There are ways to get ahead, and ways to bury yourself. Matt Riddle did a little bit of both last week. Let's recap. Riddle did an interview with Bloody Elbow in which he voiced disappointment with not drawing Dan Hardy. That's fine, but he went a step further. Because he was angry he was unlikely to draw Hardy in the immediate future, he was going to take out his disappointment in his UFC on FUEL 7 fight with Che Mills. But not in the way that you might think.
"I really don't care," he said. "I'm just gonna go out there and get my win. Maybe I'll just go out there and hug Che for 15 minutes, give the UFC what they want, I guess. If they want me to get disrespected, I may as well disrespect the fight game [Editor's note: emphasis mine] and take down Che Mills and hug him. I can. I'm really good at hugging people. I think I might go out there and hold Che Mills down for 15 minutes and not even punch him. My cardio is good enough to where I can take him down about four times a round. Even if they stand me up after 20 seconds, I'll take him down again. Whatever.
So what happened? Riddle went out and attempted 14 takedowns, completing five. And how many significant strikes did he land from constantly having top position? Twenty-three. Mills, fighting from the bottom, had 28 significant strikes in the three-rounder. To be fair, Riddle did land an overall total of 126 strikes, but judging from the FightMetric stats, most of them weren't too impactful. Couple that in with his pre-fight statements and people are much more likely to perceive his win as lackluster.
To be clear, I'm not criticizing his game plan. Every fighter should do what he or she is good at. Riddle certainly did the right thing by capitalizing on Mills's takedown defense deficiencies. But MMA is the excitement business, and UFC brass is keenly aware of that. Riddle's decision to tell the world he was going to be boring, and that he might be disrespecting the sport certainly colored the lens with which many viewed his performance. In the end, it's still a win, and while that's the most important thing, his attitude and execution will not convince the promotion that Riddle is quite ready for prime time.
On to the predictions ...
The next few weeks will decide whether Barao finally gets to matchup with Dominick Cruz or attempt to defend the interim title for a second time. Barao's performance against McDonald was measured. In an attempt to stay away from the powerful right hand, Barao took the fight to the mat four times and kept things at distance while standing. Cruz and his frenetic style will be a whole different challenge. I think that as long as Cruz's return won't take more than 7-8 months, it's the fight.
Prediction: Barao vs. Cruz sometime around September.
The 22-year-old will definitely go home with things to work on after landing just 30 percent of his strikes. Barao approached him in a new and different way, and it's something he might see replicated against him in the future. The silver lining is that he got some big-fight experience at a young age, and can incorporate the new level of understanding that comes with it along with his increasing skill-set. Don't be surprised to see McDonald back in a title fight within the next 2-3 years.
Prediction: He faces Yuri Alcantara
With every win, Swanson's one-sided loss to Jose Aldo moves further from relevance when discussing his title hopes. Though his knockout streak ended, his win over Poirier was perhaps his most impressive when taking into account opponent quality and style matchup. Since Aldo vs. Anthony Pettis won't take place until August, there will be at least one or two more fights for Swanson to get a chance at gold.
Prediction: He faces his original UFC on FUEL 7 opponent, Dennis Siver
It was always going to be an uphill battle for Poirier to beat Swanson on just four weeks of notice, but he did reasonably well, struggling most in the takedown department. His inability to get the fight to the mat didn't cost him the fight though. Swanson was just better on this particular night. Poirier still boasts many valuable tools, not the least of which is his unrelenting tenacity. That will drive him to improve and return impressively.
Prediction: He fights Diego Nunes
After flashing glimpses of power in the first round, Manuwa was effectively robbed of the opportunity to finish in the style to which he's accustomed when Cyrille Diabate couldn't continue due to a calf injury. Manuwa's explosive striking style is something to behold, and could quickly vault him up the rankings if he doesn't show any glaring holes in his grappling game. For now though, expect to see UFC keep him on a similar path of fighting strikers.
Prediction: He faces another Saturday night winner, James Te Huna
Nelson has anti-star star quality given the eerily calm trance that seems to overtake him from the moment he walks into the arena. There will always be great excitement surrounding the fighters that show enthusiasm for their jobs, but there's something to be said for the Nelson/Rory MacDonald/Gegard Mousasi types, who look they can beat their opponents into a oblivion without their pulse rising past 60 beats per minute. Stoicism during danger is an endearing quality.
Prediction: He continues the steady path and fights T.J. Waldburger
James Te Huna
Te Huna nearly got squashed in the opening round, taking a drubbing from Jimmo before completely reversing the momentum and inflicting payback on the Canadian for the final 10 minutes of the fight. It was a performance long on heart, one that likely won him a few new fans aboard the bandwagon.
Prediction: The aforementioned Te Huna vs. Manuwa fight