Hashtag levels is the disparaging term thrown around MMA circles when an exciting prospect gets a come-uppance from a seasoned veteran, or an easy and disliked mismatch turns out to be an easy mismatch.
UFC 230 on Saturday provided two examples of such a mismatch, one very much expected, and one a pleasant surprise.
Firstly, in the headlining bout, reigning heavyweight king American Daniel Cormier faced off against fellow Yank and fan-favourite Derrick Lewis in Cormier’s first defence of his heavyweight belt.
The fight went as expected by many, despite the now-mythical nature of Lewis’ punching power.
Cormier, an Olympic-level wrestler took the bigger – and non-wrestling- man down however he pleased, tiring him out and grinding away.
As a result, a fresher Cormier on the feet looked like he was operating at a different playback speed to Lewis, easily avoiding most offence from a gasping Lewis.
It didn’t take long into the second round for Lewis to give up his back, allowing Cormier to snake an arm around The Beast’s neck and get the Rear-Naked Choke finish. If it looked easy, it’s because it probably was. Hashtag levels.
The second example was very different.
Israel Adesanya, a New Zealander by way of Nigerian parentage, has received a huge promotional push since joining the UFC at the beginning of the year.
A middleweight kickboxer by trade, he brought with himself a reputation for absolutely elite-level striking prowess with a seriously generous side-helping of pleasing style to go with it.
The question mark was how he would deal with a properly proficient wrestler.
His fight against American wrestler Dereck brunson answered that conclusively. Now, Brunson may not be the most well-rounded MMA fighter, but he is nevertheless dangerous.
Absurdly aggressive with his striking, and huge for the division, Brunson is also by some distance the strongest wrestler Adesanya has faced in his four fights in the UFC.
It didn’t matter. Despite getting more attempts to take Adesanya down than anyone else, out of eight tries he failed every single time.
And once it came to a stand-up striking battle, it wasn’t even close.
Brunson can throw a punch, but Adesanya has a storied history of making people whose primary offence is striking look silly – the wrestler with a hayemaker in his back pocket stood no chance.
Brunson tried one more takedown, was kneed in the face for his troubles, then knocked down several times in quick succession by beautifully accurate punches, and the ref mercifully stepped in.
In this case, the levels were shown by the new breed of fighter coming up, not the seasoned veteran. Adesanya is legit; striking beyond the reach of most fighters in MMA and a very serviceable takedown-defence game.
The levels are rising, and some older fighters are being left behind. The top of the division beckons for the Kiwi, less than a year into his UFC run.
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