Written by: Remi Se
For the first time in 2017, the UFC has had a Pay Per View live up to billing. From the Fight Pass performance of Courtney Kasey to the dominance of Stipe Miocic in the main event, UFC 211 was loaded with quality performances and fighters making statements. The main card was especially impressive, establishing two champions’ dominance atop their divisions and lining up two other competitors as likely title contenders in the near future. There were few slow downs in the action and match-ups that showed off every aspect of MMA. Joanna’s striking and footwork was remarkable; Stipe’s ring cutting and power punching was impressive; Maia’s grappling was spectacular while Jorge Masvidal’s defensive wrestling created the most competitive grappling battle for Maia since he and Jake Shields went toe to toe; and Franky Edgar made a statement with a combination of all the above, with great fight IQ included. Here’s the breakdown…
David Branch defeats Krystof Jotko by decision:
The first bout of the main card was one of the few fights that slowed things down a bit and even drew some boo’s. Branch and Jotko both have solid striking but rely on wrestling skills to control fights. With their skillset similarities, the two men were caught in quite a few stalemates as they grappled for position and neither man had a clear advantage. While he did not threaten to finish with his striking David Branch was able to have a significant lead in strikes landed (90 to 50) and also scored 3 takedowns which were enough to secure him a split decision victory. These two are worth watching even if this fight felt lackluster; their skillsets simply mirrored each other too closely for either fighter to get a strong rhythm going in the match-up.
Frankie Edgar and the ringside Doctors shut down Yair Rodriguez:
Frankie Edgar started a theme for UFC 211 in which dominant fighters took out up and comers with statement wins. Frankie came out of the gate backing Yair Rodriguez up and quickly shooting for the takedown once he trapped Yair against the cage. One of the most memorable images of the night is Frankie lifting his much larger challenger into the air and bringing him back down to the mat. Rodriguez couldn’t get anything going on his feet and took significant damage on the ground. In the second round, Rodriguez managed to get off just one of his signature spinning attacks before being taken down again. Rodriguez did display heart, attacking with submissions whenever he could. This backfired however, as instead of scrambling, Yair committed to the submission attempts and left himself in a worse position when they failed. By the end of the second round, Rodriguez’ eye had swollen shut and the ringside doctor called the fight. This result likely leaves Edgar rooting for Max Holloway to defeat Jose Aldo, as he would have to be next in line for a title shot. Yair’s position may slump somewhat, but that should buy him time to develop further. As Frankie intimated, Yair’s time will come but it simply isn’t now. A match-up with the recently defeated Jeremy Stephens would be a great test for Rodriguez and another chance at picking up a victory over a well-known opponent.
If Aldo were to defeat Holloway; it seems unlikely that Frankie would get another shot based on past UFC practices. This leaves Frankie in a situation where he can be stuck a gate keeper akin to Miesha Tate during Rousey’s title run or Joseph Benavidez while Mighty Mouse continues to dominate. But Frankie took relatively little damage in the fight and Cody Garbrandt seems like he is close to being pulled from his title defense against TJ Dillashaw in July. Mighty Mouse has been mentioned as an option but he is one title defense away from setting a record for title defenses. With Frankie stuck and TJ needing an opponent one weight class below; it seems like there’s an opportunity for the UFC to try and pull Frankie into a division where he’d have new compelling opponents and immediately be in title consideration.
Demian Maia grapples his way to a split decision victory over Jorge Masvidal:
It was a war of attrition for Demian Maia and Jorge Masvidal. Where Maia had been able to completely dominate his opponents over his long streak of wins, Maia ran into some trouble with Masvidal. Masvidal dominated the standing portions of the fight and made Maia work for every takedown, but it was his ground defense that truly stood out. After Maia controlled the ground play for a long portion of the first, Masvidal was able to reverse position and do real damage from the top position to close out the round. Maia had more success in the second and third rounds as his style wore on Masvidal, but Gamebred fought every step of the way with great hand fighting and patience even as Maia took his back. Maia didn’t show anything we haven’t seen before; shooting from distance but refusing to let go once he had a leg and systematically building to takedowns. Masvidal even in losing may have helped his stock, providing the toughest match of Maia’s win streak which has included a number of top ten opponents. Maia’s next opponent has got to be Tyron Woodley who, like Masvidal, boasts excellent wrestling and massive power as a striker. Masvidal meanwhile shouldn’t lose much ground after this loss. A fight with Wonderboy would be a striking fans dream, pitting arguably the best boxer in the division against the best kicker and quickly returning one of the two into the title picture.
Joanna Jerdrzejczyk blanks Jessica Andrade for a unanimous decision victory:
This was a consummate performance from a fighter who has been dominant in nearly all of her fights. Joanna’s footwork ruled the day as she danced away from Andrade and peppered her with low leg kicks and jabs before shooting in for heavier strikes. This was the most elusive the champion has been and she threw every strike imaginable with success. Andrade deserves praise for her heart, but the fight exposed a lack of ring cutting ability. She was unable to trap JJ against the fence after the first round. To her credit, Andrade hurt Joanna with early strikes and scooped the champion up for impressive takedowns a handful of times but Jerdzejczyk was quick to pop back up. The raw power and toughness of Jessica Andrade is special and at 25 there’s plenty of time for her to grow, but she was outclassed in this bout. For JJ, there is Rose Namajunas and then a division that she has cleared out. If she can close that fight out, it shouldn’t be long before she enters the new 125 lbs. division where an opportunity to be a two division champion awaits. For Andrade, this fight is a setback but the division is full of potential opponents. The loser of Gadelha and Kowalkiewicz seems like a worthy challenge. Congrats to Andrade on her engagement as well.
Stipe Miocic KO’s Junior Dos Santos continuing an incredible run:
Stipe Miocic blazed through Junior Dos Santos, avenging his last loss in truly impressive fashion. Miocic brough a similar strategy as his first fight, pressing JDS to the cage and unleashing flurries once he had the former champ cornered. A hand parry followed by a hard right hand brought Dos Santos down and the fight was soon stopped. JDS was unable to land much offense, but with just two low kicks he managed to force Miocic to limp. An expanded kicking game could truly help JDS as he’s weathered enough damage to expect his chin to start fading; he can’t afford to stand in the pocket and trade punches. Miocic’s next opponent has to be a healthy Cain Velasquez. Cain’s run when healthy had many considering him the best Heavyweight in UFC history but injuries have held the fighter back. JDS is left to toil for another title shot while the top two fighters in his division hold victories over him. Derrick Lewis or Francis Ngannou would represent rising names that could present unique challenges.
The run that Miocic is on cannot be understated. Since losing a tight decision to JDS; Stipe has finished Mark Hunt, Andre Arlovski, Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem and Junior Dos Santos in consecutive fights. Only Hunt has survived past the first round with the ever improving fighter. Miocic isn’t just beating the cream of the crop, he’s been dominating them. His style is lacking flash, but his game is rounded and his power is devastating. With a victory over Cain Velasquez, he would make a legitimate case for the best Heavyweight of all time. He is one win away from breaking the record for heavyweight title defenses and it is hard to recall a run of victories more impressive or dominant over so many quality fighters in the division’s history.
The Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier No-Decision Controversy:
Controversy hurt a great fight in the undercard’s main event, Dustin Poirier vs former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. For the first round and a half, Poirier dominated with clean striking. He hurt Alvarez repeatedly, landing clean blows in flurries. Alvarez seemed to barely survive for stretches of Poirier’s attack. But the tide seemed to shift as Eddie landed some heavy leather during a seemingly desperate exchange. Alvarez seemed to be gaining momentum before throwing consecutive illegal knees during a scramble in which Poirier’s hands were on the mat, making him a downed opponent. After review, the fight was ruled a no-decision as the knees left the Diamond unable to continue. It was a painful conclusion to a fight that was nothing short of spectacular up that point, recalling the Weidman vs Mousasi situation.
This turn of events has sparked discussions about the rules. The knees were blatantly illegal and Poirier had a healthy lead at the juncture in which they occurred. Although Alvarez was beginning to do real damage; it felt like the fight should have been a disqualification. The rules for illegal knees however, give the ref discretion to rule a no-decision based on fighter’s intent. Alvarez had an nearly eye swollen shut and had taken a ton of damage which was enough for Dean to assume that the knees were inadvertant. There are no other sports where a foul is ignored due to intent though. While the decision was correct according to the rules, it seems like they need a serious adjustment. This is the second great fight hampered by curious rules about knees in MMA. There are different rules for different commissions adding confusion to the already flawed guidelines. An adjustment is necessary; be it allowing knees to downed opponents PRIDE style or better defining downed opponents. It would also help to make the rules uniform across commissions. Poirier has already filed for the decision to be overturned and asked for a rematch, stating that he could care less about his record but the win bonus is important money for his child’s college fund. He deserves that money.