What mattered most at UFC on ESPN 15 in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …
* * * * *
1. Frankie Edgar’s fresh start
There was never any doubt Frankie Edgar would fit in well in the UFC bantamweight division. That’s why everyone pleaded to see him there for so long. The real questions going into his divisional debut against Pedro Munhoz, though, were about whether he made the move too late.
Even after seeing him slug it out with Munhoz for five rounds and leave with his hands raised by split decision, the answer (no pun intended) was yes. In fact, the fight only emphasized the point he should’ve done this earlier.
Edgar came into this fight as the only athlete in UFC history with more than seven hours of octagon time. He turns 39 in October, and the laws of life guarantee this move isn’t better for Edgar now than it would’ve been five or more years ago when he had less miles and more pep in his step.
Nevertheless, Edgar got a crucial win to extend his relevance as a top name in the sport and give him a fresh coat of paint. There’s no way he’d be able to compete with the top-level lightweights at this stage, and he’d hit a dead end at featherweight after falling short of the title on three separate occasions. His name adds a lot to the 135-pound class, and it will only take or maybe two wins for Edgar to be positioned for another championship opportunity.
Munhoz seemed to be the best matchup for Edgar among the division’s top names, and that means it’s going to get a lot harder for Edgar going forward. But he’s no longer putting himself at the disadvantage of being the smaller man in essentially every fight, though, so let’s see what he can do with it.
2. Pedro Munhoz shows class
Pedro Munhoz would have been justified in throwing a tantrum after coming out on the wrong end of a split decision against Edgar that could’ve easily gone his way. Instead, he showed up the press conference, calmly explained why he should’ve got the nod from the judges, made no excuses for the loss, said he would fight anyone UFC wants next and went on with his evening.
There was no screaming “robbery” from the Brazilian, who could have easily gone down that road and had a better case for doing so than a lot of others who vocalize judging frustration. Of the 21 media outlets to score the fight on MMADecisions.com, 17 had Munhoz winning either 48-47 or 49-46. He outlanded Edgar 166 to 135 in significant strikes, according to Fight Metric, and was the one who showed up to speak with the media post-fight, while Edgar went to the hospital to have his injuries checked out.
That’s got to be a tough outcome to digest for Munhoz, who had a lot riding on this fight. If the decision had gone his way, Munhoz would have a main event win over a former UFC champ and future UFC Hall of Famer, which would do wonders for his position at 135 pounds. Instead, he’s now on the first two-fight losing skid of his career, and his next move is unclear.
3. Shana Dobson’s improbable upset
There were many people scratching their heads when Mariya Agapova was matched up with Shana Dobson. Even by today’s loosely defined standards of being “UFC quality,” Dobson’s professional record of 3-4 coming into the fight makes her stand out as someone who shouldn’t be there.
Is that why Agapova specifically called out Dobson? Perhaps. She may have seen “Danger” as easy pickings, and given Dobson’s three-fight skid and being winless since December 2017, she wasn’t necessarily misguided. The oddsmakers agreed, too, pitting Dobson as a gigantic betting underdog at as high as +1250.
She was given less than a sliver of a chance on paper, but the reality was far different. There were moments where Agapova looked like she might be too much for Dobson to deal with, but then the pace started to slow and the momentum shifted to Dobson, who found a way to get top position and finish the fight with strikes in the second to cap off what, by odds alone, is the biggest upset in UFC history.
Major props to Dobson for that. At 31, it’s almost certain a loss would’ve spelled the end of her UFC tenure. She needed this in the worst of ways to keep her career going on this level – much more than the 23-year-old Agapova, who at worst got dealt a humbling and important lesson.
4. An incredible comeback
Trevin Jones scored one for the books against Timur Valiev. No one was giving him a chance against the highly regarded Valiev, who is one of the star pupils of coach Mark Henry and a protege of Edgar.
Valiev had to endure a debut postponement then fight week opponent change, but it still seemed like a perfect situation for him to thrive. And for the first round, everything was going according to expectations.
But then Jones revealed he had other plans, finding the Hail Mary shot he needed after nearly being stopped to put Valiev down and ultimately set up the TKO on three days’ notice.
There’s something to be said for the unevenness of Chris Tognoni’s referee work. He definitely gave Jones more leeway in the first round, but he was also being crippled to the body, whereas Valiev was taking shots to the head during the final sequence.
It’s impossible to say Valiev could or couldn’t have got himself back into the fight, especially with what we witnessed moments prior. He probably should have gotten some more rope, but he didn’t, and that provided Jones with a memorable moment.
5. Classic Dana White
UFC president Dana White was in classic form at the post-fight press conference. It had a little bit of everything. Sitting on the fence about scoring of a razor-thin main event, taking shots at his old buddy Oscar De La Hoya, ripping a rival promoter in Scott Coker, showing disinterest in co-promotion and more.
White is almost always without filter when he gets a microphone in front of his face, but this one felt like more of a throwback to the press conference and scrums of old. Watch it if you haven’t already.