The UFC Swedish debut was an unqualified success in every way that matters. It benefitted from an educated, enthusiastic crowd, as well as a night of great performances by fighters from all over the world.
Now that UFC on FUEL TV 2 is in the books, let’s take a look back at the biggest winners, losers, and everything in between.
Biggest Winner: Alexander Gustafsson
Sweden’s star gave the home crowd 15 solid minutes of action on Saturday night. He also gave the rest of us an extended look at his striking game, which is solid, though not exactly devastating. Gustafsson was as relaxed and confident as we’ve ever seen him, and he even flashed some Dominick Cruz-esque footwork at times. I don’t think a decision win over Thiago Silva puts him next in line for the light heavyweight title, but it does get him into the conversation. Physical similarities aside, he’s a totally different fighter from Jon Jones. The question isn’t whether he can become Jones, it’s whether he can beat him. At the moment, I have to say no, but he’s still a work in progress. This win proved he can go the distance and take a punch when he has to. It also proved he’s nothing short of a superstar in his home country. If he does eventually get a title shot, that card would sell out The Globe faster than an ABBA reunion concert.
Biggest Loser: Alessio Sakara
That’s two in a row for "Legionarius," and his fourth loss in the UFC via TKO. You hate to say it about such a nice guy, but what kind of future is there for a striker who can’t take a punch any better than that? Not that I think getting hit by Stann is supposed to be fun, but the shots that ended the fight probably shouldn’t have. Sakara’s chin has looked suspect in the past, and that’s a problem that typically only gets worse with time. I’m sure the UFC would love to have him around for an eventual event in Italy, so I wouldn’t expect him to get dropped from the roster for that loss. Still, he seems like he’s just hanging on now. If he can’t get one in the win column very soon, he's in trouble.
Most Impressive in Defeat: Magnus Cedenblad
For one round, he was a beast. He came very close to putting Francis Carmont away with a rear-naked choke, and in the process he might have spent too much physical and emotional energy. The big Swede looked drained to start the second, and Carmont made him pay. Obviously, no one wants to get submitted in their UFC debut, but there were some bright spots in that loss for Cedenblad. He seems physically capable of competing at this level. His mistakes were the kind that can be fixed with experience, which is better than simply being outclassed. If he can fight a little smarter, he can hang around in the UFC. He just has to do it soon. Few people get a third chance if they lose their first two.
Least Impressive in Victory: Cyrille Diabate
"The Snake" won a snoozer of a decision over Tom DeBlass, who seemed to run out of gas after taking the fight on short notice. If that’s the best Diabate can do against a guy who clearly wasn’t in fighting shape, it does not bode well for his future in the UFC. The good news is that he showed off some ground skills, and even turned the tables with a takedown of his own. The bad news is that he didn’t do much else. It’s still better to win a fight like that than to lose it, but not by much. Diabate just squeaked by against a guy who probably considered it a minor victory just to last three full rounds. That’s not one he’ll want to include on his highlight reel.
Too Fast For Analysis: Siyar Bahadurzada
If he’s right about his hand being broken before the fight, then it’s a good thing he had to use it only sparingly in his 42-second knockout of Paulo Thiago. One uppercut was enough to put Thiago into the land of wind of ghosts, but the fight was over before we got much of a chance to see what Bahadurzada has in his bag of tricks. He has power. That much we do know after Saturday night. The rest we’ll have to wait on. He said in the post-fight press conference that he’s saving his bonus money for his dream car: a Maserati. It’s going to take a few more bonus-worthy knockouts before that becomes a reality, and he knows it. Consider yourself warned, UFC welterweights.
Classiest Move of the Night: Brian Stann
His self-stoppage in the Sakara fight made me wonder if Stann has his eye on a future career as a referee, or maybe a diplomat. Stann is a genuinely decent person with an uncommon degree of self-awareness and empathy. Covering MMA day in and day out, it’s difficult at times not to get cynical about the world you’re writing about. Then you meet someone like Stann, who turns out to be every bit as remarkable as he looks on paper, and you remember that there are still some good guys in this sport. He may never be a champion or a headliner on some major pay-per-view, but it doesn’t matter. As long as he’s around, he’s a credit to MMA in ways both big and small.
Least Classy Move of the Night: James Head
What reason could there possibly be to shove a guy after you’ve just submitted him? It’s over, you won, end of story. If anything, he’s the one who should be frustrated to the point of doing something dumb. I understand that perhaps Head got worked up by being in hostile territory, but that’s no excuse to act like a jerk. Please Americans, when abroad, let’s all try to do a little image rehabilitation. Don’t cut in line. Don’t be loud and obnoxious. And definitely don’t be the most unsportsmanlike competitor on a foreign fight card. Europeans already assume we’re jerks. We don’t have to go out of our way to tell them they’re right.
Best All-Around Performance: British fighters
England went a perfect 3-0 at ‘UFC Sweden,’ with victories by Brad Pickett, John Maguire, and Jason Young. Pickett earned his second straight Fight of the Night bonus with a submission of Damacio Page, and Maguire got to show off a little "gypsy-jitsu" with an armbar of DaMarques Johnson. Young was the only one of three not to earn a finish or a bonus, but he did thoroughly out-wrestle his American opponent, so maybe we’ll have to revise that conventional wisdom about the Brits suffering from a lack of mat skills. And what are Pickett and Page going to do with their bonus checks from the UFC, you ask? Pickett plans to perhaps finally buy a car, which he says he’s put off since he puts all his money back into his training. Maguire, in true gypsy fashion, said he plans to "buy [his] mum a caravan." And yes, I think he was being totally serious, which is awesome. If I were them, I just wouldn’t spend too much of that money before they get back to the U.K. The Swedes have themselves a nice country, but those taxes are brutal.