Even though UFC 226 left fans cringing after witnessing what may have been the worst fight in the history of MMA between Francis Ngannou and Derrick Lewis, the UFC can’t feel too badly about how the card played out. Daniel Cormier made history. Anthony Pettis looked more like the guy who once held the lightweight title than he has in years. Plus, youngsters like Khalil Rountree and Paulo Costa offered some serious hope for the future. Did I mention Brock Lesnar made an appearance… and may be coming back for real this time? Yeah… it was a pretty damned good night.
Daniel Cormier: Cormier became just the second fighter to hold two belts simultaneously, Conor McGregor being the first. Though he may never be able to shake the Jon Jones monkey off his back, there isn’t anything more short of actually beating Jones that Cormier can do for that. Now he gets the opportunity to actually defend one of those belts, or he could even end up defending both! So history is looking like it will shine brightly on Cormier. But wait… there’s more! He may be in line for the biggest payday of his career should he get the fight with Lesnar. And to think a year ago Cormier was crying in the cage after losing to Jones for the second time. Things have changed just a bit since that time.
Mike Perry: It only took three losses before Perry changed things up, but at least he finally did it. Perry put together the most complete performance of his career. He did well in the clinch, he went for takedowns, and he hit some nice punches from a distance. Most importantly, he was able to adjust to what Paul Felder was doing to walk away with a hard fought victory. Just imagine what Perry could look like after a year at Jackson-Wink….
Anthony Pettis: Is Pretty Tony back to being Showtime? It’s probably too early make such a bold statement, but he looked as dangerous and smooth as he did back when he was champion. His straight right dropped Michael Chiesa and Pettis quickly dropped for a guillotine. When that didn’t take, he quickly transitioned into a slick triangle choke. Nobody is ready to declare Pettis as a title contender again, but another performance like that might do the trick.
Khalil Rountree: Prior to his contest with Gokhan Saki, I was wondering if Rountree had chosen the wrong profession. Those wonders only increased after Rountree KO’d the former kickboxing champion in brutal fashion, putting him out for the count. Rountree displayed what had so many had been clamoring to see out of him since his days back on TUF: a brutal KO. We still don’t know enough about Rountree’s ground game to declare him a future contender, but we at least know how fun he is to watch.
Paulo Costa: I almost didn’t put him here as his win was tainted by multiple groin shots. But the violent manner in which he put down Uriah Hall was extremely scary. Costa showed a few new wrinkles in his game, indicating the youngster is still improving. It will be interesting to see what the finished product is.
Raphael Assuncao: Assuncao turned in a dominant, workman-like performance over a dangerous Rob Font. That’s what Assuncao does. Normally, I don’t know if that would be enough to put Assuncao in the winner’s column as the UFC has no intention of granting him a well-deserved title shot. However, Assuncao called out the UFC brass. It could work against him, but it could also get some fans behind him. Personally, I liked the callout.
Drakkar Klose: I will admit it wasn’t a great fight with Lando Vannata, but Klose did what he needed to win. What really put him in this category is he avoided throwing a bitch fit in the process like he did when David Teymur wouldn’t engage with him on his terms. Perhaps that means I lowered my bar for him to make it, but progress needs to recognized.
Curtis Millender: There may be some surprise to see Millender here, but he fought a double-tough opponent in Max Griffin who just wouldn’t go away. A durable opponent shouldn’t be held against him. If anything, Millender proved he’s a durable mother in the process as he took some solid shots himself. Given a lot of people still don’t know who he is, Millender is a legit dark horse.
Dan Hooker: Four wins in a row at lightweight is impressive. All of them finishes is downright ridiculous. Hooker declared that he wants a top ten opponent. People would have laughed at Hooker entering the rankings when he first announced he was moving to lightweight. It’s looking like a reality now. For the record, I’m well aware of what I’m about to say: All aboard the Hooker bandwagon….
UFC ownership: I can understand if the UFC owners didn’t see anything after Lesnar and Cormier had their confrontation. After all, it isn’t easy to see past the dollar signs in their eyes. WME-IMG has been desperate for a PPV draw to either emerge or come back for well over a year now. Lesnar put the mic skills he picked up in the WWE to good use and UFC ownership is benefitting the most.
Insomnia researchers: Who knew the cure to insomnia would happen so organically? Or that Ngannou and Lewis would be the actual discoverers? Science is always moving forward….
Stipe Miocic: The MMA Gods continue to create chaos at the heavyweight division. After deciding Miocic would be allowed to break the longstanding record of two consecutive title defenses at heavyweight, there was no way they could allow more than that. Thus, just as Miocic was getting the respect he deserved from the MMA community – and outside of it – the rug was pulled out from under him. The worst part: he’s going to miss out on the Lesnar payday. Fate can be so cruel.
Francis Ngannou and Derrick Lewis: It takes a special kind of horrible to have people calling your fight the worst one they’ve ever seen. Ngannou and Lewis may very well have eclipsed the bar that was set by staring at each other over the course of 15 minutes. If there was ever a fight where both participants deserved to lose, this was it. I understand both fighters deserved respect for their power, but that was atrocious. I could go on forever talking about how bad this fight was, but the less said about this contest, the better.
Michael Chiesa: Missing weight was a bad way to start out the weekend is bad for any fighter. Being submitted inside the guard of your opponent is pretty damn embarrassing in this day and age. And yet, that’s how Chiesa ends his run at 155. Here’s hoping he hits the ground running at welterweight as there are serious doubts he’ll be able to find as much success there as he did at lightweight.
Gokhan Saki: When you’re a world champion kickboxer, there is no shame in losing an MMA contest via submission. However, there is a certain amount of embarrassment when you get knocked back into the previous century as Rountree did to Saki. Here’s hoping this doesn’t discourage Saki to quit as both of his UFC appearances have been a lot of fun.
Uriah Hall: While it could be argued Felder suffered a worse beating, I’d award that title to Hall as Felder was at least competitive in his contest. Hall had a moment where he had Costa wide-eyed after hurting him, but Hall spent most of the contest on the defensive. Unfortunately for the explosive striker, the loss drops him to 1-4 in his last five. How in the hell was this guy in the top ten again?
Rob Font: This was Font’s opportunity to do the UFC a favor – Assuncao’s success has been a thorn in the UFC’s side – and he ended up being embarrassed by the more skilled Brazilian. He didn’t even have success in the striking department, an area where many thought he’d have an advantage. Nope. A loss here wasn’t going to be the end of the hype train for him. However, the manner in which he lost may have done it.
Lando Vannata: Perhaps an injury to his lower leg can be partially to blame for his poor performance, but Vannata doesn’t appear to have progressed at all since his last performance. Klose didn’t have any problem putting his hands on him as Vannata’s movement disappeared after the first moments of the fight. Given he’s exciting as hell, I’m sure the UFC is going to bring him back, but his 1-3-1 record in the Octagon isn’t indicative of a rising star as many pegged him to be.
Gilbert Burns: This really hurts as the Brazilian was coming into this event with plenty of momentum. It all came to a halt when Hooker laid him out in violent fashion. It feels like the door has slammed shut on Burns ever developing into the top flight lightweight many believed he would be upon his UFC entry. Burns is still a solid fighter, but the bottom line is he didn’t match expectations.
Mark Smith: If you stop a fight twice in a round for groin strikes without taking a point from the offender, you’re teaching fighters that it pays to break the rules. That’s exactly the route Smith decided to take. Is there a timetable when the referees are going to get it?
Paul Felder: Having fought with a broken arm for most of the fight, Felder overcame some incredible odds to turn in a competitive decision while fighting in a weight division above where he usually competes. Alas, I can’t call Felder a winner due to the brutal beating he took over the course of the bout. Felder is going to be on the shelf for a while, despite all the respect his performance earned him.
Max Griffin: There’s no debate he was outperformed by Millender. However, that doesn’t mean Griffin performed badly. He solidified his status as a top action fighter, eating some shots that should have put him on dream street. There were a few things he could have done that may have changed the outcome, but the criticism towards Griffin shouldn’t be too harsh.
Emily Whitmire: Whitmire’s win wasn’t very impressive, but she deserves props for raising her profile by calling out Vinny Magalhaes. I don’t know what the entire situation is, so I’m not going to pass judgement, but I did find it funny as hell. That alone was worthwhile enough to mention, though the less said about the fight, the better.
Brock Lesnar: Lesnar had to be on the list somewhere, but it’s hard to know where until we know more about where he is as far as the USADA testing pool. The goal is to have Lesnar fight Cormier at Madison Square Garden in November. Unless Lesnar has been in the pool for several months, that might not happen. Until we know more, we can’t say what the future holds for Lesnar. To be continued….