DC’s Weekend Top 5: Mac and Eagle on a Collision Course

Cataloging this weekend’s movers and shakers.  Comments?  Complaints?  Suggestions?  Register them with @dchowmma

 

1. Conor McGregor.  

     Surprise, surprise. The man destroyed the ridiculously tough Eddie Alvarez in 8 minutes and looked completely in control of the proceedings 100% of the time.  Now the Crumlin Crusher is officially the first simultaneous two division UFC champion, exactly as predicted when he appeared on the scene as a fresh faced former Cage Warriors titleholder.  Some will argue that Mystic Mac could have been given a harder path to two titles – the man at #2 on this weekend’s list comes to mind – but there’s no denying that he has defeated an impressive array of top 145 and 155 talent and made it look like child’s play all the while.

     Add in the fact that Mr. McGregor now presides over the largest PPV buyrates in UFC history and the largest gate in Madison Square Garden history, and it’s pretty clear that the Irishman holds more leverage over his future (and the future of two divisions) than any cagefighter ever.  This may well be the fight that escalates Conor McGregor from polarizing MMA loudmouth into an entirely different kind of terror altogether. Enjoy it – or loathe it – while it lasts.


2. Khabib Nurmagomedov.  

     There must have been some alarm in The Eagle’s corner during the first few minutes of his battle with Michael Johnson, as an uncertain looking Khabib absorbed a shellacking from the star striker with nary a counter thrown in return.  But as desperate as things looked for Nurmagomedov during the harrowing start to the encounter, as soon as Khabib closed distance and got one hand on Johnson the deal was as good as closed.  The Dagestani took full advantage of his ungodly strength advantage, bullying Johnson into near-helpless positions and using precise pressure techniques to simultaneously pin the American down and blast him with scores of solid ground strikes.

     Khabib’s chin certainly was tested – and he passed – but vastly improved ground and pound offense might have been the most important development for this truly elite grappler.  It will be interesting to see how Khabib’s forceful demands for a lightweight title shot are handled by the UFC given that they may well be subject to the whims of King McGregor at this point.  It’s a fight that Conor haters are sure he’ll lose, although the poor head movement that Khabib showed early in his match against Johnson no doubt gives Conor faithful hope that the bear wrestler would simply be the next to fall prey to their hero’s razor left cross.


3. Yoel Romero.  

     Ask MMA fans who the dirtiest fighter in the game is and many would respond with Jon Jones or maybe Rousimar Palhares. But there’s only one answer to who the *best* cheater in MMA is. Yoel Romero has mastered the art of gaining every extra edge in the cage, from pouring water on the floor in between rounds for extra rest time to calling his own timeouts (and getting them) to liberally grabbing the cage to stop takedowns. Impressively, Romero never gets in trouble for any of these antics despite the fact that you can be 100% sure that any fight of his will be accompanied by some sort of shenanigans.

     Romero’s tactics were on display as usual in his top contender bout with Chris Weidman, most notably during the finishing sequence. Romero, who is in the argument for best pure athlete to ever compete in the UFC (along with peak steroid-era Brock), unleashed a crushing flying knee just as the former champ ducked in for a takedown and followed it up with a downward knee to the back of the head in the same motion.  Classic Romero – not even the greatest finish of his career could come without a small asterisk. Nonetheless the hulking Cuban has now earned the middleweight title shot that he craves, with another notoriously shady combatant in Michael Bisping all that stands between the former Olympic silver medalist and a UFC strap.


4. Douglas Lima.  

     When Douglas Lima first battled Andrey Koreshkov for the Bellator welterweight title in July 2015 he entered the contest with a knee so badly damaged that a heavy limp was evident from the moment that he set foot in the cage. Lima fought tenaciously that night in a losing effort but without a solid base he failed to effectively defend takedowns or strike with anywhere near the amount of power that he usually brings to the table. In Friday’s Bellator title rematch Lima came in healthy but still struggled to handle the range striking and grappling strength of Koreshkov throughout the first two round of the contest.

     Finally in the third round Koreshkov overreacted to a few solid strikes landing and chose to rush in for the kill rather than employ the patient striking that easily earned him the first two frames. This time Lima was ready to react to Koreshkov’s overextension, planting firmly on his previously-injured leg and crushing the Russian with a counter hook that sent him to the canvas for just his second career loss. The 28 year old Lima not only enjoyed revenge but also claimed the Bellator strap for a second time. Perhaps most importantly he put himself in position for an even bigger headline-caliber fight with a name like Rory MacDonald in the very near future.


5. Raquel Pennington.

     Pennington has never looked as fluid in all aspects of the game as she did in her UFC 205 main card upset of recent women’s bantamweight ruler Miesha Tate, a comprehensive three round domination that saw Raquel bully the former champ in the clinch and hurt her substantially and repeatedly on the feet. While Miesha persevered through all three rounds in typically determined fashion, there was really never much doubt about who the victor would be once Pennington started marking Tate up with a much improved striking game.

     Tate’s name now occupies the featured spot on Pennington’s resume, which represents a strong upgrade from Raquel’s previous best win over now-strawweight Jessica Andrade.  With four straight UFC wins the Altitude MMA product has a ton of momentum and finds herself remarkably close to a title opportunity for a fighter who held a .500 professional record as recently as September 2015.


Honorable Mention:

Tyron Woodley and Wonderboy Thompson, who each proved that there’s more to their character and skillset than their detractors would have led you to believe in advance of their UFC 205 Fight of the Night performance;  

Frankie Edgar, who overcame a rattling headkick from Jeremy Stephens to take down and beat up the bigger man en route to a unanimous decision.  A classic “Frankie fight”, as the man himself called it during the post fight interview;

Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who retained the 115 pound title in mostly dominating fashion while also proving that she can take a damaging punch and keep on battling with the fervor that has made her one of the most popular champions in the sport today.