These two Welterweights had moved over to the UFC from the WEC when they dissolved their 170lbs division, and both men had been 1-0 in that organization, with American Top Teamís Villefort looking especially promising in his win over Mike Campbell. Lennox meanwhile sported an overall record of 10-1 and was fighting out of the Miletich camp. Being perennially biased towards ATT fighters and having been impressed with Villefort (the godson of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira!) in the WEC, I was expecting him to pick up the win via submission.
Round One begins and they circle off...and literally ten seconds in the crowd begin to boo as, well, I guess they havenít wildly traded yet. Ahh, Philly fans. Lennox blocks a high kick as they continue to circle, and then Villefort lands a hard leg kick. Big knee to the body lands for Villefort and then Lennox clinches, but Villefort blocks a takedown and then hits a nice outside trip to put Lennox on his back. Right hand lands over the top and then Villefort kicks at the legs while Lennox is on his back. Villefort lands a right and then drops into side mount, but the Miletich fighter manages to give his back and escape to his feet. Step-in elbow misses for Villefort and they exchange knees. Left lands for Lennox and Villefort goes on the retreat for a moment. Leg kick from Villefort. They circle out and Villefort throws a body kick, but Lennox catches it and throws him down before waving him back up. Spinning back kick from Villefort almost lands flush to the jaw but instead just glances off. They clinch and Villefort lands a nice elbow, but Lennox comes back with a right hand. One minute to go and Villefortís using his length to keep Lennox at bay nicely. Announcers mention that Villefort mightíve hurt his hand as heís throwing with an open palm. Spinning back kick lands nicely to the body for the Brazilian, but Lennox comes back with a right hand counter to a low kick that drops Villefort to his back on the buzzer. Good opening round, Iíd go 10-9 for Danillo Villefort.
Second round and they circle out and exchange from distance and Villefortís still throwing with open hands, which earns him a warning from the ref. Didnít know slaps were illegal. Lennox begins to push the pace more now and gets in some decent strikes, before landing a big uppercut that stuns the Brazilian. Villefort gets on the retreat to recover, but Lennox is outlanding him now and he lands a right to counter a leg kick that catches Villefort off balance and drops him down. Lennox forces him back to his feet and a right hand-left hook combo lands nicely. Leg kick and head kick land for Villefort but donít have much effect. Right hand drops Villefort to his back again and Lennox flurries before stepping out of the guard and forcing the Brazilian back up. Jumping kick is blocked by Lennox but Villefort comes back with a clipping overhand right and a solid knee to the face. Beautiful leg kick from Villefort but a follow-up head kick is blocked. Good left to the body from Lennox. Spinning back kick wildly misses for Villefort and Lennox catches him with a combo. Less than a minute to go now and they trade some punches and jabs before Villefort hits him with another hard leg kick. Lennox keeps pushing forward and lands a superman punch into a right hand. Round ends with another striking exchange, and Villefort then hits a takedown waaay after the buzzer. Better round for Lennox and Iíd score it 10-9 for him, so itís even going into the third.
Third round and both men come out looking aggressive, but its Lennox that lands with a big right that wobbles the Brazilianís legs. Villefort waves him on and Lennox throws a body kick and then avoids a wild attempt at getting the fight to the ground. Another combo lands for Lennox and heís clearly pushing the action now. Head kick almost lands for Villefort but Lennox blocks it just about. Knee lands for Villefort but Lennox quickly breaks the clinch. Combo from Lennox puts Villefort on the retreat again before a spinning back kick lands to the ribs ineffectively. Takedown attempt from Villefort and he winds up on his back, but this time Lennox decides to stay in the guard to land some punches. Villefort wastes no time in locking up an armbar from the bottom, and sure enough it looks pretty deep! He flips Lennox over and looks to finish it off, but somehow Lennox slips free and stands out of the guard! Ref calls Villefort to his feet and then calls time for a cut over Villefortís right eye, and then even before the doctor can come in the ref throws the fight out, apparently Villefort told him he couldnít see.
Crowd boo pretty wildly and I can understand that. Villefort looks VERY pissed off and canít believe its been stopped, and really itís confusing to me too Ė not only does the replay show that the cut was caused by an accidental headbutt (which to me would mean a No Contest), but Villefort only said he couldnít see because I guess he wanted the doctor to check the cut and clean the blood out of his eyes. Total fuck-up by the referee in my book. Fight was pretty exciting for the most part and both men fought well, and with the controversial finish it makes it even more confusing that Zuffa cut Villefort after this show Ė I mean, why would you cut a young guy who clearly has talent like that? Regardless, this was one of the better PPV openers of 2009.
Australian Sotiropoulos had been on the shelf for well over a year prior to this, his last fight being an April 2008 win over Roman Mitichyan. He was matched with a fellow TUF veteran here in TUF 8ís Roop, a man who I honestly didnít expect to give Sotiropoulos many problems given the Australianís overall skill level.
Fight begins and Roop looks to use his reach to keep the distance and strike, but Sotiropoulos shows some good head movement to avoid the shots and then gets a single leg off a botched flying knee. Quick guard pass puts Sotiropoulos in side mount and impresses the hell out of Joe Rogan. Full mount follows and Roop is in deep trouble early. Roop tries to squirm and Sotiropoulos moves to a higher mount, but this allows Roop to spin over and escape to his feet. Flurry from Roop but it doesnít land cleanly, although he manages to stuff a takedown. Roop continues to push with strikes, but a heavy one-two lands for Greek George and puts Roop on rubber legs. Clinch from Sotiropoulos and he works to drag Roop to the ground, taking his back as they hit the mat. He gets one hook in and works for the second one, finally ending up on top in half-guard. Slick guard pass puts Greek George in side mount and he begins to work for a kimura, then uses that to spin and take Roopís back. This guy is SLICK. He works for the rear naked choke and then switches off to an armbar, but Roop shows some good defense and pops free into the Australianís guard. Sotiropoulos goes into crackhead control from his back, and then the round ends there. Roop got WORKED in that round.
Into the 2nd and Sotiropoulos pushes forward and lands a right hand. Flying knee misses for Roop and he eats a knee from Greek George for his troubles. Takedown from Sotiropoulos and he quickly passes into full mount. The Australian lands some punches as Roop attempts to use the cage to flip his way out, but Sotiropoulos retains mount and lands some elbows. Roop manages to buck and kick him away, but George drops back into side mount and this time he grabs a far-side kimura and gets the leg over Roopís head, twisting the arm up for the tapout. Nice.
One-sided squash for the most part as Sotiropoulos just outclassed Roop on the ground and really it was only a matter of time before he tapped Roop out, as he was even outlanding the TUF 8 veteran on the feet too. Impressive showing for the Australian who might be one of the more underrated guys to come off the more recent TUF seasons. His guard passing especially was a thing of beauty.
These two had been castmates on TUF 7 and were generally considered to be two of the more talented young guys to come off that season and had won three UFC fights between them at this stage. Itís this sort of fight actually that shows you how much UFC has changed since say, 2003-4, when it wouldíve been incredibly rare to see a guy with a 1-0 record facing a guy with a 2-0 record in the Octagon Ė this probably wouldíve been happening in King of the Cage or something! Thatís not a knock on their talent levels or anything, more just an observation.
First round begins and Cramer looks to exchange early on, but Riddle gets a clinch and lands a good knee to the body before looking for the takedown. Cramer works to defend, but Riddle forces him into the cage. Cramer stuffs it though and they break off. Right hand from Cramer and then Riddle tries a headlock takedown, but gives his back as they go down and Cramer looks for a suplex as they stand. Standing kimura attempt from Riddle but he lets go and Cramer still has a rear waistlock. Cramer drags him down, but Riddle quickly reverses and comes back to his feet, forcing Cramer into the cage before dropping for a double leg. Cramer tries to defend again and then jumps guard for a guillotine, and it looks tight as you can actually see Riddleís spine stretching out! Cramer really cranks on it, but itís an arm-in choke and Riddle manages to pop his head free. Some chopping punches to the body land for Riddle and then he passes into half-guard and lands some punches as Cramer turns and practically gives his back. Riddle gets one hook in, but Cramer escapes to his feet. Single leg attempt from Riddle but Cramer works to defend and then lands a heavy right hand from the clinch. Riddle drops for the takedown again, but once more Cramer defends it before eating a right hand. Double leg attempt from Riddle, but Cramer defends it and the round ends there. Fun first round and itís a hard one to score too. Iíd probably lean to Cramer by a hair though.
2nd round and Riddle lands with a nice body kick before taking Cramer down into half-guard with a beautiful double leg. Crowd begin to get a little restless as Riddle punches at the body, then works into side mount. Cramer tries to squirm out and looks to work to his feet, but he gives up his back and Riddle gets one hook in. Looks like the fence is preventing him from getting the other hook, but Riddle punches at the head and then gets the second hook in. Cramer looks in trouble now as Riddle flattens him out and lands some punches, but he loses a hook and it allows Cramer to roll to half-guard. Big elbow lands for Riddle as he works to pass the guard, but Cramer does a decent job of getting back to full guard. Riddle works to pass though and takes the back again with one hook like before, and it looks like his pace is gassing Cramer out as heís breathing pretty heavily. Second hook is sunk in and Riddle lands some shots to the head and then he looks for the choke, but Cramer tucks his chin to defend and the round ends shortly after. This round was all Matthew Riddle.
Third and final round and Riddle throws a kick and gets dropped by a right from Cramer, but it looked more like he was off balance than he was hurt and he gets full guard. Riddle tries an armbar from the bottom and it looks pretty tight, but Cramer slips out and Riddle tries to transition to a triangle before using the opportunity to steal top position. Knees to the body from Riddle and he ends up in half-guard where he peppers Cramer with punches. Cramer looks cut now as Riddle continues to work him over with punches to the face and elbows to the body. Big elbows smash down into Cramerís face and heís bleeding pretty badly. Riddle looks to take the back again and lands some vicious elbows from that position, then he gets full mount. Cramer rolls and gives his back, and takes some more punches as Riddle works for a rear naked choke. Cramer manages to roll into half-guard though, showing a lot of heart, and the fight ends with Cramer escaping to his feet and swinging for the fences.
Iíve got this a pretty clear-cut 29-28 decision for Matthew Riddle, but for two inexperienced guys this was fun as hell. Judges have it 29-27, 30-26 and 30-27 all for Riddle. Story of the fight was basically that Riddleís pace gassed Cramer out and he was able to grind him out, even if he never truly came close to finishing. Like Villefort earlier in the card, Cramer was released from his contract following this one, but as a young and talented guy I suspect heíll pick up some wins on the smaller circuit and then return. Decent fight overall.
Originally Italian boxer Sakara wouldíve faced Rousimar ĎToquinhoí Palhares here in a fight that almost certainly wouldíve seen him taken down and submitted, but Toquinho busted his leg in training and so Leites Ė fresh off his dire loss to Anderson Silva in his Middleweight Title fight Ė stepped up to take the match. With Leites also being a big-time BJJ player I expected the result to stay the same though and figured this would probably be Sakaraís last hurrah in the UFC.
Weíre underway and Sakara keeps a very low stance, looking to avoid the takedown. Leites shoots with a double leg, but Sakara manages to defend it pretty well and breaks off. Pair of kicks miss for Sakara and he remains on his back foot looking to avoid the takedown. Combo narrowly misses for the Italian and to be frank both of these guys look horribly tentative here. Single leg gets Sakara down and Leites lands with a big left, but he drops off balance in doing so and that allows Sakara to scramble back to his feet and get the hell outta dodge. Good combo from Sakara but Leites isnít hurt and he continues to play the aggressor, pushing forward as Sakara remains on his bike. Crowd begin to shower the cage with boos as Sakara clips him with a left hook. Ankle pick from a mile away misses for Leites and the crowd are disgusted now as Sakara looks like he could open up on the Brazilian but wonít for fear of the takedown. Round ends with Leites missing a jumping knee. Awful round but Iíd score it for Leites as he was at least somewhat aggressive.
Into the 2nd and Leites pushes forward with a flurry but still fails in getting the Italian to the ground. He keeps pushing though and finally the takedown comes and Sakara turns and gives his back pretty easily. Leites gets one hook in and chops away at the head, but Sakara manages a nice scramble and escapes to his feet. They break off and Sakara lands a left hook to the body and a right body kick too. Leites keeps pressing forward swinging, and another takedown follows. He ends up in half-guard and lands a few elbows, and then Sakara slips out and almost puts himself into a DíArce. Leites transitions to the back from there, but Sakara manages to slip free and winds up in top position. The Italian escapes to his feet and tries a high kick before landing a right that catches Leites off balance and drops him down, but Sakara wants nothing to do with the guard and stands off, forcing Leites back up. Good left hook from Sakara as he avoids a takedown. Action slows down as Sakara does very little outside of defending strikes from Leites, and when he does land a knee to the body Leites tackles him to the ground and passes to full mount. Punches from the Brazilian but Sakara gets a hip escape to half-guard. Itís momentary though as Leites passes to side mount and then full mount again, and he finishes the round in the position landing elbows. Got to be Leitesí round 10-9 so I have him up 20-18 overall.
Weíre into the third round now and Leites lands a leg kick as Sakara stays on the outside and throws out some jabs. Good right hand counter from the Italian but thereís minimal action here and the crowd are not happy. Sakara is in full Kalib Starnes mode here in fact, circling on the outside and avoiding Leites every time he comes forward. Single leg from Leites but Sakara does a good job of exploding out of it. Another takedown gets stuffed and now thereís so little happening that referee Marc Goddard has to call time to remind them that this is a contact sport. HA. Though itíd be funnier if this fight didnít suck quite so much. Leites at least keeps pushing forward and he gets a takedown, and from there he manages to take the Italianís back. Sakara manages to scramble though and slips free to his feet. Leites stays down in the crab position to the disgust of the crowd and Goddard has to bring him back up. Good leg kick from Leites though. Hopping kick lands low for Leites but Sakara shakes it off and then throws an ineffective combo before getting on his bike to end the round. Crowd donít like this one bit.
Well, I donít see how you can reward such a cowardly gameplan and give the fight to Sakara, so Iíd score this 30-27 for Thales Leites. Judges inexplicably have it a split decision though, 29-28 Sakara, 30-27 Leites and 29-28 for Alessio Sakara. Thatís got to be up there with the worst decisions of the year, even if Leites didnít do all that much to earn the win either. Shockingly Leites got released after this loss, although when you consider his terrible showing in the Anderson Silva fight then maybe itís not that much of a shock. This was a pretty atrocious fight overall though and Iíd put most of the blame on Sakara, as he looked too worried about the takedown Ė even after escaping some nasty positions on the ground Ė to properly open up and instead spent the majority of the fight doing his best impression of Kalib Starnes. Dire stuff.
Pretty insane size difference here as Howardís 5í7Ē to McCroryís 6í4Ē. In fact McCrory had struggled to make 170lbs for this fight as heís a young guy and at 6í4Ē his frame is naturally going to put muscle on as he gets older, so most were expecting this to be his final fight at Welterweight. As far as a pick went I didnít really have a clue which way to go as both guys are pretty solid fighters overall.
First Round begins and Howard opens with a hard leg kick. McCrory checks a second one and then lands a good combo before grabbing a guillotine and pulling guard. Howard works free and McCrory takes top position for a moment, but Howard rolls him over and winds up in a triangle! He manages to pull free though, and then drops back into the guard which surprises Rogan. McCrory ties him up from the bottom and then throws up an oma plata, before coming back to his feet as Howard escapes. Good leg kick again from Howard and they exchange punches into a clinch. Good takedown from the Barn Cat and he ends up on top in half-guard. Howard works a butterfly back into full guard and McCrory tries to stand to pass, but Howard escapes to his feet. Takedown attempt from Howard but this time McCrory jumps for a flying triangle, only to get slammed down to the ground. McCrory looks for a single leg, but Howard stuffs it and goes into the Barn Catís guard. Howard doesnít do much with top position though as McCrory does a good job defensively, and eventually referee Mario Yamasaki brings them to their feet. Seconds to go and Howard hits another leg kick and then gets a takedown off another flying triangle attempt. Reversal by McCrory though and he secures a takedown to end the round. Close round to score there, but Iíd lean towards McCrory.
Round Two and McCrory pushes forward, but a left high kick is blocked and Howard hits a double leg to guard. Little happens and then Howard stands back up over the downed McCrory and kicks at the legs before he gets up. Combo from the Barn Cat is blocked and Howard catches a body kick and takes him down again. Howard passes into half-guard and then lands a couple of elbows as Tamdan looks for a sweep, and sure enough he gets to his feet. Howard grabs a guillotine though and pulls guard, but McCrory quickly slips his head free. Right hand from McCrory and he keeps top position well, looking to pass the guard. Action slows a little as McCrory passes into half-guard, and he almost mounts but Howard explodes to his feet and takes a knee from a front facelock. Guillotine attempt from McCrory follows, but Howard slips free as they go down and winds up in the guard. Scramble from Tamdan but he remains in full guard with little happening. Howard decides to stand free and kicks the legs, before Tamdan gets up and Howard goes for a crazy diving scissor heel hook to close the round. Another close round but this time Iíd lean towards Howard.
Third and final round and Tamdan begins with a good leg kick. Both men throw some kicks that donít really land and then Howard gets a takedown to the guard again. McCrory tries to lock up the rubber guard into a triangle, but Howard lifts him up and slams his way free nicely. Howard decides to stand free from the guard now and brings the fight back to standing. Good leg kick from Howard. McCrory shoots but Howard stuffs it and then the Barn Cat hits a SICK overhead suplex, but he canít keep hold of Howard and Doomsday scrambles free and winds up in top position in guard. That was an unlucky break for McCrory. Sweep attempt from the Barn Cat is unsuccessful and Howard keeps top position. Referee stands them up after some inactivity and this time Howard gets a BIG SLAM down to half-guard. He looks to pass and gets into side mount, and from there McCrory tries to get a single leg and does get a reversal, winding up on top in the guard. He canít do much from the position though and it looks like itís too little, too late. Fight ends with Howard scrambling to his feet and landing a leg kick. Iíve got that round for John Howard giving him the win 29-28.
Judges have it as another split decision, 29-28 Howard, 29-28 McCrory and 29-28 for John ĎDoomsdayí Howard to take the win. Well, the right guy got the victory this time after the bogus decision in the last fight. This was a solid fight with some bright spots like Howardís slams and McCroryís sick suplex, but there were a lot of dead points too, mainly when neither guy could do any damage in the otherís guard. The loss was also enough to earn McCrory his release, which surprised me, but I think the idea is that heíll pick up some wins at 185lbs on the smaller circuit before returning. At least I hope so anyway because heís usually an exciting fighter.
This was an interesting fight as both men were looking to break into the upper echelon of the division and had seen some good results coming in, with Neer tapping Mac Danzig in February while Pellegrino was riding a two-fight winning streak and had submitted Rob Emerson last time out. This was another difficult fight to pick, but I was leaning towards the gritty Neer to use his superior conditioning to gut out a win, probably by decision.
We get started and Neer looks for some strikes early, landing a combo and a head kick that Pellegrino just about blocks. Kurt looks for the takedown and gets a BIG SLAM down to side mount, but right away Neer scrambles to guard. Neerís butterfly guard is really good actually and he does a good job of keeping Pellegrino there as Batman looks to pass. Neer looks for an armbar from his back, but Kurtís a hard guy to catch and he pulls out and lands some hammer fists. Pellegrino stacks up, but Neer stays very active from his back and gets another armbar, but this time Kurt slams his way out. Neer keeps moving from his back and almost gets a sweep from the butterfly guard, but Kurt avoids it and keeps top position. Couple of decent punches land for Pellegrino but Neer remains in spider mode from his back and keeps going for submissions. Good elbow lands for Kurt as he passes into half-guard, but Neer works back to full guard. Pellegrino passes to half-guard again and stays there to close the round out. Well, the round was very even but Iím always a fan of guys who try to finish from their back and really Pellegrino didnít do much damage from the top, so Iíd go Neer 10-9.
Second round and Neer pushes forward with some strikes, landing a very good leg kick. Pellegrino keeps on his back foot and they exchange some decent combos before Pellegrino ducks for a takedown. Neer shrugs it off, but takes a right hand and Kurt shoots on a single leg again. Neer looks to defend, but he ends up on his back and again uses the butterfly guard. They exchange some elbows from the guard as Pellegrino looks to pass, and he avoids a triangle and postures up. Neer starts gesturing now that Pellegrinoís doing nothing, but that wonít earn him a stand-up as Kurt lands a couple of short right hands. Neer remains active from his back, but not as much as he was in the earlier round and this time Pellegrinoís grinding him out. Triangle attempt from Neer but Pellegrino tries to turn through it to pass guard. He canít get around though and ends up dropping punches back into the full guard. This is quite the technical fight actually. Finally Kurt manages to pass and gets full mount off a botched kimura attempt, and now Neer gives his back and Pellegrino gets both hooks in! Crowd seem educated as theyíre popping like mad for this too. Neer works to defend the rear naked choke and with just seconds remaining he manages to survive the round. That round definitely goes to Pellegrino so I have it 19-19, but the judges likely gave Kurt the first too meaning Neer needs to stop him in the third to win.
Round Three and Pellegrino opens with a body kick. Neer pushes forward, and lands a body kick of his own, but Pellegrino hits a sweet double leg and puts him on his back in guard again. Neer again shifts his hips and it looks like heís transitioning to a leglock, but Pellegrinoís having none of that and he keeps top position nicely. Good elbow from Kurt and then Neer goes for an oma plata/toehold combo, but Pellegrino pulls out and continues to grind from the top position. Kurt works into half-guard but Neer again gets the butterfly back in. Neer begins to talk trash to him from underneath and even gives him a couple of slaps, but Pellegrino is still on top and heís still landing punches and elbows, grinding out the fight. Pellegrino works into half-guard and continues to work before mounting, but Neer manages to roll him over and take top position for the first time. Neer lands a couple of elbows and punches, but Kurt explodes back to his feet and works for another takedown. Neer stuffs it and lands some solid elbows to the side of the head, but Kurt drops for a single leg and continues to eat elbows as the round ends.
This has to be a clear-cut decision for Kurt Pellegrino and sure enough the judges all have it 30-27 for ĎBatmaní. Good technical fight, but it got a little tiresome later on as Neer wasnít able to stop the takedown, but he was so good off his back that Pellegrino was unable to do much damage, but in turn he was so good from the top position that Neer wasnít able to catch him, meaning for the most part they cancelled one another out. Still, not the worst fight of all time or anything even if it wasnít all that memorable. Very good win for Pellegrino who picks up his first win on a UFC main card.
Coming in Almeida had said that this would be his last fight at 185lbs before dropping to 170lbs, which surprised me a bit as I never had him pegged as a small Middleweight. At this point Grove was a bit of a question mark as while heíd won two in a row over Evan Tanner and Jason Day, his chin still remained a big problem and on the ground Almeida had a big advantage. I thought on paper this was a bad fight for Grove and figured Almeida would probably stun him on the feet before getting a submission on the ground.
We get underway and Almeida wastes no time in closing the distance and looking for the takedown. Grove looks to stuff it and works to get the plum clinch, but Almeida forces him back into the cage. Grove works to escape and lands an elbow, but Ricardo drops for a double leg and continues to put pressure on the Hawaiian. Grove does a good job of avoiding the takedown and breaks off. Big right hand from Almeida as he closes in but Grove actually doesnít look too badly stunned by it. He avoids a couple more wild swings and lands a big kick to the body, but Almeida catches the leg and drives him into the fence again. Good knees to the body from Kendall and he works a front headlock, but Almeida gets a deep single leg and keeps going for the takedown. Big Dog finally manages to trip Grove to the ground, where he gets a full guard. Almeida postures up and looks to pass over Groveís long legs, but he ends up in the guard again before slipping into half-guard. Almeida looks to pass into side mount and then almost takes the back as Grove turtles up, but he canít get a second hook in due to the cage and Kendall manages to get to his feet. Almeida drives him into the fence again and drops for another double leg, and this time he elevates the TUF winner and slams him down to half-guard. Round ends with Almeida in top position. 10-9 for Big Dog I guess as he was more aggressive and got Kendall off his feet twice.
2nd round and Almeida lands the right hand and quickly changes levels, drives in and gets a double leg to guard. Kendall works a tight guard and then pivots for an armbar, and incredibly it looks deep! Almeida looks in DEEP TROUBLE as Kendall cranks on the arm, but Big Dog somehow slips out. Damn, that was close and it wouldíve been a monstrous upset if heíd have tapped Almeida. Ricardo winds up back in the guard and pins him into the fence, where he lands a few short punches as Grove stays active from his back. Body triangle from Grove controls Big Dog a bit but he continues to work the Hawaiian over with some short elbows. Action slows down a lot in Kendallís guard but Almeida begins to land some decent ground-and-pound before using a kneebar attempt from Grove to pass to side mount. The Hawaiian manages to regain half-guard but he takes some vicious elbows from Almeida before Grove scrambles to his feet. Almeida stays right on him and works for another trip, but Grove separates and cracks him with an uppercut and a hard knee. Almeida drops for another takedown and manages to get it right at the end of the round. Well, Grove came mad close with that armbar but Iíd still give the round to Almeida for his general control and his ground-and-pound.
Into Round Three and Kendall pushes forward, but takes a couple of leg kicks early before Ricardo shoots on a single leg and gets Grove down again. Kendall manages to work back up to his feet and he stuffs another takedown, getting a good knee to the body in before breaking off. Good left hook by Kendall and now Almeidaís starting to look tired. He drops down for some sort of submission that doesnít work and Grove lands a hammer fist before bringing it back up to the feet. Good leg kick from Almeida and he follows with a right hand, but his pace has definitely slowed down. They clinch up and Grove forces him into the cage before breaking off. Good double leg from Almeida puts Grove on his back once again, narrowly missing hitting the referee in the process. Big Dog postures up but doesnít do much damage, instead taking some elbows from the bottom. Action slows down before Grove manages to escape to his feet, but he canít do any damage standing and Almeida looks for another takedown as the round ends.
Judges score it a unanimous decision for Ricardo Almeida, 30-27, 30-27 and 30-27. Pretty much a shutout win for Big Dog outside of Groveís armbar attempt in the second round, but it wasnít the most entertaining fight of all time, in fact it was almost a copy of the Neer-Pellegrino fight in that Grove was decent enough from his back to avoid major damage and stave off the offense of Almeida, but he couldnít avoid the takedown nor could he do anything to hurt Big Dog standing before the inevitable takedown was finished. I mean donít get me wrong, it wasnít a bad fight by any means, but itís not one Iíll be looking to rewatch over and over.
This to me was the most interesting fight on the card outside of the two main events as Hendricks Ė another import from the WEC Ė was a guy Iíd had pegged as a future star since I heard he was coming into MMA, thanks to his stellar wrestling background (more decorated than even Josh Koscheck I believe!). TUF 7 winner Amir meanwhile had been on the shelf with various injuries since he won the season back in June 2008, and this was also his first trip down to 170lbs after competing as a Middleweight on the show. However, heíd shown tremendous heart and skill in all areas during his TUF run, and heíd also beaten two outstanding wrestlers in Gerald Harris and CB Dollaway during that show. My pick then was Sadollah by submission late on after suffering a bit of a beating from Hendricks in the earlier rounds.
First round begins and Sadollah pushes forward and throws some kicks as Hendricks looks to close the distance. Amir gets a little loose and lunges in with a kick, but eats a left hand and Hendricks follows with a series of short left uppercuts that DROP AMIR FACE FIRST! Johny looks to follow up with some shots and referee Dan Miragliotta calls the fight there! Damn.
Replay shows the whole fight as it only went about 30 seconds or so, and it looks like it could be an early stoppage too, as Amir was clearly hurt, but he looked like he was trying to get to his feet as the ref stopped it. In post-event interviews Miragliotta claimed Amirís eyes were rolling and he was out though, so I guess only him and Amir know for sure. Regardless, you canít blame Hendricks if it was a premature stoppage as he came in and did his job and came away with a pretty big win in his UFC debut. Not that he got to show many of his skills here, but I think heís definitely a guy to watch in the future. Bit disappointing considering I was expecting a war, but such is MMA.
This was a rematch from a controversial fight at UFC 96 that saw Nelson drop Riley with a punch early, but before he could really follow up the referee came in for a premature stoppage. Kudos to Joe Silva for putting together an immediate rematch actually. The first time around Iíd picked Riley due to his superior size and experience, and I wasnít changing that prediction here.
Round One and Riley pushes forward and lands a decent right hand that catches Nelson a little off balance. They clinch momentarily and then break, before Nelson stumbles and Riley gets on him with a knee. They break off again and Riley lands a kick to the body before Nelson clinches and lands a knee and some uppercuts. Riley forces him back into the cage though where they exchange knees. Nelson breaks and little happens as Riley pushes forward, before Nelson catches a kick and takes him down. Riley pops up immediately and then clinches and forces Nelson into the fence, but they break quickly again. They exchange some strikes into a clinch, where Riley lands some knees to the body and forces him back into the fence again. Good knees and elbows inside the clinch from Riley before they break off. Left high kick from Riley lands decently and then Shane looks for a takedown that Riley stuffs easily. Riley clinches and forces him into the fence again and the round ends in the clinch. 10-9 for Riley.
Round Two and Riley opens with a good combo that Nelson answers with a knee. Riley keeps the pressure on him though and forces him into the cage, where he works the Hawaiian over again before breaking. Good knee to the body from Riley and then Shane stumbles off balance and heís looking exhausted. They clinch up again before Riley breaks and lands a high kick. Riley is basically bullying his way to a win here. Good combo from Riley and he lands with a big left high kick too. Riley continues to pressure Nelson, forcing him into the fence before tripping him down to half-guard. Nice short elbows from Riley before Nelson manages to manoeuvre back to full guard. Ref calls them back to their feet and Riley stuffs a takedown and lands another combo. Nelson looks to be in trouble now as Riley throws him to the ground like a ragdoll on the buzzer. 20-18 Aaron Riley thus far.
Round Three and Riley continues to push the action throwing combinations, before Riley easily stuffs a takedown. Announcers point out that Nelson just seems undersized here in comparison to Riley and Iíd fully agree as he doesnít seem able to hurt Riley and he looks gassed. Easy takedown from Riley follows and Nelson manages to get full guard. Crowd randomly begin to go apeshit and I believe it had something to do with two people in the crowd brawling as opposed to what was going on in the cage. Riley works him over in the guard as the crowd again pop like this is Fight of the Year, amazing considering itís only due to two idiots in the crowd fighting! Good hammer fists from Riley inside the guard and the fight ends shortly thereafter.
I have this a pretty clear shutout 30-27 for Aaron Riley and unsurprisingly the judges all agree. Fight went pretty much as I expected the first one to, as Riley just used his superior size, strength and experience to grind out the win over Nelson who, credit to him, did hang tough. Wasnít the most exciting fight of all time if Iím honest either, and they wouldíve been better off had they been able to put this fight on the prelims as theyíd originally planned so they couldíve aired something like Villefort-Lennox or Cramer-Riddle here instead.
Griffin had originally been rumoured to face Thiago Silva here, but I guess after his awful win over Thales Leites Ė where it looked like heíd become bored and was toying with his opponent Ė it was clear that Anderson Silva was after a more challenging test and so he was moved up from 185lbs again to face the former Light-Heavyweight Champion. Despite Forrestís huge size advantage (heís maybe the biggest LHW in the UFC) and the fact that heíd recently held the belt, I still felt the advantages here lay with Silva, as really, youíre not going to outstrike the guy standing, on the ground heís a legit BJJ black belt whoís only going to be tapped by world-class guys in that area, and while Forrestís solid, he isnít a Demian Maia or Toquinho Palhares, and I didnít think he had the wrestling game to pound Silva out for a decision either.
Still, this clearly wasnít a squash on paper as you canít really count a guy with the heart and drive of Forrest out against anyone, and while Silva hadnít been tested by Leites, he didnít look as motivated as heíd done earlier in his UFC career. I couldnít see him not being up for this one though, so my prediction was Anderson by lopsided decision, as I figured Forrestís toughness would allow him to hang in there for the whole fight.
Crowd reactions are mad interesting here as Griffin gets a MASSIVE pop from the crowd while Silva gets firmly booed, almost as much as he did in Cincinnati when he fought Rich Franklin in front of his hometown fans in fact. Goes to show what a couple of shitty fights will do for you as before the Cote fight he was getting over hugely as a popular guy.
And here we go! Griffin pushes forward early as Silva circles on the outside, while the Philly crowd chant loudly for Forrest. Low kick from Griffin is caught and he narrowly avoids the counter that knocked out James Irvin. Griffin continues to push forward and a head kick is blocked, but suddenly Silva presses the action, flurrying with his hands low, and a right hand drops Forrest to the mat! Griffin gets back up, but eats another right hook and is forced to backpedal. Silva has his hands ridiculously low now as he just uses head movement to avoid Forrestís strikes, while looking to counter himself. A big knee from Anderson just misses and then he waves Griffin on to try to hit him, before DODGING A COMBO WITH HIS HANDS BY HIS WAIST and dropping Forrest with a straight left! Holy fuck. Silva lands some punches and then lets Griffin up, and Forrest comes lunging in with a one-two...that Silva avoids with his hands down before countering and KNOCKING HIM SILLY WITH A SNAPPING RIGHT HAND!~!
I have never seen anything like that before in MMA. Absolutely unbelievable. I mean, its one thing to pick a guy apart like Silva did with say, Chris Leben, but to see him just drop his hands and knock a fighter the calibre of Forrest Griffin out in that manner is insane. To make a comparison to boxing this was like watching Prince Naseem Hamed when he was fighting low-level guys early in his career and heíd drop his hands before KOing them. The big difference being Naseem was fighting journeymen Ė Silva was faced with a former World Champion in the weight class above. Not much more you can say outside of that this was a total virtuoso performance from one of, if not pound for pound the best fighter on the planet today. Iíve said for a long time that itís between him and Georges St-Pierre and with this showing Anderson mightíve just edged ahead. Incredible stuff and for me by far the most memorable moment of 2009.
Post-fight Forrest runs out of the cage and heads right backstage; this was never explained properly but the rumor I heard was that he thought he had a broken jaw and wanted to get to hospital ASAP. And of course, the Philly crowd are now firmly behind Anderson. Well, who wouldnít be after a showing like that?
In all honesty, I never imagined that Kenny Florian would work his way back up to another title shot after his loss to Sean Sherk in 2006 Ė if Iím being frank, I didnít think heíd deserved the shot to begin with and certainly didnít buy him as one of the best in the world. But since then Kenny had been on a tear Ė beating fringe contenders at first like Dokonjonosuke Mishima and Din Thomas, before really amping it up with huge wins over Roger Huerta and Joe Stevenson. Kennyís rise, to give him due credit, just shows how much you can get out of hard work and determination, as heíd changed his whole game since the Sherk fight, showing massively improved striking and wrestling. Coming into this one Kenny was on a roll and hadnít shown any definitive weaknesses.
The problem for Florian however was his opponent. Following his loss to GSP in January, it appeared that BJ Penn had re-dedicated himself to building a legacy at 155lbs, and not only had he taken this fight more seriously than any in his career, for the first time he was training with a genuine strength and conditioning coach in the infamous Marv Marinovich. As much as youíve got to admire Kenny for all of his hard work then, I just couldnít see any way that he could win this fight and expected BJ to bash him around standing for a while before taking him down and eventually submitting him, much like Pennís fight with Joe Stevenson.
First round begins and they circle with Kenny throwing a couple of kicks. BJ counters one with a right hand that drops the challenger, but Florian pops right back up and Penn forces him into the fence. Nice elbow from Penn to break and he stalks forward as the crowd chant his name. They clinch briefly and Penn works the body before breaking off. High kick from Florian misses and then Penn wades into a clinch with a flurry. Florian looks to work for a trip as Penn peppers the body with punches, and then they break off. Kenny goes back into the clinch looking for a takedown, but he canít get BJ off his feet and Penn comfortably breaks with some punches. Kenny pushes the action and shoots on a single leg, but he still canít get Penn down and they break off before BJ rocks him badly with a right hand! Kennyís legs buckle as Penn comes in with a lunging knee that doesnít land cleanly, and Florian survives the round. Thatís one round in the books for the champ, 10-9 BJ Penn.
Into the 2nd and they circle briefly before Kenny lands a good leg kick. Clinch from Florian and he forces BJ into the cage, but it doesnít look like he can take Penn down and the champ breaks off. Back to the clinch for Kenny but an overhand right breaks off for BJ. Florian looks for a single leg and forces Penn into the cage again, but Penn works up into a clinch and they exchange strikes inside. Kenny keeps going for the takedown but heís been unsuccessful thus far and then he breaks with an elbow. Superman punch misses for Florian and Penn catches him with a punch to the back of the head as he stumbles past. Single leg attempt again from Kenny but he still canít get BJ down and ends up just shoving him into the fence again. To me it looks like heís trying the GSP gameplan of wearing him out in the clinch, but I donít think thatíll work for Kenny as heís not as big and powerful as the Canadian. Penn suddenly opens up with a flurry inside the clinch that breaks off, but Florian backs up. Couple of low kicks land for the challenger but Penn counters with a strong right. Round ends on the feet. Iíd actually go 10-10 for that round as Florian landed some decent kicks and was the aggressor, but he never came close to taking Penn down and the champ landed some good counters too. So itís 20-19 for Penn going into the third.
Third round begins and the announcers mention that BJ looks like heís slowing down, but I donít see it. Decent counters land for him as Florian dances around on the outside. Kenny clinches again and forces him into the fence, but where GSP was able to take BJ down Florian still isnít coming close. Crowd begin to get a little restless as BJ firmly stuffs the takedown before breaking off. Good counter-right from Penn staggers Florian coming forward but he recovers quickly. Leg kick from Florian and then he shoots on a single leg, but again BJ stuffs the takedown and they wind up clinched along the fence. Knee and a right hand break for Penn and now he looks like the aggressor. Another single leg attempt follows for Florian and he forces BJ into the fence yet again, but BJ sprawls out and almost hits a switch to get Kenny down. They break off and the round ends with BJ landing an uppercut. Pennís round there so itís 30-28 for him going into the championship rounds.
Weíre going into the 4th round and the difference between BJ going into the fourth here and how he was going into the fourth against GSP is night and day. We get underway and Kenny pushes forward, but gets staggered by a right hand and ends up using his kicks to create some room to recover. Smart. Florian clinches again and moves BJ into the fence, but this time Penn comes back with a nasty flurry and follows with a takedown of his own, into half-guard. Florian looks to cling on from the bottom as BJ lands some elbows, and then some big shots land and he slides his leg free and takes full mount. Kenny turns and gives his back, taking some BOMBS, and from there BJ punishes him with some heel kicks to the body before locking in the rear naked choke to force the tapout.
Great, great performance from BJ Penn to retain his title. To me this looked like a couple of things happened. One was that Florian got hurt early on, and so the part of his gameplan that involved striking went out of the window and he went firmly with GSPís gameplan of forcing BJ into the cage to wear him out en route to a takedown. But of course, where that worked for GSP because heís pound-for-pound the strongest guy in MMA and was able to wear BJ out there, Kenny just didnít have the sapping strength to do that and in the end it did more harm than good, wearing Florian out more than Penn. The second thing I think happened was BJ got so sick of hearing taunts about his cardio that he decided to deliberately drag this one out into the later rounds, as you got the distinct feeling he couldíve put Kenny away earlier and chose to do it in the 4th to show his problems with conditioning were a thing of the past. And thatís no disrespect to Kenny, who is clearly one of the best 155lbers in the world Ė it just shows that BJ Penn is simply a cut above every other fighter in the weight class. Fight was decent and as a performance from Penn it was excellent, but overall it wasnít as entertaining as it couldíve been, mainly because Florianís tactic of pushing BJ into the cage became tiresome and didnít make for many exciting moments.
Post-fight Penn says that he woke up one day and suddenly realized he was wasting his talent, and now heís determined to be remembered as the best fighter who ever lived. Well, if he stays at 155lbs and keeps dominating great fighters like Kenny Florian then he might just do that.
-Highlight reel follows and thatís the show.
On paper I thought this was one of the strongest UFC cards of the year, but in execution Ė virtuoso Anderson Silva performance aside Ė it didnít deliver quite as well as Iíd hoped. Prelims were pretty solid outside of Leites-Sakara, but there was nothing truly spectacular there, and while Grove-Almeida, Pellegrino-Neer and Riley-Nelson were solid fights they didnít stand out as being anything special either. Add in the possible premature stoppage in the Hendricks-Sadollah fight as well as a main event that wasnít as exciting as Iíd hoped it would be as it was so one-sided in the end, and really UFC 101 is basically a middling card brought up slightly by one of the most unbelievable performances in UFC history from Anderson Silva. Thumbs in the middle.
Best Fight: Silva-Griffin
Worst Fight: Leites-Sakara
Overall Rating: ***1/4
UFC: 102-107, Fight Night 19
Strike Force: Fedor vs. Rogers and Evolution
King of the Cage: Various shows