Saturday night was the kind of night fight fans drool over, as the sport’s three top organizations, the UFC, Bellator, and World Series of Fighting, went head-to-head-to-head in a terrific triumvirate. There were knockouts, submissions, decisions, emergences of contenders, clashes of legends, and title shots abound. It was epic. It was an all-you-can-eat MMA buffet.
Now, with the action in the rear view mirror, it’s time to let it all sink in. But considering the serving size, digestion might not come easy. So, in the wake of these three action-packed events, let us recount the highlights.
UFC 180 marked the organization’s first foray into Mexico. At one time, the card owned one of the most stacked lineups in recent months, but after injuries to Norman Parke, Joe Lauzon, Diego Sanchez, and most significantly, Mexican-American UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez, the UFC’s debut in the land of the luchador took a bit of a hit.
That said, after some undoubtedly pounding headaches for UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, the organization was able to patch together a pretty solid Pay-Per-View.
The first fight of the main card was between Edgar Garcia, who was making a UFC comeback after nearly 5 years on the local circuit, and Hector Urbina, a UFC debutant. It was over in less than four minutes, after Urbina locked up a tap-garnering guillotine choke.
Next up was a welterweight clash between much-hyped Mexican prospect Augusto “Dodger” Montano and American Chris Heatherly, who was hungry for a win after losing his debut to Ben Saunders. Unfortunately, against Dodger, he’d have no such luck. It was a first round barrage of knees and punches against the cage that sealed the deal. In victory, Dodger moves to 14-1, while Heatherly now faces a record of 8-3 and a possible trip to the unemployment line.
The main card’s third fight was a high-stakes featherweight clash between former title challenger Ricardo Lamas, and hot prospect Dennis Bermudez, who careened into the octagon on a 7-fight streak. Unfortunately, Bermudez’s winning ways waned against Lamas, as he was forced to tap to the second, first-round guillotine choke of the main card. Bermudez now faces the tough task of regaining his momentum, while Lamas remains in a frustrating flux. There’s no denying he’s a top talent, but having lost his title shot fairly decisively, he remains some distance from a second chance. Furthermore, he’s got to compete with big names like Connor McGregor, Frankie Edgar, Cub Swanson and Chad Mendes.
UFC 180’s co-main event was a welterweight battle between long-time top-tenner Jake Ellenberger and The Ultimate Fighter winner, Kelvin Gastelum. Before the fight, Joe Rogan touched on the air of potential that hovers around Gastelum. 4:46 into the first round, Gastelum drove those comments home with a brilliant scramble-to-rear-naked-choke win. In victory, Gastelum, who is only 23, finds himself neck deep in the welterweight top-ten. Ellenberger, on the other hand, may have said a permanent goodbye to his title hopes.
The evening’s main event, the band-aid for Velasquez’s injury, was an interim heavyweight title fight between renowned grappler Fabricio Werdum, and master of the walk-off knockout, Mark Hunt. It’s not what we originally hoped for, but this fight was significant not just as a UFC title fight, not just as a clash between two of MMA’s most endearing personalities, not just as a classic, clash of styles, but as meeting of two true MMA legends. For more old school fight fans, seeing the pair of heavyweights enter the octagon for a UFC belt was a sight to behold. It may have even numbed the sting of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua’s recent destruction at the hands of Ovince Saint Preux.
Yes, together, Hunt and Werdum have competed against the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Junior Dos Santos, Antonio Silva, Josh Barnett and Wanderlei Silva. There is no debating the legend status of either man. But only one could leave with UFC gold, and despite a strong first round for the Samoan slugger (which included a knockdown and some harrowing minutes in Werdum’s guard), an out-of-left-field knee from Werdum sealed the deal in the second. The Brazilian is now the interim heavyweight champion, and will face Cain Velasquez, as was originally planned, sometime in the coming months. That fight, ladies and gentleman, will be one to watch.
So, all in all, despite a plague of injuries, it’s safe to say UFC 180 delivered. But what about its competitors?
Over on Spike TV, the UFC’s old haunts, Bellator MMA offered an interesting card, complete with prospect fights, novelty fights, and a belt fight. And while their main event choice, a clash between UFC outcasts Stephan Bonnar and Tito Ortiz, may have drawn some ire, as a whole it was one of the organization’s more intriguing recent cards.
The main card’s first showcase was a light heavyweight fight between Strikeforce import Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal and late replacement Joe Vedepo. The end came in the third round, after a grappling-heavy first and second, when King Mo scored a big TKO win.
Next up was a 143-pound catchweight bout (Bellator is loving catchweight fights these days), between Mike Richman and UFC vet Nam Phan. There’s not much to say about this fight, other than that it was over quickly. The end came abruptly, 0:46 into the first round. It was a TKO win for Richman, and an ugly loss for Phan.
The middle fight on Bellator 131’s main card was an intriguing collision of former kickboxers Joe Schilling and Melvin Manhoef (who, until tonight, was one of just two mixed martial artists to knock out Mark Hunt). The early stages of the fight saw some success for Manhoef, but a second-round right hand from Schilling stopped him in his tracks. In victory, Schilling improves to a tepid 2-3 as a mixed martial artist (though Mark Hunt is an excellent reminder that records never tell the whole story).
If Tito Ortiz is the people’s champ, then Bellator 131’s co-main event, a title rematch between Michael Chandler and Will Brooks, was the people’s headliner. Yes, while neither of the two lightweights carry as much name value as Ortiz or Bonnar, their statures as relevant, top talents probably should have secured them top billing. But it didn’t, and the pair didn’t let it slow them down.
Instead, they waged war for three rounds in precisely the kind of high-action, back-and-forth fight Chandler is known for. Then, in the fourth round, came the bizarre stoppage. A right hand from Brooks sent Chandler back-peddling to the cage in a confusing protest. The ref, however, saw no foul (and the replay would reveal he was correct), which allowed Brooks to close the curtains with an onslaught of strikes to a disoriented Chandler.
Finally came the main event: a clash between two fighters who, despite being members of the UFC Hall of Fame, haven’t been relevant for— well— a long goddamned time. Not to disparage the accolades of either man, but their position atop Bellator 131 was strange, to say the very least. And when the action began, after months of trash talk, it didn’t really deliver either. Bonnar looked like he’d never actually resumed training after retiring. Ortiz looked better, but at this stage of his iconic career, that isn’t saying a whole lot. It was a split decision win for “The Huntington Beach Badboy.”
Still, Bellator 131 had some real merit. Four strike-induced stoppages out of five fights is not bad at all. And with Scott Coker at the helm, we’ve certainly got lots more to look forward to.
The third component of Saturday’s MMA triple-header was World Series of Fighting’s fifteenth foray. The card was originally expected to be capped by three title fights, until lightweight challenger Melvin Guillard missed weight. Still, WSOF viewers were treated to two entertaining belt fights and more over the course of the night’s main card.
The main card’s first fight was a strong showing by Jorge Patino (41), who despite sharing the night with veterans Mark Hunt (40), Fabricio Werdum (37), Melvin Manhoef (38) and Tito Ortiz (39), was the oldest fighter on any of the event’s main cards. Patino defeated a much younger Eric Reynolds by unanimous decision.
Next was a women’s strawweight title fight between champ Jessica Aguilar and Kalindra Faria. Over the course of the 25-minute battle, Aguilar showed why she’s considered one of the world’s best strawweights, outclassing her challenger on the mat and on the feet. Unfortunately for WSOF, it may be a matter of time before Aguilar goes the way of Anthony Johnson, Andrei Arlovski and Josh Burkman, and gets scooped up by the UFC. And really, nobody will complain if it means she’s paired up with fighters like Rose Namajunas and Joanne Calderwood. The girl is good.
WSOF 15’s co-main event was an almost-lightweight-title-fight between champ Justin Gaethje and challenger Melvin Guillard. Over the course of the fight, both men had their moments, but in the end, the champ scored a split decision W. The win is one of Gaethje’s most significant to date, and will help establish him as a top-rung lightweight.
The evening’s main event was middleweight title fight between former UFC stalwart Yushin Okami and WSOF king David Branch, who has also competed in the UFC. Ahead of the bout, most pundits pegged Okami as a safe bet. Branch, however, clung to his belt with both hands, stopping his Japanese opponent on third -round punches. He is now 7-1 since leaving the UFC and is quickly becoming one of WSOF’s biggest stars.
Wrapping it all up
Three cards—one submission-heavy, one knockout-heavy, one decision-heavy—all solid. Four title fights. It was an MMA smorgasbord that fight fans happily gorged on. Now, it’s time to loosen our belts, kick back, and digest. Until next weekend, that is, when UFC Fight Night 57 takes centre stage.
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