D. FOX: Rapid-fire reactions to UFC Fight Night 80 “VanZant vs. Namajunas”

By Dayne Fox, MMATorch Contributor

Ladies and gentlemen, announcing the return of Rose Namajunas… or did she ever really go anywhere? In an epic yet one-sided battle, Namajunas kicked off the most anticipated weekend of MMA action by reminding us why we all jumped on her hype-train last year. A loss to Carla Esparza had everyone jumping off the train which I shouldn’t say was a mistake… but why didn’t we realize it was her fourth professional fight at only 22 years old? I have no doubt we will see Namajunas challenging for the belt by the end of next year.

I acknowledge that I went into deeper detail than usual, but I’m so freaking stoked for this weekend that I couldn’t help but share all my thoughts. I have little to no restraint right now…

Rose Namajunas defeated Paige VanZant via submission at 2:25 of the fifth round

There are few bouts as one-sided as this one, in which I wanted to tip my hat to the loser. Had I known how the first two rounds would have gone with VanZant attempting head-and-arm throw after head-and-arm throw without success while Namajunas dominated her in the boxing (expected) and wrestling (not expected), I would have believed VanZant would have either phoned it in or broken by that point. She didn’t, and my hat is tipped to her. She fought out of at least four serious submission attempts (I’m sure it was more, but only four specific ones are coming to mind), including one where her elbow had to have been dislocated, rivaling Rich Crunkilton at UFC 42 for grotesque armbar escapes. All the while Namajunas was methodical in her approach, showing no sign of the wild risk-taker that ran through her opposition into the TUF finals last year. She out-muscled VanZant using awesome technique in her wrestling while also controlling the outside. How dominant was she? It’s plausible that rounds 1-4 could have all been 10-8 rounds had the fight gone to decision.

What to do with Thug Rose now? Claudia Gadelha has earned the right to face Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the title, so any calls for her to face the champ next are uncalled for at this point. Tecia Torres had stated earlier this week that she believes she is a good matchup for the winner of this bout, and I don’t see any other realistic option for Namajunas (provided Torres wins this Saturday). Namajunas has already beaten Joanne Calderwood and Randa Markos in the TUF tournament, and neither have won enough to warrant a rematch with her… and they represent the next best options! I know I’ve already mentioned this… but this was her sixth pro fight (ninth if you want to count the TUF fights) and she is still only 23. I have a feeling the hype around her last year was justified… we simply expected her to live up to it too soon.

Even though she was dominated, my opinion on VanZant went up as well. While I’ve been harping about how young Namajunas is, VanZant is younger at 21, and showed a lot of mental fortitude by not quitting despite taking the most lopsided beating in the young division’s history. To be frank, this performance didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already suspect besides her proving her mental fortitude. We all suspected she was physically tough, which she proved. We all thought she could use work on her technique, again easily proven. We all thought her aggression wouldn’t be enough when facing the elite. We just didn’t know (or perhaps we forgot?) that Namajunas was elite. Now that she has been bitten by a shark, she’ll go back to smaller fish once again for a fight or two. It will be key to watch how she bounces back. The way she handled tonight, I think she’ll be fine. I like the idea of her facing Maryna Moroz, but that is just me.

Mike Chiesa defeated Jim Miller via submission at 2:57 of the second round

Fans that love a brawl probably didn’t care for this fight, but I loved this grappling battle. Miller looked better than he had in a long time in the first round, sweeping Chiesa about halfway through the round and getting Chiesa’s back and looking like the Miller from about four or five years ago as he tried to soften up Chiesa while looking for the choke. Chiesa got the top position in the second round and kept it for the majority of the round, though Miller scored a vicious elbow from the bottom to open up Chiesa’s forehead. The real turning point came when Miller sunk in a DEEP ankle lock only for Chiesa to properly counter, getting into position and landing shot after shot into Miller’s head, forcing him to relinquish the hold. Taking the back, Chiesa continued to rain punches. Miller turtled, Chiesa sunk in the choke, and it was all she wrote.

I can see Chiesa taking a similar role to what Miller had in his prime, when he was one of the top lightweights in the world, as a gritty, grapple-focused gatekeeper. The difference is the amount of depth in the division nowadays will likely keep Chiesa from being one of the best in the world. That isn’t a knock on Chiesa. He isn’t a bad striker, but I don’t see him developing the needed skills to challenge the best there. Regardless, he’ll be in the UFC for a long time. The loss should mark the last time we see Miller as a ranked fighter. He has been in the UFC for over seven years and has taken a lot of abuse in that time. While he can still win a high percentage of fights, he can’t compete against the division’s elite anymore. Perhaps he can take Gleison Tibau’s role with the longtime gatekeeper staring down a suspension.

Sage Northcutt defeated Cody Pfister via submission at 0:41 of the second round

The Northcutt hype train wasn’t derailed to the disappointment of many. The fight opened up with a strong takedown from Pfister that took up more than half of the round, as Northcutt was unable to get up without help from the referee. Even then, the standup was controversial, as many felt Pfister had stayed busy enough to warrant maintaining his position. Northcutt used his size to dominate from there, scoring his own takedown to steal away the first round. After a fun scramble to open the second, Northcutt got underneath Pfister’s neck for a guillotine choke to end the night for both in what turned out to be a more competitive fight than many expected.

Yes, Northcutt got the win, but it shouldn’t have been as hard as it was for someone with all the hype that he has. I understand he is only 19 and getting to the UFC by that age is in itself a monumental accomplishment. But he showed no ability to get to his feet off of his back, not a good sign when Pfister was making all sorts of grappling mistakes on top. What’s worse is the blindness the UFC is exhibiting in their promotion of him. The poor kid isn’t helping things. Did you really just tell fans to google John 3:16? Benson Henderson gets enough crap for thanking Jesus Christ following his fights and he isn’t telling people to join the club. All this hype when he has problems with a bottom feeder of the division, coupled with his naivety, is a recipe for fan hatred. Hell, I haven’t even mentioned what seems to be an ass-kissing nature. I’m sure he really is grateful, but was that the best place to claim you love Fight Pass? Perhaps the UFC is well aware of this and are fine with fans watching in order to see him fail. Sounds like a cruel thing to do to a 19-year old kid, but I guess you do what you gotta do to get viewers. Pfister will get another fight and I have a hard time believing he will get a victory as he has little else other than his wrestling. When you aren’t the biggest dude in your division, it’s a recipe for a short UFC stint.

Thiago Santos defeated Elias Theodorou via unanimous decision

Who knew that once the fight turned into a grindfest that it would turn in Santos’ favor? Theodorou opened the fight strong putting together a number of short kick-punch combinations that worked over Santos body. At that point it seemed as though it was going to be an easy victory for Theodorou as he was beating Santos at his own game. Then something weird happened… Theodorou tried to make the fight dirty with takedowns against the fence, and Santos started taking control! Theodorou struggled to finish the takedowns and Santos started attacking with elbows to the head and knees to the body, even scoring a takedown of his own in the second. Things only improved for him in the third as he landed a number of hard shots with a few looking like Theodorou was on the verge of falling to the canvas. A perfect example of how a fight against the fence can still be exciting.

That gives Santos three wins in a row, as he was able to show off his underrated clinch game, showing he is more than just a head kick specialist. I don’t know if he is ready for a ranked opponent quite yet, but give him Rafael Natal (also on a three fight win streak) and then give the winner the chance against a ranked opponent. Theodorou abandoned a game plan that was working for him in the first at the behest of his coaches and didn’t have the energy to go back to it come the third. Lots of opportunities to learn for him from this loss. Even though it wasn’t his best showing, I like the striking improvements from range he showed and still believe he’ll be a fixture in the rankings eventually… it will just take a bit longer than expected. To name drop a good potential opponent for him next… Sam Alvey.

Tim Means defeated John Howard via KO at 0:21 of the second round

Thank you Tim Means for pulling an entertaining fight out of John Howard. It isn’t that Howard didn’t try to implement a grinding wrestling approach that best suited him, but Means would quickly get to his feet and instigate some fun striking exchanges, forcing Howard to swing back and make the fight a viewer’s delight. Yes, there was a blatant and controversial fence grab to open the fight by Means that very well could have saved him from an early finish, but we honestly don’t know how it changed the outcome, meaning we can only speculate. The finish came in the second round anyway when Means landed a left hook that put Howard out cold just 21 seconds in. The win should give Means another opportunity to take down a ranked opponent as his fan-friendly style heavy on finishes should allow him opportunities not afforded to a less entertaining contemporary. I sure won’t oppose it. Howard should get one more shot to stick around despite this being his fourth loss in his last five tries. The fact this was an entertaining bout should only help to ensure that.

Sergio Moraes defeated Omari Akhmedov via TKO at 2:18 of the third round

One big right hand is all it took for Moraes to overcome what was likely a two round deficit, as he stunned Akhmedov about two minutes into the third round, finishing him off with a barrage of punches. It wasn’t the best performance for Moraes up to that point; even as he showed improved striking at times before the climactic conclusion, he showed no improvement in his wrestling, which he needs if he is to use his bread and butter BJJ. Considering he was lucky to walk out with a win over Akhmedov, it could be more glaring than ever upon a likely step up in competition in his next fight. If he can be more consistent in his striking it might not matter as there were times when he was wild and others where he showed great timing. Akhmedov is young enough in his career that he should continue to improve. He continued to show improved patience as he did in his previous fight with Brian Ebersole, but still slowed in the last round which led to Moraes landing his bomb. I still like his future, and feel this loss should be a great learning opportunity for him.

Kevin Casey fought Antonio Carlos Junior to a no contest at 0:11 of the first round

Nothing to be said constructive about this fight. Carlos poked Casey in the eye as he pushed off following a body kick. Casey said he couldn’t see and the fight was called by the referee. No fault to be given to Casey as it is a dangerous thing to fight when you can’t see (obviously) and the fight was over almost before it even began. No guarantees we’ll see this put together again as it hardly represented a fight many were dying to see, but there isn’t any reason not to either.

Aljamain Sterling defeated Johnny Eduardo via submission at 4:18 of the second round

Matt Serra has gotten BIG! Wait, I need to talk about the fight. Sterling isn’t the most polished striker yet, but is such a long and incredible athlete that he is able to make up for it on his feet with his quick-twitch movement and use of his length that he can survive there until he gets the fight to the ground… just like he did with Eduardo. Unleashing a huge number of front kicks to keep Eduardo from finding his range, Sterling eventually lulled Eduardo to sleep with all the kicks before landing a surprisingly easy takedown and doing what he does best from there: land some ground and pound to open up a guillotine choke as Eduardo left his neck out for the taking. Sterling has learned his lessons well from Serra and is already a top bantamweight despite not having found a real comfort level on his feet yet. Once he does, he could be THE bantamweight prospect to watch, not Thomas Almeida. It is hard to guess what Eduardo does now. He fights so irregularly that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him retire after 20 years in MMA. He could likely remain a sound gatekeeper, but this bout clearly showed that he is no contender.

Santiago Ponzinibbio defeated Andreas Stahl via TKO at 4:25 of the first round

Hot damn, there shouldn’t be any question as to why Ponzinibbio is becoming a favorite of MMA analysts after this fight. Getting to his feet quickly after a few early takedowns from Stahl off the bat, Ponzinibbio found the range for his jab quickly, staying in the Swede’s face, landing combinations with aplomb with the damage becoming more visible on Stahl’s face after every combination. It was just a matter of time after Stahl would stand in one place covering up as he had abandoned his takedown attempts looking to land a Hail Mary strike to end things. Ponzinibbio beat him to it with another powerful punching combination that sent Stahl to the ground with the referee jumping in. Ponzinibbio doesn’t look like he will become a contender, but who cares? He is fun to watch with a flair for violence. He has the look of an action fighter who will serve as a gatekeeper to the rankings, a position in which there is no shame in claiming. Stahl had never been finished before, but he didn’t look all that durable in this fight. He is young enough at 27 that he could make some improvements, but he’ll have to do that someplace other than the UFC and hope he can be called back as he is out for now.

Danny Roberts defeated Nathan Coy via submission at 2:46 of the first round

There weren’t many people who called Roberts picking up the win by submission, but seeing as how that is exactly what happened, Roberts showed that he might be a better prospect than what most believed. Coy opted to stand and trade with the boxer for the first half of the round (and holding his own to his credit) before landing a takedown off of a body kick. He didn’t show any respect for Roberts ability to land a submission off of his back and let’s be honest, most fighters in that position wouldn’t have either. Roberts made him pay by throwing strikes off his back which annoyed Coy enough for Coy to posture up high leading Roberts to go for the triangle choke. He couldn’t score that, but Coy did leave his arm out there for the taking and Robert transitioned beautifully to score the victory with an armbar. Roberts shouldn’t expect anyone to take his BJJ skills off his back for granted anymore as he showed his is more well-rounded than anyone thought. It’s hard to say where his ceiling is, but this performance bodes well for his future. Coy’s UFC debut couldn’t have gone worse. His potential is limited at 37 and doesn’t have an exciting style. Though he will likely get another opportunity, it isn’t a guarantee.

Zubaira Tukhugov defeated Phillipe Nover via split decision

Don’t let the split decision fool you, this was Tukhugov’s fight all the way, with whomever scored in favor of Nover never being allowed to judge a fight again. Nover looked like he was searching for his range the entire fight, never showing any urgency even when it seemed clear that he was down two rounds to none (again, ignore the dissenting judge). To be fair, there wasn’t a lot of volume thrown in the fight, but when Tukhogov landed, he made it count, hurting Nover in the second round with a right and pushing the pace as well. Nover had a few moments of his own, landing a good head kick in the first round and out-landing Tukhugov in the third round, but didn’t do enough by a long shot to deserve a win. Tukhugov didn’t have the breakout performance many hoped and/or expected as he didn’t take a measured approach at all which might have served him well. I’m not any less high on his future, but he may not be as far along as I thought. Nover seems like an active body to test youngsters and I see him continuing to fill that role. Expect him to be the underdog in his next fight.

Kailin Curran defeated Emily Peters Kagan via submission at 4:13 of the second round

Third time is the charm as the UFC’s patience with Curran paid off (sort of) as she finally picked up her first UFC win. Kagan was in control of the fight for the majority of the time as she ground out the talented Hawaiian representative against the cage, not allowing Curran to let loose with her strikes where she really shines. It was a trip that did the trick for Curran as she sent Kagan to the ground, transitioned to the back when the mount wasn’t there, sunk in a single hook and got a funky rear naked choke to take hold for the victory. Even though she walked out with her first UFC win, I feel like this was Curran’s worst showing overall. She still has a very long way to go, but the talent is there as well as the toughness. Kagan is surely going to be cut loose as she is 34 and never a great athlete to begin with.

[Photo (c) Troy Taormina via USA Today Sports]

1 Comment on D. FOX: Rapid-fire reactions to UFC Fight Night 80 “VanZant vs. Namajunas”

  1. Wow. You sound extremely bitter about Northcutt. How jealous are you? He’s an amazing specimen in the fight game. He comes off as the nicest guy ever. And it does not seem fake or like he’s being a kiss-ass. Maybe you should grow up and not be jealous of a 19yr who worked so hard to be where he is. You act like he should be the best in the world because of the hype. He’s not hyping himself up like McGregor is. It’s not his fault. Also, a lot of great fighters don’t try to get back to their feet actively, such as McGregor and Silva. And if you have a problem with people saying something about their religion then that’s on you. I bet if he was a Jewish or Muslim and praised Moses or Mohammad respectively, you wouldn’t have brought it up.

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