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Making the Grade: UFC 247: Jones vs. Reyes

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Jon Jones hardly looks human when he fights, but for the better part of 15 minutes, Dominick Reyes made the seemingly invincible light heavyweight champion appear mortal.

Reyes and his team put together what they believed would be the perfect game plan to pick Jones apart and shock the world by earning the first legitimate win against him. There were several moments throughout the fight that had many believing the UFC was about to crown a new champion.

Then Reyes’ conditioning started to work against him while Jones was just as fresh in the fourth round as he was in the first. Jones wasn’t doing a ton of damage but walking Reyes down repeatedly, going for takedowns and pressing action did enough to sway the judges in his favor.

Jones is an incredibly skilled fighter but he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his smarts. Knowing that he was likely down at least two rounds if not three, Jones hit the afterburners in the latter part of the fight to see if Reyes was truly ready for 25 minutes.

It turns out, Reyes was happy to gut it out while still swinging for the fences but he also allowed Jones to dictate the pace, which always seems to be the kryptonite for his opponents.

In the end, Jones held onto his title in a close decision while winning his 14th consecutive title fight. He definitely had some struggles against Reyes and that’s after he went to a split decision with Thiago Santos last year. Jones has been so far ahead of the crowd for such a long time that when he doesn’t win by a mile, it feels like something must be wrong or perhaps he’s finally started to slow down now that he’s in his 30s.

Instead, it’s entirely possible that the best light heavyweights in the world are finally beginning to catch up to him, but ultimately Jones is still the best and it’s going to take a truly special performance to beat him.

With that said, let’s get to our passes and fails from Saturday night — this is Making the Grade for UFC 247 Making the Grade: UFC 247: Jones vs. Reyes.


The Devastator

Dominick Reyes walked into UFC 247 as a 5-to-1 underdog. He walked out with a whole lot of people telling him he should be light heavyweight champion right now.

Yes, Reyes lost a decision to arguably the greatest fighter in mixed martial arts history, but he also won in so many ways beyond the defeat that now goes on his record.

The 30-year-old former football standout showed real confidence heading into the fight with Jones but plenty of his past opponents have displayed that same kind of bluster before losing to the longest reigning 205-pound champion in UFC history. The difference with Reyes is that he truly believed he could dethrone Jones and for a big portion of that fight, it looked like he’d be leaving with a gold belt around his waist.

Reyes came forward with relentless pressure in the first two rounds, coming with heavy punches and never allowing Jones to settle into a rhythm. For all the amazing things that Jones does when he competes, the ability to force his opponents to fight at his cadence might be the most impressive part of his game.

Reyes never allowed him to get comfortable during the early part of that fight and he had Jones backing up, circling away and trying to settle himself back down. That’s usually the role his opponents play.

As time ticked away, Reyes’ aggression started to slow and he spent the second half of the fight retreating from Jones’ forward pressure, which is likely what cost him the fight. But even in those final two rounds, Jones never did any real damage, and Reyes was still firing back at him, albeit with lower volume than the early part of the fight.

Reyes got his first taste of a championship fight on Saturday night and what comes next for him will be the most intriguing part of his career to date. Jones has run roughshod over anybody who has worked their way back to a rematch with him. Can Reyes become the first fighter to make the necessary adjustments to not only get back to Jones again but actually beat him this time?

Only time will tell but what we saw out of Reyes at UFC 247 should answer any questions about the level of competition left in the light heavyweight division available to challenge Jones. Reyes may not be champion but he gained everybody’s respect — most importantly the guy standing across the Octagon from him who is probably clutching his title belt a little tighter right now after nearly losing it on Saturday night.

Shot Through the Heart

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

There have been plenty of dominant champions throughout the UFC’s history but Valentina Shevchenko is quickly rocketing towards the top of that list following her latest win over Katlyn Chookagian.

Shevchenko decimated Chookagian on the feet with crisp, effective striking combinations as she sought to chop down the taller, longer fighter. When she decided to then take the fight to the floor, Shevchenko sliced Chookagian up with elbows and then battered her with punches until the referee finally had to say enough was enough.

Now you can say that Shevchenko is just a vastly superior fighter and perhaps Chookagian wasn’t the greatest contender — and both those statements might be true — but it doesn’t take away from the flyweight champion’s performance.

Say what you will about Chookagian’s credentials but she had never been beat up like that before in any of her past fights and she’s faced solid competition. She holds wins over Alexis Davis, Joanne Calderwood and Irene Aldana, who might be close to a title shot of her own in the bantamweight division. Even in her losses, Chookagian didn’t get blown out of the water. In fact, had lost twice previously and both were split decisions.

But facing down a human buzz saw like Shevchenko, it was almost like Chookagian had no chance of winning that fight.

The scariest part about Shevchenko is that she only seems to be getting better with each passing fight. She was primarily a striker when she first arrived in the UFC after spending so much of her career competing in kickboxing and Muay Thai.

Now Shevchenko is just as frightening on the ground as she is on the feet. There’s no glaring weakness in her game and it’s going to take a lot of effort for any of the current flyweights to win a round against her much less find a way to actually take her title.

When Demetrious Johnson was tearing through every contender the men’s flyweight division could throw at him, the UFC had to start getting creative just to find him new opponents. He eventually faced off with Henry Cejudo after 11 consecutive title defenses and lost a very close decision before leaving the UFC.

Shevchenko is only three defenses into her title reign but right now there doesn’t appear to be a Cejudo-like fighter lurking in the shadows of the women’s flyweight division. In other words, don’t expect Shevchenko to surrender that belt any time soon and for now we’re probably just going to learn to appreciate her continued brilliance as she steam rolls the competition at 125 pounds.

The James Krause

In reality, no fighter should ever feel forced to take a short-notice fight and they certainly shouldn’t face criticism when they decline. On the flipside, it’s completely OK to celebrate an athlete willing to step up when an opportunity presents itself, which is why James Krause deserves a standing ovation for what he did on Saturday night.

He showed up to Houston as a coach but after hearing that Antonio Arroyo was out of his fight with Trevin Giles, Krause raised his hand and told the UFC he’d take it.

Let’s not forget, Krause is a welterweight and while he’s a ferocious gym rat, constantly spending hours at his gym in Missouri, he wasn’t training for a fight much less taking on somebody at 185 pounds. Still, Krause jumped at the chance and he nearly pulled off the win after three hard rounds.

Thankfully, Krause was awarded with the “Fight of the Night” bonus and even UFC president Dana White said after the event that he was probably going to cut him another check to say thank you.

Krause didn’t have much to gain by taking the fight outside of a paycheck but there are probably a slew of people who watched UFC 247, who will now become his fans after witnessing what he did on just 24 hours’ notice.


House of Cards

When Valentina Shevchenko finished dismantling Katlyn Chookagian on Saturday night, the natural question about what comes next was brought up to her. It took a backstage interview and a look at the current UFC rankings just to see who might be in line behind Chookagian when trying to determine the next contender in the flyweight division.

Of course, the fighters at 125 pounds haven’t helped themselves much lately with the four fighters directly behind Chookagian — Jessica Eye, Jennifer Maia, Joanne Calderwood and Roxanne Modafferi — all sitting on a one-fight win streak with Maia currently coming off a loss. There was some hope that 21-year-old prodigy Maycee Barber would be the star the division needed to finally build up a fight with Shevchenko but then she got beat by Modafferi, shredded her knee in the process and likely won’t fight again until late 2020 or early 2021.

That’s definitely a problem but the UFC still needs to do a much better job of promoting this division if anybody is going to look like a legitimate threat to Shevchenko

Before she fought for the title on Saturday night, Chookagian’s last win came on the early prelims. Eye’s win over Chookagian that helped her secure the title shot was also buried on the prelims. Calderwood had a nice slot as the featured prelim at UFC 242 … last September.

If the UFC wants to find Shevchenko a worthy opponent from her division, the promotion has to start giving the flyweights a chance to shine on a bigger platform.

Yes, Modafferi won at UFC 246 when the entire world was watching for Conor McGregor’s return but that’s one fight and there’s zero doubt the promotion was built around Barber. Now Shevchenko is waiting for the next person in line, but if she can’t even come up with a name without looking at a list of the rankings, then the UFC hasn’t done their job in finding her an opponent worth knowing.


Judgment Day

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The issues with judging and scoring in MMA continues to be one of the biggest problems plaguing the sport and there doesn’t seem to be relief in sight.

At UFC 247, judge Joe Solis gave Andre Ewell a 30-27 scorecard, which was beyond egregious, but he followed that up by giving Trevin Giles the first round in his fight against James Krause after spending the better part of five minutes fending off a rear-naked choke attempt.

The judging and scoring at UFC 247 was so highly criticized that color commentator Joe Rogan called it out after the fights were finished.

“Incompetent judging and incompetent judging in a poor system,” Rogan said. “If we got together the best minds in mixed martial arts, the best journalists and fighters, and they tried to figure out a way where we can agree on some sort of scoring system that makes more sense, it would be nice.”

The issues run deep, but especially when many of the judges sitting cage side don’t seem to even understand the current criteria for scoring.

For instance one common argument that comes up often is “aggression” and “Octagon control” but the current scoring system plainly states “aggressively making attempts to finish the fight. The key term is ‘effective.’ Chasing after an opponent with no effective result or impact should not render in the judges’ assessments.”

It’s much the same for “control” where the scoring criteria states “fighting area control shall only be assessed if effective striking/grappling and effective aggressiveness is 100 percent equal for both competitors. This will be assessed very rarely.” Despite that rule, the terms “cage control” or “Octagon control” are constantly mentioned when scorecards are tallied.

Getting competent judges to score the fights — and understand the current scoring criteria — is one part of the battle that has to be won before a real overhaul of the scoring system could ever take place. Unfortunately, these problems continue to spring up again and again and yet nothing ever seems to change.