With the dust settled on last night’s stellar card, let's consider what the event told us and where it leaves us.
The first and most obvious thing it told us was about Jones, Gustafsson and Barao; all three are studs.
Jones established himself as the greatest light-heavyweight of all time, with not only his sixth straight title defense, but with (perhaps) the greatest fight in UFC history. As every champion should survive at least one war in their career, Jones has now done it. The champ was tested and pushed, but withstood all that “The Mauler” had to offer and looked resilient in doing it.
In terms of Gustafsson, he gave notice to Jones and every other fighter at 205 that he’s the future of the division and that if Jones wants to stay light-heavyweight champ, he’s going to need to improve his game, because Jones might not survive their next encounter and there's sure to be one.
Regarding Barao, he confirmed his championship status last night and irrespective of Dominick Cruz’s return date. He looked amazing Saturday night and he did it against a very tough and talented fighter, in the person of Eddie Wineland. When Cruz comes back he’s going to have an extremely tough road to hoe in dealing with Barao and coming off of a two year layoff, it might prove a task too hard. That aside and with each passing success, it becomes harder and harder to refer to Barao as an interim champion. For my money and given that a firm date has not yet been set for Cruz’s return, I think it’s only fair that White removes the qualifier from his title and simply refer to Barao as what he is, the bantamweight champion. He’s more than earned it and I say that as a huge Dominick Cruz fan. If Cruz can be back for a title unification match by January or February, then both fighters should be announced into the ring as champions. If Cruz can’t make it back for the top of 2014, then Barao should be matched with the winner of Faber / Johnson (December 14th) and he should be introduced into the ring as champion. Either way, the term interim needs to be dropped when referencing Renan Barao.
Beyond the big three, are the lesser three; Schaub, Carmont and Nurmagomedov
Brendan Schaub looked very good last night. In a word, I’d describe his performance as impressive. He was amazingly quick with his right and easily submitted Mitrione. A good test for Schaub’s next fight would be to give him a ranked heavyweight, either Stipe Miocic or the winner of Overeem / Mir.
Francis Carmont also looked very good last night. To be honest, he looked like a 185 pound version of GSP. He totally dominated Philippou to the point of negating him right out of the fight. Costas looked dejected and beaten by the middle of the third, and had little in the way of fight for Carmont; only landing seven strikes in the entire bout. Considering the middleweight rankings and the fact that Philippou was ranked number seven going in, it will be interesting to see if Carmont makes it onto the top-ten rankings list. Of particular note, is that Tim Boetsch and Philippou are on the list right now and with Carmont dominating Philippou as he did, and Costas having a TKO win over Boetsch this past December (his last win), as well as Boetsch being on a two fight losing streak, it will be hard to understand how Carmont could be kept off the top-ten list and in favor of either of the other two. In terms of his next fight, Luke Rockhold would make the most sense.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is another fighter that looked great last night. As Barao had a tough opponent in Eddie Wineland, so too did Nurmagomedov in the way of Pat Healy. As we all know, Healy is a very game and tough opponent, and has only one gear; forward. He’s also a great ground fighter. However, none of that mattered and Nurmagomedov pretty much had his way with Healy. As such and again concerning the rankings, Nurmagomedov should replace Healy on the list (at ten) and be given either Jim Miller or Rafael dos Anjos, as his next match.
Another big winner on the night was a guy who never made an appearance in the Octagon and that’s Phil Davis. A great deal of credit needs to be given to Davis for Alexander Gustafsson’s performance in the ring last night. Under Davis’s tutelage, Gustafsson has become a formidable wrestler or perhaps more to the point, great at staying on his feet and as such, has become a more effective striker. When we look at his growth from his submission loss to Davis back in April of 2010, to now, he’s gone from a guy that couldn’t keep a powerful wrestler off of him, to being a guy that was capable of staying on his feet with the best wrestler in the division, and even being the first fighter to ever score a takedown on him; impressive to say the least.
If there was a big loser on last night’s card, then perhaps it was the “Blackzilians” and to a lesser extent the “Serra-Longo Fight Team”.
For all the marquis fighters that the team has, they seem hard pressed to come up with meaningful or timely wins and last night, Matt Mitrione was just the latest example of a team that can’t seem to shoot straight. Other than Vitor Belfort, the team really has nothing to crow about in terms of real success and one has to begin to wonder whether the team, as a whole, will ever live up to its (true) potential.
For the Serra-Longo Fight Team it was just an embarrassment of failures by Philippou. To see him removed from a fight as efficiently as he was and to have it done by way of takedowns, control and ground ’n pound, was shocking to watch. Given that he trains with Chris Weidman and has the likes of Matt Serra and Renzo Gracie coaching him, one has to wonder what Philippou has been learning in the way of wrestling and ground fighting, because none of it showed last night.
In all, it was an amazing card and has laid an interesting wake of possibilities before the fans, most notable of which is a possible (immediate) re-match between Jones and Gustafsson. As great as the fight was, I don’t think it should happen. Alexander had his shot and he lost. He needs to re-group, win another fight or two and re-challenge. However, to simply hand him a fight is a mistake and could potentially clog the light-heavyweight division for the next year; Jones / Gustafsson II & possibly III. White should just let the process and division play out on this one and let them re-match when it’s been earned.