Okay, I’m not going to try and convince anyone that UFC 169 was extra awesome. As much as I enjoy poking a bear with a stick, that bear pays at least a couple of my bills. So, moving right along. This event was all about showing up and getting a fight for a lot of guys. There were multiple debuting fighters, a whole lot of big mismatches and a couple title fights that, while beautiful in their technique, left a lot of people scratching their heads. Whether you were enthralled, apathetic, or bored to tears there was still a lot to learn.
Disclaimer of the week. I started giving odds last time, and while I get to revel in picking a couple of underdogs this week, it was a pretty simple card to bet, by and large. And by simple I mean I didn’t, because, well I don’t like losing money and I’m afraid of losing fingers and kneecaps once my inevitable addiction spirals out of control. So, extremities intact, let’s take a look at the fights.
Hindsight: Neil Magny (+155) vs. Gasan Umalatov (-190) (I picked Umalatov, I was wrong)
- I knew Umalatov was a finished product coming into this fight, but I had started to assume Magny was as well. I was wrong and he looked much improved from his last performance.
- A general lack of power is going to be a long term roadblock for Magney, but increasing his offensive output the way he did was the biggest, easiest step he could make toward a solid UFC career.
- Umalatov is going to have to reevaluate his setups. He had a lot of opportunities to close distance with hard body shots, but instead he was content to leave them as one-off strikes. As a boxer first he needs to take advantage of the openings he creates.
Hindsight: Rashid Magomedov (-260) vs. Tony Martin (+200) (I picked Magomedov, I was right)
- Martin showed that he’s really a bright prospect to watch, and a crushing grappler, but eventually Magomedov maintained the narrative that this fight just didn’t make sense. Once Martin couldn’t complete that first submission chain (which took the whole first round) he had no tools to beat the former M-1 champ. As an extra highlight Magomedov’s sub defense looked gorgeous.
- There are few fighters that counter as cleanly as Magomedov does. It can make him a little boring to casual fans when he’s fighting someone who isn’t looking to strike, but if the UFC can match him up against aggressive kickboxers he could be a highlight reel.
- Martin is a hulk at lightweight and I love that he takes advantage of that size with an aggressive power submission game. Kimuras, straight armbars and other joint locks are a great first weapon for a grappler who’s bigger than most of his competition.
Hindsight: Andy Enz (+155) vs. Clint Hester (-190) (I picked Hester, I was right)
- Hester is now 3 fights into his UFC career and he’s still essentially the same fighter he was on TUF. A few more takedowns showed a potentially new wrinkle in his game, but truthfully he’s looked less impressive with each UFC outing and has yet to take a step up in competition. This is his time to grow and I’m not seeing it.
- Enz has to develop some kind of takedown game. His biggest talent is his bruising top control, but he looked like he didn’t have even one tool to initiate a takedown or a clinch last fight.
- Middleweight is getting deeper, but it still seems thick with fighters who are incredibly incomplete. Whether they’re underwhelming athleticlally, technically, or just one dimensional. It’s still a division in flux and it will take time build quality prospects from the ground up.
Hindsight: Al Iaquinta (-260) vs. Kevin Lee (+200) (I picked Iaquinta, I was right)
- Much like Martin, Lee really acquitted himself well. His transitional grappling is fantastic and his use of wrestling to create sub opportunities makes him incredibly dangerous. There was talk that he’ll need to rebuild his striking from the ground up however and I’m not sure that sentiment is misplaced.
- Iaquinta continues to look like something a darkhorse talent, but I can’t help feeling that his propensity for keeping fights close is intrinsic to his style and a long term limiter. Even when he’s winning he gives a lot of momentum to his opponents.
- The UFC roster expansion means that they’re starting to get a few prospects a couple years too early. In some ways it almost feels like a throw back to the early 2000’s where a general lack of talent drove the UFC to consistently throw green fighters at more seasoned vets.
Hindsight: Nick Catone (+160) vs. Tom Watson (-200) (I picked Catone, I was right-ish)
- I picked Catone here for all the reasons that the judges gave him this fight. He’s a consistent, driving wrestler who only tends to lose (at least when facing run of the mill fighters) to guys who can out wrestle or grapple him. Watson couldn’t do that at all. That said, I thought Watson did a lot more damage in this fight and deserved the decision.
- When I mentioned middleweight still having a lot of unexciting fighters who didn’t seem to be improving, this was more or less what I was referring to.
- Catone had another debilitating injury during this fight. A torn ACL is the latest in a long string that have plagued his UFC career. He’s bounced between weights, had health issues, and even with a win I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t have a long fighting future ahead of him.
Hindsight: Chris Cariaso (-155) vs. Danny Martinez (+125) (I picked Cariaso, I was right)
- As I watched this fight, one particular not struck me. Chris Cariaso is really only comfortable striking from range, but because of his short limbs (even for flyweight) he’s incredibly ill equipped to work in his preferred distance.
- Martinez has all the raw athletic tools he needs to fight at the UFC level, and being a power wrestler is a great base, but he really has no other polish to his game. Without better striking or submission offense he will struggle to beat most UFC competition.
- I hate to be down on both fighters in a bout, but Cariaso needed to shine here. He’s been fighting at the top level for quite a while now and still has trouble putting together strong performances against relatively unpolished competition. He had a nice fight against Iliarde Santos, who was tailor made for his style, but this was a step back.
Hindsight: John Makdessi (-170) vs. Alan Patrick (+140) (I picked Makdessi, I was wrong)
- The fact that the betting line was as close as it ended up showed that a fair number of people knew something I didn’t. Alan Patrick may not be the most polished fighter in the world, but he’s very, very athletic and he’s fighting with more aggression and a better use of range than ever before.
- Much like Cariaso above, this was a big step back for John Makdessi. He’s now shown pretty conclusively, that he struggles mightily with fighters at range. Whatever the reason, he just can’t seem to slip the first punch and return fire. He’s great in the pocket, but he’s far too hittable at distance.
- Joe Rogan may have lost his Alpha-Brain when he heard the scorecard get read, but I had no problem with this decision (except for 30-27… that was… bad). Stuffing takedowns (which Makdessi did with ease) doesn’t make up for the fact that Makdessi routinely got hit harder in exchanges as well. He may have landed more, but this was a solid case of assessing damage over volume.
Hindsight: Abel Trujillo (+125) vs. Jamie Varner (-155) (I picked Trujillo, I was right)
- Trujillo pulls has an immense wellspring of power every time he pulls the trigger. Opponents who face him are going to have to be at the top of their defensive game every time the fight is standing. Varner wasn’t and eventually he wasn’t (if you catch my drift).
- Varner has always prided himself on being an action fighter and the fact that he’s been so hard to KO in his career is a huge testament to his success in that role. This was as clean a one-punch KO as you can come by, but it does make you wonder about a fighter with 11 years in the sport.
- While the KO was beautiful, I was a little surprised to see Trujillo looking really stiff and unpolished early. He looked much smoother on his feet in his last fight, but seemed slightly less so in this fight.
Hindsight: Ali Bagautinov (-135) vs. John Lineker (+105) (I picked Bagautinov, I was right)
- Bagautinov showed some real craftiness in this fight, by waiting on Lineker to lose a step before engaging him in striking exchanges. He took him down early, used up his energy and then boxed him late. A smart fight all around.
- Lineker is a fun fighter, but Bagautinov showed the real, deep seated, flaws in his game. He showed flashes of a kicking game against Azmat Gashimov, but he went away from it here and was left with little other than his boxing.
- Bagautinov is making solid strides to make himself a more fun and engaging fighter, beyond simply fighting well. He’s probably one of the front runners for a flyweight title shot, and the more engaging he can be outside the cage the better the chance that he’ll get to fight for the title.
Hindsight: Frank Mir (+250) vs. Alistair Overeem (-325) (I picked Overeem, I was right)
- Honestly, I feel better about Alistair Overeem after watching this fight. I know a lot of people expected him to wreck Mir… and he did. He may not have finished the fight, but I felt much better watching him fail to totally give the fight away for three rounds than I would have if he’d just TKO’d him in the first.
- Frank Mir is definitely in strange territory with the UFC. I doubt they cut him, but there’s not a ton you can do with him either. He’s a bit to known and pricey to just be a gatekeeper, but he’s so far from any shade of title contention that it seems ludicrous to give him top ten matchups. I’ll be interested to see where the UFC pushes him.
- Overeem could still be billed as a title challenger, but I’m not quite sure what the road to doing it is. Do you wreck up and coming challengers to give him a shot at the belt? He’d certainly sell more tickets than Miocic… But he’s already failed these kinds of tests before. I think he should by trying to avenge that loss to Bigfoot, or taking on other top guys who are out of the hunt/dos Santos.
Hindsight: Jose Aldo (-650) vs. Ricardo Lamas (+425) (I picked Aldo, I was right)
- Did Ricardo Lamas just not prepare for this fight? That’s all I can think. Jose Aldo wasn’t exactly a ball of action, but he had no problem landing whatever he wanted on Lamas pretty much whenever he wanted it. The idea that Lamas didn’t at least have a low kick defense prepared was shocking, to say the least.
- I realize that he pretty much turned on the cruise control and then went off to flirt with the stewardesses, but Jose Aldo is still a joy for me to watch. It’s like he’s distilled MMA down to its basic needs and honed those to a fine art. It’s a stark contrast to many of the “learn as many techniques as possible” fighters.
- As a perfect highlight of that last sentiment, Ricardo Lamas’ spin kick bag of tricks seemed especially tacked on. He threw them without apparent rhyme or reason and I don’t think he landed a single one all night. He needs to figure out a way of integrating it to his striking, because right now it’s just a strange outlier.
Hindsight: Renan Barao (-220) vs.Urijah Faber (+280) (I picked Barao, I was right)
- Faber’s injury was a weird sidenote to this fight. Along with the stoppage it created a lot of questions as to the quality of his performance. I still think he was generally outclassed, but it’s a shame that there were so many distractions from the fight action itself.
- Barao has developed an almost preternatural striking game. Since his fight against Michael McDonald it seems that he’s been assimilated by the Borg. You get your licks in for the first minute or two of the fight, but once he’s analyzed your tools and your weaknesses, well, resistance is futile.
- For as much as we talk about Aldo having cleaned out the featherweight division, bantamweight is a laughingstock right now. Raphael Assuncao and Takaya Mizugaki are the only fighters in sniffing distance of a shot at the title. The UFC could throw Dillashaw up there, but it seems foolish for a fighter who could end up being a future star given another year of seasoning. If Aldo vacates his belt a fight between Renan Barao and Chad Mendes only makes sense for the Featherweight strap.
That’s all my thoughts on this past week of UFC action. As with the middleweight division there’s a lot of blatantly obvious chaff scattered around a few nuggets of wisdom, but that’s the benefit of hindsight. See you in two weeks for UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Mousasi, and until then keep watching the skies.
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