Edmonton might not have gotten what they wanted, but ended up with a decent UFC event in the end.
Western Canada seems perpetually doomed to suffer the promise of big talent and sexy cards, only to have it all fall apart despite the best intentions of all parties involved. Not only did this card lose Demetrious Johnson vs Ray Borg, it also lost one of (if not the) most compelling matchups in the heavyweight division in Junior dos Santos vs Francis Ngannou as well. That’s not to say this wasn’t a good card on paper, but it’s unfortunate that only the more dedicated fans were going to be happy with it. The venue reportedly sold out, but the buyrate that many people were already sour on might have taken a hit.
You can make the case that anyone that was going to buy a PPV headlined by Mighty Mouse was a dedicated enough fan that they were going to do so no matter what after the initial main event fell apart, but it suffered from lacking that “big event“ feel. It’s a tough ask for fans to pay for this event, especially in this Mayweather-McGregor hangover period. The real shame is that this could have done very well as a card on big Fox instead of PPV, and a good amount of the fighters on this card really could have benefited from the exposure. In the end, the UFC may have ended up underperforming with a card in an underserved market, but at least the fans in attendance got some good action out of it.
Amanda Nunes – Disagree with the decision all you want, this makes six in a row for Nunes and her second title defense. On paper, she’s beaten three of the absolute best talents that this weight class has produced (even if Rousey was past her prime) and defeats Shevchenko for a second time. As far as the decision goes, I see the case both for Shevchenko winning, as well as a case for a draw. I’m not mad at it, though. Despite this being a 2-0 situation, it’s not absurd to think that after such a close decision we may see them tangle yet again. I’d even be up for this being a best-of-five series, really. Maybe Raquel Pennington will get a title shot next (with Holly Holm reportedly in talks to fight Cris Cyborg at 145), but this is a division that still has Ronda Rousey ranked at #4. There’s complete disarray outside of the top five with no clear-cut contender. The rivalry isn’t dead, it’s probably more alive than ever now.
Rafael dos Anjos – That was beautiful. He may not be training with Cordeiro anymore, but dos Anjos clearly has kept a lot of the principles we see from guys that train with Kings MMA for a while. A beautiful counter low kick led to the beginning of the end, with masterful top control and the eventual submission. Rafael’s shifting and leg positioning really made the difference to get that extra bit of space closed off, and Magny looked miserable by the time he got the tap. This win should nudge him into the top ten, but not by much since most of the fighters already there have recent wins or have upcoming commitments. Considering Stephen Thompson (#2), Demian Maia (3) and Donald Cerrone (6) are all coming off losses, this should bump him up at least one or two spots. Then again, ranking methods are mostly trash. Make of it what you will.
Henry Cejudo – Cejudo’s hands looked even better this time around, and he’s a joy to watch. This was a big, big way to break out of a two-fight losing skid against Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez. Ranked at #2, he may even get the next title shot if Borg (#3) falls through again or Sergio Pettis (#4) isn’t available or ready. Whether or not it’s a compelling enough matchup is another thing, and many questions would surround the possibility of him being improved enough to put up a better effort in a rematch. It’s not Henry’s fault, DJ is just that far ahead of the pack. It’s the blessing and the curse, and it casts a shadow on the rest of the division as a result.
Ilir Latifi – Blessings on blessings on blessings. Latifi countered low kicks beautifully with his hands and used his hard-nosed approach to explode into clinches and work monstrous takedowns. After almost exactly a year out of commission due to that knockout loss at the knees of Ryan Bader (hi, Ben!!), Latifi came back and outworked the younger fighter, but fought extra smart with his veteran savvy to time his attacks and avoid the big kicks. Another fighter that unfortunately is likely to make minimal progression on paper when it comes to the rankings.
Jeremy Stephens – Stephens was very effective with his low kicks, racking up a 100% success rate with 20+ leg attacks going into the third round. It was a confusing fight, largely due to Melendez not having appropriate defense and seeming content with walking Stephens down. A win is a win, and Stephens made it look easy. Take what you’re given and run with it. Looking at the top ten in the featherweight division, he’s probably remaining at a standstill yet may move up at least one spot.
Ketlen Vieira – Second biggest winner here, aside from dos Anjos. Vieira did some work on the feet and tried to impose her size and reach advantage. She defended the takedown for a bit, but you can only do so much against an Olympic-level wrestler. Being able to work your way to a submission in a gutsy manner like that was impressive, and she’s now got a pretty big notch on her belt after beating the #6 fighter in her division.
Sarah Moras – That flexibility was a factor, but Moras’ patience and focus on technique was essential here. She kept the position, waited for the opportunity and turned with Evans-Smith at just the right time to get the submission locked in. It was beautiful Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and I’m sure a lot of grappling nerds were giddy with what she pulled off. Big win against a raw but strong and capable fighter after two years and two months off. Also the biggest name she’s beaten since Julianna Pena in 2012.
Rick Glenn – I remember first hearing about Glenn shortly before he was set to fight in World Series of Fighting years ago, and he was impressive there. After going 1-1 against Evan Dunham and Phillipe Nover, he really hit his stride and genuinely looked like he was having fun in there. His striking looks better than ever and his grappling isn’t just confined to his scrappy submission setups. He controlled well on the ground and really should have had the fight stopped way sooner than the closing horn. Now 2-1, him and his 70s policeman mustache are getting that work in on the big stage, as it should be. Big ups to him for such a great performance against a hot prospect people were very high on.
Alex White – After eating a ton of knees to the body in the clinch, White kept it together and outworked Clarke to end up with a pretty brutal win. He evens out his UFC record at 3-3, and does so with an impressive finish.
Kajan Johnson – People are always wary of anyone that says “ring rust isn’t real“, but Kajan Johnson seems like he’s yet another exception to the rule. Much like Dominick Cruz, he seemed virtually unaffected by the long layoff, parking a right hand on Adriano Martins that laid him out. That’s three in a row for Johnson, who is 3-1 in his UFC run.
Arjan Bhullar – Punjabi Power indeed. After looking a bit inactive to open the fight, Bhullar showed some real veteran-level patience and composure to earn a hard-fought win. Even though his opponent turned up the heat in the last round, Bhullar showed great head movement for a guy that came from a wrestling background. The UFC wanted to break into the Indian market so bad for so long, they finally found a Desi with a solid pedigree to make inroads for that to happen. All they had to do was go to Western Canada for it to happen. Who knew?
Neil Magny – It’s a tough place to be when you’re at the top of welterweight, and Magny once again gets beat by a tested veteran capable of shiftng phases and with great top control. Magny’s been alternating wins and losses since defeating Hector Lombard early last year, but his stock doesn’t take too much of a hit here. That said, it’s valid to ask if he’s found his ceiling or if he may benefit from changing strategies – perhaps even a change of training environments or something along those lines. He’ll still be firmly entrenched in the top ten, but this could be a tipping point that leads to being relegated as a gatekeeper. Only time will tell.
Gilbert Melendez – Gilbert got his legs beat beat up something fierce. He looked healthy and spry at the ceremonial weigh-ins, but didn’t check leg kicks until his left leg was battered and ended up dropping to his back a few times. Once there, he was unable to capitalize. Hard to pinpoint what it was, but this was a fight where he really could have performed better, and his stock takes a pretty big hit. He’s a very good fighter that lost to another very good fighter, but it didn’t look good from his end, and that’s what the focus will be on when people think of this fight.
Sara McMann – McMann sees her three-fight win streak snapped, and all in a fight she was arguably winning. The biggest sticking point here was her failure to defend the arm triangle properly. Maybe her body gave up, maybe she panicked, we don’t know. These things happen in the fight game, and even a lifelong grappler like her can fall prey to it. This is another case where perhaps a fighter’s ceiling may be well-defined.
Wilson Reis – This is a tough one, because he’s got two consecutive losses to a fighter that’s looking like he’s en route to being the best ever (and some consider he’s already there), and an Olympic gold medalist that can crack. It’s two in a row, but there’s an asterisk the size of São Paulo there. He came into this fight ranked at #5, and won’t drop far from here. It’s hard to get ahead in a division when the elite are that far from everyone else, but that’s the fight game.
Referee Kyle Cardinal – Come on, guy. What’s Glenn gotta do for you to stop the fight? Pull out a shotgun? We try to stay away from going hard on refs, but this wasn’t just a mistake. Calling a fight too early is a mistake. Letting this go on for as long as it did was sad and incompetent. Again, it’s a difficult and thankless job, but this was irresponsible. Taking into consideration the recent controversies of the Edmonton commission only makes this worse.
Ashlee Evans-Smith loses two in a row, this time against an opponent that hasn’t fought in two years. That’s not to say that this was a layup, because Moras really has underrated ground skills. But she seems to be sliding out of any relevancy in the division. It’s a bit harsh, but there aren’t too many options from here. She should stick around and get another fight, but don’t be too shocked if she’s cut. Adriano Martins looked good early but got slept badly for his second straight loss. Luis Enrique put on a nice late rally, but it wasn’t enough. He also ends up with two straight losses and is now 2-3 in his UFC run. He may get cut, but should probably get another shot in a division starved for talent.
Valentina Shevchenko – Again, yes – she lost on paper. But I can see the case for her winning a very close fight. Do yourself a favor and look at the rest of the division. Is there really a case to make that she shouldn’t get another shot at Nunes? And I don’t mean later down the line two or three years from now, but you could argue that even an immediate rematch would be fine. The fight itself was a tight and suspenseful affair, even if a lot of people derided it for being boring. It was tactical, both parties remained active, and both put on a great effort. Sometimes elite fighters at the top of their divisions face each other, and this is what it looks like. This wasn’t for the Just Bleed crowd, and Valentina acquitted herself very well here. She loses nothing in the eyes of fans as far as her talent, even if some will trash the fight because of their own impatience. That, of course, is on them. She loses virtually nothing in terms of divisional standing and remains just as marketable if the UFC decides to put some more muscle behind her.
Tyson Pedro – First professional loss and first time he makes it to a decision. I’ll chalk this one up to growing pains, as he took a big step up in competition and should have no trouble at all rebounding from this. He’s only 25 with a lot of potential at light heavyweight and all of his wins are finishes. Plus, he’s 2-1 in the UFC. He’ll be fine.
Mitch Clarke – With a professional record of 11-5 and at only the tender age of 31, Clarke deserves respect for hanging it up now. Hats off to him for deciding to stop now and not too late, as a lot of fighters unfortunately do. He’s always been an affable and humble fighter, and I wish him nothing but happiness in whatever he does from here on in.
Gavin Tucker – I was tempted to put him in the Loser category, but this is another fighter suffering his first professional loss. He’s also got potential and simply got beaten by a more experienced fighter able to capitalize on his faults. He’s also going to be OK.