Want to talk about the future of MMA? Well, there was plenty of it on display this past weekend. The UFC and the World Series of Fighting put on intriguing cards that may say a lot about what fans can expect to see in 2016.
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Donald Cerrone
I said this about José Aldo and I will say this about Donald Cerrone: You can’t talk that much pre-fight and then get wiped out in the fight. It shows an indication that you either don’t know yourself or you don’t know your opponent. I’m all for selling a fight and not tipping your hand, but more needs to be shown in a big spot.
The knock on Cerrone has been that he doesn’t fight big in big fights. For his part, he recently conceded that the belt was important to him. However, no fighter has ever been a champion when they have conducted themselves the way Cerrone has conducted himself.
The narrative so far has been about what Cerrone didn’t do at UFC on Fox 17, and not what dos Anjos did do. There is something about dos Anjos that makes it is easy for him to be discredited. We won’t mention what that is, because that would be feeding the narrative — if you know it, then you know it. With that being said, if we accept the champion at face value, he is a clean, highly dominant champion. He took the belt in impressive fashion and has defended it impressively. He’s the story here. He might even be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Technique talk: Based on Cerrone’s size, he had to keep dos Anjos off of him. That is clearly easier said than done. Dos Anjos is confident in all aspects of his game, most notably his chin and takedown defense. You can’t be a pressure fighter of his ilk and not have confidence. To beat this guy, someone is going to have to fracture that bravado and put some doubt in his mind.
What’s next: For the lightweight champ dos Anjos, it’s looking like Conor McGregor, although his own manager is undercutting that option, which may not be the smartest thing for business. If McGregor fights the Brazilian, everybody gets paid. Make no mistake about it, this is a true superfight. Furthermore, if McGregor loses to dos Anjos, it doesn’t really hurt the Edgar fight. McGregor is still the featherweight champ and his loss would be at a different weight class. If the UFC is smart, it will book this fight quickly since McGregor and dos Anjos had relatively easy fights. Then Edgar doesn’t sit too long either.
Cerrone said in the aftermath of his fight that he didn’t expect the UFC to be calling, which is absurd. He’s a high-level guy. Fighters have to understand that just because they didn’t get the belt, doesn’t mean all their hard work is lost. They have increased their profile and thus will bank more dollars. Cerrone is sort of in the position Miesha Tate was in, with two losses and hoping the reigning champ loses so that they get another shot at the belt. Cerrone should adopt the Dan Henderson mindset. Henderson said once that he is a money-weight fighter. He’ll fight at the weight he has to in order to get paid. Cerrone should fight in a rematch against Nate Diaz. It helps moving forward with the chase for the “Conor money.” Should dos Anjos stumble, either Cerrone or Diaz could get a shot with a win.
Alistair Overeem vs. Junior dos Santos
Junior dos Santos has always fought like he had a grenade in his hand with the pin pulled. He has made the unspoken agreement with himself that he is willing to take punches to land punches because he feels like he’s gonna throw the grenade that ends things before it blows up on him. Against Overeem, though, it blew up on him. The Dutch former Strikeforce champion dropped dos Santos and was finishing things when the ref had seen enough — some felt prematurely.
I don’t typically complain about early stoppages. If he stopped it at three, well, then four, five and six weren’t too far behind. Fighter safety is of paramount importance, for a lot of reasons. True, some fighters have withstood real beatings to come back and win. Not a lot, though.
Technique talk: Fighters like T.J. Dillashaw, Dominick Cruz, Demetrious Johnson, Frankie Edgar and Conor McGregor can maintain reasonable defensive posture while being offensive fighters. This is why their fighting styles are the future. The secret for all? Movement. This isn’t to say that dos Santos needs to go get a movement coach, but at the very least he should watch the Randy Couture- Tim Sylvia fight. Couture was able to overcome size disparity and, more importantly, avoid contact with head movement and level changes.
What’s next: Overeem thinks it’s a title shot. He may not be far off. He may have to do a little more to earn it, though. Maybe he needs to beat Andrei Arlovski or Stipe Miocic. It might help his case. He could also maybe clean up his loss to Travis Browne. He won’t be able to ride a win over dos Santos all the way to the belt.
For dos Santos, a Josh Barnett fight. He needs to get in there with someone who has a more diverse background as a fighter. He needs to have to train more ground, if for no other reason than to help him with changing levels. He’s got big power, so every fight will be a search for the knockout, unless he does like Fabricio Werdum and Cain Velasquez and adds some diversity to his game.
Nate Diaz vs. Michael Johnson
Nate Diaz has a lot of things in common with his brother, Nick. One of the main similarities is that you can watch either fight on some nights and wonder who the hell in the world can beat these guys. Then you see them on other nights and realize the toughest opponent they are ever gonna have is themselves. The Diaz brothers were born to fight. They have the build and the disposition for it. They do to their opponents what few can do. They get them to fight a “Diaz fight.”
Michael Johnson fell into the Diaz trap. The pre-fight jawing, the mean-mugging, the hotel altercations, mad dogging at the weigh-in — it’s all standard operating procedure for a Diaz. It’s all Stockton, 209, WHAT!!! It’s a great misdirection. McGregor does it too. You talk enough and guys think you are all talk. They forget about the real problems you present. While Diaz is a high-level fighter, Johnson is better than he showed on this night. He saw some bait he couldn’t resist and ended up with a hook in his mouth.
Technique talk: It’s tough to find the openings against a clear-headed, motivated Nate Diaz. His frame allows him to have a height and reach advantage over almost everyone in his division. Power jabs and crosses batter the face and if you are thinking salvation is the ground, he’s a monster there too. He’s a tough kid, just like his brother.
What’s next: Diaz is calling McGregor’s name — who isn’t? — but that doesn’t make dollars for McGregor, which means it don’t make sense for McGregor. The Irishman knows his place in this game. He’s the A side and he knows he is bringing most of the eyes to the equation, but you have to bring more than yourself if you want to be the B side.
Johnson needs to figure out how to make the jump to the next level. He remains relevant mostly, like Clay Guida, for who he has beaten. Tony Ferguson, Danny Castillo, Joe Lauzon, Melvin Guillard and Edson Barboza all fell to Johnson. At this point, a rematch with one of these men might be fair. Lauzon tops the list. Ferguson would be great, but his star is on the rise and Johnson shouldn’t get that fight while coming off a loss.
Lance Palmer vs. Alexandre Almeida
It would be an understatement to say that the crowd was surprised when Lance Palmer lost to Alexandre Almeida at World Series of Fighting 26. To call it a near riot would be a stretch, but there were anger-fueled folks making their way to the cage, yelling obscenities. While I didn’t share their passion or blood-alcohol level, I do share their opinion. I thought Palmer had it.
Max Kellerman says the easy way to judge a round is to just say, who would you have rather been in that round? For most of the fight, I would have rather been Palmer. He seemed to be controlling the fight. Almeida was pressing the action and he was in control of the Octagon, but Palmer controlled where the fight took place.
Technique talk: It got tricky for the judges because these two fought very different fights. If, as a judge, the Octagon control holds more weight (and clearly it did), then Almeida is your man. However, Palmer was employing an effective game plan of circling away from the power while counter punching and changing levels. Almeida’s a big featherweight and his reach seemed hard to overcome.
What’s next: What’s next for Almeida is really what’s next for Palmer: a rematch. I thought Palmer was robbed; Bas Rutten didn’t. The only person that matters in the end, WSOF matchmaker Ray Sefo, thinks Palmer was robbed. Post-fight, Sefo said he had some featherweights, including Sheymon Moraes, ready to go if Palmer won. This rematch helps the division and gives everyone else time to catch up while these two go at it one more time.
Ozzy Dugulubgov vs. Nic Herron-Webb
Nic Herron-Webb kept it interesting and let Ozzy Dugulubgov know he wasn’t gonna be a pushover. He may find a home in the WSOF if he can keep giving spirited efforts.
Now to the serious prospect here: Dugulubgov looked good. He took it to Herron-Webb and kept the train moving. In a stacked 155-pound division, he kept his position in the top five solidified. It would have been nice to see a finish so that there was a question as to whether Dugulubgov or Brian Foster truly deserved the next shot. Either way, Foster is getting it, but that doesn’t mean Dugulubgov isn’t the No. 1 contender.
Technique talk: We hear a lot about this, but it’s true. Dugulubgov controlled the pace, the distance and the level. It’s hard to beat someone who does that.
What’s next: It would be great if the WSOF were to make a concerted effort to follow up with these divisions and build them in a way to find out what the promotion has. Let’s have Herron-Webb fight a guy like Luis Palomino or Phoenix Jones and see where he truly fits in this division.
Meanwhile, it’s time to give Dugulubgov a title eliminator. His next fight should be against either Jason High or Joao Zeferino to determine who is up after lightweight champion Justin Gaethje puts his belt on the line against Foster. This may be a championship-caliber fighter, but he needs to beat a higher-level guy to earn the title shot.
Jake Heun vs. Clinton Williams
Props to Clinton Williams. He was a late replacement for Tyrone Spong and he looked good. He was impossible to finish, had the moment of the fight when he picked Jake Heun up, carried him across the cage and dropped him. Williams channeled Matt Hughes in the process and moved one of the judges to pick in his favor. If Williams can find a way to build on this, it can be the spark to changing things around professionally.
Heun showed himself well, too. He had a lot of things swirling around him in this fight — the late opponent change, his friend Felice Herrig showing up to watch him and a lady, I’m assuming it was his mom, behind press row screaming at him throughout the fight. When you are a pro, you have to put all this aside, go out and perform. He did get the win, but it was maybe a little closer than we all thought going in.
Technique talk: Heun is the better striker, but he also doesn’t do a good job at protecting his chin. Well, he didn’t against Williams, which made the fight a little closer than it needed to be. Heun was looking for a big highlight moment throughout the fight, and that moment never came.
What’s next: For Williams, an understanding that you have to advocate for yourself a little bit. Maybe Teddy Holder might have been a good idea, but he looks to be tied up, according to the poster, in January. So maybe Williams should call out Matt Hamill. The idea here is to strike while the iron is hot.
A fight between Heun and Vinny Magalhães is very interesting. Striker-vs.-grappler fights always are interesting. The fortunate (or maybe unfortunate, depending on how you look at it) thing is that with David Branch holding two belts and not defending until April, the light heavyweight title is held up till at the earliest July or August. The upside is these guys could fight each other with the winner calling out Branch.
Nate Diaz. Diaz flipped inactivity into a real conversation about him and Conor McGregor. That’s a quick little come up.
Ali Abdel-Aziz. A lot of people thought in the weeks leading up to this card that Abdel-Aziz and the WSOF might be in trouble, but they both look to be in good shape now. Separation may be the best thing for both. With a lot of big-name clients, no matter who fights McGregor next, Abdel-Aziz may be at the center of it.
Sheymon Moraes. He took the 135-pound champion into the late rounds, even in a loss, and scored a highlight-reel knockout of a former UFC fighter. He has some big names on his resume at 145 pounds, and this has left the young Brazilian with options. It looks like he’s staying at 145 for now, but he can chase the money in both divisions as they develop.
Team Alpha Male. The belts are vanishing. So, too, may be the fighters. In his post-fight interview, Palmer said the lack of a head coach is a problem. Palmer walked it back a little bit, but it was still said. Most champions have a successful head coach, while these guys are wasting their primes without one.
Junior dos Santos. There was a time when we thought this guy was unstoppable, a heavyweight Chuck Liddell with good enough takedown defense to stay on the feet and blast guys. He is beginning to look like a one-dimensional fighter who is always searching for the big punch.
Hakeem Dawodu. It’s not that he had a draw and it’s the end of the world. What I’m not crazy about is that it took a 10-8 third round to get it.
Not for nothing, but…
…Nik Lentz needs to realize that no one is interested in a fight with him and B.J. Penn to watch him beat Penn’s ass. If there’s interest in that fight, it’s because people think Lentz is beatable.
…dos Anjos is on a very short list for best fighter in the world right now.
…the World Series of Fighting is probably better in the long term without Ali Abdel-Aziz, and this is said with a healthy respect for and perspective on what he did for them. This may be the smartest divorce of 2015 for all parties involved.
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