UFC Fight Night 32 Results: 10 Burning Questions Heading into UFC 167

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistNovember 10, 2013

UFC Fight Night 32 Results: 10 Burning Questions Heading into UFC 167

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    UFC Fight Night 32 is in the books. The results are as follows:

    • Vitor Belfort def. Dan Henderson, KO (Round 1, 1:17)
    • Cezar Ferreira def. Daniel Sarafian, split decision (30-28, 28-29, 30-27)
    • Rafael Cavalcante def. Igor Pokrajac, TKO (Round 1, 1:18)
    • Brandon Thatch def. Paulo Thiago, submission to strikes (Round 1, 2:10)
    • Ryan LaFlare def. Santiago Ponzinibbio, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
    • Jeremy Stephens def. Rony Jason, knockout (Round 1, 0:40)
    • Sam Sicilia def. Godofredo Pepey, knockout (Round 1, 1:42)
    • Omari Akhmedov def. Thiago Perpetuo, knockout (Round 1, 3:31)
    • Thiago Tavares def. Justin Salas, submission (Round 1, 2:38)
    • Adriano Martins def. Daron Cruickshank, submission (Round 2, 2:49)
    • Dustin Ortiz def. Jose Maria Tome, TKO (Round 3, 3:19)

    Now attention turns to UFC 167. Headlined by Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks, the welterweight division is in store for a top-to-bottom shakeup with five critical fights on tap. The co-main event, however, sees a super-exciting light heavyweight tilt between former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans and former middleweight contender Chael Sonnen.

    There isn't a single fight on this card that you should miss. So what questions are there heading forward? 

    Find out right here!

Will Sergio Pettis Live Up to the Hype?

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    That guy with the belt over his shoulder is Sergio Pettis.

    Immediately to his left is his brother, the UFC lightweight champion, Anthony Pettis. To his right is famed coach Duke Roufus. Off to the side is Olympic wrestler and Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren, as well as well-traveled Brazilian jiu-jitsu practioner Daniel Wanderley.

    If people are judged by the company they keep, predictions on Sergio Pettis' future are quite bright. His present isn't so bad, either, given his 9-0 professional record (3-0 amateur). 

    His skills, resume, camp and name combine to make him the most highly anticipated sub-155-pound prospect to join the UFC since the WEC-UFC merger (the only possible exception is Conor McGregor). Now, though, he has to live up to the unfairly huge amount of hype that is attached to his debut.

    He makes his debut against previous WEC and UFC washout Will Campuzano (his original opponent, Vaughan Lee, withdrew due to injury). He was given his pink slip from Zuffa with a 1-4 record. Since his release, he has gone 5-0, competing primarily as a flyweight. He is fairly similar to Pettis stylistically, and that should make for an exciting fight (in theory).

    Still, there are loads of moving parts when it comes to UFC debuts. "Octagon jitters," fighting away from home, fighting outside his preferred weight class, the effect all that has on weight cutting (and in turn, cardio), not necessarily having all his coaches present, on and on. 

    Regardless, Pettis' debut is basically the most tantalizing fight to show up on Facebook/YouTube/UFC.com in a good while. Tune in. Do it.

How Long Will the UFC Spoon-Feed Erik Perez?

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    I am cursed with being 100 percent correct about everything, all the time. It's awful; I assure you. 

    Ahead of UFC 166, I accurately pegged that the UFC would try and rebrand Gilbert Melendez as the new Julio Cesar Chavez. They did one-up me a bit, though, and instead of gradually shifting Melendez's persona to meet their ends, they opted to push the idea that his fight with Diego Sanchez was not a war, but it was a "Mexican World War" (which is totally a thing). The thing is, Gilbert Melendez was their "Plan B."

    "Plan A" was Erik Perez. Make no mistake, Erik Perez is a solid bantamweight. Nothing more, and nothing less. He's just 23 years old, so the sky is the limit for him, but his time simply isn't right now. Sean Shelby and Dana White, though, are trying very hard to make it seem like it is.

    Perez opened his UFC career with two electrifying stoppage victories. That earned him the honor of facing Byron Bloodworth. Who? Damn right, "who?"

    He beat Brian Bloodman (or whatever his name was) with ease and was promptly pitted against savvy-yet-beatable veteran Takeya Mizugaki.

    It was obvious what the UFC was trying to do. Another win after beating Mizugaki would make a strong case for a title shot against Dominick Cruz or Renan Barao in early 2014, which would conveniently be an absolutely perfect main event for a Fight Night in Mexico City or a co-main event behind Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum.

    Then he lost.

    It was a close fight against an enduring bantamweight that, in many ways, showed Perez to be a legitimate factor in the upper tier of the division. Dammit, though, they don't need him to be a legitimate factor in the upper tier of the division.

    They need him to have a flimsy case for a title shot. So now they're babying Perez in a way we rarely see in the UFC, feeding him Edwin Figueroa, who is one judge short of a 1-4 UFC record.

    It's a disservice to "Goyito" that they're both denying him the opportunity to immediately bounce back against somebody like TJ Dillashaw or Mike Easton.

    It's a disservice to Figueroa whom the UFC has basically doomed to be a tomato can for Perez to open when the majority of fighters in his position would have a fight against a UFC newcomer. It's a disservice to the rest of the division that they don't get the same preferential treatment that Perez is getting.

    The training wheels should be off Perez. I'm not sure why the UFC is trying so desperately to put them back on.

Will Evan Dunham Finally Assert Himself as a Top Lightweight?

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    I've never really bought into Evan Dunham as a potential title contender and damn, he doesn't like me saying so. Regardless, I pegged Donald Cerrone as the perfect matchup for him to vault into the title picture. 

    Through sheer coincidence (yeah...just a coincidence), he finds "Cowboy" on his plate and could find himself rocketed as close to title contention as one could expect of somebody with a 3-4 record over the last three years.

    In fairness, his loss to Sean Sherk back in 2010 was controversial, and his most recent fight, against Rafael dos Anjos, could have gone either way. That said, there's no getting around the fact that he lacks the signature win that basically every serious lightweight contender has. 

    Rafael dos Anjos, for example, manhandled Mark Bocek at UFC 154. Khabib Nurmagomedov demolished Pat Healy en route to an upcoming title eliminator (probably) with Gilbert Melendez. Joe Lauzon clawed his way into top-10 rankings, albeit briefly, with his sweet submission of Melvin Guillard. 

    Evan Dunham's biggest, most emphatic win was probably almost four years ago, when he beat Efrain Escudero with a third-round armbar. Four years is a long time, and Escudero isn't exactly a name that carries much weight. His wins over Nik Lentz and Gleison Tibau, while better than losses, were relatively forgettable.

    If Evan Dunham can do to Donald Cerrone what Nate Diaz did, he starts getting a number next to his name when they talk about him on Fox Sports 1. That would be the first step toward the title contention which has long eluded him.

Which Welterweights Fade into Obscurity?

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    UFC 167 is absolutely packed with welterweight bouts. Two of the bouts, though, are nothing short of critical to the fighters involved. Those bouts are Brian Ebersole vs. Rick Story and Josh Koscheck vs. Tyron Woodley.

    All four of them are great fighters. All four of them are desperately searching for a win.

    Both fights, at their core, are between former top-10 fighters whose careers have gone awry opposite guys who once held the title of "the next big thing." 

    The role of once-successful veteran is played by Koscheck and Story.

    Koscheck needs no introduction. All that needs to be pointed out is his two-fight losing streak (most recently a knockout loss to Robbie Lawler) which, at 35 years old in an absurdly stacked division, almost certainly means an end to any realistic title hopes. If there is any hope of salvaging that goal, it starts by beating Woodley.

    Story, meanwhile, was on the short list of title contenders for Georges St-Pierre in 2011 following a six-fight winning streak (including handing Johny Hendricks his only loss with Zuffa). Then his title aspirations were scuttled by Nate Marquardt. Not because the two of them fought but because his love of synthetic testosterone forced him into a fight with a wrestler on 20 hours' notice.

    He lost and has been on a 2-4 run ever since. While he has fought some amazing fighters during that stretch, losses are losses, and he has way too many of them. He needs a win if he wants to keep his job, never mind competing for the belt again.

    Koscheck faces off with Tyron Woodley. Woodley has just two fights with the UFC, but his first win (a vicious knockout of Jay Hieron) was so big, they decided to overmatch him against Jake Shields in his second UFC bout; Shields would take an ugly, career-derailing split decision from him.

    He has the chance to immediately re-enter "next big thing" territory if he can take out Josh Koscheck, but that is a tall order for a relatively "young" fighter.

    Last but not least, Brian Ebersole entered the UFC more than 60 fights deep into his 11-year MMA career, so it's a bit difficult to pencil him in as anything resembling a prospect. However, he fought largely in Australia and started his career (on the record, at least) at just 18 years old, meaning he was very capable of maintaining a spot on the UFC's welterweight rankings for years.

    It seemed like he was doing just that until a 4-0 start was nixed with a questionable decision loss to James Head. The injury bug bit him badly after, and he was forced out of the cage for almost 18 months, which has pushed him from the minds. He, as with Koscheck, Woodley and Story, needs a win for every possible reason. 

    The thing is, there are four fighters but only two wins to go around. This is a huge event for the entire welterweight division and for more than just these four fighters.

Which Flyweight Will Become the Default Top Contender?

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    John Lineker would be a slam-dunk top contender right now if it weren't for his 60 percent failure rate when it comes to cutting to 125 pounds. Because of that, the door is wide-open for the winner of Ali Bagautinov and Tim Elliott to cut ahead of him en route to a flyweight title shot.

    Bagautinov is one of the many surging fighters to come out of Russia over the last year. Bagautinov dominated the Russian Fight Nights promotion and made a strong first impression in his UFC debut, scoring a one-punch knockout over Marcos Vinicius after a back-and-forth affair in September. While he has just one fight in the UFC, he could find himself on the cusp of contention with another emphatic win.

    Tim Elliott, meanwhile, may have lost to John Dodson last year, but he has bounced back with two slam-dunk decision wins since. Most recently, he mauled Louis Gaudinot, the green-haired wonder who submitted Lineker in his UFC debut. That, at least according to "MMA Math," makes him the true top contender right now (and MMA Math totally adds up).

    Let me reiterate, this discussion would not even be open if it weren't for Lineker's inability to make the flyweight cut. If he was able to consistently make 125 pounds, there would be absolutely no question as to who should be the next guy to get a shot at gold.

    The reality, though, is that Lineker hasn't been able to make weight. That makes Bagautinov vs. Elliott the most title-relevant bout on the card (outside St-Pierre vs. Hendricks, obviously). Whoever wins is almost certainly lined up for a top contender bout opposite Lineker or possibly somebody like John Dodson or the Ian McCall vs. Scott Jorgensen winner.

Really, How Good Is Robbie Lawler?

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    So let's take a quick look at the UFC's official welterweight rankings here. Robbie Lawler is currently sitting at No. 10. That puts him ahead of Mike Pyle, Dong-Hyun Kim, Josh Koscheck, Tarec Saffiedine, Tyron Woodley and Hector Lombard.

    That is honestly shocking when one considers Lawler's less-than-stellar 3-5 run with Strikeforce.

    During his time with the now-defunct promotion, he beat Adlan Amagov, Matt Lindland and Melvin Manhoef, but lost to Lorenz Larkin, Tim Kennedy, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, Renato Sobral and Jake Shields. While that is some really steep competition (with the exception of Sobral), it's tough to ignore the fact that he went 0-5 against that lot.

    Sure, he was fighting above his optimal weight class, but so was Shields, and he has been near-perfect at middleweight. Lawler, by the way, was ranked above Shields until very recently.

    All in all, it's hard (very hard, even) to avoid labeling Lawler the most overrated fighter in the UFC right now.

    He could be a welterweight Mark Hunt. The K-1 and Pride veteran came out of nowhere, years after his relevance supposedly fizzled out, and put together a downright electrifying run that fell just short of a title bout. Lawler could be doing precisely that.

    Or he could be more like Wanderlei Silva. A fan favorite who shows brief flashes of what made you care about him in the first place. A fan favorite who truly would rather shed that label for one more like "title contender."

    The jury is out on where Lawler falls on that spectrum.

    A win over Rory MacDonald would either jump him directly into title contention or put him one fight off. A loss, depending on the severity, will keep him along the fringe of the official Top 10, or he could find himself next to Koscheck, serving as a stepping stone for good-but-untested fighters.

Will Rory MacDonald Reassert Himself as the Next Big Thing?

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    Rory MacDonald is really good at this whole fighting thing. Like...really good. 

    He ended up the brunt of major criticism, however, when he cruised to a decision victory over dangerous knockout artist Jake Ellenberger. While some were impressed by the fact that he basically toyed with a guy who knocked out Jake Shields inside one round, many were displeased when what was supposed to be an electrifying clash saw the "Canadian Psycho," as I said, cruising to a decision.

    MacDonald is widely regarded as a major favorite against Robbie Lawler. Lawler finds himself at an across-the board, save one-punch knockout power (which is, not coincidentally, the only realistic way Lawler could win). 

    If MacDonald wants to stay firmly entrenched in the top tier of welterweights, he is going to need to beat Lawler in relatively lopsided fashion. At this time, Rory MacDonald is the only billable fighter past Johny Hendricks when it comes to the title picture. With a resurgent duo of veterans in Shields and Matt Brown, though, MacDonald could find himself with realistic competition if he doesn't score an emphatic win.

    That makes this a deceptively dangerous fight for MacDonald.

Which Rashad Evans Will We See?

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    We know about Chael Sonnen.

    We know where he is in his career (far away from a title shot but still relevant near the top of his division). We know where he is at skill-wise (still a great wrestler with almost unmatched cardio). We know what comes next in his career after this fight (TUF: Brazil 3 and an end to his rivalry with Wanderlei Silva).

    Rashad Evans, though? Now there's a big question mark.

    From 2010 until the end of 2012, Rashad Evans was the clear-cut, second-best light heavyweight in MMA. After Lyoto Machida got knocked out by Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, a pretty strong case could have been made that he was the greatest. 

    All at once, though, Rashad Evans went from a speedy wrecking machine to a plodding near-retiree. 

    The change Evans underwent between his utter destruction of Phil Davis and his beyond-ugly loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was profound. His zippy takedowns, his powerful hands, his slippery speed, his strong cardio...all gone, it seemed. While he won his next fight against 16-year veteran Dan Henderson, it was still difficult to tell which fighter was the 42-year-old. 

    The good thing is that Evans knows he's better than what he has shown. He admitted that his love of the sport diminished recently and that he had a mental problem in his overall game. He acknowledged the toll that his divorce and separation from his children had taken on his psyche.

    Has it all been fixed? That's something definitely worth watching, with the major shifts the light heavyweight division is undergoing. 

Is Johny Hendricks an Actual Threat to Georges St-Pierre?

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    The marketing for UFC 162 was pretty straightforward. "This Chris Weidman guy? He actually has a real chance to beat Anderson Silva. No, seriously you guys! Stop laughing, we mean it!" Doubters (and believers, too) had their jaws fall to their lap when it actually worked out.

    The idea behind Johny Hendricks as the top contender is fairly similar, but the big difference is that Weidman's "king-killer" status was largely theoretical.

    Keep in mind, the current middleweight champ had precisely one big UFC win to his credit (his KO of Mark Munoz at UFC on Fuel TV 4), which came after one of the sloppiest fights between good fighters you'll ever see (his unanimous-decision win over Demian Maia at UFC on Fox 2). Weidman was a strong wrestler with knockout power, and that was basically it.

    Johny Hendricks, though? He has faced six very good welterweights and beaten each and every one of them. The fact he can match Georges St-Pierre's wrestling, and is quite possibly the single-hardest puncher in MMA today, is a bonus.

    That translating to an improved chance of winning, however, is still just a hypothesis. 

    This is still MMA, and in MMA, anything can happen. Hendricks could get knocked out in the first round, and the fact he decapitated Martin Kampmann with a single punch suddenly becomes a distant memory, and "Bigg Rigg" suddenly becomes a statistic.

    This is basically the biggest question there is when it comes to UFC 167. Will Hendricks' title contention go the way of Chris Weidman, Alexander Gustafsson or Nate Diaz?

If GSP Dominates Johny Hendricks, Is He the Greatest of All Time?

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    The GOAT argument rears its head once again.

    Few would deny the discussion is a two-man race between Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre. Some insist that Fedor Emelianenko is in the mix but, well...he really isn't.

    Anyway, though, this isn't a discussion about GSP. It's about Johny Hendricks and how special a fighter he is.

    Hendricks owns a 12-1 record between the UFC and WEC. Six of those 12 wins have come by TKO or KO. He is currently on a six-fight winning streak, with those wins coming over Carlos Condit, Martin Kampmann, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Mike Pierce and TJ Waldburger. All of those fighters, except Fitch, are still on the UFC roster, and all of them are, at the very least, good. 

    If Georges St-Pierre can beat him, and beat him with the same level of ease with which he has felled most of his opponents during his reign as the UFC's welterweight champion, it could very well propel him to being MMA's GOAT.

    Granted, he is in a uniquely strong position, given Anderson Silva's loss to Chris Weidman and the fact he has not yet had the chance for vengeance. Still the case can already be made that St-Pierre is the greatest to ever enter a cage. A big win over Johny Hendricks could be the thing to put him over the top.