I always try to admit when I’m wrong about something. While I still don’t believe I was wrong when I said the UFC could have put together a card of higher quality, I will admit that the card ended up turning out great. There were several fighters deserving of a bonus who didn’t get one because there just weren’t enough bonuses to go around. Lauren Murphy scored an impressive KO. She came up empty. So did Scott Holtzman and Dong Hyun Ma despite two rounds of pure excitement. Not even the hometown hero Jim Miller was able to nab an extra $50K. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a kick to the balls – literally – but it’s easy to look past a single contest that dragged down the action.
Despite the action, the card will ultimately be remembered for Colby Covington cementing what should be a title shot against Kamaru Usman. It wasn’t one of the most exciting contests of the evening, but it was certainly one of the most impressive performances in recent memory as Covington shut down former champion Robbie Lawler. Given Covington’s popularity – or lack thereof – many weren’t too happy about the outcome. Does that mean fans were losers of this event? Read on to find out….
Colby Covington: As much as people love to hate on Covington, those people have to admit that Covington is good. Very good. Neutralizing Robbie Lawler isn’t something many people have been able to do. Rafael dos Anjos did, but that was also with the help of Lawler blowing out his knee early in the fight. Covington shut down Lawler more effectively than dos Anjos and did so against a Lawler who appeared to be healthy for their contest. I’m not going to say Covington’s pressure and pace is exciting to watch, but you’d have be impartial to not appreciate what it is that he does as I can’t think of anyone else who can do what Covington does effectively for five rounds. Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny that he doesn’t deserve a crack at the belt. Who else would it be? Jorge Masvidal? He’s on a two-fight win streak compared to Covington’s seven-fight win streak. Leon Edwards? Yes, he has a longer win streak – eight fights – but he also has a loss to Usman on his ledger. Covington is the way to go. Uncle Dana better live up to his word this time.
Jim Miller: Can we take some time to imagine what Miller’s career would have been like without Lyme’s disease? He’s had a nice career as it is, but if he could have eliminated that swoon in 2014 through 2016… damn. Anyway, Miller produced a classic performance, getting rocked less than a minute in by Clay Guida before catching his charging opponent with a punch and then in a guillotine choke that put the longtime veteran to sleep. There was speculation Miller might retire as he’s had further complications with his disease, but he gave a good prognosis and indicated he wants to continue his career. So long as he is feeling good and capable of fighting the way he has the last few years, I’m all for it as Miller is still a lot of fun to watch.
Nasrat Haqparast: Are y’all believers yet? Haqparast secured the first finish of his UFC career and did so in highlight reel fashion, landing a brutal left on a game Joaquim Silva and walking away $50K richer than originally contracted for. The native of Germany continues to look better with each subsequent contest, showing steady progress. I get there are still holes in the game of mini-Kelvin, but he’s only 23. He has plenty of time iron out his wrinkles and Firas Zahabi tends to do well working with talented youngsters mostly from the ground up. Look what he did with GSP and Rory MacDonald.
Gerald Meerschaert: There were times where I was trying to figure out what Meerschaert was doing as he allowed Trevin Giles to be the more active fighter on the ground for big chunks of their contest. Given Meerschaert is a submission specialist, I was wondering what the hell was going on. Never fear as Meerschaert was merely biding his time until he found something he liked, eventually cinching in a guillotine choke that put Giles to sleep. The stylistically awkward Meerschaert isn’t someone you want to play with on the ground and this contest shows exactly why.
Scott Holtzman: While the lack of defense is a concern for Holtzman, the former hockey player turned in one hell of an exciting scrap with Dong Hyun Ma. Holtzman’s powerful striking induced crazy swelling in the left eye of Ma, inducing the doctors to step in and declare Holtzman the winner when Ma could no longer see out of the eye. While I don’t see Holtzman being anything more than a guy on the fringe of the rankings, the 35-year old deserves mad props for progressing even to this stage given his late start in the sport. In the process, Holtzman has established himself as one of the better lightweight action fighters at this stage.
Mickey Gall: Love him or hate him, Gall has made some nice strides since coming to the UFC. Nobody will mistake him for a dangerous striker quite yet, but Gall is at least serviceable from that area now, hanging in there with Salim Touahri on the feet. Of course, it was Gall’s, clinch work and ground control that ultimately made the difference… but clinch work is still considered standup… right? Gall didn’t help himself by making excuses for his loss to Diego Sanchez or asking to run that fight back, but would we expect anything less from him?
Antonina Shevchenko: Anyone else get the feeling Shevchenko was out to make a point by securing a submission? The older Shevchenko sister was having a hard time establishing her dominance on the feet with Lucie Pudilova, getting cut up in the clinch from an elbow. Then when the fight hits the ground, Shevchenko shows she DOES have submissions, nearly securing the win with an armbar in the first before choking Pudilova unconscious in the second. Though fairly short, the contest was awesome enough to earn each woman an extra $50K. Antonina still has a long way to go to be at Valentina’s level, but she’s making progress.
Matt Schnell: After Schnell lost his second consecutive UFC fight, I assumed he wouldn’t be long for the promotion. Was I ever wrong. Schnell has since run off four wins in a row, capped by catching Jordan Espinosa in a triangle choke. Schnell deserves all the credit in the world for making the necessary adjustments in his career, most notably protecting his chin. I still don’t believe in Schnell being a contender, but progressing to the point where he’s an established member of the division is impressive enough as it is. Did I mention he was lucky enough to secure a bonus? Yep, he was one of the lucky ones.
Lauren Murphy: Entering her contest with Mara Romero Borella with a UFC record of 2-4, most were ready to give up on Murphy. A slow start against Borella didn’t help. Murphy settled down, put together a solid performance, and eventually found a home for her uppercut to put Borella on wobbly legs. Murphy has been difficult to figure out, but we’ve always known she’s capable of these types of performances. Here’s hoping she can add some consistency moving forward.
Claudio Silva: Not much to say here. Silva overwhelmed his short notice opponent, Cole Williams, in just over half a round… just as he was expected to do. Silva avoided falling into a trap, so it was a good night for him, even if we learned next-to-nothing from this win. Here’s hoping we can get a worthy opponent for him in his next contest.
Miranda Granger: Coming in as an underdog to Hannah Goldy, it wasn’t a big shock when Granger pulled off the upset. What was surprising was she did it without taking the fight to the mat once an area where Granger has dominated her opposition. Having a seven-inch reach advantage over Goldy helps, but keep in mind Goldy has an extensive kickboxing career. Granger looks like she could be a major difference maker very soon if she is handled with care.
Gary Copeland: Again, I hate to reward a referee for doing what referees should do – penalize rule breakers – but it’s so rare referee’s actually take points the way they should. Copeland not only did that once, he did it twice after Darko Stosic kicked Kennedy Nzechukwu in the balls not once – not even twice – but three times. Good on him. Here’s hoping referees continue to enforce fouls the way they should.
Fans: One guy that most fans don’t like winning makes this a bad event for fans? Get out of here! Fans were treated to a lot of great action and were able to do so without sacrificing their Saturday night. While I love watching fights, you better believe I enjoy having Saturday evening available to do something else. Even if you’re really that upset about Covington winning, just think about how sweet it will be when he finally falls. Yeah, this event was awesome for viewers.
Robbie Lawler: I think it’s time Uncle Dana stopped utilizing Lawler as his hired gun. First, Lawler was supposed to be the boogeyman against Ben Askren. He almost succeeded in that role, but controversial ending or not, Lawler fell short. He did so again against Covington. In fact, Lawler never looked like the vicious assassin that many – myself included – have ascribed him to be. Is it just that Covington is that great of a neutralizer or has Lawler gotten old? The truth is probably somewhere in between. Regardless, it doesn’t feel right to label Lawler as a contender anymore. He’s been through some of the most brutal battles in the history of the sport and has been fighting since 2001, almost all of it at a high level. While the mind appears to be willing, I don’t think Lawler’s body can do it anymore. There are still winnable fights for him, but can we treat him like a special attraction at this point? Something akin to Anderson Silva?
Clay Guida: Even though it took less than a minute before Miller put away Guida, I don’t feel horrible about this loss. Perhaps I should feel worse about it, but Guida rocking Miller the way he did indicates to me that his improved power could very well be legitimate. I know Guida’s getting close to the end of his career – and fought a much closer fight with BJ Penn than anyone in the UFC should – but the improved power indicates he might still have life in his career. Then again, he lost a very winnable fight in less than a minute… which is why he ended up in this column.
Joaquim Silva: Even though many expected Silva to be fodder for Haqparast, this was a winnable fight for him. In fact, it potentially could have been a breakout performance. All the hard-hitting Brazilian needed was one good, clean shot. He never found it. In fact, it was Haqparast, not noted for power, who found a clean shot. Given the way Silva lost, it feels like he’s hit his ceiling. That’s not a dig on him as there were quite a few who didn’t expect him to last this long. It’s just an honest assessment. He still has a role as a gatekeeper capable of a fantastic KO and that’s a role that could keep him around for a long time.
Trevin Giles: I was high on Giles at one point. Then he takes a long hiatus to become a police officer – not ripping on him as that’s a very noble pursuit – and looks rusty in his return against Zak Cummings, resulting in Giles being submitted. I wasn’t ready to give up on him at that point, but opting to play on the ground with Meerschaert has me jumping off the bandwagon. What in the hell was he thinking? Giles was the far superior athlete and he largely negated that advantage going to the ground. I don’t care if Giles hung in there for a while. He gave Meerschaert the fight he wanted and eventually got subbed. Unless Giles starts fighting more intelligently, he’s going to wash out.
Kennedy Nzechukwu: I have all the sympathy in the world for Nzechukwu. He took some serious damage to his testes. However, it was those shots to the balls that allowed him to walk out of his contest with Darko Stosic as the victor. Nobody was impressed with Nzechukwu’s body of work in those 15 minutes, everyone knowing Stosic was the better fighter. There’s still time for Nzechukwu to prove he belongs in the UFC, but that isn’t the case for the time being.
Darko Stosic: While I maintain Stosic was the better fighter against Nzechukwu, that doesn’t mean I believe Stosic deserved the win. He broke the rules – intentionally or not – and it is written that doing so should result in a penalty. Think of it this way. When someone tries to block a shot in basketball and accidentally hits their opponent in the arm, it’s still a foul and the offender is penalized. Same rules should apply in MMA. Stosic deserves the loss. I can’t say whether Stosic gets another chance to make good in the UFC, but I’d guess not if a gun was pressed to my head.
Salim Touahri: I struggle to see the Pole coming back, this being his third loss in a row. I’ll admit the UFC didn’t help Touahri with his first two contests against the uber-athletic Warlley Alves and the savvy Keita Nakamura, but they couldn’t have given him a more winnable contest than Gall. Touahri had some opportunities and even capitalized on some of them, landing some hard shots. However, he didn’t do enough in the long run and Touahri fell short in the end. It’s plausible he could work his way back into the organization at 29, but I have my doubts.
Jordan Espinosa: Espinosa was being set up to be a player in a depleted flyweight division. All he had to do was get past Schnell. Instead of keeping the fight standing where he could challenge Schnell’s questionable chin, Espinosa went for an ill-advised takedown. Espinosa has always had the physical skills to be a contender. It was his fight IQ that delayed his UFC debut. Now that he’s in the organization, it looks like that will be the issue that prevents him from reaching his potential.
Mara Romero Borella: Early on in her contest with Murphy, it looked like Borella would secure a decision victory. Murphy adjusted to sway the momentum her way. Borella never made any counter adjustments and it allowed Murphy to eventually find the finish. Few saw Borella as a potential title contender, but there’s no way that will happen if she is incapable of making in-fight adjustments.
Cole Williams: Just making it to the UFC has to be a win for the longtime regional vet. However, Williams missed weight badly, coming five pounds over the limit. Missing weight as badly as he did in combination with a mostly uncompetitive showing against Silva could limit the likelihood of him getting another showing in the Octagon. Ouch.
Hannah Goldy: Losing to Granger isn’t a huge setback for Goldy, but it certainly does temper expectations given Goldy got the exactly the style of fight she wanted. She was just unable to close the distance as she hoped. Most strawweights aren’t as big as Granger, so I’m not fretting about Goldy consistently running into this problem moving forward despite her short limbs. Regardless, a one-dimensional fighter NEEDS to be winning the fights they get in that one dimension. Goldy didn’t do that.
Herb Dean: It seems as though Dean is out of all the credibility he gained for stopping Frank Mir from doing further damage to Tim Sylvia’s broken arm. I get that was all the way back in 2004, but those who like to call him one of the best referees in the business generally have pointed to that. I haven’t heard anyone mention that in a while. In fact, Dean has been getting trashed more often than not. This time, he missed Giles tapping to Meerschaert’s guillotine. Oh… and it took him a bit to notice Guida was asleep too. I suppose if you suffer from insomnia, you’d be fine with Dean officiating your fight….
Dong Hyun Ma: Even though came out on the short end of his contest with Holtzman, he very well may have saved his job. It had been a long time since Ma had the type of action fight his reputation dictates he should have on a regular basis. Ma now sits with a two fight losing streak while each of his wins have come against opposition that’s no longer on the UFC roster. Unless he puts on exciting fights, Ma doesn’t have enough of a track record to hang around. I think he’ll be just fine… for one more fight at least.
Lucie Pudilova: Sure, Pudilova was choked out. Yes, it was her third loss in a row. But damn it, Pudilova ALWAYS brings it!!! Pudilova gave Shevchenko a nice run for her money on her feet, an area where everyone would have predicted Shevchenko to be the superior fighter. Pudilova can be forgiven for underestimating Shevchenko’s ground game – everyone else did – but she does need to get a win in her next contest. Yes, I said next contest. She’s in no danger of being cut. She did pick up an extra $50K after all....