If there was an example of a win that opened the eyes of the MMA fans to somebody, it would be Sunday's UFC main event.
The show looked going in to be a showcase for Gunnar Nelson. Nelson came into the UFC five years ago with a lot of hype. He had an undefeated record and had made a name for himself in the jiu jitsu world championships. Nelson had proven strong enough to be a top 10 welterweight. Aside from one bad night with Rick Story, his only other loss was to Demian Maia, which is hardly a strong negative. Maia was the one welterweight on paper who was stronger in Nelson's specialty and is now the top contender for the title.
Still, Nelson was talked as being a future title contender, and has never reached that level.
Instead, the star was Santiago Ponzinibbio, who landed a straight left to the jaw that ended the night for Nelson in just 82 seconds. With five straight wins, and this being easily his biggest, it begs the question that every fast finish win over a top star brings up.
The beauty and curse of MMA is that it can be over in an instant. While saying anyone can win at any time is simplistic and wrong, predicting results with two fighters of a similar level is often a crap shoot. While some point to one win as proving that the winner was conclusively a better fighter than the loser, there are too many factors regarding luck in a game of inches.
The fastest wins impress the fans the most, and make the most lasting impressions. But often you learn less about how good a fighter really is when they win fast. Was Ponzinibbio really a killer for taking out the No. 8 contender who had never been finished, in such quick fashion? Or did Nelson just get caught with the punch that landed perfectly? If the fight went a few rounds, the only way you can really get a full gauge of skillsets, we would have a better idea of how Ponzinibbio will handle the higher level of competition that is almost surely now headed his way.
Sunday's show had a lot of positives. You had the emotion of Paul Felder scoring a major win shortly after the death of his father, and giving a classy speech that even the most rowdy of Scottish fans that wanted to hate him for beating one of their own in Stevie Ray, cheering him when it was over. You had the similar emotion for the end of the career of Neil Seery, a 37-year-old fighter who announced it was his last fight,. Seery was a mid-level fighter best known for giving the recently-retired Brad Pickett a great fight in a losing effort in his debut in UFC three years ago. But that debut was memorable enough to where his retirement was a significant story coming out of the show.
When it was over, people weren't talking officiating foul-ups, past Nelson's claim an eye poke undetected preceded his getting clipped, nor bad decisions.
It was instead just simple narratives of impressive wins by Ponzinibbio and Cynthia Cavillo in the top fights against crowd favorites, both scoring the biggest W's of their career.
Let's look at how Fortunes changed for five stars of the show.
SANTIAGO PONZINIBBIO - Ponzinibbio (25-3) won for the 15th time in the first round, when stopping Nelson (16-3-1). He came into the fight as the No. 14 contender in the welterweight division and the win could move him into the top ten.
After the fight, Ponzinibbio threw out the names of Neil Magny (19-5) and Carlos Condit (30-10), currently ranked No. 5 and No. 6 as challengers for division king Tyron Woodley. Given Condit hasn't fought in nearly a year and has talked retirement, Magny would look like a better bet, as would Colby Covington (12-1) or even Rafael dos Anjos (26-9).
But either way, such a fast and decisive win over someone in the top ten should get you a highly-ranked opponent next. Another impressive win may not get him a title shot in a deep division, but his name would at least be in the discussion.
GUNNAR NELSON - Dong Hyun Kim (22-4-1) on paper would seem to be a good fight for both fighters. But a darkhorse, like Mike Perry (10-1), would be a better business direction. A win by Perry would make him a star, and a win by Nelson would help him more than beating Kim, since it would probably be the more entertaining and impactful fight.
(Editor’s note: Perry is now fighting Thiago Alves in Pittsburgh.)
CYNTHIA CAVILLO - Cavillo, fighting for the third time since March, is now 6-0 in a pro career that dates back only 11 months. Beating Scotland's top female fighter was the biggest win over her career, and should get her into the top 10. Tecia Torres, coming off last week's win over Julian Lima, and in the No. 5 contender spot, is a fight that makes sense for both as it's a win that would help springboard both.
JOANNE CALDERWOOD - After missing weight and losing, Calderwood (11-3) looks to benefit by moving up to the new flyweight division. The division will be established on the new season of The Ultimate Fighter. The season is currently filming, and Calderwood's name value is strong enough, that she could probably walk in and battle one of the semifinal losers in the tournament, and a win there could get her a title shot in the new division.
PAUL FELDER - With two straight first-round finishes, as well as two straight performance bonuses, Felder (14-3) has a long list of potential opponents in the deep lightweight division. Michael Chiesa (14-3) is coming off a loss to Kevin Lee where the stoppage was early and he wants a rematch. But that doesn't look likely. Dustin Poirier (21-5) is coming off a no-contest with Eddie Alvarez, and a rematch there made even more sense. However, with Alvarez coaching against Justin Gaethje on Ultimate Fighter, that takes Alvarez off the playing field for the next several months and leaves Poirier needing an opponent.