The last few weeks, the UFC events have been largely disappointing up until the final contests. UFC Nashville was no exception. While some may say the co-main event between Curtis Blaydes and Justin Willis didn’t deliver, it at least provided a dominant performance from Blaydes. However, the main event delivered in spades. Remember the KOoTY candidate from Jorge Masvidal last week? Well, Anthony Pettis’ Superman punch KO of Stephen Thompson at the end of the second round is right up there. The explosive conclusion to the event ensured fans didn’t walk away from the event feeling robbed, though it could be argued it didn’t completely make up for what felt like an underwhelming event prior to that. Despite the shortcomings, there were plenty who walked away with improved stock and others who wish they could hit the redo button.
Anthony Pettis: And just like that, Pettis is relevant again. It’s easy to forget just how explosive Showtime is given he hasn’t been securing very many KO’s as of late. In a matter of seconds, Pettis reminded us. Prior to scoring his brutal KO of Thompson, Pettis was losing that fight. So despite the impressiveness of the victory, there are still questions about how effective Pettis’ move up to welterweight will be. Nonetheless, I’d rather celebrate his return to relevance rather than nitpick about his future problems at his new home. There wasn’t enough to get excited about on this card for me to dwell on that.
Curtis Blaydes: Wow. Blaydes did whatever he wanted to an overmatched Justin Willis. What he preferred to do was throw the big man around like a rag doll and he did so as he pleased. The few moments when the fight was standing, Blaydes dominated there too. Blaydes is a very scary man and deserves to be mentioned amongst the best in the heavyweight division. If he can ever overcome the roadblock that is Francis Ngannou, Blaydes will also be mentioned as an all-time great.
Francis Ngannou: If Blaydes is a scary man, just think how frightening Ngannou is. I know you can’t see me shudder as I write this, but I’m sure you can imagine it.
Jussier Formiga: I’ll be the first to admit Formiga’s win over Deiveson Figueiredo wasn’t exciting. However, everyone knew Formiga would need to make the contest an ugly one if he wanted a chance to win. He did just that, grounding the previously undefeated Brazilian every round to win largely on his grappling control. However, Formiga held his own on the feet too. It sounds like Dana White is planning to pit him against Joseph Benavidez in a #1 contender’s contest to determine who rematches Henry Cejudo. I guess I’m down with that….
Maycee Barber: Things looked awful dreary for Barber after the first round of her contest with JJ Aldrich. She had been dropped and ate several other hard counters thanks to Barber’s terrible striking defense. Barber stayed composed and didn’t back down one bit. As Aldrich slowed down under Barber’s continued pressure, the youngster found the opening she was looking for and returned the favor to Aldrich, hurting her badly. The difference here was Barber didn’t let up, eventually getting a standing stoppage. The youngster is still on pace to accomplish her goal of becoming the youngest UFC champion.
Bryce Mitchell: I couldn’t figure out why Mitchell was in the featured preliminary contest with Bobby Moffett. Now I know. Mitchell showed why he may be the scrappiest MFer to step foot in the cage. He transitioned from submission to submission against a guy known for his own grappling game. Even more impressive, Mitchell escaped several submission attempts to stay alive. However, the best part was Mitchell’s post-fight speech. Spouting his home state of Arkansas time after time, he managed to throw out taking his mom out for a steak and requesting Reebok get some camo shorts. Mookie Alexander said it on Twitter, but it was so poignant that I have to repeat it: I think we found our next Hick Diaz.
Marlon Vera: Illegal strikes aside, Vera looked awesome in the 85 seconds we got to see of him. His jab had enough on it to drop Frankie Saenz, allowing Vera to finish off the vet with ground strikes. Most of those strikes were illegal, but the blame for that goes to the referee. For Vera, he has three wins in a row, none of them going to decision. It appears he’s living up to the promise we all saw in him from his time on TUF Brazil.
Jennifer Maia: I still don’t feel we’ve seen the best out of the former Invicta champion, but she looked far better in this performance against Alexis Davis than she did in her debut against Liz Carmouche. Maia’s boxing was on point, hurting the gutty Davis in the first round. Her wrestling is still very much a concern, but I’m willing to be patient and see a step-by-step progression… for now.
Randa Markos: Heading into her contest with Angela Hill, I had given up on Markos being a factor in the strawweight division. Seeing her dominate Hill has me thinking Markos might be turning things around. She returned to her roots, getting Hill to the ground and immediately looking for a submission. I get that Hill isn’t the best ground fighter, but Markos has been too content to stand and bang. See what happens when she goes to what she does best?
Chris Gutierrez: Given the clear gulf in talent between himself and his opponent, Ryan MacDonald, I would have liked to have seen Gutierrez secure a finish. Instead, he took his foot off the gas in the final round and coasted. Nonetheless, it was an impressive performance for Gutierrez, giving fans a reason to tune into to his contests in the future.
Jordan Espinosa: There wasn’t anything that particularly stood out with Espinosa’s performance, but he was the busier fighter in his contest with Shelton and ensured his UFC career lasted more than a single contest. There are obvious concerns about his future given he is a flyweight, but he’s employed at this point and that is enough to make him a winner for now.
Stephen Thompson: Throughout this week, there was talk about Thompson being relevant in the welterweight title picture again. He had two close contests with former champion with Tyron Woodley and a loss that many believed should have gone in favor of Thompson against Darren Till. Now, there’s a strong possibility Thompson will never be relevant in that picture ever again. In his last five contests, he only has a single victory. That’s the type of skid most never recover from. Even worse, Pettis was 3-6 in his last nine headed into this contest in addition to moving up from a smaller weight class. Keep in mind, Thompson is already 36.
Justin Willis: Willis talked a lot of trash prior to his contest with Blaydes. I’m not recommending he changes his personality, but I’ve got a feeling he’s regretting many of those words now after scoring no significant offense over the course of 15 minutes. What might be even more damaging is the long-term effect to his mental status. Some fighters never recover from such a brutal beatdown. I’m hoping he does as he’s a solid talent in a division badly in need of talent, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
John Makdessi and Jesus Pinedo: Somebody forgot to inform these two they were in a fight as all we saw was a sparring session. Granted, it was a sparring session that saw Makdessi bruise up the leg of Pinedo, but this contest was forgettable. The less said about it, the better.
Deiveson Figueiredo: How bad does it suck when you lose your first contest in the UFC after four consecutive wins and you’re likely to be cut? I was never crazy about Figueiredo’s chances against the savvy Formiga – you can look in the staff picks or my preview to confirm that – but that doesn’t mean I wanted to see him go down. The dude is usually exciting. He was just neutralized by a neutralizer. Given Figueiredo is a large flyweight, perhaps he can move to bantamweight and find success. Otherwise, we’ll have to find him in another organization.
Stephen Peterson: Watching Peterson continually try to climb the back of Luis Pena reminded me of a kid brother trying to attack his bigger brother from behind. There looked like there was at least a weight class between him and Pena. Despite Peterson’s best efforts – and this kid never quits – he just couldn’t get the advantage he needed to swing the momentum his way. Peterson’s lack of athleticism was highlighted here as he needed that to overcome his lack of size.
Bobby Moffett: No matter how impressed I was with Mitchell’s performance – and I was very impressed – this was still a fight Moffett should have won. His corner told him to focus on control in the final round. Moffett went for the submission – after Mitchell escaped several earlier in the contest – resulting in him giving up position and the fight. Moffett has been around long enough that I’m sure he’ll bounce back just fine. However, he has now lost all the momentum he had from his surprising win over Chas Skelly.
Alexis Davis: I didn’t want to put Davis here as she fought a good fight with Maia, but felt I had no choice given her lofty ranking in the flyweight division. Given her reputation, she should have been able to eek out a win over a tough Maia. Despite Davis’ best efforts, the judges didn’t see it in her favor and she takes a razor thin loss. Tough break for the savvy vet.
Angela Hill: Anyone else wondering what is up with Hill? She looked like she made major strides in her time in Invicta, taking the flyweight belt in the women only organization. Since coming back to the UFC, she has stalemated. If anything, she looked like she regressed in this contest, allowing Markos to get the takedown as Hill had no concern for keeping her distance from the grappler. Hill is a fun fighter when she is fighting someone who will trade with her, but I expected her to be successful in those circumstances. Hill needs to reevaluate some things with her camp and/or coaches.
Ryan MacDonald: I saw nothing out of MacDonald to have me believe he belongs in the UFC. Well… maybe toughness. That hardly makes up for the lack of talent in the other areas that he definitively comes up short in. I’m 99% sure I’ll be picking against him in his next contest… if he gets another chance in the UFC.
Eric Shelton: Shelton’s biggest problem in the UFC has long been his issues with inactivity. That came back to bite him in the ass against Espinoa, not turning up the volume until the final round. In the process, it probably cost him his job. It’s a shame as Shelton’s athleticism and skill indicated he could have become more. With the UFC eliminating the flyweight division, his opportunity to do that on the grandest stage is over.
Jimmy Neely: I’m like the rest of you: I had no idea who Neely was before this event. He’s the guy who completely missed Vera’s numerous shots to the back of Saenz’s head. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so hard on him, but those shots were blatant. Just ask Stevie Wonder. He saw the illegal blows.
Samsung: Three weeks of ESPN+ events and I’m convinced I will never buy another Samsung product again. Have you ever heard of overexposure? They’re paying ESPN good money to drive people away from their product. I can go the rest of my life without ever hearing “Que Sera Sera” ever again.
Luis Pena: I won’t deny Violent Bob Ross looked awesome. He had little problem in disposing of Peterson. However, he also missed weight. What would Pena have looked like had he cut the extra two-and-a-half pounds to get to the featherweight limit? Would he have the energy required to win? I can’t say for sure. Until Pena puts together a winning performance at the required weight, I’m going to be skeptical of his move to featherweight.
JJ Aldrich: I really wanted to put Aldrich in the winner’s column. She looked better than ever, countering with power and a confidence that hadn’t been seen in her previous contests. Unfortunately, the manner in which she lost also highlighted her limitations. Despite being technically superior to Barber, the youngster ran circles around Aldrich in the athletic department. Even if Aldrich never becomes a title contender, she deserves credit for transforming herself into a credible gatekeeper.
Frankie Saenz: Saenz was in all likelihood on his way to a loss. He was dropped and wasn’t defending himself intelligently… right? Presenting your opponent the back of your head could be interpreted as an intelligent defense. Saenz was doing just that and Vera obliged. It isn’t Saenz fault the referee didn’t enforce the rules in a proper manner. Given those circumstances, I’m giving Saenz the benefit of the doubt.