Admittedly, I generally try to put a positive spin on events I’m reviewing. Part of that is I love the sport of MMA and hope the sport continues to grow. Spitting out too much negativity doesn’t help in that endeavor. Thus, I’ll admit there is some hyperbole at times to my reviews. There is none this time. UFC Minneapolis was awesome.
Francis Ngannou once again turned in a short night of work, disposing of heavyweight legend Junior dos Santos in 71 seconds after dos Santos overextended himself in an attack, allowing Ngannou to capitalize and giving Ngannou his third straight victory under 90 seconds. If that doesn’t scream dominance, I don’t know what does. Joseph Benavidez also looked great, beating a game Jussier Formiga to secure what may be his last chance at UFC gold in the process. On the whole, there were eight finishes out of the twelve contests. Of the decisions, only one felt like a true stinker as Demian Maia did his thing against Anthony Rocco Martin. Fortunately for fight fans, there were no unprotected chair shots to potentially spoil the evening.
Francis Ngannou: Y’all remember when dos Santos was charging up the UFC rankings back in the day? He was disposing of the likes of Mirko Cro Cop and Gilbert Yvel in impressive fashion. It made it hard to turn away from the hard-hitting Brazilian. How appropriate is it that Ngannou punctuates a run that dwarfs what dos Santos accomplished at that time by disposing of the man who made that run in dos Santos? Very appropriate, indeed. The names laid to waste by Ngannou continues to grow more impressive. The speed in which he’s doing so makes the accomplishment that much more impressive. The victory leaves little doubt Ngannou has overcome his mental issues from last year to the point he deserves another crack at the belt. Given Uncle Dana is more interested in making money fights than making fights that should be made from a sporting perspective doesn’t help Ngannou’s cause right now… but perhaps it will soon.
Joseph Benavidez: Many have claimed that Benavidez is the best fighter in the history of the UFC to never have held a title. His performance against Formiga only strengthened that argument. It wasn’t the blowout their first contest was almost six years ago. Formiga was competitive. In fact, it could be argued the heady Brazilian took the first round. That’s what makes it so impressive. There were several fun scrambling exchanges. A competitive contest on the feet. In the end, it was a brutal head kick from Benavidez that proved to be the beginning of the end for Formiga, Benavidez following up with punches to put the exclamation point on the victory. While the performance was impressive and puts a cherry on top of the idea of Benavidez being the best to never taste gold, Benavidez is still in a bad situation. Sure, he earned himself a title shot… but when? Cejudo is on the shelf until 2020 and the champ-champ seems more interested in defending his bantamweight title. Here’s hoping the UFC gets this sorted out… and it doesn’t spoil Benavidez’s awesome performance.
Demian Maia: I know a lot of people are going to disagree with this. While Maia was the clear winner over Martin, he also used stalling tactics in the final round after grappling his way to taking the first two rounds. However, we all know Maia does this. He’s done this before. Y’all remember his contest with Ryan LaFlare? Martin needed to press the action in the final round and he didn’t. Maia’s job was to see if Martin is ready for the best in the division. He did that.
Vinc Pichel: Early on, it looked like Pichel was going to be overwhelmed by the more physically gifted Roosevelt Roberts. Roberts was making expert use of his length and Pichel was being pieced up. Pichel regrouped between rounds, dirtied up the fight by taking Roberts down when he could, and dragged the youngster through deep waters. It proved enough to award him the fight. The 36-year old proved he still has enough in the tank to be an ideal gatekeeper.
Drew Dober: Y’all remember when Dober was a pillow-fisted volume striker? His fights were still fun, but now that he’s willing to sit down on his strikes, he’s more dangerous… and entertaining. It also allowed him to make short work of Polo Reyes. I was skeptical of the idea of engaging in a striking battle with the Mexican brawler, but Dober had no problems with him. The Nebraska native has made huge strides from his UFC entrance. Given his good-natured attitude, it’s good to see.
Alonzo Menifield: The athletic light heavyweight has been on the radar of many for a while. His perfectly executed strategy against Paul Craig should have the attention of everyone at this point. Menifield picked his spot to engage the tricky submission expert on the ground, pounding out the Scot after a botched spinning back-kick and putting him to sleep. There are reasons to be wary of Menifield’s ceiling – his small frame for 205, for one – but he continues to grow on many, me included. At this point, I have no intention of missing any of his fights.
Ricardo Ramos: Not that there weren’t some bumps in the road – nearly being submitted by his opponent, Journey Newson – Ramos impressed for the most part. The spinning back-elbow is quickly becoming his signature move, landing a few on Newson that left observers stunned that Newson didn’t go to sleep. Ramos did get reckless enough that Newson nearly submitted him in the final round, but Ramos escaped and preserved his win in the end. It’s easy to forget Ramos is still only 23 despite having been on the roster for a couple of years.
Eryk Anders: Anders’ KO of Vinicius Moreira is exactly the type of performance the UFC has been expecting from the former University of Alabama linebacker. Anders slipped out of Moreira’s takedowns and unloaded his heavy ham hocks when Moreira was against the cage, putting the Brazilian down for the count with an impressive barrage. It didn’t answer the question of whether Anders can put together a complete performance, but there was enough to remind us why Uncle Dana has a man-crush on him in the first place. Great way to right the ship.
Jared Gordon: It may have been harder than many expected, but Gordon earned every bit of his win by pushing Dan Moret every second of their contest. Moret fought back, putting Gordon in a few compromising positions. Gordon escaped, grinding out Moret over the last half of the contest. Gordon will never be a contender – too many physical limitations – but he’s a tough test for young prospects looking to make their way out of the doldrums of the division. Good to see him on the rebound.
Dalcha Lungiambula: In an otherwise dull fight, Lungiambula had flashes of explosion that had some salivating over his potential. Most of the explosion came from his takedown attempts, though a few came from his punches. It was enough to overthrow late-notice opponent Dequan Townsend – the final sequence was very impressive – though I still worry the 5’8” Lungiambula’s future at light heavyweight. Only time will tell if he stays there, but at least he gave us reason to believe he might have a bright future.
Amanda Ribas: Her UFC debut delayed by two years due to suspension, no one knew what to expect from the newcomer. Ribas took the fight right to Emily Whitmire, immediately taking her back. When she lost that, she was active from the bottom to close out the round. Then, she had little problem reversing Whitmire’s attack in the second and getting the submission. Ribas looks nothing like the fighter she was on the regional scene three years ago… and that’s a good thing.
Maurice Greene: I wasn’t impressed with Greene’s win over Jeff Hughes. It was sloppy and Greene did a poor job of using his excessive length. I kind of gave up on him. Big mistake. Moving to a new camp, Greene came out against Junior Albini on fire, throwing all sorts of jabs, front kicks, teeps… you name it, making excellent use of his frame. He kept chipping away and eventually dropping the big Brazilian on two occasions, securing the stoppage after the second. If he continues this progress, Greene is going to be a force to be reckoned with very soon.
Fans: The viewers of the fight card couldn’t reasonably ask for more. There may not have been a FOTY contender. Hell, there doesn’t seem to be any Of The Year contenders. Nonetheless, the action was consistent and the finishes were far more common than not. I’d be happy if every event ended up as entertaining as this one.
Aljamain Sterling: I could label him as a loser as he could end up waiting a very long time to get the title shot he has earned against Cejudo, but I’m going the other way. The top bantamweight contender alluded to allowing Benavidez to get a crack at Cejudo’s flyweight title before Sterling goes for the bantamweight title. That’s one hell of a classy move by Sterling. I’ll cheer for a guy like that any day.
Junior dos Santos: There is a strong feeling that was the last best chance for dos Santos to earn himself a title shot. The former champion had already fallen short in two opportunities since he lost the belt and has endured some terrible beatings over the course of his decade-plus run in the UFC. He can’t take too many more beatings… right? If there is anything positive about this outcome, dos Santos didn’t seem to take as much punishment as he has in some of those aforementioned beatings, nor was he on the receiving end of one of Ngannou’s hellacious one-punch KO’s ala Alistair Overeem. However, it feels safe to say dos Santos’ is a long shot to sniff a title shot at this point. There is a lot of politics at the top with Daniel Cormier, Stipe Miocic, and Jon Jones getting the current headlines. How long will that endure? We can only speculate. Dos Santos could end up falling into a role similar to that of Joseph Benavidez, who turned away opponent after opponent without getting another sniff at the belt after two losses to Mighty Mouse. Then again, Benavidez is supposed to be getting a crack now….
Jussier Formiga: While I agree with the notion Benavidez is the best to never hold a UFC title, it could just as easily be argued Formiga is the best to have never received a title shot. I understand he’s lost several contests that could have gotten him a shot at Demetrious Johnson during Mighty Mouse’s long reign. But do you mean to tell me the likes of Chris Cariaso, John Moraga, Ali Bagautinov, and Wilson Reis were more deserving of their opportunities at the strap? Formiga even beat two of those men before they received their title shots. Even worse, he was hanging tough with Benavidez up until the head kick. This seems like the best iteration of Formiga we’ve ever seen and Benavidez proved superior yet again. Given Uncle Dana hasn’t clarified what he meant when he said “we’re bringing back the division,” Formiga’s future is up in the air. Here’s hoping everything works out for him.
Anthony Rocco Martin: I tried to suppress the part of me that wanted to see Martin win as I want to be as subjective as possible. The reason why is I like seeing new stars emerge. Martin made it easy for me to do that when he pissed away his chance to win by not taking the fight to Maia after he lost the first two rounds. Maia didn’t engage him and Martin didn’t do what he needed to do until he was too late. That leaves me questioning his fight IQ. In my eyes nobody’s stock drops more than Martin from this event.
Polo Reyes: When you get the exact fight you want and you still get obliterated, it’s been a miserable night. That’s exactly what happened to Reyes. Even worse, it looked like he twisted his knee up on his way to the mat from Dober’s KO. The UFC might keep Reyes around as his fights have been fun, but it feels like a longshot at this point.
Paul Craig: The Scot has taught us that he can’t be counted out until the final bell rings or he’s put to sleep. Well, Menifield put him to sleep early. It wasn’t necessarily a disappointing performance as this wasn’t much of a surprise, but the hope was Craig would at least be able to instigate at least one serious exchange on the ground so we could see how Menifield operates on the ground. Alas, it didn’t happen and Craig endured a brutal beating in the process. Kind of sounds like a typical Craig contest….
Vinicius Moreira: The light heavyweight division is thin, so Moreira had every opportunity to make a name for himself in his two UFC contests. Instead, he’s been on the receiving end of two of the worst beatdowns in the division in recent memory, this time falling to Anders. The big Brazilian has some solid BJJ chops, but they don’t do him any good if he can’t get the fight to the ground. With his miserable wrestling and poor athleticism, he’s had no chance of doing that thus far. It isn’t like the UFC has been giving him top competition either. He could very well be toast in the organization.
Dan Moret: I hate putting Moret here. His loss to Gordon was the best showing of his UFC career. He had Gordon in a few submissions, landed some heavy strikes, and I love his trip in the final round. However, it wasn’t enough and there was zero controversy in the decision. That gives Moret three losses in a row. It’s hard to see him coming back to the UFC at this point. For that reason only, Moret’s a loser on the night.
Emily Whitmire: Well, that’s a reality check if I’ve seen one. A considerable favorite against the debuting Ribas, Whitmire’s positive moments were few and far between. I knew Whitmire’s ceiling was limited by her physical limitations. Has she already hit it or was Ribas just that good? Perhaps a little of both, but that’s not a good thing for Whitmire’s future.
Junior Albini: I strongly considered putting Albini in the neither category, but it proved to be his fourth straight loss. That likely means he’s on his way out the door. It’s unfortunate as he was fighting like a man with nothing to lose, taking the fight directly to Greene and hurting the big man on a couple of occasions. In the end, he couldn’t deal with Greene’s length to hold onto his job. And his UFC career started with such promise….
Jordan Griffin: Clearly, being here isn’t Griffin’s fault. The Roufusport rep had his fight cancelled the day before weigh-ins – his opponent, Vince Murdock, wasn’t medically cleared -- and Griffin wasn’t allowed to weigh in. I’ve alluded to situations like this before in the past, but is there a reason the UFC isn’t allowing him to weigh in? Are they trying to avoid paying him his show pay? I don’t know if Griffin was paid or not, so I don’t want people saying I claimed Griffin wasn’t paid. I’m only wondering if he was paid given the notorious stinginess of the UFC. Here’s hoping he was.
Roosevelt Roberts: Uncle Dana may have been right on Roberts, listing him as one of the top prospects in the organization. Yes, Roberts came out on the losing end when Pichel started making things ugly, but Roberts made excellent use of his length early, dominating the opening round. Roberts slowed down a bit towards the end, but it never felt like Pichel was completely dominating. I fully expect Roberts to learn some valuable lessons from this contest and to emerge as a contender sooner rather than later.
Journey Newson: What the hell is this guy’s chin made of? Ramos landed a couple of those spinning elbows that made Aiemann Zahabi a highlight reel and Newson was still there. What gives? While Newson’s moments where sparse, he did inflict a lot of damage to the legs of Ramos in addition to the guillotine that came close. Keep in mind that Newson took this contest on very short notice. Imagine what he could have done with a full camp. I don’t think he’ll climb the ladder very much, but Newson looks like he’ll be a fun addition at the very least.
Dequan Townsend: I can’t bag too much on Townsend. Sure, outside of a jab he scored in the opening minute that had Michael Bisping as excited as if someone promised him he’d never have to defend his title against Yoel Romero – wait, he never did – Townsend did nothing. However, he had a week, maybe less, to prepare for his fight with Lungiambula. In the process, Townsend accomplished a lifelong goal of getting to the UFC. Not a great performance from the newcomer, but not everything was bad for him.