This weekend was an interesting one in the two extremes of UFC weight classes. Friday night’s TUF 20 Finale focused almost exclusively on the women’s strawweight division, crowning the first champion at that weight. Saturday things went to the completely opposite end of the spectrum, as heavyweights more than double the size of the women fighting the previous night dominated the main card of the FOX telecast. Both cards were important for the UFC moving forward, but in very different ways. In the main event of the UFC on Fox 13 card, Junior dos Santos got a far stiffer test than many had expected against Stipe Miocic. The former champion got off to a slow start, dropping the first two rounds on the scorecards of nearly all onlookers (although it would turn out that the judges scored the round unanimously for dos Santos). He got things going in the third round with a knockdown, but once he realized he wasn’t going to finish Miocic, the fight settled back into a tight back and forth affair. In the end, the difference was the volume of dos Santos. He outthrew Miocic by 116 strikes in the fight, landing 38 more according to fightmetric. Aside from the knockdown, it did seem like Miocic’s strikes were having the bigger effect however. From an aesthetic perspective, dos Santos’ face looked just as battered as after his latter two battles with Cain Velasquez. More than just some swelling and cuts; dos Santos has a terrible habit of backing straight up with his hands down, and his head gets snapped around on a lot of punches. While his chin held up yet again, those factors gave the appearance that he was more hurt than he actually was, and caused a solid contingent to score the fight for Miocic.
Moving forward, it seems clear that Junior dos Santos isn’t the same terrifying fighter from a few years ago, but on the other hand, he just managed to get past the fourth ranked heavyweight. How many heavyweights are out there who have the ability to take advantage of a diminished version of him? Aside from Velasquez, I’m not sure I’d confidently pick a fighter to beat him. Fabricio Werdum would rightfully be favored in a rematch, but he’s probably the only one I’d pick at this point. As far as dos Santos’ next step, he has no real business in the title picture as long as Velasquez is around, so the UFC should look to capitalize on his name value. The perfect way to do that would be to pair him with the man he was supposed to fight for his first title defense, Alistair Overeem. It may seem a bit cruel to Overeem to make that fight, but given his large contract he should be in big fights while the UFC can still sell them. Also, Overeem is probably the faster of the two fighters at this point, and still underrated with his wrestling and submission ability. Friday night’s main event saw a new champion crowned, sort of. Carla Esparza was the Invicta strawweight champion before the UFC picked up the division, and even despite going through the TUF house, became the UFC’s inaugural champ at the same weight. Although the hype was heaped upon her opponent, Rose Namajunas, Esparza dominated the bout once she realized that Namajunas was no threat to submit her late in the first round. From that point on, it was a steady stream of takedowns, solid top control, ground-and-pound, and eventually a rear-naked choke. Esparza stifled Namajunas’ active guard by utilizing a knee slide for much of the time she spent in that position. The younger fighter simply could not create the angle for a submission, and didn’t have the wrestling to keep the fight on the feet. It was an excellent lesson for those ready to anoint the next champion in this fledgling division. We still really don’t know who the best is at 115lbs.
Speaking of which, Esparza’s next challenge is likely to come from Joanna Jedrzejczyk, the Polish fighter who upended Claudia Gadelha on Saturday. The decision was very controversial, as scores for Jedrzejczyk were extremely hard to come by from a glance at how fans and media saw the bout. Still, Jedrzejczyk did a good enough job stuffing takedowns and getting back to her feet against Gadelha that she will be an interesting challenge for Esparza. The new champion is probably a better technical wrestler than Gadelha, but it really seemed to be the strength factor that gave Jedrzejczyk the most difficulty in the fight. If she can keep this bout on the feet, she will have a definitive advantage and a real shot of becoming Poland’s first UFC champion. One other note from this bout is that there was much made of Claudia Gadelha throwing a punch after the final bell had sounded and the referee was separating the fighters, but to my eyes it looked like both fighters exchanged after the bell. Jedrzejczyk started a combination prior to the horn, but the final piece of it landed after, which caused Gadelha to respond. I’m fine with the UFC not handling this in the same vein as the Paul Daley/Josh Koscheck incident from UFC 113. The co-main event of the UFC on Fox 13 card saw Rafael dos Anjos continue to cement his place amongst the top lightweights in the world, as he absolutely decimated Nate Diaz. This is a fight that could have very well been stopped had dos Anjos chosen to stand for more of the final two rounds, but instead he took the fight to the mat and dominated with ground-and-pound instead. The biggest story of this fight heading in was that Nate Diaz had not taken it seriously, and really didn’t want to be there. Dos Anjos made Diaz pay for not coming in 100% focused, as his vicious leg kicks crippled the movement of the former title challenger and kept him in first gear for the entire 15 minutes. Diaz was dominated so thoroughly, that he only managed two moments of his trademark taunting buffoonery during the entire bout, and one of those came after the final bell when he flipped off a celebrating dos Anjos.
With Khabib Nurmagomedov still on the shelf, and Anthony Pettis apparently healthy (fingers crossed), it seems like dos Anjos is in line for the next title shot at lightweight. It’s the culmination of a six-year UFC career that nobody saw advancing to this point back in 2008 when he was the victim of one of the most brutal uppercuts in MMA history. It’s hard to see what dos Anjos brings to the table against Pettis that others have not, but he’s more than deserving of the shot. Some of the other notable results from the weekend included: Alistair Overeem getting back on track by taking Stefan Struve to the mat, moving him up against the cage and then unloading massive punches that were sending his countryman in and out of consciousness. Matt Mitrione making short work of former heavyweight title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga. Mitrione is as dangerous as they come on the feet, and seems especially adept at landing punishing shots as opponents attempt to close the distance on him. Charles Oliveira overcame his struggles on the scale to outstrike, outwrestle, and outgrapple Jeremy Stephens en route to a unanimous decision. Him outgrappling Stephens didn’t shock anybody, but his striking and wrestling weren’t expected to be as effective as they were in this bout. It was Oliveira’s first win not to come by a stoppage, and if he can get his weight in check at 145lbs, he could still be a player in the division. Henry Cejudo finally made his debut, and showed what the hype is all about. The olympic wrestling gold medallist showed crisp technique on the feet, easily outstriking a longer, taller, more experienced opponent. Cejudo didn’t even have to employ his wrestling in the match even though he teased a takedown attempt in the third round. It seems like Dana White has given him the greenlight to attempt fighting at 125lbs one more time, and I could not be more excited. The other noteworthy happening from Saturday’s card was the retirement of Jamie Varner following his first-round submission loss to Drew Dober. It certainly wasn’t how most envisioning the fight playing, out. However, for a fighter who seems to be constantly getting injured in his bouts, it’s nice to see Varner walk away at what seems to be the right time.