In a night of fantastic action, the mythical man-beast Ilir Latifi rose to the occasion to emerge one of the biggest winners of the card. Who else emerged as a winner… and who ended up a loser?
UFC on FOX 28 looked extremely underwhelming on paper. Traditionally, cards on big FOX traditionally have a title fight or a #1 contender’s contest in the main event slot. That certainly wasn’t the case here with Jeremy Stephens and Josh Emmett. Nonetheless, the card delivered in every way but the paper test. Every contest on the main card either met or exceeded expectations and the preliminary contests had close to the same conversion rate. By the end of the night, there were four names who were able to introduce their names into title talks even if they aren’t a clear cut #1 contender. Well… Jessica Andrade is.
There ended up being far more winners than losers on the night as many of those who ended up on the wrong side of the decisions put forth strong efforts. In other words, this was an extremely good night of fights. Nonetheless, there definitely some losers out there too…
Jeremy Stephens: The longtime UFC veteran has had some impressive stretches over his long career, but none have been as impressive as the one he is currently on. In the last six months, he has left a legendary lightweight unable to walk after their contest and put out two notorious durable featherweights who had never been finished before by the second round. Yeah, that’s enough to get Stephens in title talks. One more win is probably needed before he gets a chance at the strap, but who saw this coming following his poor performance against Renato Moicano?
Jessica Andrade: Credit to Tecia Torres for pushing Andrade early, but Andrade’s physicality proved to be way too much, resulting in the Brazilian bullying her way to victory. And when I say bullying, I mean it. She threw Torres around like a rag doll, slamming her and beating on her like she was an inanimate object. The win likely sets Andrade up for a shot at the title again, regardless of who wins between Rose Namajunas and Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Given many fighters who falter after losing a title shot, Andrade’s ability to come back looking stronger is impressive.
Ilir Latifi: Long a favorite of Blood Elbow – and many other hardcore fans – Latifi finally had his breakout performance. Now our claims of Latifi being the best EVER won’t seem quite so ludicrous. Regardless, Latifi bid his time until an opportunity presented itself to attack and didn’t let up until OSP was asleep… literally. Latifi picked a hell of a time to put on a career performance and pick up his first finish in two years. Given the state of flux the light heavyweight division is now in, Latifi could be a win away from a title shot.
Max Griffin: I expected Griffin to look better given he was able to train full-time for the first time going into this contest. He exceeded my expectations by a long way. A disciplined approach in which he rarely gave Mike Perry a chance to land his powerful punches was the perfect game plan, bloodying up the young slugger even before the first round was out. Keep in mind, this guy isn’t against throwing fisticuffs either. Griffin looks like he’s going to e a top action-fighter for a while.
Brian Kelleher: I’m not sure how much a win over Renan Barao matters anymore, but Kelleher did what he needed to do to pick up a win over the former bantamweight champion. Sure, Kelleher’s fight IQ could be questioned at times of the contest, but he also showed a lot of heart and came this close to finishing off Barao. Regardless of how skilled Barao still is, he has still proven to be extremely durable.
Marion Reneau: Y’all remember when Reneau was signed to the UFC? It was three years ago with most of us asking what the UFC was doing bringing in a 37-year old prospect with a total of five fights under her belt. Most of us need to be eating our words now. Reneau come back from nearly being finished in the first round only to hurt Sara McMann with a stiff punch and finish her with a triangle choke. Reneau is now undefeated in her last four contests, knocking on the door for a title shot. She’s still one more win away from getting that, but regardless of whether she gets it, her current run has been impressive as hell.
Angela Hill: It wasn’t a great win, but it was a good win. Hill did what she needed to do to win, dominating Moroz in all aspects of the fight. More than anything, the win proved Hill is better than what her UFC record indicates as she has had some tough competition. Plus, she threw and landed more volume in the final frame, providing a strong argument against her having a faulty gas tank.
Alan Jouban and Ben Saunders: Jouban won the fight, but I have to label them together as the performance they put on was easily my favorite for 2018 thus far. Yes, it’s early in the year, but it still counts for something. Both rocked one another on multiple occasions, but there was no mistaking that Jouban was getting the better of the exchanges as Saunders looked wobbly on multiple occasions. Despite that, he was determined to stay in the pocket and throw leather with hopes of putting out Jouban. Instead, he ended up on the receiving end of what could prove to be one of the more iconic KO’s in the history of the UFC. Kudos to both for leaving it all out there.
Sam Alvey: It’s been a while since Alvey was in the winner’s column as he’s been securing boring decisions as no one wants to walk into his power. Marcin Prachnio must not have ever since film on Alvey as he had no fear of Alvey’s power. He should have. Alvey dropped Prachnio twice in about 20 seconds, then delivered your typical high-energy Alvey post-fight interview. It’s rare Alvey doesn’t make good on a KO when opponents give him his fight.
Rani Yahya: When you think of dominating, Yahya is never comes to mind. But the Brazilian grappling expert turned in the most dominant performance of the night, shutting down Russell Doane for over 12 minutes with Yahya’s BJJ prowess. Just goes to show you what you can do without athleticism as Yahya may be the worst athlete on the UFC roster. Also, very heartwarming moment to see him dedicate the contest to his mother who passed earlier this month… though I do have to disagree with the decree that Reebok is a great sponsor. Remember that 50% off coupon they gave at the fighter’s retreat…?
Manny Bermudez: It’s rare you see someone pull out a guillotine from the clinch and Bermudez did it in his first UFC fight against a very tough opponent. Bermudez still has some holes to fill before the UFC runs him up the ladder, but his future looks very bright.
Alliance MMA: Two-for-two with Hill and Stephens pulling out definitive wins. The Chula Vista based gym has done very well overall in recent months with Ross Pearson and Michael Chandler finding recent success as well. Things are trending up in Southern California….
Orlando: Normally a card gets at least one stinker on a card. This one didn’t have a single stinker. Sure, not every fight was a barnburner, but there has never been a card like that. The worst fight was probably between Kelleher and Barao – or maybe it was Alex Perez and Eric Shelton – and neither or those were bad contests. The Orlando crowd lucked out big time.
The UFC: The UFC got a lot of flak for this card as it didn’t hold up to the traditional standards of cards on big FOX. This card played out as well as it could have for the UFC as they can now tell their critics they are trying to put on entertaining cards as opposed to cards with big names in an effort to shake up their marketing strategy. Given the old strategy wasn’t working, it’s worth a try. While we don’t know the immediate ratings yet or how the long-term results play out, the immediate results were good.
Ovince Saint Preux: Everyone was confused after UFC 217 when Saint Preux called out Latifi as the Swede was ranked lower than Saint Preux. Now that he lost to Latifi, that callout seems extremely stupid. Every time Saint Preux seems like he’s on the verge of breaking out, he stumbles. Given Cormier is the current champion – one of the few near the top of the division Saint Preux hasn’t faced – Saint Preux had as good of shot of getting the next shot at the belt as anyone else given Alexander Gustufsson’s inability to stay healthy. That chance now seems dead.
Mike Perry: I strongly considered putting him in the neither category as Perry’s willingness to put it all on the line in the final round was impressive. Then he walked out before the decision was officially announced and I couldn’t bring myself to do that. Class still counts for something in my book… even if we’re talking about Mike Perry. Another reason Perry lands in this category: his corner. Anyone else catch his girlfriend yelling at Perry to “break his leg!” during the contest? Yeah… I can’t in good conscious say Perry is doing everything he can to win if that’s who he is putting in his corner.
Renan Barao: The UFC has done everything they can to get Barao back on track. His lone win in his last five performances came over Phillipe Nover. Nover’s UFC record? 1-6. It’s hard to believe this is the same guy who once won 33 fights in a row, including two dominant performances over Urijah Faber. Barao is done. The UFC should cut him loose as no one wants to be reminded about what he once was.
Sara McMann: It’s rare a fighter puts on such a dominant performance in one round only to turn around and not only get finished in the next, but get utterly destroyed before the finish. The worst part is McMann could have escaped from the triangle Reneau had on her if she knew what the hell she was doing. That’s two consecutive submission losses in a row after winning the opening round. Given her wrestling prowess and overall physical talent, there may not be a bigger disappointment in women’s MMA than McMann.
Maryna Moroz: This should have been Moroz’s fight. She’s a very technically sound striker who refuses to commit to her punches, resulting in her fights coming up just short time and again. Moroz has the physical tools to be a force at strawweight, but she can’t get past whatever it is that keeps her from committing to her strikes.
Marcin Prachnio: Prachnio made a strong case for lowest fight IQ on the roster, walking into the poscket with his hands down against Alvey. He showed some decent offensive potential, but zero defensive prowess and paid the price for it. Maybe someone will teach him about watching film before his next contest….
Russell Doane: Doane has suffered some bad losses in the UFC before. Remember his loss to Mirsad Bektic? This was far worse than what Bektic did to him. According to Fight Metric, Doane landed two significant strikes in more than 12 minutes of fight time. Having dropped five of his last six contests, this may be the end of the line for the Hawaiian.
Eric Shelton: There were a few bright moments for Shelton, but they were few and far between. He wasn’t aggressive enough on the feet to take advantage of his elite athleticism in addition to showing poor takedown defense. No one denies Shelton has all the physical skills to make him a serious player, but he needs to start fitting all the pieces together as he is running out of time to do that.
Team Alpha Male: While SoCal has been trending up, there’s something problematic in the water up north in the Golden State. While both Emmett and McMann came up short on this card, Teruto Ishihara and Joseph Morales also came up short in the last month. Sage Northcutt won last week… but that may have been attributed to home cooking. Camp founder Urijah Faber angrily called out Dominick Cruz and Michael Bisping for stating Stephens’ illegal knee had no effect… but most would agree Cruz and Bisping were right. Then again, Faber has a long had beef with Cruz.
Mike Perry’s Girlfriend: Twitter roasted the poor girl, but you can’t blame them as her corner advice really was piss poor. I get the feeling anyone who dates Mike Perry could care less about what the internet world thinks about her though, so I’m sure her appearance on this least means nothing to her.
Josh Emmett: It would be easy to put Emmett in the loser’s column given the violent nature of his loss as well as the controversy surrounding Stephen’s illegal knee he threw – and landed? – during the finishing sequence. But Emmett also proved he isn’t another coming of Sokoudjou. He put Stephens on his ass in the opening round, taking the frame for an early lead. Emmett didn’t win, but he did prove he can hang with the top ten on a regular basis at the very least. Even without the win, he put on a solid performance.
Tecia Torres: I couldn’t put Torres in the loser’s column after her intelligent performance. She arguably won the first round against a physically superior opponent and never gave up. She didn’t embarrass herself at all and walked out of the cage looking relatively healthy… far more than what Claudia Gadelha could say. She looks like she could end up in a Ryan Bader-like role in the strawweight division. Not a bad place to be, but obviously not where she would want to be.
Alex Perez: I’ll be the first to admit Perez looked great. Shelton’s moments came few and far between as Perez kept the striking close enough that it was his takedowns and ground control that made the difference in this contest. However, he missed weight which puts an asterisks next to this win. Regardless of the missed weight, Perez is doing enough that fans need to keep an eye on him.
Albert Morales: I don’t care if Morales ends up getting cut with this loss as his UFC record is now 1-4-1. The kid fought hard and put a scare into a hot prospect in Bermudez. If I feared Morales had no chance of making it back to the big dance, I’d be fine putting him in the loser’s column. However, he might be well-served going back to the regional circuit briefly and picking up a little bit more experience. Keep in mind, the kid has only been fighting as a professional for three years. If Morales is cut, whenever he comes back – and he will be back – he’ll be better than what he has shown in this run.
Olivier Aubin-Mercier: The Quebec kid was robbed of a paycheck through no fault of his own after Gilbert Burns was found medically unfit to continue cutting weight. The Burns contest was a very winnable contest that would have been pleasurable for fans. At least Aubin-Mercier was a good sport about it, celebrating his birthday in the stands by blowing on a party favor….