UFC Fight Night 48 and 49 Results: The Real Winners and Losers
Another UFC double-header is done, and fans were, ahem, "treated" to 21 fights stretched out over 19 hours. It was a brutal day for the members of the MMA media who had to watch each and every fight, especially given how remarkably bad UFC Fight Night 48 was and how unnecessarily long Fight Night 49 was. As such, it's easy to label all the folks who spent their entire day watching fights, willingly or not, as the day's biggest losers.
Who is the biggest winner, though?
While it's easy to label Rafael dos Anjos as the day's biggest winner, courtesy of his huge upset of Ben Henderson, the night's biggest winners didn't actually fight on Saturday. No, the biggest winners are all the lightweight contenders who suddenly no longer have to worry about Henderson.
If you're Donald Cerrone, Henderson being out of the picture all but guarantees a title shot with a win. If you're Gilbert Melendez, you no longer have to worry about facing Bendo in your first title defense (assuming he takes the belt). If you're Khabib Nurmagomedov, you have basically nobody standing between you and a title shot. If you're Nate Diaz, Henderson's loss opens the door for another run at the title.
Who (and what) else lost on Saturday? Find out right here.
Real Winner: Jeremy She-Phens
Milana Dudieva defeats Elizabeth Phillips via split decision (30-27, 28-29, 29-28).
Milana Dudieva made her UFC debut and put on a pretty fun show opposite Elizabeth Phillips. While it was a narrow win for the Russian, she demonstrated heavy hands and solid wrestling. There's no wrong way to win your long-awaited UFC debut, and Dudieva showed herself to be an intriguing addition to the division.
From the good-but-not-great wrestling to the iffy grappling to the caution-to-the-wind haymakers, Dudieva really was like a younger, more female, more Russian Jeremy Stephens. While Ronda Rousey won't be losing any sleep after this fight, this has to feel good for Dudieva.
She looked good enough to compete with most of the UFC's female bantamweights and should be an interesting addition to the crew. After an ugly year for the women's bantamweight division, the UFC has brought aboard several interesting additions to the division in Rin Nakai, Larissa Pacheco and, of course, Holly Holm. Dudieva enters the fray at a great time, and there are loads of intriguing opponents for her.
Real Winners: Wang Sai, Zhang Lipeng
Wang Sai defeats Danny Mitchell by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
Zhang Lipeng defeats Brendan O'Reilly by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27).
While they weren't electrifying, Wang Sai and Zhang Lipeng both posted wins over fighters from outside China, taking unanimous decisions over Danny Mitchell and Brendan O'Reilly, respectively. It sounds like a small feat, but that is a huge deal for the UFC. With Zuffa starving for Chinese talent, any hint of success will translate to prominent booking on regional cards for the foreseeable future, and these two have met that mark.
You know how Erick Silva keeps getting those big fights on Brazilian cards and is met with raucous applause each time? All despite the fact that he just plain isn't actually very good at fighting? Wang Sai and Zhang Lipeng are like Chinese Erick Silvas.
They may never make a title run or stand out talent-wise, but they have a job for life with the UFC and will almost certainly become a staple for the UFC's Asian cards. That kind of job security makes them the biggest winners of the day, no matter how you slice it.
Real Loser: The UFC
Yao Zhikui and Wang Anying are both defeated, and Ning Guangyou vs. Jianping Yang fizzles.
As stated, the UFC desperately wants Chinese fighters who can compete with fighters from places other than China. While Sai and Lipeng won their fights, Yao Zhikui and Wang Anying were not as lucky.
On top of that, the long-delayed The Ultimate Fighter: China featherweight final bout between Ning Guangyou and Jianping Yang was absolutely terrible. Both fighters stunk up the joint with awkward striking and terrible grappling. While the state of Chinese MMA is better than it was a year ago, it is still in a bad way.
Seriously, the talent just hasn't been there in China thus far. While many of the fighters have crisp striking, they remain incomplete products who just don't have any hope of winning against foreign talent. Worse yet, the supposed-to-be-established fighters like Jumabieke Tuerxun, Hailin Ao and Zhang Tiequan haven't held up, even against hand-picked opponents (well, except for Ao, who was just unceremoniously booted out of his coaching spot a few episodes deep into TUF: China).
As such, the UFC is left struggling in vain, desperately trying to find Chinese fighters who can post a win over bottom-of-the-barrel competition from outside the country.
Real Loser: UFC's Status as a True Sports Organization
Tyron Woodley defeats Dong-Hyun Kim by knockout via punches at 1:01 of Round 1.
Dong-Hyun Kim has been one of the scariest ground-and-pounders in the welterweight division for a long while now. Like so many others, however, after scoring one big knockout, he forgets everything in search of the next.
While the Dong-Hyun Kim who mauled Siyar Bahadurzada may have stood a chance against Tyron Woodley, the Dong-Hyun Rambo who scored a spinning elbow knockout against John Hathaway did not. So when he tried to twirl his way to victory, Woodley delivered a devastating series of punches that left Kim incapacitated after just 61 seconds.
The UFC's commentators should feel embarrassed about what they were saying about Kim. I don't know if they do...but they should. For those who missed it, Kenny Florian and Mike Goldberg were utterly dismissive when it came to Kim's past success. To (barely) paraphrase, their discussion of Stun Gun during his walk-in boiled down to "he has been winning for a long time, but we only care about him now that he is doing the whole 'Just Bleed' thing."
That, frankly, should annoy anybody like me who has the naivety to still look at MMA as a sport. You don't hear Don Orsillo and Joe Simpson criticize the San Diego Padres for not hitting enough home runs during a winning season. You don't hear Kenny Albert and John Micheletti shrug off 1-0 wins by the Boston Bruins because defense is boring.
MMA, in theory, is a sport. You don't play it to be entertaining. You don't play it to make sure the crowd doesn't do the wave. As Herm Edwards said, you play to win the game.
Kim was winning fights with his "grinding style," as they put it (Kim, by the way, is not a grinder). His devolution into a Korean Leonard Garcia is something to criticize, not praise.
Real Loser: UFC's Status as a Credible Sports Organization
Royston Wee defeats Yao Zhikui by split decision (29-28, 27-30, 29-28).
Following back-to-back razor-thin split decisions, UFC President Dana White committed what should be a huge no-no by removing a judge from UFC Fight Night 48. You can check out MMAJunkie.com's report on the incident here.
The UFC has already made itself a "sports entertainment organization" with its willy-nilly title shots for folks coming off losses, its preferential booking of "fun" fighters over legitimate contenders and its regular firing of top-10 talents like Yushin Okami and Jake Shields because the promotion doesn't like how they fight. That said, the company took the first true step toward going full WWE in Macau by dismissing longtime judge Howard Hughes over his scoring of the bout between Royston Wee and Yao Zhikui.
Make no mistake: This was not an instance of righteous indignation over a bad decision by White. The fight was a legitimate tossup, ultimately boiling down to whether two of the three judges would favor Yao's mediocre striking or Wee's minute-eating top control. Hughes and one of his co-workers would choose Wee's grappling, and while White disagreed with the call, it wasn't controversial or even surprising.
There is no positive way to spin this story. At its best, White arbitrarily punished a judge for turning in a score he disagreed with. At its worst, promotional brass removed judges who refused to favor fighters that the UFC stood to gain more revenue from. That is indefensible and something that should never happen again.
Real Winner: The UFC Middleweight Division
Michael Bisping defeats Cung Le by knockout via knees and punches at 0:57 of Round 1.
With his back to the wall and little reason to keep fighting with another loss, it seemed like we might be seeing the last of Top 10 staple and uber-heel Michael Bisping. Well, the Brit did not go gently into that good night. He came out swinging and beat Cung Le down for four rounds before finishing him with a devastating knee.
A sizable chunk of MMA's fandom has never been exposed to a Bisping-less middleweight division. Frankly, even for those whose fan card predates The Ultimate Fighter, it's hard to imagine 185 pounds without him at this point. Since the very beginning, he has been the guy to fight in the division, whether you're an up-and comer, established veteran or champion. That's a special distinction and one that few other fighters have achieved.
Bisping may or may not be able to hang with the majority of high-level middleweights who are fighting today. Even if he cannot, however, he is a valuable commodity. His big win over Le ensures that 185ers have somebody to call out, and the fans have somebody to put on must-watch fights, for at least a little while longer.
Real Winner: Ben Saunders
Ben Saunders defeats Chris Heatherly by submission via omoplata at 2:18 of Round 1.
After a solid run in Bellator, Ben Saunders found his way back to the UFC, and boy, did he start off his second run in impressive fashion. After being taken down early by Chris Heatherly, he locked up a tight rubber guard from underneath. From there, he isolated Heatherly's arm and earned a rare submission victory via omoplata.
Saunders isn't going to vault into the rankings off this submission, but there's no questioning that this was a great win for the veteran. Granted, it's tough to peg what the UFC will do with him at this point (he could reasonably be slotted in against almost any fighter outside the Top 10), but that's irrelevant right now. Right now, Saunders just needs to kick back and enjoy a big, fat payday from the UFC.
Real Winner: The Active Schedule
Neil Magny defeats Alex Garcia by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27).
Sure, people talk about Donald Cerrone's "anytime, anywhere" mentality but TUF 16 alumnus Neil Magny has actually been fighting just as frequently. After defeating Georges St-Pierre protege Alex Garcia with his solid jab and physical wrestling game, Magny advanced to 4-0 in 2014. At this point, he could actually make good on all that "six fights in a year" talk.
Magny fitting four wins into a seven-month period is crazy when you think about it, and mathematically, it's possible he could squeeze another two fights in by the end of December. Unfortunately, even if he puts six wins together inside a six-month period, the UFC has done very little to promote him.
Magny is actually one of MMA's most impressive physical specimens. Standing at 6'3" and sporting an 81.0" reach, it's easy to liken him to Jon Jones. At age 26 and just now starting to really put everything together, we might see him evolve into a scary talent.
Still, even with his strong toolbox and lengthy winning streak, he finds himself very far from the belt. Here's hoping the UFC realizes that there's some real upside with Magny.
Real Winner: Max Holloway's Future Prospects
Max Holloway defeats Clay Collard by TKO via punches at 3:47 of Round 3.
Max Holloway continues his run to the top, adding yet another impressive win to his name. Taking on UFC newcomer Clay Collard, Holloway showed high-level skills all over the cage, beating his overmatched opponent in the clinch, at striking distance and on the mat. In the end, he earned an impressive Round 3 TKO win.
Now on a three-fight winning streak (all finishes, mind you), it's easy to get excited about Holloway's future prospects. He is already a high-level talent and, at 22 years old, could realistically keep growing for the next few years. If that's the case, we could easily see him sitting among the featherweight Top 10 for years to come.
Real Winner: Fans of Comeback Stories
Thales Leites defeats Francis Carmont by knockout via punches at 0:20 of Round 2.
Thales Leites' unlikely climb back to the top continues. After a snoozer of a first round against striker-turned-grappler Francis Carmont, Leites came out swinging in the second. An overhand right landed hard, and Leites kept on swinging, forcing the ref to wave things off.
Seriously, Leites' sudden relevance near the top of the middleweight division is an awesome, crazy story. The fact that he suddenly has back-to-back knockout victories to his credit after years upon years of wearing out the clock with strong jiu-jitsu, though? That's just insane.
This win over Carmont, who is currently ranked No. 12 in the division, should guarantee Leites a shot at Top 10 competition. Hopefully, a fight with CB Dollaway or Costas Philippou is in his immediate future.
Real Loser: Tired Fans
Jordan Mein defeats Mike Pyle by technical knockout via punches at 1:12 of Round 1.
After a long day of MMA, Canadian welterweight Jordan Mein gave fans quite the break. In his co-main event bout with Mike Pyle, he earned himself the win in just about a minute, landing a devastating left hand that laid the veteran out.
A relatively weak Fox Sports 1 card now runs from 7:30 p.m. ET to, at the very earliest, 1:00 a.m. ET (so between five and six hours).
This wasn't a decision-filled card, either. Six of the fights let the judges earn an easy paycheck. Fox Sports 1 just drags these Fight Night cards out an unreasonably long time with commercials and promotional videos. So even though Mein should have shaved a solid 15 minutes off the broadcast, all it meant was less fighting and more of that terrible Nos commercial.
Real Winner: The UFC
Rafael dos Anjos defeats Ben Henderson by technical knockout via flying knee and punches at 2:31 of Round 1.
Rafael dos Anjos adds to the "year of the underdog" thing the commentators keep bringing up. While Dos Anjos seemed like a tune-up match for former lightweight champ Ben Henderson, the Brazilian scored a huge upset by rocking Henderson with a flying knee and finishing him on the ground with punches.
The Zuffa offices are filled with the sound of high-fives and champagne bottles popping right now. I've long discussed how the UFC wants Bendo to lose in order to free up title shots (and potentially lengthy reigns) for more marketable fighters like Nate Diaz, Donald Cerrone and Gilbert Melendez. If he had kept on winning, it would have been a sort of Jon Fitch situation, where the UFC openly ignores him in favor of lesser contenders. By losing to Dos Anjos, Henderson is knocked back a few spots in line, blowing things wide open for Cerrone, Melendez, Dos Anjos, Khabib Nurmagomedov and, potentially, Eddie Alvarez.
Is that morally right? That the UFC would revel in one of its top companymen losing? Especially somebody as exciting in the cage and classy out of it?
Of course not. But here we are. Now the UFC can protect its preferred fighters from Henderson and likely rake in more cash as a result.