The UFC’s second event in less than a week amidst the COVID-19 crisis went relatively well, until the third round of the main event. After that, it just got depressing. 40-year-old Glover Teixeira beat the living hell out of Anthony Smith for the final ten minutes of the contest, appearing to have even knocked out some of the teeth of Smith. Normally, when something like that happens, the contest is stopped. Not in this case. While Teixeira’s performance was impressive, it will certainly be overshadowed by the controversy over the late stoppage of the fight. Too bad it also overshadows the rest of the card.
Glover Teixeira: Easily Teixeira’s most meaningful win since 2016, it looks like the former protégé of Chuck Liddell isn’t done being relevant at light heavyweight. While that might speak more volume about the state of the division, no one can deny the brutality of the beating Teixeira put on Smith. Teixeira appeared to knock out some teeth of Smith and delivered consecutive 10-8 rounds… maybe even 10-7. Perhaps most impressive on the part of Teixeira was weathering the early storm of Smith as the Brazilian hasn’t looked as durable in recent contests as he did in years past. He took everything Smith had and kept coming. If nothing else, this win should solidify Teixeira as one of the best 205ers who never held UFC gold.
Ben Rothwell: I was tempted to put Rothwell in the neither category, but given he was the underdog to Ovince Saint Preux – even if just a slight underdog – I’ll give him credit for sneaking out of Jacksonville with the W. In fact, it could be argued Rothwell won about 95% of the fight. But that 5% he gave to OSP was the most impactful moments of the contest. Regardless, Big Ben made sure OSP knew how heavy he is, putting his weight against him for long stretches. Given the lunacy of the heavyweight division, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Rothwell climb back into the official rankings.
Drew Dober: Dober was on the verge of being cut five fights into his UFC career. Now, he’s on the verge of an official UFC ranking after overthrowing Alexander Hernandez. While most put little value behind the official UFC rankings, it still serves as a valid measuring stick of how far Dober has come. He put some serious pressure on Hernandez and never let off. Rather than meet him head on, Hernandez tried to fight off his back foot. That put Dober at an instant advantage and it resulted in a violent flurry of punches as Hernandez tried desperately to stay in the fight. I struggle to see Dober climb much higher than he has, but I struggled to see him getting this far. Props to the kid from Nebraska.
Ricky Simon: Getting a win over a former title challenger is always nice to add to a resume, but Simon’s personality is what really shined. Talking trash with Ray Borg throughout the contest – good naturedly – Simon took time to strike poses and play possum throughout the contest. After being declared the winner on the back of his overpowering wrestling – Borg is significantly smaller – Simon called himself a fake striker and said he cut his mullet in order to get back in the bedroom with his wife. If the UFC markets this guy correctly, he could be a major asset for the organization outside the cage. He’s pretty good in the cage too.
Thiago Moises: Moises’ win over Michael Johnson should come with a BIG asterisk. Moises looked terrible in the first round, getting pieced up on the feet from Johnson’s fast hands. On the flip side, Moises recognized he needed to change the dynamic of the fight and immediately went for a takedown to begin the second. Going for the ankle, Johnson defended too late and Moises forced the inconsistent veteran to tap. Moises seems to do just enough to keep himself on the roster. If that’s the case, he’s likely to drop the next contest.
Sijara Eubanks: It wouldn’t be right to call it a breakout performance, but Eubanks put together her first complete performance at bantamweight, showing the skill that earned her a flyweight title shot coming off TUF. She landed some heavy shots and showed her grappling chops, staving off a desperate armbar attempt late from a game Sarah Moras. Whether Eubanks can build off this win is the key as she has stalled for various reasons when it looked like she was ready to be an impact player.
Omar Morales: Morales is quietly building a resume as one of the better action fighters in the UFC. Sure, he’s just two fights into his UFC career and it’s unlikely many are going to remember his impressive battle with Gabriel Benitez in a week, but some will. At 34, the time is now for Morales to make the most of his opportunity and he’s doing just that.
Brian Kelleher: Kelleher had to navigate an impressive showing from Hunter Azure, but he eventually found a home for his left hook directly on the chin of Azure. Azure may not have gone out cold, but no one will argue the fight was over even before Kelleher DID put Azure on Dream Street after some hammerfists. Kelleher made a hell of a case to be the next opponent of Sean O’Malley, but everyone and their dog has been calling for their chance against the Suga Show.
Chase Sherman: There are still plenty of defensive deficiencies, but Sherman showed he wasn’t sitting on his hands during his time away from the UFC. Putting together the most analytical performance of his career, Sherman worked over the leg of Ike Villanueva, killing the mobility of his smaller opponent. It allowed Sherman to piece him up when Villanueva tried moving forward, securing an impressive finish. It looks like Sherman’s second go round will turn out much better than his first.
Midweek cards: While I would have appreciated the UFC starting the event earlier, it was nice to come home from work and take in regulated violence. Given the UFC will look to fulfill the terms of their ESPN contract by running the required number of shows, there’s a good chance we’ll get more cards like this. I’d be perfectly happy with that.
Anthony Smith: Being the frontrunner for being on the receiving end of beatdown of the year isn’t where anyone wants to be. Unfortunately for Smith, that’s where he finds himself. Being too tough for his own good, he walked out for two more rounds of action when it could have arguably been stopped about midway through the third. It’s plausible this loss could have long-term consequences too. Some fighters never recover from the type of beating Smith endured. Think David Loiseau or Renan Barao. They took similar beatings in five round contests and saw their careers spiral downwards in a hurry. I don’t wish that on Smith – on anyone to be exact – but I do believe it’s a distinct possibility.
Ovince Saint Preux: OSP has the skills to be an out-fighter. He just doesn’t have the mentality. He continually backed himself into the cage against Rothwell, which was where the big man wanted him. In the process, OSP handed him the win as Rothwell would trap him there. OSP did show his freakish athleticism can serve him well at heavyweight, but he’s more athletic than most of the light heavyweight division too. Plus, he’s almost always the bigger man at 205. If he can still make 205 in a healthy manner, that’s the better home for him. If he can’t, he’ll find some success at heavyweight, but not as much as he did at light heavyweight.
Alexander Hernandez: Anyone else get the feeling Hernandez overreacted to his loss to Donald Cerrone? First, he eeks out a dreadful decision over an equally tentative Francisco Trinaldo. Now, he tries fighting off his back foot against Dober? Hernandez is fighting against type. It’s good to be able to do that for short stretches of a fight, but for the entirety of a contest? Not smart. Hernandez has lost all the hype he had around him following his blazing UFC debut.
Ray Borg: I root for every fighter to make weight. Who wants to see contests with asterisks next to them? But I always rooted especially hard for Borg when his weight issues first surfaced at flyweight. His fight with Simon showed why. Borg couldn’t get his own vaunted wrestling game going against the larger Simon and was tossed around on a few occasions. Borg’s boxing looked better than ever, but Simon was smart to play on his size advantage, resulting in a Borg loss. Against anyone with an above average wrestling game at 135, Borg is going to be a sizeable underdog.
Philipe Lins: Was it just a bad night, or is Lins’ loss to Andrei Arlovski an indication of the caliber of fighters in the PFL? It’s probably a little of both in reality, but I’m going to say for the sake of my hopes that it was the former. Lins started well, playing matador to the bigger Arlovski, but faded badly after the first round. Was it jitters? Problems with his camp? COVID-19 could have really thrown him off. Regardless of what it was, I’d be shocked if Lins doesn’t bounce back strong. He’s better than what he showed.
Michael Johnson: I can’t imagine the UFC is going to give Johnson much more leeway. In some ways, this was the worst possible outcome for Johnson. He looked great in the first, on the verge of a 10-8 round. Then he lets his guard down and pays the price for it on the mat. He clearly still has the physical tools to win fights against quality opponents. But does he have the focus? It’s a tossup whether Johnson’s next fight is in the UFC.
Sarah Moras: Moras is tough as nails, but she hasn’t been able to win a fight where she hasn’t had a distinct advantage on the mat. She has now been in the UFC for seven years and has yet to develop a striking attack that’s good enough to win fight. I doubt she gets cut – Canadian fighters seem to get a bit more leeway provided they aren’t named Elias Theodorou – but it’s hard to put much stock in her at this time.
Hunter Azure: A very strong case could be made that Azure was winning against Kelleher before feeling the Boom. Azure showed improved boxing in addition to making great use of low kicks. However, as I feared, he didn’t bother to dance with the girl he brought to the dance, making not one single effort to go to the mat despite his impressive wrestling credentials. It left Kelleher feeling comfortable to go for the kill and he did just that. Azure still has a bright future, but no one wants to see their first loss in that fashion.
Ike Villanueva: I don’t want to crap too much on Villanueva as he took his fight with Sherman on very short notice and landed some hard shots, but he got creamed by a guy who previously washed out of the UFC. Yes, Sherman looked much improved, but facts are facts. Expect Villanueva to find more success in his next contest when he’s at 205.
Anthony Smith’s corner: Smith said his teeth were falling out between the fourth and fifth round… and his corner sent him back out anyway. Maybe it was a veneer, but that’s still painful as hell… I know from experience! Part of a corner’s responsibility is to look out for the best interest of their fighter and Smith’s corner failed miserably in that regard. Here’s hoping all corners can learn a lesson from this debacle.
Jason Herzog: If I’m going to throw shade at Smith’s corner, Herzog deserves some too. Normally one of the better referees in the game, he was off his game here. For hell’s sake, Smith handed Herzog his teeth amidst the beating from Teixeira! Perhaps Herzog saw Smith as someone who deserved more than benefit of the doubt, but he was broken by the end of the third. Perhaps he was influenced by the outrage from Dominick Cruz towards Keith Peterson from UFC 249. I can’t say for sure, but pendulum will swing back in favor of stopping fights earlier after this event.
Andrei Arlovski: While Arlovski deserves credit for evolving into the wily veteran, it has also made it difficult for fans to get amped for any contest featuring the former champion. He’s winning just enough to maintain a spot on the roster, but the quality of his wins aren’t great. I’m not referring to the quality of his opponents either. I’m referring to his opponents giving him the win as opposed to Arlovski taking it.
Gabriel Benitez: Given Benitez was the more established fighter, it’s a slight surprise to see Morales emerge as the victor. However, despite it being a winnable contest for Benitez, he fought well. It’s just that Morales fought better. Adding to the impressiveness of Benitez’s performance, he did so with one of the biggest leg gashes I’ve ever seen in MMA. I wouldn’t have been surprised if select referees would have opted to stop the contest had they gotten a good look at it. Props to the toughness of Benitez.