Unbeaten newcomer Gormley had come to the UFC via the Affliction crash, and he was originally set to face Ben Rothwell here, before Rothwell got bumped up the card into his fight with Cain Velasquez. The Dutchman Struve ended up stepping in to take the fight, and knowing little about Gormley and being impressed by the Skyscraper last time out, I expected a victory for the UFC’s version of Semmy Schilt. Hard to believe with all his experience that Struve is only 21.
Round One and Gormley eats a leg kick early on. Head kick misses but a pair of leg kicks land, and then Gormley goes to the body before going for a takedown. Struve basically gives it up and goes to guard, and Gormley postures up to land some punches down onto him. Good elbow from the newcomer and then he lifts Struve up for a mini-slam. Struve uses the closed guard to defend and then manoeuvres into a leglock attempt, but Gormley decides to drop down for an ankle lock attempt of his own. Struve comes off better and rolls for a heel hook but Gormley escapes that and almost puts himself into an inverted heel hook. It looks almost locked up, but Gormley pops free and tries a toehold, allowing Struve to reverse out and wind up on top in the guard. He passes immediately to side mount and looks for a D’Arce, but Gormley explodes to his feet. Trip takedown from Struve and he gets on top with Gormley against the fence. Some good punches and hammer fists land for the Dutchman as Gomley looks in trouble, eating tons of shots as he looks for another leglock. Struve avoids the submission and gets into full mount, and from there he allows Gormley to reverse and land himself in a triangle choke, which Struve tightens up for the tapout.
Good little fight as Struve showed a lot of grappling skill and really used his lanky body to his advantage, particularly in the way he fell back into the triangle for the tapout. With his young age, experience and obviously quick learning curve he’s a guy I think we should watch out for in the near future. Fun opener.
Well, no offense to either of these guys, but to me this was perhaps the least interesting UFC match all year. TUF 8’s Kingsbury hadn’t fought since December 2008, where he lost a decision to Tom Lawlor, while Al-Hassan had been on the shelf for the same amount of time – probably rehabbing the arm injury that he suffered at the hands of Steve Cantwell. On a sad note, Al-Hassan’s bubble afro is gone now. Boo!
We begin and they exchange some strikes into a clinch before Al-Hassan gets Kingsbury to the ground. Kingsbury scrambles and Al-Hassan looks for a guillotine, but Kingsbury manages to get to side mount on top to avoid. He steps into full mount now and Al-Hassan holds on tightly as Kyle punches at the body. Hip escape allows Razak into half-guard, but Kingsbury passes that into side mount. Another escape allows Razak back to half-guard. This is a horribly dull round. Al-Hassan works back to full guard and looks for an armbar, but he leaves himself open and eats a punch for his troubles. Referee brings them back to their feet and they exchange some strikes with Al-Hassan landing some good kicks and Kyle landing a right hand before the round ends. Got to be Kingsbury’s round I think.
2nd round and Razak lands a couple of leg kicks before Kingsbury tackles him to the ground and lands in half-guard. Nice reversal from Al-Hassan puts him on top in Kyle’s guard. Kyle tries to push him off and escape, but Al-Hassan keeps him down and gets to half-guard. Underhook lets Kingsbury escape to his feet into a clinch, and they muscle for position before Al-Hassan hits a couple of really good knees to the face from close distance. They break off and trade some pretty sloppy strikes into another clinch, where both men continue to muscle for the takedown. Neither one can get the takedown completed and they exchange some more knees until the ref breaks them off. Good combo from Kingsbury but Al-Hassan answers with some kicks and they clinch to end the round. I’d give that round to Al-Hassan so it’s even going into the third.
Third round and they trade off with some strikes with both men landing decent shots. Few good leg kicks land for Al-Hassan. Al-Hassan appears to be winning the striking battle here. They clinch again with 2:15 remaining and Al-Hassan forces Kyle into the cage. Kingsbury reverses it and they muscle for position again with both men looking a little winded now. Al-Hassan tries a guillotine but gets taken down for a moment, but then he pops right back up into the clinch. They exchange knees again and then Al-Hassan avoids a judo trip, before they break off. Couple of kicks end the round for Al-Hassan. Largely uneventful fight but I’ve got it 29-28 for Razak Al-Hassan.
Judges have it a split decision, 29-28 Kingsbury, 29-28 Al-Hassan and 29-28 for Kyle Kingsbury. Well, it was close enough to go either way as neither man really did anything to truly cement the victory. Not an overly offensive match or anything and it was worlds better than say, Magalhaes-Marshall from UFC 97, but this was still one of the most forgettable UFC fights of 2009 as they were so evenly matched that they basically nullified one another.
Longtime veteran Rivera had made an emotional return to the UFC in April, following the unexpected death of his daughter, and managed to pull off a solid win over WEC veteran Nissen Osterneck, while Kimmons had rebounded from a loss to Dan Miller by choking out Joe Vedepo on the same show. My pick here was Rivera, as while Kimmons has a very impressive record it’s a bit deceiving, as he’s never really beaten any top-level fighters while Rivera’s hung in there with the likes of Rich Franklin and Anderson Silva before.
Round One and Kimmons comes in swinging and quickly looks for a takedown, but Rivera blocks it and breaks a clinch with a solid one-two. Kimmons swings into the clinch again but he still can’t get Rivera down and they break. Again Kimmons clinches, but Jorge breaks off. Now Rivera gets the clinch and lands some uppercuts and heavy punches inside. Kimmons looks a little stunned as Rivera works him over from the clinch, but Kimmons breaks off. Another good right land lands for Rivera and Kimmons tries to fight fire with fire, but takes some more decent shots from El Conquistador. Good knee and combination from Rivera and an elbow lands from inside the clinch too. Knee and right hand land for Rivera and Kimmons doesn’t seem to have much answer for this. Kimmons drops for a double leg though, and manages to get Jorge on his back in half-guard. He can’t do much in the way of offense though and the round ends there. 10-9 Jorge Rivera.
Round Two and Kimmons immediately looks to clinch, but Rivera shrugs him off and lands a combo. Kimmons manages to close the distance and takes some shots before he drops for a double leg, but Rivera stuffs it and lands with a sharp knee that causes Kimmons to break off. Rivera continues to land punches pretty cleanly, and then he stuffs a takedown and winds up on top in half-guard. Kimmons looks for a sweep as Rivera lands some more shots, but then Kimmons manages to get to full guard. Rivera continues to work with some pretty solid ground-and-pound, and then Kimmons turns and gives his back before Rivera stands free and then drops some heavy punches back into the half-guard. Good shots to the body and head from Rivera, particularly with the elbows, and it looks like Kimmons might be in a bit of trouble. Rivera decides to let Kimmons back to his feet, and he lands another combo as Kimmons tries to answer back with punches of his own, but it’s not enough to do much damage to Rivera and the round ends there. Rivera has to be up two rounds here pretty comfortably.
Round Three and Kimmons pushes forward, but Rivera answers with a heavy combination that stuns Kimmons and drops him to the ground. Rivera pounces and begins to pound away and Kimmons is POURING with blood from a huge cut on his face somewhere. Looks like it might be the bridge of the nose. Kimmons gets to guard, but Rivera continues to pound him and there’s blood all over the place now. BIG ELBOWS land for Rivera and you could make a case for stopping this fight I think. Ref calls time to check over the cut but surprisingly the doctor allows him to continue, and they restart in the same position. Rivera looks a little fresher now and goes back to work, punishing Kimmons with elbows and punches and finally the ref calls a stop to it there.
Kimmons showed a lot of guts there but he was in over his head against a tough veteran like Rivera, and once he settled into a rhythm El Conquistador just didn’t let up, landing punches and elbows both standing and on the ground, and it was only a matter of time until he managed to end things. Impressive showing for Rivera who is probably due another run against some higher competition again.
Hardcore fans again bemoaned the fact that Okami was relegated to prelim status again, particularly when Spike were showing two prelims and didn’t pick his fight there either. But hey, put on more exciting fights, sez I. I mean, come on, who would ever have wanted to see a horrible fight like Okami vs. Dean Lister on a televised card? On paper Sonnen was an interesting test for Okami, with his great wrestling background, but I still figured Okami would probably grind his way to another decision win.
Round One and Sonnen pushes forward right away with some strikes before looking for a takedown. Okami stuffs it and they end up clinched against the fence and muscle for position. Single leg slam from Sonnen puts Okami down, and he lands punches as Okami scrambles. Okami gets back up, but Sonnen has a waistlock and he drags him down and continues to land shots. BIG SLAM follows and Chael gets the back with one hook. Okami manages to stand back up though, but Sonnen lands some knees to the thighs. Sonnen jumps onto the back with both hooks for a second, but then gives it up and they break. Inside leg kick and jab combo from Sonnen but Okami counters with a jab of his own. Sonnen is outstriking Okami here pretty comfortably. Beautiful double leg from Chael puts Okami on his back in guard, but he escapes to his feet pretty quickly only to eat some punches on the way up. Good left from Sonnen. Another nice combo lands for Chael and he uses some kicks to keep distance to wind the round up. Surprising round; 10-9 for Chael Sonnen.
2nd round and Sonnen pushes forward again as they exchange jabs and low kicks. Good shot this time from Okami but Sonnen takes it and keeps on coming. Takedown attempt from Sonnen is blocked for a second, but Chael stays on it and just closes Okami down, forcing him into the cage in a rear waistlock again. Sonnen’s pace is just taking Okami out of his game here. Chael drags him down and takes the back, but Okami almost turns into Sonnen’s guard and so he scrambles to his feet. Nice double jab from Chael, but a turning sidekick misses. Big right hand lands for Okami in an exchange but Sonnen’s chin holds up again. Striking exchange continues and Sonnen is really pushing a torrid pace here. More combos from Chael have Okami really backing up. Round ends with Sonnen walking Okami down and landing strikes. This is a rout so far, 20-18 for Chael Sonnen.
3rd round and Chael continues to pressure Okami with strikes before shooting for a takedown. Okami stuffs it but he’s still eating combinations from the wrestler. Good left hand from Okami but again Sonnen takes it and keeps coming forward. Sonnen continues to walk Okami down, throwing jabs, low kicks and hooks, and Okami lands a couple of counters but he’s largely being outpointed here. Double leg attempt from Sonnen and this time he manages to slam Okami down and take the back with both hooks in. Punches to the head from Chael but he loses one of his hooks as Okami tries to wriggle free. Okami manages to shake the second hook and works to his feet, but Chael stays behind him and drags him around, showing some serious strength. Chael lands with some knees to the legs, but Okami locks up a standing kimura and drops to the ground, looking to finish it inside full guard. Sonnen holds on and Okami ends up letting go as Chael punches the body, before taking the back again. Punches from Sonnen and he stays on Okami as the Japanese fighter stands. Great showing for Chael Sonnen.
Judges all score it 30-27 for Chael Sonnen, an unbelievably dominant performance against one of the top Middleweights in the world. Okami just couldn’t deal with the grappling strength and the pace that Chael set, and basically Sonnen did everything but finish the fight. Probably the best performance of his career up to this point in fact. It’s interesting because the knock on Chael was always that he was a world-class wrestler with great cardio, but he was always likely to make a silly mistake that would cost him the fight. If he’s managed to tighten up that side of his game (mainly the submission side of things) then he’s a dangerous contender indeed, as we’d see earlier this year at UFC 109. But that’s another review. This wasn’t the best fight of the year but it was pretty entertaining and far better than Okami’s last snoozer with Dean Lister, that’s for sure.
On paper this was a striking fan’s dream match, as while both guys had shown themselves to have pretty lacking ground skills, they’ve both got sick stand-up that’s up there with the best in the UFC. I wasn’t sure which way to go for a pick, but ended up siding with Barry based on him being slightly more explosive.
Opening round gets underway and Barry lands a stiff right hand to counter a leg kick right off the bat. High kick narrowly misses for Hardonk. They exchange some brutal leg kicks and it looks like Hardonk has the advantage in that department as Barry switches stances. Looks like Barry caught a finger in the eye as the ref has to call time when he starts backpedalling. They restart quickly and Hardonk goes back to work with the leg kicks while Barry looks to counter with punches. Nice switch left kick from Barry. Hardonk answers with another leg kick. Hardonk’s leg kicks are vicious. Right hand lands for Barry and it’s impossible to tell whether Hardonk drops for a takedown or goes down. Regardless, Barry sprawls and ends up on top in side mount, where he appears to be working for the Hughes crucifix. Hardonk defends and looks to secure a half-guard, and then he manages to explode and escape to his feet. Barry catches him with a pair of right hands to counter the leg kick. Good combination from Hardonk ending with the leg kick. More kicks exchanged to end the round. You could probably go either way in that one as Barry did a good job with the portion on the ground, but Hardonk landed some good kicks. 10-10 round.
2nd round and Hardonk goes right back to the leg kicks, but Barry fires back with a one-two-three combo that backs the Dutchman up. Right hand stuns Hardonk and a second one puts him down viciously as Barry appears to have found his range. Leg kick from Hardonk but Barry is countering far better now and Hardonk looks wary, sporting a bloody nose. They clinch up and Barry actually has to block a takedown. Beautiful right jab snaps Hardonk’s head back. He follows with another one that wobbles the Dutchman. Barry lands some more punches and a big right to the temple crumples Hardonk and puts him down. Barry looks confused for a second as Hardonk sits up, and then he decides to follow up and lands another crushing right that causes Hardonk to go foetal for the stoppage. Brutal stuff.
Well, that fight totally lived up to the expectations it had going in as they stood up and basically had a kickboxing match, and in the end it was Barry who came away with the bragging rights thanks to his more explosive punching power once he found his range in the second round. Fun fight for what it was but if Barry really wants to make a mark he needs to improve that ground game of his (which hopefully he’s doing).
Another test for TUF winner Bader then, this time in the form of solid submission-based fighter Eric Schafer, who was coming in on a four-fight win streak including two victories in the UFC. This was an interesting match for Bader as while he’d beaten Vinny Magalhaes who’s a superb grappler, Schafer was far more experienced than the Brazilian in the realm of MMA. Still, I expected Bader to be able to win, based on his brutally heavy hands standing and the fact that Schafer isn’t that great from the bottom, and how could you expect him to take a wrestler like Bader down?
We begin and Bader pushes forward, looking to swing some punches. He lands a good right hand early but Schafer looks pretty calm and looks to pump out the jab. Good leg kick from Bader and he continues to swing for the fences although he hasn’t landed yet. Good right hand from Schafer. Bader is really swinging with the overhand right here; similar to fellow wrestler Josh Koscheck in fact. Suddenly a pair of BRUTAL RIGHT HANDS crack Schafer on the temple and put him down! Eric looks to be in deep trouble as Bader swarms on him, landing some BOMBS, including a vicious right over the top of the guard like the one he used to knock out Tom Lawlor. Somehow Schafer survives and gets to full guard, but as he looks to scramble up Bader throws him into the fence and lands some more rights. Schafer looks horribly rocked and he gives his back, taking more punches before standing, but then Bader grabs him and RAGDOLLS HIM TO THE GROUND! Holy shit. Schafer stumbles to his feet and eats a massive combo, looking completely out of it now, and then Bader simply grabs him by the neck and tosses him down. Schafer gives his back and Bader ends up punching him from the side; how Schafer’s survived this onslaught I don’t know. Schafer tries for a kimura, but he’s got no control over Bader’s body and the TUF winner ends up in Schafer’s guard. Oma plata attempt from Schafer, but Bader pulls right out and lands a nasty right hand to the face. Schafer still doesn’t look quite with it, but he’s doing enough to tie Bader up. Seconds remaining and Bader stands free of the guard. Round ends there and I’m scoring that 10-8 for Ryan Bader based on the massive amount of punishment that Schafer took.
Second round and Schafer looks to throw out the jab again. Good leg kick from Bader as he steps in, but Schafer catches him with a poke in the eye and the ref calls time. Total accident. They restart and Schafer lands with a nice left hook. Bader’s pace has noticeably slowed down from the first round here, but then again, he blew a ton of energy in the opener looking for the finish. Schafer looks more aggressive now, pushing forward, but he almost takes another overhand right to the temple again. Good jabs from Schafer and Bader is basically reduced to winging punches looking for the one-shot knockout now. Good jab from him though. Combo from Bader, answered by one from Schafer. Overhand right misses for Bader and Schafer catches him with a good straight right. Nice left hook backs Bader up and Schafer smiles at him. Schafer continues to throw combos but walks into a counter right hand that slows him down for a second. Late takedown attempt is blocked by Schafer and he lands a right hand and blocks another takedown on the buzzer. Close round but Schafer was the aggressor and landed the better punches, so 10-9 for him.
Third and final round and Schafer opens with the jab again, looking to keep Bader at bay while the TUF winner looks to counter. MASSIVE OVERHAND RIGHT lands for Bader again, right on the temple, and Schafer SLIDES LIKE HE’S ON ICE before going down! Bader pounces, looking to finish by bombing away, but Schafer survives again and manages to tie Bader up in the guard. Bader stands free and the ref calls time to check a cut over Schafer’s right eye, and the replay shows it was caused by an inadvertent headbutt in the guard. Restart, and Bader swings for the fences again looking for the knockout. Schafer doesn’t look quite recovered though and he’s looking much slower than in the second round now. Two minutes to go and they continue to exchange strikes with neither really gaining the advantage. Double leg from Bader and he lands in side mount, where Schafer uses his legs to tie up the left arm. Bader slips free of that and grinds away with some short punches, controlling Schafer until he gets full guard right before the buzzer. I’ve got this 29-27 for Ryan Bader.
Judges have it 30-27, 29-26 and 30-27, unanimous decision for Ryan ‘Darth’ Bader. This was an impressive performance from Bader and once again he showed that he has devastatingly heavy hands – Schafer showed some serious toughness to survive the first round onslaught particularly – to go with his great wrestling base. Still, it wasn’t a flawless fight from him as he slowed down a lot in the second and third rounds after putting on such an aggressive first, and that almost allowed Schafer back into the fight until Bader landed another haymaker in the third. Still, he’s a young guy and if he continues to improve his game like he has been, he’s still my pick for the future 205lbs champion. He’s also definitely one of my favourite guys to watch and his whole UFC career thus far has been like one extended highlight reel when you consider this fight with the knockdowns as well as the KOs of Magalhaes and Lawlor.
Prior to the weigh-ins, I was giving Yoshida a fair chance at pulling a win out here, as Johnson, while tremendously explosive, is still pretty inexperienced in the big picture and his ground game isn’t really proven yet, while Yoshida’s one of the more underrated guys at 170lbs – anyone who beats down Akira Kikuchi like he did is a badass. But then Johnson somehow missed weight by SIX POUNDS (apparently due to a knee injury) and the size difference ended up such that Yoshida had little chance in hell of winning. I guess he showed guts to even take the fight under such circumstances.
Sure enough the size difference is ridiculous; they look separated by two weight classes at least and it’s not like Yoshida is a smaller, chubby Welterweight either – in fact, I remember him being about the same size as Josh Koscheck when they fought. Johnson is basically a monster who arguably shouldn’t be fighting in this division.
We get started and Johnson stalks forward, and in the first exchange he tags Yoshida with a quick combination. Left high kick misses and Yoshida tries to grab a plum clinch, but Johnson looks too powerful for the Japanese fighter and begins to land punches from close range. Right hand forces the separation and has Yoshida covering up, and Johnson follows with more shots, including a big right uppercut. BIG RIGHT HAND follows and sends Yoshida crashing to the mat and referee Steve Mazzagatti does a tremendous job and stops it there before Johnson can hurt him any further. Excellent stoppage from Dana White’s favourite target.
Well, the fight was a one-sided beatdown and I guess it was a big win for Johnson given that Yoshida’s been hovering around the top fifteen for the best part of the last two or three years, but if we’re honest, 176lbs isn’t a Welterweight and knee injury or no knee injury, unless he can make 170lbs consistently (admittedly, he did make the weight with no issues a month later) it’s hard to stomach him still fighting in the division. With that said though this was a tremendous knockout to watch, as Johnson showed quick and explosive hands and put Yoshida to SLEEP. Highlight worthy stuff even if it did leave somewhat of a bad taste.
Intriguing bout between two perennial contenders here, and both men were coming off impressive victories – Joe Daddy over Nate Diaz, Fisher over Caol Uno. Obviously the advantage on the ground lay with Joe, the advantage on the feet with Fisher, but after seeing Stevenson look rejuvenated against Diaz due to training with Greg Jackson’s camp I was picking him to most likely outgrapple and stifle Fisher for a decision win.
We begin and they circle with some feeler strikes with Joe throwing a couple of leg kicks that don’t really land cleanly. Nice right hand from Fisher catches Joe coming forward but his chin holds up. Left hook from Stevenson but Fisher counters with another snapping right hand. Pair of body kicks land for Fisher. Takedown attempt from Joe and Spencer sprawls to avoid, but Stevenson forces him into the fence and we can see that Fisher’s got a cut over his right eye, not sure what caused it though. Joe really drops for the double leg and Fisher is doing a good job of blocking this. Stevenson even gets him up in the air for a second but Spencer continues to defend. Fisher’s eye is pouring with blood now, running into his eye. Ref calls a clean break and Fisher pushes forward, landing a pair of leg kicks, but Joe clinches and catches him with a nice elbow strike. They break off with less than a minute to go and Fisher opens up and lands with a swift combo, but Joe grabs a clinch and transitions to the back, dragging Fisher down and landing punches. He can’t get the hooks in though as Fisher turtles up, and the round ends with Joe landing punches from behind. Close round to call but I’d say Stevenson stole it right at the end with the takedown and flurry.
Replay shows it was Joe Daddy’s left hook that opened the cut.
Round Two and Fisher comes out with a left high kick and a jumping, well, something that misses. Good left hook again from Stevenson. Leg kick lands for Spencer. Body kick follows but Stevenson shoots and manages to wrestle him to the ground. Fisher gets full guard locked up but Joe Daddy begins to move him towards the fence. Joe postures up to avoid an armbar attempt and then begins to land punches and elbows, before looking for a potential leglock. He gives up on that though and passes into half-guard. Couple of big elbows land for Joe Daddy and he gets full mount for a second before Spencer hip escapes to half-guard. He continues to take elbows though and now Joe’s really flurrying with them. Spencer’s looking very bloody at this point. Joe keeps landing elbows and then he slips into side mount and locks up the Hughes crucifix. MASSIVE ELBOWS follow, bouncing Spencer’s head off the mat, and he can’t defend himself so Herb Dean steps in to call the TKO.
Replay appears to show Spencer tapping out with his foot as he couldn’t move his arms. Pretty sick finish for Joe Daddy. Good fight and this was a stellar performance from the TUF II winner as Spencer, while he can be controlled on the ground like when Frankie Edgar beat him, has proven near impossible to actually finish, and yet Stevenson pounded him out brutally here. Easily one of the most impressive performances of Joe Daddy’s career to really get himself back on the rails following the less encouraging fights against Florian and Sanchez.
Tibau was actually set to face former UFC LW Champ Sean Sherk in what would’ve been a crazy interesting bout here, but Sherk ended up pulling out with an injury and so the always-tough Neer stepped in on short notice. Due to the lack of preparation time for Neer I figured Tibau’s grappling would probably prove to be too much for the Dentist, who had shown problems dealing with large grapplers with strong takedowns before (Kurt Pellegrino, Josh Burkman). In an odd side-story, the fight actually ended up being at a Catchweight, but not in the way you’d imagine – Tibau showed up at 157lbs, two pounds over, Neer at 156.5lbs, a pound and a half over, and they just agreed to fight regardless, which is pretty cool in a way, but does sort of make you wonder, what’s the point in solid weight classes if guys can just agree to fight at a random weight? Hopefully it’s a one-off.
We begin and Neer stalks forward. They exchange some punches before Tibau shoots in and gets a BIG SLAM to the ground, popping the crowd. Neer does a great job from his back though to regain full guard, and kicks Tibau away and stands. Good leg kick from Neer coming forward and he follows with another one. Tibau throws out some punches and then drives in with another double leg, slamming Neer to the ground once more. Insane strength from the Brazilian. Neer kicks him away again though and stops him from dropping down into side mount. Neer works to his feet again, really impressive stuff considering Tibau is usually great with his top control. Small chant for Neer as he pushes forward, but he isn’t really opening up with his strikes and Tibau takes him down easily again. Again though Neer works to guard. This time Tibau passes to side mount, but Neer gets an elevator and pops right back up. Neer keeps coming forward and he lands a couple of low kicks, but the punching exchanges are pretty even. Another big slam puts Tibau on top in the guard, but Neer uses butterfly hooks to stop Tibau from gaining a dominant position and he works to his feet again. This time he leaves his head out and the Brazilian goes for a guillotine, but Neer slips free. Good right hand from Tibau as Neer pushes forward, and they exchange some punches to end the round. Odd round actually as Tibau took Neer down at will, but couldn’t keep him there, but even so, Neer didn’t really establish any dominance on the feet. 10-9 Tibau.
Second round, and Tibau throws some punches before again ragdolling Neer to the ground. This dude is such a meathead. Neer once again pops back up to his feet though. Brief clinch is broken by Tibau. They exchange some more punches and then Tibau dumps him on the ground again. Neer again uses the butterfly guard to his advantage and this has to be frustrating for Tibau now as Neer just keeps getting up. Good right hand from Neer but Tibau answers with a left. Nice leg kick from Neer but Tibau tackles him again. This is becoming a little tiresome now as it’s wash, rinse and repeat. Again Neer uses the butterfly guard and again he elevates Tibau off and looks to land an upkick. This time though Tibau manages to drop past the legs and lands in full mount. Neer gives his back and now he’s in trouble. Tibau has both hooks in, but he’s a bit high on the back and Neer looks to shake him off. Neer manages to pull him off to one side, but Tibau rolls right into an armbar! Neer does a tremendous job to defend and escape though, and now he’s on top in the guard. Tibau works to his feet pretty quickly though. Neer continues to push forward, and they exchange more punches with Neer landing a nice right hand. Tibau swings right back but he’s looking a little slower now. Another takedown follows but Neer pops up instantly. Neer swings some good punches but doesn’t really harm Tibau, and the round ends on the feet. 10-9 Tibau again.
Third and final round and after a short striking exchange Tibau gets another double leg and passes to half-guard. Hip escape from Neer gets him back to full guard, and he lands some hammer fists from his back as Tibau attempts to get some control established. Reversal from Neer gets him back onto his feet and they trade some punches as Mike Goldberg reads out a few lines about copyright control and what-not. Ever frank, Rogan’s answer is “you can’t fight the internet, dude”. I’m with Joe. Neer manages to stuff a takedown but the striking exchanges here are killing me as neither guy seems to be able to hurt the other. Crowd begin to boo as Neer stuffs another shot and breaks off from the clinch. Neer is getting the better of these exchanges and he’s the aggressor, but he’s not doing enough to win the fight. Takedown from Tibau follows and Neer works the butterfly guard again, using elbows from the bottom before escaping to his feet. Ref calls time to cut some loose tape off Neer’s glove, and we restart quickly with Neer landing a low kick. Crowd are openly booing now as Tibau is on the retreat, but then he secures another takedown with less than a minute to go. Neer works up to his feet again but time is running out. Another Tibau takedown follows and the Brazilian works to keep him down as the round ends. I have this 30-27 Tibau regardless of Rogan being hugely biased towards Neer.
Judges have it 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28, unanimous decision for Gleison Tibau. Fight wasn’t the most entertaining – I didn’t mind it so much because I love meatheads who throw their opponents around like ragdolls, but Tibau didn’t really do much with the takedowns and while Neer did a tremendous job from the bottom of escaping and not allowing Tibau to hold him down, he was completely unable to really hurt Tibau standing and really the striking exchanges, up to the third round at least, were largely even. Post-fight Neer complained about Tibau’s tactics, but hey, if you can’t defend the takedown then it’s your problem. I don’t really agree with the UFC releasing him though as he’s almost always entertaining and brings the fight every time. Ah well. As for Tibau, with three wins in a row under his belt now he’s probably worth a run at the top guys again – the Sherk fight would make sense I think. Outside of a few highlight reel slams this was a pretty forgettable fight.
Originally, this would’ve seen Cain taking on fellow hot prospect Shane Carwin to decide a #1 Contender for the Heavyweight title, but in the end Zuffa brass decided to give Carwin the title shot outright, moving him off the card (I guess because he’s a little older) and Velasquez was left to face former IFL and Affliction standout Ben Rothwell, a tough, top-fifteen level Heavyweight making his UFC debut. While this was definitely a test for Cain – Rothwell’s got over thirty fights and is far more experienced, and was also bigger and probably hit a little harder – I was still firmly on the Velasquez bandwagon after the Cheick Kongo fight (which inexplicably caused a lot of fans to lose faith in Cain, despite him showing a rock-solid chin, sick conditioning and insane wrestling and ground control) and was taking Cain by TKO in the first round, hopefully doing enough to shut up the haters.
We get underway and Cain lands a pair of body kicks, dodging out of the way of Ben’s punches. Another kick lands and then Velasquez drops for a single. Rothwell defends, but Cain trips him down and gets on top, landing some punches and avoiding an upkick. Rothwell looks to escape to his feet, but Cain drags him right back down. Ben tries to use the fence to get to his feet, but Cain gets a waistlock and brings him back down. Slam puts Rothwell back down and this time Cain has his back. Good job from Ben to escape to his feet, and they exchange some punches, with Velasquez using superior speed and technique to land the better shots. Couple of low kicks from Cain and then he brings Rothwell down with another single leg, landing in side mount. Hughes crucifix follows for a moment for a couple of punches before Ben rolls. He can’t get out from under Cain though and takes a couple more punches. Good job from Rothwell to escape to his feet, but Velasquez gets another single leg to side mount and just UNLOADS with huge elbows, bouncing Ben’s head off the mat! Rothwell tries to stand, but Cain keeps him down and continues to drop punches, and this is beginning to look like the Kongo fight again. Cain takes the back and then gets full mount, landing punches as Ben hip escapes to guard. Cain stands over him though and lands some more shots before getting a knee-on-belly and landing some vicious hammer fists. Full mount follows and Rothwell is just getting OWNED here as Cain bombs on him. Rothwell gives his back again and takes some more punches, but then he manages to stand for a second before Cain brings him back down for some more punishment. Crowd are going wild at this point. Ben gives his back again and takes some MORE SHOTS, and the round ends with Cain behind Rothwell, landing uppercuts from underneath. Good lord that was a beatdown. 10-8 for Velasquez.
Between rounds Duke Roufus tells Rothwell that he “weathered the storm”, but he looks EXHAUSTED while Cain isn’t even breathing heavily. This dude is a machine. Referee Steve Mazzagatti also tells Rothwell that he can’t let him take that much punishment in the second round, which as you’ll see, is important.
Round Two and Cain comes forward and gets an easy single leg, then begins to land some vicious uppercuts as Rothwell turns his back again. Rothwell crawls towards the fence and tries to wall-walk up, but Cain traps his arm, lands some nasty unprotected shots to the face, and Mazzagatti calls it there.
Post-fight Rothwell complains about the stoppage as he was getting to his feet, and a ton of fans – and Joe Rogan too – agreed with him, but I’m sorry, COME ON. First off, Mazzagatti warned Rothwell that he wouldn’t let him take much more punishment, and those shots were vicious and right on the button. Secondly, would there have been any point in allowing Rothwell to take more of a beating? All we would’ve seen was a carbon copy of Velasquez’s massacre of Brad Morris, which became uncomfortable to watch in the end. So for me, bravo Steve Mazzagatti, and between this and the Anthony Johnson stoppage this might be his best show to date!
As for the fight, what can you say? Some fans expected a competitive fight here as Rothwell was so much bigger and more experienced, but this was a one-sided beatdown, as Cain proved exactly why there’s so much hype around him by just destroying Rothwell in a way that nobody’s ever done before – not even Andrei Arlovski. For me, say what you will about his slightly smaller size compared to the likes of Lesnar, Carwin and Mir, but I don’t see a Heavyweight in the UFC that can beat Cain right now as there’s nobody who pushes a pace like he does, nobody as fast at HW, nobody who can mix the striking and wrestling as well, and I think his chin is solid enough too. I’d pick him over Fedor too if I’m honest, but that’s another story.
Some fans were a bit cynical of Shogun getting a title shot basically due to knocking out a past-his-prime Chuck Liddell, but not me – personally I thought Shogun looked back to his PRIDE best in that Liddell fight, and, having actually been around in 2005 to see his whirlwind rise to the top of the 205lbs ranks, I knew that the PRIDE Shogun was a match for anyone in the world at LHW. Still, Machida’s style had flummoxed everyone so far, including unbeaten guys like Rashad Evans, and so the smart money was still on the champion to retain. On the other hand, if Shogun could come in like the angry hurricane that he had been in PRIDE, I figured an upset wasn’t out of the question by any means. So I was as excited for this one as any other title fight in 2009.
Entrances are funny here; well, Shogun’s is pretty ordinary but Joe Rogan tells us Machida is entering to a song HIS FATHER MADE. His father being the original karate master who somehow became a bit of a cult figure in his own right after appearing in the UFC 98 Countdown show. Sure enough his entrance music begins with some bizarre karate-sounding stuff, leading into Bleed It Out by Linkin Park although the DVD of course cuts that out. Big crowd pop for him though as he really seems to have taken off as a star with the whole mysterious karate master thing he has going on.
Round One begins to a big crowd cheer. Body kick from Shogun misses and Machida grabs a clinch to deliver some knees to the body. Shogun breaks off and they circle as the crowd begin a big chant for Machida. Good body kick from Shogun. Leg kick from Shogun and he clinches and forces Lyoto into the fence. Shogun lands a few knees to the legs, but Lyoto defends the possible takedown and breaks free. Body kick from Machida, countered by a low kick from Shogun. Beautiful lunging knee to the body lands for Lyoto, but Shogun gets hold of him and counters with a takedown. Lyoto pops right back up and they end up clinched against the cage. Good job from Lyoto of defending the takedown and they break off. Good low kick into a left hook from Shogun. This is a real clash of styles with Lyoto’s karate and Shogun’s Muay Thai and it’s quite the spectacle to watch. HARD leg kick lands for the challenger. Lyoto answers with a body kick. Counter-right from Shogun. Another leg kick from Shogun and the round ends shortly thereafter. Very close round to call. I’d lean towards Shogun 10-9 though as he was the aggressor and landed a few better shots.
Round Two and Lyoto draws first blood with a body kick. Leg kick from Shogun but Machida forces him on the retreat with a counter-flurry. Shogun comes forward again though and lands with a body kick. Right hand from Lyoto to counter a knee, and then he lands a knee of his own but Shogun grabs him and goes for the takedown again. Stuffed by Machida and they break off. Nice low kick from Machida as Shogun steps in. Body kick from Shogun as he suddenly begins to really push forward. BEAUTIFUL body kick from Machida to answer. These guys aren’t landing that many strikes but this fight is mesmerising. Another body kick lands for the challenger. Awesome body kick from Shogun and Lyoto backs up a little. That was a hard shot. Leg kick from Rua too. Never seen Shogun fight so methodically before but it’s working for him. Nice knee to the body from Lyoto, answered by Rua and he forces the champ into the fence. They exchange some knees inside the clinch and the round ends there. Another close one but again, 10-9 Shogun as he landed the better shots, particularly with his body kicks.
Round Three and Shogun tags him with a body kick right off the bat. Good right hand into a body kick from Lyoto though and he follows with another kick that Shogun counters with a low kick. Shogun continues to push forward but doesn’t land anything of note for a while. Nice body kick from Machida. He looks to punch but Shogun counters with the leg kick. Takedown attempt from Shogun but it’s a bit telegraphed and Machida stuffs it. Hard leg kick lands for the challenger. Both men exchange low kicks and land. Beautiful body kick from Shogun, countered with a leg kick from Lyoto. Flurry from Shogun misses. Nice body kick from Machida, but Shogun chases him down and hits a heavy inside leg kick. They exchange knees briefly and then break off. Good right hand from Lyoto and he flurries on Shogun, putting him on the retreat. Another good right and a knee to the body looks to have Rua in some trouble, but he manages to land a right hand to slow Lyoto up and cause a clinch. They break off with seconds to go and the buzzer sounds there. Lyoto basically stole the round with the flurry at the end as it was very close. 10-9 Machida.
And now we’re into the championship rounds and this is definitely the PRIDE Shogun as he’s not even breathing heavily where he was exhausted against Coleman and Griffin by the end of the second. Round Four begins with little action as the crowd chant for Machida again. Couple of leg kicks are avoided by both men. Body kick from Lyoto is countered by the inside leg kick from Rua. Body kick from Shogun. Nice left high kick from Lyoto lands and takes Shogun off balance for a second, but he did block it with his arm. Slip from Lyoto and Shogun charges in and looks to take him down, but Lyoto hooks the leg to defend and they break off. HARD leg kick from Shogun and he avoids a counter-flurry. Another leg kick from the challenger. Brief clinch is broken by an elbow from Rua. Knee to the body from Shogun and he walks Lyoto down with a right hand and a body kick. Another kick lands for the challenger. Round peters out but it’s almost certainly Shogun’s, meaning I have him up 39-37 and this is pretty much his fight to lose.
Round Five and Shogun looks for the leg kick right away. Another one lands and Lyoto’s pretty clearly hurt by these now. Straight left by Machida but Shogun counters with the leg kick and follows that with another body kick. Nasty running leg kick almost takes Lyoto off balance. Hard body kick from Lyoto is answered by another leg kick. Shogun’s gameplanning has been tremendous here. Clinch attempt from Shogun but Lyoto lands a knee and they end up clinched against the cage. Ref breaks them pretty swiftly and Shogun hits another body kick. Clinch and Lyoto lands a knee, but Shogun breaks with an elbow and a right hand. Just over a minute to go and the crowd are now chanting for Shogun, first time I can remember them changing their support during a fight since Ortiz-Couture in 2004 off the top of my head. Combo almost lands for Rua but Lyoto gets out of the way. Seconds to go and it’s all but over. Lyoto looks for a clinch but Shogun lands with a left hand and that’s it. I have this 49-46 for Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua making him the new Light-Heavyweight Champion.
We’re going to the judges scorecards for a decision....48-47, 48-47 and 48-47...unanimous decision for MACHIDA. Um, what? Crowd are pretty angry with that one to say the least. Well, that’s hardly surprising. Goldberg immediately talks about how to “become the champion, you must beat the champion”, but tell that to Forrest Griffin, who took a razor-close decision over Rampage in 2008. I’ve watched this fight a few times now and I just don’t see how you could give it to Lyoto. Sure, the rounds were all close, but Shogun landed far more effective strikes, particularly to the body and the legs, and his gameplan of countering with the leg kick seemed to work wonders for him. Sometimes I think the judges get criticised unfairly, but the outcry over this decision was totally justified and made even worse when one of the judges – Cecil Peoples – comes out like a tool and claims “leg kicks don’t win fights”. Tell that to Pat Barry, or Thiago Alves, or Brandon Vera then, who all won fights with leg kicks in the twelve months leading up to this show. Thankfully Dana White agreed with the fans that Shogun should’ve won and we’re getting an instant rematch in May.
As for the fight itself, while it wasn’t the most action-packed of all time it was definitely one of the most engaging title fights in recent memory as the clash of styles between karate and Muay Thai was a sight to behold, and with Shogun coming in with such a cerebral gameplan, it made for a totally mesmerising fight from start to finish. Sanchez-Penn and GSP-Penn had me on the edge of my seat too and Couture-Nogueira was probably a better fight overall, but outside of those three this was probably the best UFC main event all year.
-And we roll the credits there.
UFC 104 is a very good show, shady decision in the main event notwithstanding. The main was probably not to everyone’s tastes and grappling lovers or fans who just enjoy watching wild brawls most likely would hate it, but I thought it was fantastic, and with stuff like Velasquez-Rothwell, Bader-Schafer, Stevenson-Fisher and Barry-Hardonk also on the card it’s definitely worth a thumbs up. Sure, Al-Hassan-Kingsbury was pretty dull and Okami-Sonnen and Tibau-Neer weren’t great, but nothing outright stunk and it’s only the lack of a real classic fight that keeps this show from being up there with the top two or three of the year. Thumbs up.
Best Fight: Machida-Shogun
Worst Fight: Kingsbury-Al-Hassan
Overall Rating: ****
UFC: 105-110, Fight Night 20, TUF X Finale
King of the Cage: Various shows