I get a feeling that even though the fights were far from bad, the card didn't exactly go how the UFC had hoped. Benson Henderson and Josh Thomson fought to a split decision that realistically could have gone either way (though I had it scored for Thomson). But... seeing as how one judge inexplicably scored the fight 49-46 for Henderson, we're going to hear about how bad judges suck once again. I will admit that the fight was very close and I wouldn't exactly declare it a robbery... but the last thing MMA fans need is another decision to debate over the internet. Trolls are going to have a heyday with this.
Now that Thomson has lost we don't know who the #1 contender is at lightweight anymore. Maybe that is why Gilbert Melendez decided to skip out on the Khabib Nurmagomedov fight as it now seems like he is the most logical candidate to be named #1. Maybe TJ Grant will regain the position if he can come back from his concussion soon enough. Or is one victory enough following two losses for Nate Diaz to jump back in line. Personally, I hope not. Henderson has lost twice to Pettis and no one sees him gaining that position anytime soon. This could (and likely will) take some time to sort out.
Even though Stipe Miocic looked good and dominated Gabriel Gonzaga, it wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing performance, nor was Jeremy Stephens beating Darren Elkins. Donald Cerrone delivered the goods though, putting Adriano Martins to sleep (literally) with one of the best head kick KO's this side of Vitor Belfort seen in quite a while. With all of that said, the best fight of the night was the youngsters Alex Caceres and Sergio Pettis almost going the full 15 before Caceres emerged with a sub.
Here we go with a little more detail:
* Indicates I was right on my pick
*Benson Henderson defeated Josh Thomson via Decision
There is no better way to describe this match then a chess match. Thomson seemed to control the grappling aspect of the match catching Henderson in a number of tricky situations that Henderson was able to work his way out of. Henderson on the other hand seemed to have the upper hand in the striking and left no doubt who was better in the clinch as he did most of his damage against the fence. In the end it ended up being a close fight that could have gone either way and I really wouldn't have complained.
If Henderson wanted to be in immediate discussion for a title shot again he needed a dominant performance and he didn't deliver. He's gonna have to try again. I wouldn't be surprised to see his pound-for-pound ranking drop after this one as most people expected him to come out on fire and have little problem with Thomson. Either way, most still see him as the best lightweight not named Pettis at this point and will have to eliminate contenders for Pettis if he wants a shot at him. My favorite idea: Khabib Nurmagomedov. It seems everyone is ducking him and its hard to say how many more fights Henderson needs to win before he gets another crack at the belt. Why not match him with the dude no one wants to face? We'd find out just how good Nurmagomedov is in a hurry. Besides, who else is Henderson gonna face? Melendez again? I got my doubts. Cerrone? He's already beat him twice and no one is clamoring to see that right now. Diaz again? No interest in seeing that again. Grant? Gotta get him healthy first. About the only other guy that makes sense at this time is Rafael Dos Anjos and he has to get past Rustam Khabilov first.
Thomson put on a very gutty performance and I feel he would have definitively taken the fight had he not broken his hand in the second round. He had little problem establishing grappling control early in the fight and though he did so later in the fight, he wasn't able to hold the positions as he did earlier. He shouldn't fall far (if at all) down the lightweight rankings. He is another one that is difficult to figure out what to do with as well. Throw in the fact that he needs to heal up his hand and its probably wisest to wait and see what to do with him. That might sound like the pansy way out... but you tell me who to put him with! Melendez again? I wouldn't mind seeing that, but Melendez would likely be opposed. Diaz? Again, no interest in seeing that either. Cerrone? He wants as many fights as possible, he won't wait for Thomson to heal. Jim Miller and Gray Maynard are probably the best options. I'd say Maynard if I have to say something. But that doesn't sound too appetizing to me.
*Stipe Miocic defeated Gabriel Gonzaga via Decision
Miocic pretty much did the same thing to Gonzaga that he did to Roy Nelson. He outboxed them and wore them out until they had nothing left to offer in the end. About the only difference is he threw in a little bit of GNP at the end of this fight. He was never truly threatened and outside of an explosive finish, really couldn't have done much else to establish dominance in the match.
Miocic is an established contender at this point and may end up getting a title shot in about a year if the cards play out right for him. He seems to have learned a lot from his loss to Stefan Struve and has been steadily climbing the ladder ever since that loss. For his next match he'll want another name fighter that will help him gain more recognition. So there are two options here. Either he gets Mark Hunt, who is recovering from a broken hand after his epic bout with Bigfoot Silva, or the winner of next weeks battle between Frank Mir and Alistair Overeem. A victory over any of those men will leave no doubt he should be considered for title talk as well as boost his appeal to the fans.
Gonzaga will likely be looked at as a gatekeeper to the division at this point which shouldn't surprise anyone. He is still capable of separating the contenders from the pretenders and will likely serve in that capacity for a few more years. Throw in the fact some people still remember he did get a title shot against Randy Couture meaning he still has some name value for the UFC. If Minotauro Nogueira wants to come back a battle with Gonzaga would make a lot of sense. Brandon Vera wouldn't be a bad option either. Considering they haven't faced Gonzaga before (he's been around the division) makes it even more appealing.
*Donald Cerrone defeated Adriano Martins via KO 1st Round
Does everyone still want to question whether or not Cerrone has found his motivation once again? Don't get me wrong, as a fan you wish it would be something other than money... but how many of us haven't done something stupid for money? It definitely serves as worthy motivation. The head kick to Martins was a thing of beauty as Martins went out immediately and made KO of the Night easy to predict.
If Cerrone wants to fight 6 times this year as he has stated, I doubt he'll be moving down to featherweight as it requires some time to get a cut right when dropping in classes. I see him staying at lightweight. Also, if he wants to fight a lot, he's gonna have to move quick. There are a lot of names that I can think would be worth throwing out there. Edson Barboza would make some sense and Barboza has been campaigning to get an opponent in the top 10. If Barboza really wants that I'm sure he'll have no problem getting a match set up in a hurry... which would be what Cerrone wants.
Martins had never faced someone the caliber of Cerrone and it isn't a surprise he ended up on the losing end. He has nothing to be ashamed of as he put in a solid effort until he got caught by the kick and should be given someone that doesn't have most people asking who they are for his next fight. If Matt Wiman or Mark Bocek ever decide that they want to fight again (neither has fought in over a year), they would be solid choices to line up with Martins. Evan Dunham, also coming off a loss to Cerrone, wouldn't be a bad choice either.
*Jeremy Stephens defeated Darren Elkins via Decision
It looks like Stephens was able to fix some of the problems that plagued him at lightweight with the drop to featherweight. Elkins has a reputation as a wrestler who grinds out his opponents... something Stephens had problems with at lightweight. But was able to stuff all of Elkins shots and keep the fight standing and pick him apart with his powerful boxing. He did get caught in a guillotine at the end of the match, but had his W preserved by the clock.
That makes 3 straight wins for Stephens since he dropped down to featherweight and he could be considered a dark horse at this point. He'll enter the rankings with this victory and should be featured quite often as his headhunting style often produces violent and crowd-pleasing results. Tatsuya Kawajiri made a successful UFC debut earlier this month and needs a quick step up due to the fact he is 35 and needs to move quickly if he wants a realistic run to the title. Stephens represents a realistic step up and Kawajiri's GNP style will again test one of Stephen's supposed weaknesses.
Elkins was unable to ground Stephens and really has no other route to victory. As a result, while a solid opponent capable of victory, he'll never be a true contender. There is no shame in being a gatekeeper and it seems that will be his defined role at this point. If Hacran Dias can ever luck out enough to have a scheduled fight (he has had 2 fights in just under 2 years in the UFC), Elkins would make for a great litmus test for him.
Alex Caceres defeated Sergio Pettis via Submission 3rd Round
In one hell of a closely contested fight, Caceres was able to slip in a RNC in the waning seconds of the fight to secure a W. As close as the fight was, there was no guarantee for either fighter that they would have walked away with a victory had it gone to decision. Regardless, both fighters showed a lot of promise and indicated that they could very well be the future of the division.
Caceres had a rough first round against the youngster as he seemed to come into the match too relaxed and left some holes for Pettis to exploit. He made some adjustments and tightened up his defense after the first and turned it into the current benchmark for his career as he overcame some adversity. Caceres is 25 and still young, so there is no need to rush him in against a ranked opponent... at least not quite yet. I like the idea of him matching up with Hugo Viana who also achieved victory at the event. Both are knocking on the door for a ranked opponent, but I would say need at least one more match.
Pettis continued to show why there is so much hype around him even in a loss. Despite having a major size and reach disadvantage against Caceres, Pettis was able to find plenty of holes and (once again) showed great technique in his striking. A loss at this point in a competitive battle may be the best thing for him at this point in his career as he could learn a lot from this. I'd like to see him drop down to flyweight (again, major size disadvantage) and face someone like Darren Uyenoyama or Alptekin Ozkilic. If he insists on staying at bantamweight, Nam Phan or trying to again match him up with Vaughn Lee would be the best options.
This fight went pretty much how most expected it to. Wineland out with his hands down swinging for the big shot and Jobouin mixed in some technically solid kicks and punches before getting caught by Wineland. Wineland's standing shot didn't put Jabouin away, but he was able to mount Jabouin's back and finish him with some vicious GNP.
Wineland is largely in no mans land in many ways. He lost in his title opportunity with Renan Barao and lost to Urijah Faber 3 years ago. No matter who takes the belt at UFC 169, he might have to wait a while before he gets another title shot. His fights are usually exciting though and should pose as a top level gatekeeper if nothing else. That is why a match with TJ Dillashaw makes so much sense. Dillashaw has been making huge strides up the bantamweight ladder, but doesn't possess the type of victory that screams he is a contender. If he can get past Wineland, he'll have that victory. If not, he still has time to make his way back to contender status.
Jabouin has been a serviceable veteran for the UFC since crossing over from the WEC, but none of his victories have come against a true UFC mainstay. Every time he steps up in competition (Wineland, Brad Pickett), he comes up short. A match with Yaotzin Meza makes a lot of sense. Both are coming off of loses on this card and have beaten similar competition in the UFC. It might make for a pink slip match. Those type of stakes often produce an exciting affair.
Chico Camus defeated Yaotzin Meza via Decision
Though there were a few moments of Meza obtaining the dominant position, Camus dominated the match for the most part by maintaining top position and controlling Meza. It wasn't exactly an exciting bout, but was at the very least an interesting chess match as both showed solid grappling technique.
I admit that I have had doubts about Camus due to the low fight IQ he showed against Dustin Kimura, but he fought a smart fight this time around and it seems he simply had a brain fart with Kimura. He doesn't seem to have the skills to advance high up the ladder, but he'll be a stern test for anyone as he puts his nose to the grind every time out. Even if I don't think he'll move very far up the ladder it doesn't mean he shouldn't get an opportunity. Erik Perez is a young gun the UFC seems determined to promote and I have a hard time believing he wouldn't learn something win or lose in a match with Camus.
Meza was expected to have the advantage in the grappling game but certainly fell short in that category. He didn't completely embarrass himself though and though it isn't a sure thing that he is talented enough to stick around long term, he deserves another opportunity to do so. As mentioned earlier, Yves Jabouin would make a good test for him.
*Hugo Viana defeated Ramiro Hernandez via Decision
The first two rounds of this fight were largely the same story as Hernandez put pressure on Viana but never really threw any effective strikes whereas Viana landed a number of high impact shots including one that floored Hernandez within the first minute of the fight. Hernandez started to throw more effective strikes in the final round, but Viana played it safe and was able to stay away from any massive shots knowing he had the first two rounds in the bag.
Viana didn't really show anything we didn't know about him: powerful strikes with little technique involved. It has been effective enough for him up to this point as it did provide the most memorable moment of the fight, but he's gonna have to tighten up to continue moving up the ladder. He isn't I wouldn't say he is ready for a ranked opponent quite yet, but isn't far off. As mentioned earlier, I like matching him up with Alex Caceres who obtained a victory at the event as well.
Hernandez didn't show enough urgency in the fight until it was too late and all Viana really had to do was avoid his strikes. Considering his UFC debut didn't impress anyone, this is likely the end of the line. Could he be back? Its a possibility. But he'll need to show some killer instinct to get back to the big show cause he didn't seem to have it against Viana.
This was a damn good fight. There were big jaw-dropping shots and submission attempts that left you holding your breath whether or not they would tap. Both fighters had their moments, but in the end it was clear Cruickshank was the better man.
Cruickshank was rattled early in his previous fight with Adriano Martins and never got loose. That wasn't a problem for him this time as he landed a nice combo of leg and head kicks, including a highlight reel wheel kick to set up the end of the fight. His boxing looked much improved from his last time out as well. I like the idea of matching him up with a veteran and seeing how much he has grown from there. KJ Noons and Sam Stout are the ones that come to my mind. Both prefer to stand up so a fun standup war should be expected.
Rio has now lost 3 in a row so he is likely to receive a pink slip. He is still too one-dimensional for the UFC at this point and needs to improve his standup. He did show some progress in this area as he had his moments catching Cruickshank a few times and caught him by surprise with a heel hook attempt. But clearly it wasn't enough. I like Rio, but at 32 its doubtful he'll be able to make his way back to the Octagon.
Not a whole lot that really stood out in this fight. Both were making their UFC debuts on short notice and it showed in their conditioning as they gassed and fought a rather lethargic last round. But no debate that Sullivan deserved the win.
Sullivan is a veteran of the smaller circuit for 8 years and it is good to see him earn a UFC win after all that time. No disrespect to Sullivan, but I didn't really see anything that makes me think he'll be sticking around for an extended amount of time. He looked more comfortable in the ring than Rhodes did and put on a workman like performance you would expect from someone whose been around a while. He'll make a good measuring stick for youngsters who have recently made their debut or actually making their debut. Alexander Yakovlev, Zak Cummings or Andreas Stahl are good choices.
Rhodes didn't look like he was fully comfortable under the bright UFC lights. His technique looked solid when he did throw, but never seemed to get into a rhythm. Whether it was bad conditioning or an adrenaline dump (I'm guessing adrenaline), he slowed down as the fight progressed. I expect he'll have a better showing his next time out now that his UFC debut is out of the way. I'd say Anthony Lapsley makes the most sense to match him up with. Lapsley is another veteran of the small circuit and would make a good gauge of whether Rhodes is ready for the big show.
Nikita Krylov defeated Walt Harris viz TKO 1st Round
I did not see that coming. An early TKO finish in this fight would not have surprised me but I would have thought it the other way around. Damn. The head kick that Krylov threw at Harris was very technically sound and he showed the proper aggression in pursuing the finish via punches.
Krylov was able to avoid a pink slip and likely made some people aware of his potential. I figured that Krylov had potential... I just didn't think he'd beat Harris with strikes. In his last bout with Soa Palelei, he showed very little striking technique and gassed early leading most to believe his stint in the UFC would be short. He addressed both of those issues as his kicks were on target (as opposed to his wild swings with Palelei) and came in much trimmer (218 lbs. as opposed to 236 last time) to make sure he didn't gas. Seeing as how he addressed his issues from his last fight I'd be very excited from the UFC as he shows he is willing to put in the work to improve. He is still just 21, so no need to rush him yet. I would match him up with fellow European Daniel Omielanczuk who won his debut over Nandor Guelmino at UFC 165.
Harris will likely receive a pink slip after showing a lot of promise in his debut. This was only his 8th professional fight and he would do well to go down to a smaller promotion and gain some seasoning. I expect to see him in the UFC again someday considering the heavyweight division is shallow as hell, but I'd let him go with the promise of bringing him back if he picks up some wins for his own sake.
Record for Card: 7-4
Record for Year: 22-11
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