UFC Fight Night 132 saw the continued emergence of one of the best welterweights in all of MMA. Unfortunately, the card emanated from Singapore and started at 4:30 a.m. ET on Saturday. Suffice to say, you might have missed some things, but I’ve got you covered with notes from a class you probably did not attend.
Leon Edwards is on the map, but how far can he go at 170 pounds in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, especially if no one is seeing his fights? Where does his opponent, Donald Cerrone, head next and what sort of job security does he have? Plus, Ovince St. Preux has carved out his own niche, and the Chinese influx of talent into the sport is paying strong dividends for the women’s divisions, but what does it say when the biggest story of the MMA weekend doesn’t have anything to do with a UFC card that took place?
I’ve got answers. Here are the five lessons to glean from UFC Fight Night 132:
1. Edwards is Elite and Sitting Pretty … For Now
With his win over Cerrone, his sixth in a row, Edwards finally has a signature victory over a notable name, bringing his UFC record to 10-2. Plus, he could easily be 11-1, given that he should have gotten the nod over Claudio Henrique da Silva in his Octagon debut. He is a slick southpaw counterstriker, a sneaky good wrestler and grappler and a fantastic athlete; he’s a formidable foe for absolutely anyone in the division. When you consider he was disqualified for kicking a downed opponent in his MMA debut, the only fighter to convincingly beat Edwards in his seven-year career is Kamaru Usman.
However, the Usman defeat is instructive about what Edwards’ ceiling might be in the division. While Edwards is, as mentioned, more than capable as a wrestler, he inhabits a division where the upper echelon is packed with physical powerhouse wrestlers like Usman, Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington and Rafael dos Anjos. The best path to beating Edwards is always going to be wrestling him to the mat and sticking him to his back; and unfortunately for the Brit, that’s the default strategy for so many welterweights at the championship level.
On the bright side, Edwards has been shrewd in his callouts and the sort of fights he is angling for are complimentary to his style. If he gets a date with his most recent callout, Jorge Masvidal, he should be assured a main card spot against an opponent with a very similar style to his own, one that would be willing to stand and exchange with him and one against whom Edwards could perhaps even cleverly use his wrestling. Even if the Masvidal bout doesn’t materialize, a showdown with unbeaten countryman Darren Till would be a highly entertaining contest that would make all the sense in the world for a main event in England or a co-feature on a British pay-per-view.
2. If a Tree Falls in the Forest …
You know how the rest of the saying goes. Sure, Edwards has a signature win now over a popular, well-known opponent, but despite Cerrone’s visibility in the sport, especially to non-diehard fans, it’s undeniable that Edwards would be in a better position to capitalize on the spoils of topping “Cowboy” if he was simply on a pay-per-view or stateside UFC Fight Night card instead of in a main event slot in Singapore.
Obviously, this holds true for other fighters on the roster, as well. UFC Fight Night 132, from top to bottom, was a pretty exciting card that featured a plethora of entertaining, exciting finishes. Petr Yan made a sensational UFC debut by smashing Teruto Ishihara; Jake Matthews continued to roll, moving to 3-0 at 170 pounds in the UFC by destroying Shinsho Anzai; and Xiaonan Yan announced her arrival by upsetting Viviane Pereira. These are exactly the sort of talents that are shortchanged and have their successes mitigated by having the unfortunate fate of ending up on a card like this one.
Unfortunately, it’s a relatively intractable problem: The UFC is not going to stop doing international cards anytime soon, and some of them are going to be Fight Pass events located on the other side of the Earth. Fighters will need to populate those cards, and inevitably, there are going to be talented fighters worthy of a bigger platform and opportunity to increase their visibility on those bills.
3. Want Job Security? Stay Active, Be Exciting, Carve Out a Niche
If you’re Cerrone, maybe you’re glad that your fourth loss in your last five fights went unwatched by most of the MMA world. Naturally, with four defeats in 18 months and showing obvious signs of slowing down due to wear and tear at 35 years old, there are immediate questions about Cerrone’s future. I think it’s safe to say “Cowboy” isn’t retiring anytime soon; he has said he wants to at least fight five more years. So what does the UFC do with him?
Well, it can do lots. Fortunately for Cerrone, even if he’s on the backside of his career, his performance against Edwards was still competitive enough to show he can compete with very good opponents and is far from being a shot fighter, even if he isn’t as on-point as he was two or three years ago. Keep in mind, all of his losses have come to elite fighters. Cerrone remains one of the most popular competitors in the UFC and remains a dynamic, all-action fighter. Even if the days of him headlining UFC cards all over far-flung parts of the planet may be done, if he’s facing Top 25-30 talent consistently in made-for-excitement matches, he will be able to pick up wins, create highlights and safely stick around for years. He’s carved out his niche.
As niches go, St. Preux kept carving out his in Singapore. In trademark OSP fashion, he got rocked badly by Tyson Pedro, then locked up a quick and sassy submission. He is a phenomenal athlete with a quirky, action-oriented style who, like Cerrone, is always keen to fight -- he has nine Octagon appearances since 2016 -- and makes for the perfect gatekeeper for the 205-pound division. He’s never going to be a champion and he’s not indispensable, but he’s more than proved his worth to the UFC roster by brilliantly playing his role.
4. Chinese MMA is Coming, and Its Women Lead the Way
UFC Fight Night 132 was a great night for China, with the nation’s fighters going 4-0 on the card. No win for a Chinese fighter on the bill was bigger than Yan upsetting Pereira, which is apropos of an interesting truth about the emerging state of Chinese MMA: presently, the very best Chinese fighters are overwhelmingly women.
In fact, the UFC wasn’t the only major event on Saturday with a notable female Chinese fighter getting a major win. Over in Macau, One Championship’s “Pinnacle of Power” saw 13-1 Jingnan Xiong successfully defend her 125-pound crown against Laura Balin. Beyond Yan and Xiong, China is churning out other intriguing and talented women’s prospects like Na Liang, Heqin Lin and Weili Zhang, who makes her Octagon debut in August against Danielle Taylor at UFC 227.
The emergence of Chinese MMA talent has been aided by the rise of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the nation, with some 30 BJJ black belts now teaching in the nation, as well as the nation’s strong martial arts roots, especially the popularity of wushu sanda. That style base informs the vast majority of Chinese fighters’ styles, and for the better, as the flashy kicking offense of sanda makes many Chinese exports pretty entertaining to watch. With a nation of 1.4 billion -- almost 19 percent of the Earth’s population – China is a market that every MMA promotion will covet as the sport continues to grow in popularity. In order to do that, companies will need to snap up elite Chinese fighters, and right now, that has the dual benefit of beefing up women’s divisions.
5. A UFC Card Is No Longer Guaranteed to be a Week’s Hottest Topic
Time issues aside, UFC Fight Night 132 was a fun watch with a fantastic, relevant main event. In the past, even if the company had a smaller international card with little hype or fanfare, it was still almost assuredly going to be the dominant news story of that week. This is no longer the case.
On Friday, former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida signed with Bellator MMA. It isn’t the most shocking news in the world, as it’s an established Bellator practice to snap up well-known UFC fighters who might be in the twilight of their careers and Machida did position himself well for free agency by dramatically cramming his foot down Vitor Belfort’s throat in May. Still, it came as a sudden surprise and provided the most significant and consequential MMA news for the week.
Even at 40 years old and noticeably slowing down, Machida has shown in his wins over Belfort and previously unbeaten prospect Eryk Anders that he can still fight. He has name value, which Bellator still needs to continue to amass at a time when its cable ratings continue to droop and sag when it doesn’t put together a blockbuster card. Even better for the promotion, Machida has wins over both Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader and middleweight titlist Gegard Mousasi, providing an easy hook for marketable fights. At worst, if Machida suddenly completely jumps the shark, his star power and visibility can be a validating factor, helping to establish up-and-coming Bellator prospects who are able to tame “The Dragon.”