Sunday 18 February 2018

UFC Fight Night 80 - Actions will always trump ambitions

Paige VanZant
Paige VanZant
Fergus Ryan

Fergus Ryan

Last night at UFC Fight Night 80 the headliner between Rose Namajunas and Paige VanZant took place as a prelude for a bumper weekend of MMA. Fighter Tim Means described it best by saying the event was ‘the fuse to the dynamite’.

Actions will always trump ambitions

When you consider the effort the fighters put in both in preparing and fighting in the Octagon it’s unfair to criticise someone for a loss. You can question their tactics, examine their preparation to see if they were genuinely ready and assess their performance to see if they gave it their all. But you should never be critical just because they lost.

It would be easy to throw Paige VanZant under the bus for her very lob-sided loss to Rose Namajunas last night, but it wouldn’t be fair. Especially when you consider how much promotion she has received from the UFC and Reebok without doing enough to earn it.

Namajunas is a genuine title contender to Poland’s Joanna Jedrzejczyk strawweight title. From the first exchanges VanZant looked like she was way out of her depth and the remaining 23 minutes proved she was.

The soft spoken, easy going ‘Thug’ Rose had an answer for everything Paige tried offensively. By the end of the first round Paige was bruised, cut and out of ideas.

Out thought and out fought

’12 Gauge’ Paige’s normal MO is pressure striking and takedowns from the clinch. Once on the mat she is normally the stronger lady and can hold down and beat up opponents. It’s not much to look at but it has served her well in her three previous UFC wins.

From the early exchanges Namajunas showed she was faster, more accurate and hit harder than VanZant; so the pressure striking went out the window. VanZant spent most of the fight circling outside Namajunas trying to stay out of range.

When the clinch was initiated, usually by Rose, VanZant was too willing to slap on a sloppy headlock and turn her back in the hope she could muscle and bully Rose to the floor. Namajunas simply stepped around to land her own takedown and secure a dominant position of mount or back mount once on the floor. Eight times Rose capitalised on Paige’s inexperience to take her down. Paige only tried for two takedowns and came up short on both. With her striking shut down early, Paige’s clinch takedowns were equally futile.

By the third round the commentary team were running out of superlatives for Namajunas and celebrating the fact that there was ‘no quit’ in VanZant. The crowd, as if they felt bad about the one sided beating, began to cheer VanZant as she worked her way out of submission attempts.

VanZant’s corner were out of ideas too. They were reduced to reminding Paige that ‘you win fights by being aggressive’ and ‘go after her’. Not very technical advice and not much benefit to a fighter who is only guilty of being out of her depth.

‘Every Rose has a thorn’

The longer it went the more likely a decision seemed to be. There really is no quit in VanZant but Namajunas showed how well rounded her skills are and how calm and calculating she is by biding her time and getting the stoppage in the fifth.

Having previously failed with a rear naked choke ‘Thug’ Rose adjusted her grip the second time and coaxed a tap out of Paige midway through the final round.

The fact that Namajunas didn’t panic when VanZant was able to work out of a number of submission attempts or didn’t become frustrated at endless amount of punishment she dished out without relieving VanZant of her senses speaks volumes in favour of Rose.

Rather, by making some technical adjustments on her previous work in the fight to get a finish highlighted what a smart fighter she is. With two wins now since she lost her title bid, its safe to say ‘Thug Rose’ is close to a title shot again.

What’s the rush?

VanZant has a lot to learn but at only 21 she has the time to do it. Its great to see the UFC get behind its fighter but promotional value does not equal fighting ability. She should never have been on the main card let alone in a main event.

Neither, for that matter, should Sage Northcutt.

Northcutt beat Cody Pfister in the second fight on the main card and certainly looks like he has the tools to be a threat in the lightweight division. But does all the hype around him warrant his second fight in the Octagon to be on the main card? Not really when you consider who he has been fighting.

With the height of respect to Pfister his two previous fights had been way, way down on the undercard and you would not have picked him as a main card fighter. Unless he’s been brought in to make a promotional asset look good, which was the case.

VanZant and Northcutt don’t pick where they fight on the UFC cards so this is not levelled at them. But why did the UFC opt to have a genuine prospect like Aljamain Sterling buried in the middle of the under card? Most would have expected the always exciting Tim Means versus the always tough Jon Howard to grace the main card. There were better fighting options but the UFC instead backed their promotional stories.

A visibly upset VanZant summed it up perfectly in the post-fight press conference 'I got outclassed in every way… I’m new and I’ve a lot to learn… athletically I wasn’t prepared for that fight’.

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