Alright, maybe champions aren’t a race, but you get the picture. Buildings were razed at UFC 185. It was a purge of the old guard. A revolution in cage fighting politics, in which the unsuspected proletariat rose up to dethrone that which seemed beyond dethroning… Still too grand? Two UFC champions took a hell of a beating. Pettis was usurped by a sizeable underdog in Rafael dos Anjos. And while at close to even odds, Joanna Jedrzejczyk still performed the upset, taking Carla Esparza’s belt in brutal fashion. All to cap off a great night of action fights and stellar performances. Oh, and I went 7-5 for fight picks.
Disclaimer Time: I really was all in on Anthony Pettis for this one, and I can’t see how I would have picked against him, even understanding his flaws and how RDA might exploit them. Overall, I think I might have (theoretically) won bets on de Randamie, and maybe Jedrzejczyk, if I’d taken the underdog in a close fight. But I probably would have lost on Nelson and Cruickshank as well. All of which is why I don’t bet. I think even my best efforts would usually have me breaking even. Instead it’s a hypothetical tool to judge fighter improvement, via odds and expectations. I’ll be using Best Fight Odds for the odds on each fight, and taking the mode for each fighter. So, on to the fights…
Germaine de Randamie (+100) vs. Larissa Pacheco (-125) (I picked de Randamie, I was right)
- The Expectation: I picked Germaine here, so obviously I expected her to win. And frankly, this fight, and more particularly Pacheco are a good case study in over-valuing records and wins when looking at matchups. Pacheco tore it up on the regional scene, beat a legit young talent in Irene Aldana, but the actual skills she used didn’t make her particularly prepared for the UFC. De Randamie may not have been electrifying fans, but her patient, skilled striking can still win her a lot of fights.
- Fallout for de Randamie: This was her chance to really revitalize her MMA career. A loss here, to a newcomer like Pacheco, and after spending a year and a half on the sidelines, and interest in her as any kind of MMA talent would pretty much be dead. Instead, she got a nice KO after delivering a one-sided beating, and should be in line for bigger future fights.
- Fallout for Pacheco: Unfortunately, as meaningful this was a rejuvination for Germaine, it’s equally as meaningful a setback for Pacheco. Her debut loss to Jessica Andrade could have been chalked up to “Octagon Jitters,” a short notice debut, or even just Andrade’s status as a contender on the rise. This loss casts a much more stark light on just how raw Pacheco’s game is, and how much improvement she needs to win against skilled competition. I’m really not sure she’ll get the time in the UFC, especially in a division where just a few wins has fighters knocking on the door of title contention.
Joseph Duffy (-750) vs. Jake Lindsey (+500) (I picked Duffy, I was right)
- The Expectation: That Duffy would trounce Jake Lindsey inside a round and give himself a fantastic entry into the UFC. Which is exactly what happened.
- Fallout for Duffy: He’s a real talent in the sport, and given his long layoff from MMA, it’s hard to judge just how high his ceiling is at the moment. It could be that he’s in the prime of his career, and a now-or-never situation in terms of climbing the UFC ranks, or it could be that he’s bought himself some extra time to round out his game, due to spending a few years away from the sport. Either way, this was just the right way to get started.
- Fallout for Lindsey: He doesn’t really have the physical tools to compete in the UFC, or the technical tools to make up for that disadvantage. He’s been finished three straight times and with increasingly little effort each time. He’d be better suited going back to the regionals at this point.
Ryan Benoit (+450) vs. Sergio Pettis (-700) (I picked Pettis, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: I figured that, unless he got dropped early, this should have been a fight where Sergio Pettis’ superior technical mastery really guided him past Ryan Benoit. He didn’t get dropped early, and his technical skills were doing the job, but his problems with chinny-ness still came back to bite him for a 2nd round TKO loss.
- Fallout for Benoit: This saved what hype there had been for Ryan Benoit coming into the UFC after a three round war with Anthony Birchak back in MFC. He’s an exciting action fighter with a lot of athletic tools, but still very technically raw. That was all on display here, as Pettis outworked him for most of the fight, but his natural gifts saved him and reminded fans that he could still do some fun things in the UFC.
- Fallout for Pettis: This is about as harsh a reality check as Pettis could get. It was one thing to get subbed late by the larger, more savvy Alex Caceres in his second fight in the UFC, and another to get dropped by a shot from Matt Hobar and rally back to win. But, this was a bout Pettis was firmly in control of from the opening bell. He was the better fighter in every area through the first round and into the second. Then he got hit hard once. His defense failed him, his chin failed him, and it’s starting to look like a pattern. Benoit is a good athlete, but he’s not exactly a special talent, especially at flyweight, where athleticism is a basic requirement to compete. Pettis has time to improve, but the idea of him as a top prospect seems remote at best.
Josh Copeland (+245) vs. Jared Rosholt (-310) (I picked Rosholt, I was right)
- The Expectation: Rosholt was supposed to wipe the floor with Copeland here, who hasn’t shown the striking acumen to hurt Rosholt consistently, or the wrestling to stay off his back. Copeland did land one big shot, but couldn’t follow up at all, and got TKO’d for his trouble.
- Fallout for Copeland: He has the athletic potential, and the developing skill set, but he needs seasoning against other unskilled prospects. The UFC has guys like that. Walt Harris, Timothy Johnson, Viktor Pesta. Guys who will give Copeland a shot to develop, but against skilled HWs like Rosholt and Magomedov, he’s going to fail every time.
- Fallout for Rosholt: This was a fight he had to win, a fight set up for him to win. He did so, as advertised, and without too much trouble. He still doesn’t take a punch well, but he has the wrestling skill to dominate most guys outside of the top 10, as long as he uses his striking to supplement his wrestling and not replace it.
Daron Cruickshank (-120) vs. Beneil Dariush (-105) (I picked Cruickshank, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: I picked Cruickshank to win, under the thinking that he’d made his past problems difficult enough to exploit, that a less experienced fighter like Dariush wouldn’t find them consistently enough to win. It turns out that, perhaps in trying to achieve that goal, Cruickshank has also taken some of the effectiveness out of his striking game, and may be turning himself into a less competitive lightweight by being a less dynamic one.
- Fallout for Cruickshank: As I said above, I’m starting to worry about his development as an action-first fighter. Starting with the Njokuani bout, where he smartly relied on his wrestling to take an easy decision, Cruickshank has shown less and less of his flashy outside kicking game. That seems like a smart move, but without the threat that created, he seems to be turning himself into a really mediocre wrestle boxer. One that can be closed down at range and out wrestled and grappled without too much trouble. It may be too soon to say that definitively, but it’s a trend worth watching.
- Fallout for Dariush: Dariush is really proving himself as a smart fighter that can follow the right game plan for the opponent in front of him. The key to beating Cruickshank is to box him inside, take him down, and look for submissions. Dariush did that perfectly, and despite a rough start, seems to be climbing the lightweight ranks in a hurry.
Roger Narvaez (+290) vs. Elias Theodorou (-350) (I picked Theodorou, I was right)
- The Expectation: I really wasn’t sure just how competitive Roger Narvaez would be against Elias Theodorou. Many wrote him off as another generic middleweight whose combination of physicality and skill falls well short of the top tier at 185, but I wasn’t so sure. I’m more sure now.
- Fallout for Narvaez: He actually is developing a decent range kickboxing game, but it’s still not a dominating skill for Narvaez. To go with it, his ugly regional wrestle-grappling skills, which served him well when he was the best athlete on his circuit, are looking less technical against big, powerful MWs like Theodorou. Narvaez can win and develop in the UFC, but he seems earmarked for the win one lose one bin of dudes who fight at 185.
- Fallout for Theodorou: This fight really proved and reinforced some feelings I’ve had about Theodorou as a prospect. 1:
He’s dreamy and has beautiful hair.He really is a physical step above most middleweights. 2. While he’s still hit and miss technically, he has the kind of accuracy and timing to win fights as his technique develops. He’s definitely a legit prospect in the making, and a guy I expect to be knocking on the door of the top 15 before long.
Ross Pearson (-380) vs. Sam Stout (+315) (I picked Pearson, I was right)
- The Expectation: Ross Pearson was going to dust Sam Stout in brutal fashion. It took him a little longer than I thought, but he did.
- Fallout for Pearson: He’s still an exciting and talented action fighter. There’s a limit to his skills. He’s never developed the dynamic repertoire to really keep opponents guessing against him, and that will always hold him back from the top ten of lightweight. But, he’s a terrific boxer with great power, and good inside combination punching. With the right matchups, he’s a treat to watch.
- Fallout for Stout: This sort of ends the notion of Stout as a competitive fighter in the upper half of the lightweight division. It’s been years since he looked really good in a fight. To that extent, this was probably his best, most energized performance in a while. But like Liddell, Edwards, and so many before him, even when he’s doing well, he’s still coming up short.
Chris Cariaso (+500) vs. Henry Cejudo (-750) (I picked Cejudo, I was right)
- The Expectation: I picked Cejudo, tentatively, under the thought that if he had any major holes in his game, Cariaso would probably find them. Either he doesn’t or Cariaso isn’t the litmus test I thought he was, because Cejudo ran right through him like he wasn’t even there. Big win for a new ranked flyweight and probable future contender.
- Fallout for Cariaso: The idea of Cariaso as a title contender was a dream born of necessity rather than skill, but it may become quickly clear just how much of a dream that was. As the UFC brings in more flyweight talent, the necessity of speed and power are becoming more and more important. Cariaso doesn’t tend to have either, and he may be out of the top 15 before to much longer, unless he gets just the right opponents.
- Fallout for Cejudo: This was the proof I think many fans needed, that Cejudo, given proper motivation and preparation, is a serious threat for title competition. Will he win titles? Depends on how quickly he develops or how long he stays around. I tend to believe he’s in the very early stages of his career, so even a fast track title loss shouldn’t derail him long term, but he’s definitely a fighter to talk about in terms of “how long will he be in the top 5?”
Roy Nelson (+135) vs. Alistair Overeem (-160) (I picked Nelson, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: I thought that, for whatever amount of time Overeem spent winning this fight, it would only take a second for Nelson to take that all away from him. There were moments when that almost came true. Overeem, even playing a safety-first style got drilled hard on several occasions. But, that one-punch fight changing style that Nelson used to have in spades seems to be fading, and it’s not leaving a whole lot behind.
- Fallout for Nelson: There are still fun fights for Nelson at heavyweight. It is, after all, heavyweight. Even severely faded talents get a second, third, or fourth chance to shine. But, he appears to be fading fast, and while there are still fights that would interest fans for him, I don’t know that there are many I’d pick him to win.
- Fallout for Overeem: This is not an Overeem everyone is going to love watching, but it’s an Overeem we need to see, if he’s going to stay a competitive fighter. It’s clear that athleticism is still there, and the power he delivered in some of those shots seemed unreal. But, he’s an absolute glass cannon, and now he’s fighting like one. Keeping his head on the outside, lunging in and out with well placed power shots, not being afraid to scamper away from danger. This is the Overeem that can climb back to the top 5. Whether it lasts is anyone’s guess.
Matt Brown (+320) vs. Johny Hendricks (-380) (I picked Hendricks, I was right)
- The Expectation: While it wasn’t a direct port, I figured this would look more or less like Brown vs. Lawler. Moments of clinch success, with a lot of getting hit at range (and in this case, taken down) in-between. Hendricks followed the gameplan brilliantly and never gave Brown space or time to find his game inside, and got a pretty one sided win out of it.
- Fallout for Brown: He’s still a top 10 fighter, at least in my eyes. There are guys that can beat him. Accurate, high volume strikers that have the raw power and wrestling to create space inside or keep him on his back, but those are few and far between. It is time for him to get more top 15/top 10 type matchups however. Fights against proven vets, and not just action fighters or the elite of the elite.
- Fallout for Hendricks: He’s still the no. 1 contender at welterweight as far as any meaning can be derived from that position. His kickboxing gets better with every outing, his clinch striking is phenomenal, and his wrestling is powerful and controlling. He’s a great fighter at his best right now. Whether that wins him the title again, I don’t know, but it will keep him in the hunt for a while longer.
Carla Esparza (-160) vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (+125) (I picked Esparza, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: I really wish I hadn’t second guessed myself, right about now. I was really feeling the Jedrzejczyk win about a week out from the fight, but then I started watching more tape on Carla Esparza. Against bad wrestlers, her wrestling looks phenomenal. She hits big power doubles, changes angles with ease, and chains everything beautifully. Then she supplements it all with a developing boxing game. Problem is, that “developing” isn’t developed, and when that wrestling gets shut down, it’s not quite the sturdy support it seemed. That played out in spades here, and Joanna “Champion” made Esparza look like a rank amateur.
- Fallout for Esparza: Esparza has a problem, and I’m not sure it’s one she can solve. That problem is that she’s not the most powerful or dynamic athlete in her division. In fact, she’s probably not even in second place. Technically, her wrestling is pretty perfect, but she doesn’t have the athletic edge to make technical perfection necessarily turn into physical success. Jedrzejczyk’s takedown defense was perfect, that shouldn’t be ignored, but this is the third time Esparza has come up short against someone she couldn’t take down with ease. Similar to Phil Davis, it may be a problem she’s just not able to overcome.
- Fallout for Jedrzejcyk: As she told everyone, she’s Joanna “Champion” now. And with her combination of skills, and relative youth in the sport (her first MMA bout was in 2012) she could be queen of the mountain for quite a while. Her win over Gadelha wasn’t dominant, by any means, but it also seems like a fight that Jedrzejczyk can improve off of with more ease than Gadelha. After that, it’s a very short list of women that look prepared to challenge the title holder at 115 lbs.
Rafael dos Anjos (+400) vs. Anthony Pettis (-500) (I picked Pettis, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: I really thought that Anthony Pettis’ athletic gifts would be too much for Rafael dos Anjos, potential game-planning and match-ups be damned. Pettis is an amazing athlete in his prime. dos Anjos has been a decent (but not quite amazing) athlete, who should have his best years already behind him. For dos Anjos to come with the gameplan he did, and stick to it the way he did, is a testament not just to great improvement from a fighter, but to great tactical awareness from the new champion.
- Fallout for Dos Anjos: Unlike Jedrzejcyk, I’ll admit that it’s much harder to see Dos Anjos as a long term champion. Not only is Khabib Nurmagomedov (who beat dos Anjos soundly) lurking, but as I said before, the fact that dos Anjos is competitive at the level he is, at this stage in his career, is pretty damn astounding. Could he continue to defy the odds? Maybe, would I necessarily bet on it? Not really. Still it’s a great feat, that shouldn’t be diminished, and I look forward to seeing him defend the belt.
- Fallout for Pettis: It’s fair to say, at this point, that a broken orbital probably severely affected Anthony Pettis’ performance in this fight. It’s also fair to say, that his willingness to get hit hard inside, (and generally lackluster inside game) is what led to him getting his eye busted in the first place. Pettis has holes in his game. This wasn’t unknown coming in, but the assumption was that he’s improved enough that he could cover them with raw talent. This shows that that’s still not the case, and while I think he’s still right in the title hunt, I could see other top lightweights exploiting those same flaws to their advantage. More importantly, how well his eye heals could play a big factor in his fights going forward.
Those are my collected thoughts from UFC 185. As always, so much of what I wrote seems obvious now, but that’s the benefit of hindsight. Stay tuned for next week, when I plan on getting this thing done a little sooner, and on talking about why Ryan LaFlare is the newest member of the welterweight top 10. Until then!
* This week’s quote courtesy of the film Forbidden Planet.
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