UFC Fight Night 39: Grades for Every Main Card Fighter
UFC Fight Night 39 treated Abu Dhabi to an exciting night of fights, with the main card offering a little good, a little bad and a little weird for fight fans across the globe.
Topped by a main event between longtime heavyweight standouts Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Roy "Big Country" Nelson, the UFC clearly wanted to end its stay in the United Arab Emirates with a bang, and that is exactly what happened.
Nelson connected with a series of powerful punches early in Round 1, and the finish was near. After stalking his prey across the Octagon, he uncorked one final blast, putting his foe down and out for good.
It was more than a little uncomfortable to watch a legend such as Nogueira go down so emphatically.
While fans will remember this bout for its hellacious finish, the other fighters on the main card left an impression as well.
Let's break down who excelled and who faltered on the big stage on Friday at UFC Fight Night 39.
Beneil Dariush: D
It's always tough to judge a fight that lasts less than five minutes, but Dariush got steamrolled by Ramsey Nijem at UFC Fight Night 39.
Despite some early success with his strikes, Dariush got clipped midway through Round 1, and Nijem never let off the gas, battering his opponent with a wide array of strikes until the referee was forced to intervene.
Dariush was left a bloody mess with little to take away from his performance.
This was not a great showing for the formerly undefeated fighter, but he can learn from this performance and bounce back better than ever in his next outing inside the Octagon.
Ramsey Nijem: A
Is Ramsey Nijem planning a run up the UFC's lightweight ladder?
He suffered vicious back-to-back first-round defeats to Myles Jury and James Vick in 2013, but the new year has been kind to the former The Ultimate Fighter combatant.
After his demolition of Dariush at UFC Fight Night 39, Nijem is 2-0 in 2014, and he barely suffered a scratch in his latest fight, which means he can get back to work and chalk up another victory by the end of the summer.
After looking like he was on his way out of the UFC at the end of 2013, he dug deep and rebounded with authority.
He was clearly fired up to fight in Abu Dhabi, and he channeled that excitement into a dominant, signature victory over a game opponent in Dariush.
John Howard: B
John Howard lost a clear-cut unanimous decision against Ryan LaFlare at UFC Fight Night 39.
"Doomsday" tagged his foe a few times throughout the fight, but for the most part, he was bested by a superior athlete and grappler in LaFlare.
Why, then, does Howard receive a decent passing mark?
Because, my friends, Howard ate a ferocious groin strike in Round 2, crumpled to the mat for five minutes, hopped back up and proceeded to fight as if nothing had happened.
It was bad. It was terrible. It looked like Howard would not be able to continue the fight.
Yes, the shot probably sapped some energy and will out of him, but he fought through it.
Mixed martial artists are just insanely tough dudes, and Howard embodied that warrior spirit Friday against LaFlare.
You didn't win the fight, Mr. Howard, but your show of heart and determination earns you a B.
Ryan LaFlare: B-
Despite LaFlare taking all three judges' scorecards, I left this fight most impressed by Howard's resolve.
LaFlare definitely won the bout, and he showcased a technical, creative grappling game that will make him a threat moving forward, but I couldn't help but feel that we've seen his ceiling, and it's not that high.
Since joining the UFC in April 2013, he has won four straight fights, all by unanimous decision. It seems to feel like the "next" fight will serve as his breakout performance, but that fight comes and goes, and we don't see anything new from the New York native.
Right now, LaFlare, despite winning against tough dudes, appears to be spinning his tires in a crowded weight division.
From what I've seen so far, I'm not sure he can compete with the Top 10 in the weight class, and his inability to show off any new wrinkles in his game docks his score a bit for me.
The "Ryan LaFlare: Future Title Challenger" project is not quite disbanded, but it needs some additional funding to see the finish line.
Tatsuya Kawajiri: C
Tatsuya Kawajiri's performance at UFC Fight Night 39 was fun, if ineffective.
For three rounds, he stood toe-to-toe with Clay Guida, swinging for the fences and looking to exploit any and all holes in Guida's ground game during rapid, scrambling grappling exchanges.
Unfortunately for the Japanese fighter, Guida's game was tight and refined on this evening, and the Greg Jackson product was a step ahead of his opponent for the fight's duration.
Kawajiri got rocked by a huge overhand right early in Round 1, but he quickly shook off the cobwebs and returned to battle against "The Carpenter."
Still, the former Shooto, Dream and Pride fighter looked exhausted by Round 3, and he was unable to mount any significant offense. Unfortunately for him, good defense does not win fights when coupled with little to no offensive pressure.
If people thought Kawajiri could climb the UFC featherweight rankings and work toward a title shot before this fight, they should be silenced now.
He had nothing for Guida, and for that he earns only a C.
Clay Guida: A-
Clay Guida is still really fun to watch, which was evident throughout his three-round bout against Kawajiri at UFC Fight Night 39.
Guida's striking looked better than ever, and he clipped his foe early, nearly ending the fight with some follow-up ground-and-pound. Kawajiri hung tough, though, and Guida proceeded to bring the fight and push the pace in stand-up and grappling exchanges alike.
Guida was just superior everywhere the fight went, and his conditioning, as usual, was top-notch.
This was the most complete and impressive performance we've seen from Guida in a long time. Whether or not that means he's ready for a big-time, Top 10 fight to work his way toward title contention or not remains to be seen, but his UFC Fight Night 39 performance against Kawajiri was a step in the right direction.
Antonio Nogueira: F
What a sad moment for the heavyweight legend...
Following bomb after bomb from Roy Nelson in the main event at UFC Fight Night 39, Nogueira's famous chin gave way, yielding to a final, crushing blow from "Big Country."
Stiff and motionless, Nogueira remained on the canvas for quite some time after the finishing punch. It was a scary, unfortunate sight for fight fans.
Is this it for the former Pride and UFC champion?
This performance was brutal to watch, and Nogueira has a big decision to make regarding his future after the devastating loss.
Personally, I hope he calls it quits. He's done enough, he's accomplished more than most fighters ever will, and he needs to act with his long-term health in mind.
I hate that it happened like this, but Nelson effectively closed the curtain on Nogueira's career in my eyes.
Roy Nelson: A
Roy Nelson packs huge power in his hands.
We already knew that, of course, but his performance against Nogueira will go down as one of the finest, flushest knockouts in a career containing 13 such finishes.
There's not much to say about this performance, unfortunately, and it did little to show what Nelson could do against the division's Top 10.
He got in, landed his bombs and emerged unscathed. While we did not see anything new or improved from Nelson throughout the fight, it's hard to fault the man for taking care of business in walk-off knockout fashion.
Enjoy your A, Big Country. You've earned it.