This article is part of our MMA Barometer series.
This past Tuesday, the Association of Boxing Commissions approved the most significant changes to mixed martial art's Unified Rules since the inception of the sport and adoption of the rules. The most significant changes have been to the scoring rules for judges, but also include what defines a grounded fighter, rules for extended fingers, and changes in women's clothing. These rules have been approved by the ABC, but it is up to individual state athletic commissions to adopt the rules. Some commissions can adopt the rules immediately, while others will have to wait for the changes to be pushed through by their state legislatures. Either way, these rule changes will have a significant impact on the sport. With respect to daily fantasy mixed martial arts the scoring rules and the rules for extended fingers will have the most significant impact.
The scoring rules are the most significant change. The new rules use language that is more specific, as well as increasing the likelihood of 10-8 rounds. The new rules make it so judges must first consider effective striking and grappling, and only if those are equal do the judges look to aggression and Octagon (cage) control. Furthermore, 10-8 rounds are judged on three criteria: damage, duration, and impact. If two of the three factors are present, then a 10-8 round has to be considered. If all three of the factors are present, then the judges must score a 10-8 round. This is significant because of the implications of a 10-8 round. If a fighter loses a round 10-8, it will make it very difficult for them to win the fight, and the best they can hope for may be a draw. However, because the 10-8 rounds will be more prevalent, it will be easier for a fighter to match a 10-8 round from their opponent. Either way, this scoring rule change will undoubtedly have an impact on the outcome of fights and will almost surely result in a higher rate of draws.
Another major change is for extended fingers. Traditionally, fighters have only been warned about extended fingers when an actual eye poke takes place. With the amended rules, any fighter that moves their arms toward their opponent with fingers pointing at their opponents face or eyes will be assessed a foul. This will be similar to any other foul, where warnings will be given, but the warnings will be given before an actual eye poke takes place. The fighter can also be assessed a foul without an eye poke actually taking place if the fighter continuously extends his/her fingers towards their opponents face. This will be an interesting change to the rules because it will give the referees much more discretion in taking away points without any actual damage being done.
These changes will impact the outcome of fights, but it is yet to be seen how significantly. It is clear scores will be different with a higher frequency of 10-8 rounds, and it will be interesting to see how fighters' styles change with the new rules regarding eye pokes. Hopefully, the rules will be adopted quickly and uniformly by each state athletic commission in order to avoid confusion as fighters compete in different states and to improve mixed martial arts as a whole.
As always, below is your MMA barometer with rising, falling, and check status fighters.
After his 13-second loss to Conor McGregor in December 2015, many people questioned whether Jose Aldo's career was waning and whether his time at the top of the featherweight division was over. Aldo silenced those critics at UFC 200 with an emphatic, unanimous-decision victory over Frankie Edgar. Quite frankly, Aldo never looked better as he kept Edgar guessing with his footwork and showed outstanding grappling ability. His performance against a red hot Edgar, who was riding a five-fight winning streak (including dominant victories over Cub Swanson, Urijah Faber, and Chad Mendes), showed that his quick loss to McGregor was not representative of who Aldo is as a fighter at this point. It showed that loss was due to, for lack of a better word, a lucky punch. His dominant victory over Edgar in the featherweight interim title match has put Aldo in perfect position to avenge his loss to McGregor.
The only issue with a rematch with McGregor is there is a 50-50 chance McGregor ever competes at featherweight again. He is currently scheduled for a welterweight bout with Nate Diaz at UFC 202. If Aldo and McGregor do meet again, however, it will almost certainly last longer than their first contest. It seemed that in their first fight Aldo rushed in, fighting on the emotion from the build-up to the fight, and got caught by McGregor. In the Edgar fight, Aldo was much more patient and allowed Edgar to press forward, and he was able to pick him apart with counterstrikes. This is the type of strategy Aldo will have to implement if he is given a second crack at McGregor. If the unification bout with McGregor does come to fruition, I expect Aldo to put on a much better showing . If he looks the same as he did against Edgar, the former featherweight champion has a good chance to come out victorious.
Next Fight: TBA
Much like Jose Aldo after the Conor McGregor fight, many people questioned whether Cain Velasquez could ever regain his championship form after he was dominated by Fabricio Werdum in June 2015. Much like Aldo, Velasquez silenced those critics at UFC 200. He thrashed top-10 UFC heavyweight Travis Browne with a first round KO/TKO. Velasquez displayed his trademark pace as he kept moving forward and putting pressure on Browne, and he even showed a new facet of his game by throwing a wheel kick (!!!) that landed. Velasquez showed just how dangerous he can be when he is healthy, and proved he is certainly able to compete at a championship level in the UFC.
It only seems fair that Velasquez's next fight comes against the winner of the UFC heavyweight championship bout between Alistair Overeem and Stipe Miocic. Velasquez did lose to Werdum, but based on his performance against Browne, it seems obvious that he was negatively affected by the altitude in that fight, and that is why he gassed out against Werdum. It is well documented that Werdum spent a decent amount of time adjusting to the altitude, while Velasquez showed up a short time before the fight, which didn't allow his body to adjust to being so high above sea level. Assuming his championship fight takes place at a normal venue, it is hard to imagine any heavyweight beating Velasquez, assuming he is healthy. It will be very hard for any UFC heavyweight to deal with his pressure, wrestling, and ever-improving striking. I expect Velasquez to reclaim his heavyweight crown in the near future.
Next fight: TBA
One of the rising stars in the UFC featherweight division, Yair Rodriguez will look to jump into the top 10 with a victory this Saturday against Alex Caceres. Rodriguez is coming off of a highlight reel knockout of a highly respected Andre Fili in April. He looked great by using his innovative kicks throughout the fight, and put Fili away with a flying roundhouse left kick. Rodriguez throws kicks with such speed it is very hard for his opponents to defend against them, and he is also improving other aspects of his game to go along with his black belt in taekwondo. Against Fili, he was able to implement good takedowns in the first round and control Fili on the ground. Rodriguez, who is only 23 years old, will likely continue to improve and become more well-rounded as he trains with the Jackson-Winkeljohn camp.
Rodriguez's fight against Alex Caceres this Saturday should be very entertaining. Much like Rodriguez, Caceres is known for his creative striking. However, Rodriguez will likely come out in an even better form than his last fight, and that will be bad news for Caceres. It is unlikely Caceres can match Rodriguez on the feet, but if he can, this fight could turn to each fighter's grappling ability. Judging on Rodriguez's past performances and improvement from fight to fight, he will likely have the grappling advantage and be superior to Caceres on the floor. I expect Rodriguez's winning streak to continue and for him to be in the top ten of the featherweight division when the new rankings are released next week.
Next Fight: Alex Caceres, UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez vs. Caceres (August 6th, 2016)
Coming off of two dominant, unanimous-decision victories, it would seem that Edson Barboza should be on the "rising" portion of this column. However, he is in "check status" due to his own volition. Barboza has stated he would refuse to fight his teammate Eddie Alvarez for the UFC lightweight championship. This does not leave a lot of options for the UFC, as it is pointless to pit Barboza against opponents in number one contender fights if he will not actually fight the champion. It could be difficult for Barboza to find a fight against top contenders in the near future.
On top of his refusal to fight Alvarez, and even though he has been dominant in his last two fights against Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez, Barboza has yet to prove himself against a grappler. It is obvious he holds an advantage over almost any fighter in the division if the fight stays standing, but in his last test against an above-average grappler, he was submitted in the second round by Tony Ferguson. However, when the fight is on the feet Barboza has some of the quickest and most powerful kicks in the division. He has a devastating switch kick and his leg kicks can quickly change a fight, as was displayed in his last contest against Melendez. Barboza is undoubtedly one of the best lightweights in the world, but it will be hard for him to move up the lightweight ladder if he will not fight the champion, and he still needs to prove himself against accomplished grapplers.
Next Fight: TBA
At 35 years old and losing four of his last five fights, Matt Brown is at a difficult phase of his career. He has been finished or lost by unanimous decision in all four of those defeats. Brown is always a game fighter and puts on exciting fights, but he has not been very competitive in the last two years, with the exception being his first-round submission victory over Tim Means. Most recently, Brown fell victim to a devastating knockout to Jake Ellenberger, who was on the brink of retirement before his victory over Brown. The biggest problem for Brown is whenever he steps up in competition to fight a top-10 or top-15 fighter, he comes up short. Due to his age, it is difficult to imagine Brown turning it around and making a run at the welterweight championship. Generally, lighter weight fighters see their performances suffer as they age while heavier fighters are more apt to have career resurgences as they get older. The future does not look bright for Brown at this point.
If he is going to turn his recent string of disappointing performances around, Brown will have to get back to a more grinding style by getting his opponents up against the fence and landing big elbows while avoiding big shots. In the past, Brown has been susceptible to body shots early in fights, but his performance against Ellenberger is particularly concerning because it could be a sign that his chin is starting to fail him. Brown has historically been able to engage in wars and survive long enough to put his opponent away, but he was finished very early in the first round by Ellenberger. Ellenberger does possess a lot of power, but if this is a sign of things to come, it will be hard for Brown's style to be successful against high-level UFC welterweights. A chin is one thing fighters cannot control, and if Brown's chin begins to fail him, it may be time for him to call it a career.
Next Fight: TBA
Ever since stepping up in competition, Thales Leites has struggled. After returning from a four-year hiatus, Leites won five straight at middleweight in the UFC. Since that streak, he stepped up in competition to face two accomplished mixed martial arts veterans in Michael Bisping and Gegard Mousasi, and lost both fights by unanimous decision. One of the biggest issues for Leites is his deficient striking game. Leites is a wizard on the ground, but when he fails to get the fight to the ground, he struggles against tough stand-up fighters.
Leites faces a stiff test in UFC veteran Chris Camozzi this Saturday. Camozzi has won three in a row and boasts 64 percent takedown defense against 28 percent takedown accuracy for Leites. This could pose problems for Leites, as he will struggle to get the fight to the ground where he can take advantage with his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. This will be a tough test for Leites, but he has to get a win under his belt to break his losing streak.
Next Fight: Chris Camozzi, UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez vs. Caceres (August 6th, 2016)