Best Card of 2016? - UFC Fight Night 86 Breakdown

It's a wrap, ladies and gentlemen! UFC Fight Night 86 finally took place from Croatia, Zagreb, and I enjoyed it greatly. Seriously, one of the best Fight Night events I've seen in a long time. On paper, I wasn't too excited. A lot of local talent, and I didn't know many of them. However, they all came through, delivering a handful of brutal, crazy fights. I'll be analyzing the main and co-main event, but it would be unfair to talk about this card without showing some love to the great fighters I saw. So, shoutout to Jared Cannonier for a brutal knockout, Alejandro Perez for surviving some dangerous leg locks, and Mairbek Taisumov for outstriking an excellent boxer. Now that I got that off my chest, let's break down the fights!

Gonzaga vs. Lewis

As a fan of different styles clashing against each other, this co-main event provided me a really fun round. I think every fan of the sport knew this fight would most likely play out in one of two ways. Gonzaga dominating on the ground, or Lewis ripping his opponent's head off. The latter one ended up becoming true.

To be fair, this fight wasn't completely one sided. Gonzaga's strategy was crystal clear: work in the clinch, dirty box, and take it to the ground if possible. For the first half of the round, it worked. He had Lewis (who was visibly frustrated) in the clinch, and even managed to take his back. However, he just didn't do anything with it. Eventually, he lost control, and the bout was back to the feet. With less than 20 seconds before the end of the round, Lewis landed a couple of straights before finishing the combination with a deadly pair of right uppercuts that turned Gonzaga's brain off. Simple as that. KO victory for the "Black Beast".

If Lewis proved anything, it's that he's a scary dude. He's a knockout artist who is not afraid to push forward. He's on fire right now, and I could easily see him being a top contender with victories over two or three big names. What's next for him? Well, during his post-fight interview, he politely called out Roy Nelson. Roy seems to like the idea, so I guess we're going with that. Excited to see those two gladiators go at it.

As for Gonzaga, I think it would be a great time for him to hang up the boots. Hey, if the guy wants to keep fighting, let him. But in my opinion, he has nothing left to prove. He's 36, with a relatively successful career. He has his own BJJ gym, so he can make a solid living doing what he loves without receiving brain damage. I'll respect his decision, even if a part of me hopes he announces his retirement sooner rather than later.

Junior Dos Santos vs. Ben Rothwell

Before we even talk about the fight, let's talk about Ben Rothwell. Yes, he lost. But people are acting like he was exposed, and all of a sudden, he's a bad mixed martial artist. I completely disagree. While his style and technique are unorthodox to say the least, this is a guy who KO'd Overeem and submitted Josh Barnett. Those things don't just happen. Big Ben has a future in this division. With that being said, Junior Dos Santos iced him out there.

Now, we have to talk about Dos Santos' performance. Absolutely beautiful. I won't lie, I was one of the doubters. I didn't know if Cigano would be able to reinvent himself, and go back to the physical and mental state that got him the title. Well...he did. When you really think about it, his performance boils down to two major points: basic boxing technique, and footwork. As we all know, Rothwell is a super solid boxer. He can throw with most guys in the division. However, JDS proved to be the best boxer in the heavyweight division. Most of his offense came from basic nuances that are easy to learn, but hard to master: the use of the jab, working the body and controlling the distance. He would go in, drop a jab to the body, and pop out before Rothwell was able to reply. As a result, Big Ben was simply following him everywhere like a zombie, not knowing what to do. Eventually, Cigano started to land bombs, but he didn't rush. He stuck to his gameplan at all times, which shows a ton of discipline.

Every now and then, Rothwell would return to being himself, and once he had Dos Santos against the cage, he'd quickly charge at him unloading vicious punches. That's where Dos Santos would use his excellent footwork to escape the bigger punches. From bell to bell, he was moving constantly, quick as a middleweight. Amazing cardio displayed. I was also disappointed by Rothwell's inability to nullify his opponent's tactics. Once it was clear that JDS would be using his footwork and quick boxing as his main plan, I was expecting Rothwell to pepper the legs, or lock in the clinch. Weirdly enough, he didn't. He was just going through the motions, eating punches for 25 minutes. Great decision win by Cigano.

Where do these guys go from here? Despite his inspiring performance, I still think Dos Santos needs at least one more fight before getting another title shot. Ideally, I'd love to see the Hunt rematch. Makes a lot of sense, both on the business and fighting side of things. As for Rothwell, he will need to prove he still has a lot to offer. A fight with another guy coming off a loss could get the ball rolling again. If I had to guess, I think his next fight will be either against the loser of Werdum vs. Miocic at UFC 198, or the loser of Brown vs. Velasquez at UFC 200. Exciting times ahead of us, people.

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