8 Takeaways from UFC Fight Nights 43 and 44
The UFC returned to action on Saturday, and it returned in full force with two fight cards.
UFC Fight Night 43 hit Auckland, New Zealand, early in the morning, and the evening produced UFC Fight Night 44 from San Antonio. There were a total of 21 fights between the two events.
Nate Marquardt submitted James Te Huna in the UFC Fight Night 43 main event, and Cub Swanson defeated Jeremy Stephens by a unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 44.
Aside from those two main events, there was plenty to take away from the cards. Some new faces emerged, and some old tropes reared their heads. Here are eight key takeaways from Saturday.
Let's get started.
New Zealand Undercard Was Fantastic
The undercard for UFC Fight Night 43 did not look great on paper, but those fighters delivered in a big way.
Four of the six bouts were finished, and the two decisions were entertaining. Everyone came to fight.
Gian Villante and Sean O'Connell opened the event, and they took down the Fight of the Night bonus from Auckland. Dan Hooker followed that up with a TKO win over Ian Entwistle by vicious elbow strikes. Neil Magny kept it going with a dominant Round 2 TKO against Rodrigo de Lima.
Vik Grujic TKO'd Chris Indich in a bout that was surprisingly fun. Richie Vaculik took young Roldan Sangcha-an the distance for his win.
It was all capped off by Jake Matthews' dominant performance against Dashon Johnson.
Everyone performed well on the undercard and made it much more exciting than it could have been. Fans will always appreciate that.
Jake Matthews Could Be for Real
The 19-year-old destroyed Dashon Johnson in the final UFC Fight Night 43 preliminary bout and put himself on the map as a prospect to watch.
Defeating Johnson was not what did it; it was how Matthews won that opened eyes. It was a systematic demolition. He got to show a full range of skills inside the cage, and despite winning each round he was constantly looking for the finish—and got it.
It is still early to predict what the future entails for him, but at such a young age he showed that he is a prospect to keep an eye on.
The UFC will be well-served to bring him along slowly, and if he continues to show up like he did Saturday, the promotion may have a potential international star on its hands.
Do Bronx Is a Top-10 Featherweight
Charles Oliveira and Hatsu Hioki are both former top-15 featherweights, but neither entered Saturday ranked. They were both seeking to get a winning streak started after losing to top-flight competition.
It was a phenomenal grappling battle that Oliveira won in the second round by becoming the first person to ever submit Hioki.
Oliveira may not re-enter the Top 10 right away, but there is little question that is where he belongs.
His two losses at 145 are to top-tier talent: a knockout loss to Cub Swanson at an event where Oliveira struggled to make weight and a competitive loss by decision to Frankie Edgar. Now he has won two in a row. He was impressive in New Zealand.
Featherweight is a stacked division, but "Do Bronx" deserves a little respect.
Middleweight Is Where Marquardt Belongs
Nate Marquardt dropped to welterweight upon arriving in Strikeforce. He defeated Tyron Woodley to win that title but promptly lost it to Tarec Saffiedine in January 2013.
When Marquardt returned to the UFC that March, he remained at 170. getting iced by hard-hitters Jake Ellenberger and Hector Lombard. He moved back to 185, a division where he was once the No. 1-ranked contender, on Saturday.
Marquardt looked fantastic. He was able to land on top when James Te Huna wanted to take him down, and he hurt the New Zealnder on the feet. Te Huna was able to land a couple of punches, but Marquardt took the shots much better than he did in his previous three fights. He was not as physically drained at 185.
Te Huna isn't a measuring stick to say Marquardt is back to being an elite fighter, but the performance showed that he never should have left the middleweight division. Sometimes cutting weight hampers your performance, and it clearly did for Marquardt.
Ray Borg Could Make Noise at 125
Ray Borg got a tough draw in his UFC debut back in April against Dustin Ortiz, but it was only a split-decision loss. He got to show off his skills much better on Saturday.
He went through Ray Howell easily.
The time of the rear-naked choke finish was 2:17, and every bit of that time saw Borg dominating the fight. He looked outstanding, and in a thin flyweight division he can make a bit of noise.
It is important to remember that he is only 20 years old. He is still a developing fighter. If his maturation continues at a rapid pace, we could see him move up in the rankings in the near future, but the UFC should not rush him.
The UFC needs more 125-pound fighters, and Borg may be one of the shining lights for the future of the division.
Refereeing Is a Tough Gig
Johnny Bedford was upset with referee Kerry Hatley at stopping his fight, as were many fans and UFC officials, but the ref was put in a tough position.
Cody Gibson clipped Bedford and had him hurt. Bedford fell backward, his head bounced off the mat, and Gibson went in for the finish. Hatley came in for a closer look, placed his hand on Gibson and then backed away. He realized he may have made a mistake but stuck with his decision to stop the fight.
Fighter safety is what the referee is concerned with, and there is no question Bedford was hurt. Was he intelligently defending himself? There is certainly a case to be made, but once Hatley put his hand on Gibson to stop, he had to stick with the decision.
It is better for the referee to stick with his decision than to be wishy-washy inside the cage.
The Year of the Decision Continues
Only four of the 10 bouts at UFC Fight Night 43 went to the scorecards, but that number jumped with UFC Fight Night 44.
Only one of the five undercard bouts went to the judges, but then each and every main card fight went the distance. It continued the trend of 2014 with decision after decision after decision.
Not all decisions are created equal. Sometimes there are thrilling fights we love to watch for 15 or 25 minutes and even crave more at the final horn. However, increasingly, there are lackluster decisions with tired fighters just hanging on.
After a promising start to Saturday, the decision monster reared its head once more.
Cub Swanson Wins but May Not Have Done Enough for Title Shot
It was an entertaining five-round main event, but did Cub Swanson do enough to get the next title shot?
He and Jeremy Stephens came into UFC Fight Night 44 seeking an impressive performance to lay claim to that shot. They wanted the winner of Chad Mendes vs. Jose Aldo, a fight that will take place in August. I am not sure Swanson accomplished that.
He now has won six straight, and that would seemingly be enough. However, No. 2-ranked featherweight Frankie Edgar fights next Sunday in a bigger main event against BJ Penn. If Edgar wins, that would make two wins in a row for him and three wins over Penn in total. And wins are not created equal; defeating Penn three times is a statement for a future UFC Hall of Famer.
Edgar also has been the closest to dethroning Aldo. Swanson had the chance to make a statement both in the cage and on the mic after the fight—he missed on both.
Cub, given a chance to call out Aldo: "I don't beg." Sigh.— Jeremy Botter (@jeremybotter) June 29, 2014
Swanson deserves a shot at the title, but there is a lot of time between now and when that fight would be made. That is a lot of time for change, and he may not have done enough Saturday to secure that title opportunity.