MMA Weekly (11/27-12/4): Eduardo Dantas, Darrion Caldwell, Demetrious Johnson Win Big
This week in MMA was a busy and newsworthy one, as Bellator 166, Bellator 167, and the TUF 24 Finale provided fans with ample live-and-free combat to watch. Plus, Georges St. Pierre, Cain Velasquez, and several other high-profile fighters announced their involvement with an official MMA association (it was specified that it is, in fact, an association, as opposed to a union).
Let’s recap all this week’s MMA news!
TUF 24 Finale: Demetrious Johnson, Joseph Benavidez Win Riveting Decisions
The TUF 24 Finale was a thoroughly exciting event that was home to solid fights, unexpected action, and frankly weird occurrences. Furthermore, it—and in a way, the entire weekend, given that Bellator 166 and 167 were headlined by bantamweights—was a very encouraging showcase for lower-weight divisions.
The main event, to the surprise of many, was not one-sided by any means. TUF 24 winner Tim Elliott gave the UFC’s number one pound-for-pound fighter all he could handle across five rounds, landing numerous stiff strikes and attempting multiple close submissions in the process. This was undoubtedly the toughest title fight of Demetrious Johnson’s career—an odd point, given that Tim Elliott once again earned his shot through a TUF run. The fans were the real winners here, although the pound-for-pound great Demetrious Johnson was ultimately awarded the unanimous decision. For the first time in a long time, we were able to watch Mighty Mouse overcome real adversity inside the cage.
In the co-main event, TUF 24 coaches Joseph Benavidez and Henry Cejudo finally settled their differences—much to the benefit of the fans. Their fast-paced contest saw Henry take the lead early, rocking his opponent, only to have his efforts nulled by a point deduction resulting from a series of accidental low blows. The dizzying combat found in the opening five-minute frame continued through the second and third periods, resulting in another quality flyweight tilt for the night. The final result of this Fight of the Night candidate was a split decision in favor of the Team Alpha Male contender Joseph Benavidez.
In the featured bout of the evening, Jake Ellenberger clashed with Jorge Masvidal in what was a fun—and unfortunately stopped—contest. “The Juggernaut” clocked his opponent early, but the ever-game Masvidal came back and badly rocked Ellenberger. The end came unfortunately in the first round, as during an exchange, Jake’s foot got stuck in the fence and referee Herb Dean called a timeout. Yes, you read that correctly. Before Dean stepped in, Ellenberger was defending himself and attempting to free his trapped limb. However, this timeout would spell the end, as for whatever reason, the commission and/or other “professionals” sitting cage side told Dean to wave the fight off. He did, and fans were robbed of a good bout because of it.
Light heavyweights stormed the cage before this, as Jared Cannonier and Ion Cutelaba threw down. Both of these truly entertainment-loving competitors gave it their all for three rounds, and just like Cejudo-Benavidez (but perhaps even more so), the fans were the real winners. Watching two powerful and fresh contenders with very bright in-cage futures compete at LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT—yeah, that division!—was a treat, and this bout undoubtedly deserved the “Fight of the Night” honors it received.
The main card’s second fight was an intriguing women’s bantamweight tilt between Sara McMann and Alexis Davis. After a close first round, McMann drew a tap from Davis with a technically excellent triangle choke in the middle period. This was an important win over a skillful opponent, and as McMann is now riding a two-fight winning streak, we may see her fight for a crack at the title sometime soon; her only three UFC losses have come against Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, and Amanda Nunes!
The main card began with a pivotal flyweight match between Brandon Moreno and Ryan Benoit, which was enjoyable to watch, and saw Moreno put himself in position for a title shot by nabbing a split decision win. TUF 24 has actually produced another contender for the title, besides Tim Elliott, and his name is Brandon Moreno. Keep an eye on this guy moving forward.
In terms of bout entertainment, the TUF 24 Finale was this week’s clear winner. The event was small in attendance and scope, but it delivered in every sense and thereby provided fans with a lot to talk about in coming weeks.
Bellator 167: Darrion Caldwell Avenges His Only Career Loss Against Joe Taimanglo
Bellator 167 was an overall quality card that contained few surprises, but nevertheless, was pretty fun to watch.
In the main event, Darrion Caldwell avenged his only career loss by besting Joe Taimanglo via unanimous decision. The NCAA Division 1 champion Caldwell overwhelmed the Guam-native Taimanglo with his top-level wrestling, but the win wasn’t nabbed without adversity; “Baby Joe,” an elite bantamweight in his own right, attempted numerous submissions and landed some noteworthy strikes. Still, the judges were once again unanimous in their support of Caldwell, who earned a shot at Eduardo Dantas’s belt with the win. On a separate note, Bellator worked hard to set-up a dramatic staredown between Dantas and Caldwell by booking these events and rushing Eduardo to Bellator 167. The initial promo between these two was attention-grabbing, but the photo afterwards was not!
In the co-main event, John Teixeira defeated fellow UFC veteran Justin Lawrence via unanimous decision. This fast-paced contest was sealed in the Brazilian’s favor thanks to a strong second period; wherein he badly rocked the ultra-tough Lawrence. The only difference between Teixeira being signed to the UFC and not being signed to the UFC is one judge’s opinion, as he lost his UFC debut via split decision and was subsequently cut. The point is, it’s great to see he’s found a home in Bellator.
Before that, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane made another statement by defeating Emily Ducote via unanimous decision. The win, like Caldwell’s, didn’t come without adversity; Ducote rocked Macfarlance in the opening period, but overall, the top control and ground awareness of the betting favorite helped her secure the win. Still undefeated, Ilima is a force to be reckoned with, and Emily is a formidable competitor as well. The promotion’s flyweight division is really picking up steam, to say the least, and it should be a centerpiece of 2017 events.
The main card kicked off with a quick ending welterweight match between Chidi Njokuani and Andre Fialho. The AKA product Fialho was clipped with a gorgeous jab early, and directly after this point, finished with strikes on the mat; the bout officially ceased at twenty-one seconds of the very first round. Njokuani impressively tarnished his opponent’s previously undefeated record here, and literally, his only mistake was missing weight—a mistake that may have cost him a number-one contender’s spot.
Bellator 167 was good, and the toughest part of watching was undoubtedly switching back and forth to the TUF 24 Finale!
Bellator 166: Eduardo Dantas Beats Joe Warren in Title-Fight Rematch
Like many MMA cards, Bellator 166 was solid on paper, but not riveting in practice. Still, the show provided some quality fighting action for fans to enjoy.
In the main event, reigning bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas exacted revenge on former Bellator champ Joe Warren. “The Baddest Man on the Planet,” Warren, previously used his wrestling to best Dantas across five rounds (at Bellator 128 in October 2014, specifically), but this time, the young Brazilian kept a careful measure of his opponent’s distance and takedown efforts while landing powerful and stiff strikes. As was evident in the clinch and takedown attempts, Dantas also improved his core wrestling skills. The final result of this one-sided contest was a majority decision for Dantas (don’t ask about the “majority” part of it—the judges were off all night).
In the co-main event, A.J. McKee stayed undefeated against late-replacement Ray Wood. McKee was forced to overcome serious adversity throughout the bout—particularly in the first round when his opponent partially landed a huge flying knee and also connected cleanly to the body. McKee overcame this adversity and shined in the latter two periods, and was ultimately awarded the unanimous decision (don’t look at the judges’ specific scores unless you’d like to be frightened; once again, it seemed like they were scoring a different fight than we were watching).
Before that, Marcos Galvao edged out a close split decision against L.C. Davis. This bout wasn’t particularly exciting, nor was it dominated by either man; Galvao, the BJJ specialist, remained true to his typical style and tried to strike, while Davis focused on the takedown. Both Galvao and Davis are worth watching moving forward, but truthfully, this wasn’t the back-and-forth brawl many fans expected, and it’ll be hard for Marcos to lobby for a title shot without another win.
Finally, Bellator 166’s main card kicked off with an integral middleweight match between Chris Honeycutt and Ben Reiter. The especially elite wrestler and Dethrone Basecamp product Honeycutt worked a game Reiter across three rounds by pressuring him on the feet and continually using his takedown. The final result was a one-sided unanimous decision for Chris Honeycutt, who could soon challenge for the middleweight title, or more realistically (given Rafael Carvalho’s injury), fight for a number one contender spot.
As was said, Bellator 166 was a reasonable card that served as a great appetizer for the TUF 24 Finale and Bellator 167.
GSP, Cain Velasquez, Donald Cerrone, Tim Kennedy, T.J. Dillashaw and Bjorn Rebney Form Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association
The biggest step towards assembling MMA fighters to negotiate pay, benefits, and overall contractual terms to date was taken this week. During a conference call, Georges St. Pierre, Cain Velasquez, Donald Cerrone, Tim Kennedy, T.J. Dillashaw, and Bjorn Rebney revealed that they had founded (and presently comprise) the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association (MMAAA).
The association’s plans and goals moving forward were purposely kept under tight wraps, to not give the UFC a leg up in reacting to them, according to board members. Other interesting information revealed during the MMAAA’s conference call included: the fact that no other fighters have yet to join the organization, the fact that they’d only be targeting the UFC and the fact that Bjorn Rebney was only on board as a “necessary evil”, to help with logistics (this information came from Tim Kennedy).
I’ll reserve commentary for the coming weeks when we know more, but one thing’s for sure: this is a big deal for the MMA industry.
Naturally, the UFC’s lawyers have already sent a cease and desist letter to the new organization which has led to Donald Cerrone putting some distance already while Tim Kennedy seems to be hedging his bets.
Rafael Carvalho Injured, Out of Bellator 168 title rematch against Melvin Manhoef on December 10
This incredibly unfortunate injury has placed Bellator in a precarious spot. They can wait even longer to book a rematch of a fight that was terribly boring (out of respect to Manhoef, who should have been awarded the decision victory), or they could scrap the idea altogether and proceed with another title fight, given that Alexander Shlemenko is back and Chris Honeycutt just picked up a big win. Obviously, leaving Manhoef at the wayside wouldn’t be a popular move, but nor would further tying up the division for a rematch of a first fight that sucked, to be blunt.
Be glad you’re not Bellator’s matchmaker!
Hector Lombard versus Brad Tavares at UFC on Fox 23 on January 28
The young gun versus the established veteran: Hector Lombard is nearing the end of his career, while Brad Tavares is looking to find his way into the top ten. This one should be fun to watch, and furthermore, it’ll directly affect the middleweight title picture.
Bryan Caraway versus Jimmie Rivera at UFC Fight Night 103 on January 15
This is a great fight between two men who, with one more win, will more than likely challenge for the belt. There’s no telling how it’ll play out, and as such, fans shouldn’t hesitate to watch this one.
Joe Lauzon versus Marcin Held at UFC Fight Night 103 on January 15
Marcin Held isn’t getting a break from the UFC, as he’s been booked against perennial contender and well-rounded martial artist Joe Lauzon in his second outing. To be frank, this is a stylistically awful match-up for Held, and he’ll need to be in top form to best Lauzon. It’s by no means impossible for Held to win, but the UFC brass purposely issued the former Bellator lightweight title challenger an unfavorable fight in an attempt to advance the perception of quality behind their own, homegrown athletes.
Sergio Pettis versus Jussier da Silva at UFC Fight Night 103 on January 15
It’s not a secret that flyweight contenders are hard to come by, and as such, the winner of this bout may compete for the crown next time out.
Paul Daley versus Brennan Ward at Bellator 170 on January 21
Two heavy-handed, hard-nosed, all-action strikers who happen to also be some of the best welterweights on the planet clashing on free television is a very, very good thing for fans. Bellator is kicking 2017 off with authority by booking this match.
Goiti Yamauchi versus Valeriu Mircea at Bellator 168 on December 10
Formidable up-and-comer Yamauchi isn’t being given preferential treatment by Bellator in this match, as Mircea is a tough and skillful fighter who could very well make a name for himself in the promotion—especially with a win here.
Caveman Rickels will excite his hometown crowd once again at Bellator 171. It might not be popular to say right now, but the idea nevertheless holds true: David Rickels is an elite fighter, and he can rise into the lightweight division’s top ten if he becomes ever so slightly calmer and more cautious inside the cage. The problem is he likes entertaining fans too much!
Jimi Manuwa versus Glover Teixeira at UFC 208 on January 21
Jimi Manuwa and Glover Teixeira’s styles aren’t of much mystery to fans: both fighters throw hard punches with impressive frequency, in an effort to dispatch opponents quickly. They’re absolutely thrilling to watch, and this fight should accordingly be awesome.
This week in MMA was busy, and the next seven days look as though they’ll keep pace, with UFN 102, UFC 206, and Bellator 168 scheduled for the weekend.
As usual, we’ll recap all the news and results here!