I walked into this fight night with tempered expectations. Heavyweight fights seem to disappoint more often than not and for some reason I just had a vibe that I was going to walk away with my head down. Fortunately I didn’t. Sure, there were a few fights that left me disappointed (the co-main event, but I had exceptionally low expectations for that anyway), but overall I walked out happy with what I got. A leading front-runner for the Heavyweight Championship staked his claim emphatically for his chance to grab the belt. A former welterweight phenom reignited talks of him being a future contender. And a former title contender at flyweight reminded us that he was young the first time Demetrious Johnson turned him away and that he has plenty of room to grow. A flawless card? No, but it was a good one.
Alistair Overeem defeated Andrei Arlovski via TKO at 1:12 of the second round
It isn’t often that you get a fight that lives up to every expectation, but this one sure as hell did just that. Overeem was expected to win. It happened. These two were expected to unleash a violent stream of action towards one another. They did just that. And both have reputations for being chinny. I don’t know if it would be fair to say, but Arlovski did go down and out in the second round. To his credit the Belarussian did eat a lot of heavy artillery before collapsing to the canvas and wasn’t completely out when the referee stepped in to stop the action. But what a fight! Arlovski scored the first flurry of the fight when he had Overeem against the fence. Overeem responded with some knees from the Muay Thai clinch once the fight was back to the center of the cage and responded with a takedown that didn’t produce much else from that. The second round opened with the pair whiffing on big shots before Overeem started to find his range. Arlovski tried pushing back with his own onslaught without success as Overeem answered with a front kick followed by a punch that dropped the former UFC champion. Overeem capitalized with a series of punches to his downed opponent and it wasn’t long before the referee called the fight.
Considering Cain Velasquez’s inability to stay healthy, most fans would rather see Overeem be the next in line to receive a title shot as he has now won four in a row, with the last two coming in impressive fashion over former UFC champions. In the course of that four-fight winning streak, Velasquez has fought one time, the loss in which he lost his belt. I know that Velasquez is scheduled to return in July against Travis Browne, but with so many possibilities for fresh faces in the title picture, the UFC should capitalize on that opportunity in a division that had grown stale in the minds of most fans while Velasquez reigned. Keep in mind that from 2011 through 2014, Velasquez had only two opponents that he had faced in that time period in Bigfoot Silva and Junior dos Santos. It’s not like Overeem hasn’t done enough to be considered for the title…
Arlovski’s career shouldn’t be considered over by any means. He was competitive with Overeem up until he wasn’t, even if he never had the big Dutchman on the ropes. While it’s likely that his title hopes are over, few ever expected them to reignite once he re-signed with the UFC about two years ago. In other words, don’t count him out. Even if he can’t get back to that level, he can be an efficient gatekeeper into the top 10 for the next few years… provided his chin holds up. It has already been suggested that a matchup with Ben Rothwell makes the most sense and while I’m not opposed to that fight, I think I’d rather see what he can do against Josh Barnett, one of the rare elites from yesteryear in the division whom he has never squared off against.
Stefan Struve defeated Antonio Silva via KO at 0:15 of the first round
I don’t want to say this fight sucked because I don’t want to take anything away from what Struve did… but this fight sucked. Silva has been a shell of himself since the TRT ban and this fight absolutely exemplified that. Silva knew that he couldn’t stand and trade the way he used to so he charged Struve from the go. Struve recognized what was happening and responded appropriately with a knee that sunk Silva to his knees for a desperation takedown. Struve started landing elbows to the head of Silva who went out cold, ending the fight very quickly.
Both of these fighters needed the victory badly as their careers had been on a downswing, and Struve got the bounce back win to keep his UFC career alive. I don’t want to say that he looked spectacular as I’d attribute it more to Silva being done than anything else, but he does deserve a certain amount of credit for doing what he needed to do to walk out with a victory. There aren’t too many fighters out there that make sense to put him against at this point as he has fought most of the competition hovering near the bottom of the rankings, but a fight with Ruslan Magomedov would answer questions about whether or not his career is back on track following his broken jaw and heart issues that derailed him a few years ago. Silva should just retire and this coming from a guy who hates telling fighters when to call it a career. He’s a likeable enough guy and I don’t want to see him taking anymore unnecessary punishment. With one victory over his last seven fights, he needs to face the music and realize that he can’t compete with the elite any longer now that the TRT ban is in effect. It’s too bad since he would be the one fighter that would have a legit reason for the exemption.
Gunnar Nelson defeated Albert Tumenov via submission at 3:15 of the second round
Tune up the Nelson hype train again as he looked absolutely awesome here. Not only did he take Tumenov into his universe and submit him, but he earned Tumenov’s respect on the feet as well right out of the gate by throwing a series of punches before Tumenov could react. Tumenov looked far more tentative than he usually does as a result, though he was still able to land some good body shots. Nelson didn’t wait much longer before looking for the takedown with most of the second half of the first round spent with Tumenov fending off Nelson on the ground with Tumenov able to get back to his feet before the end of the round. The second round saw Tumenov reluctant to fire due to the threat of Nelson’s takedown. Nelson eventually got what he was looking for and eventually got Tumenov to tap to a painful neck crank when Tumenov wouldn’t let him sink in a choke.
Nelson followers have been eating a lot of crow recently after the Iceland native was embarrassed by Demian Maia on the ground in his previous UFC appearance. Now they have something to brag about once again as it wasn’t just the fact that he won, but the way that he won. Tumenov had replaced Nelson as the hottest young contender at 170 and Nelson absolutely made Tumenov look pedestrian on the feet. While Nelson didn’t exactly look like a killer himself as a striker, he did get into Tumenov’s head right away. I see the UFC being more cautious with him moving forward than they have been in the past. Ryan LaFlare and Tarec Saffiedine seem like realistic options, though they both have opponents to get past before that can be considered.
Tumenov’s stock shouldn’t drop far from this as this type of loss is common for young upstarts like himself. He got rattled early in the fight mentally as there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with him physically. Out of all of the Russian fighters that have found success in the UFC, Tumenov has the most aesthetically pleasing style so I think the UFC would have some sort of vested interest in him. Put him in the cage with someone like Ben Saunders and fireworks are a guarantee in addition to a very winnable fight to get him back on track.
Germaine de Randamie defeated Anna Elmose via TKO at 3:46 of the first round
Fantastic action in the short amount of time this lasted. Elmose lived up to her reputation in every way as an aggressive fighter going right at the former kickboxing champion, trying to get the fight to the ground after pushing de Randamie against the fence. She was unable to finish her attempt and once de Randamie was firmly on two legs once again, she locked in the Thai clinch and worked over Elmose with some devastating knees to the head and body. Elmose protected her head after a few shots, so de Randamie went to the stomach and Elmose dropped like a sack of potatoes with the referee jumping in shortly after that.
This was de Randamie’s highlight of her MMA career picking up an exciting win in front of her countrymen. It wasn’t her biggest win as Elmose realistically never should have been in the cage with her (or in the UFC yet in my opinion), but she looked good and it got her back in the cage, someplace she hasn’t been too often in her UFC career with this being only her fourth UFC fight in three years. It has been well documented that she turned down an opportunity to fight Cyborg in order to fight in her home country, but if the opportunity presents itself again that would easily be the best fight to boost her profile. If she is serious about making a measured run at the title though, Lauren Murphy or Raquel Pennington would be other great options. Elmose would be one of those that would benefit greatly if the UFC decides to implement the women’s flyweight division. There are hints of that happening as Joanne Calderwood and Valerie Letourneau will be facing off there, but there is a strong possibility that is a one-off thing too. Otherwise Elmose will need to be fighting someone at the bottom of the barrel as she is not ready for UFC action.
Nikita Krylov defeated Francimar Barroso via submission at 3:11 of the second round
Krylov always has fights than lean more towards the weird and this wasn’t an exception. At least it got an entertaining performance out of Barroso which has been a damn near impossibility for anyone else. Krylov came out aggressive with kicks and punches, forcing Barroso to respond in kind before clinching up with Krylov to slow the action against the fence. The fight would go in and out of the clinch in the first as Krylov would push the action when they broke apart with Barroso trying to slow the action with Krylov doing more damage. The second round started out in a similar fashion before Barroso took Krylov down. Krylov scored a reversal and took Barroso’s back before eliciting a tap from the Brazilian native.
Krylov’s cult following might have something to talk about now as the Ukranian has won four fights in a row, all finishes with this being the first one to go out of the first round. Admittedly he hasn’t faced the toughest of competition, but he can only beat who is put in front of him which is exactly what he has been doing for the last few years now. Still only 23, it wouldn’t be considered rushing him at this point to put him in there with a ranked opponent at this point. Ilir Latifi has been on a similar run and is without an opponent so he would be an opponent that makes a lot of sense. Barroso will need a win for sure in his next outing as his grinding style has made him a target of vitriol for fans… at least those that know who he is. Until that comes to pass he is ideal for weeding out those who belong in the UFC and those who don’t.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz defeated Heather Clark via unanimous decision
Is it possible that the UFC has a potential title contender on its hands in Kowalkiewicz? It is still too early to tell, but Kowalkiewicz didn’t do anything to make her believers think otherwise as she picked apart a tough and game Clark over the course of 15 minutes. The first round was fairly close as Clark pushed the action against the fence most of the time with the striking exchanges not doing much to separate one fighter from the other. Kowalkiewicz landed a spinning back kick before the round ended to swing the momentum in her favor from there and never relinquished it again. Using slick punching combinations, Kowalkiewicz worked over Clark from there with a high volume as Clark continued to push forward. Even when Clark was able to push the fight against the fence, Kowalkiewicz fought out of it with knees and short elbows to bloody up Clark.
Kowalkiewicz shouldn’t be considered for a title shot yet, though she is well within range of receiving an opportunity within a year or so. She has received a pair of opponents known as grapplers upon her UFC entrance and passed both of those tests with flying colors thus far. She certainly deserves a step up in competition against the likes of Michelle Waterson. It may even be possible to match up with Rose Namajunas as Namajunas doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to receive a title shot until she feels she is ready. Clark looked pretty good considering she was coming off of a long injury layoff though it is clear she is at an athletic disadvantage against the vast majority of the division. She can continue to remain a tough test for those sitting at the bottom of the rankings or just outside of them. At 35 though, it doesn’t seem likely that she’ll be making a run at the title.
Rustam Khabilov defeated Chris Wade via unanimous decision
Overall this fight went very much as expected, though there were a few exciting moments that were a bit surprising. Khabilov was able to use his strength advantage to out-muscle Wade in the first and third round in addition to landing some powerful punches as well as a flying knee that rocked the American. He came close to finishing the fight at the end of the first round before pulling back a bit and absolutely dominated the final round to the point that I was surprised he didn’t get a 10-8 from the judges. Wade landed an impressive flying switch kick in the second round that put the Dagestani representative on the ground which also allowed Wade to take the round (in most observers books), only for Khabilov to recover quickly and limit the amount of damage Wade was able to do.
Khabilov has gotten his career back on track after dropping two in a row and should be in line to challenge a ranked opponent once again. It’s easy to forget that he is still only 29 as he was rushed into top competition in a hurry, facing former UFC champion Benson Henderson in his fourth UFC appearance. That’s a hell of a jump from facing Vinc Pichel in his debut. He has gotten some more seasoning now against more reasonable competition and would be a good matchup for the likes of Evan Dunham or Al Iaquinta. Wade’s flying switch kick showed that he has been working on his striking, but it felt a bit fluky as he was unable to put together any fluid striking outside of the occasional flash like that. Considering Wade’s best offense is his wrestling and grappling, it was well known that he was going to struggle to implement his offense. A step down in competition that allow him to develop a consistent striking game would be good for his development at this stage.
Magnus Cedenblad defeated Garreth McLellan via TKO at 0:47 of the second round
The end result wasn’t surprising, but how we got there sure as hell was. To notable grinders didn’t really do any grinding as Cedenblad stalked McLellan for the course of the bout as the South African circled on the outside of the cage. McLellan would throw the occasional kick or punch with little steam behind them as Cedenblad looked to counter with his massive reach and did so with success, stunning McLellan with a knockdown in the first to establish his dominance early. The second round started much the same before Cedenblad threw a head kick that went right through McLellan’s glove to again stun him. Cedenblad followed up with a series of uppercuts that went unanswered before the referee stepped in to stop the contest.
Cedenblad had been embarrassed at his previous UFC appearances after 19 months away from the sport and wanted to make a statement to show that he has greatly improved his standup. Mission accomplished, though he couldn’t have had a better opponent to do just that than McLellan who is near the bottom of the barrel of the division. That still makes four wins in a row for the big Swede and there should be no question that he deserves a definite step up in competition. At 34, his time to make a run would seem to be limited. The winner of next weeks Thiago Santos-Nate Marquardt bout seems appropriate. McLellan will assuredly be fighting for his job in his next appearance. He was never competitive in this fight while offering no hope for improvement any time soon.
Josh Emmett defeated Jon Tuck via split decision
All the credit in the world to Emmett for picking up a win on short notice halfway across the world. He made weight in a short time, he didn’t gas despite the short notice, and dealt with a broken finger late in the fight to walk out of his UFC debut with a victory. Using a pressuring attack that kept Tuck moving backwards, that pressure prevented Tuck from throwing with much power while Emmett was able to land with authority to give him the distinct advantage in the eyes of the judges. He kept the approach up for two and a half rounds before his finger broke as he deflected a kick from Tuck which allowed Tuck to take the last round as Emmett was forced to play keep away as he could no longer use his left hand. It was too late for Tuck by then despite the barrage he put on in the closing minute as he couldn’t put away Emmett.
This was easily the best version of Emmett that I’ve ever seen. While he did resort to a bit of brawling in the course of the fight, he actually put together some solid boxing combinations as he used good angles to do his damage to Tuck. Even more surprising is that he didn’t need to use his wrestling which seemed to be the biggest advantage that he had over Tuck. Perhaps he avoided it to keep from gassing though there is no reason to speculate why at this point as he emerged with the victory. It’s hard to label him a prospect as he is already 31. He deserves the chance to work his way up though and I expect he’ll get a sizeable jump in competition… and a full camp. Tuck’s stock is probably at an all-time low with the loss. He isn’t going to be cut, but not being able to put away an opponent who not only took the fight on short notice but also was forced to fight the last few minutes with one hand looks very bad.
Reza Madadi defeated Yan Cabral via TKO at 1:56 of the third round
Thank goodness for the finish as there was nothing else worth mentioning in this fight. Most of the fight was spent in the clinch against the fence as both competitors looked to take the other down without finding much success. As a result, it was a close fight heading into the final round thanks to pretty much nothing happening of note. Madadi opened the round landing a hard right hand to give him some confidence in his fists. Cabral couldn’t finish his takedown that followed shortly after which allowed Madadi to capitalize with more punches once he got the opening which put Cabral out on his feet to give Madadi his first win in three years.
Madadi was highly emotional after the fight, understandably so considering his recent prison stint and that the win probably saved his job. He turns 36 next month meaning that his ceiling is very limited so don’t expect the UFC to do him any favors in terms of his next matchup. He is durable as hell with no quit in him which makes up for his physical limitations which should also make him an ideal opponent for youngsters in need of a test. Cabral has probably reached the end of his UFC run. He has lost three of his last four and none of his contests have been particularly entertaining by any means. The lack of entertainment value to his fights will probably keep him from returning.
Kyoji Horiguchi defeated Neil Seery via unanimous decision
I fully expected Horiguchi to win handily, but this was beyond impressive. I’m trying to figure out what in the hell the two judges who scored the fight 30-27 were thinking as Horiguchi scored two knockdowns in the first round to easily take that round 10-8; he cruised from there as he continued to land hard shots, even scoring a third knockdown in the third round. That doesn’t even mentioning Horiguchi taking the fight to the ground pretty much whenever he wanted. Seery never quit, bouncing up to his feet as quickly as he could while landing some shots and looking for submissions when given the opportunity to show why MMA fans were excited about this fight despite it being so one-sided even heading into the fight.
The bottom line is that Horiguchi has never looked better. The UFC broadcast teams have a tendency to overhype a fighter moving to a different camp (among other things), but you won’t hear me complaining about the amount of hype that they gave to his move to ATT. He put together his most complete and dominating performance by far. While a finish would have been nice, Seery is one of the toughest bastards in the sport with Horiguchi coming closer to finishing him with strikes than anyone else ever has. It would be inexcusable to have him fighting unranked opponents any more… but I don’t know what fight makes sense for him at this point as the majority of the highly ranked flyweights are coming off of losses and those who aren’t are already booked (or soon to be). The traditional rule of matching winners with winners and losers with losers will probably be broken here. I like the idea of Horiguchi facing grappler extraordinaire Jussier Formiga next.
Seery’s stock shouldn’t take a hit despite being completely dominated. He’s always been athletically limited in comparison to the rest of the division yet has been able to largely hold his own. There was simply too big of a gulf for him to overcome physically this time as Horiguchi is among the best athletes the division has to offer. He’ll remain a veteran test for the rest of the division as he is incredibly difficult to put away. A bout with the likes of Dustin Ortiz or Zach Makovsky seems about right.
Leon Edwards defeated Dominic Waters via unanimous decision
The striker walked out with the win in this striker vs. grappler affair despite the grappler being able to make it his style of fight. Edwards did land a few good punches that ended up being the difference for each round, including a knee that dropped Waters at the end of the third round in the middle of a takedown attempt that solidified the third round for the Englishman. Waters certainly had his moments including a hell of an impressive suplex near the end of the second round while showing improved technique on his feet. The issue is that Edwards showed plenty of improvement in his area of weakness with his wrestling and grappling, stifling and countering most of Waters attempts to go to the ground to continue moving up the welterweight ladder.
Edwards is flying under the radar as he doesn’t have a boisterous personality to boost his profile along with his impressive 8 second KO of Seth Baczynski being seen by so few people as it was on a Fight Pass card. He’s worth monitoring if he continues to improve his wrestling and grappling as he is already a hell of a striking threat. Hopefully the UFC can remain patient with him as seasoning is what he needs more than anything and the UFC has been notorious for giving prospects too much too soon. Waters will be fighting elsewhere for his next fight as that loss puts him at 0-3 in the UFC. It was easily his best showing as it was closer than the 30-27 scores would indicate which should give him hope that he can make it back. His best hope will be better learning to utilize his 79″reach from range.
Ulka Sasaki defeated Willie Gates via submission at 3:30 of the second round
Is it fair to call this an upset? There were a lot of doubts floating around Sasaki as he had looked mediocre at best in his last two appearances in addition to whether or not he’d be able to make the weight cut down to 125. He made it and even controlled the fight for the vast majority of the fight as Gates only real moment of control was a brief time period near the end of the first round when he landed some good strikes. That was it though as he had nothing to counter Sasaki’s suffocating pressure. The key was Sasaki maintained his position, letting the submission present itself rather than forcing the issue and a RNC formulated about half way through the second round. It may have taken a while for him to sink it in, but the fact he got it is all that matters.
Physically, Sasaki looked like a skeleton. Despite that the results were good as he was able to bully Gates in way that he had been unable to do in his last few fights which put him back on the winning track while also keeping his job in the UFC. It appears he has found a new home at 125. Despite that, I can’t help but take this result with a grain of salt as Gates has been known as a poor grappler. Rather than proclaim him as the new prospect to watch at flyweight, I’m going to be cautious with his potential. I don’t expect to see Gates around in the UFC any longer as the loss drops him to 1-3 with his lone win coming over winless (in the UFC) Darrell Montague. He could work his way back and his highlight striking will help in that endeavor (as well as a lack of depth at flyweight), though I’m not sold on that happening.
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