The real winners and losers from Saturday’s entertaining UFC Sao Paulo card.
With what appears to be a near-interminable run of events to finish off the year, the UFC tucked another card while ramping up to what’s shaping up to be their PPV of the year. Last week we had a fun little action card from Europe, now it’s Brazil’s turn to have an event with some divisionally relevant pieces moving around.
Not to speak ill of the event, but it really lacked some of the promotional push that it could have used to lend it some of the importance it and the fighters on it deserve. Then again, they only really promoted it for less than a week and it was tailored mostly for the local market. Such is the age of the UFC’s expansion and all of what comes with it, I suppose.
We did have some very compelling matchups with fighters whose styles made for very good fights. More dedicated fans and analysts (hi, Connor Ruebusch!) were very happy with the expectations of technique that we were to witness, and for good reason. Perhaps main event aside, this might be a card we look back on 4-5 years from now and end up amazed at the name value of fighters that by then have moved up and accomplished bigger things, wondering why they were on a low-tier event.
Derek Brunson – Brunson had a rough go of it a while back losing to strikers that were able to draw him into charging forward. The price for that was usually paid heavily against guys like Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker, but wasn’t as much of a factor. He charged forward and did get hit a bit, but managed to follow through on his strikes until he managed to hurt Machida, then push him down and finish on the ground. It’s an impressive win that won’t have him skyrocket up the ranks, but keeps him in the top group of the division for now. Between this and the Daniel Kelly win, that’s two consecutive victories that were settled violently. That serves him very well, and another win like this could put him firmly in the top 5.
Colby Covington – Despite struggling a bit to get the timing down in the first round, Covington used his defensive grappling to great effect while outworking. Maia on the ground. Once Maia was spent from all of the activity and pressure, this was Covington’s game and he knew it. I’d even go so far as to credit him and his team with planning this all along. Stay so active that Maia can’t catch his breath in the first, then shuck off takedowns for the rest of the fight until he can’t stand firmly later on. It’s not a plan that everyone can pull off, but Colby did so and made a statement in making things look relatively simple. Not easy, but simple. Couple that with the meanest post-fight speech against a home crowd in recent history, and he’s attracting the kind of heat that makes it undeniable for the UFC to do something major with him. Was it excessive? Absolutely. I’m not applauding what he said, as I found it both needlessly crass and really just rather stupid But I haven’t seen someone escorted out of an arena with so much security and hate since the Iron Shiek was on the legendary run that saw him brutalize Bob Backlund. That sounds like a joke, but people were still stabbing performers in parking lots back then. Now he’s riding a five-fight streak and has a ton of heat on him as well. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy – and Covington has people talking. And if you hate him, it’s working.
Pedro Munhoz – Sometimes we get submissions that seem almost as violent as if it were a TKO/KO. Munhoz may have held on for a bit too long, but you don’t let go until the ref makes you. Munhoz demonstrated once again how sneaky he can be and how fast he can apply his technique when it comes to submissions.
Thiago Santos – I’m still sold on the idea that Santos has hit his ceiling and may hang with upper echelon fighters, but not ultimately not beat them (at least not in his current form). But anyone he faces that’s not in that upper crust, he can vaporize. Hermansson looked like he had nothing for him after the opening minute or so, and it’s all largely to Santos’ imposing presence, forward pressure, and insane physicality. Big performance here for Santos.
Big ups to Vicente Luque and Antonio Carlos Junior on their submission wins, showing crafty setups from strikes to finish the fight with excellent chokes.
Lyoto Machida – Machida is nowhere near done as a fighter, but let’s look at his career struggles thus far. He was starting to feel undersized and overpowered at 205, now he’s suffering something similar at 185. Perhaps he can drop to welterweight, but it doesn’t solve most of his problems. Like most fighters that have been in the game this long, Machida’s been figured out. Opponents know what his quirks are and how he does what he does. I don’t think that the long layoff was even that much of a factor, but rather his stylistic faults are the bigger thing to look to. The mythical ultra-elusive Machida of yesteryear is no longer with us, and what we have now is an excellent striker with great evasive movement and an ability to lure opponents in. Problem is, his defense isn’t what it could be, and we’ve seen this any time he gets his lights shut off. While I personally worry about him taking too much punishment in fights, he could take some time off to recover and still have some very good performances. That said, he’s got some serious changes to make.
Demian Maia – Maia now falls to consecutive losses for the first time since the back to back defeats to Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald in 2013-2014. Losing to the champion was tough enough, but now he’s defeated by a younger and stronger grappler with sharper reflexes and something of a mean streak. Maia’s pace led to his cardio being compromised yet again, and at his age it’s still something that can be worked on. Problem is, it’s hard to make a drastic turnaround in that department when you’re undeniably in the downturn of your career.
Jack Hermansson – Not to be too harsh here, but Jack really ran out of answers quickly. After two back to back finishes, he wasn’t ready for this kind of pressure. Maybe it wasn’t his night, but it kills off a lot of the momentum he’d built over the last two fights.
Hacran Dias – I’ve never seen this from Dias. When you have to be carried back to your corner, you probably shouldn’t continue. While he was far from done after the break between rounds, it was still uncomfortable to watch. Dias didn’t have much to offer in the third and ended up with his third straight decision loss.