I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.*
If that’s true of anyone, it seems to be true of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, a woman built to wreck other women. And she’s carrying out that task with the kind of maximum efficiency that can only make one wonder if she wasn’t part of the Battlebots re-launch. Jedrzejczyk headlined a card full of highlight prospect performances to go right along with a name heavy Bellator card from the night before. All told, a lot of fun fights for the dedicated fight fan. Speaking of which I went 13-3 on fight picks (having gotten all the Bellator fights right.
Disclaimer Time: This was probably not a bad set of cards to make money on, most particularly if you bet on Hein and Amirkhani. Honestly they’re the only fighters I could see being worth much, outside of potential prop bets, as most everyone else was deserved favorites or a coin flip option to win, at best. I got a couple upset picks right, but nothing I could see sticking by. All of that is moot however, the purpose of this disclaimer is to remind you that I am not a betting man and that I have no financial stake in any of the picks I make. This is all a theoretical exercise to look at my pre-fight expectations along side those of the general public and compare them to how everyone actually performed. I’m using OddsShark for the odds on each fight and taking the mode for each fighter. Now, on to the fights!
Bellator 138: Unfinished Business
- The Expectation: The important thing in this fight was for Chandler to show that while he’s been beaten recently, he hasn’t actually fallen off his peak form. To that end, Campos was a credible, but limited fighter for him to beat up on and look good. Chandler did just that.
- Fallout for Campos: If Bellator is savvy (and I think they are) Campos should get a big step back to a regional journeyman level opponent next time out, and essentially do what Chandler just did to him. After which he can be pushed back into a similar fight, that he’ll probably lose… and so on and so forth until the wheels start falling off or he gets a surprise upset win.
- Fallout for Chandler: Chandler is going to stay “in the hunt” for Bellator as long as he’s under contract and as long as he can keep winning fights like this. He’s got enough presence for the promotion to be valuable (even if he’s not tent-pole headliner valuable) and he’s got an action oriented style that means he’s pretty much guaranteed to be a good addition to any card. He’s right there in that niche Josh Thomson filled so well for Strikeforce.
- The Expectation: Much like the Chandler fight above, Straus was being given a chance to really shine and get some interest going in another bid at the 145 lb title. Corrales is a good young fighter, and showed up for the fight, but this was all about Straus looking good. To that effect, Straus did the deed wonderfully.
- Fallout for Corrales: Big thing for Corrales here is his relative youth. At just four years into his pro career, this was Corrales’ first big step up in competition… and it was a giant step up. Corrales showed that he’s tough enough and a good enough athlete to compete at a high level, now he just needs to spend the next two or three years refining his technical game to match his physical tools.
- Fallout for Straus: Because Karakhanyan is injured, there are already calls for Straus to get the next title shot against Patricio Freire, the man who beat him back in January. That was a great fight and a very very close one, so it wouldn’t be a tragedy to see Straus right back in the title hunt. I’m not sure he wouldn’t even re-take the belt this time. In that way, getting a showcase win here was huge for him.
- The Expectation: Shamrock would get KO’d in round 1. He far surpassed all expectations, but still met the goal like a champ.
- Fallout for Shamrock: Sure he could retire or something. Maybe he should, I can’t really say. I will say that I’d much rather watch him take a few freak show fights for fun with other “legends” than Kimbo, who I think has enough moxy to be a little more flexible in his matchmaking.
- Fallout for Slice: If the internet is any indication, Kimbo Slice is one of the biggest stars MMA has. A guy with some serious drawing power for no discernible reason beyond his personality and street fight legacy (both of which are reasonably magnetic). At that point, I’d say Bellator should use him to try to get a couple of their real HWs over before ushering him off to the silver circuit for good.
UFC Fight Night: Jedrzejczyk vs. Penne
- The Expectation: I won’t say I’m surprised that Lapilus won. The read on this was basically one-dimensional grappler vs. one-dimensional striker. But, I was surprised at how completely and utterly Lapilus dominated and how quickly he seems to be improving. IT’s a sign of the shifting MMA game that anymore it seems to be the strikers that are rounding out their skills more quickly than their peers.
- Fallout for Lapilus: This was a much, much bigger win for him than his debut. It doesn’t prove that he’s got great takedown defense or grappling, but it shows that he’s more than good enough to cut it against the lower tier of UFC competition. That’s a great place to start, and with the technical striking he’s shown I only expect to see him keep building.
- Fallout for Yuta: I don’t think anyone expected “Ulka” Sasaki to struggle this much when he came to the UFC. He was pegged by many to be one of the fresh rising stars from Japan. But, a completely undeveloped striking game and un-refined wrestling game have left him in something of a tail spin. I almost think getting cut would be best for him, because he has a lot of rebuilding to do.
- The Expectation: Wanting something to happen and knowing it will happen are two very different things. I wanted to see Mustafaev win this and I knew how he could, but I wasn’t sure at all he could pull it off. The win was really riding on Mustafaev having the athletic advantage, not the technical one. Eventually he performed just the way he should have to get an excellent (if mildly controversial) debut win.
- Fallout for Hallmann: His career is really up in the air right now. Coming off a failed PED test and now back-to-back losses I don’t think many people would bat an eye if he got cut. If not, this fight kinda laid things on the line for Hallmann. He’s big, he’s tough and he’s well rounded, but better athletes are probably going to beat him, even raw ones.
- Fallout for Mustafaev: For a fighter with his kind of athletic upside, the important thing for him right now is winning and training. He got the winning part done here, now he just needs to find a big US camp to go to. I thought he’d be at ATT, but it sounds like that’s not the case. Only coaching and time will make him a more consistent fighter, which is what he’ll need to crack the top 10.
Scott Askham (-240) vs. Antonio dos Santos (+180) (I picked Askham, I was right)
- The Expectation: Everything seemed primed for a 3rd round Askham TKO, including most of the first round, where Askham ended up on his back foot eating a lot of leather, but not getting hit quite hard enough to really hurt him. Instead, Askham turned opponent aggression into opportunity and grabbed himself a sweet early KO.
- Fallout for Askham: There was a lot of focus on Scott Askham going into the UFC as one of the better prospects out of England. His tough, grinding, and slowly increasing output style made him a fighter that a lot of people thought could be a top talent. And then he got worked by a bigger, stronger, grindier Swede. This was the perfect bounce back from that debut and if he can keep this kind of increased finishing instinct going he could revitalize his potential in a hurry.
- Fallout for dos Santos: In an ideal world a guy like Antonio dos Santos would probably get some better seasoning before getting to the UFC. Essentially, he’s got a good style for MMA. High output, power Muay Thai to go along with good takedown defense and scrambling… But his striking just isn’t refined enough yet, basically leaving him as a win/die by the sword brawler. That should improve in time and with more training, but in the mean time, his chances of winning are highly matchup dependent… and that’s assuming he doesn’t just get cut.
- The Expectation: It’s not quite the same level of disappointment as Ulka above, but for a fighter that many thought was a future top 10 talent, Niklas Backstrom has landed on unexpectedly hard times. The first round looked a lot like why I picked him to win, as did the 3rd, but that second round was ugly. Really it should have been a draw, but I’m fine with Lahat getting the win as he did all the damage over three rounds.
- Fallout for Backstrom: He looks like the classic case of a young fighter in transition. Regionally, Backstrom’s outside kicking to sprint grappling game was highly functional. Fighters would rush in to keep away from his kicks only to go right into clinch takedowns and brilliant submission. But sprint grappling and high output kicking are an exhausting combination and neither tend to win rounds. So, he’s trying to build a boxing game, and that game is terrible right now. Can he succeed in the long run? Is he just ruining himself overcompensating for a bad loss? I’m not sure, but he’s on the edge of finding out, outside the UFC.
- Fallout for Lahat: This was a great, hard lesson win for Noad Lahat. Essentially he got a taste of the kind of talents he’s going to have to figure out how to beat if he’s going to survive in the UFC. Backstrom didn’t catch him the way Pepey did, but he came close, and this time it was where Lahat was supposed to be at his best. Lahat is tough and well rounded, but he’s going to have to take a more careful approach on offense to win. Him figuring that out against Backstrom in round 2 was a great sign.
Arnold Allen (+145) vs. Alan Omer (-175) (I picked Allen, I was right)
- The Expectation: Like the Mustafaev pick, I can’t claim any definitive MMA science. This was just a gut feeling. Alan Omer is at the point where he should be ready for anything in the UFC. He’d be coming up on a decade of fighting if not for time lost to injury, and he still got beat in his last fight by a good, but limited grinder in Jim Alers. I just didn’t have the faith that he was going to stop the same thing happening against Arnold Allen. For the most part, Omer was on point, but he let Allen in the fight one time too many and lost it.
- Fallout for Allen: The world is Arnold Allen’s oyster just right now. He’s incredibly young, well rounded, physically gifted, and just won his UFC debut. He still hasn’t figured out how to sit down on his punches and deliver more power to his striking, but that could come in time with the right training. Hopefully this win spurs him on to bigger and better things, because the sky’s the limit.
- Fallout for Omer: Unfortunately just about everything that’s true for Allen isn’t for Omer. Sure he’s still amazingly young at 26, but that also means he’s been a pro since 17. I don’t think he’s headed for a dramatic falloff before 30, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his career is plagued with inconsistency (a la Jordan Mein). It’s going to be very hard to predict how well he rebounds and just who on the UFC roster he could or couldn’t beat.
- The Expectation: Maybe it’s the early GSP comparisons, but I have been fairly underwhelmed by Mairbek Taisumov in the UFC. Yes, he looked great against Anthony Christodoulou. No, that didn’t convince me that he’d look as good here. Consider me now convinced. This was the best fight of Taisumov’s career and the dominant performance over a really good UFC level athlete that’s been missing from his run so far.
- Fallout for Patrick: Maybe getting his jaw busted messed something up, maybe this is just the fighter he’s always been, but exposed by just the wrong matchup. Either way, Patrick looked bad in this fight. I’m more inclined to think it’s the latter than the former, but it shows that Patrick’s style really isn’t built to take on rangy strikers. While he has some outside tools and some good athletic tools, Patrick doesn’t really have a pocket striking game or a consistent way to get inside. Guys who can pick him off at range are going to make him miserable.
- Fallout for Taisumov: The slow burn part of me is still wondering if he’s just on his way to Edson Barboza high level action fighter territory, rather than legit title threat, but that’s thinking way out ahead. The big news off this win is that Mairbek Taisumov is a legit talent and should be considered the A side of all but a select few lightweight match-ups. Hope the UFC gives him a bigger platform for his next fight.
- The Expectation: Amirkhani was going to roll out another sweet first round win and another sweet post-fight speech. Dude didn’t disappoint even a little.
- Fallout for Amirkhani: The UFC has another marketable face on their hands if they are willing to promote him up. Amirkhani is a fantastic athlete and a dangerous submission finisher. I don’t know how far that will carry him by itself, but considering the groundswell of support he’s getting for his mic skills, it should take him a long long way. Best thing for him might be a slow build in winnable, high profile fights, but it’ll be interesting to see how fast the UFC pushes him.
- Fallout for Fullen: I feel a bit bad that this is the kind of wake-up call many of these TUF Latin America fighters are getting, but it’s the unfortunate reality of the situation. Yair Rodriguez has shown himself to be an amazing athlete and that saved his bacon against Charles Rosa, who came on strong late. Fullen doesn’t have that luxury, which means he’s probably going to have to try and catch up fast.
- The Expectation: I honestly had this pegged as a boring Nick Hein win, based on Hein’s superior athleticism and fantastic judo base in the face of Sajewski’s wrestling game. I’m a little disappointed Hein didn’t take better advantage of an overwhelmed opponent, but he’s got a lot of kinks to work out of his game.
- Fallout for Hein: Not an exciting win, but I’m not sure Hein needs exciting wins right now. His personality will keep him a European main card kind of talent, and in the mean time he just needs to show steady progress. In this fight his striking looked more varied and higher output. Not way more of either on either count, but enough that it’s a positive sign. His move to a bigger camp is definitely the best thing for his future if he’s going to carve out a solid spot for himself in the lightweight division.
- Fallout for Sajewski: Don’t know if he can drop to featherweight, but that might be his best option. Especially considering Sajewski just spent more than a year on the sidelines, he didn’t look like a really physically competitive lightweight. Hein is beefy, but he’s also pretty undersized. Some of the bigger grinders at 155 would just smother him. For a guy looking to wrestle box (and more wrestle than boxing) being the bigger stronger guy means a lot.
Steven Kennedy (+295) vs. Peter Sobotta (-355) (I picked Sobotta, I was right)
- The Expectation: I figured we’d probably see Sobotta use the benefits of not coming in on short notice and showing a much better feel for the cage than he used to, to grind out a decision win against a game Kennedy. Instead, Sobotta set the tone early and overwhelmed Kennedy everywhere. It was an exceptionally strong performance for him in front of his home crowd.
- Fallout for Kennedy: He got into the UFC, that’s a good thing… maybe. But he looked so far from being even somewhat competitive that it’s difficult to write this off as just a short notice loss. Kennedy has cut his teeth regionally as being a well rounded wrestle grappler. Instead the moment this fight hit the ground it was over. If he has to rely on his boxing in the UFC he’s in big big trouble.
- Fallout for Sobotta: He needs to start taking some big steps up in competition, and ones that don’t include Sergio Moraes. Not only is that a fight that’s not a good matchup for him, stylistically, it’s a bout that’s stunting his career as Moraes can’t string two uninjured weeks together. Wins over guys like Kennedy are good for his highlight reel, but they’re meaningless in terms of his potential.
- The Expectation: This fight was fun, mostly because I think it would have been exactly as competitive 5 years ago. Both men are at a similar place in their careers, just coming at it from very different angles. I picked Tatusya because I didn’t trust Siver not to wrestle. Turns out that didn’t matter and “Crusher” was able to get in on Siver’s hips often enough to win on his own terms.
- Fallout for Siver: This probably isn’t going to push Siver into retirement, but it should be something of a wake up call. In more or less the same kind of fight, Clay Guida dismantled Kawajiri. Guida is obviously a better wrestler than Siver, but once he slips out of the rankings, it’s likely for good. At that point, he’s just going to be a stepping stone for young talent or waiting around for other lost souls.
- Fallout for Kawajiri: Is Kawajiri a legit top 15 featherweight right now? I’m not so sure. This certainly wouldn’t be the fight I’d point to to prove it. That said, he’s experienced, tough, and good enough to beat other experienced tough fighters. Until some of the young rising talent can unseat guys like him, I’m glad he’s got a place in the top 15.
- The Expectation: Not gonna mince words here. Joanna Champion was supposed to break Penne like a bread stick (or something about endless pasta bowls). Just to prove how tough she was, Penne let herself get slowly pulped over three rounds, but the end of this fight was a mercy.
- Fallout for Champion: A single title defense isn’t enough to call her a dominating force just yet, but it feels like they are. Other than Gadelha’s ability to match her physicality, it doesn’t feel like anyone at 115 is prepared to fight Joanna Champion right now. The striking for most of these women is just years behind. And, unfortunately for them, it’s a skill that takes years and years to master. Who makes up that gap, when, and how is anybody’s guess.
- Fallout for Penne: She’ll be back, but I’m not sure she’ll ever be quite the same. Maybe that’s a bit too doom and gloom, but that felt like the kind of beating that changes a fighter. Like how most of GSPs opponents never seemed the same again. She should still be a top 5 talent for a while, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t look great next time out.
Those are my collected thoughts from a big weekend in combat sports. Not a lot of huge stars, but a whole lot of interesting fallout to dissect. As always, so much of what I wrote seems obvious now, but that’s the benefit of hindsight. Stay tuned for next week when I plan to talk about Yoel Romero’s stunning upset over Lyoto Machida (yeah, I said it). Until then!
*This week’s quote from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.