As so often is the case, the UFC’s first venture into a new market resulted in a memorable atmosphere, and a largely entertaining show. While UFC 180 didn’t necessarily draw fans in droves (outside of Mexico), those who did tune in got solid efforts and a decent representation of the UFC’s product in 2014. The main event of the evening was supposed to be a heavyweight title bout between TUF: Latin America coaches Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum, but an injury to Velasquez in the month leading up to the bout nixed those plans. Heavyweight contender Mark Hunt stepped in on short notice and turned the bout into an interim title fight. Hunt started off strong, landing some good strikes on the feet — although how much they actually hurt Werdum is still up for debate — and even spending some time in Werdum’s guard. Hunt diligently stuffed the former Mundials and ADCC champion’s head against the cage, not allowing him to create space to attempt any submissions from the bottom. Once they returned to the feet, Werdum looked tentative and Hunt looked to be controlling the bout. That trend continued until midway through the second round, when the 37-year-old jiu-jitsu convert landing a crushing knee on Hunt’s chin that marked the beginning of the end. It was a surprising end to the bout given how their skill sets aligned coming into the bout, and how the actual match was playing out. It was a bit of redemption for Werdum, who was passed over for a UFC heavyweight title shot six years ago in favor of notables like Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir.
In his last two bouts, Werdum has now used his striking to defeat former K-1 champion Mark Hunt and noted striker Travis Browne. He has developed his entire game at this point — perhaps more so than any other high-level jiu-jitsu player — and a resume that includes those victories, as well as submissions over Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, is becoming one of the best in heavyweight MMA history. Obviously the next step for Werdum is to wait for Cain Velasquez to return to health so that match can come to fruition, and another win there for Werdum might put him amongst the top three heavyweights of all time. The co-main event saw a dominant performance turned in by Kelvin Gastelum, as the young TUF winner once again showed his excellent MMA instincts. The bout was competitive early on, however as soon as a scramble opportunity presented itself, Gastelum was able to take Jake Ellenberger’s back. The end was not far off from that point, as he sunk in the rear-naked choke to become the first to finish Ellenberger inside the opening frame. It was a nice rebound for Gastelum from two performances that didn’t impress against Nico Musoke and Rick Story, and places him firmly in contention at 170lbs. Watching Gastelum take on a returning Carlos Condit in the spring of 2015 would be a great next step to see if he can expedite his road to a potential title shot. Matt Brown would also be a good alternative.
The only other match of relevance on the pay-per-view portion of the card saw Ricardo Lamas reassert himself as a top featherweight, after some (myself included) had started to question his place in the division. As expected, Bermudez came out a fought at a higher pace than Lamas, but the former title challenger proved more dangerous. He rocked Bermudez with a left, and following up with a guillotine that elicited the tap just over three minutes into the bout. Following a lacklustre performance against Hacran Dias, Lamas was in need of a win like this. He should hold steady in the featherweight division, and a bout with Chad Mendes, or the winner of Conor McGregor and Dennis Siver (should the winner of this weekend’s Frankie Edgar/Cub Swanson bout get the next title shot) could put him right back in line for Jose Aldo.
Aside from those three bouts, the preliminary scrap between Jessica Eye and Leslie Smith was the next most relevant fight on the card. Eye used her superior speed and boxing technique to batter Smith with strikes. However, it ended up being a punch that missed its intended target which eventually brought a halt to the fight. At some point in the first round, a right hand from Eye glanced the left ear of Smith, busting open her cauliflower ear and causing blood to stream down the side of Smith’s head. Throughout the bout, Eye landed more punches to that side of the head, and Smith’s ear was literally flopping by the second round. At that point, the doctor stepped in and called a halt to the bout, declaring Eye the winner. If Bethe Correia doesn’t get a title shot (and she shouldn’t) that would be a solid striking match and could help boost the winner into the Ronda Rousey slaughterhouse. UFC 180 also served as the finale of TUF: Latin America, as Team Velasquez members Yair Rodriguez and Alejandro Perez became the featherweight and bantamweight champions, respectively. It was a nice moment for the Mexican fighters in front of their home crowd. Fellow Mexicans Gabriel Benitez, Enrique Briones, and Marco Beltran also picked up wins over their Latin American counterparts from the show, meaning the injured champion’s team held home court and went 4-0 against Team Werdum. The other results from UFC 180 included Augusto Montano and Hector Urbina picking up first round wins in their respective welterweight bouts. The Octagon returns this coming Saturday, as UFC Fight Night 57 heads to Austin, Texas for a card headlined by featherweights Frankie Edgar and Cub Swanson. The betting lines for the Fox Sports 1 portion of the event were released on Saturday evening, and the preliminary odds will follow early this week. Stay tuned to MMAOddsBreaker.com for full analysis of UFC Fight Night 57 in the coming week.