Early morning MMA doesn’t sit well with me. Nevertheless, I won’t complain beyond that, as I understand fully why the UFC Fight Night 79 card was held when it was, the main event delivered solid action, there was a fun slugfest, and an uber-prospect stalked his claim for a jump in competition. Now if only they had done more with the prelims in terms of quality….
Hats off to the Korean crowd as well, as they were into every fight with great anticipation, even the first prelim fight where most the venue is largely empty in the states. Look for the UFC to turn the energy they had been expending into China and turn it to Korea now, as there is clearly a market there both in terms of quality fighters (Dong Hyun Kim and Doo Ho Choi are the best examples) and a fan base.
Benson Henderson defeated Jorge Masvidal via split decision
Did we really expect anything else from a Benson Henderson fight? It ended up being a very technical, very close fight that realistically could have gone either way, depending on how you scored the rounds without any major standout moments. There won’t be much controversy (i.e. complaints about a robbery) with this one, though, as the majority seem to agree that he was the deserving winner this time around. He scored more consistent offense throughout the course of the bout, as well as scoring the only unanimous round in his favor. That would be the second round, as he hurt Masvidal before the end of the round, and Masvidal was potentially saved by the bell. All the other rounds saw varying scores indicating just how close the battle was.
The major question is what does Bendo do now? He is a free agent, and though the UFC has the right to match any contract Bellator or any other competitor throws at him, it isn’t a guarantee that they will match it. Remember that they let Phil Davis walk away in what is probably their thinnest division at 205 lbs. Regardless of whether he is viewed as a lightweight or a welterweight, Bendo fights in the deepest divisions that the UFC has to offer, and he hasn’t exactly been a major attraction to the general public, even drawing ire for his tendency for controversial decisions. Though this likely won’t be controversial, the fact that it was a close five round fight doesn’t help his cause. I expect the UFC will want to keep him around, as he was the Lightweight Champion just over two years ago, and is still a high level fighter who has shown a willingness to fill in on short notice. He does seem to have an audience with the Asian culture as well, as the Korean crowd responded well to him.
Masvidal’s stock should have gone up in the losing process; he accepted the five round fight on short notice, and more than held his own. Even as I said that the decision likely won’t be controversial, no one with a half a brain for MMA judging will disagree that the bout realistically could have gone either way. We still don’t know how his move to welterweight is going to go; Bendo is another converted lightweight who isn’t very large for the division, but I have more confidence that it will be successful following this performance. Perhaps he’ll get the man he replaced next in Thiago Alves. I could easily get behind that fight.
Dong Hyun Kim defeated Dominic Waters via TKO at 3:11 of the first round
Can’t say that this was a surprising result. After throwing a missed spinning back fist – to let us know he hasn’t completely abandoned his balls-to-the-wall approach despite it costing him against Tyron Woodley – Kim settled down and used a nice judo hip toss to throw Waters to the ground into the crucifix position and deliver punch after punch onto the skull of his helpless opponent. No one can say Waters didn’t try to escape as he tried to use the fence to kick out of the position, and flailed wildly with his lower body once moved away from the cage, but he wasn’t going anywhere and the ref mercifully stepped in. Kim needs to fight a ranked opponent following two unranked opponents as he is now 34. Kim believes he can still get the title, but he needs to make his run fast with quite a few miles under his belt now. He and Matt Brown had a closely contested bout years ago and now would be a great time for a rematch. Otherwise, Rick Story, Stephen Thompson, and Johny Hendricks are available opponents who all make sense as well. Waters may get cut, but I believe he’ll get one more opportunity as he jumped out of his league to face Kim and his first UFC bout was on short notice. He really deserves a better opportunity for a win following those two favors.
Alberto Mina defeated Yoshihiro Akiyama via split decision
For a dude with a reputation as a grappler, Mina sure as hell has taken a liking to slugfests in his UFC tenure. Then again, he was unable to get the fight to the ground for an extended period of time thanks to Akiyama’s sound takedown defense and didn’t have much of a choice. A pretty even first round consisting of Akiyama chewing up Mina’s lead leg with kicks and Mina showing surprising aggression to combat Akiyama’s assault on his legs, throwing a fair amount of leg kicks himself. The second and third round were much more easier to decipher, as Mina stole the second round with a brutal right hand that put the Japanese superstar on the mat, barely able to survive Mina’s onslaught from there as the bell saved him. Mina had little to offer in the final round, gassing himself trying to finish Akiyama at the end of the second, in combination with his weakened leg offering him little stable ground allowing Akiyama to largely tee off with ease.
Easily the biggest win of his career, Mina needs to fight more than once a year if he wants to move up the ladder. Perhaps he’ll even get an opponent who might allow him to display his grappling chops that we’ve heard of but have yet to see at the highest stage. He needs a lot of work on his wrestling for that. As for Akiyama, there are still some winnable fights for him in the UFC, but not many. His durability seems to have taken a hit as he didn’t respond well to shots that he seemed to once upon a time just walk through. He is 40 so this shouldn’t be a surprise despite his celebrity status. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him retire as he has other endeavors he can turn to.
Doo Ho Choi defeated Sam Sicilia via KO at 1:33 of the first round
Choi is making it hard to scout him. We know that he is good, as he has two wins in two tries in the UFC, and has done so in less than two minutes combined. But damn it, I still don’t know how his wrestling or grappling translates to the highest level! I complain in jest, as anyone would be hard-pressed to jam more action into 93 seconds than what Choi and Sicilia did. Choi stumbled Sicilia in the early seconds and damn near finished him before getting overaggressive only for Sicilia to stumble him with his return fire. Both briefly regained their bearings ever so briefly before Choi rocked Sicilia a couple more times, then finished him off once Sicilia hit the ground. This was only Choi’s second appearance since signing about two years ago thanks to injuries, which is making it difficult for fans to remember he is out there. Disposing of a tough dude like Sicilia should prove to be a solid reminder that Choi is a legit prospect who should break into the rankings before the end of next year, provided he can stay healthy enough to fight more often. While Sicilia wasn’t expected to win this fight, it represented his best chance to become more than just an action fighter. He is still a valuable piece of the featherweight division as he is rarely in a boring fight and will continue to serve as a showcase fighter for youngsters like Choi.
Dongi Yang defeated Jake Collier via TKO at 1:50 of the second round
A classic case of strength overwhelming technique. Collier was able to land a number of solid punches from the outside, and seemed to have taken the first round with a knockdown of the returning Yang, having him in some trouble for a brief amount of time. Yang got inside of his rangier opponent early in the second round, and hurt him with some short punches. Collier dove for a leglock and got it locked in pretty tight, but not tight enough as Yang broke through it and started unloading on his helpless opponent before Herb Dean stepped in to stop the violence. Yang lived up to his billing; his strength was clearly abundant as he manhandled Collier anytime they clinched up. His striking technique hasn’t seemed to have improved any in his time away from the UFC, but there are still a number of winnable fights for him as this bout showed. Collier is in a similar position to Yang in that there are quite a few fights he can still win. The only difference is he is coming off a loss now. Don’t expect great improvement out of him.
Mike de la Torre defeated Yui Chul Nam via split decision
Gotta love Nam fights. The dude is always pressing the action even when it may not be the wisest thing for him to do. Utilizing that strategy right out of the gate, de la Torre caught Nam with a series of hard combos in their exchanges, hurting him to take the early advantage, as Nam was unable to recover until the next round began. Continuing his pressure approach, Nam found better success in the final two rounds, but still ate a lot of punches from de la Torre whose straight punches were able to land with better consistency and accuracy than Nam’s looping power punches which was enough for the judges to give the decision to de la Torre. De la Torre fought a very smart fight to get the deserved decision, as he used Nam’s momentum against him at times to add power to his punches, and kept Nam from getting his preferred top position of throwing down heavy punches. He is an ideal fighter to test up-and-coming prospects, as he isn’t the most physically talented, but is savvy enough to test anyone. Nam’s aggressive style could keep him around despite dropping his second straight as he is always fun to watch. I expect his Korean heritage will also work in his favor.
Tae Hyun Bang defeated Leo Kuntz via split decision
If there is anything to take away from this bout, it was an exhibit of what NOT to do in an MMA fight. Poor technique and defense was abound as both fought with hands low (Bang in particular), neither could finish submission attempts, and the concept of disguising takedown attempts seemed to be lost on them as well. Oh yeah… and short gas tanks too. What is worse, the sloppier of the two walked away with the victory. Bang floored Kuntz with an early punch, and depleted his gas tank using poor technique on a guillotine choke he couldn’t finish. He spent the rest of the fight with his hands down while winging haymakers, and Kuntz spent most of the fight as the aggressor from there. What gave Bang the win was another guillotine attempt in the third round that he once again couldn’t finish, though Kuntz very well could have been awarded the decision as it was a close fight. I will give both credit for showing loads of heart as they swung until the end, but that shouldn’t excuse the rest of the slop. Bang survives to live another day in the UFC while Kuntz likely will find himself on the outside looking in.
Seo Hee Ham defeated Cortney Casey via unanimous decision
Any questions now on why she is called Hamderlei Silva? Ham did a great job of evoking images of the MMA legend, as she stalked her opponent, landing power shots aplenty once she was able to find her range in the second and third round, and hurting Casey with body shots in the third round to depleting her stamina greatly. Casey showed discipline in the first round, using her reach to her advantage as well as some strategic aggression. Ham started turning things around before the end of the first, and followed an early knockdown in the second (where she appeared to be caught off-balance more than anything), she took control and never looked back. It is no guarantee she would have been cut with a loss, but none would have been surprised. To Casey’s credit, she seemed to be affected by an eye poke from the second round at various points of the bout as she was seen wincing from time to time from that moment. I can see the UFC cutting her (they did cut loose Angela Hill), but I hope they keep her around. She is fun to watch and is still improving.
Fredy Serrano defeated Yao Zhikui via TKO at 0:44 of the first round
It was hard to see what exactly happened initially, but no one can fault Zhikui for being unable to go after less than a minute. As Serrano slammed Zhikui to the ground, Zhikui threw his arm out to stop the slam and ended up dislocating his elbow in the process, leaving him unable to continue. What really sucks for him is the injury will probably end his UFC career in an unfortunate way, but no one will say he deserved his earlier UFC win. He is still too raw to be a real threat to anyone else in the division. Though he walked out with the victory, Serrano didn’t get to show if he has been able to improve since his UFC debut. Getting his MMA career started after his athletic prime has passed, Serrano’s window to make a statement is small. Most expected him to beat the inexperienced Zhikui anyway. His next appearance will be his first real test to see if he has any hopes of a notable UFC career.
Marco Beltran defeated Ning Guangyou via split decision
This wasn’t the best way to pick up fans. Neither acquitted themselves well to the Korean crowd, as they largely engaged in tentative standup, with both afraid to commit to any lengthy type of engagement, spending most of the time circling one another. Responding with boos, the crowd let them know how they felt about the display, but it did little to affect the action in the cage until Beltran hurt Guangyou with a punch with about 90 seconds left in the round; that woke up both for the remainder of the bout, and they finally started looking for the finish. I wouldn’t have had a problem had Guangyou walked out with the victory as it was a close fight, but I think I would have rather seen neither walk out with a victory. Beltran may have saved his UFC job as his performance wasn’t exactly impressive. He’ll need to show a greater willingness to engage. Guangyou wasn’t an even bigger culprit as he struggled with Beltran’s length. I think he’ll get one more opportunity for a win, but it won’t be a surprise if he is cut.
Dominique Steele defeated Dong Hyun Kim via TKO at 0:27 of the third round
For a match that a number of people weren’t expecting much out of, this turned out to be a fun fight. Starting out as a brawl with the two throwing heavy leather at one another from the beginning, Steele’s size slowly started to take control from about halfway through the first as he took his smaller opponent to the ground multiple times and he never looked back. Kim, a natural lightweight, was unable to push the larger Steele off of him in the second, as fatigue slowly started to set in on him and he ate a lot of elbows and short punches. By the time the third round started, he offered little resistance on Steele’s takedown attempt, which turned into a hard slam that put Kim out cold with Steele throwing a few more elbows for good measure before the referee pulled him off. Steele clearly has been working at his craft as he didn’t have any of his usual bouts of inactivity and played to his strengths. He still has a long way to go if he wants to stick around long-term, but this was a great start. Kim showed a lot of fire to open the fight. His gas tank was likely depleted in part due to the short notice nature of the fight for him. His next fight will be at 155 and that will tell us a lot more about him.