For the first time in a long time I found myself embattled. The post Henderson vs. Thomson scores were something of a fight in and of themselves. As always I was on the side of the right and the just. I just hope that when I’m dead and gone, these are the moments I’m remembered for… (just writing that made me do some serious self reflection). Anyhow pre-fight picks were made, odds were offered, and for the first time I’m going to include the pre-fight betting lines (via paddypower) along with my picks and my hindsight thoughts. Because I want to gloat a little when I picked underdogs and offer a more complete picture of pre-fight expectations.
Disclaimer: Even though I’m offering odds now, and making all sorts of noise about my prefight picks and how right they were (or, as is often the case, terribly wrong) this isn’t much of a betting post as I’m still not much of a betting man. Take this insight for what it’s worth ( $.02) and if you can make something out of it down the road, more is the power to you.
Hindsight: Walt Harris (-350) vs. Nikita Krylov (+250) (I picked Harris, I was wrong)
- While few (anyone?) picked Krylov to win this fight, there were signs that he had the necessary tools. He and Harris are both fast starters, but Harris has shown tendencies of waiting on opponents. Against a throw anything fighter like Krylov there was a pretty reasonable chance that he was going to get surprised by Krylov’s Karate toolkit.
- Harris may be a phenomenal athlete, but he neither generates offense nor defends himself with the regularity to fight at the comfortable, methodical pace he wants to set. If he can’t create more consistent offense or tighten up his defense he’s going to find himself on a lot of highlight reels for the wrong reasons.
- Krylov took a justified shellacking in the minds of fans for carrying too much weight and punching himself out on Soa Palelei’s cinder block head in his debut. But, while he still has a bit too much flail and too little power in his punches, he has some legitimate skills. He’s not a future title contender, but it’s silly to write off a 21 year old with his karate background.
Hindsight: Mike Rhodes (-225) vs. George Sullivan (+175) (I picked Rhodes, I was wrong)
- Rhodes came to the UFC too soon. There’s no other way about it. The experience of a big show got to him and he fought a slower, less dynamic fight than his last performance in the cage. Hopefully the experience will season him for his next UFC fight, because if not he could be a massive washout as one of the UFC’s brighter prospects.
- Sullivan’s age and greater depth of experience really paid dividends in this fight. He knew that the best way to win rounds was to stay busy and he kept the pressure on Rhodes throughout. There’s argument that Rhodes should have won it, but Sullivan kept the fight on his terms most of the fight.
- There’s no doubt about it, fighters are getting bigger. I thought Sullivan would be the bigger man in the cage, as he looked huge on the regional circuit and he was definitely a lot broader across the shoulders, but at 6′ 1″ Rhodes is a pretty big WW as well. An era where the 6′ weltereweight is standard is going to be an odd one.
Hindsight: Daron Cruickshank (-250) vs. Mike Rio (+187.5) (I picked Cruickshank, I was right)
- The nature of the wrestler vs. striker matchup has changed. No longer is the wrestler at an instant advantage against kickboxers. They have to have the striking to close distance effectively. This was the first of several fights where that came into play and a wrestling/grappling centric fighter got handled.
- Cruickshank is very much a style fighter, and given the time and pacing to maintain his style he is as dangerous as anyone at 155 lbs. The book has been written on beating him, but if you haven’t read it you’re not going to.
- I’m not sure if it was too great a deficit to overcome, or if it’s the result of working the wrong techniques, but it felt like Rio’s boxing was very much improved, but not at all connected to his grappling. For a fighter like him, striking should be a way to get the fight down, not a method of competing over long stretches with pure strikers.
Hindsight: Junior Hernandez (+250) vs. Hugo Viana (-350) (I picked Viana, I was right)
- There are very few fighters in the UFC able to do this, but Hugo Viana seems to rely almost entirely on his athletic gifts when he fights. His technique is miserable, but his speed, timing, agility, and power make him a cut above the lower tier of UFC fighters.
- More and more it’s becoming clear when fighters lack the natural athleticism to compete at the highest level. Some may chalk Hernandez’s loss up to an almost mind numbing hesitancy in the first two rounds, but I would credit that hesitancy to lacking the speed and agility to keep up with Viana. Only as Viana started to slow down could Hernandez capitalize.
- It’s hard to say how much upside there is for a fighter like Viana. He’s 31, but he’s only been fighting about 4 years. He has time to improve, but he needs to start showing improvement quickly. So far, he hasn’t.
Hindsight: Chico Camus (-200) vs. Yaotzin Meza (+162.5) (I picked Meza, I was wrong)
- This was my tossup pick of the night and I felt Meza’s size would be a real advantage. Unfortunately, much like Rio earlier, Meza’s complete lack of striking made him a fairly predictable target for Camus.
- Camus’ scrambling ability continues to surprise me. He’s never inactive on the ground and often makes the best of a bad situation when he’s in it.
- Camus is still something of a jack-of-all-trades, but he showed that he’s clearly a cut above basic at everything. I’m interested to see if there will be more talk of him at flyweight, but I think he’ll be competative wherever he fights.
Hindsight: Yves Jabouin (+250) vs. Eddie Wineland (-350) (I picked Wineland, I was right)
- This was entertaining, Jabouin is a skilled fighter and he accounted for himself well… but this was also a perfect display of his style and technique and why a more powerful striker will eventually overwhelm him.
- Wineland really is a rare throw back as an almost entirely one-dimensional fighter. There’s talk of his “better than advertised” wrestling, but he doesn’t seem interested in selling anyone on that idea. He’s essentially a boxer and he makes it work with raw speed and quality footwork and head movement.
- It’s somewhat strange that a lack of power can define a fighter’s career, but that’s the only real way to define Jabouin. He doesn’t have the power to maintain his varied kickboxing. He might be able to drop to flyweight and see if things change there, but I doubt they would.
Hindsight: Alex Caceres (+162.5) vs. Sergio Pettis (-200) (I picked Caceres, I was right)
- The moment this fight was announced I felt that Pettis didn’t have the tools to win it. He’s a great prospect and in a year or two I’d pick him all the way in this fight, but the here and now of it is that he doesn’t have the seasoning to make the most of his advantages.
- Caceres isn’t a great boxer, it’s obvious that he puts work in on it and when his coaches remind him he can settle down and make use of it. But despite all that he does wonderful things with his length in terms of creating dynamic strikes. His balance is on point and his variation makes him incredibly hard to draw a bead on.
- Caceres has got to be considered in the top 15, if not the low end of the top ten for bantamweight right now. There’s no reason that guys like Reis, Easton, and Caraway should be outranking him at this point in his UFC career. Bantamweight is severly lacking in challengers and he could easily sneak himself into contention.
Hindsight: Darren Elkins (-110) vs. Jeremy Stephens (-120) (I picked Stephens, I was right)
- Elkins is another fighter who seems to have worked a lot on his boxing without finding a way to draw it into his wrestling. He’s a better striker than he used to be, but his shots almost seem more predictable because of it.
- Stephens has improved against grapplers a lot. It was hard to see before this fight, but it’s been a long time since he lost because he had a disadvantage in wrestling or grappling to his opponent. He’s now in position to be considered a top tier gatekeeper at featherweight.
- I’d almost forgotten this about Stephens, but he still seems to “shut down” a bit when he gets hit hard. He’s not chinny, so even a solid shot isn’t necessarily going to rock him, but when he does get rocked a bit he seems to kind of go to pieces for 10-20 seconds afterword. The fact that he’s still very hittable makes this something of a worry going forward.
Hindsight: Donald Cerrone (-225) vs. Adriano Martins (+175) (I picked Cerrone, I was right)
- I’m not even totally sure that the “best” version of Donald Cerrone showed up to this fight, but Martins gave him way too much room and respect early on and Cerrone took that time to find his rhythm and take Martins apart.
- Cerrone is consistently demonstrating that, whatever his flaws, he’s among the best handful of fighters at lightweight. I could very easily see him entering that Chael Sonnen esque like realm of always being a fight or two from a title shot. The kind of guy who fills in on short notice to headline a card. He won’t win every fight, but he can beat all but the very best.
- This was very much, too much too soon for Martins. He’s clearly ready for the UFC and clearly a mid to upper tier lightweight, but he was not ready for the level of game planning and offensive variation that the very best fighters require.
Hindsight: Gabriel Gonzaga (+175) vs. Stipe Miocic (-225) (I picked Miocic, I was right)
- I’ve learned to never pick heavyweight fights to go to a decision, but this was primed for a decision performance from Stipe. His most logical course of action was to kickbox from range and he made it happen.
- I’ve mentioned this several times now, but I really think that having a job alongside fighting is a detriment. For as great as Miocic looked against Nelson he looked regressed here and I can’t help but think that he won’t have the necessary focus and perpetration to beat other heavyweights in the top ten.
- I really feel for Gonzaga here, I didn’t think he gassed, and his broken hand makes much more sense. He caught Miocic hard throught the fight and any one of those punches could have gotten him the win. However, he’s perfectly suited as the gatekeeper to the top of the division and fights like this continue to re-affirm that position.
Hindsight: Benson Henderson (-300) vs. Josh Thomson (+225) (I picked Henderson, I was right)
- It almost felt like a foregone conclusion that Henderson would win a contentious split decision, especially given Thomson’s own history of contentious splits. It’s a weird point of consistency that throughout his career Henderson seems bound to win any time two judges disagree on the score.
- Dallas talked about it before the fight, but Thomson tends to fight in spurts. He goes through bursts of intense offense and then takes his foot off the gas. Against a constant pressure fighter like Henderson it had the negative value of letting close rounds slip away.
- Henderson, when he ends his career, may do so as one of the most enigmatic fighters in this sport’s history. he’s 7 years and 23 fights into his career and it still feels hard to describe exactly what he’s going to do in a fight. I don’t know that that will ever change and it makes him something of a rarity in MMA.
That’s all for this week. The book on UFC on Fox 10 has now been written. If not by me, then certainly by others. Much of what I wrote seems obvious now, but, as always, that’s the benefit of hindsight. Until next week.
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