Last night the MMA community came together to watch the final sunset go down on 2017’s UFC schedule, at it’s new resident home the T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas.
On paper, the card was set up for a good night of fights, with the co-main event harking back to the roots of the UFC, a pure striker vs grappler matchup – featuring the return of one of the best grapplers to step into the octagon “The Eagle” Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Edson Barboza, one of the most dangerous strikers in all of MMA. The main event, a contest for the women’s Featherweight championship on the line, and amongst fans the unofficial title of the female G.O.A.T between one of the pioneers of womens MMA, undefeated in over a decade Cris Cyborg vs “The Preachers Daughter” Holly Holm who was looking to become the first woman to hold UFC titles in two weight classes.
The MMA God’s struck in the unwavering, unrelenting and omnipotent fashion we, as fans have become all too accustomed to in the form of the destructive “Hands of Stone” John Lineker being pulled from his fight with the fast-rising Team Tiger Schulmann product Jimmie “El Terror” Rivera due to a tooth infection, causing him to have emergency surgery. As a result, the card was left to roll on with ten fights, which is unusually light for a PPV card.
In reality, due to the amount of decisions on the card, there was some evident restlessness during some fights, but on the whole I think the card delivered, the co-main and the main event soon wiped any distaste from the audiences memory with two classics on display. Tim Elliot, Vettori vs Akhmedov, Calvillo vs Esparza and Hookers finish all high points. The theme that shone out for me in this card was heart and courage, in the face of sometimes overwhelming adversity and domination. Notably in aforementioned Barboza, Holm, Esparza, Vettori and Akhmedov.
- Cris Cyborg (Chute Boxe) vs Holly Holm (Jackson-Wink MMA)This was the David vs Goliath matchup. A monolith of women’s MMA, is Cris Cyborg. A wrecking machine in her early career, blazing past anyone that dared stand in her wake in Invicta FC, then makes her long awaited debut in the UFC against the very game Leslie Smith, instantly making her stamp on why she deserved to be with the elite MMA organisation all along, winning via R1 TKO. Following up that win with two more over the willing Swede Lina Lansberg, and the gritty veteran wrestler Tonya Evinger, both coming via TKO and the latter crowing her as the UFC’s featherweight champion, continuing her decade long undefeated run.Across the Octagon stood Holly Holm “The Preachers Daughter” best known for her world title accolades in female boxing, kickboxing and the famous head kick over the biggest female combat superstar ever, Ronda Rousey. After the loss to Meisha Tate, in which she went out emphatically to a dying second rear naked choke in the fifth round, she stepped up a weight class to fight Germaine De Randamie, a Dutch Muay Thai specialist for the Featherweight title, in a close, controversial bout that saw Holly get rocked with two after the bell incidents, yet land possibly the most significant strikes of the fight by way of a straight left that dropped her opponent and her signature head kick, Holly was judged to have not done enough to secure the title. De Randamie then suffered hand injuries that forced her out of action for a while, before vacating the belt due to inactivity, and publicly stating that she did not want to fight Cyborg due to her previous anti-doping infractions. She then bounced back with a highlight reel Question Mark kick KO of Bethe Corriea to come full circle and setup the bout with Cyborg many thought she had won in the first place. A big part of Holly’s arsenal is the team she had behind her, the great game planning minds of Jackson-Wink MMA, Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn One of Holly’s greatest assets is her ability to stick to a game plan, and if she were to beat Cyborg she would need to not lose focus stick well to the plan devised for her.
Many felt that Holm might hold the key to the Cyborg lock given that she is an excellent counter striker, with good kickboxing, and great timing. Her lateral movement always allowing her to dictate the range of the fight to fight her game plan. Cyborg on the other hand, having shown a more measured approach in her bout against Evinger, methodically breaking her down and wearing her out before ending the fight with knees, was thought to need a mixture of that same tactic mixed in with her old school Chute Boxe aggression to overwhelm Holm, or use her wrestling and legitimate black belt BJJ credentials to take the fight to the mat secure the victory.
The first two rounds were a close affair, both women landing. Holly using her movement to setup her offensive moments, and rushing Cyborg when she came in. Cyborg was calm and composed, measuring Holly’s attacks and landing well in the pocket. What came as a surprise was Holly’s strength and ability to impose her will on Cyborg in the clinching exchanges, in the clinch Holly repeatedly powered Cyborg up against the fence and held her there to catch a breath and frustrate Cyborg, this was a useful tool for her in the fight. Two judges scored Holly the first two rounds and I whilst I gave Holly the second and not the first, both rounds were close.
As the fight wore on, Cyborg began to crank up the pace and capitalise on Hollys lack of creativity in the different looks she was showing, Holly began to slow, her kicks not carrying the same snap as in the first two rounds with Cyborg now reading her repetitive combinations and still landing hard shots, causing swelling to the bridge of the nose and under the left eye of Holm, whilst not out of it by any means, needed to change up her attacks. Which seemed to come when she landed a nice combination topped off with a straight left that caused Cyborg to bleed from the nose for the first time in her professional fights. Holly to her credit had not lost focus once, landing when she could and sticking well to her game plan, i think she had begun to realise she would need more from the game plan if she were to succeed.
The fifth round was the most open, Cyborg had really turned up the pace and was her most aggressive, continuing on from her work in the fourth landing hard kicks to the legs and body. Early on Holly read an elbow on Cris and threw it, missing only by fine a margin, showing that she was still well in this fight if even down on the scorecards. Again, some good clinch work got her a reversal and put Cyborgs back on the fence, giving her a further moments rest, on the break Cris now chasing Holly down, landing more body kicks and again pressing on the front foot. One thing I noticed that was also picked up by Dominick Cruz in the commentary booth was that Cris started to read Holly’s body and low kicks and then threw kicks of her own at the leg Holly was standing on, I thought this was a great little detail to Cris’s game, that came about from both her opening her arsenal and her reads on Holly’s strikes. Intelligent. Cyborg had also now gotten the read on Holly’s stepping right hook, and was making her pay for it with body kicks and jabs, causing Holly to second guess her techniques. Whilst the last two minutes of the fight was mostly Cris imposing her game, starting and ending her combinations before and after Holly, landing the harder shots and slipping most of Holly’s kicks, Holly stepped in and landed a beautiful straight left that caught Cris square, Chute Boxe Cris took over in response and rushed into the clinch and landed some good knees before Holly reversed and pushed her to the fence. That called time on the round, and the fight.
Overall, a really good showing by both ladies. Holly proved that Cyborg can be hit, can be stunned and that she can be taken all 5 championship rounds and should take no shame in losing over 5 rounds to the most dominant woman to ever step into the octagon. Cyborg though proved why she is revered in women’s combat sports, she respected Holly’s ability and game plan but proved that she could land the cleaner and harder shots, could fight intelligently and patiently, could turn up the pace throughout the fight when she wanted too, and whilst being surprisingly dominated in the wrestling exchanges against the fence, could dominate the stand-up exchanges enough to stamp her authority on the majority of the rounds. A high-level women’s MMA fight, credit to both women.
Cyborg via Unanimous Decision.
- Khabib Nurmagomedov (American Kickboxing Academy) vs Edson Barboza (Ricardo Almeida BJJ)The epitome of a striker versus grappler matchup. Khabib Nurmagomedov, returning from a turbulent year with injuries, failed weight cuts and fight cancellations had something to prove going into this one, not only to the people doubting that he can make weight, but also that he is still one of the greatest fighters on the planet. The Dagestani native, one of the few fighters in the top echelon still holding an undefeated record (24-0) walks into this knowing that a win should cement him a place in a contest with either Interim Champion, Tony Ferguson, or the Champion, Conor McGregor. Edson Barboza, on the other hand, riding a four-fight winning streak, the holder of the greatest wheel kick knockout in UFC history, holder of two finishes via leg kick and a highlight reel to rival the best also knew that a win here would loft him into the same position.There was good reason that this was one of, if not the most anticipated fights on the card. Could Edson get off his ultra-fast, powerful striking to combat Khabib’s suffocating grappling? Would Khabib be able to close the distance without being caught, how long could he stand with Edson? Could Edson, if taken down be able to work back up and keep the fight where he wanted it to go?
The result, was a complete mauling by the Dagestani native. From the opening bell Edson landed three hard low kicks, he was circling and moving trying to avoid the onslaught from Khabib. Khabib on the other hand was chasing him down, cutting off the cage and forcing Edson to defend – his pressure suffocating any meaningful attack that Edson could muster. Inevitably, Khabib caught Edson against the cage and with a beautiful body lock and trip, took Edson to the ground, to where he not only stayed for the remainder of the round he imparted a seriously heavy beating. As the bell sounded for the end of the first round, you could tell by Edson’s face, not just the marks and cuts he was wearing but his expression was the same as most after Khabib grabs hold of them, astonishment. The way Khabib stays on his feet and applies his top pressure through his hips and knees is astonishing, he patiently holds and waits for his opponent to move whilst slamming them with strikes, and when they do he finds the opening to move into a more dominant position. At one point he had triangle’d both of Edson’s legs above the knee, for him to be able to use all his weight to smash Edson against the fence. This continued into the second round. I don’t think anyone would have been aggrieved if Big John McCarthy the referee or Edson’s corner had put a stop to it, but Edson, through grit and an incredible showing of heart, made it to the third round.
The third round started with Edson coming out to a flying knee, a low kick and a 1-2. Khabib marched through it, sensing that his demolition job on the ground had left his opponent severely depleted wanted to prove his worth on the feet, tagging Edson a couple of times with straights and hooks. On the minute mark, Khabib got another partial takedown, that Edson valiantly fended off for around two and a half minutes, they then broke and moved back to the striking exchanges, Edson threw two wild wheel kicks, one of which connected, but Khabib ate like it was nothing and kept coming. After some good clinch work from Khabib he dragged Edson, like a predator his prey to the ground, his control is incredible, he had again triangle’d Edson’s right leg with his own, and had caught his left with his right hand, leaving Edson posted on one arm, helpless, getting smashed by Khabib whilst trapped against the fence. The technical detail to that control was sublime. Edson eventually managed to clamber back to his feet with sub thirty seconds of the fight, a barrage of strikes from both men brought the bout to a close. An epic display of dominance from Khabib, met with an epic display of heart by Edson Barboza.
Khabib via Unanimous Decision.
- Marc Diakese (American Top Team) vs Dan Hooker (Strikeforce Auckland)Bumped up to the main card due to John Lineker and Jimmi Rivera falling off, fans were excited to see a clash of the classic Muay Thai style in Hooker vs the flashy, powerful Tae Kwon Do/Kickboxing hybrid style of Diakese. Hooker, coming off that brilliant knee KO of UK’s Ross Pearson in June was eager, not only to show that 155 was the weight class he was meant for but that he should also be working his way toward a ranked spot in a shark tank division that is Lightweight. Diakese on the other hand, coming off his first professional loss to Drakkar Klose in July was just as eager to bounce back and prove that the buzz around his name was warranted.The first two rounds of this one were tentative, both fighters trying to feel each other out, Marc attempting to get a little space to fire off one of his spinning attacks, or bait Dan in to be able to counter with something and Dan doing well to pressure and feint Marc into either not throwing or throwing something whilst on the defensive that Dan was able to nullify and counter. Both corner teams at the end of the second called for a little more action to prove their case to the judges, Diakese taking the initiative and coming out fast, catching Hooker with some good, hard shots and ending with some good kicks. The tide seemed to be moving into Diakese’s direction until Marc shot for a takedown up against the fence, Hooker managed to reverse it and slide an arm in for a guillotine choke, he then stepped over, wrapped his legs into closed guard and finished the choke, Diakese tapping almost immediately. Not the fight that the fans would have expected, but a great win for Dan Hooker who has now won 2 out of his last 3.
Hooker via Guillotine choke (R3).
- Cynthia Calvillo (Team Alpha Male) vs Carla Esparza (Team Oyama)The Calvillo hype train had certainly been rolling into Las Vegas, with high praise being garnered from UFC president Dana White and her Alpha Male coaches, Cynthia Calvillo came into the 219 bout with former champion Carla Esparza looking to improve to 7-0 as a pro and continue her push for a title shot in 2018. But standing in her way was a Carla Esparza who has her own title redemption ambitions in 2018. The first round went how many expected the entire fight to go, with Calvillo staying busy on the feet, getting the fight to the ground, gaining top control and working toward a submission with her extravagant ground game. Though that wasnt to be the case, Esparza regrouped and came out in the second and the third and made good adjustments, she utilised her low kicks to setup her striking exchanges, landing her own takedowns and gaining top control, though she didn’t manage to hold down Calvillo for long, she was certainly getting the better of Calvillo in the striking exchanges, first to the punch and landing with the more damaging shots. Calvillo will be back, and still has vast potential, but a good performance from Esparza showing that she isn’t one to be counted out.Esparza via Unanimous decision.
- Carlos Condit (Jackson-Wink MMA) vs Neil Magny (Elevation Fight Team)The return of the Natural Born Killer versus the underrated unrelenting style of Magny opened the 219 Main Card, whilst the crowd was not a full one inside the T-Mobile Arena, it was clear from the ceremonial weigh ins the day previous that plenty of fans were excited to see Condit back in the octagon for his 41st professional MMA bout. The fairy-tale return, it did not turn out to be for Condit though, as from the first bell he seemed unable to use his main setup weapon, the low kick to begin his combinations due to Magny countering immediately and effectively whenever he threw one, either by catching it and forcing a grappling exchange, or with punches. That really discouraged the offensive style that we are used too from Condit, and he looked tentative throughout but credit to Magny who came with a great game plan and executed, who used his own tools, impeccable cardio and a great pace to force Condit into positions he didn’t want to be in, completed takedowns and did well on the ground when he had established top control to control the hips of Condit and not allow him to move for sweeps of submissions. Though dropping a fight to RDA in his previous bout, I would like to see Magny receive his requested callout and get a top 5 fight next to once again see if he can prove he can hang at that top level.Magny via Unanimous decision.
Four FS1 Prelims:
- Khalil Rountree Jr (Syndicate MMA) vs Michal Oleksiejczuk (Gornik Leczna)This was a tale of heart and will, newcomer and 22 year old Oleksiejczuk stepping in on short notice to replace Gokhan Saki (training injury) against the heavy handed and explosive Rountree Jr. Rountree is known for his fast and powerful starts and nothing changed in this one, he managed to tag the young newcomer several times in hard exchanges forming a cut above the right eye, but Oleksiejczuk shied away from no exchange, although only 22 he boasts nearly double the experience in professional fights to Rountree (12-2 to Rountree JR’s 6-3 record). He weathered the early storms, and used his superior technique, cardio and volume striking to get it done via a unanimous decision. An excellent start to his UFC tenure.Michal Oleksiejczuk via Unanimous decision.
- Myles Jury (Alliance MMA) vs Rick Glenn (Team Alpha Male)In his second fight of 2017, after his long layoff of 2016 Jury was looking to continue his winning ways with a match up against Rick Glenn, who himself was coming off a bloody and brutal win over newcomer Gavin Tucker at UFC 215 in September. This fight would seethe continuation of the rivalry between Alliance MMA and Team Alpha Male, notably fronted by UFC commentator and the former Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz and Alpha Male members, Cody Garbrandt and Urijah Faber. Though that rivalry did not show in this one, this was a clinic from Jury, he was too fast, too slick for Glenn in all areas, rounds 1 through to 3 he was catching Glenn with well timed teeps, low kicks and nice stepping hooks to setup a spectacular flying knee attempt that whilst not connecting as Jury would have liked, showed Glenn what he was capable of at any moment. Glenn did show signs of success when he was able to push Jury up against the fence and begin some grappling exchanges, but that wasn’t enough to work him to a decision. Jury concludes his 2017 campaign 2-0. Excited to see what 2018 brings for him.Jury via unanimous decision.
- Marvin Vettori (Stabile Fight Team) vs Omari Akhmedov (American Top Team)Marvin Vettori vs Omari Akhmedov was a real slobber knocker of a fight. Vettori at 23, just starting out his UFC career, before this fight holding a 2-1 record. His loss coming against the 9 UFC fight veteran in Antonio Carlos Junior, who is now riding a 4-fight win streak after recently submitting the likes of Jack Marshman and Eric Spicely. His dance partner for the evening was the seasoned fighter Akhmedov, holding a record of 17-4 (5-3 UFC) before their bout, notable name wins like Kyle Noke and Abdul Razak Alhassan.The first round saw both guys come out fast, each landing huge shots, Akmedov loading up on every punch and every kick, saw him test the chin and will of Vettori early, having him hurt more than once. But Vettori was up to fight fire with fire and came back with big power punches of his own, Akhmedov has the Dan Henderson wooden look about him, bones made of steel and joints not too dissimilar, Vettori looked thick too, for the weight class. I think due to landing the more damaging strikes, Akhmedov took the first round, possibly by a 10-8 margin. The second round was similar in its action packed nature, with Vettori this time having more success due to his opponent starting to tire. The third, though both men showing their own signs of wear and tear I gave to Vettori. The Italian caught his second wind and powered on late, sensing the depletion of his opponent, having him hurt a few times but without the killer instinct to put his man away. The fight ended in a majority draw, with one judge giving it to Vettori, I don’t have a huge problem with the result watching it back, though at the time I had scored the bout to Vettori.
- Louis Smolka (Hawaii Elite MMA) vs Matheus Nicolau (Jackson-Wink MMA)With the rise of Hawaiian MMA, pioneered by the young Featherweight King Max Holloway, eyes were on Louis Smolka to turn around his 3-fight skid on the first fight of the FS1 pre-lims. Up against Brazil’s Nicolau, making his first appearance after a yearlong suspension from USADA for the use of Anastrozole (Anastrozoleis a specified substance in the category of Hormone and Metabolic Modulators) and looking to improve to 13-1 (3-0 UFC).It was the Brazilian who came out of the blocks fast, the first-round saw Nicolau come out swinging, his head movement and fast boxing proved to be a real problem for Smolka, who was dropped three times before the klaxon sounded. Smolka was struggling to time Nicolau’s left straight and that was proving to be money for the young Brazilian. All credit to Smolka for surviving the first and two subsequent rounds, showing his grit and toughness to keep walking down Nicolau who persisted with his stick and move game for most of the fight. It was not Smolka’s night, although he closed the gap in the latter of the fight as Nicolau slowed, and Smolka made some good adjustments to counter Nicolaus work, it was the Brazilians boxing and footwork that proved to be too much for Smolka on the night, who even when the fight went to the ground, was not able to fashion any dominant positions to construct his varied and fluid submission game.
Nicolau via Unanimous Decision.
Fight Pass Prelims:
- Tim Elliot (Glory MMA & Fitness) vs Mark De La Rosa (Skrap Pack).Tim Elliot’s second stint in the UFC has been a mixed bag, going 2-2 in his last four. A competitive loss against arguably the G.O.A.T in “Mighty Mouse” Demetrious Johnson and a win against fellow 219 fighter Louis Smolka and last night’s win over the newcomer in De La Rosa. Known for his unpredictable style, fast scrambles and solid wrestling it was predicted that De La Rosa would have his hands full on his full octagon debut. This turned out to be the case, Elliot used his superior striking and grappling experience to spend most of the first round on top, landing good ground and pound and opening De La Rosa up to cuts, who had adopted for a more traditional guard game from bottom, De La Rosa however did come close to closing an armbar late in the first, but Elliot managed to slam his way out. The second round was much the same, a scramble allowed Elliot to sink in a deep anaconda and forced the tap from De La Rosa.Elliot via Anaconda Choke (R2).