Jon "Bones" Jones and Alexander Gustafsson's main event may have stolen the show at Saturday's UFC 165, but don't let that fool you—the entire card didn't have a bit of shabbiness to it.
With arguably his sport's biggest star leading the card, Dana White could have hit the pause button—and in many ways he did. The main eventer was going to draw in the casual audience that had any cursory interest in this fight—just as Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao do in boxing.
As he often does in these high-profile bouts, that left White to fill the remainder of the card with fights to satiate the hardcore mixed martial arts fans. The looky-loo fans had no idea who Khabib Nurmagomedov and Francis Carmont were before Saturday night.
Heck, knowing the fickleness of average sports fans, they still may not.
But for fans who spend their time scouring the Web looking for up-and-coming fighters and consuming everything related to combat sports, they were in luck at UFC 165. The undercard bouts provided fans with a variety of different outcomes. There were soul-crushing knockouts, one-sided eviscerations and skillful submissions.
All of that may have been the appetizer for Jones vs. Gustafsson I—because I guarantee a second fight is already in the works—but the undercard fights deserve some recognition as everyone else talks about the main course.
With that in mind, let's check in with these undercard bouts and give some takeaways from each.
Khabib Nurmagomedov Is Coming for a Strap
The opening bout of the night was arguably its most lopsided as well. Nurmagomedov received straight 30-27s on the judges' scorecards, winning his 21st straight bout in defeating Pat Healy in fine fashion.
Healy had come into the match riding a six-match winning streak—seven if you count his no-contest against Jim Miller (I do). It was the finest stretch of the 30-year-old Oregonian's life, as he made the semi-successful transition from Strikeforce standout to UFC pay-per-view combatant.
Nurmagomedov didn't let Healy's recent hot streak stop him from destroying his opponent for much of the fight. The 25-year-old Russian kept his opponent on the move the entire match, backing away from the aggressive Healy and peppering him with shots from a distance. He also scored key takedowns whenever he needed, halting Healy anytime he started to build some momentum.
The win was impressive—possibly enough to raise Nurmagomedov another tier in the UFC. MMA Weekly had him ranked 10th among lightweights coming into UFC 165, but the division is currently in a state of inertia. Anthony Pettis has become a near-juggernaut during his short period atop the lightweight division, and it's hard to see anyone defeating him anytime soon.
So why couldn't Nurmagomedov be next, assuming Pettis gets by Josh Thomson in December? Pettis has already beaten Benson Henderson twice in his career; it's clear who the alpha dog is in that relationship.
Nurmagomedov has never lost in his MMA career and is 5-0 since joining the UFC. Next year could be a big one for "The Eagle."
Francis Carmont and Brendan Schaub Win, But Is Anyone Listening?
Although their wins were different, it was easy to feel a similarity between Carmont's win over Constantinos Philippou and Schaub's victory against Matt Mitrione.
That's mostly because both fighters are in identical places within the UFC hierarchy. They have just about no place within the title structure of their divisions.
Carmont has won each of his six UFC fights. He was impressive on Saturday against Philippou, recording a unanimous-decision win over a well-respected opponent. Philippou was the favorite with some championship undercurrents; Carmont killed that buzz, but did he do anything to create his own?
Mitrione wasn't getting any championship buzz heading into the event—his claim to fame continues to be the holy wrath he laid down on Kimbo Slice a few years back—which left Schaub's dominant win feeling hollow. There were a few exciting moments in the heavyweight bout, particularly when Schaub destroyed his opponent with a series of punches.
But the pre-fight build to this bout felt mostly like two guys hanging on for dear life. Mitrione has now lost three of his last four fights and is 35 years old. Schaub has lost twice in his previous three opportunities. These weren't the red-hot fighters who usually compete at pay-per-view events.
The problem for both Schaub and Carmont is that they're not good enough to compete at a championship level, and they're both at the ages where fighters start to decline, not ascend. Carmont is 31, while Schaub will be there in March. While Carmont probably has a better chance of making noise in his division, what we've seen is what we'll likely get going forward.
Carmont and Schaub are midcarders who will probably never wear a UFC strap. And that's a shame because both fighters were excellent on Saturday.
Renan Barao Is an Interim Champion in Name Only
The prevailing wisdom in the MMA literati is that the UFC bantamweight division is in a holding pattern and has been since Oct. 1, 2011. That was the last time Dominick Cruz, the company's champion in one of its most exciting divisions, defended his strap. He defeated Demetrious Johnson at UFC Live to retain the championship. It was his fourth straight victory by decision.
He was supposed to defend the title at UFC 148 against Urijah Faber but tore his ACL in preparation. His body then rejected the first reconstruction—an anomaly in today's day and age, where ACLs have almost become like appendices—and he was parked yet again.
During this time, Barao gained and retained the interim bantamweight title. He ran through the likes of Faber and Michael McDonald, all the while knowing that Cruz's presence was hanging over his head.
Well, it hangs no longer. After Barao's win over Eddie Wineland on Saturday night, there should be no more questions about who is the best bantamweight fighter in the world.
The crown is now Barao's; Cruz will have to earn it back whenever he returns to the Octagon.
After a solid first round from Wineland left the champ possibly down on the scorecards, Barao came out with guns blazing to start the second. OK, spinning heel kicks blazing. You get the point.
Cocking back his leg to drill Wineland in the chest, Barao struck gold when his opponent instead ducked into the full-strength blast. Just 39 seconds into the second round, Wineland was lying on the canvas, his shot at the title gone in a cloud of smoke. It was not only the best knockout of the night; it was one of the best of the year.
Now, Barao and Cruz will likely see each other at the next available date. And for possibly the first time in two years, we're starting to get the feeling that Cruz will be coming back to a division far different than the one he left.
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