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Hindsight – UFC on FOX 24: Johnson vs. Reis in retrospect

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Hindsight   UFC on FOX 24: Johnson vs. Reis in retrospect

Peer into all of the results of UFC on FOX 24, from the barely mentioned opening contest between Ketlen Vieira and Ashlee Evans-Smith to potential GOAT Demetrious Johnson’s shellacking of Wilson Reis.

Poor ratings aside, UFC on FOX 24 had to be considered a rousing success. There were three contests the viewers were looking to tune into. They were rewarded handsomely with how all three played out. Demetrious Johnson put on what may have been his most dominant performance — and that is saying something — as he tied Anderson Silva’s record for consecutive UFC title defenses. Rose Namajunas obliterated Michelle Waterson to stake her claim for a title shot at strawweight. For some, the biggest story was Robert Whittaker dispatching one of longtime top dogs at middleweight in Jacare Souza. It isn’t just that Whittaker beat him — he annihilated him. Of course, those aren’t the only things that happened on the card.

Here’s my thoughts on the UFC on FOX 24, 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.

Ketlen Vieira defeated Ashlee Evans-Smith via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Coming off of two straight wins, Evans-Smith was a favorite over the largely untested Vieira. Both fighters came out looking much improved in their striking, putting together punching combinations that hadn’t been seen in their previous contests. Vieira was the more aggressive of the two, moving forward and catching Evans-Smith with an uppercut on the rare occasions Evans-Smith was moving forward. Evans-Smith tried to meet the volume with leg kicks, but the judges weren’t buying the effectiveness of the strikes, giving Vieira her second UFC win.
  • Vieira: This is the type of performance Vieira needed to get people excited about her future prospects. She had beat up a bunch of cans on the Brazilian scene and squeaked by Kelly Faszholz in her UFC debut in a bout where neither looked very good. There are still holes that need to be addressed defensively, but Vieira stuffed Evans-Smith’s few takedown attempts, more than held her own in the clinch, and landed the greater volume of hard shots. While Vieira is a long way away from being a major player, this performance at least showed the potential is there for her to become one.
  • Evans-Smith: This was Evans-Smith opportunity to break into the top half of the division. I don’t see her ever getting a better opportunity to do so. I will admit that her striking look a bit more fluid and she did a good job staying active enough with her kicks. The problem is she came up short with the vast majority of her punches, which left her open to Vieira’s counters. While it is clear she is still improving, I struggle to see Evans-Smith improving enough to be a mainstay in the top ten.

Zak Cummings defeated Nathan Coy via submission at 4:21 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: This felt like a lopsided contest from the beginning in the favor of Cummings. Coy appeared to have the wrestling ability to stifle Cummings ability to smoother his opponents, but not the striking. To be fair, I’ll admit that Coy looked improved on the feet, keeping things interesting. A scramble initiated off of a Coy takedown attempt led to Cummings sinking in a sick guillotine choke. Coy did everything in his power to escape, but to no avail as he went to sleep before the ref stepped in… late, but he did step in.
  • Cummings: I’ll admit that I’ve continue to call Cummings a grinder despite his recent showings being standup battles. I think I’m going to have to quit calling him that. Cummings never even tried to take the fight to the ground where his size advantage over Coy would mean the most. Given the timing of his counters and the overall advantage in technique, I can’t blame Cummings. He landed a lot of heavy punches which is what led to Coy shooting for the ill-advised takedown. Great performance from the Kansas City native.
  • Coy: If you take into account everything leading up to the takedown attempt, Coy looked better than he has in his UFC run. He wasn’t winning the standup, but he was hanging tough which is more than what most expected. However, both of his UFC losses have come by submission. Coy has been trying to make up for his lack of physical talent with aggression. While I do like that mindset, it’s been a problem for him as he often attacks recklessly. At 38, I don’t see Coy hanging around much longer.

Anthony Smith defeated Andrew Sanchez via TKO at 3:52 of RD3

  • Expectations/Result: Even though I picked Sanchez to win the contest, I was appalled to see he was a greater than a 3-to-1 favorite over Smith. Their notable victories come over similar level of opponents with Smith having the more extensive resume. What the hell? Sanchez was aggressive early, holding his own on the feet and scoring takedowns in the first and second rounds. Though the first round was close, Sanchez dominated the second, putting him firmly in the driver’s seat heading into the third given Smith’s history of gassing. Though Smith was tired, it was Sanchez who had depleted his tank with nothing left to offer in the final round. Smith stalked him around the cage, picking his spots wisely. He finally nailed a retreating Sanchez with a head kick, finishing him off with some hammerfists on the ground.
  • Smith: It’s hard to believe someone nearly 40 fights into their MMA career can still be improving. Yet, that is exactly what is happening with Smith. He had never picked up a finish past the second round before this contest as he was usually just fighting to survive in the final round of his fights. Now that he has improved his stamina – as well as his discipline – he’s going to be dangerous beyond the first half of his fights now. I don’t see him entering the official UFC rankings, but he could carve out a nice long career in the UFC similar to what Chris Camozzi has done.
  • Sanchez: The first two rounds went about as well as could be expected for Sanchez. He controlled Smith on the ground in the second. He landed more than his share of hard punches in those rounds too. But he had nothing left to offer in the final round, bouncing around the cage without initiating any offense of his own. If your strategy in the final round is merely to survive, you’re going to draw some well-deserved criticism against your gas tank. Despite that, there is still a lot to like about Sanchez. Seeing as how Sanchez is still relatively young in his MMA career, I expect this to be more of a learning experience rather than a career-defining performance.

Devin Clark defeated Jake Collier via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Even though Clark was the favorite – rightfully so I might add – I picked Collier as I liked the advantage his experience offered. Collier had some success countering Clark’s early aggression, keeping the fight reasonably close through the first two rounds in the striking exchanges. Clark decided he didn’t want to play with fire any more in the final round, taking Collier down time and again to seal the deal with a dominant round.
  • Clark: I wasn’t as excited about Clark’s prospects as most others were heading into this contest. I’m more inclined to jump on that bandwagon now. Clark showed zero tentativeness that had been there in his first two UFC contests, letting his athleticism shine through as he pushed a very high pace. Even though he’s undersized at 205, that type of approach can be enough for him to score a few upsets in a division littered with fighters known for shallow gas tanks. Though there are still holes in his striking offensively and defensively, look for those to close up as he gains more experience. Clark still has less than 10 fights under his belt.
  • Collier: I’m mixed on Collier’s move up to 205. He did show more energy beyond the first round than normal, standing up every time Clark took him down in the last round. But that is a big part of the issue: he was taken down time and again. Clark isn’t a very big light heavyweight himself and he bullied Collier with ease. How will Collier look when he faces the bigger dudes at 205? One other thing in Collier’s favor was that he didn’t get finished, indicating the move up may also help his durability. Given the lack of depth at 205, expect Collier to stay there. Whether he finds success or not is another story.

Aljamain Sterling defeated Augusto Mendes via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: One of the best pure athletes in the UFC, Sterling entered the contest a considerable favorite despite entering with consecutive losses. Mendes scared Sterling early with a knockdown and a couple of submission attempts from the BJJ world champion. Sterling not only survived, he kept his composure and stayed busy with his takedowns and high volume striking. Mendes eventually tired, allowing Sterling to control him easily over the final round and a half to get the youngster back on the winning track.
  • Sterling: I’ve seen people knocking Sterling and I’m not sure why. He did put himself in some bad positions, but he also found his way out of those situations without much of a struggle. Even though he was throwing at a pretty high pace, he didn’t tire as his strikes weren’t nearly as labored as they have been in the past. Sterling is looking better in every contest. It’s rare that growth comes in leaps and bounds as fans often expect it to. I’m not sold whether Sterling will end up challenging for the title, but I’d say it is a good bet if he continues to progress like he has.
  • Mendes: I feared this would happen to Mendes. He’s a plus athlete who often relies on out-athleting – I don’t care if that isn’t a word – his opponent. It didn’t work against Cody Garbrandt and it sure as hell wasn’t going to work against Sterling. That type of approach usually leads to a fighter depleting their gas tank and that is exactly what happened here. Given his own inexperience, I’d like to see Mendes take a step back in terms of the level of his competition. Mendes has yet to get a fight against an unranked opponent despite his own unranked status. Once he starts fighting opponents more to his level, I expect he’ll level out in the 10-12 range of the rankings.

Tim Elliott defeated Louis Smolka via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: I think we all expected an entertaining scrap. What we got was ridiculous. There wasn’t a break in the action at any point as Elliott exploded out of the gate with a takedown, searching for a submission right away. Smolka was just as game, hitting sweeps and trip takedowns of his own in addition to searching for his own submission attempts. Between the two, there were guillotines, triangle chokes, arm-triangle chokes, leg locks… just about everything. Despite showing fatigue, Elliott never let his foot off the gas pedal with his takedowns being the biggest difference maker.
  • Elliott: The unorthodox Elliott picked up a lot of fans after his performance against Johnson back in December. He may have picked up more with this performance. There wasn’t a moment in which Elliott wasn’t looking for the finish. Even more amazing, he was able to escape from Smolka’s numerous submission attempts. I wouldn’t recommend Elliott’s reckless style to 99% of the MMA population, but he is that 1% outlier that it works for given his unnatural ability to escape danger. What won’t get a lot of attention was the improved striking technique shown by Elliott on the few occasions he looked to stand and trade. I don’t think Elliott will ever get another crack at the belt, but he is still improving and still a blast to watch.
  • Smolka: Given that he has lost three in a row, Smolka couldn’t have picked a better time to put on a FOTY caliber performance. Granted the pool of awesome fights this year is pretty shallow, but it was a great fight nonetheless. Escaping from just as many submission attempts as Elliott – if not more – Smolka looked like he was done a couple of times only to escape and keep the scrambling spectacle going. I was encouraged by Smolka’s improved boxing in the pocket too. Unfortunately, Smolka hasn’t done a damn thing to improve his takedown defense which has long been his Achilles heel. I hope it doesn’t cost him his job here, but it very well could.

Rashid Magomedov defeated Bobby Green via split decision

  • Expectations/Result: Given Green’s plethora of injuries and personal issues, no one knew what to expect out of the talented lightweight anymore. Thus, most were picking Magomedov to win the contest. Struggling with Magomedov’s range and unable to score takedowns, Green opted to either stay outside of Magomedov’s punches by attacking with leg kicks or to close the distance and fight in the clinch. It nearly worked. Magomedov responded by upping his aggression – just a tick — in the final two rounds, scoring damage at a higher clip to sway two of the three judges to see things his way.
  • Magomedov: It’s hard not to be impressed by Magomedov’s penchant for the counter. He quickly gets his opponent’s timing down to respond accordingly which often makes his opponent reluctant to step into the pocket. The problem is that he doesn’t have much of a killer instinct, being content to ride out the fight to a decision. Now that he’s a free agent, he may not get an offer he’ll be satisfied with despite his impressive 5-1 record due to his passive style. Don’t be surprised to see him gone as the UFC has let more entertaining fighters make their way out.
  • Green: Green doesn’t look like he’s slipped physically, something that was a genuine concern. What did seem to be missing was the attitude he usually brings to the cage, indicating he still isn’t where he needs to be mentally. The funny thing is Green’s strategy was probably the best one that I’ve seen out of him. Keep in mind this is the same guy who went toe-to-toe with Edson Barboza. The problem is his attitude often gave the judges the impression he was winning the contest in the past. Had he been jaw-jacking the way he usually does – regardless of whether or not Magomedov would have understood him — I’m prone to believe he could have swayed the judges. With three losses in a row, he’s now on thin ice.

Tom Duquesnoy defeated Patrick Williams via TKO at 0:28 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: Hardcore fans have long-awaited the arrival of Duquesnoy into the UFC as the talented Frenchman has long been regarded as one of the top prospects in the world. Though he had a few rough moments, he lived up to expectations. Williams came out aggressive, hitting Duquesnoy with a number of hard shots early and landing a few takedowns to boot. Once Williams began to tire, Duquesnoy took complete control, wading into the clinch without opposition and delivering a series of brutal elbows and knees. After Williams was saved by the bell at the end of the first, the ref stopped the contest quickly after he was dropped again early in the second.
  • Duquesnoy: I don’t know if I should be warning Mighty Mouse or Cody Garbrandt to be looking over their shoulder, but one of them needs to. Duquesnoy still has some big defensive holes that need to be addressed, though that is a common problem for young fighters that generally improves with time. He demonstrated rare toughness by absorbing many of Williams’ strikes with minimal issue and a vicious killer instinct. Though undersized at bantamweight, Duquesnoy’s clinch offense should make opponents reluctant to try and bully the youngster. Perhaps most important of all, the UFC could have a new star… provided they market him correctly.
  • Williams: I did see some improvements out of Williams, indicating good things are happening for him now that he switched to ATT. However, he’s still the same high-octane performer for less than a round that has nothing left to offer beyond the opening minutes who entered the UFC a few years ago. It’s likely he’ll get another fight in the UFC, though he’s unlikely to pick up a victory over anyone outside of the bottom feeders of the division.

Alexander Volkov defeated Roy Nelson via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: I know I was in the minority, but I picked Nelson. I remembered Volkov being briefly dropped by Timothy Johnson and pieced up by his jab and figured Nelson should be able to find his chin at some point. He did… but his right hand didn’t detonate the way it usually does. Nelson fought a very intelligent fight early, getting Volkov to the ground and controlling him for a while. He gave away the round after letting Volkov back to his feet who responded with a flurry that had Nelson on the ropes before the round ended. Volkov used his length to pick apart Nelson from there as Nelson was only throwing a strike at a time from there as the rest of the contest was uneventful.
  • Volkov: This was the outcome the UFC wanted given the lack of new faces at the top of the heavyweight division. Volkov isn’t at the top of the division, but he is moving in the right direction. He fought a smart fight, keeping his distance from Nelson to keep the big man from scoring the KO blow. Volkov did keep his chin out there at times, though he did do a better job overall of keeping from exposing it than he has in the past. Given the age of many at the top – they have to start declining at some point – Volkov could end up climbing pretty high so long as he continues to make subtle improvements.
  • Nelson: I’ll admit I’m late to the party of those jumping off the Nelson train. Power is usually the last thing to leave a fighter… usually. In the case of Nelson, it has left him before his durability has. He landed his right hand cleanly a few times, but Volkov didn’t go anywhere. He didn’t even appear to be wobbled. Nelson can still win some fights, but it’s doubtful they would come over someone whom the casual fans would recognize. Considering he still has some name value, Nelson still has some usefulness as a gatekeeper. However, I understand this is the last fight on his contract. Does anyone else think Bellator will probably give him more money than the UFC?

Renato Moicano defeated Jeremy Stephens via split decision

  • Expectations/Result: Given Stephens’ tough slate of opponents, many fans were thinking this would be a night off for him as he faced the relatively unknown Moicano. Stephens fought like it was a night off. Showing Moicano zero respect as he charged at him swinging bombs, Stephens ate a lot of return fire from Moicano. Moicano spent a good chunk of the fight avoiding Stephens’ attack to draw the ire of fans, but he countered Stephens enough to pick up a well-deserved victory… even if it hurt his reputation as an entertaining fighter.
  • Moicano: I figured Moicano would fight a cautious fight, but I didn’t expect him to literally be running at times. Then again, no one is going to blame him for not wanting to stand and trade with the notoriously hard-hitting Stephens. I get the impression the youngster won’t get the credit he deserves for picking up a hard-earned victory over a respected opponent. That’s unfair to Moicano. This win wasn’t a fluke. Did you see Stephens’ face after the fight? He was busted up bad. Moicano’s accuracy with the jab was impeccable and he timed his level changes for the takedowns perfectly. I’m not saying he’d beat Stephens every time they stepped in the cage either, but Moicano is going to be a fixture in the division for a long time… provided his health holds up. That’s been the biggest thing holding him back thus far.
  • Stephens: Stephens has nobody to blame but himself. Not taking Moicano seriously, he pissed away his opportunity at victory by fighting stupid. Stephens reverted back to the younger version of himself who was a head hunter looking for the highlight reel finish. There was no sign of the crafty vet who picked up workman like victories in recent years. There were no feints. He was chasing Moicano instead of cutting off the cage. Only one attempt at a takedown. Everything was telegraphed. Stephens isn’t declining physically, so he should be able to turn himself around… provided he takes future opponents seriously.

Robert Whittaker defeated Jacare Souza via TKO at 3:28 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: Souza has been as dominant as anyone since coming into the UFC. His only hiccup was a razor thin decision loss to Yoel Romero. How could Whittaker, an undersized middleweight, deal with Souza’s top-notch wrestling and grappling? The answer was with ease. Souza secured a takedown about midway through the first round only to have Whittaker escape from his web. Whittaker closed the round strong, but didn’t really hit his stride until the second round. Running circles around the slower Brazilian, Whittaker floored Souza early in the round and continued to pick him apart from there after Souza was able to survive his ground strikes. Souza’s lack of speed prevented him from mounting any retaliation. Whittaker soon had him back on the ground fending off ground strikes before the ref finally stepped… oddly enough as Souza was getting back to his feet.
  • Whittaker: Who would have believed that Whittaker would ever enter the conversation of the divisional elite when he moved up to the middleweight division? Yet here we are with legitimate talk about Whittaker being one of the best middleweights in the world. Perhaps an argument could be made that he is the best. Whittaker dominated and finished Souza, something #1 contender Yoel Romero and former champion Luke Rockhold couldn’t do when they beat Souza. The last time Souza had been finished: September 2008 by Gegard Mousasi. I don’t think it was Whittaker’s speed that the MMA world underestimated; we’ve all known about that for some time. Whittaker’s striking was sharper than ever, whether it be his boxing combinations or the timing of his kicks. No, it was his ability to shuck off Souza that was the real turning point as Whittaker gained confidence while Souza appeared to be a bit shaken. Whittaker has turned himself into a complete package. I’m stoked to see where he goes next.
  • Souza: Given his 37-years of age, it’s likely Souza will never get the title shot that he had so deservedly earned. It’s a real shame as he could go down in history as the most deserving fighter to never get their title shot, depending on how things play out. While I didn’t underestimate Whittaker’s speed, I did underestimate Souza’s lack of speed. I can only recall one punch landing cleanly as Souza struggled to land any offense. Souza also seemed to give up on the takedown after Whittaker got back to his feet following the one successful takedown. What may be most damaging to Souza is the loss likely shatters the mystique that had surrounded him. He’ll still be an elite middleweight, but he no longer appears to be invincible.

Rose Namajunas defeated Michelle Waterson via submission at 2:47 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: I was shocked at the amount of people picking Waterson. Sure, she took care of Paige Van Zant in short order, but Namajunas absolutely dominated Van Zant for over three rounds. Plus, the youngster still seems to be growing. Waterson did have the first big moment of the fight when she flipped Namajunas onto her back, but that was about it. Namajunas reversed the position in quick fashion, dominating the rest of the round with positioning. The second round started with a Namajunas head kick out of the clinch that sent Waterson sprawling about the canvas, somehow still conscious. Namajunas continued her attack, switching to grappling when Waterson still refused to go out from ground strikes. It took some work, but Namajunas soon got a rear-naked choke for the win.
  • Namajunas: Given Waterson’s savvy and skill, this was Namajunas’ best performance. Namajunas had studied Waterson and saw where the opening for the head kick would be and couldn’t have pulled it off better. She has always been a skilled grappler as well, though she appears to be a bit more disciplined now as she didn’t give Waterson any openings to sweep or reverse position. At the post-fight presser, Namajunas called for a title shot. Keep in mind she didn’t do that after beating Tecia Torres when most expected she would get the shot following that win. I don’t know if she has the physicality to deal with Joanna Jedrzejczyk or Jessica Andrade, but I’d love to find out.
  • Waterson: It’s hard not to like Waterson. She’s an exciting grappler with flash of substance on the feet. Plus, her outgoing personality makes her very marketable. But I fear that she isn’t big enough to become an elite fighter at strawweight. She’s already proven that she can win fights at 115, but she has yet to do so against the elite. After Waterson scored the head-and-arm throw, Namajunas had minimal problems in controlling her. She simply doesn’t have the physicality to combat an opponent who knows what they are doing on the ground. That isn’t even saying anything about her lack of reach on the feet. Nonetheless, look for the UFC to continue to promote her heavily much like they did with Van Zant following Van Zant’s loss to Namajunas. Waterson appears to be more committed to the fight game than Van Zant, so don’t expect her to go anywhere.

Demetrious Johnson defeated Wilson Reis via submission at 4:49 of RD3

  • Expectations/Result: Anyone with an inkling of the happenings in the world of MMA were picking Johnson to tie Anderson Silva’s record for consecutive title defenses. Reis isn’t a bad fighter, but he has no business competing for the title, receiving the shot since Johnson had already beaten everyone else worthy of a title shot. Johnson put on a masterful performance, picking apart Reis with short punching combinations and leg kicks. Reis tried throwing out a barrage of strikes, throwing out lengthy combinations in hopes that the latter strikes would find a home. It didn’t work that way as he looked more and more demoralized as the fight dragged on. The finishing sequence came as Johnson pounded on Reis with ground strikes before snatching an arm and locking in an armbar much like he did against Kyoji Horiguchi a few years ago.
  • Johnson: How many times and ways can we discuss Johnson’s greatness while also espousing how underrated he is? It feels like we discuss those things after every one of his fights without anything changing. It wasn’t just an effective attack from the outside that Johnson did his damage, but that was where the majority of the attack came from. He scored from the clinch, worked on Reis’ body in the pocket, and avoided Reis’ attack with seeming ease. It was truly a masterful performance. I can see where fans don’t care for the performance as it wasn’t exactly competitive, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t entertaining. I know many would disagree with me, but I’d love to see Johnson attempt to break the record for consecutive defenses against the man he originally won the belt against in Joseph Benavidez. I know Johnson has already defeated him twice, but Benavidez will be at seven straight wins should he get past Ben Nguyen in June. What more does he need to do? Besides, another win over Benavidez does more to strengthen Johnson’s legacy than a win over the likes of Ray Borg.
  • Reis: It’s hard not to have some sympathy for Reis given the effort he put forth and the lack of success he found. This is a respected fighter and grappler who was embarrassed like few others have been at this level. Then again, we all knew had a hunch this was going to happen. Reis has some power in his fists, but nowhere near the speed or technique to catch Johnson on a regular basis. Thus, his only chance was to get the fight to the ground and Johnson wasn’t having any of that… at least not until Johnson had already broken Reis. Reis still has a role as a gatekeeper… if he bounces back from the loss. It isn’t a given that will happen.

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


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