This Week in MMA (4/17-4/24): McGregor-Diaz 2 Cancelled, Demetrious Johnson and Andrey Koreskov Retain Titles, Jon Jones Decisions OSP
This week in MMA was absolutely jam-packed with fighting action and ultra-interesting developments. Let’s cut right to the chase and take a look at everything that fans were able to enjoy during the last seven days!
UFC 197: Jones Bests OSP, Demetrious Johnson Retains Title
UFC 197 may not have been the card that we all anticipated because of Daniel Cormier’s injury, but it was a solid overall show.
In the main event of the evening, Jon Jones soundly defeated Ovince Saint Preux over the course of five rounds. OSP had some moments of success, but Jones was simply too skilled and diverse in his attacks. Also, the last-minute booking of OSP was evident in the championship rounds as he began to tire.
Despite winning handily, this wasn’t Jon’s best performance to date by any means; objectively speaking, he looked like a man who had been battling an intense legal issue over the past year, and more pressingly, a man who spent the start of this very month in jail. His next fight is of course set as a title-unification bout and rematch against DC, and to Jones’s benefit, the ring rust should be cleared when it goes down.
Ovince St. Preux stepped up on three weeks’ notice to compete against one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time, and in the process, further established his own quality as a fighter. Sure, he may not have been victorious, but he did find some moments of success; moreover, the list of athletes who have lost to Jones after full training camps is pretty long! For his next outing, either Alexander Gustafsson or Tom Lawlor would be good, depending upon what he’s looking to do (try and re-establish himself with a quality win over a high-level opponent or be tossed right back into the title picture mix).
In the co-main event of the evening, Demetrious Johnson officially cleared out the flyweight division by defeating Henry Cejudo via first-round TKO. The champion landed a vicious knee and followed-up with a massive barrage of additional strikes that allowed him to find the finish.
This fight confirmed, despite what the UFC’s promotional efforts have indicated, what many fans already knew: Demetrious Johnson has defeated every viable challenger in the flyweight division. Some people blame Johnson’s poor PPV sales on his size, others on his personality, but few acknowledge the idea that knowing that a fighter is going to steamroll his or her opponent doesn’t make for much anticipation or intrigue. It’s one thing to be dominant, but let’s be honest: every time Johnson’s entered the cage since the second Benavidez bout in 2013, the outcome has been all-but-finalized—essential formalities.
It’s time to book Johnson in a super fight against the bantamweight champion (after Faber and Cruz meet yet again, of course).
For Cejudo, who still has a very bright future in the sport, perhaps a return to bantamweight would be good; he’s struggled to make weight in the past, and there are plenty of interesting contests at 135 for him as well. If he stays at flyweight, a match with Ali Bagautinov will be good, and if he moves up, a fight with Francisco Rivera would be a fun way to test the waters.
In the featured bout of the evening, Edson Barboza defeated the former lightweight champion, Anthony Pettis, while the fight stayed on the feet. Pettis was as game as ever, but Barboza simply put everything together; from his leg kicks to his hooks and everything in-between, each strike of Barboza was carefully considered, and it showed.
Despite holding the belt just last year, Pettis has now lost his last three—albeit against some of the very best lightweights in the world. Contrary to the common opinion, he doesn’t have to drop to featherweight by any means, but doing so would certainly help him to turn a corner. Should Pettis stay at lightweight, a fight with Michael Johnson makes sense (despite the fact that Johnson beat Barboza), and if he moves down, Chad Mendes or Renan Barao would be solid opponents.
Barboza is in a bit of a tough spot, having clearly beaten the former champion Pettis, but just prior, lost to the title contender Tony Ferguson. Next time out, he should compete against Michael Chiesa, to gauge both of their divisional standings while not recovering ground that’s been traversed by other contests.
Before that, Robert Whittaker bested Rafael Natal over the course of three rounds, in what was a spirited and exciting affair.
The talented Whittaker, despite being hurt by the leg kicks of “Sapo”, simply landed the better strikes. The triumph is arguably Whittaker’s most notable to date, and he is now riding a five-fight winning streak. As for who he competes against next, well, that’s anyone’s best guess.
I know it isn’t very helpful, but Whittaker was already fighting pretty far down the rankings, relative to his own position, against Natal; he can take another fight like this, that further legitimizes his skills, or wait for an opening in the upper-echelon of the division. Machida is out on suspension, Silva is booked against Hall, a match with Bisping would be a step down for “The Count”, and the rest of the top-five are also booked.
This is a good problem to have, for Whittaker.
For Natal, who is still a high-level middleweight, how about an outing against CB Dollaway?
The main-card kicked-off with a telling fight between Team Alpha Male’s Andre Fili and TUF Latin America winner Yair Rodríguez. Rodriguez, after winning the first round, landed a gorgeous flying switch kick that put Fili away instantly.
Prior to this, I hadn’t jumped on the “Team Alpha Male sucks” bandwagon, and I still won’t. However, objectively speaking, the majority of TAM athletes haven’t been performing as well as they previously did when they had a confirmed head coach. It’s time for someone to pay for a new trainer (I know it isn’t quite that simple, but still) who can streamline training once again. In terms of his next match, though, a clash between Fili and Sam Sicilia would be fun.
For Rodriguez, however unlikely it is given both of their geographically important winning streaks, a bout with Makwan Amirkhani would be ultra-interesting.
Bellator 153: Ben Henderson Upset by Koreshkov in Promotional Debut, Pitbull Submits Corrales
From top to bottom, Bellator 153 was an excellent event, complete with fun fights, top-level athletes, and surprising upsets.
In the main event of the evening, former WEC and UFC lightweight champion of the world Benson Henderson came up short in his Bellator debut and attempt to become the first athlete to hold belts in the WEC, the UFC, and Bellator.
There wasn’t anything questionable or fluke-like about the fight; Andrey Koreshkov continues to improve every time he competes, and his expert striking, takedown defense, and powerful frame led him to victory over the skilled and tough-as-nails Bendo, over the course of five rounds.
Henderson has never been dominated like this, across five entire rounds. Still though, the win was just a minor setback for “Smooth”, who is still in his prime, and has a ton of awesome matches available at both welterweight and lightweight. For Koreshkov, the triumph did well to affirm what hardcore fans (and Koreshkov himself) already knew: he is legit, Bellator’s welterweight division is legit, and the promotion’s top competitors are some of the best in the world.
The sky is the limit for Bendo, and there are too many viable opponents for his next bout to select just one. For Koreshkov, Evangelista Santos is too much of a “high-risk, low-reward” opponent, despite his beating of the man who was likely next in line for a crack at the belt with a win, and Paul Bradley is probably his best available opponent until Gonzalez and Page compete at Bellator 158.
In the co-main event of the evening, Patricio Pitbull took on the always-game late replacement Henry Corrales and won via second-round guillotine submission.
As always, Pitbull looked excellent. However, the highly underrated and ever-improving Corrales held his own during the contest and was arguably winning the second round before the submission came. It appears as though Pitbull received another shot at the belt as a result of his win. Corrales, on the other hand, needs an easier contest next time out; he may very well grow into one of the best in the world, but his next fight should be winnable—a full fight camp and a promotional newcomer, with no questions asked.
Before that, Brennan Ward was upset in just thirty seconds by Evangelista Santos, who won via heel hook. The always-aggressive Ward charged forward early on, grabbed ahold of Santos, and simply didn’t anticipate the veteran scrambling ability that he would be faced with.
This was most definitely an especially tough loss to swallow for Ward, who was very close to receiving a shot at the belt. Moreover, the defeat was more of an indication of his relative inexperience as opposed to a deficiency in his skills; this will be the last time that he underestimates a seasoned veteran inside the cage, more than likely. I previously said that “The Irish Bad Boy” would be a massive part of the welterweight landscape in all of the MMA for quite a while to come, and I stand by that statement completely; think of this setback as the ground version of Edson Barboza vs. Jamie Varner.
In his next fight, Ward should be booked against Ricky Rainey. Santos, on the other hand, should be booked only in “fun” fights like this one; if Marius Žaromskis wants another fight, he is the perfect opponent. Otherwise, Chidi Njokuani would be interesting.
Before that, Brent Primus was awarded a questionable decision victory over Gleristone Santos. Obviously, Primus has no control over the judges, and despite this odd decision, the talented lightweight will still play a major part in the sport for quite a while to come. A bout against Ryan Couture makes sense next.
For Santos, who arguably won his prior contest against John Teixeira and likely beat Primus, a fight against David Rickels would be awesome.
Finally, the main card kicked-off with an interesting contest between Michael Page and Jeremie Holloway. As he promised, Holloway implemented a unique gameplan against Page and charged forward. Within seconds of the fight’s start, he was tagged, however, and continued to be hit throughout the contest. Ultimately, while Page was up against the cage, Holloway was caught in a rare toe hold (because of its form), which elicited a tap.
Michael Page has already been booked to fight Fernando Gonzalez at Bellator 158 in London, and for those interested in seeing MVP compete against an established and skilled opponent, your wish has been granted. Fernando Gonzalez is a well-rounded, consistent, streaking, and high-level welterweight who will be Page’s biggest test to date.
For Holloway, a match-up with Charlie Ontiveros would be a logical way to proceed.
As was said, Bellator 153 was a solid card, from top to bottom, and especially thanks to its numerous surprises, each of its fights are worth watching.
Conor McGregor “Retires”, Pulled From UFC 200 Now says it’s back on and “Unretired”
In one of the most interesting displays in some time, Conor McGregor has been removed from his scheduled UFC 200 rematch against Nate Diaz.
The rift came after McGregor attempted to lessen his promotional workload, suggesting that he attend only a New York press conference instead of the scheduled tours across several cities, ahead of UFC 200. The UFC denied him this request, and McGregor stood tall, “retiring”, and later clarifying that he was simply waiting for the UFC to approve his request.
The UFC was resilient and removed him from the card entirely, and as of most recently, Nate Diaz claimed that he is no longer interested in fighting on the card, with McGregor removed. Now, Dana White claims that McGregor will have to return against the winner of Jose Aldo versus Frankie Edgar 2 (which is also scheduled for UFC 200).
This entire development resulted in a number of notable pieces of information.
First, Conor McGregor is popular. With a single tweet, the featherweight champion turned the sport upside down, seemingly; the largest news outlets in the world were having a field day writing articles just as the smallest news sites were. Objectively speaking, it was as if the UFC folded when McGregor sent his retirement tweet out, in terms of largescale response!
Also, we found out that the UFC doesn’t pay big-name fighters for their promotional efforts. This one honestly came as a surprise to me, as I assumed that with all of the work McGregor put in hyping his bouts, they would at least toss him a bone—an extra million dollars or so (which, when PPVs sell like McGregor’s do, isn’t a big deal).
Sure, the UFC may have been worried about the information leaking, and the inevitable accusations of favoritism if that did happen, but I think that ship sailed long ago when Dana White posted a video of him driving with McGregor (Conor may have posted it as well—I’m not entirely sure); most other fighters can’t get Dana on the phone!
Obviously, despite most everyone besides the UFC brass wanting the fight booked now (as booking it at this point would be “bowing” to McGregor’s “demands”), it simply cannot be. To do so would completely undermine the “hard line” stance that the organization has adopted. The only way the fight could be re-booked at this point is if the UFC called McGregor up and told him they’re willing to pay for his promotional efforts, but that he would have to publicly renounce his prior statements to make it seem as though he was in the wrong.
That’s a stretch, to say the least.
This week in MMA was fantastic; let’s hope that next week is even better!
On Monday, McGregor tweeted out the UFC 200 was back on, so we’ll see what happens or if this just part of a crazy pr scheme.
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) April 25, 2016
Enjoy the fights!