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 411mania » MMA » Columns

411's Fighter of the Month 2.07.14: January 2014
Posted by Larry Csonka on 02.07.2014

How It Works
Each staff member picks five fighters and ranks them. I'll assign a point value to those rankings. Points are determined as:

1st - 5
2nd - 4
3rd - 3
4th - 2
5th - 1

The fighter with the most points is our Fighter of the Month and then new points are assigned that will go towards Fighter of the Year. Those points are:

1st - 15
2nd - 12
3rd - 9
4th - 6
5th - 3
6th – 1

The Voting
Larry Csonka
1) Alex Caceres:
It may be a bit outside the box, but this month I am going with Alex Caceres as my Fighter of the Month. While Gaethje and Aguilar won titles, it was on a smaller scale and against lower competition. Alex Caceres has been looked at as a joke by many, but is now quietly 4-0-1nc in his last five fights, with the latest coming against Sergio Pettis. The much hyped next big thing Sergio Pettis. And Caceres not only defeated the hyped younger brother of Anthony Pettis, he submitted him for the victory. This was a huge win for Alex Caceres, and gets him close to that "in the mix" talk Dana White loves.

2) Justin Gaethje: Justin Gaethje defeated Richard Patishnock via RD1 TKO to win the World Series of Fighting inaugural lightweight title. Gaethje is an impressive talent, and with his 11-0 record is a very good first champion for the promotion's division. I likely would have had him in first place if he wasn't fighting the replacement's replacement, who was nowhere near Gaethje's class,
3) Stipe Miocic : Stipe Miocic defeated Gabriel Gonzaga via unanimous decision at UFC on FOX 10, and gets himself into the Heavyweight Title mix; partly due to his 5-1 UFC record, and partly due to the poor state of the UFC Heavyweight Division.
4) Luke Rockhold: An impressive destruction of Constantinos Philippou at UFC Fight Night 35 gets Rockhold back on the winning track.
5) Jessica Aguilar: Defeated Alida Gray via RD1 submission to win the inaugural women's strawweight title for World Series of Fighting. It's a great moment for her, but unfortunately the UFC picked up the top women from that division, and I am not sure how much WSOF can give her.

Robert Practor
1) Luke Rockhold:
Woof, slim pickings for Fighter of the Month. January was not very eventful and I struggled to find five solid names for this list. Luke Rockhold came into the UFC with lofty expectations placed on him and fell to a beautiful spinning head kick by Vitor Belfort in his debut. He redeemed himself with a dominant performance over Costas Phillipou at UFC Fight Night 34. Rockhold looked great and finished the fight with some vicious shots to the body. In my latest edition of http://www.411mania.com/MMA/columns/311092/What//s-Next-1.27.14:-UFC-on-Fox-10-Aftermath.htm I stated that a fight with Michael Bisping would be a logical next move for Rockhold and that earning two more victories could put him right back into a #1 Contender fight. Well, the UFC decided to match Bisping with Tim Kennedy due to their beef, so I could see Rockhold getting the winner of 'Jacare' Souza and Francis Carmont. Middleweight has a lot of top contenders with 'Jacare', Lyoto Machida, Gegard Mousasi, etc. and Rockhold got himself back into a good spit with his win at Fight Night 34.

2) Alex Caceres: Alex Caceres earned himself a huge chunk of change for someone at his level, netting $100,000 for Submission of the Night and Fight of the Night for his exciting back and forth fight against Sergio Pettis on the UFC on Fox 10 Preliminary card.
3) Donald Cerrone: Donald Cerrone landed a picture-perfect kick to the neck of Adriano Martins at UFC on Fox 10, earning the $50,000 Knockout of the Night award. That should certainly help with his documented financial issues.
4) Stipe Miocic: While Stipe Miocic did not look as impressive in his decision victory over Gabriel Gonzaga as he did over Roy Nelson in 2013, Miocic has put himself into a spot where he can benefit from the lack of top contenders in the Heavyweight division and possibly get a title fight with one more win.
5) Benson Henderson: As I discussed in What's Next, I feel Henderson's decision victory over Josh Thomson was just another instance of a poor judges' decision going Bendo's way. That being said, there weren't many standout choices for Fighter of the Month, and Henderson still kept himself relevant in the Lightweight division with his victory so that earns him a spot on my list.

Jonathan Solomon
1) Yoel Romero:
Violence personified, the former Olympic wrestler earned another win due to his electric strikes. Romero may have been well on his way towards losing a decision against Derek Brunson, but then came the onslaught of punches and elbows that finished the bout with under two minutes remaining. Brunson suffered a broken jaw for his trouble and Romero is now 3-0 in the UFC. The 36-year-old Cuban is a bad man, indeed.

2) Luke Rockhold: Sorely needing a win to avoid an 0-2 start to his UFC career, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion came through with a first round KO over Costa Philippou. Better yet, a liver kick proved the ultimate blow!
3) Justin Gaethje: When does a fighter stop being one of the top prospects and turn into a top fighter, period? 25-year-old lightweight Justin Gaethje improved his pro record to 11-0 with a TKO win at WSOF 8 over Rich Patishnock. Now the new champion, their 69-second fight was a highlight reel brawl and Gaethje has finished his last six fights due to strikes.
4) Jessica Aguilar: Also at WSOF 8, Aguilar, arguably the best strawweight in the world, choked out Alida Gray to become their new champ.
5) Tarec Saffiedine: While it took him nearly a year to get back in the cage, Saffiedine made his UFC debut in Asia and took a unanimous decision win against Hyun Gyu Lim.

Jeffrey Harris
1) Luke Rockhold:
Rockhold was coming off a very tough and disappointing loss in his UFC debut against Vitor Belfort. He did what any good fighter coming off a loss should do and bounced back incredibly well against Costas Philippou at UFC Fight Night 35. Rockhold pulled off an impressive liver kick en route to the finish, not something we often get to see inside the Octagon. This keeps his top 10 status intact and keeps him just outside the top 5 at the moment.

2) Jeremy Stephens: Jeremy Stephens picked up one of the bigger wins of his career, defeating and dominating Darren Elkins on the main card at UFC on Fox 10 to score his third straight victory at featherweight. Stephens' drop down in weight class has paid off very well for him thus far. Stephens was a solid if middling lightweight fighter in the UFC, but he looks to have really reinvigorated himself as a featherweight. Case in point, Elkins, who is a very tough and underrated fighter with a strong resume. Elkins had a pretty strong record going into this fight, going 6-1 at featherweight before this fight. He also had come off a dominating win over Hatsu Hioki, a fighter many ranked as best in the world at featherweight when he came into the UFC. Stephens showed impeccable takedown defense and took the wrestler out of his game to score an impressive victory.
3) Donald Cerrone: The Cowboy took a risky fight against a fairly unknown fighter in Adriano Martins at UFC on Fox 10. While Martins is unknown, he came in with a lot of fights as well as not having lost in quite some time. Cowboy looks suitably renewed in his recent performances, first quickly stopping Evan Dunham and now knocking out Martins with an amazing head kick victory. Now he looks to have the record for most UFC fights in a year. Considering his rookie year in the UFC, he went 4-1 in five fights in 2011, it's record I could easily see him making.
4) Alex Caceres: Bruce Leeroy was once considered the worst fighter on the planet. Well he's clearly shed that label and grown a great deal as a fighter since that time. Caceres pulled off the biggest win of his career so far, submitting the undefeated Sergio Pettis at UFC on Fox 10. It was a back and forth struggle, but Caceres escaped a heel hook attempt at the end to secure a rear-naked choke and pick up the submission win as well a double bonus payout. Caceres might not be a world beater or an elite-level fighter, but he looks to be improving with each passing fight, and the results are undeniable. He's now 5-1 with 1 NC in his last seven. And the no contest was a win that was overturned due to his testing positive for marijuana. So, if not for that he'd have fight straight wins in the UFC. Well done, Caceres.
5) Tarec Saffiedine: Tarec Saffiedine finally made his UFC debut at UFC Fight Night 25 in Singapore. Hyun Gyu Lim probably gave Saffiedine a tougher fight than anyone really could've predicted, but Saffiedine still toughed it out and came out on top. It turned out to be a great, highly entertaining fight. Saffiedine got knocked down by some hard shots, but his striking and stronger, sharper technique and leg kicks put the fight back in his favor. With Georges St-Pierre out of the picture for now, it will be interesting to see where fighters like Saffiedine will go next.

Robert Winfree
1) Benson Henderson:
Really slim options this month, but Benson Henderson won the biggest fight of the month. You can debate the decision, but officially it's a win and that carries a lot of weight. Just not a good month for fights I guess.

2) Luke Rockhold: Rockhold had an impressive showing, stopping Costas Philippou with a nasty body kick and reminding everyone that he's still near the top of the division.
3) Donald Cerrone: Donald Cerrone continued a run of fun fights, and got back to back wins for the first time since beating Jeremy Stephens and Melvin Guillard back to back in 2012. Add in a pretty sweet head kick KO and January was a good month for the Cowboy.
4) Alex Caceres: Caceres went from being almost a joke in the UFC to a borderline top ten guy in the division. He finished Sergio Pettis in the third after being out struck for two rounds, Caceres is improving and is someone to watch.
5) Tarec Saffiedine: It may have taken longer than we'd all hoped, but Tarec Saffiedine is in the UFC and had a solid win over Hyun-Gyu Lim to debut in the company and will meet Jake Ellenberger later this year.

Jon Butterfield
1) Luke Rockhold:
Luke Rockhold not only won his middleweight main event bout against Costa Philippou, but he did so in spectacular fashion by emulating the great Bas Rutten with a debilitating liver kick. That Philippou's chin is made of granite is nothing new to UFC fans, so Rockhold played it smart and delivered a body kick that was all about technique and precision rather than raw power. It was scintillating stuff to watch, and given that this was the most lop-sided of the seemingly well-matched main events of January, he wins Fighter of the Month for me.

2) Benson Henderson: It's a bit of a bug-bear with Fighter of the Month readers when a guy who didn't fight particularly well attains a high position - but give Benson Henderson his due, because as ridiculous as Sal D'Amato's score of 49-46 Henderson was, Benson still pushed this to a virtual coin toss with his superior striking display against the evergreen and underrated Josh Thomson. No matter what the interpretation of this fight may be, Henderson is still a top 3 lightweight without a shadow of doubt.
3) Jeremy Stephens: Jeremy Stephens continues to tear through the 145 lb division, showing outstanding takedown defense as he battered the seemingly shot-shy Darren Elkins for three full rounds. Elkins was reduced to telegraphing his takedown attempts as Stephens threw a seemingly limitless salvo of heavy artillery his way, easily out pointing one of the best 'spoilers' in the featherweight division and keeping him at bay with apparent ease. Not many have been able to do so quite as convincingly as Stephens.
4) Stipe Miocic: It would be silly to overlook Stipe Miocic's victory over Gabriel Gonzaga given the latter fighter's propensity for destroying less experienced opponents. Gonzaga is a heavy hitter with a very dangerous ground game, but Miocic never looked in danger outside of the first round, peppering Gonzaga courtesy of vastly superior speed and cardio. These attributes were the death of Roy Nelson, Miocic's previous best win, and outside of the top 5 or 6 heavyweights, there aren't many that look to be able to hang with Miocic's patience, accuracy, and athleticism.
5) Justin Gaethje: The culmination of a remarkable rise-to-prominence, Gaethje's 69 second demolition of Richard Patishnock may have merely more of the same, but that 'same' is pretty damn awesome. Arguably the best lightweight fighter outside of the UFC or Bellator, Gaethje may yet need a couple more names before he truly establishes himself as a serious threat to the top 5 - but if you've seen how good Gaethje has looked in WSOF, then you'll also be salivating at the prospect of his future bouts.

Evan Zivin
1) Jessica Aguilar:
January wasn't the greatest start to the year as far as fighter accomplishments go but I'm going to give some love to those that won gold this month. Not only did Jessica Aguilar compete in the first-ever World Series of Fighting women's fight at WSOF 8 against Alida Gray, she won that fight and became the inaugural WSOF Women's Strawweight Champion. That has to be a crazy feeling to say you were a promotion's first ever champion. The dominant win confirms her place as the top strawweight fighter on the planet and is probably making UFC scratch their head to why they didn't sign her to be on TUF 20 with all the Invicta strawweights. It's probably just a matter of time. Enjoy that gold, Jag.

2) Justin Gaethje: Gaethje also made history at WSOF 8, defeating Rich Patishnock to become the promotion's first Lightweight Champion. The win was more dominant than Aguilar's, but it was also against a replacement filling in for a replacement. Still, the win improves Gaethje's professional record to 11-0 with four straight wins in WSOF, all by stoppage, and he will be forever known as WSOF's first champion at 155.
3) Luke Rockhold: Luke got the win he needed and he got it in a big way. Everyone questioned how the former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion would be able to bounce back from the vicious spinning kick knockout he suffered at the hands (or feet) of Vitor Belfort last May. Well, Luke answered and he did it with a painful body kick TKO to Costa Philippou that had Bas Rutten jumping with glee. It was a great statement to make to reassert that Luke is here and he is a threat to the title, especially against UFC Champion Chris Weidman's training partner.
4) Jeremy Stephens: Stephens has always been fun to watch in the UFC but he was also a very middle-of-the-road lightweight, never winning more than two straight fights. Then, he decided to make the drop to featherweight and he's been unstoppable since. He has won three straight fights at 145 and got a huge win over Darren Elkins to insert himself into the Top 10 of the UFC Rankings. He was treading water as a lightweight but at featherweight, he may be a fight or two away from a title shot. Looks like the drop down was one of the best decisions he's made.
5) Stipe Miocic: Stipe gets some love for defeating another top UFC heavyweight. Gabriel Gonzaga may not be as highly ranked as Roy Nelson but Gonzaga has done something that many of the ranked heavyweights have yet to do: challenge for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. Miocic has proven to be a very smart fighter that gameplans well and, if he can keep up his winning ways, he may be getting his own championship opportunity in 2-3 fights. Do it for Mirko Cro Cop! The UFC audience will never doubt the power of Croatia ever again!

Alex Rella
1) Luke Rockhold
Luke Rockhold gets the top spot for me in a fairly shallow month. The former Strikeforce champion picked up his first UFC win in dominant fashion against Constantinos Philippou. The win kept him near the top of the UFC's middleweight division.

2) Justin Gaethje : Justin Gaethje became the WSOF's first lightweight champ this month when he Rich Patishnock in a little over a minute. Yea it wasn't his original opponent, or even the original replacement, but injuries happen and it was the best WSOF could do. Gaethje has looked awesome so far at 11-0 and has some wins over tough MMA vets. At only 25, Gaethje looks like somebody the WSOF can build around.
3) Jeremy Stephens: Jeremy Stephens has been with the UFC since 2007 and he's defeated some good lightweights, but he was never really able to win enough to become a top fighter at 155lbs. He's now 3-0 at featherweight with a win over Darren Elkins. I think Stephens has some serious potential to make it to the top of the division.
4) Tarec Saffiedine: The final Strikeforce welterweight champion finally made his UFC debut in January. Saffiedine defeated Hyun Gyu Lim by unanimous decision and earned the Fight of the Night bonus too. Now he'll take on Jake Ellenberger at UFC 172.
5) Tatsuya Kawajiri: Kawajiri finally decided to come over to the UFC and was victorious in his debut. He's getting older so who knows how far he'll be able to make it up in the rankings, but he is on a six fight winning streak and is undefeated at featherweight so far. I'm looking forward to his next fight.

Honorable Mention: Donald Cerrone - (9 points)

5th Place - Benson Henderson - (10 points)

4th Place - Jeremy Stephens - (12 points)

3rd Place - Alex Caceres - (13 points)

Defeated the heavily hyped Sergio Pettis and took home $100,000 in Fight of the Night bonus money!

2nd Place - Justin Gaethje - (16 points)

Became the first ever World Series of Fighting Lightweight Champion!

411's Fighter of the Month for JANUARY is…

 photo rockholdfotm_zpsb8645810.jpg

Luke Rockhold - (33 points)

Destroyed Constantinos Philippou at UFC Fight Night 35 to get back on the winning track!

  • Luke Rockhold - 15 pts.

  • Justin Gaethje - 12 pts.

  • Alex Caceres - 9 pts.

  • Jeremy Stephens - 6 pts.

  • Benson Henderson - 3 pts.

  • Donbald Cerrone - 1pt

  • RULE REMINDER: If a fighter ranked on the yearend list LOSES a fight they will lose 5 points. Also, after much discussion, if a fighter is suspended by an athletic commission or the UFC (drug related), they lose any points accumulated thus far.

  • Year-End Rankings Key:

  • UFC Contracted Fighters are represented in BLUE.
  • Bellator Contracted Fighters are represented in RED.
  • Other Fighters are represented in MAROON.


    Year One (2009) Winner: Lyoto Machida

    Year Two (2010) Winner: Cain Velasquez

    Year Three (2011) Winner: Jon Jones

    Year Four (2012) Winner: Benson Henderson

    Year Five (2013) Winner: Demetrious Johnson


    Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it…TO CSONKA'S TWITTER!



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