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Post-fight Thoughts with Johann Castro: UFC 238

UFC 238 was billed as one of the most stacked cards of 2019. 21 of the 26 fighters who competed on Saturday night were ranked, and the event certainly lived up to, if not exceeded the lofty expectations. This event gave us A LOT to unpack and dissect, so let’s jump straight into it.

FERGUSON-CERRONE WAS A GREAT FIGHT, AND WE WON’T NEED TO RUN IT BACK



A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Jun 8, 2019 at 9:01pm PDT

Typically, I’ll analyze each fight in order from the top of the card on down, but this is a special case. Considering this was the biggest fight on the card from an impact perspective, I’m gonna dive right into a look at Ferguson-Cerrone. It was a great fight for the ten minutes it lasted, but if you’re one of the many fools online screaming for a rematch because of the unorthodox (you knew it was coming) ending, let’s take a second to breathe and actually look at what transpired prior to the one late blow thrown by Ferguson at the end of round 2. The first round of the fight was competitive, which was to be expected, and many people, including myself, gave the round to Cowboy. Tony looked a bit lethargic early on as if he was trying to just get his feet underneath him. Fast forward to the second and for the entirety of the round, Tony Ferguson was controlling and dominating the fight. The volume and pace of Ferguson became too much for Cerrone to handle, and while he did technically survive the first ten minutes of the fight, his face had been stamped with the El Cucuy seal of approval. His right eye was practically swollen shut, not because he blew his nose, but because Ferguson had absolutely battered him for the previous five minutes. The nose blowing just exacerbated the injury. Dan Miragliotta had to stop the fight, the eye injury was far too significant, and you’re a sadist if you think Cowboy should’ve continued fighting. Because of the anti-climactic ending, everyone now wants to see this fight run back. For my money, if we run this back, then let’s do Ferguson-Pettis again because that one also ended due to injury. Think about this, kiddies. Maybe the reason guys keep getting hurt against Tony Ferguson is that they can’t keep pace with him? He claims to be the most feared man at 155, and my goodness it’s hard to deny given not only his last two high-profile outings but also the ten prior to those. The pictures of his opponents in the aftermath look like screenshots from Wes Craven films. I have nothing but respect for either of these guys, Donald Cerrone is as tough as any other S.O.B. in the sport, he just lost to a superior fighter in an anti-climactic, but legitimate fashion.

And you want to know what the crazy thing is, they might still do the Ferguson-Cerrone rematch anyway, because…

TONY FERGUSON IS ABOUT TO GET F*CKED OUT OF A TITLE SHOT YET AGAIN



A post shared by @TonyFergusonxt (@tonyfergusonxt) on Jun 7, 2019 at 5:35pm PDT

Simply because anything for Conor McGregor, right? This seems to me like the dream scenario played out here for Dana White. Coming into this fight, a great performance by either fighter punctuated with a win would’ve all but guaranteed a shot at the lightweight strap next. And while Ferguson and Cerrone did entertain and perform better than anyone else on Saturday night, the fight ended in lackluster fashion. Tony dominated the last five minutes of the fight, and had he won the fight by a typical finish, as opposed to an unorthodox (#2) one, there would be absolutely no argument, he gets the next shot at the title. Period. End of story. No Khabib/Poirier-McGregor 2, Tony Ferguson is finally going to get to do battle with either Khabib or Dustin Poirier. For real MMA fans, that argument is still as strong as it ever was. He won the fight, he holds the longest winning streak in UFC history without holding a title, and we’ve been aching to see Khabib-Ferguson for so long it almost hurts the soul to reminisce. But alas, the MMA gods get giddy at our demise. This was the perfect scenario for Dana White to come out in a few weeks and say, “Good news, guys! UFC 242 is getting the Ferguson-Cerrone rematch as the co-main event for Khabib-Poirier. And the winner of Khabib-Poirier will fight Conor McGregor at UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden on November 2. Get your tickets now!” Call me crazy, but this has already played out in my head numerous times. Tony Ferguson will once again be robbed of his shot because he was able to literally beat down Donald Cerrone to the point of no return. He’s now won his last two fights due to injury. Yet another unorthodox (#3) aspect to Tony Ferguson’s game. Unfortunately, in this case, his unorthodox (#4) nature will punish him with yet another title snub.

HENRY CEJUDO CAN BE THE UFC’S NEXT MARKETING WONDERCHILD



A post shared by Henry Cejudo (@henry_cejudo) on Jun 9, 2019 at 11:11am PDT

Back to our regularly scheduled programming, the main event of UFC 238 delivered one of the most impressive performances and showcases the bantamweight division has ever seen. Henry Cejudo battled back from early adversity to grind Marlon Moraes to the point of no return with his generationally sensational Greco-Roman wrestling, zapping the energy of the dynamic Moraes, before finally registering a late 3rd-round TKO over “Magic.” Cejudo instantly got on the mic after winning his second belt and called for bouts with…Dominick Cruz, Urijah Faber, and Cody Garbrandt…an injured former champ, a guy coming out of a two and a half year retirement, and a guy on a three-fight knockout skid. Ok, interesting names, especially considering Ajamain Sterling and Petr Yan won earlier in the night, but to each their own I suppose. Nevertheless, disregarding the weird names he called out, Henry Cejudo has now vaulted into pristine air. Keep in mind Cejudo headlined the first ever ESPN+ card, and won emphatically over TJ Dillashaw, and quite perhaps put on his best performance against Moraes, battling back from adversity to finish a guy who was on a prior path of destruction. Pair that with his Mexican roots, a market that the UFC has struggled with since Cain Velasquez drifted into obscurity, and his unique and quirky style of self-promotion, and all of the sudden, the UFC now has a double champ not named Conor McGregor that they can give a huge push to promotionally. If Cejudo actually can move back down to 125, and actually SAVE the crumbling flyweight division, then this guy might actually be the most impactful active fighter at the moment. Literally, saving jobs and kicking ass. Who would’ve thought that of Henry Cejudo about a year ago, when he was scrounging for a second fight with Demetrious Johnson? Man, how stuff changes in a year.

VALENTINA SHEVCHENKO HAS THE BEST MOVEMENT AND FOOTWORK IN ALL OF MMA



A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Jun 8, 2019 at 9:27pm PDT

Move over Dominick Cruz. If Saturday night is any indication, Valentina Shevchenko may be even more dangerous than we even thought before. Not only did she finish the seemingly unfinishable Jessica Eye, but she did it with pure ease, landing a steady diet of body kicks and straights, punctuated with the most perfect head kick we may ever see in MMA. As Ron Perlman said in the UFC 238 intro piece, Shevchenko is “a combination of violence and grace.” Honestly, I wish I would’ve come up with that, because I couldn’t think of a better way to describe her. Prior to the vicious, blood curdling knockout kick, Shevchenko was proving to the masses why she entered as a -1400 favorite, outclassing Jessica Eye in every facet of the fight, from her stand up, work in the clinch, ground fighting, and what it all stemmed from, her flawless movement and footwork. Part of the reason I and so many others see Shevchenko ruling this division for so long is because there isn’t a female fighter in any weight class on Earth who can match the movement and technique the Queen of Kyrgyzstan presents. Even Amanda Nunes, the consensus WMMA GOAT, had issues corralling Shevchenko on the feet, and Nunes has dusted practically everyone else she’s fought like a feather. The only real negative for Bullet is that she’s already lost twice to Nunes, so a trilogy fight seems highly unlikely, at least not for a very long time. So in the meantime, let’s enjoy watching her outclass literally every other women’s flyweight on the roster. Early on, I thought she’d be the next Joanna Jedrzejczyk, ruling the division for years before finally running into a young contender ready to make her own name. Now, I’m more inclined to compare her to Jon Jones or Demetrious Johnson. It may take some sort of divine intervention for her to lose that flyweight strap.

MORAES VS. YAN IS THE VIOLENCE FEST YOU NEVER REALIZED YOU WANTED



A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Jun 8, 2019 at 8:25pm PDT

I’m not one to matchmake after a fight card, typically because of how short our memories are as fight fans. One week, we think he should fight for the title, and then the following week, oh wait- slow down, here comes this guy who’ll beat “x” champion. Saturday night served as a bit of a bantamweight showcase. There were four bantamweight bouts on the card, three of which had title implications. We all know about Cejudo winning the title over Moraes, and we also know that Cejudo wants to fight guys who have no business fighting for a title, ok, fine, whatever. They call him Cringejudo for a reason. The two 135 battles that preceded the title fight though featured two impressive performances from Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling, which now puts both men in serious title consideration. Logic would *seem* to state that you match those two up in some sort of title eliminator, which would be understandable. Bantamweight has a new champion and no contenders have really made a big enough impact to stand out amongst the pact. But, if I may, let me throw out an alternative to Sterling-Yan, one that is violence addicts will salivate over. Marlon Moraes just lost for the first time since 2017 in a title fight, and absolutely torched everyone he fought up to that point. Petr Yan is one of the hottest contenders in the sport right now, predominantly due to his Justin Gaethje-esque pressure brawling style. Sit there and tell me that doesn’t sound absolutely enthralling from a fan’s perspective. Two top five bantamweight finishers trying to gain ground and get a shot at a man that just disrespected the entire division? Sign me the f— up. And don’t worry about Aljamain Sterling. While Moraes and Yan are battling it out, he can go ahead and get his title fight against Cejudo at MSG in November. See, everyone’s happy. That’s what we do here at UnknownMMA.

MAYBE WE CROWNED TATIANA SUAREZ CHAMPION A LITTLE EARLY



Warning long post: Yesterday was definitely a tough night. I had a really horrible neck injury going into the fight. I injured it again in the first round. I battled as hard as I could with a very bad neck and a numb arm. I didn’t have the performance I wanted but Im really proud of myself for battling through that injury and being able to get the job done. It tested me mentally and physically. This sport is very tough and battling through injuries during a fight is something fighters have to deal with. Im so thankful for the people I have by my side. You guys love me so intensely and it uplifts me in so many ways. It was great to compete in the wonderful city of Chicago! Thank you for all the people that cheered me on before I walked out you guys had me on the verge of tears. I want to thank my opponent Nina for showing up ready for war you’re and amazing fighter. I want to thank everyone who helped me get to this point. My coaches @super_betiss @romiearam thank you for believing in me. @chris_psycho_sykes i love you, thank you for being my biggest fan. My family @lisamom2four @juliaarose54 @ricky_steamboat @caseyscakes @stefani_spite_mma @breezy_everdeenmma @fam_ily1st @justjoedammit @ogredoubleg my sister in law Michelle, my big brother and my grandma for coming to support me. It meant so much to have you there. My meal prep company @seizes_meals for helping me with my weight. @sportsspecificrehab for helping me the last week with my neck. @drinkbodyarmor for helping me through my camp. @bokamotoespn for taking your time to tell my story. These types of fights make you realize who the true supporters are. So, thank you guys for being the amazing, kind and genuine people that I love to have around. Time to heal up, become better and on to the next one. 🙏🏽 #perseverance #ontothenext #ufc #ufc238 #nevergivingup #wmma #mma #support #love #inspiration #motivation #mondaymotivation #inspire #goals #fightingspirit #modelo

A post shared by Tatiana Suarez Padilla (@tatianasuarezufc) on Jun 9, 2019 at 12:49pm PDT

In the featured ESPN prelim, Tatiana Suarez improved on her undefeated record, moving to 9-0 at the expense of Nina Ansaroff. Suarez picked up a unanimous decision, and is now the official front runner for a title fight with Jessica Andrade later on this year. Don’t mistake me here, Suarez is still the most dominant female wrestler in MMA today, and I do believe in a fight against anyone in the division, she’d rightfully be a significant favorite. That being said, while she did look very impressive against Ansaroff, this was the first time in Suarez’s entire career where we actually saw some holes in her game. To start, her striking hasn’t caught up with the grappling as much as many of us had hoped it had during her nine month layoff since last September. That’s not to say Suarez can’t become champion this year, or even in her next fight, but it does indicate that there is a singular path to victory that if stifled could see her get beaten down. Leading up to his bout with Conor McGregor, many “analysts” were talking about how Khabib Nurmagomedov’s striking wasn’t nearly at the level of McGregor’s, and while that is true in a pure striking sense, Khabib’s striking is just good enough to where he can use it to stifle and neutralize opponents to lure them more easily into his game. That’s really all Tatiana Suarez needs at this point in her career. Her wrestling is, obviously, as next level as it gets. If she can incorporate just enough of an intimidating aspect in her striking arsenal, whether it be a powerful right hand or a pension for volume to set up her offensive wrestling, she would probably be unstoppable.

STRAWWEIGHT HAS A YET ANOTHER NEW PROSPECT TO WATCH OUT FOR



A post shared by Xiaonan Yan (@xiaonan_yan) on Jun 9, 2019 at 8:35am PDT

And no, it’s not Alexa Grasso, although she did look better than ever against Karolina Kowalkiewicz. If you read plenty of MMA websites, you’ve probably seen quite a bit about the Chinese takeover in MMA. We already have Weili Zhang rising up the ranks of strawweight, Song Yadong making his name as a dynamic prospect at bantamweight, Li Jingliang ready to breakthrough into the top 15 at welterweight, and now we can add fellow countrywoman Yan Xiaonan to that list of Chinese up and comers ready to make an impact in the UFC. Xiaonan took on veteran Angela Hill in the featured digital prelim, and despite facing some adversity early on, battled through, outpointed and outmuscled the veteran to a unanimous decision victory that should put her on the back end of the top 15 rankings, or just outside at the very least. Xiaonan was originally slated to face Felice Herrig at the event, and a win would’ve launched her into immediate contention. While the win against Hill won’t do that right away, it does set her up beautifully moving forward, as a top 15 opponent has to be in the cards for her next outing, I would imagine in Shenzhen in August. Strawweight is undeniably the most exciting women’s division in MMA right now.

Follow Johann on Twitter: @thejohanncastro

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