Let’s just say, UFC Fight Night 133 was not the star event of the sports week.
France won its second World Cup, managed and coached by the man who captained them to their first in 1998. Novak Djokovic defeated rival Rafael Nadal in extra sets in a two-day classic at Wimbledon. Angelique Kerber upset Serena Williams, preventing the greatest woman to ever pick up a tennis racket from winning her 24th major. With the win, Kerber moved one Roland Garros two-week slough away from winning a career slam and quietly being one of the most accomplished women ever in tennis. Also, many men dunked on one another during the NBA Summer League.
Did you hear that Junior dos Santos beat the guy who once beat Fedor Emelianenko in a sambo match? Yes, I may be glib, but UFC Fight Night 133 was not without its merits. More importantly, if you’re a fight fan, it’s not necessarily about every card being Pride 10 or UFC 100. Somewhere in these seven-hour cards, there’s always something to keep your eye on, something to take away, something to learn from.
What does the future look like for JDS? Did you even recognize Chad Mendes’ face? Is Darren Elkins going to die in the cage? Why on Earth wouldn’t you just rather fight in front of UFC President Dana White on a Tuesday night? Here are the lessons learned from UFC Fight Night 133:
A Heavyweight Horse is a Horse, Of Course
Look, we all love to mock MMA’s heavyweight division. If anything, it’s a rite of passage and secret handshake of serious fandom in this sport. We fight fans aren’t just being cruel, though; there’s a reason for our scorn. Sure, we’re hot on the heels of Daniel Cormier coming out gleaming in a historic showdown with Stipe Miocic, but most heavyweight fights -- especially main events -- don’t carry that sort of purchase. That’s where we were at on Saturday in Boise, Idaho.
Dos Santos, a former UFC champion and one of the best heavyweights of all-time, got his first win in 14 months after his nasty knockout loss to Miocic and his protracted battle with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency due to tainted supplements. He used his telephone pole jab and counter right hand to bust up Octagon debutant Blagoy Ivanov for 25 minutes and take a clean sweep of the scorecards. It wasn’t the most exciting thing to watch in the world, but again, why would it be? More importantly, does it amount to anything larger?
No, not really, and that’s the problem. The average age of a Top-10 MMA heavyweight hovers around 35 years old. We’re magnetized to heavyweights for their power, and that’s the last physical trait to exit the body. Particularly athletic heavyweights like dos Santos are going to stick around even longer; toughness doesn’t go away, either, and don’t forget Ivanov once took a foot-long knife into his chest and hailed himself a cab to the hospital, never mind beating Emelianenko to win a sambo world championship. This is just a case of heavyweights being culturally overrated to the point where a major heavyweight bout is supposed to fundamentally feel like a religious experience and ends up being a walk in the park, which in the back of our heads, we expected all along.
Dos Santos, at 34, is still an elite heavyweight, whatever that may mean. Ivanov is still a Top-15ish heavyweight and a quality signing for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. However, Cormier desires retirement fights with Brock Lesnar and Mauricio Rua. At a time when it’s more crucial than ever for the UFC to inform people why a particular fight or main event is a big deal, what’s the point when we can all predict the 50-45 scorecards?
‘Money’ Can Still Pay the Bills
Mendes seemed like a long and forgotten memory. He had lost three of his last four fights in the Octagon, tested positive for a growth hormone release stimulator and then pathetically and transparently blamed it on a topical skin cream before receiving a two-year ban from USADA. The man might not be much of a liar, but “Money” can still get to the pay window.
Myles Jury is a fantastic featherweight and looked outstanding in his previous two outings, dominating Mike de la Torre and Rick Glenn. Mendes trashed him in under three minutes, and more importantly, he did it in trademark Mendes style. He walked down Jury, confused him with feints and takedown attempts, then brilliantly faked a double-leg takedown and drilled him with a left hand that left his man down and out.
Is Mendes ever going to get a third title shot in the promotion? Probably not; the UFC’s 145-pound division has gained and developed a ton of young and exciting talent over the last two years. With that said, the man is still only 33 years old and obviously can still wrestle-box the vast majority of featherweights into the ground. He may need to work on his “my psoriasis ate my homework” excuses, but if nothing else, “Money” still has a way to make money.
Will ‘Alexander the Great’ Fight for a Title Before ‘The Damage’ Dies?
Speaking of the featherweight division, Elkins has almost become an ironic figure in the sport. He’s a midwestern wrestler at heart, with a tattoo you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy on his chest, but he’s willing to slug and throw hands with anyone. It’s what led him to one of the greatest in-fight comebacks in recent memory against Mirsad Bektic in 2017, but man, oh man, did he catch a beatdown from Alexander Volkanovski.
Volkanovski, now 5-0 in the UFC, has quietly emerged as one of the best up-and-coming prospects the company has at its disposal in an increasingly interesting weight class. Sure, he went for a bunch of bizarre guillotines in situations where he likely could’ve finished the fight earlier, but he was thorough in his trashing of Elkins. Apart from a few strategic miscues from time to time, he has the entire package as a fighter and gets better on a fight-to-fight basis. He can strike from multiple ranges, he’s a capable wrestler, he has vicious elbow-laden ground-and-pound and he simply knows how to punish folks while demonstrating great defense.
This broke a six-fight winning streak for the 34-year-old Elkins. At the same time, Elkins has morphed from the hard-nosed wrestler he debuted as nearly eight years ago. It almost seemed like he has internalized his reputation for taking punishment, right down to that hideous “The Damage” tat. This is troubling, as he has absorbed 214 significant strikes in his last three fights. It’s not even the pure stats; it’s that when Elkins is getting hit in his fights, he’s getting clocked clean and flush on the feet. With 19 fights in the Octagon now, it’s hard to wonder if all of a sudden all this damage -- no pun intended -- won’t catch up in a hurry.
Never Stop Throwing
The most memorable stoppage at UFC Fight Night 133 by far was Niko Price’s shocking and bizarre hammerfists from the bottom, which clattered Randy Brown. The technique on display in this welterweight fight wasn’t exactly the greatest; it involved both men rolling the wrong way on leglock attempts more than once. However, Price’s penchant to not stop throwing strikes paid dividends in a surprising way and earned him a beautiful and unforgettable knockout.
This was an event with some curious scorecards, which is a reminder that if you’re in the cage, you can never pass up and opportunity to do damage and score points. We’ve seen stoppages from the back in the past -- Joe Riggs hacked open Chris Lytle from his guard at UFC 55, and Alavutdin Gadjiev once knocked out Hikaru Sato with punches from the bottom of mount in Pancrase -- but this is a recent reminder that in modern MMA, you’re better off neutralizing your opponent from your back by punching and elbowing back rather than playing wrist control and throwing up a triangle choke attempt, which risks your opponent escaping, passing your guard and beating you up instead.
Is It Better to Throw on a Tuesday or a Saturday?
Speaking of emerging talents like Volanovski or Price, if you were a UFC prospect now, when and where would you rather throw: a UFC Fight Night undercard or an episode of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contenders Series? The answer is less obvious than you might imagine.
Yes, even a poor-drawing card on cable is going to put more eyeballs on you than a Contenders Series card on UFC Fight Pass. The question isn’t about eyeballs anymore, though; the seven-hour length of a UFC card and the way that even hardcore fans digest MMA events mean that unless you do something insane, like Price’s hammerfist knockout from his back, you’re not going to be remembered. You’re just another drop in the bucket. You’re going to say some generic trash talk on camera, shadowbox for some B-roll, win your fight and then, sadly, be committed to the recesses of a fan’s brain.
With the Contenders Series being only five fights per event, the UFC has dedicated an impressive amount of resources into creating pre-fight video feature pieces that personalize and promote every athlete, putting them in a vastly better position to actually be remembered by any viewer. Yes, a Contenders Series card is probably going to lag well behind a UFC Fight Night event that draws weak viewership. However, as MMA’s promotional realities continue to morph and mutate, a spot on a “bigger” UFC card with greater viewership may not actually be what casts the brighter spotlight on your skills and career.