Lots of great fights tonight, although I wish the UFC would have chosen different fights to begin the pay-per-view portion of the card. Here are my thoughts:
-You might expect me to nit-pick Georges St-Pierre’s performance, since I’ve been saying a lot recently about him possibly being in decline. I’m not going to – St-Pierre put on a great performance. Nick Diaz was a challenge in a few ways – he has threatening Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from bottom position, he has outstanding conditioning, and he puts a lot of pressure on his opponents with strikes. For the most part, St-Pierre was able to neutralize all of those things. On the ground, St-Pierre stayed very safe while in Diaz’s guard, but when Diaz would roll over, St-Pierre did a great job of controlling Diaz and landing strikes. St-Pierre also was able to land a number of hard strikes at standing distance, and mostly prevented Diaz from getting into the close-range striking battles he prefers. If there is one thing I could say about St-Pierre, it was that he did seem to fade a little earlier than I would have liked. Otherwise, it was a great performance and a smart fight.
-I can be a contrarian a lot of the time. When I see so many people saying the same things about a fight, one of my instincts is to think “what if they’re wrong? What if there’s something about this fight that everybody is missing?” For the St-Pierre-Diaz fight, it seemed that everybody was saying there was nothing Diaz could do to beat St-Pierre. My nature is to explore the alternative hypothesis – that Diaz was more of a threat than expected, and there were things he could do to beat St-Pierre. It’s easy to write the same things as everybody else, and simply say that Georges St-Pierre should cruise to a victory. What’s more of a challenge, and more interesting to me, is to look at the other side of the coin. If we assume that Diaz has a better than zero chance of winning, how does he get the job done?
The problem with taking this approach to fight analysis is that it gives me a bias from the outset. Instead of evaluating each fighter’s strengths and weaknesses in a dispassionate way, it causes me to look for ways the upset might happen. The result was that I probably overestimated Diaz’s chances of victory in this fight. People who are really good at predicting fights – the kind of people who can consistently make money betting on them – are excellent at filtering out whatever bias they might have, and looking at a fight in an objective manner. I do believe I’ve steadily improved at breaking down fights since I started this blog, but if I want to get really good, I need to take a better approach to researching the fights.
-The co-main event between Johny Hendricks and Carlos Condit was a great fight, even if it mostly played out as expected. Condit was the better technical striker, Hendricks has a grenade for a left hand, and ultimately, the takedowns of Hendricks were too good for Condit to stop. Condit has always had terrific conditioning, and was the better man in the third round, but by then, it was too late. Even though Hendricks is very predictable with the fact that he’s going to throw the left hand early and often, he mixes up his attacks just enough to keep it effective. Hendricks did a nice job of feinting takedowns and landing body shots – I believe this helped him to land his left hand to the head as frequently as he did. The one thing I was disappointed by was the ground game of Hendricks – he was able to stop Condit’s attacks from the bottom, but had very little in the way of guard passing or striking.
If Hendricks is finally going to fight St-Pierre next, St-Pierre absolutely deserves to be favored, because he’s simply a better mixed martial artist than Hendricks is. On the flip side, what is very interesting about that fight is that Hendricks could be a better wrestler than any St-Pierre has ever faced. It is plausible that Hendricks would be able to stop St-Pierre from taking him down. I really hope we get to see that fight, because Hendricks is the most dangerous challenger in the welterweight division, in my opinion.
-We know Jake Ellenberger has serious power, and is a threat to win by knockout in any fight. He showcased that power again, stopping Nate Marquardt in the first round. It was the kind of knockout that would make me concerned for Marquardt’s health – Marquardt was out cold, and is a fighter who is very old in “fight years”. At the same time, Ellenberger can probably knock anybody out in that kind of fashion, so it would be reckless to come to any conclusions about Marquardt’s career. Great win by Ellenberger, and here’s hoping that Marquardt can bounce back strong from what is a second straight defeat.
-I would give my opinion on the decision win awarded to Chris Camozzi against Nick Ring, but I’ll be honest – I spaced out while watching that fight. Camozzi and Ring are both aggressive strikers, and that counts for something. They both also have below-average striking defense, and not a lot of punching power. It wasn’t a bad fight by any means, but there was no moment that had me on the edge of my seat.
-The one fight that absolutely should not have been on the main card was Mike Ricci vs. Colin Fletcher. Perhaps the UFC wanted to showcase Ricci, since he was fighting in front of the hometown fans of Montreal? Either way, it wasn’t a good fight – neither man was able to land many clean strikes, and there were way too many sloppy spinning strikes on the part of Fletcher. At 0-2, Fletcher should be released by the UFC; his skill set is one that simply does not translate well to high-level MMA. I wouldn’t be encouraged about Mike Ricci either. Ricci’s strength as a fighter is his striking, but even that didn’t look particularly good against Fletcher tonight.
–Patrick Cote beat Bobby Voelker in what I like to call a “ten-point must system robbery.” Because fights are scored on a round by round basis, it’s possible for one fighter to win two rounds narrowly, lose one round by a huge margin, and end up winning the fight. That’s exactly what happened with Cote and Voelker. Cote won the first two rounds by a very narrow margin in my opinion. Then Voelker easily won the third round – it wasn’t close. Cote ended up winning the fight by a 29-28 score on all three scorecards, and that’s how I scored the fight as well. At the same time, it really seemed like Voelker deserved to win, because he was more effective in the overall fight. I’d love to see MMA move away from the ten-point must system some day, but I doubt it will ever happen. I also have to mention that this fight was tremendous entertainment, and I’m astounded by both fighters’ ability to take a punch.
–Yves Lavigne has a history of being a very jumpy referee. He errs on the side of stopping fights early, which is better than stopping fights late, but it also results in some controversial finishes. I thought Antonio Carvalho deserved at least a chance to recover from being knocked down in the first round, but Lavigne stopped the fight the moment he was knocked down. Being a referee is not an easy job, and I can only imagine how nervous I would be if I had to do it. At the same time, I’m not thrilled when I see that Lavigne is the third man in the cage. With that said, Darren Elkins looked great – I expected Carvalho to out-strike him, but that was not the case at all. Nice job by Elkins.
-It drives me crazy when a fighter doesn’t play to his strengths. There are so many wrestlers who decide to stand and strike (I’m looking at you, Gray Maynard), and under-perform because of it. In the fight between Dan Miller and Jordan Mein, it was believed that Miller needed to get the fight to the ground if he wanted to win. Early on, Miller got a takedown, quickly advanced position, and was very close to finishing Mein by armbar. After Mein escaped and got back to his feet, you would think Miller would want to get the fight back to the ground. Instead, he decided to stand and bang, and it didn’t take long for Mein to crush him with strikes. I have nothing but respect for Miller’s toughness, both in the cage and out of it, but he did himself no favors tonight with his strategy.
-In what was otherwise an even fight, John Makdessi beat Daron Cruickshank because of superior conditioning. The first two rounds were very close, and it would not have surprised me if the judges had scored it 29-28 in Cruickshank’s favor. But the one round that was obvious was the third round, which Makdessi easily won because he was in better shape. If you’re going to be a striker in the UFC, it’s so important to have good conditioning – not only does it help win decisions, but fighters who have good conditioning are generally much harder to knock out. By showing superior conditioning, Makdessi also showed that he probably has better long-term upside in his UFC career.
–Rick Story is an above-average UFC welterweight, and deserves to be recognized as such. I didn’t think he’d just go into the cage and club Quinn Mulhern, but Mulhern showed that he has a lot of work to do on his striking defense – his hands were all over the place. Story isn’t exactly a polished striker, but he is punishing, and his pressure was way more than Mulhern could handle. Story is not a future champion, but he is a fighter who deserves to be competing against top 25 opponents.
-I called T.J. Dillashaw arguably the best prospect at 135 pounds, and he did nothing to convince me otherwise. Dillashaw has a very good wrestling base, showcased submission skills in his last fight against Vaughan Lee, and now has showcased knockout power with a head kick against Issei Tamura. With only eight professional fights under his belt, Dillashaw is not a finished product yet as a fighter. As such, I hope the UFC brings him along slowly, and gives him a mid-level UFC bantamweight next, instead of testing him against a highly-ranked opponent.
-I have to give credit to George Roop – I thought he would have a very difficult time fighting at 135 pounds, but he looked good against Reuben Duran. Roop will never be the most talented fighter around, but he has skill in all areas, and his elbows can be nasty, both in the clinch and on the ground. In a fight I thought Duran would win because of Roop fading, it was Roop who won because Duran faded. Nice job by Roop.