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UFC 185 Aftermath: On Rafael dos Anjos and MMA's unpredictability

Esther Lin

It was as if Rafael dos Anjos hadn't really won eight of his past nine fights heading into his UFC 185 showdown with Anthony Pettis.

As if knocking out Ben Henderson, something which never happened before or since during the former UFC and WEC champ's 27-fight career, somehow didn't count.

As if dos Anjos' one-sided destruction of Nate Diaz was entirely on Diaz and had nothing to do with the guy in the other corner.

Somehow, all the warning signs that dos Anjos was a capable, credible contender for Pettis' lightweight throne went ignored in the buildup to Saturday night's Dallas duel.

Pettis himself fueled the fire last week, as he seemed more concerned with his legacy and cementing his status as one of the sport's all-time great champions, which was pretty bold talk for someone who had one title defense in the year and a half since he won the title.

Do we ever learn? It was less than 10 months ago that T.J. Dillashaw got the same treatment dos Anjos received leading into his magnificent victory over Pettis last night. Dillashaw was derided as someone who didn't deserve to be there, a mere placeholder to keep bantamweight champion Renan Barao busy while the real money fights awaited down the road. Barao was indestructible, perhaps the best fighter in the world. Dillashaw was an afterthought.

We saw what happened last May. We saw what happened last night. It will no doubt happen again, when the Twitter know-it-alls will declare someone unworthy, and then the "unworthy" challenger will go out and kick the bejeezus out of the champion. It's been happening since Maurice Smith beat Mark Coleman and won't end any time soon.

Sometimes, the lessons learned from a big, main-event fight are layered and nuanced. Sometimes they're blatant and obvious. Last night was the latter: More than two decades after this sport started, it can still be every bit as unpredictable as it was when this experiment on finding out which style of fighting was supreme was launched. So maybe we should start giving the Rafael dos Anjoses of the world more of a chance.

UFC 185 quotes

"Man, [dos Anjos] caught me with the left hand, the first punch he threw, I couldn't see out of my right eye the whole time." -- Pettis, to Joe Rogan in his postfight interview.

"I was working so hard on my wrestling, but no one believed in me. I'm not a striker anymore. I'm a complete mixed martial artist." -- New UFC strawweight champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

"I'm not done yet. I'm 34 years old and I'm coming for that belt. Cain or Werdum, I'm coming for you bros." -- Alistair Overeem, after his win over Roy Nelson.

"Just my luck. Guy who wins the title is hurt." -- UFC president Dana White, on news dos Anjos fought with a knee injury.

"When somebody realizes what they did and apologizes, it's all good." -- White, on Ryan Benoit's postfight kick to Sergio Petts' posterior.

Stock report

First off, let me acknowledge UFC 185 was a night full of consequential performances up and down the card. It was also the first time two new, non-interim champions were crowned in one night since UFC 64, when Anderson Silva defeated Rich Franklin for the middleweight title and Sean Sherk decisioned Kenny Florian for the vacant lightweight belt. If I acknowledged everyone whose career is going either up or down after last night, this piece would be about 4,000 words. So with that in mind, here's five:

Up: Jędrzejczyk. Sure, you still might not be able to pronounce the new strawweight champ's last name, but you're not going to forget her performance at UFC 185 any time soon. Wrestling is Carla Esparza's bread and butter, but the Polish pistol completely shut down her opponent's grappling game. With Jedrzejczyk's confidence established, the fight turned into something resembling a snuff film, as she stalked Esparza and absolutely picked her apart until the slaughter was mercifully stopped. While it's tempting to proclaim the dawn of a long new era after such a performance (cough cough Machida Era cough cough), it was just three months ago that JJ and Claudia Gadelha went the distance in a down-and-dirty brawl, which Jedrzerczyk won on a split decision. You wouldn't have to twist my arm too hard to get me to agree to watch a rematch between the two.

Down: Pettis. Let's state something that seems obvious in hindsight, but something a whole lot of people believed going into Pettis' title loss: The notion Pettis might have a case for No. 1 pound-for-pound was premature at best. Is he among the world's elite? Sure. His skill set is among the most well-rounded in the sport and he's capable of highlight clips as exciting as anyone this side of a prime Silva. But last night wasn't the first time we've seen Pettis come out flat. We saw it against Clay Guida a couple years back. Jon Jones doesn't have those sort of nights. Georges St-Pierre got tagged once, adjusted, and never looked back. Even Silva, on his worst night of his prime years, still found a way to submit Chael Sonnen. That's the difference between the true pound-for-pound kingpins and the guys who are simply knocking on the door.

Up: Henry Cejudo. The 2008 Olympic wrestling gold medalist asked for one more chance at 125. He got it and made the most of his opportunity. Cejudo dominated veteran Chris Cariaso, showing off just enough of his wrestling to demonstrate you don't want to try him in that area, while also displaying a surprisingly advanced standup game. Cejudo still has to demonstrate he can consistently hit 125, but he showed what he can do when he hits the mark. Let's hope the UFC doesn't rush him into a title fight with Demetrious Johnson due to a simple lack of marketable contenders, because Cejudo could develop into something special if he's given the space to grow.

Down: Matt Brown. It's not like Brown is finished by any stretch of the imagination. There are still a bunch of interesting matches left to make for the Immortal one. But Brown's performances against Robbie Lawler and now Johny Hendricks show that a real run at the UFC welterweight championship likely isn't in the cards. He's plenty tough, but he just doesn't quite have the tools to topple the best of the best. Still, Brown's seven-fight joyride leading up to his last two losses was pure fun, and there's no shame in Brown becoming the welterweight version of Joe Lauzon: The guy who might win some, might lose some, but will always be an entertaining name on the card.

Up: Joseph Duffy. First off, I have to chuckle at those who are getting annoyed at the references to Duffy as "the last man to defeat Conor McGregor." Guess what? The fact Duffy beat McGregor is the only reason why about 98 percent of the fans tuned in to see Duffy's UFC debut with Jake Lindsey. Otherwise, this would have just been yet another assembly-line Fight Pass bout which barely registers a blip. Now, that said, Duffy, who also beat Norman Parke back in the day, did a hell of a job when given his UFC opportunity. His boxing was crisp, his hand speed fluid, and following a sneaky head kick with a combo of body shots was sublime. Duffy earned a chance to meet higher competition and if he keeps improving, he'll outgrow his tag of "the man who beat Conor" in due time.

Interesting calls

Fight nights in Texas tend to be Wild West adventures, at least from an officiating standpoint. Texas' commission is notoriously lax (they're the ones who licensed Antonio Margarito when he was still banned in the rest of the country after being caught with illegal hand wraps against Miguel Cotto). We're seen more than our fair share of terrible decisions, competitors take needless beatings, quack cageside doctors clearing hurt fighters to keep fighting, and so on, when MMA's traveling road shows hit up the Lone Star state.

So it's actually noteworthy when a Texas fight card goes through without those in charge of oversight making spectacles of themselves. The only real item of note was when referee Kerry Hatley let Brown get away with some of the most egregious fence-grabbing you'll ever see in his loss to Hendricks. Hatley issued warnings like a WWE referee telling a wrestler to stop hair pulling, with roughly the same gravitas. But that's an issue that transcends the state in which the fight is being held.

Fight I'd like to see next: Junior dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem

Remember when Overeem was supposed to meet dos Santos for the UFC heavyweight title? Yeah, a little prefight drug test got in the way of that one. Anyway, three years later, the timing might be right for the two to finally meet. Dos Santos has continued to a.) absorb shocking amounts of punishment and b.) defeat everyone at heavyweight not named Cain Velasquez. Overeem, after his stunning back-to-back knockout losses in 2013, has managed to revive his career and make himself relevant again. And the two don't like each other. This is not only a consequential divisional matchup, but one that could headline in North America, Brazil, or Europe. The fight almost makes too much sense.

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