Saturday’s UFC Long Island event is in the books, and now that the dust has settled in New York, it’s time to go to the scorecard to see who the big winners were at Nassau Coliseum.
1 - Chris Weidman
I’ve been to a lot of fights over the last 20 years, and I’m going to have to put the crowd reaction after Chris Weidman’s win over Kelvin Gastelum right up there with Georges St-Pierre being introduced in Montreal at UFC 83 and Felix Trinidad fighting Ricardo Mayorga at Madison Square Garden in 2004. That’s how loud it got in Nassau Coliseum last Saturday, and what a moment to witness. Those were the aesthetics. In the Octagon, the former UFC middleweight champion needed a win in the worst way after three consecutive losses, and while Gastelum gave him a couple scares, Weidman ultimately proved that he’s still one of the best 185-pounders in the world. Now “The All-American” can exhale and begin chasing down a chance to regain his crown in the next 12 months, and no matter what happens from here on out, he will never forget July 22, 2017.
2 - Jimmie Rivera
Despite entering the Octagon with a 19-fight win streak that included four UFC victories, Jimmie Rivera had some skeptics before his fight with Thomas Almeida, simply because he had never faced an opponent with the stopping power of the Brazilian banger. Winning streaks easily disappear after one of those bombs from “Thominhas,’ but Rivera not only pulled off the win, but he did it largely with his standup attack, and that was the most impressive factor (and revelation) of the fight. If there were any doubters before Saturday night, they’ve probably gone silent on Monday morning, and it’s clear that the New Jersey native is ready for a shot at one of the big guns – Garbrandt, Dillashaw, Cruz – that he called for after the fight.
3 - Eryk Anders
On paper, two weeks’ notice shouldn’t have been enough time for someone with eight pro fights to beat veteran middleweight standout Rafael Natal. Unless that person is Eryk Anders. Like I pointed out before the fight, when you’re competing as a starting linebacker for the University of Alabama in front of 100,000 people, UFC jitters probably aren’t going to be an issue. And when a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt like Natal decided to fight Anders’ fight and stand and trade, that only increased the odds of the newcomer pulling off the upset. But take all that away, because Anders had to go out and execute, and he did just that, giving a jolt to a middleweight division that remains one of the most interesting in the sport.
4 - Shane Burgos
New Yorker Shane Burgos has impressed in three UFC bouts thus far, and while the wins are nice, what “Hurricane Shane” is doing is building a fan base. Not with trash talk or bold statements in the media, but with his fighting style. In a sport where everyone says they want to put a show on for the fans, Burgos is actually doing it. And yes, he’s been fortunate to have willing dance partners like Charles Rosa and Godofredo Pepey in his last two fights to help him achieve that goal, but it does take two, and Burgos is more than doing his part when the Octagon door closes, making him a must see at 145 pounds.
5 - Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos
If Brazil’s Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos isn’t one of your favorite fighters by now, go log in to your UFC FIGHT PASS account and get on the bandwagon. Or you can just watch the replay of his Saturday bout with Lyman Good and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Everything ZDS throws is with the intention of finishing a fight, he’s always offensive-minded, and after taking some heat from Good, he found a way to shake the blows off and come back to win. In a tough welterweight division, he’s got a chance to make some noise or, at the very least, deliver some more Fight of the Night battles.