MMA Round Up – May 2018
UFC 224 – This past weekend was the UFC’s yearly Pay-Per-View event held in Brazil. On paper this was the weakest such event in recent memory but as it tends to be in these situations it was actually a really fun night of fights in practice. UFC 224 tied the record for most finishes with 11 out of the 13 fights ending via knockout or submission. The main event was a fight between a dominant but poorly promoted champion in a weak division (women’s bantamweight) against the top challenger who despite coming off a four fight win streak hadn’t fought since November 2016. Amanda Nunes should be a bigger deal that she appears to be to the general public. Since losing to Cat Zingano in 2014 she has gone 7-0, basically dominating the best in the division. Wins over Meisha Tate, Sara McMann, two wins over Valentina Shevchenko who has since dropped down to flyweight in an attempt to win a different belt, and now a win over Raquel Pennington. And of course she embarrassed Ronda Rousey in 48 seconds, derailing her comeback attempt and sending her on her path to the WWE. She was impressive again on Saturday night dominating Pennington with her boxing and nasty leg kicks. After the fourth round Rocky’s corner sent her back out despite her telling them she was done and wanted to call it off. Predictably she ended up taking much more unnecessary damage and getting finished. Its a corner’s job to protect their fighter and they failed miserably. The fight was clearly out of reach and Pennington had taken a ton of damage already. But for Nunes she has pretty much cleared out a division that doesn’t currently have an obvious top contender. I think the time might be right for a superfight against the featherweight champion Cyborg Justino.
(This can be discussed on the BSL Board here.)
The rest of the main card included the fight of the night between Jacare Souza and Kelvin Gastelum. Gastelum won an extremely close split decision, showing off his crisp striking and granite chin after being manhandled on the ground for the entire first round. With Chris Weidman on the shelf with an injury it looks like Kelvin could be the next challenger for the winner of Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero at next month’s UFC 225. We also had a slugfest between John Lineker and Brian Kelleher which saw ‘Hands of Stone’ winning the war of attrition and making his home country happy with a third round knockout. Mackenzie Dern came in to her second UFC fight with a ton of hype and promise for the women’s strawweight division and she capitalized on that beating Amanda Cooper in quick order. She landed an overhand right that rocked ‘ABC’ and then immediately landed in full mount before transitioning to a perfect rear naked choke. Its unfortunate that she badly missed weight and might be forced to move up to flyweight because if she can become a little more dedicated to being a professional the UFC could have a star on their hands. In the opening act of the PPV we had a senior citizens match between two washed up Brazilian stars that actually ended up producing the most memorable moment of the night. After an agonizingly boring first round Lyoto Machida gave Vitor Belfort flashbacks (and a concussion) as he hit him with the same front kick that Anderson Silva posterized him with. Its a clear knockout of the year contender and possibly sets up another fun old timers fight between Machida and Michael Bisping.
UFC on ESPN – Plus that is. ESPN+. The UFC recently announced they will be partnering with Disney and ESPN on a deal that will see them produce 15 shows a year for the new ESPN+ OTT service as well as two seasons of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series which seems to be replacing the stagnant Ultimate Fighter reality show. The deal is for five years at about $150 million per year. It is believed the UFC is still shopping around for a more traditional TV deal to pair with this and diversify their assets. FOX appears to be the front runner for that but NBC has also been rumored to have interest. As a cord cutter I’m on board with this. ESPN+ is $5 a month and you’ll have to access it from your computer or an app which could be a barrier for some but with the changing TV landscape I think it could be a smart, forward thinking move. They will still have shows on “regular TV” and of course Pay-Per-Views. Apparently they could be looking to reduce the number of PPVs per year which I’ve discussed in a previous article as being very important if their apparent new strategy is going to work. Less PPVs means less events like the UFC 224 that don’t have the draw to be worth $65 for most people. I’ve heard they could go from the current 13 a year to between 9-11. I’d prefer it to be between 6-8 per year and less shows overall but it would be a start. Right now it looks like we’ll end up with a similar number of events per year but less PPVs. It will be interesting to follow in the coming months before the current TV deal ends with 2018.
What’s Next? – The UFC continues its international tour for the rest of the month with two Fight Night events outside of US soil. First up is an event in Santiago, Chile next weekend with a big welterweight fight in the main event. Kamaru Usman is an elite prospect on an 11 fight winning streak who’s looking to take the next step into title contention. He was originally scheduled to fight fellow up and comer Santiago Ponzinnibbio but instead will face veteran jujitsu ace and former title challenger Demian Maia after an injury derailed the original main event. Its an interesting fight and might be better for Usman’s standing if he can pull it off. Maia is ranked higher and has more name value for his resume plus its a better stylistic matchup. For Maia its very risky to take this tough of a fight on such short notice but hes not getting any younger and if he wins this it could be his last chance to make a run for a belt. There isn’t much more of note on this card but a mix of interesting fights and some local flavor should make it enjoyable for those attending the first ever UFC event in Chile.
The weekend after that is another place getting their first UFC event and that is when Liverpool gets to see its own Darren Till make his own case for title contention in the welterweight division as he takes on Stephen Thompson. Similar to the previous week’s main event this is prospect versus veteran except in this case we have two elite strikers going against each other. Till already got his big win against a name opponent last year when he knocked out Donald Cerrone in the first round. Ever since then hes been one of the most talked about young fighters in the sport and he gets a chance to put a stamp on that against the incredibly talented striker in ‘Wonderboy’. Thompson is also a former title challenger having fought champion Tyron Woodley twice. The first fight was an entertaining draw but then he followed that up with an incredibly boring close decision loss. Despite coming back to win impressively over Jorge Masvidal at UFC 217 and having a generally exciting karate style, Thompson isn’t getting another title shot anytime soon unless somebody beats Woodley or he goes on an undeniable winning streak. Derailing the Darren Till hype train would be the first step in that process. But on the other hand if ‘The Gorilla’ continues his ascension he would most likely be set up for a title shot in his next time out. In a just world the winners of the these two main events would fight each other to determine a real number one contender since we have an interim welterweight title fight coming up next month and then presumably a unification bout after that. But this is the UFC, standard rules of sport need not apply.
Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix – In non-UFC MMA news we finally have the semifinals set for the Bellator heavyweight tournament. Filled with has-beens and light heavyweights, its the most Bellator thing Bellator could do. In the first round Chael Sonnen defeated Rampage Jackson by decision, Matt Mittrione defeated Roy Nelson by decision, Fedor Emelianenko knocked out Frank Mir in under a minute, and Ryan Bader knocked out King Mo Lawal in 15 seconds. Its a freak show but hey, at least you recognized a lot of those names from when they were good 5+ years ago right? On future unspecified dates Chael Sonnen will fight Fedor and Ryan Bader will fight Matt Mittrione. The winners of those matches will fight each other for the official heavyweight championship. The interesting thing is Bader already holds the light heavyweight belt, Sonnen is a natural middleweight, and Fedor has been a shell of his former Pride dominating self and was just knocked out by Mittrione last year. To be fair this tournament has been the only thing thats really been bringing in the ratings for MMA’s second biggest promotion. The gap between first and second place appears to be widening and I’m not sure that they’re taking the steps to sustainably carve out their own niche of success. But for now they’re creating headlines with this grand prix.