MMA Weekly (12/4-12/11): Max Holloway, Derrick Lewis, and Alessio Sakara Earn Knockout Wins
This week was just as busy as the last for MMA fans, who had to keep up with a bunch of news and three high-profile fight cards—one of which, UFC 206, was ultra-entertaining. Like I always say, though, too much action is better than too little.
Let’s recap everything MMA-related from the past seven days!
UFC 206: Max Holloway, Donald Cerrone Secure Stoppage Wins
UFC 206 had some ups— like gaining Kelvin Gastelum, Tim Kennedy, Matt Brown, and Donald Cerrone—and some downs—like losing Cormier-Johnson 2, seeing Anthony Pettis miss weight, and not having GSP return—in recent weeks and months. But, in the end, the event was plainly incredible, and brought an astonishing amount of action to the table.
The main card kicked off with a welterweight affair between Emil Weber Meek and Jordan Mein. This fun match saw Meek overcome adversity in the form of a losing first round by utilizing his grappling abilities in the latter two periods to earn the unanimous nod. Meek’s impressive first-round KO of Rousimar Palhares made headlines last time out, but the truth is that we didn’t know a whole lot about his skillset because of the win. Now, we have a much better idea of his abilities, thanks to this quality triumph against a formidable opponent. Also, it’s good to have Jordan Mein back inside the cage!
After that, TUF winner Kelvin Gastelum returned to the middleweight division against Tim Kennedy. The Jackson-Wink competitor Kennedy tried to employ a grappling-based gameplan on the smaller man, and for a short while, he was successful in doing so. However, he began to tire as the fight progressed and after a rough ending to the first period and a losing middle stanza, the third round proved to be too much; Gastelum’s accurate punches connected frequently until a badly wobbled Kennedy was saved by the referee.
This win is one of Gastelum’s best to date, and more impressively, it proved that he can, in fact, hang with—and beat—middleweight competitors; it’s also worth noting that Kennedy is a physically massive fighter (and hard to believe he’s also on the History Channel’s Hunting Hitler show too). Whether he returns to welterweight or stays at 185, the future looks positive for Gastelum, who is just twenty-five years old.
In the featured fight of the night, Doo Ho Choi and Cub Swanson riveted fans by putting on a “Fight of the Year” performance. Through three fast-paced rounds, both men traded bombs and gave it everything they had; how they stay standing is anyone’s best guess. However, the veteran Swanson was able to edge two of these periods on all three judges’ scorecards. Undoubtedly, Doo Ho Choi has a very bright future in the sport, and will likely fight for the belt at some point.
And to put it bluntly, if you haven’t seen this fight, you need to do so now. Highlights are just above.
The co-main event between Donald Cerrone and Matt Brown saw “Cowboy” extend his winning streak to four, with all of these triumphs having been earned at welterweight. “The Immortal” had his moments (with a big punch and a triangle-choke attempt, specifically), but the striking prowess of Cerrone simply proved to be too much here, and the end came in the third round when Donald connected with a vicious head kick. This is just the second time Brown has been stopped via TKO or KO.
Finally, Max Holloway became the UFC interim featherweight champion in the main event by defeating former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis via third-round TKO. This marks the first time Pettis has been finished via strikes. Holloway, in both stand-up exchanges and takedown attempts, was simply one step ahead of Showtime, who was likely affected by his botched weight cut. The end sequence came at the 4:50 mark of the third period, when Holloway brilliantly landed a body kick, followed up with a flurry of additional punches as Pettis was hurt, and earned his first UFC belt in the process.
Max Holloway is a powerful force, and his next match with Jose Aldo should be excellent. With a win, the Hawaiian may set the stage for a super fight rematch with lightweight champion Conor McGregor (McGregor handed Holloway his last loss in 2013, by way of a unanimous decision).
As was said, UFC 206 was a remarkable show. Hopefully, its sales figures are solid, because more cards like it, where all the contests are interesting—as opposed to events with one or two awesome fights and three not-great bouts on the main card—would be a welcome change in 2017.
Bellator 168: Alessio Sakara Thrills His Hometown Crowd By Stopping Joey Beltran
Bellator 168 may have lost its main event at the last minute, but it didn’t lose all that much entertainment value. Furthermore, judging by the number of individuals seated in the crowd during the broadcast, Bellator seems to have somehow cracked the Italian market.
To be sure, this card wasn’t in any way, shape, or form perfect—especially in terms of its match-ups—but its late-afternoon airtime was a breath of fresh air after a prior weekend of channel-flipping back and forth to the UFC and Bellator.
The Florence-held event began with a first-round win for middleweight contender and Dethrone Basecamp team member John Salter, over Claudio Annicchiarico. Why Salter, a wrestling star and longtime MMA competitor that dispatched former world champion Brandon Halsey via first-round submission in his last outing was fighting a man who has yet to win a bout is anyone’s best guess, but nevertheless, a victory is a victory.
After that, Kleber Raimundo Silva upset power-puncher Phillipe Lins via second-round TKO. Both men were swinging leather from the fight’s start to its finish, but it was Silva who was able to overcome adversity, make some adjustments, and secure the biggest win of his career to date.
In the featured fight, NCAA Wrestling Champion Ed Ruth, on short notice, expectedly ran over Emanuele Palombi via first-round TKO. Ruth found an early takedown, moved to mount, and threw vicious strikes from the top until the referee intervened at just past the ninety-second mark.
In the co-main event, Goiti Yamauchi bested Valeriu Mircea via first-round triangle choke. Like in his fight with Cody McKenzie earlier this year in Venator, Mircea seemed too content to hit the mat with a known submission specialist, and after some success on the feet with a huge punch and some mildly encouraging signs on the canvas, he paid for the move, as Yamauchi locked in a fantastic triangle choke and drew the tap.
Finally, the main event saw Alessio Sakara put a quick night in by defeating Joey Beltran via TKO in just over one minute. Unlike the other lightning-fast finishes from Bellator 168, this one wasn’t the result of a mismatch; this was an evenly matched bout, but both athletes threw caution to the wind, and the heavy-handed Sakara clipped Beltran with a massive shot, followed up with a flurry, and forced the referee to jump in.
Melvin Manhoef-Rafael Carvalho 2 would have been a great main event here, but nevertheless, Bellator 168 was a reasonable card. Moving forward, though, let’s hope useless match-ups like Salter- Annicchiarico cease being made; they aren’t fun to watch, they aren’t interesting, and they aren’t fair to the athletes with virtually zero chance of winning.
UFC Fight Night Albany: Derrick Lewis, Francis Ngannou Pick Up Stoppage Wins
The UFC’s second trip to New York was a successful one.
UFC Fight Night 102’s main card kicked off with a riveting light heavyweight affair between Gian Villante and Saparbek Safarov. In the opening frame, the New York-native Villante rocked the Russian multiple times, and nearly finished him in the process. Additionally, Safarov appeared to hurt his knee while throwing a kick. But somehow, he weathered the storm, and in the final two minutes of this opening period, Saparbek wobbled Gian.
The second round saw a more conservative Villante, following his corner’s advice, attack his opponent’s injured knee and land strikes from the outside. The end ultimately came as Villante clipped Safarov with another large punch, and then proceed to connect with shots on the feet until the referee was forced to intervene. This was a fantastic fight, a marvelous win for Gian Villante, and even in defeat, a great UFC debut for a very bright prospect in Saparbek Safarov.
After that, TUF winner Corey Anderson won impressively via second-round TKO against Sean O’Connell. Anderson used his elite wrestling to take the heavy-handed striker down, land thunderous punches, and in the middle period, implore the referee to step in.
In the co-main event, Francis Ngannou quickly defeated Anthony Hamilton with an awesome kimura. Hamilton looked for the takedown and smothered his knockout-minded opponent, who ultimately demonstrated that he has submission abilities as well by prying on a kimura and drawing the tap. The skillful Frenchman is now riding a three-fight winning streak.
The main event didn’t play out ideally for the betting favorite Derrick Lewis, but he was ultimately able to pick-up a fourth-round TKO.
The contest’s first three periods were dominated by Shamil Abdurakhimov, who expertly utilized a takedown and grappling-heavy gameplan. This strategy didn’t make for much exciting combat, but it was impressively effective. Then, in the fourth round, Lewis made the necessary adjustments to his opponent’s game, took top position, and made a statement with devastating punches that ultimately forced the referee to wave the bout off.
This win wasn’t very pretty, but as Jon Anik noted in the post-fight interview, a “W” is a “W,” and Derrick Lewis now boasts a five-fight UFC winning streak.
Jon Jones Could Return to MMA in July Thanks to NSAC Settlement
After testing positive for multiple performance-enhancing drugs in July 2016, Jon Jones was immediately suspended from MMA; just how long this suspension would last remained to be seen.
Now, fans—and Jones himself—know for certain when the former UFC light heavyweight champion will be eligible to compete again. “Bones” reached a settlement with the Nevada State Athletic Commission this week, placing his suspension time at one year. Thus, he will be able to return to the Octagon in July 2017.
This best-case outcome proves that Jones, as UFC President Dana White said, has nine lives. Countless fighters—from former featherweight title challenger Chad Mendes to Mirko Cro Cop and a number of others in between—have received multi-year suspensions for their drug tests. In his athletic prime and with MMA aficionados still awaiting his return, Jones has somehow defied the odds and crafted a defense that helped him overcome from another seemingly career-lethal setback.
Conor McGregor Announces Plans to Take Ten-Month MMA Break
UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor is stepping away from the Octagon for roughly ten months.
The Irish superstar revealed this week that he’ll take some time off to prepare for the birth of his child, and also, make some money with his well-established star power. The Notorious One isn’t hesitating on the latter point by any means, nor is he setting his sights too low, as it was also revealed this week that he’ll appear in HBO’s Game of Thrones soon.
This news isn’t ideal for MMA fans, but nevertheless, here’s to watching McGregor entertain in different capacities! Certainly, if anyone deserves a “break,” it’s him.
MMA Fight Announcements
Elias Theodorou versus Cezar Ferreira at UFC Fight Night 105 on February 19
This is a great fight between two middleweights undoubtedly looking to crack into the top ten.
Thiago Santos versus Jack Marshman at UFN 105 on February 19
Surging knockout artist and future middleweight star Jack Marshman may be tasked with his toughest test to date in well-rounded competitor Thiago Santos, who has beat the likes of Elias Theodorou and Nate Marquardt.
Alessandro Ricci versus Alvaro Herrera at UFN 105 on February 19
It’s do or die for up-and-coming welterweights Ricci and Herrera at UFN 105; both men, although very capable, really need a win.
Georgi Karakhanyan versus Emmanuel Sanchez at Bellator 170 on January 21
This is another phenomenal fight for Bellator, between two of the most underrated featherweights in all of MMA.
Valentina Shevchenko versus Julianna Pena at UFC on Fox 23 on January 28
Women’s bantamweight needs a title challenger, and this main event’s winner will likely be the competitor tasked with battling Ronda Rousey or Amanda Nunes next.
Glover Teixeira versus Jared Cannonier at UFC 208 on February 11
Cannonier has proven to be a solid fighter, but undeniably, Glover Teixeira is far and away the highest-level martial artist he’s ever been booked against; he’ll need to perform optimally to win, but a triumph will launch him into title contention.
The frantic MMA event pace set by the last month will continue next week, as the UFC airs a live-and-free Fox show, and Bellator holds their final event of the year from Dublin, Ireland.
See you in seven days!