The UFC finally got their legs under them last month with a great night of fights at UFC 211 and now they have their first truly great main event. UFC 212 in Rio de Janeiro might not have had the depth of the event in Dallas but it had what could very well be the best, most important fight the company will put on in 2017. And as unheralded as the rest of the card was they still delivered some enjoyable fights. Paulo Borrachinha announced himself as the potential next big thing in Brazil, Brian Kelleher made the most of his late replacement debut, and Yancy Medeiros made sure Max Holloway wasn’t the only Hawaiian to have a good night. But the big headline came from the division that Conor McGregor once called home.
Stronger Than the World – Jose Aldo is the best featherweight fighter in the history of MMA. Hes such a legend that he just had a movie made about his life that came out last summer in his native Brazil. Coming into Saturday night his only loss in 10 years was a 13 second knockout against Conor McGregor, a one of a kind fighter who went on to become the first ever simultaneous two division champion. Even with that he bounced back to look as good as ever at UFC 200 to win the interim featherweight title against Frankie Edgar. Six years of that run he had were all title fights so we’re talking top of the line opponents every time out. Names like Cub Swanson, Uriah Faber, Kenny Florian, Ricardo Lamas, Edgar twice, and Chad Mendes twice. Max Holloway on the other hand was coming in on a 10 fight winning streak of his own looking more and more impressive with each outing as the competition kept getting more stiff. He knocked out Anthony Pettis in December to win the interim belt setting up this showdown with Aldo. Before that he beat Lamas, Jeremy Stephens, Charles Oliveira, and Swanson. Aldo/Holloway was one of my most anticipated fights coming into the year and with all the drama surrounding McGregor’s attempt to fight Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the best fight the UFC can book in 2017. Both dynamic strikers with good skills in every area I felt like it was a coin flip as to who would win with Holloway’s better gas tank giving him an edge if it went to a judges decision.
That wasn’t going to be necessary as what I thought would take five rounds to play out happened in less than three. Aldo came out of the gate strong as he usually does with great defense, patience, and explosive punches when he decided to strike. Holloway can be a slow starter at times and that was certainly the case here. He seemed stiff and gun shy in the first round but started to get loose as the second round went on. Despite most likely being down 2-0 heading into the third it felt like his fight to lose after he started taunting and having fun with about 30 seconds left in the second. It was like someone playing chess that knew he had the game won five moves ahead of time. It didn’t hurt that ‘Scarface’ seemed to be getting tired quicker than usual and had lost that extra snap on his punches. In the third round it was all Holloway capped off with a beautiful four punch combination that sent Aldo to the mat. After that it was just a matter of time until Big John McCarthy stopped the fight despite Aldo giving a valiant effort to survive. It was the first time he had lost in Brazil and you could see how devastated he was to let his country down. I feel safe saying this is more a case of Holloway just being that good than Aldo losing a step. The only thing that was odd was the lack of leg kicks which has been his bread and butter until very recently.
The gas tank issue is most likely from a tough weight cut which is why I think his next fight should be at 155. Its been rumored he was going to go up for a while and I think he could do some damage up there. Still only 30 years old, it wouldn’t take much to earn his way back to a fight with McGregor. But even forgetting that lightweight is the deepest division in the sport and there are countless great fights for him there. As for the new champ, there are only two real options at this point. Cub Swanson has been on a nice run since his loss to Holloway and would be a reasonable contender. But because of that recent loss I think he was going to be the guy had Aldo won. Instead we have Frankie Edgar who was all but blocked from a title shot following his second loss to Aldo who is now free to participate in the grand scheme of things in the division. Hes undefeated at featherweight outside of those two title fights beating Swanson, Mendes, Stephens, Oliveira, and most recently hot shot prospect Yair Rodriguez. Holloway vs. Edgar would prevent an interesting style match up. If ‘The Answer’ can get ‘Blessed’ to the ground he could do some serious damage but even though he has very good boxing I think he would be outclassed by Holloway on the feet. Either way its immediately one of my most anticipated fights for the rest of the year.
Second Best Has Never Been So Clear – Women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk has made it clear that much like Demetrious Johnson and the flyweight division she is just a tier above everyone else in the division. Her closest fights have been against Claudia Gadelha who she beat by razor thin split decision before she had the belt and then more definitively the second time really turning it on in the championship rounds. Her other biggest scare came against fellow countrywoman Karolina Kowalkiewicz when she got knocked down by a big right hand late in their fight. So it only made sense to have Gadelha and Kowalkiewicz fight each other to determine a number one contender. Rose Namajunas recently beat Michelle Waterson to most likely earn the next title shot but after that Jedrzejczyk will have to start having rematches. Gadelha made short work of Kowalkiewicz taking her down and submitting her in the first round. She was just too strong for Karolina to handle. Its only a matter of time before she forces the UFC’s hand and gets a third crack at Joanna Champion if she keeps this up. In the meantime she just has to keep working on her cardio and hope for an upset to give her a clear opening. It must suck to be so good but be in a division with a once in a generation talent. She should consult with Daniel Cormier and Jon Fitch.
WSOF Champion Debut Disappoints – Out of the three big names (if you can call them that) that have recently signed with the UFC following the death of World Series of Fighting Marlon Moraes was and still is the one that I thought could make the most noise on the big stage. Justin Gaethje premieres next month against Michael Johnson and while hes exciting as hell to watch his lack of defense is going to catch up with him sooner or later. David Branch might’ve ruled over both the middleweight and light heavyweight division and won his debut against Krystof Jotko but I think it was mostly lack of competition driving that plus hes not exactly young. Moraes is only 29 years old and still improving, training with Frankie Edgar, Eddie Alvarez, and Edson Barbosa. He lost a close split decision to Raphael Assuncao on Saturday who is just one of those guys that is a top five fighter but quietly goes about his business without much flash or attention. I had the fight scored for Moraes but couldn’t really argue either way as both guys had their moments. One judge gave Assuncao all three rounds which I have a hard time believing but I think Marlon will learn from this and be a presence in the division for a long time to come. Don’t forget his teammate Alvarez lost his debut as well before going on to win the belt. Assuncao is now closer to a UFC title shot than hes ever been before. It makes sense now that he would fight former champ Dominick Cruz to determine who gets the next crack at the winner of the eventual Cody Garbrandt/TJ Dillashaw showdown.