5 biggest takeaways from UFC Fight Night 197: Herb Dean’s indecisiveness a problem

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What mattered most at UFC Fight Night 197 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …

1. Max Holloway sets a new precedent

[autotag]Max Holloway[/autotag] is a freaking beast. We all knew this already, but he reinforced it again with his “Fight of the Night” unanimous decision win over Yair Rodriguez.

What Holloway (23-6 MMA, 19-6 UFC) also reinforced was that he belongs in a championship fight next time out. There have been many instances in UFC history of a contender having two losses to a champion – as Holloway does against Alexander Volkanovski – and the push for a third pairing between them begins. It almost always fails to materialize – until now.

The fights between Holloway and Volkanovski were both highly competitive and had people on both sides of the aisle in regard to who won. Officially, Volkanovski got his hand raised via the scorecard on both occasions, but after 10 rounds of action, there’s a lot of dissatisfaction in the debate of who is truly the better man.

Maybe a third fight between them doesn’t even answer that question, but we have to try. From Volkanovski’s end, there’s no more high-profile matchup than Holloway in the division. It will bring the biggest payday and the most eyeballs. Moreover, another win would entrench his status at the featherweight GOAT.

It would be high pressure on Holloway’s end, too, because if he comes up short again, there’s almost not chance he’s getting his hands back on that UFC title he held for so long, unless Volkanovski loses it to someone else.

The stakes are real, and the theater is second-to-none, which means the fight has to happen. Holloway’s wisely keeping his options open in teasing a move to lightweight to rematch Charles Oliveira or meeting Conor McGregor in a rematch. But when reality kicks in and the dust settles, the third Volkanovski fight is the one to make.

2. Yair Rodriguez proves his worth

If you don’t hold [autotag]Yair Rodriguez[/autotag] in the highest of regards after what he did in there with Holloway for five rounds, then there’s a good chance you’ll never have that respect for the guy at all.

Anyone who questioned Rodriguez’s (13-3 MMA, 8-2 UFC) heart, desire and passion to win must be kicking themselves after watching that, because he was brilliant. Although Rodriguez hasn’t made the best account of himself for some actions outside of the octagon, inside the cage he’s delivered time after time.

We don’t even need to revisit the fight with Chan Sung Jung, because we all know what happened there. This fight with Holloway was a hell of a reminder, and even though he lost, Rodriguez proved he belongs among the elite at 145 pounds.

Rodriguez is a monster in there, and we should all be excited to see him fight again. He suffered some injuries in the loss to Holloway, but once he’s healthy, there’s not a single matchup against a top member of the division who I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch.

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3. Herb Dean indecision strikes again

Although I didn’t think Ben Rothwell was getting out of that tough spot against Marcos Rogerio de Lima in the opening seconds of their heavyweight co-main event, Herb Dean left a shadow of doubt with his indecisive call to end the fight.

This issue is not a new one for Dean, either. He’s one of most notable and experienced referees in the history of the sport, but Dana White’s post-fight comments were exactly on point. Check those out below (via Twitter):

Dean is a fixture of the fight game and still has significantly better judgement than a large percentage of the referees, but it’s hard not wonder about certain things when his name is attached to controversial endings with growing regularity.

Is Dean starting to get impacted by the outside noise and questioning himself? Have so many years of good and bad moments thrown off his internal voice to a point that’s beyond repair? Referees like Dean get so much heat for their missteps that it has to be physiologically traumatizing to a degree, even if he doesn’t fully realize it.

What’s the solution here, though? There isn’t really an obvious one. Most fighters would like to have Dean in there with them over many of the alternatives, but he doesn’t seem quite as confident in his decision-making these days.

His work in de Lima vs. Rothwell wasn’t his worst, thankfully, and didn’t seem to ruin the ultimate result we were going to get. But it wasn’t exactly smooth, either, and there’s a reason why multiple notables laid into Dean afterward.

This is by no means a plea to have Dean fired. Given the structure of this sport and how sanctioning bodies oversee referee selection, it’ll take a catastrophic error for his position to be in jeopardy, anyway. We don’t want that for Dean. All we want is for him to be 100 percent confident in his choices in there.

4. Joel Alvarez has major potential, but...

He can’t make weight. That’s the sole problem right now with [autotag]Joel Alvarez[/autotag], who looked nothing short of sensational in his first-round TKO of fellow prospect Thiago Moises.

We can say all the good things in the world we want about Alvarez (19-2 MMA, 4-1 UFC). He’s got size, skill and smarts inside the octagon, but none of it matters if he can’t make the contracted weight limit. It’s happened twice in a row now, and it’s unacceptable if he wants any respect or a serious look as a legitimate lightweight contender.

If Alvarez can find a way to consistently get down to the weight limit – and do so without sacrificing in skill – he could be a problem. If those issues didn’t exist we’d be talking about him getting a top 15 or top 20 name next. But honestly, he doesn’t deserve that until he proves he can conduct himself in a professional manner.

5. Cynthia Calvillo's struggles

It wasn’t long ago when [autotag]Cynthia Calvillo[/autotag] was being groomed by Dana White as one of UFC’s next big stars. She was being positioned on the fast track to the top after making a slash to begin her octagon tenure, but of late, things have fallen off track. Badly.

Injuries, time off, weight management issues that forced adjustments in division, as well as changes in coaches and teammates, have led Calvillo (9-4-1 MMA, 6-4-1 UFC) into a situation of three straight losses. She got thoroughly beat down by Andrea Lee to the point where her corner decided to stop it after Round 2, which was a very commendable move.

We need a whole lot more of those type of stoppages in MMA, in fact, and while Calvillo would probably tell you she didn’t want it to be stopped and could have turned it around in the final five minutes, that’s just simply not realistic. She was saved more damage, which in turn could boost her chances of getting out of this three-fight slump.

How does Calvillo turn things around? It’s hard to say. She’s got disadvantages at 125 pounds that didn’t exist when she was at strawweight, but going back down in weight seems like a big ask. Moreover, confidence has always been a big thing for Calvillo, and that seems to be compromised right now. It’s a difficult spot, and it’ll be interesting to see how the 34-year-old responds.

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