UFC on Fox 5 Takeaways
Saturday night’s Fox card was a mixed bag for me in terms of results. The bad news is that I was flat out wrong on quite a few of my picks, and it actually ended up with my first sub .500 picking night in a long, long time. Definitely a shot to the ego. The positives were good enough to outweigh the abysmal overall picks, as my three biggest bets on the card all ended up hitting (although not without a bit of a sweat). In my third betting piece over at BetonMMA.org, I had articulated my bets on both Rory MacDonald and Alexander Gustafsson to both win via decision (@ +130 and +120, respectively), and they both did just that. After listening to breakdowns of the fight from some other MMA bettors I respect, I was swayed to think that Penn had a better chance than I originally handicapped. This prompted me to make another play on ‘Not Rory MacDonald inside the distance’ @ -245, to eliminate any sort of risk in the fight. This bet ended up hitting as well, but I sweated out both the Rory Decision and Not Rory Stoppage bets, especially during the second round when Penn was badly hurt to the body.
Enough about my successes and failures though, let’s get to what I learned about some of the fighters based on the event.
The biggest takeaway for me from the main event is that Nate Diaz is still a Diaz brother, meaning that if you’re bigger, stronger, and a better wrestler than him, you can still control him as a very viable means of victory. Yes, Benson Henderson did his fair share of damage along the way as well, but he won because he was able to muscle Diaz around in the clinch, take him down when he wanted, and smother Diaz’s offence whether he was on the inside or outside using his kicks.
I expected that Diaz would be good enough in the clinch to nullify Henderson in that position with his throws. However, even on the couple of occasions where Nate was able to force Benson off-balance or the one time he actually threw him — right into mount — Henderson was quick enough and strong enough to regain control or stand right back up. A clear oversight on my part, since none of Diaz’s wins since dropping back down to Lightweight indicated that he would be able to outperform a wrestler the calibre of Henderson in the clinch.
The next factor in that fight that I hadn’t accounted for was the low leg kick of Henderson. He used it to great effect against Edgar, and there was reason to believe it would be a significant part of his arsenal against Diaz as well. I had brushed this aside by virtue of Diaz being able to walk through the kicks of both Cerrone and Miller in his last two fights. Another mistake on my part, as obviously not all leg kicks are created equal, but not all leg kicks are thrown with the same purpose. Henderson’s low leg kick is an excellent tool to not only keep range and do a small amount of damage (the effect of the actual damage of the kick was far too heavily exaggerated in the second Edgar fight), but it keeps the opponent off balance more than a traditional leg kick to the thigh.
Essentially, I learned that I overrated Diaz by acknowledging, but glossing over, some of the faults he’s always had, and I underrated Henderson’s ability to keep distance, perhaps due to the fact that against other strikers (Pettis and Edgar, as primary examples) he wasn’t nearly as successful at it. Those fighters have far better movement than Diaz though, and that was something I should have recognized. Henderson/Diaz was definitely a live and learn type fight, as I had it as a close fight going in, and it was anything but. I fully expect the same to happen when Nick Diaz eventually fights Georges St-Pierre, and I’m hoping that the Diaz bias MMA fans tend to have leads to GSP having a nice decision prop in that one, because that’s how I see the fight playing out a vast majority of the time.
In the penultimate bout of the evening, the only thing Alexander Gustafssson proved to me is that he’s never going to be much of a challenge for Jon Jones. Against Mauricio Rua, his movement didn’t look as good as it has in the past, he was unable to dictate range as well as he has in the past, and he struggled with Shogun’s wrestling at times. As the fight wore on, Gustafsson did look more dominant as I (and everyone else) had anticipated, given Rua’s conditioning woes. However, the Swede still found himself getting tagged by punches that Shogun was seemingly throwing from across the cage.
All of that adds up to one thing. If — or when, given the dearth of challengers at 205 — Gustafsson finds himself standing across the cage from Jon Jones some day, I see him getting absolutely smashed. Jones can win the fight in just about any way he chooses. He can run the same drill he did on Quinton Jackson, just keeping to the outside and piling up jabs and kicks until Gustafsson can take no more. Or, he can just take ‘The Mauler’ down, and proceed to cave his dome in with elbows until the fight either gets stopped or a submission opportunity presents itself. At any rate, Gustafsson would do well to bide as much time as possible before he steps in with the champ.
The first headlining bout of the evening was the one that had stolen the majority of the pre-fight attention, as it seemed that BJ Penn and Rory MacDonald had developed a genuine disdain for one another, which would result in one of the most interesting fights in a while. The public was curious how a relatively unproven, but obviously gifted, fighter like MacDonald would fare against a supposedly motivated Penn. Long ago, when this fight was first announced for UFC 152, I had broken it down and decided that MacDonald would win a decision based on his physical advantages if nothing else. No amount of pictures or videos of an “in shape” Penn was going to convince me otherwise, although the opinions of some friends and other analysts did convince me to hedge my bet with some Penn props.
Penn’s boxing in the first round was the biggest concern for me, and MacDonald really made it clear early that normally reliable weapon wasn’t going to be the deciding factor in this bout. MacDonald’s striking was his most improved skill by far, and it made the fight so lopsided that he didn’t even need to resort to taking Penn down or clinching him against the cage to wear him out. The fight played out much more like Diaz/Penn than GSP/Penn, which is what I expected it to look like. The victory over Penn is reason to be optimistic about MacDonald’s future where there hadn’t been tangible evidence before, but a win over BJ Penn, at 170 doesn’t carry the same cache it once did. I’d like to see Rory face an actual top 10 Welterweight in his next bout, to gauge where he really stands in the division right now.
Moving down the card, who would have ever suspected that Matt Brown would be winning a moderately relevant fight on network TV in 2012? Obviously Mike Swick has faded from his days as a fighter near title contention, but it would be foolish to ignore Brown’s improvements. The man whose UFC career could truly be categorized as ‘Immortal’ used to have the occasional flash of competence in the submission game, but nothing like he showed on Saturday. His conditioning also looked better than it has in the past, which allowed him to keep up his attack in the second round. Eventually he connected with a combination that caused Swick to, as one individual described, take the ‘Nestea plunge’.
It was the best performance we’ve seen from Brown, but there is also much to be said about the decline of Swick. I had dismissed his lacklustre performance against DaMarques Johnson as an effect of his lengthy absence from competition, but he looked equally as lost in this bout. Brown may have finally developed past being the fighter who proves whether his opponent is UFC worthy or not (his first six octagon wins all came over fighters who no longer compete in the organization), but that could also have more to do with the current state of the UFC roster, as given their recent performances Stephen Thompson, Luis Ramos and Mike Swick all belong near the bottom of the division. Let’s call his four-fight winning streak a result of ‘The Anthony Perosh Effect’.
As far as my quick notes from the undercard go:
- How can you not love Yves Edwards‘ KO of Jeremy Stephens? For a man who has toiled in MMA for so long, and at one point during his EliteXC/Strikeforce run seemed like he had nothing left, seeing him go 4-2 in his most recent UFC run has been phenomenal. As far as Stephens goes, he’s a fun fighter to watch, but sometimes you have to love when bad things happen to people who do bad things.
- As an MMA bettor, Mike Easton is 100% unbettable. He has all the talent in the world, but is otherworldly in his ability to do nothing in the cage. Raphael Assuncao, for his part, is now 6-3 in Zuffa organizations with his only losses coming to top 10 fighters in Erik Koch, Diego Nunes, and Urijah Faber. He’s never going to be a title contender, but if you’re looking for a solid fighter to separate the wheat from the chaff at 135, he’s the guy.
- I didn’t really care about the Ramsey Nijem/Joe Proctor fight heading in, and while it was entertaining I don’t see much for either fighter moving forward.
- I mocked Daron Cruickshank for his “Detroit Superstar” nickname… but after that performance, he can keep it. Holy shit, he took Henry Martinez to the woodshed and then some. Even more impressive was that it was in a fight I actually thought Martinez would be able to wear him down over the course of. Cruickshank is another one of the guys from TUF who is hard to read, since the TUF format (especially the live season) doesn’t necessarily allow us to see the true skills and nature of a fighter. Cruickshank did have some exposure in Canadian shows prior to his run on TUF, but nothing that prepared me for the exquisite violence he produced on FX.
- What can you say about Marcus LeVesseur other than the man has no clue about MMA? I thought the fact that Abel Trujillo was going to be forced to adjust from fighting primarily a striker to a pure wrestler was going to make things difficult on him. However, Trujillo seems to be an impressive athlete, and he’s certainly a more well-rounded mixed martial artist than LeVesseur. That resulted in an absolute beating once it became clear that the DIII wrestling champ — who Mike Goldberg inexplicably compared to Cael Sanderson — was unable to take his opponent down.
- I have no idea why the bout between Dennis Siver and Nam Phan was this far down the card. Still, after an uninspiring Featherweight debut over Diego Nunes, this solidified the German as a top fighter at 145. Another win against a top fighter, and Siver should find himself right in line for a title shot in the contender-starved division. This is now the second time in three fights that Phan has been beaten in a bad way. If the UFC wants to keep him around they need to match him up with strikers, because when he gets taken down (and it doesn’t take much to get him to the floor) he gets hit constantly, and doesn’t threaten opponents at all. Hell, even when they matched him up with a striker in Siver, he was still taken down at will and pounded. Magic 8-ball says that the outlook is bleak for Phan’s UFC career.
- Finally, in another baffling example of card structure, Scott Jorgensen and John Albert were placed on the solitary Facebook prelim. In response, they turned in a fantastic round and both walked away with bonuses for their efforts. Albert, despite being on a three-fight losing streak, is one of the most entertaining kill-or-be-killed type fighters in the UFC today. Unfortunately for him, his last three fights have all come against excellent Bantamweights, and Albert simply doesn’t have the experience or staying power to compete with those types of fighters. Jorgensen is still a very good top 15-type 135er, and has no business on the tail end of cards. He is unable to compete with the very best in the division, but as a gatekeeper to the elite he can be very effective.
Now, the UFC’s packed year-end schedule kicks into full gear, with two cards coming up this weekend. So in an effort to make myself more money, I have to go learn about a whole host of British and Australian fighters who have no business fighting in the UFC. At least the Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale is more filled with legitimate veterans than sub-par show cast-offs, so the breakdowns there should be a bit easier.