Depending on the fan and depending on the fight, your excitement mileage may vary. From a pure action standpoint, things really peaked on the undercard when John Lineker and Francisco Rivera decided to throw all the hands at one another. After that, just about everything else paled a bit in comparison. Demetrious Johnson put on another consummate and technically brilliant performance that once again failed to ignite any interest in him outside his already devoted fanbase. Just what that means for the UFC’s future plans for him and for his own fighting career is anyone’s guess, but it certainly feels like something has to be done to acknowledge that he’s really not a fighter made for carrying PPV cards.
Disclaimer Time: I started miserably on this one and ended up on a hot streak for an overall record of 6-5. Hold a gun to my head and I’ll admit that I was flat out wrong about Raquel Pennington, Joe Riggs, and Ross Pearson, but for different reasons and to different degrees. Were I a betting man I might have even lost a bit of money on Andrade and Stallings, so maybe it’s best that I’m not. As always, I’m using odds as a way to benchmark fan expectation along with my own and compare it to actual fight results to create a sporting narrative out of an otherwise disconnected jumble of fist fights that we think of as an MMA career. I’m getting my odds from Odds Shark and taking the mode for each fighter. So, with all that said, let’s get to the fights…
Nazareno Malegarie (-130) vs. Joaquim Silva (+100) (I picked Malegarie, I was sorta-wrong)
- The Expectation: Malegarie’s takedown game and well rounded style was supposed to take the day over a very much “in-development” Joaquim Silva. The ability to hit takedowns, grind from top position, and compete on the feet should have given him an edge, but Silva’s athletic advantages really shone through. The power differential was especially notable and as Silva found his timing he landed a lot more big shots on Malegarie to make up for lower output and less control.
- Fallout for Malegarie: This was a harsh wall for Malegarie to run up against early in his UFC career and may set an unfortunate tone for the Argentinian. He’s not bad anywhere, but he’s just not an outstanding physical force. Silva is a pretty one-note fighter, dependent almost entirely on sprawling and brawling behind a big right hand, and Malegarie couldn’t get out of the way often enough to take the win. There are a lot of fighters that can put on that kind of performance, and right now it looks like Malegarie is a coin flip against most of them.
- Fallout for Silva: Big win for him, especially considering it’s one he wasn’t quite supposed to get. He’s a great physical specimen with some good basic tools to his game. He gets to his feet well when taken down, has a decent sprawl game, and a ton of power in his right hand. If he can sharpen all that up and really work on complicating his wrestling and boxing he could go a long way.
Joe Riggs (+195) vs. Ron Stallings (-230) (I picked Stallings, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: Watching Riggs get a win in 2015 is only second in surreal experiences to watching someone pick him to get a win 2015. And while he may have taken an opportune exit to the fight, it was a fight he was winning. Stallings just had to say on his feet and potshot Riggs, but he couldn’t do it and Riggs was on his way to a GNP finish before a “foul” caused the DQ ending.
- Fallout for Riggs: He got a weird win here, but it still highlighted a fighter who seems constantly on the point of shattering into a million pieces. An early jab in the fight caused enough damage to impair his vision, and a lot of shots look like they really had him hurt, but he gutted it out, got takedowns, and made the most of them. Not pretty, but he’ll live to fight again. And right now, that’s about the best that can be said.
- Fallout for Stallings: This is a good time to highlight something that I’d kind of let slide out of my mind pre-fight. Ron Stallings has only been fighting for two years less than Joe Riggs. He too has a lot of miles on him. And while his spotlight has been less bright and his performances have suggested a fresher fighter, this one brings home to bear that that may not actually be true. Or, at the very least, that he’s probably not going to get a lot better than he’s been to date.
Clay Collard (-145) vs. Tiago Trator (+125) (I picked Collard, I was wrong-ish)
- The Expectation: It’s not that this fight went any different than I thought it would, it didn’t. It’s just that Collard is just a fraction less effective in his ugly MMA game than I though he was. Trator still seemed a bit under-powered in the cage and gave Collard every opportunity to hurt him and create momentum, but Collard could never land enough strikes together to actually turn opportunity into reality. Instead it was just 15 minutes of slop and the slightly less sloppy fighter got his hand raised.
- Fallout for Collard: He’s not good enough to win fights in the UFC. Other than Max Holloway, he’s faced the worst competition the UFC has had available and more often than not he’s lost. In fact, to this point, his career highlight is probably making it to round 3 against Holloway. It’s too bad, because he’s got the attitude and toughness of a fun fighter, but too few of the technical skills to compete.
- Fallout for Trator: So, if that’s what I had to say about Collard, you can imagine what this means for Trator. In simple terms, he’s just barely good enough. His tendency to wait on the end of his punches gets him countered a lot, and his lack of bulk means he’s not very controlling in the clinch or on the ground. He’s got some nice technical basics, but they don’t quite come together for a complete style. It’s going to be tough for him to get regular wins and he’s far enough in his career that major improvement won’t come without serious changes.
Jessica Andrade (-170) vs. Raquel Pennington (+150) (I picked Andrade, I was wrong)
- The Expectation: I can’t say I’m particularly disappointed by Andrade, considering she took this fight on short notice and only barely won the first time, but I did expect more from her. She was supposed to be the more powerful striker and grappler and the more consistent performer, but she has a penchant for losing just when she starts to build up a head of steam and that may just be a function of her always working against size at 135.
- Fallout for Andrade: And yet, I still don’t think she should go to 115. She’s in a division right now where any two wins at any time can get her a title shot, and 115 just doesn’t seem like that place (although Letourneau is disproving that). Still, she’s got to keep sharpening her technical game, because she’ll always lack something on the physical end of things. If her striking isn’t on point she’s not a dependable winner.
- Fallout for Pennington: This was a career making performance from her. A loss here and she’d be closer to the chopping block than ever and looking more and more like filler in a division that’s already all filler. Getting a big, definitive win over Andrade sets up a trilogy down the road and gives her a win over a ranked opponent. If she can keep improving 135 is wide open for quick rising fighters.
John Lineker (-150) vs. Francisco Rivera (+131) (I picked Lineker, I was right)
- The Expectation: When Francisco Rivera meets a solid, high output, technical boxer he gets flustered. When Rivera gets flustered, his defensive game opens wide up for hard shots. Enter John Lineker: well smaller than Rivera, but a machine when it comes to sitting down in the pocket and trading hands. That was why I picked Lineker to win. The fact that the fight was an awe-inspiring violence bonanza was just that much better.
- Fallout for Lineker: This win quickly puts him in the running at 135, where title challengers are the rarest of commodities. I’m not saying he’s next in line, but if they can get him even just one more big win, he might as well be. At this point there’s no reason for the UFC to trust of Cruz, Assuncao, or McDonald that any of them will comeback and contend soon. So make way for Lineker at 135 and try and get that man to a shot at the belt.
- Fallout for Rivera: While he’s gotten way better, the classic problems still remain. Lucky for him there aren’t a ton of great high output combination boxers in MMA, let alone at 135. Unlucky for him, most of the top 10 fit that mold. He’s got great power and great timing and a solid defensive game when he has time and space to work, but it’s tough to say he’ll ever make a real run at the top 5.
Paul Felder (-450) vs. Ross Pearson (+345) (I picked Felder, I was a tad wrong)
- The Expectation: What was really supposed to come into play in this fight was power, and Ross Pearson’s tendency to get hit hard. He was doing pretty well in his fight with Al Iaquinta, right up until Iaquinta cleaned his clock. Albeit, Iaquinta is faster and more technically varied than Felder, but it seems like similar problems have regularly plagued Pearson over his career. If you can stand in front of him and create offense, eventually you’ll crack him. Not this time. Pearson showed better footwork and timing than ever as he cruised to a solid decision win (even if it was scored a split).
- Fallout for Felder: The reality of this is that Paul Felder is not a rarefied MMA prospect. Few are. He’s been fighting as a pro for three years, he has no business beating guys like Ross Pearson or Edson Barboza. The fact that he’s competing with them means that in another couple years he could really be something special, but he’s not ready yet. He over-performed early in the UFC and they rushed him, now the difficulty will be in slowing his roll back to a point where he can win and improve consistently and not get cut.
- Fallout for Pearson: He’s not ready for pasture yet. Ross Pearson probably isn’t cut out to be a top 15 fighter, but he’s the kind of action fighter the UFC has to have. A guy when can get in there and provide a real test for fighters looking to claim top spots in the division. Basically you have to be good to beat Ross Pearson, or you have to come out with a gameplan dedicated to beating him. If you’re not, or you don’t, he’ll find a way.
Alex Chambers (+1000) vs. Paige VanZant (-1500) (I picked VanZant, I was right)
- The Expectation: VanZant was going to ragdoll Alex Chambers around for a while before finishing her. I thought she’d get a TKO, but she got an armbar.
- Fallout for Chambers: I’m not saying this was a reality check, she was losing the same kind of fight to Kailin Curran in the same kind of way, before turning it around late. But, this is a reminder of just how important physical gifts are to WMMA right now. Chambers has some decent parts of her game, she looks like she’s getting better, but she’s not powerful or dynamic enough to win fights against most top athletes.
- Fallout for VanZant: Nothing too new here. We already knew that she’s got the physical tools of a top 5 strawweight. The only question is as to when her technical game will match it. Before too much longer, I could see her really competing well with fighters like Aguilar and Penne, but she’s still miles away from Gadelha, Jedrzejczyk, and maybe even Esparza.
Corey Anderson (-115) vs. Jan Blachowicz (-105) (I picked Anderson, I was right)
- The Expectation: I’m a bit surprised Anderson ended up being the favorite by the time this fight went live, but I’m happy he did. I picked him to win and thought he had a very good shot, on paper, at doing so. His higher output, better fitness, and improving technical game were all set to cause problems for a slow paced, low output, anti-wrestling fighter like Blachowicz and that’s exactly what happened.
- Fallout for Anderson: He Beasted for maybe 22/6, but that was enough to get past Jan Blachowicz. Honestly, with his mix of size, cardio, and toughness, he should have a long, successful career at LHW, as long as he doesn’t get dropped way in over his head too often and stays the course of consistent improvement. This was a big win for him to reinforce that idea and he really showed up. I expect he’ll be top 10 before too long.
- Fallout for Blachowicz: To be frank, unfortunately, Blachowicz probably spent too much time on the regional circuit in Europe honing a game that really doesn’t work that well for the UFC. His combination of low-output kickboxing and off-his-back grappling aren’t ideally suited for a fast paced, high output, wrestling heavy UFC approach. I want Blachowicz to be better, this division needs more talent, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he struggles to win more than the occasional fight.
Anthony Johnson (-750) vs. Jimi Manuwa (+475) (I picked Johnson, I was right)
- The Expectation: Johnson was going to drop a hammer on Manuwa sooner or later, especially given Manuwa’s dependence limited striking tools. Although, to that extent, it was surprising just how much Johnson went to his wrestling en route to the KO.
- Fallout for Johnson: He’s still a top 5 LHW.
- Fallout for Manuwa: He’s not a top 5 LHW and may never be. As bad as that division is, the top 5 of 205 is a very exclusive club.
Andrei Arlovski (-155) vs. Frank Mir (+135) (I picked Arlovski, I was right)
- The Expectation: It seemed safe-ish (for heavyweight) to assume that hand speed and foot speed would make the difference in this one as a route to victory for Andrei Arlovski. Mir’s ring craft has improved a lot and his chin hasn’t gotten worse, but he’s not half as fast as he used to be and Arlovski still seems to be close. For the most part, that was the story of the fight, although Mir did mount a lot of positional offense, just not a lot of damage.
- Fallout for Arlovski: He’s a top 5 HW in 2015, still! I mean, he already was, but he’s treading water up there. A minor miracle. This fight wasn’t fun and he wasn’t happy with it, but I’m still glad he’s back up at the top having some late career success. Rarely ever happens for fighters and always good to see when it does.
- Fallout for Mir: Like I said, his improvements in ring craft aren’t quite making up for the fact that physically he’s just not got a lot of spring in his step. Heavyweight is a division that will still let him float around the top 15 based on toughness and skill, but he’s probably never getting close to the top 5 again… probably.
Demetrious Johnson (-600) vs. John Dodson (+450) (I picked Johnson, I was right)
- The Expectation: Johnson was going to put a multi-faceted beating on a slowly fading John Dodson over five rounds. That was always going to be the way of this fight, unless Dodson landed a miracle shot. Unlike the first time these two met, Dodson never really even came close in this one.
- Fallout for Johnson: Like Georges St-Pierre in his prime, there’s just not a lot of challenge sitting in front of John Dodson at the moment. And unlike GSP, he doesn’t have a rabid national fan base (or a history of violent finishes) to buoy interest. So, Johnson is dominant and fantastically technical, but the challenge now is finding fights that push him to his limits. T.J. Dillashaw could be one, John Lineker would probably be fun in a losing effort, but otherwise the cupboard is pretty bare.
- Fallout for Dodson: I don’t want to be hard on Dodson, because I like him and he seems like a decent guy, but by all appearances he’s only lost ground on Demetrious Johnson since their first meeting. My feelings that he’d lost a step may have been overstated, maybe not. It’s hard to tell how much of the fight was down to Mighty Mouse’s improvements and how much was Dodson getting tired just a little quicker and being just a little slower to catch DJ darting in and out of range. Either way, he got beat. he’s still the number 2 or 3 guy at 125, but I’ll definitely will be watching his next fight closely to get an idea of just how much longer he’s got a place in the top 5.
Those are my collected thoughts for UFC 191. As always, so much of what I wrote seems obvious now, but that’s the benefit of hindsight. It’ll be a couple weeks until the next issue, where I’ll be excited to talk about Josh Barnett’s win in front of Japanese fans and Gegard Mousasi getting a win over Uriah Hall. Until then!
*This week’s quote from the movie Road Games.
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