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By: Dayne Fox, MMATorch Contributor
No, this card was not on par with UFC 189, but it was probably the second best card top to bottom of the year. The preliminaries were absolutely awesome, and though the first four fights of the main card were fairly ho-hum, the main event was an instant classic almost on par with 189's Robbie Lawler-Rory MacDonald fight. That bout left both competitors beaten and battered... which is exactly how Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson emerged.
There is no doubt going to be debate about who really won the fight, as the split decision was met with controversy, but that would have been there regardless of the outcome regardless. Here are the details:
Daniel Cormier defeated Alexander Gustafsson via split decision
This fight will end up in the same boat as Gustafsson's classic against Jones, where there is quite a bit of dissension amongst the fans over who won the fight. Cormier took the advantage early, nailing a takedown and landing some ground and pound in the first round. Gustafsson started to find his range in the second round and even scored a knockdown off of a knee at the end of the round to take what had been a razor thin round. The third and fourth rounds consisted of Cormier stalking Gustafsson with Gustafsson throwing out kicks and jabs from a distance, with Cormier occasionally getting him in the clinch and landing hard uppercuts to make the rounds difficult to call. The fifth was pretty clearly in favor of Cormier, as he showed more desperation as he was able to catch Gustafsson more often in the clinch, in addition to literally chasing Gustafsson at times.
There will probably be an outcry for Gustafsson to get an immediate rematch, but I have a hard time being able to justify that considering Ryan Bader walked out with a clear victory over a former champion… the same Ryan Bader who many thought deserved the title shot ahead of Gustafsson. Plus, there is a possibility that Jon Jones' return will be in time for him to receive the next title shot. Cormier adds some legitimacy to his title reign by getting the victory, and showed incredible durability as he took a massive beating. I was worried about Gustafsson losing any chance of receiving another fight against Jones if he were to lose here, as he has now dropped three of his last four. But he acquitted himself well enough here that the fight is still sellable with another victory or two.
Ryan Bader defeated Rashad Evans via unanimous decision
Had the main event not been so bad ass, Bader's victory would be getting the attention that it deserves. Aside from allowing Evans to push him into the cage at times, Bader dominated the longtime UFC veteran, showing an improved jab and a sneaky uppercut throughout the fight, and even getting the better of the wrestling the few times that it came into play. Sure, Evans hadn't fought in almost two years and didn't look to be in prime condition, but he didn't look bad by any means, and this victory should mean Bader is on the verge of a title shot. Whom else could he face to improve his position that he hasn't already fought?
Until we get a better idea of when Jones is coming back, we can't say for sure if Bader gets the next title shot. While I agree that he deserves a title shot, I struggle to see him taking the belt from either Cormier or Jones. Then again, I said the same thing about Rafael dos Anjos facing Anthony Pettis, so why not give him the shot. Oh wait… Jones. As for Evans, he may or may not be a top five light heavyweight. He can still be an effective gatekeeper to the elite, but his days as a title contender are over. I'd like to see him face off with Ovince St. Preux who is also coming off of a loss.
Ruslan Magomedov defeated Shawn Jordan via unanimous decision
There were times when the fight was a complete drag, as Jordan apparently injured his ribs early and ran out of gas as the fight went. Funny enough that was when the action started to pick up as Magomedov began to open up with kicks to the head and body. Jordan was able to block most of them, but it was still a lot damage that accumulated. The earlier rounds involved a lot of clinching against the cage, which got the crowd booing at times as there weren't a lot of clean shots landed. Jordan was the aggressor early, but Magomedov did a solid job of preventing any major damage. The win should ensure Magomedov gets a chance against a ranked opponent; he offers a bit of hope for the future as he is one of the youngest in the division. Jordan will continue to serve as an action heavyweight despite the stinker of a performance he turned in here; it happens every now and then. He's a younger heavyweight as well, and still has enough time in his career he could break through in time.
Joseph Benavidez defeated Ali Bagautinov via unanimous decision
It wasn't the most action-filled fight, but it wasn't a horrible fight either. Judging by the fans reaction, you'd have thought it was a repeat of the Dance in Detroit. Well… maybe not that bad, but the flyweights still can't find any love from the fans. They didn't even give the heavyweight bout the same amount of crap as this one. Anyway, Benavidez was able to utilize his speed advantage to out land the Dagestani by a significant margin, using both punches and a steady diet of kicks to the body and legs. Bagautinov landed some good shots himself while causing the most cosmetic damage, and was even able to get Benavidez to the ground in the second, but it was clear who the victor was. The problem for Benavidez is his two previous losses to champion Demetrious Johnson seem to be keeping him on a hold as far as getting another title shot. I'd love to see a showdown between him and John Dodson, both of them having been perennial bridesmaids to DJ. Bagautinov has now lost two in a row as he returned from his steroid suspension. I don't see him getting cut, but I can't guarantee the UFC will give him a step down as he doesn't seem to be a favorite son. We'll see what happens.
Julianna Pena defeated Jessica Eye via unanimous decision
Even though it wouldn't have made a difference in the outcome, it seems that Eye continues to be her own worst enemy. After giving up an advantageous grappling position in the second round, she threw a knee at Pena while Pena was on top to receive a point deduction. Eye had plenty of other moments, but ended up wilting under Pena's nonstop pressure as she landed some takedowns and had a few close call submission attempts. This was easily Pena's biggest win, and it is possible she could be facing Ronda Rousey in about a year. She'll have to win out until that point of course, but she seems completely recovered from her knee surgery and should only continue to improve. Until Eye can find a way to stop the mental gaffes from getting the best of her, she isn't going to be able to break through into the upper echelon. No one is debating her talent, it's her mental state. Expect her to get a rebound fight next.
Yair Rodriguez defeated Daniel Hooker via unanimous decision
Rodriguez won the first season of TUF Latin America to little fanfare, but has quickly become a favorite thanks to his flashy style that is proving to have more substance than originally thought. Even though he didn't land everything that he threw, it kept Hooker off-balance in addition to preventing him from finding a rhythm. Rodriguez also put Hooker into a number of serious submission attempts that Hooker was able to escape, but only barely at times. Hooker had some moments himself, but there was no doubt who the winner was going to be once the final horn sounded. To make things even more impressive, Rodriguez accomplished the win on what seemed to be a broken foot. It's unknown how long he'll be out, but he is looking more impressive with each outing. Hooker's ceiling seems to be in this area. He could stick around for a few years or he could be gone within a year, it all depends on how they match him up from here.
Albert Tumenov defeated Alan Jouban via TKO at 2:55 of the first round
I fully expected this to be an action-packed fight, and I wasn't disappointed. Jouban was actually the one pushing the action, but Tumenov countered effectively and pieced up the former model in just about every exchange. Tumenov slowly started to be the one to push the pace, and ended up landing a hard head kick that badly rocked Jouban. Smelling blood, Tumenov started swarming with punches and it wasn't long before Jouban dropped and the referee stepped in. After a poor debut, Tumenov has been nothing short of amazing since winning four in a row, all in impressive fashion. He probably won't fight a ranked opponent yet, but don't be surprised if it does end up happening. Jouban did what he was supposed to do: make fights exciting and get the audience on their feet, win or lose. He'll get a step down in competition, but his stock isn't hurt at all with the loss.
Adriano Martins defeated Islam Makhachev via KO at 1:46 of the first round
I figured Makhachev would win if it went to decision after some more thinking, as Martins' lack of volume often gets him into trouble when it comes time for the judges to decide the winner. He didn't let it get to that point. Martins is a very selective counter puncher, Makhachev left things wide open for the Brazilian, who landed a clean right hand that dropped Makhachev with his head bouncing off the mat. Martins got in a single hammerfist before the ref pulled him off. Martins has made himself a darkhorse with three straight wins following his lone UFC loss to Donald Cerrone, and should receive a ranked opponent next, possibly even break in himself. He's already 33, so if he wants to make a run at the title he needs to do so now. Makhachev is only 24, so the loss isn't as devastating for him as it would be for Martins. This is his first loss, so expect him to come back with a vengeance. He has one of the brighter futures out of the 155 prospects.
Rose Namajunas defeated Angela Hill via submission at 2:47 of the first round
Even though Namajunas showed a bit more discipline, it's safe to say she is still one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC, and I'm not just talking about women. After a relatively even exchange on the feet, Namajunas got a good takedown before working her all-or-nothing submission style by taking Hill's back. Hill got to her feet with Namajunas on her back and ‘Thug Rose' already had hooks and secured the choke to get a tap from Hill right before she went out. Namajunas shouldn't be launched into the title picture quite yet, as she is still very young at 23 and will be eaten alive by those who are fundamentally sound. Even with that said, it's hard not to like the progress she showed tonight. Hill could be cut with two losses in a row, but she still has a lot of untapped potential as she is new to MMA after starting her career in Muay Thai. I think she'll survive and get one more opportunity.
Sage Northcutt defeated Frank Trevino via TKO at 0:57 of the first round
That was more of an opportunistic win as Northcutt took advantage of Trevino slipping, but nonetheless was still an incredibly impressive win for the 19-year old. Northcutt landed a bunch of punches, took Trevino down as he got to his feet, and continued with his elbows as Trevino was slow to respond. It may have been a quick stoppage as Trevino got to his feet and shoved Herb Dean to protest, but he was no doubt in trouble, and few will fault Dean for the stoppage. There is no way Trevino is coming back after the shove combined with missing weight by four pounds. As for Northcutt, the kid is living up to the hype so far. He may be the best athlete in the UFC, but still has a long way to go. Regardless of how far he still has to go, keep an eye on the kid.
Sergio Pettis defeated Chris Cariaso via unanimous decision
I'm not ready to call this Pettis' coming out party (despite the fact Cariaso had a title fight only a year ago), but he looked a lot more confident in his abilities, seeming to get over the mental hump that he had been struggling with. I'd venture to say his knockdown also had something to do with Cariaso losing his balance as well, but overall he looked great on the feet. What worried me most was his contention with operating out of the guard which led to Cariaso getting the submission at the end of the fight. Pettis is back on track, but he hasn't arrived yet. While Cariaso could be cut having now lost three in a row, I don't think it will happen yet as he has been a good company guy in addition to showing his abundant heart and toughness in the loss. He is on his last legs though…
Derrick Lewis defeated Viktor Pesta via TKO at 1:15 of the third round
That was a big victory for Lewis. He had lost two of his last three, and perhaps even more important, proved that he could come back from adversity as Pesta had been in complete control the first nine minutes of the fight. He hurt Pesta to end the second round and took advantage of that to open the third, getting mount and finishing Pesta with heavy GNP. Lewis has had stamina issues throughout his career and I'm not saying that they are now solved, but it's good to see some form of improvement there as he paced himself much better than he has before. Pesta is one of the youngest heavyweights on the roster, so this loss shouldn't be too devastating. I see him welcoming some new blood or one of the bottom feeders to get back on track.
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