Jay Primetown takes a look at the five biggest storylines to develop from UFC on Fox 15 in Newark, New Jersey. #1 Who is the Top Contender at Middleweight? Problems are typically not what the UFC want to has, but after the completion of UFC on Fox 15 the biggest story to unfold is just who the top contender is for the middleweight title. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza has won his last eight fights; including seven of them by stoppage. He’s 5-0 since coming over from Strikeforce and has been dominant in that timeframe. He fought Chris Camozzi at Fox 15 and was able to submit the veteran in less than three minutes. It was a very easy win for the jiu jitsu ace. One would think Jacare would be next in line for a title stoppage; however he has stiff competition for that opportunity. Jacare’s last lost was to the man he’s neck and neck with for that title shot; Luke Rockhold. The California born and raised middleweight is the last person to defeat Jacare (in 2011) and is on a tear of his own. He’s won his last four bouts by stoppage including the biggest win of his career dominating the legendary Lyoto Machida on Saturday night. This is a difficult predicament for the UFC. Jacare is already 35 years old and one has to wonder just how many years left he has in top level MMA. However, Rockhold holds a win over the Brazilian and his dominating win over Machida was the biggest takeaway from the entire fight card. If the UFC goes with Rockhold now, there’s a possibility that by the time Jacare gets his opportunity it could be a full year from now and one never knows how a fighter’s skills can age once he hits into the mid 30’s. In the end, I think the UFC will opt for Rockhold. If Weidman beats Belfort, that will be four straight title wins over Brazilians and it will be a nice change of pace to take on an American. If the fight takes place at Madison Square Garden, the UFC will want two fighters promoting it in English to the American audience. That is something Jacare will be unable to do. #2 The UFC’s New Female Star – The UFC’s youngest female fighter make in fact be its most popular fighter in its youngest division. 21 year old strawweight Paige Van Zant entered the UFC in late 2014 and has really taken the division by storm. While her skill set is still developing, her appearance and fighting style have really attracted fans. She has that “girl next door” look combined with a relentless approach that makes it easy to root for. In her UFC debut, Van Zant landed a whopping 167 total strikes en route to a third round stoppage over Kailin Curran. She followed that up on Saturday night, outlanding Felice Herrig 199 to 44 in a dominant three round decision win. Like her fight with Curran, Van Zant really turned it on in the second half of the fight. Van Zant’s excellent conditioning makes her a viable threat to the top of the division the longer her fights go on. At such a young age and already in the top 10 of her weight class, Van Zant has all the makings of the organization’s next big marketing star. In order to be that, Van Zant will need to keep on winning. Who the UFC pairs her against in her next matchup will be very interesting.
#3 UFC Youth Movement – This is currently an exciting time to be a fan of MMA. We are fast seeing long standing stalwarts in each weight class be replaced by younger, better-rounded fighters. At Fox 15 alone, eight of the eleven contests were won by the younger fighter. Younger fighters were showcased in a variety of bouts. Most notably 23 year old Max Holloway took on top 10 featherweight Cub Swanson in a showcase tilt. Swanson is a well-regarded striker in his own right, but he was dominated by the more well-rounded striker in Holloway. The hungrier younger fighter was even able to dictate the terms of the fight on the ground securing the second submission win of his career. Deeper on the card, 25 year old Beneil Dariush took a decision over 31 year old Jim Miller. Dariush was the far superior striker on the feet and was able to combine that with superior grappling. Others on the fight card that exhibited similar victories are bantamweight Aljamain Sterling and the aforementioned Rockhold and Van Zant. What we are seeing in 2015 are dynamic skill sets; young, evolving fighters with solid stand up, grappling techniques, and wrestling. The days of specialists being able to regularly contend for UFC titles are over. #4 The Pat Cummins Ceiling – While Pat Cummins introduction to the UFC seemed to be a sideshow, he had shown to have some good qualities in the dominant victories he had after that initial loss to Daniel Cormier. Cummins had shown that his wrestling was some of the best in the division. He was rag dolling opponents scoring takedowns at will against some of the lower tier fighters in the divisions. On Saturday, he faced a real solid test against top 15 opponent Ovince St. Preux. The early portion of the first round saw Cummins able to score takedowns pretty easily. While he wasn’t able to hold his opponent to the mat, he was able to show he could score in this fight. However, it didn’t take for St. Preux to begin figuring out Cummins movement. With less than 20 seconds left in the opening stanza, Cummins pushed forward leaving him exposed to the upper cut. St. Preux landed cleanly knocking the American wrestler to the canvas. It was an easy stoppage to see as St. Preux landed a couple shots on the ground to an unconscious Cummins. It was the second time Cummins was exposed in the stand up and the second time he was put away with strikes. The reality is he can’t hold up in prolonged standing exchanges. When he’s able to impose his wrestling, he can break opponents. However, his chin, telegraphed takedowns, and below average stand up are serious holes. I think he’s hit his ceiling. He’s an above average fighter that will struggle against nearly anyone in the top 10 of the division. Given his age and skill flaws, there isn’t much of an opportunity to improve beyond his current skill set. #5 An Indictment on TUF 19 – Saturday was a big night for TUF 19 with both show winners scheduled to fight on the card. Both winners were heavily favored in their respective bouts as roughly 4 to 1 favorites. Eddie Gordon, coming off a head kick knockout loss, once again struggled as his conditioning is a real concern. It was this late push that helped his opponent, Chris Dempsey, surge late and get a split decision on the cards. Later on the preliminary card, Corey Anderson fought Gian Villante. Anderson’s striking appeared improved, but Villante landed leg kicks at will, slowing down Anderson. Late in the third round, Villante landed the decisive blow, wobbling Anderson on the feet as the referee was forced to step in and end the fight. All in all, it was a terrible performance by TUF 19 fighters as both winners came away with a loss. Looking across the show, guys like Dhiego Lima (knocked out in Round 1 of last fight) and Patrick Walsh (cut from the UFC) have looked really lackluster in the organization. The most “successful” fighter from that season thus far in the UFC has been Cathal Pendred. He’s a fighter that has won two controversial decisions in a row and was nearly finished in his UFC debut in the fight before that. If that’s the most successful fighter from a season of TUF, it’s a problem. Perhaps the UFC went too quickly back to a middleweight season of the show after the successful TUF 17 season that featured Kelvin Gastelum and Uriah Hall. When all is said and done, TUF 19 could end up being the worst season of TUF (from a talent perspective) in the history of the show.