The Remix, Vol. 28: Henry Cejudo shines, Valentina Shevchenko rolls, contenders emerge at UFC 238
Every week, we’ll release a new MMA mix tape entitled “The Remix” that looks back at not only the biggest stories of the last seven days, but some of the ones that aren’t getting enough attention too, with some weekly awards and a prospect to watch going forward added in for good measure.
As I sit down to write this week’s edition of The Remix, it feels slightly unfair that all three major subsections are derived from the action at UFC 238 on Saturday night in Chicago because there were a number of other events of significance that took place within the MMA world over the last seven days.
Athletes from two of those shows will get a mention later on in the weekly awards section, but the fact that nothing resonated more than the three core talking points below is a testament to the scope and magnitude of UFC 238.
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This was always going to be a great card, even if the names weren’t the biggest. While “The People’s Main Event” between Tony Ferguson and Donald Cerrone was all kinds of fun and factors into the last of this week’s three main elements, it was Henry Cejudo and Valentina Shevchenko who had the most impressive performances of the evening and some of the lesser known, less talked about talents who had the greatest impact.
While everyone came away from UFC 238 remembering how good Ferguson is and tough “Cowboy” remains, none of that was new information. What was, however, is that Calvin Kattar is going to be a factor in the featherweight division and that Alexa Grasso looks like she’s back to being a future star in the sport.
For me, this was another one of those events that should stand as a reminder that you don’t need the biggest names on the planet or a high profile grudge match atop the marquee in order to have an entertaining night of action inside the cage. You just need highly skilled competitors, evenly matched pairings and fights with appreciable stakes and everything will work out just fine.
And if you can include Eddie Wineland and his moustache, you’ve got yourself a real good time.
Henry Cejudo completes the best year ever
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what Henry Cejudo could accomplish with a win over Marlon Moraes at UFC 238.
After pontificating about where his 12-month run of success would rank in the annals of history in the buildup to the fight and seeing some of the responses online that immediately sought to discredit his achievements, watching him look lost in the first round, adjust and finish Moraes before the end of the third on Saturday night only strengthened my belief that Cejudo just completed the best calendar year in UFC history.
In one calendar year, the 32-year-old earned three victories and won UFC titles in two different weight classes by defeating a trio of standouts with a combined record of 65-10-2 overall and 42-4-1 since the start of 2012. TJ Dillashaw only had three career losses prior to stepping in with Cejudo and he’s the “slacker” of the group in that stretch because that’s two more losses than Moraes had suffered and three more than Demetrious Johnson had accrued.
While they weren’t completely unbeatable, they were pretty darn close and Cejudo beat them all in 308 days.
If you want to argue that he didn’t beat Johnson in their rematch at UFC 227, I’ll listen and probably even agree with you, but not without acknowledging first that it was an ultra-close fight.
If you want to say Dillashaw had no business cutting down to flyweight and that factored into how that fight went in January, I’ll understand, but no one would have said anything if the outcome was reversed, even if the former bantamweight champ looked like Skeletor’s sickly kid brother.
And if you want to suggest that Moraes wasn’t the best bantamweight in the world, but rather the best opponent available at the time, I’d hear you out there as well, although no one was saying that before Cejudo went out and beat him.
Cejudo feels like one of those guys who people are always going to sell a little short and hold back a little praise for because he’s the ultimate try-hard, but there is no denying his accomplishments. You may not like that he walks around calling himself the best combat athlete of all-time, but you have to at least acknowledge that he’s in the running and whether you like his schtick or not, you have to admit that he’s handling his business inside the cage.
He went 3-0 and won UFC gold in two divisions with a 32-second knockout of a reigning champion in between and he did all that in 11 months and change.
If that’s not the best 12-month run in UFC history, I’m open to hearing other arguments, but it’s going to take a lot to convince me that someone else had a better year.
Valentina Shevchenko is all kinds of special
I made reference to this on Twitter Saturday night after Shevchenko blasted Jessica Eye with a head kick early in the second round to successfully defend her flyweight title for the first time, but I wanted to put it out there again now in case you missed it.
Shevchenko is a real life Bond girl.
Think about it: she’s a multi-lingual femme fatale who can kick your ass, but looks stunning in an evening gown. She has a tattoo of a gun and some bullets on her rib cage and enjoys firearms in general, but is also an accomplished dancer who spends her down time fishing and traveling the globe with her sister and their long-time coach.
Tell me that’s not the fictional bio of the next female lead to help 007 do whatever it is he needs to accomplish in the next Bond movie?
Bond girl status aside, Shevchenko is everything the UFC could ask for in a champion and potential superstar as well. Everything about how her fight with Eye played out, including the way she conducted herself following the vicious finish, was pitch perfect, right down to making sure to acknowledge her opponent first once she was back up on her feet and Joe Rogan was ready to talk about her amazing performance.
I understand that Shevchenko doesn’t fit the traditional profile of the female fighters the UFC tends to promote with maximum effort, but the only thing she’s missing is being American and you would think having a championship belt around her waist and a highlight reel filled with impressive performances would outweigh that one little difference.
If the UFC is to be recognized as a global brand, it could do a lot worse than having a truly global citizen like Shevchenko representing the company in a greater capacity.
Tony Ferguson and title shot revolts
As soon as Ferguson’s bout with Donald Cerrone ended, the bold declarations about leading a revolt if anyone other than “El Cucuy” was the next man to fight for the lightweight title started to appear.
I’m right there with all of the social media activists in believing that the 35-year-old, who extended his winning streak to 12, should be the only man to face the winner of the September title unification bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier.
I’m also fully aware that there are two men who loom over this whole situation and if I were to set odds on who ends up getting the next shot, Ferguson wouldn’t be the favorite. That doesn’t mean I agree with Conor McGregor or Georges St-Pierre getting hustled into a lightweight championship bout ahead of the more deserving Ferguson, but I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if either fight happened.
I believe those planning the potential revolt feel the same way, but what always strikes me in these instances is how that vitriol about skipping over contenders is far from universal. Instead, it’s more of a case-by-case thing where if the other options are more aesthetically appealing or benefit a competitor everyone likes, no one is all that upset about someone who has otherwise earned a title shot getting passed over.
MMA fandom and the tenets everyone adheres to is kind of like that old Chris Rock joke about no one being all the way liberal or all the way conservative and that while Ferguson and Aljamain Sterling are both the No. 1 contenders in their respective divisions, the former has a much more iron-clad position than the latter, though both deserve their championship opportunities next.
I just wonder what the deciding factor is for people. I genuinely want to know what makes you adamant that Ferguson has to get the next shot at lightweight or else, but OK with the idea of either one of the Diaz brothers coming back and fighting for UFC gold right away because they’re cult heroes and bigger draws than the next rightful contender?
What makes Ferguson fighting for the lightweight belt such a deal-breaker, but hustling Brock Lesnar into a wholly undeserved heavyweight title fight is fine because everyone loves Daniel Cormier and getting him a massive payday before he checks out is the right thing to do?
Is Poirier not a good enough dude that he would warrant a more lucrative matchup than a fight with Ferguson if he beats Khabib in September? Is it a divisional thing?
I genuinely want to hear from you, so hit me up on Twitter and let me know: @spencerkyte.
Fight of the Weekend: Henry Cejudo vs. Marlon Moraes at UFC 238
If you sat someone down, showed them the first five minutes of Saturday’s UFC main event and then asked them to predict how the rest of the fight played out, how many people would say that Cejudo would have finished Moraes before the third round was done?
While the lightweight bout between Ferguson and Cerrone was more non-stop action, the adjustment Cejudo made after getting blanked in the first and looking unsure how to deal with what Moraes was bringing to the table is what elevates this one to being the best fight of the weekend for me.
Eric Albarracin garners a great deal of credit for Cejudo’s success (rightfully so), but it was former TUF contestant Santino DeFranco who gave the new two-weight world champion the perfect instructions between rounds and then Cejudo went out and executed perfectly. He got inside of Moraes’ kicking range and made it ugly, rather than trying to outpoint him from the outside.
Cejudo’s ability to implement the advice that quickly and successfully is another piece of what makes him such a remarkable talent and the stark difference between the first five minutes and the following 10 is why this was the best fight of the weekend to me.
Submission of the Weekend: Kelvin Tiller vs. Muhammed DeReese at PFL 2019 #3
I’m always going to give love to a beautifully executed kimura, but when said kimura is executed by a heavyweight, it’s a no-brainer as the submission of the weekend.
The 28-year-old Tiller has been hanging around on the periphery as a promising prospect for a few years now and advanced to the heavyweight playoffs during last year’s PFL season, where he lost to Jared Rosholt. In his first appearance of 2019, “The Mama’s Boy” went out and earned himself six points with a spectacular finish against Muhammed DeReese:
Setting aside referee Todd Anderson’s horrible positioning, this was a beautiful transition and finish from Tiller, as he swept through into top position and just kept torqueing on the arm until DeReese had no choice but to tap.
Now 11-2 overall and tied with Denis Goltsov for first place in the heavyweight division after the first round of action in the big boy ranks, Tiller has to be viewed as one of the favorites to win the whole thing this season.
Knockout of the Weekend: Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Eye at UFC 238
This finished reminded me a lot of Anthony Smith’s knockout victory over Rashad Evans a year earlier in Chicago in that it seemed like everyone but Evans and Eye knew what was coming.
Last year, it was obvious to everyone watching that Smith was setting up a high knee as he started to frame off with an elbow as Evans drove him into the fence. The only person who didn’t see it coming was the former light heavyweight champion and seconds later, Smith landed and the fight was over.
Back at the United Center on Saturday night, it was clear to all those watching the co-main event that Shevchenko was eventually going to go high with a kick because once you slam home two, three, four thudding kicks to the midsection, there will be an opening upstairs. After crashing home another heavy blow to the body to start the second, Shevchenko went high, Eye dropped her arms to cover her midsection and the fight was over.
Big ups to “Bullet” for walking it off rather than diving in with an unnecessary follow-up shot and remaining completely subdued, while Eye remained on the canvas.
Prospect to Watch after this Weekend: Rafa Garcia
The 24-year-old lightweight moved to 10-0 this week with a first-round submission finish against veteran Estevan Payan at Combate 39: Unbreakable.
If my endorsement of Garcia as a top prospect, perhaps you’ll listen to longtime featherweight standout Cub Swanson, who also had high praise for Garcia:
There are invariably going to be people who make the ‘if he’s so good’ arguments about him not fighting in the UFC or beating ‘a washed-up veteran’ like Payan, but here’s the thing: The UFC doesn’t have a monopoly on the top prospects in the sport and the ability to beat a battle-tested, durable fighter like Payan in your 10th professional fight is far more difficult than people understand.
Garcia is a guy that Combate will likely look to build around going forward, but he’s also guaranteed to draw interest from competing organizations, so remember his name, make sure to catch his next fight and let’s see where “Gifted” goes from here.
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