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Looking Back: From Mexico to Austin

A look back at recent UFC events in Mexico City and Austin...

Ah, time to breathe. Well, not really, because there are plenty of events to fill our weekends in December. But for the moment, there are no fights this Saturday, so instead of looking forward, let’s take a look back at UFC 180 and Fight Night Austin for a little Monday Morning Musing…

Mark Hunt was the sentimental favorite leading up to his late-notice UFC 180 main event against Fabricio Werdum, and with two early knockdowns he was on his way to capping off the biggest career comeback story seen in a long time in combat sports, if not ever. Of course, a knee from Werdum in round two ended Hunt’s Cinderella story (did you ever think you would see Mark Hunt and Cinderella in the same sentence?). Yet while everyone paid attention to Hunt’s rise from the abyss over the last few years, they seemed to forget that Werdum was written off by those same people after his loss to Junior Dos Santos. Since then, he’s made a slow and often spectacular rise, and to see him get the gold belt wrapped around his waist – even if it’s just an interim belt – was worthy of the Hollywood ending tag as well. Now it’s off to the fight we were originally going to see between Werdum and Cain Velasquez in 2015, one that has even more intrigue attached to it considering Velasquez’ long layoff and the added confidence Werdum has with the title “champion” preceding his name. It should be a good one. > Watch: UFC 180: Werdum vs. Hunt on UFC FIGHT PASS!

To say that Kelvin Gastelum wasn’t ready for Jake Ellenberger at UFC 180 wasn’t an insult to the TUF 17 winner. All those folks were saying was that it was a big step up for him to face a contender who had been around the top of the division for several years. Gastelum was going to have the chance to get the last word though, and he took it, pulling off an impressive first round submission win that took him from the fringes of the top ten to the number seven spot and a chance to go even higher when he takes on Tyron Woodley at UFC 183 in January. Gastelum is likely to still be in the underdog slot against “The Chosen One,” but I get the impression that he doesn’t mind what the critics say too much. As long as they’re talking about fights and not weight cuts, that’s a win right there. > Watch: Kelvin Gastelum vs. Jake Ellenberger on UFC FIGHT PASS!

Ricardo Lamas returned to the top level of the 145-pound weight class at UFC 180 with a stunning first-round finish of Dennis Bermudez. It wasn’t stunning that “The Bully” won, but the way he did it, finishing a fighter who entered that bout on a seven-fight winning streak. That was something else. It was a prime example why the featherweight division is the most exciting in the sport today. Yes, Ireland’s Mr. McGregor has brought notice to the class with his charismatic presence and trash talk, but all that doesn’t matter if you can’t deliver on fight night, and whether it’s McGregor, Lamas, Frankie Edgar, or champion Jose Aldo, the fights are making this division THE one to see in 2015. > Watch: Ricardo Lamas vs. Dennis Bermudez on UFC FIGHT PASS!

With a packed house filling the Arena Ciudad de México in Mexico City on November 15, and fans showing up in droves for pre-fight activities, it’s safe to say that the UFC’s first visit to Mexico was a rousing success. The next step is cultivating the local talent and building an MMA scene there that will eventually provide the UFC with top-level fighters on a consistent basis. So who were the stars that emerged from UFC 180? Obviously, TUF LATAM winners Alejandro Perez and Yair Rodriguez showed great potential and will get a push in the coming months, but for my money, the fighters that left the greatest impression and that are ready now for the next step were Augusto “Dodger” Montano and Henry Briones. Finishing their fights against Chris Heatherly and Guido Cannetti, respectively, was impressive enough, but the two also have the charisma and back stories to get the Mexican fans behind them, and that connection is priceless when you’re trying to make stars in a new market. Montano and Briones have the “it” factor.

Frankie Edgar has fought his entire career as an underdog. Yet after his dominant win over Cub Swanson in Austin, Texas, can that even be the case anymore? Continuing to show the all-around game that earned him a lightweight title and has him at the elite level at featherweight, Edgar may have delivered his best performance yet against Swanson, and that’s saying a lot. I’ll go on record saying that I thought Edgar beat 145-pound champion Jose Aldo in their first fight in 2013. Should he get another crack at Aldo before McGregor (providing McGregor beats Dennis Siver in January)? Absolutely. Edgar at 33, may be in his prime and he’s ready NOW. McGregor could still use some more seasoning, and by the time Aldo-Edgar II is done, a fight pitting the Irishman against whoever emerges from that bout will be even bigger, making it a win all around.

Bobby, Bobby, Bobby. You are on the verge of big things in the UFC, not only in the Octagon, but as a potential crossover star. So please, don’t shake your head or disdainfully look at your opponent every time you get hit. All that’s doing is reminding the judges that your opponent hit you and got your attention. I’m not saying that if you didn’t, you would have won the fight against Edson Barboza, but it could cost you a fight in the future.

Whether he wins a fight in 15 seconds or 15 minutes, Edson Barboza’s fights seem to go quicker than most, and I finally figured out why after his decision win over Bobby Green. It’s because every punch or kick is designed to knock his opponent out, and when that’s the intent, man, is it fun to watch. I’d pay to watch “Junior” fight, and considering that I get in for free, that’s saying a lot. Win or lose, he’s going to put on a show.

I’ve always liked Matt Wiman and always considered him to be the most underrated lightweight on the planet. On Saturday, he returned from a long layoff to win a hard-fought bout over Isaac Vallie-Flagg that put him back on the map in a crowded division. The question is, will he stay busy and make a title run, or will he disappear into the wilderness again and only appear sporadically. I’m hoping for the former, because I believe that on any given night, he can beat any 155-pounder in the world.

In a statement-making win over Kailin Curran on Saturday night, Paige VanZant may have shown what it’s going to take to introduce the UFC strawweight division to the masses in a big way. And no, it’s not her looks, but that she finished the fight. May sound simple, but for all the talent in the newly-instituted 115-pound weight class, fans want to see finishes, and VanZant was going for it from the opening horn until the stoppage in the third round, thrilling the fans, picking up Fight of the Night honors, and guaranteeing that the next time she fights, people will want to see it. Throw the competitors from season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter and existing talent like Claudia Gadelha and Joanna Jedrzejczyk into the mix and that’s how you build a division.