Middleweight prospects Sean Strickland and Luke Barnatt squared off in the second main card match from UFC Fight Night 41.
The match looked very intriguing on paper, with two promising up-and-comers poised to climb over each other to assert their presence at 185. In reality, it was a slow-paced boxing match with few substantial shots landed.
After 15 minutes, two of the three judges gave the nod to Strickland, whose middling output proved enough to overcome Barnatt's cautious offensive approach.
In the aftermath of the bout, Barnatt complained that Strickland ran away the whole time, while Strickland indicated he had suffered a hand injury.
What we will remember about this fight
I really can't fathom why we'd remember this one. It was an all-around forgettable contest that was entirely light on action.
The best-case scenario is that we remember this as a hiccup shared by two successful and impressive fighters.
What we learned about Strickland
Strickland's performance was far from exhilarating, but he did show some nice head movement, as well as acumen for overcoming a reach deficit. That he implemented those skills to beat a solid opponent in Barnatt is actually rather impressive. That's the way to look at it if you're a "glass half-full" kind of person.
If you're less inclined to look on the bright side, we could say that we learned Strickland's rise will not be without its bumps. Despite the win, he looked ordinary and probably didn't earn too much renown or momentum from the decision.
What we learned about Barnatt
The lanky Brit has used his long limbs to great effect in the past, but he had difficulty taking advantage against Strickland. He was visibly frustrated with his opponent's conservative style but lacked the initiative to take over the pace of the fight.
On the other hand, the decision could easily have gone his way. He landed some nice punches in the third round and dealt with Strickland's grappling in the rare instances when the action hit the canvas.
Ultimately, I don't think we learned anything groundbreaking here, but it is evident that Barnatt will need to improve the way he implements his strikes from range if he hopes to make a dent in the division's highest echelon.
What's next for Strickland
I guess he'll need to rest up that hand before he's ready to fight again. Once that happens, I'd like to see him fight someone like Thales Leites or Brad Tavares, who rank near the bottom of the middleweight top 15. They, like Strickland, have some things to work on before fully reaching their ceiling.
What's next for Barnatt
I don't expect this loss to send him plummeting down the rankings. Tavares wouldn't be a bad option for him, as it would give the Brit a chance to test his takedown defense.
Alternatively, Barnatt could embody Lorenz Larkin's last chance to stick in the UFC.