Get the late thoughts and musings of Dayne Fox on UFC 218, from Justin Willis’ impressive KO in the curtain jerker to Max Holloway’s first – and successful – title defense over Jose Aldo.
I know, I know. It’s been a week since UFC 218 came to pass and I’m a bit late to the party to be providing analysis. You’ll have to excuse me a bit as this is a busy time of year for me and that has little to do with the holidays.
UFC 218 turned out to be a rousing success in the cage, featuring two bloody brawls for the ages, one of the most violent KO’s in the history of the sport, and the unquestionable passing of a torch from a former divisional kingpin to the current one. It may not have been as memorable as its predecessor, UFC 217, but it was close.
Here are my thoughts on UFC 218, 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.
Justin Willis defeated Allen Crowder via TKO at 2:33 of RD1
- Expectations/Result: I knew most would pick Willis to be the victor, but I didn’t know if it was Octagon jitters or poor conditioning that prevented him from looking impressive against James Mulheron. Thus, I took a risk and went with Crowder. Bad call. Willis dominated the contest from start to finish, beating Crowder up at a distance, in the clinch, in the pocket… everywhere. Crowder landed some offense of his own, but none of it was nearly as impactful as Willis’. A bevy of punches halfway through the round sent Crowder to the mat, ending the contest.
- Willis: It’s hard not to get excited by this performance from Willis. The UFC is badly in need of talented young blood in the heavyweight division and Willis looks like he could fill the bill. He has a lot of power, yet knows how to show some finesse when he needs to. The jab he used to dominate Mulheron? He mixed it in against Crowder. It’s simply being overshadowed by the heavier shots he landed. I don’t know how he would have performed had Crowder survived his early pace, but that’s a question that will have to be answered another day.
- Crowder: We all knew Crowder’s ceiling was limited before this contest, so even though this was about the worst way Crowder could lose, it isn’t the most devastating loss in the world. Crowder’s role is to either bring out the best in other fighters – like he did here with Willis – or simply put on a show with his high-energy style. There is no need for the UFC to give up on him as there are still fights out there he can win.
Dominick Reyes defeated Jeremy Kimball via submission at 3:39 of RD1
- Expectations/Result: Reyes burst onto the UFC scene in style, destroying Joachim Christensen in less than a minute. Kimball isn’t Christiansen, but most didn’t believe he was much better. Kimball started out relatively well, limiting Reyes’ offense by fighting in close quarters and securing an early takedown. Reyes quickly recovered and secured a takedown of his own, began pounding away, and grabbed the RNC when Kimball tried to escape. Brilliant performance.
- Reyes: Who knew that Reyes had a ground game? The youngster has been too busy dominating his opponents on the feet to give anyone a clue as to what he could do on the ground. It wasn’t the slickest ground game, but it completely overwhelmed Kimball. It was nice to see Reyes overcome a little bit of adversity too, even if the trouble was in was minimal. I’m still very excited about Reyes future… and you should be too!
- Kimball: While I enjoy watching Kimball – mainly because he doesn’t know how to be cautious – he just doesn’t belong in the UFC. In fact, he doesn’t even belong at 205. He’s really a bloated middleweight. Nonetheless, he deserves credit for taking the fight to Reyes. Given Kimball doesn’t back down from anyone and the UFC is desperate for 205ers, he’ll certainly get at least one more appearance, but I’m not expecting much.
Abdul Razak Alhassan defeated Sabah Homasi via TKO at 4:21 of RD1
- Expectations/Result: There was a solid split in votes between Alhassan and Homasi, but most prognosticators didn’t care as they simply expected it to be a barnburner. They weren’t disappointed. Alhassan and Homasi traded fists in close quarters for almost the entirety of the contest, rocking one another at various points. Homasi had his back against the fence when Alhassan hit him in the temple. It appeared to drop Homasi, but upon further review it became clear Homasi was going for a takedown. Nonetheless, the view Herb Dean had indicated Homasi was in trouble and he stopped the contest prematurely.
- Alhassan: Alhassan can’t be faulted for the early stoppage. He did what he was supposed to do. I’m still disappointed he doesn’t seem to have any semblance of striking defense, but I also have to admit that is a big reason why this contest was so damn fun to watch. Nonetheless, he’ll need to pick that up at some point if he hopes to begin moving up the ladder. What he does deserve credit for: showing a willingness to go to the ground. He scored a brief takedown and threatened to take Homasi’s back at one point. If he can force opponents to recognize him as a threat in that sense, he’s in a much better position than just throwing fisticuffs.
- Homasi: You have to feel bad for Homasi. He was a victim of unfortunate positioning by the ref more than anything. It was a far better showing than his UFC debut, showing off his power and looking much fresher than he did against Tim Means. Having a full camp probably had a lot to do with that, but it is what it is. While Homasi appears stuck with the loss, he did receive some good news a day or two after the event: he’s getting a rematch with Alhassan at UFC 219. If it ends up being as entertaining as this contest was, we’re in for a treat.
Amanda Cooper defeated Angela Magana via TKO at 4:31 of RD2
- Expectations/Result: Sure, Cooper is a raw prospect who has a long way to go to be considered a viable strawweight in the UFC, but Magana hasn’t won a contest since 2011. Naturally, everyone thought Cooper was going to win. It wasn’t even close. Cooper sought to drag Magana to the ground early and did so with ease. A bevy of strikes followed with Cooper only relenting when the referee allowed Magana to fix her wardrobe following a malfunction. Well… I guess she relented when the referee stopped the contest towards the end of the second too….
- Cooper: I don’t want to get too excited about Cooper’s progress as everyone beats Magana nowadays, but she looked sharp. Her wrestling was much improved from her previous contests and she continually passed Magana’s guard. Part of that is due to her losing the more advantageous position to Magana, but I’m nitpicking there. I’m still not sure if Cooper will become a long-term mainstay, but she certainly is taking steps in the right direction.
- Magana: If I had completed this article when I hoped to – damn you school finals! – I wouldn’t be telling you that Magana has already been released. Some would wonder why it wasn’t done sooner, but I suppose the UFC needed a durable body to get an inexperienced youngster like Cooper back on track. Magana’s days as a meaningful fighter are long over, so don’t expect to hear anything about her fighting ability anymore. However, that doesn’t mean we’re done hearing from her….
Felice Herrig defeated Cortney Casey via split decision
- Expectations/Result: Fights that are exceptionally close on paper don’t always play out that way in real life. This one absolutely did. It was nip and tuck the whole way as an exchange would typically feature what seemed to be equal amounts of damage being dealt. Aside from a moment in the third when the two channeled their inner-Diaz and traded middle fingers, the contest lacked a definitive moment from either contestant. Though it could have gone either way, Herrig took home a razor thin decision.
- Herrig: This contest felt very reflective of Herrig’s other victories throughout her recent run. She looked confident and energetic… something that was lacking in her bout with Paige VanZant in 2015. That confidence has made a huge difference in her. Though I often don’t care who wins or loses, a part of me was excited to see Herrig walk out the victor. At 33, she’s one of the elder members of the division and doesn’t have as much time as many others to make a run to the top. The win here means she doesn’t have to start over on the progress she has made. Hopefully she can get an opportunity to establish herself as a title contender as a four-fight win streak should warrant.
- Casey: Though I wouldn’t have been upset if Casey had been declared the winner, I do believe she overreacted when the decision was announced. How can you be surprised when a close decision doesn’t go your way? I guess the perspective is different when you’re in the cage…. Casey’s standup has come a long way. Timing her counters well and showing good technique, she’s a far cry from the brawler she was when she first came into the UFC. She has found a way to make good use of her natural strength on the ground too, utilizing a kimura attempt to sweep Herrig in the first round. While being awarded the loss hurts, it shouldn’t hurt Casey too badly. She’ll get another crack at the top ten sooner rather than later.
David Teymur defeated Drakkar Klose via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: It used to be that in a striker vs. grappler contest, you side with the grappler. However, that was about a decade ago. As fighters have become more well-rounded in today’s MMA world, the striker is usually the favorite, thus why most were siding with Teymur. Even though he was the one chided for inactivity, Teymur’s activity on the feet proved to be the biggest difference, picking apart the American and nullifying Klose’s offense. It wasn’t the stylistic victory that would help Teymur ascend the lightweight ladder at a rapid pace, but it was a good win nonetheless.
- Teymur: For the record, Teymur threw 137 significant strikes to Klose’s 100. The gulf widens even more if non-significant strikes are added. How in the hell did Herb Dean think it was Teymur who wasn’t engaging? He wasn’t standing in the middle of the cage with his hands on his hips. Klose was! I digress. Teymur did what was expected of him; catch the grinder with sharp punches and kicks as Klose tried to close the distance. Though he didn’t get the finish, his head kicks and flying knee showed he was trying close things out early. Even if he didn’t get it, he deserves props for going for it. Rather than a tough stylistic contest for him – as this was – I’d like to see a definitive step up in competition next for the Swede.
- Klose: Is Klose trying to drive fans away in droves? He acted like a petulant child in the cage when Teymur wouldn’t engage him where it was convenient for Klose. To get the fight where you want it, you have to pay a price. Sometimes the price is low, other times it is high. You don’t demand it of your opponent when they want to operate somewhere else! He did up the aggression in the final frame and I had no problem how he performed in that round. Hell, he may have even won that round. Alas, he looks as though he may need to do some maturing before he can take the next step.
Yancy Medeiros defeated Alex Oliveira via TKO at 2:02 of RD3
- Expectations/Result: Though most casual fans were overlooking this contest, those in the know expected a good showing from both. They got that… and so much more. Putting on a Fight of the Year candidate, it was amazing both survived past the first round as they rocked and dropped one another seemingly on countless occasions. The pivotal shot was one of the earliest ones as Medeiros broke Oliveira’s nose with a sharp left that dropped the Brazilian to the canvas. Nonetheless, Oliveira came storming back, coming this close to finishing the Hawaiian on multiple occasions. It wasn’t quite as fast and furious in the second, but again there were several near-finishes. Oliveira started the third round strong, sensing his stamina was low, but couldn’t secure the finish before fading, Medeiros finishing him off with a barrage of punches.
- Medeiros: It isn’t that there wasn’t any technique from either fighter… but how the hell can I concentrate on that when there was so much violence! How in the hell Medeiros can stand under duress the way he did in the latter half of the first round is a mystery. He did the same thing in the Francisco Trinaldo fight, enduring ungodly amounts of punishment without falling to the ground. Of course, that was after he’d already been dropped… but still! That ability may end up winning him another fight or two yet in his career, but is the price he pays for being that tough worth it? Nonetheless, his toughness will never be questioned again – not that it ever was – and he’s officially broken into the UFC rankings. Sure, real MMA fans know they don’t mean a damn thing, but if putting a number next to his name helps casuals to recognize how good he is, he absolutely deserves that recognition. Also worth mentioning: Medeiros secured the first takedown of his UFC career.
- Oliveira: It isn’t rare that a fighter raises their profile despite a loss. When two fighters have a good showing, someone is usually going to end up on the short end of the stick. But to do so in the manner that Oliveira did… wow! You can only go so hard for so long when your nose is broken, so nobody should say that Oliveira’s gas tank was to blame. His energy levels were perfectly fine as he pushed a hard pace for just over two rounds despite limited oxygen. What does need to be noted is Oliveira’s accuracy and power in the clinch and short range. I know that is one of his bigger strengths, but what he did to Medeiros from there was just brutal. It’s easy to forget Oliveira is still young in the sport as his improvement indicates. He’s already a scary guy. Imagine how much better he’ll be when he’s at his peak.
Paul Felder defeated Charles Oliveira via KO at 4:06 of RD2
- Expectations/Result: Felder’s ground game had been relatively untested, so many were picking Oliveira on the basis that Felder may not have a notable ground game. While it could certainly be stated there are holes to Felder’s grappling, it is anything but untested now. Oliveira took him down early and secured a tight D’arce choke. Miraculously, Felder didn’t tap. Oliveira relinquished it and went for a RNC instead, but couldn’t stay on Felder’s back. It was all Felder from there. Though it seemed reckless to stay in Oliveira’s guard, Felder spent a long time there, battering the Brazilian with brutal ground-and-pound, finishing Oliveira with a brutal stream of elbows near the end of the second frame.
- Felder: What the hell is it going to take to submit Felder!? Anyone else would have been tapping to that D’arce. Someway, somehow, Felder held on. Whether it’s because Oliveira didn’t have it properly applied or Felder can’t be choked, it doesn’t matter as we’ll never get a definitive answer. Another mystery is what drove Felder to remain in Oliveira’s guard. Did he see something in film study? Or did he simply luck out while being reckless? Regardless of that, his ground-and-pound was the most impressive on a night when there were several instances of impressive ground-and-pound. Those elbows…. Unlike two years ago, he’s ready for the UFC to throw him in the deep end.
- Oliveira: When Oliveira is motivated and fresh, there isn’t a more dangerous submission artist in the sport. He proved that against Felder even if he didn’t get the finish. The problem is that he offers very little if he can’t secure the finish. He totally gassed out his arms, leaving him barely able to lift his arms to defend himself much less deliver any meaningful offense. Perhaps going full bore to start his fights isn’t such a good idea against top competition as his best win remains Jeremy Stephens… and that was a decision victory. Hopefully he’s done with the talk of moving back down to featherweight. You can only miss weight so many times before nobody can take you seriously.
Tecia Torres defeated Michelle Waterson via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: With an impressive performance, many thought it was plausible that Torres could interject herself into title talks. After all, she does own a victory over the champion Rose Namajunas. Arguably, she owns two. Though she did win against Waterson – as expected – she didn’t do so in a manner that excited fans or the brass. Though Waterson took the second utilizing top control, Torres bullied Waterson in the clinch in the first round before picking her apart in the third… not to mention beating up the former Invicta atomweight champion on the ground. It was a good performance from Torres, but not the great one she needed.
- Torres: In many ways, this was a typical Torres performance. It was technically sound, methodical, and completely lacking flash. More than anything at this point, Torres needed a finish against Waterson. She lacks a signature win – her win over Namajunas was several years ago before either were established – with a submission over Juliana Lima being the only finish of her career. I don’t want it to sound like I’m ripping on her technique as it is a major reason for her success, but it also leads to a lot of fights lacking much in terms of drama or excitement. I really hope the UFC books her against an opponent ranked higher than her next as it feels like she is treading water continually facing opponents ranked lower than her.
- Waterson: This wasn’t a bad performance from Waterson. She knew her path to victory was to get Torres to the ground and she tried to do that, only finding extended success in the middle round. I know the UFC really wants to make Waterson a star – WME does represent her after all — but she’s too small at strawweight to be finding success against the elite. About the only way she is going to win consistently is if they pit her against some of the lower ranked fighters. Then again, the UFC has proven they are willing to create divisions for women whom they believe are stars. Are we about to see the atomweight division? Probably not, but I wouldn’t say it’s merely a pipe dream.
Eddie Alvarez defeated Justin Gaethje via TKO at 3:59 of RD3
- Expectations/Result: It was billed as the ultimate slobberknocker. While it may not have even been the best fight of the evening – see Medeiros and Oliveira – it certainly lived up to the hype around it… perhaps even surpassing it. Aside from a takedown from Alvarez in the final frame, Alvarez and Gaethje stood toe to toe, swinging heavy leather with little attention paid to defense. Gaethje had Alvarez stumbling around unsteadily thanks to his powerful leg kicks while Alvarez did a fantastic job attacking the body of Gaethje to tire the former WSOF lightweight champion. In the end, Alvarez landed a brutal flying knee on a gassed Gaethje, putting an end to one of the most brutal contests in recent memory.
- Alvarez: It’s amazing that after all of these years that Alvarez can still reach down deep and pull out a performance like this one. It’s not like he was slipping Gaethje’s heavy shots. Alvarez was taking a LOT of punishment himself. Despite being weak in his legs, he trusted that his strategy to attack Gaethje’s body would eventually come to fruition and it did. Does this launch Alvarez back into title contention? Eh… maybe. If Conor McGregor continues to hold onto the belt, then Alvarez, doesn’t stand a chance at ever climbing back to the top. There is no such thing as a McGregor rematch… unless he losses the first contest. But if the UFC decides to strip McGregor based on inactivity, I can’t think of anyone who would turn down Alvarez vs. Tony Ferguson. Whatever happens with him next, Alvarez has established that he is still one of the best 155ers on the planet.
- Gaethje: This loss could end up being a good thing for Gaethje. He’s found a lot of success strictly on marching forward and dealing out punishment. We all knew it would only take him so far, but to his credit, it took him much further than anyone would have guessed. With the loss, he now a reason to say his style needs revamping. I’m not saying he needs to tinker with everything, but a bit more attention to footwork and head movement would help mitigate a lot of the damage he takes as opponents have little issue landing on him. Everyone knows Gaethje has the talent to be a title contender. He had a good strategy to knock off Alvarez, battering his legs to the point Alvarez was struggling to stand. A bit more attention to defense, maybe a bit more emphasis on his All-American pedigree wrestling, and Gaethje could be looking at a title shot.
Henry Cejudo defeated Sergio Pettis via unanimous decision
- Expectations/Result: Cejudo looked like an absolute world-beater in disposing of Wilson Reis in his previous contest. Most expected him to run over Pettis with nary a problem. He didn’t have a problem with Pettis, but he didn’t dominate as expected either. For the first time in his UFC career, Cejudo relied heavily on his Olympic wrestling pedigree as his primary weapon to subdue his opponent, grounding Pettis in every round, controlling him for long periods. Pettis arguably won the standup, but not by a wide enough margin to take a single round.
- Cejudo: Remember what I said about Tecia Torres? Cejudo needed to win in the most impressive manner possible if he hoped to secure a rematch with Demetrious Johnson and he didn’t come anywhere close to doing that. I’m not saying he looked bad here. He looked very good… like the second best flyweight in the world. His boxing didn’t have the same flair that he showed against Reis, but he was competitive with Pettis and landed some solid ground-and-pound. But did anyone see anything that made them believe he could beat Mighty Mouse? Nope. Given the UFC is pushing Johnson to fight TJ Dillashaw, Cejudo is going to continue waiting for his second opportunity at the belt.
- Pettis: If I were Pettis’ manager, I would have done everything within my power to avoid this contest as Pettis simply doesn’t match up well with Cejudo. Had he been able to keep the fight standing, he stood a chance of outpointing Cejudo. But how many of you believed that was going to happen? The good news for Pettis is that he is still young at 24-years old and can learn from this contest. In fact, he may be the best flyweight in the world that Johnson has yet to dispose of. With a bit more seasoning – I’m guessing about two more wins – he could be in line to challenge Johnson. Maybe he can do the damn thing with Ray Borg next….
Francis Ngannou defeated Alistair Overeem via KO at 1:42 of RD1
- Expectations/Result: Though a small contingent believed Overeem would draw upon his vast experience to outwit the raw Ngannou, most agreed Ngannou’s power would be too much for the chinny Overeem to overcome. It didn’t take long for the outcome to play out. Overeem tried to outmuscle Ngannou in the clinch, but couldn’t do so. Instead, Ngannou outmuscled him, reversing Overeem against the fence. Overeem then decided to swing fists. Not the best of moves…. Ngannou caught Overeem directly on the chin with a left hook that left the former Strikeforce champion snoring before he hit the ground. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to declare that KO one of the best in the history of the sport. The victory for Ngannou immediately launched him into the #1 contender position, meaning he’ll be facing Stipe Miocic in his next contest.
- Ngannou: How in the world is anyone not scared of this man? The punch that knocked Overeem came with his weaker left hand. What could end up being one of the most iconic KO’s in the history of the sport… and it wasn’t his power hand. Scary. It’s easy to forget Ngannou is still young in the sport – he turned professional just four years ago – meaning he still has a lot of room for growth. Should Ngannou find a way to take the belt from Miocic – UFC 220 in January is being targeted – it’s difficult to conceive of anyone taking the belt from him for a very long time.
- Overeem: Some are ready to declare this loss the end of Overeem’s days as a top contender. Yes, the loss hurts and could end up having some lingering effects, but we can’t say Overeem is finished yet. He’s never been that durable to begin with and anyone would have been knocked cold from that punch. That Overeem now has 60 MMA contests under his belt – not to mention his professional kickboxing contests – isn’t something that can be ignored in terms of his durability. However, it also indicates just how much experience he has acquired over the years. There isn’t much he hasn’t seen. If he endures a series of losses, it’ll be safe to say Overeem is done. To do so after this loss is unfair as Ngannou appears to be the rare physical specimen that comes around once a generation.
Max Holloway defeated Jose Aldo via TKO at 4:51 of RD3
- Expectations/Result: It’s rare that a whole lot has changed when a rematch is scheduled so quickly between fighters. Yet Aldo’s tendency to look stronger in rematches gave everyone reason to pause before stating Holloway was going to be successful in his first title defense. What we got was about as close to a reenactment of the first contest as we were going to get. Aldo started strong, throwing far more leg kicks than he did the first contest, allowing him to arguably take the first two rounds. Holloway was patient, getting his range and picking his spots. Aldo picked his spots to explode and usually scored some good offense, but also expended a lot of energy when he did that. Holloway knew Aldo’s gas tank to be questionable, turning up the volume in the third round to a level he knew Aldo couldn’t handle and finished the former champion just before the round expired.
- Holloway: Is it just me, or were those who were picking Aldo underestimating Holloway’s fight IQ? Yes, Aldo is a fantastic tactical fighter and has done well in his rematches. But Holloway’s tactics can’t be questioned either and this was the first time we got to see him rematch an opponent. Considering how well he handled Aldo the first time, I saw no reason to believe the outcome wouldn’t be similar outside of him simply getting caught. What impressed me this time – and the only major difference from the first contest – was how well Holloway dealt with the leg kicks. He didn’t panic at all. He stuck to his strategy and knew the time for him to strike was coming soon. I’m not ready to declare Holloway to be a long-reigning king quite yet as I fear Frankie Edgar is a difficult stylistic matchup for him, but it certainly looks like he will be at this juncture.
- Aldo: While it played out the same way the first contest did, Aldo looked better than he did the first time. His kicks looked as lethal as ever and he hit Holloway with some heavy leather. Unfortunately for him, Holloway also looked better. So long as Holloway has the belt, Aldo isn’t getting another crack at the title. That’s the biggest reason I didn’t want to see Aldo get an immediate rematch, but I’ll acknowledge it was the right move to make following Edgar’s injury. Kind of a shame the greatest featherweight in the history of the sport is being moved on from in such a fast manner. One question that has long surrounded Aldo is motivation. Though it is somewhat understandable for a longtime champion to begin losing interest, it really is concerning now that he’s out of the title picture for the time being. Will he be able to get up to face the likes of Yair Rodriguez or Jeremy Stephens knowing he is unlikely to get a crack at the belt anytime soon? Would he consider making a move to lightweight to rekindle his fire? Hard to say.
Well, those are my thoughts. Until next time….