Category: Features

UFC Fight Night 125: About Last Night in Belem

UFC Fight Night 125: About Last Night in Belem

Machida Wins, Anders Learns

Lyoto Machida collected his first victory in more than three years, returning home to Belem to earn a split decision win over talented upstart Eryk Anders Saturday’s main event.

It was a close, tactical contest throughout, with Machida using his familiar evasive style to keep Anders guessing and avoid getting cut off and while everyone agreed the fight was close, the 49-46 scorecard turned in by judge Tony Weeks felt a little off as most had Machida winning the first and fifth with the second frame serving as the deciding round in the split.

As much as it was a happy moment for the hometown crowd to see their favorite son get back in the win column, this was one of those fights that felt bittersweet to me as it was once again clear that Machida is in the twilight of his career and doesn’t have many more trips into the Octagon left. While he was able to squeak out the victory, there was nothing about this fight that made you think he’s set to go on one final run at middleweight and the likelihood that this leads to another ugly knockout loss is high.

For Anders, this is a massive learning experience. He showed flashes, like when he split Machida open with a perfectly timed knee along the fence, and there are instinctive things that he does that you have to really like, but his lack of seasoning was also evident on Saturday. He couldn’t cut off the cage. He lunged after too many big shots. He failed to capitalize whenever he stung Machida, opting to duck in for a takedown far too often.

That being said, he’s only 11 fights into his career and just went 25 minutes in hostile territory with a former world champion and could have come away with the victory. That’s a net positive in my books and Anders will be better for having gone through this next time out and his future in the middleweight division remains bright.

Shevchenko Shines

Valentina Shevchenko turned in the blistering, dominant effort everyone was expecting in her flyweight debut opposite Priscila Cachoeira. She rocked the Brazilian neophyte right out fo the chute, exhibiting the extreme discrepancy in their skills and experience from the jump and then spent the next four minutes mauling the overmatched Cachoeira on the canvas. For some unknown reason, the fight progressed to the second round, where Shevchenko took things up another notch, securing a mounted crucifix and continuing to beat down on Cachoeira for another several minutes before finally choking her out late in the round.

This was an absolute mugging and it was exactly the kind of performance the UFC needed from the ultra-talented former bantamweight title challenger.

Look, I hate seeing Cachoeira get beat up like that and think both referee Mario Yamasaki and her corner have some explaining to do (but that won’t happen) for not stopping the fight, but as far as Shevchenko and the promotion go, this is what you wanted. This is what you needed to position Shevchenko as a menacing force in the flyweight division and move her into a title fight with Nicco Montano whenever the champion is ready to go.

As great as she has looked at different points during her bantamweight run, this was a next level, “nobody is going to want to fight this woman” kind of effort from Shevchenko. She showed the same slick hands as always, but they were quicker and she looked more powerful on the ground as well. The 29-year-old has legitimate star potential and this flawless effort should help push her one step closer to realizing her championship dreams and reaching that superstar level later this year.

Odds, Ends & Observations

Here’s one of those “why people don’t take MMA seriously” situations: Michel Prazeres blew weight on Friday, missed the agreed upon upper limit on Saturday and still walked into the Octagon and collected a victory over Desmond Green. If this sport is going to move forward and become anything more than a niche that lunatics like us pay too much attention to, the UFC (and other organizations) need to pull the plug on those fights and enforce greater punishments on athletes that fail to make weight.

Tim Johnson did what Tim Johnson does against Marcelo Golm, forcing the unbeaten heavyweight newcomer to carry his weight, fight in a phone booth and deal with a more savvy, more experienced fighter. It was a suffocating reboot of his win over Marcin Tybura and a reminder of why the UFC struggles to have turnover in various divisions at times. This was the 25-year-old Golm’s second UFC appearance and instead of handing him a more winnable matchup, they put him in there with a smothering grappler who has limited upside. It’s a good win for Johnson, but a bad result for the division.

Douglas Silva de Andrade is the kind of exciting, entertaining fighter who isn’t going to be a contender that every division needs. He’s ultra-aggressive, rocks the vintage Vitor Belfort mullet-hawk and is 25-2 overall, but just 3-2 in the UFC. He’s the quintessential “you can count on him for a fun fight” guy at bantamweight and should be able to maintain that position for the next several years.

It’s time for Thiago Santos to get another crack at a Top 10 opponent in the middleweight division after he stopped the stupid-tough Anthony Smith on Saturday night. “Marreta” has won four straight – all by knockout – and should already be higher than the No. 15 position he occupied coming into this one. He’s ridiculously powerful, always entertaining and rolling right now; get him in there with Kelvin Gastelum or David Branch or someone like that and see what happens.

Sergio Moraes getting the nod over Tim Means was trash, even if you could smell it coming from a mile away. While the Brazilian veteran won the first round, Means landed the more significant strikes in the second and dominated down the stretch, yet two judges scored it in favour of his opponent. The part that really sucks is that it was wholly predictable, as Moraes was slinging hooks and getting loud cheers every time he connected. I don’t know if judges need to wear noise cancelling headphones or what, but Means deserved better.

Polyana Viana straight up mauled Maia Stevenson in their joint promotional debut in Belem. It was a one-sided mugging (as expected) with the Brazilian getting the finish with just over a minute left in the opening round. I don’t normally do the “doesn’t belong in the UFC” thing too much, but Stevenson has no business fighting at this level as her six victories have come against opponents with a combined 0-13 record following their fights.

Iuri Alcantara is the most frustratingly inconsistent fighter in the bantamweight division. Just when you think the 37-year-old veteran is slowing down, he goes out and smashes Joe Soto in 66 seconds, looking like a wrecking machine in the process. He’d lost two straight before this, but also has the third most bantamweight wins in UFC history. Dude is just perplexing, but he looked outstanding on Saturday night.

Really nice performance from Deiveson Figueiredo to kick things off, knocking Joseph Morales from the ranks of the unbeaten with a second-round stoppage win. The 30-year-old is 14-0 with 12 finishes and deserving of a step up in competition next time out. He’s already cracked the Top 15 and needs to get a push in the somewhat stale flyweight division.

Lots of Twitter squabbling and posturing today in the hours leading up to Fight Night after news broke that Max Holloway was out of his UFC 222 title fight against Frankie Edgar. The dumbest of the bunch: people actually thinking it made sense for T.J. Dillashaw to defend the bantamweight title against Cody Garbrandt in four weeks. Losing the Holloway-Edgar fight sucks, but that doesn’t mean you go rushing into a rematch no one (besides Team No Love) is really craving a month from now to make up for it.

Predictions Results: 

UFC 220 Aftermath: Experience Matters

UFC 220 Aftermath: Experience Matters

Saturday night at UFC 220, reigning heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic exploited the holes in “one in a million” challenger Francis Ngannou’s skill set to grind out a demoralizing unanimous decision victory, setting the record for the most consecutive successful title defenses in the division in the process.

From the outset, Miocic used his wrestling, putting Ngannou on his back, nullifying his power and sapping his energy. With each passing round and every successful takedown, the challenger got slower and more exhausted. When you’ve got the kind of power Ngannou possesses, you’re always dangerous, which is why Miocic remained cautious whenever they were standing and went back to his wrestling every chance he got.

By the third round, Ngannou looked like he was fighting in quicksand. By the end of the fourth, he struggled to get to his feet and make it back to his corner. Those questions about his takedown defense, skill off his back and conditioning were all answered.

Ngannou was tested and he failed.

It’s not the end of the world, but it was a terrible showing given that the challenger was positioned as a man of destiny and an unstoppable juggernaut heading into the contest.

While the unknowns about Ngannou were made clear in the cage and sharply contradicted the role he was cast in during the build to the fight, it was the things everyone already knew about Miocic that shone through on Saturday night in Boston and should stand out in the aftermath of UFC 220.

He’d been the distance with elite competition and shown he could keep maintain a solid pace for 25 minutes. He’d nullified the power of a knockout artist by utilizing his wrestling. He’d proven that he could absorb punishment and keep coming forward, making adjustments to minimize damage and land big blows of his own.

He’d beaten the only two established talents Ngannou had beaten on his march to Saturday’s championship fight, finishing them inside the opening five minutes, just like the challenger.

He’d proven he was the best heavyweight in the UFC and yet he entered Saturday night’s contest as the underdog; an all-time great expected to get mauled by a guy who made his professional debut two years after Miocic started fighting on the biggest stage in the sport.

As intoxicating as potential can be, there is something to be said about known commodities – fighters with proven skills and abilities and established track records who may not have the look and feel of a titleholder, but have the knockout victories and shiny gold belt that make them the champion nonetheless.

Credentials matter. Experience matters. As Frankie Edgar said after dismantling hyped prospect Yair Rodriguez last year, “There are levels to this.”

Miocic reminded everyone that doubted him on Saturday night of that with his lopsided win over Ngannou. Light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier did the same in stopping challenger Volkan Oezdemir one fight earlier. Demetrious Johnson does it every time he steps into the cage.

It’s okay to get excited about an emerging talent and thinking about what they could do in the future, but there is no way to skip any steps in this sport.

Literally every current champion in the UFC right now has faced some kind of setback along the way and been forced to regroup, make adjustments and get better.

Every single one of them knows what it is like to lose. Some have losses on their resumes that seem unbelievable today, but if you ask them, they’d probably tell you that those are the performances that had the greatest impact on their careers.

Ngannou will be a better fighter because of this loss. He’ll be forced to get in the gym and work on his takedown defense and drill ways to get back to his feet. He will have to assess whether looking like an action hero in the cage is more important than having the conditioning to go more than five minutes at a good clip without becoming exhausted.

He’ll have to develop a Plan B for those times when his opponents don’t simply fall over and stay on the ground when he lands a good shot. And he’ll need to develop a Plan C to have in his back pocket, just in case.

Ngannou remains a ferocious hitter and potentially terrifying force in the heavyweight division and he’ll hopefully learn more from this one setback than he did all 10 of the victories that came before it. He might even still one day be champion, but a “one in a million” addition to the heavyweight ranks he is not and he never should have been positioned as such.

Conversely, it’s time to stop paying so much attention to all the pomp and circumstance and commit a little more time, energy and attention to the established talents who have no interest in singing their own praises, but have proven themselves inside the cage time and again.

There was a way to promote Saturday’s heavyweight championship matchup for what it was – a pairing between a surging prospect with tremendous potential, but a few lingering questions that needed to be answered and a no-flash Midwesterner who likes dumb jokes and shoveling his driveway and just so happens to be the baddest man on the planet, too.

Instead, the reigning champion was positioned as an obstacle standing in the way of destiny; another victim who was likely to fall at the hands of the challenger.

That’s not what happened – not even close – and now a lot of people are scrambling to figure out how to move forward from here.

Here’s an idea: stop over-hyping inexperienced and unproven talent and selling established competitors short, especially champions.

Tell their stories as they are – they’re compelling enough without the over-the-top hyperbole – and focus on outcomes, not expected results.

UFC 219: 10 Things We Learned Last Night

UFC 219: 10 Things We Learned Last Night

1. And Still

Cris Cyborg retained her featherweight title with a unanimous decision victory over Holly Holm to close out UFC 219. One official scored the fight 49-46 for the Brazilian champion while the two remaining judges – Dave Hagen and Chris Lee – had the fight 48-47, giving Holm the opening two rounds, meaning the former bantamweight queen could have pulled upset with a more effective performance in the final stanza.

This was Cyborg’s most impressive performance to date. As much as some of the times she’s mauled opponents in no time flat has been fun, it was really interesting and captivating to see her pushed for the first time in forever, forced to deal with an opponent who was able to return fire and take the punishment the Brazilian standout was dishing out. Holm fought a very good fight and likely would have gotten the better of most other competitors on Saturday night in Las Vegas, but unfortunately for her, she was in the cage with an unbeatable superstar who took her best shots and responded with even better offense en route to securing her position as the top female fighter, both now and in the history of the sport.

2. Time to give Cyborg a serious push

I know she just headlined a pay-per-view and has been the main event of a couple televised events, but it’s time for the UFC to really see what they have in Cyborg in terms of her drawing power and star power and give her the kind of promotional push that the dominant, tenured champion deserves.

Give her a pay-per-view main event in Brazil and watch how nuts the crowd goes for her. Give her a chance to connect with fans outside of the MMA bubble and see how well the ferocious fighter who also happens to be a genuine, caring, engaging personality outside of the cage can do when provided with a platform to connect with an new audience.

There are always going to be the legion of troglodytes that spew sad, hateful comments at her, but you can’t hold her back because some people are morons. Cyborg is one of the most dominant fighters in the history of the sport and she should be promoted and marketed as such in 2018.

3. Nurmagomedov is next level

I’m not sure there is anyone that can beat Khabib Nurmagomedov.

The undefeated lightweight returned to the Octagon for the first time in 13 months and trounced Edson Barboza, eating hard leg kicks like nothing as he pressed forward into the clinch, where he was able to dragging the Brazilian to the canvas and open up a can of whoop ass. For almost the entire fight, Nurmagomedov pressed forward, putting Barboza on the canvas and roughing him up. While he didn’t get the finish, the result was never in doubt and the performance affirmed that “The Eagle” is the top contender in the deep and talented lightweight division.

In fact, he very well could be the best fighter in the weight class, superior to titleholders Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson. The only reason we don’t know that for sure yet is because Nurmagomedov has yet to face either one inside the Octagon, but that should change in 2018. Unbeaten in 25 fights, the only thing that has been able to slow Nurmagomedov has been injuries and weight cutting issues, but with the latter seemingly dealt with, it’s seems like the only thing that could stop him from challenging for gold is another injury.

Send up your offerings to the MMA gods now because we’ve been waiting too long to see Nurmagomedov fight for the lightweight title and the opportunity is once again upon us.

4. Hooker finding a home at lightweight

Dan Hooker returned to lightweight for his debut appearance in 2017 and collected a second-round knockout win over Ross Pearson. Saturday night, the New Zealander made it two fights and two finishes (over two Brits) by choking out Marc Diakiese.

Expected to be a back-and-forth striking battle, the first two rounds didn’t feature as much action as everyone anticipated, leading the crowd to rain down boos and social media to shift its attention elsewhere as the fight chugged along. Diakiese came out hot to start the third, pressing forward behind quick, sharp hands and it seemed like business was about to pick up, but just when he started landing, Diakiese opted to dive in on a sloppy takedown and Hooker made him pay, locking in a tight ninja choke that immediately made “The Bonecrusher” tap.

This may be the first time that Hooker has won back-to-back fights in the Octagon, but it seems obvious that the 27-year-old is finding a home at lightweight. He has good size for the division, a bunch of experience and is sneaky-technical, making him an interesting “under the radar” talent to track as we move into the new year.

5. Former champ Esparza halts Calvillo’s climb

Inaugural strawweight champion Carla Esparza bounced back from being dominated in the opening frame to grind out a trio of 29-28 scores to bring an end to Cynthia Calvillo’s perfect start to her career.

After getting taken down early in the first and being controlled there for the majority of the frame, Esparza went on the wrestling offensive herself in the second, mixing in timely takedown attempts with solid striking to keep Calvillo off balance. While she couldn’t keep the Team Alpha Male representative on the canvas for long once she got her there, the former champion did an excellent job of keeping Calvillo guessing and landing the cleaner, heavier shots over the final two rounds to earn the victory.

The victory sets up some interesting options in the division as 2018 draws near as Esparza owns a victory over current champ Rose Namajunas and re-asserted herself as one of the top talents in the 115-pound weight class with this performance.

6. Magny Shines against “The Natural Born Killer”

Neil Magny wanted to get the sour taste from his loss to Rafael dos Anjos out of his mouth before 2017 came to close, so he badgered UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby for another fight. He never expected to be offered a bout with Carlos Condit, but he jumped at the chance to challenge himself against the former interim champion and Saturday night in Las Vegas, he made the most of his opportunity, earning a unanimous decision win to kick off the pay-per-view main card.

The Denver, Colorado-based welterweight fought a smart, tactical fight, catching kicks and completing takedowns, never giving Condit a chance to find his rhythm. He closed the distance and lived in the clinch, and while the offense he offered was never anything too punishing, Magny was able to stay active and grind out a very good victory over one of the most accomplished fighters in welterweight history.

While some might want to put qualifiers on Condit’s performance, noting his lengthy layoff prior to this fight, it would be a disservice to Magny to do so. He fought an excellent fight, sticking to the game plan and playing to his strengths to collect the biggest win of his career.

7. Introducing Michal Oleksiejczuk

If you’re looking for a promising light heavyweight prospect to track in 2018 and beyond, look no further than Michal Oleksiejczuk.

Originally tabbed to make his debut at UFC 217, the 22-year-old was pulled from the card at the 11th hour when his opponent got flagged for a USADA violation, but he jumped at the chance to replace Gohkan Saki opposite Khalil Rountree Jr. here and made the most of it, weathering an early first-round storm to win a unanimous decision over the former TUF finalist.

A training partner of Polish standouts Jan Blachowicz and Marcin Tybura (among others), the UFC neophyte had already logged 14 professional appearances prior to his promotional debut and pushed his overall winning streak to double digits with his victory on Saturday. While there is nothing threatening looking about “Lord Michal,” he’s a patient, technical striker who did a great job mixing in shots to the body and a bunch of kicks to put it on the flagging Rountree over the final 12 minutes of action.

In a weight class where aging veterans dominate the Top 10 and opportunities abound, Oleksiejczuk is one of the few young upstarts competing in the 205-pound rounds who have the potential to climb the ladder and potentially become a factor in the division over the next couple years.

8. Jury back in contention

Following a 16-month hiatus, Myles Jury returned to action in April, dominating Mike de la Torre. Saturday night, the former lightweight prospect showed that he’s all the way back and a contender once again with a solid, professional performance against Rick Glenn.

There were no major highlights moments in the 15-minute affair. Instead, Jury simply offered three rounds of clean, polished offense in all facets to pick up his second win of the year and add his name to the growing list of fighters to watch in the featherweight division.

Having dropped two straight before his time away, it’s easy to forget that Jury was once an unbeaten rising star int he lightweight division; a two-time TUF contestant whose first loss came to Donald Cerrone in a fight where many thought the Michigan native would establish himself as a contender by getting a victory over “Cowboy.” He’s hit the reset button now and returned to training with the elite crew at Alliance MMA in San Diego, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the 29-year-old keep rolling and emerge as a serious contender in 2018.

9. Welcome back, Matheus Nicolau

After winning his UFC debut with a Japanese necktie and beating former title challenger John Moraga by split decision in his sophomore Octagon appearance, Matheus Nicolau returned to action for the first time in 18 months and turned in a dominant effort against stupid-tough Hawaiian Louis Smolka.

The 24-year-old Brazilian was on the sidelines after being flagged for a USADA violation which he pinned on a tainted supplement, but the time away didn’t appear to hinder his performance in his comeback fight as he turned in a blistering first round, knocking down Smolka on multiple occasions before controlling the action over the final 10 minutes to earn a clean sweep of the scorecards.

Now 3-0 in the UFC and 13-1-1 overall, Nicolau’s lopsided decision win over the durable Hawaiian should send him into 2018 in prime position to take part in some big fights at flyweight next year. While his suspension forced him out of the rankings, this performance coupled with his previous victory over Moraga should earn the talented returning fighter a place in the Top 10 and with a couple more quality wins, he could find himself challenging for the flyweight title.

10. Bittersweet Victory

Tim Elliott collected an impressive second-round submission win to kick off Saturday’s fight card, connecting on a deep anaconda choke just over a minute into the second round that forced newcomer Mark De La Rosa to tap, but it was a bittersweet moment for the Lee’s Summit, Missouri native.

Earlier this month, Elliott’s coach Robert Follis took his own life and the former flyweight title challenger dedicated this performance to his departed coach. As soon as De La Rosa tapped, Elliott walked over and sat down in a neutral corner, the emotions starting to wash over him. Following the official decision, Joe Rogan handed him the microphone and all the 31-year-old had a simple message: “Robert Follis, I love you.”

The loss of his coach came on the heals of Elliott opting not to compete two week’s ago in Winnipeg after his short-notice opponent Pietro Menga was unable to make the contracted weight. Elliott passed on a catchweight contest and lobbied to get booked again quickly, which he did, but then returned to Las Vegas to the tragic news about his coach.

On Saturday night, Elliott delivered one of the most impressive and dominant performance of his career, turning the page on a terrible month.

UFC on FOX: Lawler vs. dos Anjos 10 Things We Learned Last Night

UFC on FOX: Lawler vs. dos Anjos 10 Things We Learned Last Night

RDA Deserves Next

Rafael dos Anjos deserves the next welterweight title shot.

Saturday night, the former lightweight kingpin marched into the Octagon and put it on former champ Robbie Lawler for 25 minutes, distancing himself from the vaunted veteran with each successive five-minute round until the final results read 50-45 across the board. It was a third straight victory over a Top 10 opponent (at the time of their fight) for dos Anjos in his new weight class and the kind of drubbing that should land him opposite Tyron Woodley the next time “The Chosen One” defends his title.

While Colby Covington has been talking a blue streak and put up a couple quality wins (and five straight overall) to enter the conversation, dos Anjos’ pressure style is tailor-made to draw an exciting performance out of the champion and there is a difference between grinding out a win over Demian Maia and laying the wood to Robbie Lawler.

Performance, results and reputations need to carry more weight than trash talk and social media campaigns and by those measures, RDA is the clear choice to be the next challenger for the welterweight title.

Upheaval at Featherweight Continues

Josh Emmett made an emphatic contribution to the changing complexion of the featherweight division this weekend, planting a beautiful check left hook on the chin of Ricardo Lamas as the two were exchanging punches in the pocket that left “The Bully” rigid on the canvas as the Team Alpha Male staple celebrated.

In the last couple weeks, long-time champion Jose Aldo was handed a second consecutive loss at the hands of Max Holloway and perennial contender Cub Swanson was choked out by Brian Ortega, shifting the focus at the top of the 145-pound weight class from the established names to the new talent climbing the ladder.

Emmett’s performance on Saturday adds to that as the once-beaten 31-year-old is less than two years into his UFC career and now finds himself in the thick of the title chase. While he still has more work to do before fighting for the belt, Emmett should get the opportunity to face another established contender next time out.

Quality Performance from Santiago Ponzinibbio

There have been a number of fighters who had excellent campaigns inside the Octagon in 2017 and Santiago Ponzinibbio is one of them. The American Top Team product collected his third win of the year with a hard-earned 29-28 sweep of the scorecards against Mike Perry in “The People’s Main Event” in Winnipeg.

Now riding a six-fight winning streak, it has been a slow burn for the former Ultimate Fighter: Brazil contestant who began his UFC career with a loss to Ryan LaFlare and was 2-2 after his first four outings. He hasn’t lost since and has continued to show improvements each time out, displaying more grit and toughness than we’d seen in the past in this back-and-forth battle with Perry.

He’s a man on the rise in the always competitive and freakishly deep welterweight division and someone we should been talking about far more heading into this one and definitely cannot leave out of conversations about the top contenders in the future.

Very few people manage to string together six straight wins and even fewer do it in a shark-infested division like welterweight, so it’s time to start giving “The Ponz” his due and treating him like the contender he is going forward.

Pump the Breaks on Mike Perry Hype

Perry turned in a good effort against Ponzinibbio on Saturday night in “The Peg,” but ultimately, “Platinum” came out on the wrong side of the scorecards and it should bring the hype of the middle-of-the-pack welterweight to an end.

I get that he has a weird magnetism and talks all kinds of junk, but he’s now been in the cage with two quality opponents (sorry Jake Ellenberger) and come away with losses both times. He’s fun to watch and capable of blistering anyone in the division, but he’s also largely unproven, so how about we hold off an treating him like a contender before he’s actually cracked the Top 15?

Far more people were talking about Perry heading into this fight than Ponzinibbio even though the latter was coming off a 90-second knockout win over Gunnar Nelson and sporting a five-fight winning streak.

If you’re wondering why the UFC struggles to create stars and quality fighters fail to connect with the larger audience, that’s why – we spend too much time hyping guys who don’t necessarily deserve it because they’re flamboyant personalities and overlook proven, polished, more deserving talent in the process.

Still Sharp, Still a Contender

Glover Teixeira’s matchup with Misha Cirkunov could have been a passing of the torch situation – a fight where the veteran contender gave way to the younger, more athletic upstart – and early on, that’s how it looked like things were going to play out.

Cirkunov started quick and looked to be finding a rhythm on the feet when a small mistake gave Teixeira a chance to clinch up and quickly bring the fight to the floor. From there, the Brazilian veteran went to work, attacking submissions before transitioning to back mount and unleashing a torrent of strikes that brought the contest to a halt.

This was a savvy veteran effort from Teixeira, who proved he’s still very much one of the elite contenders in the light heavyweight division. Though the might not be in line for the title shot he chatted wit Daniel Cormier about at cageside following the finish, the 38-year-old proved that he’s far from finished and still a tremendously tough out near the top of the 205-pound weight class.

Great Performance, Good Dude

Julian Marquez made an instant impression Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contenders Series this summer, icing former prospect Phil Hawes with a head kick. Saturday night, he made his debut in the Octagon and after playing some Rock’em Sock’em Robots with Darren Stewart early, the affable Las Vegas-based fighter finished things in the second with a slick guillotine choke.

Afterwards, “The Cuban Missile Crisis” had some fun on the microphone, challenging Tyron Woodley to a “Best Beard in the UFC” contest, lobbying to fight alongside his teammates James Krause and Zak Cummings in St. Louis and giving a shout out to his mom after saying he’s open to fighting the winner of the upcoming middleweight title bout between Robert Whittaker and Luke Rockhold.

While it wasn’t quite a star-making performance, it was a great start for the likable middleweight who delivered a wildly entertaining performance in the cage before showing you don’t have to talk trash and be an asshole to get noticed in this sport.

No Substitute for Experience

A sharp right hand dropped Chad Laprise early in his bout with Galore Bofando, but as soon as the Chatham-Kent, Ontario native got back to his feet, he showed why experience is so crucial inside the cage.

A foot sweep brought the fight to the ground, with Laprise landing in side control. A minute of ground-and-pound and control gave him the space to move to mount and from there, “The Disciple” was able to pound out a third-straight stoppage win.

Bofando is fun to watch when he’s upright and offering flashy, powerful strikes, but he was completely out of his element once Laprise initiated the clinch and brought the fight to the floor. The Canadian veteran talked about his edge in the other facets of the game before the bout and wisely played to his strengths after getting stung out of the gate.

As we talk about all the time, there are levels to this stuff and Laprise showed that again on Saturday.

Good Lord!

When a guy partially blocks a headkick and still needs to grab a handful of cage to keep himself upright, you know there was some serious force on the strike.

That’s what happened in the welterweight clash between Nordine Taleb and Danny Roberts, with the former causing the latter to snatch up two hands of cage after catching a kick early in the first. Unfortunately for Roberts, the follow-up right hand down the pipe was something fierce and landed flush, bringing the fight to a sudden halt.

Roberts complained about the stoppage after he was done trying to takedown referee Jerin Valel, but this was a clean finish and impressive performance for the long-time Tristar Gym representative Taleb.

Nasty Knee

Things were moving at a snail’s pace in the middleweight scrap between Alessio Di Chirico and Oluwale Bamgbose more than a minute into the second round. The first five minutes featured little action and the action resumed in the middle stanza, it seemed like it would be more of the same as Bamgbose continued to hang out on the outside, hesitant to engage.

As soon as Di Chirico was able to get his hands on his opponent, however, the Italian brought the crowd to their feet and sent Bamgbose collapsing to the canvas face-first, a well-placed knee knocking him out cold.

There have been a number of impressive finishes off nasty knees this year in the Octagon and this one is right up there.

Big Victory for Jordan Mein

Five years ago, Jordan Mein seemed destined to be a Top 10 fixture in the welterweight division. He was young, aggressive and seasoned, having started his career at age 16 and worked his way to the UFC by facing tough regional vets before a three-fight stint in Strikeforce, where his only setback came by split decision to current UFC titleholder Tyron Woodley.

But injuries and apathy sent Mein into an early retirement a couple years back and the results hadn’t been great since he returned last year at UFC 206. He looked like a hesitant, faded version of his former self.

Saturday night, Mein got back in the win column by getting back to what got him to the big leagues in the first place, coming out aggressively against Erick Silva before taking what the Brazilian gave him en route to a unanimous decision victory. It was the 30th win of Mein’s career, his first since August 2014 and his most complete performance in years.

After a bunch of ups, downs and even a brief departure from the sport, perhaps this is the start of a second chapter for the 28-year-old Canadian.

UFC Fresno: A Friendly Reminder about Event Tiers

UFC Fresno: A Friendly Reminder about Event Tiers

A few years ago, I wrote a column offering my thoughts on how the UFC should lay out its fight calendar, inserting a week off following every pay-per-view event.

At the time, my argument was that the shockwaves from PPV shows always run into the following week and when there is another fight card the very next Saturday, the competitors on that card are automatically going to get overshadowed and the event as a whole is going to get unfairly judges because of its proximity to the pay-per-view event that just happened and the depth of talent on that card.

It has been happening again all this week as we deal with the fallout from an outstanding show at UFC 218 and prepare for the Saturday’s event in Fresno as folks are just dismissing the card even though it actually features a couple excellent fights and a few quality prospects.

Seeing all the “UFC Fresno is actually a thing?” tweets and how this solid card is stuck under the radar has made me want to remind everyone that just as Frankie Edgar showed Yair Rodriguez that there are levels inside the Octagon, there are tiers to fight cards as well.

Here’s a handy reference guide you can add to your bookmarks and consult whenever you feel the need to get extra salty about there not being enough major stars on the latest FS1 event or UFC on FOX show.

Tier One: International Events on Fight Pass

Let’s start with the fact that it will probably start at an odd time because its taking place overseas, so if that one is going to get you upset, you should probably calm down already.

The main event is going to be pretty good, but pretty much everything else is going to be tailored to the country/region, the same way every Canadian fight card is guaranteed to feature a ton of Canadians. Given that it will start in the early morning hours in North America, expecting anything different – or complaining about the composition at all – feels like a “you’re trying too hard” situation for me.

And when you get an event like this year’s card in Singapore with a main card that fits in a different tier, cherish it, relish it, enjoy it – just don’t expect it to be the norm.

Tier Two: Cable Events

This weekend’s card in Fresno is exactly what fans should expect from an event that airs on FS1 or wherever you get your fighting fix:

Cub Swanson vs. Brian Ortega – a very good main event
Jason Knight vs. Gabriel Benitez – a chance to see a cult figure maul someone
Marlon Moraes vs. Aljamain Sterling – an underrated Top 10 battle
Alexis Davis vs. Liz Carmouche – a deep cut, completely overlooked quality fight
Eryk Anders, Benito Lopez, Merab Dvalishvili – early looks at a few solid prospects

If you’re expecting more from the standard Saturday night fight card, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe that’s not enough to get you excited, which is fine, but to expect the UFC to load up these events when they have two or three of them every month is misguided.

There have been times in the past (and there will be more instances in the future) where the quality of the card dips below this weekend’s level and trends closer to being a Tier One card that just happens to be on television and that sucks, but there are also times where the lineup is better than the baseline (like the March 11 event in Fortaleza, Brazil), so it all balances out.

Tier Three: FOX Shows

Here’s the general framework for the four main card fights on the “Big FOX” show:

Opening Bout: An action fight that kicks things off on the right foot and gets everybody excited for the next three bouts
Second Fight: Usually a showcase of some emerging talent, occasionally a “guaranteed action” fight
Co-Main Event: Contenders who aren’t quite next in line, but could be with a great performance on FOX
Main Event: Title fight with a champion who doesn’t draw on PPV or top contenders bout

As always, nothing is set in stone and sometimes you end up with Paige VanZant headlining against Michelle Waterson with Mickey Gall and Sage Northcutt in the penultimate bout of the night, but for the most part, the FOX cards follow the above guidelines. They’re designed to introduce the casual fans that aren’t buying pay-per-views and those who don’t watch every Tier Two event to a handful of top names in one sitting so that if they’re intrigued by any particular fighter, perhaps they’ll follow that person to PPV.

Three athletes who earned victories on FOX in the first half of the year – Valentina Shevchenko, Rose Namajunas and Robert Whittaker – have already gone on to fight for titles. Francis Ngannou is poised to do so in 2018 and the winner of next week’s main event in Winnipeg has been “guaranteed” a title shot as well.

The best way I can describe the UFC on FOX lineups is that they’re pay-per-view quality if you took away the pay-per-view main event. Look at the cards over the last couple years and tell me you wouldn’t pay $60 for most of them if you tossed a quality title fight in there to top it all off?

Tier Four: Standard PPV Event

These are your standard $60 affairs capped by a title fight backed by a strong supporting act, a solid swing fight in the middle and two more bouts that can range anywhere from okay to outstanding and play a big role in determining the level of excitement and anticipation there is for the event.

Exhibit A: the first two fights of the UFC 218 PPV were outstanding and helped contribute to the overall “this is an amazing card” feeling everyone had heading into last weekend’s event.

Exhibit B: UFC 210 opened with Charles Oliveira and Will Brooks followed by Thiago Alves taking on Patrick Cote. Very few people were counting down the days until the company’s return to Buffalo back in April.

Shows like this can also be goosed a little with the addition of a second championship bout, though that doesn’t always as much of an impact as having strong matchups book the rest of the way. Sometimes you can have a stacked card and there just isn’t any real buzz (see UFC 211).

For the most part, these are the baseline pay-per-views that we see 7-10 times a year that generate mediocre pay-per-view buys, but quite often exceed expectations.

Tier Five: The Blockbuster Shows

While they’re becoming a more regular feature on the annual calendar, these are the ginormous events with two or three title fights and a supporting cast consisting of fights that could headline Tier Two or Tier Three events without anyone blinking an eye.

These are the shows that your friends who never ask you about MMA ask you about and the ones where mainstream sports media suddenly develop an opinion about the names on top of the marquee. These are the events everyone gets hyped for well in advance and the ones that turn the lunatics (like me) that watch every single event into little kids on Christmas morning once Fight Day finally arrives.

UFC 205 is the ultimate example of this type of show and featured a lineup where each of the final seven fights was main event caliber. Although most will agree that three title fights on one show and a bushel of big fights behind them is often overkill and leaves the company thin a month or two or three down the line, that’s a price the UFC and its fans seem very much willing to pay in order to have an event that tops 750,000 buys and earns a place in the pantheon of the greatest shows in the company’s history.

These events cannot be compared to any other tier and if you’re hoping for Tier Two shows to be anywhere near as compelling and stacked as these occasional monster cards, I can’t help you. Hell every pay-per-view event can be as loaded as these shows, which is why they’re special and everyone gets all goofy and excited when they finally come around.

Besides, if they were all like this, I have a feeling fans would still find a way to get complacent and suggest that three title fights and a stacked card from top to bottom still wasn’t good enough.

At that point, the only thing left to do is electrify the cage or use Rorion Gracie’s original idea for the UFC and put an alligator-filled moat around the Octagon.

The Rundown: The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale

The Rundown: The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale

Nicco Montano, UFC Women’s Flyweight Champion

From the No. 14 seed to the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight champion – it’s quite a run for Nicco Montano.

After navigating the most dangerous road possible in her half of the bracket on Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter – beating three of the top six seeds – the proud Navajo woman dealt with a Fight Week change in opponents and still managed to come out on top, besting Roxanne Modafferi to claim UFC gold.

It was a close, scrappy battle where both women had their moments, but Montano managed to find small advantages within those tight frames to come away with a unanimous decision win.

There was a ton of pre-fight criticism about crowning a new champion through TUF and mid-fight comments about how these competitors would fare against someone like Valentina Shevchenko, the former bantamweight title challenger who is expected to drop to flyweight in 2018. They’re both valid comments and criticisms, but neither should take away from the gutsy effort turned in by both women on Friday and the entertaining Cinderella story Montano crafted throughout the season, culminating in her championship win.

Don’t Rush The Suga Show

Sean O’Malley collected an impressive win this summer on the Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contenders series and landed a spot in the co-main event of Friday’s TUF 26 Finale in Las Vegas. Heading into his fight, the UFC fans the hard sell on the unbeaten 23-year-old and after a quick start, the MMA Lab product showed a ton of resiliency by gutting out the third round to claim a unanimous decision victory.

Now the UFC needs to be smart and pump the breaks on “The Suga Show” and let the bantamweight neophyte get a little more seasoning before throwing him into the deep end of the 135-pound weight division.

O’Malley has lots of potential and is already fun to watch, but he’s still green and needs time to plug some of the holes in his game. It’s perfectly acceptable if the UFC wants to keep showcasing him, giving him television exposure every time out, however it would be a mistake to rush him up the ladder too quickly.

Odds, Ends & Observations

Lauren Murphy and Barb Honchak delivered the best fight of the night, combining for a fun, back-and-forth 15-minuite affair that ended with Murphy picking up a split decision win over the former Invicta FC flyweight champ. It’s a massive victory for Murphy who was upset in the opening round of the competition by finalist Nicco Montano and has dropped several close fights in the UFC, but this time, she came out on the happy side of the split and should be an early contender once the division gets going in earnest in 2018.

Gerald Meerschaert got back into the win column and pushed his record to 3-1 in the UFC by folding up Eric Spicely with a thudding body kick midway through the second round. The midwest veteran hand success on the feet early and went back to it out of the chute in the second and working from the southpaw stance, he crashed home the kick across the midsection that stopped Spicely cold.

Welsh bantamweight Brett Johns maintained his unbeaten record and earned the biggest win of his career in impressive fashion Friday, tapping former Bellator champ Joe Soto with a calf slicer in just 30 seconds. The 25-year-old has now won three straight in the UFC and is someone to keep an eye on in the 135-pound ranks in 2018.

Canadian Ryan Janes pulled off one of the craziest comebacks wins in recent memory on Friday night against Andrew Sanchez. The ZUMA product got rocked and looked dead to rights in the first, but he managed to survive and even started having success to end the round. By then, Sanchez was spent and in the third, Janes put him away to cap the ridiculous reversal of fortune.

Gillian Robertson, Shana Dobson and Rachel Ostovich all looked very good in collecting stoppage wins in their first official appearances in the Octagon. Of the group, Ostovich is the most seasoned, while Dobson (to me) has the most upside.

For all the criticism of having a title decided via The Ultimate Fighter, the piece a lot of people seem to be missing is that Season 26 provides the flyweight division with solid depth right out of the gate. Between the cast members that stick around, the fighters outside the organization who will matriculate to the UFC and the rostered fighters who will transition to 125, the division should be more than 20 fighters deep from the jump, which is a great starting point.

Additionally, Shannon Knapp and her crew at Invicta FC should be really proud tonight (and always) because they gave a lot of these women a platform before they got a chance to compete in the Octagon. They have done a tremendous job from the start and will continue to graduate quality talent to the UFC in the years to come.