Saturday’s UFC Rio Rancho event is in the books, and now that the dust has settled in New Mexico, it’s time to go to the scorecard to see who the big winners were at the Santa Ana Star Center.
In looking back at how far Jan Blachowicz has traveled since his first fight with Corey Anderson in 2015, my conclusion was that the Poland native didn’t drastically alter his game or add many new wrinkles to his attack. Instead, he sharpened the tools he already had and made sure that every time his name was called, he showed up. The results have placed him in line for a shot at Jon Jones’ light heavyweight title, with his knockout of Anderson in their rematch last Saturday the latest statement to the MMA world that you can’t sleep on a fighter aiming to become the second Polish champion in UFC history.
Speaking of not sleeping on a veteran contender, John Dodson was written off by many after a recent 1-3 stretch, despite those three losses coming at the hands of Marlon Moraes, Jimmie Rivera and Petr Yan. Many expected England’s Nathaniel Wood to use Dodson as a stepping stone into the bantamweight top 15, but “The Magician” pulled some magic out of his hat in his home state of New Mexico with an impressive third-round TKO that has him looking to surge back into the title race sooner rather than later.
Scott Holtzman always seemed to be one fight away from making noise in the ultra-tough lightweight division but couldn’t quite get over the hump. Last Saturday night was his one fight away against Jim Miller, but this time, Holtzman slugged out the victory, picked up his first post-fight performance bonus, and with five wins in his last six bouts, “Hot Sauce” is likely going to get the type of fight that could earn him a top 15 ranking next time out. Yes, the sport at this level is a series of pivotal fights, but Holtzman is going in the direction he’s always wanted to go. And he earned it.
A short notice assignment in a veteran opponent’s backyard is usually the recipe for “lose this one, get a second chance with a full camp.” Daniel Rodriguez had other plans when he faced Tim Means last Saturday, and what resulted was a second-round submission finish that immediately put Rodriguez on the map in a stacked welterweight division. Even more impressive than the win was the way he got it, using his striking to hurt and set Means up for the guillotine choke that ended the bout, and hey, if he was able to get coach (and kickboxing star) Joe Schilling to smile like that, Rodriguez must be doing something right.
It’s rare that one fight captures the essence of a fighter, but Merab Dvalishvili’s win over Casey Kenney displayed why “The Machine” is a fan favorite and a threat at 135 pounds. Relentless throughout, Dvalishvili doesn’t just fight; he enjoys fighting, and that was never more evident than before, during, and after his meeting with a top prospect in Kenney. Will he always come out victorious? No. But it’s always going to be fun watching him compete.