Jones adds wrinkle to bag of tricks
Rejoice, the Report Card is back. That obviously means we had fights over the weekend, and UFC 152 in Toronto provided plenty to dissect.
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On the whole, UFC 152 was a good event. The undercard was especially compelling. And the final three bouts of the night all delivered.
For those fighters who didn't get a grade mention, a couple of notes.
Marcus Brimage was on point against Jimy Hettes. He took advantage of a cocky kid who fought with his hands down and moved backward in a straight line. Also, Seth Baczynski continued his climb with a slick knockout of Simeon Thoresen. Similarly, fellow welterweight Kyle Noke stunned Charlie Brenneman, who made a lot of noise complaining about Jon Jones' influence over the cancellation of UFC 151.
Anyhow, we've had just about enough of that story. On to the fights that actually happened.
UFC 152 grades
Cub Swanson (18-5) won his third fight in style, scoring a knockout of Charles Oliveira (16-3-1) midway through the opening round. UFC put this fight at the start of Saturday's pay-per-view for a reason, and while it didn't last very long, the fighters delivered as expected. Swanson's power came through again when he followed up a hard punch to Oliveira's liver with a long, looping overhand right that put the Brazilian down for good. Swanson wants to reside at the top of the featherweight division, and it won't take many more like Saturday's win to get him there.
Vinny Magalhaes, 28, returned to the UFC for the first time since 2009 and handled Croat Igor Pokrajac (25-9) to the tune of a beautiful second-round armbar win. The Brazilian, who gladly relinquished the M-1 light heavyweight title after a falling out with the company, got the best of Pokrajac on the floor, which shouldn't surprise anyone. After starting his MMA career with a 2-4 record, Magalhaes has turned things around to win eight of his past nine. Magalhaes' first career UFC win sets him up to be tested inside a shark-infested 205-pound class. All things being equal, Magalhaes deserved the submission of the night instead of Jon Jones.
Save the early armbar by Belfort, Jon Jones (17-1) was flawless. The 25-year-old light heavyweight champion dictated the fight standing and on the ground. He forced Belfort into bad spots. He remained relatively safe while finding positions from which to inflict damage. When he fights within himself it's difficult to imagine any fighter at 205 solving the riddle. Jones' fortitude stands out above anything else he displayed over the weekend, and exposes yet another dimension to his improving game. He's compiling wins over name competitors and making good on everything expected of the UFC champion. The keylock finish was Jones' first submission by way of joint manipulation.
There's a lot to like about lightweight TJ Grant. Since dropping to 155, the 28-year-old Nova Scotian has come across as strong, agile and accurate. Where he was a tad undersized, and therefore unable to handle stronger fighters at welterweight, he's just right down a class at lightweight. Grant went to war with Evan Dunham, earning fight of the night honors for a contest in which he was composed and accurate and utterly defiant. Grant (19-5) is setting himself up for important contests in a very deep division.
It was close, as most expected, but Demetrious Johnson, 26, deserved and received a split decision win over Joseph Benavidez, making him the first flyweight champion in UFC history. Johnson's impeccable footwork combined with his natural speed were thoroughly useful against Benavidez. "Mighty Mouse" didn't quite mimic Dominick Cruz, but there were noticeable similarities in the way Benavidez struggled to find range and land power punches. After beating Ian McCall and now Benavidez, no one can argue Johnson's spot atop the 125-pound class. With his wrestling, mobility and sharp hands, Johnson (16-2-1) could easily follow the lead of Jose Aldo and Cruz to linger as the only champion of a weight class for a spell.
Joseph Benavidez, 28, had a shot on the judges' cards going into the fifth round against Johnson. But that deep into the fight he was noticeably less active with his feet, slower with punches, and couldn't get anywhere near Johnson. Benavidez was more powerful with his strikes and he had some success wrestling "Mighty Mouse," but only in the last 30 seconds of any given round. Aspirations of winning a UFC title will need to wait for a bit, but it's highly probable Benavidez (16-3) will return as a viable contender.
Some people are making the case for Michael Bisping, 33, as a bona fide contender at 185 pounds after he easily out-pointed Brian Stann. He's a very good fighter, skilled in every facet of the game and gifted with stamina and a high pace. But I don't see him as the clear-cut No. 1 contender. Beating Chris Weidman or Tim Boetsch would seal the deal. As for Saturday's contest, Bisping (23-4) was typical. He mixed up standing and ground elements, tossed out a hard, accurate jab, and picked it up in the wrestling department. The guy is subject to a ton of undeserved grief, in my opinion. He's an excellent fighter, the best Englishman ever to fight in the Octagon.
Vitor Belfort wasn't going to beat Jon Jones, but he gets credit for showing up to try. The 35-year-old Brazilian found trouble after missing his armbar. He really didn't have a response when Jones took top position and laid waste with elbows and punches. Belfort didn't let his hands go while standing across from Jones. The mythology of "Old Vitor" needs to be put down. "Old Vitor" means old Vitor, not some reincarnation of the 19-year-old headhunter who burst onto the scene in the latter half of the 1990s. Belfort (21-10) was noncommittal about his weight class. He should return to middleweight for good, but I'm guessing he takes on the role of a Rich Franklin. He'll do whatever the UFC wants him to do.
Sean Pierson weathered a late charge from Lance Benoist to take a unanimous decision win in his hometown. The 36-year-old Canadian has won two after losing two, and is doing what he must to remain in the UFC. I don't put much stock in the idea that he'll find resurrection over the long term, but Pierson (13-6) might become a spoiler if he takes fights against higher caliber competition. It's unlikely, but he's a veteran with little to lose and that's usually a dangerous combination.
Not long ago, Evan Dunham was thought of as a serious prospect at 155 pounds. After winning his first 11 bouts, Dunham's record reflects three losses in his past five fights. He's going to need to figure some stuff out. Is he in the cage to win and advance up the ranks or put on highly entertaining fights? Those things don't have to be mutually exclusive, but sometimes it's best if they are. Against Grant, Dunham was highly motivated and eager to brawl. He got what he wanted, punctuated by a steady stream of blood running down the front of his face. Dunham's early success came from his grappling ability. He should probably remember that, though Grant wasn't going to just allow Dunham get it to the ground. Tough fighter who has reached 30. Is this the ceiling?
Brian Stann is a good fighter but he's not elite -- not that this is some high crime and misdemeanor. The 33-year-old American has learned on the job and done fairly well. But I think we've seen his best and it leaves something to be desired. He can't just plant his feet into the canvas and unload power punches because his takedown defense isn't strong enough. Until he closes that gap, Stann (12-5) isn't going to get anywhere near the best at 185 pounds.
Fighting for the first time since "retiring" after Alexander Gustafsson beat him up in August 2011, Matt Hamill (11-4) didn't come off as particularly impressive. He can still wrestle, of course. But the limitations that plagued Hamill's game before he left last summer are still there. And the 35-year-old looked small for 205, well, at least against Canada's Roger Hollett. I'm not buying much as far as comeback goes.
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