Very few people walked away from UFC Norfolk feeling satisfied. It isn’t that the action was subpar. In fact, the action was pretty damned awesome. On a card of 12 fights, there were 8 finishes, including the entirety of the main card. What had people leaving wanting more was the fight between Joseph Benavidez and Deiveson Figueiredo, didn’t crown a new flyweight champion. Figueiredo missed weight, making him ineligible to claim the title. When he finished off Benavidez in the second round with a heavy right hand, it left the division without a champion.
There is also some uncertainty with the women’s featherweight division as both Felicia Spencer and Megan Anderson made claims for a title shot against Amanda Nunes, and the champion made no indication with who she was most impressed with. Throw in the early stoppage of the Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba and the card left many frustrated.
That said, frustrating doesn’t necessarily mean bad. We could get a runback of Ankalaev and Cutelaba. Just because a champion wasn’t crowned at flyweight doesn’t mean the division is going away… we hope. And perhaps we can get some fun lobbying from Spencer and Anderson. Regardless, there is a lot of uncertainty walking away from Virginia.
Felicia Spencer: Not that her performance was a surprise, but Spencer looked good. As soon as she got into Zarah Fairn’s range, she took her to the mat and brutalized her. Spencer appears to be the best technical wrestler and grappler at 145 – not that there’s a crowded field for her to emerge from – and that may be enough for her to upset Nunes should the UFC decide to grant the Canadian the shot at the belt. Not saying I’d favor Spencer – I did say upset – but it’s a far more interesting contest from my point of view.
Megan Anderson: There’s a lot about Anderson’s performance against Norma Dumont that has me worried about her development. Fortunately for her, the only thing people are going to remember is the one-punch KO she delivered on her Brazilian opponent. Anderson has the type of fight-changing power that’s rare in any division, much less in WMMA. I will credit her for keeping the fight standing – Anderson’s defensive wrestling has been a huge problem – but I look at how much larger she was than Dumont and feel like she should have been overpowering her in the clinch. Perhaps I’m nitpicking. Regardless, I don’t see her winning if she gets the title shot, unlike Spencer.
Kyler Phillips: I’ve been a fan of Phillips for a while, but even I was impressed with his performance against Gabriel Silva. Phillips unleashed a mad variety of strikes on the Brazilian in the opening round, landing several with enough power that a KO wouldn’t have surprised anyone. The next two rounds were largely spent on the mat, Phillips largely ending up with the better positions and delivering more damage. There hasn’t been much hype around him as he’s been on the injury shelf for a while, but this performance should change that tide.
Brendan Allen: I never hear Allen’s name amongst the best prospects at middleweight, but he’s forcing people to put his name on the tips of their tongue. Allen blitzed Tom Breese, once regarded as one of the top prospects in the sport. Most impressive was Allen did most of his work on the mat, an area where few have been able to best the Brit. At 24, Allen has yet to come close to his physical peak. I used to say “keep an eye” on certain fighters, but I felt like I was overusing that phrase. Well, I’ll say it with conviction about Allen. He’s been severely underrated up to this point.
Marcin Tybura: I’ll be the first to admit Tybura’s contest with Sergey Spivak was quite dull. Hell, I’m sure Tybura would be willing to admit it himself. However, Tybura needed a win more than he needed an entertaining contest – and there are times the latter is more important – and I’m not going to fault a man for doing what he needs to do to ensure victory. The win keeps Tybura on the roster and may even help rebuild his confidence.
Luis Pena: This was the type of performance we’ve all been hoping for out of Pena… mostly. Utilizing his wrestling to get Steve Garcia to the mat, then making expert use of a body triangle to keep him there, Pena used dominant control to cruise his way to victory. There were bumpy moments as the man known as Violent Bob Ross walked right into a triangle from Garcia after missing on a flying knee and he allowed Garcia to dictate the fight on the feet, but Pena not only survived, he adjusted and earned a clear win.
Jordan Griffin: Griffin’s stock dropped a bit in my eyes given he was losing most aspects of his fight with TJ Brown, but the bottom line is Griffin accomplished what he set out to do: get the W. After several guillotine attempts, Griffin finally caught Brown in an awkward angle that most figured Brown would be alright. Nope. Griffin’s squeeze proved to be insanely tight and Brown went to sleep. Griffin’s inability to avoid takedowns was concerning – as was his losing on the feet – but the win was more important than looking strong in a competitive loss as it would have been three losses in a row. Instead, he keeps his job.
Spike Carlyle: There’s never going to be a definitive answer whether Carlyle’s strikes to Aalon Cruz were legal. The strikes were about as borderline as it gets – I’m leaning towards them being illegal – meaning the referee would hardly be committing an egregious infraction either way. That aside, Carlyle’s debut was spectacular. He nailed Cruz with an opportunistic elbow to the side – or back? – of the head and continued the onslaught once he realized Cruz was hurt. It resulted in a GnP stoppage that turned eyes to a prospect many – myself included – were overlooking. With his outgoing personality, he could make a name for himself even if he doesn’t become a contender.
Sean Brady: Things weren’t looking so hot through the first half of the opening frame, but everything turned around past that point. The crowd firmly behind him, Brady began to find openings on the feet before opting to use his superior wrestling to ground the more athletic Ismael Naurdiev over the final two rounds. It was far from the most entertaining performance, but it was a loud message nonetheless that Brady isn’t a prospect to be slept on.
Joseph Benavidez: Benavidez tried to convince everyone that his career wouldn’t be incomplete if he didn’t win the title. It was even pretty damn convincing. It became obvious that wasn’t the case when he was interviewed post-fight that he was heartbroken. I’m not ripping on him as I’d be just as heartbroken. It’s only human. It’s unlikely he’ll get another crack at the title – this was his third attempt and he’s now 35 – leaving a major question mark where he goes from here. It’s possible we may have seen the last of Benavidez in the cage. While it would be understandable if he were to walk away, he’s still near the top. He was outlanding Figueiredo by almost 2-to-1 before he got caught. Expect him to take some time to think about where he wants to go next. Regardless of what he chooses, we owe a debt of gratitude for the sacrifices he has put onto his body.
Zarah Fairn: Did anyone ever give Fairn an honest shot against Spencer? I know I didn’t. I will say Fairn looked more disciplined as she looked to keep her distance from the stout Spencer, but it was always just a matter of time before Spencer took her to the mat. Fairn may hang around a bit longer as the UFC still needs bodies if they hope to keep the featherweight division alive, but it’s unlikely she finds sustained success.
Norma Dumont: Dumont looked good up through the last two or three seconds of her fight with Anderson. Unfortunately for her, those two or three seconds saw her getting flattened. Dumont paid no attention to her defense before Anderson’s right hand found its mark. Regardless, looking at Dumont, I believe she’d find more success at bantamweight, a division she has fought at before. Perhaps her willingness to fight at featherweight is what got her signed, but she looks small for 145.
Gabriel Silva: I don’t want to be too rough on Silva. He was game, ate a lot of punishment, and even handed out his share of pain in the opening round. Going all the way to decision is a testament to his toughness. However, it’s the second loss in a row that goes into the “losing impressively” category. At some point, the losses have to turn into wins. I’m sure Silva will get another chance to prove himself, but it looks like it will be do-or-die.
Tom Breese: I hate seeing this happen to Breese. Once upon a time, the UFC was hyping him up as one of the top prospects in the sport. A long period of inactivity partially due to anxiety made him a forgotten commodity. It appears that anxiety might be derailing him the same way it did Karo Parysian a decade ago. Breese just wasn’t fighting with the confidence he used to, an indication he’s overthinking things in the cage. I hope he can work his way through this, but history tells us that’s a longshot.
Sergey Spivak: Spivak shocked many when he secured a win over Tai Tuivasa last fall. Hell, in launched him into the UFC rankings. However, if one were to look closer at that fight, Tuivasa was an ideal stylistic matchup for the Ukranian. Tybura wasn’t. If I’m being fair to Spivak, he has made progress in his standup, hurting Tybura a time or two. The problem was he couldn’t find a way off his back when Tybura put him there. Here’s hoping the win over Tuivasa doesn’t turn out to be the worst thing to happen to him as he still needs time to marinate.
Aalon Cruz: I may have picked Cruz to win, but I still wasn’t crazy about his future prospects. His loss to Carlyle exemplified many of those reasons. Cruz couldn’t keep Carlyle at a distance despite a 7” reach advantage. Having that type of length means little if you don’t know what to do with it and Cruz has never been consistent with his outside striking. I’ve noticed many who are high on his potential and Many are willing to give Cruz some leeway due to the controversial nature of Carlyle’s strikes. Nonetheless, if this contest provided more answers than questions, those answers weren’t in Cruz’s favor.
Ismael Naurdiev: After four performances, it’s safe to refer to Naurdiev as the official Jekyl and Hyde of the UFC. He’s alternated impressive wins with disappointing losses. A fantastic athlete, Naurdiev has proven he’s a fantastic scrambler. However, he’s also proven he’s helpless when an opponent utilizes sound positioning on the ground. The massive Chance Rencountre made some sense. The much smaller Brady creates a litany of questions. Naurdiev is incredibly talented, but he’s got to find the right camp to help him shore up those holes.
Kevin MacDonald: I don’t want to be too harsh on MacDonald as I want the referees to lean more on the side of caution than letting the fight go for too long. However, Cutelaba was swinging fists in an intelligent manner when MacDonald stopped his fight with Ankalaev. They were reckless punches, but have you ever seen Cutelaba fight? He always throws reckless punches! If there is footage of the fighters you’re reffing, you should have a base knowledge of how they fight and what type of damage they can take. It doesn’t look like MacDonald had any clue about Cutelaba. In the process, we got the first truly horrible stoppage of 2020.
Flyweight division: The last time the UFC had a contest to crown a new champion that didn’t produce a champion was 2003 with the lightweight division. When BJ Penn and Caol Uno fought to a decision, the UFC dissolved the division a short while later as they decided the division was too much of a hassle. Obviously, they reversed the decision in time and the UFC is far more stable now, but they’ve already deemed the flyweight division to be a hassle. Will the flyweight division be dissolved? If the UFC brass was listening to the crowd reaction to the fight, they know loyal MMA fans appreciate their talents. However, they’ve ignored their loyal fans before. Poll a base of MMA fans about how they feel about Jose Aldo getting a title shot and you’ll get an idea of what I mean.
Deiveson Figueiredo: Figueiredo’s performance was about what everyone expected. Traditionally a slow starter, Figueiredo was looking like his powerhouse self by the end of the opening round, landing several hard shots that led me to think it was just a matter of time before the end came nigh. Basically, his victory was no surprise. However, his inability to make weight prevents this moment from being a crowning moment in his career. Instead of becoming champion, he only prevented Benavidez from becoming champion. If a title fight is remade, there’s a good chance he’ll be reinserted into the fight.
Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba: For all the 38 seconds it lasted, the fight between Ankalaev and Cutelaba was the most entertaining fight of the night. Unfortunately, it didn’t get the finish it deserved. The UFC doesn’t always run back these types of fights, but I have a hard time believing they won’t do so with this one. There’s clearly heat between these two and they might as well capitalize on a controversial moment.
Grant Dawson: Dawson deserves credit for the win. He survived a LOT of submission attempts from Darrick Minner in the opening frame to make his own comeback. However, he also missed weight… badly. It’s not like Dawson was the one taking the fight on short notice either; he had a full camp. That size advantage really showed up in the cage. Plus, it looked like he landed a LOT of strikes to the back of the head at the end of the first, potentially tainting his win even more. There’s enough to like about Dawson, but he’s got to tighten up his discipline.
Darrick Minner: I’m probably giving Minner more leeway than most, but he had a full deck stacked against him. Dawson would have already been quite a bit bigger than him had he made weight. He didn’t. Plus, Minner looked like he was coming close to putting Dawson to sleep early on. Minner didn’t get the win, but it feels appropriate that a longtime regional vet like him at least gets an opportunity in the UFC. Plus, he showed he’s capable of taking a win at this level.
Steve Garcia: Some leeway should go in Garcia’s direction as not only did he take the fight on very short notice, but he appears to be fighting a division up. Thus, I didn’t put him in the loser’s column. Nonetheless, there were times where the contest seemed very winnable for the New Mexico native, but he couldn’t close the deal. Regardless, I’ll be shocked if Farcia ends up washing out in a hurry. He’s got an impressive fighting spirit, great survival instincts, and plenty of toughness. Perhaps he’ll find more ground success against smaller opposition moving forward….
TJ Brown: Brown may have lost via submission to a man who previously owned zero UFC wins in two previous attempts, but he looked strong up to the point when he was put to sleep. He showed a strong chin, strong takedowns, and good positional grappling. I say good positional grappling – as opposed to great – as he continued to expose his neck to Griffin. Nonetheless, Brown looked very good up to that point, looking like he’s going to be a solid action-fighting addition to the featherweight division.