The Good, Bad and Strange from UFC 165
The light heavyweight phenom stepped into the Octagon to chase his record-setting sixth title defense when he squared off with Alexander Gustafsson at Toronto's Air Canada Centre. Leading up to the main event tilt, questions swirled regarding the 26-year-old's motivation and how much of a challenge the rangy Swede could actually pose.
Once the fight began, the range and length theme the UFC poured into the promo for the bout absolutely came into play. Gustafsson was able to use his footwork and striking skills to bring more adversity inside the cage than Jones had ever experienced.
"Bones" absolutely had to earn his money on Saturday night as he bounced back to win a close decision victory to retain his title and enter the history books.
While it wasn't the dominant performance we're used to seeing out of Jones, it is a testament to his toughness that he pulled out the victory over Gustafsson.
While he was largely considered to be the best fighter to ever compete at 205 pounds prior to UFC 165, after picking up his sixth successful title defense on Saturday night, Jones not only solidified his status as the greatest light heavyweight in UFC history, but took a monstrous step to closing the argument that he is the best fighter of all time in MMA.
The light heavyweight title was not the only strap on the line at UFC 165 as Renan Barao looked to defend his interim bantamweight title against Eddie Wineland. Coming into the bout, the Brazilian wrecking machine had racked up 31 consecutive victories, and after two rounds of dominance, collected his 32nd straight against the Indiana native.
With a fighter as well-rounded as Barao, it was going to be difficult for a striker like Wineland to find a vantage point. Unfortunately for the former WEC bantamweight champion, such an opening never materialized as Barao proved to be the stronger fighter in that department, scoring a brutal, highlight-reel knockout in the second round of their tilt.
Now, with his second interim title defense in the books, the 26-year-old Nova Uniao product will wait for champion Dominick Cruz to return in early 2014. If "The Dominator" cannot make the projected return date, his title will be stripped and Barao will be recognized as the undisputed 135-pound champion.
In addition to the two big fights at the top of the fight card, there were plenty of action-packed tilts and heavy leather being slung around the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night. Several prospects made good on expectation, whereas others suffered critical setbacks in their career trajectories.
Nevertheless, mixed in with all the quality MMA in Toronto, there were plenty of head-shaking moments to be found north of the border.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC 165.
Where the opening paragraph of this column typically goes to the winner of the main event, both Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson deserve to be mentioned for putting on a five-round war at UFC 165.
Coming into the bout, the Swedish striker was touted as the most challenging opponent to face the young champion yet, and that proved to be concrete truth on Saturday night. Gustafsson out-struck the champion early and even recorded the first-ever takedown scored against Jones inside the Octagon.
That being said, Jones proved he can fight his way out of deep waters as he poured it on in the later rounds. "Bones" had the Team Alliance fighter badly hurt at the end of the fourth as Gustafsson was saved by the bell.
While Jones ultimately had his hand raised at the end of the fight, Gustafsson has nothing to hang his head about. He battered Jones more than any other fighter the light heavyweight phenom has faced, and did so by stuffing the champion's takedowns and eliminating one of Jones' strongest assets.
With Glover Teixeira hanging in the balance awaiting the winner, it is likely Gustafsson will have to fall back into the back and battle his way back to contention. That being said, "The Mauler" proved on Saturday night he can hang with one of the best fighters in the world. While he may leave Toronto without the light heavyweight belt, his stock in the MMA world will absolutely skyrocket.
As for the co-main event, how incredible is Renan Barao? The Nova Uniao product picked up another definitive victory and put another victim on his highlight reel as he scored a second-round knockout over Eddie Wineland. In the process of snuffing the former WEC bantamweight champion with a spinning back kick, Barao picked up his 32nd consecutive victory, and made the second successful defense of his interim title.
With Barao wrecking everything in his path, his next step will be to wait. UFC President Dana White has put the pressure on the two-year absent Dominick Cruz to meet Barao early in 2014 or give up his bantamweight title.
While Barao has been gunning for Cruz since claiming the belt in 2012, and his current status in the interim title holder, it is crazy to think the UFC isn't crowning this kid the undisputed 135-pound champion.
There is no doubt Cruz is one of the world's best 135-pound fighters when healthy, but asking "The Dominator" to return from a two-year layoff to fight Barao is brutal.
No champion wants to walk away from their title, but with the dominance Barao has displayed inside the Octagon, it may be best for Cruz to take the title stripping, drop down for a warm-up fight, and then come back with everything he has to face Barao. Even then, it still might not be enough to derail the Brazilian phenom.
Moving on to the heavyweight division.
Brendan Schaub needed a big win at UFC 165, and he got it via impressive fashion against former TUF housemate Matt Mitrione. With both fighters at a crucial juncture of their respective careers, it was Schaub who stepped up big as he earned the second-round submission victory in Toronto.
Two years ago, "The Hybrid" was on the cusp of breaking through in the heavyweight fold, but back-to-back losses halted that progress for the time being. On Saturday night, the 30-year-old picked up his second consecutive victory and put himself back on the relevancy radar.
In lightweight action, Khabib Nurmagomedov had been outstanding heading into UFC 165. His gritty win over Pat Healy will guarantee the young Dagestani will continue his move upward.
In what was perhaps his most impressive performance to date, "The Eagle" bullied one of the most physical fighters in the lightweight division on Saturday night. After tagging "Bam Bam" with big shots in the first round, the AKA product used his grappling to put Healy through the grinder in route to winning the bout on the judge's scorecards.
With the victory over the Strikeforce convert, Nurmagomedov kept his undefeated record intact and scored his fifth consecutive win under the UFC banner. There is no doubt his next opponent will come from the coveted top-10 tier of the 155-pound weight class.
—Pat Healy may have lost at UFC 165, but his status as one of the toughest fighters in the lightweight division certainly won't suffer. The veteran was battered in the early goings, but kept the forward pressure full steam and forced the 24-year-old Russian to show what he was made of. "Bam Bam" is as gritty as they come...and gritty is something fight fans dig.
—Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson may have lost his luster after being manhandled by Matt Brown at UFC 145 back in 2012, but he picked up some steam by knocking out Chris Clements in Toronto. The South Carolina native wove a beautiful combination to pick up the finish and has now been successful in three of his four showings under the UFC banner. It's going to take a win over an opponent with solid wrestling for him to turn the corner, but a highlight-reel knockout against Clements isn't too shabby either.
—Mitch Gagnon may have been away from the Octagon for a year, but he returned with vigor at UFC 165. The 28-year-old bantamweight showed out for his home province as he handed Dustin Kimura his first professional defeat on Friday night with a vicious arm-in guillotine submission. The Ontario native has now won two of his three showings under the UFC banner, and eight of his last nine since 2009.
—Lightweight powerhouse John Makdessi added another highlight to his growing collection as he knocked out Renee Forte in the first round of their bout. "The Bull" clipped the Brazilian with a grazing right hand on the temple then pounded out the finish. The win makes it three in a row and the Tristar fighter, and his impressive win on Saturday night, will ensure he gets a bigger name in his next outing.
—TUF alums Roland Delorme and Alex Caceres engaged in a fun scrap on the Facebook portion of the card. Despite the Canadian dropping Caceres in the opening frame, "Bruce Leeroy" battled back to take the split decision on the judges' score cards. The victory over Delorme makes Caceres 3-0-1 in his last four showings and is a solid look as the 25-year-old continues to build momentum in the bantamweight division.
—In a battle of fighters whose names evoke editorial nightmares, Daniel Omielanczuk and Nandor Guelmino threw down to open the card at UFC 165. While the initial portion of the bout was spent with the two heavyweights slinging feet, the fight ended when Omielanczuk landed a brutal left hand that knocked Nandor back to Middle Earth.
After years of investment, the heavyweight division is finally starting to take shape under the UFC banner. With that in mind, the positions in the elite tier of the weight class are filling up fast and fighters looking to make it to the next tier need to make every step count.
That's exactly what was on the line for Matt Mitrione. The former NFL player turned mixed martial artist absolutely needed a victory at UFC 165 to remain a relevant threat in the heavyweight division. That wasn't in the cards for the 35-year-old on Saturday night as he was choked unconscious by Brendan Schaub in the second round of their tilt.
"Meathead" jumped out to a 5-0 start under the UFC banner, but losses in three of his last four showings are going to push him to the fringes of obscurity on the heavyweight radar.
The title race in the middleweight division is heating up and Costa Philippou could not afford the setback he suffered against Francis Carmont at UFC 165. The New York-based fighter had won five straight coming into his bout, but the 33-year-old had zero answers for Carmont's ground attack.
While being out-grappled by a talented fighter like Carmont doesn't warrant Philippou landing in this particular category, his lack of name recognition in the greater scheme set a unique circumstance that made his bout in Toronto one he could not lose.
With names like Vitor Belfort and Michael Bisping also in the hunt for the middleweight crown, the heavy-handed Philippou needed to keep winning in order to further build his profile.
When two prospects meet inside the cage to determine who will jump up into the next tier of competition and who will be reshuffled, the expectation level is high. This was the feeling heading into the lightweight bout between Myles Jury and Mike Ricci at UFC 165, but unfortunately for everyone involved, the bout turned into the exact opposite.
Despite Jury landing a huge right hand that wobbled Ricci in the early goings, the rest of the fight turned into a stalemate. Ricci was gun-shy after getting clipped in the first, and fought a hesitant fight for the remainder. The same rang true for Team Alliance fighter, as Jury remained technical and safe throughout.
The "Fury" took the bout via split decision on the judges' score cards. The win was his fourth consecutive victory under the UFC banner and kept his undefeated record intact. That being said, his three previous showings brought the noise, but his fight against Ricci didn't register on the excitement meter.
—The "death screams of fury" Francis Carmont unleashed and were picked up by the cage side mics were truly terrifying.
—Bodies do the strangest things whilst being knocked into oblivion. While Stephen Thompson separating Chris Clements from his senses was solid, "The Menace" earned entry into this category by the way he reacted to the blow. After a right hand stunned him, Clements went into full-on "lost" mode until Thompson unleashed a left hook that flushed the veteran.
—There was no time to be wasted during the Facebook portion of the prelims at UFC 165. The fighters were beating feet to the cage in order to keep the fight card rolling. With four bouts to make in less than two hours, things were running close. That being said, the fights coming fast and furious were a definite plus for those watching from their computer screens because no one cares much for early card walk-outs that don't involve Conor McGregor.
—While they ran it into the ground leading up to the pay-per-view portion, the UFC 165 "Head Exploding" promo was fantastic. The fight business is a serious realm and it was refreshing to see a bit of humor mixed in.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.
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