And so it’s begun.
The first of three UFC cards featured this week in December lived up to its potential. Aljamain Sterling and Sage Northcutt reminded folks why so many are hyped on their potential, while Rose Namajunas reminded the world that Paige VanZant has a long, long way to go before she can find herself amongst the elite at 115 pounds. The young Team Alpha Male fighter certainly has heart, but that only goes so far inside the Octagon.
Only one of the main card fighters failed to secure a stoppage here, but it served nothing more than a change of pace to all the fights that ended before the judges had a say.
Here’s hoping the remaining cards bring equal parts fireworks. For now, let us focus on the main card winners of UFC Fight Night 80:
4. Thiago Santos
Thiago Santos showed obvious signs of weakness in his ability to contend with Elias Theodorou’s grappling skills Thursday night. He was relatively inactive in the opening round, but quickly opened up with numerous damaging strikes while having his back pressed up against the cage. Sharp elbows, stiff knees and solid cardio were what earned Santos the victory in the eyes of the judges — two of which scored on 10-8 round apiece.
He may not have gotten the finish, but he certainly proved he’s capable of being an active, violent competitor when placed in precarious position that often prompts judges to go the other way. Three in a row at 185, Santos should get a step-up in his next outing.
3. Sage Northcutt
Well, you certainly can’t say Sage Northcutt is all hype at this point. Fresh off of a TKO victory over Francisco Trevino at UFC 192, Northcutt followed up with a submission victory over Cody Pfister. As Thiago Santos did in the preceding fight, the 19-year-old Northcutt showed signs of weakness in his game. But still in his teenage years, that much was expected.
If anything, he showed some mental stability in not panicking while having his back pressed up against the cage. Seemingly stronger than Pfister, Northcutt held on to his opponent while waiting for the referee to stand them up. In all honesty, it would have been nice to see Northcutt at least try and stand himself back up. Still, once Northcutt got back to his feet, he managed to show why he’s such a dangerous fighter for his age. Already known for his fast hands and feet, he proved he can take a proven wrestler down. Not only that, but he held him there too.
A strong outing for the young fighter, who is primed for a stronger marketing push with his latest win.
2. Michael Chiesa
Michael Chiesa went out and out-grappled a grappler, proving he deserves placement among the top 15 fighters in the UFC’s lightweight division. As one of the larger fighters at 155 pounds, Chiesa poses lots of problems for anybody in the weight class — just like he proved against Jim Miller on Thursday night in Las Vegas. He used his size to secure takedowns and control much of the fight while on the canvas, and landed damaging strikes while he was there.
If nothing else, he gets the higher ranking over Northcutt based on level of competition.
Chiesa called out just about anybody in the top 15, promising to not take any backward steps as he looks to secure the first five-round fight of his UFC career. Give the man what he wants, I say.
1. Rose Namajunas
No one fighter on this main card could hold a candle to what Rose Namajunas did on Thursday night. We were all pretty confident she would dominate a good portion of her stand-up exchanges with Paige VanZant, but it was hard to imagine she’d shortened what gaps existed in the grappling department. Proven to struggle against a pressure fighter in Carla Esparza, Namajunas did away with what dominance VanZant had showed in fights past.
The feet, the ground, the clinch — there was nowhere for “12-Gauge” Paige to score any points in this contest. With the judges offering some particularly whacky scores, it wouldn’t have been crazy to see Namajunas win all four of the completed rounds by a 10-8 score. Even presumably up by a wide margin, “Thug” Rose managed to finally sink in a rear-naked choke to prove that VanZant had had enough.
She says she wants to take a break, but it won’t be long before fans will start clamoring for her to stand across the cage from Joanna Champion.