An already-small card impacted by a last-minute cancellation of its main event, UFC 215 managed to hold its own. For the most part, anyway.
Jeremy Stephens put forth the greatest performance of his career. Ilir Latifi derailed a promising hype train. Henry Cejudo looked like a man renewed. Rafael dos Anjos catapulted himself into a shortlist of title contenders at 170 pounds. Amanda Nunes largely disappointed in her second defense as bantamweight champion.
FanRag Sports offers its report card for those who earned a raised hand on the UFC 215 main card. Grades are determined based on overall performance, method of victory and quality of opponent. We’ll also look at what should be next for the night’s biggest winners.
Jeremy Stephens: A+
We’re fairly certain Stephens has never looked better inside the Octagon. Facing one of the highest-profile opponents of his UFC career, Stephens fought a remarkably effective fight.
The story of the fight will center on his use of unorthodox leg kicks, landing powerful kicks several inches south of the oft-targeted thigh and right onto the upper calf. Gilbert Melendez was visibly damaged early on in the fight, both limping and wincing shortly after each kick landed. Melendez dropped on numerous occasions, though never quit to showcase what heart he possesses after a lengthy career inside he cage.
But for every fighter who’s ever illustrated his toughness, there’s always a person on the other side of the cage delivering the beating. Stephens, loading up on his power shots for the better part of 15 minutes, never tired. Even as Melendez altered his approach to protect himself from the kicks, Stephens continued pressing on, earning a one-sided win over one of the most accomplished lightweights in MMA history.
FRS matchmaker: Jeremy Stephens vs. Yair Rodriguez
Ilir Latifi: B-
Latifi cares not for who the world may or may not be hyping at any given moment. Facing an undefeated light heavyweight prospect in Tyson Pedro, a fighter who previously had cruised past two UFC opponents within the first round, Latifi picked up a solid, albeit unspectacular victory.
As he noted during his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, Latifi was forced to deal with Pedro’s new-wave style of fighting, wading through a handful of unorthodox tactics with his sound grappling base. He was clearly the more equipped fighter to go the distance, picking up a valuable “W” during trying times in the 205-pound division.
FRS matchmaker: Ilir Latifi vs. Corey Anderson-Patrick Cummins winner
Henry Cejudo: A+
Cejudo took a giant leap forward in his professional mixed martial arts career. Just a few fights removed from suffering the first defeat of his career to champion Demetrious Johnson, Cejudo may have just booked himself another dance with the flyweight kingpin. He looked that good.
He came out with a karate base, one of the bigger plot twists of the night considering Cejudo has a history in freestyle wrestling and boxing — not karate. What’s more, he looked incredibly effective with his new stance, standing wide against fellow former title challenger Wilson Reis while landing lighting quick punches.
Cejudo becomes the first fighter to defeat Reis via knockout inside the Octagon, and just the third fighter overall. What’s more, this marks Cejudo’s first stoppage victory since joining the UFC. There should be more to come if he manages to look like that again time in and time out.
FRS matchmaker: Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis
Rafael dos Anjos: A+
Welterweight dos Anjos has officially arrived. Just a little more than a year removed from being recognized as the UFC lightweight champion, dos Anjos managed to showcase what wisdom existed in his decision to abandon his former division following two straight defeats. Now understanding what sort of weight he’s allowed to carry on his frame in order to make the 171-pound limit, dos Anjos looked just as dangerous as he did during his rise (and time) atop the 155-pound class.
A single leg kick forced Neil Magny to hit the canvas, and dos Anjos, eager to add another finish to his resume, did not let up. He was dominant from top position, eventually sinking in the arm triangle choke to force the tap.
The victory brings dos Anjos to a perfect 2-0 at 170 pounds, and likely sets him up for a title eliminator bout with a fellow top welterweight contender.
FRS matchmaker: Rafael dos Anjos vs. Robbie Lawler
Amanda Nunes: C
Nunes entered this fight needing to answer one important question: Could the champion win this fight if it went the full five-round distance? According to the judges sitting ringside at UFC 215, the answer was yes.
That, though, doesn’t automatically mean good things for Nunes.
Known for the sort of ferocious striking that allowed her to finish both Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey in the first round, Nunes’ aggression was largely absent from her performance against Valentina Shevchenko Saturday night. One could certainly argue that she was deserving of the split decision victory in such a close fight, but it would be a stretch to consider this to be one of Nunes’ premier performances. Her cardio was clearly there in Round 5, but that was mostly a result of, well, not doing very much at all.
That was only reaffirmed in the final round, a five-minute frame that featured a fairly fresh version of the champion. Rather than press forward and let her hands go to finally make use of what cardio her team was touting during fight week, she chose to take the challenger down to secure the decision win. It was effective, sure, but this surely won’t bode well for her popularity moving forward.
FRS matchmaker: Amanda Nunes vs. TBD
Author’s note: There isn’t one single fighter who stands head and shoulders above the crowd to vie for a title shot at 135 pounds, leaving the UFC with work to do before booking Nunes for her next title defense.