UFC kicked off the new year with UFC 182, a decision heavy card capped off by what could be considered the biggest fight in mma history. Last year, the UFC suffered a 40% drop in profits largely thanks to declining pay per view buys. Numerous factors contributed to this. GSP, the company’s largest draw, semi-retired and the roster was plagued with injuries from top to bottom. In addition, the promotion launched Fight Pass, continued its global expansion, and aired more free cards. With Standard and Poor threatening to lower the UFC’s credit rating if they don’t improve in Q1 2015, it’s no surprise that they’re bringing out the big guns for much of the first few cards of the year. So far, it seems to have paid dividends. We don’t have the final numbers on sales for 182 yet, but Dana White claims they sold over $750,000 in pay-per-views, a good start for the year even if only remotely accurate.
The first few cards this year are also indicative that Zuffa’s slow shift to a more boxing-centric model are well underway. The upcoming pay-per-views all share a similar theme, a strong main and co-main topping an otherwise sparse card dotted by the occasional standout fight. That was definitely the story for UFC 182. Flat is the best adjective I have to describe UFC 182. All five fights on the main card went to decision, and most of them followed a similar theme. Hector Lombard, Kyoji Horiguchi, and Brad Tavares each spent fifteen minutes stalking opponents that only offered just enough fight to make things frustrating to watch. The slow pacing of the fights when coupled with longer than average promos left them running short on time. Neither Cerrone nor Cormier were interviewed post-fight because they were dangerously close to going over on time, yet they managed to wedge in a Conor McGregor interview and a promo for the fight we were already watching. The live crowd was lifeless going into the co-main which didn’t help at all. Despite being less than spectacular, we learned a few things from last night’s event. Here’s a look at the biggest winners and losers from this weekend.
Rodrigo Damm has to be nearing the UFC’s chopping block. He earned his spot in the promotion in the company through a role in The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil, but he’s been mostly unsuccessful in the promotion. Tim Sylvia has had better success at blind dates than Damm has had in the Octagon. At 12-9, Damm has lost three in a row and has an abysmal 3-4 record in the company. Remember Anistavio Medeiros, Mizuto Hirota, or Ivan Jorge? Neither does the UFC. Two of them were cut, and it’s time to part ways with Damm as well.
Michael Bisping said it best:
Alexis Dufresne missed weight by three pounds and was assailed for fifteen minutes before dropping the most one-sided decision since Patrick Cummins retired Kyle Kingsbury. Two judges scored the bout 30-26 with the third scoring it 30-25 for her opponent, Marion Reneau. Reneau repeatedly caught Dufresne with fast, hard rights that left Dufresne battered and bloodied. By the third round, Dufresne was doing all she could to turn away from Reneau’s punches.
Paul Felder and Shawn Jordan took home performance of the night bonuses for their respective knockouts over Danny Castillo and Jared Cannonier. This spot could really go to either competitor depending on whether you prefer a spinning back fist finish or a 265 pound former fullback doing a backflip. Two minutes into the second round, Castillo threw a stiff right leg kick followed by a right hook. Felder checked the incoming kick and turned away from the incoming punch. As the shot most glanced off the back of Felder’s head, Felder planted and pivoted. Felder’s shot went over the still-outstretched arm of Castillo and caught him flush on the night night spot. Referee Yves Lavigne rushed in to stop further damage to Castillo who immediately curled into a backwards letter “C” upon hitting the canvas.
Defeating Castillo is a huge feather in Felder’s cap. Felder improved to 9-0 with his second win in the UFC coming over the tough veteran. Castillo entered the fight with eleven prior in the promotion and an overall 17-7 record.
Donald Cerrone was all business. And by that I mean his lower torso was an oil filter ad with a Budweiser logo spread across the junk. But he also gave Myles Jury a solid three round beating punctuated with a series of kicks intended to break either his legs or his opponent’s. Cerrone won his sixth straight since dropping a three round decision to title challenger Rafael dos Anjos. Cerrone has continued to improve and has already beaten some of the best of the lightweights. Barboza, Jim Miller, former Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez, and Myles Jury have all fallen to Cowboy since November of 2013. Cerrone, the most active fighter on the roster, wants to go again next month in Colorado if cleared, and he’s bound to be on the verge of the next title shot if Pettis retains.
What hasn’t the 27 year old done in his UFC career? With his only loss coming as a DQ of his own doing, the otherwise undefeated light heavyweight champion has cleaned out most of the division. The only competitive fights left for him at 205 will be against the winner, and probably eventually the loser of the upcoming Gustafsson vs. Johnson fight. With this win, Jones has already, somewhat prematurely entered the conversation for the greatest of all time, a title often discussed to be contested by names such as Anderson Silva and the legendary Fedor Emelianenko.
By comparison, Silva won sixteen straight and successfully defended the UFC middleweight championship ten times before being dethroned by Chris Weidman at UFC 162. Fedor won 31 of his first 32 fights. Both men completely cleared out the top ten of a stacked division and defeated the who’s who of their heyday. Jones is following in their footsteps, but what makes him unique is that he is still so young and driven to prove that he is not just a champion but THE defining champion of a generation and a sport. Jones has stated before that he intends to move up to heavyweight before the end of his career, and he plenty of time left to do that. Unlike Fedor and Anderson, Jon Jones has the skill and time to be the first champion since BJ Penn to truly excel and dominate multiple divisions.
At UFC 182, Jones was able to not only thwart Cormier’s efforts to get him to the ground but he was also able to get Cormier off of his feet, something that had never been done in any of Cormier’s fifteen wins. Jones survived yet another war and decisively won four of five rounds. Both competitors showed tremendous toughness during the battle and brought a never say die attitude that pushed the fight into the upper echelons of UFC classics. Cormier enjoyed success throughout the early rounds and handily took the second, especially when landing powerful short uppercuts when he was able to tie up with Jones. But Jones was able to outstrike him on the outside and landed some vicious elbows of his own during the breaks of their exchanges. During the fourth round, Jones was finally able to break Cormier’s spirit as he was able to take him down repeatedly against the cage. Cormier came out in the fifth knowing that he was down on the rounds, but he spent much of the round struggling unsuccessfully to upend Jones. The battle is the first in UFC history featuring two fighters with winning streaks over ten, and with this victory, the huge lingering question for Jones becomes, “what’s next?”