MMA Barometer: May-Mac Making Waves in UFC Schedule
MMA Barometer: May-Mac Making Waves in UFC Schedule

This article is part of our MMA Barometer series.

After a stacked July featuring five fight cards, the UFC schedule will slow down in a big way in August with only one card on Aug. 4 to get us through the entire month. This can likely be attributed to the "McGregor effect" as he fights Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Aug. 26 in arguably the biggest boxing match of all time. The UFC even moved UFC 215 from Aug. 19 to Sept. 9 with the belief that many casual fans will be saving money for the $99.95 purchase price of the McGregor vs. Mayweather pay-per-view. There was also an underlying motive, along with the expensive boxing card, that headliner Demetrious Johnson is not a big pay-per-view draw, so it would have difficult to get a good buy rate with the boxing card the following weekend. This is a tough break for DFS players, as Johnson is typically a lineup staple due to his high output over a five-round fight, and a respectable finishing rate as UFC Flyweight Champion. However, even though the movement results in less action for DFS players in the month of August, the wait should be worth it, as the new UFC 215 is a tremendous card.

Two title fights will headline the revamped UFC 215 card. In the main event, Johnson will attempt to set the consecutive title defense record against Ray Borg. The lineup also reaped the benefits of the Amanda Nunes late scratch from the UFC 213 card, as her fight with Valentina Shevchenko has been rescheduled for the co-main event of UFC 215. The card also features an interesting heavyweight fight, as Junior Dos Santos attempts to get back on track against rising star Francis Ngannou. That is a strong lineup at the top of the bill. However, the fight most likely for Fight of the Night will be the Gilbert Melendez vs. Jeremy Stephens. Both fighters are no strangers to brawls, and will likely be more than willing to exchange in a stand-up war. This has the potential to be one of the best cards of the year, and although its move to September made August a bare month for UFC fans, it should be worth the wait.

As always, below is your MMA barometer with rising, falling, and check status fighters.

Rising

Jon Jones, UFC, Light Heavyweight

This is an obvious pick, but at this point nobody's stock is rising more rapidly than that of the new UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. His emphatic victory over Daniel Cormier at UFC 214 was the perfect way to return to the Octagon after more than a year away from the sport. The first two rounds were close, as can be expected in a contest with a fighter of Cormier's caliber, but ultimately Jones's striking was too much to handle. Jones showed excellent accuracy with his strikes, as he landed damaging body shots including his trademark front kicks to the knee. This served two purposes: it wore DC down, and it ultimately lowered his guard, which opened up the head kick which led to the finish. Furthermore, "Bones" showed he still possesses the timing and killer instinct to finish his opponent, as he unloaded vicious ground-and-pound following the head kick. Jones certainly made an impression on fans and the UFC light heavyweight division in his return.

For his next fight, there have been rumors of Jones moving up to heavyweight and squaring off with former UFC heavyweight king, and current WWE talent, Brock Lesnar. This would certainly be the best fight to make financially, for both the UFC and Jones, and it would be very interesting to see how Jones fares against a much bigger opponent. Even though that fight has plenty of fan appeal, Jones would likely be a significant favorite. The best fight to make, and most even matchup, would be a rematch with Alexander Gustafsson. Jones and Gustafsson had a five-round war in 2013, and many people believed "The Mauler" should have been declared the victor. Gustafsson certainly earned a shot with the striking clinic he put on against Glover Teixeira in May, and it would almost certainly be another classic brawl. Either fight would be interesting, but a rematch with Gustafsson has a better chance to be a historically great fight.

Next Fight: TBA

Brian Ortega, UFC, Featherweight

Ortega is currently undefeated in his career at 12-0, and he has four wins since joining the UFC. "T-City" has won each of his UFC contests in the third round, finishing each. In his last fight against Renato Moicano at UFC 214, which earned Fight of the Night honors, Ortega had likely lost the first two rounds. He was standing toe-to-toe with Moicano, but Moicano was certainly getting the better of the exchanges, which is reflected in the statistics of the fight where Moicano out-struck Ortega 109-65, per UFC.com. However, the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt was able to lock in a guillotine halfway through the third round and showed how tight his squeeze is as Moicano tapped very quickly. It was another dramatic win for the undefeated featherweight, and as the current No. 6-ranked UFC featherweight, "T-City" might be in line for a title shot after one more win.

With Frankie Edgar as the reported next challenger for Max Holloway's UFC featherweight title, Ortega will likely face a stiff test in one of two top-five featherweights. Cub Swanson, the No. 4-ranked UFC featherweight, has been making noise for a title fight, but with that honor going to Edgar, Swanson will likely need to take a fight in the interim. A win over the undefeated Ortega would likely secure his spot for the winner of Edgar and Holloway. However, Ortega is a dangerous opponent with a tricky ground game and could certainly give Swanson problems, like Frankie Edgar did on the ground. The issue, of course, is that Ortega does not possess the same ability to take opponents down as Edgar. If he could get Swanson down, or if he gets any opponent to the ground, it would be a major problem for Swanson.

Another potential opponent would be a featherweight who also competed at UFC 214, No. 3-ranked UFC featherweight Ricardo Lamas. "The Bully" destroyed Jason Knight in the first round, and as far as being on the same schedule, this fight makes a lot of sense. This would be a difficult fight for Ortega because Lamas is both a former NCAA Division III All-American wrestler and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It would make it hard for Ortega to get the fight to the ground, and Lamas is a tough customer on the feet. Even though it would be a tough matchup, nobody has been able to figure out a way to beat Ortega up to this point, so it would be expected Ortega would have a good game plan to come out victorious. The fight with Lamas could serve as a potential title eliminator, but Lamas lost a unanimous decision to Max Holloway one year ago. The UFC may be hesitant so set up a potential rematch to that fight, and may prefer to have Ortega square off with Swanson for a title eliminator.

Next Fight: TBA

Niko Price, UFC, Welterweight

Price is undefeated as a professional mixed martial artist with a record of 9-0. Of those nine victories, he has seven first-round victories. Although he is a relative newcomer to the UFC, with his debut coming in December 2016 and only two fights under the UFC banner, Price has been impressive in his two fights. In his first UFC bout, Price took advantage of now former UFC welterweight Brandon Thatch's deficiencies on the ground and submitted him in under one round. Submissions have not been "The Hybrid's" usual method of victory, as that was only his second win via tapout. Price is generally extremely violent and comes out throwing virtually every strike as hard as he can. In his second UFC fight against Alex Morono, a fight Price took on short notice, Price took some time to find his groove, and even got hurt badly at the end of the first round. However, he showed tremendous heart and was able to knock Morono out at the end of the second round. The fight ended up being overturned to a no contest when Price tested positive for marijuana.

This Saturday, at UFC Fight Night: Pettis vs. Moreno, "The Hybrid" will face a stiff test in tough UFC veteran Alan Jouban. This will be a big step up in competition for Price. Jouban was riding a three-fight win streak before being submitted by the No. 11-ranked UFC welterweight, Gunnar Nelson. Price will need to be cautious in this fight. If he throws wild punches, Jouban is certainly skilled enough to land a counter and has enough power to knock out Price. Jouban also holds a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so he is no slouch on the ground. Even though price needs to be careful not to get too wild, he still needs to stick to his style of applying pressure and starting out fast. Jouban has shown he is susceptible to an early knockout when he lost to Albert Tumenov in 2015. If the young UFC welterweight can get past Jouban, it will almost surely set him up for a fight with a top-fifteen fighter
.
Next Fight: Alan Jouban, UFC Fight Night: Pettis vs. Moreno (August 5th, 2017)

Check Status

Fabricio Werdum, UFC, Heavyweight

Fabricio Werdum lost a controversial unanimous decision to Alistair Overeem at UFC 213. His trilogy fight with Overeem was a back and forth contest, and many people thought Werdum did enough to come away with the victory. In the first round, Werdum and Overeem had a feeling out process, and the fight was very slow-paced. The round was close, but per the FightMetric.com statistics, Werdum landed twelve strikes to Overeem's five, and Werdum had three times the output of Overeem that round with thirty attempted strikes to Overeem's ten. However, two of the judges scored the round in favor of Overeem. In the second round, Overeem badly hurt the former UFC heavyweight champion and clearly won the round. In the third round, Werdum outpointed "The Reem" by a significant margin. He had Overeem rocked on several occasions, and the round certainly could have been scored a 10-8, as it was by one of the judges. The mistake the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt made was that after being close to finishing Overeem standing late in the fight, he chose to take a wobbly Overeem to the ground instead of potentially finishing the fight. This was a safe move so he didn't get caught with a punch, but was also based on the assumption he had won the first round. Two of the judges did not see it that way, and Overeem was declared the victor. This is an opportunity for Werdum to learn, as Dana White says, to never leave a fight in the hands of the judges. With the controversial decision, Werdum is still close to the top of the heap in the heavyweight division. He is one of the most skilled fighters at the weight class and will likely bounce back well from the loss.

Next Fight: TBA

Falling

Renan Barao, UFC, Bantamweight

Barao has lost three of four fights in the past two years. His only victory came against Phillipe Nover who is no longer with the promotion. His fight on Saturday at UFC 214 was at a catchweight of 140 lbs. against a true bantamweight, Aljimain Sterling. Sterling is the No. 7-ranked UFC bantamweight, and he beat Barao convincingly. "The Baron" had mild success in the first round, but was badly outclassed in the second and third rounds, with two judges scoring 10-8 rounds in favor of "Funk Master." Sterling is an above-average fighter, but Barao was not even close. This is not a good sign for a fighter who has been near the top of the sport for the past five years.

There are two elephants in the room for Barao. First, he is in the gray area between bantamweight and featherweight. The California State Athletic Commission refused to license him to compete at bantamweight, and he is realistically too small for featherweight. This is not a good situation to be in, and the only remedy would be if Barao was able to be licensed by another state and prove he could make bantamweight safely after his disastrous weight cut before his fight with T.J. Dillashaw. If states refuse to license him, then Barao will be forced to fight at featherweight where he is a longshot to ever compete for a title. Second, the former UFC bantamweight champion has not been the same fighter since the implementation of stricter testing for performance-enhancing drugs under USADA in 2015. There is no hard evidence that Barao ever took the drugs, but his performances have certainly suffered since his win over Mitch Gagnon in December 2014. Perhaps the weight cut to 135 lbs. affected Barao, and his subsequent move to featherweight put him in a division where he was at a size disadvantage, but the timing of his decline in performance correlates with the implementation of the new testing policy.

Next Fight: TBA

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Evan Dahl
Evan Dahl is a law student who has been a die-hard MMA fan for over a decade. Outside of MMA, he roots for the Broncos, Brewers and Bucks.
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