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UFC 240: Holloway vs. Edgar - Winners and Losers

The action out of UFC 240 from Edmonton had its highs and its lulls, with Max Holloway successfully turning away a future Hall of Famer in Frankie Edgar at the top of the card.

On paper, UFC 240 was underwhelming. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as the UFC hasn’t exactly been packing cards in Canada with quality and UFC 240 was no exception. I don’t want to say the cards low expectations were merely met as that would be selling short. However, calling it an overwhelming success would be an outright lie as well. I suppose the truth is somewhere in between. Though the main event saw Max Holloway add to his legacy by turning away an aging legend in Frankie Edgar, the highlights of the evening saw Cris Cyborg turn away a spirited Felicia Spencer and flyweights Deiveson Figueiredo and Alexandre Pantoja light up the evening with one hell of a barnburner. Of course, those brilliant performances were offset by a few others that would be better off having little mentioned about….

Winners

Max Holloway: Surgical is operative word for Holloway’s performance. Normally the more active fighter in his movement around the cage, Holloway allowed Edgar to be the more active fighter. At times, Holloway sat back on his heels, waiting to either stifle an Edgar takedown attempt or counter him. Nevertheless, Edgar persevered and Holloway was there to turn him back at every step. Every time there was an exclamation point in the contest, it came from Holloway. For instance, Holloway ended the second round with a spinning back kick and landed several hard uppercuts that put Edgar on his heels. Even if Holloway never secured the finish, he arguably won every round. Even if he didn’t, there isn’t a person out there who believes Holloway lost. I wouldn’t call him the greatest featherweight in history quite yet – Jose Aldo still has that title in my book – but Holloway is a big step closer to claiming that title.

Cris Cyborg: I considered putting Cyborg in the neither category as it was expected that she would finish Spencer at some point. Then again, it isn’t like Cyborg didn’t try, outlanding the Canadian at a clip of 3-to-1. A lot of those shots would have put down an elephant. It isn’t Cyborg’s fault that Spencer was still there. Not everything in Cyborg’s performance was flawless – she got sloppy in the first, going wild looking for the finish – but she still looked like the dominant figure we’ve all come to know over the past decade. Given the overall quality of the contest and Spencer’s toughness, it probably won’t be held against Cyborg she was unable to secure a finish as she heads into contract negotiations. Here’s hoping the UFC can bring her back as the only contest I’m interested in seeing her in at this point is in a rematch with Amanda Nunes.

Felicia Spencer: You’d be hard-pressed to find a serious MMA fan who believed Spencer was going to win. Given most considered victory an impossibility for Spencer, things couldn’t have gone better for the former Invicta champion. She ate all of Cyborg’s offense and asked for more, leaving viewers wondering what it would take to put her down. In the process, Spencer made what was expected to be a squash match a competitive contest and obtained a massive amount of fans in the process. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the improvements in Spencer’s striking. Don’t get me wrong, she clearly lost that aspect of the fight. However, she did land some good shots of her own, including opening up a cut on Cyborg’s head. Should Spencer continue to improve, she’ll be a champion at some point for sure.

Geoff Neal: Very few predicted Neal was going to be anything more than an action fighter when he came up through DWCS. Neal has shredded those predictions to pieces, growing into a technical striker who knows how to use his length. However, Neal’s ability to brawl is what allowed him to survive this one, even if he didn’t get the better of the exchange with Niko Price as hanging with the opportunistic Price is a hell of a feat. Nonetheless, aside from the mistake of getting in the brawl, it was almost a flawless performance from Neal. He showed some wrestling, a bit of grappling, and some vicious GnP. Expect Neal to be in the official rankings by next year.

Arman Tsarukyan: It wasn’t nearly as fun as Tsarukyan’s debut against Islam Makhachev, but Tsarukyan’s stock didn’t go down whatsoever. The native of Georgia didn’t connect with a lot of his fancy kicks, it still provided the most exciting moments of the contest as fans oohed and awed at potential of them finding a home. However, most important was his ability to keep Olivier Aubin-Mercier from taking him to the mat. He didn’t have a lot of success doing that himself, but he had more success than OAM. At 22, Tsarukyan still has a lot of time to shore up his weaknesses. It looks like he’s going to be a major player down the line.

Viviane Araujo: Not that anyone wanted to necessarily see Alexis Davis lose, but it was exciting to see Araujo pass a difficult test in Alexis Davis. Given the lack of viable contenders at women’s flyweight – either currently or on the horizon – Araujo provides a breath of fresh air. In just her second fight in the UFC, she pieced up the veteran Davis over the course of the contest, leaving the Canadian bloodied and bruised. There were some hiccups along the way for sure – Davis exercised ground control for a long chunk of the second round – but Araujo battled through the adversity to secure a decision.

Hakeem Dawodu: It was a rough start for the Canadian striker, but once he settled down – and Yoshinori Horie tired out from all of his early movement – Dawodu finally showed why many were excited when he made his way to the UFC a few years ago. Dawodu brutalized Horie in the final round, landing all sorts of strikes in an attempt to put him away. Knees, elbows, punches, kicks… you name it Dawodu threw it… and landed it. It was a knee to the gut followed by a head kick that finally put an end to the contest. If Dawodu can avoid similar slow starts in the future – including getting knocked down – he’ll finally start fulfilling expectations.

Gavin Tucker: I was worried about Tucker’s head space after he suffered a brutal beating at the hands of Rick Glenn two years ago. Seriously, it was that bad. Tucker showed no ill-effects from the loss, entering the contest with a sound strategy to go after Korea’s Seung Woo Choi with wrestling and grappling, minimizing Choi’s advantage on the feet. Tucker did have a brain fart when he landed a blatantly illegal knee – more on that a little later – but was fortunate it didn’t taint the win for him. I don’t see him climbing the ladder much higher than where he’s at now, but it was a good win for him.

Deiveson Figueiredo and Alexandre Pantoja: I can’t reasonably separate the performance of these two. Figueiredo clearly won the fight, though Pantoja was competitive in every round, leading through the second until he was saved by the bell after Figueiredo knocked him silly late in that frame. Regardless of who won, it was a FOTY contender. Rather than break down what I did and didn’t like, I’m just going to say there was a lot I liked and little that I didn’t. If you haven’t seen it, take the time out to go watch it as it was pure exhilaration and a perfect illustration of why the UFC was crazy for even considering getting rid of the flyweight division in the first place.

Gillian Robertson: Either Robertson is a better wrestler than I gave her credit for or Sarah Frota is worse than I thought. Probably a combination of both. Regardless, Robertson looked poised throughout the contest, maintaining top position throughout the contest and forcing Frota to expend energy either attempting low-percentage submissions or looking to escape. Once Frota suffieciently exhausted herself, Robertson unloaded with ground strikes to pick up her first win with strikes. She’s making serious strides in her development.

Marc Goddard: The narrative in MMA is that it pays to cheat. Referees don’t want to feel like they’ve impacted the fight and are thus reluctant to take points. Don’t they realize they impact the fight when they don’t take a point for a violation of the rules? Goddard actually enforced the rules by taking a point from Tucker for a blatantly illegal knee. It’s sad we have to applaud a referee for doing their job, but that’s the state of MMA nowadays.

Losers

Frankie Edgar: While Edgar’s performance was spirited enough, it wasn’t enough to cut the mustard. Edgar looked better against Holloway than he had in his last contest against Cub Swanson, showing more energy. However, Holloway is one of the few who wouldn’t wilt under Edgar’s pressure and he was able to negate Edgar’s wrestling. It was the fifth consecutive loss for Edgar in a title fight and it’s unlikely he’ll get a chance to snap that streak as he’s now 37. It doesn’t mean all is lost for Edgar. He is a former lightweight champion who will assuredly find himself in the UFC Hall of Fame someday. I was watching his post-fight interview intently as I had a hunch he might announce his retirement. He didn’t, meaning we’ll get to see an all-time great do his thing for at least a little while longer. In that sense, we should feel like winners.

Olivier Aubin-Mercier: There aren’t a lot of skilled Canadians on the roster, so I’m sure OAM is safe despite being on a three-fight losing streak. Regardless, the judoka is in a bad spot as no one expects him to climb any higher than where he was at the beginning of 2018. His ceiling is hard-capped as his striking has stalled and he has been making plenty of mental mistakes on the ground to commonly negate his grappling advantage… like when he could have done something with a front head lock with Tsarukyan and did nothing with it. That doesn’t mean OAM can’t get any quality wins going forward, but he’s not going to be the contender many had him pegged for.

Marc-Andre Barriault: When Barriault goes back to his gym, there is one specific thing he needs to drill: angles, angles, angles. Playing the bull to Krzysztof Jotko’s matador, Barriault struggled to land many clean shots on an opponent who wanted nothing to do with having his chin tested. Barriault wasn’t able to take advantage of available opportunities to crack the Pole resulting in a lackluster contest that saw the crowd booing the action. I’m guessing Barriault will get one more opportunity to pick up an elusive UFC win, but it’s now do-or-die for him.

Alexis Davis: It was a bad night for Davis for sure, getting her face turned to much at the hands of Araujo for her third consecutive loss. However, I want to be very clear on something: Davis is not finished as a fighter. She had some good moments against Araujo, pressing until the final moments of the contest. It’s that Davis has been given some very tough contests and age has made her lack of athleticism that much more glaring. While Davis should no longer be seen as a contender, she can still be useful as a veteran test for fighters less talented fighters than Araujo. Hopefully, the UFC recognizes that.

Seung Woo Choi: There was a point late in the fight when Choi got a takedown on Tucker. I expected Choi to do something with the takedown or at least use the opportunity to put some distance between him and Tucker when the fight went back to the feet. Neither happened and any hope I had for Choi developing into a solid UFC contributor went out the window. He’s got some talent as a striker, but I’m not liking the decision making I’m seeing from him.

Sarah Frota: There were a bunch of things I liked about Frota prior to her UFC debut. I’m ready to throw her under the bus now. Against an opponent closer to her own size – she badly missed weight at strawweight in her UFC debut – Frota couldn’t stop a takedown. I’m not going to rip on everything she did on the ground as some of it was nifty, but it was also ill-advised as it was low percentage. I have no clue if she gets another opportunity, but I’m having a hard time caring whether she does or not at this point.

Kyle Stewart: Stewart’s takedown defense looked improved early on, I’ll give him that much. However, it’s not like he set a high bar to begin with. Then he grew exhausted as the fight went on and it completely evaporated, allowing Erik Koch – not known for his wrestling – to take him down and keep him down late. Stewart’s a hard striker, but that doesn’t mean much if he can’t stay on his feet. Whether it ends here or he gets one more opportunity, I wouldn’t expect Stewart to be on the roster much longer.

Canada: All isn’t lost for Canada. Those representing the United State’s northern neighbor early on emerged victorious in their first three attempts. However, they went 0-for-4 to close things out, including all three main card contests. Throw in the release of Elias Theodorou earlier this year and there isn’t much in terms of present quality to represent Canada. Perhaps the early returns on the card offer hope for the future.

Neither

Niko Price: At the time Price stepped into the cage with Neal, the crowd was in a major lull as the previous contests had sucked out all the energy. Thanks to Price’s aggressive performance – in conjunction with Neal’s efforts – the crowd came back to life. It wasn’t all roses for Price though as he wasn’t able to escape with the win despite Neal giving him the type of fight he wanted, even if it was just briefly. Price normally finds a way to finish the fight in those instances. However, given the entertainment value, I can’t dock him too badly.

Krzysztof Jotko: While Jotko has been able to put together two consecutive wins after a devastating three-fight losing streak, he’s done so in a fashion that has viewers running from his fights. Not saying I blame him as Jotko’s chin has gone MIA, but people tune into sports to be entertained. Jotko’s last two fights haven’t done much to entertain. He does have some additional security now that he’s on a win streak, but Dana White hasn’t been shy about cutting boring fighters off a single loss. Not saying Jotko is at that point quite yet, but it could be soon if he keeps up his current course.

Yoshinori Horie: Nobody knew who the young Japanese fighter was coming into his contest with Dawodu. Even though Horie didn’t get the win, he put a scare into his more established opponent by picking him apart in the first round. Unfortunately for Horie, he didn’t have the energy to maintain his heavy movement for the entirety of the contest, slowing considerably by the time the final round came by. However, even though Dawodu threw the kitchen sink at him, Horie still didn’t go to sleep, being stopped only because the referee had seen enough. This kid could be a fun addition to a deep division.

Erik Koch: Good to see Koch honor his father’s memory and pick up his first UFC win in three years. Outside of that though, I didn’t see a whole lot I liked. He was smart to utilize his wrestling to get Stewart to the mat, but Stewart is one of the worst wrestlers on the roster. Koch also talked about having a deep gas tank now that he’s at welterweight. He looked like he was slowing down at the end of the first round. He did persevere, but I fear he’ll rue the day he faces someone who can actually wrestle at 170.