Which, of course, means that Rafael dos Anjos kicking a pile of sand in Benson Henderson’s face is going to change things pretty drastically. The biggest change being that Dos Anjos has put his name right back in the title picture. Honestly, the way the top of the lightweight division is shaking out right now, whoever is healthy and still on a win streak early next year is likely going to get the shot. Anyhow, there was plenty more to talk about from a very long weekend of fights, and two events worth of decent if not exceptional fight picking on my part.
Disclaimer time: At this point, you know the drill. Not a gambling guide, still talking about it, Best Fight Odds, mode for each fighter. I’m not going to give you an abundance of filler for two events worth of reflection. On to the fights!
UFC Fight Night: Bisping vs. Le
Hindsight: Milana Dudieva (-145) vs. Elizabeth Phillips (+125) (I picked Dudieva, I was right-ish)
- This is one of those slightly obnoxious fights where both fighters’ significant technical problems play into how their fights are judged. For Phillips part, while she’s physically imposing and aggressive, her lack of technical development means she gets caught in a lot of poor positions where she can’t generate much effective offense.
- And, on Dudieva’s side of things, her complete willingness to pull guard for low percentage, high risk submissions, coupled with a very predictable striking offense, make her easy for stronger fighters to bully and take rounds from. Both women have major gaps to close against better competition.
- The UFC has unfortunately muddied the water of Phillips’ future. By pulling one of the judges responsible for her fight, they’ve given a lot of official credibility to her feelings of being robbed. But, White’s statement of support for Dudieva, and Phillips’ own comments may push her out the door anyway. I doubt it, but if she doesn’t fight in the UFC again, I wouldn’t be shocked.
Hindsight: Royston Wee (-250) vs. Yao Zhikui (+195) (I picked Wee, I was sorta right)
- It’s definitely starting to feel a little like Royston Wee is getting a lot of “help” with his MMA career. As an alternate for TUF China who never made the show, Wee claimed that he couldn’t get fights, because his reputation preceded him. After seeing him against Galera and Zhikui, it’s hard to think what that reputation might have been for. But the UFC has handed him two softball opponents and even when he didn’t appear to beat one, he still got the nod. It’ll be interesting to see if he gets a bump up in competition, or if he gets another easy fight next time.
- Assuming Yao Zhikui gets another fight, he looks like he could actually develop into a half decent fighter. He scrambles well, has some pop in his fists, and looks to be a pretty solid athlete. There’s potential for him to be a fun action fighter in the UFC for a couple of years, with a bit more polish.
Hindsight: Colby Covington (-470) vs. Wang Anying (+375) (I picked Covington, I was right)
- That was exactly what most hoped for and expected out of Covington. He was facing a very limited striker in Wang, and appropriately swarmed him, took him down, and beat him into submission. He’ll need more tools for future fights, but he’s got a great base to build on.
- Hard to see an upside for Wang Anying here. He’s far too inexperienced and not well rounded enough for a division like welterweight, and lightweight wouldn’t do him any favors. There are a few more fighters the UFC could throw at him, if they’re desperate to put on more bad MMA, but unless Wang can find a way to take a lot of time off and just train (or maybe even get a few smokers) he’s probably not long for the UFC.
- Fortunately for Wang, he is only 23, so even if he doesn’t last in the UFC, he’s got a lot of time to build his game, and could be someone who comes back a few years down the line, or headlines regional shows in China.
Hindsight: Roland Delorme (+125) vs. Yuta Sasaki (-150) (I picked Yuta, I was right)
- I said before, that Delorme’s game may just be too limited for continued success in the UFC. This fight feels like it really drove that point home. Michinori ended up with a fairly dominant decision over him, but Yuta just smoked him outright. His striking is still weak, and if he can’t out grapple guys, there just aren’t any winnable fights for him in the UFC.
- It’s really awesome to see some new talent coming out of Japan and looking primed for success on the UFC stage. They’ve had trouble developing fighters from the region for years, often picking up guys past their prime, or with games that just don’t translate well. Yuta, Michinori, and Kyoji are all blue chippers and look like they’ll be around for years.
- It’s interesting to note that Sasaki has spent time with Team Alpha Male recently. There’s no word if he’ll become a more regular fighter at that camp, but having a solid training ground stateside is a great move for his young career.
Hindsight: Danny Mitchell (-205) vs. Wang Sai (+175) (I picked Mitchell, I was wrong)
- I said in my prediction, that TUF China fighters would need to win these kinds of fights before I could pick them; they needed to prove they could compete at any sort of international level, even the fairly low one Mitchell represents. Credit then is due to Wang, for actually making good on that challenge and thoroughly dominating a fighter most decent welterweights should thoroughly dominate. I’d say he’s the best talent to come out of TUF China right now.
- Unfortunately, this really only reinforces my feelings (even upon his signing) that Danny Mitchell doesn’t really belong in the UFC. His outside striking game is still atrocious, his takedowns are non-existant, and he has zero problem putting himself in terrible grappling positions, and doesn’t seem to have the technique to consistently get the submissions he goes for. It’s a tough place for a vet who even has a couple quality wins, but has just looked terrible thus far in the UFC.
- That’s not to say Wang wont still need some serious handling to be successful in the UFC, but they could probably start giving him TUF semi-finalists and fighters of that ilk, over guys just brought in to compete against their regionally important fighters.
Hindsight: Alberto Mina (-235) vs. Shinsho Anzai (+195) (I picked Mina, I was right)
- In a really fun fight that should have been a quality showcase for Mina, I can’t help but feel like he lost just a little luster. He’s a decent fighter with good technique, finishing ability and a tough chin, but his ability to get swarmed by a brawler who was really just looking to box may show some footwork and mobility deficiencies that will cost him against some of the real technical kickboxers at 170.
- Anzai may be a better fighter than he showed in this fight. It’s important to remember that he was coming in on fairly short notice, that can really screw up a fighter’s performance, in ways that are hard to predict. However, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if what we saw from him in the future was what we got here. Lots of toughness, lots of hooks, not a lot of strategy. Should be fun while it lasts.
Hindsight: Ning Guangyou (+170) vs. Yang Jianping (-200) (I picked Yang, I was wrong)
- That was not a lot of fun, but Ning thoroughly dominated Yang. I don’t know if he has a great future at 145, and he’d probably be better served dropping to 135. But he got a solid, if grinding win here that says nothing about his place in the division.
- Of course, there’s almost no way the UFC cuts Yang after this fight (this was a TUF Finale after all). But unlike the welterweight finale months ago, where both men came out able to say that they won and feeling confident, Yang got pretty thoroughly outclassed. The UFC may have to bring in opponents just for him if they want to build him as any kind of face for the promotion.
Hindsight: Brendan O’Reilly (-135) vs. Zhang Lipeng (+105) (I picked O’Reilly, I was wrong)
- Zhang Lipeng falls right in alongside of Wang Sai, as guys that really had to prove they could beat, really, anyone at the UFC level before people give them the benefit of the doubt. He looked much more comfortable in his controlling, pressure/bully style of fighting than in his bout with Wang Sai, and took a lot fewer risks. He already got the luxury of facing a TUF competitor here, and that feels like a good track to keep him on.
- Hard not to feel a little bad for O’Reilly here. he was brought in to be someone Lipeng could compete with, but beat. And he was still the betting favorite, and he still lost. He’s had very little pro experience until now however, so hopefully he can take something away from this fight and improve beyond being grinding and strong.
- I said this quite a while ago, but it bears repeating now. I’ve gotta feel that if even one of these TUF China fighters can stay in the UFC for a couple years and win a few fights, that should validate the whole show as a successful idea. The bar has to be low, as it was really more of a product introduction than a search for talent. Given that, the fact that both welterweight finalists look like they could get a couple wins down the road is kind of amazing.
Hindsight: Dong Hyun Kim (+166) vs. Tyron Woodley (-195) (I picked Dong Hyun, I was wrong)
- I picked Dong Hyun here, but it was under the very real knowledge that he should lose in any just universe. His game has gotten beyond sloppy (even if he’s not technically deficient). He no longer deploys his striking or grappling with any consistent eye for strategy, and against a powerful wrestler and striker like Woodley that was almost certainly going to get him the loss. I was rooting for fun, and this was fun, but less so than DHK getting another weird win.
- Unfortunately for Woodley, given how clearly hell-bent DHK was on giving this fight away, a win really doesn’t do much for his stock here. His loss to Rory MacDonald casts an extremely long shadow over his career as a top welterweight. He’s going to have to win two to three more fights before many start talking about him as a challenger again.
- This isn’t necessarily the last gasp for DHK as a top ten fighter, but it should put a very real cap on expectations if he continues his shift toward flashy brawler and away from controlling grappler. If he keeps fighting like he has lately, there will always be some heavy handed counter puncher waiting for him around the top of the division.
Hindsight: Michael Bisping (-300) vs. Cung Le (+215) (I picked Bisping, I was right)
- For those who thought that Bisping was as far gone as he showed in that Kennedy fight, this was his much needed answer. I wouldn’t call it his best performance, and I’m still not sure he hasn’t lost a step, but he’s not far off the fighter he’s always been and could float around the top 15 for another year or two.
- This should end any talk of putting Le in big fun fights. I’m not actually against watching him fight again. He doesn’t fight often enough for me to feel like he’s putting himself at extra risk, and the division is full of middling talent to challenge himself against. But, fights against guys like Anderson Silva or Vitor Belfort really don’t need to be happening.
- It was interesting to see Bisping really start to sit down on his punches and advance his combinations late in the fight. An improved boxing game is something he’s talked about for years and years without really showing. I’d say we actually saw a few glimpses of it here as this fight went into later rounds.
UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. dos Anjos
Hindsight: Wilson Reis (-335) vs. Joby Sanchez (+250) (I picked Reis, I was right)
- This was a fight Wilson Reis had to win. He’s threatened with divisional relevancy several times and come out the loser. Most recently, he had an opportunity to announce himself as a top bantamweight with a fight against Iuri Alcantara, which he lost. If he couldn’t get by a too green flyweight his career would be in serious trouble.
- And that’s just what Sanchez is, too green. This was his seventh pro fight, Reis’ twenty third. There were no real expectations that he’d get the win. The fact that he cracked Reis in the second and stole the round is a huge deal and shouldn’t take anything off his label as a prospect to watch.
- Reis’ distance striking is still bad, and a major problem in a division like flyweight, which is fast filling with three dimensional threats. There are still fights he can win, but with that kind of liability it’s hard to see him getting beyond mid-level gatekeeper.
Hindsight: Chris Heatherly (+345) vs. Ben Saunders (-400) (I picked Saunders, I was right)
- There’s almost nothing to say here, except that Ben Saunders winning by omoplata in the UFC is amazing. He still has his same takedown defense problems, but has obviously worked to make himself more dangerous on the ground and keep himself working in all areas. That portends well for his future in a welterweight division that probably won’t give him an easier fight than this one.
- Heatherly can still be a decent fighter in the UFC, but he needs to work on finding better control in his game. He’s not a great striker, and when he gets the fight to the ground, he often gives up dominant positions looking for submissions or strikes. That wasn’t quite the issue here, but he obviously lost control of Saunders guard. For a wrestling based fighter, position should be his best weapon.
- I rarely show a lot of bias, but it’s safe to say, no matter the odds or the fight going forward, I’ll almost certainly be picking Killa B to win it. I’ll be up front about it. I don’t want people to think these are technical picks I’m making for him, but sometimes you just have to root for someone.
Hindsight: Matt Hobar (-175) vs. Aaron Phillips (+145) (I picked Hobar, I was right)
- I am not yet a fan of Matt Hobar’s game. He doesn’t get enough done from dominant positions and his striking really lacks. I’m not entirely sure he has the raw physical ability to really climb the ranks at 135. But, he showed more technical wrestling this time out, and that’s a solid development for his future.
- A big reason why I’m not sold on Hobar, is that it’s really clear that Aaron Phillips isn’t ready for the UFC right now. His standup is decent, and he looks like a good athlete, but he doesn’t have any secondary skills. Add inconsistent aggression to that, and he’s going to get beat by any aggressive fighter willing to get in on his legs and not just sit out on the outside.
Hindsight: Beneil Dariush (+115) vs. Tony Martin (-140) (I picked Martin, I was wrong)
- Really impressive win for Dariush here, and while not as name or as dominant, more impressive than his win over Charlie Brenneman. Dariush weathered an early, bad round, and stayed with his more technical game. Not getting drawn into a sloppy firefight took a lot of poise, and when Martin faded, Dariush was right there to take him down and tap him out.
- That first round is exactly why Martin was favored to win this fight. He unloaded on Dariush with a lot of hard shots and generally pushed him around in the clinch. But, I’m not sure if it’s a lack of emotional control, or the drain of a big weight cut, but he’s gassed out twice now in his UFC fights and needs to figure out what’s at the root so he can address it. Otherwise he’s going to wash out of the UFC.
- In a weird way, this was practically a bout between a welterweight and a featherweight. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Martin at 170 and Dariush at 145 this time next year.
Hindsight: Neil Magny (+135) vs. Alex Garcia (-155) (I picked Garcia, I was kinda wrong)
- Neil Magny became the first UFC fighter to win four bouts this year, but this one may have taken the foot off any hype he was getting more than it helped him. Magny seems to be fighting away from his strengths more and more. I worry that attempts to become a “complete” fighter are going to distract from him using his tools to his best advantage.
- This was a rough loss for Garcia, and I’m not entirely sure he didn’t win it. He certainly had positional control for much of the later rounds, even if he didn’t get much of significance done with it. Partially this can be chalked up to the bad luck of getting a debilitating injury, but partially it feels like Garcia hasn’t found a way to really use his athleticism to dominant opposition. He’s obviously stronger than opponents, but he can’t seem to apply it for more than a technique here or there.
- One last concern I have about Magny, is that he doesn’t seem to trust his striking against opponents he’s not way better than. Against Means, Baczynski, and now Garcia he’s completely gone away from the high output technical kickboxing that saw him utterly dominate Gasan Umalatov and Rodrigo Goiana de Lima. If he continues this trend, he’s going to find himself in a lot of ugly, close fights, and I’m not sure he can keep winning them.
Hindsight: Tom Niinimaki (-150) vs. Chas Skelly (+130) (I picked Niinimaki, I was wrong)
- The wheels appear to be totally off Tom Niinimaki right now. He’s been a solid vet for years now; a fighter many were calling to get a UFC contract as far back as 2011. Now after only getting choked out once in his pre-UFC career, he’s given up two submissions to fighters in less than ideal position. Backstrom is a serious prospect, but Skelly much less so. It makes me wonder if he still has the tools to compete with the fighters at 145.
- Chas Skelly really needed this win. Not only did he drop a decision in his last fight, he made something of a spectacle of himself, by throwing an illegal knee right in the middle of it. He wasn’t any less aggressive here, but it was all clean technique on the way to a quick submission.
- A couple of people laughed when I said that 145 may be the UFC’s deepest, and while I wouldn’t argue that it’s as strong at the top as 155 or 170, the talent at featherweight, from top to bottom is pretty remarkable. Fights like this really demonstrate that.
Hindsight: Valmir Lazaro (+125) vs. James Vick (-140) (I picked Lazaro, I was wrong)
- Ugh… This was not what I’d hoped to see here. As a spectator very much interested in seeing what Lazaro could do in the UFC, this ended up being utterly disappointing. I put a lot of the blame on Vick for having the kind of sloppy, aggressive, and powerful brawling style that really throws opponents off, but Lazaro should shoulder a lot of it too, for feasting on lesser talent and being unready for a fighter he couldn’t hurt.
- Vick is something of a mystery to me as a fighter. His skills are hard to pin down. He obviously scrambles well on the ground, and he throws a mixture of strikes at pretty much all times. He’s got sneaky power, and a great chin, but the sum ends up looking like something less than it’s parts, while still being successful. At this point he has two decent UFC wins, and it’s very hard for me to predict how well he does next time out.
- I still hope to see better from Lazaro next time. Against less powerful and less aggressive competition I think he can be a very fun fighter to watch, but he showed real limitations in his reliance on upper body movement for defense and his flared elbow strikes. He’ll need to tighten up his hands and his footwork if he wants to go on any kind of run in the UFC.
Hindsight: Clay Collard (+600) vs. Max Holloway (-950) (I picked Holloway, I was right)
- Collard is going to be a very fun action fighter in the UFC if he can get a serious step down in competition next time out. He needs a full camp and some time to get his feet wet, but at only 22, and with a wealth of regional experience, he’s got everything he needs to produce exactly the kind of fights fans and the UFC want to watch, mildly technical all out brawls. Now if he could just get rid of that nickname, he’d be golden.
- Holloway has pretty clearly established himself as a future top fighter in development right now. He’s taken some big steps back in that time, has a few losses to other very good fighters, but he tooled Collard pretty easily for three-ish rounds and should be expected to beat just about anyone not ranked at the moment.
- No, but seriously, that nickname has to go.
Hindsight: Francis Carmont (-210) vs. Thales Leites (+180) (I picked Leites, I was right)
- I’m starting to think that Carmont is in that same boat as Steven Siler and Roland Delorme. Guys who have a fairly developed game coming into the UFC and are able to use it to suprise a lot of fighters, but start losing as their opponents have more film on them to study, and more knowledge of what to prepare for. It’s like that closer in baseball, who’s just electric for his first couple years, because nobody has hit against him enough to get a read on him, and after a couple seasons he just starts getting shelled. Carmont may be that closer.
- For Thales Leites, the story has to be all about his unheralded striking advancements. I’d taken some notice of it, even in his first fights back against Tom Watson and Ed Herman, where he was looking smoother on his feet, if not quite dominant. Lately, however, it appears that he’s really turned a corner and has been able to take his natural power and athletic ability and translate it into being a great power boxer for MMA.
- It remains to be seen just how far that can get him however. While he’s now on a slugging tear and he has the BJJ control he’s always had, I’m not sure that gets him past the top 10 at 185. There are a lot of really well rounded fighters floating up there and any fight from here on out is probably going to be a really tough one.
Hindsight: Jordan Mein (-265) vs. Mike Pyle (+220) (I picked Mein, I was right)
- Mein’s natural speed and power border on freakish. The combo with which he put Mike Pyle away seemed so fast and devastating that it’s hard to imagine any universe in which Pyle had a chance in this fight. That said, Mein also looked pretty lackluster in his last bout against Hernani Perpetuo, and Pyle has classically struggled with more technical kickboxers. I still think Mein’s solidly top 15 at 170 right now, but I’d like to see him come out like that in back to back fights in the UFC.
- This is not a good loss for Pyle. Much like his bout against Matt Brown, there’s nothing good to take away from it. He can chalk it up to getting caught, or as others have, to the fact that when he goes out he always seems to go out hard, but as dominant as he was over T.J. Waldburger, it’s hard to see him in bouts like this and get excited for his next one.
- Even at only 24, the time really is now for Mein to grab the reigns on a charge to the top of 170. After Hendricks fights Lawler again there aren’t a wealth of people waiting in the wings. Of course, the rise of other young prospects like Gunnar Nelson and Kelvin Gastelum could make things tough, if the UFC wants to test them against one another, but Meins experience has him primed to make his run right now.
Hindsight: Rafael dos Anjos (+405) vs. Benson Henderson (-550) (I picked Henderson, I was wrong)
- Benson Henderson is a fighter with flaws. Which is to say that every fighter has flaws, but to date, only one opponent had ever been able to take advantage of Bendo’s, that was Anthony Pettis, and he really only did so the second time around. Against everyone else, whether he won or lost, Henderson always looked like he was in control. His fights were always “his fights.” Add RDA to the shortlist of guys who were able to cut right through him and make it look easy.
- The key has always been that Henderson is not great under sustained and varied striking pressure. His willingness to throwdown in the pocket with a fighter that will engage him, and his lack of technical polish on his combination boxing means that fighters willing to put pressure on him and keep it on can expose him. The fact that he’s a very good reactive wrestler, and that he often saps his opponents confidence with his ability to no-sell their offense and break their rhythms make this a very difficult task to accomplish. RDA and his camp must have done some serious scouting heading in to this bout.
- And the big takeaway is that dos Anjos has now firmly planted himself in the title picture. Nurmagomedov and Alvarez are almost certainly ahead of him, but in a division where injuries often change title plans and challengers seem to fight continuously, RDA could find himself the top contender at any time. Hendo moves back a step on the loss, but considering the long row he was hoeing to get back to the belt, it’s not that big a step.
Those are my thoughts from a weekend packed to the gills with MMA action. There were thrills, chills, brawls, and stalls and a lot of my thoughts on it all were fairly predictable. But, as always, that’s the benefit of hindsight. So, come back next week, when we’re still talking about T.J. Dillashaw as champion and a better than advertised (but still bad on paper) UFC 177. Until then!
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