The UFC is two for two thus far, delivering some memorable moments on back-to-back nights.
Thursday night created the newest fighter in a short-list of title contenders at 115 pounds. Friday night solidified that there is only one true title contender at 145 pounds.
I’ll admit some concern over having a six-fight main card begin at 7 p.m. PT, hit with flashbacks of the last time the promotion decided to throw in two Ultimate Fighter contests into the main card. Early bouts cemented the worries to be true, but the action would pick up as the night progressed.
Here’s how we ranked the main card winners at TUF 22 Finale:
6. Julian Erosa
Julian Erosa’s close victory over Marcin Wrzosek was not the ideal way a promotion would like to open up a main card which featured a whopping six bouts — one of which was scheduled for 25 minutes. It was a back-and-forth affair between two fighters who showcased serviceable improvement from their first day on the 22nd season of The Ultimate Fighter, but also reminded us why they weren’t scheduled to fight for the TUF 22 crown.
Erosa’s career has been littered with impressive finishes, but he found nothing impressive to show on Friday, scoring points with takedowns in a fight too close to call. It’s hard to disagree with the judges awarding Erosa the victory, but he’ll need some more notable victories to retain a could-be spot on the UFC roster.
5. Tatsuya Kawajiri
Certainly a more dominant performance than that of any fighter ranked below him, Tatsuya Kawajiri went the distance with Jason Knight knowing very well what path he was going to take to victory. Takedown after takedown, Kawajiri did away with a fan-friendly outing in order to secure his eighth victory in nine fights.
He managed to do some much-needed damage against his crafty grapple-happy opponent, who seemed all too content with fighting off of his back in hopes of a submission. Kawajiri avoided all of Knight’s submission attempts, pressing the action when needed. It would have been nice to see more variety out of the 37-year-old veteran, but a win is a win, as they say.
4. Evan Dunham
The third straight decision on the TUF 22 Finale main card, but easily the most entertaining. Based on his impressive outings in fights past, it’s easy to understand why this could be considered more of a loss by Joe Lauzon than it was a victory for Evan Dunham. It didn’t seem like Lauzon was out there Friday, but Dunham absolutely was.
He put combinations together like we’d never seen before, landing body kicks and punches to the head at will. Dunham beat Lauzon to the punch almost every time, looking sharp in his stand-up in what UFC color commentator called “a new version of Evan Dunham.” It’s hard to see how he got a single 10-8 round in that fight, but, again, that may be more of a knock on Lauzon than it is a sign of Dunham’s dominance. Going 3-0 in 2015, bigger names could be in Dunham’s near future.
3. Ryan Hall
A supremely dominant performance from an underdog in Ryan Hall. Not only was he not supposed to beat the heavy-handed Artem Lobov, he wasn’t even supposed to be in the TUF 22 Finale against the Russian fighter. But he did, and he was.
Hall found himself in a dominant position for most of the bout, out-grappling the SBG fighter from the first minute to the last. He never gave Lobov a chance to land that knockout blow that had cost so many other TUF 22 fighters a chance at the season’s crown. You can fault him a bit for not being able to submit “The Russian Hammer,” but their previous experience from training together may have given Lobov a leg up on understanding the crafty grappler’s tendencies.
2. Tony Ferguson
What a fight Tony Ferguson put on with Edson Barboza. Seen as a can’t-miss affair between two high-output fighters who prefer to strike, Ferguson and Barboza picked up where Dunham and Lauzon left off.
Ferguson reminded us all of why he’s such a dangerous fighter in the most talented division in MMA. Relatively crisp boxing, sharp elbows, proven wrestling and a signature D’arce choke, Ferguson poses at least one problem for anybody at 155 pounds — including either of the two men fighting for the title in Orlando. Capable of some of the most one-sided performances in MMA, Ferguson doesn’t shy away from a war when presented with one.
He’s won seven straight with a recent victory over the No. 6 fighter in the division; it’d be hard to deny Ferguson from a title shot for much longer. Don’t look now, but 2016 may be the year of “El Cucuy.”
1. Frankie Edgar
There’s no denying Frankie Edgar now; that man — the one who knocked Chad Mendes out in Round 1 of their main event fight during The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale — is deserving of a title shot with whoever holds the title come Sunday morning.
Edgar was on the receiving end of some thudding leg kicks, but managed to keep his composure enough to not only outbox Mendes, but knock him out as well. We knew he was the better boxer, but we weren’t quite sure he had enough power to put Mendes out. Not like that.
He’s won five in a row now, beating Charles Oliveira, Cub Swanson, B.J. Penn, Urijah Faber and Mendes. Keep in mind he stopped Mendes sooner than McGregor did, and McGregor faced Mendes on two week’s notice. Whether Aldo or McGregor, “The Answer” could be well on his way toward becoming the latest to join the all-too-exclusive club of UFC fighters who’ve held titles in multiple divisions.