"Anything can happen in MMA" has been a popular mantra since TJ Dillashaw upset Renan Barao to win the bantamweight strap at UFC 173, but it's normally used to hype otherwise underwhelming looking cards. In application, though, the principle usually applies when we least expect it. On paper, UFC 185 seemed pretty easy to predict. We had a young, highly marketable champ at the top of the most talent rich division in the sport who has looked absolutely dominant in his rise to the top. The co-main featured Carla Esparza, a former Invicta champ defending her UFC strawweight belt against an undefeated yet largely unknown prospect. On the main card, we had a former champion, Johny Hendricks, and a former contender, Chris Cariaso, facing off against lesser ranked competition. The fight that seemed to have the most people torn was the Nelson Overeem battle, as both are volatile in their performances. But again, anything can happen, and almost anything did. Now the only question that remains is what are supposed to do with all of these Wheaties boxes?
Every fight on the undercard was stopped. Beneil Dariush and Ross Pearson put on two of the best performances of their careers against their best opposition to date. Dariush was able to stifle Daron Cruickshank's kickboxing and stuff the takedowns once Cruickshank became frustrated with losing on their exchanges. Dariush was all pressure on the canvas and wrapped up his opponent for a rear naked in the second. Pearson scored a highlight reel worthy left hook that sent veteran Sam Stout sprawling. They picked up performance of the night honors for their stops.
Is Henry Cejudo The Next Big Flyweight?
The flyweight division is still incredibly thin. Demetrious Johnson sits at the top, largely unchallenged. Outside of the top four, it's a who's who of exactly who is who, again? Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo made a huge statement in his win over number ten ranked Chris Cariaso, the last man to challenge DJ for the belt. Cejudo absolutely smothered Cariaso from bell to bell in every round, only stalling somewhat late in the second. We've yet to see anyone in the division who can mix up that level of wrestling with effective standup, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses in the division.
Overeem Walks Through Big Country
Overeem hit Roy Nelson with early flying knees and peppered his body with kicks and more knees throughout a three round affair. Overeem has never looked better in the UFC, but that's partly because Roy Nelson has never looked worse. Nelson relies heavily on his overhand right, and to a degree his wild hooks, to knock his opponents out with one good blow. When it works, it works. But fighters with decent footwork know how to get around Roy's weapons, and the former Strikeforce champ did exactly that. Despite being rocked by some hard shots, Overeem was able to maintain enough composure as to not completely fall apart like he did in several other recent winning battles. Nelson's run at the title is over at this point, but Overeem may have some renewed life. Early rumors suggest his next matchup may be the long-awaited confrontation against Junior dos Santos for possible title contention, but we shall see.
Johny Hendricks Wins, Dana Not Impressed
When asked about the result of Johny Hendricks’s smothering win over Matt Brown, UFC president Dana White said he 'didn't love it.' And there wasn't much to love. Georges St-Pierre wrote the book on how to effectively stifle opponents for five rounds after being knocked out by Matt Serra. Similarly, Hendricks seems to want to fit into the GSP mold of a champion, but he just doesn't have the physicality of GSP to do it effectively. Whereas GSP can maintain control of his downed opponent, Hendricks does his best just to keep opponents down. He stopped Matt Brown's push, but he did very little for himself in the process. Still, a win is a win, even if there is a fine line between a Koscheck and a Fitch.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk Turns Straw to Gold
Poland's Joanna Jedrzejczyk was confident that her may thai skills would earn her gold at UFC 185, and she was right. The champion, Carla Esparza, came out in the first looking for the double leg takedown, but it wasn't there. Jedrzejczyk was able to sprawl and avoid Esparza's takedown attempts early in the first and won every early exchange of punches. When Esparza finally did land her sole takedown of the fight, Jedrzejczyk popped back up. By the fourth minute of the first round, Esparza was already taking deep breaths and looked mentally defeated as her opponent continued to connect. By the middle of the second round, Esparza was no longer the aggressor as Jedrzejczyk stalked and eventually landed the knockout punch to secure the win.
It was an amazing win, but it's really not a good sign for the first champion in a new division to be completely dominated. The tournament structure of The Ultimate Fighter Season 20, the one in which Esparza captured strawweight gold, looks like the most stacked in womens mma. For the champion to go out and put on such an underwhelming performance against a challenger who didn't even compete, displaying absolutely zero technical proficiency in the striking department, makes the division seem weaker than it should.
Rafael dos Anjos Dominates Anthony Pettis
Dos Anjos put on the best performance of his career against Anthony Pettis. Dos Anjos was able to effectively mix up the better aspects of Clay Guida and Gilbert Melendez's fights against Pettis. Guida effectively took Pettis down and neutralized him, and Melendez enjoyed some success via cage pressure and boxing to the body. Both men utilized constant pressure to keep Pettis confined and unable to utilize his speed or submission skills. Dos Anjos followed this blueprint, landing 9 of 10 takedowns and almost double the landed strikes as his opponent. It was a crushing victory that gets the belt back into a competitive cycle now that it's away from the oft-injured Pettis. I predicted at the beginning of the year that Pettis wouldn't hold on to the strap past the summer. There's just too many equally matched killers in the lightweight division. Dos Anjos is living the dream right now, but his next challenge is the winner of Cowboy and Khabib, so expect the new champ to be a marked man.