UFC 161 is in the books, and so is the first half of 2013 for the UFC. The latest pay-per-view card from Zuffa won't go down as one of the best of the year -- not even close -- but, as these events tend to do, there's plenty of news and tidbits.
Here are a few observations from the weekend:
• The final draft of UFC 161 wasn't so strong, but that's because two of the three best bouts on the card were scratched. That's worth remembering, yet people seem to have such a difficult time doing so.
• While I was out with my dogs Sunday in downtown L.A., I overheard three guys in Little Tokyo discussing how terrible they thought the main event was. (Truth is, I'm amused each time I hear conversations about MMA on the street.) They were loud and I was sitting at a table across a courtyard, so it couldn't be helped. Their analysis echoed much of what I heard on fight night: that Evans-Henderson was boring and neither guy did much. Boy, that's wrong. The fight was competitive, tactical and sharp in spots. Both fighters acquitted themselves nicely, I thought, especially after watching a replay.
• Discussion of Anthony Pettis' knee injury that knocked him out of a fight with Jose Aldo quickly moved to the possibility of him replacing TJ Grant for a title shot at 155 against Benson Henderson. No thanks, UFC. Grant earned his spot and should keep it. Pettis needs to practice more patience, and focus on getting healthy. He's the one who pushed for a fight at 145. That means he stepped out of the lightweight line, as far as I'm concerned.
• The UFC needed to do a better job of explaining why Evans-Henderson was three rounds as opposed to five. Many fans were bothered and confused that the bout wasn't scheduled for 25 minutes.
On to the grades.
UFC 161 grades
Tall, physical, athletic heavyweights aren't so easily cast aside; such was Stipe Miocic's experience against Roy Nelson. Miocic was on point, pumping out combinations and stiff jabs as he moved away from Nelson's power and controlled virtually every aspect of the contest over its 15-minute duration. This was a monster return to the Octagon after suffering his first defeat as a pro in September to Stefan Struve. The more he does this, the better he'll get. Miocic may upset a few more heavyweights along the way.
Shawn Jordan remains a project, though he looked about as good as he could have against Pat Barry. Stoppages in under a minute deserve their due. He's learning how to punch and see what happens when he connects. Jordan's exploits on Saturday were good enough to score his first knockout of the night bonus.
Rashad Evans is tough to figure. I still consider him among the most talented light heavyweights on the planet, which means he's a complete mixed martial artist when he wants to be. He should get away from standing flat-footed and fooling around with jerky and wasted upper-body movement. Focus on the basics, especially transitions between standing and grappling, and he has what it takes to compete at the top.
This is a difficult one to break down. Dan Henderson is 42 years old and shows up to fight whenever he steps in the cage. The man has been impressive since the beginning. But after uneven performances like the one against Rashad Evans, it's getting to the point where Henderson isn't likely to inspire optimism that he's capable of beating top class opponents. The decision against him was hair-thin.
Alexis Davis didn't look like a bantamweight capable of beating Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Cat Zingano or any top-tier 135-pound woman. She's slow and deliberate. Not much of a striker. And Davis is nowhere near the level of athlete we see at the top of the division. Hold your horses on Davis.
He's a beast at 205, and has no compunction about trying to bully opponents. Ryan Jimmo has been better than expected in the UFC (can only speak for myself on that one). A few issues moving forward: He's a stiff arm-puncher, and not such a great offensive grappler.
Rosi Sexton made a good bout of it against Alexis Davis. Despite being the smaller fighter, she showed tremendous poise -- in positive and negative situations -- but in the end could not continually fend off Davis. Sexton is a flyweight, and with enough notice that's where she needs to fight. As she showed against Davis, Sexton is not an easy out.
Jake Shields returned to the cage for the first time in over a year, having dealt with a six-month suspension for PED use. He looked like himself against Tyron Woodley, mixing in awkward kicks to the body along with a solid jab and grinding clinch work. All this was effective enough for judges to award him a split decision. I had the score going to Woodley, but Shields managed to do a lot of the stuff he wanted. That said, I don't buy him as a serious contender at 170.
Tyron Woodley was poised to break out in a big way; however, the judges didn't think he did, so he's left dealing with the aftermath of a fight no one liked and a tough loss. Woodley is frustrating to watch. He has so many tools to work with, yet he never seems able to put it all together. Woodley couldn't respond to Shields' grind-'em-out style, which in the end is why judges didn't see the fight for him. I thought he eked out a victory.
What a disaster. MMA obviously isn't compatible with long-term plans and strategic thinking. Roy Nelson returned to the cage on six weeks' notice, his contractual future hanging in the balance, and he showed up heavy, providing a money-losing, leverage-snapping performance against Stipe Miocic. As for his future, I think a loss actually improves the odds he'll remain with Zuffa. Let there be no doubt: Nelson is a good heavyweight -- just nowhere near great. He can still take a beating, though. Whoa.
That three-fight winning streak feels like ages ago. Igor Pokrajac could easily lose his spot in the UFC after a shoddy effort against Ryan Jimmo -- it's not easy to come up with a reason he should stay on the roster. The 34-year-old Croat had little to no answer for clinch positions, and wasn't able to create space to strike. Just a poor effort all the way around.
For mostly superficial reasons -- someone's getting stopped -- people love Pat Barry as a fighter, so he may get another reprieve. But following a 59-second stoppage loss to unheralded Shawn Jordan, he's 5-6 in the UFC. It should be clear that the 33-year-old kickboxer ranks, at best, among the lower-rung heavyweights in the Octagon. Call him a gatekeeper if you want, but I don't think he qualifies since Tim Hague and Lavar Johnson beat him and they weren't nearly good enough to hang around the company.