The Real Winners and Losers from UFC Fight Night 148

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2019

The Real Winners and Losers from UFC Fight Night 148

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    The UFC returned to Nashville, Tennessee, on Saturday for UFC Fight Night 148, and the fans in the Bridgestone Arena were treated to an early Knockout of the Year contender in the main event.

    Former UFC lightweight champion Anthony "Showtime" Pettis lived up to the moniker once again. He stunned Stephen Thompson, and the crowd, with a buzzer-beating Superman punch knockout in the second round. Where does this put Pettis in the welterweight division? Where does this send Thompson tumbling down the ranks?

    In the co-main event, Curtis Blaydes breezed past Justin Willis to re-establish himself as a contender in the heavyweight division.

    But who else had their hand raised? More importantly, who were the real winners and losers coming out of Nashville?

    Those answers are just seconds away as we examine the ramifications of UFC Fight Night 148 and pick out the true winners and losers after a long night of fighting.

Winner: Anthony Pettis' Welterweight Title Hopes

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    There has been a wave of fighters moving up weight classes and fighting at more comfortable weights. Not having to deal with weight-cutting has proved to be effective for some, but recently, it has been lightweights making the 15-pound climb to 170 pounds who have made the most noise.

    Jorge Masvidal, who has fought between the divisions his entire career, defeated Darren Till on March 16 with an incredible knockout. Masvidal, while fighting exclusively at 170 since 2015, is still seen as undersized and has fought numerous lightweights coming up like Benson Henderson and Donald Cerrone.

    This time around, it was Anthony Pettis dispatching Stephen Thompson on his first trip back to welterweight since 2008.

    Pettis was taking a bit of a beating. The strike totals were adding up, and at the end of the second round, Showtime, with his back against the fence, landed a perfect Superman punch. Thompson's lights went off, and he was out before he hit the mat.

    The former lightweight champion entered the 170-pound fray in the best way possible—with a highlight-reel KO against the No. 3-ranked contender.

    Pettis now has an instant claim for fighting the division's elite. He can step right into title contention and potentially join the rarified ranks of champions of two weight divisions. He'll need another win or two before having the chance, but this knockout puts history at his doorstep.

    Masvidal and Pettis have, once again, shown their skills. And doing that at a more natural weight should prolong their careers and show the world that weight-cutting is a risk that need not be undertaken to achieve Octagon success.

Loser: Stephen Thompson

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    What a crushing defeat for Stephen Thompson.

    After getting back in the win column in 2017 against Masvidal, Thompson was still a top contender. He then traveled to Liverpool, England, and exited with a decision loss that was nothing if not controversial. Ten months later, Thompson had a shot to regain his shine in a welterweight division with Kamaru Usman as the champion.

    Instead, he was knocked out.

    Everything had been going well up until the knockout. He was touching up Pettis, imposing his will and had him bloodied. It all seemed so simple. Almost academic.

    But MMA is a cruel, twisted sport. Pettis landed a Superman punch and that was it. One punch. All of the work to put himself back in title contention withered away with one strike. Now Thompson has to hit the back of the line.

    With former champion Tyron Woodley out of the title picture, this was Thompson's chance to make an instant claim. He is likely more than a year away and a couple of effective wins from regaining a title shot. Saturday's KO loss showed how quickly this sport can change and how you can go from contender to just another fighter after a single strike.

Losers: Fans Wanting Excitement

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    I am sorry to report that UFC Nashville was simply not that fun.

    Sure, there was the Knockout of the Year candidate in the main event, but one finish does not save an entire card. Well, at least it did not save this one. Fans were expecting a little more, as it wasn't just anticipation for one fight.

    That is not to say there weren't bright spots, but they were few and far between. There were spurts of action and only occasionally.

    For the better part of the event, it was a drab affair. It was standard. There wasn't anything setting this card apart from the numerous others fans have already seen. Before the main event, there were only three finishes on the night.

    A contender such as Blaydes reasserted himself near the top of the heavyweight division, but he didn't captivate fans in a meaningful way that would make them clamor to see him back in the cage.

    A lightweight scrap was supposed to be a Fight of the Night contender, but John Makdessi vs. Jesus Pinedo delivered next to nothing worthwhile. Fans booed, and rightfully so. It was sleep-inducing, which is made even sadder because the new earlier start times had the fight in a prime-time window.

    This fight card, aside from the main event, will be forgotten about by Monday.

Loser: Flyweights

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    2019 is a strange year for fighters at 125 pounds. No one knows what the future entails.

    When Henry Cejudo beat TJ Dillashaw, the thought was he saved the flyweight division. He would then return and defend the belt. Instead, he immediately began campaigning for a shot at the 135-pound bantamweight title. And with Demetrious Johnson being traded to the ONE Championship, there are few interesting fighters at flyweight.

    Eric Shelton was the No. 11-ranked flyweight entering the event. Who knew? And he was buried alongside Jordan Espinosa, who won their contest in the curtain-jerking fight of the night. The other flyweight bout was between top contenders Jussier Formiga and Deiveson Figueiredo, but it was a lackluster affair.

    The UFC didn't seem keen on keeping the division, the champion has one foot out the door into the next weight class up, and the fights have not been particularly thrilling. That is anything but confidence-inspiring for the future of the division.

    Formiga did call out Cejudo. If he answers the call, perhaps there is hope. But it looks bleak.

Winner: Maycee Barber

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    This was not the runaway victory Maycee Barber had in mind against JJ Aldrich, but it could be exactly what she needed. And that is why she's a winner.

    Aldrich controlled the tempo of the fight early with her pressure and even dropped Barber with a good counter right hand. Barber struggled with the pressure and her striking defense was lacking. She made the adjustments in the second round. Barber found the mark, hurt Aldrich and piled it on until the referee stopped the fight.

    Being pushed will make Barber (4-0) a better fighter. More specifically, having tape of her deficiencies to study will allow her to correct her mistakes more quickly.

    The 20-year-old wants to become the youngest UFC champion in history, but that will not happen if the flyweight stagnates in her development. This fight will ensure that is not the case. Expect a much better showing in her next outing because of Aldrich's performance early in the first round.

Winner: Marlon Vera

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    Don't look now, but there is a rising bantamweight contender moving up the ladder.

    Marlon Vera has been a fun action fighter in the UFC's ranks for years. Against Frankie Saenz, it looked like another three-round scrap on paper that would thrill fans. Instead, Vera needed less than 90 seconds to dispatch a tough veteran.

    Vera's steady improvement was showcased behind his crisp jab. He landed it flush and sent Saenz to the mat. He followed up with damaging ground-and-pound until the referee halted the bout.

    The result will leave a big impression for the rest of the division. Vera offers a fun stylistic matchup with most of the ranked roster and could easily be slotted in against them for his next fight. If so, it becomes a high-risk, low-reward fight for them, as Vera has all the skills to steal their thunder.

    The win put Vera on a three-fight winning streak, and now he can start looking toward grabbing a spot among the upper echelon.

Winner: Randa Markos

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    Randa Markos has been a fixture in the UFC since 2014, but she has not found sustained success inside the Octagon. She alternated wins and losses until a draw last September, but on Saturday, she got back in the win column with a big performance.

    Given her history, it would have been difficult to declare her a true winner if it had been a lackluster decision victory. But it was easy this go-around because she simply walked right through former Invicta FC strawweight champion Angela Hill.

    In the post-fight interview in the cage with Daniel Cormier, Markos remarked how she went back to her grappling roots for this fight. It paid off with a first-round armbar submission.

    This is a story arc that fight fans have seen before. Talented grapplers try to improve their hands and end up in slugfests. Then, after middling results, they finally return to their chosen craft.

    If Markos can make it back-to-back UFC wins for the first time in her next outing, she could be an interesting foil in the strawweight title hunt. She has experience and undeniable skills—she just needs the results. This was the first step toward contention.

UFC Fight Night 148 Full Card Results

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    ESPN+ Main Card

    • Anthony Pettis def. Stephen Thompson by KO at 4:55 of the second round.
    • Curtis Blaydes def. Justin Willis by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-25).
    • John Makdessi def. Jesus Pinedo by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28).
    • Jussier Formiga def. Deiveson Figueiredo by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28).
    • Luis Pena def. Steven Peterson by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).
    • Maycee Barber def. JJ Aldrich by TKO at 3:01 of the second round.

    ESPN+ Preliminary Card

    • Bryce Mitchell def. Bobby Moffett by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
    • Marlon Vera def. Frankie Saenz by TKO at 1:25 of the first round.
    • Jennifer Maia def. Alexis Davis by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
    • Randa Markos def. Angela Hill via submission (armbar) at 4:24 of the first round.
    • Chris Gutierrez def. Ryan MacDonald by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).
    • Jordan Espinosa def. Eric Shelton by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27).