The UFC's debut outing on ESPN is in the books and all things considered it was a solid quality offering from the premier mixed martial arts organization. However, much like last week's event in Australia, we got some weirdness! This weekend in general had a knack for some main event weirdness in particular, as it was chock full of quality MMA with main event oddities. Bellator MMA held events on two consecutive days, the first of which saw a main event where Matt Mitrione kicked Sergei Kharitonov's groin so hard it gave him a hemorrhoid (needless to say he couldn't continue the fight); and the second of which was a five-round grudge match between two exciting knockout artists in Michael Page and Paul Daley that continued to prove that in MMA the phrase "These two guys really don't like each other" more often than not translates to "This fight will probably be boring." Invicta Fighting Championship gave us a main event between Vanessa Porto and Pearl Gonzalez for their vacant flyweight championship that was cut short halfway through the fourth round when Porto's eyelid was cut pretty badly by a Gonzalez eye poke, forcing the fight to go to the cards. After two previous failed title bids, Porto finally won the belt via technical decision and it almost cost her an eye. UFC on ESPN was a grand finale of sorts when it came to main event weirdness this weekend, and well...let's just get down to what the hell happened!
The Main Card
We may have reached the point where "Sea Level" Cain and "C-Level" Cain are one in the same
#3 Francis Ngannou def. Cain Velasquez by KO via strikes (0:26, R1)
I know I'm supposed to be somewhat of an authority on what the hell happens at UFC events, but when it comes to this fight I honestly can't tell you. Did Ngannou legitimately take Velasquez out with punches? Did Velasquez's rickety knees do all the work for Ngannou? Did Velasquez avoid the curse La Llorona all these years only for the weeping spectre to get her revenge by invisibly taking his leg out on his big comeback night (this is my leading theory)? It's hard to know for sure, but what we do know is that Velasquez lost the fight, he lost it quickly, and we really learned nothing new. It's not often we get to see the man fight, and it's quite a letdown to see two-and-a-half years of waiting culminate in twenty-six seconds of confusion and disappointment.
Obviously the fight was quite the abbreviated affair so there isn't a ton before the finish to break down. Velasquez came out immediately throwing kicks before finding himself up against the cage with Ngannou stalking. When Ngannou closed the distance with a 1-2 combination, Velasquez managed reach for a takedown and reverse position to put Ngannou up against the cage and continue to drive for a takedown. Then things got weird. Initially it looked like Velasquez just sort of fell over awkwardly, covered up, and the the fight was stopped. The replay would show that his right knee apparently buckled and gave out causing him to fall, which is also supported by the clear painful grimace on his face when he went down. However, from another angle it's clear that Ngannou lands a tight uppercut right to Velasquez's chin right before he drops, and he did appear to slump when he was hit. Did the uppercut hurt him enough to put him down? Was his knee already damaged to the point where the uppercut didn't matter? Did both play a factor? Perhaps he really hurt his knee dropping awkwardly from the uppercut. It's difficult to know exactly what the case is. Velasquez indicated immediately after the fight that Ngannou did legitimately finish him, but in the post-fight presser he changed his tune and said it was all the knee injury and Ngannou didn't even touch him. The last part obviously isn't true, but he could just be saying that from his perspective he wasn't hurt. The fact that he contradicted himself pretty blatantly makes me think the uppercut affected him more than he let on, though he clearly wasn't too rocked because he certainly reacted to the pain in his knee. It has been widely debated on everywhere from podcasts to forums to comment sections, and I still don't think we've come to a universally agreed upon account of what happened. Ultimately, if I have to pick a side in all of this, I'd say the uppercut probably dropped him and when he landed in that split position he tweaked his knee. I have to give Ngannou some credit for the finish.
He also said he came in 100% healthy, and there has also been some speculation on that not being the case, with this footage from his open workout making the rounds:
Don’t know if you saw this, looks like his knee gives out then he calls off the open workout pic.twitter.com/Asl6ITn2u8— Jesse Calvillo (@jessecalvillo) February 18, 2019
It's proposed that in the video his left knee gave out, at which point he decided to end the workout. It's possible that he simply slipped and decided to end the workout for reasons unrelated to that; or perhaps he called it off because he felt the ground was too slippery and he didn't want to risk injury. Who knows? If Velasquez did in fact come into the event injured it would complete an interesting little factoid, as it'd be the second time in a row the UFC put Velasquez in the main event of their debut event on the premier network of their new broadcast partner, only for him to come in injured and get finished in short order when he was favored to win. That'd be pretty crazy, right?
So what's next? Ngannou is angling for a title fight against Velasquez's training partner Daniel Cormier, while I think the more sensible match up for him might be a Junior dos Santos tilt. For Velasquez it's a bit more complicated. Prior to the fight he stated that if his performance wasn't good he'd retire, and well...we saw what happened. Retirement could be for the best; his career has been rife with training injuries, and it's worrying to see him injuring himself just moving around during a fight. Regardless of what he decides I hope the injury isn't anything serious; he was walking ably after the fight, which could be a good sign.
Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up the fact that in breaking down this fight I predicted a first-round knockout from Ngannou, and yet turned around and picked Velasquez to win in the Fightful Pick 'Em competition, because of peer pressure and it's just my luck!
Scrappy Felder outlasts Vick
Paul Felder def. #10 James Vick by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
It was closer than the 30-27 scores might indicate, but Felder took a well-deserved decision from Vick in a good display of how big a difference key moments make in a fight. I would say throughout the fight they were fairly evenly matched up, but Felder had bigger moments in the fight. In round one Vick started off doing well keeping Felder away with kicks and long right hands, and I would say he had a slight edge in the round until the closing moments, where Felder hurt him with a spinning back fist and swarmed on a hurt Vick. It swung a close round that may have otherwise gone to Vick more clearly in his favor. Felder did have success in that round as well with low calf kicks that definitely appeared to bother Vick, but he would slow down on them in a round two that was again pretty evenly matched. Both men landed good shots, and while I scored it for Vick due to his greater volume, it could've gone either way. In round three Felder went back to the leg kicks more liberally, and as Vick attempted to remedy the issue with aggression he also found success with counter right hooks. It was a competitive fight throughout, but while Vick landed slightly more volume and was slightly more accurate, Vick appeared to land the better quality strikes.
I felt this was a pretty solid fight that demonstrated some of the familiar strengths and flaws of both men. In breaking down the fight (I picked Vick to win a close decision) I maintained that a lot of the fight would depend on how Felder approaches things, because he's not the most effective pressure fighter, and intelligent pressure is a key to beating Vick. There were flashes of Felder giving the kind of pressure that causes Vick to back himself into the cage, but I felt he probably could have taken more advantage of it. Felder clearly knew of Vick's weakness, because he was all-too ready for to launch overhand rights as Vick backed up since he always leaves his chin up in those situations. He connected on several but Vick's chin held up, which I guess makes sense as Felder isn't the most explosive puncher. Vick showed flashes of how effective he can be from the outside as well as seeming not to have really fixed his tendency to respond to pressure by backing up to the cage and standing still too long. He was lucky Felder didn't capitalize on that too much, but it's something that will continue to get him toppled by upper-echelon opponents until his footwork is more consistent and he avoids being trapped so easily.
With the win Felder re-establishes himself at lightweight (and with a collapsed lung!), and although it's his second-straight loss, I don't really thinking Vick's stock falls too far. Felder has won four straight (three via (T)KO) at lightweight, so you figure it might be time for him to see some top 10 competition. He called for Justin Gaethje, and I don't see much issue with that if he gets by Edson Barboza. Despite picking against Felder I'm glad he won, but just because he's a likable personality, a laudable play-by-play commentator, and a fun fighter to watch, but also because Vick makes it difficult to root for him. Aside from his own personality foibles, I'll always have an aversion to him because he continues to align himself with his coach, Lloyd Irvin. Loyalty is a respectable trait, but if you don't know about Irvin just google him and you'll probably understand why I can't get behind his fighters.
Calvillo continues to roll, and Casey continues to fall just short
#12 Cynthia Calvillo def. #11 Cortney Casey by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
That's a no to the question, but I did need a picture for this.
It was a bit of a snoozer compared to the rest of the card, but Calvillo cruised past Casey in a busy but largely ineffectual kickboxing match. Calvillo did attempt to get her wrestling going in all three rounds, but was surprising rebuffed by the Casey, whose takedown defense is normally pretty lackluster. Instead Calvillo mostly moved on the outside darting in and out with strikes while Casey stalked her and responded in kind. In previewing this fight I noticed that Casey's striking is pretty rote and she just sort of throws a lot of the same combinations over and over again; never really adjusting her attack for how the fight is going. That held true for the most part here, except Calvillo's own striking is still raw enough that things were pretty competitive. In the end we got a contest where there was a good amount of volume thrown and landed, but the fight still failed to be compelling because the rounds were for the most part repeats of each other with few momentum shifts. Calvillo got the slight better of things for two rounds; Casey got the slight better of things in the final round. The lack of compelling action is something I'm finding I feel about most of both Casey's and Calvillo's fights that go to the scorecards; they fight to close but unspectacular decisions.
Following the win Calvillo called for a fight with #4 ranked Tatiana Suarez, which is pretty laughable at this point. If she wants in the top 10 the fight that I believe makes sense for her is the winner of the upcoming Michelle Waterson vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz contest. Otherwise she could fight Livinha Souza or even rematch Carla Esparza and attempt to get avenge her loss from just over a year ago.
It's also worth noting that this was the 5,000th fight in UFC history. I guess they tried to arrange it so that Kron Gracie vs Alex Caceres held the distinction (for Gracie reasons), but when Jessica Penne vs Jodie Esquibel was canceled earlier in the day I guess they didn't care enough to shuffle things around. Oh well!
Kron breaks the UFC Gracie curse, strangles Bruce Leeroy
Kron Gracie def. Alex Caceres by submission via rear naked choke (2:06, R1)
Dominck Cruz described Gracie's performance as "Demian Maia-esque," and while you could say that's technically true, I think it's worth noting that Maia wouldn't even be who he is without the Gracie family. If you're reading this you should already know what a member of the first family of MMA steps into a cage or ring to do, but in fact no Gracie has managed to do it in the UFC since Royce Gracie submitted Dan Severn with a triangle choke to win the UFC 4 tournament over 24 years ago. Since then fellow Gracies Rolles and Roger stepped into the octagon, were defeated, and never fought again in the promotion. Kron broke this slump in style. After a short feeling out process on the feet, Gracie grabbed a hold of Caceres and dragged him to the ground. At this point I pretty much declared the fight over, and I'm pretty sure many others watching did the same. In short order he transitioned to Caceres' back, secured a body triangle, and locked in a rear-naked choke for the tap. It was a very easy result to see coming, especially considering Caceres, as I pointed out in my preview, is probably the most inconsistent bantamweight on roster.
Now the question is whether or not Gracie actually stays. He has stated that he wants to fight often, but following Royce all Gracies have been one-and-done in the UFC, and we know they all have plenty going on outside of fighting to keep them busy. I'm not very confident his style will take him very far in the UFC, but I look forward to seeing Gracie compete more.
Luque becomes the first man to finish Barbarena with strikes in Fight of the Year contender
Vicente Luque def. Bryan Barberena by TKO via strikes (4:54, R3)
First off, what a fight! These two put it all out there and really gave their all for the whole 15 minutes. It's no surprise that Barbarena's output climbed higher and higher as the fight went on, but it is a bit surprising that Luque managed to significantly increase his output in each round, likely out of necessity from Barbarena's constant flurry of attacks. Every round was filled with nonstop action, much of which consisted of Barbarena throwing a steady stream of punches at Luque's high guard, and Luque timing Barbarena to sneak in hard punches in boxing range and knees when Barbarena got in close. For the most part Barbarena just ate the shots with startling ease, especially since I consider Luque one of the harder punchers in the division.
Round one was puncuated by Barbarena catching Luque with a counter right hook and dropping him, only to be quickly reversed and caught in a rear-naked choke as he chased the finish. He managed to escape but Luque immediately transitioned to a D'Arce that was also pretty tight. Again he escaped as the round drew to a close, making for a pretty close round where both men put the other in trouble. In round two Barbarena, perhaps anticipating that Luque sapped his cardio trying to finish the chokes in the previous round, more than doubled his output and really sought to wear Luque down. Though he was able to outland Luque pretty decisively, Luque appeared to land harder counters. Still, Barbarena's volume was control of the action was enough to give him the round. Round three pretty much continued where the previous round left off, with Barbarena tirelessly pressuring and throwing strikes while Luque covered up and picked his counters, which Barbarena happily absorbed in order to keep his attack rolling. Luque had success with knees up close for most of the fight, but just seconds before the round was coming to a close they paid dividends; he dropped Barbarena to his hands and knees with a knee to the body and then to the head, and followed up with punches to a defenseless Barbarena until the referee stepped in to end one of the best fights of the year, if not the best. It was the first time Barbarena had been stopped with strikes. Let's just enjoy some highlights of this crazy war!
The win may have been clutch as well since the round was very close before the finish, and the previous rounds were not crystal clear. I had it even going into the third with Luque taking the first and Barbarena the second, and I had Luque slightly ahead when the finish occurred. However, I wouldn't have taken issue with anyone having Barbarena being ahead in the round, and one of the judges even had Barbarena up two rounds coming into the final stanza. Without that finish we may very well have been looking at a decision win for Barbarena. With the win Luque has worked his way up to another four-fight win streak consisting of all finishes, and I'd say he's earned a shot at the top 15; perhaps the winner of the upcoming Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs Curtis Millender fight next month.
The jury is still out on Jury, Fili jabs his way back to an up-and-down UFC run
Andre Fili def. Myles Jury by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
In my pre-fight breakdown for this one, I knew these two would be pretty evenly matched. However, I thought Jury was the more consistent and proven entity at this point. Although a close fight on paper, I just thought Jury was the better fighter overall. And you know, he very well may be when he fights like he actually gives a damn about winning. For all his faults, one thing you can't accuse Fili of is taking a lackadaisical approach to his fights; he makes sure his fights are eventful and he's fighting to his best ability, and it makes for fights that are entertaining in the moment even when they aren't the most memorable. That carried into this fight, where he eagerly kickboxed with Jury and frequently beat him to the punch for much of the first round. Jury's response to this was essentially to change nothing and continue looking for single-shot counters. He had a few moments of success, most notably when he appeared to rock Fili with a spinning back fist near the end of the round, but it was mostly a Fili round.
Jury came alive in round two and got his timing down better, nailing Fili with counter right hands before again landing a spinning back fist late in the round, this time dropping Fili. He pounced on him and transitioned to mount, but was unable to seal the deal before the horn. Despite coming into the final round with all the momentum, he pretty much reverted back to his round one self and was more content to eat jabs and smile about it than to really mount much effective offense in response. He fought as if he thought he had the first two rounds in the bag, but judging from his demeanor when the decision was being announced, it looked more like he knew he lost and just wasn't very bothered by it.
As much as I hate deducing the results of a fight down to this, in that final round it looked like Fili just wanted it more. Another odd thing about the fight was that neither man attempted a single takedown. It's not as surprising on Fili's end; he generally flashes his underrated wrestling game when threatened on the feet, and for the most part he was successful there throughout. But with Jury, I figured he'd at least throw the threat out there. He comes from a wrestling base and that along with his grappling were the aspects that he excelled in early in his career. You figure he'd at least one to tease it to disincentivize Fili's striking at least a little, but I guess you also need to care about winning to open up that line of tactics, and Jury just didn't appear to care all that much.
#7 Aljamain Sterling def. #5 Jimmie Rivera by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
The featured prelim bout was an intriguing clash between top bantamweights that probably should have been on the main card since it likely crowned the #2 contender to the title. While it was definitely a fight to be excited about on paper, it would turn out not to be the most thrilling fight to watch, which really shouldn't come as a surprise considering Sterling and Rivera are both grinders. Different styles of grinders, but grinders nonetheless. Sterling came into the UFC a prolific finisher, and mostly continued to do so early on in his tenure, but as his competition level rose he fell back on defense-oriented long range striking and a more conservative wrestling game. Rivera was actually known through most of his pre-UFC career as a boring grinder with a conservative approach to striking and an controlling top game, and while he did seem to find his power on the feet a few bouts prior to signing with the UFC, it didn't take long for him to revert to conservative counter-striking as he worked his way up the ranks. This culminated in a bout that may have been frustrated for some to watch, but I'm sure no one was as annoyed watching it as Rivera was dealing with Sterling's style.
I likened Sterling's stand up to that of the high-level CPU opponents in Wii Sports boxing, where they constantly lean back just out of your reach, flicking out the occasional jab; and just when you want to commit, that's when they come alive and ruin your plans. Sterling spends most of his time on the feet at long range throwing a large volume of strikes at all levels, most notably leg and body kicks, often at odd rhythms that make it difficult to get his timing down. His hands have been known to be the weak link in his game, but over the past several fights they've really come along; it's still not very pretty his punches come at odd angles and he utilizes his reach well. He has even been able to outbox and even hurt opponents who have a market boxing advantage over him on paper with his unorthodox striking, as was the case in this match up.
Essentially in this fight, Rivera just plain couldn't get to Sterling. His tight boxing combinations and counter-oriented striking couldn't consistently close the distance, which highlights probably the best part of Sterling's game these days: his distance control. He's so much better at actually sitting back and using his reach utilizing all his weapons, rather than the "circle-circle-leg kick-shoot a takedown-repeat" style he became known for prior to re-tuning his style. He's a much more thoughtful striker now, and with his physical gifts it allows him to be very effective in that area. As much as I hate when people compare African American rangy strikers to Jon Jones, I definitely see some similarities at times in their stand up approaches. Wrestling also played an important role in the fight, because even though Sterling wasn't able went 0 for 7 there, just his attempts were key in slowing down Rivera's urge to close the distance, and forced him on the defensive.
Essentially, Sterling dominated Rivera from the onset. The only area where Rivera had a modicum of success was with leg kicks, which makes sense with Sterling's wide stance. It was a tool Rivera probably should have used more. Instead he mostly preferred to headhunt, which where he was only able to connect with 8 of 59 strikes. It's no wonder Sterling looked like he'd only had a light workout after the fight. All told, Sterling would more than quadruple the amount of significant strikes Rivera landed (101-to-24), and it really was a standout performance considering most people appeared to favor Rivera comfortably to win.
Manny Bermudez def. Benito Lopez by submission via ninja choke (3:09, R1)
Do not go to the ground with Manny Bermudez! His striking is defensively porous even if it can be effective, but his ground game has been pretty airtight thus far. After some brief exchanges on the feet, Bermudez managed to get in on a clinch and drag Lopez down to the mat with a body lock. From there Lopez was able to scramble back to his feet and reverse position to put Bermudez's back to the cage. This is where he made the mistake of staying in the clinch for a bit too long instead of looking to separate immediately. Bermudez was able to wrap up his neck and use a guillotine to bring the fight to the ground, where he transitioned into a ninja choke (or a no-arm D'Arce/brabo, if you will) while trapping Lopez's left arm with his legs to get the tap. Awesome stuff, and I thought it was worthy of a performance bonus, but you're going to have a hard time topping a Gracie getting an effortless submission win.
#13 Andrea Lee def. #11 Ashlee Evans-Smith by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
It wasn't the most exciting or memorable fight, but it was nonetheless a strong outing in Lee's awaited return the octagon, where she controlled the action en route to a tidy decision win. It helped that her opponent was Evans-Smith, a wrestler by trade with some decent top control who has clearly worked to put her overall game together, but it just hasn't progressed at a good rate. If you're strong enough and/or able to control the range well enough to overcome her wrestling (and Lee fits both requirements), then you'll force her into a kickboxing match where she's a willing participant, but pretty clunky and awkward. She strikes with little process and no clear plan, and just sort of robotically throws strikes out with no rhythm or reason. She also has one of the worst spinning back kicks I've seen, and she likes to throw it quite a bit. It never lands, and even if it did I doubt it would have much effect. This all allows Lee to dictate the striking, which is exactly what she did after a bit of an adjustment period in the first round. She was much more accurate and put-together on the feet.
I think the perfect fight for Lee next would be the winner of next week's bout between Liz Carmouche and Lucie Pudilova. In Carmouche we would get a better idea of how her defensive wrestling and grappling have come along, and in Pudilova we get a similar style matchup that should make for a fun fight. Evans-Smith has stuck around the UFC through some fortunate events like her last-second bulldog choke of Raquel Pennington and a not-so-deserved decision over Marion Reneau, but her game really hasn't been cutting it, so whoever she fights next it'll be a must-win fight.
Nik Lentz def. Scott Holtzman by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Holtzman has been a hard fighter for me to pin down. Transitioning to MMA at the end of his 20's after a hockey career, you figure it wouldn't take him long to plateau and exit his prime, and it appeared he was really putting it all together in his mid-30s. So of course just when I really start to have some confidence in him, he can't figure out Lentz. That's not to say Lentz is an easy nut to crack. He started as a pure grinder so intent on control that even he admitted he needed to keep winning because he'd probably be cut with just one loss. He then decided to switch gears and become an action fighter, which yielded some exciting fights and a couple bonuses, but would also put him in the only losing streak of his career so far. After moving his training from Minnesota to Florida, he finally seemed to put things together and get marry his newfound comfort on the feet with his wrestling to make for a style that plays to his strengths but isn't so hard to watch. This fight represented that well, though he did lean on his wrestling a bit more than he had been recently. The crowd hated it, but honestly I didn't think it was too bad; of course the crowd wouldn't like it regardless since Holtzman is an Arizona guy.
There were still some things to like about Holtzman, and he would try to rally late and take the final round, but Lentz had already put in his work to win the decision. Holtzman is a solid roster guy and will likely continue to have some success against mid-level lightweights. Lentz has now had 22 fights in the UFC, and his career in the promotion has mostly been a straight line; save for a few outliers he general fights at the mid-level, and I don't expect that to change for him.
Luke Sanders def. Renan Barao by KO via strikes (1:01, R2)
Few have seen a decline as precipitous as Barao. Once lauded as the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world by the UFC hype machine just ahead of his bantamweight championship defense against a TJ Dillashaw who was thought to be too green and an easy win, Barao would not only go on to have his 9-year, 34-fight unbeaten streak snapped and be dominated from the outset to lose his title via fifth-round TKO, but it would send his career into a downward spiral that saw him win just two of nine fights, with each loss more disheartening than the last. It would also shortly precede a history of weight troubles, as his initial rematch with Dillashaw was called off after he passed out during the weight cut. He would go on to get that rematch and lose in even more dominant fashion in the fourth round. Now suffering his fourth straight defeat and being knocked unconscious for the first time in his career, the future looks grim for "The Baron."
Most of this has been about Barao, and that's mainly because there just isn't a ton to talk about with Sanders. He burst onto the scene in the UFC with a rousing submission win over Maximo Blanco, but since then has developed a reputation of looking good until inevitably making a baffling mistake that gets him finished. It's a more extreme version of what has been frustrating about Barao's losses. Barao generally starts out hot in fights and will typically win the first round, but after that it's like his gas tank starts to empty and he gets discouraged if his opponent isn't intimidated by him; and after those losses to Dillashaw not many opponents are. In this fight he took some shots but wore them well, and cracked Sanders with several right hands, clearly taking the round. Then just when you think the momentum is in Barao's corner it was like he suddenly forgot defense, and a 1-2 down the middle cracked him and sent him to his back, where Sanders held him down with one hand, and pounded with the other until he was out. For Sanders it was an exciting win, but there has to be much trepidation to go along with any excitement about him because his flaws are all still there. Barao missed weight by two pounds for this fight, his second-straight weight gaff. He not only should be forbidden from fighting at 135 for here on out, but with his losing streak he could be cut. One could argue he should be cut.
Emily Whitmire def. Alexandra Albu by submission via rear naked choke (1:01, R1)
This fight saw the UFC's premier sometimes-fighter, full-time crossfitter/bodybuilder/ab inthusiast/instagram twerker taking on someone who is friends with Miesha Tate. Albu was pretty comfortably favored and I was never really sure why. She's very raw, and more enthusiastic and athletic than she is skilled. Whitmire on the other hand is a big SW, a fairly skilled grappler who trains with UFC-level training partners, and has some decent wrestling to boot. There could've been a chance Albu would move around on the outside and pick her apart, but she's much to reckless not to find herself open to takedown attempts. Whitmire wasted no time taking her down, and then jumping on her back as she attempted to scramble to her feet. From there the rear-naked choke came easy. For Whitmire I'd like to see her fight Ashley Yoder next.They should be in similar positions rankings-wise, and it could make for a pretty fun grappling battle. Albu has made a habit of fighting once every couple calendar years which I think is hindering her development; it the layoffs seem more due to other interests rather than injuries. We'll see if suffering her first career loss in this fashion causes her to really get serious about her training, escape back into those extracurricular activities for another couple years or so, or just fade into obscurity as far as her MMA career is concerned. It would be a shame if she took the latter two routes, because she definitely has some raw talent and athletic ability.
And that does it for the UFC's first event on ESPN! It was a fairly entertaining card, though the Phoenix crowd seemed quite cranky and annoyed through much of it. This was likely due to every one of their hometown charges losing. Holtzman, Casey, Barbarena, and Caceres all represent the Glendale, Arizona-based MMA Lab. Jury used to train at the now-defunct Gilbert, Arizona-based Power MMA, and although he's now back at Alliance MMA in California, he apparently still holds residence in Arizona so he likely had a good deal of support there. To hammer the nail into the coffin, Velasquez was raised in Yuma, Arizona and went to college at Arizona State University (and we know what happened to him...kinda). The crowd essentially watched all the fighters they were rooting hardest for fail, so I can't really blame them for not exactly having the most fun that night. Maybe next time the UFC visits Arizona they'll give the hometown fighters more favorable match ups. I'll be back here next week for the card no one really cares about because it's not UFC 235 yet. But hey, it's the first UFC event held in the Czech Republic, which I think is pretty rad (I've always wanted to visit) and it's not a terrible card at that. But until then, sado out!