1 – Luke Rockhold
The most telling moment of Saturday’s main event came in the first round, when David Branch unleashed a series of flush punches on Luke Rockhold and the former middleweight champion refused to budge. It was a chin check that the Californian needed in his first fight following the loss of his title to Michael Bisping in 2016, and he passed the test with flying colors. From there, it was seemingly only a matter of time before Rockhold found his rhythm, and he finished the tough New Yorker in the second round. Now it may be a waiting game for Rockhold, who obviously wants a rubber match with Bisping, but “The Count” is tied up with a November battle with Georges St-Pierre. No Luke, GSP won’t take your advice and step aside, so the question is, does Rockhold wait and hope for a Bisping victory? That may not be the wisest course of action after he just returned from a year-plus long layoff. Plus, interim champ Robert Whittaker will likely get the winner of the UFC 217 main event when he returns from injury. Solution? Rematches with Chris Weidman or Jacare Souza sound fine to me, but a fight with Yoel Romero may be the real win for fight fans here.
2 – Kamaru Usman
With a 6-0 record in the Octagon, Kamaru Usman is clearly one of the top welterweights in the world. But he needed that sixth victory the way an 0-3 UFC fighter needs a win. Because whether it’s right or wrong, how a fighter gets the W matters in terms of someone being compelling enough to get the fans behind him and to get the big fights. After his Saturday knockout of Sergio Moraes, Usman is now a fighter fans will want to see with the big guns at 170 pounds. And credit to Usman for knowing this and going out of his way to make the statement he did. He could have taken Moraes down and dominated him there like he has his previous five UFC foes, but he went after the knockout, got it and backed up his statement that for his peers at 170 pounds, he is a problem.
3 – Anthony Smith
Hector Lombard looked good in the first round of his middleweight bout with Anthony Smith, better than he’s looked in a long time. Then it all fell apart as Smith slowly worked his way back into the fight and scored a third-round knockout. That’s the nuts and bolts of the affair. Beyond the final result is that after years and years of toil, Nebraska’s Smith finally won the big fight. Yes, he’s a perfectionist and probably isn’t happy with what happened before the finish, but that’s a fighter wanting to be his best at all times. In reality, Smith pulled the trigger when he needed to and beat a world-class fighter on the biggest stage of his career. And that career looks a lot brighter on Monday morning than it ever has.
4 – Gregor Gillespie
Let’s break this down. In three UFC fights, Gregor Gillespie has won by decision, knockout and submission. He has gone to Brazil and beat a local favorite, blasted out an opponent in 21 seconds, and then picked up Fight of the Night honors before ending the bout by submission. If it sounds like the New York lightweight has already seen and done it all when it comes to the education of a prospect, that is accurate. And since he’s passed all his tests and made it clear that he’s ready for the next level, expect to see even more exciting performances from “The Gift,” whose bout with gutsy Jason Gonzalez was an example of what MMA can be when executed by two fighters whose intention is solely to win.
5 – Uriah Hall
As I wrote before the fight, Uriah Hall is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get. On Saturday, we got all sides of “Prime Time,” but after nearly being stopped by Krzysztof Jotko, Hall showed off his resilience and then his talent, as he roared back to halt Jotko in the second round. It was a big win for Hall, and not just because he picked up a Performance of the Night bonus and snapped a three-fight losing streak. It was big because Hall may have answered some questions for himself with that victory, and if he’s going in there with the right attitude every time out, he may very well fulfill the potential the world saw in him back during his stint on The Ultimate Fighter.