Overall the UFC’s 34th Fight Night iteration provided a strong night of picks for me. Most of the big favorites won and a few personal favorites turned the tables. Apart from one shocking upset (which I totally blame on Anton Tabuena) all went exactly as planned. Of course, all going as planned also involved waking up at 3 AM to watch the fights live and thus, once again, prove that I am still capable of making a lot of questionable decisions.
UPFRONT DISCLAIMER TIME: I’ve been to Las Vegas several times in my life now and the vast majority of those trips were made when I was too young to do much more than dinner theater. Suffice to say that if I found myself on the strip again soon I’d probably be wondering if Sigfried and Roy still had a show (they don’t, I checked) long before I considered hitting the blackjack tables. Long story short, I’m not a gambler and I doubt I ever will be. So, read on, but know that whatever insight I have to give on fight picking is purely theoretical in nature.
Now, on to the fights:
BOUT 1 – Bantamweights: Russell Doane vs. Leandro Issa (I picked Doane, I was right)
- Doane has a ton of athletic ability to coast on if he wants to. He’s lightening quick and has a lot of power and it makes me a little worried that his terrible takedown defense is a product of over-reliance on those gifts. Time will tell.
- I’m honestly starting to believe that a lack of striking is the most difficult skill for a fighter to overcome. The amount of work that Issa is going to have to put in to compete with the upper half of his division may be more than is realistically possible.
- Doane’s ground game is very hit or miss, he was able to take advantage of a flagging Issa last night, and in general his variety of technique is really positive for his future, but I’m not sure that his lack of positional grappling won’t bite him against better wrestlers and better athletes.
BOUT 2 – Bantamweights: Jon Delos Reyes vs. Dustin Kimura (I picked Kimura, I was right)
- He didn’t win, but I was really surprised by what I saw out of Delos Reyes. Like Doane, he’s got great handspeed and power, and that alone will give a lot of fighters fits.
- I’m not sure what to think of Kimura at this point in his career. This fight nicely exposed that he can’t go strike for strike with the better boxers in his division, but it felt like his Gagnon fight showed that his grappling can be outmuscled by other strong grapplers. Without something more to offer than good scrambling and tricky grappling he may end up as a fun, but limited, fighter.
- Delos Reyes probably lost himself this fight with how overly aggressive he was. If he can sit back a little and let slower fighters create openings for him, he could instantly make himself a lot better.
BOUT 3 – Lightweights: Mairbek Taisumov vs. Tae Hyun Bang (I picked Taisumov, I was right)
- Taisumov has every tool he needs to be a top fighter, but like another fighter on this card, he seems to run out of ideas pretty quickly. He was able to comfortably outpoint Bang, but after a while it felt like he was at a loss as to how to generate meaningful offense.
- Tae Hyun Bang reminds me of a low output, slower, KJ Noons. KJ Noons barely gets away with being KJ Noons, for everyone else it’s a losing proposition.
- The “hands down” cult has got to die. Whatever Tae Hyun Bang’s sins, they have little to do with holding his hands low… Mostly they seemed to have a lot to do with ill timed jumping knee attempts.
BOUT 4 – Bantamweights: Dave Galera vs. Royston Wee (I picked Galera, I was wrong)
- This may have been the single worst UFC fight I’ve seen in the last half decade. I feel bad for both men, as they can’t be blamed for not being better fighters, but this had no business on a UFC card.
- Much like Tiequan Zhang, Wee has some staying power because of his solid wrestling base. There are probably a few decent looking bantamweights the UFC could find that he could take down for three rounds, but I don’t know that any of them are on the roster right now.
- For his sake, I hope the UFC releases Dave Galera. At 35 and with only six fights to his name, he needs the kind of seasoning and time that the UFC can’t provide and that, quite honestly, he may not be able to achieve. I can’t see any upside to letting him take a bad beating from top flight competition and I don’t want to see them bring in more fighters at his level.
BOUT 5 – Lightweights: Katsunori Kikuno vs. Quinn Mulhern (I picked Kikuno, I was right)
- I doubt he ever reaches anything approaching Lyoto Machida’s success, but Kikuno speaks to the MMA child in me that wants to really see fighters from every discipline compete at the highest level and not just a contest for the world’s best wrestleboxer.
- Some have raised questions about Mulhern’s fight IQ, following his announcement that he didn’t feel like he could physically compete out there. But, I’d have to say, that despite the fact that he appeared to do alright while striking (he was still losing) his willingness to pull guard was probably the result of feeling like he was taking a lot more punishment than he was delivering. It’s incredibly hard to tell how badly a strike hurts or doesn’t hurt as a viewer and I can’t question Mulhern if he says he wasn’t able to match Kikuno.
- There are few gifts as great as trying to describe what Kikuno’s stance looks like to someone who’s never seen it. Personally I go with “Guy handing out towels in a men’s room.”
BOUT 6 – Featherweights: Max Holloway vs. Will Chope (I picked Holloway, I was right)
- Holloway has definitely added to his game over time, but I’m not sure that he’s actually gotten better as a fighter. Him spamming spin kicks felt like someone who’s picking up and applying techniques at random rather than developing a more technical and successful fighting style.
- There is a limit to how big you can be in any weight class and still be successful. Chope may be a giant with some decent power, but he’s slow as mud and does nothing with his range. Even behind a good jab, I’m not sure he can keep up with top fighters at 145.
- It was good to see Holloway realize that he was flagging and really turn his offense back up. He’s a great athlete with a lot of technical tools, but his fighting spirit has always been one of his best assets.
BOUT 7 – Bantamweights: Kyung Ho Kang vs. Shunichi Shimizu (I picked Kang, I was right)
- I really feel like the sky is the limit with Kang, but it’s hard to not say he’s a cursed fighter. He could have lost this fight with that blatantly silly 2 point deduction. Eventually he’s lucky his competition was so over matched. Against someone better, who knows what happens there?
- Despite a very poor showing, I have a soft spot for Shimizu. His game is terrible for the UFC and I doubt that he ever gets it going to a point where he can win consistently, but I’d like to see him get a shot at flyweight, just to see if it could work.
- Kang’s grappling is really slick. It was good to see him finally turn opportunity into submission as it feels like he’s often failed to do so in the past.
BOUT 8 – Welterweights: Luiz Dutra vs. Kiichi Kunimoto (I picked Dutra, I was wrong-ish)
- What a mess. I know there are a lot of people calling for Dutra’s head, and I don’t blame them, but I doubt he’s gone after just one mistake, even a bad one like that.
- Kunimoto was one of the biggest unknowns as a fighter going in to this card and, sadly, that’s exactly where he stays. I have no idea what he can do, other than not take illegal blows to the back of the head very well.
- I would like to say that Dutra got sloppy and was lost in the moment, but the fact that he still blames Kunimoto for “playing it up” a day or two after the fight makes me think that he’s probably always going to be a bit unhinged.
BOUT 9 – Featherweights: Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Sean Soriano (I picked Soriano, I was wrong)
- I was incredibly impressed by Kawajiri in this bout. I’d never really given him much time before this, and he started out really poorly, but he was able to rally beautifully. It’s hard not to be taken by the skill of a fighter who can pull out a comeback like that… and that post fight speech was magical.
- Soriano, while still incredibly promising, showed a pretty big flaw in his game last night. Not that his ground game isn’t good enough, there’s no shame in getting subbed by Kawajiri, but that he regularly defends takedowns with the stepping knee. That works against fighters who have a slow and fairly one dimensional shot, but against dynamic wrestlers it’s not a great first option.
- I’m glad to see Kawajiri bucking for a title shot. He’s not young, so his time is now, but the amount of punishment he took in those opening two minutes doesn’t instill a lot of belief in me for his chances against anyone in the top 5.
Bout 10 – Welterweights: Hyun Gyu Lim vs. Tarec Saffiedine (I picked Saffiedine, I was right)
- Much like Taisumov earlier, Saffiedine is a fighter who just seems to run out of ideas as the fight wears on. It felt like he wanted to do more than just kick Lim to pieces, but wasn’t really sure what more he could do. I’ve heard a rumor that he injured his foot, but his performance was hardly uncharacteristic of him
- Saffiedine is a top ten WW, there’s no question about that. Fight IQ points aside, his technical striking mastery is something only a handful of other fighters in the UFC possess. He even showed a fair bit of power in his punches, rocking Lim badly. He has every potential to contend for the title this year or next.
- Hyun Gyu Lim should be lauded, but everyone else involved in that fight needs a serious punch up the bracket. If a fighter is incapable of standing and walking they shouldn’t be fighting. The fact that Saffiedine gave Lim the 4th round off made it tough to call the fight, but someone should have been looking out for Lim beyond this one fight.
Since the card started at three in the morning I’ll have to blame my lack of deep insight on sleeplessness rather than booze. So much of what I wrote seems rather obvious now, but, as always, that’s the benefit of hindsight. Make sure to rejoin me (I promise I’m reading this with you) next week for Fight Night 35: Rockhold vs. Philippou.
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