Sunday, September 6, 2015

5 Things Learned from UFC 191

Last night’s UFC 191 Fight Card was overlooked by many casual fans, no thanks to the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s “Go Big” press conference on Friday.  That press conference cast a shadow over an event that included one of the top fighters on the planet, a match-up of two former UFC Heavyweight Champions, and a top contender in the light heavyweight division.  So here are the top five things the Mixed Martial Arts world learned from last night:

1.  Demetrious Johnson is one of the most underrated, dominate MMA fighters on the planet.

This may appear like a hyperbole, but the casual MMA fan has not seen all of Demetrious’ fights since the 125 pound division was formed in the UFC.  Since winning the UFC Flyweight Championship in in 2012, Johnson has defended his title seven straight times while looking better and more dominant in each match-up.  Johnson has been so exceptional in the octagon that he has made very talented fighters such as Joseph Benavidez, John Dodson, and Ali Bagautinov look underwhelming.  Johnson’s footwork, high MMA IQ, speed, wrestling skills and undervalued striking all set him apart from his competition.

At 29 year old Demetrious still has time to get better and more dominant, which will be a problem for his future opponents.  The UFC has the dubious task of trying to schedule great fights moving forward thanks to most of the fighters in the weight class doing little to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.  Ronda Rousey and Demetrious Johnson both have that in common: they are both dominant in their weight classes and finding future fights for them will become more difficult.

2. “Going Big” can backfire on a fighter, just ask Frank Mir.

The Heavyweight division in MMA is the only weight class that does not have strict weigh in restrictions.  At weigh-ins the major requirement is that a fighter be under the 265 pound weight limit.  This means that the fighters could weigh anywhere between 220-265 pounds.  Frank Mir was hanging around the weight limit thanks to his plans to get big and be the new “big” heavyweight in the UFC.  Mir saw in years past that guys like Brock Lesnar and Steve Carwin had past success as men who had to cut down to 265 pounds in order to compete. 

The problem with this way of thinking is two-fold:

-First of all, Mir has worked to gain weight and become a bigger man.  Lesnar and Carwin have been that size and weight most of their adult lives with most of that weight being muscle.  Mir had a gut last night and physiologically looked sloppy, his footwork was awkward and lacked the speed he has had in the past.  In previous fights Mir had come into the fights weighing between 10-18 pounds less and looked better.
-Secondly a natural side effect of competing at a weight heavier than what an athlete is use to is the potential to be tired more quickly.  Last night Frank Mir was tired early in the fight and it showed as his opponent, Andre Arlovski, was able to stay nimble and energetic.  Carrying that extra weight hindered Mir’s ability to execute his game plan and as a result the fight was underwhelming to watch.

There were expectations for this fight of two former Heavyweight champions, both looking to make another run at the belt.  Instead it was a fight in which one fighter looked like he didn’t belong; Mir looked slow, tired, and lacking initiative.  If Frank Mir has a future in MMA he needs to get back to the aggressive, balanced fighter he was four years ago.  Since his loss to Junior Dos Santos in 2012, Frank has lost four of his last six fights; in those losses he has looked slow and indecisive.

3. Anthony “Rumble” Johnson deserves his number one contender ranking.

Anthony Johnson with his Knockout victory last night showed why he deserves that number one contender spot in the Light Heavyweight rankings.  Johnson’s last fight was a loss to UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier, a fight that he did not perform his best in.  Outside of that loss, Anthony has not lost any fights since January 2012.  His showing at last night’s match-up with Jimi Manuwa was another example of Anthony at his best: staying aggressive, good side to side movement, and was calculated.

With excellent striking power and a good wrestling background, Anthony Johnson has the tools to be a UFC champion.  The weakness of Anthony’s game has been simple over the years and that is his susceptibility to being submitted.  The reality is that four of his five career losses have been by submission.  “Rumble” Johnson has the physical skills to be a champion and after last night he is clearly next in line for another shot at the belt.

4. Corey Anderson is an example of why who you train with is so important.

In his win last night, Corey Anderson showed well rounded striking and grappling skills.  A collegiate wrestler, Corey never aspired to be a Mixed Martial Arts fighter.  But after meeting former longtime Bellator Welterweight Champion Ben Askrin, Corey Anderson was convinced to come out to Ben’s MMA gym.  After a few pro fights, he got the opportunity to compete on season 19 of The Ultimate Fighter.  The show known as “TUF” is the UFC’s reality TV development/talent evaluation proving ground.  Corey would go on to be the Season 19 TUF Winner; the winner of the Ultimate Fighter wins a guaranteed UFC contract.  As part of that contract, he is required to fight on at least one Pay-Per View fight card; this is a big deal because fighters who compete on PPV cards get paid more since they also earn shares of PPV sale.

Corey Anderson has grown from a raw, athletic wrestler to an up and coming all-around MMA fighter.  This happened because he moved to New Jersey to be coached by Mark Henry and Richardo Almeida after working with former UFC Lightweight champion Franke Edgar on TUF.  Henry is a boxing coach with a high fight game IQ and Almeida is a high level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and coach.  Working with great coaches and training in the same facility with top level fighters such as Franke Edgar, Edson Barboza, and Marlon Morales, this type of an environment helps athletes grow and develop their skills.  Anderson has gone from a wrestler with no interest in Mixed Martial Arts to an up and coming MMA fighter who has a bright future in the UFC.  Amazing what happens when an athlete is in the right kind of environment.

5. The sky is the limit for Paige Vanzant.

At 21 years of age, Paige Vanzant is rising up the Women’s MMA ranks and getting attention from advertisers too.  Now one of the faces of Reebok’s MMA promotional campaign, Paige has rewarded the faith placed in her by going 3-0 during her time in the UFC.  Vanzant, who trains at Team Alpha Male, has shown the progression of getting better with each fight and last night she won by submission, utilizing excellent jiu-jitsu skills.

Her all-around MMA skills have been developing at a solid pace and it has been smart for the UFC to bring her along slowly.  Paige Vanzant has the potential to be a UFC champion and also the future face of Women’s MMA.  Ronda Rousey has said publicly she doesn’t want to keep fighting into her 30’s and with a budding acting career, she doesn’t have to.  Paige has everything the UFC needs to build her into the next Women’s MMA star: she’s attractive, good with the media, talented, and fans like her.  Now yes, some fans may like her because of her looks, but her growing set of skills cannot be ignored by any objective viewer of her fights. 

Paige’s only potential downfall will be how she handles adversity in the future.  If she can handle losses inside and outside the Octagon the way she has handled everything else fame has thrown at her, her potential as a fighter is limitless.

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