Perhaps it’s premature to say this after just one fight, but… He’s back! Francis Ngannou showed zero signs of the shaken confidence he exhibited against Derrick Lewis this summer. He blasted Curtis Blaydes about 45 seconds into their anticipated showdown in Beijing. It didn’t put Blaydes away, but Ngannou stayed on the attack, landing continual punches before Marc Goddard had seen enough. If Ngannou is back to being the fearsome slugger that had everyone predicting he was the next big thing at heavyweight just earlier this year, then we’re all winners after this event… except for those listed below. Sorry guys… especially Blaydes.
Francis Ngannou: This is hardly the first time we’ve walked away from an Ngannou performance with dropped jaws, but it may be the most surprising. Ngannou looked like his old self! It’s rare that a fighter makes such an extreme turnaround for the better after a single fight. Whatever Ngannou did to regain his confidence, he should publish a book about it or something as it’s usually just lip service when a fighter says they’re back. He’ll probably need just one more highlight reel KO to get another crack at the title. I don’t think anyone will be surprised this time around if he gets it.
Alistair Overeem: After a couple of the more brutal losses in recent memory, Overeem bounced back with a dominant performance. Sure, it was over a young newcomer in Sergei Pavlovich, but Overeem can only destroy who is placed in front of him. That’s exactly what he did. More encouraging was Overeem flashed some improvement in his wrestling in the clinch. It looks like his training with Blaydes is paying off.
Song Yadong: I’m sure there are some that feel Yadong shouldn’t be a winner or a loser as he didn’t secure a finish over an opponent he was supposed to walk over… but he did walk over Vince Morales. Morales didn’t seriously threaten at any point and Yadong appeared to feel comfortable going the distance. The 20-year old is progressing nicely.
Li Jingliang: After a rough opening round that saw him knocked on his ass, Jingliang gathered confidence and steam as the fight progressed to completely eliminate the early lead David Zawada built over him. The Chinese representative absorbed a lot of big shots early, building on the reputation that he’s indestructible before storming back. I’m still not sold on him being a top flight welterweight as Zawada isn’t anything more than a mid-tier guy, but Jingliang continues to prove he is a top flight action fighter.
Alex Morono: There were parts of Morono’s performance I wasn’t crazy about, but I still feel like this was the most complete performance of his UFC career thus far. He showed a jab and went stretches where he avoided brawling. Then again, he had long stretches where he was brawling with a heavy hitter in Song Kenan. Regardless, Morono walked out with the win and that’s what he ultimately wanted.
Wu Yanan: Well… can’t say I saw that coming. After being dominated on the ground by Gina Mazany, Yanan switched things up by dropping to flyweight and looked far more composed this time around against Lauren Mueller. I don’t know if Yanan was playing possum when Mueller knocked her to the ground – it was a fishy knockdown – but Yanan suckered her in and got an armbar. I’m still very wary about Yanan’s future, but she did a lot to boost her stock with this win.
Zhang Weili: Weili’s victory over Danielle Taylor this summer didn’t do much to stoke the hype around herself. How she dominated an experienced grappler in Jessica Aguilar should be more than enough to get fans excited about her. Aguilar may not be what she once was at this point in her career, but no one aside from Claudia Gadelha has come close to handling the former WSOF champion in this manner. Weili is legit.
Yan Xiaonan: Xiaonan looks better with every appearance. This was no exception. She pushed a hard pace on Syuri Kondo that the former Pancrase champion couldn’t hope to keep, resulting in a clear win for her when it went to the judges. She isn’t that young at 29, but I’m very interested to see just how far Xiaonan can go.
Kevin Holland: While I can’t help but wonder why Holland decided to wait until the third round to take the fight to the ground against John Phillips, I can’t deny that he showed some fun skills on the feet. Lots of side kicks. Lots of front kicks. Some flying knees. Excessive use of the shoulder roll. The kid doesn’t look like he’s going to develop into a contender, but he’s going to be one of the better action fighters on the roster for a long time.
Louis Smolka: The Hawaiian snapped a four-fight losing streak inside the Octagon with a focused performance. He knew he wanted the fight on the ground and wasted zero time doing that, snatching an armbar after earlier attempts to stop the fight with GnP and RNC attempts. How much success he’ll find at bantamweight is still debatable as Su Mudaerji isn’t a proven product. Nonetheless, good to see Smolka back on track.
Curtis Blaydes: Everything about Blaydes seemed to indicate he was about to launch himself into a title shot for 2019. He seemed confident, but not cocky heading into the fight. It looked like the Colorado product was the real deal. All it took was one punch for that narrative to turn on its head. There wasn’t a bigger loser on the night than Blaydes. It isn’t like it’s going to be impossible to get back into the title picture… but what if Ngannou is the champion by the time Blaydes gets there? Dana White is reluctant to engage in trilogies when the first two contests both went to a single party. Just ask Joseph Benavidez how damning that can be. Call me crazy, but I’m not against a third contest….
Sergei Pavlovich: The big man didn’t do much in his debut. Granted, it was against one of the more accomplished heavyweights in the history of the sport in Overeem, but the belief of many was that Overeem was nearing the end of the line and Pavlovich was being set up to make an immediate splash. Nope. I feared this would be the type of showing we’d get from the young Russian. We’ll get a better feel for what he’s capable of in his sophomore effort.
Vince Morales: It could be said Morales was expected to lose to Yadong, so he probably shouldn’t be listed on the loser’s column. Then again, this was also a golden opportunity for Morales to prove he’s better than everyone believes. Well… he didn’t show poorly by any means, but he also wasn’t able to take advantage of an inexperienced opponent. Had he at least put a scare into Yadong, I’d feel different about his future. Instead, I still feel like Morales is just passing through.
Song Kenan: I was disappointed in Kenan’s performance as the only thing he tried to do was knock Morono’s block off. Kenan has good power, but not having an alternative plan isn’t a good sign, especially given opponents tend to start game planning around what you’ve shown. Kenan showed zero new skills against Morono and he needed to.
Lauren Mueller: Mueller showed zero respect for her opponent’s ground game and it cost her. She jumped right into the guard of Yanan without hesitation off a knockdown that looked more like a slip… and ended up directly into an armbar submission. Mueller does have talent and I get the feeling that she would win that fight more often than not if they were to go at it several times, but this was a bad loss. Hopefully she uses this – her first loss – as a learning experience.
Hu Yaozong: Given how much he outperformed my expectations, I didn’t want to put Yaozong here. Despite eating a lot of damage, he was still there at the end of the contest giving Rashad Coulter all he could handle. However, being unable to beat Coulter also proves he probably doesn’t deserve his spot on the roster. I’d rather see the UFC cut the youngster loose and give the roster spot to someone more deserving, but I don’t make those decisions.
Jessica Aguilar: Either Weili really is that good or Aguilar is finished. I’m leaning more towards the former, though it’s likely a combination of both. Aguilar not only couldn’t secure the takedown she was looking for early, she also had the leverage reversed and was taken down by Weili in the clinch. That’s not a good sign for someone whose base is wrestling. Aguilar has been around a long time. We shouldn’t necessarily be surprised by this development.
Martin Day: There was quite a bit that I liked out of Day’s performance. He worked his way out of a couple of submission attempts from Liu Pingyuan and pushed a hard pace on the feet that the Team Alpha Male couldn’t match. However, Day lost a controversial decision on a card very few people care about. It isn’t like he’s a well known fighter himself, this being his UFC debut. He’s not going to have many keyboard warriors defending him on the internet. Tough debut for the Hawaiian.
Syuri Kondo: Is it just me, or does it seem like Kondo thinks too much for her own good? I suppose it eventually benefitted her as she made a number of adjustments the fight progressed, but she also allowed Xiaonan to land at will early with minimal repercussions. I once thought Kondo could be someone to keep an eye on. I don’t feel that way now.
John Phillips: The Welshman was given every opportunity to win as Holland opted to stand and trade for the first two round; exactly the type of fight Phillips would want. Phillips did land some good shots, but he couldn’t finish off Holland. If he can’t win when he’s given the fight he wants, it’s likely that Phillips simply isn’t UFC material.
David Zawada: For a minute there, I thought Zawada was going to finish Jingliang, a hell of an accomplishment. The problem was that the German tired himself out going for the kill and had next to nothing left to offer by the time the final round rolled around. Like Jingliang, Zawada only strengthened his reputation as an action fighter. Unlike Jingliang, Zawada is walking out with a loss.
Rashad Coulter: I really wanted to put Coulter in the winner’s category as he FINALLY picked up his first UFC win on his fourth try. However, he struggled to put away an inexperienced opponent who was in his fifth professional contest in Yaozong. Plus, Coulter missed weight. He may have picked up his first UFC win, but it wasn’t offering much hope for his future.
Su Mudaerji: Given how many more people are aware of who he is now compared to a week ago almost makes him a winner. However, he was unable to do much against Smolka prevents me from placing him in that category. The Tibetan showed some promise, but he has a very long way to go.
Liu Pingyuan: The youngster ended up picking up the win on the judges’ scorecards, though there is plenty of reason to believe he didn’t deserve it as Day easily outstruck him on the feet. Is it possible Pingyuan got some home cooking? I would resoundingly say yes. Despite that, not wanting to call him one of the evening’s winners, I wouldn’t go so far as to call his victory a robbery either.