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Hindsight – UFC Gdansk: Cerrone vs. Till in retrospect

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Get the thoughts and musings of Dayne Fox on UFC Gdansk, from Josh Emmett’s record setting opening performance to Darren Till’s star making destruction of Donald Cerrone.

UFC Gdansk didn’t do too much for me. That isn’t to say there weren’t some entertaining scraps. Hell, you could even say there was a star-making performance turned in by Darren Till. Admittedly, his performance did make me sit up and take notice. So did Jan Blachowicz’s unique standing RNC. And Josh Emmett did break a record with four knockdowns in a single round. You know what… I need to give the card more credit. It wasn’t great, but there were some really impressive performances when I stop and think about it.

Here’s my thoughts on UFC Gdansk, 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.

Josh Emmett defeated Felipe Arantes via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: No one knew how Emmett was going to look dropping to featherweight as he appeared to be a sturdy at 155 as it was. Those questions were answered quickly, beating Arantes from pillar to post over the first round. Hard to argue against the four knockdowns scored by Emmett in that frame. The match slowed considerably after that, Emmett’s control and pushing of the pace ensuring he took the final two rounds.
  • Emmett: While some of my concerns about Emmett dropping to 145 came to light – Emmett’s energy level fell off a cliff after the first round – his power translated far better than anyone could have predicted. I struggle to see him developing into a contender at featherweight as I’d expect most opponents to adapt to his rote striking, but he certainly deserves a step up in competition after that performance.
  • Arantes: Aside from his toughness and resilience, there isn’t anything positive to take out of this performance for Arantes. Being knocked down four times in one round is indicative of extremely poor defense. The fact the knockdowns came off the same punches shows a fighter unwilling or incapable of making in-fight adjustments. Arantes looked reluctant to engage after that brutal first round, settling for flicking the occasional kick or punch as Emmett marched him down. Usually I enjoy Arantes’ performances. Not this time.

Aspen Ladd defeated Lina Lansberg via TKO at 2:33 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: As one of the brighter women’s bantamweight prospects since the inception of the division, Ladd was a firm favorite – provided she avoided the clinch with the Elbow Princess. Inexplicably, she initiated the clinch in the first round, giving Lansberg the first round. Settling down after that, Ladd found an early takedown in the second and found herself in mount soon after. It was academic from there, unleashing a torrent of punches with primal screams mixed in before the stoppage.
  • Ladd: Perhaps the opening round can be attributed to Octagon jitters as there is no way Ladd could be unaware of Lansberg’s abilities in the clinch. Ladd seemed to realize the error of her ways late in the round, stalling to get the ref to step in to break the action. Ladd fought smart after settling down, listening to her corner between rounds and taking the fight where she needed to for the win. I won’t be surprised at all if she proves to be a contender in two years in a division badly in need of competent bodies.
  • Lansberg: If you give Lansberg her kind of fight, she is extremely difficult to deal with as Ladd found out. However, if you take the fight anywhere other than the clinch and she is mediocre at best. She hasn’t developed enough auxiliary skills outside of her Muay Thai base. I struggle to see Lansberg picking up any more wins in the UFC barring some sudden improvement. Keep in mind, she’s already 35. I know women tend to age better than the men, but Lansberg isn’t a strong athlete.

Warlley Alves defeated Salim Touahri via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Touahri was inserted into the contest less than a week before the event took place, giving him a tall mountain to climb. After a pair of losses in which he gassed early, Alves took a far more measured approach. Sure, the periodic takedown attempts and explosions of attack were typical of him, but they came spread out equally throughout the contest rather than all in the first round. Touahri had a few moments of his own, but overall it was a very uneventful contest.
  • Alves: While I wasn’t impressed by the performance, I can’t say that I didn’t see some progress from Alves. He did a fantastic job of managing his energy levels and put together a few impressive combinations. Given Alves usually tires quickly and only throws single strikes, those are good signs. He made improved use of his jab too. Part of his absence from the cage was due to recovering from an injury, meaning he wasn’t spending the whole time advancing his game. Expect him to look more comfortable in his next appearance as he continues to adjust his fighting style.
  • Touahri: Touahri showed better than expected. Taking the contest on very short notice, I expected him to gas late in the fight. He didn’t, though part of that could be attributed to him taking a long rest after a groin shot early in the third. However, I didn’t see any reason to expect him to be a bright prospect by any means. I’m not saying he doesn’t have a UFC future. I’m saying I didn’t see it. Again though, short notice. I expect a more honest reading of him in his next contest.

Andre Fili defeated Artem Lobov via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: After a spirited contest with Cub Swanson, Lobov’s stock went up exponentially despite a loss in his last appearance. Nonetheless, it was still a pick ‘em contest between him and Team Alpha Male representative Andre Fili. Fili showed some progress with his range striking, darting in and out with his long reach with the occasional body kick too. Lobov began getting Fili’s timing down, landing the cleaner shots about midway through the second. Fili then switched things up, closing out the round with a takedown. Continuing with the takedowns through the third round, Fili was announced the deserved winner.
  • Fili: Though I though Fili looked far better here than he did against Calvin Kattar, I’m still more convinced than ever that he’ll never become the top ten fighter most expected him to evolve into. Yes, he made good use of his reach advantage, but it was hardly expert use of his nine-inch reach advantage. Fili didn’t keep Lobov at the end of his jab consistently – though he did use it. Imagine how dominant Fili could have been if he could master the jab. Nonetheless, Fili did enough to secure an obvious victory and is still a safe bet for an entertaining scrap.
  • Lobov: I’m not going to rip on Lobov in this loss… much. I still hate his approach of marching forward with his hands down. I don’t think it played much of a role in this loss, but why? I digress. Given his physical disadvantages against Fili, Lobov didn’t take a bad approach. He knew he had to eat some damage to get his shots in and began to use some good footwork to sidestep some of Fili’s attacks, beginning to swing the contest in his favor. Then his lack of takedown defense roared its ugly head as Lobov hasn’t faced many wrestlers in his UFC tenure. He did hint at a possible retirement, then stated he wants to take his turn at boxing. Someone needs to remind Lobov being McGregor’s friend doesn’t make him McGregor. Nobody will pay Lobov big money to box. His future is in MMA.

Ramazan Emeev defeated Sam Alvey via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Had this fight been made under even circumstances, I would have favored Alvey. However, Alvey had to cut close to 40 pounds to get down to 189 and still missed weight. The resulting cut left him looking a bit doughy. That would be fine, but it was the lethargic performance that he put on in the cage that left viewers gagging. Emeev picked his spots wisely, clinching up at times, staying on the outside at others, and mixing in some takedown attempts. Alvey threw some half-hearted low kicks and punches, but nothing that posed a threat. Poor performance from the veteran while Emeev walks out with a notable victory in his UFC debut.
  • Emeev: Credit to Emeev for the win. It wasn’t pretty, leaving me with no desire to ever sit down and watch that fight again, but he had a solid strategy for the fight and executed it to perfection. I was a bit disappointed that he couldn’t get Alvey to the ground more, securing only one successful takedown. I know Alvey is difficult to get to the ground, but I would have believed he should have been able to find more success considering the condition Alvey was in. Alas, he didn’t. Emeev doesn’t have an exciting style, but he is skilled enough to keep an eye on.
  • Alvey: Easily the worst performance of his career, Alvey never should have accepted this fight and he knows it. The weight cut proved to be too much to overcome, leading to slow reactions with minimal power behind them. The lack of power is becoming habitual too as only one of his last nine fights has resulted in him stopping someone with his fists. Not a good sign for someone known as a power puncher. Regardless, I expect he’ll look better in his next performance. Then again, he can only go up from here.

Brian Kelleher defeated Damian Stasiak via TKO at 3:39 of RD3

  • Expectations/Result: Though Kelleher and Stasiak aren’t on the radar of anyone besides the most hardcore of fans, both are usually reliable to turn in exciting performances. Kelleher’s tendency to look for the kill – and find it – made him a slight favorite. The action went back and forth, Kelleher swinging with reckless abandon while Stasiak came close to ending the contest when he nailed Kelleher with a spinning back-kick to the mid-section. Stasiak couldn’t put on the finishing touches, though Kelleher was able to do so in the latter half of the third round.
  • Kelleher: I’m very encouraged by this performance from Kelleher. His win over Iuri Alcantara had somewhat of a flukish feel to it. This one didn’t at all. Kelleher does have plenty of defensive holes which are a product of his aggressive style, but he’s also proven to be durable and resilient which allows for the style to work for him. His work in the clinch was encouraging too, limiting Stasiak’s offense in close quarters and wracking his body with knees. Kelleher’s lack of physical skills will limit him from being a contender, but his confidence in his own abilities will result in him pulling off a few upsets.
  • Stasiak: Though this resulted in Stasiak’s first non-decision loss of his career, I was very encouraged by this performance. Stasiak had largely resorted to grappling throughout his UFC career and did try to take the fight to the ground with very limited success in this contest. When that didn’t work, he showed some decent boxing. However, he relied too heavily on the spinning back-kicks, throwing them with reckless abandon after landing the one that hurt Kelleher. Stasiak has already exceeded expectations by sticking around as long as he has. He’ll need to vary his attack a bit more if he hopes to considerably extend that stay.

Marcin Held defeated Nasrat Haqparast via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Having lost all three of his UFC contests, Held was on his last legs in the world’s preeminent MMA organiztion. Working in his favor was Haqparast taking the contest on short notice. Haqparast wasn’t scared to take the fight to the native Pole, winning the standup battle as Held struggled to get the fight to the ground. Haqparast even scored a knockdown in the second. However, the youngster slowed as the fight progressed, allowing Held to get him to the ground with ease as the fight went with Held attacking with a barrage of submission attempts. None of them stuck, but it turned out to be enough to get a unanimous decision victory.
  • Held: Aside from his curious decision to continually take the fight to the ground against Diego Sanchez when he was winning the standup, this was the worst performance of Held’s UFC run. And yet, it’s the one fight that secured a victory for him. Held’s striking didn’t look as sharp as it had against Damir Hadzovic and his timing on his takedowns was off too. He did look like his old self once he did get the fight to the ground, going aggressively after submissions one right after another. But his inability to secure a sub against someone who has faced as low of competition as Haqparast is disconcerting. Has everyone simply figured out his game? I’m not sure where Held sits in my book at this juncture.
  • Haqparast: I really expected the youngster to struggle with Held’s chain submissions. Instead, Haqparast showed a lot of maturity in patiently working his way through every one of Held’s attempts. For instance, when Held went from the ankle lock to the armbar, I thought he had it. Nope. Even more encouraging was Haqparast’s heavy hands. I do think he could have finished off Held after he knocked him down in the second, but he showed too much enthusiasm and ended up in a ground war with him. What did we expect? He’s young. The UFC may have found a keeper in Haqparast.

Oskar Piechota defeated Jonathan Wilson via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: For all of his natural athleticism, Wilson hasn’t shown the necessary temperament to stick around. Thus, most were picking the newcomer Piechota to spoil Wilson’s debut at middleweight. It went about as expected. Wilson was saved by the bell at the end of every round, with Piechota looking to secure submissions at the end of the first and third and knocking Wilson to the mat at the end of the second. Aside from those flurries, most of the action was uneventful. Piechota’s attack was varied, from a jab to low kicks to working in the clinch as Wilson looked for opportunities to counter, not finding them. Not great from a viewer’s standpoint, but promising for Piechota.
  • Piechota: I know that it is far too early for any serious declaration, but Piechota could end up developing into something special. True, a win over Wilson isn’t all that impressive, but Piechota had the perfect strategy to deal with the athletic striker. He presented very few opportunities to counter and took advantage of the chances he had on the ground with the bell being the only thing to save Wilson. Given his late knockdown, there shouldn’t be any questions about Piechota’s power either. Piechota fights older than his 27 years. I’m curious to see if the UFC takes their time with him or if they fast-track him.
  • Wilson: Wilson never should have been signed to the UFC when he was. He had been fighting in the notorious Xplode MMA scene, racking up wins over tomato cans. Just a year into his professional career, the UFC came calling. He has now been in the UFC for three years and still looks like a prospect trying to put it all together… largely because he is! Granted, he has shown improved energy use and submission defense since his UFC entry, but he still doesn’t offer any serious offense if his opponent doesn’t give him anything to respond to. Wilson would be better off being cut loose to gain experience on the regional scene. Given it was his third loss in a row, he very well could be.

Jan Blachowicz defeated Devin Clark via submission at 3:02 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: Given Clark’s lack of experience against high level strikers and Blachowicz’s recent improvement in his takedown defense, I was shocked to see so many picking against the Pole. I wasn’t about to. Clark pushed the action early, largely forgetting about his wrestling and attacking with a lot of low kicks and wild punches with bad intentions. Blachowicz found some success in the clinch, working over the American’s body before unleashing body kick after body kick in the second round. Clark’s early energy expenditure and Blachowicz’s body work took their toll as Clark seemed to fade. A wild charge saw Blachowicz side-step and sink in a modified RNC, forcing a standing Clark to tap out.
  • Blachowicz: Easily the former KSW champion’s most complete performance since arriving in the UFC. He seemed well prepared for what Clark was going to throw at him, attacking the body, and beating up on Clark in the clinch. Did I mention the lone takedown of the fight was finished by Blachowicz as he reversed a takedown attempt of Clark’s? Blachowicz’s gas tank didn’t come into play either, showing a much better stamina. I don’t know if he was inspired to have a strong performance in front of his countrymen or if these are changes that are here to stay. I hope they are permanent, but only time will tell.
  • Clark: I’m not sure what to think of this performance from Clark. He had a lot more confidence in his striking and did send Blachowicz sprawling across the cage late in the first with a right hand. The issue is most of his striking was highly inaccurate and wild, avoiding most of the return fire from Blachowicz thanks to his natural athleticism. He tired quickly as well and I don’t think conditioning had much to do with it. He’s still trying to overwhelm opponents with his physical skills without much progression on his technique in any phase. I say that not just because technique usually provides more power in takedowns and strikes, it also provides energy conservation. Just some food for thought.

Karolina Kowalkiewicz defeated Jodie Esquibel via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: While no one debated whether Esquibel deserved a shot in the UFC, there wasn’t a person outside her camp who thought she was capable of toppling Kowalkiewicz, a former title challenger. While it took Kowalkiewicz a while to warm up, she put the pressure on from the very beginning. Esquibel answered well in the early going, using kicks to keep Kowalkiewicz from clinching up, but Kowalkiewicz found the openings she was looking for in the second and third rounds. Kowalkiewicz devastated Esquibel with knees and elbows in the clinch and nearly secured an armbar before the second round expired. Dominant performance for Kowalkiewicz in front of her countrymen.
  • Kowalkiewicz: While this was a good performance from Kowalkiewicz, I don’t want to say it is her best. I was more impressed with her victory over Rose Namajunas. Nonetheless, Kowalkiewicz looked very good, putting together good combinations, dominating in the clinch, and even securing a takedown. However, I’m worried her lack of power will hold her back from ever truly breaking through to the next level. Time will tell, but if she couldn’t get one with all the volume she poured onto Esquibel, I don’t think she ever will. I’ve seen a lot of discussion about pitting Kowalkiewicz against Jessica Andrade next as Kowalkiewicz called her out. I know there aren’t many other options that make sense against Andrade, but I’m not liking Kowalkiewicz’s chances given her performance against Claudia Gadelha.
  • Esquibel: Nobody has ever questioned Esquibel’s heart. That’s a ludicrous proposition. But who in the world thought it was a good idea for her to be fighting a recent title challenger in her first UFC contest? Short notice would have been a different story, but this wasn’t a short notice contest. Wouldn’t someone like Angela Hill or Jessica Aguilar made more sense? Nonetheless, Esquibel’s lack of size really hurt her here as she didn’t have a consistent attack once Kowalkiewicz was able to work around the front kicks. She didn’t have enough oomph in her takedown attempts either. I like Esquibel as she has a solid all-around game. The problem is she lacks size and power.

Darren Till defeated Donald Cerrone via TKO at 4:20 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: Till made a bold proclamation after his last victory over Bojan Velickovic, stating he’s the best fighter on the planet. Given his bold talk, it only seemed appropriate to let him put his money where his mouth was as Cerrone stepped up to give him a shot against one of the elite. Cerrone looked lost from the very beginning. Using his massive frame and length, Till pressed the action on Cerrone, keeping the American against the fence with a constant attack from his left hand. Cerrone tried to answer back with low kicks and body work, but Till seemed unaffected. A straight left late in the round stumbled Cerrone, leading Till to unleash a torrent of punches, forcing Cerrone to cover up on his knees before the ref called a stop to the action.
  • Till: Can we officially call Till a title contender now? Cerrone had lost two in a row coming into this contest, sitting just outside of the top five. I don’t think I’ll give Till that much credit yet, but he has certainly launched himself into the top ten. He made great use of his size, becoming the first opponent of Cerrone’s to make him look like the overblown lightweight that he is. Credit to Till’s footwork for effectively keeping Cerrone against the fence too. Till brilliantly put himself into a feud with Mike Perry too, jawing with the American as he sat outside the cage. Fans love that type of interaction and will likely tune in to see that contest if it’s put together. If Perry ends up being Till’s next opponent, I favor the Englishman. However, if he matches up with a wrestler like Kamaru Usman next – unlikely given Usman’s recently scheduled bout — I have my doubts. Regardless, Till represents some much needed new blood near the top of the division.
  • Cerrone: Well, I guess Cerrone won’t be fighting at UFC 219 after all. Cowboy had claimed he was in talks with the brass about another fight before the end of the year. I’m sure his nose will need ample time to recover from the damage Till inflicted. I’ve already seen calls for Cerrone to return to lightweight as he was bullied by a much larger Till. Those talks may be a bit premature as Cerrone’s two previous losses had nothing to do with being overwhelmed by his opponent’s size. Hell, Jorge Masvidal was a former lightweight himself. I’d recommend some time off as this loss was brutal, not to mention the damage he took in his war with Robbie Lawler. Given his don’t-give-a-damn attitude, it’s easy to forget Cerrone is now 34-years old with a lot of mileage on his body. I don’t think he can continue to fight as often as he has in the past and maintain the degree of success we are used to out of him. He can still provide some entertaining scraps, but the days of talking about Cerrone as a contender are over.

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

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