After the dust settled, an originally long-winded card in Sacramento ended with a flash, leaving several celebrating their victories and others wallowing in defeat.
It was not easy to sit through UFC Sacramento. Of the first nine contests, eight entered the third round. That doesn’t mean the contests sucked, but it did mean the contests were long winded. If fight fans wanted to leave the event with a good feeling, something had to change. Starting with Josh Emmett knocking the block off Mirsad Bektic, the card closed with three consecutive first round finishes. While there was some controversy behind two of those finishes, it’s hard to find a better way for a drawn out card to end itself. Plus, it’s rare a legendary fighter comes out of retirement only to add a story book chapter to their career the way Urijah Faber did in the co-main event. On the verge of being a completely forgettable event, UFC Sacramento pulled a rabbit out of its hat at the last moment.
Germaine de Randamie: In a way, it feels like de Randamie will never be a winner. She wins the inaugural women’s featherweight title, people complain about the late punches in that contest. Then, she refuses to defend the title, making her out to be scared of Amanda Nunes. Now, a poor stoppage on the part of Herb Dean left fans once again against de Randamie. As Michael Bisping said in his post-fight interview with her, it wasn’t her call. However, the 16 second victory did put de Randamie in a position to try and avenge her last loss against current two division champion Amanda Nunes. De Randamie would be a sizeable underdog, but she has also proven to be exceptionally difficult to put away.
Urijah Faber: If you gave me an extended list of choices for how Faber would beat Ricky Simon – if he would even beat Simon – the last method I would have picked would be for Faber to score a KO/TKO in the quickest manner of his career. And yet, that’s exactly what happened, Faber finishing off a fighter who had never been stopped by strikes before in his career in just 46 seconds. I don’t want to rain on Faber’s parade as it was truly an amazing moment – perhaps one we’ll take about for ages – but Simon was piecing him up to that point. The same concerns people had about Faber heading into the fight should still exist as he heads into his next contest, regardless of who the UFC matches him up with. Nonetheless, it’s hard to think of a better way it could have ended for the Hall of Famer.
Josh Emmett: Emmett almost had the biggest moment of the night… but Faber. Nonetheless, Emmett’s brutal finish of Bektic – started off by a power jab of all things — did break the monotony of the evening which had every fight but one up to that point go into the third round. That makes eight knockdowns for Emmett since he moved to the featherweight division. It’s hard to deny that Emmett is a legit top ten featherweight at this point given the power threat that he presents as no one has called Bektic a chinny fighter despite his defensive issues. Who would have thought Emmett would become a major player when he was signed as a late replacement for a European card in 2016?
Marvin Vettori: Aside from being unable to finish the notoriously chinny Cezar Ferraira, there was a lot to like about Vettori’s performance. He utilized a wise strategy, rushing Ferreira continuously and doing scores of damage. He was still throwing lots of volume late despite pushing a hard pace. The Italian is largely forgotten about when people talk about future contenders in the middleweight division, including me. With another performance like this, the 25-year old could have MMA analysts singing a different tune.
John Allan: It was hard to forget Allan was the guy who lost to Vinicius Moreira on the Contender Series. Given how Moreira has been blasted since coming into the UFC, expectations were low for Allan. However, perhaps we should have looked closer at what he did to Moreira before being submitted as Allan persevered, continuing to attack a tired Mike Rodriguez and scoring the upset as the biggest underdog on the card. I can’t help but wonder what he can do with a full camp….
Andre Fili: You’d think almost six years after making his UFC debut, Fili would have largely topped out by now. Nope. Fili proved he’s become a studier of tape, anticipating Moraes’ body kick and countering with a brutal punch-kick combo that proved to be the beginning of the end for the hard-hitting Brazilian. Fili didn’t finish him right there, but he also didn’t let up, getting the finish shortly thereafter. There have been several occasions when it felt like Fili was about to make a jump to the next level, but it never felt as sure as it did this time. Here’s hoping he gets a ranked opponent next.
Julianna Pena: There was some rust to be expected after Pena after returning to the cage for the first time in 30 months. While the rust was readily apparent – Pena was dominated by Nicco Montano in the opening round – Pena looked like the physical force we all remembered her to be once she shook it off. There were even some moments where Pena showed maturity on the feet, flashing a jab. If she can learn when to utilize that at appropriate times in combination with her brutal aggression, she’ll be right back near the top of the division in no time.
Ryan Hall: Who the hell taught Hall to strike? The BJJ expert not only put Darren Elkins in several compromising positions on the ground, he beat up the Team Alpha Male representative on the feet too. No one is going to call Elkins a skilled striker, but that was still a very unexpected development as Hall floored him on several occasions as Elkins rushed in recklessly. Well, I suppose those spinning kicks were to a retreating Elkins, but impressive nonetheless. Hall has largely been seen as a sideshow attraction as opposed to a rising contender due to his unorthodox style. If he continues to progress on the feet. That could change.
Jonathan Martinez: Martinez didn’t have a lot of people picking him heading into his contest with Pingyuan Liu. There just didn’t seem to be enough substance to his game to properly interconnect everything. That didn’t appear to be a big problem as the fight progressed, proving he’s graduated from being solely a kicker. Then came the his knee late in the third round, turning out the lights on his opponent in highlight reel fashion. I’m not saying Martinez has everything figured out, but he’s progressing and we can’t forget how explosive he can be either.
Brianna Van Buren: While I’ll admit I liked the potential of Van Buren, I didn’t think she’d pull off the upset in her UFC debut over Livia Souza. Alas, not only did she do that, she trucked over the submission specialist with ease. The scary thing is Van Buren did that without exhibiting her wrestling, the part many would claim is her biggest strength. In the process, Van Buren effectively announced herself as a big part of the UFC’s future.
Aspen Ladd: It was not a good weekend for Ladd. First, she had a miserable time making weight, convulsing visibly as she got on the stage the day before the event. Then, it turns out all of work in getting down to weight was all for 16 seconds of fight time. I didn’t think Ladd was going to have much to work with on the feet, but this was ridiculous. Regardless, we all know the UFC would have rather seen the younger fighter win given the organization’s checkered history with de Randamie. Perhaps she may have even been given leniency had the fight gone the distance. While we won’t ever know, it’s hard to believe this is the last main event appearance we she Ladd. After all, she is just 24 and this is her first career loss. It sucks right now, but Ladd will be back.
Ricky Simon: We all know heading into this contest that Simon saw his fight with Urijah Faber as his opportunity to make a name for himself. Faber was/is a legend and still has name value, even if his skill set isn’t quite what it once was. In a sense, Simon made a name for himself, just not in the way he hoped. Instead, he’ll be known as the guy a 40-year old Faber finished faster than any other opponent he had faced in his career. Yikes. Simon should be able to rebound from this – he is only 26 – but I’ve seen similar results break fighters mentally. Here’s hoping Simon isn’t one of those fighters.
Mirsad Bektic: It feels like the Bektic bandwagon is empty at this point. Two losses aren’t bad and it isn’t like Emmett is a crappy fighter. But the expectations for Bektic were so high given his physical gifts that anything short of being a top contender would be seen as a disappointment. Hell, I know of some who would have been disappointed if he didn’t win the title. That said, all hope isn’t lost for Bektic. Sure, expectations are a lot more tempered now with a loss like this. However, Bektic is still just 28 and hasn’t suffered too much damage over his career up to this point. Still, it’s hard to bet on that at this point.
Cezar Ferreira: A few years ago, I believed Ferreira was finished. He lost three of his four contests, all of them by first round KO. Ferreira reinvented himself and became a savvy wrestle=grappler to win five of his next six. Either Ferreira reinvents himself again or he will be finished as the book has been rewritten. Ferreira can’t take a clean shot and he refuses to sit down on his strikes, making it damn-near impossible for him to score a KO. As a result, fighters know they just need to stuff his takedowns. The last time Ferreira reinvented himself, he was 31. Now at 34, it’s going to be harder.
Mike Rodriguez: Rodriguez is making a case to be the biggest Jekyll and Hyde fighter on the roster. First, he loses an ugly decision to Devin Clark. Then, he looks like a million bucks in destroying Adam Milstead. Now, he turns in a disappointing performance in losing to a debuting Allan. Rodriguez had his moments, but his poor conditioning and low fight IQ killed his chances of escaping with a victory. I want to hype Rodriguez as part of the future at 205 as he has the physical skills to be labeled that way. That won’t happen until he shores up his obvious issues.
Sheymon Moraes: I don’t want to crap on Moraes too much. Fili looked like a million bucks and it took a lot of offense from Fili to definitively put away the Brazilian. However, it feels like a loss like this puts a definitive ceiling on him. There have been a lot in the MMA community that have been high on him and I totally understand why. He hits hard as hell, is tough, and is underrated on the ground. However, he now sits at 2-3. I acknowledge he hasn’t been given any favors by the matchmakers, but I don’t think they’ve been unfair to him either. Not a good sign.
Darren Elkins: One thing Elkins has long been lauded for is his durability. It allowed him to endure a beating from Mirsad Bektic only to score an improbable win late in their contest. Now, he’s getting dropped by Ryan Hall. Coming into their contest, there could have been a solid argument that Hall was the worst pure striker in the UFC. And Elkins is getting dropped by this guy. Need I say more about Elkins performance? He may need to consider hanging up his gloves soon as this was his third loss in a row.
Pingyuan Liu: Liu has come a long way from when he debuted in the UFC, even further from his slow start on the Chinese regional scene. It could be argued that he was on his way to a decision victory too before Martinez knocked him out with a brutal knee. I’m not going to call Liu chinny as that knee looked like it would have put down a horse. But if he was going to convince me he would be on the roster for a long time, he needed this win. He still could do that, but I’m not convinced yet.
Livia Souza: When I picked Souza to beat Van Buren, I did it knowing Van Buren was a tough stylistic contest for her. I should have paid more attention just how difficult as Souza never looked like she was in control at any point. Given many believed Souza would eventually develop into a title contender when she first came into the UFC, this is a hell of a disappointing result. I’m not saying Souza is a finished product, but she’s been fighting professionally for six years and Van Buren isn’t close to contender status yet. We may need to rethink the ceiling of Souza.
Benito Lopez: Lopez’s stock has continually gone down since his UFC debut not too long ago. I’ll give him credit that he had a strategy in this contest, choosing to attack Vince Morales’ legs. The problem is, that was the only thing he did, allowing Morales to tee off with his fists. I don’t know how in the hell all three judges saw fit to award Lopez the decision, but somehow, they did. All isn’t lost for Lopez. He’s still fun to watch with a high ceiling. But this win was undeserved and he’s losing confidence amongst the MMA media.
Herb Dean: It seems like any time Herb Dean’s name comes up anymore, it’s to discuss his latest screw up. For instance, who was it that stopped the Ben Askren-Robbie Lawler contest earlier this year? Yep, Herb. I’m not saying Dean is terrible, but it does seem appropriate to question if he deserves the reputation he has gathered over the years, many believing he’s the best in the business. Too many questionable decisions have far more believing otherwise.
Judges: Y’all saw how the fight between Benito Lopez and Vince Morales played out? Then you saw what the result was? Enough said.
Karl Roberson: I’m not going to say Roberson hasn’t improved. He showed some significantly improved submission defense, escaping several sticky situations from Wellington Turman. Even if part of that could be attributed to his explosive athleticism, it’s still impressive. Nonetheless, Roberson’s wrestling is still a mess, preventing him from not only staying on his feet, but also keeping him from throwing with confidence on his feet. In the process, Roberson came thisclose to losing a contest against a mediocre wrestler at best. Though he’s still young in his career – and he did secure the W – Roberson’s star is fading.
Wellington Turman: On the flip side, Turman raised his stock in his losing effort. Sure, his improved wrestling performance can be attributed to Roberson having zero takedown defense, but Turman did what he needed to do to get the fight where he is best. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for the set of judges sitting cageside, but let’s not forget Turman is still only 22. The Brazilian has plenty of time to shore up his weaknesses. I’m not going to call him a blue-chipper, but he could make some noise down the road.
Nicco Montano: It feels weird to say Montano’s loss to Pena was her first since winning the flyweight title, but missing weight and getting a title fight canceled in the process will do that for ya. Nonetheless, Montano looked healthy at bantamweight. She held her own with the physical Julianna Pena early and was the sharper fighter on the feet. Montano even made a case to take the final round and the fight in the process. While it wasn’t meant to be, Montano acquitted herself well to her new home, a division badly in need of some fresh blood. Keep in mind this was only Montano’s seventh professional fight. She’s still improving.
Vince Morales: I really wanted to put Morales in the winner’s column. He did enough to win and did so unanimously according to the media on MMA Decisions. And yet, not a single judge sitting cageside saw what the rest of the world saw. If it wasn’t for the fact that he didn’t get his win money he rightfully deserved, I’d have Morales in the winner’s column. Morales has progressed very nicely since his appearance on the Contender’s Series, to the point I expect he’ll have a nice long career in the organization as opposed to the cup of coffee I originally expected. Hopefully, the UFC does him right in his next contest.