What mattered most at UFC Fight Night 183 on Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …
1. Stephen Thompson remains a riddle
Stephen Thompson has been one of the UFC’s most difficult puzzles to solve since the moment he first stepped foot in the octagon in February 2012. Some have cracked the code with varying degrees of success, but Geoff Neal wasn’t one of them.
“Wonderboy” did all of the “Wonderboy” things over the course of five rounds to win a unanimous decision. Neal was a game opponent from the jump,, but it was evident early on that Thompson karate-influenced striking style was going to be a major issue, and it was.
Thompson’s style relies heavily on speed, accuracy and reflexes. Despite the fact he turns 38 in February, Thompson’s attributes remain in tact and he’s using them to beat fighters who are younger and have endless motivation to accomplish the things that Thompson has achieved in his own career.
It doesn’t seem Thompson is keen on passing off the torch just yet, though, and his goal remains on the title. Unfortunately becoming champion will be difficult to make reality as long a Kamaru Usman – his worst style matchup in the division – holds that 170-pound strap.
Still, though, Thompson remains a unique entity in MMA, and someone most are going to have trouble beating.
2. Jose Aldo fights off questions
Jose Aldo came into his co-main event with Marlon Vera on a three-fight slide and was the subject of speculation about whether the skid was a sign of a bigger decline for the former longtime UFC champion.
It’s fair now to say that anyone who thought Aldo was at the end of his proverbial rope, was getting ahead of themselves. He outpointed Vera over three rounds in a performance that showed a lot of the brilliant skills which have turned him into a surefire future UFC Hall of Fame inductee.
In hindsight, Aldo’s drought wasn’t all that bad. He succumbed to a fifth-round TKO against Petr Yan in a title fight in July, lost a questionable split decision to Marlon Moraes in his bantamweight debut, then got stalled out by the now-UFC featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski in a decision loss. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in there.
Even though the outcomes are all justifiable, fighters need to win eventually, though, and that’s what made the moment against Vera absolutely critical. No disrespect to “Chito,” but Aldo losing this fight would’ve been a bigger indictment on him than praise thrown at Vera.
Is Aldo good enough to regain UFC gold? I wouldn’t bet my money on it with younger, hungrier killers like Yan, Aljamain Sterling and Cory Sandhagen at the top of the heap at 135 pounds. But that doesn’t mean Aldo doesn’t have more to give the sport.
3. Rob Font breaks through
The potential for Rob Font to be a player in the bantamweight division has been there since his entry in the UFC. He’s been his own worst enemy in terms of getting consistency due to injuries and time off, but after finishing Marlon Moraes by knockout in the first round, his potential may now be realized.
Font showed once again why he should be regarded as one of the most dangerous strikers at 135 pounds when he overwhelmed former WSOF champ and UFC title challenger Moraes with his power until the Brazilian crumpled and went out. It was a resounding way for Font to come back from a yearlong layoff.
After losing to some established names earlier in his career, Font finally has the signature name on his resume that he’s been looking for. He’s riding a three-fight winning streak, and there’s no doubt another top name in his weight class should be next.
Some will put more blame on Moraes for falling off than giving Font his praise, and right now it’s impossible to say whether that assertion is wrong. Font has earned a prominent spot, though, and now it remains to be seen if he can maintain this type of performance against more elite names.
4. Greg Hardy’s ground game exposed
Greg Hardy looked better than ever against Marcin Tybura. Well, until the fight hit the ground.
After taking some big shots through the first round and early into the second, it seemed Marcin Tybura was on the cusp of being knocked out. But then he dragged the bout to the canvas, and it was a whole different world.
Hardy’s lack of ground awareness was badly exposed as he got put in a bad position and pounded on until the fight was stopped by TKO. It wasn’t a good sign for those who believe Hardy has a high ceiling in the sport, but not all together surprising, either.
Tybura’s experience on the mat is light years ahead of Hardy, and that’s not something that can be easily made up. Even if Hardy spends every hour of every day working on his jiu-jitsu, there’s still a massive gap to be narrowed. Given his position on the UFC roster, it’s going to prove hard to find fights where he can work on that aspect, too.
Hardy has been extremely active since making his UFC debut less than two years ago. Perhaps a break in between fight is needed now, though, to shore up the holes in his game. Otherwise, the blueprint to beating Hardy is quite clear.
5. Anthony Pettis’ future prospects
Anthony Pettis put himself in an ideal scenario going into free agency with a solid win over a tough Alex Morono.
The former UFC and WEC champion closed out his current contract with a unanimous decision, and is now on a winning streak for the first time since he held UFC gold at 155 pounds.
So, what comes next? “Showtime,” in my estimation, has made his final octagon walk – at least for the foreseeable future. Although he’s put together some triumphant performances of late and still holds name value, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the UFC pass on signing Pettis, especially if his team pushes for a raise.
He would be a much more welcomed and significant addition to the Bellator or PFL rosters, with Bellator seeming more likely because his younger brother, Sergio, is already signed there.
Pettis mentioned post-fight that he has a desire to be UFC lightweight champ again, but is he willing to put that preference over more compensation? That’s a decision he may have to make as more companies push for his services.