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Post-Fight Thoughts: UFC on ESPN+ 10

Another UFC event is in the books, as the octagon came and went to Rochester and delivered on a night with 9 finishes in 13 bouts. There’s quite a bit to unpack after every event, and UFC Rochester gave the MMA world more storylines to consume. Here’s what I’m thinking after UFC Rochester.

RAFAEL DOS ANJOS IS STILL ELITE



A post shared by Rafael Dos Anjos (@rdosanjosmma) on May 19, 2019 at 7:49pm PDT

Two setbacks against Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman made myself and many others in the MMA community think that Rafael Dos Anjos was dead in the water at welterweight. Whether that meant he would become the de facto gatekeeper at 170 or drop back down to 155, the community regardless seemed keen on believing that this was it for the contendership status of RDA. I was wrong. Many of us were wrong. Vegas was wrong, having him pegged as a +130 underdog entering fight time. Shortly after watching his finish of Kevin Lee, it actually dawned on my foolish self for the first time. I thought RDA’s weakness was high-pace, high-cardio wrestlers. In truth, that’s not really a weakness of his, it just so happens that his prior two-fight skid came against the two best fighters in the division right now. If Saturday night in Rochester was any indication, RDA is still amongst the class of the UFC welterweight roster. Will he ever be champion again? Doubtful, especially with Usman and Covington atop the division, but he now may be the best 170-pounder outside of the top 2.

KEVIN LEE HAS NO CLEAR PATH



A post shared by Kevin Lee (@motownphenom) on May 18, 2019 at 9:47pm PDT

This doesn’t excite me one bit if I’m a fan of The Motown Phenom. Sometimes, even in losing efforts, fighters, especially ones at this level of the sport, will still show positive signs and there will be some sort of upside to take away. This is the second consecutive loss for Kevin Lee, and there really hasn’t been any positive to take away from either. Al Iaquinta outpointed him in dominant fashion last December, in a bout where Lee apparently forgot about his wrestling acumen. Against RDA, he remembered to use his wrestling, but not effectively in the way he’s been shown to do in the past whatsoever. When he was rising through the lightweight ranks, Lee was a prolific finisher, using his wrestling to work his way into favorable grappling transitions where he could force his way into a submission which would almost always force a tap due to just his pure raw strength. Even against Tony Ferguson, he looked phenomenal prior to being submitted. That Kevin Lee, it would appear, is gone, or at least, gone momentarily. Career revivals happen all the time, as I’ll reference in a bit. Lee currently sits in limbo, between 170 and 155, coming off of a loss in both. It’s not an Anthony Pettis situation, where he has a win at welterweight he can run with. Typically, I would recommend his next move, but I can’t, because I don’t really know where he should go from here. The best thing I could suggest is for him to take some time off, maybe the rest of 2019, and re-evaluate what’s best for his career. There’s a stable of murderous contenders in both weight classes and if he doesn’t get back to that old form, he’ll continue to drown in the rankings.

TWO FIGHTS INTO HIS UFC CAREER, AND IAN HEINISCH IS ALREADY A LEGITIMATE MIDDLEWEIGHT CONTENDER

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The co-main event of UFC Rochester featured a middleweight bout between The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3 winner Antonio Carlos Junior, and Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series alumnus and former LFA champion Ian Heinisch. An underrated bout that slipped into the co-main event on fight week, both men entered the bout on five fight winning streaks with Carlos Junior (Shoeface!) on a owning his previous three by way of submission, and Heinisch having three finishes in his last three bouts before officially joining the promotion. The fight delivered as one of the more competitive bouts of the evening. With Shoeface controlling the first round, the second and third rounds were very competitive, with Shoeface controlling pieces of the round with his dominant Jiu Jitsu game but Heinisch in control on the feet. Heinisch earned the unanimous decision victory and is now slated to take a spot in the rankings this week. As I mentioned above, this was Heinisch’s second UFC appearance. Second. Most guys make their second UFC appearance on the undercard of a fight night in Weekapaug against a 4-0 guy making his UFC debut. When Heinisch won the LFA interim middleweight title last May, he called for a spot in the UFC. He got in through the Contender Series, as so many do, but his rise has been faster than that of any other prospect whose name has been made from their appearance. It took Cory Sandhagen four fights, now he’s ranked ninth at bantamweight, and it took Maycee Barber two to be (ridiculously) ranked 15th at women’s flyweight, the UFC’s newborn baby of a division. It’s taken Heinisch, a soft spoken guy from Colorado, two UFC appearances to potentially set up a date with a guy like Chris Weidman, a former champion, or Jacare Souza, a legend, in his next bout. At this rate, Heinisch will also be the first Contender Series alumnus to fight for a UFC title, and with high level performances like the one against Shoeface in Rochester, it’s not out of the question to think of that happening soon.

CHARLES OLIVEIRA MAY FINALLY BE LIVING UP TO HIS POTENTIAL AT LIGHTWEIGHT



A post shared by Charles Oliveira (@charlesdobronxs) on May 18, 2019 at 9:47pm PDT

It took over 20 UFC appearances and a handful of weight debacles, but it would seem that Charles Oliveira is finally finding his groove in the UFC. The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu specialist now finds himself on a five- fight winning streak with all five wins coming by finish. Four consecutive submissions capped off with his third win over Nik Lentz in Rochester as the first TKO of his career. Oliveira has been a staple on the UFC’s roster since making his debut against Darren Elkins in August 2010. When he joined the promotion, there was a great deal of hype on what Oliveira could become given his very dangerous submission attack. While he did see success at 145, being a consistently ranked contender, Oliveira always came up short against top ranked contenders and always had trouble making the featherweight limit, missing weight four times weighing in as high as 155 for a bout at 145 against Ricardo Lamas. Since the miss against Lamas, Oliveira has had seven fights at lightweight going 6-1, with his only loss coming against top 10 contender Paul Felder. Despite constantly reiterating a desire to return to 145, Oliveira seems to finally have all the pieces put together at 155. Given his elite guard game, many people now see him as being a dark horse to maybe be the one to one day topple Khabib Nurmagomedov. Now that’s probably too steep an expectation to have, but at least for the moment, it’s time to consider Oliveira seriously amongst the world’s best lightweights.

ASPEN LADD IS GREAT, BUT LET’S PUMP THE BREAKS ON HER BEATING AMANDA NUNES



A post shared by Aspen Ladd (@aspenladd) on May 19, 2019 at 2:52am PDT

Aspen Ladd defeated The Ultimate Fighter 26 alumnus and the vastly underrated Sijara Eubanks by decision to remain undefeated. The bout, a rematch of a 2017 meeting between the two, deservingly won Fight of the Night honors and the win has launched the now 8-0 Ladd into immediate title contention in the incredibly shallow women’s bantamweight division. The fight was primarily a grappling affair, with Ladd using her superior wrestling and top game to cause problems for the more inexperienced grappler Eubanks. Ladd undoubtedly impressed me and many others, but there seems to be an oversight many people seem to be making. While the fight was on the feet, Eubanks was controlling the action, and in a rather dominant fashion. Eubanks outlanded Ladd substantially on the feet, which led to Ladd closing the distance and forcing a dirty fight in the clinch. It worked against Eubanks, would that strategy work against champion Amanda Nunes? Many people seem to believe that Ladd will be the one to finally dethrone Nunes atop the bantamweight mountain. If the fight with Eubanks was any indication, she needs to work on her striking game in all areas if she even wants to stand a chance against someone as dynamic as Nunes. The good news for Ladd is that Eubanks’ style of striking is very similar to that of Nunes’, in that both will primarily attack on the feet with looping punches from awkward angles. The bad news for Ladd is that Sarj is the only woman to take her to a decision in her career, and she’s done it twice at that. Because of the lack of depth in the division, it’s very plausible that a title fight is next for Ladd, and given her raw athleticism, she could absolutely improve on her striking game and give the champion a hard time. In order for her to do that, however, she’s got quite a bit of work to do.

MICHEL PEREIRA IS THE FIGHTER WE ALL DESERVE



A post shared by Michel “Demolidor” Pereira (@michelpereiraoficial) on May 16, 2019 at 12:49pm PDT

Call him the Brazilian Tony Ferguson, or the welterweight Johnny Walker, call him “Demolidor” Michel Pereira. 100% the most exciting man of the night, the man that we are all talking about today, the man that will probably find himself on a main card in his next bout. The best way to describe Pereira would be as I did before, perhaps he is the Brazilian Tony Ferguson; a man who break dances in the center of the Octagon before a fight, or the welterweight Johnny Walker; he’s dynamic, he’s exciting, he performs off the wall techniques, and is an entertainer above all else. After starching an Octagon veteran like Danny Roberts in a round, the sky’s the limit for the Brazilian kickboxing phenom. It’ll be incredibly fascinating to see how they matchmake him going forward. It’s probably too soon for a top 15 opponent, but when your skillset is that diverse, plus your personality is as electric as his is, it’s not uncommon to see the UFC fast track you to the top. A prime example of this would be the current interim middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. Either way, whatever happens with this new fan favorite gem we have at welterweight, we all know that we’ll be watching intently to see what he does next.

Follow Johann on Twitter: @thejohanncastro

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