MMA Weekly (7/17-7/24): Valentina Shevchenko Decisions Holly Holm at UFC on Fox 20, Joe Taimanglo Shocks Darrion Caldwell at Bellator 159, Chad Mendes Issued Two-Year Suspension
Between awesome MMA action from Bellator 159 and UFC on Fox 20, interesting fight announcements, unfortunate bout cancellations and drug-test failures, and a whole lot of other news, fans were kept busy this week, to say the least!
Let’s take a look at all of the news MMA fans were able to enjoy (and potentially miss) over the last seven days!
UFC on Fox 20: Shevchenko Decisions Holm, Barboza Decisions Melendez
It should be noted that, if the following UFC on Fox 20 breakdown feels a bit lacking of real insight, it’s because I wasn’t able (or willing to commit the required effort) to watch live, as Dish’s fiasco with Fox continues to block the channel out for customers (in a stroke of perfect luck, the televised prelims also aired on Fox itself instead of Fox Sports 1, which I still get).
In the main event of the evening, Valentina Shevchenko bested the former UFC bantamweight champion Holly Holm over the course of five rounds. The frequency with which Shevchenko threw, as well as her pinpoint accuracy, allowed her to find the win.
In the co-main event of the evening, Edson Barboza clearly defeated Gilbert Melendez in three rounds. The always-powerful kicks of Barboza were on full display, and even though Gilbert was wobbled by them, he pressed forward, dropping Edson at one point, but finding himself unable to secure the finish.
Competing against someone as skilled as Edson Barboza after such a long layoff is a tall task— even for Gilbert Melendez.
In the featured fight of the night, Francis Ngannou—the six-to-one favorite—expectedly dispatched the promotional newcomer Bojan Mihajlovic in just over a minute and a half. Ngannou connected with a left, followed up with ground and pound, and refused to take his foot off the gas until the referee intervened.
The main card kicked off with an appealing strawweight tilt between Felice Herrig and Kailin Curran. Herrig, who was actually a bit of an underdog, reminded the MMA world of her submission skills as she locked in a first-round rear-naked choke and forced the tap.
As a whole, UFC on Fox 20 was reasonable; objectively speaking, it really wasn’t a “Fox-caliber” card. Next weekend’s UFC 201 event looks impressive, though.
I almost forgot: Fox and the UFC better reach an agreement soon!
Bellator 159: Joe Taimanglo Upsets Darrion Caldwell, Melvin Guillard Finishes Caveman Rickels
As a whole, Bellator 159 delivered excellent combat for fans and continued the ever-present trend of less-than-optimal fight cards (at least on paper) surpassing the thrill of events which are stacked with big names and are heavily anticipated.
In the main event of the evening, NCAA Division 1 Champion and (formerly) undefeated MMA star Darrion Caldwell was bested by the hard-nosed Guam native Joe Taimanglo. After controlling the action in every conceivable way through two rounds, Caldwell became complacent at the start of the third, shooting a lazy double-leg takedown that allowed Taimanglo to lock in a guillotine choke and find the tap.
The loss tarnished Caldwell’s undefeated record and Bellator’s plans, as they certainly wanted the young and easily marketable NCAA champ to fight for the belt next. In retrospect, the loss will serve as more of a learning experience than anything else for Caldwell: don’t count anyone out at any time. He’ll be back.
Taimanglo did what few believed was possible in finding the win and the finish; the oddsmakers, critics, and fans all counted him out. I’ll admit that I didn’t give him much of a chance, and the first two rounds demonstrated why. Not because I don’t respect his skills, but because I have seen just how elite Caldwell is. Congrats to “Baby” Joe—hopefully he’ll be able to fight for the belt now.
The odds of a title fight for Taimanglo in his next outing are admittedly slim, though—mainly because he failed to make weight here. Obviously, fighting for a bantamweight title would require both competitors to weigh-in at or below one hundred and thirty-five pounds, and Taimanglo was three pounds over that limit when he hit the scales for this fight.
In honesty, missing weight puts a bit of a damper on a big win like this; the situation is somewhat similar to when Alexis Dufresne upset Marloes Coenen at Bellator 155 but failed to cut down to the featherweight limit. However, she took the fight on short notice; Taimanglo did not.
In the co-main event of the evening, Melvin Guillard returned to his winning ways with a first-round TKO over promotional-staple David Rickels. Despite losing the early stand-up exchanges, Guillard found a massive elbow from the clinch position—a position initiated by Rickels—and followed-up with a barrage of punches until the referee intervened.
Much like the main event, the reality of this contest is that Caveman probably could have won with relative ease had he avoided making one massive mistake; neglecting his defense to land a big strike in the clinch with a veteran like Guillard was evidently not a great idea. His striking looked better than ever, and David Rickels, like always, will be back.
This was a much-needed win for Melvin Guillard, but the fact remains that he didn’t make weight; he is too big for lightweight, as was confirmed by his on scale issues and his post-fight speech, during which he made clear that a move to welterweight is eminent. In short, he was oversized against Rickels; he may have reinvigorated interest in his career, but to reinvigorate respect, Guillard will need to act more professionally.
The featured fight of the night was a fun women’s flyweight scrap between Emily Ducote and Bruna Vargas. Ducote ultimately found the second-round rear-naked choke after rocking Vargas with a powerful shot and beautifully transitioning to the back, but it wasn’t without adversity; after landing early in the first and rocking her opponent, Ducote was taken down and controlled on the mat for the remainder of the opening stanza.
If Bellator continues to sign exciting female 125ers like Ducote and Vargas, they’ll have a real leg-up on other promotions—the UFC included—in terms of women’s fighting action.
The main card kicked off with a pivotal featherweight tilt between the calm, collected, and well-rounded Daniel Weichel and the tenacious Roufusport prospect Emmanuel Sanchez. It’s always a joy to watch each of these men compete, and at the night’s outset, this was the fight I was most excited for. It didn’t disappoint.
The pinpoint striking and veteran timing of Weichel collided head-on with the sheer aggression and always-moving-forward style of Sanchez, resulting in a close fight and a split decision. I have no problem with the split decision, but one judge confusingly scored all three rounds for Weichel; it’s highly unlikely that, from any perspective, Weichel won each of the three periods.
Still, this was a very fun fight and a notable reminder that Bellator has some highly skilled featherweights signed. Overall, Bellator 159 was a solid—and unpredictable—show.
Bellator Releases Seven Fighters, Including Dave Jansen and Mikkel Parlo
Bellator is evidently playing hardball with its roster, as the cuts of seven fighters—Dave Jansen, Mike Richman, Mikkel Parlo, Raphael Butler, Houston Alexander, Isao Kobayashi and Thiago Jambo Goncalves—were announced this week.
The two most questionable cuts here are definitely Dave Jansen and Mikkel Parlo. Jansen is a WEC veteran and nine-time Bellator competitor, who holds a 7-2 record with the promotion. His last two losses—his only two losses in Bellator—came against Will Brooks (in a title fight) and Marcin Held (elite fighters to say the least).
Mikkel Parlo is a twenty-six-year-old striker who has fallen only to some of the best in Bellator— his two most recent losses came against Brennan Ward and Chris Honeycutt. Cutting him after a single, non-consecutive defeat to someone like Honeycutt (who could fight for and win the belt) just feels premature.
The weirdest of the cuts is that of Mike Richman, who is roughly one year into a two-year suspension for taking a performance-enhancing drug. Why Bellator kept him around for a year (Richman didn’t ask to be released, as his Twitter reaction indicates) instead of cutting him right away is unclear; perhaps they just needed more time to reach a decision!
Finally, the most disrespectful of the cuts is that of the longtime veteran Houston Alexander. Currently riding a two-fight Bellator losing streak and a four-fight overall losing streak, Alexander’s last fight under the banner came in November of 2015. Instead of cutting him then, Bellator waited until he lost his latest regional fight against Evan Nedd; now Alexander must cope with another loss and the elimination of a contract with a big company like Bellator.
The timing is simply far from optimal.
Objectively speaking, these cuts really are questionable, in the cases of Parlo and Jansen. In addition to playing a useful role in the promotion, neither man was paid very much at all from Bellator, as the latest public records indicate.
Former Bellator Middleweight Champion Alexander Shlemenko Has Suspension Reduced
It looks like Alexander Shlemenko’s appeal of his three-year suspension from MMA competition in the US worked.
Following his knockout victory over Melvin Manhoef, Shlemenko tested positive for anabolic steroids and registered a 50:1 testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio—California’s limit is 4:1. He was suspended for three years and fined $10,000. Now, the fine has been reduced to $5,000 and the suspension reduced to one year from the date of the bout; Shlemenko can compete in the United States once again.
The case made by Shlemenko and his lawyer was simple: the original notice sent by the CSAC stated that “The Storm” was to be suspended for one year. Mistake or not, they argued—successfully, of course—that the CSAC must stick to this.
For as much as I’d like to see Shlemenko compete in Bellator once again (he’s been active in Russia, although his fights are hard to watch live), I will only enjoy doing so if he is completely clean. Hopefully, the drug tests will be administered with frequency, and he’ll pass each of them. After all, he’s maintained his innocence this entire time.
USADA Drug Testing Wreaks Havoc on Multiple Fighters
For most UFC fighters, the enhanced USADA drug testing is a welcome sport-cleaning measure. For many others, it is a nightmare. Here’s a rundown the of this week’s drug-testing news, which is extensive:
Emil Weber Meek, the man who KO’d Rousimar Palhares in Venator, has been pulled from his UFC debut due to a potential USADA issue. While he claims this problem is related to medication, its exact details have yet to be revealed.
Two-time UFC featherweight title challenger (three if you count the interim fight with McGregor) Chad Mendes was issued a two-year suspension by the USADA for his failed drug test (a growth hormone variation was found in his system).
For me, it feels like just yesterday that a seemingly unstoppable Mendes battled Jose Aldo for a second time in Brazil at twenty-nine years old. Now, Chad is riding a two-fight losing streak and will be thirty-three when he is able to return to the sport.
MMA is crazy.
Speaking of which, Brock Lesnar (who also failed an in-competition drug test) and Jon Jones both tested positive for the same thing—an estrogen blocker. Estrogen blockers usually accompany anabolic steroid use to reduce negative effects.
Jon Jones’s brother, Arthur Jones, also failed an NFL drug test—that’s right, an NFL drug test! He will be suspended without pay, through the first four games of the upcoming season.
Careless PED use must run in the family.
MMA Fight Announcements
A crazy number of fights were announced this week by both Bellator and the UFC:
Cheick Kongo vs. Tony Johnson at Bellator 161 on September 16
This is an appealing fight between the perennial contender Kongo and the AKA-based, elite wrestler Johnson.
Georgi Karakhanyan vs. Bubba Jenkins 2 and Benson Henderson vs. Patricio Freire at Bellator 160 August 26
Although Georgi got the win in their first meeting at Bellator 132, he and Jenkins will clash again. This makes sense, seeing as though Jenkins has improved greatly as of late.
Benson-Pitbull is a solid stylistic fight, but the size of Bendo may be too much; he is moving down from welterweight, while Patricio is moving up from featherweight.
Germaine de Randamie vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith, Taylor Lapilus vs. Leandro Issa, and Aisling Daly vs. Michelle Waterson at UFC Hamburg on September 3
Fun bantamweight fights await if the competitors can make it past the USADA’s rigorous testing. Without mentioning names, more than one of these competitors fail the “eye test.”
Daly-Waterson is a divisionally integral scrap between two of strawweight’s most underrated athletes.
Max Griffin vs. Colby Covington at UFC 202 on August 20
This is an intriguing contest between two men who, if they put it all together, can contend for the title.
Brad Tavares vs. Caio Magalhães and Jessica Andrade vs. Joanne Calderwood at UFC 203 on September 10
Win or lose, let’s hope there’s no blood-spitting from either man here.
For Calderwood-Andrade, fans should prepare for action; Andrade is coming off a vicious win over Jessica Penne, and Calderwood has looked phenomenal since moving to Tristar (her recent triumph over Valerie Letourneau cannot be understated either).
Augusto Montano vs. Belal Muhammad and Kenny Robertson- Roan Carneiro at UFC Hidalgo on September 17
Stylistically, Montano-Muhammad screams action; it goes without saying that both fighters could really use a win as well.
Robertson-Carneiro is the card’s sleeper; Robertson has never received the credit he deserves.
Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Johnson and Derek Brunson vs. Uriah Hall at UFC Hidalgo on September 17
Hidalgo’s main and co-main events deserve their own listing; the card has really come together.
Still, I can’t help but feel that Poirier is taking another step back with this fight. While he is riding a four-fight winning streak, Michael Johnson most recently lost to Nate Diaz. Still, Johnson is very skilled, and that’s exactly the problem. Like the Bobby Green fight, Poirier is putting a lot on the line for a small potential reward.
As for Hall-Brunson, I’m curious to know what Uriah Hall did to eternally infuriate the UFC brass; the dude has one of the toughest schedules in the promotion.
Jim Miller vs. Joe Lauzon 2 at UFC on Fox 21 on August 27
This one makes perfect sense all around; their first fight was awesome, both men are still very exciting to watch, and each of their first-round UFC 200 wins are ultra-impressive (especially Joe Lauzon becoming the first man to defeat Diego Sanchez via strikes).
This week in MMA was very, very busy, and there’s a good chance that next week won’t be nearly as full-scheduled. But as fans of the sport, we understand that consistency is for baseball and basketball—not cage fighting.
Until next week!