Breakthroughs: UFC 161 edition

Stipe Miocic celebrates his heavyweight victory over Roy Nelson.

If I told you that nine of the 11 fights that hit the cage Saturday night at the MTS Centre at UFC 161 went the distance, you would probably think that the UFC’s debut in Winnipeg was a boring affair that failed to produce any memorable performances.

You would be wrong.

Despite the majority of the contests going to the scorecards, the second Canadian pay-per-view event of the year still featured a lot of action, and five fighters who used their time in the Octagon to introduce themselves to a larger audience.

Here are the breakthrough performers from UFC 161:

Stipe Miocic

Simply put, the Ohio-based heavyweight put it on Roy Nelson on Saturday night. From the outset, Miocic showed a clear edge in the speed department, and dictated the terms of the fight with his superior footwork and technique, stinging Nelson with crisp boxing across the 15-minute affair on the way to earning the 10th victory of his career.

Miocic was a highly regarded prospect when he entered the UFC, and showed why with victories in each of his first three appearances in the Octagon. Stefan Struve halted his unbeaten climb up the rankings last September, but the 30-year-old Cleveland State product rebounded with the best performance of his career against Nelson. Miocic picked apart Nelson from the outset, landing with clean, heavy shots from the start, and while he wasn’t able to put the iron-jawed former Ultimate Fighter winner away, the outcome was never in question.

The win puts Miocic in position for a significant step up in competition next time out. Not only was Nelson the biggest name he’s faced (and beaten) to date, but “Big Country” was on a roll, and now Miocic has hijacked his momentum. After spending nine-months on the sidelines following his loss to Struve, expect Miocic to be back in the cage sooner rather than later after his impressive performance against Nelson.

Alexis Davis

The Port Colborne, Ontario native made her UFC debut a winning one, using her superior ground game to get the best of a very game Rosi Sexton on Saturday night. Davis wasn’t as crisp as she had been in her last three outings, but the Strikeforce and Invicta FC veteran was able to do enough to edge out Sexton on all three scorecards, collecting her third consecutive victory, and becoming the first Canadian female to compete and win in the UFC.

The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt looked for a triangle choke for the majority of the opening round, and continued to display her advantage on the ground against Sexton throughout. Though the British veteran had her moments, Davis was able to do enough hold on for the victory.

Many have talked about Davis being a potential threat to Ronda Rousey in the future. Though that seems a bit premature in the wake of Sexton giving her all she could handle on Saturday, the important part for the 28-year-old Canadian is that she earned the win, and takes another step forward in the relatively shallow women’s bantamweight ranks.

Shawn Jordan

Remember where you heard this first: Shawn Jordan is going to be a threat in the heavyweight division within the next two years.

The former LSU fullback needed just 59 seconds to finish Pat Barry on Saturday night, staggering “Hype or Die” with a heavy uppercut, battering him with follow-up shots along the cage, and finishing the charismatic fan favourite with a rapid stream of left hands before the bout was a minute old.

Jordan is ultra-athletic for a heavyweight, as evident by his patented victory backflip, which he stuck for the third time in four fights since transitioning to the UFC from Strikeforce.

Though he now boasts a 15-4 record overall, Jordan has only been training with elite coaches and teammates for the last 18 months, splitting time between Team Jackson-Winkeljohn and American Top Team. As he continues to build his arsenal, develop new skills, and work to maximize the natural gifts he brings to the cage, “The Savage” has the potential to evolve into a dangerous threat in the division.

Mark my words.

James Krause

If you read my pre-fight series The Watch List, I told you to keep an eye on incoming UFC newcomer James Krause. Saturday night, the former Ultimate Fighter hopeful and regional standout showed why, picking apart Sam Stout in the opening two rounds of their lightweight affair before forcing the Canadian veteran to tap to a guillotine choke in the waning seconds of the final round.

Krause found his rhythm and range quickly, using his superior length to keep Stout at bay as he picked away with jabs and leg kicks. As the first round progressed and his confidence grew, Krause broke out his full arsenal, connecting with a headkick late in the first round that opened up Stout above the right eye. The London, Ontario native rebounded in the second, hurting Krause with a blistering left hook to the liver, evening the fight at one round each heading into the final frame, but he wasn’t able to maintain his momentum.

Krause got back to using his jab and keeping Stout in space, and when the Canadian pressed in for a takedown late in the third, Krause took advantage of Stout’s mistake, wrapped up his neck, and forced him to tap.

The 27-year-old took home $100,000 in bonus money for his effort, collecting cheques for both Submission of the Night and Fight of the Night, and has now won eight straight overall. His length and varied offensive game will make him a tough out going forward, and stopping the hard-to-finish Stout in his debut should bolster his confidence.

Mitch Clarke

True story: it got a little dusty in my office on Saturday afternoon following Clarke’s victory. Out of nowhere, a massive dust storm rolled through my office, right as the Saskatoon native dropped to his knees in tears after defeating John Maguire.

There wasn’t a ton of offense to break down in the first lightweight bout of the evening, as Clarke and Maguire spent the majority of the contest battling in the clinch along the cage.

But when a guy grinds out a win – his first in the UFC – and has a genuine, touching show of emotion after hearing Bruce Buffer announce his name as the winner, you tip your cap to him. Clarke is now 10-2 overall.

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