What's up fight fans? UFC Fight Night Ottawa is in the books, and although the card leaned quite a bit on its main event, what we got was pretty solid. The already intriguing-as-hell lightweight division just got even more intriguing, the co-main provided the kind of weirdness no one wants but is oddly attracted to, and we had a breakthrough featherweight performance at the expense of an old favorite. And hey, even the women's bantamweight division just got a little shot in the pants! Although I did have to watch some of the fights after the fact, the ones I did watch live I watched socially with friends, so needless to say I didn't really do the round-by-round notes and analysis I normally do for these pieces. I've also tried out cutting things down a bit by only talking about what I felt were especially noteworthy fights and topics from the prelims. I may not do this for every card, or I might find some sort of happy medium, but it helps in trimming these down to manageable length! Anyway, the event may not have had much in the way of notable names, but that's why I'm here to let you know what the hell happened at UFC Fight Night Ottawa!
The Main Card
Cerrone batters a tough Iaquinta, calls out Conor McGregor
#8 Donald Cerrone def. #4 Al Iaquinta by unanimous decision (49-45, 49-45, 49-46)
I've heard this being called a "vintage" performance from Cerrone, but I'd have to disagree. I don't think his overall striking game really ever looked this sharp, mainly because his boxing is still gradually improving to catch up with his clinch and long distance striking acumen. Despite leaning toward Iaquinta, this fight was an odd bit of being both surprising and not surprising at the same time. I wasn't surprised with the result; I thought Cerrone had a good chance to win, and I wasn't surprised he was able to outfox Iaquinta in a lot of the stand up portions because although Iaquinta is typically a pressure fighter, he's not especially aggressive. At least not in the way that really gets to Cerrone and overwhelms him. Iaquinta has also historically been susceptible to jabs. Both Jorge Masvidal and Khabib Nurmagomedov had plenty of success against him using little more than jabs to batter him while neutralizing his offense. Cerrone used them to great effect, bloodying his face and even dropping him coming in with a stiff jab in the third round.
Cerrone showing the effectiveness of the jab...especially when the other guy runs right into it.
As mentioned though, there were some things that surprised me somewhat. Not that he avoided body shots entirely, but I expected Iaquinta to go after them more given Cerrone's history with them combined with the fact that they're a good tool to help him close the distance and get punches off up top; something he struggled to do for much of the fight. Cerrone would typically react to this by launching his step-in knee up the middle, which Iaquinta could draw out with feints, time, and counter with right hands. Instead he mostly headhunted, and Cerrone's improved head movement meant that was not the best tactic. Something that also took me by surprised, or more likely just jostled my memory back into place, is that Cerrone's chin was insane. Now I'm fully aware that he's known for having a great chin, but recent fights suggested that maybe it was easier to compromise than ever because of damage accumulation and age. That thought went out the window as he not only walked through most of what Iaquinta threw, but fired back immediately. There were times where he'd get hit in the middle of a combination and would just continue it unfettered. Iaquinta is a pretty vaunted power puncher in the division, but he definitely didn't look like it when Cerrone ate his big right hands (and a head kick) and looked no worse for wear.
Iaquinta had his share of offense.
That brings me to another thing that was driven home to me during this fight: Cerrone is just better at lightweight. As hard as the cut is, he looks so much better against the field at 155 lbs. As big a fan of Cerrone as I am, I was always a vocal detractor when it came to how good he was at welterweight. Most of that detracting fell on deaf ears as he racked up wins, but I always argued that his success against mid-tier guys wouldn't translate to success once the competition level rose. As skilled as he is, reach and size are important parts of Cerrone's game. He needs to keep you away with length, and when that fails he needs to be able to wrangle you and control you in the clinch. When all else fails he needs to be able to wrestle effectively to work his grappling. Against bigger men he loses a lot of these things, and it becomes even more pronounced because they're able to keep the fight at mid-range where he's weakest since he doesn't have the reach or power advantage to disincentivize them. In his last two fights it was clear what being the taller, longer man accomplishes for him. Just the size in general appears to make a difference; a big part of the reason people questioned where Cerrone was in his career was because of how much his historically great chin failed him at 170 lbs. Between his last fight with Alexander Hernandez and this one against Iaquinta, it's safe to say that despite dehydrating himself to make the weight, the difference in power up a division is palpable, and lightweights just don't hit him as hard.
Iaquinta's power ended up being a non-issue, but another thing that surprised me was that he didn't start off more aggressively knowing that Cerrone is historically a slow starter. I think a faster start from Iaquinta could have allowed him to set the tone of the fight a bit better. In hindsight it might not have mattered either way, but I did think the slow-paced first round was odd on Iaquinta's part. Although earlier on he did a bit better of a job at staying out of Cerrone's best ranges, over time he resorted to a lot more chasing and hunting for big shots, and because he's so heavy on his lead leg he ate some pretty brutal leg kicks that I'm sure he's feeling today. Over time Cerrone's distance management just got better and better. He frequented his jab, threw combinations to back Iaquinta up, and kept him at bay with teeps. He also threw several head kicks, and even though they were pretty much all blocked I think the frequency with which he threw them was a big part of why Iaquinta was dropped by the teep to the face in the fourth round. He expected head kicks to come to the side of his head and the kicks up the middle to go to the body, which left him unprepared to defend a kick up the middle to his chin. But despite being dropped for the only two times in his career, Iaquinta showed an admirable degree of toughness, and never really went away throughout the fight.
This might have ended a lot of fighters.
Now time for the real question here: who wore it better?
This win puts Cerrone firmly "in the mix," and he made the best of it by calling out
retired fighter-turned-whiskey mogul former lightweight and featherweight champion Conor McGregor. I don't think there's any time like the present for that fight. When the fight was originally being thrown out there, I thought Cerrone was one of the easiest matchups in the division for McGregor; today not so much. With the improvements he's made to his game I see it much closer these days, and I think it would be a great fight. If McGregor doesn't want to play ball, Justin Gaethje makes a good deal of sense as a potential opponent as well, while Iaquinta can be paired with Edson Barboza or even Gaethje as well in the event Cerrone doesn't fight him, since apparently they've talked about fighting each other. Either way I find myself once again curious as to how Cerrone will handle the top of the division. "New Dad" Cerrone seems to have found another gear and new motivation, and that has really shown in his last few wins. He just looks more focused out there, and his skills are increasing to supplement it even more so. As a fan favorite he tends to be bandied about as championship material, only to fall flat when given a real chance to prove it. Will this be the time he finally breaks through?
Brunson tops Theodorou in predictably ugly fight
#9 Derek Brunson def. #13 Elias Theodorou by unanimous decsion (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
While the main event offered me a few surprises, this fight gave me zero. I knew coming in that it would be extremely ugly to watch, and not just in the sense of being boring. Honestly, I didn't even find the fight incredibly boring...it was just really ugly. I like Theodorou outside the cage; he seems like a cool guy that doesn't take himself too seriously, and he's reasonably well-spoken. Inside the cage I loathe him. He's just so bad! And yet he's the right blend of hard-to-time randomness, pressure, volume, and toughness to make it work more often than not, which makes handicapping his fights a nightmare. The only constant is that Theodorou is not very good technically; the wildcard is always how well his opponent will deal with it. With that, and Brunson's historically shaky mental game, it made me a bit wary of picking Brunson even though I knew style-wise it was his fight to lose. Brunson mostly freezes on the feet because he's afraid of being knocked out; Theodorou doesn't have power or technique so the chances of Brunson walking into a big KO strike were slim. Theodorou struggled with the wrestling and clinch game of Brad Tavares; Brunson is notably better at both of those things than Tavares. All Brunson basically had to do to win is not be weirded out and thrown off by Theodorou's hypnotically awful striking and evasive footwork, and that's what he did for the better part of 15 minutes.
As usual Theodorou was heavy on ineffectual leg and body kicks, weird spinning shit, and awkward, sloppy lead hand chops and backhands; Brunson didn't exactly figure him out, but thankfully he wasn't befuddled by it much either. It was actually a bit of a breakthrough tactically for Brunson, who is normally either all in trying to finish or playing a very conservative wrestling game. Here he opened up on the feet but made sure not to overextend too much, and when the opportunities arose he struck for takedowns to put his stamp on the rounds. Once on the ground Brunson actually looked very good, cutting through Theodorou's guard and getting close on a rear-naked choke.
Brunson showed some surprising grappling chops.
Because it's a Theodorou fight it managed to be somewhat close and it went to decision; two things I can definitely give him are that he knows how to stay in a fight and he's very tough. However, this fight showed what has been evident throughout his run in the UFC: that simply being unorthodox can lead to success, but isn't enough to pull you out of the middle of the pack. You need to actually be good. Next for Brunson: Chris Weidman. It just makes sense to me.
Burgos puts on a career-best performance against a game Swanson, whose skid continues
Shane Burgos def. #10 Cub Swanson by split decision (30-27, 27-30, 29-28)
Seriously, UFC? Not a single tweet of the action from this fight?
I'm a huge Cub Swanson fan, so it has not been easy for me to watch him fight over the past year and a half. Whereas fatherhood seems to have reinvigorated Cerrone, Swanson's career has been in a downward spiral since becoming a father, almost as if the prospect of losing cripples him in the cage. It also doesn't help that outside of Burgos he's been fighting the best guys in the division. Against Burgos he didn't look as out of sorts as he did against Renato Moicano or Frankie Edgar; in fact he looked pretty good overall. He still fell into his tendency to throw out random strikes with little process behind them, but his boxing stayed relatively sharp and he varied up his strikes well. The problem was that Burgos was far and away the bigger, stronger man, and he just did more. He was just little bit busier, landed a little bit more, and landed a bit harder. Burgos is typically a pretty straight puncher, and with Swanson's pronounced height and reach disadvantage he was just getting hit with jabs all night. Burgos can get a bit showy out there let his defense get away from him at times; it's how he lost to Calvin Kattar and was knocked down by Kurt Holobaugh, but here he actually slipped and rolled with punches pretty well, and it also helped that he mostly waited until he was well ahead and some steam had come off of Swanson's punches.
Above all, this was just an example of tighter boxing technique getting the job done. Swanson definitely has the ability to employ more fundamentally sound boxing, but his style revolves a lot around covering distance with looping power shots, and he just couldn't adjust well enough to being stopped in his tracks with straight punches. His response is typically to try and throw his opponent off with unorthodox strikes, but Burgos is too technically sound for that and will see those looping shots coming. Swanson had his moments for sure, but the story the fight revolved mostly around Burgos taking command of the majority of the fight. Although this was Swanson's fourth straight loss, he was still ranked, and Burgos deserves a decent step up in the form of Mirsad Bektic (if he's healthy anytime soon) or Josh Emmett. Swanson badly needs a softball opponent. No one in the top 15, and not even a noted prospect. He needs someone he "should" beat, because after four-straight losses it's really hard to know where someone is in their career. Maybe give him Alex Caceres. And hey, shout out to the judge who gave Swanson a 30-27 scorecard. I love Cub, but this judge is clearly on drugs.
Dvalishvili grounds and neutralizes Katona
Merab Dvalishvili def. Brad Katona by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Ya got one for this fight though, don't you?
I was honestly shocked that Katona was pretty comfortably favored in this fight. He's a well-rounded fighter, but he doesn't really shine anywhere and he's shown spotty takedown defense. If you've seen Divalishvili's previous fights, you'd know that he's a wrestling machine (he already has the most takedowns in the history of the division) with bottomless cardio. Katona has shown a solid ability to get back to his feet, but Divalishvili is not the type to be content letting the fight get back to striking distance; he's going to continue pushing for takedowns. This was essentially a wrestling rinse-repeat shutout. Not too exciting to watch but it was the easiest path to victory for Divalishvili, and it's understandable that he'd take that route given that his first two UFC fights were a decision loss that he probably should have won and a submission loss that should've been a decision win. He could be 4-0 in the promotion right now, but instead he needed to play catch up. Katona came off The Ultimate Fighter with some upside to go with his trophy but honestly, he's an SBG Ireland product not named Conor McGregor. He's got some talent but I don't think that's the best camp to prepare you for high level wrestlers and dangerous grappling. It'll be interesting to see how he fares now that he's suffered his first career loss in relatively deflating fashion.
Harris quickly pounds out Spivac
#9 Walt Harris def. Sergey Spivac by TKO via strikes (0:50, R1)
It hasn't been a great time for Moldovans in the UFC recently, with Ion Cutelaba and now Spivac being taken out on consecutive weeks in main card fights. Whereas Cutelaba has some good potential and upside at light heavyweight as well as early success to stay optimistic about, Spivac hadn't really shown much prior to this fight or the finish to indicate that he'd be successful here; he finished mostly lackluster competition with exception of a couple notables in Travis Fulton and Tony Lopez, who are both quite far beyond their primes and probably nearing the end of their careers. Here he didn't even have a chance to get going, landing a single leg kick before Harris pushed him back to the cage with punches and unloaded until he dropped to the ground, turtled up, and the referee saved him. Just like that. Harris has shown impressive power and killer instinct throughout his time in the UFC despite his flaws, and I've heard it being suggested that he be the next opponent for Greg Hardy, who put on a similarly dominant performance against an opponent who could do absolutely nothing in return. I guess I'd be down for it.
Sanchez stays the course, outlasts Barriault
Andrew Sanchez def. Marc-Andre Barriault by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
As I said in breaking down this fight, this fight is essentially a referendum on Sanchez, and that's pretty much how it played out. Sanchez is the better fighter of the two on paper when he's fresh, but staying fresh has been the issue that has plagued him in the UFC. I thought his last win against Markus Perez showed a renewed sense of pacing and energy conservation, and that he'd be fine against a fighter like Barriault who hits hard but doesn't have a ton going on beyond that. After a strong first round where he was able to take Barriault down and control him, he did appear to tire slightly in round two, and it was only exacerbated by some sneaky clinch boxing from Barriault, most notably some tight uppercuts that appeared to rock Sanchez several times. Left and right hooks would follow and put Sanchez in some trouble, but he managed to survive the round despite the tides clearly having turned and Sanchez apparently having reverted to type.
Those uppercuts don't look fun though.
However, in round three he found his second wind and actually picked up where round one left off, moving well and looking surprisingly fresh. He continued to outwork Barriault from distance (something he still managed in round two despite losing it pretty big) and managed to secure a takedown and control the clinch. Barriault tried a desperation jumping guillotine in the closing moments of the fight, but it was too little, too late. Sanchez is really showing improvement when it comes to not self-destructing once he becomes tired, and it goes a long way in helping him show off the prospect we thought we were getting when he won The Ultimate Fighter.
- Macy Chiasson is really shaping up to be someone to look out for in the women's bantamweight division after this dominant win over a notoriously tough Sarah Moras. She still has some things to work on, as she started the fight off by running right into a takedown and spending the majority of the round on her back. However, she stayed composed and closed the round out strong, reversing position and landing some hard ground and pound before the horn, making a case for stealing the round. In round two Chiasson was ready for that immediate takedown attempt and ended up on top, where she eventually passed to full mount and threw a torrent of punches until the referee stepped in. Moras may not have a flattering record, but one of her foremost qualities has been that she's very tough and had never been put away until this fight. Chiasson didn't just finish her, but did it pretty dominantly. It's tough not to push her too fast given the low level of depth in the division, but she might be a good opponent for the winner of the upcoming Tonya Evinger vs Lina Lansberg or Irene Aldana vs Bethe Correia fights.
Chiasson is a dangerous woman.
- I knew not to overlook Matt Sayles because he did pretty well in a loss to Sheymon Moraes, but he looked pretty damn good here against Kyle Nelson. Sayles dominated the opening round on the feet and from top position, landing hard punches that had Nelson in trouble. In round two Nelson turned the tides with a couple takedowns and very tight choke attempts to take a fairly dominant round himself. But in round three Sayles capitalized on a far-out Nelson takedown attempt to reverse position and end up on top. He immediately found his way to mount, locked in an arm-triangle, and got the tap to end a pretty fun fight.
- It wouldn't be a UFC event without a bad decision, right? Arjan Singh Bhullar took home a dubious decision over Juan Adams after spending most of the contest getting punched in the face. Landing a couple takedowns and not doing much of anything with them was apparently enough not only to get him the nod, but for judge Dave Tirelli to give him all three rounds (apparently the judges were sharing the drugs). All this despite the fact that Adams clearly outstruck him in every round and doubled up on him in significant strikes over the course of the fight. As over the top as I think people can be about decisions in MMA, I'd say this one ranks up there with some of the worst this year. The 30-27 scorecard also ranks among the worst scorecards; it's inconceivable to give Bhullar round one when the entire round was him being outstruck on the feet. This wasn't a matter of opinion...he was outlanded in terms of volume and quality and it was clear as day. I'll apologize in advance for saying that this decision was complete Bhullshit.
And that does it for UFC Fight Night Ottawa. It wasn't the strongest card of the year by any means, but it had a good amount of action for such a decision-heavy event and it really started to pick up down the stretch, which can be side to describe the main event itself. Our next stop will be UFC 237 in Rio de Janeiro, which is looking like quite the card to watch, and I'll be right here after the fact to let you know just what the hell happened. Sado, out!