Look back on all fourteen contests at UFC on FOX 29, from Luke Sanders snapping a two-fight losing streak in the opener to Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje putting on a Fight of the Year performance in the main event.
For the first time in the modern era, the UFC hosted a 14-fight event. Given almost half of them took place on Fight Pass – where the pacing is one fight after another – it didn’t seem like there were that many fights. Well… the fact that most of the contests were awesome didn’t hurt either. We got the frontrunner for FOTY. A couple of other scraps that would normally be strong contenders for FOTN. A walk off KO to boot. And just to throw a curveball into everything, how about an omoplata? To make it as weird as we can, how about if I said the omoplata came in a heavyweight contest? It was a good night of fights to say the least.
Here’s a breakdown of every contest on UFC on FOX 29. I’ll cover the important parts of the fight, some of the techniques I noticed that were either effective or ineffective, and where the fighters appear to be going.
Easily the most surprising development of this contest was that it went to a decision. It had been seven years since Williams went the distance in a fight as his kill-or-be-killed style isn’t conducive to lengthy contests. Aside from that, this contest very much went according to plan. Williams found enough holes in the defense of Sanders to hurt him at various points while Sanders’ steady brand of offense was enough to pick up the win.
Sanders is now a free agent. He stated in an interview that he hopes for more financial stability in his next contract, but I have my doubts he’s shown enough to convince the brass that he’s worthy of a sizeable bump in pay. He’s got the all the physical skills needed to be a standout, but the holes in his defense have prevented him from exploiting that. Even worse, his two recent losses appear to have affected his confidence. I wish him nothing but the best in his contract negotiations, but I fear he won’t get what he wants.
Williams’ situation is worse. He did show a better gas tank in addition to an improved ability to fight while exhausted. However, his 1-3 UFC record at the age of 36 doesn’t bode well for his future. Given most introductory UFC contracts are four fights, I got a feeling this is the last we’ve seen of Williams in the Octagon.
Given Lopez’s grappling prowess and aggression, it was no surprise when he easily took the first round. He not only came close to submitting Perez on a couple of occasions with RNC’s, he also hurt him with a nice punching combo. Then the second round began and Perez abandoned his usual counter punching strategy by being the aggressor… and completely took control of the contest. It didn’t hurt his cause that Lopez exhausted himself in the opening frame. By the end, Perez overwhelmed Lopez with his volume to the point Lopez was out on his feet, Perez securing a minor upset in the process.
I haven’t been a believer in Perez’s recent unbeaten streak. I may have to start changing my tune. His ability to change his strategy mid-fight was highly impressive. Lopez had his number, so Perez changed things up. Going from counter punching to the aggressor isn’t an easy change. His versatility will make it difficult for opponents to prepare for him. Not impossible as he isn’t an elite athlete, but Perez has probably earned an opportunity against a top ten opponent.
Lopez’s career couldn’t be in a more opposite direction. He had the look of a potential standout after his disposal of Johnny Eduardo. Now, it looks like he may not be for long on the roster. What is likely to save him at this point is that the UFC has been reluctant to release fighters under contract, preferring to let their contracts run out. Even worse, Lopez isn’t as youthful as you’d think. He’s already 31-years old. There are still favorable matchups out there for him, but it seems unlikely he’ll be more than a lower level gatekeeper.
Bhullar was the one with hype behind him entering this contest. In fact, he was in control of 99% of the contest. The final 1% is what mattered in the end as Bhullar marched himself right into an omoplata attempt from Wieczorek. Ignorance is to blame more than anything as many grappling novices would have been aware of what Bhullar was getting himself into as he continued to press forward in his attempt to advance his position. In the process, he provided Wieczorek an extra $50,000 for the submission in addition to the biggest win in the young Pole’s career.
There is still plenty to like about Bhullar’s future. His wrestling looked a lot more like we all expected it to in his initial UFC appearance and he even showed some improvement on his feet, rocking Wieczorek in the opening moments of the fight. However, his fight IQ needs a lot of work. Not only did the finishing sequence show a lack of fight intelligence, he took WIeczorek to the ground after he rocked him rather than keeping the big man on the feet and trying to finish the job. He still has time to fulfill the potential his Olympic career indicated he possessed.
I’m still not sold on Wieczorek. He possesses loads of resilience and toughness, two important traits to continue advancing his career. However, he lacks much technique in his striking and his wrestling is more than subpar. Bhullar took him down whenever he wanted. In fact, it’s safe to say Bhullar handed him the victory more than Wieczorek took it. Regardless, he’s exceeded expectations thus far and deserves credit for that.
Okami appears to be a good dude by all means, but his contests have rarely been Fight Night bonus material. In fact, the 19-fight UFC veteran – not including this contest – had never been awarded a bonus from the UFC. This contest was no exception, bringing to total of bonus-less fights to 20. Lima proved to be a bit tougher to take to the mat than usual, but Okami still got him to the ground time ang again in the end for a boring decision victory.
Okami showed he still has something left in the tank, but it would be foolhardy to expect him to climb back to the level he was once at in his previous UFC tenure when he earned a title shot at middleweight. Now at welterweight, he shouldn’t be more than a low level gatekeeper. Given he’s been fighting professionally since 2002, that isn’t a major rip as most who began fighting at that time have long since ended their careers. But Okami also showed he doesn’t have any new tricks in his bag and fighters with a modicum of wrestling ability have already proven to know how to defeat the native of Japan.
For all the improvement Lima showed in his wrestling, Okami was a miserable stylistic matchup for him. Outside of a haymaker during the brief time the fight was standing, Lima didn’t stand a chance. The loss drops Lima to 1-5 in his UFC tenure, making it unlikely the UFC brings him back. It can’t be said he hasn’t received a fair opportunity either. Six fights is more than enough of an opportunity to show what he can do.
Given the lack of experience between both competitors, it wasn’t easy to know what to expect out of these ladies. What we got was a lot of fun. Dobson showed mounds of improvement in her striking, putting together some more complex combinations than she had previously displayed and hit a takedown too. It wasn’t enough though as Mueller’s clinch work, timing, and own brand of combinations proved too much.
The loss shouldn’t take away from Dobson’s performance. It was a close contest that wouldn’t have rankled many had Dobson been awarded the decision. Aside from her ability to put together combinations and hit takedowns, Dobson deserves a lot of credit for the consistency of her jab. It threw off the timing of Mueller on more than one occasion, nearly leading to a victory for the former TUF contestant. She’s bound to continue improving, given her lack of experience. Keep an eye on her as she progresses in her career. She’s a strong candidate to become a top-notch action fighter at the very least.
Mueller’s potential as an action fighter is just as strong as Dobson’s. Her potential to become an actual contender looks to be even greater. Her ability in the clinch is far beyond her experience and her toughness and resilience has been top notch thus far. She’ll want to start working on her footwork and head movement as she has taken a lot of damage not just in this contest, but in her appearance on the Contender’s Series as well. Given her career started less than three years ago, that seems like a strong likelihood.
Burns has stumbled when he received a step up in competition, which has resulted in him losing a lot of the hype he entered the UFC with. However, Moret isn’t the level of competition Burns has been losing to. Burns dominated the newcomer, piecing him up on the feet with his recently honed standup skills. After hurting Moret with a hard right hook, Burns continued the onslaught until he knocked Moret silly, then casually striding away as he secured another walkoff KO.
Part of the reason Burns lost some of his steam was his year long absence from the cage until this past fall. It became obvious he had been working on his standup during his time away when he knocked Jason Saggo silly, that idea only being reinforced as he has now done the same thing to Moret. The hope is he can get lined up with a higher level of competition as he is well above the likes of Saggo and Moret. The UFC tried lining him up with Olivier Aubin-Mercier and Lando Vannata. One of those would be perfectly acceptable. Either way, at 31, now is the time for Burns to make his move.
Moret was thrown into the deep end of the pool for his UFC debut. He showed resilience as he never backed down from Burns’ onslaught, but he lacks the physical skills to be more than just low level roster fodder capable of winning the occasional fight against similarly skilled opposition. Perhaps he can steal the occasional victory outside of his talent pool thanks to his aggressive submission wrestling, but he hasn’t shown anything more than that thus far in his career.
After two tough losses, many expected Jotko to get his career back on track against Tavares. Not that Tavares is a walk in the park, but his steady-but-unspectacular style didn’t appear to be anything Jotko hadn’t dealt with before. Instead, Jotko looked nothing like the man who was completely dominating Uriah Hall before Hall did what he does and knocked Jotko into next Tuesday. In fact, Jotko looked like he thought it was Tuesday. Tavares maintained his usual volume offense before landing a brutal right hand in close quarters that sent Jotko sprawling.
Tavares seems unlikely to receive the opportunity against Michael Bisping – something he called for in his post-fight speech – but he is surely going to get an opportunity to face a top ten opponent. He’s been plugging along in the UFC for eight years, but his inability to finish anyone has prevented him from getting the opportunity he has sought. He’s likely to receive that now, but it isn’t a surprise it came at the same time he secured his first finish in seven years. Unless Tavares can secure another finish relatively soon, his finish is likely to be seen as a fluke.
I don’t know what the hell was up with Jotko. He’s never looked more disinterested than he appeared in this contest. Perhaps he had some personal issues distracting him or an undisclosed injury. The hope here is that he was… at least for the sake of his career as I don’t wish any ill will towards him in general. Regardless, nothing he tried – and he tried just about everything in his arsenal, including pulling guard – worked for him the way it usually does. It’s doubtful he’s in decline as Jotko is only 28. Maybe being finished by Hall broke him mentally. Regardless of what it is, there are a lot of questions for Jotko to answer in his next appearance.
Maybe I’m in the minority, but I always enjoy a scrap between two well-established flyweights. Seriously, name the last boring contest between top ten flyweights. This was no disappoint. Moraga and Reis put on a competitive and entertaining bout to remind us that they are still two of the better flyweights in the world. Moraga may not have displayed the KO power that put Magomed Bibulatov to sleep, but he did show off excellent distance management in the striking and popped up to his feet quickly almost every time Reis took him down, proving to be enough to win.
A year ago, it looked like Moraga would soon be on his way out the door. He was riding a three-fight losing streak, scheduled to face a lowly Ashkan Mokhtarian. Not only did he dispose of Mokhtarian – with ease – he has also eliminated Bibulatov and now Reis. That has positioned Moraga back in the neighborhood of the divisional elite. Who would have guessed? Another title shot appears unlikely – even if it has been nearly five years since his loss to Demetrious Johnson – but he could fill a role similar to the one Joseph Benavidez has filled for the last four years.
Reis looked better than I expected. Admittedly, his striking appears to have regressed – perhaps he lost confidence on the feet after being pieced up by Johnson and Henry Cejudo – but at least he still has his wrestling and grappling to fall back on. It is worrisome that he struggled to hold down Moraga until the closing seconds of the contest as he’s supposed to be a positional grappler, but Moraga has never been easy to hold down either. Reis is now staring down a situation eerily similar to where Moraga was a year ago as he is now riding a three-fight losing streak of his own. He’s only lost to top competition, so he’s likely to get a chance to snap that streak.
There weren’t many who had an interest in this contest. Rainey is a Bellator retread – who was once fodder for Michael Page – taking the contest on short notice while Salikhov didn’t impress in his UFC debut. Admittedly, Salikhov’s KO of Rainey was a thing of beauty, catching Rainey coming in on a lazy jab before putting him to sleep with a few follow up strikes, but the rest of the contest was blasé.
Perhaps Salikhov deserves a bit of a pass as he knew it would be a matter of time before he caught Rainey. He never looked rushed, which I supposed I should take as a good sign. However, if he’s going to be fighting anyone with a modicum of wrestling ability – like Alex Garcia in Salikhov’s UFC debut – he’ll need to show more urgency as he doesn’t have the wrestling chops to stop them from getting him to the ground. Then again, maybe he’s content with being an action fighter of sorts.
Rainey isn’t a bad athlete and he showed a better clinch game than anyone expected. Then again, no one is about to say Salikhov is a strong clinch fighter. Still, Rainey is at an advanced age for someone making their UFC debut as 34 is typically when fighters are winding down the prime of their career. He performed better than many expected, but he also had a favorable stylistic matchup. It’ll be a surprise if he secures a win in his UFC run.
The path to victory was clear for ACJ: get Boetsch to the ground. Boetsch has been a handful for the majority of his opposition when allowed to exchange fisticuffs, but has been prone to submissions when taken to the ground. After all, there aren’t too many fighters on the UFC roster who have stuck around long enough to be submitted four times in the confines of the Octagon. Boetsch added his name to an even more exclusive list: those who’ve been submitted five times. Once ACJ got him to the mat, it didn’t take long for him to lock down Boetsch in a triangle body lock and force a tap to an RNC.
It isn’t that Boetsch is a bad fighter. He simply is what he is at this point and it’s highly unlikely he’s going to fix the problems that have plagued him for years. He’s been in the UFC for the better part of a decade and is now 37. Boetsch has also proven that he’ll make opponents pay if they take him lightly as there are few in middleweight that possess the level of power he has in his fists. Basically, he’s an exemplary gatekeeper as he separates the wheat from the chaff while his contests rarely go the distance.
As for ACJ, it feels like too much to call this performance a breakout, but it’s the closest thing to one that he’s experienced in his young career thus far. Admittedly, it feels like it has taken forever for him to start living up to the expectations put upon him when he joined the UFC four years ago, but it’s easy to forget he had turned pro only a year before that point. There is still some kinks to be working out in his standup, but it has come a long way overall. There is no reason to expect his progress to stall. Expect ACJ to end up in the official UFC rankings when the come out and don’t expect him to leave them for a long time.
Michelle Waterson defeated Courtney Casey via split decision
While the variance in size disparities are limited by weight divisions, the difference between Waterson and Casey was about as big of a difference as you’ll find in the strawweight division. Those differences came into play as Waterson tried to stick-and-move throughout the contest while Casey tried to get a hold of the smaller Waterson and manhandle. Both found various degrees of success in their strategies. The most exciting parts of the contest were the scrambles and multiple submission attempts from the bottom by Casey. Unfortunately for her, the judges only saw Waterson on top and awarded her the decision.
I did disagree with the decision, but I’ll acknowledge it was a very competitive contest, so I won’t say anymore about what many believe is an undeserved victory. Waterson’s lack of size ultimately made this a close contest. She did throw a lot of kicks in hopes of keeping Casey at a distance, but its effectiveness only went so far. Waterson’s work in the clinch was impressive given the difference in size – and she even landed some takedowns from there – but she also was reckless in her grappling. Fight Metric states Casey only made three submission attempts, but I’m positive she went for more subs than that. Waterson damn near paid the price on Casey’s last armbar, only to be saved by the bell. Waterson was lucky to walk out with a win. I have a hard time believing she’ll be able to find success against better competition.
Casey’s contest prior to this bout was also a split decision in which she came out on the short end of the stick. She’s had some seriously bad luck. In other words, she could just as easily be 5-3 instead of the 3-5 record she sports in the UFC. Despite that, there are some obvious positives to talk out of this contest. A sound case could be made that Casey has developed into the most dangerous submission specialist in the division. She isn’t the most technical grappler, but no one is more aggressive than she is. Plus, it’s a wonder she has been able to make weight. Seriously, she is MASSIVE. Despite the loss, Casey has established herself as one of the top action fighters in an action fighting division who has been competitive in every contest. Translation: her roster spot is safe despite a less than impressive record.
Though the UFC appears to be grooming Adesanya to be the next big thing in the division, it wasn’t a lost cause for Vettori. All he had to do was take the Australian to the ground as often as possible. Instead, the Italian showed questionable fight intelligence by attempting to go toe-to-toe with the former professional kickboxer. To be fair, Vettori did better than expected – especially given Adesanya took about half of the first round feinting and faking to figure out Vettori – but it was obvious Adesanya was the superior striker. Vettori finally took Adesanya to the ground in the final round, but it was too little, too late.
I know I’m in the minority who believed Vettori won – thanks for having my back Eddie! -- but I have no problem with the decision going to Adesanya. That said, it’s plausible Vettori may have raised his stock more despite coming out on the losing side of things. He responded far better to Adesanya’s strikes than anticipated – he didn’t respond so well to Omari Akhmedov’s power in his previous contest – and held his own at times on the feet. Still, the question remains why he didn’t look to go to the ground earlier. Keep in mind that he is still very young, but the UFC isn’t very invested in him. It will be interesting to see what the UFC does with him next.
Adesanya’s inability to put away Vettori – despite having the first two rounds to do his thing – has stunted the hype surrounding him. His inability to stop a takedown without the aid of the fence is also the biggest sign the UFC needs to take their time with his development. I get that his flashy striking is exciting and worth promoting, but the last thing the UFC wants to do is kill his confidence by throwing him in the deep end before he learns to swim with the big fish.
Most liked the idea of Condit colliding with Matt Brown. Both were some of the top action fighters in the sport – not just their division – and were both on the downside of their career. Thus, it didn’t feel like anyone was being led to the slaughter. Then Brown tore his ACL and Oliveira stepped in to replace him. Fortunately for all, Condit appeared to have rediscovered his fire, showing the violent streak that made him a fan favorite. He appeared to have Oliveira on the ropes until a vicious upkick knocked Condit silly and Oliveira sunk in a guillotine that Condit couldn’t escape from.
While this was a big win for Oliveira, it would have been more damaging for him had he lost than the win helps him. Condit has never been a great athlete or particularly known for his power, letting his aggression and extreme durability make up for those shortcomings. With those strengths wavering – and Oliveira’s power and athleticism both being notable – Oliveira was expected to win. Oliveira fought intelligently, looking for takedowns and attempting to slow the pace. His trust in his guillotine served him well too as many believed he should have let go when Condit was signaling he was alright. Oliveira has righted his course following his loss to Yancy Medeiros. Given his penchant for highlights, don’t be surprised if he gets another notable name.
I’m not sure where I stand with Condit. He had a lot more life in him this time around than he had in his previous two contests. He knew what he wanted to do against Oliveira and was finding some success. I don’t want to say his durability is in decline either given he didn’t completely go out from the vicious upkick Oliveira landed on him. Regardless, it’s clear he isn’t the same fighter he was just a few years ago. Many stated they wouldn’t mind if he retired and it makes sense. He is just 2-7 since his victory over Nick Diaz. But if he wants to keep going, I won’t oppose it… so long as he isn’t being thrown in with the elite. He can still pull out some wins, but it’s doubtful he can hang with the top ten anymore.
Dustin Poirier defeated Justin Gathje via TKO at 0:33 of RD4
Gaethje has never been in a boring fight. Neither has Poirier. Thus, it was one of those rare fights you could confidently tell your friends about and expect fireworks. In the end, these two didn’t disappoint. Gaethje attacked Poirier’s legs with reckless abandon while Poirier went with a more boxing-centric approach. It appeared Poirier was losing steam, displaying issues with his movement as the third round wore down. Gaethje continued with his assault on the legs entering the fourth… until Poirier landed a perfect left hand that put Gaethje on uneven ground. Poirier kept pounding away until the ref finally stepped in when Gaethje couldn’t remain standing steady.
For seven plus years, Poirier has been plugging away in the UFC, scratching and clawing his way to the top in hopes of getting his shot at a title. He may have just earned it. I don’t necessarily believe he’s the best candidate in ideal circumstances, but Tony Ferguson is going to be on the shelf for a while with his torn ACL and Conor McGregor has legal issues to sort out. The other thing in Poirier’s favor is he’s a shoe-in for an entertaining fight… more than another established action fighter in Eddie Alvarez. Remember Alvarez’s contest with Anthony Pettis? Not the most exciting. Poirier did get sucked into a brawl – even though he stated he didn’t want to do that – but was also smart enough not to start swinging wildly. Poirier knew what he was doing the entire time, putting together slick combinations, working the body of Gaethje, and consistently flicking out his jab. It’s been a long road, but we can say with confidence Poirier is one of the best.
Gaethje has nothing to be ashamed of. His game plan played to his strengths – durability, resilience, and stamina – and it looked like he had all the momentum in his favor going into the fourth. He simply got caught… a strong probability based on how he fights. A strong argument could be made this loss puts a cap on his ceiling as he lost to Alvarez in a similar fashion. As much as it pains me to say it, I have to agree with that argument. Gaethje got exactly the fight he wanted in these last two contests and still couldn’t emerge victorious. He’s a small lightweight, meaning he might find more success at featherweight, but Gaethje has made it clear he has no interest in that. If that is the case, Gaethje might have to content himself with being the ultimate action fighter in the sport as it seems highly unlikely he’ll ever get closer to a title shot than he was prior to his contest with Alvarez.
Well, those are my thoughts. Until next time....