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UFC on ESPN: Overeem vs. Harris - Winners and Losers

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Here are the real winners and losers from an emotional and controversial night in Jacksonville.

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Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

We can’t have nice things in MMA.

Overall, UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Harris produced a lot of fine action. Alistair Overeem and Walt Harris produced one of the most back-and-forth rounds in the history of the sport. Angela Hill and Claudia Gadelha lived up to all expectations. So did Dan Ige and Edson Barboza. Yadong Song and Marlon Vera may have exceeded expectations. These fights were great! Unfortunately, of those fights, three of them went to decision… controversial decisions. As opposed to talking about what an awesome card it was, the talk has been about the ineptitude of judges. Think back to earlier this week when another solid card was tainted by a seriously late referee stoppage. Seriously, we can’t have nice things in MMA.

Winners

Alistair Overeem: Nobody was surprised when Overeem was knocked to the mat early in the first round. His chin has been a major question mark for years now. What was surprising was when Overeem survived Harris’ attempts to finish him off. There was a moment where Dan Miragliotta could have stepped in and stopped the contest. Instead, he allowed Overeem to get himself back into the fight… and Overeem took advantage of that. Securing a takedown, he pounded on Harris badly enough to possibly take the round back. Given Overeem was further distanced from his own beating – and had been in a similar situation before – he came into the second round the fresher fighter and got a knockdown and an eventual stoppage. Given his reputation as a bully, it was impressive to see Overeem make such a comeback. It doesn’t launch him back into contendership, but it does add a notable chapter in the Overeem legacy.

Dan Ige: A lot of people think Ige lost to Barboza. I’m one of those people. Regardless, Ige put forth the best performance of his career against the best opponent of his career, which proved to be enough in the eyes of two of the judges. Surviving an early knockdown from Barboza, Ige maintained the pressure and threw out more volume, even hurting Barboza late in the contest. Regardless of whether you agree with the decision, Ige proved he can hang with top ten opposition, something few people thought when he first entered the UFC.

Krzysztof Jotko: I was reluctant to put Jotko in the winner’s category. His contest with Eryk Anders was one of the least entertaining on the night and it didn’t do anything to change the idea that Jotko is becoming a boring fighter. But… he did fight a very intelligent fight. He was the slicker fighter in the pocket. He stuffed Anders’ takedown attempts. And he avoided Anders’ power shots. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s what he needed to do to win.

Yadong Song: When the decision between Song and Marlon Vera was announced, it didn’t look like Song believed he had earned the victory. Not that he didn’t deserve a win, but a quick glance at my Twitter feed indicated Vera was a bit more deserving. Nevertheless, it was a great performance from Song, showing heart, durability, and improved endurance. I do fear the UFC could end up pushing him too fast as the Chinese representative is still just 22-years old. Regardless, it’s hard to say he won’t receive a title shot at the very least in the future.

Miguel Baeza: No one is going to question the toughness of Baeza at this point. He walked through hell in the first few minutes, being put on the ropes by Matt Brown… and surviving. Not a lot of men can say they’ve done that after Brown has them in his sights, but Baeza did. He floored Brwon before the round was out and did so once again when the second round began. The second knockdown ended the night for Brown and gave Baeza the biggest win of his career, by far. He’s sure to have a lot of eyes on him moving forward after a win like this.

Kevin Holland: For the first time that I can remember, Holland had a straightforward performance. That’s largely due to the personable striker disposing of Anthony Hernandez in 39 seconds, starting with a brutal elbow followed by a nasty knee to the body that slumped Hernandez to the mat. Holland rarely seems like he’s been capable of focusing in his past contests. There was no issue with that this time. If Holland can focus at all times, he has the toughness and physical attributes to be a major factor.

Giga Chikadze: I can either fault Chikadze for not being able to finish Irwin Rivera – a very short notice replacement fighting out of his natural weight class – or I can attribute it to Rivera being unworldly tough. I’m leaning towards the latter. Chikadze landed some heavy lumber on the UFC newcomer, shots that would KO many men on the UFC roster. Instead, Rivera was still there. Credit to Chikadze for adjusting after a slow start too, allowing him to take a relatively comfortable victory.

Nate Landwehr: Landwehr did what many have been trying to do for years: he beat Darren Elkins at his own game. While much of that can be attributed to Elkins being on the downside of his career, it should still be recognized as one hell of an accomplishment as many with greater physical attributes than Elkins have tried over the years without success. Landwehr did a bit too much celebrating amidst the fight for my liking, but it might not be wise to mess with his psyche. If nothing else, he looks like he’ll be an action-fighting staple moving forward.

Cortney Casey: While it’s a concern Casey was bullied by Mara Romero Borella on the feet for the short amount of time the fight was standing, Casey’s armbar submission from off her back was slick as hell. Given Casey’s reputation is that of a brawler, it appears Casey’s opponents have been underestimating her grappling. They shouldn’t anymore as she pulled a similar submission on Randa Markos in 2016. Moving up to flyweight appears to be the right move for Casey.

Rodrigo Nascimento: There was far more to like from Nascimento’s win over Don’Tale Mayes than there wasn’t. Regarded as the rare heavyweight grappling specialist, Nascimento looked like he’s been working on his striking. Given he doesn’t appear to have the chops to get a lot of his fellow big men in the division to the mat, it looks like the smart play. Outside of that, he did get a couple of takedowns and found a RNC for his first UFC win.

Losers

Edson Barboza: I don’t have Barboza here based on his performance. He didn’t look drawn out the way I expected him to. He showed he retained plenty of power. Hell, the overwhelming majority of the MMA media believed Barboza won! But it is the second controversial decision loss the majority of MMA media thought he won. Plus, it wasn’t that long ago Barboza was calling for his UFC release. I understand that he’s backed off that request, but I can’t help but think that first controversial loss had something to do with it, despite Barboza’s claims it was purely about his activity level. I can’t see this loss helping out that situation.

Eryk Anders: Anders is a major case of frustration for anyone who tracks a fighter’s progression. An exquisite athlete with the raw skills to be a top contender, Anders seems to take two steps back for every step forward. He doesn’t know how to set up… well, anything. Jotko was able to stuff all of Anders’ takedown attempts because he telegraphed them all. His combinations were largely random strikes thrown together. I don’t know if his camp is the issue or what, but something needs to change for Anders. Where he is at isn’t working.

Matt Brown: Nobody is kicking themselves harder than Brown. I considered throwing him in the neither category, but Brown would be pissed off at me for doing that. He had Baeza right where he wanted him and was unable to finish the job. However, it was the two knockdowns he suffered that were a greater indication of Brown’s age and the miles on his body. The Immortal has solidified his spot in MMA history as one of the all-time great action fighters. Unfortunately, all careers have a shelf life. This loss is an indication of how close Brown is to his.

Anthony Hernandez: Before we bury Hernandez, lets remember he’s still young. In fact, I’d prefer to see him still plying his trade on the regional scene. However, DWCS has expedited the development process of many prospects and Hernandez is one of those… perhaps to his detriment. The loss to Holland drops Hernandez to 1-2 in the UFC and may cause harm to his confidence. Here’s hoping Hernandez can come back strong from his quick KO loss to Holland.

Mara Romero Borella: Borella looked like she found her confidence again. Unfortunately, she got too confident in her attack as she allowed Casey to set up the armbar with little resistance. Having now dropped four of her last five contests, it’s hard to see Borella staying on the roster. It’s a shame as she looked like a dark horse upon her UFC entry. That now seems like a long time ago. Expect her next fight to be in a different organization.

Don’Tale Mayes: Mayes looked like he is stagnating. He didn’t look any worse than he did against Cyril Gane, but I didn’t see any new wrinkles or improvements out of him either, something that should be there given how young he is in his career. It may have just been a bad matchup for him as Mayes has been vulnerable to ground attacks, but he couldn’t get going on the feet either. I still like his potential, so here’s hoping the UFC doesn’t cut him loose quite yet.

Neither

Walt Harris: It took a lot for Harris to step back into the cage after the tragic loss of his daughter. Doing so in itself was a victory of sorts. However, I feel I’d be cheating on my duties to give him a pass, calling him a winner when the final results of the evening don’t reflect that. Given he came thisclose to winning makes this loss that much more painful. At 36, Harris is older than most tend to think he is, making it possible he has already topped out. Regardless of how he does in the cage moving forward, Harris has already proven himself to be a fantastic role model in a sport that doesn’t always have the best mentors to point to.

Claudia Gadelha: For the second fight in a row, Gadelha pulled out an unconvincing win. To be fair, it wasn’t because Gadelha put on a poor performance. The former title challenger rose to the occasion, pushing back on the career-best performance from Hill. That’s impressive. However, given where Gadelha has been – and thus, where most believe she should be – she should have been able to handle Hill with ease. So even though Gadelha won, her stock didn’t improve at all. She didn’t help matters at all when she called out Carla Esparza. Why call out a fighter whom you have already beaten? If Gadelha wanted to improve her standing, wouldn’t calling out Tatiana Suarez make more sense?

Angela Hill: As I’ve already said, few were convinced that Gadelha was the rightful winner. Most of the MMA media favored Hill on the scorecards on the back of volume and a knockdown in the second round. Six years after her UFC debut, Hill appeared to have put it all together. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. It won’t hurt Hill too much in the immediate as she’s earned a stellar reputation for stepping in on short notice and it has earned her some leeway with the front office. However, it hurts as she had a golden opportunity for her breakthrough moment and it slipped through her fingers.

Marlon Vera: I thought Vera won. It appeared the majority of the Twitter-verse agreed with me. Nonetheless, it was a very close fight and no one can claim Song secured a robbery. Unfortunately for Vera, it snaps a five-fight win streak and stalls the momentum he had going for him. Then again, it may be a blessing in disguise. At 27, Vera is still on the young side himself and might benefit from a little bit more seasoning before taking more fights with opponents at or above the level of Song. Regardless, few are going to see Vera as an actual loser from the night.

Irwin Rivera: Rivera wasn’t a complete unknown given his run in Titan FC, but his spirited contest with Chikadze put him on the radar of far more fight fans than he had been on before Saturday night. Taking the fight on two days notice – TWO DAYS! – Rivera had several moments that had some thinking he could pull off the impossible. Chikadze did adjust to cruise to a relatively easy win, but not before Rivera convinced many that Rivera is going to be must-see-TV at his natural weight class of bantamweight.

Darren Elkins: I’m well aware Elkins lost. I’m even more aware at the bloody mess he became amidst the fight. But how in the hell can I call the guy a loser when there is nobody who better personifies the idea of “never quit?” An argument could even be made that Elkins won the fight as he arguably outworked Landwehr in the first and third rounds. Elkins appears to be near the end of his career, but it’s fights like this that guarantee he’ll be a cult favorite for years to come.

The judges: I know this isn’t a popular opinion, but the judges had an impossible job for the evening. While I personally disagreed with two of the three controversial decisions on the evening, I acknowledge none of those decisions were robberies. The fights were simply too close to definitively call. If anything should be blamed, it is the criteria the judges are supposed to use. There is a difference in saying you disagree with the judges and saying the judges are wrong. I can’t say there is a case in which the judges are wrong, even as I disagreed with them.