Welp, that was a pretty freakish and unusual night of fights that will probably never be repeated. Underdogs went 9-1-1, the highest win rate I’ve ever seen in my years of watching MMA, and the card produced some unreal finishes. Without further ado, let’s move on to the night’s winners and losers.
Jussier Formiga: Formiga hadn’t looked great in his first three UFC outings, getting starched by John Dodson and Joseph Benavidez while squeaking by the middling Chris Cariaso, and he needed to show why he belongs in the top-10 conversation at flyweight. His win over Jorgensen did just that. Headbutt or no, he wasted no time in taking Jorgensen’s back and locking up a sick neck crank/RNC to get the tap. If he can squeeze a bit more out of his striking and wrestling games, while continuing to show that he’s a threat to finish fights, he’s going to stick around for a long time.
Rony Jason: Coming off a brutal head kick knockout to Jeremy Stephens and his hand’s unfortunate run-in with a wall in the aftermath, Jason had to demonstrate that at least some of the hype he received in the aftermath of his TUF Brazil run was justified. He’s been fighting for eight years and has nearly twenty fights under his belt; he’s not a prospect anymore, but a fighter in the middle of his career, and if he was going to make a run at the top 10, it had to start here. Brutally knocking out Steven Siler, a pretty solid mid-level fighter, was exactly the right way to announce his intentions.
Michel Prazeres: He didn’t even need Yamasaki’s help to soundly defeat Mairbek Taisumov, though he got it in the form of two point deductions. It’s unfortunate that the referee’s (correct, under the rules) decision to take points will probably overshadow Prazeres’ powerful and well-timed takedowns, phase-shifting, excellent counters, and the real growth in his striking game. He’s a little old to be a high-level prospect in a stacked division, but that was a beautiful performance, and he deserves credit for it.
Fabio Maldonado: You could fill a volume of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with all of the things Maldonado can’t do, namely his lack of takedown defense that doesn’t rely on his opponent being sloppy-tired, his inability to fight off his back, and his seemingly adversarial relationship with moving his head off the center line. With all of that said, however, he’s just so goddamned much fun to watch when he gets into his groove. He digs to the body like he’s drilling for oil, works multiple levels, and his chin is otherworldly. He’s the Platonic ideal of an action fighter, and while that might not be a recipe for a long and illustrious career, it does make him appointment viewing for connoisseurs of violence.
CB Dollaway: For all the more-or-less justified hate Dollaway’s received over the years, he’s developed into a solid and well rounded fighter. He showed some really excellent defense, namely the use of his shoulder to guard his chin, and that fight-ending combination was a vicious three-punch series that the Dollaway of a couple years back would have stopped after one or two strikes. If not for the inexplicable split decision loss to Tim Boetsch – I and most other observers thought Dollaway clearly took two rounds – he’d be riding a four-fight winning streak and be sitting on the cusp of the top ten. As it stands, I think he’s earned a shot at someone like the Bisping-Kennedy or Romero-Tavares winner.
Dan Henderson: Let’s be absolutely clear: Henderson looked like a shot fighter before landing that miracle KO, and arguing anything different would be an extended exercise in self-deception. He was eating low kicks, he couldn’t find the range for his right hand, his movement was glacially slow and his footwork sloppy, and he couldn’t get anything going with his wrestling or clinch games. And then, out of the blue, Shogun left his left hand low on a clinch exit, Henderson threw the right over the top, and the rest was history. Henderson is one of the five greatest fighters of all time, but he isn’t making another title run, and he should seriously consider retiring on a high note if he wasn’t before. Otherwise, it’s hard to find a favorable matchup for him in the top 10 of the division, and his chin isn’t going to suddenly get better again. But for now, let’s just enjoy that for what it was: a miraculous, freakish occurrence driven by decades of practice throwing that ridiculous right hand. You do you, Dan Henderson.
The Referees: I thought Yamasaki’s decision to take two points from Taisumov was a bit much, especially considering there was no real warning for the fence grabs, but regardless of your opinion on that front, the point deduction from Norman Parke was absolutely, laughably indefensible. What makes it even worse is the fact that as he broke them up, Santos had his fingers laced into the fence to stave off Parke’s takedown attempt. Add in the early stoppage in Siler-Jason and the lack of a stoppage at the end of Maldonado-Villante and baby, you got a whole stew of awful, terrible refereeing going.
Scott Jorgensen: For a guy who was fighting Dominick Cruz for the bantamweight title on the last WEC show in December of 2010, this is a long way to fall. I understand that Formiga’s headbutt played a large role in the sequence that ended the fight, but he really hasn’t grown as a fighter in the last few years. Although he’s now 1-5 in his last six and 3-6 in his last nine, I don’t think he’ll get cut – just look at the murderer’s row he’s faced, from Cruz to Barao to Faber – but there’s no denying that if he doesn’t, he’s walking on the thinnest ice possible. He needs to show a new facet to his game or at least drastically improve his existing skill sets in a division that’s getting deeper by the day.
Ronny Markes: Miss weight by five pounds? Check. Get dropped and finished inside a minute? Check. Fail to finish a UFC fight, or even deliver much entertainment, in five bites at the apple? Check. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Markes were cut, but even if he isn’t, he needs to start demonstrating that he can do something other than grind away in the clinch and from top position. Markes is still young and has good physical tools, but his conservatism and failure to grow makes him close to being a busted prospect.
Gian VIllante: The second and third rounds of that fight were just embarrassing. He blew his gas tank in five minutes against an opponent with the world’s most predictable game plan and bad takedown defense. Villante’s only 28, with five years of experience under his belt, but he’s the same fighter he was when he fought Chad Griggs a couple of years back. Perhaps more damning is the fact that he doesn’t seem to have the athleticism we’d expect from a D-1 wrestler and low-level NFL prospect. Even in a division as thin and desperate for new blood as light heavyweight, a hittable guy without a ton of power (relative to the division) and a complete inability to phase-shift isn’t going to go very far.
Shogun Rua: For all the talk about Henderson’s chin having crumpled after the loss to Belfort, and based on the two knockdowns he suffered in as many rounds it certainly has, it looks like this was the end for Shogun Rua’s own iron jaw. He looked pretty decent in the first couple of rounds, landing low kicks at will and finding a home for his punches, but one careless moment on a clinch break cost him the win. I don’t have the foggiest idea where Shogun goes from here: he could retire, he could fight someone like Jimi Manuwa or Lil’ Nog, or, hell, they could throw him back in there with Henderson to complete the trilogy. All I can say for certain is that this one really hurts.
Otherwise, Hans Stringer and Francimar Barroso put on a fight that’s best forgotten if you want to preserve your sanity, Godofredo Pepey saved his job, Thiago Santos overcame being a 6:1 underdog, and Leonardo Santos and Norman Parke battled to an existentially meaningless majority draw. I’ll see you back here in a couple of weeks after the Abu Dhabi show; until then, keep calm and Hendo on.
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