The strangest thing about this event has been the fact that it was greatly overshadowed by so much of the hype surrounding the biggest Brazil card ever at UFC 198 and the grandest event they’ve planned for thus far at UFC 200. In fact, even headliner Luke Rockhold didn’t want to fight on this card.
So with not much in the way of expectations for an event like this, a series of average of just passable performances would have been more than nice. The reality of it is that we got a series of really amazing performances instead with some great upsets and surprises. With two title fights at the top, it bolstered the card and gave it more legitimate star power as well. This was clearly one of the best cards of the year so far, and lots of great stories have come from this event. Let’s do this.
Michael Bisping – As I said earlier on social media, this is the year of the Cinderella story. First it was Miesha Tate, now it’s the greatest fighter to have never fought for a title. Coming in with just over two weeks notice, it’s amazing that he came off doing a film to step up and seize the opportunity of a lifetime. Strange and somewhat unfortunate that it was only because Weidman was injured and Jacare was in need of surgery that he got the shot to begin with (not to mention Yoel Romero’s suspension). The man most saw as yet another sacrificial lamb, repeatedly found a home for that left hook and blasted Rockhold with what was were probably some of the finest shots he’s ever fired to become the unlikely champion in front of his family and friends. A true lifetime achievement that deserves a tremendous amount of praise. All these years of sacrifice and pain have yielded the ultimate reward, and this is truly one of the most historic fights we’ve had the pleasure to witness.
Dan Henderson – This was the fight that had me breathing heavy. Another unexpected showing from both fighters where once again Lombard looked like he was finishing his opponent early and got caught with a head kick that lead to a monster elbow that put the former Olympic Judoka to sleep. Hard. While most people would probably have preferred Hendo retire right then and there in the cage, it’s only fair that he give it some time to consider what he wants to do. Another case of a fighter with a massive win being able to share the moment with his family in the cage, and one that we’ll surely look back on in years to come.
Dominick Cruz – Perhaps it’s safe to say the Faber/Cruz rivalry is mostly over now. Cruz used a nice variety of weapons to outmaneuver Faber and keep his title in a clear manner that showed just how far ahead of the rest of the division he truly is. It’s a great division with some fresh matchups and compelling characters, so there should be no shortage of challengers for Cruz to face.
Max Holloway – Nine. Nine fights in a row and still sort of in a state of limbo. With the title picture being complicated now as McGregor has the belt with a series of misadventures outside of the weight class along with an interim title to be fought over at UFC 200, there’s no clear path for him right now. He wants a crack at the belt, which he should eventually get with another performance like this and should arguably have by now, and a spot on a UFC card in Hawaii. That last one is going to be a bit difficult and may not happen anytime soon, but it seems like management wait until the smoke clears between Aldo and Edgar before making their next move with Holloway.
Dustin Poirier – Returning to lightweight has been the best thing so far for Poirier, who now is on a four-fight win streak and three of them have been finishes with two Performance of the Night bonuses, to boot. He’s plugging away to keep moving up the rankings In the very best division in all of the sport, and that’s a tremendous turnaround. He’s shown improvement between each outing and he’s one of the true feel-good stories.
Beneil Dariush – Having a five-fight win streak be broken by a loss to Michael Chiesa really lit a fire under Dariush. He came in hard and put on a relentless pace, disrupts any rhythm Vick might have tried to establish and kept blasting him with the big blind overhands in a manner similar to Bisping and eventually put him to sleep. Outstanding performance to regain momentum and continue his rise through the ranks.
Jessica Andrade – Dropping two weight classes is one thing, doing so and putting on a hurting on one of the most visible fighters of the division in such a dominant manner is another thing entirely. Andrade suffocated Penne with volume and some good shots, especially to the body. This puts her at 5-3 overall in the UFC and is her first finish in the Octagon since submitting Larissa Pacheco in 2014. Not sure where her ceiling is in this new division, but her wrestling and boxing can give anyone fits.
Alex Caceres – Never count out Bruce Leeroy. Since moving to the MMA Lab he’s refined his game in such a way that he’s just a threat no matter where he is or how hard he’s been hit. He took advantages of some of the bad habits that Cole Miller had and survived on the ground to keep the action at the pace he’s most comfortable with. Dumping Miller on his back and punishing him with slick boxing and great counters was great to watch. That and his great defense on the ground in the third and final round.
Ricardo Lamas* – Surprised? Don’t be. That performance may have ended in a loss, but it gains him a ton of points with the brass with his tenacity and ability to not only remain competitive, but to keep giving Holloway fits. His stock will not take a big hit here, even at featherweight – a division that has a lot of moving pieces past the top 3 in the division.
Brian Ortega – This has been perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises we’ve had in a while, because after winning the RFA featherweight title, he’s fit in perfectly into the UFC fold. He remains undefeated and made a major statement by going toe-to-toe with an established, wily veteran and ended up finishing him late in the fight. Yes, he still has a win overturned to a no contest due to PED use, but that’s behind him and his development is unquestionable. He’s got some gaps to fill, but so far he’s doing great.
Luis Henrique da Silva – Frankenstein did some serious work and continues his undefeated streak and it bears repeating – all of his fights end in finishes. Only one bout was a submission win, the rest were KO or TKO victories. It should also be noted that his last win was against UFC veteran Ildemar Alcantara, and it’s too early to tell what is in his future, but this was a great way to introduce himself to the UFC.
Zuffa – Anyone that didn’t order this PPV is going to be kicking themselves and they can still make some bank on post-event replay purchases. Also, announcing both McGregor/Diaz 2 as well as the return of Brock Lesnar was massive. Despite some problems with the approach, they had some very fine tributes to Muhammad Ali, without whom we perhaps may not have combat sports advance to where they are today.
Luke Rockhold – It really is disappointing to see someone that performed as well as he did against a seemingly unstoppable Chris Weidman come in and get finished like that, but we need to be clear – swagger is part of Luke’s personality. Perhaps it wasn’t adhering to the gameplan that did him in, but we have to factor what Bisping did right into the equation more than what Rockhold did wrong. Losing a belt to a fighter that on paper was at a massive disadvantage is pretty big, but he’ll be back in the title picture fairly soon. He’s an exceptional talent that got outworked by a clever fighter that was at the top of his game.
Urijah Faber – Not only is this the end of his rivalry with the aforementioned Cruz, but it looks like this is the end of any hopes for holding UFC gold. He mentioned his long career after the fight and was very much the consummate gentleman and teammate pushing his stable of fighters regardless of the loss. He’s had a great career no matter what. Cruz was and is too much for him to handle at this point and that’s just what it is.
Hector Lombard – Probably the one fighter that lost the most tonight. Returning to middleweight after claiming he wasn’t feeling he was fighting at his best in the welterweight division, we need to remember he was undersized at 185, which is why he left that division in the first place. The painful part of it all is that if you look at the first round of both this fight and the one before, he just looked so good. This is surely not what the UFC management expected when they made the landmark signing of Lombard years ago, and he’s on a two fight losing streak with his last win over Josh Burkman being overturned for PED use. One has to wonder if he even stays in the UFC at all after this string of performances and his reportedly thick purse.
Bobby Green – Look, I get it. Green’s style is based on taunts and feints with a lot of posturing an preening to offset his opponent and get in their head. It’s a style that I personally appreciate in some fighters. At least the ones that do it well, and this was not doing it well. He rolled the dice and ate it against a very hard hitter that has no qualms with getting in close to make a fight as ugly as it has to be. Coming in off very long layoff, this is now his second straight loss in a row. As we’ve established before, a loss at lightweight could drop you more spots than in pretty much any other division, so it’s tough to see what they do with him now.
Jessica Penne – This was probably the saddest loss of the night, because much like her title fight against Joanna Jędrzejczyk back in June of last year, she just got overpowered and brutalized by more dynamic athletes with high-pressure games. Penne is an outstanding grappler and a very good fighter, but her last two fights haven’t shown her true potential. Currently at 1-2 in the UFC, she should definitely get another shot in a relatively shallow division, but her striking defense and her offensive habits that tend to become liabilities need to be addressed.
James Vick – There’s nothing wrong with a vibrant up-and-comer has his undefeated streak broken, but this one was brutal. Vick fought some very good opponent and was faced with a big test in taking on an opponent that was top ten material and a durable grappler that trained with a phenomenal striking coach. The loss looked bad, but the repercussions shouldn’t be too bad for him. He’s still got a ton of talent and should be able to iron out his faults. I personally agree that prospects are supposed to lose and that losses in MMA sometimes don’t mean as much as they do in other combat sports.
Cole Miller – Probably the second worst loss on this card, despite the respectable showing in the third round. Miller’s 3-3 with a no contest due to an eye poke in his last seven bouts, and is lost the opportunity to fight both Conor McGregor in a headliner or BJ Penn in his return bout. By all accounts, Miller is a nice guy. It’s a sham to see him stumble like this and continually rush in instead of using his distance and then not be able to capitalize on the ground. He might get his walking papers here after a long UFC run with some very fun performances. Let’s hope that’s not the case.
Clay Guida – Clay is Clay. He’s going to use his wrestling first and foremost, yet thrives on chaos. Unfortunately for him that leads to close heartbreaking decision losses in some cases and him getting finished in others. Guida is now 7-6 since 2010, with four of those losses being finishes, although only two were TKOs. Another fighter that may get cut after a long run.
Dong Hyun Kim – Yeah, he might be getting cut. Currently 0-2, both losses were KOs – one via slam, the other was this one. Usually I’m very high on Korea prospects, because as I’ve said ad nauseam, Koreans and Filipinos seem to have thee best infrastructure for MMA development in all of Asia right now. Sadly, Kim has some adjustments and might be able to make another UFC run possible, but he needs to go back to the well for a bit.
Sean Strickland and Tom Breese deserved better, but ended up in a fight that did neither party any favors. That leaves them in something of a holding pattern until their next fight, and we’ve seen this before when certain fighters are pitted against each other with styles that don’t clash well from an aesthetic standpoint. Kevin Casey deserves massive props for continuing to fight despite the loss of his father-in-law, the icon, Muhammad Ali. Sadly, despite not getting the win he’s also now in a sort of limbo given his draw against Elvis Mutapcic. Finally, Jonathan Wilson had his first loss as well, but he’s still 1-1 in the UFC towards the lower end of that division, which means he may not really face major consequences as a result.
Honorable mention goes to referee Jason Herzog who did an excellent job in stopping the Poirier/Green fight but really let that Andrade/Penne beating to on waaaaay too long. He’s usually one of the best refs out there and doesn’t get as much shine, but the job he does is as difficult as it is important.
*Updated with the inclusion of Lamas, whom I had not included previously. Apologies for this error.
About the author