Post UFC 201 Thoughts & 5 Fights To Watch In August
It may have been caught between two of the most profitable pay-per-views amidst a sea of events but UFC 201 still managed to be an exciting success in its own right. It may only barely reach 20% of the PPV buys UFC 200 and 202 do individually but for the hardcore fans it had fun fights from top to bottom. We have a new Welterweight champion as Tyron Woodley continued the string of upsets knocking out Robbie Lawler and we have a new top contender for the women’s Strawweight division after a high level clash between Rose Namajunas and Karolina Kowalkiewicz saw the Polish striker come out on top. There weren’t a ton of storylines coming out of Atlanta on Saturday night but here are the headlines.
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Tyron Woodley, Welterweight Champion – At this point it would be more of an upset if there wasn’t an upset at the end of a UFC event in 2016. With one huge right hook Woodley became the seventh person to hear Bruce Buffer hear themselves referred to as “and new” champion in 2016. And there are five months to go. Robbie Lawler came into this fight looking to tie women’s Strawweight champion for second place in active UFC title defenses with three. Always exciting, ‘Ruthless’ came out a little tentative wary of Woodley’s explosive power. His plan must have been to survive the early rounds where Tyron would be at his peak and turn it on later when Woodley typically tires out. It didn’t quite work out that way. He survived an early flurry and started getting some offense of his own going before dropping his hands for an instant and allowing Woodley to pounce, connecting with a perfect right hand with incredible speed and power. Lawler has a granite chin, only being knocked out once before against Nick Diaz, but he went down in a heap and Tyron didn’t give him a chance to recover putting the nails in the coffin on the ground. It was a change from the five round wars we’d become accustomed to with Lawler but it was still exciting nonetheless.
This opens up the Welterweight division in the way a lot of weight classes have been opened up lately. It looked like Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson was next in line to fight Lawler in a fight that sure to be another classic with both of their striking styles. We may still get that fight one day but it looks like Thompson will have to face a different challenge in Woodley instead. One where he’ll have to be prepared for more of a power wrestling and striking game, especially early on. There are other possibilities out there as well which I would normally say are long shots but with Dan Henderson getting the next title against Michael Bisping anything is possible. George St. Pierre announced his intent to return to the sport last month and if that is the case it would be hard to deny him a shot at the title he never lost. Woodley seems up to the challenge saying he would like to fight GSP or Nick Diaz next. Diaz is eligible to return to the cage after serving a long suspension for failing his drug test for Marijuana after losing to Anderson Silva. I don’t think Diaz is going to get the fight but with the way his brother Nate has skyrocketed in public awareness since his last fight he should be in line for a big match up. There is also the bout between Carlos Condit and Demian Maia next month where the winner would be lined up for a deserving title shot after ‘Wonderboy’.
All the Best Strawweight Fighters Are Polish – The co-main event from this past weekend was a fight to see who gets the honor of fighting the best female fighter in the sport, Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Rose Namajunas came into the match on fire winning three in a row in impressive fashion looking more and more improved every step of the way after losing the inaugural women’s Strawweight championship against Carla Esparza. She submitted Angela Hill and Paige VanZant and then got revenge against Tecia Torres who handed her the first loss of her career back at Invicta in 2013. Karolina Kowalkiewicz is a talented striker, especially in the cinch, and came into this fight undefeated at 9-0 beating Randa Markos and Heather Jo Clark in her first two UFC fights. The fight started off in ‘Thug’ Rose’s favor with Kowalkiewicz unable to find her range early on but that all changed in the second after Karolina was able to get her in the clinch and land a bunch of vicious knees and elbows. From there on Namajunas wasn’t nearly as sharp and lost most of the exchanges the rest of the way. One judge must’ve been distracted giving the fight to Namajunas but luckily the other two got it right, setting up a Poland vs. Poland clash for the gold. Joanna Champion has beaten Kowalkiewicz once before but it was in an amateur match before they both turned pro. Hopefully they can find a way to make this fight happen in Poland, that seems like the best way to give these girls some attention and potentially expand the UFC’s popularity over there.
Injures Didn’t Dampen the Excitement – Unlike UFC 200 where one fighter getting pulled changed the entire complexion of the event, there were multiple changes to this card from what it was originally envisioned as but I don’t think it made much of a difference. Demetrious Johnson was supposed to defend his title against Wilson Reis in the co-main event but had to withdraw due to injury. While ‘Mighty Mouse’ is at worst the second best pound for pound fighter in the sport today he’s not much of a draw and the man he was fighting didn’t really deserve the title shot in the first place. A one fight win streak and a ranking between 10-15 in the weight class don’t equal excitement in a title challenger. Instead Reis fought a UFC newcomer on the prelims and got a nice submission win. Maybe now if he wins another fight or two he’ll actually deserve the title shot he had handed to him just because Johnson has wiped out everyone in the top 10. Also in the Flyweight division Ian McCall was supposed to fight Justin Scoggins to open the pay-per-view but Scoggins had to pull out of the bout due to weight cutting issues. This one is unfortunate because it had a couple good storylines not to mention it would’ve just been a good fight. McCall hasn’t fought in 18 months due to out of the cage issues despite at one point being the cream of the crop in the weight class and Scoggins is a promising prospect in a division that needs them desperately.
Instead of those two fights on the PPV we had two replacements that ended up being alright and not momentum slowing even if they weren’t as high up the ladder as the original two. Colombian Olympic medalist Fredy Serrano lost to 26 year old Ryan Benoit in the curtain jerker. It was a bizarre fight that had Serrano throwing wild and crazy strikes, crawling and flipping for take downs. Benoit took the fight on short notice and was able to win over the judges against his older but less MMA experienced opponent. Next was an extremely entertaining brawl between Bantamweights Erik Perez and Francisco Rivera who at one point were just throwing haymakers at each other for 40 seconds straight. Perez was able to be the more strategic of the two and win the fight on the ground but it was a great lead in to the more important match ups. The other lineup change was Jorge Masvidal vs. Ross Pearson in a fight that was originally supposed to be Siyar Bahadurzada vs. Claudio Silva. I think it worked out best for the viewers as Masvidal and Pearson had an entertaining slugfest.
Five Fights To Watch In August:
July was one of the most action packed months of MMA that I can remember. Six UFC events that included five title fights, three of which had champions losing their belt. Two huge stars tested positive for performance enhancing drugs (and they weren’t alone). Oh yeah, and the entire company was sold for $4 billion. Not every fight in July lived up to the hype but it was still filled with great fights, knockouts, and submissions. You would think this kind of slate would leave the UFC a little empty and needing to take a month to regain their bearings but that is not the case. August sees half as many events but one of those is UFC 202 which looks like it could do bigger numbers than the landmark UFC 200 event that took place a few weeks ago. There are plenty of great fights this month but these are the five that I think are can’t miss affairs.
Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 2 (UFC 202: August 20th) – The sequel to one of the biggest fights in MMA history is finally going to take place in less than three weeks. What a roller coaster ride this rematch has been. When it was first announced as the headliner of UFC 200 the response was tepid at first. It seemed like most people, myself included, didn’t want to see a rematch of a fight that was so definitively concluded when there were so many other possibilities of big fights elsewhere for both fighters. Diaz could’ve catapulted his new found fame into a title shot with Robbie Lawler or Rafael Dos Anjos. McGregor had his own Featherweight title he could defend against either Frankie Edgar or a rematch with Jose Aldo to try and rebound from his first loss in the UFC. But Conor wouldn’t take any other fight. He was embarrassed. He wanted revenge. He even insisted that it take place at Welterweight again despite both fighters most natural weight class being Lightweight.
Then a string of events on social media resulted in the fight getting canceled. McGregor announced his retirement on Twitter and the fight between the UFC and their chosen one was just getting started. A back and forth between Dana White, McGregor, and Diaz over money and how important media appearances are stirred up so much drama that all of a sudden this became the fight that everyone and their mother wanted to see. The longer the game of chicken went on the bigger the hype became. When it was finally announced that the rematch was back on at UFC 199 it was clear that UFC 202 was going to give UFC 200 a run for its money when it came to Pay-Per-View buys. And after the Jon Jones fiasco and reshuffling of the main card on last month’s PPV, when it comes out that 202 did in fact do better Nate Diaz and I will both be saying “I’m not surprised MF’ers”.
When it comes to the actual fight I’m not sure what is going to happen. McGregor took Diaz as a very late replacement when he was preparing to fight Rafael Dos Anjos for the Lightweight championship so its entirely possible that he just didn’t have time to come up with the proper game plan to beat him. He also has a history of coming back from every loss in his career much improved, learning from his mistakes. But there is no debating the fact that with the way he bulked up so fast last time that he gassed himself out in just over a round of action. Diaz took the fight on 10 days notice and had as much stamina as always. He’s not going to tire here so we could see a similar result that may just come a round or two later. At the same time Conor was beating him up in that first round before getting exhausted and Nate is not some unbeatable opponent. Regardless of who wins both fighters are going to come out of it richer and more famous than when they entered. But the winner will have much more of a say in what his next step will be.
Anthony Johnson vs. Glover Teixeira (UFC 202: August 20th) – Speaking of the Jon Jones fiasco, this fight was supposed to determine who gets to fight the winner of the grudge match between him and Daniel Cormier. I still believe the winner will get the next title shot but with perhaps the greatest fighter in the history of the sport sidelined for an extended period of time it will decidedly be against Cormier. Johnson and Teixeira are two of the biggest hitters in the Light Heavyweight division with ‘Rumble’ being one of the most powerful punchers pound for pound in the sport. I’d be shocked if this fight went the distance. Somebody is getting knocked out. If I had to guess it will be Glover going to sleep. He’s four years older than Johnson and despite knocking out Rashad Evans in his last fight he has looked to be on the decline since he lost to Jon Jones in April 2014. Meanwhile Anthony has been knocking people out one after the other with his only hiccup being a loss to Cormier for the interim title. He came close to knocking him out a couple of times in that fight but gassed out after he wasn’t able to put him away. A rematch would be interesting to see if Cormier’s chin can still hold up with him being a little older than the first time. Its a shame we won’t see Johnson take on Jones since thats a match up we haven’t seen before and its still unknown whether or not Jones can take one on the chin from the fist of Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson.
Donald Cerrone vs. Rick Story (UFC 202: August 20th) – ‘Cowboy’ moved up to Welterweight after losing to Rafael Dos Anjos for the second time in his first UFC title shot. It seemed at the time like it was a decision to free him up to just take fun fights at two weight classes as he likes to stay busy and make money. But after back to back very impressive finishes of Alex Oliveira and Patrick Cote it appears that maybe instead what he did was find the best weight class for himself. Cote was a guy who had never been knocked out and had fought in a weight class as high as Light Heavyweight and Cerrone basically walked right through him. He gets another tough test here in Story who is a tough guy with a good chin, good wrestling, and a power right hand. If ‘Cowboy’ can perform the way he has at Welterweight again here I would expect him to get through ‘The Horror’ Story and really put himself in contention for a top 10 fighter in one of the sports deepest, most talented weight classes. But he has to handle a bigger fighter and the most well rounded fighter he’s faced at 170 first.
Benson Henderson vs. Patricio Freire (Bellator 160: August 26th) – Henderson made a splash at the end of last year when he left the UFC in favor of Bellator, MMA’s second biggest promotion. The former UFC Lightweight champion left in the middle of a successful transition to Welterweight, winning his first two fights in the division. He got an immediate Welterweight title shot in Bellator against Andrey Koreshkov who put a beating on him and made him look like he belonged in a weight class below. And perhaps he does. Henderson couldn’t get anything going against Koreshkov, the size and strength disparity plainly obvious. So in his second fight for the promotion he moves back down to 155 where he faces the former Bellator Lightweight champion ‘Pitbull’ Freire. This should be much more evenly matched and entertaining to watch. Patricio is an aggressive fighter and that could play right into ‘Bendo’s’ strengths. With Bellator not being anywhere near as deep as the UFC I would expect the winner of this to get a title shot against Michael Chandler, who just knocked out Patricio’s brother Patricky in his last fight. Win or lose, they will continue to give Henderson big fights since he immediately became one of their biggest draws.
Carlos Condit vs. Demian Maia (UFC on FOX 21: August 27th) – With the way the UFC Welterweight division was just shaken up with one punch from Tyron Woodley, the division is wide open as far as who the next top contender will be. The most likely scenario would be Stephen Thompson getting the first crack at the new champion after he impressively took down Johny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald in his last two fights. But after that Condit and Maia both have an argument to be next in line. Condit just lost an extremely close split decision to now former champ Robbie Lawler in January, which I thought he should’ve won in a fight that I still consider to be fight of the year. After that bout Condit was talking about how he was unsure if he wanted to keep fighting unless it was an immediate rematch but I guess he changed his tune since he accepted a fight against the highly dangerous jujitsu artist. Maia is on a five fight win streak and is 8-2 since dropping down from Middleweight, most recently submitting Matt Brown at UFC 198. He’s 38 years old so time is running out for him to get a title shot while hes still at the top of his game and if he can get this fight on the ground (and keep it there) there’s a good chance he gets that shot. But ‘The Natural Born Killer’ has some jujitsu of his own and is incredibly dangerous on the feet. It should be a great fight to put a stamp on a month that has quite a few of them.
Honorable Mentions: Yair Rodriguez vs. Alex Caceres (UFC Fight Night 92: August 6th), Cody Garbrandt vs. Takeya Mizugaki (UFC 202: August 20th), Neil Magny vs. Lorenz Larkin (UFC 202: August 20th), Anthony Pettis vs. Charles Oliviera (UFC on FOX 21: August 27th)
An auxiliary member of the MMAJA, Bob used to run the baseball blog 'The Oriole Report' before transitioning to podcasting about movies, TV, Video Games, and MMA. 'The Redbox Report' movie podcast was started in 2013 followed by 'The Redbelt Report' MMA podcast in 2016. In 2018 they were merged into 'Phelan to Communicate', a podcast that can be found on iTunes and a blog that can be found at http://PhelanToCommunicate.wordpress.com. Bob has also written for Konsume.com and BaltimoreSportsReport.com and delivers mail for a living in Baltimore County. Follow him on Twitter @PhelanToTweet.