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 leaned on women’s strawweight contenders Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Michelle Waterson, as it touched down in Tampa, Florida, with UFC Fight Night 161. With it came some good, some bad and some ugly.
THE GOOD: MIXED MARTIAL ARTS
Every so often, we have to be reminded that the sport of mixed martial arts is the combination of various interwoven striking and grappling techniques. For two highly regarded Brazilian jiu-jitsu players, that reminder cost them the first L on their professional records.
Kron Gracie, the son of MMA pioneer Rickson Gracie, had made easy work of everyone he faced in his career. Prior to UFC Fight Night 161, he hadn’t been in the cage for 10 minutes in any of his previous five outings. Cub Swanson would not go nearly as quietly. There was a fair amount of speculation that Gracie was benefiting from a certain level of matchmaking favoritism. Alex Cacares, who welcomed him to the UFC in February, is a wildly inconsistent fighter with name value and a habit of not always fighting relative to his and his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Similarly, Swanson is no stranger to diving headfirst into the danger zone and had seen better times in his career.
Swanson looked less like a man on a four-fight losing streak and more like a 36-fight veteran with a diverse skill set. The singular-minded Gracie was unable to get the fight in his preferred realm, as Swanson easily attacked the body with punches and kicks. While Gracie’s cardio seemed to keep him in the fight and Swanson appeared to tire out, the lack of developed striking and wrestling technique prevented him from beating his opponent down the stretch.
Meanwhile, Mackenzie Dern suffered a similar fate. With much of the prefight talk centered around her unlikely return to competition just four months after giving birth, not much was given towards her opponent Amanda Ribas. The 26-year-old Ribas has her own credentials in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo and came into the cage with a much more complete arsenal. Dern relied primarily on her powerful right hand while waiting for the right time to use her submission abilities, but Ribas used a much more polished striking game and just enough grappling to break away from the exchanges.
Gracie and Dern certainly have dangerous skills on the ground that would likely get the best of most when the fight goes in that direction. However, an inability to get it there and the lack of a Plan B will not be good enough at this level. The sport of MMA has come a long way since the mid-1990s.
THE BAD: THE PRICE IS WRONG
There was some hope for James Vick. Despite being on a three-fight losing streak, there was the thought that maybe a depleted version of the 6-foot-3 Texas native was making an ill-advised go of it at 155 pounds. With an extra 15 pounds on his lanky frame and less dehydration before making the walk to the cage, perhaps Vick could retain the reach and height advantages while not compromising his health nearly as much as a welterweight.
Unfortunately, the welterweight experiment failed epically. With a hammer heel-style upkick, Niko Price sent Vick into a frighteningly visceral state of unconsciousness and for the moment took away hope that 170 pounds would be a better place for the 18-fight veteran. The three men who had previously bested Vick are clearly among the elite in the lightweight division. Justin Gaethje, Dan Hooker and Paul Felder have all enjoyed recent wins against other top-shelf names while firmly cementing themselves as contenders. For all of the excitement and improbable finishes he has provided, Price does not rank near the top of the heap at welterweight. Additionally, this marks the third time that Vick has had the lights turn off in dramatic fashion. Simply put, it looks like the combination of a used-up chin, a brutal weight cut and being on the business end of powerful strikes may have transformed into a simple inability to absorb damage. This transition has occurred in the short span of 14 months.
While it’s easy to just focus on the knockout, things looked a little off during the short duration of the bout. With his chin still up in the air and an inability to make the best use of his long limbs, the scene felt all too familiar. Now Vick finds himself at a crucial crossroads with some serious questions to ponder. Ahead of the Hooker fight, Vick spent some time at Phuket Top Team to close some of the holes in his striking game. He reportedly did the same in preparation for the Price fight. However, come fight night he was flanked by some familiar faces. With his youth and durability trending toward the rearview mirror, perhaps a full commitment to a camp change can do “The Texecutioner” some good if he wants to get things back on track.
Considering the amount of punishment he has endured lately, Vick might be better off sitting out for a several months before returning to more brain-rattling fisticuffs. Perhaps those months can be spent with a different team of coaches in a genuine effort to undo the bad habits that have led to this moment.
THE UGLY: NO REF, NO TOWEL, NO PROBLEM
The handling of the Mike Davis-Thomas Gifford fight marred the event. It was clear early on that Gifford was incredibly outclassed on the feet. Davis displayed a variety in his striking attack, speed, combinations, defensive movement and devastating power that appeared to leave Gifford without any real answers. The first round ended with Davis unloading heavy bombs, as Gifford went from looking defenseless while standing against the fence to equally unequipped to protect himself when he was dropped and receiving ground-and-pound.
Even with eating an absurd number of blows, Gifford continued walking forward with poor attempts at returning fire and the occasional unsuccessful Imanari roll to mix up things. The cries from the commentary team were quick and correct: Gifford needed to be protected from himself. The failure of his corner and referee Andrew Glenn cannot be ignored. Gifford’s corner, which included his father, asked the battered featherweight how he felt after two rounds of being Davis’ punching bag. What a ridiculous sequence of events it was as those entrusted to protect him stood by with a disturbing amount of impotence. For his part, Glenn stood by for exchange after exchange of Gifford being repeatedly dropped and hammered without any realistic chance of turning around his fortunes. By the time Gifford face planted after taking yet another thudding right cross from Davis, it felt like a weird mixture of the inevitable and unnecessary.
Credit should be given to the Florida State Boxing Commission for acting when its representative and Gifford’s corner failed to do so. The commission swiftly pulled Glenn from the remainder of the card, as he was originally scheduled to oversee the Price-Vick bout. Considering how brutally that fight ended, it’s a blessing that Glenn was likely driving home or watching on a monitor backstage. Judging by what the referee did earlier, Price might still be punching his opponent.