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Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight contenders Alistair Overeem and Walt Harris on Saturday shared the UFC on ESPN 8 stage with lesser-known commodities at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. Some stocks rose, while others took a dive.
Dan Ige: In what was his most significant opportunity to date, Ige escaped with a split decision over Edson Barboza—a victory that figures to unlock a new level of competition as he moves toward the Top 10 at 145 pounds. While the Hawaiian initially struggled to adapt to Barboza’s speed and power, his pressure-filled boxing won out and resulted in the narrowest of victories. Afterward, Ige set his sights on “big name” fighters in the featherweight division, including Yair Rodriguez, Calvin Kattar and Jeremy Stephens. What he lacks in size he makes up for with stellar boxing skills, a granite chin and a seemingly endless gas tank.
Miguel Baeza: The undefeated Baeza withstood early adversity and put away seasoned veteran Matt Brown with punches in the second round of their welterweight prelim, keeping his perfect record intact and moving to 2-0 in the UFC. “Caramel Thunder” remained calm, cool and collected while enduring substantial punishment from Brown, as he delivered the knockout 18 seconds into Round 2 and established himself as a person of interest at 170 pounds. While his grappling skills have yet to be tested inside the Octagon, thudding leg kicks and quick hands provide Baeza with the weaponry he needs to move quickly in the welterweight division.
Giga Chikadze: Ahead of his UFC debut in September, the Kings MMA rep boasted an extensive kickboxing background that seemed certain to give even high-level strikers pause. After displaying beautiful technique on the feet and posting three straight victories, it might be time to consider Chikadze a contender in the making at 145 pounds. He needs to make advances with his grappling, but his combination of length and craft figures to lead to continued success in a division populated by strikers. Expect Chikadze to lock down a moderate step up in competition with his next assignment, as he gears up for a possible run at the Top 15.
Eryk Anders: The former University of Alabama linebacker failed to adjust to Krzysztof Jotko’s stellar takedown defense, and other than some effective clinch work along the fence and a telegraphed overhand right, Anders had little to offer the American Top Team-trained Pole. His ability to push a solid pace across 15 minutes was admirable, but his inability to adapt on the fly clouds his future at the highest levels of MMA. Anders looked lost in the latter stages of the fight and quickly fell behind on the scorecards once the reality of his situation set in. While his last two outings had been encouraging, his underwhelming performance against Jotko makes it clear that Anders still has a long way to go to become an elite middleweight.
Anthony Hernandez: After the result of his 40-second drubbing of Jordan Wright was overturned to a no contest on Dana White’s Contender Series, Hernandez has struggled to find a foothold in the UFC. The 26-year-old Californian succumbed to first-round knees and punches from Kevin Holland on the undercard and will likely need an impressive showing next time out if he wants to retain his spot on the roster. Hernandez failed to match Holland’s aggression, resulting in his demise just 39 seconds into Round 1. He should look to get back to his bread-and-butter skills moving forward, hunting takedowns in a bid to activate his potent submission game.
Darren Elkins: The fight was closer than the scorecards indicated, but former M-1 Global champion Nate Landwehr sent “The Damage” to his fourth consecutive defeat on the undercard. Elkins’ blood-and-guts reputation and propensity for gore may earn him one final opportunity with the promotion, but as the scar tissue continues to spread across his face, it becomes difficult to envision him as a relevant player at 145 pounds. Now 36, the wear and tear of a grueling career has begun to conspire against him. While Elkins likely has a few fights left in him, his time as a contender appears to be over.