Pull out your microscopes as Dayne Fox takes a deep look at everything from UFC 211, from the Gadzhimurad Antigulov’s opening submission to Stipe Miocic’s closing knockout to hold on to his belt. If we decide to ignore what the buy-rate will be like for UFC 211, it was clearly the biggest success the UFC has had on PPV for 2017. Both title fights delivered with Stipe Miocic and Joanna Jedrzejczyk successfully defending their belts in entertaining fashion. Demian Maia finally earned his title shot. Frankie Edgar reminded us how great he is. And we almost had two FOTY contenders only for the way Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier ended to ruin one of them. At least we got a clean finish out of Jason Knight and Chas Skelly. It wasn’t an epic night for the UFC, but it was a great night.
Here’s my thoughts on the UFC Nashville, with every fight and fighter involved broken down. The format is simple. The first bullet covers what was expected to happen and an attempt at a brief summary of what did happen. The next two bullets cover my thoughts on each fighter, how they did, and where they might be headed from here with the winner being covered first.
Gadzhimurad Antigulov defeated Joachim Christensen via submission at 2:21 of RD1
Expectation/Result: Antigulov turned some heads when he was easily able to dispose of Marcos Rogerio de Lima in his UFC debut. On the other side, Christensen had mixed results in his two UFC contests. Antigulov ended up doing exactly what we all expected in taking Christensen to the ground and working his way into a rear-naked choke. Christensen put up a better fight than de Lima did, but he tapped in the end just like the Brazilian did.
Antigulov: Antigulov is making himself a 205er to keep an eye on. He’s not an overpowering specimen, but submitting two opponents who have picked up wins in the UFC in less than half a round each is impressive nonetheless. The question will be when he is forced to stand and trade. I do worry how successful he’ll be when he ends up facing a decent wrestler, but that won’t happen for a while as any light heavyweight with decent wrestling is either at the very top of the division or immigrated to Bellator.
Christensen: This type of performance highlights the problems with being good and everything and not great at anything. Christensen didn’t have the physical skills to get stop Antigulov from enforcing his will, giving up the takedown on Antigulov’s first attempt. He’s perfect to test relatively unproven youngsters, but I don’t see Christensen standing a chance against tested veterans.
Enrique Barzola defeated Gabriel Benitez via unanimous decision
Expectations/Result: A difficult contest to pick. Barzola had shown great improvements since winning TUF Latin America in addition to being the better wrestler. On the other side, Benitez has seen everything with a superior striking game. Benitez lit up Barzola when the fight remained standing, landing cleaner punches and kicks. Barzola countered by landing multiple takedowns every round. He nearly kept up on the volume when the fight was standing too, though the strikes weren’t quite as meaningful. Benitez almost stole the fight by flooring Barzola at the buzzer, but the judges saw it in favor of Barzola.
Barzola: Barzola contunes to improve, developing into someone who deserves their spot on the UFC roster as opposed to owning a token spot thanks to his TUF victory. Against a harder puncher, he’ll get hurt as he doesn’t telegraph his level changes very well. Then again, Benitez knew what Barzola wanted to do and still couldn’t stop the takedowns. Though I don’t see him becoming a contender, it’s hard not to like what Barzola has been able to do thus far.
Benitez: Benitez has never been able to stop takedowns. I don’t care if he is able to climb back to his feet relatively quickly, he’ll never be able to beat anything above middling competition – by UFC standards — until he is able to stuff a few takedowns. Considering he has 25 professional contests under his belt at this point, I don’t see him being able to do that. Despite that, Benitez is a lot of fun to watch if his opponent is willing to stand and trade with him. I’ll enjoy watching him until he gets cut.
Cortney Casey defeated Jessica Aguilar via unanimous decision
Expectations/Result: Aguilar was returning to the cage for the first time in 21 months, making her a huge question mark. Combine that with Casey’s recent improvements, most were picking the former collegiate soccer player to pick up the win. Aguilar had her moments, getting takedowns every round and landing some good ground strikes. On the feet though, Casey laid the punishment on thick on the smaller Aguilar, making the wrestler pay a heavy price for going after takedowns. Casey landed a lot of upkicks too, keeping up the punishment even when on her back. The punishment Casey put on her was enough for all three judges to give her every round.
Casey: Casey has evolved into a much more technical striker, showing a lot of fluidity in her punches. There were moments where she reverted to her brawling nature, but there are times when that is appropriate and she picked her spots well. The most impressive thing about Casey’s technical improvement is that she has maintained her trademark aggression. She still has some holes in her wrestling – Aguilar had no problem getting her to the ground once she was in range for the takedown – but Casey is moving in the right direction. Expect her to break into the top ten before the end of the year and stay there for quite a while.
Aguilar: Even though Aguilar lost a clear decision, she looked good enough to convince me that she still has enough left in the tank to be a viable gatekeeper. She’s always been a small strawweight whose experience and wrestling technique has made up for her deficiencies. Now that she has lost a step and the overall competitiveness has grown, her days of being a contender are over. However, she found success in getting Casey to the ground and landed some hard ground strikes. The UFC may not see the use of keeping the 35-year old around, but I’d like to think she has enough left in the tank to cap off her notable career with a win in the UFC.
James Vick defeated Polo Reyes via TKO at 2:39 of RD1
Expectations/Result: Even though the overwhelming majority of the MMA community were picking Vick to score an easy victory, Reyes was getting the support of some of the more intelligent members of the community. Those thoughts proved unfounded. Vick displayed improved ability to control range, keeping Reyes at bay with front kicks. Vick put together a devastating punching combination as Reyes entered the pocket, flooring the Mexican prospect and putting him out for the count.
Vick: Would you guess Vick now owns a 7-1 UFC record? Vick displayed the best distance management of his career against Reyes, preventing Reyes from putting together a stream of hard punches as he had done in his previous contests. At 6’3″, distance management is essential for Vick to find success against a higher level of competition. I can’t say whether the UFC will give him another chance against a ranked opponent just yet after he was picked apart by Beneil Dariush last year. Vick probably deserves it, but he can’t seem to get on the good side of management. Regardless, can’t say I’d be against matching him up with… we’ll say Evan Dunham.
Reyes: Even if he was put out of his misery quickly, Reyes’ loss wasn’t all negative. He opened up with a smart strategy by attacking the rangier Vick’s legs. He did land a couple of good punches too as Vick’s chin has always been hittable. Then again, so has Reyes. Vick found Reyes chin first and that was the end of it. Though Reyes isn’t quite the brawler that he was upon his UFC entry, he still has enough of those tendencies that I struggle to see him becoming more than mid-level action fighter. In other words, I think he’s hit his ceiling.
Chase Sherman defeated Rashad Coulter via KO at 3:36 of RD2
Expectations/Results: Coulter took the contest on short notice and hadn’t beaten a quality opponent. Thus, most were picking the longer and more athletic Sherman even without Sherman’s decided physical advantages. Early on, Sherman exercised a smart strategy, attacking Coulter’s leg with kicks to the point that Coulter could barely stand. Instead of continuing to attack Coulter’s leg to begin the second round, Sherman began headhunting which allowed Coulter to remain in the contest. Coulter landed a bunch of heavy shots as Sherman allowed him to remain around. Eventually Sherman got Coulter against the fence and landed a devastating elbow that put Coulter down and out.
Sherman: This was a case of Jekyll and Hyde for Sherman. He looked vastly improved early in the fight, picking apart Coulter, maintaining good distance management to keep the shorter Coulter from landing any serious offense. Then he allowed Coulter to creep back into the contest, looking for haymakers rather than continuing the barrage on Coulter’s legs. Perhaps he can say it netted him an extra $50,000, but it also came dangerously close to costing his job in the UFC. Overall, the returns on his move to Jackson-Wink have to be considered good. After all, he did walk out with his first UFC victory.
Coulter: I was harsh on Coulter in my preview, declaring him a bloated 205er without a single quality win. While those charges could still be applicable, Coulter’s heart and toughness have certainly given me reason to pause before writing him off in any future contest he might receive. He showed good explosion and power, nearly putting Sherman away on one leg. Still, his lack of size will severely limit his level of success at heavyweight. I’d like to see him drop down to light heavyweight, though the indications are that likely won’t happen.
Jason Knight defeated Chas Skelly via TKO at 0:39 of RD3
Expectations/Result: It was difficult not to get excited for this contest… provided you knew who these combatants were. Considering you’re reading this, you knew who they were. I picked Skelly in anticipation of his wrestling more than making up for Knight’s technical striking advantage. The first round produced the best five minutes of back-and-forth scrambling exchanges that we’ve seen all year, with reversals and sweeps thrilling the audience. The exchanges seemed to take more out of Skelly as he appeared far more winded than Knight from that point on. Knight slowly began to take over and landed a brutal simple combination to open the third, dropping Skelly and finishing him off with a series of ground punches.
Knight: I’m not surprised at Knight’s continued improvement. I’m surprised at the excessive rate in which he continues to improve. Perhaps it can in part be attributed to Skelly’s faulty gas tank, but Knight was the better wrestler. Aside from Skelly’s initial single-leg takedown, Knight turned away all of Skelly’s attempts and even landed a few of his own. I still don’t like how content he can be to stay on his back in his guard, though he abandoned that strategy after the first round. Knight’s will to win is topped by no one and will make him a tough fight against anyone in the division. Expect him to get a top fifteen opponent next.
Skelly: Skelly has nothing to be ashamed of in this loss. He pushed Knight just as much as anyone has and had The Kid rocked at the end of the second round. The reason why he was unable to escape with a win is the same that it has always been: he doesn’t have the stamina to push a fast pace beyond the opening round. Against less determined opponents, Skelly can still get the fight where he wants it. That wasn’t going to happen with Knight. Though his striking is still wonky, Skelly did show some improvement, indicating his move to ATT has been good for him. He might be able to break into the top fifteen again, but he won’t climb much further than that.
Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier fought to a No Contest at 4:12 of RD2
Expectations/Result: Given this history of both Alvarez and Poirier to end up in a brawl, fans weren’t expecting anything less. They got what they wanted. It’s just too bad that it ended the way it did. Poirier jumped out to the early lead, just as many expected given Alvarez’s tendency to start slow. Poirier even put Alvarez on the ropes in the second, coming thisclose to finishing the former champion. Alvarez woke up, beginning his own assault. Getting Poirier on his hands and knees, Alvarez began throwing knees to the downed Poirier. The ref intervened and rather than declaring a DQ win for Poirier, declared a no contest after some outside consultation.
Alvarez: Yes, this was your typical Alvarez performance. He ended up on wobbly feet and didn’t turn it on until after that point. After that, he reversed the roles and put Poirier on the ropes. Had he not thrown the illegal knees, it’s conceivable that Alvarez could have picked up a legal finish before the end of the round. But that wasn’t a guarantee and its very likely Alvarez would have been down two rounds heading into the third. Am I the only one who feels like the wear and tear on Alvarez’s body is showing itself more than ever? Alvarez has always seemed to thrive in the face of doubters, so I won’t be shocked if he makes a run. But Father Time always wins.
Poirier: Poirier was on his way to securing a breakout win. Every time he had come against an opponent considered to be elite – or a fringe elite – Poirier has always come up short. Instead, he kept up an aggressive yet measured pace, hurting Alvarez on multiple occasions and damn near finishing him. Even more impressive, Poirier wasn’t drawn into a brawl until Alvarez started swinging wildly. There isn’t much shame in being unable to put away Alvarez as many have failed to do so. We’d all love to see the UFC run this one back – and I gotta feel Poirier would like to see it more than Alvarez – but the UFC has been reluctant to run fights back in recent years. Here’s hoping they make an exception here.
Dave Branch defeated Krzysztof Jotko via split decision
Expectations/Result: Even though most analysts and journalists will admit that this was a very close contest on paper, most were still picking Jotko. Why? For me, some of it had to do with former champions from other organizations having a history of coming up short upon their UFC entry. Names like Eddie Alvarez, Hector Lombard, Gilbert Melendez, and Luke Rockhold come to mind. Then again, this was a return for Branch, having been cut in 2011. The action was non-descript, most of it taking place in the clinch against the fence. Neither could claim a definitive victory, though the judges decided to award Branch the decision.
Branch: The result for Branch is very mixed. Yes, he was competitive with a proven Jotko and was even able to come away with a win. However, it was also very boring, doing nothing to earn him any cred with the fans as Branch initiated most of the clinch exchanges. That hurts his marketability. Then again, Branch doesn’t appear to be a guy the UFC wants to market anyway. He’s gonna have to keep winning if he wants to move up the ladder. His wrestling appeared to be improved from his first stint, even if he couldn’t keep Jotko down for an extended period of time. His striking wasn’t threatening, but it was competent. He’s going to have to keep working on those things if wants to keep winning.
Jotko: Losing in this manner hurts Jotko far more than if he had been KO’d, even if he was the one trying to stand and trade. Jotko basically gave up on several occasions when Branch had him tied up against the fence, waiting on the ref to break up the exchange. Not a good sign. Then again, this was Jotko’s first loss – and subpar performance – in three years, he’ll likely be given a pass. This was also the first contest that Jotko didn’t show any noticeable improvement. At 27-years old, it’s likely Jotko will continue to improve. I have my doubts whether he’ll be able to evolve into a contender, but I expect he’ll learn from this and become a mainstay in the top ten.
Frankie Edgar defeated Yair Rodriguez via TKO at 5:00 of RD2
Expectations/Result: Even though I felt confident picking Edgar going into this contest, there were a lot of people – fans and experts – who were picking the athletic freak that is Rodriguez. I can see why as there are very few who possess the physical package of the youngster. But his best victories were Alex Caceres and Andre Fili – unless you want to count the remains of BJ Penn. Regardless, Edgar represented a huge step up. Rodriguez landed almost zero significant offense as Edgar took him down early in both rounds and delivered some brutal ground and pound. Rodriguez’s eye swelled up to epic proportions, creating vision problems that caused the referee to stop the contest.
Edgar: Edgar didn’t look great against Jeremy Stephens in his previous contest, causing many to believe he was on the decline. There were also reports about Edgar being injured for that contest. Given how he dominated Rodriguez, the reports of the injury appear more likely to be true. Edgar is still as good as he ever was, perhaps even better. Getting hurt in his contests traditionally happens at least once against notable strikers and he was able to avoid that. Edgar’s defense continues to improve which is compensating for his decline in athletic ability. Edgar is praying that Max Holloway wins against Jose Aldo next month as Edgar is unlikely to get a third chance against Aldo. But if Holloway wins, he’s first in line.
Rodriguez: This loss isn’t too devastating for Rodriguez, even if it couldn’t have gone much worse for him. He’s only 24-years old with all the talent in the world. He’s going to learn from fights like this. Rodriguez tried to convince the referee he could still see out of his eye, indicating a high level of toughness and willingness to win. In other words, I still see Rodriguez becoming the superstar that many are predicting that he’ll become… it’ll just take a bit longer than expected. What would be ideal for Rodriguez would be to put him in against someone who has some wrestling ability – Rodriguez’s Achilles heel – but still willing to trade punches. Thus, why I feel confident in predicting we’ll soon see Rodriguez square off with Jeremy Stephens.
Demian Maia defeated Jorge Masvidal via split decision
Expectations/Results: I was one of those who thought Maia would serve as a blanket on Masvidal, but there were just as many who expected Masvidal to dominate the standup and snap Maia’s impressive winning streak. You could say both sides were right in terms of how thimgs played out. Maia smothered Masvidal for about half of the contest while Masvidal pieced up Maia on the feet for the other half. What gave Maia the victory was Masvidal taking his foot off the gas in the final round before Maia was able to get him down. Even though the contest was close enough that it could have gone either way, old habits came back to haunt Masvidal as he dropped yet another close split decision.
Maia: Even though Maia won – a sentiment I agreed with – he comes out of this contest looking worse for wear. He struggled to get Masvidal to the ground more than he has with any opponent since Rory MacDonald. Is that an indication of Maia declining? At 39-years old, that’s plausible. However, Masvidal’s sprawl was absolutely tailored to stop Maia’s style of shot, something Maia’s recent opponents haven’t done. Thus, I’m not totally sure how to react towards this performance. According to Dana White, Maia now has his well-deserved title shot. Here’s hoping the UFC keep their word. I fear a contest with Tyron Woodley won’t draw flies, but it’s still something I want to see.
Masvidal: Given how Masvidal has been fighting since his loss to Al Iaquinta, I thought he had finally learned from his past mistakes. I guess I was wrong. Masvidal assumed he was winning the fight after two rounds and went on cruise control for the third. Yes, he won the first half of the final round, but not by much. He merely landed the occasional jab or leg kick rather than pressing the action on an exhausted Maia. When Maia got the takedown and controlled Masvidal for the last half of the round, it cost Masvidal his chance at the title. Given all the miles on his body, Masvidal looks good. Part of that has to do with him only being 32-years old, but MMA is often about miles rather than age. Masvidal can still be a top action fighter at 170, but it’s going to be hard for him to regain his momentum he had going into this contest.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk defeated Jessica Andrade via unanimous decision
Expectations/Result: Though I was surprised at how many people were picking Andrade to pull off the upset, I understood it. Andrade hits as hard as anyone has at strawweight and Jedrzejczyk’s defense has shown holes in it. That was apparent within the first few minutes of round one as Andrade landed a few hard shots on Jedrzejczyk, producing a big hematoma on the champions forehead. Jedrzejczyk maintained the course, peppering Andrade with leg kicks and jabs, wearing down the Brazilian. The leg kicks eventually robbed Andrade of her explosion, preventing her from landing any significant offense after the first round. Jedrzejczyk ended up cruising to an easy decision and solidifying herself as one of the most dominant champions in the UFC.
Jedrzejczyk: Part of being a great champion is being able to overcome adversity. Jedrzejczyk has done that in one form or another in each of the last three contests. From Claudia Gadelha’s early domination, to Karolina Kowalkiewicz knocking her to the ground, Jedrzejczyk has recovered every time, seemingly unphased by anything he opponents throw at her. She has stuck to her strategy and it has resulted in clear cut decisions for her each and every time. Aside from the jabs and leg kicks, Jedrzejczyk began sitting down on more combos, stuffed all the late takedown attempts, and avoided spending a long period of time on the ground. Most impressive, Jedrzejczyk avoided ending her combinations with kicks to avoid giving Andrade a chance to take her down. Jedrzejczyk’s next challenge will be Rose Namajunas, a different stylistic matchup than anything she has faced thus far. Regardless, I have to believe that Jedrzejczyk will have a strategy prepared to overcome whatever Namajunas throws at her.
Andrade: I’m encouraged by Andrade’s attitude following the loss. She acknowledged her own youth, indicating she knows she is far from hitting her prime. The biggest thing Andrade needed to do was to check Jedrzejczyk’s leg kicks as she offered Jedrzejczyk no reason not to continue attacking the legs. It wasn’t long before Andrade had no spring left in her step. To Andrade’s credit, she continued to move forward and didn’t seem to have any issues with her gas tank, putting on a better showing than I anticipated. Out of those whom Jedrzejczyk has already defeated, Andrade has the best chance of getting a rematch. It will be interesting to see if opponents try attacking her with kicks much the same way Jedrzejczyk did and how Andrade will respond to that.
Stipe Miocic defeated Junior dos Santos via TKO at 2:22 of RD1
Expectations/Result: Initially, I picked Miocic to win. I felt he won the first contest and had something to prove. Then I re-watch their initial contest and felt dos Santos had gotten the better of him and looked better in his subsequent contests since then. So I flopped over to the side of dos Santos. I didn’t feel too bad about that initially. Dos Santos was picking apart Miocic’s legs with some HARD leg kicks, something Miocic was clearly feeling the effects of. Miocic decided he didn’t want to deal with that any longer, rushed in as dos Santos was against the fence and delivered a HUGE right hand that floored dos Santos. Dos Santos turtled up as Miocic reigned down a series of punches before the referee stepped in.
Miocic: To illustrate just how pathetic the history of the heavyweight division has been, Miocic is now tied for the most consecutive title defenses with two. Given how he continues to improve, he stands a great chance of breaking the record. Since losing to dos Santos in their first encounter, Miocic has finished every one of his opponents since that time. It isn’t a flimsy list by any means either: Mark Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, and now dos Santos. Even more impressive, the last four have all come inside the first round. A case could be made for Miocic as an all-time great heavyweight at this point. Putting him at the top would be a stretch, but a few more wins over quality competition and it could be a realistic talking point. Who he fights next is a huge mystery. I’ve seen the names of Werdum, Overeem, Francis Ngannou, Derrick Lewis, and Cain Velasquez all floated around. Velasquez would do the most for Miocic’s legacy, but chances are greater Velasquez would have to pull out of a scheduled contest than actually going through with it. If he gets the shot, the UFC will need to have a back-up plan ready.
Dos Santos: I don’t feel too bad about picking dos Santos in the end, though I will admit that it was old habits that cost the former champion his chance of regaining the belt. Dos Santos has long had a problem with backing himself into the fence, though he looked much improved in his cage awareness and overall footwork against Ben Rothwell. That was nowhere to be seen here as Miocic had little problem pinning him against the fence and letting a power shot fly. I probably should have taken into account dos Santos’ chin has likely deteriorated since his days has champion. He’s been in some real wars since that time. Aside from that, I thought his strategy to attack Miocic’s legs with kicks was brilliant. The fight just didn’t drag out long enough for it to take fruition. He’ll likely be a gatekeeper who will need an extended win streak to get another shot at the belt now.
Well, those are my thoughts. Until next time…