Lessons Learned and Matches to Make After UFC 168

I hate to say it because I know that others are going to say it... but the UFC 2013 calendar year ended on a bad break... literally. In what may have been the most anticipated rematch in the history of MMA (not just UFC), Anderson Silva broke his leg in half on a kick that was checked by Chris Weidman in the second round of their title fight and more than likely ended the career of the greatest MMA fighter in the history of the young sport. Thus, Weidman retains the title and the debate of who would win the fight (barring injury must be added now) if Silva were to take his opponent serious. It is a shame that the greatest year in the UFC's history ended in that fashion.

All was not lost for a night that ended on a disappointing note however. Fans were treated to a very entertaining title fight as the co-main event for the women's bantamweight title had everyone on the edge of their seat and even if the ending of it was predictable (Rousey by armbar), the timing of the end (3rd round) was largely unexpected. Tate showed a lot of heart dragging Rousey into untread waters as well as superb defense but in the end Rousey remained the champion much to the chagrin of the audience.

Lets get more in depth now and discuss each fighter's performance and where they go from here.

Chris Weidman: Weidman again walks out of his match with Silva holding the gold and a lot of controversy surrounding the end that you really can't blame him for. Then again, you can't blame Silva this time either. But there is a good chance that Weidman is just beginning a long title reign and realistically could still be improving. He took the first round by showing effective strikes while holding top control on the ground. Silva threatened from the bottom with strikes and attempted to position himself for submissions as well but Weidman wasn't having it and was never in serious trouble. He showed poise standing up with Silva and never seemed to be intimidated (though he wasn't the first time either) by the former champs vaunted striking game. He also won the striking game as he rocked Silva in the first round to get him on the ground in the first place with a vicious right hook to the temple from the clinch. Perhaps something should be said for what an effective leg check can do as well regardless of the freakish nature of Silva's injury. Were you watching Diaz brothers?

From here it appears that Weidman will face Vitor Belfort now. Though Belfort has some similarities to Silva (Brazilian, superb striking, jiu-jitsu black belt), he is a slightly different animal than the former champion. Belfort is bigger than Silva and seems to employ a larger variety of strikes since he implemented head kicks into his already impressive striking resume. Belfort has ran through 3 impressive opponents as well in this past year (Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold, and Dan Henderson) and has left little debate that he is a worthy contender... so long as you can get past his use of TRT. I don't want to touch that here though, so I am moving on.

Anderson Silva: I'm sure that many people don't want to hear me say this either... but I believe that Anderson's career is over at this point. He is 38 years old and there had been plenty of talk about him retiring after this fight regardless of whether he won or lost and now faces a long rehab from a difficult injury for any athlete at any age to come back from. It is about as disappointing of a way as there is to go out (I'm struggling to think of something worse) and certainly not fitting for the greatest fighter we have seen.

Even if we were to judge the fight up to the point of the leg break, Weidman was winning easily. The second round was inconclusive, but the first was clearly Weidman. It is difficult to say if it was a lack of confidence (or you could call it an air of doubt) considering Weidman had beat him before or simply that he was more focused (I'm leaning towards the former), but he did not appear to be the same dominant champion that we had seen in the Octagon on many occasions before. At this point we will all be left to speculate whether Silva had lost a step or if he simply wasn't able to loosen up. Its weird to say now... but the two most dominant champions the UFC has seen might never step into the Octagon again now that GSP is gone as well. How the times change.

Silva deserves a lot of credit for his contributions to the UFC as well as MMA as a whole. He had an air of invincibility about him that has been unmatched and it is sad to see him go out in this fashion. The MMA community (fans and fighters) owe him much gratitude and hope for a speedy and successful recovery from his injury... even if he never fights again.

Ronda Rousey: There should be little debate about Rousey's dominance in the women's division at this point. Yes, Tate pushed the fight to 3 rounds and showed great resilience. But Rousey was in control for the great majority of the fight and showed a lot of progression in her striking as she got the better of Tate there. There is still a lot of room for improvement as Rousey almost seemed shocked at times from some of the hits she received and walked into some of Tate's punches, but her showing was much better than most anticipated as she bloodied Tate up quite badly. It seemed funny that people kept talking before the match about how much Tate had evolved from their last match considering that Rousey was (and still is) the much more inexperienced MMA fighter. Rousey had much further to go before she reached her ceiling and it was proven as Tate's moments were few and far between. And being pushed as she was in this fight will only help her to grow as a fighter as well.

The UFC may have found their new Brock Lesnar as well... a fighter that the crowd loves to hate. Rousey never hid how she felt about Tate by continually flipping her off (further proof she is tight with the Diaz brothers) throughout their time on TUF and never felt inclined to shake Tate's hand or feign any sign of respect. Some will commend her honesty while most will call her a bitch and long for the day that she is toppled from her throne. Personally, I love it as everything is so fake in this politically correct world we now live in. I find honesty refreshing. Either way, when you couple all of this with her looks and she is unquestionably one of the UFC's top cash cows with GSP and Anderson out of the picture now. Her evolution as a fighter will make this even more fun to watch.

Dana White stated that Sara McMann will face Rousey at UFC 170 to try and keep Rousey busy (like I said, cash cow). While this is contradictory to White's earlier statements that Zingano would have next, it makes more sense to keep Rousey busy while Zingano continues to rehab her knees. I felt Alexis Davis made more sense seeing as how she picked up two UFC victories since McMann picked up her first and only UFC victory... but I don't get paid to make these decisions (unfortunately). McMann will pose a different challenge than what Rousey has faced as she is a silver medalist in wrestling from the 2004 Olympic games. Should make for an interesting challenge.

Miesha Tate: While Tate should be commended for her defense and her testicular fortitude (I couldn't resist... not insinuating she is a man by any means though), her fight IQ was exposed. Multiple times she clinched up with Rousey only to be tripped up by the former judo Olympian almost instantly. While she fought out of and survived some bad spots, she put herself in those spots via her own stupidity most of the time. I will admit that a grappling defense clinic held by her would be worth attending, I would probably have SpongeBob SquarePants coming up with a fight strategy before letting Tate do that for me. Even more confusing considering she was having success (or maybe I should say some offense) while standing and striking. What was she thinking?!

She is clearly a fan favorite at this point as well. Her gumption, good looks, and Rousey's natural heel tendencies have put Tate in a favorable spotlight and expect her to remain in some high profile matches for a while even if she has now lost two in a row and 3 of her last 4. Amazing what the fans can do for you.

So who does she face now? She was going to face Liz Carmouche this past summer before Zingano suffered her injury forcing Tate to step in for her and it would make sense to match them again now. Both are coming off of loses and both came up short in their title bids against Rousey. I believe the UFC would rather see the both of them get back on the winning track based on the fan bases that they have built up, but at least this way guarantees one of them does so.

Travis Browne: I was shocked by how many people were virtually giving Browne no chance but I was even more shocked at how his match with Josh Barnett ended. It was quick and sudden. I expected it to be a battle. And didn't we see that ending against Browne with Gabriel Gonzaga already? Though I believe that the knee Browne delivered to Barnett's jaw put him out already the elbows (which were all legal from my vantage point) were a brutal icing on the cake. Browne's striking may not be as technical as Junior Dos Santos or as persistent as Cain Velazquez, but it should be considered just as dangerous as he has shown great diversity with his striking ability. Elbows, punches, knees, front kicks, superman punches... he can do it all with great power. Browne is a legit contender at this point beyond a shadow of a doubt.

White had proclaimed the winner of the match would get Fabricio Werdum to get a #1 contenders match so we already know who Browne will face next. It should be a good match that Browne will likely be favored in based on his opponent's continued inability to get him to the ground. And where is Werdum most comfortable? That's right... the ground. I have already said it, just not in these exact words: Browne is a rising star.

Josh Barnett: So Mr. Barnett, how does it feel to be knocked out for the first time in 12 years? Do you remember anything from your match with Mr. Browne? I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't. I wouldn't be surprised if he isn't the same fighter after that devastating KO either as it seems the older you are the more difficult it is to come back from being knocked senseless. But we don't have any proof that Barnett is no longer a quality fighter who simply happened to get caught. This fight taught us more about Browne than it did Barnett and other than knowing his chin can be broken, we'll have to wait until Barnett's next fight to really learn anything new about him.

If his medical suspension doesn't last too long, I know that the UFC would love to match up Roy Nelson soon. Both are coming off of loses to high level competitors and some of the other worthy options out there (Mark Hunt due to a broken hand, Bigfoot Silva due to TRT suspension) are unavailable for a while. But I would be more inclined to match Nelson up with Brandon Vera and allow Barnett a little more rest time and wait for the loser of the Stipe Miocic and Gabriel Gonzaga fight. Though Nelson makes more sense in the standings, I would rather see the division keep on moving and I don't think Barnett can be scheduled any time soon. It isn't like Miocic or Gonzaga are a gimme either.

Jim Miller: Though the armbar submission that Miller pulled off on a jiu-jitsu expert such as Fabricio Camoes was a thing of beauty, I was shocked at how even Miller appeared to be standing up with Camoes. He was supposed to have a distinct advantage in the striking department! His performance proved he'll never be thought of as a contender again at this point, but he'll make for a highly entertaining gatekeeper. Before anyone takes that as an insult, remember that really just means he is a cut below the best in the business. Miller is still a hell of a fighter, just not the top of his class.

Seeing as how crowded the lightweight division is, there isn't a shortage of options for Miller. The one I like best is Michael Johnson. Johnson was on the same card coming off of an impressive KO victory over another perennial gatekeeper in Gleison Tibau. Miller is a step above Tibau and represents a different challenge all together: better boxing and submissions, less strength and worse wrestling (though only slightly). Plus Miller has a higher fight IQ. Johnson would be a step up for Miller as well after Camoes. It would be a good test for both of them.

Fabricio Camoes: Either Miller's striking game was overrated or Camoes made a lot of strides from the last time that we had seen him. I'm going to lean towards the latter in this one. Camoes has shown flashes before with his striking and seemed to put it together against Miller landing some punches with a hell of a smack to them. Until the fight went where he was supposed to be at his best and got submitted. Seriously people, the fight game in general is the hardest of all sports to predict.

The question now is whether Dana White was impressed enough with his improvement to keep him around. He is 1-3-1 overall in the UFC including 1-2 in this stint. That doesn't bode well. There are fighters with similar records (at least during this stint for Camoes) such as Justin Salas, Mitch Clarke, and Renee Forte that are still around and seem to be on the same level. If he were to stick around (which I have my doubts), any of them would be sound opponents.

Dustin Poirier: Poirier was rightfully pissed off at Diego Brandao for missing weight and promised to break him... which he certainly did. Poirier attacked Brandao's body viciously and wore him down. He did so with reckless abandon which resulted in Brandao landing some hard blows on him. Poirier looked good, but he didn't look like a title contender. Can you imagine how Aldo would pick him apart with his lack of striking defense? Poirier needs to tighten that aspect of his game up to truly take his game to the next level. Considering he turns 25 in January, there is still plenty of time for that to happen.

Unfortunately for Poirier, there aren't a lot of options available for him that really make sense. There are two that I like, but neither would really move Poirier up the ladder. Dennis Bermudez hasn't lost since falling to Brandao at the TUF 14 Finale and is knocking on the door of the top 10 of the division. The other one is the winner of Darren Elkins and Jeremy Stephens next month at UFC on FOX 10 and are in a similar situation to Bermudez. I prefer to see Bermudez get the call for a potential fight of the year (not just night).

Diego Brandao: Brandao claims he had a car accident a few weeks ago which is why he missed weight so badly as it threw him off during his camp. I hope that is true because Brandao looked bad. He was clearly the heavier fighter (not in a good way) in the Octagon and seemed to tire somewhat as the fight went on. Keep in mind this fight didn't leave the first round. He did land some very effective shots early in the match showing some of the striking that he is vaunted for... but that seems to be about the only positive that Brandao can take out of this.

I would like to see the UFC stop coddling the former TUF champ and give him fights that are more in line with his level as he was given three matches in which he was the favorite after his loss to Darren Elkins. If Jeremy Stephens comes up short against Elkins, that seems like a fair opponent for both fighters. But I honestly expect it will be someone like Maximo Blanco who seems to hang around the bottom of the division barrel. Blanco doesn't suck by any means... he just can't seem to put it all together mentally. Then again... based on that maybe Blanco and Brandao are a good matchup.

Uriah Hall: Hall went out to the Octagon and did exactly what he was supposed to do. It only took his third try to do so, but it finally got done. He knew he would have a speed advantage against Chris Leben and forced the Crippler to chase him as he countered with some nice jabs and mixing in some kicks and knees. Hall ended up taking very little damage as a result and eventually landed a KO blow that caused Leben to quit in between rounds. It seems Hall was finally able to get over the jitters he exhibited before and didn't let the pressure of performing in front of a large crowd get to him. Hopefully it doesn't crop up again and we can see his abilities reach his potential.

Considering Leben seems to be finished as a fighter he shouldn't be jumping into the shark tank by any means. There are a lot of available options though. If Josh Samman recovers from injury soon, that is a match from the TUF 17 season a lot of people wanted to see. Krzysztof Jotko had a less than entertaining victory in his UFC debut. Caio Magalhaes mostly owes Nick Ring's torn ACL for his last victory. Any of these men would make fine opponents for Hall.

Chris Leben: We all knew Leben was slow and that he could take a punch. So are we sure that there was anything to learn from this match? I'll say yes and you can only consider it to be kind of positive. At least he knows when to step out of a match after years of coming forward like a zombie only to absorb an ungodly amount of punishment. But that also means that he took a fair amount of punishment to get to that point... right? Right!

Leben is done. I'm not even going to consider listing someone for him to face next. He showed some maturity and brains stopping the match when he did. Hopefully he can do the same thing for his career. He has 22 Octagon appearances over an 8 and a half year span. That is a run most fighters only dream of. He left us with a number of awesome memories but the body can only last for so long and Leben's has run its course in fighting. Thanks Chris... you certainly produced some awesome memories. Now please take care of yourself and step away.

Michael Johnson: I don't think I have correctly picked a Michael Johnson fight in about 2 years. Damn you Johnson! How can you possibly be so consistently inconsistent? Johnson looked very sharp on his feet again against Gleison Tibau as Tibau played right into Johnson's strength and turned the fight into a boxing match. We still don't know if Johnson has done anything with his wrestling game which is his established weakness at this point. He was able to sprawl on the few takedown attempts that Tibau attempted... but that still doesn't tell us nearly enough.

Regardless of what we definitively learned, Johnson earned a step up in competition. As I mentioned earlier, Jim Miller is my favorite option for Johnson. Miller represents a more well-rounded version of Joe Lauzon whom Johnson has already dispatched. Miller isn't the cream of the crop, but will likely tell us all we need to know about Johnson. If nothing else, it should be a fun match as Miller usually produces those.

Gleison Tibau: Tibau is known for being the largest lightweight in the UFC and being a solid wrestler. Those two qualities go hand in hand. So why did he turn the fight into a boxing match? All Tibau had to do was watch Johnson's fights against Myles Jury and Joe Lauzon to figure out where Johnson was weak and where he was strong. I guess Tibau doesn't believe in film study. Besides showing low fight IQ, Tibau proved once again that he really is just a gatekeeper. But if we didn't already know that we weren't paying attention before.

Pat Healy is another monstrous lightweight that is on a skid. He's fresh of a loss to Bobby Green who has some similarities to Michael Johnson. See where I'm going with this? Tibau and Healy are somewhat similar themselves in that they are primarily grapplers, are large for their weight class, and known for wearing their opponents down. It may not be the most entertaining affair, that I will admit... but it seriously seems like it needs to be done. Who is the elite grinding gatekeeper in the UFC?

Dennis Siver: Siver didn't look bad in this fight, but I expected him to have an easier time of Manny Gamburyan as he owned a definitive striking advantage. I would say that is more of a positive statement towards Gamburyan than a negative one towards Siver, but he'll need to show more his next time around to move up the division ladder. He did show a good fight IQ though as he took the fight to the ground when it seemed Gamburyan was getting the better on the feet and showed sound GNP. It got him the W which is most important so my criticism should be limited.

I stated earlier that Dustin Poirier should face either Dennis Bermudez or the winner of the Jeremy Stephens and Darren Elkins fight. Whoever Poirier doesn't get should face Siver. I can't recall Siver testing his chops against someone with a wrestling base and both Elkins and Bermudez would offer that. A fight with Stephens would likely just offer someone getting KO'd. I'm pretty good with that as well though.

John Howard: Howard showed a little bit of everything in his match with Siyar Bahadurzada from picking his spots in the striking to wrestling and was able to get a unanimous decision. The best moment of the fight was easily Howard's slam of Bahadurzada as he picked him up and carried him before planting him on the mat. A true moment of beauty. Overall I have to say that Howard impressed me. He isn't exactly world class by any means, but he should stick around the UFC longer this time than he did for his first stint.

Before I toot Howard's horn too much, it should be noted that either Bahadurzada's game plan sucked or he just didn't have one. So how about a match up with a relatively smart opponent? Sean Pierson is an old and wily vet riding a three fight win streak who seems to be the type of fighter who shouldn't be in the UFC yet keeps hanging on by winning. Sounds like the perfect type of test needed just for Howard.

Siyar Bahadurzada: I don't think I can really say anything positive about Bahadurzada in this fight. Did he land a few solid punches? Yes, but Howard landed more. Bahadurzada gassed early and didn't seem to have a game plan besides brawling. I know that is his favorite type of fight... but that was your plan? Can someone tell me why I picked him to win again? If Bahadurzada gets another opportunity (no guarantee considering how poorly he fared against Dong Hyun Kim), he'll need better coaching and cardio to extend his Octagon stay.

So who do we put him in there with if he gets another shot? Court McGee would surely test his endurance as no one has been able to put McGee away and he has never gassed. I have a feeling that McGee would run circles around Bahadurzada, but its always possible that Bahadurzada can catch him on the jaw or (dare I say it?) improve his cardio and steal a decision.

William Macario: I thought that Macario would pull of the win but I didn't think he would be as dominant in the match as he was. He was extremely accurate with his punches and had Bobby Voelker reeling at times. The only complaint I really have is that I would have liked to seen some combos in his punches, but perhaps that is the reason that he was so accurate throughout the fight is due to his selective style. He'll need to learn though... he won't beat the divisions elite with such a deliberate approach. Good thing he is only 22.

At his age I wouldn't give Macario a definitive step up in competition just yet. He still has a lot to learn. So how about someone who doesn't have a lot of Octagon experience? Luiz Dutra and Kiichi Kunimoto face of in early January and are making their Octagon debuts in the process. Macario should get the winner.

Bobby Voelker: I will give Voelker credit that he kept coming forward and never gave up but he was thoroughly outclassed in the striking department by a guy making his 9th professional MMA appearance... and that is supposed to be his strength! He was far too deliberate with his strikes though and Macario was able to counter everything that Voelker threw at him with ease. Best way to sum it up... not a UFC caliber showing.

I like Voelker, I really do. But I think he is better cut out for WSOF or Bellator. Not even his strengths are all that strong. He does have a tremendous heart so I hope he gets a solid shot in a name organization... I just don't think it should be the UFC. Thus, no fight suggestions from me.

Robbie Peralta: Peralta confused me more than anything with this fight. One round he shows absolutely no clue how to carry himself off of his back and the next round more than adequate defense on his back. What the hell? Was he baiting him or something? But his KO of Estevan Payan was a thing of beauty and it was something notorious hard hitter Jeremy Stephens couldn't do. Perhaps it is just a discipline or a focus thing that is holding him back as he certainly has potential. If he proves he can rectify it he could make some noise.

I still don't want to move him up the ladder much if at all since we all knew he had KO power. He just didn't seem to be fighting smart. So the winner of the Will Chope and Max Holloway fight taking place in January seems about right. Chope and Holloway are both young and lanky fighters that would likely end up testing Peralta's fight IQ.

Estevan Payan: I will never forget the buckets of blood that Payan bled in his first UFC bout against Jeremy Stephens. Unfortunately that could end up being the only thing I remember about him ultimately. He came out on the wrong end of the highlight reel on this occasion and hasn't shown a whole lot in the Octagon besides toughness. He did get Peralta on the ground but didn't keep him there long once Peralta realized he did know how to use jiu-jitsu to stand up. He landed a few nice punches but didn't land the fight ending blow. He is similar to Voelker: tough as nails but doesn't seem to have what it takes to be in the UFC.

I don't think Payan is going to stick around, but I have been wrong about these things before. I don't mind making a prediction for him though as I like the tough ones. If he does get that shot I would have him face another one of the fighters that you wonder why they are still on the roster like Josh Clopton or Jeremy Larson. Or maybe he gets the loser of Holloway and Chope. Hard to say. But personally, I'd cut him.

Feel free to share you opinion or to simply call me a dumbass... I've been called worse.

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