This fight card looked like a good one on paper, and it delivered with a series of exciting fights and great finishes. Here are my thoughts on the competitors we just saw:
-I’ve seen a lot of people online saying Gilbert Melendez was robbed by the judges after his fight against Benson Henderson, but I disagree. Watching live, I scored the fight the same as judge Derek Cleary, giving the first two rounds to Henderson, and the final three rounds to Melendez. The fifth round seems to be the most contentious, but I honestly didn’t think that round went so well for Melendez. Fight Metric backs me up on this one – according to the guys over there, Henderson landed 14 significant strikes in that round, to just eight for Melendez. The overall fight was very close, so I would not have been upset if the judges had scored the fight for Melendez, but I had it for Henderson. I’m willing to re-watch the fight and revise my scoring if there’s an overwhelming consensus against my opinion.
-With that having been said, there’s only so long Henderson can compete in these super close fights before a decision will go against him. Of the nine UFC champions, Henderson is arguably the least dominant. I might pick Henderson to beat any other fighter in the UFC lightweight division, but there are a lot of fighters I feel have a good chance of beating him. According to Dana White, the winner of Gray Maynard vs. T.J. Grant will get the next title shot; Maynard is a great example of a fighter I think has a very good chance of beating Henderson if he gets that opportunity.
–Daniel Cormier became the first fighter to ever beat Frank Mir by a method other than knockout. Cormier was clearly the better overall striker in the fight, and he dominated Mir in the clinch. At the same time, Cormier didn’t showcase a performance that made me think he has a very good chance of beating Jon Jones. Cormier’s striking is only good, not great. His actual striking defense isn’t particularly good from what I’ve seen; mostly, Cormier’s ability to effectively defend strikes comes from his superb wrestling and clinch game, as opposed to striking skills like head movement and parrying. A fighter like Jones would likely be able to defend Cormier’s takedown attempts and out-point him standing.
-I would also say that if Cormier has any intention of challenging Jones, he should move down to 205 pounds now and take a fight in that weight class before his title challenge. I know Cormier recently said he can make the weight, but there have been plenty of fighters who have looked very sluggish after moving down a weight class. I would hate for Cormier’s worst, most sluggish performance to be in his biggest career fight.
-I thought Josh Thomson had what it took to beat Nate Diaz, but I didn’t see Thomson winning by knockout, not even close. Now we know what it takes to stop one of the Diaz brothers – something like Nate Diaz ducking into Thomson’s shin. Thomson hasn’t gotten much respect in recent years, and I’ve never understood why – even in his “lackluster” performances, he usually at least does enough to win the fight against tough competition. With that said, Thomson probably will struggle if he’s forced to fight some of the tougher wrestlers in the lightweight division, as his takedown defense is probably his biggest weakness.
-Memo to anybody in the UFC welterweight division: don’t stand with Matt Brown. It’s not because Brown is a master striker or anything, but he has a great combination of aggression and toughness. Brown was visibly hurt and dropped by Jordan Mein in the first round, but while a lot of fighters would have been stopped at that moment, Brown fought through the pain and came back to crush Mein with strikes in the second round. In a 28 fight career, Brown has never lost by TKO, but has been submitted nine times. So if you’re about to fight Matt Brown, here’s some advice… take him down!
-I have good news and bad news for Chad Mendes. The good news is that he’s clearly and obviously the second best featherweight in the world. The bad news is that he’s already been knocked out by the best featherweight, and now nobody else wants to fight him. I have a huge amount of respect for Darren Elkins, who stepped up to fight Mendes on short notice, but this fight showed that Elkins just doesn’t have the same kind of talent that elite featherweights have. I would hope the UFC is willing to give Mendes a chance to earn another title shot, but on the other hand, I don’t know which top ten featherweight would be willing to give Mendes a top contender fight.
-The one decision I thoroughly disagreed with tonight was the one that awarded Francis Carmont a victory over Lorenz Larkin. Carmont was barely able to produce any offense against Larkin, instead being stuffed when he tried to take Larkin to the ground – I was very impressed with Larkin’s improved takedown defense. Despite this, Carmont won a unanimous decision despite only 12 significant strikes and two takedowns. I don’t know who has the UFC record for winning a decision with the least amount of offense, but this has to be close.
–Myles Jury showed his well-rounded skill set again with a second-round KO victory against Ramsey Nijem. The first round was an entertaining, back-and-forth battle on the ground; both fighters landed takedowns and executed reversals, and Jury was close to locking up an armbar at one point. In the second round, Jury proved to be the better striker, as he caught Nijem with a big punch while Nijem lunged in with his chin exposed. I’m curious to see how far Jury will rise in the UFC lightweight division – I think he’s headed for a very solid UFC career, but he looks like a guy who is good but not great in all areas.
-As expected, Darren Uyenoyama had nothing for Joseph Benavidez. Benavidez was far better standing, and Uyenoyama’s guard game wasn’t nearly good enough to threaten Benavidez with any kind of submission attempt. Benavidez might be in the same boat as his teammate Mendes – a fighter who is clearly #2 in his division, but is stuck in a rut because he already lost to the champion. Then again, the flyweight division has no depth, so Benavidez probably has more hope of getting a title shot soon than Mendes does.
-I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fighter who is freakishly tall for his weight class have good takedown defense, and after his fight against Jorge Masvidal, it seems clear that Tim Means is no exception. Means did make it a close fight with his striking skills, and even had some nice elbows from bottom position. Overall, though, Masvidal deserved the victory, as he was the far better wrestler and slightly better striker.
-I hated picking against Means, but I’ve (finally) learned to not go too crazy when an unproven fighter wins emphatically against other unproven fighters. Jorge Masvidal was a very tough opponent, and Means at least proved he belongs in the UFC by making it a close fight, but high-level MMA is a different game.
-I’m glad the UFC hasn’t rushed T.J. Dillashaw. I’m a big believer that a fighter needs somewhere between nine to 12 fights before his skill set in MMA is fully developed. Since he entered the UFC at just 4-0, Dillashaw needed opponents like Hugo Viana who would challenge him enough to develop as a fighter, but not challenge him so much that he would be overwhelmed. Now at 8-1, Dillashaw is close to being ready for highly-ranked opponents in the bantamweight division, but I’d like to see him get one or two more fights against lower-level UFC opponents first.
–Roger Bowling is a fantastic front-runner, a fighter who almost always looks good in the first round, before fading in the second. Bowling did it again against Anthony Njokuani, winning the first round before being knocked out in the second. It’s easy to see why Bowling had so much hype behind him in his early career – his opponents on the regional circuit simply couldn’t survive Bowling’s first-round onslaught. But between Bowling’s lack of conditioning and wide open striking defense, he’s too flawed to win consistently at a high level.
-I had a lot of questions about Yoel Romero leading up to his fight against Clifford Starks. Could Romero, a silver medalist in freestyle wrestling in the 2000 Olympics, translate those abilities to high-level MMA? Would Romero show some development in his striking, particularly his defense? Has Romero learned any Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? Of course, none of those questions were answered, as Romero simply took Starks out with an early flying knee. There’s no faulting Romero for winning in such decisive fashion, but I’ll be asking the same questions before his next fight.