Saturday night’s UFC on Fox 15 from the Prudential Center played host to three of the top five middleweight fighters in the world, and there were a pair of performances worthy of that standing. While Chris Weidman is scheduled to defend his 185lb title against Vitor Belfort in a little over a month, both Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza seem to be more compelling bouts to everyone in the MMA community. Rockhold was nothing short of dominant against Lyoto Machida, putting a beating on the former light heavyweight champion the likes of which we have never seen, even in Machida’s two previous stoppage losses. The striking was close in the first round, but Rockhold used a rare slip by Machida to take top position. From there it was strong top pressure, slick guard passing, and heavy ground-and-pound, with Rockhold nearly stopping Machida just as the first round closed. The former Strikeforce champion picked up where he left off in the second round, as a clearly compromised Machida went to his back rather easily, and it was a matter of time before Rockhold took his back and coaxed the fight-ending tap. Shortly after the bout, Daniel Cormier began the war of words on Rockhold’s behalf with his partner in the analysis booth, middleweight champion Chris Weidman. That bout is already perhaps the most anticipated middleweight title bout in UFC history, and if it could happen on the UFC’s first show in New York City, it would be that much bigger.
In the co-main event, ‘Jacare’ fell victim to circumstance, as he dominated late replacement Chris Camozzi (for the second time), earning a submission in the first round. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion showed off his tremendous skill by using the cage to walk over Camozzi’s guard before setting up the fight ending armbar. Unfortunately for ‘Jacare’, this type of performance was exactly what was expected of him given his status as a -1600 favorite. Even if he did the same against his original opponent, Yoel Romero, it may not have mattered after seeing what Rockhold did in the main event. Souza is now 35 years old, so his window to win a championship may be closing relatively quickly. Perhaps he has some good fortune come his way, and Rockhold isn’t able to fight Weidman (or Belfort) on the timeline the UFC hopes, letting him get his shot first. Aside from that, we could see him scheduled to face Romero once again, or potentially sitting on the sidelines waiting for a title shot — which invariably never works.
In the featherweight division, Max Holloway was every bit as dominant as Rockhold, as he scored a third round submission victory over Cub Swanson. The stoppage was his third in the third round across his last five bouts. The threat of that late stoppage always adds an extra layer of drama to his bouts, although the only suspense in this one was whether he would score the stoppage or not, as the Hawaiian was in control throughout. Since his last performance the 23-year-old has made significant improvements in his footwork and defense, as Swanson landed little more than a few body kicks. Eventually, Holloway capitalized on Swanson getting sloppy and desperate, locking in a fight ending guillotine choke with just over a minute remaining. Holloway’s only career losses have come to top 10 featherweights Conor McGregor, Dennis Bermudez (in a controversial decision), and former top 10 featherweight Dustin Poirier. After Saturday’s performance, the only men who will be ranked ahead of him will be champion Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes, Frankie Edgar, McGregor, and Ricardo Lamas. Each of those fighters seems like a massive step up from Swanson, so perhaps the UFC matches him with fellow young gun Charles Oliveira, should the Brazilian get past Nik Lentz at the end of May. That fight would be circled on my calendar as can’t miss viewing.
Opening up the main card, another rising star made an impression, as Paige VanZant used her tireless offensive skills to batter Felice Herrig en route to a unanimous decision. Herrig was able to take VanZant’s back early on an overzealous head-and-arm throw, but aside from that the bout was all VanZant. One of the youngest fighters in the UFC, VanZant’s youthful exuberance is clear in her style. She transitions and throws strikes on the ground with no regard for maintaining position, merely breaking down her opponents. It will be interesting to see if there is anyone in the division outside of champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk who is able to keep VanZant from closing the distance and imposing her style. Either a more dangerous submission grappler or a better wrestler should be in store for her next test, so the winner of Randa Markos and Aisling Daly would be a good choice.
UFC on FOX 15 was a very deep card, and there were several performances on the undercard worthy of note. Beneil Dariush used his phenomenal grappling skills to control Jim Miller for 15 minutes, threatening with several submissions and escaping from Miller’s attempts with ease. Ovince Saint-Preux cemented his spot in the top 10 of the light heavyweight division by stopping Pat Cummins with strikes. Saint-Preux landed a gorgeous left uppercut as Cummins was closing the distance, and a few perfunctory hammerfists sealed the deal. Uber-prospect Aljamain Sterling was another young fighter to topple a highly respected veteran, as he submitted Takeya Mizugaki for just the second time in the Japanese fighter’s lengthy career (Urijah Faber is the only other fighter to hold that distinction). Despite being unranked and facing the sixth ranked bantamweight, Sterling was nearly a 4-to-1 favorite in this bout, which speaks volumes to what is expected of him in his MMA career. The next UFC card could have used any one of those three bouts on its main card, as UFC 186 is looking like one of the weaker pay-per-view events in recent history, with two unheralded UFC newcomers being slotted in on the main card. The full odds for UFC 186 have already been released at 5Dimes Sportsbook, and MMAOddsBreaker.com will have analysis of the event in the coming week.