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Hindsight – UFC 227: Dillashaw vs. Garbrandt 2 in retrospect

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It may not have had the earth-shattering feel to it when Anderson Silva was finally toppled by Chris Weidman at UFC 162, but UFC 227 marked the end of an era. The only flyweight champion the UFC had known, Demetrious Johnson, was dethroned in a thrilling back-and-forth contest with Henry Cejudo, a former victim of Johnson’s long streak of title defenses. The magnificence of their contest overshadowed the end of the rivalry between TJ Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt, though I doubt it ends the tension between Dillashaw and his former camp, Team Alpha Male. Overall, UFC 227 proved to be a magnificent event with plenty of contenders for bonus money when the time came to choose who deserved an extra $50K.

Here’s a breakdown of every contest on UFC 227. I’ll cover the important parts of the fight, some of the techniques I noticed that were either effective or ineffective, and where the fighters appear to be going.

Marlon Vera defeated Wuliji Buren via TKO at 4:53 of RD2

Not much to take note of in this contest. Buren did show improvements from his UFC debut, likely taking the first round from a slow starting Vera with a combination of striking and wrestling. Vera found his footing in the second, pushing the pace by scoring with a multitude of kicks. A brutal left hook to the body floored Buren near the end of the round and Vera finished with a few more punches.

Vera needed to dominate this contest for me to feel good about his progression. The kid showed more in the second frame to save face as he had no business losing this contest, but I’m worried he’s never going to develop the consistency to be more than a fringe top-15 fighter. To Vera’s credit, Buren did look better than expected, his striking looking slicker than ever before. Buren may get another fight on account of the UFC making a push to open up China – and they are finding more success than they did a few years ago – but he doesn’t look like he has enough to be more than a name that passes through the annals of the UFC’s history.

Weili Zhang defeated Danielle Taylor via unanimous decision

On the other hand, Zhang – China’s other representative on this card — may very well become more than just a face in the crowd. The jury is still out on that, but the newcomer looked sharp in her UFC debut. Utilizing a deep bag of tricks to outpoint the one-track minded Taylor, Zhang attacked all levels of Taylor’s body with punches and kicks. Taylor, though she landed a few bombs that looked as though they could have swung momentum exponentially, couldn’t hope to match Zhang’s volume with her head-hunting counters.

I have yet to score a fight in Taylor’s favor in the UFC, making her 0-5 in my book. I’m not saying she’s without talent or that she’s completely undeserving of her roster spot. She has substantial power for strawweight. What I am getting at is she needs to be willing to take more chances. I understand her size limits her ability to stand in the pocket and trade. However, she has amazing quickness and burst. If she can be less choosy about when to explode – and maybe even mix in a few more takedown attempts – I think she’d be less dependent on getting a finish.

I’m excited about Zhang. I don’t see her becoming a major player – she’s an older prospect, turning 29 later this month – but she’s lacking any glaring holes. That in itself should allow her to hang around the roster and further exposure to better competition should allow her to continue to refine herself. No major criticisms of her performance as I expect the kinks she did experience will be ironed out.

Alex Perez defeated Jose Torres via TKO at 3:36 of RD1

I had stated in the Winners and Losers article that Perez landed over 100 significant strikes in less than a round. According to Fight Metric, the total was 84. Regardless, Perez looked like a million bucks, absolutely dominating a highly touted prospect in Torres. Overwhelming the former two-division champion for Titan FC with volume, Perez pushed an insane pace Torres couldn’t keep up with, causing him to collapse against the cage against the brutal onslaught Perez unleashed upon him.

Many were clamoring for Torres to get his UFC call for a long time, marking him the young flyweight to watch. Perez wrested that title from him in a manner no one saw coming. It wasn’t just the pace and volume of Perez. It was the accuracy, the variety of strikes, and the ability to outmuscle Torres in close quarters that led to the dropping of jaws. Despite his extensive record, the kid is still just 26-years old. No more pussyfooting with Perez. The UFC needs to match him up with a ranked opponent, preferably someone in the top ten.

While this performance in combination with his debut a few months back does pump the brakes on the expectations many had for Torres, I hardly believe he’s a flop. He does need to find a way to get into the flow of a fight quicker as the self-proclaimed slow starter paid a heavy price for his inability to get going. It’s not like he’s that much smaller than his opponents at flyweight either. I do believe he would have been well served to attempt some takedowns when Perez was piecing him up, but Perez’s wrestling has been stout thus far. Regardless, Torres needs to figure out a few things.

Sheymon Moraes defeated Matt Sayles via unanimous decision

In a tribute to just how good this card was, this contest was one of the low points of the night… and it wasn’t a bad fight. As the broadcast team wouldn’t let us forget, Sayles is a teammate of Dominick Cruz. You know, the former champion who does commentary for the UFC. Yeah, that guy. Given the commentary team’s relationship with Cruz, they slanted their view in favor of Sayles, discounting the fact Moraes volume wasn’t far behind Sayles in addition to having decidedly more oomph to it. Sayles did up the ante in the final round and ensured there was no doubt who won that frame, but there was no doubt who took the contest.

No disrespect to Moraes and Sayles, but this contest speaks volumes about the issues of having active fighters in the commentary booth on a regular basis. Joe Rogan doesn’t have an association with Sayles, but because of their mutual association with Cruz, Rogan was praising the kid the entire time. In the process, it made Moraes out to sound like a chump who was getting lucky with his counters, which was hardly the case. Sayles is a nice prospect and very easily could have won if he had u4pped his aggression at some point before the third round. Is he a world beater? Far from it. I don’t believe Rogan was intentionally favoring Sayles. However, when you combine his unintentional bias with the UFC’s blatant favoritism of other fighters, it’s turning off fans to the product.

Many forget what a talent Moraes is following Zabit Magomedsharipov’s destruction of him last year. He has some excellent timing and power in his counter and those factors shined through in this contest. He showed some nice creativity with his step-in elbow in the third too. While I don’t see him becoming more than a fighter on the fringe of the rankings, that’s not a bad accomplishment in a stacked featherweight division.

Ricardo Ramos defeated Kyung Ho Kang via split decision

One of a multitude of young bantamweights looking to move up the rankings, Ramos was facing the toughest test of his career against the durable Kang. The two of them traded strikes for the most part, Ramos head hunting with straight shots while Kang mixed things up a bit more, including a barrage of low kicks. Kang may have landed more volume, but the lingering image of the fight was Ramos pressing up against the cage teeing off with hard shots. Despite Kang clearly taking the final round, Ramos found his hand raised in the end.

I struggle to see what Kang was thinking. He’s a talented grappler and wrestler, but he rarely looked to take the fight to the ground. Instead, he was content to wing wild punches with Ramos. Ramos is hardly a technician himself, but his straight punches have a tendency of finding their home with regularity. Perhaps Kang was worried about Ramos grappling prowess. Ramos did come thisclose to submitting his Korean counterpart with a kneebar, but Kang also escaped. Regardless, Kang’s strategy had him coming up short.

Ramos’ performance didn’t really stand out. However, it can be taken as a good sign as he was able to pick up a win over a tough veteran despite not looking his best. Ramos has flashed brilliance in his previous performances, indicating he’s capable of more great things. I liked his callout of Sean O’Malley, but I doubt he’ll be lucky enough to be matched up with Uncle Dana’s golden boy.

Ricky Simon defeated Montel Jackson via unanimous decision

There’s a strong camp who believed Jackson could use some more marinating time on the regional scene, given his professional debut came less than 14 months prior. Jackson showed the promise that has so many excited about him in spurts, but the 26-year old wasn’t ready for the step up in competition Simon represented. Simon secured one takedown after another, controlling the pace of the contest for just about every minute.

Credit to Simon for recognizing standing and trading with the much longer Jackson for the course of the contest wasn’t going to work. Instead, he closed the distance at every opportunity he could latch onto to wrest Jackson to the ground and throw low kicks during the brief moments the fight was fought from long range. His grinding style won’t do him any favors with the brass, but a win is a win. Jackson needs experience more than anything. Once he figures out how to keep opponents on the end of his jab with regularity, he could prove to be something special. The fear is that he’s being thrown into the fire too soon for that to be the case.

Pedro Munhoz defeated Brett Johns via unanimous decision

I fully expected Munhoz and Johns to put on an entertaining contest. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting – it was better, emerging as the favorite for FOTN prior to the main card. Munhoz and Johns went toe-to-toe, throwing heavy leather. Munhoz easily got the better of the exchanges, weakening Johns base with low kicks over the course of the contest, coming close to finishing the Welshman a couple of times in the second round. Despite the barrage of punches and multiple submission attempts, Johns refused to give in, lasting until the final bell.

There’s a lot of good and bad for Munhoz in this. His striking looked as sharp as it ever did, putting together lengthy combinations while effortlessly slipping in the low kicks. However, he also allowed the Johns to fight back despite his limited mobility. Munhoz ate some HARD shots in return and opted to stay in the pocket… the one place where Johns had a chance. Munhoz’s fight IQ has been questioned for a while. Fortunately for him, he had the skillset to overcome that against Johns. However, If he wants to beat any of the names ahead of him in the divisional rankings, he’ll need to avoid being sucked into brawls and play to his strengths.

Between this contest and his previous one with Aljamain Sterling, a hard ceiling has been established for Johns. He just doesn’t have the physical skills the hang with the top ten of the division. However, he also proved he isn’t going to back down, coming back for more when it appeared he was on the verge of being finished. Combine that with his improved boxing and there is a strong chance he could pull off an upset in a favorable stylistic contest with a superior opponent, but he’s going to find himself on the fringe of the rankings for the most part.

Thiago Santos defeated Kevin Holland via unanimous decision

After an unimpressive performance on the Contender Series earlier this summer, Holland decided to kick back and just let it fly. After all, he accomplished his goal: he was in the UFC now. Though he was clearly outgunned on the feet with Santos, Holland stood in the pocket and threw his own bombs in retaliation, keeping things interesting as Santos couldn’t simply ignore the return fire. Though it was a clear win for Santos, Holland’s personality shined through, making the contest memorable for that reason.

Holland looked at ease the entirety of the contest, even when he was eating Santos’ heavy artillery. Not that it looked like he was enjoying the beating, but he wasn’t backing down. Holland’s creativity created some interesting events, such as an armbar attempt in the first round off a Santos takedown and a kimura to sweep in the second. With some refinement, Holland could turn his creativity into a legit threat as opposed to the occasional threat.

The win doesn’t do anything for Santos aside from get him back on the winning track. He didn’t appear to be at his best, though he may be given some leeway for taking the contest on short notice. There’s talk he could move up to light heavyweight, a proposition that seemed laughable when he first entered the UFC five years ago. However, Santos has grown exponentially in the physical sense. He might be best served making the move as 205 is short on solid competition. Look no further than how well Anthony Smith has done in his new home, someone Santos disposed of with ease.

JJ Aldrich defeated Polyana Viana via unanimous decision

Many were questioning what the hell this fight was doing on the main card in the first place. After everything played out… everyone was wondering what the hell it was doing on the main card. Viana couldn’t keep Aldrich on the ground, allowing Aldrich to pick her apart with sharp counters. Viana had some wild punches of her own that landed – as well as some kicks – but her offense wasn’t as clean as what Aldrich had to offer. By the end, Viana was exhausted, offering nothing to Aldrich for a tepid decision in favor of Aldrich.

I’m not crazy about Aldrich’s upside, but she deserves credit for reeling off three wins in a row. While she lacks athleticism, Aldrich has been able to overcome her shortcomings with her disciplined striking. However, it will only take her so far and she’s been fighting competition on the lower end of the totem pole. Viana didn’t help matters by having her shallow gas tank exposed. The young Brazilian has a nice submission game, but that’s about it. She’s also a prime example of why technical striking is something to harp on. No doubt her lack of technique contributed to her gassing out quickly. The question will be whether she’s learned anything from her errors.

Renato Moicano defeated Cub Swanson via submission at 4:15 of RD1

While most may have been picking Moicano, no one was completely counting out Swanson. For nearly a decade, he’s been counted amongst the best in the featherweight division. However, everyone’s time eventually comes to a close. With his third loss in a row, Swanson’s time may be up. He did start out strong, landing a few good punches as the aggressor. All it took for Moicano to swing the tide was a jab, flooring Swanson before patiently working his way to an RNC against his dazed opponent.

I don’t want to go as far as to say Swanson is finished. He may not be a title contender at this point. Then again, he never officially was as he never fought for the title. Nonetheless, my point is that it’s difficult to tell just how far Swanson has fallen. The UFC hasn’t been throwing easy opponents at him. Perhaps the Artem Lobov contest 16 months ago was more telling than we thought. Swanson won that contest comfortably, but he couldn’t put away an opponent who had no business being competitive with someone who was searching for a title shot at that time. Swanson has still been fun to watch, so even if he has slipped, he still has a role as an action fighting gatekeeper.

Moicano’s jab that floored Swanson came as a surprise to everyone. It isn’t because his jab emerged as a weapon out of nowhere; it’s been one of his primary weapons. It’s that he was able to drop Swanson with it. Did he simply catch Swanson in the right spot at the right time? Unless it happens again, that would be my bet. Nonetheless, that doesn’t take away from Moicano’s abilities. He’s unlikely to get the fight against Ortega that he’s calling for, but a high-profile contest with a former title contender sounds likely.

Henry Cejudo defeated Demetrious Johnson via split decision

Am I the only one who felt a complete lack of anticipation for this contest? Having been the champion for almost six years – and having already defeated Cejudo once – it felt like just another routine Johnson title defense. That likelihood appeared more likely when Cejudo appeared to suffer a leg injury just seconds into the contest. Johnson made Cejudo’s leg a target, attacking it with kicks and getting on his bike. However, Johnson appeared visibly slower… slow enough Cejudo was catching him with well-timed takedowns. Even stranger, he was keeping Johnson down with those takedowns. The contest proved to be as close as fights get, depending on what you emphasized between strikes and takedowns. The judges favored Cejudo’s takedowns, giving the UFC its first title change at the flyweight division.

The aftermath of the fight doesn’t really help clarify the decision. It was revealed a few days later that Johnson tore his LCL and suspected he broke his foot. Though he may not have broken his foot, it does help explain the lack of mobility from the former champion. However, does Cejudo deserve credit for causing those injuries? After all, decisions are supposed to be decided on who does more damage. Then again, Johnson’s foot appeared to be injured from all the kicks he was delivering to Cejudo’s leg. Do we count that as Johnson injuring himself? Hard to say. Given the controversial nature of the decision, the only logical thing to do is to run back the fight. After all, Johnson’s eleven consecutive title defenses have to count towards something.

If Cejudo can get past Johnson in the rematch – no guarantee – it will all depend upon his motivation how long he’ll remain champion. After Cejudo won his gold medal at the 2008 Olympics, he took an extended break, getting badly out of shape and failing to make the 2012 team. It’s not like he was old; Cejudo was the youngest American Olympic champion in freestyle wrestling when he took home the gold. He accomplished his goal and no longer was motivated. Will the same thing happen with his MMA career?

Johnson’s performance was easily the worst of all his title defenses. However, that also gives a strong indication of how good he has been as he was still good enough to be the winner in eyes of many. How well he took the loss also calls into question how badly he wants to hold onto the title at this point. Has he lost his motivation? Johnson has always been different cat, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into that. In a sense, the loss could be the best thing for him as I’ve never been more excited to see a Johnson fight as I am to see him rematch Cejudo. Seriously, the UFC is stupid if they don’t put that contest together.

TJ Dillashaw defeated Cody Garbrandt via TKO at 4:17 of RD1

Though it felt the UFC rushed these two together too quickly, it nonetheless guaranteed fireworks as Dillashaw and Garbrandt had zero love-loss. Garbrandt started out with his hands up, a change as he prefers to keep them low so opponents can’t see what’s coming. Despite the change, Dillashaw still found the angles he was looking for after a few hard kicks and punches from Garbrandt. It was a clean right hand that sent Garbrandt sprawling. Garbrandt did bounce back up to his feet, though it was obvious he was still woozy. Dillashaw didn’t let up, delivering damage until Herb Dean stepped in, Garbrandt slumping to the canvas after the stoppage.

Though the fight was enjoyable, the UFC really screwed up re-booking this immediately. I’m not even talking about the ridiculousness of Garbrandt getting a rematch after zero title defenses and being KO’d by Dillashaw the first time around, though that was BS. The question now is what to do with Garbrandt now. As long as Dillashaw is champion, there isn’t going to be any clamoring to see these two back in the cage. The UFC should have hyped Garbrandt’s road back to the title by giving him a fight or two before getting another shot at the belt. Hell, they could have even put him on the same card as Dillashaw’s defense(s) to keep the rivalry fresh in the minds of fans. Instead, they’ve relegated him to an afterthought now that he’s lost. Poor planning by the UFC brass, ending a rivalry that could have lasted a lot longer.

It is difficult to know what to do with Garbrandt. Is he a glorified gatekeeper now? I typically don’t bag on gatekeepers as I believe it’s an underappreciated role. But being forced into that role as a former champion at the age of 27? Ouch. There are still plenty of interesting contests for Garbrandt out there – Jimmie Rivera, Raphael Assuncao, and John Dodson to name a few – so he could still headline Fight Night cards. But will he be motivated knowing he’s out of the title picture for now? Has his chin been completely cracked?

Dillashaw has a strong case as the greatest bantamweight in history. It all depends upon how you scored his contest with Dominick Cruz. I’m in the camp that believes Dillashaw should have retained, so I’m in agreeance with his claim. What’s scary is he still appears to be improving. I really hope the UFC doesn’t book him opposite Cruz as there are fighters who’ve stayed active who have a greater claim at a title shot. For instance, Marlon Moraes has fought four times since Cruz last stepped into the cage. One of those fights for Moraes was a loss to Assuncao who has also fought four times since we last saw Cruz. I’d think activity level counts for something.

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

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