No disrespect intended to Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, a superlative mixed martial artist who has conducted himself properly and done everything asked of him.
But Luke Rockhold simply has a better case at the next UFC middleweight title shot after the Chris Weidman-Vitor Belfort fight on May 23.
Sure, part of this has to do with the appeal of projecting forward to the tantalizing potential of a matchup between Weidman and Rockhold at Madison Square Garden. The cocky Californian vs. the undefeated hometown boy as the headliner to the UFC's Big Apple debut seems almost too good to be true.
But, even acknowledging the hurdles which still remain before that fight could be made -- Weidman beating Belfort; New York State legalizing MMA -- in the here and now, Rockhold, after steamrolling Lyoto Machida last night in the main event of UFC on FOX 15, has a better resume than Souza for the next 185-pound title shot, whomever the champion may be after May 23.
For one thing, Rockhold beat Souza for the Strikeforce middleweight title back in Dec. 2011. Of course, enough time has since passed that this can't be the only, or even primary, criteria.
But a look at their level of competition since is instructive.
No one has made Machida look anywhere near as bad as Rockhold did last night. Not Weidman. Not Jon Jones. Not even his light heavyweight title loss to Mauricio Rua, which was competitive until the finish.
'Jacare' simply doesn't have the same caliber scalp on his resume. While Souza's victories have been impressive, his 5-0 UFC record includes two fighters no longer with the company (Yushin Okami, Francis Carmont) and two wins over Chris Camozzi. And while it's not Souza's fault he found himself looking at a Camozzi rematch last night, sometimes those are just the breaks.
Credit to UFC president Dana White for not coming right out and giving the title shot to Rockhold last night at the post-fight press conference. For one thing, it was polite to Jacare, who had stepped up and accepted the Camozzi fight when Yoel Romero dropped out, understanding that it was pretty much a no-win situation. For another White also knows that anything can happen between now and the time Weidman and Belfort square off next month, much less afterwards, so having two viable contenders who could potentially step in is a luxury.
But after such a dominant performance against Machida, Rockhold is simply the better option.
"I said it before, and I'll say it again, this is my show," Rockhold said. "I was going to dominate whether he was fighting me well or not. No offense to ‘Jacare,' but I am the No. 1 contender. I'm the best guy around, and it's my title shot."
He's not wrong.
UFC on FOX 15 quotes
"Some people have to get in that mindset like you have to hate your opponent. I don't have to do that. It's like my birthday every time I walk out to the cage. This is what I love to do." -- Paige VanZant, on the vitriol Felice Herrig sent her way before their fight.
"It's almost like the Conor McGregor thing. The guy bursts out of nowhere, explodes onto the scene and backs it up. And Paige VanZant did tonight, too." -- White, perhaps overstating things a bit on VanZant
"I believe 100 percent its my time. I am the number one contender." -- ‘Jacare' disagrees that Rockhold should get the next middleweight title shot.
"It's a great problem to have." -- White, not wanting to commit on whether Rockhold or Jacare should be next for the Weidman-Belfort winner.
Up: Paige VanZant. UFC on FOX 15 was an evening full of consequential performances by young up-and-comers over respected vets, exactly the sort of show the UFC wants to showcase for free on network television. But no one came out better than VanZant. The UFC and FOX were both criticized for putting VanZant vs. Herrig on Saturday night's main card, for reasons that aren't too tough to figure out. VanZant in particular got heaps of hate for he belief she was being handed things she didn't deserve.
Well, there's no better way to silence your doubters than with your performance. That's exactly what VanZant did, as she went out and battered her more experienced foe. VanZant's obviously not yet polished, but she showed Team Alpha Male's signature relentlessness with her attack in ringing up a 10-8 third round. It would be smart for the UFC to refrain from rushing VanZant into a title shot, because if she's allowed to develop as a fighter, she can become the UFC's second money player on the women's side of the sport.
Up: Max Holloway. With each successive victory in Holloway's current six-fight win streak, you had the sneaking suspicion the young Hawaiian was developing into a legit contender. You just didn't have a real measuring stick to judge just how far he's come.
But you can say that no longer after the manner in which Holloway dispensed of Cub Swanson on Saturday night. Holloway took on Swanson at the latter's favorite part of the game, kickboxing, and got the best of him there. Then he turned it into a third-round clinic on how to wear down a fading opponent and go in for the kill. Holloway served notice to the featherweight division that the guy who once lost back-to-back fights to Dennis Bermudez and McGregor is dead and buried.
Down: Lyoto Machida. Is Rockhold that good, or was Saturday the night that happens to every standout fighter's career, the one in which they suddenly look old? It could be a little bit of both. But it's also hard to see how Machida rebounds as a real title contender after this. He had his run at light heavyweight. He revitalized himself at middleweight. But the reality in both divisions is that, since losing the light heavyweight title to Rua, Machida has beaten the guys he's supposed to beat, but come up just a hair short against the best of the best, and considerably worse last night. Those trends don't often change for 36-year-olds. Perhaps a venture into "fun fight" territory is best for "The Dragon" going forward.
Up: Beneil Dariush. There's no better way to establish your credentials in any aspect of your MMA game then to take out a master of the same skill, which is exactly what Dariush did by outgrappling submission ace Jim Miller on Saturday. Dariush fended off Miller's strong first round and then turned up the pressure over the final 10 minutes, winning the transitional battles and landing several submission attempts. While it's a credit to the cagey Miller that he didn't tap, Dariush's proficiency on the ground should serve as a message to the rest of the lightweight division.
Up: Aljamain Sterling: The latest prospect out of the Serra-Longo pipeline passed his biggest test with flying colors. Sterling took a big step up in competition against respected veteran Takeya Mizugaki on Saturday night. Not only did he show veteran poise in sticking with his game plan when Mizugaki initially fended off his takedowns, but his arm-triangle finish from the bottom was high-level stuff. It should only be ranked bantamweights from here on in for the unbeaten Long Islander.
Nothing from a judging and officiating perspective happened Saturday that will have the columnists and talk shows demanding major changes in the system this week, but nor were things flawless. You have to question whether Machida should have been allowed to come out for the second round against Rockhold, given that he was clearly on wobbly legs even after the break. And Corey Anderson appeared to eat a couple too many shots after he was out on his feet after Gian Villante clocked him with that brutal right to the temple. On the plus side, the right call was made when Jimy Hettes wasn't allowed to go back out and take more damage to his injured ear against Diego Brandao, so you have to take your wins with your losses in this regard.
Fight I'd like to see next besides Weidman vs. Rockhold
The UFC has to be careful on how to book VanZant next. She'd likely get smoked by strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. She's not ready for the division's upper reaches yet. At the same time, she destroyed the fighter ranked No. 8 in the official UFC rankings in Herrig. The division is new, and still sorting itself out, but a fight against a ranked and similarly experienced fighter, such as Rose Namajunas or a rematch with Tecia Torres, seems a sensible step to take in the building of the fighter who has all the tools to become the next big thing in women's MMA.