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MMA Barometer: The Next B.J. Penn?

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.

Last Saturday marked the final UFC pay-per-view before the always-stacked set of July cards, beginning with International Fight Week July 5-8. Next on the schedule is a series of Fight Night events, culminating in the highly-anticipated UFC 213, but UFC 212 was an exceptional card to hold us over until July 8. It showcased many up-and-coming fighters including Antonio Carlos Junior, Yancy Medeiros, Paulo Borrachinha, and Max Holloway. Only three fights made it to the judge’s scorecards, and we saw a changing of the guard in the featherweight division.

Max Holloway put on a gritty performance, getting hurt early by Jose Aldo and eventually coming back to finish the Brazilian in the third round. This was Holloway’s 11th straight win, with his last loss coming almost four years ago to Conor McGregor. Aldo has been at the top of the division for over 10 years, and still is an elite fighter, but Holloway seems to be on another level at this point. One would think Aldo will eventually fight his way back into a rematch, but for now Holloway has other intriguing matchups, including a highly anticipated showdown against Frankie Edgar, which is rumored to be his first title defense. Holloway has a high finishing rate, high striking volume (5.79 significant strikes landed per minute), and momentum on his side, making him an excellent choice on DraftKings, though he won't be anywhere near his UFC 212 price tag of $8,100. “Blessed” will also be the betting favorite moving forward in just about any featherweight fight, with the exception of a potential McGregor rematch down the road. With Holloway being only 25 years old, we may see another Hawaiian-born fighter dominate a division, much like B.J. Penn at lightweight years ago.

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

Rising


Paulo Borrichinha, UFC, Middleweight

Borrichinha seems to be the next big thing in the UFC’s middleweight division. He has burst onto the UFC scene with both of his Octagon appearances ending in KO/TKO victories. In his latest contest, Borrachina outclassed UFC veteran Oluwale Bamgbose at UFC 212. They traded shots on some occasions, but Borrachinha clearly got the better of many exchanges. Although Borrachinha got taken down twice, he still has 67 percent takedown defense in his young UFC career. Borrachinha clearly likes to keep the fight standing, and it seems as if he will be very tough to beat if he can keep the fight where he wants it. His overall professional record reflects that, as it sits at 10-0. Nine of those wins are by KO/TKO and only his fight with Bamgbose made it out of the first round.

In his next fight it would be prudent to give Borrachinha a top-15 opponent. An interesting matchup would be a matchup with No. 13-ranked UFC middleweight Uriah Hall. Both fighters have little interest in going to the ground and it could be an epic stand-and-trade war. Hall is coming off a trio of losses, but all to opponents ranked in the top ten of the division. This would be a good matchup to see where Borrachinha stands in the middleweight division at this early point in his career.

Next Fight: TBA

Antonio Carlos Junior, UFC, Heavyweight

Ever since his knockout loss to Daniel Kelly, Antonio Carlos Junior is on a three-fight winning streak. Two of his victories have been earned via submission, which is Junior's forte. He is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and that was showcased in his ground battle with respected grappler Eric Spicely at UFC 212. A significant portion of the fight was spent in the 50/50 position, as both fighters threatened with leg submissions, but Junior was ultimately able to lock in a rear-naked choke in the second round to finish Spicely.

Junior is a submission artist, and that is bolstered by a size advantage at middleweight. He is a former Ultimate Fighter Brazil winner, but that was against heavyweights. Junior was very successful at that weight class, and now against smaller fighters he has an even more significant advantage. Additionally, he has a commendable stand-up game with heavy hands. He can use his ability standing to set up takedowns, and has multiple takedowns in each UFC appearance, with the exception of the Spicely fight. His ability to compete no matter where the fight takes place is a great asset in the UFC, where there are many versatile fighters. In his next fight, Junior should get the opportunity to fight a top-fifteen opponent. Potential matchups would be No. 12-ranked UFC middleweight Thales Leites or former World Series of Fighting Champion David Branch. Both are arguably higher regarded Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners than Junior, and fights with them would likely be exciting grappling battles, similar to his fight with Spicely.

Next Fight: TBA

Derrick Lewis, UFC, Heavyweight

Lewis is a rising star in the heavyweight division. He has won six fights in a row, which is no small feat in a weight class where even the smallest mistakes can end in a knockout loss. During that streak, Lewis has defeated some tough competition in Roy Nelson and Travis Browne. In his last fight, Lewis finished Browne via TKO while showing intangibles that should serve him well as he fights near the top of the division. Early in the fight Lewis was hurt by body kicks from Browne, but he recovered and “The Black Beast” was finally able to find Browne’s chin and put him away. However, his performance and his two losses leave some concerns for his UFC Fight Night showdown this Saturday with No. 7-ranked UFC heavyweight Mark Hunt.

Hunt is one of the best strikers in the division and has arguably the most raw power in the UFC. Lewis was seemingly hurt to the body by a somewhat weak kick from Browne. If Hunt can land a big shot to Lewis’s body it could end his night. Furthermore, Hunt is a better fighter than Browne at this point and will likely not let Lewis off the hook if he is able to hurt him. Hunt is one of the best finishers in the game and has devastating one-punch knockout power. Furthermore, Lewis’s only two losses in the UFC have come via KO/TKO, with both being against fighters with a lot of power in Matt Mitrione and Shawn Jordan. That shows Lewis can be knocked out, and Hunt will certainly be able to do it. Hunt is the more polished striker and if Lewis gets too wild with his punches, there is certainly a chance he gets knocked out by Hunt. This has been a concern for Lewis on multiple occasions, but in his past six fights he has always found a way to fight his brawling style of fight to end up with a knockout. Whichever way this fight goes, there is almost no chance it makes it all five rounds. If Lewis wins, there is almost no way to deny him a title shot with seven wins in a row.

Next Fight: Mark Hunt, UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs. Lewis (June 10, 2017)

Check Status


Rafael Dos Anjos, UFC, Welterweight

Dos Anjos is making the move to welterweight, where his first fight will be a good test against the always-dangerous Tarec Saffiedine. RDA made the jump due to a series of brutal weight cuts, as he pushed his body to the limit to make the 155-pound lightweight limit. Along with the tough weight cut, RDA has dropped two fights in a row to Eddie Alvarez and Tony Ferguson. Those are two fighters at the top of the class and would have made a climb back into title contention difficult for RDA in the stacked UFC lightweight division. Instead, he chose to move up a weight class to save his body and be a fresher fighter on fight night.

It will be interesting to see how RDA’s skills transfer to welterweight. He was a big lightweight, so he should not be at a major size disadvantage in his matchups, but he will no longer enjoy being the biggest man in the Octagon for virtually every fight. However, his speed should be a great asset, and the takedowns he displayed at lightweight, specifically in the Anthony Pettis fight, should still be effective at the higher weight. One big question mark will be whether his 67 percent UFC career takedown defense will remain as effective against bigger fighters. We likely will not get to see whether it will remain effective in his fight with Saffiedine, because Saffiedine prefers to keep the fight standing and will likely not want to test himself on the ground against a high-level grappler like RDA. This is a good introduction to welterweight for RDA, as Saffiedine is not an overly dangerous fighter (he has yet to record a knockout in the UFC) and is also the No. 11-ranked UFC welterweight. With a convincing win over Saffiedine, RDA should catapult into the top ten of the division and have a chance for some big fights down the road.

Next Fight: Tarec Saffiedine, UFC Fight Night: Holm vs. Correia (June 17, 2017)


Falling


Nate Marquardt, UFC, Middleweight

At one time, Nate Marquardt was one of the best middleweights in the world. However, those days are far behind him. Marquardt has only three wins in nine fights since returning to the UFC. He has been flatlined in multiple fights, and his victories have all come against journeymen who have never been ranked in the top ten in any weight class. In his latest defeat at UFC 212, he lost a very close decision to Vitor Belfort. Many would argue that Marquardt won that fight, but going to a decision with Belfort at this point is not a good thing. Belfort is on his way out of the sport, and has certainly not been the same Vitor Belfort fans are used to ever since the introduction of USADA for the testing of UFC athletes. If he cannot beat Belfort convincingly, it is hard to imagine Marquardt competing with many fighters at middleweight in the UFC.

Marquardt is 38, has over 50 professional mixed martial arts fights, and began fighting at the age of 17. He was once at the top of the heap in the UFC, but at this point it would probably be best for him to call it a career. He has a dismal record since 2013, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel in this situation. Marquardt should save himself and retire from the sport.

Next Fight: TBA

Andrei Arlovski, UFC, Heavyweight

Arlovski has a had a rough couple of years, dropping four fights in a row and being finished in all of them. That is a bad sign, however it does not mean all hope is lost. Arlovski’s style tends to lead to finishes, especially in the heavyweight division, as he prefers to sprawl-and-brawl. Arlovski’s impressive 82 percent takedown defense generally makes it so his fights are contested on the feet. Each loss has come against top competition: reigning UFC champion Stipe Miocic, former title-challenger Alistair Overeem, legend Josh Barnett, and rising star Francis Ngannou. Arlovski is 38 years old, which seems very old to be competing at a high level, but heavyweights are generally effective later into their careers than fighters in the lighter weight classes. There is still hope for Arlovski to turn it around and climb the ladder back to the top of the division.

A great place for Arlovski to start will be against Marcin Tybura at UFC Fight Night: Holm vs. Correia. Tybura has an impressive record at 15-2, but his style is a good matchup for Arlovski to pick up a win. Arlovski should hold a speed advantage, and his takedown defense should be a great weapon. Tybura is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and although he can strike, he likes to fight on the ground. If Arlovski can defend against the takedown, he should hold an advantage standing. Another asset for Arlovski is his Octagon experience, as Tybura only has three fights in the UFC. This is a good opportunity for Arlovski to get back on the winning track and get his first win in almost two years.

Next Fight: Marcin Tybura, UFC Fight Night: Holm vs. Correia (June 17, 2017)