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UFC 229: Khabib vs. Conor McGregor – Winners and Losers

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Lost amidst the bedlam that erupted following the main event between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor was the fact that UFC 229 was an exceptionally awesome card. From Derrick Lewis’ amazing come-from-behind KO to the 10 minutes of delightful chaos between Tony Ferguson and Anthony Pettis, some of the best action in recent memory took place last night. That isn’t even mentioning the greatest post-fight speech ever from Lewis. Hell, the actual fight between Khabib and McGregor was a lot of fun too.

If we’re being honest, it’s not like the UFC hated the brawl that broke out either. They turned McGregor’s bus attack into promotional material. Dana White may have said he was “disgusted and sick over it”, but he also said similar things about McGregor following the bus attack. The UFC is going to be all over ESPN, FOX Sports, TMZ, and plenty of other news media outlets over the next several days… just like they want to be.

Like I already said, there were other fights on the card. Let’s break down who walked away from the card in a better situation, and who walked away in a worse one.

Winners

Tony Ferguson and Anthony Pettis: I cannot possibly separate these two as there may not be a 10-minute fight more beloved than the one Ferguson and Pettis just put on. The two traded heavy punches, submission attempts, low kicks, and all other manner of creative offense at one another. I’m amazed we didn’t see someone on the UFC clean up crew taking a kitchen sink out of the cage. Ferguson may have emerged victorious as Pettis appears to have broken his hand. While I was happy to see Duke Roufus showing concern for his fighter’s health by stopping the fight, there was a part of me that was devastated we weren’t going to see 5 more minutes of carnage. Ferguson may have punched a ticket to a title fight while Pettis proved he can still hang with the elite while reminding everyone why we’ve always enjoyed him in the cage.

Dominick Reyes: The UFC has been desperate for some fresh blood to emerge in the light heavyweight division. Reyes’ performance against Ovince Saint Preux wasn’t without its flaws, though it was impressive enough that Reyes looks like he might be the up-and-comer the UFC has been desperate for at 205. Reyes showed discipline in avoiding emptying his gas tank on a finish that might not come early before utilizing the rest of the contest to continue picking apart his more experienced opponent. Did I mention how awesome his finish right before the final bell was? No? Well, it was reminiscent of Mark Hunt as Reyes walked away knowing OSP was done. Trust me, a fighter will take any comparison to Mark Hunt they can get.

Derrick Lewis: Probably the biggest winner of the evening given the nature of his post-fight speech with Joe Rogan, Lewis initially looked like he was going to be one of the biggest disappointments on the evening. The Black Beast couldn’t get any consistent offense going as Alexander Volkov picked him apart. As the fight drew to a close, Lewis woke up to deliver what could very well be the most prolific comeback victory in UFC history, knocking Volkov to the ground with a roundhouse before finishing him off with his trademark GnP. Lewis may very well have punched a ticket to a shot at the title in the process. That isn’t even taking into account his post-fight speech. “Because my balls was hot” is sure to become one of the most quoted phrases associated with MMA… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg of that interview. Mr. Lewis, never ever change.

Michelle Waterson: Waterson may be a favorite of the UFC brass, but she wasn’t a favorite of MMA journalists heading into her contest with Felice Herrig. Timing some takedowns and kicks at the proper time was enough to override the control Herrig tried exercising against the fence when she could overwhelm with her striking. It wasn’t a notable performance, but it did give the former Invicta atomweight champion her second consecutive win, likely launching her into a high profile contest… right where the UFC wants her.

Vicente Luque: Luque did what Luque was supposed to do to an inexperienced newcomer: he turned Jalin Turner’s lights out. There isn’t much to take out of the fight given how heavily favored Luque was, but Luque asking for a top ten opponent isn’t as far-fetched as some might think. He’s made continual progress, winning seven of his last eight, every one of those wins producing a finish. Yeah, the dude is legit.

Aspen Ladd: I’ve been a big believer in Ladd’s potential, though I’ll admit I didn’t see her destruction of Tonya Evinger coming. Once Ladd secured the takedown, she unleashed some VICIOUS GnP that the uber-tough Evinger couldn’t withstand. It wasn’t just the ground-and-pound either. Ladd advanced position with a smoothness no one expected. I’m won’t go as far as to predict Ladd challenging for the title before the end of 2019, but I wouldn’t be surprised by it either.

Scott Holtzman: I’ll admit I was one of those who wasn’t particularly high on Holtzman. I’ll also admit I enjoy being proven wrong by a dude whose been universally praised as a nice guy. Holtzman fixed his takedown defense, was able to unload some bombs on a defensively deficient Alan Patrick, and finished things off with some of the most brutal ground elbows anyone has seen in a long time. And to think, he finished the fight despite injuring both of his hands…

Nik Lentz: Putting the political call out aside – this is Bloody Elbow, not the Young Turks or the Daily Wire – Lentz looked better than he ever has on the feet, brutalizing Gray Maynard from the opening seconds until the very end. It probably should have been ended sooner than it was, but we can’t blame Lentz for the referee’s ineptitude. Lentz may have taken things too far when he said he’s a new fighter, but I will agree he’s added a few more tools to his bag of tricks to extend his career more than most expected.

Tony Martin: Normally, I’d think it wise for the UFC matchmakers to keep their opinions to themselves. After Martin secured the first KO win of his career via head kick over Ryan LaFlare after Sean Shelby called him the most boring fighter on the roster, I’m willing to reconsider that stance. I didn’t necessarily agree with Shelby’s assessment, but Martin was anywhere near the top of my must-see-TV list. The head kick wasn’t the only indication of Martin’s improvement on the feet either as he hurt LaFlare several times before the end came. Martin has a long way to go to be a player, but he’s on the right track.

The UFC: Like I already stated, the UFC is going to be everywhere in news coverage and that’s exactly where they want to be. They may make an initial statement of disgust and abhorrence, but we all know it’s just bluster as they’ll use the material to elevate both McGregor and Khabib. Until the UFC proves they actually find brawls and unprovoked attacks to be “disgusting”, there is no reason to believe the words coming out of their mouths.

Losers

Ovince Saint Preux: I’ll be saying this about a fair amount of fighters after this, but OSP was on the receiving end of a vicious KO. That alone would probably put him in this category. However, OSP also looked like the inexperienced fighter against the younger Reyes, unable to answer his opponent as Reyes picked him apart. OSP did show immense toughness to hang around as long as he did, but that’s about it. It appears safe to say OSP has topped out.

Alexander Volkov: I struggle to think of a time when a fighter dominated a contest so thoroughly only to come out on the short end of the stick once the final result came in. According to Fight Metric, Volkov had the biggest striking advantage for the loser of a contest in UFC history. Not only did Volkov lose, he was on the wrong end of one of the most violent KO’s in UFC history. While my personal opinion on Volkov went up given how well he performed for over 14 minutes of the contest, the sting of this loss could have seriously bad repercussions moving forward.

Sergio Pettis: Remember how well Pettis was able to avoid the takedowns of Joseph Benavidez? It was assumed he’d fixed enough of the holes in his takedown defense that he’d be able to avoid whatever Jussier Formiga would be able to throw at him. Nope. Instead, the younger Pettis allowed the Brazilian to turn the fight into a grappling contest in every round. Even worse, he allowed Formiga to go tit-for-tat on the feet, unable to distinctly separate himself in the striking. Pettis is still young, meaning he should overcome this setback. Nonetheless, it hurts.

Jalin Turner: While I saw some things that I like and Turner was expected to lose, the manner in which he lost left me no choice but to put him in the losers column. The poor kid was put out cold by Luque. From what I understand, he’ll be returning to lightweight where his height will be a greater weapon, but his official UFC debut wasn’t something he’ll want to remember… if he even does.

Tonya Evinger: I questioned how much Evinger had left in the tank in my preview for her contest given her age and the amount of miles she has put on her body. Maybe she just had an off-night or maybe Ladd is the real deal, but no one expected Evinger to be finished in the first round. Plus, it isn’t like Evinger is a favorite of the UFC brass. I hope it isn’t true, but this could conceivably be Evinger’s last fight for the organization.

Alan Patrick: This is a perfect example of why fighting emotional is generally a bad idea. I can’t recall Patrick attempting a takedown until late in the second round, looking to take the head off Holtzman. When that didn’t happen, Patrick slowed considerably and ended up getting his head taken off. At 35, it’s plausible Patrick is on the downslope.

Yana Kunitskaya and Lina Lansberg: Kunitskaya was hard on her own performance while being interviewed by Joe Rogan after the fight and she should have been, despite earning a win. That was a terrible fight that had me reaching for an energy drink. Maybe Sean Shelby should call both of them the most boring fighters on the roster….

Gray Maynard: Maynard may have had enough of his wits about him to protest the stoppage, but that doesn’t prove he was good to keep going. Maynard took an ungodly amount of punishment. Rather than do what people in my position usually do – call for a fighter to retire when it appears they should hang up the gloves – I’ll simply hope that Maynard doesn’t suffer any ongoing consequences for the rest of his life. I admit I don’t want to see him fight anymore, but it isn’t my call and I won’t pretend to be familiar with his ability to make money in another avenue.

Ryan LaFlare: For the second time in three fights, LaFlare was put away in brutal highlight fashion. For a technically sound who relies on outpointing his opponent, that’s a strong signal that the end of the line is nigh. I’m not familiar with his contract situation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the UFC lets him walk if this is the last fight on his contract.

Neither

Khabib Nurmagomedov: There is still so much that has yet to unfold in the wake of the post-fight brawl, there was nowhere else to put Khabib. Yes, he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s the best lightweight in the world when he submitted McGregor, but he could very well lose his belt. He certainly did all he could possibly do to put the spotlight on him as opposed to McGregor – something no one else has come close to accomplishing – but will it matter if he’s forced to the sidelines for an extend period? The moving parts are too many to calculate Khabib’s future with any semblance of accuracy. Like everyone else, I’ll be watching Khabib and the circumstances around him very closely.

Conor McGregor: Sure, McGregor lost, tapping out to a brutal RNC that more resembled a neck crank. However, he also became something he’s never been before: a sympathetic figure. Then again, in the process of becoming sympathetic, he had the spotlight wrested from him by Khabib. But McGregor also got paid… something that may not happen for Khabib. And we all know McGregor isn’t coming to work unless he is getting paid a LOT of money. McGregor is inextricably connected with Khabib at this point which also means it’s impossible to assess how the dominoes fall for the Notorious One. All we can do is wait to see how it plays out.

Felice Herrig: Herrig isn’t in a worse place than she was in prior to the event despite her loss to Waterson. She put on a respectable showing and easily could have taken a decision with a bit more activity in the first and third rounds. Otherwise, she put together a solid performance against a more explosive opponent.

Jussier Formiga: The flyweight may very well have punched his ticket to a title shot, but he did so in the least entertaining fashion I can recall. Getting a title shot: good. Boring the crap out of the crowd: bad. I’ve been pulling for Formiga to get a title shot as hard as anyone and this win should help out with that possibility. However, given the UFC’s emphasis on entertainment over sport, I can’t tell if Formiga just screwed himself out of a title shot that has eluded him for so long.

Dillon Danis: Danis may not come away from this event looking like a pansy or having received an ass kicking, but he sure as hell ended up getting punked by Khabib. Then again, there were plenty of people watching who never heard of Dillon Danis before UFC 229. But it was also his student (McGregor) who was forced to tap. Like Khabib and McGregor, there’s too many moving parts to get an accurate assessment.


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