UFC 170 is in the books, and the main card delivered a great deal of action after a preliminary card in which, predictably, almost every fight went to a decision. Jessica Eye dropped a split decision that smells suspiciously of the subtle machinations of karma after her atrocious behavior toward both the fans and the media in the lead-up to this fight, Aljamain Sterling showed flashes of the promise that I and many others saw in him on the regional level, and Zach Makovsky demonstrated once again that he has some of the best phase-shifting and transitions in all of MMA.
Let’s move on to the real winners and losers.
Erik Koch: Let’s be clear: this was a squash match, and everybody knew it, but Koch deserves credit for doing exactly what you’re supposed to do to an overmatched opponent. Koch desperately needed a win after having his forehead turned into a canoe by Ricardo Lamas and dropping an entertaining decision to Dustin Poirier, and he needed to do it in devastating fashion. Now that he’s back in the winner’s circle in a new weight class, we can talk about Koch’s chances moving forward. He’s still only 25 with room to grow into his enormous frame and time to improve his already-excellent skill sets, he’s still an outstanding athlete, and his speed advantage should be even more pronounced at 155 than it was at 145. He probably won’t challenge for the title, but he could easily become a mainstay of the divisional top 10. Let’s also give Koch some love for snagging the sole finish in the last 20 prelim fights. Seriously.
Stephen Thompson: Many of us, myself included, wrote off Thompson as overhyped after the loss to Matt Brown. In fairness, Thompson was pretty ridiculously oversold, but that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that he was a raw prospect with only two years of experience as a professional mixed martial artist. His striking still isn’t as good as Rogan claims – he has little to offer at close range, his footwork isn’t top-notch, and he lacks anything resembling natural power – but he’s drastically improved his wrestling and BJJ to the point where he’s much better than the critics (again, myself included) ever thought he could be. If you believe that Thompson is going to challenge for the belt, you’re delusional and should probably seek professional help, but he can certainly be a reliably competitive action fighter in a tough division.
Mike Pyle: Pyle has become one of my favorite fighters over the last few years. He’s not a great athlete, he doesn’t have great power, and he’s never going to fight for a title, but he manages to succeed against all but the division’s best by having absolutely no holes in his game. He’s capable at fighting at every range on the feet, he’s probably one of the five best clinch fighters in all of MMA, and his ground game is smooth and clean in all facets. In short, he’s the perfect gatekeeper, and if you’re going to have a guy like that on the roster, I’m glad that it’s one who’s as much fun to watch as Pyle.
Rory MacDonald: MacDonald’s hype all but disappeared after his lackluster, jab-heavy victory over Ellenberger and the fairly shocking upset loss to Robbie Lawler. We saw Rory’s flaws in full bloom in those fights: he lacks top-end athleticism and has very little power in his hands, exemplified by the fact that he has yet to knock an opponent down in nine UFC bouts. The backlash went too far, though, in ignoring the things that Rory does do well. He’s a good athlete, a fine wrestler, and a solid striker who knows how to use his rangy frame to control the distance. Moreover, he showed incredible composure in riding out Maia’s top control in the first and third round and calmly scrambling back to his feet despite finding himself in some awful positions. He can be a bit robotic, but when your coach understands the game the way that Firas Zahabi does, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After that kind of performance, I’m excited to see what he can do against the top 5 at 170.
Ronda Rousey: Yes, Rousey showed some new-ish facets to her game – she’d thrown good elbows and knees in tight against Tate in her last outing – and she continues to grow and evolve at a rapid pace, but that’s not what I want to focus on here. Instead, let’s talk about the fact that Rousey should be a legitimate draw, in the sense that she always puts on a fight that’s worthy of the price of admission. She’s one of the few fighters in all of MMA who both has the skills to be among the best in their weight class while still guaranteeing entertainment: in fact, the only fighters I can think of off the top of my head who fit that description are Junior dos Santos and Carlos Condit, which should tell you what a rare commodity that really is. If she doesn’t immediately go into movies, Rousey might not be that far off from being the UFC’s biggest star.
Raphael Assuncao: This might sound strange, considering Assuncao soundly beat a game and well-rounded prospect in Pedro Munhoz, but if you weren’t sold on him before, you didn’t see anything that would have changed your mind. He’s good at everything and great at nothing, and he doesn’t have the raw physical tools it takes to elevate that kind of game into championship-level material. It really feels like the UFC is trying to find somebody, anybody, other than Assuncao to face Barao next. I’m not opposed to it as a stay-busy fight for Barao, but it’s not a matchup that anybody’s chomping at the bit to see, and the fact is that Assuncao did nothing to shift that perception.
Robert Whittaker: Whittaker was heavily hyped after winning TUF: Smashes and viciously knocking out everyone’s favorite blanket, Colton Smith, to the point where he was, accurately, called the best prospect to ever come out of Oceania. After a pressure-based loss to Court McGee and a vicious KO at the hands of Stephen Thompson, however, Whittaker has a long road back to contention. This isn’t the end of the world for him – he’s only 23 and in his fifth year as a professional – but it is a substantial setback. He needs to show that he can do something other than strike, and come to think of it, he needs to show more diversity in his striking game as well. He has all the physical tools he needs to rise up the ranks, but the skills and game planning need to improve if he’s going to stick around.
T.J. Waldburger: We say this far too often when a fighter gets knocked out, but Waldburger really should consider retirement. He’s only 25, but this was his seventh KO loss, and chins don’t improve with age. In fact, they get demonstrably worse, as every investigation of the topic makes abundantly clear. Adlan Amagov sent him flying like a villain in a 60s Batman cartoon in his last outing, and now Mike Pyle (who’s not exactly known for his power punching) tagged him repeatedly before putting him down. It’s unfortunate, but it should be clear that Waldburger simply doesn’t have the chin to compete at the highest level of MMA. That’s not a knock on his toughness – if anything it’s the opposite – but simply a statement of fact.
Demian Maia: At 36 years of age, this was Maia’s last chance to start a real run at the UFC belt, and he fell short. The smooth clinch entries and slick trips that we’ve seen from him in his previous outings at 170 were nowhere to be found, and he gassed hard after shooting takedown after takedown from too far outside. Part of that should be credited to MacDonald, to be sure, but aside from two occasions on which Maia chained his takedowns together he was almost completely shut out in the wrestling department. He showed flashes of solid striking, but at his age and against the kind of competition he’ll face moving forward, there’s no reason to think he’ll be able to find a long-term home in the top 5 of the division. Maia’s brand of ultra-technical BJJ is a real rarity these days at the highest level of MMA, but he isn’t going to be the art’s standard-bearer moving forward.
Cormier did exactly what he was expected to do, and so did Cummins, in a fight that changed nothing for either guy. Cummins will get a veteran on his way out or a debuting fighter and Cormier will either get the Jones-Teixeira winner or Gustafsson (assuming he beats Manuwa) in a top contender bout. Yosdenis Cedeno and Ernest Chavez fought to a terrible split decision that left precisely nobody slavering over the possibility of seeing them in action again, while Pedro Munhoz lost in precisely the manner most of us expected him to. Alexis Davis did nothing to demonstrate that she’ll offer much to Rousey, should that fight be next in line. I do know that I’m excited to see Zach Makovsky in action again, so let’s call it a day on that high note.
About the author