While there feels like a cloud hanging over the MMA community at this point, UFC 231 provided us with some blessed light. After a string of dominant performances, Max Holloway turned in his piece de resistance, pouring on the volume at an insane rate to put away a game Brian Ortega. Ortega pushed Holloway in a way the dominant champion has never been pushed, but this time he was unable to find the opening that has become his trademark to finish the contest. Valentina Shevchenko turned in a dominant performance as well to become the new flyweight champion, though it lacked the flair of the aforementioned title contest. Nonetheless, the main event saved what was on its way to being a lackluster card.
Max Holloway: Holloway set a new mark for significant strikes in a single contest by landing 290 significant strikes, most of those to the face of Ortega. Even crazier to think is Holloway set another record with strikes in a round, landing 134 of those in the fourth round. Holloway’s innate ability to gain momentum the deeper a fight goes makes it all but impossible to defeat him outside of the first two rounds. The Hawaiian doesn’t tire out.
Holloway has set his sights on becoming a P4P great, meaning he might be moving up to lightweight if that really becomes his main goal. As great as Holloway is, it’s hard to see his volume game work on a grinder like Khabib Nurmagomedov. Then again, I was foolish enough to pick against Holloway in this contest. Here’s hoping he doesn’t completely abandon featherweight, as there are plenty of contenders he has yet to face that are either worthy of the title shot or they will be soon. Anyone not name Khabib, I’ll be sure to favor Holloway.
Brian Ortega: I was torn. Ortega took a viciously brutal beating, absorbing more strikes than anyone ever has in the UFC in a single contest. And yet, the California native continued to come back, not backing down as the doctors were forced to step in and call the match. Ortega’s heart and durability have to be admired, though they could also create concern as it wouldn’t be surprising to see long-term damage come from this contest. Can you see why I was reluctant to put Ortega here?
Despite all that, Ortega – along with his dance partner, Holloway – put on a performance for the ages. He even came the closest to finishing Holloway after hurting the reigning champion in the third round. I still see Ortega as the greatest threat to take Holloway’s 145 lb. crown. Yes, he’ll have to work his way back to the title, but I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Holloway and Ortega do the damn thing again. Ortega’s a smart fighter and there is no doubt he’d have some new wrinkles. Let’s do it! However, if it proves Holloway took Ortega’s soul in this contest, I reserve the right to move Ortega into the loser’s column.
Valentina Shevchenko: The numbers won’t tell how dominant Shevchenko was, but she absolutely ran through a former longtime champion with ease when she disposed of Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Jedrzejczyk largely abandoned her boxing as Shevchenko had a counter for every punch Joanna threw. Shevchenko looks like she will be a long reigning champion as no one in the division appears to come close to the level of the former bantamweight title challenger. Shevchenko has made it be known she wants to be a multiple-division champion. Given her lack of marketability though, it seems doubtful the UFC will make it happen. Then again, if she is dominant enough…
Gunnar Nelson: Nelson only landed one good strike in his contest with Alex Oliveira, but did he ever make it count. No, it didn’t put Oliveira to sleep, but it did create a scene straight out of a horror film. Nelson’s elbow was placed ever so precisely to open up a faucet of blood from the forehead of Oliveira. A clearly wounded and distracted Oliveira was left unable to defend Nelson’s transition into a RNC and set Nelson back on the winning path after a long absence from the cage. There are things from the contest that are worrisome – such as Oliveira controlling most of the fight – but overall it proved to be another opportunistic performance from Nelson.
Thiago Santos and Jimi Manuwa: I don’t care that the outcome sent Manuwa to his third straight defeat. The performance from both men was easily the best of the evening – well, it would have been sans the main event – kicking off the main card with just about as big of a bang as it ended on. There were several occasions where either competitor could have been finished as all technique went out the window. Santos had talked about going back to middleweight prior to this contest, but I think he’d be foolish to do so given how well his chin held up. As for Manuwa, this was the rare occasion where a fighter’s stock went up with a KO loss. Santos picked up some bonus money, but don’t think Manuwa didn’t deserve any either.
Nina Ansaroff: I think it’s safe to say we can’t just refer to Ansaroff as the girlfriend of Amanda Nunes anymore. After a rough first round with Claudia Gadelha, Ansaroff found her footing and began picking apart the former title challenger. Putting it that way doesn’t even give Ansaroff credit as the ease in which she beat down Gadelha was effortless. I believe it can be said with confidence that Ansaroff has broken into the upper echelon of the strawweight division.
Gilbert Burns: I worried about Burns’ confidence after being KO’d for the first time in his career by Daniel Hooker. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Burns was as confident as he’s ever been, throwing a wide variety of strikes and landing a lot of them. He rocked Olivier Aubin-Mercier on multiple occasions and dominated the wrestling and grappling. Don’t get me wrong, Burns usually wins the ground battle. But doing so against OAM? That’s impressive.
Brad Katona: The first test for the TUF winner was successfully navigated. Not that it went flawlessly. Lopez was the early winner before Katona settled down and began outpointing the UFC veteran. However, the crowning moment was when Katona secured an unrecognized submission victory when he has Lopez out at the bell. The ref – more on him later – didn’t recognize it, but the judges got it right anyway.
Dhiego Lima: His UFC employment was on the line as no one would have been impressed with a 1-6 UFC record. 2-5 isn’t great either, but we’re focusing on the positives for Douglas’ younger brother. Responses on Twitter were consistent that no one saw the one-punch left hook KO on Chad Laprise coming. Perhaps it’s signaling a change of the tides for Lima….
Diego Ferreira: It was tough for me to put Ferreira here as he got hurt early against an opponent who took the fight on two days notice, but he dominated the fight once he settled down. Granted, Kyle Nelson gassing played a part of that, but Ferreira did his job. The biggest reason he’s here: he was able to get his show and win money when it looked like he wouldn’t even get the former. I’m always in favor of the fighters getting a well-deserved paycheck.
Aleksandar Rakic: While there are still massive holes in his defense, Rakic did show the ability to take a shot – or should I say multiple shots – to demonstrate a chin as well as the ability to overcome adversity in his first round victory over Devin Clark. While he hasn’t beaten a truly quality opponent yet, Rakic has demonstrated progress in each of his UFC contests. Most impressive was surviving a barrage of illegal knees from Clark that referee Brian Beauchamp did nothing about. There have been signs of life of a wave of new talent to rescue a 205 division that has been bereft of quality young blood. Rakic appears to be a big part of that wave.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk: How the mighty have fallen. After a dominant run as the women’s strawweight champion, Jedrzejczyk finds herself 1-3 in her last four contests. Shevchenko had an answer for everything Jedrzejczyk threw at her in addition to bullying the smaller fighter. At this juncture, nobody looks at Jedrzejczyk as the dominating force she appeared to be when she was the strawweight champion. Granted, she hasn’t tucked tail and run the way another former women’s champion did, but Jedrzejczyk has a deep hole to climb out of if she hopes to get back to her former levels.
Alex Oliveira: If Oliveira could ever eliminate the mental gaffes that plague him, he’d be a title contender in no time. Instead, he contented himself with trying to take down Nelson. Granted, Oliveira did land some good ground strikes in the opening round, but he also suffered a major scare when Nelson had his back in that same round. You play with fire too long and you’ll get burned. For now, he’s still just an immensely raw talent who can’t – or is it won’t? – break through to the top.
Kyle Bochniak: Bochniak gave Zabit Magomedsharipov a hell of a fight earlier this year. So why couldn’t he do the same against a less dynamic fighter in Hakeem Dawodu? The goodwill that Bochniak earned from his contests with Magomedsharipov and Brandon Davis has pretty much evaporated. His 2-4 UFC record looks pretty bad too. Bochniak now has his back against the wall…provided his next fight takes place in the Octagon.
Claudia Gadelha: I said earlier in the article that Ansaroff has entered the upper echelon of the division. It didn’t get anymore crowded as Gadelha has fallen from the elite. The first round wasn’t over before Gadelha’s notorious stamina issues began to light. Outside of a takedown late in the second round, Gadelha sleepwalked through the final two rounds, wading forward with lackluster punches as Ansaroff pieced her up. Given her flat performances over the last few years, perhaps the Brazilian grappler should consider moving up a weight class.
Olivier Aubin-Mercier: I didn’t see this coming. OAM was absolutely dominated by Burns. Is Burns that good or is OAM that bad? Given OAM’s respectable performance against Alexander Hernandez and win over Evan Dunham, I’m guessing Burns is that good. Nonetheless, this loss is probably a permanent setback for the ceiling of OAM. He couldn’t stop Burns’ takedowns and many consider OAM to be one of the better wrestlers in the division. Yikes.
Eryk Anders: I’ll be the first to admit Anders showed improvements in this contest. After a sluggish start, his footwork improved and he was able to land some bombs, damn near becoming the first person to put away Elias Theodorou in the process. However, Theodorou adjusted in the final round and limited the opportunities Anders was landing in the second round. Anders is growing as a fighter. The UFC is just throwing him into deep waters too soon. It’s making the former college football star look worse than he is.
Matthew Lopez: I like a lot of things about Lopez’s performance. His timing on his counters early looked great, landing several hard punches and even some takedowns. However, he got tired right as Katona was finding his range. To Lopez’s credit, he stayed competitive up to the point where Katona put him to sleep for the slightest amount of time, but it also marked Lopez’s third loss in a row. It’s probably the end of the UFC road for Lopez.
Chad Laprise: The KO looks terrible as no one thinks of Lima as a KO artist. However, my question was why Laprise didn’t look for a takedown at any point. I get that the contest was only 97 seconds…but that’s plenty of time to get in on the hips of a fighter notorious for his lack of wrestling defense. Not impressed with Laprise’s game plan.
Devin Clark: I don’t want to rip too much on Clark as he looked good for large portions of his contest with Rakic. But being unable to put away Rakic despite an unfair advantage with the multiple knees the ref did nothing to stop…not a good look. Clark looks like a fun action-fighter, but it also looks like he’s benefitting from the severe lack of depth at light heavyweight. Regardless, not ready to give up on him yet.
Brian Beauchamp: There was a question about whether the knees Clark was delivering to Rakic were illegal. When a fighter has both hands on the ground, it is and always has been illegal since the Unified Rules were instituted. Of all the people who should be aware of that, you’d think that referees would be at the top of the list. Apparently not. Beauchamp did nothing to stop those knees and there are zero excuses for his negligence. Then, he botches the finish with Katona and Lopez, allowing the fight to go to a decision when it was clear Lopez was unable to continue. I’ll be surprised to see him in another high-profile event ever again.
MMA rules: Along the lines of Beauchamp’s failure with Clark and Rakic, why the hell are we still operating under two different sets of rules? There is NOTHING unified about the rules at this point. For all the talk of MMA being a big league sport now, there isn’t a major organization in sports outside of baseball that operates under multiple sets of rules. Can we all get on the same page already?
Hakeem Dawodu: The UFC has tried to hype up Dawodu as an exciting finisher to keep an eye on. His 2-1 record thus far isn’t bad, but two tepid decisions should force the UFC to put the brakes on the hype train. I expect the UFC to give him another contest where he’s a heavy favorite. If he doesn’t secure the exciting finish we’ve been told to expect in that, no one is going to care about Dawodu.
Jessica Eye and Katlyn Chookagian: I can’t separate these two in this article as nothing really separated them in their contest. It was about as blah of a kickboxing contest as you’ll ever find in addition to being the hardest contest to tell which fighter rightfully won. I could put Eye in the winner’s column as she’s likely to get a title shot…but who cares? No other way to describe this than blah. Plus, do we really want to call Eye a winner when she may end up getting a shot against Shevchenko? That sounds like a massacre.
Elias Theodorou: I don’t mind Theodorou’s post-fight speech, but I also don’t think it was enough to boost his performance into my winner’s category. Yes, he scored a lot of volume as he threw about twice as many strikes as Anders. But there also wasn’t much power behind Theodorou’s offense whereas Anders put the Canadian on his ass a couple of times. Theodorou may have deservingly won, but it didn’t feel like he won.
Kyle Nelson: The Canadian looked good in the opening minutes before the size of the stage and lack of preparation overcame him, but I’m sure just making it to the UFC is a big win for the youngster. Despite that, I’m still wary about calling him a winner for two minutes of looking good.