The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s manifest destiny to conquer every corner of the globe doesn’t always yield entertaining or fruitful results, but every so often, the stars line up. UFC Fight Night 140 on Saturday, which marked the promotion’s debut in Argentina, was one of those occasions.
Argentina’s foremost fighter, Santiago Ponzinibbio, showed out for his country in the main event and earned his seventh straight win inside the Octagon, dominating Neil Magny to a fourth-round knockout. While his post-fight callout of 170-pound kingpin Tyron Woodley will go unheeded, “Gente Boa” undoubtedly affirmed his status as one of the 10 best welterweights on the planet and did so in style. Plus, he taught us a few things in the process.
Not only did Ponzinibbio capture the biggest win of his career, but he did so in front of one of the most vicariously exciting UFC crowds in recent memory, which most certainly assures a return trip to Argentina in the not-too-distant future. Beyond Ponzinibbio’s victory and the raucous crowd, we also got two vastly different tales of fortune from prospects Cynthia Calvillo and Khalil Rountree and a not-so-subtle “What’s up?” from an established but often overlooked veteran in Michel Prazeres. So let’s review what went down at UFC Fight Night 140 in Buenos Aires and figure out what we learned.
Fundamentals Always Win the Day
Ponzinibbio is a well-rounded fighter, but primarily, it’s his savvy and stylish striking that makes him stand out. However, he’s not the kind of exotic whirling dervish that we saw a week ago in Yair Rodriguez. What makes Ponzinibbio such a potent fighter is that he nails all the basics and can use them to control and dominate his opponents, which is how he’s able to set up the kind of stoppages we saw at UFC Fight Night 140.
Sure, the Argentinian ultimately blasted Magny with an overhand right that dropped him face first on the mat, and yes, it was one of many right hands with which Ponzinibbio raked Magny over nearly 18 minutes, but the availability of those power shots was set up by the fact he had already hobbled the American with his brilliant calf kicks. Once he got him stumbling around the cage, he repeatedly drilled him with steady jabs on the way into and out of combinations.
To a layman, it may look like Magny was simply backing up for the entire fight because his legs were damaged so early, but it was more than that. The jab and the low kick are the fundamental building blocks of any decent MMA striking game. While Ponzinibbio ultimately ended up crippling Magny with some especially well-placed kicks to the calf in the second stanza, he was already using his jab and low kicks to control distance and range against his 6-foot-3 opponent, moving him all around the cage at will. Ultimately, Ponzinibbio only outlanded Magny by a slim margin of 79-72 in total strikes, but he was able to make his strikes count more because he was the fighter controlling the distance, constantly forcing Magny backwards and making him strike off of his heels before tagging him repeatedly with right hands. Sure, we’re still just over a week removed from Rodriguez’s “Knockout of the Year” on Chan Sung Jung, but let Ponzinibbio’s performance serve as a reminder that you don’t need tornado kicks and no-look elbows in order to be a crafty striker. At the end of the day, the basics work best.
More Crowds Like This, Please
Ultimately, the history book is just going to say that UFC Fight Night 140 drew 10,245 spectators to Roca Park with an unannounced gate figure, which usually is a sign of reduced ticket prices and a good number of comped tickets. That doesn’t sound especially exciting, especially considering the company put 11,426 people in the Pepsi Center the weekend before and didn’t even draw a $1 million.
However, numbers don’t tell the whole story. Whether you’re attending live or just watching a fight card on television, a good crowd changes the complexion of an event. It engages you as a viewer and motivates the athletes, which in turn creates better fights. How many times have you watched the first three hours of a card in Las Vegas, staring through the fence at an entire floor of empty seats and listening to a startlingly dead, voiceless crowd? Even if you get a banger of an undercard fight, there’s something that just feels flat and dull when you can hear a pin drop in a 20,000-seat arena.
This was not the case in Buenos Aires. From the moment Nad Narimani and Anderson dos Santos hopped in the cage, the Argentinian crowd was vocal and rocking; and it was the right kind of vocal and rocking, not the wrought, annoying “Woo!” crowds you get from bored, drunk North American crowds -- a tendency that has become alarmingly present in this sport for whatever reason. Now, the UFC isn’t going to put Argentina on the schedule like Brazil and have multiple cards there annually, and promotional exec David Shaw remarked after the card that the Octagon is more likely to hit Uruguay, Peru and Colombia before returning to the country. However, the proliferation of MMA in southern Brazil over the years has trickled into Argentina, created some solid national talent and, evidently, some fantastic local crowds that helped add some extra flair to what otherwise might’ve just been yet another international UFC Fight Night card.
Upstarts Can Get Set Back and Bounce Back
When we look back at Calvillo’s performance at UFC Fight Night 140, we’re likely going to remember less about her actual domination of Poliana Botelho than her horrific weight cut, as she needed be physically helped onto the scale before clocking in at 118 pounds while looking like she was about to pass out. It was a scary scene and shouldn’t be minimized, especially as it becomes an unfortunate, regular occurrence to see fighters deplete themselves this way while often having their bouts canceled as a result of dangerous weight cuts.
Calvillo’s explanation was that she started her period this week and it forced her to curtail her weight cut. This is not a new narrative. For a lot of people, the first time this fundamental and inevitable issue first came to light back in 2009 with Gina Carano, and 145-pound queen Cristiane Justino has also cited menstrual issues in the past for missing weight. Like I said, this is an intractable issue that is bound to crop up from time to time: Women have periods, and they have a propensity to screw up a physically demanding process like cutting weight. At the same time, we shouldn’t let Calvillo blowing weight completely overshadow an otherwise fantastic performance.
Calvillo opened as a -165 favorite and was inexplicably bet down to a +135 underdog by the time the books closed. This is a classic example of MMA’s “What have to done for me lately?” mentality. In December, Calvillo ran into the biggest test of her career and a particularly difficult style matchup with Carla Esparza, who is essentially a more evolved form of her. Meanwhile, Botelho had a devastating liver kick knockout of Syuri Kondo in May. While I’m thankful for the favorable betting line, this is why you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Calvillo turned pro barely two years ago, still has a ton of untapped potential and will likely be a Top-10 fighter for years to come. A year ago, everyone was singing her praises, and after one tough loss, people were willing to write her off to the point of thinking she was going to lose to a vastly inferior fighter. Don’t make that mistake.
Sometimes, You Have to Drain That Tub
I know I just advised against giving up on prospects after they suffer through some adversity. Like I said, losses can be learning experiences, and fighters can improve as a result of their failings. However, sometimes you need to look at overall trends and patterns and just call a spade a spade. The fact is that despite all the expectations I had for him as a prospect, Rountree is just not a very good fighter.
I thought Rountree was going to beat debuting Brazilian Johnny Walker but I strongly advocated to avoid betting on him, and what transpired in Buenos Aires is precisely why. For all his athleticism and powerful southpaw striking, it took less than two minutes for “The War Horse” to get absolutely clobbered with a clinch elbow by a lanky, awkward opponent. Plain and simple, despite having some great natural gifts, Rountree can’t be relied on, and it’s unlikely he’ll ever maximize his potential in the cage. He’s a dangerous fighter but fundamentally flawed.
Through his first four pro fights in the Resurrection Fighting Alliance, I though Rountree was going to be a future power player at 205 pounds. I was dead certain he was going to win “The Ultimate Fighter 23.” Then, he completely gassed out and got dominated by a ho-hum, unremarkable fighter in Andrew Sanchez in the final. Then he gave up a horrible takedown and got mauled on the ground by Tyson Pedro. Then he gassed out in three minutes against Michal Oleksiejczuk. Rountree is still athletically gifted and a powerful enough striker that he’ll probably register some highlight-reel knockouts in the future and find a way to stay on UFC roster; and at 28 years old, he’s still likely has some untapped potential and room for improvement. However, his shaky defense, miserable cardio and frustrating lack of strategy will likely confine him to being a heavy-hitting spoiler instead of the major star I forecasted he would become.
This Sport Needs Spoilers, Too
One of the most authoritative performance of UFC Fight Night 140 came courtesy of Prazeres, who needed just 62 seconds to essentially knock out Barosz Fabinski and then latch onto a devastating guillotine choke to force the submission. It was the Brazilian’s eight straight victory in the Octagon and yet another example of what a devastating squeeze the man possesses.
After two straight wins at 170 pounds, Prazeres says he wants to return to the lightweight division. Regardless of what division he settles into, he’s choosing between arguably the two deepest and most talented divisions in the entire sport, and frankly, Prazeres is limited. While he showed some surprising pop in his hands by clocking Fabinski with his overhand right, he’s still a rocked-up 5-foot-6 guy with limited reach and suspect cardio. While he’s strong as hell, his takedowns are predicated on just that and not especially clean wrestling technique. When he can’t grab hold of his opponent’s neck, his fights can often be irritating, prosaic affairs. We’re not looking at Top-10 lightweight or welterweight, but that doesn’t mean Prazeres -- or other high-level gatekeepers -- isn’t important.
That’s not the worst of things. This sport takes all kinds, and not every fighter is going to be a champion or pound-for-pound stalwart. While we like to imagine fighters constantly striving toward an ideal of well-roundedness, there’s still a viable and crucial place for stylistic specialists who just have a couple of dangerous weapons and know how to flex them against any opponent on any given night. If it just so happens that they’re a freakishly muscled short guy who can strangle an opponent so hard it looks like his eyes are going to pop out of his head, I’m cool with that. You should be, too.