Frankie Edgar wants to make it known that he is very definitely still somebody. And while his battle with Cub Swanson may not have quite been a career decider, it’s hard to ignore how much was at stake. Divisional relevance is basically measured in distance from a title shot, and anyone sitting outside of a fight or two from getting their hands on the belt, just isn’t that relevant. Otherwise, the UFC’s Austin Fight Night offering may not have offered the best action throughout, but it told us a ton about the fighters involved. I went 8-4 on fight picks, with a couple of big surprises, and a couple of not so big surprises on the card.
Disclaimer Time: From the sound of things, a lot of people did really really poorly on picking this card. Of course, that makes me regret not betting, so that I could have something to rub in people’s faces right now. But, that kind of karma would always come back around, no question. I’m better off just picking fights and talking odds, rather than losing what little money I’ve got. Still, it’s a good way to benchmark fighter development, so I’ll be using Best Fight Odds for the odds on each fight and taking the mode on each fighter. Now, on to the fights!
Dooho Choi (-450) vs. Juan Manuel Puig (+325) (I picked Choi, I was right)
- The Expectation: No sugarcoating it, Dooho was supposed to come out and crush Puig here. This was a setup fight, against an opponent who offered zero danger to a young, aggressive prospect. The fact that Dooho came out and met those expectations is great. The hype lives on.
- Fallout for Dooho: As I just said, they hype lives on. Choi got a matchup with someone who couldn’t challenge him with offense or defense. Next up, he’ll probably take a big step up in competition. It’d be hard for him not to. A matchup like Mike Wilkinson or Godofredo Pepey would probably be the way to go if the UFC wants to build Dooho quickly without killing another top prospect.
- Fallout for Puig: He may stick around in the UFC, just to give one of the TUF China or TUF Latin America guys another matchup, but two fights and two early first round KO’s basically have his ticket punched as non-UFC material.
Kailan Curran (-105) vs. Paige VanZant (-115) (I picked VanZant, I was right)
- The Expectation: This was definitely bookmarked as a close fight, but I’m a little surprised that the odds were so even. I called it for VanZant, but I figured her name value and association with TUF 20 would be enough to skew interest in her favor. That loss to Torres must have really downed her stock in ways I don’t understand. Eventually I think close to even odds was about right, but it’s not what I’d have expected going in.
- Fallout for Curran: As a newcomer right before the flood, she has the unfortunate problem of immediately getting swallowed up in the pack as another 16 new fighters enter the division behind her. It’s going to be hard for fans to remember that she’s a prospect to pay attention to, with a bunch of other new fighters to pay attention to. Still, it’s not an otherwise meaningful loss, excepting that it shows she needs to work on maintaining her range and staying off the cage, where she can be most effective.
- Fallout for VanZant: She got a big, big boost from this win, at least among the fans that saw it on fight pass. It was a hard fought, fun, scrappy battle, but she looked like the superior athlete throughout, and showed off a lot of her wicked, punishing clinch game along the way. It looks like her camp has calmed her range striking down as well, which is good, as she used to be all over the place. There are definitely going to be a lot of women at 115 that VanZant can beat right now, and she has a ton of time to develop.
Akbarh Arreola (+215) vs. Yves Edwards (-270) (I picked Edwards, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: The odds probably could have been narrower, all things considered, but it still made sense to see Edwards as the favorite. Edwards is 38, and has been fighting since 1997, but Arreola is 31 and has been fighting since 2002. Both men have been around for a while. But, it turns out that for as good as Edwards has been, he’s a lot further off his prime than Arreola is right now.
- Fallout for Edwards: It’s hard to look at where Edwards is now and see a next step that involves continuing to fight. Akbarh Arreola is just not a guy he should have lost to, ever. And certainly not by decisive first round stoppage. This didn’t look like a bad night, or the end of Edwards’ time as a top guy, this looked like the point where Edwards is no longer competing at a level remotely close to what the rest of his division is on. That’s not a good place.
- Fallout for Arreola: No question, as bad as Edwards looked, Arreola looked great here. He’s still got a funky game, as a range kicker and a guard submission grappler, but if he gets just the right matchups he might steal a few UFC wins. He’s definitely set on the track to be a matchup for some of the recent TUF offerings, but Arreola gets to fight another day in the UFC, and after his long road to get there, that’s a good thing.
Nick Hein (+230) vs. James Vick (-280) (I picked Vick, I was sorta right)
- The Expectation: Honestly, even as a big supporter of Nick’s, I expected him to get dusted here. That’s where the odds were, that’s what the matchup was. Color me extremely impressed then, that that’s not what happened at all. This ended up being a razor thin, competitive bout, and one I’d argue that Nick came out on the better end of, even in a loss…. which I thought he won.
- Fallout for Hein: The big win here, is that Hein continues to show he has a lot of potential for growth. He displays great natural power and good timing. Otherwise, two big problems are becoming apparent. The first and foremost is that he’s a very undersized LW and it’s potentially effecting the tools he can use in his fights. He used zero of his grappling in this bout, and it’s hard not to look at giving up 9 inches of height as a potential reason why. The second, and closely related, problem is that Nick appears to be essentially a one handed fighter right now. If his combination kickboxing doesn’t improve, future opponents aren’t going to have trouble solving his style.
- Fallout for Vick: Vick seems to have a real talent for getting the ugly win and sooner or later it’s likely to come back around hard. Honestly, this is probably the worst he’s looked in a win, as he checked his trademark aggression at the door, and went for an ugly point jabbing style. He doesn’t have the technique or volume to make that work and almost lost a decision because of it. If he takes a step up from the lower ranks of 155, he may meet with a decisive loss.
Luke Barnatt (-400) vs. Roger Narvaez (+325) (I picked Barnatt, I was wrong-ish)
- The Expectation: Okay, two things. 1) I was all in on Barnatt to win this fight. 2) These odds are way, way too long. Barnatt is/was a pretty decent, well rounded fighter. But, he’s nicknamed “Bigslow” for a reason. He’s not a blue chip athletic prospect, and as such, he’s going to have to be on his game every time out to win fights. Picking him to win felt like the sensible move, but not at these odds.
- Fallout for Barnatt: I’m not sure if he’s in a “rebuilding” stage or what, but it looks like he’s gotten worse since his move to Alliance. Barnatt used to be a pretty solid infighter and clinch grappler, but for his last two bouts, he’s relied on some ugly and fundamentally barren range striking, and gotten outpointed by slim margins each time. It’s possible that more time, and more work on this style will mold it into something functional, but it feels like most of his functional game has been lost in the process. Hard to pick him to win going forward.
- Fallout for Narvaez: This was a really good, solid win for Narvaez, who needed desperately to prove that he was UFC caliber after a bad first showing. He’s got a few incidental things going against him, like age and a full time job, but he looked much improved this time out, and whatever kickboxing coach he’s working with, seems to have turned his striking around. If he can keep improving, he has the size and physicality to be a decent action fighter in the UFC.
Josh Copeland (+170) vs. Ruslan Magomedov (-210) (I picked Magomedov, I was right)
- The Expectation: Solid, sensible odds on a low powered kickboxing heavyweight like Magomedov. He’s likely to win any matchup against a lower tier heavyweight, but without the ability to put guys away, he should never drift too high in the odds. That said, this was always Magomedov’s fight to lose and he proved it.
- Fallout for Magomedov: He continues to be a young heavyweight to watch, sort of. As a guy under 30 and with less than 5 years of cage time, Magomedov is a relative baby in UFC terms. Given his depth of striking talent, he’s also a prospect, no doubt. But he had Copeland badly outclassed here, and never really came that close to finishing him. He just doesn’t have power, and heavyweight is a division that lives and dies on power. Magomedov is still a great fighter on the rise, but it’s hard to see just how high he’ll go.
- Fallout for Copeland: This wasn’t a huge setback for Copeland, although it was a decisive loss. He proved he can go three rounds in the UFC without horribly gassing, and that he has the basic athletic tools to compete, including a solid chin. Now, he just needs some actual technique. He got by on the regional scene with a swarming striking game into cage control, but without technical footwork and a more varied arsenal, he’s going to be little more than a fun brawler in the UFC.
Isaac Vallie-Flagg (+160) vs. Matt Wiman (-175) (I picked Wiman, I was right-esque)
- The Expectation: I figured that this was a fight where Wiman would get beat up a bit on the feet, but eventually be able to drag Vallie-Flagg down, and work him over with his more complicated wrestling and grappling game on the ground. The odds looked like that was the popular pick, and even coming off a long layoff, Wiman more or less met expectations. The one surprise was really that Vallie-Flagg seemed to dictate all the range in the bout, but chose the wrong range a lot.
- Fallout for Wiman: Honestly, this may be one of those times that the time off has really done a fighter good. He still looked a little rusty out there, and got muscled around a bit, but once the fight was in his arena, he had complete control. I’m not sure that his skill set will carry him toward the top 15, but he’ll probably be able to hang as a tough mid-division gate keeper that shows scrappy strikers what’s missing from their game.
- Fallout for Vallie-Flagg: It’s not as bad as the Yves Edwards loss, by any measure, but it is hard to see a next fight for Isaac Vallie-Flagg. He’s been a good, scrappy veteran fighter for a while now, but where he was once on the winning side of those split decisions, he’s now dropping them. This Matt Wiman fight was winnable, but Vallie-Flagg tends to push the fight to his opponents not just with his striking but with wrestling and grappling as well. Since he’s not exceptional in any one area, it leaves him open to pushing the fight right where his opponent wants it. That seemed to be his downfall here.
Joseph Benavidez (-437) vs. Dustin Ortiz (+354) (I picked Benavidez, I was right)
- The Expectation: As the odds showed, Joseph Benavidez was supposed to walk right through Dustin Ortiz. There’s no question that Ortiz is talented and tough, but he just hadn’t shown the depth of skill to get past a fighter like Benavidez, the skill to threaten for a title. At the end of the day, I think he did a lot better than anyone expected, but he still ended up being on the wrong side of a pretty one sided beating.
- Fallout for Benavidez: Honestly, this may have been as bad as I’ve seen Joe-B look in a win. Early on, he had Ortiz totally outclassed. Then, to start out the second, it looked like he just decided to go for the kill, and threw technique out the window. In doing so, Ortiz caught him hard at least once, and turned a one sided beating into a brawl. Benavidez still won that brawl handily, but it’s one he didn’t really look like he needed to be in.
- Fallout for Ortiz: I guess, for fans looking for an excuse to mark Ortiz as a top 10 talent this was a good way for them to do so. He acquitted himself well, and competitively in a loss, but it was still a pretty decisive loss, and didn’t gain him much ground from his position as a guy who can beat the rising talent at 125, but can’t get over against top guys. He’s still fairly young, and has time to develop, but this fight established that he needs to round out his game into something more dynamic to compete for a shot at the flyweight title.
Oleksiy Oliynyk (+305) vs. Jared Rosholt (-375) (I picked Rosholt, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: I think, if I had to pick this fight a hundred times, I’d pick Jared Rosholt to win it every time. The flip side of that is that I’m not really surprised at all that he lost. Anyone who has paid attention to Rosholt’s fighting style could see a loss like this coming, one where his wrestling game didn’t get going, and he ended up stranded on his feet with a more powerful puncher. In this case, it seemed he wanted to be on his feet, and thus became the harbinger of his own downfall.
- Fallout for Oliynyk: A contender on the rise? Probably not. Oliynyk looks to be establishing himself more as a gatekeeper to the more one dimensional heavyweight talents than anything else. He can wrestler, grapple, and strikes with power. He’s got a chin, and he’s experienced enough to keep his cool. How long all that lasts, it’s hard to say. Oliynyk is a perfect example of everything that’s weird about heavyweight because there’s no telling when a guy like him stops winning relevant fights.
- Fallout for Rosholt: People saying this kills Rosholt’s chances as a future contender are probably missing the mark. The same could have been said about Fabricio Werdum or Mark Hunt a couple of times. Heavyweight just doesn’t work that way. That said, Rosholt looked like he went out there to prove that his striking wasn’t a “fatal flaw” and had it shown to him that it really still was. While he actually looked better than ever, heavyweight is unkind to minor improvements. If he can go back to his wrestling and mix in the boxing as a change of pace, there are still plenty of dudes he can beat with ease.
Chico Camus (+155) vs. Brad Pickett (-180) (I picked Camus, I was mostly right)
- The Expectation: I want to say that I’m really, really surprised that Camus was the underdog, but I’m not. He has zero name value with fans and, coming off loss where he got dominated, it’s hard to get any sort of hype going. That said, he’s essentially in his prime right now. That prime may not be quite as high as Pickett’s was, but Pickett’s not there and this bout more or less showed that.
- Fallout for Pickett: Pickett probably gets another shot at flyweight, a chance for another young fighter to make their name off beating him, but I’m not sure how he’ll be looking to win much more. His staple has always been his wrestle-grappling. The boxing and brawling he did was a secondary tool to get to those staple skills. Only, he’s not getting there anymore. Pickett’s getting left as just a boxer-brawler at flyweight and he doesn’t have the tools to win those types of fights.
- Fallout for Camus: I doubt that Camus has a title run in him, even at his peak, but he should be good for a few entertaining high-to-mid level scraps. His style isn’t really made to win consistently in the UFC, and unless he ups his output, he’s likely to end up with more split decision losses than wins, but he’s proven he can do some exciting things with the right type of matchup.
Edson Barboza (-150) vs. Bobby Green (+125) (I picked Green, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: I may have had a dramatic misreading on Green going in here, but I was shocked that he was the underdog. I figured that his decent, movement based boxing, combined with his athletic wrestling/scrambling game would give him just the right set of skills to beat Barboza, but he may just be much more of an in-and-out range striker than I thought. At that point, Barboza eats that kind of fighter alive, as long as they can’t crack his chin, and Green couldn’t.
- Fallout for Green: Hard to say. He’s talked about retiring, and if he want’s to, it’s hard to fault him. MMA is no easy way to earn a living and any fighter that wants to step away probably should. If he stays, however, this fight showed some real gaps that could prevent him from rising further up the ranks. Guys like Barboza are a rarity at the lower end of lightweight, but at the top, they’re closer to the standard. RDA, Cerrone, Pettis, even Melendez and Henderson, all have solid pressure kickboxing games. Green’s low output style just isn’t made to win that kind of fight.
- Fallout for Barboza: This win was a huge deal, the type of win that could put him close to contention. And while he may have a very beatable gameplan, he also has the kind of singular skills that make him dangerous against any opponent. Barboza’s next matchup and next fight are going to be a big deal, win that and he may be fighting for title contention.
Frankie Edgar (-175) vs. Cub Swanson (+145) (I picked Edgar, I was right)
- The Expectation: There were a lot of reasons that Frankie Edgar was the slight favorite in this fight, and mine may have ended up being the least valid. My thoughts ran along the lines that, even in a standup battle I’ve seen Cub come up short recently, and that’s the one area where he has any sort of advantage. The majority opinion, that Edgar was just the more complete and talented fighter seems to have been the right one, as Edgar was able to dominate with ease using his wrestling.
- Fallout for Edgar: This may be one of the most singularly dominant displays of wrestling I’ve ever seen in MMA. Edgar wen for a couple of “tester” takedowns early, to get a feel for Cub’s defense and then just blitzed him for the rest of the fight. His top control, never a real center point of his game, was crushing, and just drained all the fight out of Swanson. And, he was even reasonably competitive standing, for as long as the fight stayed there. Overall, it looks like Edgar is molding his game to a more skill-based, less springy athleticism based style, which could keep him a force for a few more years.
- Fallout for Swanson: Nothing good. There is literally nothing good to be taken away here. Swanson got beat like rented mule for 5 rounds, before tapping to a neck crank. He’s past the point of “I need to work more on X” and may be past the point of having another run in him. Featherweight is a division that’s quickly filling up with new, top tier talent. Swanson can still win fights in the top ten right now, so it’s not utter devastation. But there’s nothing good to take from this loss.
Those are my collected thoughts on UFC Fight Night: Edgar vs. Swanson. So much of what I wrote seems obvious now, but as always, that’s the benefit of hindsight. Swing back around, two weeks from now, when I’ll be talking about “Still welterweight champion Johny Hendricks” and “Still lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.” Until then!
*This week’s quote courtesy of the movie American Gangster.
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