It’s hard to get a feel for how UFC Raleigh unfolded. At times, the action was drab, with minimal drama. Other times, it was incredibly engaging. Overall, it would have to be considered a success as the fights that mattered most largely delivered the goods we were looking for. However, while Curtis Blaydes securing a win over former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos was impressive, it was the upset of Michael Chiesa over Rafael dos Anjos that seemed to create the most waves. No surprise as that tends to be the story when the unexpected occurs. Beyond that, there wasn’t any major developments as it felt like a card where the UFC was trying to fulfill contracts.
Curtis Blaydes: Blaydes should be getting more attention than what he is getting for this win. After all, it wasn’t by wrestling JDS to the mat and pounding him out as most expected. No, he landed a heavy counter as JDS looked to land a KO blow of his own. That’s impressive as hell. However, it isn’t just the fact that Chiesa overturned the apple cart. It’s that Blaydes doesn’t have any upward movement from here. Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier still need to fulfill their trilogy and he’s not getting a third shot at Francis Ngannou any time soon… if ever. It’s hard for people to get excited when it feels like a fighter is at their ceiling. Nevertheless, the outcome for Blaydes was as good as he could have hoped for. I can understand if the circumstances surrounding Blaydes make it so you don’t see him as a winner, but I couldn’t find it in me to do that to him.
Michael Chiesa: I can’t recall seeing an analyst who picked Chiesa to win. Not that anyone thinks Chiesa sucks. It’s just that he specializes so much in the wrestling/grappling department, no one thought he’d be able to take it to former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. Well, we were all wrong. Chiesa showed a vastly improved gas tank and a few new tricks on the mat, tying up RDA for most of the contest to emerge with a BIG upset win. Perhaps more impressive was his callout of Colby Covington in his post-fight interview, doing so in a quick and emphatic manner. Regardless of what you make out of this win – if Chiesa is that good or if RDA is that close to the finish line – it was the most impressive performance of Chiesa’s career.
Alex Perez: If you need proof of how bogus the rankings are, Perez was ranked below Espinosa despite being a sizeable favorite and sporting a 4-1 UFC record to Espinosa’s 1-1 record. I digress. Perez showed exactly why people were excited about his future just over a year ago, doing exactly what he wanted to do to Espinosa the entire way. It didn’t take long for Perez to get him to the mat, working his way to an impressive arm-triangle choke. Given the lack of depth at flyweight, Perez isn’t far from being in a title eliminator… something that could happen before the end of the year.
Angela Hill: Is it just me, or is Hill looking better not utilizing the insane amount of movement Alliance MMA seems to favor? Hill simplified her approach and took the fight right to a game Hannah Cifers, bloodying and bruising her up to get a stoppage in the second. Not that Hill wasn’t moving around, but she had plenty of energy in reserve to lay on the punishment nice and thick. She looked better than ever. Here’s hoping she can build on the momentum as this was her second win in a row.
Jamahal Hill: Many were wondering if the DWCS product was being rushed to the big stage too soon as he only turned professional in 2017. The moment didn’t look like it was too big for him as he looked comfortable in the cage as he overwhelmed Darko Stosic with his volume. Stosic found a few holes that could be exposed, landing several big lefts and taking down Hill at will, but Hill avoided the big left in the latter half of the fight and got up quickly every time he was taken down. Add him to the growing list of light heavyweight who could add to the changing of the guard to one of the oldest divisions in the organization.
Bevon Lewis: Let me preface this by saying Lewis’ UFC run has been a disappointment overall. However, picking up his first UFC win and doing so with a badly injured leg will silence some critics. Sure, a win over Dequan Townsend isn’t going to set the world on fire, especially one that was a tepid decision. But do I really want to crap on Lewis pulling out a gutty win? No, I don’t. Expectations will have to be higher going forward, but he needed a win more than an impressive performance… if that makes sense.
Arnold Allen: Not that Allen had performed poorly before, but I’ve been waiting for the type of performance he put on against Nik Lentz: gritty, showing he can stay poised when things get tough. To be fair to Allen, it isn’t a bad thing he’s been far better than his previous opposition. In this contest, Lentz stayed in his face and put on one of the best performances of his career, perhaps even the best of his career. Despite that, Allen stuck to his game plan and eeked out a close victory behind the strength of his jab. I’m anxious to see what the youngster can do against a ranked opponent.
Montel Jackson: After a rough start to his UFC career, Jackson looks like the hot prospect many were expecting when he made his UFC entrance. From some nice wrestling to some loooonnng punching combinations, there wasn’t an area where Jackson wasn’t getting the better of Felipe Colares. Wins like this often result in the UFC putting the prospect on the fast track. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I’ll admit Jackson looks more like a future contender all the time.
Sara McMann: Anyone else get the feeling McMann has been seething for the past two years over the criticism she has received? That she can’t be trusted. That she fumbles when the spotlight is on her. She didn’t give Lina Lansberg a chance to get her offense going, smothering the former Muay Thai champion over the course of 15 minutes, putting on the most dominant performance of her career. I worried she could be near the end as she has had a long competitive career at the age of 39. Nope. McMann looked fresh after two years away. Maybe she can make a run at this late stage of her career….
Brett Johns: In one of the more entertaining scraps of the evening, Johns showed some excellent wrestling and grappling chops. There were some fun back-and-forth action with Tony Gravely in the second round, but the first and third were all in the favor of the Welshman, right up to the RNC finish from Johns. A strong return for the Pikey. Look for him to enter the bantamweight rankings before the year is out.
Herbert Burns: Debuts don’t get any better. Gilbert’s little brother came out the aggressor against Nate Landwehr – a bit of a surprise – took down the American immediately and latched on an anaconda choke. When Landwehr worked his way out, Burns put him to sleep with a flash knee after Landwehr began turning up the heat. A KO from Burns was about the last way anyone expected this contest to end, but the DWCS prospect pulled it out. He keeps this up and he won’t just be Gilbert’s little brother anymore.
Junior dos Santos: There’s a big part of me that wants to say JDS is finished as an elite heavyweight… but it be argued he hasn’t been one for several years. Or I could take the approach the last time that argument was made, he ran off three wins in a row to once again make himself relevant. I’m going with he hasn’t been elite in several years and this loss only solidifies it. Blaydes knew the uppercut was coming and countered it perfectly. Even as JDS tries to remedy one part of his game that opponents can take advantage of – he was more successful in avoiding circling into the cage against Blaydes – he has so many other things that haven’t changes that he’s still predictable. At 35, he’s not too old to change things up at heavyweight, but JDS has also taken a LOT of damage over the years. To add to that, it looks like he separated his shoulder.
Rafael dos Anjos: RDA sits at 1-4 in his last five contests following his loss to Chiesa. While it could be argued the losses prior to Chiesa represented the top three welterweights in the world, the loss to Chiesa raises more eyebrows. RDA has been in the UFC for over a decade with 29 appearances. That’s a LOT of wear and tear, making the argument RDA is on a steep decline valid. Or maybe he’s just too small for welterweight. I know Chiesa is a former lightweight himself, but no one will deny how much bigger Chiesa looked. It’s hard to say for sure what’s wrong with RDA. Regardless, it was a very bad evening for him.
Jordan Espinosa: A pair of impressive wins on DWCS followed by a nice UFC debut had many excited about Espinosa. A pair of first round losses later and the New Mexico native looks like he isn’t going to be very long for the organization. I doubt he’ll be released quite yet, but Espinosa is looking at his UFC mortality in the face.
Hannah Cifers: The heartbreak was clear on Cifers’ face when the decision was announced. She badly wanted a win in her home state and couldn’t deliver. To be fair, Cifers was competitive in the first – arguably taking the round – but it wasn’t enough. Cifers’ image as a quiet farm girl is endearing enough that she has developed a cult fan base, but she needed to get a win here if she wanted to be taken serious as an up-and-comer. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.
Darko Stosic: Even if Stosic turned in his best performance since his UFC debut, it wasn’t enough to get the W… and he needed the W if he wanted to remain with the organization as this was his third loss in a row. Stosic just doesn’t have the athletic ability to hang with most of the division. That isn’t even including the elite of the division.
Dequan Townsend: Regardless whatever the reason for a positive cocaine test, that put Townsend in a hole that he could only dig himself out of with a win… and even that might not have been enough. Townsend had a few good moments – such as a knee that stumbled Lewis – but was largely overwhelmed physically by the younger fighter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the UFC cut him loose.
Lucie Pudilova: I’ve always had a soft spot for Pudilova. No matter what, she was good to always come forward and make her fight a lot of fun. Well… she was up until now. Coming into her fight with Justine Kish, Pudilova tried to take a more disciplined approach. It made it so nobody cared who won by the end as nobody was making a serious effort to engage. I would have expected Pudilova to go out on her shield. Instead, it feels like her UFC run is ending with a whimper.
Felipe Colares: Colares has been an afterthought as a prospect for most analysts. It’s unfortunate he’s getting the most attention he has ever received for being on the receiving end of one of the most brutal beatings without a finish that we’ve seen in a while. There’s no quit in the Brazilian. That was a bad thing for him against Jackson and might be in the long term.
Lina Lansberg: Umm… I’m trying to think of something nice to say about Lansberg performance. Outside of complimenting her toughness, there’s nothing else to say. She was bullied by McMann the entire time. The loss isn’t driving Lansberg out of the organization, but it does slam the door shut on a potential Cinderella story for her that could have been in the making.
Nate Landwehr: My scouring of the interwebs indicated a larger portion of the MMA fanbase was more excited for Landwehr’s UFC debut than that of his opponent, Burns. That makes the sudden loss for the newcomer that much more disappointing. Many – myself included – expected a loss like this to come at some point for Landwehr as his aggression is rarely controlled. We just didn’t see it coming from Burns… a bad indication for Landwehr’s future. He’ll be back for sure, but it’s hard not to temper expectations with this loss.
Heavyweight division: It feels like the division is on hold until Stipe and Cormier take care of business. Even then, top is further on hold until Ngannou gets his title shot… provided Jairzinho Rozenstruik doesn’t upset the apple cart. Blaydes and dos Santos should have felt like a big fight because of this and even with a fantastic result, it still doesn’t feel like a big deal. Here’s hoping Stipe and Cormier take care of business as soon as possible.
Michael Bisping and Daniel Cormier: I loved the banter between Bisping and Cormier. They have a good comradery, obvious knowledge of the sport, and fun personalities. However, they were also off the ball on several occasions. They talked about Blaydes having a 30 pound advantage on JDS… only for the tale of the tape to reveal he weighed in a single pound heavier. They have potential to be a fantastic commentary team. They just need to pay closer attention to the details to avoid being caught with their pants down.
Nik Lentz: When you’ve been in the UFC for a decade, moral victories are harder to come by. Lentz may have come by one given how good he looked in his return to 145. Despite that, I can’t bring myself to put him in the winner’s column as he came up just short in a fight that could have gone his way had a thing or two gone differently. Regardless, Lentz looked better than anyone thought he would, proving he still has something left in his tank.
Justine Kish: It wasn’t a completely disappointing performance as Kish did enough for the win, but like Pudilova, Kish fought against type by trying to be more selective. She wasn’t as selective as Pudilova which picked her up the win. Overall though, it was a disappointing performance as Kish, like Pudilova, went against her nature by being more disciplined.
Tony Gravely: I wasn’t crazy about Gravely’s decision to clinch up and wrestle with Johns, but I was still impressed by some of his work there. He made Johns work for every inch and even had a few nice slams himself. Gravely might want to do a bit more homework on his opponent for his next contest – Johns has always been phenomenal on the mat – but he’s not very deep into his career and should only get better. Tough debut, but Gravely proved he belongs.