1 – Demian Maia
What’s next for @DemianMaia? ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/wUl0NGyoVz
— UFC (@ufc) May 14, 2017
The most dangerous fight for anyone is the one that leads to a world title shot. And while you could argue that Demian Maia was long overdue for a crack at welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, that fight was on the table for the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master when he faced Jorge Masvidal at UFC 211. Yet after a dominant first round by Maia, Masvidal had survived having the Brazilian on his back for much of that first five minutes, and he looked like he could fight another five rounds. Maia looked winded, and he had ten minutes left with a dangerous striker, but he persevered and won a close split decision. It was an inspiring effort and one that earned Maia his title fight. Yeah, he did it the hard way by winning seven straight and beating a gang of killers like Masvidal, Carlos Condit, Matt Brown, Gunnar Nelson and Neil Magny, but all that really matters now is what happens against Woodley, and that’s all Maia wanted to begin with.
2 – Frankie Edgar
Normally, the last fighter I would be thinking of when I put my Rancid CD on in the car is Frankie Edgar. But as Tim Armstrong belted out the lyrics to “Last One to Die,” I couldn’t help but refer to Edgar’s UFC 211 win over Yair Rodriguez. Simply put, a win over Edgar probably would have put Rodriguez into the 145-pound title race and continued his ascension to the top of the division and the sport. Yet like Edgar said after the fight, Rodriguez will be a superstar, just not on last Saturday night. At 35, Edgar was counted out by many fans and pundits, but the pride of Toms River never allows anyone to escape that Octagon without giving them a fight. Or in this case, a loss. As for those lyrics, they read, “We got it right, you got it wrong, we’re still around, last one to die.”
3 – Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Given Jessica Andrade’s first three wins at strawweight, it wasn’t a surprise that many believed that the Brazilian would be 115-pound champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s toughest test to date. But after a shutout victory over Andrade, Joanna Champion continued to be a step ahead of her peers. And I was one of the folks who thought that after going into deep waters with her previous two opponents – Claudia Gadelha and Karolina Kowalkiewicz – Jedrzejczyk might be in trouble with Andrade. But then that jab started flying, the kicks were flowing and the counters were landing with frightening frequency. Twenty-five minutes later, Jedrzejczyk had taken the drama out of the fight and clearly retained her title. She’s a special fighter. Saturday confirmed it.
4 – Stipe Miocic
As pointed out here last week, the heavyweight division may not be the place to be for long-reigning champions, but it has produced several Hall of Famers, with a few more former champs likely to get that nod in the future. And while I hate to start throwing the “Great” term around for anyone too early, let’s just say that current heavyweight boss Stipe Miocic is well on the way to earning that status after his main event knockout of Junior Dos Santos. And yes, avenging his last loss by knockout over a former champion is the storyline, but for me, the most impressive part of that victory was seeing Miocic get his leg injured by Dos Santos’ kicks and then step on the gas to get JDS out of there, knowing that he probably wasn’t going to last 25 minutes on that leg. That’s champ stuff right there. And you can’t teach that.
5 – James Vick
Sometimes it’s not just winning that gets you to the next level in mixed martial arts, but how you win and how you frame that victory. James Vick ticked off all the right boxes Saturday night, moving to 7-1 in the Octagon with a blistering first-round finish of Marco Polo Reyes. Reyes had won all three of his UFC bouts, but Fort Worth’s Vick was determined to get his hand raised in his home state, and after his knockout win, he made sure that he made his case to be included with the elite of the 155-pound division with an impassioned post-fight interview. Give that man a top 15 ranking. He earned it.