Having lost its high-stakes heavyweight headliner, UFC on ESPN 18 limped into the UFC Apex on Saturday with just 10 total fights, only one of which involved a Top 10 fighter, former light heavyweight title challenger Anthony Smith. Nonetheless, UFC Vegas 15 featured several fighters trying new weight classes on for size, several prospects attempting to right the ship after rough Octagon debuts, and underdogs going 6-4 on the night. With that being the case, there were of course plenty of examples of fighters raising or lowering their stock.
Anthony Smith: Heading into the makeshift main event against Devin Clark, “Lionheart” had to know the writing was on the wall for his career. Despite having lost three of four since earning a shot at Jon Jones’ title last year, Smith’s job was probably secure no matter what, but he was absolutely in danger of becoming just another guy at light heavyweight. Even worse, simply defeating Clark would probably not have been enough to keep Smith’s stock up; a narrow decision or a come-from-behind victory against an unranked fighter would likely be seen as an indication that Smith himself was no longer Top 10 material.
Fortunately, there was nothing close about the fight, as Smith went right after Clark’s supposed strengths, taking the decorated wrestler down with a nice outside trip and dominating on the ground on the way to a submission via triangle choke in less than three minutes. Smith’s performance evoked all the usual clichés about there being “levels to this,” but more importantly, it looked exactly like what one would expect of a prime contender facing a promising, but unranked prospect. Smith still has a long way to go before he is in line for another title shot—at the very least, the last two men to beat Smith, Aleksandar Rakic and Glover Teixeira, are in front of him—but he proclaimed last week that he was the wrong one for an up-and-comer to try and build his name off of, and on Saturday he proved it.
Gina Mazany: Moving down a weight class, especially after age 30, is vastly overrated as a way to rejuvenate one’s MMA career. However, Mazany had all the hallmarks of an exception to that rule, as a scrappy, slightly undersized bantamweight whose game thrives on being the physically stronger fighter in the cage. As a test case, Mazany’s flyweight debut on Saturday was a smashing success. Facing Rachael Ostovich, who for all her flaws is a strong woman and decent wrestler, Mazany spent three rounds slamming her opponent all over the place like the second coming of Rustam Khabilov. Just as important as the dominant win, Mazany made weight without issue, looked to be in fine form physically and exhibited no shortage of cardio. Sterner tests will be coming quickly, but for now, put Mazany in the Demian Maia, Frankie Edgar, “dropping in weight was a good idea” column.
Norma Dumont: Dumont’s story parallels that of Mazany in many ways. Called up to face Megan Anderson in her UFC debut in February, the Brazilian had been absolutely steamrolled by the biggest featherweight in the division. Dumont chose to drop to bantamweight for her Octagon follow-up, and what a difference it made. While Dumont’s opponent, Ashlee Evans-Smith, has been inconsistent as a fighter, she is one of the most credentialed wrestlers in the women’s divisions, and Dumont dominated the wrestling, just as she did the striking and grappling. Dumont received a 10-8 third round from all three judges, and could easily have done the same in the second.
In the wake of a completely one-sided victory, Dumont’s stock is holding steady rather than skyrocketing because, of course, she missed weight. Badly. The “Immortal” will get a pass for this one, but the UFC has less patience with weight failures than with losses, so she will need to get her house in order quickly. Assuming she can make the bantamweight limit comfortably in the future, the division will have some much-needed new blood.
Josh Parisian: Coming into UFC on ESPN 18, Parisian had a bit of underground cachet, at least among fans hardcore enough to have seen his two appearances on Dana White's Contender Series and one on “The Ultimate Fighter.” His Octagon debut felt overdue, a rarity in an era when the UFC—especially at heavyweight—seems full of rushed prospects who turn out not to be ready. Many observers, myself included, felt that even if Parisian was not a future title contender, he was demonstrably better than quite a few big men who were already plying their trade in the UFC.
On Saturday, Parisian finally got his chance to prove he belonged, and he fell flat. Facing Parker Porter, who had been flattened in under a round by Chris Daukaus in his own Octagon debut earlier this year, Parisian arguably got the better of a close first round but completely gassed himself out in the bargain. To his credit, Parisian hung in for the remainder of the fight, and was still throwing offense in the third round, but the result was never in question as Porter swept the final two rounds with ease. Just as Porter did, Parisian should and will get a second and probably a third chance, but this was a setback, no question about it.
Spike Carlyle: Three fights into his UFC career, the book has been written on Carlyle, unless he elects to change it. After a wild debut win over Aalon Cruz, “The Alpha Ginger” has now dropped back-to-back fights that have followed a similar pattern: Carlyle’s furious pace allows him to win in the early going, but his tendency to gas out opens the door for his opponent to come back. Against Billy Quarantillo in May, Carlyle lost a narrow decision that some thought he should have won. Against Bill Algeo on Saturday, the general dynamic was the same, but not nearly as favorable, as Carlyle slowed even sooner in the fight, and Algeo appeared to be figuring him out even before he hit the wall.
Carlyle has all the makings of a star: a wildly entertaining fight style, a memorable look and an extremely quirky charisma. All that’s missing is to win fights on a regular basis. The featherweight division is not kind to one-round wonders, and the Top 25 is populated with fighters who will not be overwhelmed by his honey badger routine. Fight cardio is a function of the size of the gas tank as well as how quickly it’s being emptied. “The Alpha Ginger,” who is clearly a well-conditioned athlete, may just need to adjust his idle.