Depending on who you read, where you go, or what world view you ascribe to UFC 170 was either a pretty fun time with a lot of solid fights or the kind of circus grade farce that only the seediest of pro-wrestling promotions would ever dare offer. The latter is an odd reaction, set in the kind of narrative extreme that I rarely find to hold either a lot of comfort or a lot of value, but it takes all sorts. That said, the main event felt a bit inauspicious, at least until the reality that combat sports aren’t always going to go exactly the way you want them to set in. UFC 170 wasn’t nearly the competitive playing field we’ve come to expect from Zuffa events, but given the number of injuries and last minute replacements, I’ll settle for entertaining and dramatic.
And of course the usual dislcaimer. The more I look at and talk about fights the less “anything can happen” vibe I get off them. But, I’m still not a gambler. Fight odds and fight picking make for an ideal framework for discussion of outcome and narrative and until I find a better one I’m sticking with it. Once again I’ll be using BestFightOdds and once again I’m taking the mode for each fighter. So, this isn’t quite a betting guide (which is also why I do it post fact), but if you find it helps you make fight picks down the line then that’s sort of an added bonus.
Oh, and I’ll be joined by my good friend T.P. Grant again who has very politely proclaimed that he would like to impose his particular mindset on this column.
Hindsight: Ernest Chavez (+250) vs. Yosdenis Cedeno (-320) (I picked Cedeno as did Grant, we were both wrong)
- When I was picking this fight in my head, I totally discounted Chavez’s hard nosed pressure style because I assumed he wouldn’t have the athleticism to pull it off at a higher level. Partially I was wrong and partially Cedeno’s complete lack of consistency in his own offense played right in to Chavez’s hands.
- I’m not really sure what to think of Chavez coming off this fight. His ground game looked better than I thought it would, but he still did very little damage in dominant positions. He looks slow, his striking isn’t crisp, and I didn’t see any big future upside. But, he put his head down, stayed consistent, and won a fight he was expected to lose and that shouldn’t be discounted outright.
- T.P. Grant: Yosenis Cedeno is still athlete and dynamic with his striking, but he isn’t athletic enough to simply athlete out of ground positions. He is still a prospect, but needs to start getting his mat time in bad positions.
Hindsight: Erik Koch (-500) vs. Rafaello Oliveira (+300) (I picked Koch as did Grant, we were both right)
- Erik Koch really needed to prove that he’s still better than the run of the mill in the UFC. By the time he left featherweight he didn’t have one win over a current fighter in the division. That may soon be true of LW as well, but he needed to show he can do more than lose to contenders, and he did.
- It’s hard not to see Rafaello Oliveira as put in a bad spot. Some of that is on the UFC for feeding him to offensively talented, athletic strikers, but he’s fought a few of those kinds of fighters now and he’s not finding a way to beat them. If he’s not gaining tools to compete with the best after 10 years of MMA and 8 fights into his UFC career, then he needs to take a hard look at his training.
- T.P. Grant: Erik Koch is entering his prime as a fighter, he has grown nicely into a Lightweight body and his striking was very much on point. He has the right blend of experience and youth to still make himself into a contender again.
Hindsight: Zach Makovsky (-220) vs. Josh Sampo (+210) (I picked Makovsky as did Grant, we were both right)
- Makovsky has firmly established himself as one of the divisional Elite at 125. He may not have finished Sampo, but he essentially breezed past a very tough and complete fighter. He has one of the key tools needed for flyweight, which is freakish, next level athleticism and deserves a crack at a top 5 opponent.
- Sampo continues to show himself as one of the best defensively minded strikers on his feet at 125. His combination of footwork and forearm defense means he rarely ever gets caught flush by a hard shot and means he should have a long, successful UFC career, even if it’s as a perennial gatekeeper.
- T.P. Grant: Zach Makovsky made wonderful use of feints to set up his takedowns. He would establish a strike and then begin feinting to establish a reaction, and then use it to snatch up his single leg. He also is one of the best finishers of single legs in MMA, he gives opponents no time to hop back to the fence as he quick executes an entire chain of single leg finishes.
Hindsight: Cody Gibson (+265) vs. Aljamain Sterling (-340) (I picked Sterling as did Grant, we were both right)
- Sterling looked generally good, but there are a lot of problems with his overall striking game. Gibson hasn’t classically been a hard fighter to hit, but Sterling rarely did so when the fight was standing. It will probably just come down to experience with timing and distance control, but right now it’s a flaw.
- Cody Gibson puts together his tools with a lot more fluidity than I gave him credit for. He transitions well from striking to grappling to wrestling and scrambles well on the ground. He needs a lot more polish, but he’s a solid UFC level bantamweight.
- T.P. Grant: Aljamain Sterling and Cody Gibson both looked very good, though Sterling really shined coming in on short notice and getting stronger as the fight went on. He keeps a very high, active pace indicative of an elite level fighter in the making.
Hindsight: Rafael Assuncao (-300) vs. Pedro Munhoz (+245) (I picked Assuncao as did Grant, we were both right)
- I don’t know if Assuncao came in with an injury or just got his leg battered in that first round, but there is a massive difference in his boxing out of the right lead and the left and I was a little (but not very) disappointed that Munhoz couldn’t drive in on Assuncao when he had his left foot back.
- I know many won’t be impressed by this performance from Assuncao, but I thought that he generally showed off just how sharp his boxing is against a very solid, defensively sound fighter, and proved that he could coast by on skill during a physically off night. He’s near the very top of the 135 lb ladder and this fight just reaffirms that.
- T.P. Grant: Pedro Muhoz was out of his depth boxing and got beat up on the ground, but he has a firm handle on open guard retention in MMA, a highly difficult skill to acquire.
Hindsight: Alexis Davis (-150) vs. Jessica Eye (+125) (I picked Eye, Grant picked Davis. I was wrong-ish, he was sorta right)
- I felt that Jessica Eye won this fight for all the reasons that I thought she would. She’s stronger, quicker, and more skilled standing… However, I was pretty impressed by Davis’ ability to drive in and implement her game in getting the fight to the ground where her advantages were obvious.
- I like that Alexis Davis feels like she should push for a title shot, it’s a thin division and challengers are necessary, but she didn’t show the one thing she really needed to when the fight hit the ground and that was the ability to finish an over matched opponent by submission or GNP. If she can’t get submissions when the fight hits the mat, I doubt she could ride out Rousey for 5 rounds.
- T.P. Grant: Jessica Eye is still a raw, athletic talent, but that is enough in Women’s MMA to make some serious waves. Her counter punching looked excellent against Davis and as Eye continues to develop her boxing, she could end up being one of the more feared female strikers at 135.
Hindsight: Stephen Thompson (-135) vs. Robert Whittaker (+115) (I picked Thompson, Grant picked Whittaker. I was right, he was wrong)
- Whittaker is too linear as a striker. He darts in and out of range well, but he only seems to move in and out. He doesn’t cut enough angles as he creates openings and eventually (coupled with his lack of consistent kicking or takedown game) it makes him a bit predictable.
- Thompson is in a weird place as a fighter. He’s a messiah to the untutored and a whipping boy for technical junkies. The truth seems to be that his wealth of kickboxing experience (whether high level or not) seems to have given him a great foundation of the techniques of striking movement. Coupled with his wide array of comfortable punch and kick varieties it makes him a very difficult opponent to “solve” or prepare for.
- T.P. Grant: Stephen Thompson looked good, but has been very carefully steered clear of grapplers and we’ve learned nothing about his grappling since learning it wasn’t very good two years ago. So I remain skeptical of how far Thompson’s success is reaching until he fights an aggressive grappler.
Hindsight: Mike Pyle (-165) vs. T.J. Waldburger (+165) (I picked Pyle, Grant picked Waldburger. I was right, he was wrong)
- Before I get down to the business of rubbing Grant’s nose in this fight pick, I will say that I was completely surprised by how thoroughly dominant Pyle was. He made sure this fight wasn’t close in all areas. That said, neener neener neener.
- Waldburger definitely seems like one of those fighters that lost his roots trying to diversify his skills. He used to be an exciting, scramble heavy submission artist. Now, he’s a decent striker without much power and got utterly schooled on the ground.
- I’m not sure where the UFC takes Waldburger from here. Pyle’s probably earned himself an appointment with either a fighter gunning for contention or slipping down the top ten ranks, but Waldburger is just kind of lost in the middle of the division, without much in the way of direction.
Hindsight: Rory MacDonald (-290) vs. Demian Maia (+240) (I picked Maia, Grant picked MacDonald. I was wrong, Grant was right)
- The first round of this fight played out exactly like I thought it would when I picked Maia to win it. He drove in on MacDonald, got him down and gave him everything he could handle. Unfortunately it was also everything Maia could handle. I don’t know if he was sick, sapped by body kicks, or just gassed, but he looked terrible for the rest of the fight.
- Rory MacDonald looked better than his recent loss, but not way better. He still pulls back on his punches when throwing in combination, not only taking steam off them, but often causing them to fall short. Maia was basically reduced to a predictable overhand left and a shot and Rory won comfortably, but not masterfully.
- T.P. Grant: Demian Maia’s wrestling has been improved, he is better at finishing takedowns than previously, and his striking is better than it was a few years ago. However he is no better at mixing his striking together with his takedowns, and still struggles against fighters who control the distance very well. As a result Maia looked like a putrid wrestler against MacDonald and still represents a big deficiency in Maia’s game.
Hindsight: Daniel Cormier (-800) vs. Patrick Cummins (+600) (I picked Cormier as did Grant, we were both right)
- These pre-fight betting lines were surprisingly generous considering Cummins actual experience, and the results. Off that kind of fight, Cormier should be top five in the division, but not higher (and that’s really just a testament to how weak the division is).
- I know that the UFC deserves a lot of crap for not having a better replacement on tap than Cummins, but outside the UFC and Bellator, there really aren’t any light heavyweights better than him.
- T.P. Grant: Daniel Cormier looked like an upper level Light Heavyweight beating up a totally raw, unready fighter.
Hindsight: Ronda Rousey (-400) vs. Sara McMann (+325) (I picked Rousey as did Grant, we were both right)
- The fight felt like a sampler for what a real fight could be, but that just means Rousey deserves all the more credit for gameplanning around McMann’s hunched stance and firing knee after knee into a spot she was unprepared to defend.
- People talk about McMann like she was some sort of “too green” challenger, but she’s 6 years older than Rousey, has been in the sport just as long, has only one less fight, and has faced a similar (if slightly lower) level of competition. This was McMann’s competitive moment. She could get another one, but the idea that she just wasn’t ready needs to die on the vine.
- T.P. Grant: Ronda Rousey in her last two fights has shown very improved striking, but in that she is becoming a sharp boxer. She is becoming a better striker in a fashion that perfectly compliments her judo game. Ronda can box her way into the clinch and once an opponent attempts to create space to get away from her array of throws, trips, and sweeps Ronda now fills that space with punches, elbows and knees. It gives her a new dynamic that makes her a more well rounded and dangerous fighter.
There you have it. Save for Rousey you could have picked every one of these fights in Alphabetical order based on last name and been batting a thousand. Personally I’m just happy to have gone head to head with Grant and come out even (or ahead if you buy into the whole Eye/Davis narrative). I’ll be back next week to talk about TUF China and how heavily I scouted the fighters going in. I should start doing that, as I’ve wasted too much time already, but that’s the benefit of hindsight. Now, off to Google this John Hathaway guy.
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