Like all recent UFC events featuring a live audience, UFC Orlando proved to be a hell of a success. The main event exceeded any expectations that had been set for Stephen Thompson and Kevin Holland, the two of them proving why the UFC is the best spectator sport when it is done right. Given there was chatter about the lack of importance of the main event, they needed to deliver to prove they deserved the spotlight. Given the contest with seemingly greatest importance didn’t need a single round, much less five, it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt Thompson and Holland deserved the five rounds. Beyond that, Sergei Pavlovich and Matheus Nicolau picked up emphatic wins that may leave them a single win away from competing for the title in their divisions. However, there is no shortage of happenings from the event. Let’s dig into them with my Unofficial Awards….
For a different perspective, click here. For an audio recap…
Biggest Jump in Stock: While Sergei Pavlovich’s win put him into title contention, there wasn’t a lot of surprise at the final result. On the flip side, Roman Dolidze went from sitting on the outside of the official UFC rankings to potentially launching himself into the top ten of the middleweight rankings. Given the lack of depth in the light heavyweight division, many thought Dolidze was making a mistake dropping down the more crowded middleweight division. Instead, Dolidze has proven himself capable of making the weight on the regular and a physical force in the division. Of course, his power and unique grappling – more on that later – are what have launched him to this level. Prior to his win over Jack Hermansson, I didn’t think a title win would be possible for Dolidze. I won’t go so far as to say it’s probable – not yet – but it is certainly a distinct possibility.
Biggest Fall in Stock: In his first few UFC contests, Kyle Daukaus proved he wasn’t scared of anyone. He ate some heavy shots from the likes of Brendan Allen and Phil Hawes, but didn’t back down in the least. Earlier this year, he had his orbital fractured by a knee from Dolidze, the first time he lost via KO. This fight with Anders was his first back from that injury… and Daukaus wasn’t the same fearless fighter. That isn’t to say Anders doesn’t hit hard, but Daukaus flopped to his back several times in order to avoid the power of Anders. In the end, Daukaus shelled up after several hard shots from Anders. I very much hope I’m wrong, but Daukaus looks like his chin is shattered. If it isn’t, he appears to be shattered mentally out of fear of having his chin cracked. At one point, many were looking at Daukaus as one of the bright up-and-comers of the division. I don’t think that’s the case any more.
Best Newcomer: The only newcomer on the card made one hell of an impression. Francis Marshall did appear to have some jitters when the fight began, but when he finally found his footing, he had little trouble in disposing of tough veteran, Marcelo Rojo. Marshall showed off a bit of everything, securing a takedown, exercising top control, and landing two knockdowns. At 23, Marshall still has a lot to learn, but the tools to develop into something special appear to be there. The hope here is the UFC doesn’t rush him up the ladder too quickly.
Saved Their Job(s): I suppose it could be said Michael Johnson may have saved his job given he entered the fight having lost five of his last six, but he’s also a favorite of the brass for whatever reason. Throw in that Johnson’s last loss was on the controversial end of things and he may have been safe. Regardless, he won, ensuring he’ll keep his job a little bit longer. I’ll get into more of the details of that a bit further down.
Start Typing a Resume: I don’t think anyone will ever question the heart of Genaro Valdez, but he’s going to have a hard time sticking around with a pair of losses. To be fair, Valdez was much more competitive with Natan Levy than he was with Matt Frevola, but he’s got a low ceiling. To be fair, Valdez exhibits the heart that Uncle Dana loves out of his fighters, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get a call back for one more chance to make good on a win.
A long time veteran of the Latin American regional scene, Rojo was past his prime by the time he finally got to the UFC. Not that he would have likely been a contender at any point, but I would have loved to have seen what he could do in terms of being an action fighter when he was at his physical peak. Rojo has always been a kill-or-be-killed fighter and he doesn’t have the durability anymore to endure those types of fights. Getting knocked out by Marshall is excellent proof of that.
It can’t be said the UFC didn’t give Istela Nunes every reasonable opportunity to secure a win. None of her three opponents the UFC ultimately pit her against were anywhere near the official rankings when Nunes faced them, nor did any of her contests feature a last minute opponent change. Nunes did show well against Yazmin Jauregui through the first round, securing a knockdown to arguable take the round. It ultimately didn’t matter as Jauregui secured a finish in the second round. Given her shallow record, many look at Nunes as a young prospect who could make her way back to the promotion. It’s easy to forget she’s already 30, being forced to sit out two years due to a PED suspension even before she fought in the UFC. I wouldn’t expect Nunes will fight her way back.
Biggest WOW Moment: There was no shortage of candidates. In fact, there’s enough of them that I realize no matter what I pick, someone is going to strongly disagree. Fair enough, thus I went with something based on the rarity of the moment. Aside from it being the biggest win of his career, Dolidze upended Hermansson utilizing a move that neither I nor anyone else on my Twitter timeline has seen: he trapped Hermansson with a calf slicer on the mat before onloading with GnP. Granted, that only happens because Hermansson is one tough SOB who refused to tap once the slicer was sunk in, but that was some interesting creativity from the Georgian. I don’t think anyone will forget about Dolidze’s grappling accolades again.
Best Role Reversal: I never thought I’d see the day when there was a Michael Johnson fight where the fighter seemed to get inside his own head after a solid start and piss away the win… and it not be Johnson. Johnson has always been one of the most mentally fragile fighters on the roster, if not the most mentally fragile fighter. Since he returned after a long layoff earlier this year, he appears to have put everything together. This time, it was Marc Diakiese that put on a highly questionable performance. After a solid opening round, Diakiese allowed Johnson to settle down and begin picking him apart. Perhaps Johnson has lost something on his fastball as Diakiese appeared to think he wasn’t getting hurt based on his reaction as the scorecards were being read. Even if they didn’t hurt Diakiese, they were landing… and landing far more than the wild crap Diakiese was throwing. It appears Diakiese hasn’t fully matured quite yet. Perhaps he’ll have to wait until he’s in his late 30’s. That’s how long it took for Johnson to figure it all out….
Happy Trails: All too often, when a fighter declares they are retiring before a contest, they far too often appear to be mentally checked out. That didn’t appear to be the case for Scott Holtzman. However, a case could be made that he was too focused on one thing. The former hockey player stalked Clay Guida down for large chunks of the fight, looking to land big shots. He landed a few, but ultimately didn’t land enough, allowing Guida to outwork him in a close fight that could have gone his way if he had been just a bit busier. Regardless, Holtzman didn’t embarrass himself in his final UFC contest. Despite a late start in the sport, Holtzman ultimately made it to the UFC and put together a 7-6 record in the organization. Nothing to be embarrassed about at all. Here’s wishing him well in whatever he chooses to do going forward.
Best Bet: Anytime a fighter fights out their contract, they are making a huge bet on himself. I don’t know if Nicolau was making that bet voluntarily – it isn’t hard to see the UFC wanting to see how things played out – but he picked a hell of a time to pick up his first finish in the UFC since 2015. Regardless of whether it was a bet that was forced on him, Nicolau played his hand almost as well as he could have. He did induce some boos from the crowd by playing a lot of keep-away from Matt Schnell, but he also secured several knockdowns, the last of which delivered a finish after a few punches on the mat. If the top of the division hadn’t been in a stalemate with the eternal rivalry between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno, Nicolau might have done enough to warrant a title fight already. As it is, he may very well get that with one more win.
Best Callout: There were two callouts that I really liked, thus why I’ve got two of these. The first one goes to Rafael dos Anjos. After a dominant win over Bryan Barberena, dos Anjos listed many of his accolades over the years – including setting the record for fight time in the Octagon during his fight with Barberena — before pointing out he was once scheduled to face Conor McGregor before a broken foot sidelined him. Now, seven years after the fight was supposed to happen, dos Anjos wants that fight to happen. While I don’t think the fight is going to happen, I do think it presently is the fight that makes the most sense. McGregor doesn’t seem likely to return to lightweight and shouldn’t be fighting anyone with a number next to their name given he’s won just one fight since 2016. Dos Anjos is a former champion whom McGregor was once scheduled to fight. Even if I don’t think It’s going to happen, it was smart on dos Anjos to make the callout since there is at least a chance now.
Best Callout 2: Dolidze knew what he was doing when he called out Khamzat Chimaev. Even though Dolidze had secured an impressive win over Phil Hawes just over a month ago, he didn’t ask for Chimaev at that time, even though nothing has changed with Chimaev’s status from that time. Dolidze waited until he had secured a win that was sure to get the attention of the MMA world, that it might be enough to warrant the attention of Chimaev. There has been no official word on if Chimaev is moving to middleweight, but it is a situation that’s impossible to discount given how badly Chimaev missed weight in his opportunity to headline a PPV at welterweight. If forced to move up, Dolidze has produced a run of success that might prove to be enough to warrant a contest with Chimaev. Even if it doesn’t happen, Dolidze has made it a possibility of happening by making the callout.
Like a Fine Wine: A month short of 38 while keeping one of the busiest schedules over the last eight years, there’s been an expectation that Angela Hill would begin slowing at some point. Instead, the longtime UFC veteran turned in the most complete performance of her UFC career, easily separating herself from Emily Ducote in a one-sided contest. With so much happening on the card, Hill’s performance is easy to overlook. Hopefully, it won’t be forgotten.
Bonus Numbers: Not only did Dolidze pick up a well-deserved bonus, it was his third consecutive bonus, firmly establishing himself as a notable action fighter. It also proved to be the third bonus for Pavlovich as the heavy hitter secured his fifth consecutive first round KO. However, those two were far from being the most decorated fighters in terms of Bonuses up to that point. In fact, there were 11 fighters who entered the event with more bonuses than those two, including both Thompson and Holland, who picked up their eighth and sixth bonuses respectively. In terms of drought, Nicolau had a strong case to be made to pick up his first one, but his drought remains, extended to eight fights.
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