The Remix: A look back at the biggest MMA stories last week, prospect to watch moving forward

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Daniel Cormier (Getty Images)

THE REMIX, VOLUME 2:

Every week, we’ll release a new MMA mix tape entitled “The Remix” that looks back at not only the biggest stories of the last seven days, but some of the ones that aren’t getting enough attention, with some weekly awards and a prospect to watch going forward added in for good measure.

What is left to say about Daniel Cormier?

Daniel Cormier successfully defended the UFC heavyweight title on Saturday night, submitting Derrick Lewis in the second round of their main event clash at UFC 230. He took a dangerous fight and made it look easy, slinging the heavy-handed knockout artist to the floor repeatedly before securing the finish, making him the first fighter in UFC history to ever successfully defend both the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles.

There is a tendency after fights like this to downplay the performance and chalk it up to the lack of experience or ability of the challenger, to say, ‘Yeah, but Lewis doesn’t have any takedown defense.’ As if that suddenly became an issue now and wasn’t a factor during his 9-1 march to fighting for the heavyweight title at Madison Square Garden.

The reality is that Cormier operates on a different astral plane than anyone else at heavyweight and is undeniably one of the all-time greats in MMA history. He’s 15-0 at heavyweight with wins over Lewis, Stipe Miocic, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson, Josh Barnett and Bigfoot Silva, while also boasting light heavyweight triumphs over Volkan Oezdemir, Alexander Gustafsson, Anthony Johnson (twice) and Dan Henderson, whom he threw around the cage like a wrestling dummy.

As Cormier said during his post-fight interview on Saturday night, he’s been competing at a championship level for almost the entirety of his career and at some point, you have to acknowledge that what he’s done and is still doing is special.

It doesn’t mean you have to like him or that his losses to Jon Jones are swept aside; it’s just a matter of giving credit where it’s due and like him or not, there is no way to deny that Cormier is one of the all-time greats.

If you can’t accept and acknowledge that now, you’re simply trying too hard.

Fight of the Weekend: Matt Frevola and Lando Vannata scrap it out at UFC 230

When the UFC 230 post-fight bonuses were announced, I shook my head upon seeing that Chris Weidman and Jacare Souza were awarded Fight of the Night.

Don’t get me wrong, it was an excellent fight between two elite middleweights that ended in dramatic fashion, but Frevola and Vannata put on a show during the prelims and deserved better than getting snubbed when bonus checks were being passed out.

This lightweight clash was a low key Fight of the Year contender — one of those great bouts that won’t get nominated, but needs to be acknowledged when we’re making year-end lists in a couple months — because it featured everything you want from a terrific fight: shifts in momentum, near finishes, wild exchanges, and an “I’m not sure who won” feel when the final horn sounded.

Frevola and Vannata had the crowd at MSG on their feet and while Jacare-Weidman was a more technical, high stakes tilt, this was my pick for the best fight of the weekend.

Middleweight Upheaval

UFC 230 was always going to be an agent of change in the middleweight division, but few would have predicted how different the division feels following Saturday night’s event.

Everyone is buzzing about Israel Adesanya after “The Last Stylebender” smoked Derek Brunson to pick up the biggest win of his career, his fourth UFC victory this year and his 15th straight triumph overall. He’s being heralded as a future champion and potential superstar and I’m here for all of it.

Few people seem to be talking about Jared Cannonier, who took a short-notice fight against a Top 10 opponent in his divisional debut and came away with a blistering second-round finish that immediately establishes him as someone to watch in the 185-pound ranks. Think what you want about David Branch, but the guy had only lost twice, both times to elite talents, in the last six years and Cannonier flattened him.

And then there is Saturday’s co-main event.

The first takeaway is that any reports of Jacare Souza’s decline were seriously premature as the Brazilian veteran took the best Weidman had to offer and responded in kind every time, ultimately getting the finish to secure the come-from-behind victory.

Next up, you have to wonder what the future holds for Weidman, who looked great in spurts, but still got stopped and has now lost four of his last five, all by stoppage, while constantly battling health issues.

And you also have to think about Kelvin Gastelum, who lost to Weidman, knocked out Michael Bisping in an ill-advised short-notice fight and won a narrow split decision over Souza to land opposite Robert Whittaker in a bout for the middleweight title. Timing is everything and Gastelum may have been in the right place at the right time on this one because I’m not sure how he holds up against the other fighters in the Top 5 or guys like Adesanya, Paulo Costa or maybe even Cannonier.

Submission of the Weekend: Shane Burgos armbars Kurt Holobaugh after getting sparked

The finish of this fight felt like it could have been a scene from Arrested Development. At the very least, it was a perfect narrator opportunity.

INT. SCENE — UFC Octagon

Kurt Holobaugh catches Shane Burgos with a sharp hook that sits the New York native down in the center of the cage, seemingly creating an opportunity for Holobaugh to secure the finish.

Holobaugh (voiceover): “OH! He’s hurt! I’ve got him now! I’m going to finish him on the ground!”

Narrator: “He did not.”

While Holobaugh did indeed catch Burgos clean and rushed in to secure the finish, “Hurricane Shane” recovered quickly and immediately attacked with an armbar off his back, catching Holobaugh being a little too aggressive and careless.

The whole sequence took about 20 seconds and served as a wild, entertaining start to what turned into a tremendous night of fights at Madison Square Garden.

A.J. McKee is fighting who?

The news that A.J. McKee was added to the Bellator MMA “Salute to the Troops” show in December came and went without many people noticing on Saturday.

The undefeated McKee (12-0), who is coming off a 69-second knockout win over divisional stalwart John Teixeira in September, is set to square off with Daniel Crawford, a 25-year-old British competitor who suffered a split decision loss in his last fight, his first and only appearance in the Bellator cage to date.

While Bellator MMA has done a good job of identifying and cultivating young talent, this is where they tend to run into problems.

McKee has no business fighting someone like this at this stage of his career. He’s won a dozen consecutive bouts and just crushed a sturdy veteran who had only lost to top competition within the organization, and he was initially supposed to face former champ Pat Curran.

This is a high-risk, no-reward booking because McKee doesn’t gain anything by beating Crawford and Bellator MMA squanders a dynamic prospect if something goes sideways and McKee gets beaten.

The 23-year-old “Mercenary” has reached the point where he needs to be facing tougher competition and even if you don’t want to go the full Aaron Pico route of putting him in there with a Leandro Higo-type fighter, he shouldn’t be facing complete unknowns.

Knockout of the Weekend: Mzwandile Hlongwa wrecks Torbjorn Madsen at EFC Worldwide 75

Shouts to Jolassanda (@Jolassanda on Twitter) for always sending the good-good into my timeline on the weekend and let me tell you, this was good:

The one-two to set up the spin.

The vicious connection with the elbow.

The two piece as Madsen was hanging in the air, lifeless.

Everything about this is glorious and still feels that way even after I’ve watched the clip two dozen times.

Prospect to Watch after this Weekend: Bruno Silva

I don’t know if he can be considered a prospect in the true sense of the word because he’s 29-years-old and has 24 fights on his resume, but Silva is definitely someone to watch going forward.

The Brazilian pushed his winning streak to four with a fourth-round stoppage win over the previously unbeaten Artem Frolov at M-1 Challenge 86, five months and one day after putting away Alexander Shlemenko in less than three minutes.

The Evolucao Thai MMA representative is 14-1 in his last 15 fights and with back-to-back stoppage wins over established, respected Russian talents — and the UFC’s new working relationship with M-1 — is someone who could find his way into the Octagon in 2019 as an intriguing addition to the already interesting middleweight division.