I fully admit that I was on the Ben Rothwell bandwagon. The dude was such a goofball with his dance after disposing of Alistair Overeem, and in his post-fight interview after choking out Matt Mitrione. How could you not love the guy? I got caught up in his antics and completely forgot what a talent Junior dos Santos is. The dude is a former UFC Heavyweight Champion, one whom most of us thought was going to reign for a very long time after his first defense. Even in the midst of his 2-3 stretch recently, he was losing to top talents such as Overeem and Cain Velasquez.
Dos Santos announced his return to elite status with a dominant performance over the surging Rothwell on Sunday at UFC Fight Night 86, and relieved the UFC of awarding Rothwell the title fight that he had been championing for. I don’t know where this version of dos Santos has been hiding since 2012, but it was good to see him come back even if it did derail one of the more entertaining stories that the UFC has had recently. Now dos Santos needs to stay the course.
Junior dos Santos defeated Ben Rothwell via unanimous decision
Though I wasn’t expecting this performance from dos Santos, I can’t say it was surprising as we’ve seen this from him before. Sure, it’s been a few years, and he’s suffered a few crushing defeats since that time, but dos Santos was still young enough that he could revive that version of himself. Perhaps most encouraging was seeing dos Santos avoid backing himself against the fence, escaping every time Rothwell attempted to press him, showing the best footwork he has ever shown. Aside from that he picked apart Rothwell with a very heavy attack to the body, using his speed and athleticism to hit the behemoth before he could hit back. It took a little while for him to warm up as the first round was fairly close, but from that point forward dos Santos easily took every round of the fight. Unfortunately for Rothwell, he didn’t show enough urgency as he fell deeper and deeper into a hole and he never made the necessary adjustments.
I can’t see dos Santos getting a title fight with at least one more victory despite owning victories over the champion Fabricio Werdum and number one contender Stipe Miocic. Keep in mind his victory over Werdum was eight years ago and his win over Miocic was controversial. Plus, he has that loss over Overeem still hovering over his head. If Overeem defeats Andrei Arlovski next month, he almost assuredly will get the next title shot. However, if Arlovski emerges victorious he would be the ideal opponent for dos Santos to fight next. Otherwise it is difficult to say what to do with dos Santos next until things have played out a bit as Travis Browne seems to be the only other option that seems to make sense at this time… provided Browne can get past Velasquez in July.
The loss may have knocked Rothwell out of contention, but he is still a viable commodity in the division. He hasn’t fought as many of the top guys as dos Santos which means he has a lot more options. The fact that it has been eight and nine years respectively since he last fought Andrei Arlovski and Roy Nelson makes those valid rematches too as Arlovski is an option should he lose. Browne is another option should he fall to Velasquez. The feel-good story of Rothwell may be done, but he is still an underdog of sorts that is fun to root for.
Derrick Lewis defeated Gabriel Gonzaga via KO at 4:48 of the first round
Lewis said in his post-fight interview he wants to be ranked. I think he’s going to get his wish. Gonzaga got what he was looking for early in the fight when he was able to get Lewis to the ground. Unfortunately for him he was unable to keep the massive Lewis down. From there he tried to stall Lewis against the fence and was finding good success with that. Lewis is such a beast though that all he needed was a small opening. When he got it, he landed a hard shot on Gonzaga against the cage that dropped the big man. Lewis landed another as Gonzage fell and few more on the ground before the ref intervened as Gonzaga convulsed on the ground, completely unconscious.
The win gave Lewis three wins in a row, and a 6-2 UFC record with this win being the most impressive in terms of name value. He still has holes in his arsenal, but he has also shown continued improvement as he works to close those holes as he has relied more upon technique than his raw physical skills. If he continues on this course he could break into the monotony atop the top of the division by the end of the year. Gonzaga could very well be done in the UFC as this was his fourth loss in his last five fights with the lone victory being one of the worst fights seen in recent memory against Konstantin Erokhin. I’d be surprised if he survives as he isn’t a cheap commodity for the UFC.
Francis Ngannou defeated Curtis Blaydes via TKO at 5:00 of the second round
Though I can’t remember the last time the UFC featured two heavyweights in their 20’s squaring off, it was good to see some talented young blood do their thing in a division that badly needs that. Both showcased their strengths as Ngannou showed his kickboxing skills with a patented jab that busted up Blaydes’ eye, ultimately causing the fight to be stopped as Blaydes could no longer see out of it. Ngannou also stumbled Blaydes at one point, but the younger fighter quickly got back to his feet. Blaydes also showed his skills as his raw athleticism and wrestling skills displayed that he is going to be a force in the division in short order. He wasn’t able to keep Ngannou on the ground when he got him there and he ate a lot of damage from Ngannou, but his toughness and heart were on display as he was extremely upset at the fight stoppage.
I still like the future of both Ngannou and Blaydes, but I was also reminded just how raw they were as I watched them. Neither should be anywhere near a ranked opponent for at least a year (longer for Blaydes as this was just his sixth professional fight). Ngannou showed continued progress and may actually be ready for top competition before that year (thanks to his incredible athleticism), but there is no reason to rush him. Getting a few more fights under his belt before facing top competition would be the best thing for him. Blaydes needs the same recipe, just in higher doses. He might be a better physical specimen than Ngannou, he is just incredibly raw. Don’t be surprised if these two are in line to meet again a few years down the road with higher stakes on the line.
Timothy Johnson defeated Marcin Tybura via unanimous decision
For a lower tiered heavyweight fight that went the distance, this was actually a pretty entertaining bout. Johnson did what he does best in utilizing his massive girth to bully Tybura against the cage, preventing Tybura from scoring a takedown attempt until late in the fight. By that point Tybura knew that he needed, a finish, as Johnson was the aggressor for the first two rounds. Johnson also opened up a cut on Tybura in the second round that left both fighters covered in blood. Tybura made a run in the third round as Johnson was worn down from an arm injury thanks to a blocked kick from Tybura as well as what looked to be a broken orbital. Johnson lost the round for sure, but also did what he had to do to survive, including holding Tybura against the cage when he could and he picked up the win.
Johnson’s going to run into problems when he starts facing the real athletes in the division. Until then, he knows how to use his girth exceptionally well which should allow him to hang around for quite a while as a gatekeeper of sorts as he proved his toughness was plenty in abundance after this fight. He’ll never be a contender, but I think he’ll be around a long time. Tybura looked like he could end up in a similar type role as he showed a lot of toughness himself. He wasn’t able to display his grappling skills against Johnson, but he is one of the better submission specialists in the division in a class that lacks many of those.
Jan Blachowicz defeated Igor Pokrajac via unanimous decision
If you had asked MMA pundits what would have been the most entertaining bout of card, very few would have pointed to this one. Perfect example of why the fights take place as opposed to just relying on projections. Degenerating into a brawl at times, both landed shots that looked like the end was near on the other at multiple junctures, which left both gasping for air with their hands at their side by the end. What proved to be the difference was Blachowicz scoring takedowns when Pokrajac began to gain some momentum. That allowed Blackowicz to land a bunch of strikes from top position which made the judge’s decision pretty easy to make.
Blachowicz showed toughness and solid standup skills, but until he can prove that he is able to stop takedown attempts (fortunately for him Pokrajac didn’t make much of an effort there) and develop a gas tank that allows him to remain effective late in fights, he won’t be making much of an impact in the division. Still, he did probably save his job with the win in a division that is in desperate need for bodies. Because of that (coupled with the entertaining performance), Pokrajac might get another fight despite zero wins in his last six UFC appearances. Sure, this was his return bout after three wins in a row on the regional scene, but I think I’d still cut him loose as he has almost zero credibility left to his name now.
Maryna Moroz defeated Cristina Stanciu via unanimous decision
I was expecting this to degenerate into a brawl early on as both have the reputation of being very aggressive. That doesn’t mean I was disappointed, though, as there was still a lot of action. Stanciu opened with an early flurry with a guillotine choke attempt. Moroz stayed calm, worked her way out, and ended up taking the round with strikes from top position and from Stanciu’s back. The second round was very close with both having moments while the third was dominated by a Moroz armbar attempt that Stanciu resisted for minutes. Though Moroz couldn’t get the finish, she held it tight despite a funky reverse triangle attempt from Stanciu.
More than anything the win solidifies Moroz’s reputation as an action fighter and gets her back in the win column. It’s easy to forget that she is still only 24 and could very easily evolve into more than an action fighter. Stanciu is even younger at 22 and looks like she should be a keeper. This was her first fight at strawweight too, so I’d expect her to look more comfortable in her next appearance simply based off of that not to mention getting her UFC debut out of the way. I very much hope the UFC takes their time with her as she has serious potential.
Zak Cummings defeated Nicholas Dalby via unanimous decision
Maybe we were all sleeping on Cummings. It isn’t the fact that he won that is surprising, but the way in which he won. Owning a reputation as a grinder, Cummings didn’t look to take the fight to the ground all that often, winning the striking battle as he used his durability to walk through a lot of what Dalby had to offer while providing his own powerful strikes, including landing a knockdown in the first round. By the last round Dalby knew he needed the finish as he looked to up the ante and with volume and even looked as though he had stunned Cummings briefly with a series of knees in the clinch. Cummings recovered though, preventing Dalby from landing anymore significant offense as he obtained the advantageous position in the clinch to limit Dalby’s offense and ensuring he would walk out with a victory.
The victory for Cummings pushes him to 4-1 in the UFC which should warrant a sizeable step up in competition. I’m not advocating for him to jump into fight the likes of Thiago Alves or Ryan LaFlare quite yet, but I wouldn’t cry out against it either. He’s earned it as he has not only won four of his five UFC appearances, but he has also looked very good in those wins. Dalby once again showed his own durability by surviving until the end while preventing Cummings from simply coasting to the end. He should be a mid-tier gatekeeper from this point forward with a penchant for putting on entertaining fights.
Alejandro Perez defeated Ian Entwistle via submission at 4:04 of the first round
If you’re going to rely so damn heavily on one tactic to win your fights, do yourself a favor and don’t accuse your opponent of cheating when that tactic doesn’t work. Notorious for bursting out of the gate looking for leg locks, Entwistle was able to get the submission but he couldn’t elicit the tap out of Perez. When that happened he complained to the referee that Perez was greasing which caused a stoppage in the action as the ref checked for an illegal substance. Unable to find one, the ref restarted the action (much to Entwistle’s dismay) with Perez ready to not only defend Entwistle’s next leg lock attempt, but offering a solution to stop the fight as well. With Entwistle on the ground at Perez’s feet, Perez began to land a barrage of punches which eventually caused Entwistle to tap out for a submission due to strikes.
Perez now has three UFC wins with all of them occurring in a strange manner. His win over Jose Quinones was marred by point deductions, and the Scott Jorgensen win came thanks to a foot injury in which Jorgensen could barely stand. It’s hard to know what type of ceiling he has when he keeps picking up odd victories, though this one would have been controversy free had Entwistle not complained. I’m sure his complaints didn’t look good to the UFC brass either, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them cut him loose after this despite it being a single loss as opposed to consecutive losses. We’ll have to see.
Mairbek Taisumov defeated Damir Hadzovic via TKO at 3:44 of the first round
The end result was very much what was expected, as Taisumov picked up an early stoppage victory, but the way in which we got there was very complimentary towards newcomer Hadzovic. Taisumov jumped to an early lead on the scorecards with leg kicks and jabs before Hadzovic found his range a bit and landed some good shots on the heavy favorite and it turned into a firefight. Taisumov began pressuring Hadzovic as he grabbed the advantage and eventually landed an uppercut that collapsed Hadzovic. The ref stepped in to stop the action, but Taisumov was already walking away.
Taisumov asked the same question in his post-fight interview that most of the MMA pundits were wondering: When was the UFC going to give Taisumov a chance to break into the elite? No disrespect to Hadzovic, but Taisumov should be facing much more proven competition. This fight along with his question should be enough for him to get the step up in competition that he deserves. After four finishes in a row, it would be difficult to deny him at this point. Hadzovic acquitted himself well as many didn’t expect him to be competitive in any way for this fight as he scored some good offense against a proven talent. There is still a lot of mystery to where he could end up fitting in the UFC though I do feel more comfortable in saying he could stick around for a while.
Damian Stasiak defeated Filip Pejic via submission at 2:16 of the first round
Not a whole lot to say about the fight. While Pejic showed athleticism and potential, he was unable to produce much offense in the process. Stasiak, who is known as a striker, took the youngster down a couple of times before taking Pejic’s back and sinking in the choke. Making his debut at bantamweight, Stasiak appears to have found a home at 135 as he didn’t have the same issues taking down Pejic as he did with larger featherweights. His next fight will be more telling as Pejic is still incredibly raw. It’s kind of a shame that Pejic is getting his UFC opportunity so early in his career as it seems likely he’ll wash out of the UFC thanks to his inexperience and it can be expected it will be difficult for him to make it back to the big leagues. He’ll need a big leap in order to pick up a win in his next fight.
Lucas Martins defeated Rob Whiteford via split decision
This wasn’t the exciting bout that I thought it would be. It wasn’t a completely dull fight by any means, but Martins was content to counter early on with Whiteford being very selective of his strikes leading to a low amount of volume being thrown. The momentum of the fight slowly changed as Martins picked up the aggression until he was stalking Whiteford in the third round. Whiteford was landing the greater volume throughout the entire fight and even landed the only takedown of the bout. It was the quality in which Martins landed that made the difference. He hurt Whiteford in the first round which forced Whiteford to stall in the clinch in order for him to recover in addition to a number of other clean shots that Whiteford wasn’t able to match. That doesn’t mean a case couldn’t have been made for Whiteford, but it was very much a fight that could have gone either way. The win probably saved Martins job. Unfortunately for him impressive was the last word that would be used to describe the victory. It seems likely he’ll be reserved to a role outside the rankings unless he steps up his performances. Whiteford could be cut as it was his second loss in a row and the UFC has been doing some housecleaning recently.
Jared Cannonier defeated Cyril Asker via KO at 2:40 of the first round
While the momentum of any MMA fight can change quickly, it seems to be the norm in the heavyweight division more so than in any other division. Asker was landing hard shot after hard shot as Cannonier struggled with the reach advantage Asker enjoyed, and it seemed to be a matter of time before one of those shots rocked Cannonier. A single left hook was all it took to change the narrative as Cannonier landed a clean one that was hard enough I was surprised Asker was still conscious upon hitting the ground. Cannonier finished the job with elbows and made a hell of a statement with the highlight reel finish. The win saved his job, though he did leave mystery where his next fight will take place as he hinted at a drop to light heavyweight, something he was supposed to have done last fall. The lack of depth at 205 might even give him additional security if he drops. Asker looked sharp until he got caught as Cannonier admitted his punches were hurting. Despite the short nature of the fight, I walked out feeling better about his long-term chances in the UFC, though I still wouldn’t say there are high expectations.
Bojan Velickovic defeated Alessio Di Chirico via unanimous decision
It would be fair to question whether or not Di Chirico should have been the rightful winner, but to call it a robbery wouldn’t be accurate. I could see the first and second rounds going either way with the third round being the only clear round as Di Chirico was able to find his range and clearly land more strikes while landing the only takedown of the round, though there was at least one judge that saw fit to give it to Velickovic anyway. Overall the fight had good-not-great entertainment value as both fighters made solid impressions in their UFC debuts. Velickovic’s high volume of leg kicks had to be what gave him the victory as Di Chirico had the advantage in the fists while also showing better than expected takedown abilities. Velickovic was fighting up in weight as he usually fought at welterweight on the regional scene which may have explained some of those issues for him. Look for him to possibly drop back down in weight. Di Chirico is still very raw by UFC standards which means his next fight will be crucial to the course of his career.
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