MMA Gradebook: Rating Every Fight From UFC 236

By Ben Duffy Apr 15, 2019
With our usual keeper of the MMA Gradebook, the esteemed Mr. Kevin Wilson, indisposed this week, we might normally have let this column have a week off as well -- that is, if the Ultimate Fighting Championship had not offered up a card that ended up boasting not one, but two early candidates for “Fight of the Year.”

However, if there were ever an event that called for the Gradebook, UFC 236 was it, with its mix of all-time barnburners and relative duds. Here to help the DVR crowd navigate its way through the must-see as well as the must-skip fights from Saturday in Atlanta is your humble substitute columnist. Below are all 13 fights from UFC 236: Holloway vs. Poirier 2, rated for, as Mr. Wilson says, "competitiveness, showcase of skill and technique, finishes, and the story and heightened drama of the contest." I will do so without spoiling the outcomes, except in those few cases where, in my opinion, the fight is not worth watching; any fight rated 2.0 or higher is guaranteed spoiler-free.

Brandon Davis vs. Randy Costa

The night got off to a hot start with a wild bantamweight scrap that was a whole lot of fun while it lasted. The second round alone packed more action into a minute and change than some other fights on this card managed from bell to bell. Rousing back-and-forth action on the feet and a stunning reversal of fortune make this one well worth your time. [3.25]

Lauren Mueller vs. Poliana Botelho

What had been an interesting contest between two flyweight hopefuls fizzled out late through a combination of fatigue and a boneheaded strategic error. In the relative power vacuum of women’s flyweight, and with both women entering this fight off of losses, the stakes make it worth a look -- after all, anyone who wins a fight in this division is practically in the Top 15 right now. [2.25]

Montel Jackson vs. Andre Soukhamthath

Slight spoiler, but there isn’t much here worth watching unless Soukhamthath stole your girlfriend recently and you really just wanted to see him catch an ass-whupping. It’s mildly interesting for the full gamut of offensive techniques on display from “Quik,” as well as Soukhamthath’s gameness and grit. [1.75]

Curtis Millender vs. Belal Muhammad

Two men entered the Octagon with something to prove -- both were coming in having lost their last outing in the ultra-competitive Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight division -- and we were rewarded with a scrap that was surprisingly entertaining, considering how one-sided it was for long stretches. The loser here has a crystal-clear lesson to take back to the drawing board, and it only remains to be seen if he can shore up the glaring weaknesses that were exposed in the cage Saturday night. [2.0]

Boston Salmon vs. Khalid Taha

A fight this short is, almost by definition, worth your time. This one is no exception. Nasty early finish that, upon replay, shows itself to have been a nifty bit of technical work. It’s always impressive when one fighter can get this good a read on the other in such a short time. [3.5]

Max Griffin vs. Zelim Imadaev

This fight had all the earmarks of a prelim banger. Griffin may have been fighting for his job, with losses in his previous two outings and an overall 3-4 mark in the UFC, and he and Imadaev apparently had some personal animus stemming from a previous stint training together. Unfortunately, whatever training these two did together did not involve enough cardio, as both men appeared badly gassed by the first minute of Round 2. Catch this one if you’re in suspense about Griffin’s career arc or you just really enjoy watching welterweights breathe at each other with open mouths. [1.5]

Wilson Reis vs. Alexandre Pantoja

Once again, going by the principle that a first-round finish is not asking for much of the viewer’s time, this one is certainly worth a few minutes of yours. The two men entered on nearly opposite arcs, as Reis had struggled to remain relevant in the wake of his disastrous title shot against Demetrious Johnson, while Pantoja had been stringing together victories, looking for a true signature win and almost certainly wondering if there would be a flyweight belt left to fight for by the time he got there. Go see which one took a step in the right direction. [3.0]

Jalin Turner vs. Matt Frevola

Slight spoiler here once again, but this fight looked pretty much the way you would imagine an actual meeting between a tarantula and a steamroller: one-sided, but kind of slow and predictable. Give this one a miss unless you’re personally invested in one of the combatants or you really find Frevola’s accent adorable. [1.25]

Ovince St. Preux vs. Nikita Krylov

A clash -- a rematch, no less -- between two of the more ridiculous fighters in the light heavyweight division, and it delivered exactly what it promised… sort of. This fight was a mess, and one fighter in particular showed off some of the worst cardio I have ever seen from a Top-15, non-heavyweight in the UFC. The only saving grace is that this thing did not go the distance. [2.0]

Alan Jouban vs. Dwight Grant

The hook and the charm of the average Jouban fight is that he’s an incredibly good-looking man -- a literal magazine model -- who fights as if he doesn’t give a damn about his face. Matched up against another willing striker in Grant, he would seem to be a shoo-in for a main card barnburner and potential “Fight of the Night.” However, it was not to be -- even before the historic one-two that topped the card an hour later. This bout is proof that not every close fight is exciting, and porous striking defense does not equal a brawl. [1.75]

Eryk Anders vs. Khalil Rountree

When UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby put this fight together, he probably looked at these two and saw similarities. Both men are burly athletes with flawed, but incredibly dangerous standup, and with their backs to the proverbial wall; Rountree was coming off a loss, Anders off two straight. The matchup seemed to offer fireworks, but what it delivered was more of a carpet bombing, and an early candidate for “Beatdown of the Year.” I was stunned by the winner’s performance, as it is one of the most impressive upgrades in skill and technique from one fight to the next that I have ever seen in an established UFC fighter. [2.5]

Kelvin Gastelum vs. Israel Adesanya

This is the motherlode, baby. I do not know whether Mr. Wilson would have given this fight a perfect five stars, so consider my rating here unofficial, but the interim middleweight title fight is easily the “Fight of the Year” so far. It offered everything you want in a five-round title fight -- huge swings of momentum, true moments of peril for both fighters and the high drama of going into the championship rounds with the outcome still very much in doubt. Going into the fight, nagging questions hovered over both men’s heads: how would “The Last Stylebender” deal with forward pressure from a truly gifted and determined wrestler, and would former welterweight Gastelum be able to navigate the ridiculous reach advantage of one of the tallest, rangiest middleweights on the UFC roster? Not only were those questions answered, they were answered in such a way as to make both men come out looking good. Viewers hoping to see one or both fighters “exposed” will be disappointed here, as both cemented themselves as legitimate Top-5 middleweights. [5.0]

Max Holloway vs. Dustin Poirier

I am trying, and thus far failing, to think of another mixed martial arts event with two fights this good at the top. The interim lightweight title fight between featherweight king Holloway and the red-hot Poirier is at worst the third-best fight of 2019. Going in, the storylines wrote themselves; the stakes could not have been higher, as the winner would be all but guaranteed a shot at pound-for-pound stalwart Khabib Nurmagomedov later this year. Holloway and Poirier are two of the most likeable fighters in the UFC, genial family men who wear their emotions -- and their fierce competitive streaks -- on their sleeves. Leading up to UFC 236, a majority of fans seemed to lean in the direction of “Blessed,” believing his relentless storm of offense would be too much for Poirier, and the oddmakers responded in kind, installing Holloway as a comfortable favorite. Once the fight started, however, it did not take long to see that Poirier’s punching power was an x-factor that the books had not fully accounted for. By the end of the first round, to use a well-worn cliché, we had a fight on our hands. I won’t spoil anything further, but simply say that going into the final round, it was still anyone’s fight. Miss this one at your mortal peril. [4.5]
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