Long Island finally got a nice little card to showcase fighters from the area, and at least everyone went home happy. A card that was mostly about action with a few divisionally relevant fights at the top, it served its purpose for fulfilling the UFC’s commitment to Fox while putting a former champ on a big stage without major stakes involved.
The crowd even seemed better and more receptive than the MSG audiences we’ve seen. The pacing was a dream, and we got some finishes that are instant nominees for knockout and submission of the year in one event. Management couldn’t have asked for a better warmup card for late July to lead up to the summer’s biggest pay-per-view event. Any event that gives us a little bit of everything is a good one.
Chris Weidman – More than anything, this fight was truly about Weidman’s relevance. Three losses in a row, each stranger than the last, in affairs that had Weidman being competitive or dominant only to let it all slip away. Now, Weidman had lost against nothing but world-class material during that time. Not only that, but I’d argue that his losses were to some of the best middleweights alive. So the three consecutive losses really aren’t as bad as they seem in a way, but the last two were so devastating, they had fans and media wondering if he should have fought a lower-ranked opponent instead of Gastelum. It says a lot about the perceived drop-off as well as the ascendance of Gastelum as a force in the sport, so it’s a combination of factors. He ate some shots and took a while to really get his top control chaining to work, but he got the job done in in front of his home crowd. The only guys ahead of him now are Jacare Souza (who lost earlier this year), Luke Rockhold (who fights David Branch next), and Yoel Romero (who just lost to Robert Whittaker for the interim belt). Whittaker appears to be fighting Bisping next no matter what, so it looks like it’s a waiting game for Weidman.
Darren Elkins – I remain convinced that he must have had his infamous chest tattoo done with the magic ink from Tattoo Assassins or something. First it was the sensational come-from-behind win against Mirsad Bektic, and now he ends up getting the nod against Dennis Bermudez. Elkins had pockets where he got a bit reckless, but used his wrestling to great effect and worked well with his striking to make more of a fight out of what some thought would be a bout he wouldn’t be as competitive in. Elkins has quietly racked up five wins in a row, coming in ranked at #12 beating the #10 guy. That’s already an accomplishment, and something that nets him a fair amount of respect no matter who he faces next in his division.
Elizeu Zaleski – Hell of a fight for Zaleski, and his third straight win after losing his UFC debut to Nicolas Dalby. In a division like welterweight, a fight like this does you a lot of favors for future consideration. He’s one of the more formidable Jungle Fight guys to come over to the UFC recently, and he’s not training full-time at a famous gym. At age 30, he can still make some additions to his game to progress even further, so this all works in his favor when you realize how much potential he has.
Alex Oliveira – Brazilian Cowboy is no slouch. His defense on the ground was great, but his feints and movement standing led to a tremendous finish. It was more of his heel tactics towards the crowd after the fact that really did it for me. As a recovering professional wrestling fan, I can’t help but love that bit of gamesmanship with the crowd. He embraced the villain role and blasted one of the best wrestlers in his division on his home turf. He’s won four of his last five since losing to Donald Cerrone in February of last year (the only fight he didn’t win was a no-contest against Tim Means at UFC 207). He’s a threat now that he’s given up on trying to fight at lightweight.
Junior Albini – Does he really like that “Baby“ nickname? He doesn’t look like a baby. Maybe he should use a different entrance song. Albini had a beautiful performance where he defended the takedown from a larger opponent and kept nailing him with knees to the breadbasket. The fight ended with a picture-perfect sequence with a knee to the body and a left hook, leading to ground strikes. Albini’s mostly got finishes on his record, and heavyweight is hurting for talent. While Albini looks like he could realistically make middleweight, but I guess we’ll have to take what we can get.
Eryk Anders – The Legacy/RFA/LFA crew keep scouting excellent talent, and perhaps the addition to former Legacy matchmaker Mick Maynard may have a hand in bringing up some of the fighters from that roster. If that’s the case, we’re all winners. Anders came in and brutalized Rafael Natal with heavy hands and accuracy. We don’t see too many guys from the southeast region, but guys that come up through organizations like Valor in the Alabama/Mississippi area are making some moves as of late and moving up to do pretty impressive work. Anders remains undefeated as a professional and makes a big impact in his debut against a crafty veteran.
Marlon Vera – I wrote off Vera, and I’m glad I was wrong. Vera’s striking has gotten better, but his striking defense looks way better as well. Three straight wins with an early contender for submission of the year? That does you a lot of favors. His UFC run improves to 4-2 as he shows off the fruits of his hard work.
Patrick Cummins – Not the prettiest fight, but the highlights show some pretty good moments in what was not an instant classic overall, but had some decent moments. I still worry about the amount of damage Cummins takes, and how he got slammed by Villante’s overhand right when he kept spamming it. His MMA game is coming together, though. He’s surprisingly ended up with a 6-4 UFC record, so he’s definitely a guy to beat to get into the top ten. No disrespect to Cummins, but I’m not sure if that says more about him than the state of the division. He’s still improving, and a tough out for most in his weight class.
Shane Burgos remains undefeated thanks to his accuracy, composure, timing and a wildly erratic opponent. It helps that he finished strong up to the bell and continues to be one of the better NY prospects for UFC shows. He should be on every New York card, really. Jeremy Kennedy also remains undefeated at 11-0, with three UFC wins. He capitalized on his wrestling, controlled and pushed hard pace. Chase Sherman now evens out at 2-2 in the UFC, beating a strong veteran in Grabowski and raising his profile earlier this week with his origin story. Now that he’s training full-time at Jackson/Winklejohn, he may be taking the right steps to move up in the game. Jimmie Rivera ends up with five UFC wins, and his only professional loss being his second pro fight back in 2008. He dropped Almeida a few times, ate his best shots and put on a good show in the process. Chris Wade also had a smart and controlling performance to open the prelims, and is now 5-2 in the UFC.
Dennis Bermudez – After a gutsy performance, I don’t really want to put him here, but his recent performances go back to two losses, preceded by two wins, also preceded by two losses. He’s on the list not so much because he lost, but because how the loss affects his standing in a division that’s got a pretty busy top five and some moving pieces. This loss still keeps him just outside of the top ten and not far from it.
Gian Villante – Now that he’s 5-6 with two straight losses, Villante may get the axe. He’s still slow and plodding, and his game hasn’t really shown much evolution past his wrestling pedigree. Not a good look for a guy that’s been fighting since 2009.
Frankie Perez – No, I don’t like this one. Frankie first came on my radar from one of his Ring of Combat fights prior to fighting for WSOF. He was another tough talent from the underrated NY/North Jersey circuit, but now he’s also 1-3 in the UFC. As good as he’s been and as much of a fan as I’ve been of his performances, he may get his walking papers here.
Timothy Johnson – Johnson seems like a great guy, but he got embarrassed here. His striking defense was not good at all, and it felt like he took a few steps back. His whole game fell apart once he found a guy not only more athletic than him, but one capable of striking and hurting him with apparent ease. This is a case about what the loss says as far as the state of a fighter more than the stats and numbers.
Ryan LaFlare – His UFC record has been impressive, but this was another terrible loss that shows LaFlare’s game may not be where he thought it was. Much like Johnson above, he ran out of answers when his grappling didn’t work and a more dynamic athlete took over. Now he’s on the wrong end of a highlight reel in front of his home crowd.
Rafael Natal drops three in a row, two of them TKOs. He’s more than likely getting cut. Same for Damian Grabowski, who’s now 0-3 in his UFC stint. Kyle Bochniak had no answers whatsoever and appeared to have not trained for an opponent with a wrestling base. This kind of near-shutout should set him back a good bit. As for Godofredo Castro, I have no idea what he was doing. He whiffed on giant telegraphed hooks and kept swinging for the fences while defending punches with his face. If your main defense is posturing and sticking your tongue out while not landing anything, you’re not doing yourself any favors. That was a terrible performance from a fighter like Pepey, who is capable of much better than… whatever that was.
Kelvin Gastelum – After three consecutive wins (the last of which was overtuned due to smoking bubonic chronic) Gastelum had not only been winning, but brutalizing his last two opponents at only 25 years of age. He was able to shuck off some takedowns and defend well on the ground, even dropping Weidman in the biggest moment of the fight prior to the finish. A stumble, yes – but not a massive setback. He probably never should have left welterweight considering he was going to inevitably be outsized at 185. It showed here, and he could easily pop into the top ten in short order at 170. He’ll be fine.
Thomas Almeida – The biggest conclusion to draw here is that Almeida’s ceiling has been firmly established now. The hot prospect that we thought would light the division on fire and shoot straight to top competition may need to make some adjustments. That’s not to say he’s done, but his engine’s stalled in his current state of doing business. Maybe cross-training elsewhere could help, or a combination of extra coaching and conditioning could help. I don’t have the answers, but he needs to come up with something — and soon.
Lyman Good – Good is still 1-1 in his UFC run, and was involved in a close brawl. His standing remains unaffected, and if anything he gains some respect from the brass here. A loss like this doesn’t hurt.
Brian Kelleher – When your first UFC loss is a submission as exciting as your first UFC win, you should be fine. Kelleher also remains unaffected by this.