Kevin Lee made an emphatic statement on his place in the lightweight division when he tore apart Edson Barboza to make him the biggest winner of the night. Who else had a good night… and who didn’t?
UFC Atlantic City proved to be one of the most odd cards in quite some time. There were some last minute fight cancellations that shook up the card. The way the UFC handled them didn’t help things. And who can ever forget the incredibly weird ending to the contest between Ricky Simon and Merab Dvalishvili?
That doesn’t mean it was all bad. Kevin Lee reasserted himself as a top lightweight with a beating for the ages on Edson Barboza. And the Simon-Dvalishvili fight was pretty awesome, controversial ending withstanding. So how about I shut up with the intro and just tell you who the winners and losers were for the evening.
Kevin Lee: Talk about shutting up your critics. Lee did something that many believed impossible: he made Khabib’s beatdown of Barboza look tame in comparison to what Lee did to him. Lee did have a scary moment where Barboza clipped him with a spinning wheel kick, but his ability to survive that scare only makes his victory that much more impressive. While many believed Lee would eventually develop into a top contender, nobody expected him to do so by the age of 25. Just think how good he could be in a few years when he hits his prime.
Frankie Edgar: His children having an opportunity to see their father fight in person for the first time pushed Edgar over the edge into this category as his workman-like performance was incredibly blasé. I’m not saying it wasn’t effective – he did pick up a victory over a tough opponent after all – but the only thing he did to boost his stock was get back into the win column. Then again, that was his primary goal in the first place, so I have no choice other than to put him in the win column.
Justin Willis: I almost stuffed Willis in the neither category as his early performance was brilliant, putting Chase Sherman on the ropes. But then he couldn’t finish the job and faded pretty badly, allowing Sherman back in the fight. In the end, I figured Willis’ hard counters were precise enough to say there were more positives than negatives.
Dave Branch: Branch has some TKO’s on his record, though only one of them had come since 2012. Up until his contest with Thiago Santos, he never had a KO on his record. The BJJ expert showed he has some power in his fists despite having his legs pieced up by the Brazilian. If he can build upon that, Branch could be a surprise fixture at the top of the middleweight division.
Aljamain Sterling: Sterling has been up and down over his career. This was a huge up for the Funk Master. The betting lines were incredibly close, but Sterling’s contest with Brett Johns was completely one-sided. It wasn’t the usual grind session we’ve become accustomed to from Sterling. He showed he has some boxing chops! Very nice rebound from his first career KO loss.
Dan Hooker: That’s three wins in three fights at lightweight after Hooker’s devastating knee to the kisser of Jim Miller. I think it’s safe to say moving up in weight was a good call for the New Zealander. Even better, he’s picked up finishes in each of those contests with progressively tougher competition too. Hooker is already one of the better action fighters on the roster. He could become more than that as he’s already exceeded the expectations most had for the kid.
Siyar Bahadurzada: Thanks to his inability to consistently make it to the cage, few people are aware Bahadurzada turned in his third straight win with his KO of Luan Chagas, all coming before the end of the final bell. Bahadurzada doesn’t look like he’s going to become a surprise contender, but he does look like he can be one of the better action-fighters… provided he stays healthy.
Corey Anderson: Perhaps a bit unfairly, Anderson’s stock took a severe hit in his losses to Jimi Manuwa and OSP. Short of an explosive finish, Anderson put together the best performance against Patrick Cummins he possibly could have, dominating from bell to bell. Nobody is about to declare Anderson a contender, but this has to be considered his most impressive victory in his career thus far.
Edson Barboza: This has less to do with Barboza’s performance and more to do with the absolute shellacking he received at the hands of Lee. Barboza’s face was not only swollen about as bad as any fighter has been in recent memory, he was also cut and bleeding profusely by the end of the contest. No one will question Barboza’s heart after this fight as he almost found a way to put away Lee in the third round after two arguable 10-8 rounds in favor of Lee, but this will go down in history as one of the most brutal beatdowns in the history of the sport.
Cub Swanson: Not exactly the performance Swanson wanted to put on when he came back to the UFC following free agency. Given how badly Swanson wanted this rematch with Edgar, I don’t think anyone would have predicted he’d be reluctant to pull the trigger, resulting in his worst performance since… well, his first fight with Edgar. Maybe we can go back to making Swanson the preeminent action fighter at featherweight. If I’m not mistaken, he’s never done the damn thing with Chan Sung Jung….
Thiago Santos: Every time Santos gets a crack against a top ten opponent, he crumbles. It’s a shame too as he’s an enjoyable fighter to watch. Granted, he was in control up until the point Branch landed his overhand right to end Santos’ evening early… but he let Dave Branch finish him! Branch doesn’t finish anyone on the feet! At least Santos probably won’t have to win four in a row to get another crack at the top ten… provided he doesn’t stumble against someone like Eric Spicely in his next contest.
Brett Johns: Nothing bad can be said for Johns’ effort. He never quit. It was just everything else that went wrong for him. He couldn’t get Sterling to the ground and was pieced up on the feet, an area Johns was expected to hold the advantage. I guess it can be said a fighter’s first loss is often a great learning experience, but we’ll have to wait to see how that plays out. For now, this was a really bad night for the Pikey.
Jim Miller: Miller tied the UFC record for appearances with his contest. That doesn’t mean it turned into a night to remember for the longtime veteran… largely because there is reason to believe Miller doesn’t remember much after a single knee downed him. As a record like Octagon appearances would signify, Miller has been at his craft for a long time. He’s now dropped four in a row. To be fair, he was competitive in each of the other losses and was up until the stoppage against Hooker. But unequivocally, the end of the line is near for Miller.
Alex Garcia: I think it’s about time we all give up on Garcia becoming a player. He had some opportunities against LaFlare, but didn’t do anything with them. Garcia is simply too matchup dependent to fulfill the expectations placed upon him when he first entered the UFC.
Luan Chagas: Chagas still has promise, but a single win in four UFC appearances doesn’t bode well for the future of the young Brazilian. It’s the first time he’s been KO’d too. The UFC doesn’t appear to have a lot invested in Chagas, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them part ways with him.
Patrick Cummins: Even in most of his losses, Cummins has been feisty at the very least. That wasn’t the case against Anderson. After a first round in which he proved to be human punching bag, Cummins was then tossed around like a ragdoll the rest of the fight, never looking competitive.
Keita Nakamura: Nakamura is usually a fun fighter to watch. That wasn’t the case in this contest. Given he wasn’t competitive with Tony Martin doesn’t help his case either. At 33, Nakamura isn’t that old, but he has a lot of mileage on his tires. As poorly as he performed here, it could be an indication he’s slowing down.
Aspen Ladd: The reasons have been put out there why Ladd missed weight, effectively canceling her contest with Leslie Smith. I’m not stating whether they were legit or not, but I do know Ladd has received a backlash from her miscue. Not how the youngster was hoping her weekend would go at all.
Ulka Sasaki: So let me get this straight: Magomed Bibulatov pulls out of his contest with Sasaki – who was by all accounts on weight and ready to fight – and the UFC deems it justifiable to give Sasaki less than half of his show money? That’s not cool. Even worse, they were cool giving Leslie Smith her show and win money when Smith had the choice of whether she wanted to fight and opted not to.
The UFC: For all of you who think I’m hating on the UFC, read the above statement about Sasaki and tell me those are the actions of a likeable organization. Then let Sasaki know why he they can’t afford to pay him money they already had set aside for him.
Chase Sherman: Given the beating Sherman took in the first round only to come back and give Willis a fight, I can’t label him a loser. Sure, there are still defensive holes a Mack truck could drive through – hence, why he lost — but Sherman’s toughness and perseverance needs to be noted. The potential for him to be a fun action fighter has always been there. Even if his contest with Willis had some very slow moments, it still reinforced that idea.
Ryan LaFlare: It was good for LaFlare to rebound from his first stoppage loss of his career with a win, but he did it in the most boring manner possible. I feel like I’ve said it a million times in various forms, but the UFC is an entertainment business more than it is a sport. Every single one of LaFlare’s seven UFC victories have come by decision, most of them boring. I like LaFlare, but he’s not giving himself much leeway when his decline comes.
Ricky Simon: In terms of controversial wins, Simons *stoppage* of Merab Dvalishvili is right up there with Matt Hughes wresting the title from Carlos Newton. I could label Simon as a winner as he’s getting a win bonus, but he’s going to be getting a lot of ridicule from the MMA community when he shouldn’t be getting any flack. He didn’t make the decision. The referee did. Still, Simon is going to here about it for quite a while.
Merab Dvalishvili: I have to put Dvalishvili in the same category as Simon as he’s going to be getting the opposite of Simon: plenty of people in the MMA community telling him he deserved that win. I honestly don’t know if the referee made the right decision – largely because I don’t know if Dvalishvili really was out – but he looked much improved from his UFC debut and in all likelihood would have taken a decision had the referee not ruled the decision a stoppage.
Tony Martin: There was more good than bad for Martin in his victory over Nakamura, but the boring way the fight unfolded doesn’t do anything for his brand. Given the UFC is all about entertainment and raking in the money, Martin may have lost ground in that department.
Leslie Smith: In an age where the UFC claims it doesn’t have a lot of money, Smith received both her show and win money after Aspen Ladd missed weight. That’s pretty awesome. However, the UFC did so in order to move on from Smith, making her a free agent. You think Smith’s involvement with Project Spearhead had anything to do with it? UFC fighters are going to be more reluctant to join when the see the UFC didn’t have any interest in bringing back one of their most consistently entertaining fighters. That isn’t a good thing.