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Signal to Noise: UFC 183's best and worst

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC 183: Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz offered fans a lot to like. There was an insane main event, thrilling comebacks, surprisingly competitive bouts and more. There was also a lot to dislike. The main event might've been a little too insane, analysis on both sides of the Anderson Silva debate are totally off the mark and more.

It's time to separate the winners from the losers, the best from the worst and the signal from the noise.


Best (and Worst) Charles 'Krazy Horse' Bennett Impression: Nick Diaz

Diaz did his best Krazy Horse impression on Saturday not so much with his taunts, but certainly by laying against the fence or on the ground. One typically doesn't see that at all in higher level MMA and while Bennett is gone from the picture, there were shades of it in Diaz's performance.

There's a difference between Diaz and Bennett, though. Bennett acted feral because he was. He also wanted to entertain the crowds with insanity. Diaz did, too, but his antics were also tactical. He was trying to get a reaction from Silva. There was a fight-related purpose to it all, something Bennett never cared much about.

Diaz is also as skilled as they come, but is trending in a dangerous direction. He's lost three straight. Those three all happen to be highly skilled. Two of them are in the running for best ever. There's no shame in losing to them.

But he doesn't seem to keen on fighting the others. He wants to circumvent the process. I take no issue with that approach, but its buoyed by sympathetic fan sentiment. With this many losses, some of that is being eroded.

Diaz is not the new Bennett. He's too good for that comparison to work. But unless he starts fighting competitors who aren't the best to ever do it, the only thing we can take away from his bout on Saturday was the moment he let a little Krazy Horse show. He's too good to be remembered that way.

Most Needlessly in Title Hunt: Anderson Silva

There was a fair amount of 'He's shot' opinions passed around on social media on Saturday after the UFC 183 main event (on my timeline, anyway). I don't buy it. Yes, there's a noticeable measure of physical decline. Silva is not his 21-year-old self. But he's not 'shot' in the traditional way classify fighters. He still had fluid movement, decent reflexes and wide-range of attacks.

What he clearly lacked was effortless decision making. He didn't just struggle to pull the trigger at times, but to piece together continuous offense. Some credit should go to Diaz. Some blame can be laid at the feet of ring rust. The rest is probably an admixture of that and the inevitable physical issues of performance decline and injury.

Silva can and deserves to fight elite mixed martial artists, but not the very best. That's especially true at middleweight these days. If we've already seen decline, that means more is on the way. The two Chris Weidman bouts didn't give fans the kind of clean satisfaction they were craving, but that hardly matters now. The gap between them is only growing, not shrinking.

Silva needs to be in fights with credible talents. He is still one himself. But there's space today between where he is and the very top. It's far more prudent to give him a tough task, but one that's manageable. After all, what are we trying to prove? That he doesn't age or decline? Of course he does. They all do. We've already seen some. What he needs is to avoid those who say he's as elite as he ever was or totally shot. He's neither, but he's headed in one direction.

Best Photo of the Night: The Bludgeoning of Joe Lauzon

Lauzon's face looks photoshopped here. This left hook from Al Iaquinta, and whatever other strike came before it, have disfigured the Boston native, at least for a moment in time. This picture also accurately tells the story of the fight, something that's often difficult to do in MMA photography. All of Esther Lin's UFC 183 photographs can be seen here.

Skill for Days Award: Thales Leites

The truth is in jiu-jitsu, you're always instructed to learn the same techniques from both sides. Your guillotine, in theory, should be as good with your left arm as with your right. You should be able to sweep people with De La Riva guard with either the left or right foot circling behind the knee.

The problem is it never works that way. Yes, some people have better technical dexterity than others, but everyone has preferences. People like to pass to a certain side or take the back with a particular sequence of attacks. It's in our nature to follow our preferences.

That's partly what made Thales Leites' submission of Tim Boetsch so great. He attempted a head and arm triangle that didn't work and partially lost position. So what did he do? Recapture position and try it on the other side, which put Boetsch to sleep.

Sure, this all shows the kind of technical proficiency BJJ teachers stress even to white belts, but it also underscores courage in one's technique, something a lot of people don't have with jiu-jitsu these days in high-level MMA. And hey, pushing off the cage to help the smothering portion of the choke was just pure ingenuity.

We all knew Leites had great jiu-jitsu, but we often never define what that actually means absent wins on the IBJJF circuit. Now we have a great example: total understanding of the mechanics of the choke, faith in one's technique, patience, cleverness and lethality. That, ladies and gentleman, is what good jiu-jitsu looks like.

Worst Way to Tackle a Weight Management Problem: UFC, in terms of Kelvin Gastelum and John Lineker

Had the UFC decided to cut Gastelum or Lineker following their UFC 183 bouts, those fighters would and should feel free to compete at weights in organizations where they feel most comfortable, e.g. Anthony Johnson. However, that's not where we find ourselves. UFC is still in the Gastelum and Lineker business. The problem with mandating that they both jump up weight classes is that if you're going to remain in business with them, you should do so at weight classes that make sense. Middleweight and bantamweight, respectively, are not those divisions.

I'm not saying the UFC isn't justifiably angry or that solutions are obvious. I'm simply arguing pushing fighters up in weight as punishment helps no one since everyone's interests are collectively aligned. Both fighters, it appears, can reliably make the weight with proper assistance. Perhaps they can be induced to hire that help with the assistance of the UFC or, if not, take the option of moving up a division. But simply mandating it is a lesser form of cutting off one's nose to spit one's face.

Least Appreciated Win: Miesha Tate defeats Sara McMann

To win in the UFC after having your face broken is difficult enough. To do so against an Olympic silver medalist by out grappling her is just sensational. Miesha Tate's mat fundamentals are deeply underrated because she's largely used them in situations where they don't necessarily work best. Despite her wrestling pedigree, her shot is not explosive. She also doesn't scramble with a lot of intensity. That's why she's always had a hard time with Ronda Rousey, who is an explosive, transition grappler. What Tate does have, though, is the slow ability to take your game away. When she's not taking unnecessary risks, she can put in and keep opponents in bad positions where she slowly advances on them either with better positioning, submissions or both. Tate's underhooking, balance, cross-face pressure and more helped her keep a fighter with absurd base flat on her back as she attacked with strikes and near submissions.

The truth is McMann hasn't acclimated to MMA in a way many would have hoped, but it's equally true that there's a skill differential in Tate's favor on the floor between her and much of the rest of the bantamweight division.

Most MMA Month in History: January, 2015

I can't think of another month that encapsulated so much about what makes MMA great, quirky, bothersome and unnerving. There wasn't any Japanese MMA irreverence, but Nick Diaz certainly did his best to fill in the gaps.

There were grudge matches (Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier), number-one contender bouts (Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Johnson), questionable stoppages (Dan Henderson vs. Gegard Mousasi), poor judging (Cathal Pendred vs. Sean Spencer), contender coronation (Conor McGregor vs. Dennis Siver), fights on all major platforms (UFC on FOX, UFC on pay-per-view, UFC on FOX Sports 1, Bellator on Spike TV, WSOF on NBC Sports), fighters succeeding through weight class chane (Lorenz Larkin), fighters missing weight (Kelvin Gastelum, John Lineker), gruesome injuries (Ron Stallings), sensational UFC debuts (Makwan Amirkhani), epic win streaks (Donald Cerrone), huge overseas crowds (UFC on FOX 14), disaster MMA (Nikita Krylov, Konstantin Erokhin, Anthony Christodoulou), the ascension to the conversation or status of all-time greatness (Jon Jones) and myriad other commonalities that make this sport so bizarrely wonderful.

Maybe it was the best month in MMA history. Even if not, though, it was at least the month that gave us the many reminders of what MMA is, from that which we loathe to that which captivates us through amazement. Pity to those who weren't along for the ride.

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