Saturday night saw UFC 192 take place from the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. It was a card that started impressively — with five of the seven prelims ending via stoppage — and ended even more so, as Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson traded shots for 25 minutes in an incredibly entertaining light heavyweight title bout. In the end, Cormier retained his title via split decision, and Gustafsson had yet another title shot slip through his grasp despite putting on the second-best performance of his career. The Swede seems to be making a habit of this. He gets up for the title shots, but just can’t quite get over the hump of whoever seems to be holding the belt at the time.
Cormier has a few options moving forward, and they depend on how quickly the real light heavyweight champion is able to return to the cage. If Jon Jones is ready to go early in the new year, we’ll probably see Jones/Cormier 2 on either Super Bowl weekend, or at the planned Madison Square Garden card in April. Should Jones not be ready to return by then, Cormier will face fellow UFC 192 winner Ryan Bader. Speaking of Bader, he picked up the biggest win of his career at UFC 192, defeating former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans by unanimous decision to solidify his claim as a title contender. Many thought that Bader should have received the title shot against Cormier in the first place given his win streak and the bad blood between the two, but he was passed over for Gustafsson. Now with a win over a former champion in his back pocket, Bader will surely get his title shot unless Jon Jones returns to spoil his opportunity.
Ruslan Magomedov continued his winning ways in the UFC, landing sharp combinations every time Shawn Jordan tried to close the distance on him and taking a fairly easy unanimous decision in the biggest fight of his career. The Dagestani is one of the youngest fighters in the UFC heavyweight division making noise, and with an aging crop at the top of the division, could see himself inserted into some bigger fights sooner rather than later. A man who is no stranger to big fights, Joseph Benavidez, continued to distance himself from the other contenders in the flyweight division, cruising to a unanimous decision against Ali Bagautinov. Benavidez was the faster, more technical striker, and beat his foe to the punch for the majority of the 15 minutes. Benavidez has firmly entrenched himself in the Jon Fitch zone, where he’s clearly the second-best fighter in his division, but nobody really has interest in seeing him fight the champion again. Benavidez also remains unblemished in his MMA career aside from a pair of losses to flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and former bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz.
In the opening bout of the main card, Julianna Pena continued to rise up the ladder in the women’s bantamweight division, earning a clear unanimous decision over Jessica Eye. Eye could do nothing to keep the distance or stop Pena’s takedowns, and she ended up getting worked over on the mat as a result. Pena is yet to struggle at any point in her UFC career thus far, and to me she holds far more appeal as a challenger to Ronda Rousey than Holly Holm because of her grappling prowess. The undercard of UFC 192 was full of impressive performances, as Albert Tumenov, Adriano Martins, and Rose Namajunas all notched impressive first-round stoppages in their Fox Sports 1 preliminary bouts. Ultra-impressive 19-year-old Sage Northcutt added his name to the list of finishers with a 57-second blitzing of Francisco Trevino, and Derrick Lewis came back to score a third-round TKO over Viktor PEsta in the evening’s opening bout.