The main event of Wednesday's UFC Fight Night card in Jacksonville, Florida, elicited strong reactions for two drastically different reasons.
On the one hand, 40-year-old Glover Teixeira was praised for his fourth straight win, this one coming over Anthony Smith, who just over a year ago was facing Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title.
On the other hand, the damage inflicted on Smith caused several fighters on social media to speak out in saying that the fight should have been stopped much sooner. Daniel Cormier, who was working the broadcast from cageside, agreed.
I would have stopped the fight, corner could have saved their guy from getting finished. Some mistakes in that corner tonight. And I love those guys! Too much instruction, no crowd to filter it. Anthony Smith is a savage, but props to @gloverteixeira on big victory.— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) May 14, 2020
Despite the reactions of those watching the fight, Smith had no problem with how long it took for the fight to be stopped.
"I'm good with the decisions the referee and my corner made," Smith told ESPN's Ariel Helwani shortly after the fight. "When the ref made it clear he needed to see something or he was gonna stop it, I did what I had to do to stay in the fight. I come out of battle with my shield or I come out on it. That's my rule. Period."
The night also featured impressive performances from fighters trying to climb the ranks, including Justin Gaethje's teammate Drew Dober, who might be on the verge of making some noise in the lightweight division.
ESPN's panel of Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim break down the second of three UFC cards in eight days in Jacksonville.
Should the main event have been stopped sooner?
Helwani: Yes. Yes. Yes. That was really hard to watch. I think you could make a case for the fight ending in the third, definitely in the fourth, and then I have no idea how it made it to the fifth. Anthony Smith's corner failed him. And I'm surprised, because the Factory X crew are some of the best coaches in the game. Referee Jason Herzog failed Smith too. And I'm surprised about that as well, because he is one of the best officials in the game. That was reckless, needless and egregious. Smith wasn't winning that fight in the championship rounds, so there was no sense in letting it go on.
I hate the fact that corners are so reluctant to "throw in the towel" in MMA, yet boxing coaches do it all the time. I think it's such a bad look for the sport. Is it an MMA bravado thing? Perhaps. All I know is it needs to stop. Smith took a beating that he might feel the effects of for years. These fighters need to be saved from themselves, and the two entities put in place to do so -- the ref and the corner -- let Smith drown.
Okamoto: It could have been, and probably should have been, stopped in the third round. Watching live, I was fully expecting referee Jason Herzog to wave it off, and I was surprised when he didn't -- and then further surprised when Smith survived. It really seems, to me, Smith was never really there from that moment on. But you see this in MMA sometimes, when a referee comes very close to stopping a bout, gives the fighter all the leeway he/she can and then somehow the fighter does survive -- but that's it. They just survive. I thought there were plenty of opportunities for Herzog to stop it afterward, but they weren't necessarily "must-stop" situations. Smith continued to move and defend himself, although how well of a job he did was questionable.
It's hard sometimes to criticize a corner for not throwing in the towel, because it knows things we don't know. For instance, in this case, Smith's corner knew he has veneers that have fallen out before, so they interpreted his "my teeth are falling out" statement different from us. But that said, I do think Smith's corner should have stopped the fight. I've watched a lot of MMA, and it sure appeared to be that Smith was done and only taking further, unnecessary damage.
Raimondi: Probably, but Smith is one of the toughest men on the roster. I could understand why he'd want to persevere, and his coaches obviously know how durable he is. Smith winning the first round and doing well early surely could have played into their decision to keep it going. However, I would have been fine if referee Jason Herzog pulled the plug in the third round when Smith was dropped by a left hook and Teixeira started to pour it on.
Herzog is one of the best referees in the world, though, and he gave Smith ample opportunity to keep going. Another point where I would have been fine if it ended was after the Teixeira uppercut that froze Smith in his tracks in the fourth. There were numerous times when things could have been halted, but this was far from the worst situation anyone has seen in MMA, which seems to have a culture against corner stoppages. Hopefully, Smith is OK.
Wagenheim: We're so quick to jump all over a referee for the timing of his stoppages -- too soon or not soon enough -- and we love to criticize judges for 29-28-ing when they should have gone 28-29. But what about cornermen? What about the coaches and training partners who know their fighter better than anyone? Anthony Smith kept fighting, which is why referee Jason Herzog didn't jump in. Smith did not want out; he is known as "Lionheart" for a reason. But even the king of the jungle needs backup from his team. Smith landed one strike in Round 3 and threw only five. After the round, he sagged on his stool, appearing to be done. Yet his coaches just instructed him to dig deep. Fine, send him out there for one last hurrah; but as soon as he ate an uppercut less than 10 seconds into Round 4 and backed up against the fence, the towel should have been flying.
Glover Teixeira is 40, but he is on a four-fight win streak. Can he make one more run toward the light heavyweight title?
Teixeira punishes Smith, then tells him sorry midfight
Glover Teixeira floors Anthony Smith with a vicious left hook and later apologizes to him midfight for beating on him.
Helwani: I don't think he has a title run in him, but this is definitely an impressive run in the twilight of his career. Remember, Teixeira is about to turn 41, and that was his fourth win in a row. Not bad for a guy who now has 38 fights under his belt. However, I don't know if he can beat the Dominick Reyeses or eventually the Jon Joneses of the division, and he lost to Jones in a 2014 title challenge. The good news for Teixeira is that 205 is pretty darn shallow these days, so there isn't a lot of room between him and the top. Crazier things have happened.
Okamoto: I mean, he is making one more run. This is the run. And I don't think there will be another one when this is over. Teixeira acknowledged the importance of this fight all week. It's not every day a 40-year-old, who lost three of five appearances not that long ago, rallies off four consecutive wins against younger competition in this sport. It's not impossible, but it's not the norm. Teixeira has earned the right to have that one fight that will put him over the top and get him that title shot -- and for me, that's Jan Blachowicz. We still need to see what exactly is next for Jon Jones, but the UFC has been leaning toward a rematch with Dominick Reyes (which I agree with by the way). If that's the case, then have a No. 1 contender fight between Teixeira and Blachowicz. And that's the end of the run for Teixeira, regardless of outcome. Either he gets the title shot or he doesn't.
Raimondi: He can and is. Smith is an elite light heavyweight; he just went five rounds with champion Jon Jones last year. Teixeira finished him Wednesday night. Now, Teixeira is still looking up at Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz in the light heavyweight pecking order. I'd love to see Teixeira welcome back Thiago Santos off Santos' injury in a contender bout. Santos looked great against Jones last year. Let's see if Teixeira can get by his fellow Brazilian. If he does, there's an outside chance Teixeira could be looking at a title shot for the first time since 2014.
Wagenheim: With Teixeira, it's not a matter of "can he." If you brutalize the No. 5-ranked light heavyweight, you are on a title run. However, he is still in line behind No. 3 Dominick Reyes and No. 4 Jan Blachowicz. It's unclear which of those men will get Jon Jones next. But before all is said and done, both likely will get title shots. So Teixeira has a wait ahead of him. This is where age comes into play. Can he maintain his high level long enough to still be there when a title fight presents itself? Whether or not it happens for him, here's hoping Teixeira doesn't fade away. He is ruggedly skilled and a gentleman -- a pleasure to watch compete.
Should OSP stay at heavyweight or go back to light heavyweight?
Ben Rothwell and Ovince Saint Preux turn up the heat in closing seconds
Ben Rothwell and Ovince Saint Preux exchange a flurry of strong punches as the third round ends.
Helwani: I don't hate the idea of Ovince Saint Preux sticking around at heavyweight, despite the loss. I didn't think that cutting to 205 was an issue for him in the past, but his manager, Oren Hodak, told me earlier this week that it was becoming a real problem. Ben Rothwell is one of the bigger heavyweights out there, so this was a tough first test for OSP. But if OSP could fight some of the smaller heavyweights out there, he could have a significant speed advantage. In the end, though, I think his best bet for success would be at light heavyweight.
Okamoto: Respectfully, I don't think it matters. Ovince Saint Preux has been fighting in the UFC since 2013. He has had his share of highs and lows, and he has won more than he has lost. Ultimately, though, he has never been a star. He is not currently a title contender. He is 37 years old. I'm not saying it's impossible for him to find his way into a title shot, but if we're being honest, it's not likely. He is a veteran who clearly belongs in the UFC, but he is going to have a hard time breaking into the top five of any weight class. So, fight both. Why not? He has basically said that's his plan, and I think it's the right approach. He saw this opportunity come up against Ben Rothwell, and he took it -- and it resulted in a fun fight. Keep your options open. If a fight comes up at light heavy, take it. If a better one comes up at heavy, then take that one. Matchmake on a case-by-case basis.
Raimondi: Head back to light heavyweight, but if interesting fights pop up for him at heavyweight -- maybe on short notice -- why not? Saint Preux is basically a gatekeeper at 205 pounds. He is capable of beating almost anyone, and he gave Jon Jones a tough time three years ago. But for the most part, Saint Preux has his slot at light heavyweight and didn't light the world on fire at heavyweight in a split decision loss to Rothwell. At 37, OSP isn't getting any younger. A move back to 205 to fight against a young up-and-comer is likely next.
Wagenheim: If Saint Preux were to stick around at heavyweight, he wouldn't always be sharing the cage with guys as big as Rothwell. But even if Saint Preux were to be booked against someone closer to his size, he could find himself in with a much more devastating puncher than Rothwell or a more smothering wrestler. OSP weighed in at 240.5 pounds, and there are plenty of heavyweights who step on the scale lighter than that and still would be more than he could handle. OSP is a light heavyweight on a detour. He has fought 37 times at 205 pounds and has never once missed weight. That is his home.
How far do you think Drew Dober can go in the lightweight division?
Drew Dober drops Alexander Hernandez in Round 2
Drew Dober knocks down Alexander Hernandez with a powerful left hand in Round 2.
Helwani: I'll say this: I didn't see this coming from Dober. He lost his first two UFC fights and started his run 1-3 with one no contest. But over time, he has turned into one of the most intriguing up-and-comers in the lightweight division. He is on a three-fight winning streak and all three of his wins are via stoppage. His team, Elevation, has recently turned into one of the best in the sport as well, with the likes of Justin Gaethje, Curtis Blaydes, Cory Sandhagen and Dober training there. I hope the UFC doesn't push Dober too fast -- and I don't think it will because lightweight is so stacked -- but I really think he can be a player in this division. Yes, I know he is 31 and is a UFC veteran, but it still feels as if he is a fresh face at 155 because this seems like a different guy who debuted in the UFC back in 2013.
Okamoto: It's still hard to say, even now. Lightweight is so tough. Dober has won eight of his past 10, which is a tough thing to do at 155 pounds, but even he would probably admit he hasn't fought the best the division has to offer. Here are two things I think about when it comes to Dober, though. First, we stopped paying attention to him way too early. This guy failed to get a contract as a contestant on "The Ultimate Fighter" in 2012 and then lost three of his first four bouts when he did make it into the UFC. And at that point, unfortunately, it was going to take him a lot to gain attention as a potential contender. Well, he has done that and then some. And second, I don't dismiss the fact he's one of Justin Gaethje's primary training partners.
That doesn't mean he's as good as Gaethje, or that he'll accomplish as much, but to have a similar style and be in close proximity every day with a guy who has nearly reached the very top of this sport? I do think that's an advantage Dober has, particularly confidence-wise. I can't yet predict he'll continue to rack up wins when he faces the best, but I can tell you I won't be shocked if he does.
Raimondi: I don't know if we'll ever see Dober spoken about among the lightweight elite -- guys like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Justin Gaethje, Tony Ferguson, Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor. But then again, I didn't think Dober would be capable of this excellent run he is on. The Omaha, Nebraska, native is red-hot -- three straight wins via finish and eight victories in his past 10 fights.
Dober is legit, and I can see him becoming a perennial top-10 lightweight. He's also an extremely exciting fighter to watch, with heavy hands. The 155-pound division, though, is a minefield. It'll be tough to crack that rarefied air.
Wagenheim: Dober's performance was so impressive that I would love to fly out to Denver sometime just to watch him and Justin Gaethje go at it in the gym. But let's not read too much into this victory over an opponent lacking top-10 credentials. Dober is skilled and in his groove, and measuring himself against Gaethje every day must do wonders for his confidence. Plus, he benefits from the same coaching, which was evident in his patient dismantling of Alexander Hernandez. But there's a long way between where Dober is and where Gaethje is, and while Dober might be able to close that gap, there are a whole lot of lightweight contenders in between, serving as roadblocks. Something tells me that won't discourage Dober, though. And something tells me I'm going to enjoy following his upward path.
Who impressed you most on the undercard?
Brian Kelleher rocks Hunter Azure in Round 2
Brian Kelleher gets his momentum back after rocking Hunter Azure with a right hand in Round 2.
Helwani: Less than two years ago, Brian Kelleher was on a two-fight losing streak. He got knocked out by John Lineker and then submitted by Montel Jackson. He seemed somewhat lost. He went into his previous fight against Ode Osbourne in January at UFC 246 on the last fight of his deal, and with a lot of pressure on his shoulders. A lot of eyes were on him that night because that was the McGregor vs. Cerrone card, and boy did he step up. He beat Osborne via submission in the first and set himself up nicely for a new contract, which he got. And then Wednesday night, Kelleher returned with a vicious second-round knockout of Hunter Azure. All of a sudden, he's on a two-fight winning streak with his confidence sky-high. The only negative? Those extra shots on the ground when Azure was clearly out. Those seemed excessive.
Okamoto: I'm going with lightweight Thiago Moises, who submitted Michael Johnson with a second-round heel hook. Johnson has been up and down his entire career as far as his end results, but here's one thing I'll say about him: He always comes prepared. He's a highly competitive individual. He doesn't mail in fights, even in cases where you think he might. Johnson has been in big contests, so when he's on a losing streak, and fighting an opponent with virtually no name on the prelims, you wonder where his effort level will be. He looked good Wednesday. But Moises showed a few things: that he could weather a storm from a former top-10 lightweight, and how quickly he can end a fight on the ground. Impressive.
Raimondi: Brian Kelleher really seems to be putting things together. He knocked out Hunter Azure, who was billed as the better striker, with a gorgeous left hook in the second round. Kelleher now has two straight finishes and called out Sean O'Malley in his postfight interview with Daniel Cormier. It might be a bit soon for that. But Kelleher is looking very solid lately and is in for a step up in competition at bantamweight. The Long Island, New York, native has won four of his past six. Kelleher is very active on Twitter and has developed a bit of a fan following there. Now the in-Octagon work is starting to catch up to his loquacious personality. It has been fun to watch.
Wagenheim: Brian Kelleher's knockout was a thing of beauty, but that left hook to the noggin was just the cherry on top of a first-rate performance. Any time you get your arm raised while standing next to a fighter who has never before lost, you've done something special. But what was most impressive about Kelleher's performance against Hunter Azure was that it was fueled not by wild abandon but by poise. He took some shots early but weathered the storm and never allowed Azure to get in a groove. And when Azure did land something, Kelleher always had an answer. And then, early in Round 2, he lived up to his nickname: "Boom."
What was the biggest surprise on Wednesday night's card?
Helwani: There was once a time three years ago that Chase Sherman was considered a legit prospect in the UFC's heavyweight division. Not only that, he was killing it on Twitter, too. He was the UFC's "GIF King," fun in and out of the cage. And then he lost three straight -- two of those by knockout -- and he was gone from the promotion. Following his release, Sherman fought for the Florida-based Island Fights promotion where he won three in a row and also for Bare Knuckle FC. He went 1-1-1 in BKFC, and, to be honest, it seemed as if his involvement in that promotion signaled the end of any hope he might return to the UFC. Not so. Sherman took Wednesday's fight on a little over a week's notice and looked amazing in his win over Isaac Villanueva. Fit, calm, on point ... that was Sherman's best performance in the UFC, including his two wins in 2017. Welcome back, GIF King.
Okamoto: Brian Kelleher's knockout of Hunter Azure. Kelleher now has 10 knockouts to his credit, so we know he has power, but he moved up in weight for this fight and that did show. He was the smaller man in this trip to featherweight. He also clearly lost the first round. Azure was in a rhythm. It's not as if the fight was out of hand, by any means, but it definitely felt as if Azure was in control coming out of that first five-minute period. And then all of a sudden, Kelleher found his range, and the left hook that dropped Azure midway through the round was one of the most shocking punches of the entire night. To see this bantamweight move up a division, and knock out a guy in that fashion, was a big moment for Kelleher.
Raimondi: Thiago Moises submitting Michael Johnson with an ankle lock. First off, ankle locks are extremely rare in high-level MMA. Secondly, Moises' entry into the submission was nuts. He basically started the second round by running at Johnson and diving at his legs. It was almost a Hail Mary, and it worked. Johnson, an incredibly talented but inconsistent fighter, was dominating up until that point. He looked very good. But Moises, an American Top Team product, was able to steal one by catching Johnson by surprise and being opportunistic. Credit to him. UFC wins aren't easy to come by.
Wagenheim: Andrei Arlovski as a southpaw? Maybe it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks after all. He's 41 and was in his 50th pro fight, but throw away all that videotape you have on the guy -- unless you watch it in a mirror reflection. It wasn't simply that Arlovski showed off a new wrinkle in his game, but that he went back to it again and again throughout his 15 minutes in the cage with Philipe Lins. They have trained together at American Top Team, so perhaps that's why Arlovski felt the need to throw a curveball. And it worked, earning him only his second win in his past seven fights. It also rejuvenated my interest in watching "The Pitbull," if only to see what he has in store for us next time.