UFC231 cemented itself (top to bottom) as a leading candidate for card of the year. The prelims were fast and furious, the main card started (and ended) with a bang, and we got some stuff to reflect on in this AfterMMAth.
Alright, let’s jump right to my picks. Then, we’ll chat about this, that and the other.
For your reference, my picks:
Sometimes, commentators and reporters will say that a fight was all action from the get go. That would be a very accurate description of this one. Two men with jack hammers for hands, walked into the octagon, and from the word “fight!”, said hammers were thrown. Santos, electing to use offense as the best defense, started with a flurry, or maybe, a barrage is a better word for the volume of real power shots he threw at Manuwa to open round 1. Amazingly, both remained standing at the end of the round – more so Manuwa – and so we were treated to another wild exchange, culminating in a massive left hook that dropped Jimi. Picking this fight for me, was based on the fact that Manuwa was riding a 2 fight losing streak, while Santos sported the opposite trend, hence I thought the Poster Boy would come with a point to make. However, Santos might have read the same stats, and by keeping his opponent busy on defense, took the early advantage, and though Jimi did seem to turn the tide briefly, it was enough for Thiago to get the W and make a pretty clear statement.
0 for 1
I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one. My pick was classic MMAth, as I remembered Bochniak giving Zabit some problems and with all due respect, Dawodu is no Zabit. On to the next one.
0 for 2
I was of two minds with this one. I wanted Cowboy to win. How can you not want such a happy, positive, entertaining guy to win? But Nelson is just a powerful guy, who takes you down and drowns you. I thought he was a little hesitant in some earlier exchanges on the ground, but perhaps it was Oliveira defending well. Then came the sequence that led him to full mount, at which point the ref – on par with a pretty shoddy performance overall – keeps telling him to… work… I really get annoyed at times with such comments. Nelson established position, and while he did not rain heavy ground and pound immediately – very likely because he prefers the submission – he did not do nothing. The ref might want to remember that he is not sitting on top of a heavy bag. Indeed, there’s an individual there, trying to wriggle and buck and turn… I’d rather give a fighter in a clear superior position (full mount, side control, back control etc.) the time to work and come out with a submission or another finish, then rush him/her and possibly miss that chance. And in fact, Gunnar did just that. Opening cowboy up, using it to sink in the choke and get the finish. Now, hopefully we get to see the Icelandic grappler fight a little more often.
1 for 3
For me, that was the easiest fight to pick. Not because Joanna is, by any means, a pushover. In fact, when people told me that Valentina will “smash” JJ or something along these lines, I had to be the one putting on the brakes on the general enthusiasm. I had all the confidence that Valentina will win, and do so in a clear and pretty dominant way. But not via a walk in the park. We keep forgetting how good some fighters are, and while Joanna might have lost to Rose twice, there was no indication whatsoever that she forgot how to fight… Valentina beat Joanna three times in Muay Thai in the past, and her striking likely only improved since. Her ground game is better, and I did not see her getting knocked out by a stray shot (if Nunes couldn’t, I don’t see how Joanna could). For the most part, Shevchenko, with a counter-attack game plan cruised to victory in the sense that she was never in any danger. She let JJ take the initiative, and countered with measured and powerful combos, followed at least once a round with a TD attempt, which she landed in high percentages. Her technique was as crisp as we’ve ever seen from her, and her accuracy, especially on spinning attacks was phenomenal. I counted 3, or 4 spinning kicks that landed, and with great effect (although Joanna sold it nicely with a smile). Every time they broke the clinch, She landed either a knee, an elbow or a hook. If the 125 division remains with the current roster more or less, Valentina has a great chance of creating a title defense streak that may stay on the records book for a while. But, that’s for the future to tell.
2 for 4
We talked about people’s short memory. It was ever so present in the predictions discussions. So many people were so quick to write Max off, as a “has been” or “outdated” or whatever other nonsensical line of thinking. The guy is 27 years old, riding a 12 fights winning streak (up until last night). He absolutely destroyed the greatest featherweight in history. Took on Conor, and though he lost, he withstood his onslaught (something most of Conor’s opponents did not). And people wanted me to believe, that all of a sudden, he just doesn’t stand the chance against Ortega? Come on son… I love Ortega to bits. The guy is a stud, with a heart of a lion (as we saw last night) and when it comes to grappling, he may very well be the best 145 has to offer. But when it comes to striking, he simply isn’t near the same level as Max. It was clear long before they walked into the octagon. We also saw Max scramble nicely before, and his movement is a thing of wonder. So I get how some people thought Ortega would win. For sure, it was not a forgone conclusion, but the amount of dismissal to Max’s chances was baffling. He is the reigning, defending champion. does that, in addition to his phenomenal record, not warrant him more respect? As beautifully written by Benjamin Abrigo over at Combat Docket, Max is a learning machine. For this fight, his learning started before round one. He came in, knowing what he can start with, and even when it seemed, momentarily and ineffectively, that Ortega might be mounting some kind of a comeback, he simply tuned up his tools again and went to work on the fourth, with accuracy and ferocity. The takedown attempts came a little too late, when the sweat and blood assisted Max in his defense, and Brian was severely punished for each one, with these stabbing shots Max is famous for.
3 for 5
What a great night of beautiful violence and respect that was. anything over 50% is A ok for me on a card like this.
If Valentina would have not won that title, it would’ve been devastating for her, and to be honest, for me as a huge fan. But she did, and it is a happy day for #TeamShevchenko. Nunes is the queen at 135 and that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. A 3rd fight may have only buried Valentina’s aspirations. 125 may be a very thin division right now, but with some potential of fighters cutting, or gaining weight to try their luck at a title run. Valentina at that weight is a dominant force, and with the toolbox of skills she has, can become a more recognizable name in the history of women MMA.
I have to give quick props to Nina Ansaroff. I ate a whole bunch of crow last night, as I suspect quite a few did. From what I’ve seen of her in previous fights, nothing indicated that Gadelha was not going to completely dominate her. However, it was clear that work has been done. Perhaps work with one of the best fighters in UFC – Amanda Nunes. Nina moved very well, threw and landed very nicely and absolutely shut down Gadelha, en route to her biggest win yet. Not going to jump the gun on anything here. Only to note the slow burning, positive trend in her recent fights and humbly, tip my hat after she shut me up nicely.
It is still the #BlessedEra people. whether he succumbs to the pressure from the UFC to go up to LW, or continues his run in 145, Max delivered a clear message last night. It was not a disputed split decision over a less than deserving challenger. He soundly defeated the clear #1 contender. The first thought in many people’s head – what would a rematch with Conor look like? A very interesting one. What would a fight with Ferguson look like? A very interesting one. Personally, I see 2 more very interesting fights at 145 – Edgar and Moicano. I’m good with any decision he makes, as long as he really doesn’t endanger his health.
This time, I will combine Performance of the night and Fight of the night, as they happened in the same fights, and we got two of those:
Max Holloway Vs. Brian Ortega.
Thiago Santos making a statement.
An honorary mention to Dhiego Lima, with a thunderous KO over Chad Laprise.
Don’t forget to check out Combat Docket for more good reads and post UFC231 fallout.