Perhaps I’d be taking things too far if I said UFC San Antonio proved to be a disappointment, but I think a solid case can be made. The main event between Marlon Vera and Cory Sandhagen proved to be anticlimactic as Sandhagen did whatever he wanted to Vera. One of the more anticipated fights on the card, a flyweight contest between Manel Kape and Alex Perez, was cancelled while the event was already underway. That was on top of two other contests that were cancelled within 48 hours of the event.
However, aside from that, things went pretty smooth. The Texas crowd saw a big chunk of their home favorites emerge victorious. Even those that weren’t from Texas that proved to be crowd favorites (i.e. Holly Holm) managed to deliver the goods for the live audience. Plus, there were several fights that went back and forth, providing the swings of momentum that can keep the fans on the edge of their seat.
In the end, the Sandhagen victory clears up the title picture. Vera, already owning a win over Sean O’Malley, would probably have declared himself to be more deserving than O’Malley to face the winner of Aljamain Sterling and Henry Cejudo. Rather than try to insert himself with O’Malley, Sandhagen called out Merab Dvalishvili, who has already declared he won’t fight his teammate, Sterling. Otherwise, it’s hard to argue that Dvalishvili isn’t deserving above everyone else of fighting for bantamweight gold. This way, we at least have a clear direction.
Regardless, lets get down to the real winners and losers of UFC San Antonio.
Cory Sandhagen: Some still weren’t too hip on Sandhagen’s chances of solidifying his status as an elite bantamweight following his losses against Aljamain Sterling, TJ Dillashaw, and Petr Yan. That was even after his victory over Song Yadong. I think those doubters are reconsidering that standing if they haven’t already flipped on it. Even if you attribute Vera’s poor performance more to him not showing up than Sandhagen’s offense just overwhelming him, it has to be acknowledged that Sandhagen did his part. Vera didn’t hurt Sandhagen seriously at any point, something Vera was doing at least once a round in his last two contests against Dominick Cruz and Rob Font. Perhaps more impressive, Sandhagen was the callout of Dvalishvili after the Georgian native decimated Yan just two weeks ago. Make no mistake, Sandhagen has the experience and confidence needed to put a halt to Dvalishvili’s impressive momentum.
Holly Holm: The first half of the opening round had some people nervous as Holm struggled to create separation from a pressing Yana Santos. There was no need for Holm’s fans to worry as the former champion turned on the jets from that point, turning in a dominant performance. Holm overpowered Santos, wrestling her to the ground on several occasions and displaying some impressive grappling skills, trapping Santos in a crucifix at one point. Perhaps she can stave off the effects of age a bit longer by continuing to learn some new tricks.
Nate Landwehr: I can’t say everything Landwehr says in his post-fight interviews makes sense, but I can’t deny that it isn’t entertaining either. It was also the most mature performance we’ve seen from Landwehr. Many tend to think of Landwehr as a crazed madman in the cage, but he was measured in the opening round. He allowed Lingo to throw his heavy artillery and gas himself some before Landwehr turned up the volume. If Landwehr can continue to show that type of fight IQ, no one will be surprised to see him enter the official UFC rankings, no small accomplishment at featherweight.
Maycee Barber: Barber’s youthful arrogance turned off a lot of MMA fans when she first hit the UFC scene. After a couple of hard lessons, it’s hard not to be impressed by the youngster. Gone is the arrogance, replaced by a determination that she’s going to outwork her opponent to ensure that she emerges victorious. That’s exactly how she was able to emerge victorious ahead of Andrea Lee. Lee landed quite a few more takedowns than Barber and appeared to get the better of the clinch situations. Plus, Lee’s strikes appeared to land cleaner… when they landed. Barber threw a lot more volume, including from off her back in the opening round when she trapped Lee’s arm in a manner that I’ve never seen before. There are still some who are sour about Barber, but I think they should re-analyze the progress Barber has made. She’s a far cry from what she was as a youngster.
Daniel Pineda: I’m wary Pineda will end up popping for having an entire pharmacy in his system, but he deserves to be in this column until the drug tests come in. The OG started a bit slow, but started finding his rhythm about halfway through the opening round. He put Tucker Lutz on his butt around that point and attacked every opening he could find. He eventually found a guillotine choke, securing another finish. This man has never won a fight via decision, even counting the wins that were erased when he pissed hot. Even with the shady history with PED’s, it’s hard to respect that accomplishment.
Lucas Alexander: Most didn’t know who Alexander was entering the event. His UFC debut saw him get disposed of in just over two minutes and there wasn’t a lot of hype around his signing. He put on a master class performance, staying on the outside and picking apart the scrappy Steven Peterson for the majority of the contest. When Peterson was able to close the distance, Alexander displayed maturity and patience in working his way out of bad situations. I wouldn’t say he’s a top prospect at this point, but he is one to keep an eye on. A dark horse so to speak….
Steven Peterson: Sure, Peterson was thoroughly outclassed by a youthful Lucas Alexander. It wasn’t even close. But he went down in classic Steven Peterson fashion: swinging until the end. Afterwards, he announced his retirement in the middle of the cage in his home state of Texas. Peterson was never a star – not even close – but he was very respected in the MMA community for his ridiculous heart and toughness. 15 years in the sport and Peterson was only finished one time. While it would have been better for him to have gone out on a win, he didn’t end his career looking at the lights. He went out with his head held high.
CJ Vergara: He came close to losing in front of his home crowd, but the grizzled vet pulled it out in the end. At 31 with limited athleticism, Vergara has a limited ceiling. Despite that, he’s proven in his four UFC contests that he’s the type of fighter the UFC needs in the flyweight division to test their prospects. Plus, Vergara won’t be in a boring fight if he has anything to say about it.
Victor Altamirano: There’s reason to be wary about Altamirano’s future despite winning his last two contests. For instance, his two wins come against opponents who have yet to secure a win in five appearances. Regardless, Altamirano is beating who is placed in front of him and doing so in an intelligent manner. I understand if doubts remain, but he’s doing his part to beat those doubts away.
Marlon Vera: Bottom line is Vera didn’t show up. He didn’t say so in those exact words in his post-fight interview, but he acknowledged as much. Rather than the killer instinct in his eye that was indicative of his vicious nature, he had the look of a deer in the headlights. It’s not like he hadn’t been peppered with constant offense before; Rob Font more than doubled up on the amount of significant strikes Sandhagen landed and Vera still found a way to win that fight. Vera just crapped the bed.
Yana Santos: Given how heavy of an underdog she was, I probably would have said Santos should belong in the neither category had it not been such a one-sided loss for the Russian native. Santos offered no effective offense after the halfway point of the first round, appearing to have her spirit broken after Holm proved difficult to control. Given the shallow nature of the division, Santos is still within the upper half of the division. Despite that, Santos doesn’t look like she’s going to break into the top five of the division.
Andrea Lee: I don’t want to be too critical of Lee. Depending on your perspective, she put on a winning performance against Barber. Unfortunately, the judges didn’t agree with that and it was a close enough fight that no one should cry about a robbery. In the process, Lee has now lost five of her last seven fights. To be fair to Lee, three of those losses were split decisions – including the loss to Barber – and came against opponents who populated the rankings at the time. Regardless, she needs to be winning if she wants to maintain her own spot in the rankings and she hasn’t been doing that. I’m sure Lee will be getting a step down in her next contest. It’s going to be a make-or-break fight for the longtime professional fighter.
Chidi Njokuani: It’s safe to say it’s finish or bust for Njokuani. Many thought the former kickboxer had solved his issues with volume by eliminating the extra 15 pounds he would cut to make weight at welterweight.
Tucker Lutz: At one point, Lutz was the biggest favorite on the card. How could he not end up being a loser? The UFC gave Lutz every opportunity for him to reverse the idea that he’s a boring fighter too, pitting him against perennial action fighter, Pineda. Instead, Lutz crapped the bed and could very well be on the chopping block.
Preston Parsons: Parsons had the deck stacked against him, taking on a native Texan in Texas. That very well may have been what did him in on the scorecards. Not to say it was a robbery – the third round could have gone either way – but it’s hard to believe the crowd didn’t sway the judges towards Giles in the end.
Vinicius Salvador: Anyone else get the feeling Salvador could have won if he had cut down on the showboating in the opening round? It was a close round and there was a point when he turned his back to Altamirano and marched to the fence and parked himself in front of it ala Anderson Silva in his prime. No good came of it and Altamirano eventually emerged victorious. I’ll admit, Salvador showed power and heart, but his fight IQ was severely lacking.
Manel Kape: It might be awhile before Kape gets to fight again. For the third time in the space of a year, Kape had a fight cancelled within a few days of the event. This time, Perez withdrew on fight day for an undisclosed illness. Making too quick of a turnaround could prove unwise for Kape too given he’s a big flyweight and a weight cut could prove too much, too soon. Kape has everything it takes to be a star. He needs to be fighting on the regular for that to happen.
Austin Lingo: Lingo was dealt a rotten hand. Originally scheduled to fight Ricardo Ramos a couple of weeks ago, Lingo made weight, only for the contest to be canceled when Ramos missed weight by eight pounds. Credit Lingo for wanting to get back in the cage in a hurry, but a heavy hitter like him was a disadvantage needing to cut weight a second time in two weeks. His fade happened in the first round and got progressively worse before the end came. When the deck was stacked against Lingo the way it was, I don’t want to throw him under the bus. Thus, he’s neither a winner or a loser.
Albert Duraev: Am I supposed to be impressed with his win? Granted, Duraev ragdolled Njokuani for a good chunk of the opening round, showing the fighter that had so many excited for him following his dominant DWCS showing. After that, Duraev engaged in an uninspired kickboxing contest that only saw him emerge ahead of the scorecards due to Njokuani refusing to let his hands go. Given Duraev’s opening round, I can’t call him a loser. But I also don’t believe I can call him a winner.
Daniel Lacerda da Silva: I get the Brazilian is winless in four appearances. I can’t think of a fighter who has received a fifth opportunity after opening with four losses without having to go to the regional scene and win some fights there. But da Silva came thisclose to picking up the win, hurting the iron-headed Vergara and putting on one hell of a show in the process. Da Silva may have exhausted his gas tank, but he only began draining it after he had Vergara on the ropes. Call me crazy, but I do believe da Silva has managed to grow into a UFC-caliber fighter.
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