano in the second, getting a takedown early and punished the formerly undefeated TUF winner before getting a RNC. I think he’ll be getting some more deserved love at this point.
Ed Herman: While Herman’s name has familiarity to many old school fans, many forget the TUF 3 veteran is still on the roster. For context, that was the same season the soon-to-be-Hall-of-Famer Michael Bisping was on. And yet, he’s still around, pulling off the occasional KO. Granted, Patrick Cummins’ chin has never been made of granite, but few saw this win coming for the longtime vet. Here’s hoping he gets into the UFC video game….
Zak Cummings: There was a distinct possibility that Cummings was on his way to a decision loss. Instead, Cummings for a landing spot for his heavy left hand, all the while eating a punch from Giles. Capitalizing on a dazed Giles, Cummings locked in a tight guillotine to secure another win, quietly raising his UFC record to 8-3. I understand why the UFC doesn’t push him – generally not an aesthetically pleasing combatant – but he’s one of the most underappreciated members of the roster.
Julio Arce: Arce’s third UFC win didn’t come without some difficulties as Julian Erosa proved to be more game than anyone predicted, but Arce got something he desperately needed to move up the standings: a highlight reel KO. It was a single shot with a head kick that put Erosa down for the count late, giving the Tiger Schulmann rep footage the UFC won’t mind playing over and over.
Brazil: After a rough week at UFC 237 for Brazilian fighters last week, they rebounded with a far better showing in Rochester, going 5-1 in the process. Let’s chalk up last week to a bad week.
Preliminary fighters: Typically, all the performance bonuses seem to go to the main card fighters. This time around, only preliminary fighters walked away with a $50K bonus with Ladd, Eubanks, Pereira, and Dawson walking away far richer than when they walked in. Given the difficulty of many fighters of their status being able to train full time, let’s hope this trend continues as it would allow more of them to make that transition.
Kevin Lee: Weren’t Lee’s stamina issues supposed to be solved with him no longer having to focus on his weight cut? Lee came out of the gate going all out on dos Anjos. The first round wasn’t even out before Lee began to noticeably slow. Lee is immensely talented, but he’s got to change his approach to his fights as relying on being the better athlete – which he almost always is and will be – isn’t always going to be enough. After his losses to Al Iaquinta and Tony Ferguson, you’d think he would have figured that out. What’s that? It was the weight cut? I think we all know better now.
Antonio Carlos Junior: I guess ACJ didn’t learn enough from his loss to Dan Kelly. Again, blazing out to a hot start over a less credentialed opponent in Heinisch only to fade as the fight went into the later stages. The loss is sure to have many call his heart into question, though I do think that is a bit unfair as ACJ didn’t completely give up, making the final frame competitive at points. However, his energy conservation/gas tank should be called into question for days. Until ACJ gets that under control, he’ll never be more than a fighter on the fringe of the rankings. That’s a shame as his talent indicates he should be more than that.
Megan Anderson: You’re not going to find any positives out of Anderson’s performance here. It didn’t take much effort from Spencer to get her down and she had little problem keeping her down. I’m not going to say Anderson hasn’t been working on her ground game – I have no doubt she has been – but it has yet to pay off with actual results. Until it does, the route to beating Anderson is clear as day: get her to the ground and keep her there.
Nik Lentz: Few were anticipating Lentz walking out of his trilogy with Oliveira with a W. However, it has to hurt when Oliveira gives him the best stylistic contest he can get and still get dialed up. I get the feeling Lentz wouldn’t have finished from the same punch a few years ago. The longtime vet can still win quite a few fights at lightweight, but he’s not the same test that he once was, even with his added power and years of experience. I know I’ve said he’s on a definitive slide backwards before, but being finished by Oliveira by strikes makes it feel more finite.
Austin Hubbard: Hubbard had a tough hand dealt to him for his UFC debut when he was pitted against Davi Ramos. Hubbard deserves props for going the distance and continuing to go for it, but it also felt like Ramos was looking to get some reps for his standup. It’s hard for me to know what to make of Hubbard’s performance as a result. To be safe, I put him here as it never felt like he had Ramos in danger, even with a knockdown.
Danny Roberts: Maybe the Brit shouldn’t get so emotional before his fights as he was absolutely trucked by Prazeres. I’m trying to think of a single bright spot for him and nothing is coming to mind. It isn’t impossible for Roberts to come back from a loss like this, but he’s going to have a difficult time getting people to jump back on his bandwagon as it’s damn near empty right now.
Patrick Cummins: The UFC has given Cummins every possible opportunity to find success. Despite those attempts, Cummins currently finds himself riding a three-fight losing streak, losing his equilibrium off a knee that appeared to graze him. It opens up further questions about his chin. Even worse, Cummins is closer to the end of the line than many would like to think. For all the talk about how old Herman is, Cummins is just a month younger than the man who KO’d him. I think he’ll get another shot to get on track, but I wouldn’t have much of an argument if he didn’t.
Trevin Giles: Props to Giles for taking the time to become a police officer, explaining the long absence from the cage. But I’m not assigning judgements on life choices. I’m assigning judgement on how his UFC career is affected by his performance and he looked rusty. Perhaps Cummings awkward timing created more problems than I anticipated, but Giles didn’t look like himself, even before coming out on the wrong end of a club-and-sub. Nonetheless, it was the first loss of his career. I expect him to come back better than ever.
Julian Erosa: There isn’t a fighter I didn’t want to put in the column more than Erosa. Up until the point Arce KO’d him, he was putting on the best performance of his UFC career up to this point, hanging with a fighter that was an 8-to-1 favorite on some betting lines. If I didn’t feel this loss knocks Erosa out of the UFC, I wouldn’t have put him here. Unfortunately, he appears to be what Zane Simon refers to as a AAAA player… too good for the regional scene, not good enough for the big leagues. I can’t help but feel for him.
Davi Ramos: Ramos is here because I expect a lot out of him. He’s one of the best BJJ artists in the sport – not just the division – and was unable to get a finish against a debuting fighter. That said, he did get the win and showed maturity on the feet that hasn’t been apparent in his previous contests. For all my harsh criticism, Ramos is improving and riding a four-fight win streak. There’s no reason not to keep on the lookout for him.
Sijara Eubanks: There was a big part of me that wanted to put Eubanks in the winner’s column. She found a way to survive a couple of close calls throughout the first two rounds only to be hanging in there in the final frame, throwing heavy leather at Ladd in hopes of securing a last minute win. It didn’t work, but make no mistake Eubanks earned the respect of every single viewer in the process. Depending on what you value in you judging, I wouldn’t have been opposed to seeing Eubanks emerge victorious on the scorecards. Eubanks is constantly getting better too. In a fight or two, her name will be amongst the best of the division.
Charles Jourdain: The young French Canadian has some spunk. He rebound from a rough opening round to arguably steal the last two rounds from Green. I’m not sold on Jourdain becoming a difference maker, but he looks like he could be a fun action fighter, especially provided he returns to his natural home at featherweight. The UFC may have unearthed an action fighting gem.
Mike Trizano: I’m not going to pretend Trizano’s second round was anything other than a nightmare. Nothing went right for him in that round. However, he looked sharp in the first round, a lot more comfortable with his frame than he was at lightweight. Despite the loss to Dawson, I’m already a lot more excited about Trizano’s future than I previously was. Given this was his first loss, I have a hard time believing he won’t be better moving forward.