DC’s Weekend Top 5: Usman and Jotko Rise to the Top

Think nothing much happened during this weekend’s 12 hours of UFC and other big-league MMA show?  Think again!  Comments?  Complaints?  Suggestions?  Register them with @dchowmma


1. Kamaru Usman.  

     Before UFC: Sao Paolo, Kamaru Usman was known for exactly one skillset: pinning grown men to the ground, holding them there, landing some ground and pound, and collecting the winner’s share at the pay window. Going into his matchup with fellow super-athlete and top Brazilian prospect Warlley Alves, the conventional wisdom was that Usman needed to hold his opponent down while Alves needed to stay upright and hunt for the knockout. Yet when the bell rang, there was Usman pressing forward, throwing bombs with the vaunted striker and – shock of shocks – coming out on top in nearly every exchange.

     While Usman certainly didn’t abandon his top-level wrestling game he also didn’t over-rely on it, and once Alves showed a shred of weakness Kamaru separated him from the better part of his senses with a vicious assault that few UFC fans knew the Nigerian-American had in him.  Post-victory Usman called out Demian Maia, and few could blame the top contender for pretending to not hear the young buck’s words; for a fight with the Usman that showed up this past weekend represents a terrible stylistic matchup for both Maia and a host of other contenders in the UFC welterweight division. 

2. Kris Jotko

Much like Mr. Usman, Kris Jotko entered the UFC: Sao Paolo cage as a prospect with question marks and left it as much more of a known entity. And just like Usman, nearly everything he did in his matchup left him glowing in a positive light. It’s well known that a trip to the ground with eternal middleweight contender Thales Leites means bad times, yet Jotko not only survived Leites’ early top control but also managed to find holes in the Brazilian’s grappling game that other opponents have yet to discover. Where other competitors succumbed to the top pressure, Jotko found ways to avoid submissions and eventually reverse course on his more accomplished foe. Eventually Jotko started taking the vaunted Leites down himself, achieving dominant positions and nearly finishing via strikes by the end of the contest.

     There’s no understating how huge this win was for Jotko; not only does he vault himself solidly into the UFC top 15, he also earns a rightful claims to the title of best male MMA fighter to ever come out of Poland – a substantial achievement for such a combat-crazed country as his homeland. The improvements have been vast for the already-skilled Jotko during his short time training at ATT, and it won’t be surprising to see the youngster throw his name in the hat as an elite middleweight contender in the next few years.

3. Michael Chandler

     Yes, some theoretically professional judge rendered Chandler’s victory over Benson Henderson a split decision, but in most peoples’ reality the former University of Missouri wrestler unleashed a hellacious beating on Benson Henderson for much of their Bellator title affair before gassing out and narrowly hanging on throughout the final minutes.  Chandler didn’t answer the persisting questions about his cardio or ability to fight intelligently after absorbing punishment, but this one still stands out as a highlight win on his already well-developed resume; a victory over a former UFC champ like Ben Henderson means a lot for his standing as one of the top MMA stars in the world not fighting in the UFC. And more than that, the style points were there.

     If you haven’t seen the insane belly-to-back suplex that Chandler dropped on Bendo in round one, please enjoy it below, and if you have seen it, it sure doesn’t hurt to enjoy it again. Kudos to Chandler for continuing his run at the apex of the Bellator lightweight division with one of his biggest wins yet and setting himself up for another premium title fight against Josh Thomson in early 2017.

4. Jack Marshman

jaCK MARSHMAN MAKEs his intentions clear
jaCK MARSHMAN MAKEs his intentions clear

     The Welshman entered as a sizable underdog against hulking Swede Magnus Cedenblad, but much as you might expect from a former Paratrooper, Marshman put his works boots on, trudged straight ahead and imposed his will on the streaking middleweight.

     Where other opponents found themselves befuddled with Cedenblad’s reach and tendency to take things to the ground at whim, Marshman glided out of the way of punches and landed bombs early and often on his foe’s jaw. Eight-and-a-half minutes and one emphatic TKO later, Marshman emerged as the newest young force to be reckoned with in the UFC middleweight division. Marshman has never looked so quick or trim as he did in his UFC debut, and it will be fascinating to see whether he can string together a series of wins in 2017 and become the next UK-based contender in the world’s biggest fight organization.

5. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva.  

     But wait, you say, didn’t Bigfoot lose his Wednesday matchup in Oligarch Fighting Championships?  Didn’t he spend nearly the entire second round getting smashed by a gentleman who looked suspiciously akin to a miniature version of Polish strongman Mariusz Pudzanowski? Sure, these things are technically true, but sometimes winning isn’t just about the final verdict. First of all, this was not the glass chinned Bigfoot that we saw in his latest UFC run; the ability to partake in TRT clearly restored his ability to take a shot and keep truckin’, and if any man deserves the ability to take testosterone while competing it’s the Brazilian giant (who absolutely needs it for medical purposes). And once the third round came around it took a slew of crooked referee decisions to keep Pezao’s Russian opposition upright and still in the fight.  Enjoy the apex of Silva’s third round handiwork, and lest you feel sorry for the man for being a victim of utterly dubious regional Russian MMA officiating, keep in mind that Bigfoot reportedly walked away from the circus tent with a cool half million dollars.

Honorable mentions:

Thomas Almeida, Ryan Bader, and Gegard Mousasi for laying the beatdown on utterly overmatched opponents;
Pedro Munhoz, for his emphatic guillotine win after losing the first six minutes of his bout with fellow top-ranked bantamweight Justin Scoggins;
and Ben Henderson, for putting on a war with Michael Chandler, but more importantly for finally figuring out how to successfully keep his hair mostly out of his face in just his 31st professional contest.