THE CHAMP IS HERE…TO STAY
Call me crazy, but I believe Demetrious Johnson’s win over John Dodson in January marked a turning point in the UFC flyweight champion’s career. Yes, “Mighty Mouse” had his losses before, but to be down 2-0 to a hard-hitting, hard-charging opponent and come back to sweep the last three rounds and the fight, that showed the world just how hard it’s going to be for another 125-pounder to take the belt away. This was evident last Saturday night as Johnson put on a clinic against a tough contender in John Moraga, finishing his foe in the fifth round at a time when he could have taken his foot off the gas and coasted to a decision victory. Johnson not only has the skill and athleticism to warrant his place at the top, but he also has the confidence, and that may be the key ingredient to keep him where he is for a long time.
So, who’s next for the champ? Joseph Benavidez, the man Johnson beat for the crown in a UFC 152 classic last year, is the logical choice, but the Team Alpha Male stalwart has business to tend to with Jussier Formiga to deal with in September. If he wins, the timing would be right for a rematch. Barring that, if hard-hitting Brazilian John Lineker wins big against Jose Maria this Saturday at UFC 163, he could be making a strong case for a shot, and with his one punch power, he could be a live underdog.
RORY AND THE WELTERS
Rory MacDonald is not likely to put his decision win over Jake Ellenberger in his personal time capsule, but as they say, a win’s a win, and this one keeps “Ares” in the upper reaches of the welterweight division. The problem is, it doesn’t move him forward, and while he’s repeatedly insisted that he won’t fight champion, training partner, and mentor Georges St-Pierre, it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that Carlos Condit could get himself another title shot if he should impressively defeat Martin Kampmann next month. And while you could play up the revenge for his friend angle for MacDonald should Johny Hendricks beat GSP in their November title fight, Saturday’s effective but less than scintillating win made it clear that when it comes to pure visceral thrills, Condit rematches vs. GSP or Hendricks would be the people’s choice.
RUTHLESS ROBBIE A PLAYER ONCE MORE
But then there’s the case of one “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler. With two knockout wins over Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker, this mainstay of the early Zuffa era has reinvented himself in his second UFC run, and he’s a legit threat to anyone at 170 pounds. Add in the fact that he’s only 31 years old (making him younger than St-Pierre), finding new life as a member of the American Top Team, and showing off new tricks (like the head kick that ended Voelker’s night), and we may be looking at the makings of an unlikely, yet exciting, title run. And who wouldn’t want to see Lawler try to dent GSP’s chin or trade bombs with Hendricks?
YOUNG ASSASSIN 2.0
It would be wise to not look at Melvin Guillard’s knockout of Mac Danzig as the start of a new lightweight title run, given the disappointments of the past, but “The Young Assassin” sure looked good in his first bout under the tutelage of Trevor Wittman and company. Using patience and power, Guillard was a confident, but not cocky, competitor in Seattle, and in taking out a tough and hungry veteran in Mac Danzig, he may have started a new chapter in a rollercoaster career. But let’s not jump too far ahead until he conquers his biggest foe: consistency.
Speaking of veterans showing off their wares on the sport’s biggest stage, former Strikeforce standout Jorge Masvidal is now 2-0 as a UFC fighter following wins over Tim Means and Michael Chiesa. The Chiesa bout last weekend was particularly impressive, considering that he had to shake off some rough moments to hand the TUF 15 winner his first pro defeat. And while Masvidal doesn’t do any one thing in spectacular fashion, he can do most things well, and what makes him special is that he’s got a fighter’s mean streak. He may not be able to be a pound-for-pound great, but he thinks he can, and sometimes that’s half the battle. Masvidal will be a handful for anyone at 155 pounds, and the busier he stays, the more dangerous he is.
SHORT FUSE IGNITES AGAIN
It was good to see Ed Herman back in the win column Saturday night against Trevor Smith. It was even nice to see “Short Fuse” and “Hot Sauce” pick up bonus checks for their Fight of the Night effort. The middleweight scrap was a clear example that a fight doesn’t need to be for a title or a top contender’s slot to be compelling and worthy of your 15 minutes of viewing time. It was also a reminder that despite a series of ups and downs, Herman is still here, still fighting, and still capable of giving a compelling performance every time he steps into the Octagon. More than seven years after his UFC debut, the 32-year-old Herman remains a stiff test for anyone he meets, and the fact that only he, Michael Bisping, and Matt Hamill remain on the UFC roster from the TUF 3 cast speaks volumes for his ability and staying power.
A TIP OF THE CAP TO AARON RILEY
When talking about the future before his UFC on FOX 8 bout against Justin Salas, Aaron Riley said he was taking things fight by fight, while also admitting that he had already started the process of planning for life after fighting. Well, Saturday night turned out to be his last bout, as he announced his retirement following the three round decision defeat to Salas. Still a young man at 32, Riley leaves the sport with a 29-14-1 record, but his career could never be summed up in wins and losses. Riley was a pioneer of the game, an all-action fighter, and a class act who always showed up on fight night to do just that – fight. Congrats to Aaron on a career well fought.