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Hindsight – UFC 210: Cormier vs. Johnson 2 in retrospect

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Hindsight   UFC 210: Cormier vs. Johnson 2 in retrospect

Take a deeper look at UFC 210, from the opening flyweight contest to the topsy-turvy main event between Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson.

Heading into the final two contests of the evening, UFC 210 could have been deemed a success. There were some close contests, some impressive finishes, and dominant performances too. All the UFC brass needed was for the co-main and main event to go off without a hitch. That was too much to ask for.

The co-main event resulted in a controversial finish that appears likely to result in a strong review of the rules, while the main event was marred by a surprise retirement, taking away one of the most anticipated contests in recent years if Anthony Johnson sticks to his guns. Unfortunately, that’s going to be all anyone remembers from this event. That’s what I’m here for…to make sure every nook and cranny of this event gets evaluated.

Here’s my thoughts on the UFC 210, 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.

Magomed Bibulatov defeated Jenel Lausa via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: As the brightest flyweight prospect since Henry Cejudo, Bibulatov had high expectations placed upon him as soon as he signed his first UFC contract. Though there were a few things that could have gone better – such as avoiding the low blows and getting a finish – the complaints for his UFC debut should be kept to a minimum. There wasn’t an aspect of the fight that he wasn’t in control of Lausa, making the judges jobs an easy one to do in awarding Bibulatov the decision.
  • Bibulatov: The Russian newcomer started out a bit slow and had a point deducted after landing his second low blow, but also showed why many are excited about his future. His striking was technical and fluid even if his accuracy wasn’t completely on point. I did think he would have a larger advantage in the wrestling department, struggling with takedowns early before getting what he wanted. His guard-passing skills looked pretty good too once he got Lausa to the ground. I’m not changing my opinion on Bibulatov at all. Fighters with a lot of hype not meeting expectations in their UFC debuts is quite common. I expect he’ll be fine.
  • Lausa: Given what I know about Lausa, his performance was impressive. Still very raw in terms of his wrestling and grappling, he prevented Bibulatov from taking him to the ground more often than not and was able to prevent Bibulatov from submitting him. Lausa didn’t let his hands fly as much I felt he needed to, though I also believe part of that can be attributed to him staying prepared to stuff Bibulatov’s takedowns. Lausa has some skill to work with, but is still very raw.

Katlyn Chookagian defeated Irene Aldana via split decision

  • Expectations/Result: Given Aldana’s reputation coming out of Invicta, I was surprised to see Chookagian entering the contest as the favorite, even if only a slight favorite. The fight played out exactly as the odds indicated it would: very close with Chookagian doing just enough to edge out the decision. There weren’t any major moments that stand out as neither truly dominated for any particular stretch. Chookagian spent the better part of the contest as the aggressor while Aldana looked to counter. Chookagian finished the entertaining scrap slightly ahead on the amount of total strikes, barely edging a game Aldana.
  • Chookagian: Chookagian was more aggressive than I thought she would be, putting pressure on Aldana and keeping a jab in her face. Aldana found her chin about as much as Chookagian found Aldana’s. The difference was Chookagian threw a lot of kicks to the legs and body to put her ahead on the scorecards. Chookagian will need to better disguise her takedowns as Aldana was easily able to stuff them, but I’m encouraged to see Chookagian even attempting them. I anticipate Chookagian will continue to improve, though I don’t expect she’ll be a contender…at least until the flyweight division is implemented.
  • Aldana: Aldana’s performance has a bit of a déjà vu feel to it when comparing it to her contest with Leslie Smith. She looked pretty good, but the loss still feels justified. I wouldn’t say she has been a disappointment, as Smith is as tough as they come and Chookagian is a similar athlete to Aldana with far more experience when you factor in her days as an amateur. If Aldana’s punching combinations were a bit tighter and she mixed in a few more kicks, this probably would have been her fight. As it is, she still needs a bit more polish. I’ll be shocked if the UFC gives up on her despite the two losses in a row.

Desmond Green defeated Josh Emmett via split decision

  • Expectations/Result: I was a bit surprised to see Emmett the favorite as I believed the contest should have been a pick ‘em. I did pick Emmett to win thanks to his higher level of activity on the feet, but the Team Alpha Male representative was unable to find a rhythm. After a first round that was a razor thin standup affair, Green slowly began to pull away. Emmett continued to be the attacker, rushing in with his hooks only for Green to turn him away or retreat accordingly. Green’s jabs and kicks to the lower half of the body separated him from Emmett, allowing him to score the victory.
  • Green: I hadn’t been very impressed with Green’s recent performances as he had relied almost solely on his wrestling to deliver the victory to him. Aside from a takedown in the last round, there was very little wrestling in this contest…and yet Green was the clear winner. I’d attribute it more to his defense as he did a great job of avoiding Emmett’s attack, using his athletic ability and footwork to do so while showing more stamina than he has in his recent contests. I’ll admit that I underestimated his jab as well. If Green can continue to fight smart, he’ll be a better addition to the roster than I thought he would be.
  • Emmett: This is the perfect contest to illustrate why Emmett’s ceiling is limited. He isn’t a great athlete and it was never more clear than here as he struggled to land any efficient offense on Green simply because he couldn’t catch him. Green kept enough distance that Emmett never seriously considered trying to shoot for takedowns, limiting what Emmett could do. So long as Emmett isn’t facing a dramatically superior athlete, he’ll be a tough test. Even as it was in this contest, he was able to convince one of the judges that he won the fight.

Gregor Gillespie defeated Andrew Holbrook via KO at 0:23 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: Gillespie was expected to win, just not so quickly. Instead of grinding Holbrook into the ground with his collegiate championship wrestling, Gillespie landed some basic punches that sent Holbrook sprawling to the ground. A few follow up punches later, Holbrook was out cold for a quick stoppage victory for Gillespie.
  • Gillespie: Even though hardcore fans have been aware of Gillespie’s talents, this is the type of performance that he needed to get them to stand and take notice. Undersized at lightweight, the consensus is that his grinding style will only take him so far against larger opponents. Now that he is showing he has the ability to end the fight with his fists, there should be a bit more buzz around him. The punches Gillespie hit Holbrook with weren’t anything special, but I don’t mean that as a knock against him. He should be taking his time and getting the basics down as that is all that he’ll really need to compliment his wrestling.
  • Holbrook: Holbrook has now won every contest in the UFC in which he has lasted more than a minute. That first minute is a doozy… This loss makes his victory over Jake Matthews that much more surprising as Matthews is one of the better athletes in the division, and Holbrook’s two losses have come against opponents with a huge advantage in athletic ability. Given Holbrook’s limited athletic ability, just about any victory he picks up should be a surprise.

Patrick Cummins defeated Jan Blachowicz via majority decision

  • Expectations/Result: The expectation was that Cummins would ground Blachowicz with his wrestling in a grinding decision. That is what ended up happening, but not without some early drama. Blachowicz dropped Cummins early, coming this close to picking up the finish. Someway, somehow, Cummins was able to avoid going completely unconscious, battling back to control Blachowicz on the mat for the last 90 or so seconds of the round, enough to swing the round to 10-9 for two of the judges. That proved to be pivotal as two 10-8’s would have resulted in a majority draw. Cummins scored takedowns in each of the final two rounds in addition to outboxing an exhausted Blachowicz the final round to pick up a hard-earned victory.
  • Cummins: It was well known that both competitors needed this victory in the worst way. It looks like Cummins just wanted it more. His chin had been questionable leading into this contest and those questions aren’t about to go away after being dropped. Nonetheless, resilience can definitively be used as a way to describe him, making it harder for the UFC brass to drop him should he go on another extended losing stretch. The progress he showed on his feet is promising as well. He’ll never be a top-flight striker, but so long as he can make himself competent, it will suffice.
  • Blachowicz: Though I don’t blame him for going for the kill against Cummins – I wouldn’t have complained had the ref stopped the contest – Blachowicz was ultimately undone by his lack of stamina. He was dominating the standup, but had nothing left to offer once he failed to put away Cummins in the first round. I’ll give him credit as he showed improved takedown defense, but it doesn’t look like it will be enough to save his job as he has now lost four of his last five. Then again, light heavyweight has lost even more depth with Anthony Johnson’s retirement. I won’t be surprised if Blachowicz is able to hang around.

Shane Burgos defeated Charles Rosa via TKO at 1:59 of RD3

  • Expectations/Result: All the hype heading into this contest was around Burgos following his promising UFC debut. He lived up to every bit of the hype, stalking down Rosa with heavy punches while walking through a large volume of kicks and punches from his opponent. The strategy almost backfired as Rosa was up on the scorecards of two judges heading into the final round, meaning Burgos almost assuredly needed a finish if he wanted a W. It eventually paid off as he knocked Rosa down early in the third. Rosa climbed back to his feet and refused to go back down, though the ref eventually did the right thing and called the fight.
  • Burgos: I don’t know whether or not to be impressed with Burgos’ win or to be concerned. I’m sure he did his homework and realized that Rosa’s striking isn’t very powerful, resulting in him trusting his own ability to withstand Rosa’s onslaught. But how many others is he going to be willing to risk that strategy with? Plus, it was no guarantee that he’d be able to get Rosa out of there as Rosa had never been finished in his professional career up to that point. Don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed with Burgos and think that he’s going to be around for a while. But do I think he’s going to become one of the divisional elite? I’m not sold on that yet.
  • Rosa: These are the type of fights that the UFC keeps Rosa around for. He isn’t ever going to break into the rankings in a very deep featherweight division, but he sure as hell will do everything in his power to put on a show. He didn’t have a bad strategy as Burgos often led with his face and Rosa capitalized by tagging him over and over, whether it was with punches or kicks, and it damn near worked. But Rosa has long needed to pay a bit more attention to his own defensive deficiencies as Burgos tagged him hard more than once before getting the finishing sequence.

Kamaru Usman defeated Sean Strickland via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Usman had torn through every one of his opponents heading into this contest, but had yet to face anyone as big as Strickland or with his wrestling ability. Thus, this was supposed to be is biggest challenge, literally and figuratively. It sure didn’t seem like it. Usman scored a takedown in the first and dealt out some heavy damage with ground strikes that cut open Strickland. From there, he wanted to show what he could do on his feet, delivering a knockdown in the second and dominating the third. It may have been the easiest fight of the night for the judges to score as Usman turned in another dominating performance.
  • Usman: Can we please put Usman in the cage with a name casual fans might recognize now? I’ve been harping on Usman’s progress on the feet since he dominated Warlley Alves. He looked even more impressive here against Strickland. I don’t mean to disrespect Strickland, but I didn’t like this contest being made in the first place. Usman should have been facing someone a bit more established and Strickland’s best win came over Tom Breese, another youngster trying to establish himself. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of prospects who’ve been thrown into the deep end of the pool too soon. I don’t think they’d be doing that with Usman. Last time, I suggested a contest with Gunnar Nelson. May I suggest that again? I’d much rather see that than Neil Magny.
  • Strickland: While I’ll give Strickland credit for hanging in there and battling until the end, I fear this could be a performance that ends up stalling his development as he was beaten down badly. Often times when a youngster is beaten in every aspect of the fight – just like Strickland was – they end up having confidence issues and are never quite the same afterwards. However, he did come back pretty well from his loss to Santiago Ponzinibbio and that was a pretty bad beating as well.

Myles Jury defeated Mike De La Torre via TKO at 3:30 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: Considering it had been 16 months since we last saw Jury — and he looked bad in that contest — it was difficult to know what to expect. Most were predicting him to win since De La Torre, while tough, is far from an elite fighter. It looks like Jury spent his time away from the cage wisely, looking like the same guy many had hyped up to defeat Donald Cerrone before their contest over two years ago. Jury scored on an early takedown attempt and controlled the fight from there, transitioning to back to threaten a rear-naked choke. When that didn’t work, Jury got the mount and pounded out a victory from there.
  • Jury: This was exactly what the doctor ordered for Jury. I admit I was among those questioning whether or not Jury was finished as an elite fighter as he appeared to be a shell of himself in his previous two contests. I don’t know if it can be attributed to his time away or if he was supremely confident going against a De La Torre who was completely overmatched. Either way, it’s good to see Jury return to form and add another quality name to an already deep featherweight division.
  • De La Torre: The only reason I was alright with this fight being made is no one knew what Jury would show up. Because it was the Jury of old that we saw, De La Torre had no right to be in there with him. De La Torre is a tough dude who is willing to bite down on his mouth guard and swing away, but he’s limited athletically and has been exposed on the ground by multiple opponents. Unfortunately for him, it happened again. He may end up being released as a 2-4 record with another loss being wiped out due to a no contest is hardly impressive.

Charles Oliveira defeated Will Brooks via submission at 2:30 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: Both Brooks and Oliveira were badly in need of a victory after disappointing stretches. Oliveira was returning to the lightweight division after repeatedly missing weight at featherweight, though it was Brooks who was the favorite due to his wrestling, durability, and submission defense. Oliveira was in control from the get-go, landing two authoritative trip takedowns on Brooks. As Brooks climbed to his feet following the second trip, Oliveira climbed on his back and sunk in a rear-naked choke. Brooks fought it off as long as he could, but eventually relented and gave the win to Oliveira.
  • Oliveira: Was the weight cut at 145 really draining Oliveira that much? He looked absolutely fantastic in this contest, showing great energy and zero apprehension. I do fear that this could end up being merely a flash as Oliveira has had similar performances before only to follow it up with a disappointing performance. What may be different this time is that he won’t have to attempt to cut to 145. Oliveira’s talent has never been questioned – it’s been his consistency. Before I jump back onto the Oliveira bandwagon, I want to see him put it all together against another high-level opponent.
  • Brooks: Did anyone see Brooks’ UFC stint going like this? I know I didn’t. It isn’t just that it is two losses in a row for Brooks. No, it’s that he was favored in both contests only to end up being finished. This performance has to be particularly embarrassing as Brooks looked like he didn’t have a clue how to defend a trip takedown. I’m not ready to write off Brooks quite yet. He’s should still be in his prime at the age of 30 and I can’t see any noticeable decline in his physical skills. I do think a step down in competition in order to help build up his confidence would be wise, but I also think the UFC enjoys seeing a former Bellator champion struggling the way that he has.

Thiago Alves defeated Patrick Cote via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Largely a pick ‘em contest, I went with Alves as I was concerned about Cote’s chin eroding after being legitimately KO’d in his last performance for the first time in his career by Donald Cerrone. Cote’s chin held up enough to go the distance, though it doesn’t mean that I was wrong. Alves knocked the longtime UFC vet down in each of the first two rounds, coming close to finishing Cote in every round. Cote had some moments of his own, but not nearly enough to make the judges’ decision a difficult one. After the fight, Cote left his gloves in the cage and announced his retirement after 21 appearances inside the Octagon.
  • Alves: The last time Alves looked this good was all the way back in 2012 when he was submitted late by Martin Kampmann after piecing up the Dane for the entirety of the contest. Alves chewed up Cote’s legs with his vaunted leg kicks which set up the hooks he caught Cote with to drop him. He even did a pretty good job of avoiding most of Cote’s attack. I had said earlier that I thought Alves’ expedition down to lightweight may have forced him to get into better shape. I think I was right. I don’t think Alves will ever get back to the level when he was challenging for the title, but he still has a few more good performances in the well.
  • Cote: Much respect to Cote and his long career. Casual fans aren’t going to remember him, but those who follow the sport closely will look back fondly at his penchant for his brawls. He rarely emerged the victor against elite competition, but his chin always made it difficult to finish him off. It’s easy for many to forget that he did challenge Anderson Silva for the title back in 2008 too. This performance was in many ways indicative of his career: he was competitive, but ultimately outclassed by a better athlete. Best wishes to him in whatever he does moving forward, as well as a thank you for the memories.

Cynthia Calvillo defeated Pearl Gonzalez via submission at 3:45 of RD3

  • Expectations/Result: The UFC appears to be putting their hype machine behind Calvillo, making her a heavy favorite ahead of Gonzalez. I picked Gonzalez thinking Calvillo’s striking technique wasn’t quite at the same level as Gonzalez’s. While I would say I was right, I also underestimated the athletic advantage Calvillo had over Gonzalez. After a defensive first round, Gonzalez tried opening up the last two rounds only for Calvillo to find a way to divert her attack. In the final round, Calvillo scored a takedown and finally succeeded in securing a submission after some earlier attempts to do so.
  • Calvillo: While I do like what I’ve seen out of Calvillo in her two UFC performances, I’m not ready to proclaim her as the future contender the UFC appears to be pushing her as. Her aggressive submission game will cause problems for a good chunk of her opponents, but I could also see it getting her into trouble with experienced grapplers. Even more troublesome is her striking. Though just as aggressive on the feet, she isn’t nearly as skilled quite yet. If the UFC really wants to push her into the spotlight, they will need to take their time with her. Putting her in the cage with the likes of Angela Hill – who is unranked – would be a really bad idea.
  • Gonzalez: Gonzalez’s UFC career will be considered a success if she can become known for more than her breast implants. So far, she isn’t off to a great start. Gonzalez had her moments, landing a few good strikes early in the second and third rounds and also coming close to securing an armbar in the second. But her lack of speed is going to prevent her from climbing very high up the ladder. There are winnable fights out there for her as Ashley Yoder and Amanda Cooper come to mind. However, I think Gonzalez has seen her brightest day in the spotlight already thanks to the controversy over her implants.

Gegard Mousasi defeated Chris Weidman via TKO at 3:13 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: Even though Weidman is a former champion who should still be in his prime, this contest was a pick ‘em. I went with Weidman as I expected him to use his wrestling to control Mousasi on the ground. Weidman lived up to that expectation in the first round, taking Mousasi down almost at will. Mousasi turned the table in the second, laying the punishment on thick early in the second, putting Weidman on the ropes. He stalled his own momentum by going for a takedown which allowed Weidman to recover and score another takedown. Once back to their feet, Mousasi cinched in a front headlock. Weidman knew what was coming and attempted to put his hands to the floor to make Mousasi’s knees illegal. While he did touch the ground with both hands, Mousasi wrenched him up just enough to make the knees legal. However, referee Dan Miragliotta thought they were illegal and called a stoppage in the action so Weidman could recover. Upon seeing the replay, Miragliotta deemed the knees were legal, but the doctor declared that Weidman couldn’t continue. Thus, Mousasi was awarded a controversial stoppage victory.
  • Mousasi: Could this be the biggest victory of Mousasi’s career? You betcha. Will it get him a title shot any time soon? Thanks to the mess at the top of the middleweight division, nope. Will it get him a big raise? I have no clue how to answer that. Mousasi has claimed he was insulted by the offer the UFC threw at him before the contest. Though I’m sure the victory here will up the price the UFC offers him now, I have no clue if it will be enough to satiate Mousasi. Keep in mind that he has a relationship with Scott Coker dating back to their Strikeforce days. As for his performance in the cage, Mousasi absolutely dominated the standup, picking apart the bigger and slower Weidman with his technical kickboxing. Regardless of whether you agreed with the outcome of the contest, Mousasi was winning the second round – if not the fight – and has to be considered amongst the elite at this point. I don’t know if we’ll see the rematch, but if we do I’m going to be picking Mousasi in that contest.
  • Weidman: Remember when Weidman was champion? He seemed to be destined to take his place among the all-time greats. Now it seems like he can’t buy a win against a top opponent. I was encouraged early by his takedowns, but he wasn’t able to do anything significant with them either. In retrospect, I should have realized that it was asking a lot for Weidman to control Mousasi for 15 minutes with his wrestling given Weidman’s faulty gas tank. While I don’t think Weidman will recapture the middleweight title, I don’t think he’s completely finished as a fighter either. However, I think he’d be better off moving up to 205 where his lack of speed won’t be exposed so badly. He may not have the size advantage there that he enjoys at 185, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much for him right now and I have to believe that it would help his stamina issues by not having to cut that extra 20 pounds. But that’s just my opinion…

Daniel Cormier defeated Anthony Johnson via submission at 3:37 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: Like the co-main event, it was difficult to predict how this contest would go down. Cormier did win the first contest, but he hadn’t looked particularly great in his previous two contests and looked to be in the worst condition of his career heading into this contest after a rough weight cut. Keep in mind, it can’t be definitively said Cormier made weight given towelgate went down the day before. Thus, why I picked Johnson to knock Cormier’s block off. Had Johnson actually tried to do that, I think he would have won. Instead, Johnson tried to wrestle with the former Olympic wrestler. He did win the first round as Cormier looked listless, but it felt inevitable Cormier would eventually turn the tide. He did that in the second, getting Johnson down, loosening him up with some ground strikes, and sinking in a rear-naked choke for the win. Johnson announced his retirement following the fight and Cormier embraced his inner villain.
  • Cormier: I don’t hate Cormier, but I know I’m going to look like a hater when I say this: Cormier isn’t going to be holding onto that belt for much longer. Dana White has been talking about pitting Cormier with a soon-to-be returning Jon Jones. Even if Jones comes out looking like he did against Ovince Saint Preux, I think he’ll beat this iteration of Cormier. It gets harder to cut weight as you get older. Cormier had a horrible weight cut and I don’t see it getting easier for him at 38. He was incredibly fortunate that Johnson executed the single dumbest strategy he could have as Cormier didn’t look like he had the burst to strike on the outside with Johnson had Rumble chosen to do so. Cormier is still elite at 205, but that isn’t saying much given there is pretty much zero depth at light heavyweight, a problem exacerbated by Johnson’s unexpected retirement. Look for Cormier to move up to heavyweight once he no longer owns the belt.
  • Johnson: Johnson’s retirement speaks more about the monetary compensation the UFC is offering its fighters than anything else. Do you really think he’d be walking away if he was getting the type of money the top fighters in boxing are offered? We could go into all sorts of topics with regards to WME’s ownership and the Reebok deal, but that has been discussed to death. I could delve deeper into the stupidity of Johnson’s strategy, but what more can I say that hasn’t been said? It was dumb, plain and simple. What I will say is I don’t think Johnson really wanted to be champion. If he did win, do you really think he would have vacated the belt? Fighting stupid allowed him to say he was putting forth the effort to win. With the loss though, he can walk away without any additional pressure to stay in the sport. If I’m being selfish, I hope to see Johnson back in the cage soon. However, I also hope Johnson finds whatever it is that makes him happy. If this really is it, thanks for the memories Rumble.

Well, those are my thoughts. Until next time….


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