June 2, 2016

UFC Fight Night 88: The Night That Fan Favorites Were Made

By Raphael Garcia

UFC Fight Night 88 didn’t feature any of the bigger names in the promotion, but when the event was over a number of fighters found themselves in unrecognizable territory. Many who were fortunate enough to get their hands raised secured victories in ways that not only put them in position for important matchups in the future, but also created interest in their next moves among fans and media alike.

Cody Garbrandt, Jeremy Stephens, Rick Story, Lorenz Larkin, and Bryan Caraway were the big winners of the holiday weekend. The event on Sunday night may one day be seen as the starting point for each of these men reaching new tiers in their respective UFC tenures. This card wasn’t designed to create a number one contender or crown the next reality television star for the UFC. Instead, it built up these fighters through proper booking in matchups with a lot on the line, on a television platform that was readily accessible to the masses. The best possible outcome occurred, as these fighters put on performances that excited fans instead of leaving them sitting on their hands, or even worse, booing in anger.

Garbrandt had the biggest performance of the evening. He went into this main event bout as an underdog to the undefeated Thomas Almeida, but the way he put away the Brazilian in the first round inspired banter about what he will do next. Heading into this fight Garbrandt wasn’t ranked in the UFC’s Top 15 listing, but it will be interesting to see where he appears when it is updated.

Caraway had to fight through more adversity than Garbrandt, but his victory is going to be just as important to the next phase of his career. Defeating Aljamain Sterling put him on a very short list of men in position to challenge for the 135-pound title. With men such as Garbrandt, Michael McDonald, John Dodson, and John Lineker in the division, picking up another win over a big name should attract the attention of matchmakers as the rest of the division shakes itself out. Perhaps booking Caraway and Garbrandt against one another would offer fans an opportunity to see which man makes that push towards a title shot.

Then there’s Rick Story and Lorenz Larkin, two welterweights that may have been largely forgotten, but are still viable threats at 170 pounds. Both men put on great battles in the cage as they earned victories over Tarec Saffiedine and Jorge Masvidal respectively. While neither one of these men are on a short list for a title shot, these wins reminded MMA fans that they shouldn’t be overlooked in the welterweight division.

Fans and media members often discuss the perceived “weakness” of UFC booking and fight announcements. However, UFC Fight Night 88 was on the opposite end of the spectrum, as matchmakers used lesser-known talent in excellent bookings that moved the winners into compelling positions while not completely jettisoning the losers into oblivion. At the end of the night, the MMA world had a few new fighters worth watching.


UFC Fight Night 88: Almeida vs. Garbrandt took place on May 29, 2016 at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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