Rankings update – January 21 – UFC on FX: Belfort vs. Bisping
Hello everyone, the rankings have been updated following last night’s card. I am still struggling with ranking Belfort and Weidman. Belfort seems just a bit more proven at this point. Weidman’s injury layoff has not helped his ranking. Weidman’s biggest career wins are Munoz and Maia, but Munoz is borderline top 10 and Maia dropped down to welterweight. Meanwhile, Belfort has only to the the top two p4p fighters in the sport and just knocked out Bisping. It seems that Belfort’s win over Bisping is just a bit more relevant than Weidman’s win over Munoz 6 months ago.
Belfort is now back in the mix of the middleweight title hunt, but does he even want another crack at challenging Anderson Silva. It was a bizarre scene listening to Belfort call out UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones rather than the champion in his own weight class. Anderson Silva was in attendance Saturday night and the crowd would have gone crazy had he called out Silva. The next PPV in Brazil would have been a huge event, but Belfort and the UFC missed out on an opportunity.
What should not be forgotten in all of this, is that Vitor Belfort is arguably the top contender at 185 pounds. He knocked out Bisping who was guaranteed title shot if he could get past Belfort. Now, the MW division is once again in disarray as there are a host of challengers, but no clear cut #1 contender. Weidman, Lombard, Rockhold, and even Cung Le are possibilities. I only mention Le because of the potential for a big card in Asia, and I would not put it past the UFC if they sense they could make money off of it.
Silva versus Belfort did only happen in 2011 so I get that a large majority of fans are not clamoring for a rematch. I still think the MW division needs to sort itself out before Anderson faces any one of them. So, what to do with Belfort? He is probably too dangerous of a fighter for Rockhold at this point. The UFC is likely eyeing Rockhold as a frontline contender for Anderson, but it is a big risk putting him in there with Belfort. Thus, I see Belfort vs. Cung Le. They were supposed to fight in 2012, but Belfort got injured. Some may feel it is a step down for Belfort, but he does not have many options at this point. Weidman is injured, Philippou is too unproven, Lombard and Okami are already facing each other. Munoz is coming off another long layoff. Belfort vs. Le is a solid fight and one that could potentially reveal the next title challenger for Anderson.
A lot of fans were getting behind Nurmagomedov in recent weeks. I was still hesitant based on the fact that his win over Gleison Tibau was very controversial and I just didn’t think he was ready to hang with the elite of the division. Thiago Tavares is no way elite, but he is a solid fighter that was a decent test for Nurmagomedov. Khabib passed that test with flying colors as he absolutely steamrolled Tavares. Now, I have a different opinion of Khabib. He’s no longer a mystery to his opponents so the excuse that his adversary overlooked him is not viable. Khabib has come into the UFC and ran off 3 wins over veteran competition. Nurmagomedov called out Nate Diaz after the win, and though he’s not quite ready to headline cards opposite Diaz, he is ready for an upper echelon test. Maybe Josh Thomson or Joe Lauzon?
Saturday night was the biggest opportunity of Nik Lentz’s career. Lentz was facing a Top 10 fighter in Diego Nunes who has struggled at times with grapplers in the past (L.C. Davis, Raphael Assuncao). As soon as the fight started Lentz made no secret of what his gampelan would be. He muscled Nunes up against the cage and negated the striking advantage of Nunes’ kicks and spinning attacks. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. Now, Lentz finds himself in the thick of the FW division and will likely face another top opponent next time out.
Gonzaga’s career looked all but over after a 1-3 slump in 2010. Gonzaga was released from the UFC and hinted at retirement, but somewhere along the way, Gonzaga reclaimed his fire and has returned to the UFC with a vengeance. Gonzaga’s striking defense is still questionable as his willingness to take punishment, but he showed a ton of heart standing with Rothwell for the majority of the fight. Gonzaga sometimes wilts under pressure, but he stood tall in the pocket and soon found success with his right hand. Gonzaga is still not a Top HW contender, but he has a decent chance at slowly working his way back up the ranks. Fights against Cheick Kongo, Stefan Struve, or Mark Hunt are all winnable fights for Gonzaga. It will come down to how UFC matchmaker Joe Silva books him though. Silva could choose to match him up with Travis Browne or Roy Nelson, both of whom would likely be too much for Gonzaga at this point.
Pepey won a very controversial decision Saturday night. So, why is he in the winner circle then? Most people didn’t realize this, but the Brazilian MMA media was aware that this fight was a changing of the guard in Brazil. Pepey’s opponent, Milton Vieira, is one of the most respected fighters in Brazil. Pepey was thought to be a young punk that luckily found stardom on TUF Brazil. Many Brazilians thought Pepey did not stand a chance against PRIDE veteran Vieira, but come Saturday night, Pepey seemed anything but afraid, pushing the action and even going to the ground with Vieira.
This phenomenon was not quite as pivotal as when Forrest Griffin held his own in his first fight against Tito Ortiz, but it was the same type of feeling amongst Brazilian MMA fans.
I honestly feel bad for Bisping after his loss to Belfort. After 18 fights in the UFC, many of which headlined fight cards, Bisping will likely never having the chance of fighting for the title. That is not the UFC’s fault though as they have booked him favorably throughout the years. When Bisping did step up in competition he just did not have the skill or athleticism needed to win. Bisping is one of the most technical fighters in the sport. His conditioning is second to none, but his methodical style of throwing jabs and relying on great footwork just isn’t enough. I wish Bisping pushed the pace a bit more like he did in the past, but it is hard to fault his style after consistently winning in the UFC. There are big fights still in Bisping’s future, but I wonder how much longer he is willing to compete if he has no shot at ever fighting for the title.
Some fans believed that Rothwell’s new training and conditioning program was about to propel him into title contention, but unfortunately that did not prove to be true. Rothwell looked a step slow in his fight with Gonzaga. There were multiple opportunities for Rothwell to impose his will on Gonzaga, but he was either too cautious of being taken down or just could not pull the trigger. It was the same thing with the Brendan Schaub fight where Rothwell didn’t get going until he got rocked himself. This time it was too little, too late. There are still some fun fights for Rothwell in the near future, but if he doesn’t step up his level of aggressiveness I don’t like his chances.
Nunes’ struggles with consistency continue. He is 3-3 in the UFC with every one of his fights going to decision. Yes, he gave Kenny Florian and Dennis Siver a run for the money, but he seems to never do enough to get over the hump. One would think his coaches would start trying to implement some type of new strategy in hopes of finishing fights, but that has yet to be seen.
In some way Nobre should be given credit for even accepting a fight with Yuri Alcantara on short notice, but after watching Saturday night’s post-fight aftermath there is not much love being shown his way. Nobre seemed to be looking for a way out and he got after the referee stopped the action due to blows to the back of the head. Nobre is known for his fighting spirit, but showed none of it as he seemed to resemble a soccer player faking an injury in order to get opponent a penalty card. Nobre likely knew that if he could not continue the fight could possibly end in a disqualification win for him, just like what happened to Erick Silva when he faced Carlo Prater. Nobre didn’t get the win, but he sure does have a ton of haters now. The good thing for Nobre is it looks like he will get another shot in the UFC. If he drops down to flyweight and fights like he usually does, he could win back some fans.