What mattered most at UFC on ESPN 41 in San Diego? Here are a few post-fight musings …
5. Happy trails, Nina Nunes
It feels like we’re getting retirement announcements on every other fight card these days.
This time it was [autotag]Nina Nunes[/autotag], who after a split decision victory over Cynthia Calvillo, took off her gloves and declared she’s hit the end of the road in terms of her competitive career.
Unlike some other retirements, this one was logical and almost certain to be permanent. Nunes (11-7 MMA, 5-4 UFC) explained her choice perfectly, citing her desire to have more children in the near future and preference to focus on coaching the sport rather than competing in it.
One would have to think she’s financially stable, too, given her marriage to two-division UFC champion Amanda Nunes. So what’s the point in continuing to do this? There doesn’t seem to be much of one.
Even though there’s probably something left on the table by walking away now, Nunes should be pleased with her career, in which she arguably overachieved. She started with a 6-5 record in the sport, but managed to win five of her past seven fights and picked up some pretty notable wins.
Most importantly of all, however, is that Nunes got to retire on her terms, on the heels of a victory. Credit to her for that, and it seems her transition to post-fighting life will be a smooth one.
4. Gerald Meerschaert creeping on Anderson Silva
It not a matter of if, but when [autotag]Gerald Meerschaert[/autotag] is going to break Anderson Silva’s record for the most finishes in UFC middleweight history.
People will give backlash even putting these two men in the same sentence, because the nature of their wins and competition aren’t really comparable. It’s like Neil Magny being tied with Georges St-Pierre for the most wins in welterweight history. We know it’s not all created equal.
But numbers are numbers, and after tapping out Bruno Silva in the third round, Meerschaert (35-15 MMA, 10-7 UFC) now has 10 finishes in 185-pound competition, which is just one behind “The Spider,” who has 11.
Keep on trucking Meerschaert, because eventually you’ll hold that record all to yourself. And no matter how people might try to discredit the achievement, it’s a nice feather in the cap for a fighter who is unlikely to ever to wear UFC gold round his waist.
3. Priscila Cachoeira keeps surprising
[autotag]Priscila Cachoeira[/autotag][/autotag] continues to be one of the pleasant surprises of the UFC roster after a 65-second starching of Ariane Lipski.
When Cachoeira (12-4 MMA, 4-4 UFC) was getting utterly mauled by Valentina Shevchenko in one of the most one-sided fights in UFC history in 2018, she became the victim of that moment for years to come.
In fairness, it’s hard to get the image of that horrific beatdown out of your head, but slowly and surely she’s making it happen with performances like she produced against Lipski.
Am I suddenly thinking Cachoeira is going to go on a title run? No. She is exactly what her nickname is: “The Zombie Girl.” She’s going to get in there and fight with reckless abandonment until either she or her opponent falls, and you know the UFC brass love to see it.
For someone who you could argue was not UFC caliber after the Shevchenko fight, it’s nice to see Cachoeira carve out a little niche for herself.
2. How will Dominick Cruz determine his future?
Look, I’m not going to sit here and pretend to know exactly how [autotag]Dominick Cruz[/autotag] feels about his fighting future in the aftermath of a fourth-round knockout loss to Marlon Vera. He has yet to make definitive comments about what he wants out of the future, but as we ponder it, it’s hard to ignore a key quote that came from Cruz ahead of the fight.
“Why would I do this if I wasn’t gunning for a championship? It’d be pretty useless in my opinion.”
That statement speaks volumes, and if Cruz (24-4 MMA, 7-3 UFC) stands by it, he has a decision to make about where he realistically fits in to the title picture in the terrifying bantamweight division.
Although there’s probably a handful of ranked fighters Cruz could still beat in this division, the loss to Vera was a critical blow to his title aspirations. At 37, Cruz might have enough time to try to make another run at the belt, but there are so many variables involved.
In addition to his well documented injury history, there are now legitimate questions about Cruz’s ability to withstand damage. He’s been knocked down six times in his past three losses, and the head kick he took from Vera left him on the canvas in a way we’d never seen previously – and likely with a broken nose, to boot.
If Cruz’s sole goal and purpose for fighting is to become champion again, things are going in the wrong direction. Sure, he was up 29-28 on the scorecards before he was dropped and stopped, but ultimately he lost.
Coming into the fight, Cruz was No. 8 in the UFC’s official rankings. Aljamain Sterling, Petr Yan, T.J. Dillashaw, Jose Aldo, Cory Sandhagen, Merab Dvalishvili, Rob Font and Vera are the names ahead of him, and anyone who argues Cruz as a definitive favorite in any of those fights is offering their analysis through rose-colored glasses.
So, that leaves Cruz at a crossroads. Only he can decide what his best path forward is, but given his own pre-fight comments, maybe pushing forward as an active fighter would be “useless” after all.
1. 'Chito' Vera a star in the making
The UFC has a budding star on its hand with [autotag]Marlon Vera[/autotag], who proved sensational in his finish of Cruz to extend his winning streak to four fights.
The evolution of Vera (22-7-1 MMA, 14-6 UFC), especially since linking up with coach Jason Parillo, has been special to witness. His current winning streak that includes Frankie Edgar, Font and Cruz is nothing to sneeze at, and he’s only getting better.
At 29, “Chito” arguably isn’t even in the prime of his career yet. That should be a scary thought for the rest of the bantamweights.
One might try to take away from Vera in arguing he was losing on the scorecards before his beautiful head kick that ended the fight. Technically that’s correct, but it’s also a simplification of what was happening in the octagon.
Vera was dropping Cruz on nearly every connection of his strikes, whereas the volume of Cruz did little to no damage. Vera had nary a scratch on him after leaving the octagon, which makes me feel like he was always in control of what was happening in there and merely biding his time to drop the seminal blow.
I still don’t know exactly what Vera’s ceiling is at this point. Challenging for a UFC title seems likely, but can he actually win it? If he does, how long can he defend it against the shark tank at 135 pounds? These are difficult questions.
What I do know, however, is that Vera is the complete package of what the UFC wants. He’s got a fan-friendly fighting style, an edgy personality and carries the nation of Ecuador on his back. He’s going to be given all the opportunities, it’s just a matter of how far he can run with it.
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ESPN 41.