Wow. Well, that was unexpected.
I thought it was possible that there may be one upset in one of the two showcase events at UFC 196 last night (Saturday, March 5, 2016) at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, but for both to go down was quite the alignment of stars.
First, I just want to talk about Conor McGregor's first UFC loss and my thoughts about the man and the fighter. Because I think people know I've been hard on him for his apparent God Complex and wanton disrespect and disregard for his opponents.
If I wasn't a McGregor fan headed into the fight, then I am now. Don't get me wrong, I was always a fan of his abilities. But I couldn't stomach his poor attitude, melodramatic descriptions, embellishment of his achievements, and seemingly delusional sense of belief in himself.
But, what made me a fan was how he handled himself in defeat. He didn't hide behind a towel and refuse to acknowledge his loss until literally forced to get in front of a camera three months later on Saturday Night Live and say it. He didn't wallow in self pity and go on the Ellen Degeneres show to say he was considering ending it all and needed to have kids "to survive."
Watch the incredible video highlights from UFC 196 last night!
SMOKED AND CHOKED!
Watch Nate Diaz mangle, then strangle, Conor McGregor last night in the short-notice UFC 196 Welterweight main event, sending the Featherweight champion back to the 145-pound division after a shocking second round submission finish.
Watch the incredible video highlights from UFC 196 last night!
No, he took his loss like a man. He took his beating like a champion. He walked into the press conference, gave Nate Diaz his credit, admitted his shortcomings, and accepted his serving of crow.
And at the end of the day this is a man who had no reason to vacate the featherweight belt and jump up 25 pounds in weight to take on a fighter with no direct relevance to any title contention at any weight class. No, McGregor fought Diaz because he just likes to fight. No more complicated reason needed or given. Well, that, and it made him scads of cash.
I'll always be a McGregor fan now, long after the pseudonymous sock puppet bandwagon fans have quietly dumped their accounts and signed up with a Diazrulez2094life alias. Because in life people aren't tested by victory. They are tested by how they rebound from defeat.
Trust me. I've learned this the past year myself.
There were a lot of things about this fight that really surprised me. First, that just as he said he would, Conor McGregor was fucking fast at this weight class. He looked much faster than Nate Diaz, snapping off brutal left hooks and uppercuts that, as he said in the post-fight press conference, usually make people "crumble". As many opponents have learned against the Diaz brothers, they don't often crumble, and they don't often tire or slow down.
I was also surprised that Diaz was able to absorb so much punishment. Yes, I know I just said the Diaz brothers don't fade in fights, but on 10 days notice I didn't think he'd do as well as he did. My best case scenario for him was a lucky submission or a victory over the distance. Never did I think he'd clock, drop and stop McGregor in the manner he did. And I'm pretty much a Diaz fanboy.
What also surprised me was the extremely intelligent way Diaz fought this fight. Let me state that again. Intelligent. People think the Diaz brothers are stupid because they can't string a sentence together without losing track of the topic and going off on sometimes irrelevant tangents. But inside the cage they are fairly good at calculating weaknesses, pressuring fighters when the time is right, and finishing when their opponent is rocked.
Diaz actually played counter puncher to McGregor in the first round, absorbing damage and getting busted up, but mitigating it by using a shoulder roll to throw the right jab and follow up with the left. Rather than pressuring McGregor, he allowed the cocky fighter to come to him, ate his best shots, waited for McGregor to tire and slow down in the second, and then popped with with some quick punches that led to the finish.
The thing about the Diaz brothers is that they may not be the best fighters in the UFC, they may not be devastating at any one skillset, and they may never sniff a UFC belt, but they are always dangerous. McGregor's overconfidence, coupled with his disregard for Diaz's power, was his downfall. Jesse Holland compared him to Anderson Silva in that both dropped their hands against dangerous opponents, and both suffered the terrible consequences.
The last word on McGregor. The man is phenomenally talented and I have every confidence he'll be a force to be reckoned with for a long time to come. He's still only 27 and we're just getting started here. It's a good time to be a UFC fan.
It feels weird to think of Miesha Tate as UFC champion. I mean, here's a woman who was thoroughly dominated by Ronda Rousey twice, was battered and stopped by Cat Zingano, and won an uninspired four decisions en route to a title shot. I mean, everything about this fight screamed mismatch, especially since Holly Holm had brutally knocked out Rousey, who had dominated Tate.
But, that's why MMA math doesn't work. Shonie Carter beating Matt Serra beating Georges St-Pierre doesn't make Carter the world champion. Styles make fights, as the cliche goes, and Tate was always going to be dangerous against an untested fighter on the ground like Holm, who likes to spend all her time on the feet where she's dangerous.
I don't want to take away from Tate's miracle win in Las Vegas, but nor do I want to overblow it. This was essentially Anderson Silva submitting Chael Sonnen in the fifth round of a fight he was losing badly. This was Tate's hail mary pass while down six points with seconds remaining. This was a make or break attempt to strangle the champion or go out on the scorecards.
Holm controlled most of this fight on the feet, which isn't surprising for a former boxing champion. She easily won rounds one, three and four. It was round two where everything almost went awry, as Tate secured the takedown and nearly strangled her for the win. But Holm, like a true champion, survived. I didn't think she'd make the same mistake again.
Tate had struggled to get Holm down all night long and other than that brief success in the second round, it seemed impossible she'd manage it again. When she did grab hold of a body lock, Holm showed her inexperience by trying to get back up instead of fighting the back take and surrendering guard. It was a fatal mistake and it cost her the belt. Of interest, had the round finished with Tate on top it likely would have been scored a draw.
The good news for Holm fans is that, like McGregor, she said at the press conference that she wants to get back in the gym right away. So don't be surprised to see her back in the picture sooner than later.
I don't know how anybody can train with an animal like Chris Weidman and still be as fat and lazy as Gian Villante. That was a dreadful performance. The only redeeming feature to Villante's performance in this fight was that he was able to stuff Ilir Latifi's takedowns most of the time, but without punishing the fighter for the attempts he really just gassed himself out in the process.
Villante is a bit of an enigma. Once a Strikeforce standout, the fighter blows hot and cold. Knockout Trevor Smith, gas out and lose to Fabio Maldonado. Knockout Corey Anderson, gas out and lose to Latifi. I mean, at what point does a treadmill factor into all of this? How do you gas yourself out defending takedowns?
As for Latifi, the performance was passable but boring. He constantly sought the takedown he couldn't land, excepting a suplex that was kind of nice, and spent a lot of time looking for a knockout punch. Against a superior striker with equally good takedown defense, like Gegard Mousasi, he'd get picked apart. Oh wait, that already happened.
But there's no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. This was the Swede's fifth win in his last six UFC fights and the shallowness of this division means it's likely Latifi will get a stiffer test in the very near future. There are some positives to take away from his performance, such as the moments he used his kicks and his knees in the clinch. But he'll certainly need to do better next time out, particularly against an opponent who doesn't lumber around with the gait of a Frankenstein.
Let's just get the obvious out of the way with first. Corey Anderson didn't win the first round and the judges are imbeciles. Moving along.
Tom Lawlor was attempting to follow up an extremely impressive second round knockout against Gian Villante by taking on the man Villante knocked out in Anderson. UFC matchmakers often seem to enjoy doing this, and it makes sense since it pairs guys up who are seen as being relatively close on the invisible ladder beyond the top 15 official rankings posted on their website.
Despite starting the fight great with excellent punching and countering, including a moment Lawlor clearly hurt Anderson, the "Filthy" one faded away as the fight dragged on, allowing Anderson to fight his game and get the victory. "Beastin' 25/8" uses his range effectively and is a fairly good technical striker, as we saw during most of the three rounds he was lighting up the aforementioned sloth Villante.
But Anderson has proven his chin can be cracked and Lawlor nearly verified that in the first round again. Sadly, Lawlor didn't adjust to the changes made in the second and third rounds, eating too many shots by his opponent, and never really finding a third gear to put the pressure on Anderson and cause him to wilt. When you give Anderson space and range he's usually going to pick you apart. Lawlor needed to do a bit more of the wade and trade and bit less of the one punch wonders.
Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Amanda Nunes may have issued one of the lamest callouts for a title fight in the history of the UFC after essentially running her car on fumes to the finish line against Valentina Shevchenko. Nunes looked good early on in the fight, but she finished terribly, getting dominated in the third and put in dangerous situations that made her look extremely vulnerable and not at all like somebody who had won a fight convincingly.
The first two rounds were a whole other story. Nunes took Shevchenko down, beat on her, and nearly submitted her. The second round was arguably a 10-8 as she came very close to wrapping up the fight. But Shevchenko gutted it out and then turned it on in the third round as the Brazilian began to fade. The Muay Thai champion's striking really began to shine, but by then it was too late.
Considering Nunes faded so badly in a three round fight it's hard to argue she deserves a five rounder against Miesha Tate. But the crazy thing about women's MMA is that I'm not sure she wouldn't mop the floor with Tate. MMA math is particularly tricky when it comes to the women, since it seems one of those "Any Given Sunday" rules apply lately. And who's to say that Nunes losing the third round was more about a poor performance and less about Shevchenko just being really good?
If Nunes does get a title shot it'll probably be because Ronda Rousey isn't ready to fight. The rumors are that she won't be ready to go again until November, so you've got to imagine the UFC will be booking Tate for something for the interim. Then again, they might not. Every time they gamble with a filler fight something insane comes along and screws up all their future plans. Such as Rousey vs. Holm 2, for instance, ruined last night by Tate.
Quick Hits From The Undercard
- How the hell do you get to be an MMA fighter for eight years and still have the takedown defense of a baby lamb? Brandon Thatch (F) shat the bed last night before tapping out Sage Northcutt style against Siyar Bahadurzada (B-). I don't know if I've ever seen a fighter so talented be unable to utilize his gifts because he can't stay off his back. As for Bahadurzada, this guy has a crazy chin.
- Remember when Erick Silva (F) was supposed to be the next big thing in the UFC? But he came in wild and kept getting knocked out? Now he comes in tentative and still gets knocked out, by Nordine Taleb (A+). Sucks to be him. Also, can I say something for the record here? Some people were arguing with me on Twitter because I called him a Canadian even though he was born in France. Look, he moved to Tristar in Montreal in 2007, lives and trains there, and represented Canada at TUF Nations. So, chill out. He's Canadian.
- Vitor Miranda (A) made me a very happy camper by knocking out the horrendously untalented Marcelo Guimarães (D), who you might remember as being half the recipe in candidate for worst UFC fight of all time against Dan Stittgen. Thank you, Vitor.
- Darren Elkins (B+) really surprised me with how strong his wrestling was against Chas Skelly (D), who really disappointed me after making such a phenomenal comeback in his last fight against Kevin Souza. Elkins may be fairly one dimensional, but he's effective.
- Much like the Godfather 3, every time I think he's out, he pulls me back in. Diego Sanchez (B) put together a surprisingly technical fight against Jim Miller (C-), who is a guy who looks like needs to make 145 pounds or bust at this point.
- Jason Saggo (A) was very impressive in his handling of Justin Salas (D), who unwisely decided to take a high level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt to the canvas early. He only gets a "D" because he was supposed to lose, so it's hard to fail a kid who did what everybody expected.
- Teruto Ishihara (B+) is a very intriguing prospect at the age of 24, dispatching Julian Erosa (C-) via knockout in the second round. The only thing I didn't like about the fight was the bitch move he pulled by hitting Erosa off a glove tap.
Well, folks, that's a wrap. If it sucked it's because it's, like, 5 in the morning. See you kids in two weeks for FRANK MUUUUUUUUUR, who just won't retire.