What mattered most at UFC on ESPN+ 33 in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …
1. Anthony Smith’s big decision
The frustration radiated off Anthony Smith during his post-fight interview with Laura Sanko. The former UFC title challenger had an unflappable belief he would rebound from a tough loss to Glover Teixeira in May with a win over Aleksandar Rakic in the main event, but it didn’t play out that way.
Smith, in his typical unfiltered fashion, admitted that his recent fights at light heavyweight have made him question how well he fits into the division physically, which is not something we’d heard from him before. His inability to escape from under Rakic was definitely a key contributor in the outcome, and the topic of returning to middleweight came up.
It would seem like an easy fix from the outside looking in, but that weight cut down to 185 pounds was no joke, and the difficulty of it is what prompted the jump up. A pair of losses to two of the very best the division has to offer doesn’t seem like enough to rewrite the book for “Lionheart,” and his alternative of taking time off to better adjust his body to 205 pounds seems like the more sensible move.
Regardless of what he chooses, though, Smith should not be dismissed. His past two performances haven’t reflected his best, but I’m personally a believer in his talent and think he can rebuild. I wouldn’t vote for him to start putting his body through the trauma of cutting 20 more pounds again, but Smith is one of the more intelligent people in the game, and whatever choice he makes with his team will be well thought out.
2. Robbie Lawler’s crossroads
The former UFC welterweight champion, in fairness, has had some challenging stylistic matchups amid this current streak, but even the most optimistic observer would have a difficult time arguing that Lawler hasn’t had the same pep in his step in recent years.
Magny is never any easy out for anyone at 170 pounds, so perhaps this isn’t a performance solely worth judging Lawler off. He also took the fight on short notice, which should be considered. At some point, though, the world only looks at the number of defeats in a row, and Lawler is now teetering in that territory where one or two more will force a lot of public pressure to make a big change or retire.
I don’t think retirement is the way to go for “Ruthless” at this point, but I would hope the UFC would give him a more style-friendly matchup next. If he can’t beat someone that he very much should on paper, then this topic deserves to be rediscussed..
3. Ricardo Lamas digs deep, then teases us
That was a telling fight from Ricardo Lamas in a lot of ways. He beat short-notice newcomer Bill Algeo by unanimous decision in a thrilling featherweight battle that earned “Fight of the Night” honors, and it was far from the layup many people expected.
Lamas originally was scheduled to fight Ryan Hall on the card. The fight fell apart late, and Algeo stepped up with a wild amount of confidence. Algeo was saying all week he had a strong belief he could pose major issues to the former title challenger Lamas, and for most of the first two rounds, that proved true.
In the final frame, though, Lamas took over and showed why he is who he is. He put big pressure on in the third to seal the fight in his favor, then moments after having his hand raised, offered a major swerve by teasing his retirement from MMA.
Will this be Lamas’ last time? He seemed rather unconvinced during his post-fight media session (which you can watch below). He basically said at 38, he thinks he’s done enough to be proud of in his career. But on the other hand, if the UFC came knocking with a intriguing fight with a desirable payday attached, he could be convinced to step back in the octagon.
So, what we’re dealing with here, is basically every MMA retirement situation. If I had to guess, we’ll see Lamas back.
4. Alex Caceres hits his stride
Alex Caceres appears to be in the best form of his career. After wiping out short-notice newcomer Austin Springer with a submission in the first round, the man known as “Bruce Leeroy” has now won three straight for the first time since a four-fight run in 2012-2014. (He actually won five straight in that stretch, but one was overturned to a no contest.)
A three-fight winning streak may not seem like much, and an argument could be made his past three fights of Springer, Chase Hooper and Steven Peterson is one of the more manageable runs of competition he’s had in his time with the promotion.
Before going through multiple opponent changes, Caceres was originally scheduled to fight Giga Chikadze on the card. That would’ve been a much tougher test since Chikadze is 3-0 in the UFC and has impressed. Hopefully they can put that one together so we can find if this is sustained success from Caceres, or just a fortunate run in which he put it together on a few good nights.
5. Hannah Cifers will get another shot
It was not a night Hannah Cifers will look back fondly on. On the upside, she was the first fighter to make four octagon walks in 2020. On the flip side, however, she now has the dubious distinction of being the first in UFC history to lose four consecutive bouts in a calendar year.
This one against Mallory Martin had to sting the worst, though. Cifers was so damn close to the victory. She didn’t have much to offer Angela Hill, Mackenzie Dern and Mariya Agapova this year, but Cifers had it in her grasp against Martin, and she let it slip away.
Cifers had Martin in serious, serious danger in the first round. The referee gave Martin leeway to survive after the initial knockdown, and she managed to get it together in the second before finding a way to the ground and finishing it with a rear-naked choke. It was a real heart-breaker for Cifers.
To look at it more positively, though, this is the reason why UFC probably won’t let Cifers go despite the four-fight skid. She was able to test a big prospect and newcomer in Martin, but not enough to get the win. We’ve seen shades of that in her other bouts, and that’s a role that’s important to keep around.