How can you not be in shock? I’m not necessarily surprised that Conor McGregor ended the long reign of Jose Aldo UFC 194 as much as I am in the manner in which it happened. 13 seconds was all McGregor needed to shock the world and become unquestionably the MMA Nostradamus, as he fulfilled yet another self-proclaimed prophecy to become the undisputed champion in one of the biggest nights of MMA history.
The expectations for the event were so damn high that I don’t know if it was possible for the event to live up to the hype, though it came close. The main event felt anticlimactic as everyone was on the edge of their seat waiting for an epic battle only for it to be over even before it started. But in a sport that is meant to shock, this couldn’t have been a better outcome in many ways. The rest of the card was pretty much close to matching expectations as well. Were there any Fight of the Year candidates? Admittedly no, but the bouts were overall pretty entertaining with an acceptable degree of competitiveness to them. Here are my now scrambled thoughts from a whirlwind weekend:
Conor McGregor defeated Jose Aldo via KO at 0:13 of the first round
13 seconds ended the longest current title reign in the UFC. 13 seconds ended a 10 year undefeated run. 13 seconds announced the official beginning of the Conor McGregor era. McGregor spoke of timing in his post-fight speech, and no one could have put it better. He saw Aldo moving forward and reacted accordingly with a counter straight left that landed flush on Aldo’s chin, sending the Brazilian sprawling to the ground. Two hammerfists from McGregor later and the UFC’s golden goose earned the title of “undisputed.”
I’m not the biggest McGregor mark, but I will admit that he has done what he said he was going to do in the end. He has been speaking about the possibility of holding two belts simultaneously, and it would be hard to make him the underdog seeing how everything he has set his mind to has been accomplished with seeming relative ease. He is now the UFC’s biggest draw, and whatever else he wants to proclaim himself. Arguing against him hasn’t been very successful, right? Might as well just believe whatever he says. Joking aside, I don’t know how much I’d want to see him do that, as one division or the other would get held up, but I have a feeling the UFC brass isn’t going to say no to any of McGregor’s requests at this point.
Aldo’s aura of invincibility has now disappeared. He’s gone from thought of as someone who was exceedingly difficult to put away to someone without a chin. That is what a single KO punch can do in the sport of MMA. Can he get his desired rematch? I don’t know. He might be able to regain his Featherweight Title without fighting McGregor as it will depend on whether or not McGregor will be hanging around the division. Another question is would Aldo want to fight McGregor again? I can’t see why not as there isn’t any way the rematch would turn out any worse than this has for him. What he does next is hard to say. He could fight against another of tonight’s fighters in Max Holloway, which is what I see happening, or he could cut his losses with featherweight and abandon the strenuous weight cut to make his long discussed move to lightweight. We’ll have to see.
Luke Rockhold defeated Chris Weidman via TKO at 3:12 of the fourth round
Am I the only one who felt like the fight should have been stopped before the end of the third round? No? Alright, just making sure. I had been pretty sure that the fight was going to go all five rounds based on how the first two rounds had gone as both Rockhold and Weidman had their moments where they looked as though they were going control the ebbs and tides of the fight only for the other to reverse course pretty quickly, leading me to believe the entire fight was going to go that way. Weidman scored an early takedown only for Rockhold to reverse and threaten with a choke in the first. Rockhold scored an insane number of body kicks in the second only for Weidman to start making his comeback in the first part of the third round with combos and a takedown. The problem was that once Rockhold got the mount, he smelled blood and pounded on Weidman without mercy, leaving Weidman resembling Vitor Belfort from Weidman’s previous defense. The ref didn’t stop it for some reason as Weidman could barely get to his corner and was still woozy as the fourth round started. Rockhold took Weidman to the ground again and started the previous onslaught anew before Herb Dean finally called the fight.
Perhaps Rockhold will now get the recognition he has long deserved, as he has been flying under the radar for quite a while now. He is a powerful striker with absolutely devastating kicks, a scary and perhaps unrivaled GNP game, and some of the most dangerous submission grappling in the sport. He really can do it all. It appears his first defense will come against Yoel Romero, which will be a very difficult challenge for the American, as Romero possesses physical gifts unlike anyone else in the sport. I’m not saying I favor Romero, but I am looking very much forward to seeing what happens.
Weidman has an interesting road back to the title. I don’t see him getting an immediate rematch as Romero and Souza were both overdue for a title shot; there is no one else left for them to fight, and his reign wound up not being particularly dominant. It has been rare to see champions regain their belt after losing it in recent years, as only Cain Velasquez has been able to do just that over the past five years, but I could see him doing just that. He isn’t a very experienced 31-year old (meaning he doesn’t have a lot of tread on his tires) meaning he could very well improve enough to get the belt back. That opportunity could come before the end of next year as I can’t see him fighting anyone other than Jacare Souza next.
Yoel Romero defeated Jacare Souza via split decision
I realize that there is probably going to be controversy around this fight, but I feel as though the judges got this one right. I score the opening round 10-8 for Romero, as the damage he inflicted upon Jacare was so severe that Jacare was barely able to stumble to his corner at the conclusion of the round. Romero’s spinning back-fist was a thing of beauty, and the ground and pound that he followed up with was heavy as hell. I actually expected the referee to step in and stop it. Jacare recovered in the second round as Romero didn’t push the action for some reason that only he knows, which left the round up for grabs in the eyes of the judges and damn near cost him the match with Jacare clearly taking the third round. Jacare was able to take Romero to the ground and landed some good ground and pound himself that had Romero in a precarious spot for a while.
Who could have seen Romero earn a title shot when he entered the UFC from Strikeforce? His physical skills have always been readily apparent, but he was almost 36 when he came into the UFC. He’ll likely be 39 by the time he fights Rockhold, which means that he could end up on the decline at any time. He seems to keep himself in great shape, though, and hasn’t had a career full of the same type of wear-and-tear that most high-level MMA fighters attain by the time they are his age, so I think he still has a bit of time before that happens. He’ll be a certifiable threat to Rockhold whenever the fight takes place. Jacare shouldn’t be too far from getting back into the title picture as the fight was incredibly close. He may not have liked the decision, but he can’t argue it much. Look for him to be booked opposite of Weidman next with the winner likely receiving a title shot, particularly if Jacare walks out the winner.
Demian Maia defeated Gunnar Nelson via unanimous decision
For anybody that enjoys a good grappling match, this was a truly stellar piece of art by Maia. He controlled one of the up-and-coming grapplers of the sport with what seemed to be relative ease. Spending at least half of the match on Nelson’s back, Maia not only controlled Nelson, but battered the Iceland representative with short punches and elbows that cut up Nelson’s face pretty badly. Even when Nelson was able to escape from the grasp of Maia, it was because Maia decide to take a risk and go for the finish… at the end of the round when Nelson didn’t have enough time to change the tide of the fight.
Maia has been serving as a gatekeeper ever since losing to Rory MacDonald, and deserves a chance at a higher ranked opponent before he gets much older, as he turned 38 last month. He didn’t take a lot of damage in this fight (or any of his previous four fights) meaning that he might be able to fight relatively quickly if he so chooses. I can see him wanting to take some time off, but I could also see him wanting to fight quickly. He did ask for a title shot, but it seems like Tyron Woodley has next. I’d be fine with those two going at it, but don’t expect it. How about a contest with Matt Brown? That might be enough to get him the title shot… after Woodley of course. I feared that Nelson would be in over his head against Maia as I very much remember the grappling issues that he had with Rick Story who is a strong welterweight as well. Nelson would probably find his best success at lightweight, but he has resisted the move for quite a while. Ryan LaFlare or Thiago Alves seem like options for him if he continues to stay at 170 pounds.
Max Holloway defeated Jeremy Stephens via unanimous decision
I know that Holloway put on an impressive and intelligent performance, but this wasn’t the firefight that many were hoping for. Stephens was trying to push the action and make the fight a brawl while Holloway was countering effectively most of the fight while avoiding Stephens takedown attempts as well. Stephens really amped up the recklessness in the final round; he knew that he needed to land a knockout shot, while Holloway knew that it was coming and had a fairly easy time avoiding the potential kill shots.
Holloway has now won eight straight fights which would normally constitute a title shot. If he decides to sit out and wait for Frankie Edgar to challenge McGregor, there is a possibility that he could get the next one, but I wouldn’t count on it. Believe it or not, he probably needs at least one more win to break through McGregor-Edgar-Aldo-Mendes square, and likely against either Aldo or Mendes for that to happen. Look for it to be a reality. While Stephens has made some strides in his striking discipline, he still isn’t disciplined enough to be a contender as he loves going for the kill shot too much to ever become that fighter. I’m not knocking on him as he is always a lot of fun to watch which means it is to all fans benefit that he fights the way he does. But it does hurt his ceiling. It seems weird that he has never fought Clay Guida as they have spent almost all of their UFC careers in the same division, but I’d like to see what type of fireworks we’d see from those two.
Urijah Faber defeated Frankie Saenz via unanimous decision
Are we sure Faber deserves a title shot? I understand why the UFC would want to put Faber in that situation as he has extensive history with both T.J. Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz and they will be fighting for the title next month, but this wasn’t a performance that indicates that Faber is a threat to defeat either one. He had his moments where he looked good, particularly early before he started to get tired. Had Faber been able to finish Saenz when he had him on the ropes early in the second round, we might be singing a different tune. Faber was left with little after that and was forced to merely survive to the end of the round with nothing left to offer. Saenz is a tough dude with some sound boxing while making the most of his abilities, but he is a limited athlete who isn’t anywhere near the elite. The fact he was able to put Faber in some precarious positions says more about Faber’s decline than it does about what Saenz is capable of achieving. I won’t blame the UFC if they want to give Faber the title shot that he has been campaigning for, but I have little expectation of Faber walking out the victor. Saenz on the other hand is going to settle into a role as a gatekeeper.
Tecia Torres defeated Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger via unanimous decision
Torres came ever so close a couple of times to picking up her first stoppage win, as she had Jones-Lybarger on the ropes a few times, but just couldn’t finish the job. Even without the finish, this was easily Torres’ best performance in the UFC as she finally showed some power in her strikes, something she hasn’t exhibited since making the leap to the UFC. She did have her struggles in the clinch as Jones-Lybarger is a much larger opponent, but more than held her own there, showing she has been working on all aspects of her game to make sure she was more than just a pocket striker. She was talking about facing the winner of Rose Namajunas and Paige Van Zant earlier this week, and I see no reason not to give her that opportunity. Torres owns a victory over Namajunas, and there is little doubt that Namajunas would love an opportunity to avenge that. Considering the short notice in which she came in, I was very impressed with what she offered. I don’t think her ceiling is very high, but her durability and willingness to move forward should allow her to carve out a spot on the roster for a while.
Warlley Alves defeated Colby Covington via submission at 1:26 of the first round
This didn’t take long. Covington went right into his usual grappling game and Alves was prepared for it, latching onto a guillotine choke as Covington looked to slam him, and that was all she wrote as Alves had that in TIGHT. The win sets Alves apart as a fighter to watch for next year as he is now 4-0 in the UFC and is still only 24. I don’t think he is ready for a ranked opponent quite yet, but I might be signing a different tune after one more fight. Few can match his physical gifts and he has been making solid progress in all phases. Maybe TUF is good for something…. Covington needs to develop a functional striking game as it is clear he still doesn’t have any confidence in his abilities as he wasted no time going for the takedown rather than feeling things out. I understand going with what brought you to the dance, but he is far too predictable to be moving up much more on the ladder.
Leonardo Santos defeated Kevin Lee via TKO at 3:26 of the first round
This fight will be remembered for Santos running out of the cage and out of the arena more than the actual fight, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Santos’ enthusiasm was a pretty awesome thing to see, especially from a veteran who has been in the sport as long as Santos has been. The fight was going much as most expected with Lee pressing the fight with no intention of going to the ground. Santos then landed a stiff one-two combination that sent Lee to the ground and followed up with a steady stream of punches while Lee was on the ground struggling to get up before the referee called the fight. The fact that Santos won wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but the way he won was as his last KO/TKO win was seven years ago. Yes, he has been showing improvement, but it was more functional improvement as opposed to becoming a threat. I never would have thought I’d say this, but Santos is knocking on the door of the top 15. The loss is certainly a setback for Lee, but it shouldn’t be seen as an indication that his ceiling is any lower than what was thought heading into the fight. He has been prone to mental mistakes in the past and proved he is still prone to them at 23. As with any loss, he’ll need to use it as a learning experience.
Magomed Mustafaev defeated Joe Proctor via TKO at 1:54 of the first round
This was not a good weekend for the Lauzon MMA camp. Proctor’s defensive deficiencies were exposed early by the Russian Mustafaev and it wasn’t long before he was finished. The real turning point was when Mustafaev landed a running body kick (who lands a running body kick?) which hurt Proctor, and was soon followed by a barrage of punches and knees to the head before Proctor fell to the ground helpless as he turtled up. While Mustafaev hasn’t exactly been a sexy name in terms of prospects fans were aware of, but I promise you that he has had the attention of MMA analysts for a while now. This performance will get him on the map of quite a few now… oh wait. This was on Fight Pass. Only those who already knew about him saw the fight. Hmm…. How about stating he’ll be on a televised portion of a card next. He has serious potential as he is a more explosive striker than his other Russian lightweight contemporaries in Rustam Khabilov and Khabib Nurmagomedov. If he wasn’t in such a deep division, he’d be on a faster track to title contention, but he is on his way. Proctor only reaffirmed his status as an action fighter with a limited ceiling.
Yancy Medeiros defeated John Makdessi via split decision
Definitely a fun fight in which neither fighter need walk away disappointed in their performance, but I feel like the judges got this one wrong. I can give Medeiros the last round (I’ll explain why in a second), but the first two rounds seemed to clearly be in the bag for Makdessi. Makdessi was the one pressing the action while landing the cleaner shots. Maybe it was just because he was no-selling Medeiros’ strikes, but he didn’t seem to be much affected by any of Medeiros’ punches until the closing seconds when Medeiros stumbled the Canadian to likely steal the round and the fight as a whole. What confuses me is that Medeiros knew that his biggest advantage would be in the grappling department and only went after one takedown. Medeiros has a lot of physical talent, but I still can’t help but question his fight IQ even as he walks out with the victory. This win really needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Makdessi has now lost two in a row and three of his last four. However, this fight and the Alan Patrick loss were controversial, so his standing with the promotion isn’t as shaky as it would appear on paper. He will get a step down in competition, but that should mean he’ll recover in his next bout.
Court McGee defeated Marcio Alexandre via unanimous decision
Either McGee had some ring rust or he is beginning to slow down. I’ll lean towards the former. Alexandre landed some hard shots in the first round, including one that left McGee’s right cheek red for the remainder of the night. McGee kept pressing to wear out Alexandre and did so while also adjusting to Alexandre’s counters, pretty much going on cruise control from the second round on. What is worrisome is McGee’s inability to get Alexandre to the ground until later in the fight. Credit goes to Alexandre for showing good hips to stuff a lot of the attempts, but McGee wasn’t getting very low into his hips either. Look for him to make adjustments in his next fight and look better as it probably will be a lot less time than two years before we see him again. Alexandre will be out of the UFC with the loss, but I can see him coming back if he picks up a few wins. He showed enough improvement to make me think he might be able to stick around with just a bit more polish.