Man, I love these sleeper cards. You settle in for the evening, thinking “Well, even though it’s not hyped up to outrageous proportions, it’s still a decent card.” Then the stars align, or some magic happens and you go on a fun ride, with great fights, finishes and stories to remember.
Alright, let’s jump right to my picks. Then, we’ll chat about this, that and the other.
For your reference, my picks:
Lyoto Machida Vs. Vitor Belfort – The thought process behind the pick was that the dragon has a wider variety of movements. Vitor will try to rush, but Lyoto isn’t one to back down in a straight line. Machida would use kicks to maintain range and keep the advantage. I guess that wasn’t a very difficult pick to make. When Vitor opened his eyes after hitting the canvas he likely expected to see Anderson Silva on the cage celebrating. Instead, after the feeling of deja vu passed, he saw one of the classiest fighters to grace the cage giving him his farewell from active competition. 1 for 1.
John Lineker Vs. Brian Kelleher – Well, I was trying to catch the odd pick with this one. It was clear that Lineker possesses hammers and that said tools are attached to his arms. I thought that Kelleher’s toughness might carry him for a sort of upset, but that wasn’t in the books. Lineker, who’s only loss in recent history is to TJ, took charge early and didn’t let up. After the first couple of punches that landed flush on the American’s chin didn’t send him off I was beginning to be a bit hopeful. Maybe Lineker will use up his tank. But I guess, due to the fact he wasn’t missing many of those, he was able to keep going at high pace. He was also doing a lot of body work, which may not be a crowd pleaser, but man is it effective. Kelleher tried to take it to the ground, but perhaps said body work weakened him some. Eventually, even that granite chin couldn’t take it anymore, and Lineker brought it home in every respect. Second fight in, and already a candidate for bonus. 1 for 2.
Mackenzie Dern vs Amanda Cooper – I will focus on the fight itself for now. I had pictured the fight pretty much exactly the way it went, with one exception, the mode of transportation to the ground. I had Amanda dominating the stand up and Dern diving for a leg, to drag her down. The one thing I did not expect – nor did Amanda, or anyone for that matter – was a looping right hand to the chin. And so, a momentary lapse of concentration on Cooper’s part led to the inevitable. When it comes to the ground, one can expect a swift finish, and this came. 2 for 3.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza Vs. Kelvin Gastelum – This one was full of surprises. It seems like age has finally caught up with Jacare. After a dominant first round that went according to plan, the BJJ master gassed out. During this first round, Kelvin was able to do what many before him couldn’t – intelligently defend himself on his back, with Jacare in side control as well as full mount. In the second, he turned the tide and won the striking competition. In the third, though tired, Jacare landed a surprisingly high number of strikes, though getting tagged for his efforts. After a three round war we were going to the judges and I had it pretty much tied. The expectation was that the home field advantage would give the Brazilian the nod, but we said – surprises. Gastelum positioned himself well in the MW division (we will talk more about that). 2 for 4.
Amanda Nunes Vs. Raquel Pennington – First, an apology to Rocky. I wasn’t giving her enough credit. Sure, she took a beating and was finished as expected. But how’s that for some perspective? remember when Nunes ran through Ronda Rousey like a knife through butter? For the first couple of rounds, I had the feeling that Raquel was biding her time, trying to counter and take as little damage as possible, in order to open up in later rounds. That wasn’t very successful as her left calf would tell. she was able to secure a TD but wasn’t patient enough and lost position which allowed Nunes to get back to her plan and that was the point things went from bad to worst. Nunes combined effective takedowns of her own, with her usual high volume, high pace strikes, but with her newly found patience, and it paid off well. Much respect to Pennington, who did whatever it took to try to take this back to the ground, including sacrificing her face to some vicious knees, just to catch a leg. We will discuss the last break very shortly. 3 for 5.
3 for 5 in a great night of MMA fights. Win some, lose some, in the end we all won.
Kelvin Gastelum became a contender last night. In a weight class, where numbers 2 to 7 could make a very good case, Kelvin all of a sudden doesn’t sound far-fetched. Depending on who wins the next title fight, we may end up having two former Welterweights fighting for dominion over the Middleweight division.
Amanda Nunes is a scary lady. remember what Rogan use to say every time GSP fought? This guy keeps getting better every time we see him. Well, if any of the ladies entertains the idea to tire her out, draw her into the later rounds, I guess the Shevchenko fight had taught her how to manage her tank. She will no longer arrive at the championship rounds gassed. If anyone thinks about simply countering her, she better be one hell of a counterpuncher. There is an opening yet to try to take her down, or at the very least put her under constant pressure (the latter being much easier said than done), but with current BW roster, it seems likely that Nunes will destroy Rousey’s record, almost as easy as she did the fighter.
I have serious issues with some of the corners. I said many times before that it really irritates me when a corner lies to their fighter. “You’re winning” being the most irritating of lies. But what is unforgivable is failing at your number one priority as a support team – protect your fighter. It doesn’t matter what excuse they will throw. It doesn’t matter if Raquel will even defend them. These guys have failed. Miserably. Their fighter gave up (as she should have, and there is no shame in that) and they – knowing that she was defeated, physically and now mentally as well – sent her back to the lioness’ den. The shame here is not in the fighter quitting, it’s on the people she relies on. Shame on them.
Dern not making weight is becoming old news. Apparently UFC are going to force her to fight at 125 (which should be the case, as she is apparently not capable of consistently making 115). I had choice words for Kelvin Gastelum when he insisted on trying to make 170 and now, I’m a fan. Because he finally got the message – fight at your weight class and don’t waste our time. At least, Kelvin always said “Sorry”. I guess euphoria (or is it really a personality thing?) prevented Mackenzie for doing the very least – not celebrating so much after that win, and at least – when prompted – apologize… it doesn’t cost anything. But not even a “sorry, Amanda”… just some vague promises to get back to the gym, all smiles. I’m disappointed, I’m sad to say. Let’s see where this goes from here. I hope she goes up a weight class, and gets some consulting on how she carries herself.
I never was a Vitor fan, but I would use this opportunity to say “Thank you, and Good bye” to someone – controversial or not – who was a legend of MMA. It’s funny that my two most memorable Vitor moments were of him being knocked out, in an almost identical fashion by two other legends, but that won’t take anything away from his record. I’m sure there are fighters in the UFC and other places who became fighters also because of him.
Performance of the night: There were many candidates and whatever I pick would feel like choosing a favourite son. I will go with Nunes’s methodical destruction of Pennington though. The most significant one at least.
Just gonna put this here……
Will always be a Nunes fan. pic.twitter.com/qY5qZr2DEf
— Old Man Ryoji 🇯🇵🇺🇸🇯🇵 (@oldmanryoji) May 13, 2018
Oops, wrong one. Nevermind, it’s always fun to remember this one.
Corner: “No, no, no, no.”
— #UFCChile: Maia vs. Usman on BT Sport (@btsportufc) May 13, 2018
— #UFCChile: Maia vs. Usman on BT Sport (@btsportufc) May 13, 2018
Fight of the night: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza Vs. Kelvin Gastelum.
— UFC (@ufc) May 13, 2018
Don’t forget to check out Combat Docket for more good reads and post UFC224 fallout.