It’s rare when you have a main event live up to the hype when the hype is set at such a high level. UFC 195 was one of those times in which it did. Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit threw down for an amazing 25 minute affair that had millions of fans standing and screaming at the television set for the final round as they laid it all on the line up until the final horn. Lawler walked out of the fight with his hand raised, but there are without a doubt plenty who believe that a new champion should have been crowned to start 2016. Lawler landed the heavier shots to do more damage, while Condit out-landed the champion almost two-to-one in terms of overall volume, making this one of the more difficult fights to score, as it completely depended on what the judges placed more value on and when.
That wasn’t the only fight that left people scratching their heads on the night, as there were a number of decisions that could be debated, in addition to some impressive submission wizardry, and an emphatic statement by a heavyweight contender to make his case for a title shot. Overall, 2016 opened up in a spectacular manner with the UFC hoping for this year to be as lucrative as the previous year.
Robbie Lawler defeated Carlos Condit via split decision
The first four rounds of the fight were certainly entertaining… but there seemed to be something missing that kept it from matching the hype that had surrounded the anticipation of the fight. The fifth round is what was missing. Condit appeared to have a comfortable lead going into the final round, having out-landed Lawler almost 3-to-1, and Lawler seemed to have little left in the tank with Condit still appearing to be fresh. Then in one of the most epic displays in the history of the sport, both put everything on the line in the fifth round. Condit took the early advantage using the same strategy that got him the early lead on the scorecards, with his sheer volume overwhelming the economical Lawler. The champ barely had time to react before Condit had thrown another kick or punch for him to try to parry. Lawler pressed forward, looking to find the right opportunity to unload. He found it with about two minutes left as he started land cleanly on the challenger, leaving Condit wobbly. Someway, somehow, Condit survived without falling to the ground, and even started to throw back to help keep Lawler at bay, even if just for a mere second or two in order to help himself recover. Lawler continued to press, and the two continued to swing at one another until the final bell, at which point both fighters reacted by resting against the fence, exhausted, with nothing left in a shot that defined the brutal and violent spectacle they had just put on.
I see controversy surrounding this bout similar to Lawler’s victory over Johny Hendricks to claim the belt in the first place. I had scored Hendricks the winner in that fight, and scored this one for Condit (for the record, I did pick Lawler to win this one). Lawler spent the first round largely feeling out Condit, which allowed the challenger to take the opening round based on sheer volume. Condit again outlanded Lawler in the second round, but Lawler scored a knockdown off of a counter on an advancing Condit and landed a few other hard shots to take the round pretty clearly. Lawler landed some more hard shots in the third, but nothing that sent Condit to the ground, as Condit continued to land more offense overall in what would become the controversial frame, which I gave to Condit. The fourth was no contest for Condit, and could have been considered a 10-8 round as Lawler did next to nothing against the onslaught Condit put on him. The fifth Condit again landed more strikes, but nothing that had Lawler on the ropes in a fashion that Lawler did to him, putting the score at 48-47 Condit in my eyes. 15 of the 20 media scores on MMA Decisions gave it to Condit as well, with two of them scoring a draw, meaning only three would have given it to Lawler. Controversial indeed….
There will likely be an outcry for a rematch after another perceived robbery by Lawler, and I’ve got to agree despite my reluctance for title rematches. But I also have to say that the biggest reason for the rematch isn’t that many are calling the decision a robbery, but more that there isn’t a clear cut number one contender in line for the next shot. Do you really want to give Tyron Woodley a title shot because he can make weight? Woodley didn’t look impressive in any way in his last outing in the cage, beating a Kelvin Gastelum who had spent the previous day hospitalized after a bad weight cut; he only received his status as number one contender when Johny Hendricks was also hospitalized and not medically cleared to fight due to a bad weight cut of his own before their scheduled fight at UFC 192. Put Woodley against Demian Maia to determine the next top contender while Lawler and Condit officially settle the score in the coming months to add some clarity to the divisional picture. Are you really going to argue against seeing this fight again? I didn’t think so.
Stipe Miocic defeated Andrei Arlovski via TKO at 0:54 of the first round
Both of these guys knew that they needed to do in order to stake their claim for a title shot ahead of Alistair Overeem, and Miocic may very well have done just that. After a fair amount of strikes being exchanged between the two heavyweights before Miocic landed a hard right hand to the ear of Arlovski; that left the Jackson-Wink representative wobbly before a couple more punches sent him to the ground covering up for dear life. Miocic landed a few more punches before Herb Dean stepped in to call the fight after less than minute, clearly making his statement.
Miocic just complicated the top of the division in epic proportions. Overeem’s present free agency has him as a commodity the UFC wants to keep, but he has also shown a willingness to go elsewhere if he isn’t happy with his situation. Translation: Overeem might be willing to walk if Miocic gets the next title shot. Without that being a factor, I’d give the shot to Miocic all the way as he has arguably won six fights in a row (the JDS loss was highly controversial). Who else would you have him fight? I still expect Overeem to get the shot, as he is a more marketable figure in combination with his free agent status while Miocic will get the winner of Ben Rothwell and Josh Barnett later in the month. Arlovski isn’t back to square one, but he sure as hell is close to that point. Lasting less than a minute in a high profile fight will do that. It brings his improbable run to a halt, but he can still right the ship with about two more wins to put himself back to where he was before. A fight with the aforementioned dos Santos would make a lot of sense with both coming off of high profile losses to the top contenders of the division. We’ll have to see.
Albert Tumenov defeated Lorenz Larkin via split decision
This was the easy choice for fight of the night until the main event, as Tumenov and Larkin put on a hell of a chess match. Tumenov pieced up Larkin with punch and kick combinations early, while Larkin stuck with his plan of wearing out Tumenov with a steady diet of leg kicks which left Tumenov on shaky ground by the time the final round rolled around. Tumenov gutted it out despite Larkin continuing to pick him apart early in the round to make his own run, as he pressed forward and made the round another hard one to score. The split decision went to Tumenov (one of the few times I agreed with the judges tonight), but I would have had no issue with Larkin getting the nod.
The win for Tumenov gives him five in a row which would be enough to be fighting a ranked opponent in just about any other division, but I don’t see him getting that quite yet. Well, I wouldn’t at least as there is no rush to put the Russian into the spotlight. Tumenov is only 24 and there is no reason to feed him to the sharks yet. Ryan LaFlare seems like an appropriate test for him as Tumenov has yet to be tested by a wrestler/grappler since his Octagon debut loss to Ildemar Alcantara two years ago. That’s just my opinion though. Larkin has nothing to be ashamed of in the loss as he made a strong comeback to almost steal the win from Tumenov. He backed himself into the fence a few times under the pressure from Tumenov and that put him in a bad position to eat strikes from Tumenov. If he could subtract a few of those sequences, he could have emerged the winner. Going forward, Kenny Robertson would seem to be a fun and sensible opponent.
Brian Ortega defeated Diego Brandao via submission at 1:37 of the third round
Ladies and gentlemen, we have an early candidate for submission of the year. In one of the most beautiful examples of chain submissions, Ortega went from an anaconda choke, to a guillotine choke, to a triangle choke to finally get Brandao to tap out. Not only did he score that beautiful submission, he did so in the final round of a fight that Brandao had been winning up to that point. Brandao was doing a good job of pacing himself, something that he has struggled with extensively in the past. He came out in the third round going for broke, which likely ended up costing him as his breakdown in discipline allowed Ortega to get inside his range and initiate a scramble which led to the impressive submission chain.
Don’t be surprised to see Ortega break into the rankings, as he owns a victory over Thiago Tavares as well who sits at the tail end of the top 15. This fight exposed some of the holes in his striking as he Brandao pieced him up with a bunch of short combos as Ortega’s striking offense largely consisted of a solid jab. Even with that said, I like his potential to continue to move up the featherweight ladder so long as he can add some diversity to his striking. Perennial gatekeeper Darren Elkins seems like the perfect opponent for him next as he continues to work his way up the ladder. Brandao blew his chance to break into the rankings, though he clearly has the potential to be there. Still, I like the discipline he showed up until the third round. He is a conundrum as he is only 28, but has over 30 fights on his body. How much higher he can climb is a huge mystery based on those factors. Regardless of that, he is firmly a gatekeeper to the top 15 until he can prove otherwise.
Abel Trujillo defeated Tony Sims via submission at 3:18 of the first round
An early ending in a Trujillo fight isn’t all that surprising, as he is a reputed hard hitter. Trujillo ending the fight with a guillotine is. The fight started out as expected with both looking to throw leather, Trujillo the aggressor and Sims looking to counter, stuffing a takedown attempt from Trujillo. The beginning of the end came when Sims went for a takedown of his own, as Trujillo latched on to the guillotine. Sims did the right thing by rolling to get out, but Trujillo rolled with him to keep a firm grip on the choke and Sims had no choice other than to tap out. The win was crucial for Trujillo, as he hadn’t won since February of 2014 while losing twice since then (it should be noted there is a good chance one of those losses will likely be turned into a no contest). So long as he remains a fun action fighter and can pull out the occasional win, he’ll remain employed with the UFC. Sims has potential to be the same type of fighter, but has now lost two in a row following his debut win. He could be cut as a result or he could get one more shot. If he is cut, don’t be surprised to see him return at some point.
Michael McDonald defeated Masanori Kanehara via submission at 2:09 of the second round
Even as McDonald scored the win, I can’t help but be unimpressed for the most part with his performance. Besides a single punch and the guillotine attempt, he scored no offense in the first round as Kanehara held him down with ease. The second round started out very similarly with McDonald landing on his back in a failed guillotine attempt. The difference was that McDonald positioned himself to kick off of the fence to get out from underneath Kanehara, taking his back and sinking in a RNC that Kanehara had no chance of escaping. Perhaps this is the perfect type of fight for McDonald to shake off the rust of two years absent from the cage as he didn’t take much damage while escaping with a win, but he looked nothing like the title contender that he was before his long layoff. I’ll go with it being rust, but I would hope the UFC doesn’t rush him back in against the divisional elite. Someone like Bryan Caraway or Takeya Mizugaki sounds right for his next challenge. Kanehara could be in danger of being cut as he doesn’t have much marketability nor is he the most exciting fighter as he has now lost two in a row. He certainly deserves to be on the roster, but that doesn’t always keep you on the roster.
Alex Morono defeated Kyle Noke via split decision
I didn’t agree with this decision, but I can see where the judges picked Morono (like I said, you’d better get used to me saying this) Noke out-struck Morono by a sizeable margin in the first and third round which is why I would have given him the decision. However, the second round was completely up in the air as the two had a number of grappling exchanges, with neither taking full control of the round while Morono had a DEEP armbar locked towards the end of the third that probably gave him the win. That’s despite not being able to elicit the tap from Noke, which ended up being the highlight of the fight with few notable exchanges. The win for Morono is highly impressive considering that he came in on less than two weeks notice. His reputation as an opportunist remains, as the armbar was evidence of that while Noke also slowed a bit after round one. The loss reflects very badly on Noke as Morono isn’t exactly a hot prospect. I can’t help but wonder why Noke didn’t utilize his wrestling more as Morono is a notoriously poor wrestler. I attribute the loss to poor fight IQ more than any physical decline, but that could be coming soon as he is 35.
Justine Kish defeated Nina Ansaroff via unanimous decision
I wasn’t as impressed with Kish as I expected to be, but when she hasn’t had a fight in about two years, perhaps I shouldn’t have set the bar as high as I did. She did walk out with a unanimous decision victory (even inexplicably receiving two 30-27 scores), but in all honesty it was a fight that realistically could have gone either way. Ansaroff landed the higher volume of strikes by a sizeable margin which very easily could have negated the takedowns that Kish scored in the eyes of the judges. Kish came out on fire looking to end things early, with Ansaroff surviving the early onslaught to score more functional offense, as she would often have a counter waiting while pushing the fight at times herself. The only round Kish clearly took was the final round, but Ansaroff had her moments in the round, scoring a takedown of her own to open the round only for Kish to reverse the course of the round by getting back to her feet, landing some offense and getting her own takedown. With the fight potentially being controversial, I’d like to see Ansaroff get one more opportunity as she made this a hell of a fight and should some serious improvement from her lackluster debut against Juliana Lima. Kish should be handled with care. She has the physical ability to become a contender, but she still needs to get her footing under her before she goes against the top end of the field.
Drew Dober defeated Scott Holtzman via unanimous decision
I fully expected Holtzman to pull out a victory based on his supposed wrestling advantage. Dober surprised me with his marked wrestling improvements as he not only landed his first takedown in the UFC, he landed a bunch of takedowns. Where has this version of Dober been? To Holtzman’s credit, he did make it a fight, making some adjustments here and there to firmly control the second round with his wrestling. The problem is that he isn’t developed enough as a striker to be able to deal with Dober’s striking when combined with the wrestling improvements, as he was unsure what to anticipate. Dober saved his job in the process as he surely would have been cut with a loss. He is an entertaining fighter (which is why the UFC has kept him around despite just one win in five previous appearances) and could end up becoming a fixture in the mid-to-lower tiers of the lightweight division. Holtzman hasn’t been fighting in MMA for very long for someone who is in the UFC, so he should be able to continue to improve. Even with that said, I could see him washing out of the UFC with another loss as his ceiling is pretty limited.
Dustin Poirier defeated Joe Duffy via unanimous decision
That was a version of Poirier that we haven’t seen for quite a while, as he utilized a lot of wrestling and GNP in order to pull out the decision over former professional boxer Duffy. I admit that I had been worried about Poirier’s pride getting the best of him, and he would try to stand and slug things out with Duffy. Well, he did for the first round ,and landed his fair share of solid shots, rocking the Irishman at one point. Duffy landed a lot of good shots himself, including a solid right that rocked Poirier, as well as some good work to the body against the cage. Poirier closed out the round with a takedown and largely washed, rinsed, and repeated the takedown process in the second (which he completely dominated) and third rounds. Duffy didn’t give up and even sunk in a pretty deep heel hook and a triangle attempt to steal the fight, doing so without success as Poirier escaped the heel hook and time ran out on the triangle.
Poirier made claims that he would be coming for the belt in his post-fight speech, something I would have been less inclined to believe before this fight. His GNP was absolutely devastating in the second round to the point where the referee would have had justification to step the fight on multiple occasions. The win should put him into the top 10 even if Duffy wasn’t a ranked opponent, as it wasn’t just the fact he won, but how he won. I still have my doubts about him being a title contender, but I can legitimately see him becoming a high level gatekeeper. I’d like to see him fight Beneil Dariush next if the King’s MMA representative can get healthy soon enough. In the case of Duffy, he has nothing to be ashamed of. Poirier owns a better wrestling pedigree and took advantage of that. He not only survived the beating Poirier put on him in the second (as well as some hard standing shots in the first), he threatened with subs in the final round. He’ll be in the UFC for a long while as a mid-level action fighter at the worst with a ceiling similar to Poirier’s. The loser of Ross Pearson and Francisco Trinaldo later this month would be a great fight for him to take next.
Michinori Tanaka defeated Joe Soto via split decision
I vehemently disagree with this decision, though I can see where the judges could award the fight to Tanaka, as the first and second rounds were both extremely close, with Soto clearly taking the last round. Kind of a shame as the loss will likely put Soto on the outside looking in of the UFC on a decision when he won the only clear-cut round. Personally, I also gave Soto the first for the gogoplata attempt as neither landed any fight changing shots or had a significant advantage over one or the other. Tanaka was landing more strikes in the second which is why I gave him that despite Soto’s guillotine attempt that seemed deep at one point. Soto found his rhythm in the last round as Tanaka tired, even trash talking during the exchanges in addition to a couple more late submission attempts. I would love to see the UFC bring Soto back for one last shot to pick up an elusive UFC victory, but I realize that is hard to justify for anyone who starts 0-3 regardless of the manner of his losses. Tanaka felt very lucky to get the win as his celebration following the reading of the decision indicated. I’m not as crazy about his future as a contender I was upon his UFC inception, but he should still become a fixture. He needs to develop some power as Soto showed no respect for Tanaka’s striking, walking through him in the final round.
Sheldon Westcott defeated Edgar Garcia via TKO at 3:12 of the first round
What in the hell was referee Chris Tognoni thinking? For a solid minute Westcott landed punches to the side of Garcia’s head without Garcia making any attempt to improve his position. What was he waiting for? Isn’t a referee’s job to protect the fighters? With my rant out of the way, Westcott finally put together the performance the brass has been expecting of him, and part of that has to do with him taking a more measured approach out of the gate. He waited for an opening, took his shot, adjusted into a body lock takedown and pounded out a victory from there. There are still a number of very winnable fights for Westcott in the division even if he isn’t likely to ever become a major fixture. The win saved him his job while Garcia has now lost all four of his UFC appearances (two in this stint) and isn’t likely to be seen in the Octagon again.