What the hell is with these quick finishes in title fights as of late? The last two title defenses in the UFC have gone a combined 79 seconds in what were expected to be competitive fights… not like Ronda Rousey’s demolition of Bethe Correia. Perhaps Rafael dos Anjos will begin to receive respect from the fans now that he has not only defended the belt, but easily took apart a fan favorite in Donald Cerrone. I’m not sure that will happen yet as fans are a fickle bunch, but dos Anjos certainly has all the respect in the world from his colleagues and may very well have thrown a wrench into Conor McGregor’s plans to move up to lightweight.
The rest of the card was extremely exciting as well, with Alistair Overeem scoring a highlight TKO over rival Junior dos Santos and Nate Diaz looking better than ever in his return to the Octagon after a year away. It’s hard to believe the year could have ended any better for the UFC.
Rafael dos Anjos defeated Donald Cerrone via TKO at 1:06 of the first round
It has been well documented that Donald Cerrone is a slow starter, something he has admitted himself. Dos Anjos obviously had that in mind when he decided to attack Cerrone with a barrage of strikes, landing a significant left hand, a knee, and a body kick all before rocking Cowboy with a beautiful boxing combination Cerrone never truly recovered from. Cerrone was able to get off the fence where the initial barrage took place, but only ended up turtled up in the middle of the cage with dos Anjos landing punch after punch on him before the fight was called.
That makes ten wins in his last eleven fights for dos Anjos, with Khabib Nurmagomedov being the only blemish. With the Russian unable to stay healthy, it’s looking like dos Anjos could have a long reign as he has shown progress ever since that loss with this fight clearly being the most dominant showing. He has been winning his fights with striking complimented by his wrestling which is mind-boggling to think as he entered the UFC as a BJJ expert. If McGregor decides to move up in weight, I think I would favor dos Anjos who has the better all-around skill set while being much larger than the Irishman. Most expect McGregor to stay at featherweight now that dos Anjos has won as he is certainly a less favorable opponent than Cerrone, but we’ll have to see. If that is indeed what happens, I favor Tony Ferguson getting the next opportunity, as it is hard to argue with a seven fight win streak and a 10-1 overall UFC record.
I don’t see Cerrone ever getting another title shot, which is a bit of a shame as he is one of the most exciting fighters who has shown a willingness to throwdown with anyone at any time. As such, he’s still a valuable member of the lightweight division and will serve as both an action fighter and a high level gatekeeper. If nothing else, maybe he’ll be happy with the fact he can fight as often as he’d like once again as he no longer needs to wait for his title opportunity. The biggest problem with him fighting as often as he does is he leaves himself a lack of options as he has fought almost everyone worth fighting. One name he was supposed to fight in May is Nurmagomedov. Nurmagomedov hasn’t fought in 20 months and it is looking like it might be a full two years before he returns. If he’d rather receive a bit of a softer opponent, look for Cerrone to match up against Michael Johnson who is also coming off of a loss on the card.
Alistair Overeem defeated Junior dos Santos via TKO at 4:43 of the second round
After an incredibly frustrating first round that produced little action (much less meaningful action), the pace picked up in the second round and produced a knockout like we were all expecting… it just wasn’t the one that most were expecting. Overeem began peppering dos Santos with kicks to the body and legs throughout the round, slowly wearing down the large Brazilian while also finding his punching range. Dos Santos started firing back towards the end of the round and seemed to have Overeem hurt for a bit with a sound punching combination before Overeem came roaring back with a left hook that landed cleanly on the jaw of dos Santos and put the former UFC champion on his back. Dos Santos tried to get back up as Overeem landed hammerfists on him, but Dan Miragliotta had seen enough and stopped the fight.
Though Overeem winning the fight adds a new name to the title picture, he may have cleared up the picture more by eliminating dos Santos from consideration. It seems almost a sure thing that the winner of Andrei Arlovski and Stipe Miocic will get the next title shot, but Overeem isn’t far behind whoever wins that. There is a good chance he’ll need one more win to ensure he gets his opportunity, but who would it be? He has lost to Travis Browne within the last two and a half years, so perhaps he could be given an opportunity to avenge that loss. Mark Hunt would be the other name that I can think of that should be available that makes sense or the winner of Josh Barnett and Ben Rothwell. Dos Santos seems to be stuck in the position as gatekeeper for the next little while. He seemed reluctant to pull the trigger which isn’t the dos Santos we all knew when he blazed to the championship. He has actually been moving backwards ever since he lost the belt with Hunt being the only definitive win since then. He’ll probably get the loser of Barnett-Rothwell next… or Arlovski if Arlovski comes up short in his fight with Miocic.
Nate Diaz defeated Michael Johnson via unanimous decision
I’m not particularly a Diaz mark, but DAMN!! It’s always good to see the Diaz brothers in vintage form and it looks like Nate has found his motivation again. The first round was the most competitive as Johnson landed a large number of leg kicks with Diaz looking for his boxing range. By the second round, he found it. Diaz landed one-two after one-two as he peppered Johnson with his trademark boxing, all the while getting loose and talking trash to Johnson which appeared to be frustrating Johnson. Johnson landed a few shots of his own when he remembered to fight under control, but he scaled back the leg kicks after the first round and had stretches where he was sloppy in his retaliation of Diaz. There was a bit of a dust up at the end of the fight as Diaz held onto Johnson’s leg following the fight with both trading kicks at one another, but it is doubtful much more than a fine will come of it.
A motivated Diaz creates a hell of a wild card in the division. One of the sports best lightning rods for controversy, Diaz had a few words for Conor McGregor (I think, network censors cut out most of what he said in the post-fight interview). Don’t expect him to get McGregor, but he should get himself a fun opponent. He has stated his dislike for wrestlers and his popularity matched with his potential for a fun stand-up war should ensure he gets what he wants stylistically in his next fight. Tony Ferguson is as deserving of a title fight as anyone, but if he doesn’t get it Diaz would be a fun alternative. Beneil Dariush is another likely option with the winner of Anthony Pettis and Eddie Alvarez being an interesting long shot alternative. Johnson’s probability of getting a title shot anytime soon went up in smoke with the loss, but he is still very much a player in the division. He could get right back in the picture if he is matched up with Cerrone and pulls the upset, but it is likely he’ll get a lower level opponent as this was his second loss in a row. Is Bobby Green ever going to be healthy? If so, I’d like to see that.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz defeated Randa Markos via unanimous decision
In a match that had some serious implications on the title picture for the near future, Kowalkiewicz proved to be a striking dynamo for a usually aggressive Markos, leading Markos to fight much more passively than normal which allowed Kowalkiewicz to score enough points in the eyes of the judges. Kowalkiewicz started out a bit tentative, either nervous under the bright lights or finding her range, but once she did towards the end of the round, she was in complete control on the feet. Markos scored a nice takedown in the second round to stall Kowalkiewicz’s momentum and steal the round in the eye of a couple of judges, but had no answer by the end of the fight as she was unable to score any takedowns from there despite looking heavily for them in the final round.
Kowalkiewicz just interjected herself into the title picture… after Joanna Jedrzejczyk fights Claudia Gadelha of course. The picture is wide open after that with Rose Namajunas and Tecia Torres being the most likely contenders after that. If Kowalkiewicz can pick up one more win (and it doesn’t necessarily have to be over one of them), she could very well earn a shot. I have a hard time seeing Markos earning a title shot after this loss, but she can still play an important role in the division as the separator between contenders and pretenders. Though tonight was a bit of an off-night for her, she is usually a fun fighter to watch. Look for a fight with fellow Canadian Valerie Letourneau to be likely.
Charles Oliveira defeated Myles Jury via submission at 3:05 of the first round
Damn it Oliveira! Why you gotta be missing weight all the time? The BJJ ace had little problem disposing of Jury who was making his featherweight debut, catching him with a brutal guillotine choke in which he hung onto a standing Jury’s neck at an incredibly awkward angle. Before that point, Oliveira took Jury down with ease and even took Jury’s back. Jury was able to get out of that position, but it was that ensuing scramble that led to Oliveira locking in the choke.
I want to like Oliveira as he is such a fun submission artist, but this represented the third time he missed weight and it wasn’t even close as he came in at 150.5 lbs. Will he be forced to move up in weight? Hard to say. He has made weight as low as 143 lbs. before, so it shouldn’t be the issue that it has turned into. He’s been in the UFC for almost six years but is still just 26 years old and continues to progress in his overall game. We can only hope he solves his weight issue and become the contender many believe he can be. The announce team suggested he fight Max Holloway in a rematch as their first fight ended due to injury. Can’t say I’d disagree with that idea. Jury looked horrible in my opinion as he had very little muscle on him and didn’t look to have a lot of energy. I hope he’ll return back to lightweight, but he’s the one making the decision. We’ll see.
Nate Marquardt defeated CB Dollaway via KO at 0:28 of the second round
Raise your hand if you thought Marquardt was more than a sacrificial lamb. Alright you liars, put your hands down. Marquardt’s chin has been in decline for a while and Dollaway’s boxing had improved enough over the last few years that most expected him to starch the longtime veteran of the sport. In fact, Dollaway briefly rocked Marquardt in the first round, but couldn’t capitalize which allowed Marquardt to recover. Marquardt knew Dollaway would be looking for the KO and did a good job keeping his distance throughout the fight, scoring with some jabs and landing some good counters, including the one that put Dollaway out cold.
Most expected this to be the end of Marquardt’s UFC career and gave no thought to where Marquardt might go if he were able to walk out the victor. Now that he is still around, what to do with him? Serving as a gatekeeper to the rankings seems to be appropriate as he is too expensive to be fighting against the lower end of the division while his chin doesn’t seem to warrant fighting anyone else. He was able to avoid the power shots from Dollaway, so if he can continue to do that he should function well enough in that role. Dollaway may get cut, but I think he’ll get one last opportunity. He usually puts on fun fights and this was no exception. But he’ll NEED to win to stick around.
Valentina Shevchenko defeated Sarah Kaufman via split decision
This wasn’t as much of a surprise to me as it may have been to others (I thought about picking Shevchenko for the upset, but chickened out it the end), but it was surprising nonetheless. Shevchenko took the fight right to Kaufman where Kaufman was supposed to be at her best in the clinch and took her down numerous times, controlling the longtime staple of the division, surprising as Kaufman owns some of the best takedown defense in the division. Kaufman was able to reverse course in the third round as she was able to get a dominant position on the ground, searching for the mount, crucifix position, or a submission. Shevchenko gave up the mount, but it was too late for Kaufman to get the finish from there.
Time will only tell if the story of the fight is the decline of Kaufman as a top fighter or if it represents the emergence of Shevchenko as a threat to be reckoned with, though it could be both. Shevchenko isn’t as young as you’d hope a prospect like her would be, but neither was Holly Holm. I’m not saying Shevchenko is on the level of Holm, but I expect her to break into the top 5 at some point as she showed better grappling than anticipated to compliment her skilled clinch and distance striking. Kaufman’s style has been outdated for a while, but she has been good enough at it that she has been able to maintain her position in the division. It would be hard for her to evolve now as she isn’t the greatest athlete and has taken a lot of punishment over the course of her career, but she’ll have to if she wants to remain relevant aside from beating on the lower ends of the division.
Tamdan McCrory defeated Josh Samman via submission at 4:10 of the third round
I’ve always been a mark for McCrory (which is why I picked him over Samman) since he is such an entertaining chain grappler. Every single round McCrory had Samman scrambling to remove himself from danger as he threw up submission attempt after submission attempt which forced Samman to adjust his often dominant position or give up a submission. McCrory landed a lot of GNP in the second round and the beginning of the third, but was also willing to take risks which allowed Samman to get the dominant position midway through the third round. McCrory didn’t panic as he went for the armbar into an omaplata into a triangle choke which finished off Samman. A lot of fans were probably unaware of who McCrory was heading into the fight, but they should be aware now. Few in the sport are as talented as he is off of his back and he had proved that even before getting the finish. He didn’t get much of a chance to show it, but he isn’t bad on his feet either. Look for him to get a ranked opponent next. Samman continued to get lulled to the ground even though he was clearly outclassed there. Though he didn’t fight the smartest fight, Samman is a smart dude who should make good adjustments to right his ship much sooner rather than later.
Nik Lentz defeated Danny Castillo via split decision
This was a weird fight to score, but I feel the right guy walked away with the decision. Lentz went for a large number of guillotine attempts (though only one of them was close) that was often the reasoning for Lentz giving up a number of takedowns in addition to landing a greater number of strikes which is why I felt he deserved it. Castillo is and always has been a game opponent, throwing and landing a number of hard shots despite having his gas tank deplete early which made for a close fight, but he never really threatened Lentz whereas Lentz had the one close guillotine choke in addition to keeping the pressure on Castillo. The win makes for a successful return to lightweight for Lentz (who also reminded us of the dangers of weight cutting in his post-fight speech) where he had a lot more energy than he had showed in his previous fight against the aforementioned Oliveira. Expect him to be a sound gatekeeper who has expanded his abilities beyond just being a grinder. Castillo has now lost four in a row. Very few have stuck around the UFC after a similar skid (Tito Ortiz and Leonard Garcia come to mind), and at 36 with minimal fan recognition, I don’t like his chances of sticking.
Cole Miller fought Jim Alers to a no contest at 1:34 of the second round
Why is it any time there is a no contest it interrupts a fight that has been shaping up to be interesting if not entertaining? Where was the no contest for Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Konstantin Erokhin? Miller was using his jab to keep Alers at a distance for the majority of the fight with the occasional power shot. Alers was figuring out the range the longer the fight went on, landing a few nice punches of his own. Alers survived eating an accidental head-butt in the first round, but Miller couldn’t keep going after taking a DEEP eye poke in the second that prevented him from opening his eye. Thus the doc stepped stating Miller couldn’t keep going and Herb Dean called it. A rematch would make a lot of sense, but the UFC has been reluctant to do so recently for some odd reason. There were a few things to take from the action before it ended. Alers did look a bit more fluid in his striking which has been one of his bigger problems. Perhaps he’ll be able to hang around after all as many expected him to lose and be cut. Miller still looks like the action gatekeeper we know and enjoy watching.
Kamaru Usman defeated Leon Edwards via unanimous decision
Not the most exciting fight as Usman was able to implement his wrestling to control Edwards after a bit of an early scare from Edwards. Usman couldn’t get Edwards down early in the first round and ate a few stinging shots from Edwards. When he did get Edwards down in the round, Edwards threw up a triangle choke that Usman had to be wary of, but also tired out the legs of Edwards. As a result, Usman was able to get Edwards down pretty easily in the second and third rounds while landing a few hard punches that clearly hurt Edwards who was supposed to have the advantage standing up. Usman was the clear winner in the eyes of the judges while this fight was very good for his development. He felt he didn’t show anything in his hands, but he showed enough to prove that he is developing while possessing some of the best wrestling in the weight class. Edwards has a bright future even if it doesn’t appear to be as bright as Usman’s. This was the first clear cut loss in the UFC for him (his debut was controversial) and it was known wrestling was his weakness, so this wasn’t a surprising outcome.
Vicente Luque defeated Hayder Hassan via submission at 2:13 of the first round
It wasn’t the exciting back-and-forth 15 minute battle that took place inside the TUF house, but it was clear that both fighters had improved. Hassan was disciplined in his strikes, mixing in jabs and leg kicks rather than the haymakers he threw in the house. Luque was chasing early, but once he found the range he started landing some hard shots of his own which forced Hassan into an ill-advised shot as Hassan exposed his neck. Luque took it and cinched in an anaconda choke, leading Hassan to start to spasm as he went out. Luque was seen as the better prospect beforehand while struggling to put everything together. He did an excellent job transitioning from the strikes into the submission, indicating further growth. I don’t see him moving high up the ladder, but he could become a fixture in the division. Hassan could be gone. At 33, he was already one of the older guys in the TUF house who would be lucky to latch on. His three fights in the house were impressive, but it doesn’t seem as though he is going to be able to replicate that success now that opponents have the time to prepare for his aggression.
Francis Ngannou defeated Luiz Henrique via KO at 2:53 of the second round
Talk about a late addition for KO of the year! I’m not about to declare Ngannou as the next big thing at heavyweight, but he certainly showed the potential the UFC saw in him when they signed the inexperienced Frenchman. Henrique (who came into the fight much bigger than most expected) controlled most of the first round with his wrestling, but was unable to do much more than keep Ngannou down. Ngannou started to get loose at the end of the first round and despite some stalling against the cage by Henrique in the second, Ngannou fully found his range in the second and put together some beautiful combinations, capitulated by an incredible left uppercut that put Henrique out cold. Ngannou isn’t that old for a heavyweight at 29, so he could be a keeper if developed the fight way. He needs a lot of work on his wrestling, but he could be a dark horse given three or four years. Henrique gassed as he probably wasn’t used to carrying around all the weight that he did. He has potential too, but for now it will be interesting to see if he goes back down to 205.
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