Let’s not kid ourselves. The UFC isn’t putting forth much of an effort to give their audiences awesome cards as the television deal with FOX draws to a close. No disrespect to Anthony Smith and Volkan Oezdemir, but they hardly scream “headliners”. And I’m not about to declare UFC Moncton ended up being one of those cards where everything turned out awesome despite no one caring about the card. There were some serious stinkers on there. However, it was far from a disaster either.
The main event delivered in strong manner. The co-main event wasn’t bad either, and there were several other notable contests. It wasn’t a great night of fights, but it wasn’t really a bad way to spend the evening either. All you had to do was time your pizza run or bathroom break accordingly during the trash fights and it was a hell of an evening. The problem would have been knowing which fights were going to be the trash fights….
Anyway, on to the purpose of this article.
Anthony Smith: How many of you remember Smith’s first UFC run? It came after Strikeforce completed its merger with the world’s premier MMA organization and lasted exactly one fight after Smith was subbed by Antonio Braga Neto in less than two minutes. Just over five years later, Smith called out Dana White for a title shot after emerging victorious in his second consecutive main event victory. The funny thing is that the callout isn’t completely crazy.
I get that Smith would be a major underdog if he were to get a title shot, but who realistically was thinking he’d be in this position at the beginning of this year? The Nebraska native has come a very long way now that he isn’t cutting the extra 20 pounds to middleweight and is clearly seeing the benefits of it. He may have been exhausted by the end of the fight, but he had enough to get the job done. That was something he struggled with in the past. This may end up being the highlight of Smith’s career. If it is, it’s not like it’s a position many others have been able to achieve.
Michael Johnson: While his performance does nothing to convince me Johnson is ever going to come close to being the guy who knocked Dustin Poirier silly, it does give him consecutive wins for the first time since 2015 and move him off the chopping block. Johnson has lost some speed, but credit to him for staying active for the entire contest after exhausting his gas tank in previous bouts. It was encouraging to see him score a late takedown too. Johnson isn’t a contender anymore, but he can still serve as a solid gatekeeper.
Misha Cirkunov: Remember before the summer of 2017 when everyone was thinking Cirkunov was going to be the next big thing at light heavyweight? Yeah, that seems like forever ago. Cirkunov picked up his first win in nearly two years in dominating fashion. First, he rocked Patrick Cummins on the feet. Then, he gets the former collegiate wrestling All-American down with minimal issue. Then, he quickly moves for the triangle choke to finish the fight. Cirkunov hasn’t completely regained his previous status, but this was as good of a step as he could have taken back into that direction.
Andre Soukhamthath: Soukhamthath didn’t exactly fight a smart fight, but it isn’t like Jonathan Martinez put together an intelligent strategy either. Soukhamthath’s power proved to be the difference as he knocked Martinez silly in the first round and Martinez struggled to pull himself together for a while. However, when Soukhamthath tired, he let Martinez back in the fight. At least there was no controversy regarding his victory as the scorecards couldn’t possibly have gone in favor of Martinez, giving Soukhamthath his first UFC decision victory.
Sean Strickland: Kudos to Strickland for the comeback as he had a miserable first round. All of his strikes were falling short as Nordine Taleb picked him apart. Then Strickland began stepping into his combinations and finally connected with some clean shots. The kid has always had plus power, he’s just been reluctant to step into the punches. Here’s hoping he can continue to grow.
Nasrat Haqparast: Sure, Haqparast didn’t just bowl over Thibault Gouti the way we all expected him to. He did walk out with a VERY clear decision that put Haqparast’s impressive physical gifts on display in putting on a beating on the Frenchman. He’d do well to learn what the hell a jab is – astonishing given he trains at Tristar – but Haqparast has a bright future.
Calvin Kattar: The vet looked like he might be put away early by Chris Fishgold, but he weathered the storm and did what he does best: get a read on the situation and react accordingly. Katter’s jab soon found a home and his overhand right spelled the beginning of the end for Fishgold. There may not be a savvier combatant in the featherweight division.
Talita Bernardo: Though I was probably in the minority, I enjoyed Bernardo’s ground work in her victory over Sarah Moras. The sweep she scored in the final round… a thing of beauty. She wouldn’t have won without the improvements in her striking though as her ground control wouldn’t have been enough. Bernardo isn’t going to be a major player, but her improvements have been enough that she looks like she’ll be a mainstay for a while now.
Don Madge: Fans had no clue who the prospect from South Africa was heading into the night. He made sure those who tuned in for his fight knew damn well who he was after. From his early knockdown of Te Edwards, to his armbar from the guard, and finally to his vicious head kick KO, Madge was a walking highlight reel from the opening bell. Turning 28 next month, Madge looks like he could be an exciting action fighter for the organization for years to come.
Stevie Ray: Ray makes it here because he got very lucky. It wasn’t an outright robbery, but it was close. Nonetheless, he the was a very good possibility he was going to be cut if he didn’t pull out the win and he did that. How the hell can you not call him a winner after that?
Volkan Oezdemir: The problem with knocking your opponents out so quickly is no one knows how you’ll respond when you’re dragged into deep waters. Oezdemir didn’t respond very well. To be fair to the Swiss export, he held his own late when the fight was a striking battle. Once Smith took him down, Oezdemir was screwed. He did show resilience resisting tapping as long as he did, but no one expected Oezdemir’s ground game to be anything special. Given the lunacy that is the light heavyweight division, I’m not ruling out the possibility of Oezdemir finding his way back into a title fight, though that outcome looks bleak at the moment.
Patrick Cummins: Most may have expected Cummins to lose, but they also expected him to be competitive. Yeah, that didn’t happen. Cummins didn’t score a single bit of significant offense in a contest he needed to win if he wanted to remain relevant in a shallow division. He’s not going to get cut – like I said, a shallow division – but anyone who remains on the Cummins bandwagon is delusional.
Gian Villante and Ed Herman: No one expects Villante to fight a smart fight, but Herman normally is an intelligent vet. Instead, they both stood in the pocket winging hard punches, neither making a great commitment to look for the finish out of respect to the power of one another. It made for a terrible performance from both. Is it so hard to put forth some defense? How about just touching up an opponent as opposed to a power shot with every strike? Maybe a takedown? Respect to them for stepping into the cage, but this contest was fought at the level of amateurs. I expect better of UFC caliber fighters. Oh right… Villante walked out with the win, though I think I would have rather awarded neither of them a W.
Alex Garcia: The Dominican export snapped his streak of alternating wins and losses with his second consecutive loss, dropping a fight he appeared to have under control when he gave up top control to Court McGee in the final round. It doesn’t look like Garcia will ever have a breakout moment, so there’s a strong possibility he’ll get his walking papers… provided he’s on the last fight on his contract. If he isn’t, Garcia’s done enough that he’ll get another opportunity, but he’s on thin ice now that he’s no longer considered to be a prospect.
Nordine Taleb: All it took was one good shot from Strickland to ruin a beautiful performance from Taleb. Taleb was executing a beautiful strategy, forcing the American to move forward. Then Strickland landed a hard shot and Taleb was never the same from there. Strickland kept up the attack once he realized Taleb was hurt and that was it. Taleb may be losing a step, not a big surprise given he’s 37 and over a decade into his career.
Thibault Gouti: I hate putting Gouti here as this was probably his best showing, but he took a hell of a beating and is probably going to be on the outside looking in. With a 1-5 UFC record, I don’t see how the UFC can justify bringing him back. It’s too bad this performance wasn’t the launching point of his UFC career as I would have liked his future much better.
Sarah Moras: Moras looked sharp early on, landing right hand after right hand. Then she cooled on her aggressiveness and allowed Bernardo to take control about halfway through the contest. Then she allowed Bernardo to take the fight to the ground for the majority of the contest from that point. Not good. Moras needed the win if she wanted to ensure she stayed on the roster. There’s no guarantee of that now.
Te Edwards: Not the debut the alumni of the Contender’s Series expected given his history of KO’s. Then again, when you’re crushing cans, you’re often in for a rude awakening. Edwards is very talented and showed some toughness getting out of Madge’s armbar, but the UFC picked him up too soon. They should have let him get some additional seasoning for another year or so. They may have to give him the Sage Northcutt treatment moving forward.
Jessin Ayari: Ayari only belongs here if he gets cut. Given his lack of name recognition coupled with his two consecutive losses, my guess is that’s exactly what happens. It’s not like the roster has room to be adding more people, yet the brass continues to sign more people. The only way to counter that is to release some people and Ayari is the type of guy who gets the short end of the stick in these situations. It’s too bad as I scored him the winner of his contest with Ray.
Artem Lobov: Sure, Lobov didn’t come anywhere seriously close to winning his contest with Johnson. But how many people expected him to be competitive? In fact, it was a win of sorts that Lobov even fought in the UFC again after the incident with the bus. I have no doubt his friendship with Conor McGregor is responsible for Lobov still being on the roster – it was responsible for him being on the roster in the first place – but can you really call a guy a loser when he continues to receive opportunities he doesn’t actually deserve? Lobov is doing pretty damn well for himself, even if he was unable to walk away with the W.
Jonathan Martinez: It might surprise some to see Martinez here as he took a hell of a beating, but the kid showed a ton of heart just to make it to the final bell. Being able to do so when he took the fight on short notice only adds to the impressiveness. He even scored some takedowns and scored some decent offense over the course of the final two rounds. Sure, Martinez needs to make a lot of adjustments if he wants to stick around, but the talent is there.
Court McGee: I know I’m in the minority who felt Garcia deserved the victory, but McGee was the one who got his hand raised. I just felt McGee didn’t do any damage when he had Garcia on the ground in the final round, leaving me feeling Garcia deserved the final round based on his early control and damage. Nonetheless, McGee got the win and probably kept his UFC employment in the process. So good for him.
Chris Fishgold: Yes, he lost in the first round of his UFC debut, normally a terrible sign for a fighter’s future. However, Fishgold damn near finished a tough, durable veteran in Kattar in the opening minute, not allowing him to get a read early on. Kattar’s adjustments came quick and Fishgold didn’t have much time to react accordingly. Fishgold established he’s fun to watch at the very least. He’ll bounce back.
Arjan Singh Bhullar: Yes, it was a nice, workman-like win from the Canadian. One he badly needed. However, Bhullar doesn’t look like the hot prospect many expected him to be. For someone who was an Olympic wrestler, you’d think he could secure a takedown before his opponent broke/injured his foot. Nope. To his credit, Bhullar is still young in the sport – four years into his career — but he looks nothing like the future contender many were hyping him up to be.
Marcelo Golm: Golm is in a similar situation to Ayari in that he’ll be in the loser’s column if he gets cut. However, I don’t think he will. The UFC is willing to give the big men more leeway than the overcrowded lightweight division, thus why I think Golm survives. The big Brazilian showed some brutal low kicks, good takedown defense, and some nice agility. Like Bhullar, Golm is young in the sport – just over three years in – but he’s showing more long-term potential than his opponent.
Eric Nevitt: I know most of you are wondering who this is. Nevitt was the referee of the Strickland-Taleb fight. You know… the one that many believed had an early stoppage. While I can certainly see the argument that it was early, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t chew out the refs when they let the action go on for too long only to rip them when they stop it a bit too early. The chances of Taleb recovering were minimal at best and I’d rather see the refs lean on the side of caution. It may not have been the best stoppage, but it sure as hell could have been a lot worse.