Welcome to the latest edition of “Shots After The Bell,” where we take you through a bunch of the random thoughts and topics rattling around in my brain following each and every UFC event. There was a lot to digest following UFC 210 from Buffalo, New York, so let’s get right to it!
The Co-Main That Wasn’t
The biggest story of the night was the fight we were all robbed of: the Chris Weidman versus Gegard Mousasi middleweight scrap that ended in the second round (watch it here) when referee Dan Miragliotta paused the action over what he thought were illegal knees from Mousasi to Weidman. After a lot of confusion regarding whether the knees were legit or not, the ref changed his mind and declared them legal (which you can't do as New York doesn't have instant replay), and the NYSAC doctors waved the fight off (fair enough, considering Weidman told them he thought it was February).
Both of these knees are legal. @mousasi_mma lifted up to bring the left hand off the mat #UFC210 pic.twitter.com/cegK3voj9e— #Dizz © (@TalkMMA) April 9, 2017
It was a complete mess, but let's be clear on what happened: Chris Weidman told the doctors he was too injured to continue. Even if the referee stuck to his call and declared Mousasi's knees (incorrectly) illegal, the fight wouldn't have continued because Weidman was on his way to being declared winner via DQ. The whole thing backfired horribly for him when the referee illegally altered his call after seeing the instant replay. The doctors refused to let the fight continue and instead of Chris getting his hand raised, it was Mousasi. But the fight was never going to continue regardless of whether the knees were legal or not.
Was Chris Weidman milking the knees to try and earn a DQ win? He certainly said a few things at the post-event press conference that makes it sound that way. "I thought I was going to win because of the illegal knee," he said. But later:" I've been through way worse than that, if it was a legal knee I would have loved to keep fighting."
But who knows if he's talking about what he thought should happen as he tried to recover or what he thought would happen after the fight was called? The guy did take some pretty hard knees to the head, so perhaps we shouldn't hold him to every word he says in the immediate aftermath. He got screwed with this loss, the Moose got screwed not getting the chance for a definitive win, and the fans got screwed with an unsatisfying end to an exciting fight.
If you were confused by Anthony "Rumble" Johnson's decision to wrestle with Daniel Cormier against the cage (watch that here) for the majority of their fight instead of slinging leather, you weren't alone. Corner audio of Johnson's corner had his coaches freaking out over the same thing, to the point where they left cageside after Anthony lost, missing his emotional retirement speech.
"Why is he wrestling him? This is stupid!" striking coach Henri Hooft said in the first, and his reaction to the finish was even more blunt. "Why, why the f**k does this happen every f**king time, man? Crazy."
So no, this wasn't some revolutionary new plan devised by Team “Rumble” to out-wrestle Cormier. Something went very wrong in the cage for the challenger. Re-watching the fight, final grappling exchange began after Cormier ate that massive kick to the body and nose breaking punch and fed a hard left right back at Johnson, knocking his head back. Johnson didn't seem to want more of that, and that's when he reverted back to grabbing Cormier and holding him close.
Rumble No More
That strange sequence of events led us to Anthony Johnson's equally unexpected retirement from the sport. People are already betting on "Rumble" returning sooner rather than later, but as Dana White said after the fight, as soon as you even start thinking about the R word, it's probably time to go. From Johnson's own mouth, he had made his decision before even walking into the cage Saturday night and his performance showed it.
Johnson has never been known to battle through adversity particularly well ... if he doesn't get one of his patented first round knockouts, he tends to struggle. But what we saw against Cormier in this rematch seemed different. This was a "Rumble" that wasn't fully committed. One that didn't seem willing to take the damage in order to dish it. When he explained after the fight that he basically had one foot out the door, it all made a lot more sense. And that's why it's probably a smart decision on his part to move on.
But let's talk for a second about how strange it is for a fighter at the top of his division with his star finally shining at full brightness to walk away. It's no secret that the morale level of the UFC talent pool is at an all time low following the big $4.2 billion sale to WME-IMG. That, combined with the brutal loss of sponsorship money, has a lot of fighters wondering why they're taking brain damage for the pay they're getting. If the third best light heavyweight in the league can make a better living working somewhere else, he's either got a dream job lined up or the UFC needs to make some serious changes to the way they're compensating and caring for their athletes.
Goddamn did Charles "Do Bronx" Oliveira ever look great on Saturday night, dismantling former Bellator lightweight champion Will Brooks like he was some scrub without a Wikipedia page (watch it here). You know what else was nice? Not seeing "Do Bronx" walking around the day before the fight looking like a starving child from a third world country. Even with all the Mr. Skeltal he had dooting on, Charles still managed to miss the featherweight mark four times since moving to the division in 2012.
Yet now that he's looking healthy and dominant at lightweight, what does he want to do? He wants to go back to 145 pounds. Someone needs to slap some sense into this guy. We're seeing more and more fighters having to take serious time off between fights because weight cuts are messing up their systems so badly. It's clear that Oliveira is pushing his body way past its limits trying to make it down to 145 pounds. Let's hope the UFC refuses to allow him to go back down. As far as I'm concerned, once you miss weight in a division twice, you should never be allowed back.
2017: Year Of The Neck Crank
We talked about it after Jason Knight finished Alex Caceres with a neck crank at UFC on FOX 23, and now it's official with Oliveira's neck crank finish of Will Brooks: the neck crank is officially a finishing move. For years, the common attitude amongst pretty much everyone in the sport was that you couldn't tap someone with a neck crank, that it was a pain move that could be withstood and you might as well not even bother in any serious competition.
Now we see that's not true. With the strength and technique these guys in the UFC have, we're starting to see more and more neck cranks cause taps. Charles Oliveira's example is the best one yet, and probably the first you can't spin as some sort of wussing out on the part of his opponent. Will Brooks is for real. He wouldn't have tapped if he didn't have to. That crank was ridiculously tight, and I imagine Brooks tapped when he started to fear his jaw was about to crack in half.
So prepare yourself: you're only going to see more of these as fighters work their squeeze and start really trying to wreck their opponents with neck cranks.
For all the coverage and highlights from UFC 210, click here.