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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returned to Ibirapuera Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. With UFC Fight Night 164 came some good, some bad and some ugly.
THE GOOD: ‘DO BRONX’ DO BOX
The path Charles Oliveira has taken since joining the UFC roster in 2010 has been quite a rollercoaster. The lightweight went from wowing audiences with his high-level submission game to biting off a bit more than he could chew against top names like Jim Miller and Donald Cerrone. This was followed by an ill-advised stint at featherweight, with mixed results on the scale and inside the Octagon. Finally, after all of those detours, it looks like he’s dialed in and ready to realize the potential many saw in him years ago.
His first-round knockout of Jared Gordon should serve as the perfect segue into the next chapter of his story. After upping his winning streak to six fights, it seems that Oliveira is more than ready for the challenges that proved too steep for him earlier in his UFC tenure. If that’s not impressive or convincing enough, then let’s factor in that all six of those victories have resulted in finishes. Still not ready to throw “Do Bronx” even deeper into the lion’s den at 155 pounds? Well, consider his growth from a technical standpoint. Oliveira’s knack for twisting another human body into unnatural positions was his original selling point. When he failed to force a tap or a mid-fight doze, he struggled and found himself at the mercy of more well-rounded opponents. This version of “Do Bronx” managed to win using an increasingly proficient striking arsenal. With a perfectly timed right hand and an uppercut to seal the deal, Oliveira scored his second straight knockout and gave the rest of the division another wrinkle in his game for which to plan.
It goes without saying that the lightweight division is overstuffed with high-quality fighters. With that in mind, it seems obvious that “Do Bronx” is worthy of staring at a ranked opponent on the other side of the cage in his next outing. A more developed, mature and fundamentally sound version of Oliveira will make for a welcomed addition to the elite level at 155 pounds.
THE BAD: BARON WASTELAND
It’s a shame we have to do this again. For Renan Barao, four years feels like an eternity. In that previous iteration of reality, any appearance by Barao nearly guaranteed some sort of dominance that ended with his hand raised and another addition to the highlight reel. Today, the appearance of the former bantamweight champion ensures that there will be at least one soberingly depressing moment on the card. For the fifth time in a row, another fighter claimed Barao’s scalp for his collection, as Douglas Silva de Andrade earned a clear-cut unanimous decision.
During his title reign, it was no secret that the fight on the scale was quite taxing on Barao; and while he did flirt with the featherweight division after dropping the bantamweight championship, he made the decision to give 135 pounds another go before moving back to featherweight at UFC Fight Night 164. After putting forth a solid effort in the first two frames -- he was awarded the second round in the eyes of two of the three Sherdog scorekeepers -- it briefly appeared as though there was a tiny sliver of hope that the former pound-for-pound standout may have a bit of life left in him. That optimism proved to be misguided in the final round. Silva de Andrade landed with significance and frequency, as his fellow Brazilian looked out of gas and out of answers while wearing serious damage on his face. It’s not farfetched to imagine Silva de Andrade putting him away had the fight been contested at the lighter division from which they both came.
At this point, there’s no reason for Barao to still be getting booked to compete in the UFC. He has repeatedly proven incapable of handling unranked competitors in two weight classes and has been reduced to cannon fodder on UFC Fight Night prelims. Aside from being a name to add to the resume of a promotional newcomer, it’s hard to imagine a suitable place for him on the big stage going forward. This could potentially open the door for other promoters to exploit the reputation he earned when UFC President Dana White crowned him the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. However, should Barao want to continue competing, he could at least make more than the reported $53,000 he earned in his disclosed payday in February.
THE UGLY: THE TAME EVENT OF THE EVENING
It’s amazing the importance a main event carries to the overall memory of a fight card. For example, look at an event like UFC 215. Overall, it wasn’t a terrible fight card. There were a few spectacular moments sprinkled in with some decisions, but the slow pace of the Amanda Nunes-Valentina Shevchenko headliner sullies the perspective. On the flipside, the main card at UFC 182 was for the most part a sluggish event. However, seeing Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier in a competitive fight backed by a compelling narrative elevates the rest of the product. Unfortunately, UFC Fight Night 164 leans on the wrong side of the scale.
What was thought of as surefire action-heavy main event between Jan Blachowicz and former Strikeforce champion Ronaldo Souza turned into a tepid and largely uneventful 25-minute affair. Lately, Blachowicz has generated his fair share of excitement. His last appearance -- in which he slept Luke Rockhold, another former middleweight champion moving up in weight -- was perhaps the most jaw-dropping moment of UFC 239, aside from the five seconds Jorge Masvidal produced after their bout. For his part, “Jacare” has made a habit out of getting into fan-friendly scraps, as well. With three post-fight performance bonuses in 2018 and the nail-biting moments from his other 2019 appearance, there was no reason to think the trend wouldn’t continue. Simply put, this was a lock to be entertaining.
Of course, things don’t always go according to plan in mixed martial arts. The deviation came in the form of a split decision for Blachowicz that did nothing to satisfy the needs for adrenaline and suspense. Before the opening bell, the conventional wisdom was that “Jacare” would be better suited to handle his 205-pound debut on the ground, while Blachowicz’s knockout power would provide the equalizer. Of course, both have enjoyed success outside of those narrowly defined terms. Blachowicz is no slouch on the ground, and Souza has also put men to sleep with his fists. Much to the disappointment of the Brazilian crowd and those tuned in, neither man got to display what he does best. In fact, neither man got to display much of anything. Instead, Souza’s attempts to drag the Polish fighter to the floor were stalled against the fence with little activity. Blachowicz looked slow on the trigger at times and was incredibly cautious on the feet.
Neither Blachowicz nor Souza managed to capitalize at a crucial moment in their career. “Jacare” came up short, as he took the same route as several of his fellow career middleweights and moved up a division. Clearly looking for a reset after alternating wins and losses at 185 pounds since 2017, the 39-year-old will have to take more time off the clock to establish his presence at light heavyweight in a second attempt to break into the win column.
While Blachowicz walked away the victor, he did little to state his case for a title shot. Dominick Reyes just finished another former middleweight champion in Chris Weidman, and Corey Anderson recently scored a dramatic knockout on fast-rising prospect Johnny Walker. Split scorecards before a bored and booing crowd will not be enough to cut the line. It’s likely that Jones saw the numerous cell phones being waved around the arena and let Blachowicz’s post-fight callout fall on deaf ears.
We can get as excited as we want in the buildup for a fight. We can obsess over the Xs and Os, envision numerous paths to victory and daydream about the possibility of two dangerous styles colliding to create something combustible. However, when it’s all said and done, there are no guarantees. Whether it be due to the foot injury Blachowicz sustained early in the bout or the whooping cough Souza apparently had in the weeks beforehand, anything can happen in between the bells. Sometimes what happens just isn’t fun for anybody.