Greetings, fight fans! A UFC event in Florida just wrapped up so it should be no surprise that there were some surprises, as the event delivered its share of upsets and apple cart tipping. We also got to see the sophomore appearance of the UFC's resident questionable character du jour in Greg Hardy, but this time there was nothing controversial about the action in the cage. As per usual, there's much to unpack, so let's get to it!
The Main Card
Hermansson impresses, perhaps closes the book on Jacare's long, disappointing quest to be a title contender
#10 Jack Hermansson def. #4 Ronaldo Souza by unanimous decision (49-46, 48-47, 48-47)
I definitely want to talk about just how impressive Hermansson is and how he has turned into a legitimate contender in the division, because that's the most important takeaway from this fight. However, I'd be remiss if I didn't first talk about the tragic tale of Jacare Souza: the UFC's unluckiest middleweight. It's the story of a bona fide top middleweight who through a multitude of mishaps both in and out of his control just can't seem to get over the hill to contend for a title. When he came into the UFC most imagined it wouldn't be too long before he challenged for the belt, and a four-fight winning streak capped off by a dominant submission win over Gegard Mousasi to avenge a knockout loss from six years prior had him on many-a-list of potential title contenders. Instead he was scheduled to fight Yoel Romero, which surely would've granted him a title shot with a victory. Romero would pull out of the fight due to injury and be replaced by Chris Camozzi, a considerable step down in competition and an easy win, as expected. The fight with Romero would be rebooked, only to see Souza lose a close decision that many thought he deserved, dashing his title hopes for that time and giving rise to Romero's time as a contender instead. He would rebound with two wins, then suffer a dominant upset stoppage loss to Robert Whittaker, the current middleweight king. After rebound win his momentum would be upset again by a close decision loss to Kelvin Gastelum that once again many thought he deserved to win; and Gastelum would go on to fight for the interim title. Following a rousing comeback win over former champion Chris Weidman, he was booked to rematch Romero, and a win would surely at long last grant him the title shot that had alluded him in every way possible. But no, Romero would pull out due to illness, and once again he was faced with fighting a lesser-ranked opponent in hopes of finally being a title contender.
Jack Hermansson had other plans, but plans that turned out to be perfectly in line with the pattern of Souza's UFC career narrative. If he deserves a title shot he'll be denied, and if he's booked for a title eliminator, his opponent will either beat him in controversial fashion, pull out and leave him to face a lesser opponent, or in this case, that seemingly lesser opponent turns out to be not-so-lesser. Everyone who halts Souza's journey to a title shot ends up fighting for a title themselves, so it'll be interesting to see if Hermansson follows suit like Romero, Whittaker, and Gastelum before him. It's hard not to feel bad for Souza because much of his misfortune doesn't even feel like it's his fault, but it appears his time to cement his status as a title contender may be over, and as a result Hermansson's may have just begun.
On this night Souza general fought well, as he has in most of his losses; but Hermansson fought spectacularly. His constant use of movement and volume stifled a lot of Souza's offense as well as showed off his impressive level of cardio. He adjusted well to any of Souza's strengths, and essentially outworked him for the majority of the 25 minute bout, even surprisingly being the only one of the two to put the other in submission trouble. The story of the fight was basically that Hermansson utilized many weapons from different ranges and phases, while Souza mostly revisited the same wells throughout, and it just wasn't enough when faced with Hermansson's multi-pronged attack.
Hermansson would spend much of the bout light on his feet at distance feinting, flashing jabs, and throwing long kicks. Souza keep his right hand cocked and look for big counters over the top, but he'd also mix in had body shots that were some of his most effective offense throughout the fight. Unfortunately for him, it took him a couple rounds to get that offense going. In the first round Souza learned early to respect Hermansson's power when he charged into a flurry of tight hooks that dropped him forward and had him looking for a takedown, only to find himself in the same guillotine that submitted David Branch just weeks ago. Being the elite grappler he is, Souza was able to roll to his back and escape eventually.
He didn't get the submission, but he certainly god Jacare's respect on the ground.
Hermansson would turn on the aggression in the next round, and the two traded before Hermansson switched gears and landed a slick takedown after catching a Souza leg kick. Somewhat surprisingly, Souza's guard was pretty ineffective, as he spent most of the time closing it up while Hermansson threw punches to his body and head. However, in round three Souza came alive, stuffing Hermansson's takedown attempts and punishing him on the break, and appearing to stun Hermansson with hard hooks to the body. He would also back Hermansson up with a big right hand and continue to land until the round ended, turning the tides in his favor.
Jacare's best success would come on the end of body shots.
It turned out Hermansson just needed a second wind though, because in rounds four and five he upped his output considerably, and Souza just really couldn't keep up, as valiantly as he tried. Hermansson started to take advantage of Souza's reliance on big overhand rights, catching him with uppercuts as he ducked to throw those big punches. Souza would start to have trouble landing his right hands essentially because he aimed too high and allowed Hermansson to get under them, but by the closing minutes he managed to land several of them, though Swedish Norwegian wore them well and landed shots of his own. To end the fight Hermansson would land a takedown in the closing seconds, his third of the night, making him the only person to take Souza down as many times. While it wasn't a terrible performance by Souza, he really didn't make good use of many of his skills and relied a bit much on his right hand. He really didn't pursue many takedowns (in previewing the fight I did wonder if wrestling just takes too much energy from him at this point so he avoids it), threw few kicks, and although body shots worked very well for him in the third round, he pretty much abandoned them after that.
It was a consummate performance from "The Joker," and although Souza is definitely getting up there in age it was still a quality win that shows he should be on the radar of the division's elite. He essentially showed everything you would want to see from him. His logical next opponent is no picnic though, as it only makes sense for him to get the Romero fight that Souza was originally booked for, and that could be a very rough matchup for him. That's assuming they don't try to re-book Romero with Paulo Costa again. Souza is really in a rough spot, as his days as a potential title contender seem all but dashed. Brad Tavares or Elias Theodorou (should he lose to Derek Brunson) should be next for him.
Hardy beats on terrified Russian, and we learn nothing
Greg Hardy def. Dmitrii Smoliakov by TKO via strikes (2:15, R1)
I'm not going to harp on the reasons I dislike Hardy and the fact that he is given such a prominent role on UFC cards despite there being no evidence that he's any sort of draw; or what the UFC looks like accepting with open arms a man who was deemed too inappropriately violent for even the NFL. But hey, this is MMA now. Here he fought (if you can call it a fight) Smoliakov, who didn't look incredibly confident from the outset, but after eating a glancing right hand he was straight up put in the fear zone. He nervously bit on feints and desperately shot takedowns from far out that were easily stuffed by Hardy. One would suggest he try to set up his takedowns with strikes, but he was so clearly terrified of Hardy's power he could barely bring himself to throw anything. It was just a matter of time before he was cornered, caught a clean shot, and was more pushed over than dropped. There he covered up and as soon as a good, clean hammerfist got through he was done.
We weren't shown anything new from Hardy, but it was a dominant showing. His athleticism and power should be an issue for a lot of heavyweights, but what we saw here was an opponent who was intimidated from the start and was beaten accordingly. Here's the thing: I don't want Hardy in the UFC, but if he has to be there then match him up accordingly. Smoliakov is not a great fighter, as he's proven in his previous two UFC bouts, and that totally works as an opponent for a relative neophyte like Hardy...but not as a co-main event. If you're going to give him an easy fight, throw it further down the card. But if you want to put Hardy in a co-main event slot you need to pair him with someone else worthy of that billing, because Hardy himself doesn't really command it, no matter how much the UFC tries to push that narrative on us and convince us that he's a changed man. He may very well be a changed man, but the UFC giving him opportunities like this despite his name recognition mostly coming via dubious means doesn't do much good in endearing him to fans. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that it mostly just makes me respect the promotion less.
After the fight Dana White harped on how unimpressed he was with Smoliakov, and while I agree he was beyond unimpressive, there is a solid argument to keep him in the UFC.
His performance in the cage was just not as impressive, but just as comical.
Perry turns away Oliveira, continues his inconsistent journey through the welterweight ranks
Mike Perry def. Alex Oliveira by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Of the several reasons to not be very fond of Perry, I must say that a notable one for me is that he's frustratingly inconsistent, and it leads to way too much "start-stop" on the idea of how good he is and where his ceiling sits. The same can be said for Oliveira, so needless to say I knew I wasn't going to pick this fight correctly. But hey, at least it was a pretty damn good fight, which is often the case when either of these men step into the cage. As expected, the action on the feet consisted of Oliveira bouncing around on the outside, feinting trying to use his range while Perry stalked and watched for countering opportunities. Oliveira would have success early landing hard, rangy combinations, and after backing Perry up with a shot, he turned up his aggression toward the tail end of the opening stanza.
Oliveira started off strong.
Perry would adjust well in rounds two and three, while Oliveira's reliance on exploding forward with strikes, spinning attacks, and other high-energy output appeared to slow him down as the fight progressed. The turning point came early in round two when Oliveira got a little too aggressive with a flurry and was dropped to a knee with a counter left hook. From there Perry took much better control of the fight, and transitioned into the phase of the game that I mistakenly thought Oliveira would have the advantage: the clinch. It's not incredibly surprising that Perry was more effective with clinch wrestling since he's physically strong. Both men rely more on that strength rather than technique when it comes to clinch control and takedowns.
What do you mean this isn't impeccable technique?
I imagined that Oliveira's sneakier brand of takedowns would give Perry problems. Instead he preferred mostly to stand, and his clinching efforts were mostly reactionary, which I thought was a mistake on his part. When Perry threw him to the ground and established top control, his usual tactics of being gangly and powering out of everything didn't work simply because Perry was more powerful, and Perry's solid ground and pound late in the frame sealed the round in his favor.
Smash, smash, smash, smash!
Despite a dislocated toe at the end of the second round (no worries, just pop that sucker back in!), Oliveira's movement didn't appear to be affected. The early going of the round was pretty back and forth until a left hook stunned Oliveira, and a right hook sent him retreating. From there Perry started teeing off on him against the cage, but most of the punches appeared to land to the arms. Oliveira high-tailed it off the cage to reset, and land a few good punches before the round drew to a close, but Perry's work in the round tipped it in his favor.
And with that, we have another Perry fight where maybe he does look to have some promise after all. This coming after his fight with Donald Cerrone where it appeared that perhaps his fight IQ would just never get to the point of carrying him to the next step up the divisional ladder. Oliveira's plenty flawed himself though, so I guess Perry could just be fooling us again, but he did look a bit more composed and thoughtful in there this time, and picked his shots well. It's hard to say where either of these guys go from here; if anything is consistent about them, it's that they're inconsistent, and they seemed destined for up-and-down runs at this point in their UFC careers.
Glover's still got it
#11 Glover Teixeira def. Ion Cutelaba by submission via rear naked choke (3:37, R2)
He had to stage another comeback from harrowing circumstances, but Teixeira is still a factor in the light heavyweight division, weathering the early storm denying Cutelaba much like he did Karl Roberson before him. The first round was a pretty dominant one for Cutelaba, who immediately landed a head kick to set the tone. He looked very good early on, landing hard shots and pretty easily stuffing all of Teixeira's takedown attempts while punishing him on the break. A well-timed spinning backfist wobbled Teixeira, who shot in for another takedown and ate hard punches (and almost an illegal knee) for his troubles.
Obligatory: HULK SMASH!
As Teixeira stood he grabbed a guillotine, and once Cutelaba escaped he was visibly slowed down from the prior action. The two would continue to trade until the round closed, but Cutelaba's clear speed advantage was noticeably lesser. This was the turning point of the fight, because in round two Teixeira began to have much more success landing shots, though Cutelaba's chin held up very well. His gas tank did not however, and Teixeira practically pushed him to the ground, where he eventually passed to might, then got Cutalaba's back before softening him up, locking in a rear-naked choke, and getting the tap.
It was a great win, but definitely a comeback effort that's beginning to become familiar regarding Teixeira. He was outlanded by a significant margin in both rounds, and 74-to-30 in significant strikes overall, with most of those being head strikes. I thought the fight served as more of a lesson to Cutelaba about not throwing everything with power than a real demonstration of how good Teixeira is, though he of course showed that he's still a force when in top control. Cutelaba is still only 25 years old, so he still has time to improve and mold himself into a better fighter. Teixeira has settled in pretty nicely as a high-level gatekeeper for the division, and it might be time to see how he deals with Nikita Krylov or Johnny Walker.
Movement, volume, and variety carry Sandhagen to upset win over Lineker
Cory Sandhagen def. #8 John Lineker by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Because UFC's Twitter didn't care about Sandhagen's offense.
In another upset, Sandhagen used a constant and varied attack to stifle Lineker's usual bulldozing style of pressure boxing. I did personally score the fight for Lineker, but it really could've gone either way, so although the crowd wasn't having it with the decision my disagreement with the call doesn't take away with how impressive Sandhagen was. He came out from the start switching stances, moving in and out, and stepping off at angles to throw off Lineker's rhythm; essentially doing his best TJ Dillashaw impression. This makes plenty of sense as he too is an Elevation Fight Team product (hopefully EPO doesn't also come with the package). His early movement and feints did seem to slow down Lineker's pressure early on, until the Brazilian began successfully pulling out counters and landing over the top. And of course, it wouldn't be a Lineker fight without a healthy dose of body punches. The opening frame was the swing round, with Lineker's hard left hooks finding a frequent home on Sandhagen's head, but Sandhagen landing in more volume with long punches. No one could be blamed for scoring the round for either man.
Round two was a clearer round in the favor of Sandhagen, but it was still rather competitive and governed by many of the same qualities that made the first round a close one. A takedown with some control appeared to swing the balance in Sandhagen's favor. Round three was probably the clearest of the fight, as Lineker bit down on his mouthpiece and charged forward as if he knew he might be down on the scorecards.
Lineker really went for it in the final frame.
Both men landed well throughout, but I felt Lineker landed the better quality shots. The round was sealed when Lineker stunned Sandhagen with a rushing combination late, and jumped on a guillotine when Sandhagen tried a reactionary takedown. The guillotine was pretty tight for a moment, causing blood to stream from Sandhagen's nose. Perhaps it may have earned a tap had it happened with more time left in the fight.
Apparently not enough though.
It was a great fight, as anyone should've expected it to be. As mentioned, I didn't agree with the decision, but even though I don't have an issue with the fight being awarded to Sandhagen, I still have to take issue with the judging. Lineker would have won this fight if judge Derek Cleary didn't for some strange reason decide to give the final round to Sandhagen. As I mentioned, I felt this was far and away the clearest round of the fight; one was a toss up, two was even debatable, but round three was Lineker's. I don't believe this was a robbery in the tradition sense of judging where the decision was inarguably awarded to the wrong fighter, but Lineker would have gone home with a W on his record if Cleary paid attention to what he was watching.
Nonetheless, this opens up a lot of possibilities for Sandhagen, who either way proved he is a fighter to watch out for in the division. This win should mark his entry into the top 10, where someone like Cody Stamann could be his next opponent; or alternatively they could position him against the loser of Aljamain Sterling vs Pedro Munhoz or the winner of Jimmie Rivera vs Petr Yan to move him up the ladder. Lineker really shouldn't fall much with this loss, and could similar take on losers of those aforementioned fights, or someone like Sergio Pettis.
Gifford gritty, but unprepared for Roberts' well-rounded game
Roosevelt Roberts def. Thomas Gifford by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Roberts is one of the Dana White's "future stars," which explains his billing as the main card opener against the relatively unknown Gifford. While still a little raw, the building blocks are there for a top talent if he continues to improve. Looking at both fighters' frames, one might expect a lot of long distance striking in this fight, but these two instead stayed right in the pocket trading, completely ignoring any chance to utilize their range. This is something that Roberts will probably grow out of, but Gifford has been doing this long enough and it's clear he's just not a natural striker. It didn't take long for the fight to make it to the ground, which is the real bread and butter of both men. Roberts landed a takedown in the first round, and while Gifford was very active on the ground, he wasn't very effective outside of an armbar attempt. The two were oddly tangled up for most of grappling exchanges, but Roberts consistently maintained control.
Round two saw Roberts start to strike more, and he had a lot of success with 1s and 2s. Gifford's defense was really nowhere to be found, but he ate the shots well. He wasn't very effective offensively either; Roberts would consistently allow himself to be backed into the cage, only to be let off the hook time and time again by a hesitant Gifford. The fight made it to the ground again with Gifford jumping for a futile guillotine, but they'd just end up a tangled mess on the ground again until the round ended. The final round flashed more of Robert's hard counters stunning Gifford, who did manage to land a takedown, but couldn't really do anything with it before they made it back to their feet and Roberts took him down, where he remained on top until the round expired.
It was a relatively fun fight, but ultimately a showcase fight for Roberts, as Gifford main strength is grappling, which Roberts had proven to be better at over his short career. Hopefully they continue to build him up gradually, and not feed him to the wolves as is usually the ritual with fighters the UFC brass is high on.
Takashi Sato def. Ben Saunders by TKO via strikes (1:18, R2)
Shortly before this fight I said that this was a fight Saunders should probably win, but his chin is gone so he'll lose. Saunders started well enough, fighting long and landing hard leg kicks. He swung a bit wide with his punches but generally stayed out of the range of Sato's punches. Since Sato is mostly a puncher, so outside of that range he was pretty safe. When the fight did go in close, Saunders would immediately grab a Thai clinch and liberally throw the knees that he's known for, beating up Sato's body. He also managed to stun Sato a couple times with left hooks, and generally had a very good first round. Then in the next round his chin betrayed him. It just took one good Sato left through Saunders' guard hand to drop him to his back, where Sato absolutely pummeled him with elbows in the guard until the referee intervened. Solid debut win from Sato, but I imagine Saunders isn't long for the UFC. He's still skilled, but his durability just isn't there anymore. Maybe he should fight Carlos Condit in a fight that'll make me sad either way.
Saunders started off well, but of course that didn't matter.
Augusto Sakai def. #15 Andrei Arlovski by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
We all dread its existence but we know it's coming at least once on just about every card: the crappy judges decision. While it was certainly a back-and-forth fight, it seemed pretty clear that Arlovski won at least two rounds, and arguably all three. He looked the faster fighter throughout and consistently beat Sakai to the punch. All three rounds were mostly characterized by this. Sakai was agressive and didn't fight a bad fight, but he threw less, landed less, and didn't appear to land any harder than Arlovski. It seems like a futile thing to keep repeating, but something needs to be done about MMA judging.
On the bright side, I do have to say that I'm still pleasantly shocked that despite his less than stellar track record lately, Arlovski technically still looks pretty good, particularly defensively. His movement is a lot better, and he's no longer backing straight up with his chin exposed, which has worked wonders for his durability in fights. The top of the division will still likely put him away, but against the mid-range opponents he's been fighting, he at least keeps things close most of the time.
#9 Carla Esparza def. Virna Jandiroba by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
To me this fight was the latest distillation of the fact that Invicta still hasn't recovered from the UFC pretty much commandeering their entire strawweight division back in 2014. Although I think Esparza gets a bum rap from fans ever since her drubbing at the hands of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, she's still a high level strawweight and continues to improve. Jandiroba, who vacated the Invicta strawweight crown upon entering the UFC, looked to be a major talent in the division with a well-rounded game that could really make some noise. But like many champions in other promotions who come to the UFC, they're given a stiff test for their debuts and they're unsuccessful. This shouldn't necessarily be alarming when you consider that this happened to fighters like Marlon Moraes and Pedro Munhoz, but it hasn't worked out so great at strawweight. Hell, Esparza is an example herself of an Invicta champion that was pretty swiftly shown to be a cut under the elite. Angela Hill comfortably ruled the roost in Invicta, only to return to the UFC and show us that we may have read too much into just how much she'd improved. In this fight Jandiroba still put on a very respectable performance, but we saw that Invicta still just simply doesn't have the level of wrestlers and top position grapplers that will prepare them for the UFC at this point.
The fight itself was a pretty entertaining battle of grapplers who were pretty evenly matched overall. What put Esparza over the hump was her tight and heavy top control. Jandiroba was used to having much more room to work her guard off of her back and Esparza just wouldn't give her that space, banking valuable control time. They both made for some fun scrambles, but it would always come back to Esparza just being better at controlling with wrestling. This was Jandiroba's first career loss, but it was actually a fairly close affair and I think she'll learn from it and come back stronger.
Gilbert Burns def. Mike Davis by submission via rear naked choke (4:15, R2)
It appears Burns is starting to learn how to blend his skill set a bit better with this win. He had gone through his phase of falling in love with his hands (which a knockout loss quickly removed him from), and he'd been characterized as a fighter that focuses on one phase at a time without effectively blending them. Here he looked pretty good striking with Davis just long enough to get him comfortable before putting him on his back. He still has some defensive liabilities in his stand up, but it's his grappling that will allow him to minimize that risk, as it will discourage opponents from pressuring him too much.
Though he still punches back just fine.
After a good round for Burns on both the feet and the ground, he immediately came out in round two with a double leg takedown and transitioned to Davis' back. After softening him up with some punches, Burns searched for a rear-naked choke. Davis defended well for as long as he could, but a hard elbow provided the opening for the choke to sink in, and it wasn't long before Davis was tapping. Great win for Burns, even if his opponent was more or less just overmatched.
Jim Miller def. Jason Gonzalez by submission via rear naked choke (2:12, R1)
It's always great to see Miller pick up a win at this point in his career, and especially quick, dominant wins like this one. Miller countered well early, even stunning Gonzalez with a straight right, but eventually he shot in for a double leg and got the takedown against the cage. He immediately went to take the back, flattened Gonzalez out, and sunk in a rear-naked choke for the tap. Just an easy day on the job for Miller, and it's nice to see he still has the ability to turn away dangerous young talent. As diminished as he looks in many of his fights, it's easy to forget that his losses are literally always to notable fighters, so I guess the moment he's losing to the Jason Gonzalez's of the UFC will be an indication that he really is too far over the hill.
Angela Hill def. Jodie Esquibel by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
This one wasn't difficult at all to call, as Esquibel is the go to fighter for the UFC to use to help other, more notable strawweights get back in the win column. She served her purpose here and made it relatively fun. Hill mostly represented her usual self; moving a lot and throwing volume to start and tiring down the stretch while still maintaining the volume. Normally that leads to her being a bit easier to counter as the fight goes on, but Esquibel really doesn't have the reach or the ability to make her pay like other fighters can. She tried to compensate with aggression, but consistently ran into counters as Hill did a better job than usual throwing off her back foot. A very spirited performance from Esquibel, even if she wasn't able to land a large majority of her offense. Hill remains pretty stagnant, but has another win to stay above water.
Dhiego Lima def. Court McGee by split decision (30-27, 28-29, 29-28)
In the curtain jerker we saw Lima putting it together to get his second UFC win in a close, but pretty clear decision win. McGee was very active on the feet as usual, but his pressuring was less effective this time around and stayed a bit further out than usual, which wasn't the best gameplan against a rangier striker like Lima. Without crowding his opponent, McGee is more or less an easy target since he doesn't move particularly well defensively, which made Lima more comfortable sitting down on his punches and throwing liberally. The notoriously rugged McGee stood up to all the offense well, but couldn't get close enough to take advantage of the notoriously not-rugged Lima, though a third round knockdown did get him close.
No cigar, though.
This was also nice.
I think Lima's durability will continue to be an issue for him, but this was a very solid win, and coupled with his knockout win over Chad Laprise his last time out, the improvements he's shown as a fighter are definitely noticeable.
And this wraps it up for UFC Fight Night Fort Lauderdale! As is becoming tradition, it wasn't a strong card on paper, but it delivered a pretty good amount of action to keep us fight fans dialed in. We've got a new contender at middleweight and a new up-and-coming contender at bantamweight, and that's always something to be excited about. Up next we have a guaranteed barn burner when Donald Cerrone and Al Iaquinta clash in Canada. But until then, sado out!