Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday touched down in Toronto with a pair of title bouts at UFC 231. With it came some good, some bad and some ugly.
THE GOOD: WHY WE DO THIS
What took place inside the Octagon at Scotiabank Arena was purely fantastic. Max Holloway and Brian Ortega put on a main event that will be remembered for all the right reasons. The featherweight champion firmly staked his claim among the all-time great lighter-weight fighters with a masterful display of striking volume, slick defense and relentless cardio to dispatch the previously undefeated Ortega in between the fourth and fifth rounds.
To his credit, Ortega put on a courageous performance. Despite being outstruck consistently and sustaining serious damage throughout, “T-City” managed to keep the champion on his toes with some effective counter shots that momentarily turned the tide in his favor in the third round. He valiantly battled through Holloway’s record-breaking 290 significant strikes landed before a nearly swollen-shut eye prompted the cageside physician to stop the bout.
There was nothing to dislike about the main event. We saw greatness in Holloway, resilience in Ortega and a merciful stoppage that didn’t put the challenger in any unnecessary danger. Bravo to all parties involved. The future for both men is likely very bright. While Ortega absorbed substantial punishment and was dominated in many moments, he still proved his worth as a top contender. At just 27 years old, he has plenty of room to grow as a fighter and improve upon an already impressive skill set. Holloway is also 27, with years as a world-class fighter ahead of him. As both men alluded to in the buildup to UFC 231, this could be the first of several meetings.
With Holloway’s July health scare seemingly behind him, the options are wide open. Staying at featherweight opens the doors for fresh matchups like the previously booked Frankie Edgar and UFC 231 alternate Renato Carneiro. If Holloway remains at 145 pounds, each victory only pushes him closer to being the greatest featherweight ever. Should he decide to bring the “Blessed” era to the lightweight division, there’s no shortage of intriguing pairings, from a revenge opportunity with Conor McGregor and accepting the challenge from former interim champion Tony Ferguson to even making good on the scrapped booking with Khabib Nurmagomedov.
As far as recent headlines go in MMA, we’ve seen better times. Heinous crimes, questionable business decisions and sport-wide division have flooded our timelines in one way or another. However, what brings such a colorful world together is high-level competition featuring some of the greatest martial artists alive. UFC 231 was what we needed.
There’s nothing like a meeting between proven and highly skilled fighters in their prime in a five-round title fight to help wash the taste of outside-the-cage controversy out of our mouths. Holloway and Ortega were the perfect men to headline this event -- a dignified rivalry rooted in nothing more than wanting to be the best in the world. For better or worse, as the business of MMA grows, a magnifying glass will pass over those involved with the sport. Let’s not lose sight of what we tune in for. Sometimes it’s important to turn off the extra noise and simply enjoy the fights.
THE BAD: TWO LEVELS OF PURGATORY
Joanna Jedrzejczyk hoped to cement herself as the all-time best women’s fighter in MMA history. Instead, she dropped a decision to Valentina Shevchenko for the vacant flyweight championship. This loss is particularly bad for the former strawweight queen in a few ways. First, it means she dropped three out of her last four fights, with all three of those defeats being for a title. After beginning her career with 14 straight wins -- which included her winning and defending the belt at 115 pounds five times -- it seems as though her momentum has been firmly halted at this point.
Second, Jedrzejczyk finds herself in another level of purgatory if she hopes to regain championship status. Her decision loss to Rose Namajunas in April proved that “Thug Rose” did not fluke her way into taking the belt in their original meeting. After two losses to the 115-pound champ, the new flyweight division offered hope to reclaim that past glory. Unfortunately for Jedrzejczyk, Shevchenko had her own ambitions of gold and faced a similar dilemma at bantamweight. While Jedrzejczyk is still one of the best female fighters alive and could beat many of the names at either 115 or 125 pounds, there’s no clear path to either belt.
Instead, her fate will remain in the hands of others, as upcoming challengers at strawweight and flyweight must emerge victorious in order for Jedrzejczyk to get another chance in the near future. It’s probably more likely to happen at strawweight, as Namajunas has a tough challenger in front of her in Jessica Andrade. Since Jedrzejczyk holds a victory over Andrade, it’ll be much easier to earn a shot should the Brazilian dethrone “Thug Rose.” However, that would also require further commitments to the brutal weight cuts that she believes have hurt her past performances.
At flyweight, the chances seem much slimmer. While it seems to be the healthier option for Jedrzejczyk, she still found herself being ragdolled to the floor at times by the bigger fighter. Further outings at 125 pounds won’t get any easier from that perspective. Additionally, Shevchenko -- like Namajunas -- holds multiple victories over Jedrzejczyk. While three of those four defeats came in muay Thai competition, there is a clearly established hierarchy between the two that suggests that Jedrzejczyk is outmatched, no matter what rule set the contest takes place under. “Bullet” also has unfinished business with disgraced champion Nicco Montano and a potential challenger in Jessica Eye.
Whether she elects to go back to her former divisional home or gets comfortable with the additional 10 pounds, Jedrzejczyk will have to pick off more notable names and hope for the best.
THE UGLY: FLY IN THE FACE OF REALITY
It’s a shame that nearly every week we have to do this, but it’s hard to understand what goes through the minds of some judges. Benoit Roussel gave us the most confusing moment at UFC 231.
When the scorecards were read and Bruce Buffer announced a split decision in the Hakeem Dawodu-Kyle Bochniak fight, there were puzzled looks all over the Octagon floor and television sets around the world. Dawodu, while not necessarily steamrolling his opponent, did more than enough to prove he was the better fighter. Effective strikes and a refusal to succumb to repeated takedown attempts and top pressure from Bochniak made the identity of the true winner quite clear. Roussel saw things differently and awarded a 29-28 scorecard in Bochniak’s favor, while his two colleagues saw it 30-27 for Dawodu.
Every media member who submitted a scorecard to MMADecisions.com saw it as a victory for Dawodu. In fact, the large majority, including Sherdog.com’s Ben Duffy, gave every round to the Canadian. Color commentators Joe Rogan and Paul Felder were quick to vocalize their thoughts on the split decision with biting criticism of the judge in question. Considering that Roussel was responsible for all three of the dissenting scores at the event, something must be done. While seeing Eryk Anders and Katlyn Chookagian as the victors in their respective bouts was more understandable, there is some cause for concern when there is one judge who habitually sees things differently than everyone else watching; and there’s simply no defense for declaring Bochniak the winner. Don’t even try.
Fortunately, the right man won and won’t have his pay and future in the sport put in jeopardy by someone who seems to not understand the action in front of his face.