UFC 227 Results: The Real Winners and Losers
Let's make it official: The UFC is a lighter man's game.
Some recent headlines teed that up. UFC 227 drove it home.
Conor McGregor speaks for himself, as does his newly booked appointment with lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov. Featherweight champ Max Holloway is charismatic and gifted. Ditto Brian Ortega, the challenger he's bound to face sooner or later.
Saturday at UFC 227, the two smallest men's divisions put their biggest feet forward.
In the main event, TJ Dillashaw placed his bantamweight title on the line against hard-hitting Cody Garbrandt, who held the belt until Dillashaw took it away. These two, well, they do not like each other.
Before that, flyweight champ and consensus pound-for-pound king Demetrious Johnson took to the cage in a rematch with Henry Cejudo, the Olympic gold medalist who has had an easy time of it in the UFC when you don't count the champ.
There was intrigue up and down Saturday's 12-fight card, in which only one contest took place above 145 pounds.
As always, the final stats don't reveal all. These are the real winners and losers from UFC 227, which went down at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
For the literal-minded among us, full card results appear at the end.
Winner: TJ Dillashaw
In the fight's opening seconds, it was hard to imagine any scenario in which Cody Garbrandt would lose.
He looked heavier and stands two inches taller than the 5'6" Dillashaw. He was also faster. Way faster. When he threw punches or fired a kick, they hissed with danger. You could almost hear them more easily than you could see them.
Dillashaw lay in the cut, winging a half-hearted this or that, seemingly content to feel things out. In response, Garbrandt stood up straight, planted his feet and pointed to the floor. There wasn't a lot of subtlety around the challenger's intentions.
And in the end, that was kind of the problem, wasn't it?
The aggression eventually ramped up in earnest. In the first big offensive action, they hurt each other with simultaneous punches.
Garbrandt subsequently rushed forward, and in the ensuing exchange Dillashaw hit the canvas momentarily. That threw Garbrandt into full froth. As a result, he came in with a touch too much agression and got floored with perfectly timed right-hand counter bombs. Furious ground strikes from Dillashaw ensued.
Garbrandt grabbed a leg, recovered verticality and tried to charge forward again, but now Dillashaw was in control. He pounded Garbrandt toward the fence. Garbrandt appeared to shake loose for a moment, but a nasty knee strike was the final crucial offense. It was over in the first round.
"I love this s--t," Dillashaw told broadcaster Joe Rogan in the cage after the fight. "That's why you see a smile on my face every time I come in here. I'm here to bang. I'm here to knock you out."
The sequel was a reprise, much the same as the first encounter, which ended in a second-round Dillashaw knockout. Garbrandt is an athletic marvel at bantamweight, but in both contests he got a little too wild—perhaps even overwound—while Dillashaw kept the cooler head and landed with better timing and precision while avoiding the white-hot center of Garbrandt's attack.
Also after the bout, Dillashaw made an interesting callout for his next opponent. For more on that, see the next slide, thanks.
Winner: Henry Cejudo
The UFC crowned its first flyweight champion in 2012. In the intervening six years, only one man wore the belt.
Now there are two.
After a five-round MMA master class, Henry Cejudo edged Demetrious Johnson by split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47) to wrest away the flyweight strap.
At the start of the fight, Cejudo was a massive +347 underdog per OddsShark. If this doesn't count as shocking the world, then I don't know what does.
The bout didn't feature many highlights in the classical sense. This fight was more interstitial, with offense and defense almost blending together. Things like the intricacies of takedown mechanics (Cejudo) or the timing of a feint (Johnson) told a lot of the tale.
The matchup was up for grabs in the final round. The champ tried to bank some quick volume, while the challenger stalked for the takedown. In the end, it was mainly a drama-free stalemate, but clinch control and a flurry in the final seconds may have been enough to nudge the needle toward the challenger.
Even a razor-thin victory feels like a seismic breakthrough, less from the throwing of the rock than the overthrow of the UFC's diminutive Goliath. Watching the referee raise Cejudo's hand was truly a walk on foreign soil.
"From Olympic gold medalist to UFC champion," Cejudo told Rogan in the cage after the fight. I was born right here in Los Angeles in a two-bedroom apartment, about 10 minutes from here. ... I said composure was going to be the key tonight. Composure was how I won."
Meanwhile, the 5'3" Johnson left the cage without a win for the first time in 13 contests—a run that dates back to a draw with Ian McCall. One has to imagine he'll recover his cape fairly soon, but his immediate future is uncertain.
Cejudo's is not. Afterward, he challenged the main event winner (in hindsight, of course, that's Dillashaw) for the bantamweight title. Dillashaw went on to accept the challenge, so a superfight appears likely.
What happens to the flyweight division (or poor Raphael Assuncao) in the meantime is anyone's guess.
Until then, the MMA community will process the mindfreak that is a new UFC flyweight champ. Good thing there's another outstanding fighter in the role.
UFC events always draw a fun grab bag of cageside celebrities, but the game hits a new level when the action goes to Staples Center.
Anthony Kiedis, aka the Jack Nicholson of the UFC, was installed in his customary accommodations. But so were glitterati Chris Pratt, Matt Damon, Mickey Rourke and maybe others the camera did not confirm (was that Christian Bale?). Oh, and Chuck Liddell! Chuck Liddell was there!
Admit it: The tacit endorsement of A-list celebrities makes you feel better about your own MMA fandom. Search your feelings. You know it to be true.
Loser: Cub Swanson
Cub Swanson is a legend. To further the Hollywood motif, Swanson collects bonus checks like Thanos collects infinity stones, only if there were a much higher number of stones.
At age 34, Swanson still competes with the best. His last two fights before Saturday were both losses but came against Brian Ortega and Frankie Edgar, with the former scrap earning him yet another bonus jewel for the gauntlet.
Still, the fact remains that Swanson, fighting in front of an energetic hometown crowd, could not get it done against the red-hot, fast-rising Renato Moicano. There's no shame in that, but it marked the first time he's lost three straight.
Moicano, not known for his striking, hit a perfect, crushing left jab that started the fight-ending sequence. It was beautiful, but how many times have you seen Swanson go down from a jab? The eventual rear-naked choke was also impressive, and Swanson's tap ended it in the first round.
Swanson may have many fights and wins left. But his success and popularity are predicated on his gun-fighter mentality. That willingness to throw down anytime, anywhere is remarkable. But it also shortens your shelf life in a sport that already tends to discourage longevity. If Swanson wants to rebound, he needs to do it soon.
Winner: Kevin Holland
A couple of fighters on this card emerged as winners even though they took the L on their official records. Kevin Holland is the first such entrant.
In his UFC debut, Holland was a +300 underdog against middleweight headhunter Thiago Santos, according to OddsShark. I guess his mindset was: Why not have fun?
Sometimes when a fighter starts hot-dogging, it can be obnoxious or can appear to come at the opponent's expense. Not with Holland. Even when he kept dropping his mouthpiece or talking incessantly to Santos and his coaches, even when he danced and grinned and hugged, he was by all appearances having fun. And he brought everyone else along with him.
Ring announcer Bruce Buffer introduced his style as "kung fu." Point, Holland. In the first round, Holland appeared to be talking loudly to Santos during a ground sequence. The UFC broadcast van isolated the audio, which was apparently: "Why are you hitting me so hard? This sucks!" Another point.
He wasn't a terrible fighter, either. He might be better down at welterweight, but his jiu-jitsu was good. He tried a flying omoplata at one point. His striking was less imposing, but he was evasive enough to avoid a Santos knockout—the outcome everyone expected. He appeared to go limp for long stretches, then explode with activity. Interesting strategy.
Holland lost but made an impression. If you see the importance of drawing eyeballs and having fun at a sporting event, Holland was one of your winners Saturday. I wouldn't give him another shot against the likes of Santos anytime soon, but why not try him farther down the card? Assuming fun is one of the goals here.
Winner: Brett Johns
The knock on Brett Johns was never that he wasn't good or wasn't tough. It's that he wasn't exciting.
The Welshman unearthed a back door to action-fighter status in a lopsided decision loss to Pedro Munhoz.
Don't bury the fact that Munhoz may have looked better than ever. The Brazilian has always been a dangerous jiu-jitsu fighter, but his striking is improving. His March loss to John Dodson seems to have lit a fire under him, and Munhoz took that fire and proceeded to chase Johns around the cage with it.
Johns ate approximately 7,000 leg kicks early, his lead leg taking so much damage it forced him to limp and even fall over once or twice. And The Pikey's troubles had only begun.
It was a like a medieval torture session. Liver shots, head kicks, furious ground-strike storms and quite a few swipes of the guillotine, aka Munhoz's signature choke. Each time Johns survived, through heady defense or the "grace" of the referee or his own body.
Eventually Munhoz got the dominant decision and called out Aljamain Sterling, which would be an exciting match. He went on to say what needed to be said.
"I was very surprised I didn't get the finish after I had him hurt badly a few times but, man, Brett Johns is a really tough guy," Munhoz said in a post-fight statement sent to reporters. "He's a true warrior, and it was my pleasure to fight him."
Johns has still never been stopped but has never worked so hard to keep a zero in that column. Munhoz was determined and looked great, but Johns was the one who brought the people to their feet.
Loser: Blake Grice
It's never a good sign when the refs are part of the story. But so it often goes in MMA, and here we are again.
The fight between Matt Sayles and Sheymon Moraes went somewhat according to the blueprint. Moraes is a heavy, dangerous striker whose activity lapses as he waits on the counter. Check. Sayles is a power boxer with good movement and better output. Also check. The only surprise was that this went the distance.
Moraes decided to spice up the action by poking Sayles in the eye. One poke went unnoticed by referee Blake Grice. He noticed another—in part because Sayles was visibly upset—and it resulted in one of those trademark verbal warnings. Grice cautioned Moraes he would take a point if it happened again. But there was no deduction.
Of course, Moraes won 29-28 across the board. If Grice had taken a point for the illegal eye poking, it would have been a draw.
No disrespect to Moraes. If the ref isn't going to penalize you for cheating, why not do it? This will continue to threaten fight outcomes—not to mention fighters—until or unless referees or athletic commissions decide they want to do something about it.
Winner: Alex Perez
A transfer of power has occurred among flyweight prospects.
Jose "Shorty" Torres was a hot up-and-comer heading into the fight. The 26-year-old was 8-0 with four knockouts to his name. He won his UFC debut in June with a slam knockout of Jarred Brooks.
Perez took a double helping of shine from Torres on Saturday with a swarming first-round knockout that ended when Torres toppled over sideways along the fence.
This doesn't remove Torres' prospect designation, but Perez just leapfrogged him on the Candyland path.
UFC 227 Full Card Results
TJ Dillashaw (c) def. Cody Garbrandt by TKO, 4:17, Rd. 1 (for UFC bantamweight championship)
Henry Cejudo def. Demetrious Johnson (c) by split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47) (for UFC flyweight championship)
Renato Moicano def. Cub Swanson by submission (rear-naked choke), 4:15, Rd. 1
JJ Aldrich def. Polyana Viana by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-27)
Thiago Santos def. Kevin Holland (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
Pedro Munhoz def. Brett Johns by unanimous decision (30-26, 29-28, 29-27)
Ricky Simon def. Montel Jackson by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
Ricardo Ramos def. Kyung Ho Kang by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
Sheymon Moraes def. Matt Sayles by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Alex Perez def. Jose Torres by KO, 3:36, Rd. 1
Zhang Weili def. Danielle Taylor by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Marlon Vera def. Wuliji Buren by TKO, 4:53, Rd. 2
Scott Harris covers MMA and other sports for Bleacher Report.