John Howard vs. Ryan LaFlare represented one of the most interesting bouts on UFC Fight Night 39, showcasing two legitimate up-and-coming welterweights.
Howard jumped into relevance with his massive short-notice upset over Uriah Hall in 2013 and followed that up with a big win over Siyar Bahadurzada. Ryan LaFlare, meanwhile, scored two solid decision wins and, most recently, edged out the chronically underrated Court McGee, winner of the 11th season of The Ultimate Fighter.
When they faced off, Ryan LaFlare weathered some great volleys of striking from John Howard and took a solid unanimous decision win. So what did we learn?
Ryan LaFlare Is Solid, Not Necessarily Top-10 Material
So we've seen a bit out of Ryan LaFlare.
Solid Wrestling. Serviceable striking.
That is enough to take you pretty far in MMA, even in a very competitive division like welterweight. That said, John Howard isn't quite an elite competitor, and LaFlare was brought to the brink by him.
With wins over Howard and McGee now, there's clearly something there. At this time, though, I don't think many would disagree with me when I say he's going to need to improve if he wants to break into the top 10.
John Howard Has Some Nice Striking
While he was the victim of LaFlare's wrestling for a good portion of the fight, Howard landed some big, accurate, damaging shots when things were standing.
Most of them were punches while breaking away from the clinch. Some were axe-like leg kicks.
In both cases, we saw that John Howard has some legitimate upside in the welterweight division. If he can hone his takedown defense, he could make some noise.
A Groin Shot Can Ruin a Fight
Sweet striking exchanges, powerful takedowns, slick reversals...this fight had it all. Unfortunately, the big highlight was that four-minute pause during the second round. That dampened the whole affair.
It might wind up being the Fight of the Night for this event, but if it wasn't for LaFlare's low knee, it could've been a candidate for Fight of the Year. Hell, I'd be willing to bet if the bout was aired on tape delay with the four-minute pause edited down, it would be on everyone's short list for that honor.
But alas, the reality is that everyone saw Howard take one down under, crumble in pain and stay there for an awkwardly long time. At least he wasn't penalized for it like James Krause was.
Betting Lines Can Be Really Silly
LaFlare was the logical favorite entering this fight, but check this out:
Ryan LaFlare around -425 favorite over John Howard. That seems like a big number vs. a veteran with some decent wins. #UFC— Mike Chiappetta MMA (@MikeChiappetta) April 11, 2014
Negative-425? Come on now.
Neither of these guys were all that well established entering the fight, so even though LaFlare has shown some skill against some legitimate opponents, it's tough to rationalize him being such a massive favorite.
If Howard had won, it likely would've represented one of the biggest upsets of 2014.