UFC Orlando: About What Happened on Saturday

Recapping the action from inside the Octagon on Saturday night in Orlando, and deciphering what the wins and losses mean for the competitors and their respective divisions going forward

Wonderboy Shows Out, Holland Does Holland Things

Stephen Thompson snapped a two-fight skid with a stoppage win over Kevin Holland in Saturday’s main event in Orlando, rallying from a rough first-round to batter the Holland to the point that his corner needed to stop the fight following the end of the fourth round.

Thompson showed he’s still dangerous, even if just a touch slower than in his heyday, firing off crisp counter strikes, heavy kicks, and an array of spinning techniques that seemed to land with increased accuracy and force the longer the fight went on. While Holland pressed, Thompson stayed locked into his game plan, circling out into space, resetting, and finding his spots, resulting in his breaking down Holland’s confidence and his body.

Now, Holland jacked up his hand in the first round and couldn’t really throw it, which certainly impacted the outcome, but he also had to be asked to make this a mixed martial arts fight between rounds by his head coach, Kru Bob Perez, because there were a couple instances where Holland got Thompson to the canvas and simply let him up.

As much as I appreciate staying true to your word to keep things standing, it’s also a perfect encapsulation of why Holland will never be as good as he could possibly be as a fighter.

He’s unserious and always far more interested in playing around, being a little reckless, and having fun. It’s his prerogative and people clearly seem to like him, but it’s also time to stop wondering if “Trail Blazer” is going to be a Top 15 fighter or someone we have to take seriously, at least until he starts taking himself seriously each and every time he steps into the Octagon.

I’m not saying he can have fun, can’t be creative and free — but when you’re in tough against a stalwart like Thompson, that’s when you need to tighten things up and use your full assortment of skills.

RDA Subs Barberena, Calls Out McGregor

Rafael Dos Anjos knows his history.

RDA dominated Bryan Barberena on Saturday, controlling the opening five minutes of their fight on the canvas before bring the fight back there early in the second and squeezing out a submission win. It was a one-sided effort that played out pretty much how everyone saw it playing out, and gave dos Anjos his 21st UFC victory, which puts him in the Top 5 all-time in UFC history.

Following the win, the Brazilian talked about having successfully defended his lightweight title at Amway Center in Orlando six years ago, and used the opportunity to call for the fight that was scheduled for him following that win in 2016. Dos Anjos called out Conor McGregor, who was supposed to face RDA for the lightweight belt at UFC 196 before the champion suffered a foot injury, kicking off the Nathan Diaz series, and culminating in McGregor winning the belt from Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205.

It’s a smart call-out, a timely call-out, and a fight that certainly makes sense for both parties, though my initial instinct is that McGregor would prefer to set his sights on someone a little further up the rankings and brandishing a little more clout than the talented, still dangerous Brazilian he never got around to fighting.

We talked about the possibility on the Preview Show, and now we’ll wait to see how McGregor responds… because you know he’s going to respond.

Knockout Nicolau Now a Free Agent

Matheus Nicolau knocked out Matt Schnell in a critical flyweight pairing on Saturday, earning his fourth straight victory since returning to the UFC and pushing his record to 7-1 inside the Octagon over his two stints on the roster.

The Brazilian did what he always does, waiting patiently for Schnell to come forward and making him pay when he did, dropping him once in the first, and twice in the second, finishing things when he put him down the second time. It was the kind of stoppage victory the talented Top 10 flyweight needed after a string of decisions, and should land him a date with a Top 5 competitor next time out… if he’s back in the UFC.

Nicolau shared off the fight that he’s now a free agent, having completed his contract by stopping Schnell, which leaves him in a cherry position when it comes to negotiations. His skill is undeniable and coming off the best showing of his career, Nicolau should be able to command a raise and a date with a fellow contender in 2023.

Flyweight is going to be front and center next year and Nicolau has to be a part of the action. The UFC has to re-sign him, especially after a performance like this one.

Pavlovich Punches His Way to Contention

Sergei Pavlovich beat the hell out of Tai Tuivasa on Saturday, dropping him with a jab and never letting him back into the fight.

The whole thing took less than a minute.

The massive Russian has now won five straight, all in the first round, and is 17-1 for his career. He’s a contender, and he’s someone that folks aren’t going to be rushing to face because his power is terrifying, his gigantic, and he’s apparently got strong grappling in his back pocket should he ever need to use it.

He got thrown to the wolves in his promotional debut, paired off with Alistair Overeem in just his 13th professional bout, but since then, he’s been lights out, and he should find himself sharing the Octagon with another contender in the first half of 2023 after busting up “Bam Bam” like he did this weekend in Orlando.

Dolidze Gets It Done

The key to taking short-notice fights is picking your spots, and Roman Dolidze picked his spot perfectly.

Filling in for Derek Brunson opposite Top 10 stalwart Jack Hermansson, the brawny middleweight from Georgia rallied to score one of the best finishes of the year, pinning “The Joker” belly-down on the canvas with a calf slicer and finishing him with strikes from back mount. There was nothing Hermansson could do except take his punishment and leave with a loss.

Dolidze has now won four straight and three-in-a-row by stoppage since June, following up wins over Kyle Daukaus and Phil Hawes with a victory that should propel him into the Top 10 when the rankings update next week. His first couple middleweight showings were snorefests, but he’s turned into must-see TV over these last few outings now that he’s settled in and using his full compliment of skills.

This is one of those “what are you gonna do?” situations for Hermansson, who was looking sharp right up until things went sideways. We talk all the time about “these things happen in MMA,” but this is precisely one of those instances.

You won’t see a finish like that again in the next five years; mark my words.

‘Ya Boi’ Looks Great

Eryk Anders turned in his best performance in quite some time — perhaps since his promotional debut — by taking out Kyle Daukaus.

The former Alabama linebacker was more aggressive and active right out of the gates than normal, taking the fight to the returning Daukaus and hurting him midway through the opening five minutes. A clash of heads caused a brief pause and Anders stung Daukaus again just before the end of the round, coming out in the second and staying on the gas. Every time Anders landed, Daukaus reacted poorly, and after getting him to the canvas again in the second, “Ya Boi” unloaded a torrent of strikes that brought about the stoppage.

While he isn’t going to get back to being a contender as he was at the outset of his UFC run, Anders is better than he’d showed of late, and this was a reminder of that. He’s a big, powerful athlete that seemingly forgot those things for a minute, but if he can replicate this effort going forward, Anders will return to being a tough out for anyone looking to move passed him in the middleweight ranks.

As for Daukaus, this was a brutal showing that makes me wonder whether he (a) is capable of competing at this level and (b) should be fighting at all, especially given that he had his face busted just six months ago. Getting punched by a guy like Anders has to suck, but his reactions were different than you typically see from someone that fights in a cage for a living, and I’ll be interested to see if he takes an extended break after back-to-back beatings this year.

Still Fresh

Phil Rowe had to navigate some adversity in the early stages of the third round, but “The Fresh Prince” survived and rallied, putting Niko Price away just a couple minutes later.

It was hard to get a real read on where Rowe fit in the division heading into this one, as he lost his debut to Gabriel Green before posting consecutive wins over Orion Cosce and Jason Witt. They were good finishes over solid fighters, but not the kind of efforts that made you think the Orlando native was poised to climb the ranks in a hurry.

Turning back Price in his first fight in over a year doesn’t exactly scream “contender,” but it’s the kind of quality win Rowe needed in order to take an appreciable step forward in the welterweight division. He’s got an incredible reach, smooth boxing, and a good ground game when needed, and if he keeps making steady improvements, he could develop into a “Direct-to-DVD” version of Neil Magny, if not more.

If you think that’s a slight, think about how good Magny has been throughout his career, take 20% off, and tell me you wouldn’t take that kind of consistency.

Preliminary Card Thoughts

Angela Hill only having 10 UFC wins is surprising, given that it feels like she’s been on the roster for eternity and fights three of four times a year.

The strawweight veteran reached double digits with a dominant unanimous decision win over Emily Ducote, taking the fight to the UFC sophomore from the opening second and never allowing her to get into the fight. It was the most complete and measured performance of Hill’s lengthy career, and another quality win to close out her 2022 campaign.

Hill is one of those fighters whose record doesn’t reflect how good she is and the level of competition she’s faced, as she remains below .500 in the Octagon, despite a tidy two-fight winning streak. She’s got four split decision losses in the UFC and a couple were real janky, plus she’s shared the cage with most of the top names to compete in the 115-pound weight class over the years.

She’s never going to challenge for championship gold, but she’s a perfect fit just outside the Top 10, and should continue to thrive in this position for a few more years.

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Clay Guida did what Clay Guida does.

“The Carpenter” didn’t care that Scott Holtzman was calling it a career after their preliminary card clash in Orlando — he waded through the first-round output of his 39-year-old dance partner and took control from there, turning to his wrestling to grind out another victory. While one official saw the fight for Holtzman, the other two turned in the correct totals, recognizing the amplitude of some of Guida’s takedowns alongside the solid work he did inside as Holtzman’s output waned.

Guida remains indefatigable and a perfect veteran presence in the lower half of the lightweight ranks, much like Jim Miller. He wants to continue competing and is clearly still competitive in the right matchups, and should continue to thrive in this role going forward.

Holtzman called it a career following the contest, taking off his gloves and moving on to the next chapter of his career. He came to the sport later than most and had a solid run, reaching the highest level and finishing with a 7-6 mark inside the Octagon.

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Good win for Michael Johnson and a disappointing performance from Marc Diakiese in one of two veteran lightweight pairings on Saturday’s prelims.

Diakiese started well, but couldn’t maintain his output and pace over 15 minutes, while Johnson took a round to really get settled, but then controlled the final 10 minutes with his striking and overall output, grabbing the victory in a very “up for grabs” contest. It seemed like Diakiese wanted to wrestle, but Johnson shut that down early, and “The Bonecrusher” could never get back to it.

This has been a bit of a “get right” year for Johnson, who earned wins on either side of a debated split decision loss, and his effort against Diakiese showed he’s still got a little something left in the tank for those in the middle of the lightweight division.

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Folks need to start paying real attention to Jonathan Pearce in the featherweight division. The DWCS alum is now 5-0 at ’45 after beating the holy hell out of Darren Elkins on Saturday night.

Pearce has excellent size and length for the division, and uses it well, working behind a long jab and front kicks, including the one that snapped Elkins’ head back three seconds into the fight. He was all over “The Damage” from the opening second and never really let off the gas, trying mightily to get Elkins out of there in the second before splitting him open early in the third. While the fight went the distance, the outcome was never in question.

Featherweight is going to be a little different in the first half of 2023 with champion Alexander Volkanovski moving up to fight for the lightweight title, creating an opportunity for movement beyond the Top 5. Pearce is making a case for a place in the ratings, and if he doesn’t get it after this effort, he should be facing someone with a number next to their name to start 2023 at the very least.

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Nothing much to say about the lightweight scrap between Natan Levy and Genaro Valdez, as it went as expected, with Levy starting quickly before turning to his wrestling to salt away the win.

Valdez is now 0-2 after graduating from DWCS last season, and I’ll be curious to see how long a leash the UFC continues to give these athletes that struggle right out of the gate off the show. The roster is bloated and while there are loads of events to fill out, two losses at the low end of the division tells me all I need to know about Valdez and his ilk.

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We worried aloud on the Preview Show whether Francis Marshall was being thrown in too deep for his debut against Marcelo Rojo. Saturday evening, the 23-year-old newcomer showed our concerns were misplaced.

After a solid opening stanza where he got the jitters out and took a couple good shots, the undefeated featherweight clipped Rojo with a clean right hook in tight that put the Argentinian veteran on the deck. The coffin nails that followed were largely unnecessary, as Rojo was out.

Marshall is still inexperienced and has a ton to learn, but this is the kind of first showing that makes you sit up and take notice. There are no guarantees when it comes to development and how it all shakes out, however this was a terrific effort and one that should have everyone eager to see what Marshall does in his sophomore appearance and the next couple years.

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Yazmin Jauregui turned in another impressive showing in her sophomore appearance inside the Octagon on Saturday, rallying back from an early knockdown to finish Istela Nunes in the second round.

The unbeaten 23-year-old ate a right hand that put her on the deck in the opening stanza, but clambered to her feet, made the necessary adjustments on the fly, and came out firing in the second. Jauregui walked down Nunes, dropped her early, and after putting her on the deck a second time, the Entram Gym representative stayed on the attack and secured the finish.

Jauregui shows that flyweight isn’t the only division with promising young talent climbing the ranks, as the Mexican prospect is now 10-0 with seven finishes, and clearly enjoys being in there. With good health and continued improvements, she could be a problem in the 115-pound weight class.

E. Spencer Kyte is a veteran MMA content creator based in Abbotsford, British Columbia. He's written for numerous outlets, including FOX Sports and The Province, British Columbia's leading newspaper, and has been a freelance contributor to the UFC website for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @spencerkyte.