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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday brought UFC Fight Night 152 to Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, New York. With it came some good, some bad and some ugly.
THE GOOD: UPBEAT BEATDOWN
There was a lot to love about UFC Fight Night 152. Out of the 13 fights on the card, nine resulted in finishes; and one of the four decisions was a crowd-pleasing and reckless brawl between Davi Ramos and Austin Hubbard. The most memorable fighter to come out of the event had to be Michel Pereira. The Brazilian made quite the stir on social media when clips of a Road Fighting Championship bout went viral earlier this year. The flips off the cage and aerial attacks had people talking as they eagerly anticipated his arrival in the big show. The result was one of the most impressive Octagon debuts in recent memory.
Pereira delivered in every way possible. An emotional walkout opened our eyes to how meaningful the moment was for the 25-year-old. He then breakdanced as Joe Martinez introduced the fighters. Once the bell rang, Pereira picked up right where his viral video left off.
Facing veteran Danny Roberts, Pereira showed nothing that even mildly resembled Octagon jitters, as he leaped, danced and spun his way to wowing everyone in attendance. Roberts has managed to provide consistent action in the UFC and Cage Warriors Fighting Championship. Such a definitive win over a proven competitor shows that “Demolidor” is more than just a rhythmically gifted showman. That doesn’t mean the UFC will or should throw Pereira in the deep end of the welterweight division. There are plenty of possible pairings that can maximize the entertainment value while holding to logical rankings. The marketing machine of the promotion would be better off putting its muscle behind his highlight-reel habits against the likes of Alex Oliveira or Curtis Millender in fun fights outside of the Top 15, as opposed to the fast track to the top that was thrust upon the likes of Paige VanZant and Yair Rodriguez.
At the very least, Pereira is a great personality to showcase in ESPN’s efforts to lure its viewers into buying the UFC product. Don’t be surprised to see him featured on the main channel for the action-heavy lineup that has become typical for the flagship station. Additionally, he could be used as an ESPN prelims fighter heading into a pay-per-view to entice some last-minute buys.
THE BAD: NO MAN’S LAND
Kevin Lee’s welterweight experiment didn’t go as planned. After a strong start in the first round, “The Motown Phenom” struggled to enjoy meaningful success and ultimately succumbed to an arm-triangle choke from Rafael dos Anjos. The puzzling part about Lee’s performance was that it resembled some of his other missteps at lightweight. As in both losses to Al Iaquinta and the failed interim title bid against Tony Ferguson, Lee looked good in early portions but couldn’t sustain the pace necessary to get his hand raised.
The previous conventional wisdom was that Lee’s huge cut to make the lightweight limit zapped his body of the ability to perform at its best. However, the absence of the weight cut did nothing to improve upon those deficiencies. There are only two logical conclusions to draw from this. The first is that the move up to 170 pounds isn’t simply a matter of not dehydrating himself to absurd levels. The jump would necessitate a change in preparation to ensure that the extra 15 pounds wouldn’t be a burden on his cardio.
The second conclusion is much more damning: Lee might have seen his peak under his current training camp. Showing some of the same previous flaws with no real evolution is just not going to further his career, not with a crowded queue of talented contenders at 155 or 170 pounds. Understandably, the death of longtime coach Robert Follis was a huge emotional blow for Lee. As a fighter, it is likely to have stunted his growth, as well. Perhaps the Grand Rapids, Michigan, native can no longer grow under the roof of Xtreme Couture. A different set of eyes in the gym and a fresh start elsewhere may allow Lee to right the ship. At 26 years old, he presumably has a lot of time ahead of him, and despite the fact that he has shown some serious athletic talent so far, he might not have entered his prime yet.
If there isn’t some sort of change, Lee will be stuck in a virtual no man’s land. His struggles at the scale at lightweight are well-documented and won’t get any better with age. A small welterweight like dos Anjos managed to outlast, overpower and negate him many times throughout the four rounds. It’s likely the bigger men of the division could do the same and in much more dominant fashion. It’s time to hit the reset button.
Meanwhile, Megan Anderson also finds herself in a difficult spot. Fellow former Invicta Fighting Championships featherweight titleholder Felicia Spencer managed to dominate and finish Anderson with ease inside the first round. Anderson was previously thought of as the only potential threat for Cristiane Justino. However, with “Cyborg” dethroned and Anderson now 1-2 record in the promotion, the landscape has drastically changed. Unlike Lee, the Australia-born fighter doesn’t have the option of another weight class to turn to. At 6-foot and walking around at a lean 176 pounds, the idea of dropping to bantamweight is out of the question; and with not much of a featherweight division to speak of, Anderson’s options are quite limited.
The UFC could continue to poach good fighters from Invicta, but there’s no guarantee that such a move bodes well for Anderson. When Holly Holm moved up to featherweight to fight Anderson, the lifelong boxer enjoyed great success with her ground game and controlled almost the entire contest with it. Spencer improved on that formula and aggressively grappled her way into a belly-down rear-naked choke. It seems likely that anyone brought in to fight Anderson would employ the same strategy.
With “Cyborg” coming off of her devastating loss to Amanda Nunes, the long-anticipated fight between the two could make sense, even if the stakes are drastically reduced. However, Justino has turned her attention toward Spencer, with an instant call out via Twitter. Welcoming another bantamweight moving up to 145 pounds could be the next move for Anderson. It could be a step in the right direction, but it’s a far cry from the high hopes the UFC once had for her.
THE UGLY: HALF GUARD?
As is often the case here, it’s time to point out a key error in officiating. The best referee performances normally go unnoticed. They enforce the rules and attempt to influence the fight as little as possible. That wasn’t the case with Keith Peterson. Simply put, Peterson’s restart in the aforementioned Ramos-Hubbard fight was unacceptable.
Ramos, a highly respected Brazilian jiu-jitsu black and Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist, was working from the top in half guard and beginning an onslaught of ground-and-pound. While there was a lack of striking and submission attempts from that position prior to Peterson’s intervention, Ramos wasn’t inactive and became the victim of poor timing. He was clearly working to either pass the guard or establish further control of the position by head fighting.
Thankfully for Ramos, he was still declared the winner after winning the previous rounds and avoided any sort of freak display of misfortune despite Hubbard’s best efforts to capitalize on the restart and finish the round strong. However, when an accomplished grappler on a three-fight submission streak is on top of you finding openings, a finish seems highly probable. Peterson’s error in judgment not only could have cost Ramos another submission win, but it may have cost him the opportunity to cash additional bonus money for a stellar showing.