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UFC 206 Aftermath: Sleeper show cuts through the clutter in spectacular manner

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When Daniel Cormier had to pull out of his scheduled UFC 206 main event against Anthony Johnson with an injury, there were questions about whether the UFC would have to shift the card from pay-per-view to cable television, or maybe cancel the event altogether.

There were even calls among Canadian fans for a boycott of the Toronto show, after a string of lackluster lineups in their country.

It's not hard to understand why fans were upset. UFC 206 at the Air Canada Centre had a lineup which was thin on star power, particularly in contrast to the loaded UFC 205 and 207 events.

The show's seemingly skippable nature was further underscored by the glut of combat sports events in recent weeks. The UFC and Bellator put on three shows apiece in an eight-day span. And that's before you factor in Glory and boxing cards. No wonder the casual fans wait for Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey and let their hardcore fan friends fill them in on the rest of the details.

But then, some nights, the best cards break out when you're least expecting them. And UFC 206 was one of those nights.

The first hint of magic in the air came when Lando Vannata added his name to the Knockout of the Year contenders with a picture perfect spinning wheel kick against John Makdessi. Then Toronto's Misha Cirkunov brought the crowd to life with a first-round finish over Nikita Krylov which established him as a legit force at light heavyweight.

The crowd's enthusiasm sustained throughout the main card, which seemed to give the fighters an extra shot of adrenaline. Emil Meek and Jordan Mein threw down for a round before Meek asserted his will over their fight. Kelvin Gastelum rallied past Tim Kennedy in a face-saving battle.

Then a fight of the year contender broke out. Cub Swanson vs. Doo Ho Choi was the classic tale of the old dog proving he's still got some bite and still had a thing or two to prove to the young, up-and-coming hot shot. Fifteen minutes of sensational action, in particular a back and forth round two which will never be forgotten, had the crowd in Toronto rocking and chanting "ole, ole" in the fight's final minute.

(An aside: While I loved this fight, Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit is still my choice for fight of the year. As great as was Swanson-Choi round two, Lawler-Condit's all-time classic round was a round five.)

Then Donald Cerrone and Matt Brown went out and tried to top Swanson-Choi, and nearly succeeded. Ten minutes of down-and-dirty brawling went down before Cerrone decided enough was enough and blasted Brown with a head kick.

By the time Max Holloway made a little history of his own and became the first fight to finish Anthony Pettis, a performance which would have been the big story on most other nights, the crowd was pretty much spent.

UFC 206 was simply that good.

I'm not going to lecture you and tell you how to spend your money. If I wasn't paid to do this for a living, I, like a lot of other people, likely would have looked at the November and December schedule, decided I was watching UFC 205 and 207, and taken a pass on 206.

But you never know which shows will be the ones which stand out. And Saturday's show in Toronto was one of those nights which reminded you why you got into this wacky little sport in the first place.

UFC 206 quotes

"3 to 1 underdog is pretty ridiculous to me. I know he had a lot of hype but I took offense to that." -- Swanson, taking offense at the Choi hype train.

"I think if I'm offered a fight that interests me at 185, I don't see why I wouldn't stay here. But I think 170 is my optimal weight class." -- Gastelum, who beat Kennedy at middleweight at UFC 206 following yet another welterweight weight mishap at UFC 205.

"It's too much to make the cut. I was dying from the weight cut. They literally had to pull me out the sauna. I depleted my body. It's too much to cut." -- Pettis, afterhis loss to Holloway.

"Jose's over here he wants to retire, unretire. Then he gets the belt, now he wants to go up a weight class. Most true fans know these story lines, and most true fans thought this should be for the real belt." -- Holloway, saying he's the real champ at 145.

Stock Report

Up: Holloway What's left to be said about Holloway's rise that hasn't been commented upon already? The heir to B.J. Penn's Hawaiian MMA throne became the sixth fighter in UFC history to compile a double-digit win streak, putting him in the company of Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones, Demetrious Johnson, and Royce Gracie. He also became the first fighter ever to finish Anthony Pettis, something no one in the weight class above Holloway was ever able to do, and he did it before the championship rounds. Featherweight might not have Conor McGregor's star power any more, but nor will the action in the cage be boring as long as Holloway's around.

Down: Pettis Yeah, this one seems pretty obvious. It's hard to fault Pettis for wanting to go down to 145. He had, after all, lost three straight decisions at 155. And it seemed the right call after his featherweight debut against Charles Oliveira. But he came out of UFC 206 with a weight miss, a broken hand, and the first finish loss of his career. It's hard to see Pettis regaining his mojo of a few years ago back at 155, but if nothing else, credit him for recognizing 145 isn't going to work out sooner rather than later.

Hold: Gastelum It's easy to see both sides of the Gastelum's situation. The TUF 17 winner is a little too big for welterweight and not as big the larger middleweights. That was obvious from the jump when you simply saw him in the cage with Kennedy last night. But then you saw a Gastelum who didn't have to cut weight pick up steam as Kennedy faded, then absolutely pick apart and finish one of the toughest fighters in the game. Still, it's hard to see Gastelum due the same to, say, Luke Rockhold or Yoel Romero. And yet, on the other hand, his weight cut issues at 170 have thrown a monkey wrench into one too many shows. There's really no easy answer here.

Down: Kennedy Was Saturday night's performance against Gastelum a mere matter of ring rust? He hadn't fought since 2014, after all. Was all the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association talk a distraction? Is juggling a television series and a fight career too much for one person to juggle? Is it all of the above? Fighting's a difficult enough business without all manner of outside distractions, even for someone as legendarily disciplined and hardnosed as Kennedy. No one would begrudge Kennedy if he walked away, but nor can he afford too many nights like he had at UFC 206.

Up: Vannata Last night confirmed that our eyes weren't deceiving us back when Vannata went toe-to-toe with Tony Ferguson on short notice over the summer. Vannata wasted little time against one of the most patient and methodical performers in the lightweight division in John Makdessi before using a picture-perfect spinning back kick to knock Makdessi out. While I wouldn't rush Vannata back into the cage with another contender the caliber of Ferguson -- who exposed the holes Vannata still needs to work on -- nor should he be babied in his matchmaking. Vannata's legit.

Interesting stuff

It was one of those nights in which everything went well on the officiating and judging front. There were six unanimous decisions, none of which were remotely controversial. And there were six finishes, all of which were finished on point.

So we'll turn our attention instead to the MMAAA, or the lack of mention thereof, even with two reps from the would-be association competing on the card. Kennedy, in fairness, wasn't in position to talk about the group after his loss to Gastelum. But his Thursday interviews hardly sounded a ringing endorsement. And Cerrone had the opportunity both in his postfight interview and at the press conference to make a pitch for MMAAA. He didn't in the former. In the latter, when asked, he never mentioned the group by name, and even went so far as to compare his talks with Dana White on the subject to a father being disappointed in his son. That's far from the momentum builder Bjorn Rebney's group needed out of the gate.

Fight I'd like to see next: Jose Aldo vs. Max Holloway

There's no getting around the fact that Conor McGregor beat both fighters whom the UFC currently recognizes as having claims on the 145-pound belt. That's never going to change. So the sooner Aldo and Holloway meet and get one of these titles out of the picture, the better. And it certainly helps that, on paper, Aldo vs. Holloway has the makings of one absolutely spectacular matchup. In an ideal world, someone wins this fight in impressive fashion, then has to the good sense to chase McGregor up to 155 put a rest to the dismissive chatter once and for all.