Tag: UFC 219

UFC 219: 10 Things We Learned Last Night

UFC 219: 10 Things We Learned Last Night

1. And Still

Cris Cyborg retained her featherweight title with a unanimous decision victory over Holly Holm to close out UFC 219. One official scored the fight 49-46 for the Brazilian champion while the two remaining judges – Dave Hagen and Chris Lee – had the fight 48-47, giving Holm the opening two rounds, meaning the former bantamweight queen could have pulled upset with a more effective performance in the final stanza.

This was Cyborg’s most impressive performance to date. As much as some of the times she’s mauled opponents in no time flat has been fun, it was really interesting and captivating to see her pushed for the first time in forever, forced to deal with an opponent who was able to return fire and take the punishment the Brazilian standout was dishing out. Holm fought a very good fight and likely would have gotten the better of most other competitors on Saturday night in Las Vegas, but unfortunately for her, she was in the cage with an unbeatable superstar who took her best shots and responded with even better offense en route to securing her position as the top female fighter, both now and in the history of the sport.

2. Time to give Cyborg a serious push

I know she just headlined a pay-per-view and has been the main event of a couple televised events, but it’s time for the UFC to really see what they have in Cyborg in terms of her drawing power and star power and give her the kind of promotional push that the dominant, tenured champion deserves.

Give her a pay-per-view main event in Brazil and watch how nuts the crowd goes for her. Give her a chance to connect with fans outside of the MMA bubble and see how well the ferocious fighter who also happens to be a genuine, caring, engaging personality outside of the cage can do when provided with a platform to connect with an new audience.

There are always going to be the legion of troglodytes that spew sad, hateful comments at her, but you can’t hold her back because some people are morons. Cyborg is one of the most dominant fighters in the history of the sport and she should be promoted and marketed as such in 2018.

3. Nurmagomedov is next level

I’m not sure there is anyone that can beat Khabib Nurmagomedov.

The undefeated lightweight returned to the Octagon for the first time in 13 months and trounced Edson Barboza, eating hard leg kicks like nothing as he pressed forward into the clinch, where he was able to dragging the Brazilian to the canvas and open up a can of whoop ass. For almost the entire fight, Nurmagomedov pressed forward, putting Barboza on the canvas and roughing him up. While he didn’t get the finish, the result was never in doubt and the performance affirmed that “The Eagle” is the top contender in the deep and talented lightweight division.

In fact, he very well could be the best fighter in the weight class, superior to titleholders Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson. The only reason we don’t know that for sure yet is because Nurmagomedov has yet to face either one inside the Octagon, but that should change in 2018. Unbeaten in 25 fights, the only thing that has been able to slow Nurmagomedov has been injuries and weight cutting issues, but with the latter seemingly dealt with, it’s seems like the only thing that could stop him from challenging for gold is another injury.

Send up your offerings to the MMA gods now because we’ve been waiting too long to see Nurmagomedov fight for the lightweight title and the opportunity is once again upon us.

4. Hooker finding a home at lightweight

Dan Hooker returned to lightweight for his debut appearance in 2017 and collected a second-round knockout win over Ross Pearson. Saturday night, the New Zealander made it two fights and two finishes (over two Brits) by choking out Marc Diakiese.

Expected to be a back-and-forth striking battle, the first two rounds didn’t feature as much action as everyone anticipated, leading the crowd to rain down boos and social media to shift its attention elsewhere as the fight chugged along. Diakiese came out hot to start the third, pressing forward behind quick, sharp hands and it seemed like business was about to pick up, but just when he started landing, Diakiese opted to dive in on a sloppy takedown and Hooker made him pay, locking in a tight ninja choke that immediately made “The Bonecrusher” tap.

This may be the first time that Hooker has won back-to-back fights in the Octagon, but it seems obvious that the 27-year-old is finding a home at lightweight. He has good size for the division, a bunch of experience and is sneaky-technical, making him an interesting “under the radar” talent to track as we move into the new year.

5. Former champ Esparza halts Calvillo’s climb

Inaugural strawweight champion Carla Esparza bounced back from being dominated in the opening frame to grind out a trio of 29-28 scores to bring an end to Cynthia Calvillo’s perfect start to her career.

After getting taken down early in the first and being controlled there for the majority of the frame, Esparza went on the wrestling offensive herself in the second, mixing in timely takedown attempts with solid striking to keep Calvillo off balance. While she couldn’t keep the Team Alpha Male representative on the canvas for long once she got her there, the former champion did an excellent job of keeping Calvillo guessing and landing the cleaner, heavier shots over the final two rounds to earn the victory.

The victory sets up some interesting options in the division as 2018 draws near as Esparza owns a victory over current champ Rose Namajunas and re-asserted herself as one of the top talents in the 115-pound weight class with this performance.

6. Magny Shines against “The Natural Born Killer”

Neil Magny wanted to get the sour taste from his loss to Rafael dos Anjos out of his mouth before 2017 came to close, so he badgered UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby for another fight. He never expected to be offered a bout with Carlos Condit, but he jumped at the chance to challenge himself against the former interim champion and Saturday night in Las Vegas, he made the most of his opportunity, earning a unanimous decision win to kick off the pay-per-view main card.

The Denver, Colorado-based welterweight fought a smart, tactical fight, catching kicks and completing takedowns, never giving Condit a chance to find his rhythm. He closed the distance and lived in the clinch, and while the offense he offered was never anything too punishing, Magny was able to stay active and grind out a very good victory over one of the most accomplished fighters in welterweight history.

While some might want to put qualifiers on Condit’s performance, noting his lengthy layoff prior to this fight, it would be a disservice to Magny to do so. He fought an excellent fight, sticking to the game plan and playing to his strengths to collect the biggest win of his career.

7. Introducing Michal Oleksiejczuk

If you’re looking for a promising light heavyweight prospect to track in 2018 and beyond, look no further than Michal Oleksiejczuk.

Originally tabbed to make his debut at UFC 217, the 22-year-old was pulled from the card at the 11th hour when his opponent got flagged for a USADA violation, but he jumped at the chance to replace Gohkan Saki opposite Khalil Rountree Jr. here and made the most of it, weathering an early first-round storm to win a unanimous decision over the former TUF finalist.

A training partner of Polish standouts Jan Blachowicz and Marcin Tybura (among others), the UFC neophyte had already logged 14 professional appearances prior to his promotional debut and pushed his overall winning streak to double digits with his victory on Saturday. While there is nothing threatening looking about “Lord Michal,” he’s a patient, technical striker who did a great job mixing in shots to the body and a bunch of kicks to put it on the flagging Rountree over the final 12 minutes of action.

In a weight class where aging veterans dominate the Top 10 and opportunities abound, Oleksiejczuk is one of the few young upstarts competing in the 205-pound rounds who have the potential to climb the ladder and potentially become a factor in the division over the next couple years.

8. Jury back in contention

Following a 16-month hiatus, Myles Jury returned to action in April, dominating Mike de la Torre. Saturday night, the former lightweight prospect showed that he’s all the way back and a contender once again with a solid, professional performance against Rick Glenn.

There were no major highlights moments in the 15-minute affair. Instead, Jury simply offered three rounds of clean, polished offense in all facets to pick up his second win of the year and add his name to the growing list of fighters to watch in the featherweight division.

Having dropped two straight before his time away, it’s easy to forget that Jury was once an unbeaten rising star int he lightweight division; a two-time TUF contestant whose first loss came to Donald Cerrone in a fight where many thought the Michigan native would establish himself as a contender by getting a victory over “Cowboy.” He’s hit the reset button now and returned to training with the elite crew at Alliance MMA in San Diego, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the 29-year-old keep rolling and emerge as a serious contender in 2018.

9. Welcome back, Matheus Nicolau

After winning his UFC debut with a Japanese necktie and beating former title challenger John Moraga by split decision in his sophomore Octagon appearance, Matheus Nicolau returned to action for the first time in 18 months and turned in a dominant effort against stupid-tough Hawaiian Louis Smolka.

The 24-year-old Brazilian was on the sidelines after being flagged for a USADA violation which he pinned on a tainted supplement, but the time away didn’t appear to hinder his performance in his comeback fight as he turned in a blistering first round, knocking down Smolka on multiple occasions before controlling the action over the final 10 minutes to earn a clean sweep of the scorecards.

Now 3-0 in the UFC and 13-1-1 overall, Nicolau’s lopsided decision win over the durable Hawaiian should send him into 2018 in prime position to take part in some big fights at flyweight next year. While his suspension forced him out of the rankings, this performance coupled with his previous victory over Moraga should earn the talented returning fighter a place in the Top 10 and with a couple more quality wins, he could find himself challenging for the flyweight title.

10. Bittersweet Victory

Tim Elliott collected an impressive second-round submission win to kick off Saturday’s fight card, connecting on a deep anaconda choke just over a minute into the second round that forced newcomer Mark De La Rosa to tap, but it was a bittersweet moment for the Lee’s Summit, Missouri native.

Earlier this month, Elliott’s coach Robert Follis took his own life and the former flyweight title challenger dedicated this performance to his departed coach. As soon as De La Rosa tapped, Elliott walked over and sat down in a neutral corner, the emotions starting to wash over him. Following the official decision, Joe Rogan handed him the microphone and all the 31-year-old had a simple message: “Robert Follis, I love you.”

The loss of his coach came on the heals of Elliott opting not to compete two week’s ago in Winnipeg after his short-notice opponent Pietro Menga was unable to make the contracted weight. Elliott passed on a catchweight contest and lobbied to get booked again quickly, which he did, but then returned to Las Vegas to the tragic news about his coach.

On Saturday night, Elliott delivered one of the most impressive and dominant performance of his career, turning the page on a terrible month.

UFC 219: Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC 219: Punch Drunk Predictions

Here we go, fight fans – it’s the last UFC event of the year and it’s a good one!

Featuring a championship main event between the most dominant female fighter of the past decade (Cris Cyborg) and a former champion who has already knocked off an icon once before (Holly Holm), UFC 219 is a terrific blend of big stakes, big names and quality preliminary card fights that should entertain.

Rather than warming you up to it any more, I’m going to assume that if you’re here reading this piece on this site, you’re already stoked and just looking to know who I think will emerge victorious, so I won’t keep you waiting any longer.

Here are my thoughts.

These are the UFC 219 Punch Drunk Predictions.

Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm for the UFC women’s featherweight title

I think there is a way for Holm to win this fight – stay outside, pick her spots, stick and move and hope Cyborg gets tired – but I just don’t see her being able to take big shots from the Brazilian standout long enough to edge out a tepid decision.

One of the things I always find interesting when we’re breaking down Cyborg fights is how someone always thinks the next opponent is the one who is going to show that her gas tank is suspect by taking her into the championship rounds and beating her once she gets tired. A big reason that hasn’t happened yet is because Cyborg is an ultra-talented fighter who pressures well and wears you down under a frequently more patient, but powerful approach. It’s hard to take someone into deep water when they’re drowning you in the shallow tides.

I believe Holm will get out of the first round and land some of the clean left hands that she hit Ronda Rousey with in their fight, but overall, I think she’s going to end up getting overwhelmed and put away just like everyone else.

Prediction: Cris Cyborg

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Edson Barboza

Let me start by saying I stand by my column earlier this week stating that Barboza is being overlooked and that feels really weird to me because he’s a tremendous fighter and a dangerous finisher facing a guy that is kind of hittable in Nurmagomedov.

He could win. He could knock “Nurmy” out and surprise a whole lot of people.

But I don’t think he’ll do it.

Between writing that piece and this piece, I went back and re-watched Nurmagomedov’s win over Michael Johnson and I sat here giggling at how goddamn dominant he is on the ground. This happened just a couple hours after I talked to the unbeaten lightweight standout for a UFC.com feature that includes lines like “wrestling and Khabib are the same” to explain his prodigious acumen on the ground and “my background is to smash opponents,” which is exactly what he did to Johnson at UFC 205.

And I think he’ll end up doing it to Barboza here as well.

Prediction: Khabib Nurmagomedov

Dan Hooker vs. Marc Diakiese

The Marc Diakiese hype train was slowed a little last time out as “The Bonecrusher” dropped a sluggish decision to Drakkar Klose, but he gets a favourable bounce-back opportunity that should be contested exclusively on the feet here against Hooker, a seven-fight UFC veteran who has alternated wins and losses over that stretch and enters off a knockout finish of Ross Pearson in June.

When I say this is a “favourable bounce-back opportunity” for Diakiese, I’m not trying to throw shade at Hooker, but rather just call it like I see it and the way I see it, Diakiese is a very good prospect with excellent striking who is going to continue to improve in big chunks over the next couple years as he keeps working at American Top Team and Hooker is a middle of the pack fighter who has some weapons, has some skills, but isn’t as polished or explosive of his British opponent.

Maybe he proves me wrong and catches Diakiese with the same kind of nastiness he used to put Pearson down back in the summer, but looking at whom he’s beaten and he has gotten the better of him in the cage, I give the edge to Diakiese and I think he wins going away.

Prediction: Marc Diakiese

Cynthia Calvillo vs. Carla Esparza

This is the most interesting fight on the main card to me because Calvillo is still very much a work in progress even though she’s hustled into the Top 10 this year, while Esparza is established and seasoned, but still has glaring holes in her game.

Everything about this fight comes down to who can control the action on the canvas because neither woman is particularly skilled or polished when it comes to throwing hands. Calvillo is the better scrambler, but Esparza has the more robust takedown game and has historically done a good job of working just enough to maintain top position once she gets you to the ground.

As much as I like what Calvillo has been able to do so far this year and believe she still has another level she can reach, this is one of those “you’ve got to show me you can win this fight before I can pick you to win this fight” deals for me. Dragging Joanne Calderwood to the ground and riding out dominant positions is one thing, but doing it to someone like Esparza is  completely different and until I see it happen, I’m siding with the former champion.

Prediction: Carla Esparza

Carlos Condit vs. Neil Magny

On pedigree and skill set, Condit wins this fight in a route. He’s a high output striker who is dangerous off his back as well, can pressure Magny to get inside his long jab and rough him up in the same way Lorenz Larkin roughed him up last year at UFC 202.

But here’s the thing: I was at Condit’s last fight and he got trucked.

He got trucked after coming back from a lengthy layoff where he was considering retirement and saying all the right things about having the hunger back and being ready for what Demian Maia had to offer and he still got trucked. So it’s hard for me to sit here 16 months after that – after Condit has gone away again and started working on other things and gotten another year older – and hear him saying all the right things and not be reminded of last August in Vancouver.

Magny is a competent welterweight – a very solid Top 10, Top 15 guy with a good jab, great motor and no glaring deficiencies. He’s only lost to really good fighters in the last couple years and while Condit was a really good fighter, I’m not sure he still is. I need to see it before I can believe it again, so I’m picking Magny.

Prediction: Neil Magny

Preliminary Card Predictions

Khalil Rountree def. Michal Oleksiejczuk
Rick Glenn def. Myles Jury
Marvin Vettori def. Omari Akhmedov
Matheus Nicolau def. Louis Smolka
Tim Elliott def. Mark De La Rosa

UFC 219: Overlooking Edson Barboza feels like a mistake

UFC 219: Overlooking Edson Barboza feels like a mistake

Khabib Nurmagomedov is a terrific fighter.

The undefeated Dagestani lightweight has been hovering around the top of the division for years and is universally regarded as a potential champion. Truth be told, if not for a series of injuries and a weight cut gone sideways back in March, the 29-year-old standout might already have UFC gold wrapped around his waist.

Likeable and talented, Nurmagomedov is a critical darling with the potential to be a crossover star in North America and an international superstar given his growing popularity around the globe and superstar status in Russia. It feels like it is only a matter of time before he reaches his full potential both inside and outside of the cage.

But it has felt that way for well over three years now and it still hasn’t happened and while most seem to view his matchup this weekend with Edson Barboza as a formality – the next step in Nurmagomedov’s journey to fighting for the lightweight title – I can’t help but feel like the Brazilian is being overlooked at a time when his skills are at an all-time high and all the pressure is on his opponent.

Barboza is 13-4 in the UFC and riding a three-fight winning streak. He’s ranked No. 3 in the deepest, most talented division in the sport and coming off arguably the best knockout of the year – a second-round flying knee finish of Beneil Dariush in March that illustrates how “blink and you missed it” dangerous the 31-year-old contender is at all times.

After coming up short in high profile matchups with Donald Cerrone, Michael Johnson and Tony Ferguson earlier in his career, Barboza stopped shuttling to New Jersey from his home in Florida for his training camps and convinced his wife to move to the Garden State permanently following his loss to Ferguson in December 2015.

He hasn’t lost since, earning unanimous decision victories over former champions Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez prior to turning out Dariush’s lights in Forteleza, Brazil earlier this year.

His already solid boxing has become even crisper and his stiff jab makes for a nice 1-2 punch when paired with his incomparably fast and punishing kicks. He moves well and has continued to hone his takedown defense, denying every attempt made by Dariush, Melendez and Pettis in those three fights combined. While none is anywhere near as proficient and effective a wrestler as Nurmagomedov, the fact that Barboza was 9-for-9 when it comes to defending takedown attempts against those three elite competitors cannot be ignored, nor can his 86% takedown defense over the course of his 17 UFC appearances.

Additionally, it’s not like Nurmagomedov has had an easy year in 2018 and he heads into this one with a bunch of questions and concerns hovering overhead.

He was forced out of an interim title fight with Ferguson in March after experiencing serious health issues during his weight cut and then had hernia surgery in the summer. He’s fought just twice since April 2014 and while he looked terrific last time out, mauling Michael Johnson at UFC 205 in New York City, he’s been on the shelf for over a year and dealt with two more health issues since then. When he’s active, Nurmagomedov is one of the best fighters on the planet, but over the last several years, the times when he has been healthy and able to compete have been significantly less than the times he’s been unable to make it to the cage.

Barboza carries none of those concerns. He’s never missed weight in his 23-fight career, looks healthy and energetic when he steps on the scale and has fought eight times in the same time that Nurmagomedov has competed twice. He comes from an elite camp, is in the best form of his career and has the striking skills and footwork needed to work from the outside and frustrate someone who needs to close the distance and get inside to really get his offense going.

I don’t know whether he’s going to beat Nurmagomedov or not, but I do believe Barboza merits far more attention heading into this fight than he has been receiving thus far.

He’s not quite an afterthought because he’s featured in the Embedded series and his picture is on the poster for Saturday’s year-end event at T-Mobile Arena, but it certainly feels like a lot of people see this weekend’s contest as a tune up for Nurmagomedov while looking ahead to potential bouts between the currently unbeaten lightweight and one or both of the division’s two champions.

That could very well be how things play out, but I also wouldn’t be all that surprised if Barboza came out and handed “The Eagle” his first career loss.

This feels like one of those times where people are so caught up in the narrative and what could come next for one particular fighter that they’re overlooking the sizable task in front of them. I felt the same way heading into Cody Garbrandt’s title defense against TJ Dillashaw at UFC 217, where tons of people, including Garbrandt, were talking about his potential as a draw and setting up a fight with Demetrious Johnson as if Dillashaw was some stiff who didn’t have a chance.

While “No Love” had his moments in the first, he got stopped in the second, lost his title and all those grand plans and lofty projections disappeared into the ether.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think it wise to discount a competitor as talented and dangerous as Barboza in any fight and especially heading into a pivotal matchup like this where the winner will most likely be fighting for a title next time out.

Yes, Nurmagomedov is the betting favourite, the more popular of the two and the one who has been projected to be a title contender and potential champion since he arrived in the UFC almost six years ago, but Barboza is an elite lightweight as well and shouldn’t be treated as an afterthought in this matchup.