UFC 238: Cejudo vs. Moraes - Winners and Losers
In a wild night from Chicago, UFC 238 crowned a new champion, saw another retain, and separated the wheat from the chaff.
I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot more than I used to about UFC events: UFC 238 lived up to the hype. There were several fantastic fights, led by Tony Ferguson and Donald Cerrone throwing down for two solid rounds, each seeming to win a round apiece. Unfortunately for them, Cerrone’s eye was swollen shut heading into the final round after blowing his nose, ending the fight prematurely.
Fortunately for fans, that wasn’t the only awesome fight. Aljamain Sterling vs. Pedro Munhoz, Yan Xiaonan vs. Angela Hill. That isn’t even mentioning the main event that saw Henry Cejudo overcome a strong first round from Marlon Moraes for a come from behind victory. Even the title fight that many expected to be a bore saw Valentina Shevchenko deliver a potential KOoTY when Shevchenko put Jessica Eye to sleep with a head kick. There isn’t a shortage of awesome things from UFC 238.
Henry Cejudo: So I didn’t even bother mentioning how Cejudo won his second title, becoming the bantamweight champion when he was already the flyweight champion. Cejudo will be quick to correct you and say he’s a triple champion due to his Olympic gold medal – a little-known fact about him – though I’d point out the tern double-champ usually refers to holding the titles simultaneously. Regardless, Cejudo’s claim as the greatest combat sports fighter ever has merit, even if he still has a way to go before he convinces the majority of fans of its truth. He overcame adversity after Moraes took the first round, resulting in Cejudo hobbling. After some calming from his coaches in between rounds, Cejudo came roaring back to break down the Brazilian just before the end of the third. Cejudo may be making it hard to like him, but he’s also making it hard to dispute his greatness.
Valentina Shevchenko: The biggest thing Shevchenko has been missing has been a highlight reel KO. That’s no longer the case. After beating Eye’s body with kicks through the first round, Shevchenko caught her blocking downward with a blow to the head that put Eye to sleep… literally. Prior to that, Shevchenko dominated Eye on the ground for a large chunk of the first round too. It tells you how awesome the night was when Shevchenko’s performance is being forgotten about by many… or that I’m typing this little about it.
Tony Ferguson and Donald Cerrone: The ending to the contest was disappointing. But what in the hell was disappointing before that? Absolutely nothing. Let’s not get angry at the doctor for doing his job and ending the contest when Cerrone’s eye blew up. Prior to that, Cowboy and Ferguson stood toe-to-toe and threw down for 10 glorious minutes. The circumstances around the end of the fight suck, but nobody involved in the fight deserves the blame. Some may say Cerrone doesn’t deserve to be a winner given he did lose the fight… but did it feel like he lost? No. It feels like there is unfinished business – and Uncle Dana has discussed the idea of running this back – but the momentum was swinging clearly in favor of Ferguson. Do we really want to hold him up any more than we already have? The guy has 12 consecutive wins for hell’s sake. Conor McGregor doesn’t even have 12 UFC fights, let alone 12 wins in a row. Let’s give Ferguson what he has earned already. As for Cowboy, let’s give him high level fights against as many different opponents while we still can. The dude has 49 fights under his belt. He can only do this for so much longer. Let’s get as much diversity as we can with the Cowboy.
Petr Yan: Some might consider Yan’s performance to be disappointing. Those people are forgetting just how good Jimmie Rivera is. Yan had some rough patches against the combination puncher, but also landed some timely offense before the end of the first and second offense to steal each of those rounds. Either he’s incredibly fortunate or has a veteran sense of timing. Maybe a little of both. Regardless, Yan should be credited for hanging in each round prior to stealing those rounds. Yan may still need just a bit of seasoning before the UFC throws him into a title shot, but he isn’t far away from that.
Blagoy Ivanov: I’ll admit I haven’t given Ivanov enough credit as a counter striker. Ivanov’s performance against Tai Tuivasa was masterful, catching the big Australian with countless counters as Tuivasa crashed the pocket recklessly on several occasions. Ivanov expected it and was constantly ready for it. Now, the Bulgarian is going to catch some crap for holding that submission too long after the bell rang… but who is really going to remember that in the long run? Ivanov will never be the sexiest heavyweight in terms of marketability, but he’s proving to be a legit top ten heavyweight.
Aljamain Sterling: I had praised Sterling’s performance against Jimmie Rivera as the best of his career. That title didn’t last for very long as he put together an ever greater masterpiece in picking apart Pedro Munhoz. Yes, once again Sterling executed a near-flawless performance from a distance, limiting the amount of damage Munhoz was able to do on the occasions he did close the distance with some slick head movement. The big difference is Sterling was popping Munhoz’s head back with his punches. Gradually, Sterling has improved every aspect of his striking to the point that he is legitimately one of the top strikers at 135. The win could very well grant Sterling a title shot.
Alexa Grasso: Grasso has been considered an inconsistent fighter for a while. No surprise, given she has still been considered a prospect. It looks like that label can now be shed. It’s possible she may have been able to drop it for a while, but a series of injuries kept us from seeing what the Mexican hopeful has improved on. Against Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Grasso ran circles around the former title challenger, ending with a total of 148 significant strikes according to UFC Stats. It wasn’t even close. There were many who doubted whether Grasso would deliver on her promise – me included – but it looks like she is beginning to do so.
Calvin Kattar: His win over Ricardo Lamas wasn’t a surprise. That he KO’d him in the first round. Had Kattar, a volume striker, worn Lamas down and secured a late stoppage that wouldn’t have been much of a surprise. But the early KO? Damn, Kattar is stepping up his game. His lack of athleticism will limit his ceiling, but if we’re being honest, how many of us saw him climbing the ladder as high as he currently is? Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised when Kattar continues to surprise us… if that sentence makes any sense.
Yan Xiaonan: It may have been a tougher contest than many expected, but Xiaonan walked out of her bout with Angela Hill with a hard-earned victory. The Chinese representative relied on her volume to overwhelm Hill, a strategy that almost backfired as Hill didn’t slow down the way she usually does. Even worse, Xiaonan did walk into a triangle from Hill, but that can be excused since no one saw that coming. Nonetheless, the fact Xiaonan overcome those obstacles to pick up the win should say something about her. In fact, I’d expect a lot of improvements to come from this fight as she was pushed. Still high on Xiaonan, even if she didn’t deliver a dominant performance.
Eddie Wineland: Wineland isn’t the same fighter he was in his heyday, but he still hits like a truck. Delivering exactly the type of fight the UFC was hoping for, Wineland swung for the fences against Gregorii Popov, delivering a crowd pleasing slugfest that eventually produced a violent finish. I’m not sure where Wineland goes from here, but he should enjoy this moment for now. I don’t see too many moments like this coming for the longtime veteran.
Katlyn Chookagian: It was a rough start for Blonde Fighter, but she made some adjustments in the middle round and was able to take a decision away from Joanne Calderwood. It won’t gain Chookagian any new fans, but I was encouraged as she sat down more on her strikes which allowed her to not only land with more frequency, but land with power. This may shock some, but it could secure a title shot for Chookagian. If you disagree with that idea, name someone else more deserving of that honor. I’ll be here waiting….
Clay Guida and Diego Sanchez: Announced as a selection for the UFC Hall of Fame, the showdown between these two truly was one for the ages. Funny enough, I’ve seen plenty of people complain this wasn’t the best fight either one of these two were in. How about we agree both men have put together memorable careers and this may have been the best way to commemorate their careers? Regardless of what fight of theirs was their best, Guida and Sanchez went to war in 2009 and we all benefitted from their willingness to do so.
The UFC: There is plenty the UFC does wrong. Generally, the fans and media spend a lot of time pointing that out. But when they do something right, it’s only right we acknowledge that. The UFC absolutely got UFC 238 right. They deserve our kudos.
Fans: With only one truly bad fight on the card, you’d have to have something up your ass to believe this card sucked. There were several awesome finishes, several barnburners, and some history being made. What more do fans want?
Marlon Moraes: It looked like Moraes had the whole world in his hands. He brutalized Cejudo’s legs while well-timed power strikes to the head of Cejudo. It felt like a matter of time before Moraes cracked the reigning flyweight champion. Instead, the finish that came was delivered to Moraes, not by him. As tough as Moraes is, he wasn’t ready to be dragged through the mud with Cejudo. As Moraes had been in the cage for less than 5 minutes combined in his previous three fights, he had grown accustomed to a short night of work. When it extended, Moraes faltered. Given the strength of Moraes first round, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see him rematch Cejudo somewhere down the road. However, Moraes will need to avoid the minefield that is the bantamweight division. He’s done so fairly well so far, but there is also a stronger blueprint for how to overcome him.
Jessica Eye: I’d argue nobody had a worse night than Eye, Ricardo Lamas probably coming in second. Not only was Eye completely dominated, she was also on the receiving end of a brutal head kick KO. It’s hard to find a positive out of her performance. For her sake, I’ll say the least that’s said about it the better. So… yeah.
Jimmie Rivera: This was Rivera’s opportunity to reestablish himself as an elite bantamweight. Even though Rivera came closer than many people thought he would, he fell short and UFC 238 was all-or-nothing for him. Being unable to seal the deal may have permanently sunk Rivera out of the elite of the bantamweight division. It’s a shame as Rivera’s performance was solid, almost good enough to win. It’s plausible Rivera could jump back into the fray, but it appears he’ll have to fix something in his head.
Tai Tuivasa: I’m not going to mince words: Tuivasa fought stupidly. Rather than try to use his size advantage, Tuivasa continued to close the distance time and again against the shorter Ivanov. Sure, Tuivasa’s elbows are nice, but they aren’t the only weapon he possesses. Perhaps even worse, Tuivasa continued to load up on his punches, telegraphing his attack to the Bulgarian. For some people, loading up makes sense. When you have as much power as Tuivasa, you should never have to load up. If you think I’m wrong, look at how this fight went down. It was bad for Tuivasa.
Nina Ansaroff: Out of all the other loser’s in this list, Ansaroff belongs here the least. Part of that can be attributed to a neck injury suffered by her opponent, Tatiana Suarez, resulting in Suarez having little desire to wrestle late. That allowed Ansaroff to show some of her abilities on the feet – and nearly steal the contest in the closing seconds – and leave the fans with the last impression of Ansaroff being the superior fighter. However, there was the first two rounds where Suarez drilled Ansaroff into the ground. Ansaroff is good, but it doesn’t appear she is championship good… at least not yet.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz: It’s official: Kowalkiewicz is no longer a top strawweight. Not even close. Kowalkiewicz looked like she was moving at half speed early in the fight. She picked things up about halfway through the contest, but it was too late by then. Grasso was rolling and Kowalkiewicz had eaten so much damage by that point, the fight was academic. Everyone knows Kowalkiewicz’s game at this point and she hasn’t made any adjustments. Kowalkiewicz may soon be declaring an end to her career.
Ricardo Lamas: It’s hard to find a positive in this loss for Lamas. Kattar isn’t known as a hard hitter and Lamas wasn’t having much success – if any -- prior to KO at the end of the first. After a decade against some of the best fighters in the world, Lamas’ durability appears to be cracking. There are still winnable fights for him, but rather than fighting ranked opponents, Lamas should be in a gatekeeper role from this point.
Bevon Lewis: Remember those comparisons to Jon Jones that were circulating around Lewis? I don’t think we’ll ever hear those again. Lewis didn’t look like he wanted to be in the cage with Darren Stewart at all. He spent most of the fight either staring at Stewart from a distance or engaged in a stalemate in the clinch. I’ll be the first to admit that I have no idea what it was that led to such a poor performance, though I do wonder if his confidence was shaken following his KO loss to Uriah Hall. He’ll get another chance, so we’ll get an opportunity to learn what’s up.
Joanne Calderwood: Calderwood looked like a million bucks throught the first round of her contest with Chookagian. As the fight progressed, she seemed to lose her focus, resulting in her clowning Chookagian in the final minute or two of the fight. When the fight is hardly assured to go your way, that’s an idiotic idea. It very well may have cost Calderwood the fight as she could have swayed the judges mind with a flurry at the end. Alas, Calderwood disappoints again.
Tatiana Suarez: This is a tricky spot for Suarez. She didn’t have a terrible performance, taking the first two round on the strength of her wrestling. However, after suffering a neck injury early, Suarez tried to limit the pain by avoiding wrestling in the final round, coming close to getting KO’d in the closing seconds by Ansaroff. The final round didn’t leave a good taste in the eyes of observers. Could it leave her out of the title shot that many were predicting for her heading into this contest? I wouldn’t think so, but I’ve seen and heard some questions about that and Suarez’s wrestling-heavy style isn’t that marketable. This is very much a situation to be stayed tune into.
Pedro Munhoz: There isn’t much to criticize with Munhoz performance. At a severe reach disadvantage, Munhoz found several opportunities to close the distance and did a fair amount of damage. Sterling just possessed too many physical advantages for Munhoz to overcome. It was almost a given that Munhoz had to win via stoppage as there was no way Sterling was going to voluntarily give him the firefight Munhoz wanted. Given the circumstances, Munhoz did about as well as he could outside of landing the finishing blow. It turned out to be a hell of a fight too, so I can’t downgrade Munhoz.
Angela Hill: Despite the loss, this was the best performance of Hill’s career thus far. She remained effective until the end of the contest after a history of slowing late and even showed some submission prowess. Sure, Hill has lost three of her last four – which is concerning – but Hill shouldn’t be in danger of being cut quite yet. The loss does prevent her from being a winner – this was a winnable fight – but there shouldn’t be any disappointment from anyone with Hill’s performance.
Darren Stewart: I was tempted to throw Stewart in the loser’s category as that fight was such a garbage fire. However, I couldn’t discount Stewart’s improvements which led to him securing the upset over Lewis. Stewart’s clinch work and takedown defense neutralized Lewis’ attack, allowing Stewart to take the decision. It was boring as hell and no one is excited to see Stewart at this point, but it gave him the win.
Gregorii Popov: I know what you’re thinking. Why in the hell would a guy who was on the receiving end of a brutal KO in his UFC debut avoid the loser’s column? Simple. He gave the UFC exactly what it wanted out of him: something to give the fans something to stand and cheer about. Given many thought Popov would go down without much of a fight, it might even be said Popov exceeded expectations. Bottom line is he was brought in to lose. He did so and didn’t embarrass himself in the process.