I’m not about to proclaim the main event between Neil Magny and Kelvin Gastelum as the Fight of the Year, but this was one of the best performances of the year by far. Early on it seemed that Magny was going to easily walk away with the win after dominating the first half of the fight, only for Gastelum to come roaring back, scoring two knockdowns in the fourth round and taking the fifth. Magny ended up being awarded the decision (much to the chagrin of the Mexican crowd).
After the opening card started very slowly (along with some boring bouts on the prelims as well), the final three fights delivered what was expected out of them to salvage the card and even have some memorable moments.
Neil Magny defeated Kelvin Gastelum via split decision
I was all ready to start writing up a piece that sang Magny all sorts of praises until he let Gastelum back into the fight, but I’m happy he did based on an entertainment stand point. It was expected Gastelum would have the advantage early in the fight while Magny would gain strength the longer the fight went. Seeing the fight play out in reverse added a lot more intrigue in what will be a debated decision as there are two rounds who scoring could be questioned. The third round could have gone to either Magny or Gastelum as Gastelum began his rally in the second half of the round while the fourth round could have been scored a 10-8 for Gastelum as he scored two knockdowns.
While no one likely cares about my opinion, I’ll offer it. Magny was in firm control through the first half of the third round before Gastelum slowly took control, but not as firmly as Magny established control early on to give Magny a close round. As for the fourth round, the second of Gastelum’s knockdowns seemed to be more on account of Magny losing his balance thanks to Gastelum’s punch as he appeared to have full control of his facilities at the time. Magny did offer enough offense in the round for me to feel as though a 10-9 was warranted and thus I agreed with the decision.
Magny looked nothing like the guy that was schooled on the ground less than four months ago by Demian Maia early on as he put Gastelum into all sorts of precarious positions. On the feet he offered a steady stream of jabs and front kicks to score points on an advancing Gastelum while landing plenty of hard punches when he was the one advancing forward. I’m not ready to call for a rematch with Maia by any stretch of the imagination, but the progress that he has made in that short of time will leave me un-surprised to see him become a contender by the end of next year as he is a sponge absorbing new information and skills. While it is hard to speculate what is next for him, Magny did indicate that he will be taking some time off at this point. No surprise as he became the first UFC fighter to fight five times in back-to-back years.
While Gastelum lost a fight that he was favored to win, he should feel very good about his future prospects. He answered questions about his gas tank as he was still going strong by the time the fifth round rolled around, taking the last two rounds. It could be argued that he won the fight, and that only adds to the optimism. It took him a while to get warmed up, but once he did Gastelum took control of the fight against a respectable opponent, showing he isn’t far from being ready for the elite. Look for him to rebound strong in his next bout as it will be expected that he’ll want to avenge the loss.
Ricardo Lamas defeated Diego Sanchez via unanimous decision
Raise your hand if you were surprised that Sanchez ended up having blood streaming down his face by the end of the bout. Those of you with your hands up: complete dumbasses.
Lamas had a great strategy as he mixed takedowns in with strategically placed strikes, the best of which was a calf kick in the second round that left Sanchez hobbled for the remainder of the bout, and from which he required assistance leaving the cage at the conclusion. The injury to his calf prevented Sanchez from applying the usual pressure that he does to his opposition, and left him a sitting duck when Lamas took a measured approach, making Sanchez a threat only when Lamas dived into Sanchez’s limited striking distance. Those were really the only slip-ups in Lamas strategy, as he used his quickness and technical wrestling advantage early on to take the advantage even before Sanchez got injured. There are a couple of options for him going forward, as he will likely get the winner of either Max Holloway-Jeremy Stephens or Charles Oliveira-Myles Jury, both of which take place next month.
Until Sanchez realizes leading with your chin is always a bad idea, he isn’t going to resurrect his career the way that he believes he will. Too often he marches at his opponents with his hand down imploring them to “bring it.” That might get some cheers, but it also gives opponents an easy chance to score some points… or even a KO. To his credit he did look absolutely huge at featherweight, but it is impossible to know how dep his gas tank is there as the leg injury completely removed his mobility. I’m fine seeing him get another fight at featherweight, but at a lower level of competition and so long as he stops allowing uncontested punches to the dome. Seriously dude, we know you’re tough! We also know you can’t compete with the elite! What we don’t know is if you can still win fights against those a step below.
Henry Cejudo defeated Jussier Formiga via split decision
Can someone please tell me what the judge who awarded the fight to Formiga was watching? I can’t figure it out. At least the right guy walked out with the victory. I had been waiting for Cejudo to get a victory over a top level flyweight before feeling comfortable enough to feel he deserved a shot at Demetrious Johnson, and now he has it. As such, he can no longer be considered a prospect, even though it doesn’t seem as though he is maximizing his potential quite yet. Being the aggressor for the better part of the fight, Cejudo was landing with his uppercut and hooks as he showed the more polished boxing skills. Does he have it in him to take down the champion? I don’t think so, but wasn’t it just about a week ago that nobody was giving Holly Holm a realistic chance to take the belt from Ronda Rousey? Oh yeah… that’s why we fight the fights. If nothing else, Cejudo will probably be the most athletic opponent Johnson has faced thus far.
Formiga deserves a lot of credit himself, as he has become a very respectable striker after coming into the UFC with almost nothing to offer on the feet. Some of his strikes had some pop behind them, and he showed the ability to both be the aggressor and a counter puncher. Where he ran into problems was his inability to get the fight to the ground as Cejudo’s strength and wrestling ability killed any possibility of that. Formiga isn’t a bad wrestler by any means, but if he can brush that up in a way even vaguely similar to what he did his striking, he could get a title shot before long himself. As it is, I don’t see him slipping down very far. Perhaps a rematch with the oft-injured Ian McCall is in order as McCall gave Formiga his first loss almost five years ago.
Erick Montano defeated Enrique Marin via split decision
Even though I was less than impressed by the performance exhibited by both fighters, the right fighter was awarded the decision in a fight that had few memorable moments. Marin kept the pressure on Montano throughout the entirety of the fight, but he didn’t have the energy to do anything with that pressure after the first round as both fighters were drained by that time. Every time Marin moved forward, Montano would throw out a half-hearted kick or punch that had little behind it. But it was landing, and that has to count for something. Marin answered with a few of his own strikes, but they had about the same amount of mustard on them as Montano’s did. I’m not crazy about the potential of either fighter going forward, but I do think Marin would find more success if he would drop down to lightweight where he would have a better chance of implementing his grappling heavy offense onto smaller opponents. Montano doesn’t seem to have much of a strategy in any of his fights and will get eaten alive by just about any fighter able to form and implement a sound strategy. He has a lot of work to do going forward.
Enrique Barzola defeated Horacio Gutierrez via unanimous decision
Recognizing the deficiencies possessed by his TUF teammate, Barzola went for takedown after takedown, more often than not finishing them and getting an easy win for the TUF lightweight title. Overall the fight was fairly boring, as neither ever came close to scoring a finish in what was a standard rinse, wash, repeat performance. Gutierrez did land some good punches, showing he did possess the advantage on the feet. Problem is when you spend as much time on your back as he did, it wouldn’t matter one way or another. Despite Barzola scoring the victory, most would agree that Gutierrez has the higher ceiling of the two as he has a long frame ideal for striking on the outside. If he can develop a solid wrestling game, he’ll become the star of this class. Barzola on the other hand has some work to do on his striking. Hopefully he’ll be willing to find a larger camp and get some top training. He seems to have a good relationship with his corner, so I really wouldn’t expect him to do so.
Leandro Silva defeated Efrain Escudero via unanimous decision
Silva is mystery to me. Sure, he won the fight in convincing manner. But I can’t help but feel that his talent eclipses what he shows in the cage time and again. He was able to stuff Escudero’s takedown attempts in the first and third round, landing shot after shot to Escudero’s exposed body, and even getting Escudero’s back towards the end of the fight. But he seemed to give away the second round, as he let Escudero take him down with ease and couldn’t do anything for the duration of the round. I just can’t figure the guy out. He’s big and strong at lightweight with some wrestling, grappling, and sting in his strikes. I don’t expect a big step up in competition and though I don’t know who it is, I’m already expecting him to lose thanks to his bi-polar nature. The UFC was trying to set up Escudero with a win here and he couldn’t deliver. He is no better than a mid-tier lightweight, but should have some additional job security following this coaching stint. Look for him to battle lightweights near the bottom of the barrel for the rest of his UFC stint.
Erik Perez defeated Taylor Lapilus via unanimous decision
This was a fight worth watching. Perez started out tentative for some reason, allowing Lapilus to take a first round that was largely spent striking. Whether it was nerves after being out for 17 months or fighting in front of his home crowd (or some other unknown reason), Perez woke up in the second round and started utilizing his wrestling on the Frenchman, slowly swinging the momentum in his favor as he got top position, landing numerous body shots to wear out Lapilus. Lapilus’ energy level was clearly affected by the time the third round rolled around as he struggled to get out from underneath Perez as Perez continued the grappling heavy approach. Lapilus wasn’t dominated by any means as he did create some scrambles and attempted some submissions, but Perez was clearly in the driver’s seat by then. Perez will probably get a ranked opponent next now that he is back from his layoff. I don’t see him being a contender, but he certainly could be a high level gatekeeper. Lapilus has progressed well and that progression could be seen in this fight. Look for him to get a step down in competition due to the loss, but he should rebound with an awesome performance.
Bartosz Fabinski defeated Hector Urbina via unanimous decision
Fabinski did what Fabinski does: act as a wet blanket while boring the crowd in the process. While it will drive some people to get up and leave (like my father did) or change the channel, you can’t blame a guy for doing what he needs to do to win. In a fight that was 15 minutes long, Fabinski held top position on the ground for well over 10 minutes, leaving little room for Urbina to land any effective offense to curry the judges favor. To Urbina’s credit, he did go for some Hail Mary submission attempts, including a guillotine early in the third that looked as though it might take, but he couldn’t get anything to stick. Fabinski will hit his ceiling when he faces an opponent with a clear athletic advantage and just a little bit of a wrestling background. He very well could get that in his next bout as his style will probably lead to the UFC looking to give him an unfavorable matchup. With the loss, Urbina will be fighting for his job in his next fight despite possessing a fairly fun fighting style. The problem is he hasn’t been skilled enough to force it on anyone thus far.
Alejandro Perez defeated Scott Jorgensen via TKO at 4:26 of the second round
No doubt the story of this fight will be the shoddy refereeing and the audacity of Jorgensen’s corner to allow him to continue fighting. I myself have majorly mixed emotions about this fight. I very much admire Jorgensen for the toughness he showed by continuing to fight on despite an obviously debilitating leg injury that came by way of a leg kick from Perez at the end of the first round. However, I would rather have not seen it come to that as the referee, Gary Copeland, should have stopped it early in the second round when Jorgensen couldn’t stand on it and fell over, leading to Perez capitalizing by landing a number of punches on his felled opponent. Others will say Copeland should have stopped the fight at the end of the first, but I’m fine with him giving Jorgensen the chance to see if he can come out and fight on it. When he clearly couldn’t, it should have been stopped. While the win keeps Perez from being a complete TUF champion washout, I was impressed with the improved takedown defense that he showed, his Achilles heel going in. I still think his ceiling is limited, but I like him better coming out of this fight. I believe Jorgensen is now done in the UFC as he is 2-8 in his last 10. I don’t want to see him go out on an injury like this, but I also felt he didn’t deserve this opportunity considering his recent skid.
Andre Fili defeated Gabriel Benitez via KO at 3:13 of the first round
This was the type of performance most have been waiting for out of Fili since his short-notice UFC debut. Rather than try to prove that he has a sound all-around game, Fili laid the lumber on Benitez on the feet, hurting the Mexico representative multiple times with punches and kicks when appropriately a head kick followed by punches put Benitez out for the count. I don’t want to say that the last year and a half have been wasted by Fili, but for someone with his talent it felt as though he has been running in place. He has the talent to be in the top 15 by the end of next year and if this performance is any indication about where his head is, I expect him to be there. Benitez lost most of his aggressiveness after eating some early shots from Fili and fired back with reluctance at times, meaning his shots didn’t have the requisite sting behind them. Look for him to get either a newcomer or a someone fighting for their job next.
Alvaro Herrera defeated Vernon Ramos via KO at 0:30 of the first round
Well then… that didn’t take a lot of time. Herrera only put together one good combination, but that was all that he needed as Ramos dropped instantly with the referee stepping in right away. It’s hard to take away much from a fight that short, but I would say that Herrera has more potential than Marco Polo Reyes (next paragraph down) as he is younger and has had issues with aggression at times, a rarity for a Mexican fighter. If he can keep the aggression up while landing combinations like that, he’ll be in the UFC for quite a while. Many had Ramos favored going into this fight as his aggression would be too much for Ramos. Instead it worked against him. He is young and physically talented enough that he could be back in the UFC, but he’ll need to step up his regional competition level if he wants another shot at the UFC.
Marco Polo Reyes defeated Cesar Arzamendia via KO at 3:42 of the first round
While there didn’t seem to really be a set strategy by either fighter, I’ll give them credit for putting on an entertaining bout for the short time that it took place. Reyes was getting the better of the majority of the striking exchanges (that isn’t to say Arzamendia didn’t land his share) which led to Arzamendia taking down Reyes on multiple occasions. As they got to the feet following one of those takedowns, Reyes landed a hard left that put Arzamendia out, bringing an end to the fight. At 31, it is hard to believe that Reyes will be able to improve to the point that he can become a longtime fixture on the roster, but the win certainly showed he at least deserves the chance to do so. Arzamendia was the early tournament favorite and now finds himself looking on the outside in. Like Ramos, he’ll need to start fighting at a higher regional level than he has and winning if he wants back in.
Michel Prazeres defeated Valmir Lazaro via split decision
I was very confused to hear Prazeres got the judges nod, as he never was able to achieve his bread and butter of applying pressure from top position on Lazaro. The only thing that I can see is that Prazeres’ punches had a bit more sting on them than Lazaro… but Lazaro out-landed Prazeres by a wide margin. Overall it was really just a horrible judges decision as Lazaro forced Prazeres to fight his fight as he stuffed most of the takedowns Prazeres attempted and either got a dominant position or back to his feet quickly when the fight did hit the ground. The win might have saved Prazeres his job, as his grinding style is pretty boring. Lazaro won’t lose his job as he was coming off of a win in addition to this being a robbery by the judges. I expect him to get a favorable matchup next. Did I mention that the judges got this one wrong? Alright, just making sure….