Revel in the events of this past weekends UFC 209, from the incredible comebacks by Iuri Alcantara and Darren Elkins to the sleep inducing main event.
With the way Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson ended the card, it’s been hard to remember that there were actually a number of fantastic bouts on the card. Iuri Alcantara pulled off the comeback of the year, only for Darren Elkins to trump that performance in the very next fight. Alistair Overeem destroyed Mark Hunt in a way that no one else has, face-planting the New Zealander is a way reminiscent of what Hunt has done to his opponents over the years. Dan Kelly continued his improbable run with a win over a former champion. And of course, the new co-main event between David Teymur and Lando Vannata lived up to every expectation and then some. Then came the main event… which I don’t want to talk about.
Here’s my thoughts on the UFC 209, with every fight and fighter involved broken down. The format is simple. The first bullet covers what was expected to happen and an attempt at a brief summary of what did happen. The next two bullets cover my thoughts on each fighter, how they did, and where they might be headed from here with the winner being covered first.
Albert Morales defeated Andre Soukhamthath via split decision
- Expectations/Results: It was 50/50 as far as I could tell amongst the experts as there were reasons to favor both. I picked Morales as I expected his propensity to throw more volume to make the difference. It appeared to give him the first round as he landed just as many leg kicks as Soukhamthath landed overall strikes on top of his punches. Soukhamthath found his range in the second round, landing some hard shots before controlling Morales on the ground. Soukhamthath started the third hot, getting the better of the exchange before landing a takedown only for Morales to reverse the positioning and nearly finish him with a RNC. Soukhamthath survived, but was unable to shake Morales and the judges gave it to the UFC veteran.
- Morales: Though I usually try to stay unbiased, I was rooting for Morales since I find him to be entertaining and didn’t believe he’d get another shot if he were to lose here. Even though this was his first UFC win, I felt this was his least impressive performance given his level of opponent. Morales has shown a killer instinct in the past that didn’t seem to be there this time around. Maybe he was trying to fight smarter or conserve energy, but I wasn’t crazy about his performance here. He did win though, so maybe I should just shut up.
- Soukhamthath: The newcomer has clearly been working on his skill set. He put together a few impressive combinations in the second and third round, an improvement considering he has largely been a single strike specialist. He was also the one that looked like he was going for the kill, not necessarily a change in him. No surprise thought that his grappling cost him as he has regularly struggled to escape from an opponent’s grappling control. I expect he’ll continue to improve. A good addition to the bantamweight division.
Tyson Pedro defeated Paul Craig via TKO at 4:10 of RD1
- Expectations/Results: In a battle of two undefeated 205ers, it was difficult to choose between Craig’s savvy and experience or Pedro’s physical advantages. It didn’t take long to reveal what was the deciding factor. Pedro pinned Craig against the fence early, wearing him down and showed his flexibility with some high knees. Rocking Craig with some punches after Craig was able to separate, it wasn’t long before Pedro took the Scot to the ground and finished him with some ground punches and elbows.
- Pedro: I liked what I saw when he submitted Khalil Rountree, but I didn’t love it. This performance, I loved. Pedro was in control from the opening moments, using his physical strength to beat down the expert submission artist. His clinch was stronger than I expected and those high knees he landed were a thing of beauty. Once he got Craig to the ground, he didn’t give him enough time to set up a potential submission, beating him down with elbows and punches as soon as possible. I’m liking the future of Pedro a lot more after Saturday.
- Craig: I knew Craig wasn’t blessed with the best physical skills, meaning he’d need to use his savvy to win like he did against Luis Henrique. Pedro didn’t give him a chance. Craig did throw some heavy leather on the few occasions he had the space to do so, showing good fighting spirit despite having very little left. Then again, that was part of the problem as Craig not only looked like he was hurt; he looked like he was tired too. I don’t see Craig becoming more than a mid-level action fighter, but given his physical skill set, that isn’t an insult.
Mark Godbeer defeated Daniel Spitz via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Results: It was hard to get excited about this contest. Godbeer has lost to every opponent with any name value and Spitz was getting the call on about two weeks-notice with a track record even more questionable than Godbeer’s. What we got was… interesting at best. Godbeer was looking for the finish right off the bat, throwing hard punches at Spitz early and often. Spitz tried responding with a jab that he pumped for about two rounds before tiring, at which point he offered nothing. Godbeer tired too, but he continued to throw hard shots in hopes of ending the contest. It didn’t happen, leaving the audience subject to 15 minutes of sloppy fighting.
- Godbeer: The announce crew stated it was the biggest win of Godbeer’s career. It was the most high profile, but beating an inexperienced big man who took the fight on short notice shouldn’t be your best win if you’re in the UFC. Regardless, Godbeer was able to get back to his feet pretty quickly once he was taken down by Spitz in the second, showing he has been working on his ground game after being schooled by Justin Ledet on the ground. Spitz never hit him square on with anything besides a jab, so I gotta believe that the concerns about his durability would still remain. Good win, it will give Godbeer at least two more fights in the UFC. I’m still not expecting much beyond that.
- Spitz: That wasn’t the best version of Spitz that I’ve seen. Granted, there haven’t been many opportunities to see the big man, but he’s shown a much better gas tank in the past than he showed here. I guess that’s why he didn’t throw anything other than the jab as he would have depleted his gas tank even quicker had he put some mustard on any of his punches. At 26-years old with only six fights of pro experience, he has plenty of room for improvement and a big frame that is difficult to deal with when Spitz is fighting long. He has more upside than Godbeer, but not by much.
Iuri Alcantara defeated Luke Sanders via submission at 3:13 of RD2
- Expectations/Results: Much like the other bantamweight contest on the card, it was split pretty much 50/50 on who would win this one. Alcantara has shown mild signs of a physical decline, but also has shown more discipline. On the other side, Sanders was an undefeated prospect looking to make his move up the ladder. Sanders started out strong, catching a kick from Alcantara and taking him down before unloading with a barrage of punches that the referee could have stepped in and ended the fight at numerous points. Instead, the ref let it go on. Sanders began beating on Alcantara again to open the second round before Alcantara rolled under Sanders leg before catching him in a knee bar out of nowhere for a huge comeback victory.
- Alcantara: While this may be the biggest highlight of Alcantara’s career, it isn’t a performance that is inspiring confidence in his ability to climb the ladder any further than he is already at. He showed toughness by surviving the slew of punishment that Sanders unleashed on him and not seeking the easy way out when Sanders landed an illegal knee in the first. Then again, these type of fights shorten your career and Alcantara already has thirteen years of fighting under his belt. How much does he have left? He showed he still has the athleticism and explosion in the opening minute of the contest, so I gotta believe Alcantara still has a few wins up his sleeve, but not too many more.
- Sanders: Sanders looked very good up until the point that he gave up the knee bar… but he still lost a fight that he was in complete control of for about eight minutes. I’m not sure how to take this performance. How the hell do you give up a knee bar in today’s MMA when you’ve been dominating the contest? Then again, it isn’t like Sanders is the most experienced fighter either. Perhaps this will be a learning experience. Sanders still has the ability to break into the rankings. This contest showed that for about 90% of its duration. It will probably take two more wins before he gets another shot at a ranked opponent. At 31-years old, he’s making his UFC run a bit later than most do in the division, so he’ll probably want to start fighting more than once a year to make up for lost time.
Darren Elkins defeated Mirsad Bektic via TKO at 3:19 of RD3
- Expectations/Results: This was supposed to be a statement fight for Bektic as he made his way into contention. Elkins is a sturdy test, but his athletic limitations have kept him from breaking through into the top ten. It started out that way too as Bektic took Elkins down and dominated him for the entirety of the first round with vicious ground and pound. Elkins showed signs of life in the second round, being competitive on his feet, though he still gave away the round after Bektic got a couple of takedowns with more ground striking. Bektic shot for takedowns in the third and struggled to get Elkins down as he tired down the stretch. Elkins nearly sunk in a kneebar, but it wasn’t until Bektic got back to his feet that Elkins landed some hard punches that dropped the vaunted prospect for a major upset.
- Elkins: We all knew that Elkins was a tough mother who didn’t give up easy. What we didn’t remember is that Elkins does have it in him to put away an opponent. It’s easy to forget that Elkins has occasional power given his only other KO in the UFC came four years-ago against Antonio Carvalho. Now Elkins is riding a four-fight win streak topped off by the biggest win of his career. It’s going to be hard to deny him a shot against a top ten opponent in his next contest. This victory should also give him some love from fans too, something that has been lacking from his more workman-like performances. Good to see someone like Elkins pick up a signature win.
- Bektic: Much like Sanders’ loss to Alcantara, it isn’t all bad for Bektic even if he was a far heavier favorite. Bektic did exactly what most expected him to do for 10-plus minutes, dominating the experienced Elkins in a way that we hadn’t seen done to him. He looked like he had improved his standup too, easily beating Elkins in that department until he got lazy before the finishing sequence. Bektic did seem to get a bit tired as the fight went, not a major surprise considering he isn’t that far removed from his ACL surgery. I’m sure that this loss was painful for him, though he needs to take it and learn from it. It could be better for him that it happened now as opposed to further on down the road. Bektic will still be a title contender someday. Just not as soon as previously expected.
Marcin Tybura defeated Luis Henrique via TKO at 3:46 of RD3
- Expectations/Results: Seeing as how most fans didn’t recognize either of these names, there was very little buzz about this contest. Sure, that happens often, but this was the FS1 headliner. Though it was another difficult one to pick, Tybura was a slight favorite going in thanks to his advantage in the standup. That advantage was on display, but not as often as fans would have liked. Henrique did everything he could to clinch up and take down the big Pole, making the fight an ugly one. He may have gotten some judges on his side with that – you never know in MMA – though we never found out as Tybura was able to get mount out of a scramble and pound away on the tired Brazilian before Herb Dean had seen enough.
- Tybura: About time Tybura was able to get back in the cage as he had three previous contests cancelled for various reasons. It did highlight the concerns in Tybura’s wrestling as he had a difficult time moving his back off of the fence. He overcame that with his deep gas tank, something that was thought to be an advantage of Henrique’s going in. He also looked sharp on the feet the few times that Henrique allowed him to throw from a distance. I still don’t think we’ve seen the best out of the young heavyweight, though I don’t want to throw him into the deep end of the pool quite yet. I’d like to see him step in with the likes of Aleksei Oleinik or Alexander Volkov before getting a shot at a top ten opponent.
- Henrique: I’m sure Henrique is disappointed, but I don’t think he should fret too much. He did a good job of sticking to his game plan which very well could have resulted in him stealing the win had the fight gone to the judges. It appeared he blew the rest of his energy on the guillotine attempt late in the third and just had nothing left. Considering most had him behind on the scorecards, I think that was the right thing to do. While Tybura is young by heavyweight standards, Henrique is a downright babe at 23-years old. He still has plenty of time to make his standup functional as he was unable to be competitive with Tybura in that department. Patience will be the biggest key for the UFC in handling Henrique.
Alistair Overeem defeated Mark Hunt via KO at 1:44 of RD1
- Expectations/Results: In a pick ‘em fight, I went with Overeem as I though Hunt was probably a bit distracted by his lawsuit against the UFC. Hunt had proven to come out flat in the past when he wasn’t giving his full attention to the fight game. Then again, it isn’t like he didn’t have motivation to win as he would like to continue to stick it to the UFC. The first two rounds were close. Overeem avoided the pocket, either throwing a variety of kicks and punches from a distance or wearing down Hunt in the clinch with knees to the body. Hunt didn’t land nearly as many strikes as Overeem, but he was landing the harder strikes the first two rounds, including a counter elbow that staggered Overeem in the second. Overeem ended up getting Hunt against the fence in the third and landed a KILLER knee to the face of Hunt, putting the big man to sleep in a way we’ve never seen.
- Overeem: There was a portion of fans who were declaring Overeem’s days as a title contender as over following the loss to Stipe Miocic. With all the tread on his tires and his chin about as fragile as there is at heavyweight, it wasn’t like that side didn’t have an argument. Beating yet another hard hitter in Hunt should put those arguments to rest. Overeem has learned how to avoid getting into a fire fight and having his chin tested more than it needs to be. Aside from the elbow in the second, Overeem avoided being rocked. Should Junior dos Santos end up taking the belt from Miocic, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to get another title shot off the bat seeing as how he was the last person to beat dos Santos. I’ve also seen Overeem call for Derrick Lewis or Francis Ngannou, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him against Cain Velasquez either. Lots of options for the Demolition Man.
- Hunt: I didn’t want this outcome. I wanted to see Hunt pull out the win so that the ongoing saga between him and the UFC would continue. Now I’m not so sure that it will. Hunt looked pretty good considering his history as he tried to shorten the distance with a kick-heavy attack that was proving to be fairly effective. Hunt suffered a leg injury that seemed to occur early when a leg kick of his landed on Overeem’s knee, resulting in a nasty gash that bled for the rest of the contest. Hunt showed he still has life in him if the UFC decides he is still worth the headache. I hope that’s what they decide as there are still some intriguing fights for the big man if he wants to take them. However, his last four losses have all come via KO/TKO with this one being the most devastating by far as Hunt face-planted. I doubt the big man will call it a career, but it can’t be too far around the corner. He’s taken an ungodly amount of punishment over the years.
Cynthia Calvillo defeated Amanda Cooper via submission at 3:19 of RD1
- Expectations/Results: There were a lot of unknown factors going into this contest as the two competitors had participated in a combined seven contests going into the bout. Calvillo had a reputation as a wrestler and grappler while Cooper owned a more well-rounded approach. With that in mind, the belief was Cooper would need to keep the fight standing in order to have a chance. After getting back to her feet following an early Calvillo takedown, Cooper went for her own ill-advised double-leg, resulting in Calvillo coming out with the advantage. Cooper escaped an anaconda choke, but couldn’t avoid the RNC Calvillo sank in after transitioning to the back of Cooper. It wasn’t long before Cooper tapped and it was all she wrote.
- Calvillo: I acknowledge that we didn’t see much of her on her feet, but I like the progress Calvillo seems to be making from fight to fight. As early as she is in her career, she needs to be doing that if she hopes to become a contender. She’s still a long way from getting to that point, but no one can deny that her wrestling and submissions aren’t a fantastic base for her to build off of as the submission sequence was about as smooth as you can get for someone of her experience. Calvillo looks like she’ll be a fantastic addition to the strawweight roster. Here’s hoping the UFC handles her correctly.
- Cooper: While I expected Cooper to struggle if the fight went to the ground, I didn’t expect her to be the one to take the fight to the ground. Alright, I admit it isn’t all that surprising. I’ve never been very impressed with Cooper’s fight IQ and this is a perfect example of why. She’s athletic enough that I believe that she can hang around the roster for a long time. But it won’t happen unless she begins to fight smarter. Cooper will need to win her next contest or she’ll end up being crowded out of the strawweight roster sooner rather than later.
Dan Kelly defeated Rashad Evans via split decision
- Expectations/Results: Given Evans’ recent medical history, it’s been hard to predict where he was at in his career. He looked lackluster against Ryan Bader about 17 months ago before being trucked over by Glover Teixeira last April. If you’re spent physically, it doesn’t matter what weight division you fight in. On the flip side, Kelly had been the underdog in every single one of his UFC contests, yet owned a 5-1 record in those contests. The improbable run continued as Kelly showed considerably improved standup, using subtle footwork to avoid Evans’ attacks and counter with basic 1-2 combinations. Evans did do a good job of fighting off Kelly’s judo trips and takedown attempts, but didn’t do enough to make up for his own lack of volume in the wrestling department, landing only a single takedown. Though it was a close contest, it appeared the right decision was made when Kelly got the decision.
- Kelly: I know I’m not in the minority by admitting this, but I gotta believe that I have yet to pick Kelly in contest yet. Now he sits at 6-1 in the UFC. Even though I did pick Evans to win this, I wasn’t too surprised Kelly was able to score the upset as this has become his MO. At 39-years old, Kelly is still improving as hard as that may be to believe. His standup has always been amongst the worst on the roster. I don’t think we can say that anymore. It isn’t pretty, but it was effective. Most impressive was his side-step maneuver he used to counter Evans. Considering Kelly isn’t reliant on athletic gifts, he could continue to be a roster mainstay for a number of years despite his advanced age. I’m anxious to see how much further Kelly can go.
- Evans: There are still fights out there that Evans could win. With that said, it doesn’t mean he should hang around. I’ve said that it isn’t my business to declare when a fighter should retire and I’m going to stand by that. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t suggest that it would be the smartest thing for someone to do. In the case of Evans, I think it would be the best thing for him. He’s lost a lot of the explosion that made him such a threat. I didn’t think moving to middleweight was going to help that issue as the middleweight division is full of guys faster than he is. Kelly wasn’t one of them, yet he was still able to beat the former light heavyweight champion. That’s because Evans doesn’t use a lot of physicality in his style which would make the drop down in weight make sense. Thus, I think he’d be best suited to hang it up, but only he can make that call.
David Teymur defeated Lando Vannata via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Results: After Vannata’s near-upset over Tony Ferguson last summer was followed up with an amazing spinning wheel kick KO over John Makdessi, the UFC was propping him up to be a star moving forward. Thus, he was expected to truck over Teymur. Though many were in agreement that Teymur would give Vannata a sound challenge, I still can’t recall anyone picking Teymur to pull off the upset. Instead, Teymur kept up the theme of the evening in the most entertaining contest of the night. Vannata demonstrated why the brass is so excited about him, throwing a lot of flashy and high-risk maneuvers that wowed the crowd whether they landed or not. The problem is, they didn’t land enough. Teymur pressed forward with an attack heavy on leg kicks to compliment his punching combinations. Vannata did land his fair share of counters to keep the contest close, but the right man earned the decision at the end.
- Teymur: I don’t know if the UFC recognizes this as a good thing. Sure, Teymur isn’t as exciting as Vannata is given his tendency to stick to fundamentals. But a straightforward KO can be just as impressive as one induced off of a spinning strike and Teymur has shown the ability to do just that. Teymur showed plenty of improvements in his wrestling too, getting Vannata to the ground twice when that was supposed to be an obvious advantage for Vannata. If his wrestling continues to progress, Teymur could be a dark horse to keep an eye on. I don’t see him becoming a title challenger, but he sure as hell can become one of the UFC’s top action fighters.
- Vannata: I’m not overly concerned about this loss for Vannata. Yes, it hurts his momentum and keeps him from moving up the ladder for now. But it also allows the UFC to take a bit more time with Vannata, something that isn’t such a bad idea seeing as how Vannata is only 24-years old. Besides, when you exercise such a high-risk style, things aren’t always going to go your way. Perhaps this will be a wakeup call for Vannata to use the flash more as a side dish rather than the main course. Maybe develop a reliable jab and focusing a bit more on defense. I was also wondering why he didn’t utilize his wrestling more. He landed the single takedown attempt he attempted and could have used it to stall Teymur’s momentum late in the fight. Vannata still has a bright future, even if he only becomes a Joe Lauzon-type action fighter. That’s about as high as he’ll climb if he doesn’t make some adjustments.
Tyron Woodley defeated Stephen Thompson via majority decision
- Expectations/Results: We we’re expecting an exciting chess match much like the first contest. A contest that was a contender that was FOTY. A contest that showed either man had it in him to be the champion. Instead, what we got was a contest in which the less is said about it, the better. Woodley and Thompson spent the majority of the contest staring at one another, daring one another to make a move. And no one did. Aside from a flurry from Woodley in the final 30 seconds of the contest, Thompson held a steady advantage in the standup with kicks to the body being his best weapon. Woodley’s flurry and a takedown in the third round with some ground and pound were enough to sway the decision in his favor as the other rounds were close. But what would you expect in a contest where nothing pretty much happened? I’m not going to break down the action any further as the bottom line is neither competitor was willing to pull the trigger. Instead, I’d rather look at how they reacted to the contest and where they go from here.
- Woodley: I got lots to say here. Woodley doesn’t get it. He continues to talk about disrespect. That he deserves better from the fans. Doesn’t he realize fans paid good money to watch him put on a show? He didn’t do that and for him to defiantly tell the fans to go into the cage and do it better was pretty arrogant. Being a champion doesn’t make you worthy of being in a money fight like he continues to call for. Being someone fans want to see will put you in a money fight. A fight like that combined with telling off the fans isn’t going to get him paid. Some humility while acknowledging the fight wasn’t entertaining would have gone a long way towards fans forgiving him. Whether he wants to admit it or not, this was also a very controversial decision, meaning he has two title defenses in which he arguably doesn’t have a single victory in the eyes of many. I will grant him that it was ridiculous for Bob Bennett to come out and state the 10-8 scorecard for Woodley was unacceptable, but that’s about the only thing I think Woodley was wise to call out. I get that Woodley is a good guy, but he’s not going to get the respect and money he wants until he stops calling out the fans i.e. the ones who have the ability to make him a moneyweight competitor. Rather than engage in Twitter wars, he’d be best served to win over the fans by letting his fighting do his talking… unless he continues to turn in performances like this.
- Thompson: I will give Thompson credit. He didn’t dispute the decision as he recognized that he didn’t do enough to take a clear decision. However, regardless of whether you believe he won this fight, he’s had two opportunities and couldn’t do the damn thing. It’s time to move on to a new challenger. Thompson should be in prime position to get another high-profile contest against another big name in the division like Robbie Lawler or perhaps even Carlos Condit. He’s unlikely to be tentative against them as it was the threat of Woodley’s takedowns that kept him from pulling the trigger. Considering Thompson doesn’t antagonize the fan base, they are likely to be far more forgiving of him for this performance than they will be towards Woodley.