UFC on Fox 16 was a nice continuation of exciting fights from UFC 189. There seemed to be a midsummer lull in the quality of UFC offerings, but last night’s card was nothing if not exciting. With a few explosive finishes on the undercard, including Zak Cummings 43 second knockout to start of the card, and Tom Lawlor’s heroic counter to comeback in the second round against Gian Villante, the fights drew you in from the first bell. Unfortunately a few of the fights ended in controversy that will linger, Ramsey Nijem beat Andrew Holbrook only to be handed the loss by the judges (a decision that Dana tweeted his unhappiness about), Joe Lauzon’s merciful fight stoppage against Takanori Gomi before the ref had stepped in, and Yves Lavigne standing up Miesha Tate and Jessica Eye after Miesha gained the back on the ground. And none of that speaks to the clinic that T.J. Dillashaw put on to retain his belt. With slippery footwork, incredible pace, and heavy punching power, Dillashaw simply continued his dismantling of Renan Barao.
T.j. Dillashaw imposes will, and raises questions about Barao
After a fast opening round that saw both fighters exchange big shots, Dillashaw’s corner (headed by Duane “Bang” Ludwig) repeatedly told T.J. to stop standing directly in front of Barao and remember the game plan. And that ended any lingering questions about the rematch. Over the next three rounds, Dillashaw displayed all the skills that were trumpeted leading up to the fight: a kind of dancing footwork that creates space and angles and makes him a ghost to anyone looking to come straight forward and bang, a relentless pace that wears opponents down, and a creative style that saw him fighting standing southpaw just as readily as orthodox. The TKO in the fourth round was as vicious as it was merciful, with Barao looking outclassed and gassed on the fence.
Although there has been no direct confirmation from Dillashaw’s camp (as of the publishing of this article) it looks as though the brain trust behind the reigning champ had found and exploited another minor hole in Renan Barao’s game. The first meeting of these two was punctuated by a heavy right that seemed to daze Barao early on, a punch that many claimed sealed Barao’s first lost in almost a decade. But in the press following that fight, Bang Ludwig repeatedly said (and was backed up by none other than Joe Rogan, whom Ludwig spoke to in confidence the morning of the fight) that they had found a flaw in Barao’s game and that’s what lead T.J. to victory. With some goading by the press, Ludwig specified that the flaw was Barao’s tendency to plant his feet and charge when threatened.
In the same way that Ludwig brought a new level of technical breakdown and game planning to Dillashaw/Barao 1, last night showed further analysis had exposed more flaws in Barao’s game. Namely, the large amount of weight he was cutting before the fights and his tendency to gas when pressured. Watching the fight last night, Dillashaw repeatedly slowed his blistering rhythm and point scoring in direct standup to clench with Barao, pinning him against the fence for minutes at a time. But in that short space, and backed up with some quick punches and knees to the body, Dillashaw repeatedly drained Barao’s tank to the point of exhaustion. While both men looked technically gifted and at times explosive, Dillashaw and Ludwig’s game plan was executed to perfection (minus the hyped-up jitters of the first round) and Dillashaw scored his second late round TKO of Renan Barao.
What’s next: In his post-fight interview, Dillashaw was asked the question on everyone’s minds: “Who’s next?” While paying homage to a good lineup of title contenders, Dillashaw pointedly stated that he wanted Dominick Cruz. Cruz, riding an 11-fight win streak, but with lingering and perpetuating injuries has publically called for a title shot as soon as he is physically able, and it looks like if Dillashaw has a say, they’ll have their matchup.
Renan Barao is no less technically gifted today than he was two days ago. Rather than taking away from his game, Dillashaw simply improved his own and continued to push the edge of new-wave MMA. While last night was a definitive trumping of Barao’s ability to get to the mountaintop at Bantamweight, there is an argument to be made about him moving up a weight class and regaining some of his stamina. Historically, Barao has had trouble cutting all the way down, and a step up in weight class would bring a new chapter into his fighting journey (and one without Dillashaw’s shadow).
Miesha tate eye’s ronda
Miesha Tate showed everything she has become known for, while improving in every arena. In the first round, Jessica Eye was tearing through her hands, mixing good combinations with slick head movement to dodge Tate’s countering. Midway through the round, Tate released a sloppy one-two that led Eye to a solid counter right that stunned. All of this was indicative of the old Tate, sloppy standup, over willingness to stand toe-to-toe and throw with anyone, and a kind of unrelenting toughness. But fifteen seconds later, that fighter was gone. A huge right, perfectly executed, dropped Eye to the ground and Tate jumped on her scoring with elbows until time ran out in the first round.
Round two and three saw a continuation of Tate’s progression as a fighter, and a resilient Jessica Eye trying to hang on. Tate scored big in the second, dropping Eye for the second time and after a short scramble locking in a guillotine only to be thwarted by the clock. The third carried the same through line, new and improved Miesha Tate beating up on Eye, taking her to the ground, and simply imposing her will on the fight. Tate took the unanimous decision, but not before Yves Lavigne stunned the entire crowd by standing the two women up, while Tate had Eye’s back. A shocking display of refereeing to force someone who has truly dominant ground position (and is working for the choke) back to standing. What’s next: Miesha Tate will fight the winner of Ronda Rousey/Bethe Correia at UFC 190 next week. There’s potential for a trilogy for the Tate/Rousey rivalry, and if this fight was anything to go on, Tate is finally expanding her game beyond grappling and toughness.
Jessica Eye suffered from never facing a grappler of Tate’s level, and it showed. Even though she demonstrated solid takedown defense, her focus was so intent on not going to the ground she fell for a shooting feint/overhand right combination on several occasions. That said, Eye showed talented standup and a resilience on the ground by not getting submitted. She could face the loser of Rousey/Correia or a resurging Cat Zingano, but only time will tell for her. At 29 years old, she has plenty to learn and the time to do so.
The Fight That'll Leave You Dizzy
The Paul Felder/Edson Barboza fight was an incredible display of “almost”. Paul Felder is an insanely gifted striker, who has a tendency of needing to get popped a time or two before his eyes roll back and he goes for the kill. Edson Barboza started training to fight and kicking people at eight years old, and he truly has the fastest kicks in the UFC. Both men are dynamic, powerful, and constantly moving in the ring. But this fight was more a technical display than anything spectacular (that, nonetheless, keeps you hanging on the edge of your seat). For his part, Barboza snapped off switch kicks into Felder’s midsection on several occasions, and kept the range with powerful leg kicks (midway through the second, Barboza executed a leg kick so perfectly that it let out an audible “pop” and the entire crowd groaned). In retaliation, Felder threw a crunching left that swelled Barboza’s eye almost closed, landed his technically masterful step-in knee, and attempted more spinning strikes than I’d ever seen tried and failed.
This fight was flirting with the incredible. If either man’s imaginative and well-executed attempts had caught flush, we would be talking about knockout of the year candidates. But as it was, the most powerful shot of the night was a spinning back heel that caught Felder in the groin and stopped the fight for several minutes in the first round. Both men seemed hesitant, and rightfully so, to overcommit to an exchange or close the distance. Barboza came out on top for his ability to squarely land kicks against Felder’s midsection and legs, and the appearance in the third round of his having learned Felder’s timing (allowing him to land a few good shots while skirting away from Felder’s increasingly desperate strikes). This fight may have benefited from another couple of rounds to see what shook out when fatigue set it. Or it could have been another ten minutes of technical sparring.
What’s next: There is no clear next fight for either man, but as the “Fight of the Night” winner both men’s chances are good to take a climbing next fight. Barboza, if he’s able to turn this into a streak, is well positioned to make a title run. And Felder, while suffering his first professional loss, showed a high degree of skill and cage savvy that will only lead him up in the ranks. It will be interesting to see where this performance takes both men.
BOOM! nostalgia hits hard
Coming into the Joe Lauzon/Takanori Gomi fight, I was incredibly nostalgic for the early days of the UFC and PRIDE. Joe Lauzon is a veteran of the cage with a reputation for finishing fights. And Takanori Gomi was the Lightweight PRIDE champion, with incredible athleticism and hands of stone. When Gomi threw a punch, he reached back and found a level of commitment and ferocity that few other fighters can match. And this fight proved to be exactly as billed, if shorter than anticipated.
Both men exchanged early on, finding their range and trading attacks, before Lauzon showed his maturity by shooting and taking the fight to the ground. After a quick scramble Lauzon ended up on Gomi’s back, a position that even in his prime Gomi was not overly skilled in defending. Flattening himself out, Gomi took several major punches and elbows from Lauzon. With another bombardment Gomi went limp and then the fight got—strange. Lauzon jumped off the lifeless Gomi and started towards his corner. But Herb Dean hadn’t actually stepped in to stop the fight. Lauzon, a half dozen steps away turned to find Dean standing over a slowly recovering Gomi, but not waving his hands or in any way calling the fight. With a look of panic, Lauzon turned and closed the distance, ready to continue the beating of a still motionless Gomi before Dean stepped in at the last second.
All around this fight was exactly as Lauzon’s camp had hoped and Gomi’s camp had feared. Instead of exchanging for three rounds, Lauzon made the smart decision and took the fight to the ground. Gomi, unable to keep up technically, all but submitted himself to taking a beating and hoping to survive. Lauzon showed skill and, because of Dean’s mistake, compassion in his finishing of a man he described as a “personal hero”.
What’s next: The fight was too short to get a true feel of Joe Lauzon’s skill level at this point in his career, but it’s safe to say he may have a few more fights in him, especially with his tendency to finish. If he can successfully transition his game into focusing more on takedowns and going for submissions, and take less punishment moving forward, he may find a second wind.
It’s hard to see a future where Takanori Gomi doesn’t want to keep fighting, especially with how quickly this fight ended. But a pink slip from the UFC is probably forthcoming, given his poor showing.
FULL FIGHT RESULTS
- T.J. Dillashaw (c) def. Renan Barão by TKO (punches) in the 4th round (0:35)
- Miesha Tate def. Jessica Eye by unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Edson Barboza def. Paul Felder by unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Joe Lauzon def. Takanori Gomi by TKO (punches) in the 1st round (2:37)
- Tom Lawlor def. Gian Villante by KO (punch) in the 2nd round (0:27)
- Jim Miller def. Danny Castillo by split Decision (28-29, 29-28, 30-27)
- Ben Saunders def. Kenny Robertson by split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Bryan Caraway def. Eddie Wineland by unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
- James Krause def. Daron Cruickshank by Submission (rear-naked choke) in the 1st round (1:27)
- Andrew Holbrook def. Ramsey Nijem by split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Elizabeth Phillips def. Jessamyn Duke by unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Zak Cummings def. Dominique Steele TKO (punches) in the 1st round (0:43)